The Rural Blog Archive: September 2006

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Coal industry to revisit Sago, discuss mine safety at W.Va. symposium

Major coal-industry figures are set to arrive in Bluefield, W.Va., for the three-day 2006 Bluefield Coal Symposium that kicks off tomorrow and is sure to feature mine safety as the main theme.

Attendees will include Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. Presentations will include: several investigators of the Sago Mine disaster; Ronald G. Stovash, senior vice president of operations for Consol Energy; Dan Gerkin, senior vice president/government and political affairs for the National Mining Association; Bill Rainey, president of the West Virginia Coal Association; Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association; Tommy Hudson, president of the Virginia Coal Association; and John Feddock, senior vice president of Marshall Miller & Associates, reports Charles Owens of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

A report on the Sago tragedy is slated for Friday. Events will be held at the local Holiday Inn. Limited reservations for the symposium may still be available, notes Owens. For more information, contact The Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce at 304-327-7184. (Read more)

Saturday special, Sept. 30, 2006

Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and neighbor states don't spare the rod

Corporal punishment in schools has declined in recent decades, as 28 states have banned it, but it remains widespread "in rural parts of the South and the lower Midwest," Rick Lyman of The New York Times reports today. A map with the story shows that and Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama lead the nation in the practice, and that it is also prevalent in the states bordering those three states.

"The most recent federal statistics show that during the 2002-3 school year, more than 300,000 American schoolchildren were disciplined with corporal punishment, usually one or more blows with a thick wooden paddle. Sometimes holes were cut in the paddle to make the beating more painful. Of those students, 70 percent were in . . . Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas," Lyman writes.

"Often the battle over corporal punishment is being fought on the edges of Southern cities, where suburban growth pushes newcomers from across the country into rural and religiously conservative communities. In these areas, educators say, corporal punishment is far more accepted, resulting in clashing attitudes about child-rearing and using the rod."

Anthony Price, a Fort Wortht middle school principal who recently resumed paddling and was pictured in the Times with his paddle, told Lyman, “It's had a huge effect” on behavior. “The rule is, never hit in anger. We always talk to the child before the punishment, make sure they understand why it’s happening, and then talk to them again afterward. None of it is cold or harsh. We try to treat the kids like they’re our own.”

Lyman notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Medical Association and American Bar Association "have come out against corporal punishment. . . . Among adherents of the practice is James C. Dobson, the child psychologist who founded Focus on the Family and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders." (Read more)

California about to surpass Wisconsin as the leading cheese state

More than a decade ago, California overook Wisconsin as the leading milk-producing state, and it is on the verge of overtaking the state of cheeseheads, “which still proclaims itself America’s Dairyland right on its license plates," when it comes to cheese production, Monica Davey of The New York Times reports.

“Last year, Wisconsin made 2.4 billion pounds of cheese, while California crept ever closer, finishing with 2.14 billion pounds — triple the amount it made 15 years ago,” Davey reports. The executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association told her, “They won’t roar by us, but they will pass us.”

“For Wisconsin,” Davey writes, “this is more than a simple battle over a commodity or a listing in an obscure federal agriculture publication. Cheese is the state’s history, its pride, its self-deprecating, sometimes goofy, cheesehead approach to life.” (Read more)

Wisconsin “cheese makers say they are turning their focus to high-priced specialty, artisan and organic cheeses that take more time to produce, cheeses like Asiago, feta and blue cheese, and those with names newly dreamed up.” Such cheeses are now 15 percent of the state’s production, Jeanne Carpenter of the state’s Dairy Business Innovation Center told Davey: “We’re moving on from this whole quantity thing.”

Friday, September 29, 2006

Hospitals in poor and rural areas rank low on heart care, data reveal

Rural and low-income heart patients are treated at facilities with much lower performance those in urban and high-income areas, and may not get all the recommended treatments, according to a Gannett News Service analysis. “Using data provided by hospitals to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and covering the period of October 2004 through September 2005, GNS rated the nation's hospitals on heart care,” Robert Benincasa and Jennifer Brooks write for the media chain's service.

“Only about one in nine rural hospitals fell into the top-scoring category for treating heart attack patients. More than a third were in the lowest category. For heart failure patients, nearly a third of rural hospitals fell into the lowest performance category,” write Benincasa and Brooks.

“In low-income counties, top-performing hospitals were scarce. In counties ranking in the lowest 20 percent for median household income, only 5 percent of hospitals were in the highest of five performance rankings for heart attack patients. Nearly half of them fell into the lowest category. In high-income counties, a quarter of the hospitals were top performers.” (Read more)

Community pharmacists: Wal-Mart drug-price deal is bait and switch

The National Community Pharmacists Association says Wal-Mart’s new $4 prescription program could be mainly a tactic to lure customers into the company's stores. What customers find when they get there may be expensive, outdated or not what they need, the lobby says. “NCPA also is seeking a close examination of the anti-competitive nature of Wal-Mart’s action. Wal-Mart is infamous for driving small-town businesses out of business through deceptive and predatory pricing practices,” said a press release.

“What happens to patients who walk into Wal-Mart thinking that they will be able to get their medications for $4, only to be told that the medicine they need is not on the list and will cost much more?” NCPA Executive Vice President and CEO Bruce Roberts said in the release. “That is the classic bait-and-switch.”

“Of the nearly 9,000 generic drugs available in the U.S., the Wal-Mart pilot program will offer fewer than 300,” said the press release. “Of that group: Fewer than 150 separate medicines are included. For example, 12 different versions of the antibiotic amoxicillin are included on the list. Only one of the top 20 most frequently prescribed medications, in its commonly used form, is on the list. Many older medications are on the list and newer, replacement medications that often work better or have fewer side effects are not included on the list.” (Read more)

When Wal-Mart announced the plan, The New York Times reported that it "includes only about 124 separate medicines in various dosages, like 12 versions of the popular antibiotic amoxicillin. It leaves out some popular drugs altogether, like the generic version of the cholesterol-lowering treatment Zocor. And while uninsured people should benefit from the program, those with insurance may save only a dollar or so, making a trip to Wal-Mart not worth their while, analysts said." (Read more)

IRS probes politically active churches; scholar suggests ‘pulpit exemption’

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating several churches that might lose their tax-exempt status for participating in partisan politics. To be tax-exempt, a charitable organization must not participate in any political campaigns or try to influence votes for or against a party or candidate, Charles C. Haynes of the First Amendment Center writes for the National Newspaper Association.

“Last week, All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., home to one of the nation's largest liberal congregations, announced that it would not cooperate with an IRS investigation into an anti-war sermon preached by the Rev. George Regas two days before the 2004 presidential election,” writes Haynes. “The refusal by All Saints to turn over correspondence, sermons and other documents sets the stage for a possible court case should the IRS decide to pursue the matter. Since IRS investigations into church activities are shrouded in secrecy and usually settled quietly, a court battle would be a rare public discussion about where the "partisan-nonpartisan" line should be drawn for tax-exempt churches.”

This case may renew efforts from Republicans in Congress who sought to amend the IRS code to allow churches to give political support. “The challenge is to come up with a narrowly focused ‘pulpit exemption’ that removes restrictions on speech when clergy are speaking to their congregations, but retains prohibitions against religious organizations' getting involved in partisan political campaigns,” writes Haynes. (Read more)

Newspaper Web site in Colorado allows citizens to publish own news

Wednesday, The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo., launched a new Web site that will allow citizens to participate in journalism. On Your Hub at ColoradoSprings.com, locals can blog and report their own news stories, reports the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.

“Starting Oct. 26, Your Hub at ColoradoSprings.com will produce three zoned weekly tabloid newspapers filled with the best citizen journalism stories and photos submitted each week, plus some staff-generated stories and photography,” SNPA reports. “There are plans for six weekly Your Hub papers.”

"Citizen journalism is a frontier for those of us who make a living collecting and reporting the news. It is a little controversial, it's very interesting and it's definitely here to stay. Think of it as a virtual town square, a place where neighbors gather to share information, personal experiences, opinions and concerns. As others in the industry have pointed out, it is journalism for the people, by the people, our freedom of speech in pure form,” said Freedom Communications, publisher of The Gazette. (Read more)

Teens get news from Internet but not from blogs, Knight study finds

High school students get their news from mainstream Web sites but don’t read news blogs, according to a study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“Students who go online get most of their news from the news pages of Internet portals like Google and Yahoo!, followed by national TV news sites, and local TV and daily newspaper web sites. Blogs came in fourth place, according to the survey, part of Knight Foundation’s 2006 Future of the First Amendment study,” reports the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.

“A majority of high school students find TV, followed by newspapers, to be the most accurate news sources,” writes the SNPA. “They don’t trust the accuracy of blogs, according to the survey. But despite their reliance on traditional news sources, nearly half of high school students say they also get news and information from entertainment programs like The Daily Show and others at least once a week.” (Read more) To read the full report, visit www.firstamendmentfuture.org

Bill would impose fines, jail time for leaking classified information

Under the proposed Official Secrets Act, anyone who “knowingly and willfully discloses, or attempts to disclose, any classified information” would be subject to fines and jail time. The Society of Professional Journalists opposes this bill and believes it would be harmful to news reporting. “According to the First Amendment Center, current law already criminalizes the most dangerous of leaks and Congress has rejected version of this law for more than 50 years,” SPJ says.

“The broad definition of “classified information” in the bill would silence important sources, including whistleblowers and elected officials, who would fear inadvertently releasing information. The law would authorize grand jury subpoenas for journalists and search warrants for their records and notes, according to the First Amendment Center.”

SPJ recommends that journalists contact their senators and write columns that encourage their readers to do the same. We agree. (Read more)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Possible sale of phone lines could delay broadband efforts in rural U.S.

If Verizon sells 1.6 million local phone lines in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, rural customers may lose out on broadband and be left with smaller Internet providers, continuing a disconcerting trend in rural America, reports The New York Times.

Internet access in some rural areas of New England is already difficult, reports Ken Belson. Residents say their slow dial-up inhibits business, government and their daily lives. Most local phone companies have broadband available on 95 percent of their lines, but in Vermont Verizon has it on just 56 percent. In 2005, it was fined $8.1 million by the state Public Service Board for unsatisfactory service.

"Verizon and other former local phone monopolies argue that since the cell phone, cable and Internet companies that are luring away millions of their customers are not compelled to serve remote and rural places, then they should not have to bear that burden either," writes Belson.

"Verizon has sold phone lines before. In 2005, the Carlyle Group bought its business in Hawaii. Verizon also sold 1.3 million lines in Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri in 2002. Others have followed. In May, Sprint Nextel spun off its local phone division with 7.1 million lines and renamed it Embarq. In July, Alltel spun off its local phone group and merged it with Valor Communications." (Read more)

Journalists: Use tact and resist dramatizing suicide, a big rural concern

Did you know that suicides in the United States have long outnumbered murders by 3 to 2? That suicide is the No. 3 cause of death among youths, and second in youth deaths in states with large rural populations? That farmers and ranchers have a higher suicide risk than most other occupations? That research has shown that putting "suicide" or "self-inflicted" in a headline increases the chance that a reader will commit suicide?

Because of those facts, and the possibility that dramatizing suicides may encourage other individuals to do it for attention, it is an important topic for journalists to consider -- especially in rural areas. Some of these facts, and some good advice about reporting of suicide, are part of today's edition of Al's Morning Meeting, by Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. His tips for suicide reporting include:

Unless the suicide death took place in public, the cause of death should be reported in the body of the story and not in the headline. In deaths ... covered locally, such as persons living in small towns, consider phrasing for headlines such as . . . "John Smith dead at 48." Consideration of how they died could be reported in the body of the article.

In the body of the story, it is preferable to describe the deceased as "having died by suicide," rather than as "a suicide," or having "committed suicide." The latter two expressions reduce the person to the mode of death, or connote criminal or sinful behavior.

In covering murder-suicides be aware that the tragedy of the homicide can mask the suicidal aspect of the act. Feelings of depression and hopelessness present before the homicide and suicide are often the impetus for both. (Read more)

"Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the third leading cause of death among American youths," according to the National Institute of Medicine, and No. 2 in youth deaths "in states with primarily rural populations, especially states in the rural Mountain West and Alaska," said a report from the Marshfield Clinic by the Children's Safety Network. Click here for the report.

Studies have also found that farmers and ranchers are at high risk for suicide because of financial problems, loss of land an livelihood, and mental heath conditions that go untreated due to a lack of facilities, reports Peter G. Beeson of the National Association for Rural Mental Health. (Read more)

HIV/AIDS bill that would boost rural funding stalled by urban senators

An HIV/AIDS bill is being stalled by Senators from California, New York and New Jersey because their states would lose money and millions of dollars would go to rural areas.

"The objections threaten to stall passage of the $2.1 billion Ryan White CARE Act before Congress wraps up work this week ahead of the Nov. 7 midterm elections. The law, originally passed in 1990, sends money to state and local programs for the neediest patients. A rewrite that has passed House and Senate committees would funnel more money to rural and southern states where AIDS is spreading, but less money to larger states and urban areas that traditionally have been at the front line of the epidemic," reports Erica Werner of The Associated Press.

Opponents include Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York, and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Senate rules allow allow for the objection of just one senator to block a bill's passage, notes AP. The bill changes the way patients are counted from just those with full-blown AIDS to those with the HIV virus also. That move would favor areas where HIV/AIDS is a newer problem, such as Southern and rural areas. (Read more)

Farmers, nature group strike deals to protect habitat in Southern Illinois

The Nature Conservancy, a non-profit group, wants to save woodlands and provide a safe habitat for migratory songbirds and other species in the Illinois Ozarks by making land deals with farmers.

The Ozark Plateau is almost 1.5 billion years old and is the only significant highland in the U.S. "between the Appalachian chain and the Rocky Mountains," notes Rudi Keller of the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau. "The project is one of 34 Nature Conservancy projects along the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico aimed at restoring ecological balance to the river and the surrounding landscape."

The project covers 195,000 acres, shown on this map provided by the group and the newspaper. About half the land is publicly owned, and the group hopes to secure more from farmers owning the other land. "What happens is that a local farmer might be interested in the fields but they won't want the woods," group member Michael Baltz told Keller. "One of the reasons we have been successful in buying land is that we are willing to buy the whole thing."

Baltz predicts a minimal drop in farm production and big benefits for wildlife and landowners who had trouble selling land. "The average age of farmers is increasing and economic opportunities continue to draw young people away from the land," notes Keller. (Read more)

Ethanol leftovers used to produce wood glue; may make alfalfa useful

Ethanol made with crops such as switchgrass may not boast the same efficiency as that made from corn, but research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that growing grass for fuel and using leftovers for glue might pay off.

Paul Weimer, a microbiologist at the university's USDA-ARS Dairy Forage Research Center, considers the fermentation residue from ethanol production more valuable than the ethanol itself. "Specifically, they used it as wood glue," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. "Although the adhesive appears to have great potential, there are still a few hurdles. For one, it's quite viscous. For use in an industrial application, the glue would need to be made easier to apply."

Weimer is also interested in preserving the country's alfalfa crops and sees this as a way to encourage that. "We'd like to keep alfalfa on the landscape because it has a lot of environmental benefits," Weimer says. "It's a good cover crop, it's drought-tolerant and fixes nitrogen. But because farmers are moving away from it as a dairy feed, we're trying to find another use, and we think this glue might be a solution." (Read more)

Rural health care struggles for funding in Eastern Kentucky, says survey

Rural health care in Appalachia needs innovative financing to improve medical care in an area where the business climate is shaky and where more patients are using Medicare and Medicaid, according to a survey of more than 50 rural medical providers and bankers in Eastern Kentucky.

The survey, conducted by Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, a small-business lender focused on Kentucky's 51 Appalachian counties, estimated the need for funding at $100 million. That money is needed to improve and expand medical care in the next three years, but loans are tough to secure because of a struggling Medicaid system and the overload of uninsured people in Appalachia, reports Barbara Isaacs of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The survey also found rural providers struggling to keep up with the costs of innovation. Digital medical records and X-ray systems and upgraded Internet service would modernize health care, but few in the region can afford them," writes Isaacs. (Read more) For the study, click here.

Surplus federal vehicles help 940 rural fire departments in Oklahoma

A tanker truck used to transport water in Iraq might help out Oklahoma firefighters. The reason: The state houses a little-known U.S. Forest Service program that gets surplus vehicles from the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies to aid rural fire departments.

"Jim Pitts, of the Forestry Services Division of the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department, said the 940 rural and 'small town' fire departments he contracts with throughout the state have access to the surplus equipment. And, under the new Fire Fighters Property Program, they get to keep it," writes Melissa A. Wabnitz of The Norman Transcript, adding that the program uses the Internet to find the vehicles.

All fire departments usually have to do is paint the vehicle, fit it with a tank and pump, and get it into service within six months. All that work may cost $5,000 to $6,000, but rural fire departments gladly accept that compared to the cost of purchasing a completely new vehicle, reports Wabnitz. (Read more)

Forgot your cash? Some churches offer ATM machines for quick donations

A struggle over whether to modernize is hitting rural churches across the country, and some of the more traditional ones might shiver when they hear Stevens Creek Community Church, a 1,100-member evangelical church in Augusta, Ga., is using ATM machines to boost offerings.

A "Giving Kiosk," of which three exist at Stevens Creek, is "a sleek black pedestal topped with a computer screen, numeric keypad and magnetic-strip reader," writes Richard Fausset of The Los Angeles Times. In "a ritual more common in quickie marts than a house of God," the machine simply prints a receipt and money is routed to church coffers. At least seven other churches are known to use such technology, and most of them are located in the South.

The churches are hoping members' ATM habits in everyday life crossover to the sanctuary, but not all churches are gung-ho. "Six years ago, debit cards were used in 21 percent of in-store transactions; today they account for a third of them, according to the American Bankers Association," reports Fausset. "The need to generate earthly revenue can be a sensitive topic for the clergy; lampooning their less subtle solicitations has been a sport for generations of critics, from Chaucer to heavy-metal bands." (Read more)

The Augusta Chronicle broke this story in July. To read it, click here.(Registration required)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Immigration enforcement divides local police; where do yours stand?

Are your local police among the "hundreds of state and local departments [that] have inquired about" enforcing immigration laws, according to The Washington Post. A story by Post reporter Peter Whoriskey shows what such enforcement can entail, and exposes disagreements among police chiefs about what has amounted to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy in many jurisdictions.

The sheriff of Mecklenburg County, N.C., the seat of which is Charlotte, started cracking down on illegal immigrants in April and is sending more than 100 people a month to deportation proceedings, the Post reports, noting that this comes following a House debate earlier this month over a measure reaffirming the power local law enforcement agencies possess to arrest people on suspicion of violating immigration laws.

"Besides Mecklenburg, six other state and local law-enforcement agencies have started similar programs in recent years," writes Whoriskey. "A dozen more are being worked out with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And in the past three months, hundreds of state and local departments have inquired about similar efforts, said Robert J. Hines, who heads the program for the ICE."

"The law enforcement community is split on this issue," Gene Voegtlin, legislative counsel for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told Whoriskey. Police officers "are concerned about the chilling effect it will have on immigrants' cooperation with law enforcement," he said. (Read more)

FCC aims to connect rural health-care providers via broadband Internet

Rural health-care providers will get help connecting with each other over broadband Internet through a program announced by the Federal Communications Commission, commiting up to $100 million.

"The pilot program will fund up to 85 percent of the costs incurred to deploy state or regional broadband networks dedicated to health care. The pilot program will also fund up to 85 percent of the costs of connecting the regional and/or statewide to Internet2, a dedicated nationwide backbone that connects a number of government research institutions, as well as academic, public, and private health care institutions that are repositories of medical expertise and information," the FCC said yesterday. (Read release)

Many rural doctors use the Internet to communicate with patients via e-mail and to communicate with nearby health care providers. However, a lack of money and lack of the infrastructure needed for high-speed Internet are making those efforts slow to spread across the rural U.S. The FCC pilot program aims to both connect doctors and to provide them with the latest medical information.

More information about this program will be available at the Rural Telecon '06 conference slated for Oct. 22-25 in Little Rock, Ark. Speakers will include FCC Commissioner Debra Tate and William Englund, who heads the FCC's health-care program. For information on the conference, click here.

Documentary offers look at transition from rural life to Iraq War

A new documentary titled Off to War: From Rural Arkansas to Iraq provides a glimpse into the story of two brothers leaving home for the war, and it's a tale that may resonate with families across America.

The ten-part series looks at the 39th Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard, which lost 39 soldiers in Iraq. "Luckily, the ample time spent 'behind the scenes' ensures that these aren't just nameless soldiers in fancy uniforms: these are real people, with families, friends and lives back home," writes Randy Miller of DVD Talk, adding that the DVD is slated for release Oct. 17 and parts of it may be broadcast on cable.

Instead of just focusing on how rural men handle life in Iraq, Off to War shines light on how families deal with the changes back home. "Parents and wives are glued to the television, carefully inspecting 24-hour news channels for updates of any kind. Marriages are tested through time spent apart; babies are born to 'single' mothers, holidays pass with empty seats at the dinner table. It all adds up to a potent and layered documentary, though it's safe to say that the harsh reality of Off To War may be too much for some viewers," writes Miller. (Read more)

Ohio's rural churches see younger folks flock to 'rock and roll' services

Across rural Ohio, many churches are searching for answers on how to keep their doors open, as older congregations fade away and younger people flock to modern services elsewhere.

"Some see a tension inherent in trying to keep church relevant to younger generations, yet reverent to God. 'You get a quality of irreverence' with the casual dress of pastors, rock-and-roll music and high-tech equipment that's transforming the way many growing churches across the Miami Valley worship, said Elder Eddie Garrett, 73, who heads a membership of about 15 at the Thompson Memorial Primitive Baptist Church in Franklin," writes Ben Sutherly of the Dayton Daily News. (Read more)

One example of a church living on life support is the 195-year-old McKendree United Methodist Church in eastern Miami County, where attendance totaled 13 people a couple weeks ago. "There's a church in our conference that has a McDonald's Playland in it," member Pat Hiegel told AP. "These little country churches don't offer that. McKendree does not offer guitars and drums and that type of music. It's very traditional, very conservative. People today, they have to be entertained."

"The United Methodist Church, with the bulk of its churches in towns of under 50,000 or in the country, illustrates one measure of the decline: Total membership in western Ohio slipped one-third between 1980 and 2004, from 352,348 to 237,374," reports The Associated Press in a story spurred by Sutherly -- who attended the national conference on rural issues programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues last year at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland. (Read more)

Rural resorts promise more tax money, but pose concerns for residents

Waterside resort developments in Tennessee promise much needed property tax dollars and create jobs, but some rural dwellers are worried about possibly higher property tax rates and more traffic.

"Two major communities are planned along the Tennessee River. Groundbreaking is expected within a few months for Rarity Club at Nickajack Lake in Marion County," writes Cliff Hightower of the Chattanooga Times Free Press."The communities will hold approximately 1,000 homes each, priced from $300,000 to $500,000, the developers said. They will have championship golf courses, clubhouses and other amenities. They will be marketed to retirees from northern states and from Florida."

One developer said "he hopes the tax revenue from new residents will be used to fight crime and help build better schools," but residents are concerned about the loss of waterside land once owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. When the developer acquired several hundred acres in the Shellmound area on Nickajack, that meant possible changes awaited the daily lives of residents, reports Hightower. Some fear that the developments may significantly reduce locals' ability to access parts of the lake. (Read more)

Who is king of ethanol? Iowa gubernatorial candidates battle over fuel

Ethanol is perhaps the nation's most highly-touted alternative fuel, and it is taking center stage in the race for Iowa governor with both candidates claiming they support it more than the other.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver and his opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle, each sell themselves as the state's No. 1 champion of ethanol. Culver's campaign includes an alternative-fuel plan that proposes starting a "Power Fund" for altenative-energy initiatives. Culver and other politicians have pointed out that Nussle voted to scale back the nation's ethanol subsidy while serving on the House Ways and Means Committee in 1995, reports Pat Kinney of The Waterloo Cedar-Falls Courier.

Nussle spokesman Maria Cormella replied, "We're reaping the fruits of Jim's labor and well-placed tax incentives for ethanol development with 24 plants now on-line, producing 1.5 billion gallons of Iowa ethanol each year. With the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers throwing their full support behind Jim Nussle's candidacy for governor, it seems Chet Culver has resorted to sour grapes and negative attacks to cover-up his inexperience and incompetence for Iowa's farmers and our economy." (Read more)

Such debate between candidates illustrates the prominence that ethanol may play in this year's upcoming elections. Are candidates in your state considering ethanol among the many issues up for debate? How much are they stretching their own records and distorting the opposition's?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

John Ed Pearce, called Kentucky's best newspaper writer, dies at 87

John Ed Pearce, whose many awards included part of a 1967 Pulitzer Prize for The Courier-Journal's campaign for stronger control of strip mining in Kentucky, died yesterday of complications from cancer. It was his 87th birthday.

Pearce was a native of Norton, Va. (shown in C-J photo at right, in 1986), where his father founded The Coalfield Progress. He briefly edited the old Somerset (Ky.) Journal before joining the Louisville paper in 1947. Since 1990 Pearce "was a contributing columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader," that paper's Jennifer Hewlett noted. "His work also appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and he wrote several books." The C-J obituary by Sheldon Shafer said Pearce "was revered in many corners for a smooth, liberal-leaning prose that stirred readers and often spurred politicians into action." (Read more)

Former C-J publisher Barry Bingham Sr. said in 1986 that Pearce "knows more about what really makes this state different than anybody else I know." Bingham said Pearce was the paper's "best writer -- ever." John Carroll, former editor of the Herald-Leader and the Los Angeles Times, told Hewlett, "I always thought John Ed was the best newspaper writer in Kentucky." (Read more)

Pearce co-founded the Kentucky Oral History Commission, which has financed and preserved interviews with more than 20,000 Kentuckians. He served on the state parks board under Gov. Bert T. Combs (1959-63), to whom he was close -- so close that when Barry Bingham Jr. took over The Courier-Journal in 1971, he moved Pearce to the paper's magazine, under a new ethics policy.

The magazine turned out to be Pearce's signature forum -- for a column he continued into retirement, for probing feature stories about Kentucky public figures, and for a series on Kentucky counties that helped preserve the paper's ties with rural readers. For a reflection by Kentucky journalist and commentator Al Smith, who says "the good humor with which he engaged the mining of stories and the entertainment of dinner companions only slightly masked a notion that life had not dealt all the cards owed him," click here.

A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at Pearson Funeral Home at 149 Breckenridge Lane in Louisville, where visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. His ashes will be scattered in Norton.

A tribute to a fighter for literacy in one of America's least literate places

Ronnie Wise has retired after 30 years as director of libraries for Bolivar County, Miss., where 41 percent of the population cannot read. The number would be more, and the literacy of many others limited, if not for Wise, J.R. Moehringer wrote for the Los Angeles Times in a 5,267-word tribute. An excerpt cannot do justice to the story or to Wise, so we encourage you to click on the story link below. (Francine Orr photo)

"How many have learned to read because of Wise?" Moehringer asked. "Hundreds, maybe thousands. He doesn't care. As director of libraries for Bolivar County, one of America's least literate places . . . Wise keeps his mind on what needs doing, not what's been done, which might be why he looks so cranky. He glances out his office and spots someone headed toward Fiction, meaning another reader will soon discover the picklock words of Flannery O'Connor or Joseph Conrad, another person will soon escape the Delta, using one of Wise's libraries as the point of departure."

Moehringer continues: "People just don't realize the stress of a Mississippi librarian's life, he says. People don't understand what it takes to keep those front doors open — or what's at stake if you don't. Reading, Wise believes, is life. Illiteracy, therefore, is death. He witnesses its stranglehold every day. Shopping at the grocery store, standing in line at the bank or post office, he's constantly accosted by strangers trying to conceal their secret behind the same lie. "Excuse me," they say. "Forgot my glasses — could you tell me what this says?"

"People call him a librarian, and he surely looks like a librarian, with his sedentary frame, thick eyeglasses, fastidiously trimmed hair and goatee. But, deep down, he feels like something else, something more. He feels like the Sisyphus of Mississippi. He feels like a superhero in one of his beloved comic books, even though he fights the forces of darkness with little more than night classes and meager grants, and he loses more than he wins." Arsonists torched three of his libraries. (Read more)

Coalition fights Texas governor's push for coal-burning power plants

"Texas utility companies are proposing to build 17 new coal-burning power plants and one petroleum-coke power plant over the next four years. They have the support of the governor, but mayors in some of the state's largest cities are putting up a fight," and so are some ranchers, reports National Public Radio.

Gov. Rick Perry is fast-tracking state permits for the proposed plants, but some Texas mayors, newspaper editors, environmentalists and ranchers want to slow the process until more Democrats are elected, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports. Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Houston Mayor Bill White are leading the charge against Perry's effort. "I don't think people have any idea what it will be like if we have 18 power plants now, and they wake up in five years and we have twice as many then. I think you're going to see a significant change in the way our sky looks," Miller told Goodwyn.

Miller is hoping utility companies utilize a development in coal plant technology called "integrated gasification combined cycle," which makes plants 70 percent to 90 percent cleaner than the ones proposed for Texas. That technology is more expensive than the traditional coal technology included with the proposed plants, notes Goodwyn. Seventeen other Texas mayors are joining Miller and they represent about one-third of the state's population. The coal and utility industries say Texas needs more electric power now to fuel its growth, but the critics say it doesn't need 9,000 more megawatts all at once. (Read more)

In an op-ed piece for the Dallas Morning News, Perry said delaying the proposed plants would damage the state's economy and that utility companies would reduce some pollutants by 20 percent or more. He also criticized his opponents: "I would argue that they want to return us to the era of horse and buggy – except they would probably complain about the methane gas from horse manure, too." (Read more)


Ohio campaign to boost responsible forestry, protect woodland owners

A program started by landowners in southeast Ohio seeks to promote responsible forestry and to keep timber buyers from taking advantage of woodland owners who don't realize the value of their trees.

"The Call Before You Cut Campaign originated eight years ago in Appalachian Ohio as a way to educate woodlot owners about sustainable harvests of their forests. According to a press release, the campaign pairs landowners with forestry experts and agricultural educators who advise them on the worth of their forests and harvest techniques that sustain healthy woodland," reports The Athens News. The campaign is using radio, billboards, Internet and the toll-free number 1-877-424-8268 to reach landowners.

Coordinators include the Ohio Division of Forestry, Rural Action, and Ohio State University Extension. Primary sponsors include the Division of Soil & Water Conservation, the Ohio Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, The Nature Conservancy and the Better Business Bureau. (Read more)

Many states have woodland owners' organizations with similar goals. To learn more, click here.

Motorists stage traffic protest against proposed Wal-Mart in N.C. town

Residents in and around Waxhaw, N.C., population 2,625, took a stand against a proposed Wal-Mart on Monday night by causing a traffic jam with their vehicles on N.C. Highway 16.

"The group of protesting motorists said their effort was designed to show town officials how a proposed 176,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter would cause traffic problems in town," write Mike Torralba and Steve Lyttle of the Charlotte Observer. "Some of the demonstrators held signs outside their windows, urging the Waxhaw Planning Board to give an unfavorable recommendation. The Planning Board met Monday evening and decided not to make a recommendation on Wal-Mart's request. The proposal now goes to Waxhaw's Board of Commissioners for a vote sometime this fall."

A traffic study submitted by Wal-Mart projected an increase of about 500 more vehicles during peak hours on N.C. 16. The town's fire and police chiefs have expressed concerns over the potential increase in emergency response times because of such a traffic flow, reports the Observer. (Read more)

Idaho town may push homeowners to get guns for crime prevention

City leaders in Greenleaf, Idaho, are considering a "Civil Emergencies Ordinance" to encourage every homeowner to own at least one gun with ammunition and to learn how to use it.

The rural community 35 miles from Boise is hoping to reduce crime, and the proposed ordinance resembles one Kennesaw, Ga., adopted in 1982. "Greenleaf Mayor Bradley Holton said he supports the spirit of the ordinance, and pointed out that the proposal is not a mandate because it encourages gun ownership, but does not require it — as a similar law has done in the town of Kennesaw, Ga. since the early 1980s. With that exception, Jett said the proposed Greenleaf ordinance was modeled after the Kennesaw measure," wrote Michael McAuliffe for the Idaho Press-Tribune, the daily in nearby Nampa. (Read more)

Jennifer Gelband of New West Boise has another take on Greenleaf: "Interesting, however, is the report from The Associated Press that mentions the most violent crime in the past two years was a lone fist fight. Also interesting is that the town was originally founded by Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends that preaches nonviolence (and eating oatmeal?). The town’s Quakers still maintain a meeting house and are opposed to the gun rule."

The town's 900 residents will get a chance to debate the proposal Oct. 3, then Greenleaf's four-member city council will make a final decision in November, notes Gelband. (Read more)

Virginia officials break ground on $6 million broadband Internet project

Virginia officials broke ground Monday on a $6 million broadband project that will install optical fiber along 160 miles of corridor in the counties of Wise, Lee, Dickenson, Russell, Buchanan and Tazewell.

"The project will be funded with $3 million from the Virginia Tobacco Commission and $3 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The Coalfield Coalition, an equal partnership of the Lenowisco and Cumberland Plateau planning districts, will oversee the process," writes Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton. Local officials hope broadband Internet spurs technology industry growth once work is completed in May 2007.

“The question that hangs out there is, ‘When will broadband come to my house?’” Ron Flanary, Lenowisco Planning District Commission Executive Director Flanary, noted. “Right now we’re just running the main lines and picking up the critical elements along the way.” Such elements include school systems, government offices and the University of Virginia-Wise, reports Deal. (Read more)

Monday, September 25, 2006

High-tech firms flock to rural U.S., give college grads reason to return

A national trend is emerging with young professionals and high-tech entrepreneurs opting to leave the metropolitan scene in favor of rural areas with lower operating costs. Is your area part of this trend? If not, why not, and what can it do to take advantage of it?

"The costs are so much lower in these rural areas," Lawrence Gelburd, an independent consultant and lecturer on entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville, Ky. "The value that they get, the pace of life and the ubiquitous nature of technology makes rural areas more attractive." Rural places are seeking ways to bring home natives who left for college, and these high-tech businesses are helping them accomplish that.

The Internet is paving the way for moves to rural areas, because businesses can communicate with clients all the way from California's skylines to Appalachia's mountains. "There's a new generation of entrepreneurs who have really tight relationships virtually," Cornelia Flora, a sociology professor Iowa State University and director of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, told AP.

Lower costs are a big attraction for businesses, said Mike Mallet, founder and CEO of Corporate Research International. "The business sector has changed completely," he told AP. "The Wal-Mart mentality has changed the world. It's all about cost now." The only major hurdle facing some businesses is getting around in rural areas, but even that does not seem to be stopping this trend. (Read more)

Ethanol boom poses storage problems for farmers meeting corn demand

A growing ethanol industry and economics that favor corn over soybeans mean Iowa's farmers may harvest more corn than area cooperatives can store this year.

Wil Manwieler, grain department manager of the Dunkerton Cooperative, said his cooperative is just one of many that expanded storage spaces. "The extra capacity was needed as more farmers abandon traditional 50-50 crop rotations and plant more corn than soybeans, which yield more," writes Matthew Wilde of The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. "Nationally, the USDA estimates the second-largest crops on record at 11.1 billion bushels for corn and 3.09 billion bushels for soybeans."

Vic Miller, head of the U.S. Grains Council, predicts a storage crunch nationwide and a whole new set of challenges for farmers. "Last year, Miller stored 75,000 bushels on the ground himself. Luckily, he has plenty of cement to help keep the corn dry and clean. One advantage farmers have compared to past years is the new ethanol plants in the region," reports Wilde. Farmers can transport their crops to those plants to avoid spoilage and potential financial losses. (Read more)

Organic food, farmers markets make hospitals a prime destination

Hospitals across the U.S. are experiencing something unusual: Patients are returning after their stays are over to eat the locally grown organic food that is finding a home in hospital cafeterias.

"Some hospitals have created onsite farmers markets. Others have hired chefs and former restaurant employees to run their kitchens," reports The Associated Press. The story is reported from Oregon, but says, "Medical centers from California to North Carolina are hosting farmers markets where patients and staff can grab fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on, and some are even buying produce for the kitchen there. The trend is more popular in the West, where produce is abundant."

Many hospitals are eliminating unhealthy snack foods typically found on coffee carts and in vending machines. "The efforts are earning good feedback from staff and patients, such as those who schedule their appointments around farmers markets," notes AP. (Read more)

Rural children forced to find medical care in urban areas, says study

Rural children require more health care than their urban counterparts and have to seek treatment elsewhere because of limited services in their home counties, according to a study by the Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. "The study ... analyzed access to and quality of health care, health status, and other measures for children in four types of counties--- large metropolitan, small metropolitan, micropolitan, and non-core. Micropolitan and non-core, which is the most rural type of area, make up non-metropolitan (rural) counties," writes Newswise, a research-reporting service.

"Children in non-core counties were more likely to be hospitalized for potentially preventable conditions, such as gastroenteritis, bacterial pneumonia, and dehydration, than children in small and large metropolitan counties," writes Newswise. "Non-core and micropolitan children had an emergency department visit rate larger than that observed for children from large metropolitan counties (17.5 percent and 19 percent vs. 12 percent). White, non-Hispanic children outside of large metropolitan counties tended to rely more on public coverage such as Medicaid (18 percent in small metropolitan, 23 percent in micropolitan, and 25.5 percent in non-core), than children in large metropolitan counties (12 percent)." (Read more)

In rural southwest Virginia, a senator's presidential campaign founders

Six weeks ago, Virginia Sen. George Allen was one of the early favorites for the 2008 Republican presidential election. "Then he visited Breaks," Matthew Continetti writes in The Weekly Standard. Now Allen is fighting to keep his Senate seat against Republican-turned-Democrat James Webb. Continetti's long profile of Allen offers perhaps the most comprehensive description in print of what happened in Breaks.

Breaks is in Dickenson County (Continetti misspells it), "near the Kentucky border. It is a small community, and relatively poor. In 2000, according to the census, the county's population was slightly more than 16,000 people, including 70 Hispanics and 58 blacks. The census calculated median household income at $23,431 in 1999 dollars. Breaks is a beautiful, historic, and conservative part of rural Virginia -- the sort of place that led George Allen to fall in love with the state three decades ago" and settle there after law school at the University of Virginia.

On Aug. 11, "Allen visited Breaks and spoke to supporters at a local park. Among those observing Allen deliver his stump speech was a 'tracker' for the Webb campaign. On the campaign trail, tracking is a common phenomenon. A low-level staff member for the opposing candidate follows a politician around, recording everything he or she says and does. For a long time, trackers used pad and pen. Today, it is typical for them to film a candidate with a video camera. That day, Allen decided to incorporate Webb's tracker into his speech.

"This fella here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent, he's following us around everywhere," Allen says on the now-famous video.

"Someone in the crowd laughed, and Allen paused and smiled," Continetti writes. "Allen turned once more to the camera and pointed, saying, 'And he's having it on film and it's great to have you here, and you show it to your opponent.'" Continetti explains, "Presumably Allen meant 'my' opponent. But the crowd got the point. Someone clapped, and Allen continued: 'Because he's never been there and probably will never come.' People cheered. 'So it's good to have you here,' Allen went on -- and here the tape is garbled because of the cheers and applause -- 'rather than living inside the Beltway or -- his opponent actually right now is with a bunch of Hollywood movie moguls.' Laughter. 'We care about fact, not fiction.' Allen turned back to the camera. 'So welcome. Let's give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia.' A pause. 'Now my friends, we're in the midst of a war on terror . . .' "

"'Macaca' was Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth, known by his surname, or 'Sid' for short, a 6-foot-4-inch tall 20-year-old student at the University of Virginia who grew up in the northern Virginia suburb of Fairfax County. Sidarth's father, a wealthy mortgage banker, immigrated to the United States from India a quarter of a century ago," Continetti writes.

"He is also curious. As Sidarth tells it, after the Breaks event he sought out a dictionary and looked up 'macaca,' which he found refers to a genus of monkey, and in certain cultures is used as an ethnic slur. Offended, he circulated his video among some liberal bloggers. In a few days The Washington Post got interested in the story. And before he knew it, Allen had a scandal on his hands. . . . The video lends itself to television, where a viewer can't help finding it strangely compelling: the absurdity of a professional politician mocking a 20-year-old campaign volunteer; the goofy, triumphant grin on Allen's face as he welcomes "macaca" to America; the casual, unknowing ease with which Allen moves from committing a potentially career-ending gaffe to a canned discourse on fighting terrorists." (Read more)

The gaffe will doom Allen's candidayc because he will no longer be "the Christian Right's preferred candidate," writes Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer, a daily online review of religion and the media. "The Christian Right -- the pro-Israel, pro-'racial reconciliation' Christian Right -- doesn't want a wanna-be cracker (Allen's from California) carrying its flag. The liberal blogs, Salon, and now the mainstream media (AP) have been making hay out of Allen's bigotry, but the media that matters in this case won't be public. It'll be email. It'll be telephone calls. It'll be the quiet, behind-the-scenes conferencing by Christian Right powerbrokers who are about to pull the rug out from Allen." (Read more)

Small newspapers find good results with innovation attempts, says study

Small newspapers can benefit from being innovative, diverse and using multiple forms of media. "Research from the Readership Institute at Northwestern University's Media Management Center shows that smaller newspapers tend to score high on a 'Ready to Innovate Index' developed by the Institute and research partner Robert Cooke," writes Randy Craig in The Inlander, the monthly publication of the Inland Press Association.

Papers with a high score also tended to have higher readership scores, greater percentages of female employees, more diversity, younger employees and a constructive working environment. One example of a paper using innovation is The Montrose Daily Press in Colorado, which partnered with KKCO, an NBC affiliate in Grand Junction, Colo., to air the "Daily Press Report," a short package filmed by the newspaper and provided to the station. The paper posts the videos on this Web site, reports Craig.

Curt Chandler, editor for online innovation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said that newspapers should be open to multiple media forms. "The strength of each medium should be emphasized, Chandler said. Print editions should focus on strong design, packaging and analysis to help readers tackle subjects they might miss in an online menu. Web sites should focus on immedicacy, interactivity and multimedia reporting. Both platforms must be easy to navigate. Cross-promotion is a must," writes Craig. (Read more) To read the study, click here.

Vermont grass-roots group pushes for state's succession from union

A grassroots organization in Vermont is advocating the secession of their state from the rest of the union. "The 150 or so members of the Second Vermont Republic envision a country much like Switzerland — neutral and economically independent. They argue their cause at public gatherings and private events. Supporters march in parades and engage in political theater, sometimes reliving the early days when Vermont — like California — was its own republic," writes Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times.

"Its members argue that the U.S. government has lost its concern for individual citizens and small communities. They worry about global warming, the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, unfair trade practices, and the 'tyranny of multinational corporations,'" reports Mehren. Member Thomas Naylor talked about the group's optimism: "Part of why we are so optimistic is the absurdity of it all. What could be more absurd than tiny Vermont taking on the empire?"

"But the grass-roots secession campaign faces a major sales job," writes Mehren. "A recent study by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont showed that only 8 percent of respondents thought Vermont should separate from the U.S." (Read more)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rural voters in competitive congressional races evenly split, poll shows

A bipartisan poll in rural areas of 41 congressional districts and six states that have competitive House and Senate races, respectively, indicates that the November federal elections will be much closer among rural voters than the last off-year election in 2002. Of the 41 House districts where rural voters were surveyed, 32 are held by Republicans, and all six Senate seats are GOP-held.

The survey, conducted in rural areas Sept. 17-19, asked self-described likely voters if they would vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate if the election were held that day. Each party got 45 percent of the rural vote in competitive congressional districts, and Republicans led in Senate races 47 to 43 percent -- within the poll's error margin of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points for each result.

That was a sharp contrast from 2002, when post-election polling in competitive rural areas showed that Republican candidates had a rural advantage of 60 percent to 36 percent. "What we see right now is that rural is in play," said Dee Davis, president of the Whitesburg, Ky.-based Center for Rural Strategies, which sponsored the poll. "If the Republicans plan to hold onto Congress, they're going to have to do better in the rural areas than they're doing now," Davis told Howard Berkes of National Public Radio.

"The nation’s rural voters are conflicted," writes David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register. "While President Bush is more popular with them than he is among all Americans, it’s still not a great rating, and rural voters tend to agree with Democrats on the need to get out of Iraq." (Read more)

An analysis by Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and Republican pollster William Greener said the war in Iraq, terrorism and the economy "dominate the issue landscape in rural America. Nearly three-quarters of rural voters know someone serving or who has served in Iraq, and a majority of rural voters favor a plan to pull out of Iraq in the next year. They also, by a significant margin, believe the country's economy is improving mainly for the wealthy. . . . Immigration is low on the list of concerns, and rural voters are evenly divided over the issue of citizenship for illegal immigrants."

The poll surveyed 529 adults who lived in a non-metropolitan county and said they were almost certain to (84 percent) or probably would (16 percent) vote in the Nov. 7 election for Congress. Poll respondents typically over-estimate their likelihood of voting. For more details, including the questionnaire and a list of the 41 districts ranked by competitiveness, click here.

Border controls restrict harvest labor, and Congress dithers, so fruit rots

Stricter controls of U.S. borders have reduced the labor available to harvest American crops, leaving a trail of rotting fruit and grower resentment against Congress for fulminating about illegal immigration but failing to pass a new program for agricultural guest workers, The New York Times reports.

"Stepped-up border enforcement kept many illegal Mexican migrant workers out of California this year, farmers and labor contractors said, putting new strains on the state’s shrinking seasonal farm labor force," Julia Preston writes from Lakeport, Calif. "Labor shortages have also been reported by apple growers in Washington and upstate New York. Growers have gone from frustrated to furious with Congress, which has all but given up on passing legislation this year to create an agricultural guest-worker program."

Preston continues, "Most California growers gave up years ago on recruiting workers through the seasonal guest-worker program currently in place. Known as H-2A, the program requires employers to prove they tried to find American workers and to apply well in advance for relatively small contingents of foreign workers for fixed time periods. . . . This year’s shortages are compounding a flight from the fields by Mexican workers already in the United States. As it has become harder to get into this country, many illegal immigrants have been reluctant to return to Mexico in the off-season. Remaining here year-round, they have gravitated toward more stable jobs. . . . Some economists and advocates for farm workers say the labor shortages would ease if farmers would pay more."

The Daily Times-Call of Longmont, Colo., reports that the shortage of workers has been hardest on organic farms "because organic-label standards limit them from using many chemical herbicides, Longmont soil conservationist Don Graffis said. Those farmers typically employ large numbers of Hispanic workers to weed their fields and, in many cases, to harvest them. Hand-picked vegetables often receive less bruising than mechanically harvested vegetables and sell for more money, he said." (Read more)

Farm at center of E. coli outbreak has been leader in organic farming

The Earthbound Farm and Natural Selection Foods plant in San Juan Bautista, Calif., is the focus of investigation in the contamination of spinach by E. coli 0157|H7 bacteria. Its owners, Drew and Myra Goodman, started out as small-time farmers, selling at roadside stands in their free time. "Their company, Natural Selection Foods LLC, is one of the largest fresh produce companies in the nation, and it elbowed into conventional greens after becoming popular for organic produce," write Michael S. Rosenwald and Sonia Geis of The Washington Post.

"Natural Selection and Earthbound are noted both for their size and their contributions to research on organic farming, said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, which receives some financial support from Earthbound," the Post reports. "Of the more than 2,000 organic farms in California, most are small, sole-proprietor businesses, Scowcroft said. Earthbound Farm is one of two that have made a major business of organic farming, he said.

"The Goodmans have not commented on the outbreak. However, a company spokeswoman told The Associated Press: 'We are very, very upset about this. What we do is produce food that we want to be healthy and safe for consumers, so this is a tragedy for us,'" write Rosenwald and Geis. (Read more) The source is elusive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Read more)

More lucrative small-animal work leaving U.S. short of large-animal vets

America is running short on large-animal veterinarians, reports Kari Kramer in the East Texas Edition of Country World, "the rural newspaper of Texas."

"According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, (as of Jan. 1, 2006), there are only 1,134 exclusive large-animal veterinary practices in the United States. There are 2,268 large-animal veterinarians working in those practices. There are 3,047 predominately large animal veterinarians at 1,219 practices; 4,515 mixed animal veterinarians at 2,258 practices; and 2,646 equine-only veterinarians at 1,323 practices. ... Only 23 percent of veterinarians reported working on large animals," Kramer reports.

Treating large animals is usually not as lucrative as treating small ones, and equipment costs more, vet Michael Baird, who treats both, told Kramer. “If the animal has got a name, they don’t mind paying for it,” he said, adding that sometimes the cost to treat a meat animal is greater than what the animal would sell for.

The trend is toward small animals. The vets' association says almost three-fourths of vet students are women, and "Baird said working with large animals requires great strength, sometimes difficult for a 200-pound man, let alone a 130-pound woman." (Read more)

Reinstated Roadless Rule would cut down on drilling, preserve wilderness

A federal court ruling reinstating former President Bill Clinton’s Roadless Rule for 58 million federal acres could help preserve undeveloped wilderness, reports Cory Hatch of the Jackson Hole News & Guide. "The reinstated ban on road construction affects nearly a third of national forest land, overturning a Bush administration rule that allowed states to decide how to manage individual forests," Hatch writes.

Wednesday's ruling, striking down a Bush administration rule, could make tapping fossil fuel more difficult. "The Roadless Rule does not prohibit oil and gas drilling in inventoried roadless areas, but could force energy developers to use helicopters or directional drilling to access fossil fuel deposits, according to the Wyoming Wilderness Association and Earthjustice," writes Hatch. The rule will probably not affect land already leased for oil and gas extraction , and motorized vehicles will still be allowed in roadless areas.

Doug Honnold of Earthjustice’s office in Bozeman, Mont., told Hatch the decision "is about how much of our area is going to be managed for extraction, logging, mining, oil and gas; and how much is going to be managed for environmental values like fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing.” (Read more)

Republican Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado criticized the ruling, saying a task force that takes citizens' input is the right way to manage the state's wilderness, reports Terence Chea of The Associated Press. "It would be very unfortunate if we were to revert back to a rule established hastily without public input during the waning days of the Clinton administration," Owens said. "We simply should not have a federal magistrate in San Francisco unilaterally dictating natural resource policy for the entire country." (Read more) For reaction from both sides of the issue in Colorado, from the Montrose Daily Press, click here.

EPA tightens rules on tiny particles, loosens those on coarse dust

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a stricter standard yesterday for particulates, tiny particles such as soot that can enter the lungs and blood. While it tightened rules on fine particles, it abolished the annual limit for emissions of coarse particles, such as dust, bringing a salute from the National Mining Association and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association.

The latter association said EPA abolished the annual limit "due to a lack of evidence linking health problems to long-term exposure to coarse particle pollution." (Read more)

NMA President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz said, “We are pleased that EPA’s analysis shows no evidence of adverse health effects from coarse particulate emissions associated with surface mines. Surface mining operations are typically far removed from population centers and they already control dust emissions on site. This rule clearly recognizes the important distinction for human health between urban fine-dust particles and coarse particles from rural dust." Click here for NMA contact information.

For a story on the change in rules on fine particulates, from Jim Bruggers of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, click here.

Wal-Mart drug deal good news for many, maybe not for small pharmacies

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said yesterday it will charge $4 per prescription for 291 generic drugs. "By using its might as the nation's largest retailer and its ability to force suppliers to cut prices to the bone, the company will begin the $4 price program in its 65 stores in the Tampa area today, in all of Florida in January, and in as many other states as possible by the end of 2007," writes Kathleen Day of The Washington Post.

"Health-care industry analysts said the program has the potential to transform the $230 billion prescription-drug business the way Wal-Mart has transformed other industries, including groceries and toys, where its aggressive pricing has forced some competitors out of business and allowed it to dominate entire categories of merchandise," writes Day. (Read more) About half of Wal-Mart stores are in rural areas.

Hashim Badr, pharmacist and owner of Asheville Discount Pharmacy in Asheville, N.C., said he sees the new drug program as an attempt to put small pharmacies out of business, reports Adam Behsudi of the Asheville Citizen-Times. “I could match them or beat them,” Badr told the Citizen-Times. “They couldn’t take a loss for a long time because they have more overhead than my store.” (Read more)

"For now, the price cuts will apply to fewer than 300 formulations of 150 drugs, a fraction of the roughly 2,000 generic drugs sold in most pharmacies," reports The Wall Street Journal. (Read more) Target Corp., the No. 2 discount retailer in the U.S. after Wal-Mart, said it would match the lower drug prices in its Tampa Bay stores immediately, The Associated Press reported. Target has not yet said whether it will match Wal-Mart's drug prices as the program expands.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Conservation easements help farmers keep, buy land despite high prices

New forms of conservation easements are helping preserve farmland by splitting land-purchase costs with farmers. For example, some have conditions that the land must be used for organic goods and that its proprietors earn more than half their income farming it, reports Seth Zuckerman of High Country News.

Since development of rural homes and country estates have driven up land values in some areas, new farm owners might make less than half of what is needed to pay off debt, reports Zuckerman. Some farmers have been operating on leased land in danger of being sold to developers, and trusts that hold the conservation easements help them to buy it.

Brian Crawford, the deputy director of planning in Marin County, California, "cautions that these 'affirmative easements' may prove difficult to monitor and enforce," writes Zuckerman. "It’s easy to visit once a year and make sure the landowner hasn’t built five homes on a cul-de-sac. It’s a lot harder to prove that the land is no longer being farmed." (Read more)

U.S. official says federal shield law would hurt national-security efforts

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, a top Justice Department official spoke out against a proposed federal shield law that would protect reporters from having to identify sources in many cases.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said the proposal would hurt the department's ability to get information needed for national security, but committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is determined to push forward with the bill. "The Senate proposal would allow reporters to protect their confidential sources only in some instances. There would be exemptions in cases involving guilt or innocence, death or bodily harm, eyewitness accounts of criminal activity, and unauthorized disclosure of properly classified information," reports The Associated Press.

Little time is left before the November elections, and differences still remain between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House version would permit courts to compel reporters' testimony when necessary to prevent "imminent and actual harm" to national security, notes AP. (Read more) For a detailed summary of the hearing from the Society of Professional Journalists, click here.

Utah lawmakers debate definition of ‘rural’ in economic-development bill

Utah lawmakers in rural areas are laboring over a draft bill that proposes changes to the amount of economic development financial incentives given to boost business growth outside the state's urban areas.

The issue is defining "rural Utah," according to Jeff Packer, co-chairman of the Governor's Rural Partnership Board, a group working with state officials on the bill, reports the Deseret Morning News. "We want to make sure that in the process of this kind of legislation that we don't exclude some areas that truly may be disenfranchised by this process if we too narrowly define this definition," Packer told the Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee on Wednesday.

The bill defines an "economically disadvantaged rural area" to any city of less than 10,000 population, which some worry could leave out larger rural areas needing the help, writes Brice Wallace. The bill calls for "no less than 30 percent" of the Industrial Assistance Fund — used to recruit or grow businesses — to be used in rural areas, compared to the up to 50 percent level in existing law. Critics argue that always providing at least 30 percent might be troublesome should cities not successfully recruit businesses. (Read more)

Environmentalists push renewable energy, electronic recycling in Oregon

Oregon environmentalists want legislators to expand renewable-energy sources, electronic-recycling programs, biodiesel production and regulations on industrial water pollution during the 2007 session.

The Oregon Conservation Network, a coalition of more than 40 environmental groups, released those goals. Gov. Ted Kulongoski is already calling for legislation to require 25 percent of the state's power to be generated by new sources of renewable energy by 2025. The coalition said such an emphasis would spur new markets for Oregon crops used in biofuel production, reports Beth Casper of the Statesman Journal in Salem. Although there is already support for renewable energy, some of the coalition's other priorities might face an uphill battle.

"Oregon is falling behind other states in providing for ways to safely dispose of the 'hundreds of thousands' of old computers and other used electronic equipment that is piling up in people's homes, according to the conservation network. The Legislature needs to create a program that gives all Oregonians easy access to recycling programs for old televisions, personal computers, printers and scanners, said Katy Daly of Recycling Advocates," writes Casper. (Read more)

Iowa closer to banning manure on soybean fields, to stem nitrate pollution

Iowa's Environmental Protection Commission is hoping to ban the spreading of manure on land planted with soybeans, and such a measure could produce a big effect on farmers.

"Row crop farmers use manure as fertilizer, and livestock producers get rid of tons of animal waste by applying it to fields. Environmentalists have argued that soybeans don't need the nutrients provided by manure. They say that its application on soybean fields creates nitrate pollution by leaving too much nitrogen in the soil, which then runs off into the state's waterways -- some of the most nitrogen-rich waters in the world," reports The Associated Press.

"Many people will say that soybeans don't need the fertilizer anyway, and that's the whole reason for this" discussion, said Randy Clark, an attorney with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Clark is helping that department on a notice to start the rule-making process for the ban, which would go into effect three years after its approval for existing soybean fields, notes AP. (Read more)

Indiana may let feds inspect meat; move could hurt small businesses

Indiana budget officials are considering whether to give federal authorities control over the state's meat and poultry inspection program in an effort to save money. However, opponents to that argue that smaller operations may suffer.

"Indiana is one of 28 states that handle their own inspections for slaughterhouses and processors that don't ship meat and poultry out of state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates companies with interstate sales and handles all inspections in 22 other states," writes Lesley Stedman Weidenbener of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "By turning over inspections to the federal government, Indiana could save nearly $1.8 million annually. But state meatpackers say that would be a big mistake, one that could force smaller operators out of business or send some underground."

Janice Fisher, executive secretary of the Indiana Meatpackers & Processors Association, said federal officials sometimes order costly plant changes that are unnecessary. Indiana's program regulates 57 plants that slaughter livestock and poultry, and an inspector is present for everything, including checking every animal. Animal inspections include 83,000 head of livestock and 34,000 chickens, turkeys or other poultry a year, reports Weidenbener. (Read more)

N. C. troopers step up arrests, seizures in rural drag-racing incidents

Drag racing on rural roads is growing in popularity in central North Carolina and Highway Patrol troopers are stepping up arrests of people doing it along with seizing their souped-up rides.

At least two crackdowns have occurred on pre-arranged drag racing in Nash and Halifax counties during the last two years. Charges typically result in fines and the forfeiture of vehicles. The problem is a combination of speeding cars and suspected drug and alcohol use by drivers. "You have people that are impaired but are driving in the races. They are leaving these races. They are standing out in the road. There's even reports that people are stopping motorists going up and down the road," Trooper Keith Stone told WRAL-TV in Raleigh.

Drag races typically occur late at night when low visibility is already a problem for motorists, who often call to complain about getting stopped on a state road by drag racers, reports WRAL. (Read more)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Smart-growth study by EPA looks at 40 communities across U.S.

Smart growth takes an environmentally sensitive approach to development, and 40 rural and urban cities across the U.S. are enjoyed an improved quality of life because of it, according to "This Is Smart Growth," a study from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"In communities across the nation, there is a growing concern that current development patterns -- dominated by what some call "sprawl" -- are no longer in the long-term interest of our cities, existing suburbs, small towns, rural communities, or wilderness areas. Though supportive of growth, communities are questioning the economic costs of abandoning infrastructure in the city, only to rebuild it further out. Spurring the smart growth movement are demographic shifts, a strong environmental ethic, increased fiscal concerns, and more nuanced views of growth. The result is both a new demand and a new opportunity for smart growth," according to smartgrowth.org.

"The features that distinguish smart growth in a community vary from place to place. In general, smart growth invests time, attention, and resources in restoring community and vitality to center cities and older suburbs. New smart growth is more town-centered, is transit and pedestrian oriented, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities." (Read more) To read about cities using smart growth, click here.

Project aims to address public concerns about modern agriculture

The Grow America Project, a non-profit group based in Indianapolis, wants to alleviate any concerns the non-farming public might have about the agriculture industry by educating them about what goes into the process of producing goods.

President Brose McVey is getting members from "all segments of the food industry, from the farm to McDonald’s and Wal-Mart have begun the task of identifying areas of concern. McVey says that already they have identified biotechnology, nanotechnology, irradiation and intensive livestock operations as areas of concern," writes Dave Russell of the Brownfield Network. If agriculture wants to avoid concerns and opposition, then educating the public should accompany the introduction of new technology, McVey said.

Grow America plans to poll the public this fall to identify more concerns, and it will host a national summit in Indianapolis from Oct. 25-26 to develop tools for teaching the non-farming public about the importance of agriculture, reports Russell. (Read more)

Iowa companies plan to jump-start broadband in rural areas with fiber

Rural telephone companies in Iowa are gearing up to offer the kind of broadband Internet service typically reserved for metro areas, and they plan to accomplish that by extending fiber out to farm houses.

Seven companies are going to upgrade their services using both Occam Networks' Ethernet and equipment that runs over both copper and fiber to provide voice, video and high-speed data to rural residents. Participating companies include Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative/USA Communications, Alpine Communications, Northeast Iowa Telephone, Baldwin/Nashville Telephone Company, Schaller Telephone Company, Cooperative Telephone Exchange and Andrew Telephone, reports Jim Barthold of Telecommunications magazine.

“What you’re seeing is just that broadband for rural communities is maybe even more important than it is for those of us who live in cities,” Russ Sharer, vice president of marketing at Occam, told Barthold. “These guys all run small businesses out of their home; they’re checking weather maps, futures for corn and cattle, what’s happening on the market.” (Read more)

High-speed Internet lags in rural Arizona; companies need building permits

Most of rural Arizona continues to miss out on high-speed Internet because they cannot get the basic infrastructure for wireless service and telephone and cable companies are being overwhelmed by the high customer load outside metro areas, reports The Arizona Republic.

"Operators of the state's 19 independent telecommunications companies complain that the problems began in the late 1990s, when the state wouldn't allow Qwest to sell 39 telephone exchanges around the state without the corporation making significant service upgrades. That has been compounded by companies waiting years for building permits from many of the rural counties. They also run the risk of constructing lines over many miles in hopes of a sufficient financial return with a limited customer base," Mark Shaffer writes.

The most recent study conducted by the Pew Internet Project reported that 70 percent of adults in urban areas are Internet users, aompared to 62 percent in rural areas. That study did not break down access by state, but maps prepared by the Federal Communications Commission show that Arizona's rural woes are common throughout other states in the region. More than half of Arizona's land base either gets no Internet service or service from one to three high-speed providers, while urban areas can pick from seven or more providers, notes Shaffer. (Read more)

Study: Wal-Mart's absence linked to income growth in rural Nebraska

"Nebraska counties where a Wal-Mart is located have experienced on average a slower growth in standard of living than counties without the world's largest retailer, a preliminary University of Nebraska-Lincoln study shows," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

The study examined household income from 1979 to 2002 in 19 counties with Wal-Marts and 74 without, and it may be the first to look at the retailer's effect on the standard of living in communities it has entered. Researchers tried account for the effects other economic variables would have on household income in order to isolate the Wal-Mart effect. The average annual growth in median household income, adjusted for inflation, in the 19 counties with a Wal-Mart was $142.62 under the average in the 74 counties without a Wal-Mart from 1979 to 2002, notes Newswise.

"The study found that the magnitude of the Wal-Mart effect differed depending on factors such as whether counties are urban or rural; located along Interstate 80 or not; and how dependent their economies are on agriculture. The counties whose standards of living seem to benefit most from Wal-Mart, according to the study, are those that do not have a store themselves, but are adjacent to counties that do," reports Newswise. Urban counties with Wal-Marts showed the biggest negative impact in standard of living, according to the research. (Read more)

$15 million to upgrade health care for minorities, rural residents in Miss.

Rural and minority populations in Mississippi are set to see an upgrade in health care thanks to a three-year $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant money will be split up over the three-year period and will go toward projects headed by various partners, reports Leah Rupp of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. The University of Mississippi Medical Center is partnering with the following groups in this effort: University of Southern Mississippi, Alcorn State University, Tougaloo College, Mississippi Primary Health Care Association, Mississippi Hospital Association, Mississippi Diabetes Foundation, Mississippi Valley State University, Rust College, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Department of Health. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Immigrants account for a third of population growth in rural U.S.

Population growth in the rural U.S. totaled 2.2 percent from 2000 to 2005, and immigrants comprised nearly a third of that growth and all rural population growth in the Midwest, according to a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Between 2000 and 2005, population growth in the Midwest resulted entirely from international migration, because population growth from natural increase (births minus deaths) was completely offset by domestic outmigration of mostly young adults. In addition, international migration contributed between 18 and 28 percent of total nonmetro population growth for the West, South, and Northeast," according to the study titled "Rural America At A Glance."

Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, and New Mexico posted the largest percentage gains in rural population growth from immigrants. The largest rural population drops occurred in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, and North Dakota. "Nonmetro population growth was higher among Hispanics than non-Hispanic Whites, both in number (497,000 compared with 454,000) and rate (19 percent compared with 1 percent)," according to the study. (Read more)

Iowa senator says Senate won't act on horse-slaughter ban this year

U.S. senators are not likely to address a ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption this year, even though the measure already gained approval from the House, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley told reporters.

"Grassley says that there is not necessarily a majority of senators against the bill, but not only does he cite the Senate calendar being full between now and adjournment, he says there are probably enough lawmakers opposed to the bill to create a filibuster," writes Tom Steever of the Brownfield Network. "Additionally, Grassley quotes colleagues who maintain there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

While the measure is supported by several U.S. legislators, several agriculture groups oppose any such ban, reports Steever. (Read more)

Top pork producer buys chief competitor; violation of anti-trust laws?

Virginia-based Smithfield Foods leads the nation in pork production and is buying the nation's number two producer, Kansas City-based Premium Standard Farms, for $674 million.

"The deal comes amid disappointing earnings across the meat industry, which is in the middle of what's considered a "protein glut" -- or oversupply of meat -- that has forced lower meat prices and reduced profit margins," writes Peter Dujardin of the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., adding that hog growers may protest the deal on anti-trust grounds. "The purchase, set to go through in early 2007, is the largest purchase by Smithfield in at least two years, and is expected to add 4,300 employees at facilities and farms in Missouri, Texas and North Carolina to Smithfield's payroll." (Read more)

A National Farmers Union press release criticized the deal: “Approval of merging the number one and number two pork producers all but guarantees independent producers will be left without a market. National Farmers Union has been steadfast in its call for the federal government to start playing an active role to ensure fair, open, transparent, accessible and competitive markets for all agricultural commodities. The current lack of enforcement of anti-trust laws has failed America’s food producers and consumers," said President Tom Buis. (Read more)

Knight offers up to $25 million for community digital news projects

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation plans to spend as much as $25 million over the next five years on "community news projects that best use the digital world to connect people to the real world."

The Knight Brothers 21st Century News Challenge will invest as much as $5 million in its first year in "new ideas, prototypes, products and leadership initiatives that use innovative news methods to help citizens better connect within their communities," the foundation said in a news release. "If the quality of entries warrant it, the foundation may spend as much as $25 million during the next five years in the search for bold community news experiments."

The competition is open to anyone, not just those in journalism. One thought behind it is imparting the core values of journalism to the growing field of citizen journalism, made possible by digital technology. “We’d like to encourage the newest ways for people to pursue a great American tradition: the fair, accurate, contextual search for the truth. We want to help the citizens of this new century get the news they need to run their governments and their lives,” said Eric Newton, Knight’s director of journalism initiatives.

“Nothing is too far out to qualify,” the release said, suggesting journalism games, cell phone documentaries, and new operating software for news collectors “We hesitate to set too many rules,” said Knight journalism program officer Gary Kebbel, “because we expect the best entries will be ideas that totally surprise us.”

The Challenge Web site, with an online application form, is at www.newschallenge.org. The competition will accept applications through Dec. 31, and expects to begin announcing winners in the spring of 2007. The foundation and its special panel of new media advisors will look for innovative proposals that contain a unique combination of vision, courage and know-how in their ability to use cyberspace to better connect people to the physical space where they live and work.

First Amendment reaching more U.S. high school students, says survey

More high school students are being exposed to the First Amendment, and more think its rights go too far, according to an update of a 2004 survey funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Seventy-two percent of U.S. high school students report that they have taken classes dealing with the First Amendment, up from 58 percent in a 2004 survey. Also, 64 percent said school newspapers should have the power to publish without officials’ approval, up from 58 percent in 2004. Fifty-four percent said all newspapers should be able to publish with government approval, up from 51 percent in 2004. However, 45 percent said the First Amendment goes too far, up from 35 percent in 2004.

A 2004 survey suggested exposing students to the First Amendment’s rights increases their involvement in the news media and student journalism. It also suggested that exposing students to those rights raises their appreciation for the amendment. To read the full findings of the latest survey, click here.

Southwest Va. leaders seek grads who left area to fill job openings

A program called Return to Roots is attempting to bring 15,000 high school graduates back to Appalachian Virginia with the promise that a once-bleak economic outlook no longer exists

"We've got this problem we've got more jobs than we can fill," said Ed Whitmore, a member of the program's steering committee. "We're like the dog that caught the car. For 20 years we've been screaming that we need high-tech jobs here. Now we've got them. The problem is filling them." Funded by a state tobacco commission grant of $135,000, the program is using a Web site and media campaign to find the 15,000 high school graduates who have left Southwest Virginia and connect them with new employers. Cities and counties in the area have lost more than 1,700 residents since 2000, while the rest of the state's population grew by half a million, reports Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"Economic experts say the population drop in the coalfields represents a 'brain drain,' as high school students who go on to college move away for good because there have been few high-paying, high-skill jobs in far Southwest Virginia to lure them back. But officials said the mountainous region now has openings for software developers and engineers, technical supervisors, information-technology experts, lab technicians, project managers, electrical and industrial engineers, nurses, therapists, physicians and pharmacists," writes Bowman. (Read more)

Water wars: N.C. cities seek river's resources; opponents fear drought

Water from the Catawba River is the subject of ongoing meetings over just who can get some of it, reports the Charlotte Observer in another example of increasing fights over water around the United States.

"The scene, of neighbors competing for water, evokes the conflict that has tied up Georgia, Alabama and Florida in legal knots for years. North Carolina itself spent 14 years in a losing fight to keep Virginia Beach's straw out of Lake Gaston," writes Bruce Henderson. "Communities fret that their growth will be stunted by lack of the most basic resource." The Cabarrus County cities of Concord and Kannapolis have argued that the Charlotte region should share the river's resources.

Water being piped from the Catawba to the cities in its basin returns as treated wastewater, but water piped "elsewhere is lost forever to communities downstream," notes Henderson. Opponents to piping the water elsewhere cite the record drought of 2002, and they fear that future droughts could be worse. (Read more)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ethanol among factors turning wheat acreage into corn, soybean fields

“Wheat is being steadily replaced by corn as the crop of choice for American farmers,” largely because of demand for corn-based ethanol but also due to better seed technology, federal subsidies that haven't been adjusted for higher yields of corn and soybeans, lower consumer demand for wheat products (can you say Atkins Diet?) and opposition to genetic engineering, The New York Times reported Saturday in a comprehensive and interesting story.

Wheat acreage has been declining for about a decade, as the Times chart shows. “Driving the shift away from wheat have been advances in hybrid and genetically modified seeds for other crops. Major companies like Monsanto have been spending millions of dollars developing improved forms of corn, soybeans and cotton — not wheat — and those investments are paying off handsomely. Seeds engineered to resist drought and insects have yielded huge gains and have helped produce record corn harvests the last three years. The more-resistant seeds have made it possible for farmers in colder climates with shorter growing seasons to produce successful corn harvests,” Alexei Barrionuevo writes.

“Buyers in Europe and Japan said they would refuse American wheat if it was genetically modified. American farmers are divided on the issue. Monsanto dropped an effort to produce the world’s first genetically engineered wheat two years ago, yielding to the concerns of farmers that the crop would endanger exports. The wheat was genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which would have allowed farmers to spray their fields to kill weeds while not damaging the crop. The company has said it is not giving up on wheat research. But the genetic engineering of corn, cotton and soybean crops is less controversial because those crops are used primarily in animal feed, clothing and food oils, while wheat is more likely to be used directly in food.” (Read more)

New voting technology creates confusion among voters, threatens errors

"In the Nov. 7 election, more than 80 percent of voters will use electronic voting machines, and a third of all precincts this year are using the technology for the first time. The changes are part of a national wave, prompted by the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 and numerous revisions of state laws, that led to the replacement of outdated voting machines with computer-based electronic machines, along with centralized databases of registered voters and other steps to refine the administration of elections," write Dan Balz and Zachary A. Goldfarb of The Washington Post.

"Help America Vote does not mandate electronic voting, but it has greatly accelerated that trend. The law banned lever machines and punch cards to end debates about ambiguous 'hanging chads' of the sort that occurred in Florida in 2000. What is clear is that electronic machines have their own imponderables." Elections follow state laws but are administered locally, so journalists should look for this issue anywhere.

Although intended to improve the voting system, problems with the new machines have caused delays in Maryland, Ohio, Illinois and other states, report Balz and Goldfarb. Not everyone knows how to use the machines so confusion and human error are problems. Technical issues may also pose a problem, particularly unreliable data keeping and the possibility of hacking.

"Although Help America Vote imposed national standards, it did not impose a uniform system," write Balz and Goldfarb. "There are different styles and brands of equipment in use, with the potential for different bugs. The main systems are optical-scan machines and touch-screen machines. The potential problems election officials cite include machines breaking down or paper ballots not being read by optical-scan machines." (Read more)

Shield law hearing to protect confidential sources slated for Wednesday

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over a federal shield law is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. The law would provide journalists with the legal right to protect confidential sources from subpoenas. The Society for Professional Journalists encourages interested journalists to call or write their public officials or to support the shield law in whatever way they feel comfortable.

"Not sure you should say anything at all? Granted, journalists with an ounce of good sense don't make a habit of lobbying Congress. But c'mon. There are times -- and this is one of them -- when we need to use all the power we can muster to protect a free press and the free flow of information to the public," writes SPJ President Christine Tatum, assisatnt business editor at The Denver Post. (Read more)

An article on the federal shield law appeared Sept. 8 in The Rural Blog. Click here for the archived item.

Arrests of illegal immigrants cuts Ga. town's manufacturing workforce

Stillmore, Ga., once housed more than 1,000 people, according to the 2000 Census, until raids on illegal immigrants cut that number to 730, reports Russ Bynum of The Associated Press. "More than 120 illegal immigrants have been loaded onto buses bound for immigration courts in Atlanta, 189 miles away. Hundreds more fled Emanuel County. Residents say many scattered into the woods, camping out for days."

Local store owners that catered to immigrant laborers have seen a slide in business and entire trailer parks have been emptied, reports Bynum. The local chicken processing plant lost 600 of its employees to immigration issues and is scrambling to find replacement workers.

"Last month, the federal government reported that Georgia had the fastest-growing illegal immigrant population in the country," writes Bynum. "The number more than doubled from an estimated 220,000 in 2000 to 470,000 last year. This year, state lawmakers passed some of the nation's toughest measures targeting illegal immigrants, and Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue last week vowed a statewide crackdown on document fraud." (Read more)

Texas public schools teach illegal, faith-based Bible classes, says study

"A yearlong investigation by the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network found that the majority of Bible courses offered as electives in the state's high schools are devotional and sectarian in nature and not academic, as required by a host of rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court on down," writes Lisa Sandberg of the Houston Chronicle.

"With a few notable exceptions, the public school courses currently taught in Texas often fail to meet minimal academic standards for teacher qualifications; curriculum, and academic rigor; promote one faith perspective over all others; and push an ideological agenda that is hostile to religious freedom, science and public education," said the study.

"Courts have been consistent on the issue of religion in the public schools, legal experts say: Public schools can teach about religion, but they can't offer religious instruction," writes Sandberg. "Texas officials don't know which districts offer Bible electives and do not monitor content, said Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency." (Read more)

Wal-Mart's discontinuation of layaway could hurt low-income customers

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced that it plans to discontinue its layaway service in a move some say will hurt low-income clientele. Wal-Mart was one the last stores to offer layaway services, which has dwindled due to credit card use, service costs, the bookkeeping required and the space needed, report Ann Zimmerman and James Covert of the Wall Street Journal.

"But Wal-Mart's move could be particularly significant for lower-income customers," write Zimmerman and Covert. "About 9 percent of U.S. consumers don't use a bank, according to one survey, and Wal-Mart gets a disproportionate share of those shoppers, Jane Thompson, president of financial services at Wal-Mart stores, said in a May presentation to a banking conference in New York. In addition, a certain percentage of its customers either don't qualify for credit cards or chose not to use them. For them, layaway was a particularly popular option, especially at the Christmas and back-to-school seasons."

"A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company is studying 'ways and new programs that will help us continue to serve customers with low credit,'" write Zimmerman and Covert. "The retailer is currently testing a prepaid debit card in three states and offers a Wal-Mart credit card and a Wal-Mart Discover card with zero-interest options." (Read more)

Arkansas town legalizes deer hunting in city limits to reduce population

In Heber Springs, Ark., deer hunting within city limits has been legalized to thin out the intrusive deer population. "Last fall, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission employees counted 387 deer in the city of about 7, 000. This year the estimate jumped to 482. City officials asked for the count after getting complaints about deer being hit by vehicles. Residents also were disturbed by the damage deer caused to landscaping. In May, 59. 4 percent of those casting ballots voted in favor of the hunt," writes Katherine Marks of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Game and Fish report said hunting would be the the most cost-efficient way to deal with deer overpopulation, reports Marks. Other options such as birth control, relocating and sharpshooters would have cost hundreds of dollars per deer. Only bow hunting is allowed and hunters must shoot down from deer stands to avoid making blind shots. Hunters must have permission from land owners and must stay 50 yards away from private property when they do not have permission.

Deer have become like pets some say that hunting them is inhumane, but many agree that the population has to be dealt with, reports Marks. Heber Springs is only the second city in Arkansas to allow deer hunting within city limits, but an informational video has been made because other cities are interested. (Read more)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Law increases tax benefits of conservation easements to save rural land

Rural land preservationists are encouraged by a law recently signed by President Bush, which increases federal tax benefits for landowners who establish conservation easements this year and next year. "The new law will benefit modest-income landowners who, under the old rules, got credit only for a small portion of the value of their donation," reports the Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla, Wash.

Conservation easements are designed to preserve property in its current state. The deduction for such donations, which give up the right to develop property or sell it for development, can now be up to half of a landowner's adjusted gross income, instead of 30 percent. If most of their income is from farming, ranching or forestry, landowners can deduct all of their income.

"Even more important, donors can now carry over deductions for their contribution for as many as 15 years instead of five years,'' Beth Thiel, executive director of the Blue Mountain Land Trust, told Union-Bulletin writer Andy Porter. The trust, a non-profit based in Walla Walla, has been accepting such donations for six years in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. (Read more)

For details on conservation easments, from The Nature Conservancy, click here.

FCC study said local news suffers as media ownership concentrates

The Federal Communications Commission destroyed all copies of a study which indicated that more concentration of media ownership would be detrimental to local news coverage, said Adam Candeub, a former lawyer in the FCC's Media Bureau. “The report, written in 2004, came to light during the Senate confirmation hearing for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin,” writes John Dunbar of the Associated Press. Martin said that he and his staff were not aware of it.

“The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of ‘on-location’ news,” writes Dunbar. “The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules. At that time, the agency pointed to evidence that ‘commonly owned television stations are more likely to carry local news than other stations.’”

“The 2003 action sparked a backlash among the public and within Congress,” writes Dunbar. “In June 2004, a federal appeals court rejected the agency's reasoning on most of the rules and ordered it to try again. The debate has since been reopened, and the FCC has scheduled a public hearing on the matter in Los Angeles on Oct. 3.” (Read more) For a FreePress.org copy of the report, click here.

House gives in to citizen pressure, passes rule to disclose earmarks

The U.S. House adopted a new rule yesterday that would reveal which member sponsors earmarks in appropriations bills. “Earmarking, the largely secret process by which powerful members of Congress insert spending provisions into legislation without going through the normal budget process, has been widely used to do favors for business and other interests in exchange for political support, especially campaign contributions,” write Noam N. Levey and Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times.

“President Bush issued a statement saying the bill would make sure that ‘lawmakers and the public are better informed before Congress votes to spend the taxpayers' money,’” writes Jim Abrams of the Associated Press. (Read more) The Washington Post 's lobbying reporter, Jeff Birnbaum, notes that the vote effectively ends any possibility of a lobbying reform bill passing this year. (Read more) And the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that the bill doesn't apply to tax breaks. (Read more)

The House vote of 245 to 171 came in the wake of increasing efforts by interest groups, bloggers and other activists to reveal earmarks. Conservative blogger Mark Tapscott posted Bush's statement and video from a news conference of the "Ending Earmarks Express," a coalition of activists and House members.

“But critics charged that the House bill left gaping holes,” write Levey and Simon. “For one thing, it will not apply across the board to all legislation. Authors of some earmarks added to tax bills may still go unidentified.” Critics describe the change as “modest.” The bill is only effective until the end of the year and it does not deal with lobbying issues and overall ethics. (Read more)

Illinois school that trains doctors for rural areas turns 35, plans expansion

The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, started 35 years ago, is undertaking a $32 million expansion of its National Center for Rural Health Professions. “The rural medicine specialty will get a major boost with the 58,000-square-foot expansion [that] will include training for all aspects of health care in small towns, not just physicians but also dentists, pharmacists, nurses and public health officials,” writes Nate Legue of the Rockford Register Star.

“Students at the college spend more time in the doctor’s office on patient interaction than any other school in the country,” writes Legue. “All students, not just would-be rural physicians, spend one day a week practicing in one of the school’s clinics in Belvidere, Rockton and Mount Morris. They see the same patients over three years, giving them an advantage in know-how and bedside manner when they enter a residency.”

The college has a reputation for its thorough training in primary patient care and for its graduates serving small towns in need of health services, reports Legue. School officials say that doctors in rural Illinois are sorely needed. A primary care doctor should have patient base of about 2,400 people but in 58 of 102 Illinois counties, there are too few doctors to go around. (Read more)

Rural areas in Minnesota have a deficit of new dentists

As one generation of dentists retires, some rural areas in Minnesota are having difficulty attracting young dentists to replace them. Young dentists may be discouraged from moving to rural areas because they are not familiar with a rural lifestyle, they may be concerned about their spouse getting employment and they may perceive a lack of access to education and entertainment, reports The Daily Tribune in Hibbing.

The Minnesota School of Dentistry is working to encourage young dentists to work in rural areas. "Patrick Lloyd, dean of students at the U of M School of Dentistry, said research shows that students most inclined to go to rural areas for work come from rural areas," writes Tribune reporter Kjerstin Lang. "Keeping this in mind, he said being from a rural area is one of the criteria they consider when reviewing applications. He said half the students they accept are from rural Minnesota."

"In addition, Lloyd said research shows that students are also more likely to go to a small community if during training they had an experience in a rural area," writes Lang. "He said starting in the fall of 2007, all senior students will be required to spend two months on outreach rotations and travel to various community clinics outside the academic health center. One example is the program at the Hibbing Community College (HCC) Dental Clinic, a joint venture between the U of M and HCC. Lloyd said it is a chance to serve the underserved communities in need of dental manpower."

Lloyd suggested that small communities could attract young dentists by offering office space at little or no cost. He said this could be a strong incentive to recent graduates who might leave school about $138,000 in debt, reports Lang. (Read more)

Liberals' portrayal of Wal-Mart is unfair, says columnist George Will

Wal-Mart is greatly beneficial to the nation's economy and the criticism it gets from Democrats is unfair, says George F. Will, the leading conservative columnist for The Washington Post.

"The median household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is under $40,000. Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel," writes Will. "A McKinsey Co. study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation's productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation. By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates . Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion)."

"Liberals think their campaign against Wal-Mart is a way of introducing the subject of class into America's political argument, and they are more correct than they understand," opines Will. "Their campaign is liberalism as condescension. It is a philosophic repugnance toward markets, because consumer sovereignty results in the masses making messes. Liberals, aghast, see the choices Americans make with their dollars and their ballots and announce -- yes, announce -- that Americans are sorely in need of more supervision by . . . liberals." (Read more) About half of Wal-Mart stores are in rural areas, and the company rarely advertises in newspapers.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Small schools better for students, should be preserved, says report

Small schools are more beneficial to students than larger schools and should not be shut down or consolidated, according to a report by the Rural School and Community Trust. "There is a battle going on out there, and it’s not pretty and certainly not rational. Across the country, states are pushing to close their small rural schools with the mistaken hope of saving money," writes Lorna Jimerson.

"The battle is even more illogical when compared with the opposing trend in urban areas, where reform efforts concentrate on breaking down dysfunctionally large schools and forming new smaller learning communities," writes Jimerson. "Urban educators, recognizing the proven advantages of small schools, are actively pursuing a 'smaller is better' model."

According to the report, students in small schools have a higher graduation rate, are more likely to take advanced courses and have more overall economic success. There is more participation in extra-curricular activities, which leads to more positive attitudes about school and higher self esteem. Students have a stronger sense of belonging, which has been linked to less violence and substance abuse. Small schools allow for more individualized teaching in smaller classes that especially benefits young children and disadvantaged students. Teachers enjoy work more, work more with colleagues and take more responsibility for their students' learning.

"Small schools are frequently the glue that binds together small communities, serving as their economic and social hub. Small villages that lose their schools lose more than a building—they lose their collective cultural and civic center," writes Jimerson. (Read more)

Is bill to clean up hard-rock mines effective, or an invitation to pollute?

Debate is ongoing over whether a Senate bill to give incentives for voluntary cleanup of abandoned hard-rock mines would be effective or simply provide a loophole for pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency started a duel of press releases when it issued one saying, "Last August, as part of the President's Conference on Cooperative Conservation, EPA announced the Good Samaritan Initiative to encourage voluntary efforts to reduce pollution from abandoned hardrock mining sites," said an . It said many owners of abandoned mines no longer exist and that volunteers who want to clean up mines face legal obstacles. (Read more)

Some believe it is impractical to expect small groups to have the means to clean up mines on their own. "In the West, the biggest obstacle to tackling water pollution from old mines is the lack of funding. States, local governments, and local non-profit organizations simply don't have the resources to act as 'Good Samaritans' to clean up the rivers and streams," said an Earthworks press release. (Read more)

Others see too many opportunities for environmental abuse in the bill. "The committee-passed version of S. 1848 is sweeping in scope: It would waive compliance with the Clean Water Act, Superfund, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as well as state, Tribal and local environmental laws for any activities covered by a so-called 'Good Samaritan' permit," writes Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice senior legislative counsel. She said that if the bill became law, "mining companies will be able to use it to avoid taking basic steps needed to ensure water quality goals are met near these toxic sites." (Read more)

Senate approves proposal for traveling training center for rural police

"A federal law enforcement training center based in Georgia would get $10 million next year to begin taking its programs on the road to help rural law enforcement agencies under a proposal approved by the Senate Tuesday," reports The Associated Press.

The measure would authorize the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynn County, Georgia, to launch a traveling Rural Policing Institute. Cash-strapped police and sheriff's departments in rural areas might otherwise go without specialized training in areas such as criminal investigation, cyber terrorism and port security, notes AP. If the proposal is approved by the House and then signed by President Bush, the institute would receive an additional $5 million each year through 2012. (Read more)

Doctor-patient e-mail communication growing, but slowly in rural U.S.

A small but growing number of doctors in rural and urban areas are starting to use e-mail to allow patients to schedule appointments, request prescription refills or go over billing matters.

"A 2001 study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington funded by a philanthropy devoted to health issues, found that one in five doctors had the option to communicate via e-mail. Not surprisingly, patients overwhelmingly favor the use of e-mail to communicate with doctors. A Harris Interactive health-care poll last year found that 81 percent of adults would like to e-mail their doctors," writes Shari Rudavsky of The Indianapolis Star.

Some of the challenges preventing doctors from using e-mail include safety concerns, Internet costs and insurance issues. As for the patients, many of them, especially in rural areas, lack the ability to access the Internet. Dr. Michael Weiner, a research scientist with the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care would like to "use e-mail more, but many of his patients do not have computers," reports Rudavsky. (Read more)

Alabama group aids emergency crews in effort to cut rural traffic fatalities

More fatal car crashes occur in rural areas than in urban areas, and an Alabama group is hoping to help emergency response crews that struggle with long travel distances and problems locating accident sites.

Fifty-six percent of highway fatalities nationwide occur on rural roads. "Last year, 787 of the 1,130 highway deaths were in rural areas,according to the Alabama Department of Public Safety," writes Ginny MacDonald of the Birmingham News. "A person injured in a wreck on a rural Alabama road is twice as likely to die as one hurt in an urban interstate crash."

Safe Home Alabama, a coalition of highway safety officials, wants to shorten emergency response times. Ideas include equipping ambulances with GPS tracking, a statewide trauma system to route ambulances to hospitals and more incentives to hire emergency response workers. Alabama's six regional emergency medical agencies are being reorganized and medical data is being put on an electronic database, reports MacDonald. (Read more)

Wisconsin group fights proposed Wal-Mart with study linking it to poverty

A group calling itself Washburn County First is using a study that suggests Wal-Mart developments increase poverty to keep the retailer out of rural Spooner, Wis., population 2,653.

The study, called “Wal-Mart and county-wide poverty” by Stephan Goetz of Pennsylvania State University, came out in the June 2006 issue of Social Science Quarterly. It studied counties across the U.S. from 1987 to 1998, "during which average county-level family poverty rates nationwide fell from 13.1 to 10.7 percent. In its conclusion, the study contends where there is a Wal-Mart store in a county, the poverty rate tends to be higher or the rate of poverty decrease is less for the same period than for those counties without a Wal-Mart," writes Frank Zufall of the weekly Spooner Advocate, circulation 4,650.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson said the study is flawed because it does not investigate several factors known to contribute to poverty. “The causes of poverty are many and varied. No mention was made of education, economic sustainability, natural disaster, health, or other contributing factors," Senior Manager Rodderick Scott told Zufall. "No mention was made of state, federal or local leadership and how it affects poverty, not to mention that the data set is nearly 10 years old.”

The Washburn County Board supervisors will vote Sept. 19 on whether to grant an extension for the company’s developer to finalize a sales agreement for 35 acres the county owns. "Possible reasons for the extension are the delay in receiving the final approval for highway infrastructure improvements from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and two outstanding lawsuits submitted by Washburn County First, one challenging the county for allegedly holding illegal closed meetings and possibly having a walking quorum, and another against the city of Spooner’s Board of Appeal for alleged failure to follow legal protocol in granting variances to the Supercenter project," writes Zufall. (Read more)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Study: Ethanol boosts rural economies more if plants are locally owned

Locally-owned ethanol plants provide a bigger economic boost for the communities where they are located than plants owned by absentee investors, according to a study released yesterday by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

The study, “Economic Impacts on the Farm Community of Cooperative Ownership of Ethanol Production,” concludes that a farmer-owned cooperative ethanol plant's contribution to the local economy can be as much as 56 percent more than that of an absentee-owned corporate plant. "By putting money directly in the pockets of local residents, farmer-owned ethanol plants have spurred economic growth in rural communities across the country," said Bruce Noel, chairman of the NCGA Ethanol Committee, in a press release.

"A farmer-owned plant is more likely to spend more money on plant operations in the community, including accounting, administrative and marketing expenditures," writes Joe Poncer of the Dow Jones Newswires. "Nearly half of all U.S. ethanol plants are owned and operated by farmer cooperatives or LLCs and account for 38 percent of total ethanol production. . . . According to data from the Renewable Fuels Association only two plants out of the 43 currently under construction are farmer-owned." (Read more) Click here for the study.

Iowa Farm Bureau putting $5 million into rural economic development

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is starting a $5 million investment fund for start-up businesses, to help boost rural economies and bring residents back to those areas.

President Craig Lang said Renew Rural Iowa aims to bring in an additional $20 million to $30 million from about a half-dozen companies before the year's end. "Lang said the group is responding to farm members, who often earn part of their income 'off farm,' who want new markets for their crops and who want their children to have 'a choice of quality jobs' when they graduate from high school and college. The answer, he said, is business development in rural communities," writes Donnelle Eller of the Des Moines Register.

The project's main focus is helping businesses and entrepreneurs in communities with fewer than 30,000 residents. "Lang said the ultimate goal is to bring residents back to rural Iowa, which has seen population decline as jobs are added in mostly urban areas. He said the group should push for a 10 percent growth in state population during the next decade," reports Eller. (Read more)

Net neutrality bill appears dead in the water; could resurface next year

The battle over net neutrality -- which would ban differential pricing for placement of Internet content -- continues to hold up a communications bill and could end up completely derailing the legislation this year, including changes in the way the government subsidizes rural telecommunications.

"The split centers on the question of whether Congress should pass new laws barring network operators, in general, from prioritizing their own Web content and services. It also covers whether the operators should be allowed to make special deals with third-party content providers that want their material to be delivered more quickly or prominently," reports CNETNews.com, a technology news service. "But even if legislation stalls this year, the Net neutrality debate isn't likely to vanish anytime soon, some aides said."

"That issue is not going to go away until we have a whole lot more (broadband) competition than we do today, at least in my view," said James Assey, a senior counsel to Democrats. Several Republican leaders argue that net-neutrality regulations are unnecessary and that companies like Verizon should be allowed to charge more for additional offerings beyond standard Internet service, Anne Broache writes. (Read more)

State regulators, closer to locals, fight to keep wireless regulation

A coalition of state utility commissions, attorneys general and consumer watchdogs are urging U.S. lawmakers to axe a proposal that would pre-empt state regulation of the wireless industry. This is an issue with local impact because state-level regulation is subject to local -- and thus, in many states, more rural -- influences. Rural journalists should ask their members of Congress about it.

"The language -- part of a comprehensive telecommunications overhaul measure that cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in late June -- would place the FCC in charge of handling wireless customer complaints," writes David Hatch in National Journal's Technology Daily. Billy Jack Gregg, chief consumer advocate for the West Virginia Public Service Commission, said the language would keep state regulators from settling disputes over billing, contracts, coverage areas and deceptive practices.

Philip Jones, a regulator with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, said the wireless industry is flourishing with 210 million customers and the change is not needed, reports Hatch. "This industry is not hurting, so we fail to see what the problem is," Jones said. (Read more)

U.S. ranks 16th in broadband coverage, neglects rural areas, says report

The U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world in making broadband Internet service more accessible and affordable, especially for people living in rural areas, according to a new report released yesterday by Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union.

Criticizing the Federal Communications Commission and Congress, the "Broadband Reality Check II" blames existing broadband policy for higher service prices, slower speeds and a lack of competition for high-speed Internet service. Report findings include: The U.S. ranks 16th in in broadband penetration, and urban dwellers are nearly twice as likely to have home broadband access compared to rural residents. One out of 10 households with incomes below $30,000 have high-speed Internet access, but six out of every 10 with incomes above $100,000 had broadband.

To address these issues, the groups advocate net neutrality, increasing the availability of "unlicensed spectrum" for broadband Internet, and use of the Universal Service Fund, financed by telecom users, to support broadband deployment. Click here to read a press release and here to read the report.

Poverty, low incomes plague residents in rural Ohio; bartering helps

The Cleveland Plain Dealer used recent U.S. Census figures and a report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire to show that rural Ohio residents are earning some of the lowest incomes in the country -- and one in five children in those areas live in poverty.

Barb Galbincea of the Plain Dealer focuses on Appalachian Ohio, in the southeasterm part of the state, and Scioto County, near the southern tip. It posted one of the lowest median household incomes ($28,348) in the country for counties with at least 65,000 residents, according to recently released Census figures for 2005. In other rural counties, the challenge is simply finding a job, reports Galbincea. Rural areas nationwide are struggling with fewer job opportunities, lower wages, poor public transportation, limited child care and fewer social supports, she notes.

"When full-time opportunities end, some rural families piece together part-time work or supplement their income by bartering -- trading services such as babysitting for a side of beef or for car repairs. In Athens County, where trailers that predate 'mobile homes' hug the undulating terrain, there are also scattered reminders of the company towns that flourished when King Coal ruled the local economy," writes Galbincea. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Miss. publisher spurs economic boost for rural area via paper, foundation

George McLean, the owner of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss., population 34,211, is committed to economic development in rural America, and he became one of the first people to adopt a regional approach through his Community Development Foundation. The paper's circulation of 35,490 is larger than the population of its home city, so it has a truly regional role, as its name indicates.

David Rumbarger, the foundation's CEO, recently told economic consultant Jack Schultz of Boomtown USA about how McLean began his effort: “He would rent recent movies and go out with his projector into some of the rural towns on Saturday night. He would give a 20-minute talk before he would show the movie. He also had a tote board in each town to show them how they compared to other towns in the region. He had them cooperating as a region but also competing with each other to try to do better."

The paper's Web site says the foundation aims "to be a catalyst for positive change in Northeast Mississippi by committing its resources to projects that will improve the quality of life for all citizens of Northeast Mississippi and by helping individuals and groups of providing financial support to meaningful projects."

McLean elaborates on his regional approach and the role played by the newspaper in a column: "The good newspaper is its community's encourager which by making known what groups and individuals are doing brings mutual support for each other's projects and invites still greater personal initiative. It is a community's semi-official provider of pats on the back through news stories, pictures or editorials. The good newspaper can contribute perhaps more than any other institution to development of an active, mutually serving citizenship." (Read more)

Rural whites live longer, healthier than blacks, Indians, says study

Whites in rural America live longer than western Native Americans and most African Americans, partially because of factors like tobacco and alcohol use, according to a study published Monday in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal.

"The difference is not directly related to income, insurance, infant mortality, AIDS or violence. Rather, the contributing factors, in order of importance, are tobacco, alcohol, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diet and physical inactivity, said Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study," writes Thomas H. Maugh II of The Los Angeles Times. "The life-span disparities are so severe that the researchers concluded that there are 'eight Americas,' each with its own racial, geographic, income, and life expectancy. The report did not separate out Latinos."

The eight Americas identified by the study: 10.4 million Asians in 1,889 counties (life expectancy 85 years); 3.6 million low-income whites in 112 rural counties in the Northern Great Plains and Dakotas (79 years); 16.6 million low-income whites in 467 rural counties in Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley (75 years); 1 million western Native Americans in 359 counties (72.7); 23.4 million middle-income African Americans in 1,632 counties (73); 5.8 million Southern low-income blacks in 427 rural counties (71); 7.5 million high-risk urban blacks in 13 urban counties (71). The largest group: 214 million middle-income Americans scattered through the country (77.9 years). Click here for Maugh's story, and click here to read the study.

Dial-up Internet may be best bet for rural residents without broadband

Dial-up is probably the best way for most rural people to access the Internet, according to several experts in Texas, reports the Daily Sentinel in Nacogdoches, which serves a part of East Texas that is sparsely populated and has hills that get in the way of WiFi service. Just as those residents want solutions, so do many rural dwellers.

"The problem we face in East Texas is all the trees and hills," said Peter Fernandez at Omni Computer Solutions in Nacogdoches. He recommended ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), which can be set up with a phone company, uses an inexpensive modem and only costs a little more than a regular phone line. Another option is satellite Internet, but it is not always reliable and the equipment and service fee can be expensive. DSL transmits information through a phone line but it only works up to about 14,000 feet from the provider, reports Michael Rodden.

Greg Harber, computer science instructor at Stephen F. Austin State University, said Internet providers focus more on urban areas since there are more customers. "With fewer people living in rural areas, it doesn't justify the cost it would take to spend the money to reach the Internet out there," Harber told the Daily Sentinel. WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) could help rural residents get high-speed Internet, because it broadcasts from towers much like cell phones. However, the frequency is a higher speed than WiFi, and hills and trees might be even more of a problem. (Read more)

Some more urban dwellers who read the story on BroadbandReports.com did not see rural Internet access as important. "Articles like these remind me of people who move to small towns because they like the quaintness and other silly things. These people then start whining when they do have to drive 20 miles to the grocery store, 10 miles to get gas, 30 miles to the bank, etc. It is not the fault of these companies that said people chose to live so far away from civilization," posted screename "pnh102" from Mount Airy, Md. That began a lively discussion thread. Click here to read more posts.

Montana ranchers dislike salty water from coal bed wells in Wyoming

In Montana, an excess of water has been pumped into a usually arid climate as a by-product of tapping methane in coal beds to produce natural gas. "Companies are pumping water out of the coal and stripping the gas mixed with it. Once the gas is out, the huge volumes of water become waste in a region that gets less than 12 inches of rain a year," reports The New York Times.

The water can be consumed by cows, but the surplus is dumped. The excess water leads to soaking streambeds that would usually be dry much of the year, killing native plants such as grasses and box elder trees. "Ranchers say the water contains high levels of sodium and if it is spread on a field, it can destroy the ability to grow anything," writes Jim Robbins.

"The companies say that sodium is not the problem ranchers have made it out to be, and that the Montana environmental standards cannot be met without great difficulty. They have filed suit in federal and Montana court to overturn the regulations. The fight pits Montana against Wyoming. Wyoming has thrown the door open to coal-bed methane producers, with 20,000 wells in the [Powder River] basin. Wyoming says its water-quality standards, while different from those in Montana, are more reasonable and still protect water quality," writes Robbins. (Read more)

Virginia county silences call for noise ordinance aimed at mining activity

An ordinance proposal aimed at reducing noise from mining activity is not going to be considered by the Wise County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors because of legal concerns about enforceability.

"Stephens residents Charlene Greene and Kathy Selvage presented a five-page noise ordinance at supervisors’ July workshop meeting," writes Jodi Deal of the Coalfield Progress."Both Greene and Selvage and several other Stephens residents have made multiple visits to supervisors’ meetings over the past year to complain about noise caused by a Glamorgan Coal Resources LLC surface mine near their community. That mine is now shut down because Glamorgan’s parent company has filed for bankruptcy."

The proposal sought a ban from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday, and it also wanted to ban the detonation of explosives where they could be heard from residences between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. A county attorney advised that the proposal probably could not "prevent, prohibit or restrict a coal mine’s hours of operations or its related noise in any circumstance, since mineral extraction is a permitted use in all zoning districts of the county," writes Deal. (Read more)

Wage ordinance that Wal-Mart, other big-box retailers fought is dead

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley vetoed a "big-box" minimum wage ordinance yesterday that would have required retail giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. to ante up or stay away.

"The measure would require that employees of retail stores with at least 90,000 square feet operated by companies with a minimum of $1 billion in annual sales be paid at least $10 an hour and receive $3 an hour in fringe benefits by 2010. The legislation was passed 35-14 by the council in July," write Gary Washburn and Dan Mihalopoulos of the Chicago Tribune. "Living wage" advocates immediately reacted to Daley's veto with promises for another push for a minimum pay measure in the future.

"The ordinance would affect more than 40 existing retail stores in the city. There has been loud and lengthy debate over whether it would stifle plans by retailers for more big boxes in neighborhoods hungry for economic development. Wal-Mart, Lowe's and Target Corp. said they were putting plans for future stores on hold pending the fate of the big-box ordinance, news that drew scorn from ordinance supporters who contended the Chicago market is too attractive for big retailers to bypass," the paper reports. (Read more)

The Rural Blog previously reported on Wal-Mart's objections to the ordinance. Click here for that item.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Val McClatchey, a real-estate broker in Indian Lake, Pa., took this photograph of smoke rising from the crash of Flight 93. The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown had a story on the photo. (Read more)

The rural side of 9/11/01: A reclaimed surface coal mine in Pennsylvania

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, are often represented by the numeral "11" as it appears in our headline -- plain, block vertical lines that resemble the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The Pentagon is often remembered as an attack site, because of its military meaning and proximity to Washington. The other death scene of that day lacks an easy graphic representation and gets less attention -- but President and Mrs. Bush will visit it today, as they did yesterday in New York and will do today at the Pentagon, reports the Somerset (Pa.) Daily American.

"The event is only for the families of those on Flight 93" of United Air Lines, some passengers of which crashed into the cockpit to stop the hijackers' plan to slam the plane into the Capitol or the White House, reports Vicki Rock of the American, the paper serving the little village of of Shanksville, just south of where the plane crashed, into a reclaimed strip mine. The wreath-laying at the site will follow a public event.

"Monday's events begin at 10:06 a.m. with the reading of the names and the ringing of the thunder bell, with the observance to be held at 11:15 a.m.," Rock writes. "At noon, there will be the dedication of the Flight 93 crew monument in the heroes' garden on chapel grounds. The program will continue through the afternoon. Shanksville Post Office will have a fifth-anniversary cancellation mark honoring the passengers and crew from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m." (Read more) Today's American has a special section on the anniversary.

Film with Wendell Berry essay, made in the wake of 9/11, airs tonight

Wendell Berry's essay, "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear," written in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, serves as the narration for a film of the same name put together by Herb E. Smith of Appalshop, the Appalachian film cooperative at Whitesburg, Ky. The film features scenes of rural Kentucky, including strip-mine sites. An updated version of the film will be broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television beginning tonight at 10 p.m. EDT. Berry provides additional narration before and after the film. It will be rebroadcast Thursday, Sept. 14 at 2 a.m. and Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4 a.m.( yes, a.m.)

U.S. mine-safety agency proposes bigger fines to deter violations

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration proposed stricter saftey regulations for coal mines on Friday, saying current penalty assessments are not effective in deterring noncompliance at some of the largest operations, reports Steve Twedt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"The 21-page listing in the Federal Register sets out a new structure for assessing fines, increases penalty points and reduces the discount mine operators currently receive for quickly correcting a problem," writes Twedt. Fines of $5,000 to $60,000 would be given if mine operators did not notify officials of an incident within 15 minutes. Flagrant violations would be given harder penalties and operators would be fined more heavily the more points they accumulated.

"MSHA officials estimate that, under the proposed rate structure, the average penalty assessment for all mines would increase from $213 to $587, and that total assessments will increase from $24.9 million to $68.5 million," writes Twedt. Public hearings on the issue include: Sept. 26 at the MSHA headquarters in Arlington, Va.; Sept. 28 in North Birmingham, Ala.; Oct. 4 in Salt Lake City; Oct. 6 in St. Louis; Oct. 17 in Charleston, W.Va.; and Oct. 19 in Pittsburgh. (Read more)

Higher-education gap between rural and urban America is widening

"There is an education gap between rural and urban America, and it is widening," says the Center for Rural Affairs, a non-profit research and advocacy group based in Lyons, Neb.

Among residents 25 and older, more than 37 percent of those in metropolitan areas have at least an associate’s degree, while only 25 percent of those outside metro areas do. "This education gap begins to significantly diverge at the bachelor’s degree level. High-school graduation and associate-degree attainment levels are nearly identical," the center reports. "Nineteen percent of metropolitan residents and 11 percent of non-metropolitan residents have bachelor’s degrees." Nearly twice as many metropolitan residents as rural residents hold advanced and professional degrees.

"However, getting more rural high school graduates to attend college will not increase their likelihood of remaining in rural communities," the center says. "In fact, based on existing data, these college-educated rural residents are more likely to remain in or relocate to the urban areas in which their education is obtained. Further, many rural areas are unable to compete for college-educated residents. College-educated workers can command more from the labor market in urban areas than in rural areas."

The center sees hope for an educated rural population and workforce in the 8 percent of non-metro residents who have associate degrees, which typically take at least two years to earn. "The growing presence of community colleges and vocational training institutions in rural areas makes this an attractive investment," the center says. "Holders of Associate degrees and technical education are also less likely to leave rural areas than recipients of four-year degrees. . . . An active investment in post-secondary community college and technical training can help to resolve both the rural “brain drain” and the rural-urban income disparity." Associate-degree holders earn nearly 13 percent more than those without any degree.

For more on rural education and other issues essential to the quality of life in rural areas, click here for the center's Rural Development and Asset-Building Library. For its latest newsletter, click here.

Hot races in rural swing districts don't stir House GOP on rural issues

Republican incumbents in the U.S. House are “fighting a strong push by Democrats to make inroads in rural swing districts. Both parties say rural voters are in a sour mood because of high fuel costs for farmers and commuters, and concerns about the Iraq War in towns where troop deployments and casualties have had a jarring impact,” reports Congressional Quarterly. (subscription required)

The most authoritative and comprehensive publication about Congress reviewed 61 rural districts, where a majority of voters live outside a metropolitan area or a city of 25,000 or more. It found “Democrats making strong bids for seven seats held by Republican incumbents,” such as Rep. John Hostettler of southwestern Indiana's 8th District, who was “swept into office in the 'Republican Revolution' of 1994.”

“Despite polls showing that Hostettler and a number of other rural Republicans are in tight races, Majority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said House leaders had no plans for new rural initiatives and had not discussed $4 billion in drought relief for farmers contained in the Senate version of an agriculture spending bill. While Democrats have targeted rural voters, the GOP has emphasized a 'suburban agenda,' with measures aimed at swing voters in metropolitan areas, such as tax breaks for college tuition and savings.”

Lack of tracking system prevents veterans from getting help in rural U.S.

Veterans in rural America are struggling to get benefits since the government is not tracking their specific needs or locations, according to experts at a workshop Friday on Capitol Hill.

Military members come disproportionately from rural areas and many of them return to those areas following their enlistments, said workshop organizer Jill Long Thompson, a former member of Congress and Clinton administration appointee and head of the U.S. Center for Agricultural and Food Policy. In the absence of a way to track those veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to track people by zip code and county, reports Rick Maze of the Army Times.

Rep. Michael H. Michaud of Maine, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs health subcommittee, is sponsoring a bill to improve veterans health care in rural areas. "With about 30 percent of military recruits coming from rural areas, it is clear there is a huge, unmet need for help, he said. Michaud recommends a combination of federal, state and local services for veterans in rural areas rather than asking any one part of the government to help," writes Maze. (Read more)

Friday, September 8, 2006

Horse slaughter ban passes House; industry predicts failure in Senate

The House passed a bill yesterday to ban horse slaughter for meat with by a vote of 263 to 146. Horse slaughter is a minor industry in the United States with only three plants, one in Illinois and two in Texas, which process meat mainly for France, Belgium and Japan, reports Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News. Last year about 88,000 horses and other equine animals were slaughtered, according to the Agriculture Department.

"Opponents of the practice showed photographs of horses with bloodied and lacerated faces, the result of being crammed into trailers that would carry the animals to slaughterhouses. Defenders of horse slaughter said it offers a cheap and humane way to end a horse's life when the animal no longer is useful," writes Noelle Straub of the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune.

Some of those who support the bill say that unwanted horses could be adopted or euthanized. U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin of Wyoming, who opposed the bill, said that there are not enough shelters to accommodate the horses that would usually be slaughtered and it can cost from $250 to $325 to euthanize a horse. Some people, especially those with small ranches, can't afford it, reports Straub. (Read more)

"The fate of the ban now rests in the Senate," Gillman notes. "Big majorities there have voted to shut down the industry in past years, but lawmakers have only a month before going on recess for the November elections. The industry-backed Horse Welfare Coalition expressed disappointment over the House vote but predicted that the ban would fail in the Senate, thanks in part to opposition by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns." (Read more)

The National Pork Producers Council said the bill "sets a dangerous precedent by banning a livestock product for reasons other than food safety or public health." For their release, click here. For a release from the ASPCA, click here. For one from the Humane Society of the U.S., click here.

Settlement made in child's death that spurred mountaintop removal fight

Three-year-old Jeremy Davidson died Aug. 20, 2004 in Appalachia, Va., after a boulder rolled off a road being widened to access a strip mine and crushed him in his bed. The family has received $3 million from A&G Coal in a civil settlement, but the effect of Jeremy's death remains with them and their region. The incident made national news and helped crystallize the opposition to strip mining of Appalachian coal by mountaintop removal.

Operators of equipment being used on a strip-mine road said they didn't know there were homes below where they where working, but there had been another similar incident, reports Tim Thornton of the Roanoke Times. When the road was first built, a boulder hit the church next to the Davidson house.

Groups such as Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Mountain Justice Summer marched in protest after Jeremy's death and on its first anniversary. Mountain Justice Summer has set up an office in the community of Appalachia, reports Thornton. (Read more)

Plowshares to postcards: Small towns find economic success via tourism

Morehead State University junior Kendrick Dickerson paints a mural on a barn in Elliott County, Kentucky, near Sandy Hook. (Photo by John Flavell, The Daily Independent)

"A growing number of rural counties and small towns that are struggling economically are showcasing their history and culture through folk art projects, historic museums and festivals, according to tourism officials," reports Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville, Ky.

The story focuses on Elliott County in northeastern Kentucky. It is one of the nation's poorest, and faces more economic reverses with the end of the federal tobacco program. About 20 barns that were once used to cure tobacco are being painted with murals of tobacco-farming scenes to attract tourists.

An earlier set displayed images of quilts. The project is pushed by Gwenda Adkins, a University of Kentucky extension agent. "We're not dumb, ignorant hillbillies," she said. "We have a culture worth sharing and people will pay to come here and see it." The $94,000 project, funded by the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation of Kentucky, reports The Daily Independent of Ashland. For a photo by of one barn, by John Flavell of the Independent, click here.

Such efforts "seem to be paying off," AP reports. "Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults, or 87 million, have taken a trip to a small town or village within the past three years and 58 percent, or 84.7 million, included an historic activity or event on a trip during the past year, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. "We're seeing a real increase in travelers and visitors wanting to see small towns and rural areas," Carolyn Brackett of the National Trust for Historic Preservation told Jafari.

Examples abound. Three counties in southeast Tennessee started a tourist trade with their played-out gold and copper mines and railroad line. After the furniture trade began to die down in Lexington, N.C., the town hired artists to paint a series of pig statues to highlight the area's pork barbecue. (Read more)

Adkins and colleagues Mike Reed and Ron Hustedde recently traveled to Serbia to help develop an education-and-outreach organization similar to the Cooperative Extension Service. For a University of Kentucky story on their trip, click here. For a U.S. Department of Agriculture report and references on rural and agricultural tourism, click here.

Conservative groups support Wal-Mart; Waltons support the groups

Conservative research groups, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute have written positive opinion pieces about Wal-Mart Stores Inc. but have not disclosed that they have received funds from the Walton Family Foundation. The foundation is run the children of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's founder, who have a controlling share of the company.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research has received more than $100,000 from the foundation in the last three years, and Pacific Research received $175,000 in 1999-2004. "The groups said the donations from the foundation have no influence over their research, which is deliberately kept separate from their fund-raising activities. What’s more, the pro-business philosophies of these groups often dovetail with the interests of Wal-Mart," write Michael Barbaro and Stephanie Strom of The New York Times.

"A spokesman for the Walton Family Foundation, Jay Allen, said there was no organized campaign to build support for Wal-Mart among research groups. All of the foundation’s giving, he said, is directed toward a handful of philanthropic issues, including school reform, the environment and the economy in Northwest Arkansas, where Wal-Mart is based," write Barbaro and Strom.

"Last year, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a research and watchdog group, published a report, 'The Waltons and Wal-Mart: Self-Interested Philanthropy," that warned of the potential influence their vast wealth gives them. But Rick Cohen, executive director of the group, said he was more concerned about the role the Walton foundation’s money might play in shaping public policy in areas like public education, where it has supported charter schools and voucher systems," write Barbaro and Strom. More than half of Wal-Mart stores are located in rural areas. (Read more)

Hearing set on federal law to shield journalists' sources from subpoenas

A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 20 on a U.S. Senate bill to create a federal shield law that would protect confidential sources from subpoenas. The bill has been having a tough time, despite bipartisan support, and we urge journalists to ask their senators and House members where they stand on it -- and lobby them in whatever way you feel comfortable, be it an editorial, other written communication or a conversation.

Society of Professional Journalists Immediate Past President Irwin Gratz said he hopes a federal shield law would prevent journalists from being timid and self-censoring because of fear of being prosecuted and allow sources not to be be undesirably exposed. He said this is part of a reporter's right under the First Amendment. (Read more)

In the 1972 Branzburg vs. Hayes case, the Supreme Court ruled that a Louisville Courier-Journal reporter had to testify before a grand jury about what he saw at a hashish factory, but Justice Lewis Powell argued that reporters should have "qualified privilege" to withhold the identities of their sources. "The asserted claim to privilege should be judged on its facts by the striking of a proper balance between freedom of the press and the obligation of all citizens to give relevant testimony with respect to criminal conduct," Powell said.

Journalists have been sentenced to jail for keeping their sources anonymous from the court. Most recently, Judith Miller of the New York Times was jailed for refusing to reveal her sources, and Rhode Island television reporter James Taricani received a home detention sentence.

Publisher doesn't hide unflattering description of him from his readers

It's not often that you find a newspaper publisher described as follows in his own column: "A dilettante and effete snob who imports Ivy League reporters just to bedevil the community, and cares mainly about unnamed famous friends." But that's how H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers translated for his readers the image of himself presented by a new book about his town of Anniston, Ala., and his paper, The Anniston Star.

The book, My City Was Gone, was written by Dennis Love, a former Star feature writer. Ayers called it "an entertaining, well-written, sometimes funny and sad, gripping account of the titanic struggle to wring justice and good sense out of Anniston’s environmental crises," such as pollution by a chemical plant and the fight over disposal of nerve gas stored at the local Army post -- a fight that ended with the alternative favored by the Star, incineration on site.

"Love couldn’t quite make up his mind about The Star," Ayers wrote. "He quotes it dozens of times, calls it progressive, an experience that gave him a larger, more mature picture of his city, but through some languid, mysterious path reached the wrong conclusion about burning nerve gas. He is more certain about the editor and publisher, me. In his pages, my nearly 50-year career is reduced to a cartoon," quoted above.

"My liberal view of the world, constructed from inheritance, education, experience with enlightened Southern governors and presidents, wide reading and travel, is reduced to flighty 'contrariness'. Frankly, when I read that, the raging bull of ego flooded my mind, its horns aimed straight for the soft fanny of my former feature writer," Ayers wrote. "In defense I will call only two witnesses: Time magazine, which twice named us one of the nation’s best newspapers, and Columbia Journalism Review, which named us among America’s 30 best. I rest my case." (The 25,000-circulation Star recently became the teaching newspaper for the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program of the University of Alabama.)

Then Ayers went back to praising Love's work, ending with two requests to readers: "Read Dennis's book . . . but . . . please clip this column and stick it back with the index — just to keep him fair and balanced." (Click here to read more; the Star's Web site is for subscribers, but it offers a one-day free trial.)

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Muslim doctor: Tolerance requires knowing 'more about each other'

Dr. Khalid Awan is used to praying five times a day in Norton, Va., but airport security asked him to stop praying during a visit to Philadelphia last month. The reason given by the guard, according to Awan -- “Because of terrorism.” Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress interviewed Awan about that and his way of life. She found a story about tolerance and the real Muslim religion, not stereotypes. More rural media need to seek out Muslims so their personal stories can overcome fear and ignorance.

Awan moved from India more than 40 years ago after reading materials, including the Benjamin Franklin book he is reading above (photo by Jim Gibson) from an American consulate’s office that led him to believe the U.S. tolerated diversity and gave everyone the and freedom to pursue any career. "But in recent years, starting in the 1990s, political tensions have made American life a little bit tougher for folks like Awan. That’s because Awan, like millions of other Americans, is a Muslim," writes Deal. "American attitudes toward people who follow the religion of Islam have been changing for years, Awan explained, but after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. political and religious leaders started connecting the religion to terrorist behavior."

Awan sees education and communication as keys to creating more tolerance for Muslims and other groups that make America diverse. “I feel like people need to know more about each other,” Awan told Deal. “If people knew more about each other, they would be more tolerant of each other. I approach everyone as an American." People must understand that any cruel or unjust acts committed by Muslims have absolutely nothing to do with the religion, he said. (Click here to read more; subscription required)

Rural women need push from advisers to get mammograms, says study

Rural women have opportunities to get mammograms that could save their lives, but many go without unless other women teach them about the test and encourage them to get screened, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

It is the first study to examine the role of lay health advisors in rural areas and it confirms previous studies on how the advisors impact urban women, said Electra Paskett, lead author and associate director for population sciences at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. The half of the rural women who had multiple visits from a health adviser had more mammograms (42 percent) than the other half (27 percent), reports Misti Crane of The Columbus Dispatch.

Disparities among those who get mammograms and those who do not exist in poor, rural areas, and the need for encouragement and financial support is great, said LeighAnne Hehr, health promotions coordinator with the American Cancer Society’s Central Ohio region. "Especially in Appalachia and rural areas, when you have a personal connection who says, 'This is important and you need to do it,' women are a lot more apt to do it," she told Crane. (Read more) To read the study, click here.

Wal-Mart to abandon uniform approach, cater to ruralites, other groups

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hopes to boost sales by abandoning its practice of stocking mostly the same products at every store, and will instead cater each store's merchandise to demographic groups. "About half of Wal-Mart stores are in rural areas. Their product mix will change the least," Ann Zimmerman reports for The Wall Street Journal.

The company will stock stores with items to reflect rural tastes and five other demographic groups -- African-Americans, the affluent, empty-nesters, Hispanics, and suburbanites. "Wal-Mart's attempt to break its approximately 3,400 U.S. stores into six different models is a huge shift for a company that grew to be the largest retailer in the world on the strength of standardization," Zimmerman writes.

"Wal-Mart got its start in rural Arkansas in 1962, and grew to prominence by building stores in small towns where executives knew what sold. As the company expanded into suburban and urban areas, Wal-Mart's culture remained very focused on Bentonville. Most decisions, including on store layouts and even on how product should be arranged on shelves, were made at company headquarters." Now the company's regional managers live in the regions they handle. (Read more; subscription may be required)

Rural homeless might surprise people with their living conditions

The rural homeless may not be what the public expects and may go largely unseen. Many homeless in rural areas are families that have fallen on hard times due to foreclosure, medical bills or economic conditions.

Housing is considered affordable if it takes no more than 30 percent of a person's income, but many can't pay the bills. The rural homeless may live in shelters, subsidized temporary housing, their vehicles, motels or double-up in the homes of their relatives, reports Travis Neff of the Princeton (Ind.) Daily Clarion.

Few people served by Aurora Inc., a homeless-service organization in Southern Indiana, have drug or alcohol problems, and more than a third are under 18, Aurora's Kay Isbell of told Neff. (Read more)

"In rural areas, homeless people aren't staying on Main Street. They're sleeping in barns, in parks, in the woods, along the interstates. It's easier to miss," Jennifer Bindernagel of an emergency housing provider in Butler County, Pa. told Karen Kane of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Read more)

Rural residents see positive changes, opt to stay in Nebraska, poll finds

Rural Nebraskans are reporting more positive changes in their communities, and a growing number who plan to relocate are deciding to simply move somewhere else in the Cornhusker State, many parts of which has suffered majhor declines in rural population in recent decades..

The 11th annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll is based on 2,482 responses from a survey sent in March to households in Nebraska's 84 rural counties. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they have seen positive changes in their communities, up from 22 percent in 2003. Only 23 percent reported negative changes, and 45 percent said no change.

"On the question of moving on, the percentage of people planning to leave their community over the next year has remained relatively stable over the past nine years; only 5 percent this year said they plan to move. However, the expected destination for people planning to move has changed over the last three years -- with the percentage of those expecting to leave Nebraska decreasing and the percentage of those planning to move to the Lincoln or Omaha areas increasing," reports AgProfessional.com. (Read more)

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducted the poll in cooperation with the Rural Initiative and Public Policy Center with funding from the Partnership for Rural Nebraska and UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Click here for the survey findings.

University of Florida offers nation's first degree in organic farming

With the growth on demand for organic food, the University of Florida will be the first in the U.S. to offer a degree in organic farming. Five have signed up for the major, and classes begin this fall. The university hopes to support local food production.

"The sale of organic foods has grown nearly 20 percent annually since 1990 and accounted for $13.8 billion in consumer sales in 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organics now represent 2.5 percent of all food sales, the group reported. The trend has led to the development of nearly 2.2 million acres of organic farmland nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics," writes Nathan Crabbe of The New York Times Regional Newspapers, based in Florida.

The program will concentrate on research that improves crop production without using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and drugs. It will emphasize the law outlining the national organic standards set in 2002. The program will include old-fashioned farming styles adjusted with modern methods, reports Crabbe. (Read more)

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Proposed ban on horse slaughter to get vote on House floor tomorrow

A vote on whether commercial horse slaughter will be allowed to continue in the U.S. is scheduled for tomorrow in the House, and the Humane Society of the United States says at least 250 representatives favor the measure -- far more than the 218 votes it needs to pass the chamber.

"The industry claims support from veterinarians and more than 200 farm and ranch groups that argue that the slaughterhouses provide a needed service to horse owners. About 90,000 horses were slaughtered last year at foreign-owned plants in Kaufman, Fort Worth and DeKalb, Ill. Most of the meat is sold in Europe and Japan," writes Todd Gillman of The Dallas Morning News. Some opponents of the ban argue that shutting down slaughter houses would give more business to Mexican plants.

Ban proponent Amy Nelson, daughter of country singer Willie Nelson, said, "We're in a country where we don't eat horses, and it seems so absurd to let other countries capitalize off of our horses. What's next? Will we be shipping dogs to be eaten in other countries, too?" Another proponent, bill co-sponsor and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said horses "have never been part of the food chain in America." (Read more) The Courier-Journal of Louisville took a closer look at the crusade by Whitfield and his wife, Constance Harriman "Connie" Whitfield, noted animal lovers. To read it, click here.

Blog mobilizes citizens to reveal anonymous 'holds' on bills in Senate

Porkbusters.org led a successful effort to identify Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Robert Byrd of West Virginia as those who anonymously blocked a vote on a bill to create a online database of federal grants and contracts. This is an example of how average citizens and journalists can hold legislators accountable -- especially when it comes to the addition of "pork barrel" spending tailored for their states and districts.

"The porkbusters led a pack of bloggers who outed the two senators for bottling up a bill meant to help the public track how its tax dollars are spent. . . . Under an arcane Senate rule, any member who has concerns about a bill can block it -- anonymously. Party leaders know the blocker's identity but don't have to tell anyone, even the bill's sponsor," the Chicago Tribune explained in an editorial

"When the porkbusters learned about the so-called 'secret hold,' they issued a call for bloggers to contact their own senators and demand to know: Are you the anonymous blocker? Readers at TPMmuckraker.com and GOPprogress.com joined in, and within days they had denials from 97 senators. That's when Stevens decided to 'fess up."

"By Thursday, Byrd was the only senator who continued to duck the question. Noting that Byrd's 'penchant for pork would probably win him the Pork Crown if he weren't saddled with minority status,' TPMmuckraker pressed for an answer. By midafternoon, Byrd had admitted he placed a hold on the bill -- and said he has now released it," the editorial concludes. "It's a good day for taxpayers and the bloggers who got to the truth. And a bad day for secrecy in the U.S. Senate." (Read more)

Unfortunately, the ways of Congress are many. A story posted last night on GOPprogress.com reports that another Democrat placed a secret hold on the bill and that Stevens re-activated his.

As reported here Aug. 18, other blogger-citizen efforts are trying to "bust pork," which often appears in the form of earmarks anonymously added to appropriations bills. The Exposing Earmarks Project is starting with the current bill for the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services, which has 1,867 earmarks. The project's Web site asks participants to "Call the office of the congressperson you think might have secured the earmark and ask them if they are indeed responsible for it," to "Call your member of Congress and ask whether they are responsible for any of the earmarks in the upcoming Labor-HHS bill," and post findings at http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/node/1043.

First known escape of transgenic crop, grass in Oregon, threatens crops

Genetically-modified bentgrass, resistant to a leading herbicide and designed to ease golf-course maintenance, is escaping from a control area in Oregon, and area farmers are worried about an invasion.

"Discovery of genetically modified bentgrass in the wild in Central Oregon -- the first known transgenic crop escape in the United States -- has fulfilled critics' warnings and raised the threat of contaminating the state's nation-leading grass seed crop," writes Alex Pulaski of The Oregonian. "In Oregon, which has $373.5 million in annual grass seed sales, conventional growers fear transgenic seeds will contaminate their crops. The creeping bentgrass strain, developed in partnership between Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. and Monsanto Co., is designed to resist the herbicide Roundup, the world's most widely used plant-killer.

"Golf courses could plant the seed and keep other grass varieties in check by spraying Roundup. Scotts has waited more than two years for an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to decide whether to deregulate the crop, opening the door to seed sales." (Read more)

Forestry coalition helps resolve conflicts over timber in Northwest

A coalition of interest groups on both sides of the touchy subject of harvesting timber from national forests learned to navigate disputes in eastern Washington by eliminating an "us versus them" mentality and by refusing to let little differences hurt the overall process.

The story is told in an article for the National Association of Conservation Districts' monthly publication, Forestry Notes,.by Craig Rawlings of the Smallwood Utilization Network. His group was formed by the Montana Community Development Center to help the users of smaller trees -- log furniture makers, post and pole plants and organizations doing research on woody biomass for fuel.

Conservation District Forester Peter Griessmann witnessed the "Timber Wars" in eastern Washington and sought ways to bridge the conflict between extremists on both sides, and to improve a U.S. Forest Service process that amplified disagreements by presenting alternative plans. Griessmann co-founded the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition to help work out conflicts first, then move on to the Forest Service process with an agreeable plan, reports

The coalition agreed that tinder near populated areas should be reduced, "but its members were far from agreeing on how to get there," writes Rawlings. "Obviously, this conflict-resolution group needed to resolve its own conflicts." Meanwhile, timber production in the Colville National Forest equaled less than a quarter of its levels in the 1980s, and disease was killing large portions of the overcrowded timber.

When Rick Brazell was named supervisor of the forest, he "took on the role of impartial problem solver," Rawlings writes. "One of his ideas was to bring in a group of facilitators. Guided by these professionals, the Coalition members evolved a method of agreeing to disagree so that the little sticking points wouldn’t stop the larger process." Gradually, "The us versus them mentality started to go away," Griessmann told Rawlings. (Read more)

Lutheran churches use 'regional congregation' to combat rural challenges

Eight Lutheran churches in and near rural Quincy, Ill., are exploring whether to try out the "regional congregation" model being used in other states to combat a growing shortage of pastors, resources and dwindling congregations in rural areas.

The growing trend became one of the most-talked about issues during a recent gathering of churches from the Northwest Conference of the Central and Southern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America, reports Steve Eighinger of the Quincy Herald Whig. "The emphasis is not on merger or eliminating smaller congregations, but rather, helping them survive and be more effective," said the Rev. Jim Trutwin of Trinity Lutheran Church in Golden, Ill.

Regional congregations help eliminate costs and make small staffs more efficient by combining churches' youth groups, teaching events and mission festivals. The regionalism trend is already finding success in Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, notes Eighinger. (Read more)

New router may help expand high-speed Internet access in rural U.S.

Cisco Systems Inc. will soon offer a smaller, less expensive version of its core routers, which could help telecommunicatoons companies bring high-speed Internet and video services to rural areas, where cost may be a bigger factor for the territory and the companies that operate in it.

Core routers play a key role in transferring Internet data, and the demand for them is rising with the increase in Web traffic. The Reuters wire service reports, "The new version could be particularly popular among companies setting up high-speed Internet and video services in rural and sparsely populated areas, the company said." Cisco plans to start selling the item in November. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

NRA more active in states, especially rural-heavy ones, than in D.C.

With little action occurring on firearms-related bills in Congress this year, the National Rifle Association is concentrating on getting state laws passed, and again finding success in state with big rural votes.

"It successfully lobbied for laws that give citizens the ability to carry firearms in 23 states in the past 12 years, including Kansas and Nebraska this year. It has also legislated the right of gun owners to stand firm and use deadly force in the case of a dangerous attack in 15 states, 14 of them this year. In addition, this year it got 10 states to agree not to confiscate weapons during times of declared emergencies," writes Jeffrey H. Birnbaum in his every-other-week column on lobbying for The Washington Post.

Gun-control proponents typically find support at city councils across the country, because being closer to violent, criminal gunplay means less of a push for laws that allow or encourage the use of firearms, said Peter S. Hamm, communications director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the NRA's chief nemesis. "It's rural versus urban, and state legislatures disproportionately represent rural areas," Hamm told Birnbaum. "There is no way that the NRA can get anything passed in the Cleveland City Council, but in the Ohio state legislature it's a completely different ballgame." (Read more)

Verlyn Klinkenborg opines in today's New York Times about his native Minnesota becoming an NRA stronghold, with passage of "concealed carry" legislation and other laws. To read the column, click here.

Binge drinking reaches deadly highs in Wyoming, Montana, Dakotas

"Barely five people per square mile live on the high, wind-raked ground of Wyoming; the entire state is a small town with long streets, as they say. The open space means room to roam and a sense of frontier freedom. It also means that on any given night, an unusually high percentage of young people here are drinking alcohol until they vomit, pass out or do something that lands them in jail or nearly gets them killed," writes Timothy Egan of The New York Times, as he continues to ride the range and rope in good stories.

Binging is leading to serious consequences not only for the drinkers, but everyone around them. “Had a kid, drunk, flipped his car going 80 miles an hour, and that killed him; and another kid, drunk, smashed his boat up against the rock just a couple months ago, killing two; and then there was this beating after a kegger — they clubbed this kid to death,” Scott Steward, the sheriff in Park County, Wyo., told Egan.

A federal government survey recently reported that residents of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas drink more than the national average and at very early ages. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that in 2002-04 the south-central Wyoming region led the U.S. in alcohol abuse by people age 12 and older. Looking at 340 regions across the U.S., the agency found that "7 of the top 10 areas for under-age binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks at a time — were in Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota," reports Egan.

Click here to learn more about the recent government survey. An older study found that rural youths ages 12 and 13 were twice as likely as urban ones to abuse alcohol. (Read more)

Va. dairy farmers must either churn out more milk or face extinction

Churning out more and more milk is a key for Virginia's dairy farmers who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat in a market where milk prices are dropping and fuel and land costs keep rising.

"Here, dozens of milk cows lumber about in the midday heat, munching on nutrition-rich grains and lounging on mounds of sawdust, hooves tucked under massive bellies. Giant ceiling fans whirl above and a cool, dusty breeze gusts through the cavernous barn structure keeping their coats cool. Belying this seemingly leisurely setting are dairy cows hard at work -- turning hundreds of pounds of feed into thousands of gallons of milk," writes Christina Rogers of The Roanoke Times in a story that does a good job of explaining an industry for a general audience.

"Along with increases in milk production have come an excess of supply and flattening milk prices that erode farmers' profits and threaten their livelihoods. Milk cows are becoming more efficient and dairy producers are relying on fewer of them to keep production steady. Today the average dairy cow produces about 60 percent more milk than it did 25 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For a dairy farm, even the slightest increase in milk production, say an extra pound a day from each cow, translates into thousands more dollars in revenue a year. But farmers are awash in their own product and pursuing still higher volume to make up for feeble profits."

Virginia's dairy farms are dwindling, though, with about 100 closing every three or four years, and 796 existed in January, about half the number operating in 1980. If small dairies do not gain new technology and fail to develop cost-cutting measures, then they basically start their own death, said Bennett Cassell, a professor of dairy science at Virginia Tech. "It is the equivalent of what Wal-Mart did to retailing," he added. About 70 percent of milk produced in Virginia comes from small operations, and ones wishing to expand often find a dead end because of high land prices, reports Rogers. (Read more)

University of Illinois aims to educate public about environmental rules

A new Web site from the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service identifies environmental regulations that pertain to agricultural and horticultural operations, which is good news for journalists in the Land of Lincoln -- and an example for other states to follow.

Called "EZregs," the site offers information on applications of the regulations for livestock and crop farms, turfgrass and lawn care operations. The information can help explain environmental protection, safe use of agricultural chemicals, and livestock facility construction, management and sitting, historic preservation and endangered species preservation.

EZregs is geared for livestock and crop producers, green industry professionals, rural neighbors to farm operations, policy makers, land use planners, and university extension educators among others. However, journalists may find the site useful when writing agriculture or environment stories. (Read more)

Rural Pa. child-care centers lack resources for quality, advocates say

Many of Pennsylvania's rural counties lack child care that meets high quality standards such as teacher training, curriculum and assessment of children's development, according to a report on school readiness from the nonprofit group Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

The report "found that 22 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties do not have child-care centers with national accreditation or a maximum four-star rating under the state's Keystone STARS program. Keystone STARS was started in 2002 to encourage centers to raise their standards voluntarily," reports Martha Raffaele of The Associated Press. Nearly 4,300 child-care providers are participating in Keystone STARS, about 50 percent of all licensed facilities, which means they receive training, workshops and special merit grants for centers serving low-income children.

Pennsylvania is one of 11 states with voluntary child-care quality rating programs. Terry Casey, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association, said the smaller child care facilities in rural areas encounter many challenges. The 22 counties Pennsylvania Partnerships identified as lacking in high-quality child care "don't have enough resources ... and this is a voluntary program. But I do see the glass as being partly full in that so many counties did offer it," Casey said. (Read more) For the report, click here.

Rural Kansas libraries survive despite low funds, few trained librarians

Rural public libraries in Kansas are hitting hard times because of declining populations and small property tax bases, and one-third of the 54 members in the Central Kansas Library System cannot afford to pay a librarian to work just 10 hours a week.

"The Central Kansas Library System is one of seven established in Kansas by the Legislature to provide services for small libraries and help fund them. The library system has the authority to levy property taxes in rural areas to fund grants made annually to small libraries," reports The Associated Press.

Rural libraries often provide services that metro locations simply do not have the time for such as knowing visitors by name and giving extensive one-on-one help. Leslie Bell, an administrator of the Northwest Kansas Library System, said staff members at most rural libraries come with no college training as librarians. "The majority are just people interested in libraries," Bell said. (Read more)

Friday, September 1, 2006

Today is deadline for nominations for Gish Award in rural journalism

Do you know a publisher, editor, reporter or photographer who has demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism? You are invited to nominate one or more of them for the Tom and Pat Gish Award, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues.

The award is named for the couple (right) who are in their 50th year of publishing The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky. The Gishes have withstood advertiser boycotts, declining population, personal attacks and even the burning of their newspaper office to provide the citizens of Letcher County the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas, especially those dominated by extractive industries -- in this case, primarily coal. Their coverage and commentary go beyond the boundaries of Letcher County to address issues in state and federal governments and other institutions that have a local impact, such as a new regional drug-fighting agency, the 40-year-old Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority and its coal-buying policies that encouraged strip mining in Central Appalachia. These are just some examples of the type of journalism worthy of the award.

The Gish Award is given to rural journalists who demonstrate the courage, tenacity and integrity often needed to render public service through journalism in rural areas. The first award was made to the Gishes themselves in 2005. The Institute hopes to make it annually, depending on the quality of the nominations.

Nominations for this year's award are due Sept. 1. The Institute plans to present the award at one of its conferences this fall. Nominations should be made by way of a letter or e-mail giving details on the courage, tenacity and integrity demonstrated by the nominee(s). You may be asked to provide additional information.

Send your nomination to: Al Cross, director, Instiute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 122 Grehan Journalism Bldg., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042, or by e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu. If you have questions, e-mail us or call 859-257-3744.

For more information on Tom and Pat Gish, click here.

Veteran rural journalists win awards from National Newspaper Assn.

Donald Q. Smith and Diane Everson will be honored at the 120th annual convention of the National Newspaper Association, where Smith will recieve the James O. Amos Award and Everson will accept the Emma C. McKinney Memorial Award.

"Recognized as the highest and most dignified tributes in community journalism, the Amos and McKinney awards are presented to a working or retired newspaperman and woman who have provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and their community," NNA says..

Smith, retired publisher and editor of the Monticello Times in Monticello, Minn., will receive the Amos award, established in 1938 in honor of Gen. James Amos, a pioneer Ohio journalist. Everson, co-owner and co-publisher of the Edgerton Reporter in Edgerton, Wis., will receive the McKinney Award, established in 1966 to honor Emma McKinney, co-publisher and editor of the Hillsboro (Ore.) Argus for 58 years. (Read more)

With Congress, statehouse control at stake, rural vote could be a key

"This is potentially the most consequential mid-term election since 1994, and we are approaching it with that in mind," Richard Stevenson, deputy Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, told Joe Strupp of Editor and Publisher, whose story is a reminder for all journalists, not just those in Washington. After all, every American has a congressional race on the ballot in November, when there is a chance that control of the House or even the Senate might change, and most states will elect governors and state legislators. (Read more)

Strupp's story focused on preparations by daily, metropolitan newspapers, but non-metro papers and weeklies will also be fulfilling their core First Amendment responsibilities by helping voters make informed choices. The rural vote will be "more crucial than ever," the American Farm Bureau Federation said in a press release this week. Because turnout will be lower than in a presidential election, this one "presents an incredible opportunity for rural voters — farmers and non-farmers alike — to make their voices heard," wrote Cyndie Sirekis, director of news services for the farm lobby.

"Although residents of rural America make up but 20 to 23 percent of our nation’s population, research shows they tend to turn out at the polls in far greater numbers than their urban and suburban counterparts," the release said. "Each rural vote cast becomes even more significant, if the overall voter apathy trend continues among urban and suburban residents while rural residents vote in droves. Among rural residents, farmers and ranchers are well-known to have a high level of political activity. As independent business families, they have a lot at stake."

Journalists invited to political coverage workshop in Kentucky Sept. 14

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Citizen Kentucky Project of the First Amendment Center of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky will hold a workshop on political reporting on Sept. 14 at the studios of Kentucky Educational Television in Lexington. The deadline for registration is Monday, Sept. 11.

The program will be tailored to Kentucky journalists, because virtually every office in the state is on the ballot this fall and candidate filing for 2007 primaries for the statewide constitutional offices, including governor, will end in January. However, journalists from other states will find the workshop useful.

Topics will include deciding what to cover and how, researching information about issues, the special nature of judicial elections, editorials and commentary, and how to use computers to mine campaign-finance data. To download a copy of the program, click here.

The program will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. KET is located at 600 Cooper Drive in Lexington. For more information, contact Institute Director Al Cross at Al.Cross@uky.edu.

Massive bust in Georgia shows methamphetamine is still a big business

Despite some reports that methamphetamine use and trafficking are declining, there still appears to be a strong demand for the drug, as illustrated by a recent meth bust in Georgia, the biggest in the state's history. Authorities seized 341 pounds, which the Drug Enforcement Administration estimated to be worth $17 million to more than $50 million.

North Georgia and the areas surrounding Atlanta have become a hub for methamphetamine trafficking, said U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias. Law enforcement attributes the insurge of meth to Mexican crime groups. 187 pounds of meth were found in Buford, Ga., only two weeks earlier, and similarly large busts have been made, reports Bill Torpy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Read more) To read the Justice Department press release, click here.

Weekly in supposedly smallest Minnesota town with a paper calls it quits

The Milan Standard is out of business, ending the west-central Minnesota town's claim to be the smallest one in the state with its own newspaper.

"We lost a piece of our identity," Ron Anderson, mayor of the town of 326 people, told the West Central Tribune of Willmar. The 103-year-old paper was no longer locally owned, but published by the Appleton Press since 1983. Publisher Leslie Ehrenberg said the paper couldn't sell enough advertising to keep going, but was difficult to abandon. "It's the emotional ties," she said. "It's very hard to let it go." Ehrenberg said the Press plans to keep Standard Editor Andrea Johnson (also her sister-in-law) on the payroll, keep using the paper's contributors and have at least two pages a week about Milan.

The Standard was one of Minnesota's smallest weeklies, with a circulation between 420 and 450. The circulation of the Press is 3,600. An Associated Press rewrite of the Tribune story reported, "Nearly all of the town's postal patrons subscribed, said Joy Olson, postmaster relief for Milan. Most of those living in town timed their Tuesday visits to the post office to arrive just after 1:30 p.m., when they knew the newspaper would be in their boxes, she said."

Group claims Wal-Mart advertising campaign is misleading, may sue

Wal-Mart Watch, a watchdog group, said it will file suit againt the company alleging false advertising in a commercial campaign launched Tuesday and reported in The Rural Blog yesterday. The ads are designed to promote a positive image of Wal-Mart's employee treatment and its effect on communities, reports Mya Frazier of Advertising Age.

"In one of the spots in question, a 60-second commercial dubbed 'Sam's Dream,' a narrator breaks in among the smiling associates in blue smocks and says: 'It's been said that when Wal-Mart comes to town, it's like getting a nice pay raise.' The spot then refers to an oft-touted statistic that the retailer's low prices save working families, on average, $2,300 a year 'which buys a lot of things -- and a whole bunch of freedom,'" writes Frazier.

"That's the part that is so disingenuous. If you are only making $16,000 a year, how can you afford that? Are you not going to feed or clothe your children?" Chris Kofinis of WakeUpWalMart.com told Ad Age. He said that on average, full-time Wal-Mart employees make $2,200 below the poverty level. The group says it plan to launch its own advertising campaign countering Wal-Mart's claims. (Read more)

Regional coordinators named for Sunshine Week, anti-secrecy effort

Sunshine Week is an effort by journalists to enlist their communities in efforts to combat unwarranted government secrecy. Sunshine Week 2007 will take place March 11-17.

"During Sunshine Week — which is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — media organizations, civic groups, libraries, schools, non-profit organizations and others nationwide participate in coverage of and discussions about the importance of protecting public access to government," Sunshine Week says in a release.

"The Sunshine Week initiative is increasing public awareness, it's coming up more often in policy conversations, and the efforts of participants are being cited as real forces for moving the public away from simply accepting excessive and unwarranted government secrecy."

Regional coordinators for Sunshine Week will contact media and civic groups to build a network for their areas. Anyone, including individuals, schools and libraries, who wants to be involved with Sunshine Week is encouraged to contact their coodinator. (Read more)

The coordinators are: New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT), Thomas E. Heslin, managing editor for new media, The Providence Journal; Mid-Atlantic (DE, MD, DC, NJ, NY, PA), Tim Franklin, editor, The Baltimore Sun; South (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV), Mark Tomasik, editor, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers; Midwest (IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, WI): Tom O’Hara, managing editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer; West (CO, ID, MT, NM, ND, OK, SD, TX, UT, WY), Fred Zipp, managing editor, Austin American-Statesman; and Far West (AK, AZ, CA, HI, NV, OR, WA), Maureen West, senior editor, Arizona Republic.

Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, and West Virginia University. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of daily Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.



Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
School of Journalism and Telecommunications

122 Grehan Journalism Building, Lexington KY 40506-0042

Phone: (859) 257-3744, Fax: (859) 323-9879

Questions about the Web site? Contact Al Cross, director, al.cross@uky.edu