Friday, July 29, 2016

Appeals court throws out N.C.'s voter-ID law

Election workers checked voters' ID in Asheville in March.
(Photo by George Etheredge for The New York Times)
"A federal appeals court on Friday struck down North Carolina’s voter-identification requirement, upending voting procedures in a crucial state slightly more than three months before Election Day," Alan Blinder reports for The New York Times.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said the district court judge had “ignore[d] critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina. . . . We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

The voter-ID law "also abolished same-day voter registration and ended preregistration, which had permitted some teenagers to sign up for the voting rolls before they turned 18," Blinder notes. "Republicans argued the law protected against fraud, but critics said it was an effort to disenfranchise certain voters, particularly black and Hispanic ones."

North Carolina had one of the largest rural populations among the states in the 2010 census: 3,233,727, or 34 percent of its population. The only state with more rural residents was Texas, with 3.8 million, but that was only 15 percent of its population. A federal appeals court threw out a voter-ID law in Texas last week, saying it was racially discriminator and violated the Voting Rights Act.

Fact checking Hillary Clinton at Democratic convention on jobs, income gains, border security

 Associated Press photo by J. Scott Applewhite
Hillary Clinton wrapped up the Democratic National Convention by accepting the nomination for president. Fact-checkers looked at her speech and those of other speakers. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org for full context and things you may want to add.

Clinton said the U.S. has created “nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs” under President Obama, but that depends on when you start counting. Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "The economy has added 14.8 million private-sector jobs since February 2010, the low point after the Great Recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the gain is 10.5 million private-sector jobs from the start of President Obama’s presidency." Robert Farley of FactCheck.org notes that the number drops to 10.1 million "when accounting for the loss of 460,000 public jobs."

"Clinton misrepresented Donald Trump’s 'I alone can fix it' line, suggesting he said he could fix everything by himself," Farley reports. Trump was referring to a 'rigged' system, and went on to talk about working with others." Clinton also "said '90 percent' of income gains 'have gone to the top 1 percent.' But that is an outdated figure, Farley reports: It’s now 52 percent.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "now covers more than 40 million more Americans," which was off base. Kessler and Lee write, "Pelosi’s prepared text said '20 million Americans.' But in a case of over-exuberance, she doubled the figure. This 20 million figure comes from a March 2016 estimate by the Department of Health and Human Services that was intended to show how many people gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act since full implementation in 2013. But it’s not necessarily precise, since it is based on survey data. . . . Not only did she double the figure, but she suggested that 40 million people currently have insurance they would not have gained before the law. (Clinton, in her speech, got the number right.)"

Kaine used old-time harmonica skills to appeal to rural Virginia, may do likewise as VP nominee

"He carries multiple harmonicas in his briefcase. He has played with members of the Dave Matthews Band and the Grateful Dead. And he has been known to show up unannounced at bluegrass jamborees around his home state, Virginia, simply looking to jam," Nick Corasaniti reports for The New York Times. "Meet Tim Kaine, vice-presidential candidate, senator, former governor—and mouth organist."

Times reporter Michael Shear says in a video accompanying the story that Kaine is likely to use the harmonica as he and Hillary Clinton run for the White House: "Part of the secret to Tim Kaine's success in Virginia politics has been in finding a way to appeal to the rural folks in Southwest Virginia, and one of the ways he did that was playing the harmonica." Music impresario Woody Crenshaw says in the video, "He has a feel for the old-time music of these mountains."

"Kaine has made music an important part of his political life," Corasaniti writes. "He has often 'sat in' at bluegrass open jam sessions while campaigning and in office. During his Senate campaign in 2012, he held a promotional contest, 'Harmonica With Tim,' in which one lucky person would win not just a dinner with Mr. Kaine, but also a one-on-one harmonica lesson. He had a bluegrass band, No Speed Limit, play his inauguration in 2006 (and he hopped onto the stage for a few songs, naturally)."

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, noted that Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee campaigned as fiddle players. He told Corasaniti that Kaine's talent helped him in Virginia: "If you show up someplace where people don’t really know you and you can play a tune, even if it’s not a tune they recognize, they think, ‘This guy’s not a politician; he can play music’."

Longtime weekly owner in Mich. who knew his job and believed everyone has a story dies at 82

Rudy Petzold, former editor, publisher and owner of the weekly Tuscola County Advertiser in Caro, Mich., died Saturday at 82,

Petzold was known for believing everyone had a story. Brett McLaughlin, whom he hired as a reporter in 1972 and who later served as publisher in 1991-2001, told Andrew Dietderich of Tuscola Today: “He sends me out to a house on M-81, just past Ellington and says ‘They got a great story there.’ I said ‘What is it?’ and he says ‘Just go, you’ll find out.’ I went and I knocked on the door and these people didn’t have a clue what the great story was. I can’t remember what the story was but I can tell you I came back with something. His point was, there’s a story at every door. He believed everybody had a story to tell and somebody else cared to hear it so get out there and write it.”

Petzold addressed how he would describe what he did if someone walked into his newspaper office and asked what he was doing:
  • I have a very special challenge and opportunity in this community. 
  • I am not too important in my community but I try to be important to my community. 
  • I chronicle and preserve the on-going history of my community – not just stories about the big shots but about wonderful everyday folks as well. 
  • I focus attention on my community problems, its needs and challenges and try to arouse people to do something about them.
  • I try to stand up for the little guy and try to be brave enough to stand up to the big guy if he gets too pushy. 
  • I make heroes out of the good people in my town who do things that might otherwise get missed: young football heroes, pretty beauty queens, wonderful neighbors, talented craftsmen, happy newlyweds, delightful jubilarians. I have the honor and joy of recording their special moments that, summed together, make up life in my community. 
  • I also have the job of pegging the heels in our community: isolating the few who use, or rather abuse their power, money or public trusts at the expense of the rest. 
  • I am sort of an unofficial member of every club and committee, because I help promote and publicize their good work and help their civic projects succeed. 
  • I don’t make a lot of money…some months none at all, but I feel well paid with a feeling of fulfillment and of being someone special and useful to many people in this community.

Suicide rates on the rise among rural residents 45-64; economy, isolation cited as main reasons

Suicide rates among rural Americans 45 to 64 rose dramatically from 1999 to 2014, Allison Schrager reports for Quartz, which is owned by Atlantic Media Co. publisher of The Atlantic. Suicide rates among men in rural areas increased from 1999 to 2014 by 57.5 percent, highest among geographic categories. Suicide rates among women increased 91.2 percent, and 96.6 percent in "micropolitan" areas with towns of 10,000 to 50,000.

“It’s a fairly similar story for women, who, it is worth noting, have historically had much lower suicide rates,” Schrager writes. “They still do—in 2014, middle-age men were more than three times as likely to die from suicide—but the gap is narrowing a bit. The suicide rate among rural, middle-age women has nearly doubled since 1999.”
“The disproportionate increase in suicides in rural areas could have something to do with economic sectors,” Schrager writes. “Certain jobs normally found in rural areas traditionally have higher suicide rates, like farming, fishing, and logging. Some speculate that the chemicals farmers are exposed to contribute to depression. Suicide is more common in communities where people are more isolated, and where there’s less access to mental health services. Rural areas also have higher rates of drug addiction. But the big, glaring reason for the uptick seems to be economics. Rural communities have faced a long economic decline alongside the surge in suicide rates.”

Climate change already impacting remote Alaskan towns that rely on hunting to survive winters

Climate change is already affecting rural remote towns in Alaska that rely on stocking up on food for long, harsh winters, Clare Leschin-Hoar reports for NPR. "Savoonga is a small community of about 650 residents that sits on the northern edge of St. Lawrence Island, 164 miles west of Nome, in the Bering Sea. It is among the first U.S. communities to experience the effects of climate change firsthand."

As a result of climate change, "Warmer winters and changing ice conditions meant hunters were unable to bag the Pacific walrus the Savoonga residents traditionally relied on as a key food source," Leschin-Hoar writes. "Three years ago, the situation became so dire, the governor declared the island an economic disaster to help loosen assistance funds. The debate here isn't over whether climate change is happening. For these rural communities, the question is whether they can continue to survive there."

St. Lawrence Island is the northernmost island on the map.
According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap (right) food insecurity rates for the state hover at 14.4 percent, just above the national rate of 14 percent, Leschin-Hoar writes. "But what makes the situation in Alaska different from many other states is its residents' dependence on subsistence hunting, especially those who live in remote communities. In 2012, the state estimated that rural residents harvested a whopping 295 pounds of wild foods per person—including fish, whale, seals, sea lions, moose, caribou, birds and wild plants from berries to kelp."

Cara Durr, director of public engagement for Food Bank of Alaska, told Leschin-Hoar."In places like Savoonga, suddenly you've got an 80 percent reduction in the amount of food you're used to having. There aren't a lot of jobs on these islands, and to say to people they now have to go to the grocery store—it's just out of reach for a lot of these people. And there are hundreds of communities like this. You can't just snap your fingers and send more food. It's incredibly expensive to ship food out there."

High transportation costs lead very rural Nevada school district to adopt four-day week

Three rural schools in rural Elko County, Nevada are the latest to switch to four-day weeks "to allow students in those areas more time at home and to cut down on travel," Hasani Grayson reports for the Elko Daily Free Press. The school board, which unanimously approved the decision, said school days will be nine hours, instead of seven and a half. (Wikipedia map: Elko County, Nevada)

"The four-day school week will help ease the burden on parents who have to travel long distances to drop their children off at school and for families who need the extra help from their children at home but it is also creating a new challenge for the teachers," Grayson writes.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Feds release quality ratings of 4,599 hospitals; industry says it's an oversimplification

Screenshot of website with hospital information
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Wednesday released its list of Overall Hospital Quality Star Ratings of nearly 4,000 hospitals in the U.S., Elizabeth Whitman reports for Modern Healthcare. "Just 102 institutions out of 4,599 hospitals, or 2.2 percent, earned five stars. Of the rest of the hospitals, 20.3 percent, garnered four stars, 38.5 percent, received three, 15.7 percent, earned two stars and 2.9 percent, received a single star. A significant proportion—20.4 percent, of hospitals—were deemed ineligible for ratings, because they lacked data to report measure results."

"Hospitals and other industry groups have stridently criticized the rating system as oversimplifying a complex matter—the quality of a multi-faceted institution—and the underlying methodology as flawed," Whitman writes. "They warned it would provide inaccurate information to consumers and damage hospitals' reputations." Richard Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, said in a statement: "As written, they fall short of meeting principles that the AHA has embraced for quality report cards and rating systems. We are especially troubled that the current ratings scheme unfairly penalizes teaching hospitals and those serving higher numbers of the poor."

Ratings consist of 64 quality measures in seven categories: Mortality; Safety of Care; Readmission; Patient Experience; Effectiveness of Care; Timeliness of Care; and Efficient Use of Medical Imaging. To find the rating of a hospital click here.

Fact checking claims at Democratic convention on veteran homelessness, Social Security, NATO

The third day of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday created more fodder for fact checkers. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org for full context and things you may want to add. (Politico photo by Jason Lee: President Obama speaking Wednesday)

President Obama said, We “cut veterans' homelessness almost in half.” The number is actually 35 percent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "He likely is referring to the decrease in homeless veterans who are 'unsheltered,' defined as 'places not meant for human habitation, such as the streets, abandoned buildings, vehicles, or parks.' The unsheltered homeless veteran population decreased by 45.9 percent from 2009 to 2015."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to gamble with your retirement benefits in the stock market.” Lee and Kessler write, "This is a tired old talking point that Democrats throw at Republicans, one that we have criticized in the past. Yet it’s particularly misplaced against Donald Trump. As a presidential candidate, Trump has repeatedly insisted that he will not touch Social Security benefits, saying it can held solvent without changing its structure. There’s no indication that he currently supports investing Social Security trust funds—now in Treasury bonds—in the stock market."

"As is typical of Trump, he sang a different tune in 2000, writing in a book that Social Security was a 'Ponzi scheme' and the retirement age should be raised to 70," Kessler and Lee write. "He also called for 'privatization' of the program. Pence, as a member of Congress, was supportive of George W. Bush’s ill-fated 2005 effort to introduce investment options. It was designed as a voluntary program, in which individuals could choose to direct a relatively small portion of their payroll taxes to investment options besides Treasury securities. But Bush could not even get a committee vote on his idea, even though Republicans controlled both houses of Congress,. That was 11 years ago, and no serious Republican has tried to push the concept again."

Eugene Kiely of FactCheck.org, writes, "vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine claimed that Trump said he 'wants to abandon' our NATO allies. Trump has said that he doesn’t want the U.S. to leave NATO, but has suggested he would not automatically defend NATO allies that do not pay their share of defense costs."

"Obama claimed that under his administration, 'we finally began to wean ourselves off foreign oil,' but dependency on imported oil had begun to drop years before he took office," Kiely writes. "Obama said deficits have 'come down' under his administration.' That’s true, but they are expected to rise again soon under his proposed budget."

Rural areas will decide the big swing state of Pennsylvania, state ag secretary says

Rural voters in agricultural areas could be the difference in which presidential candidate walks away with the all-important 20 electoral votes in swing state Pennsylvania, where 42 of 67 counties are rural, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Republican nominee Donald Trump, who performed well during the primaries in rural areas, "has his eyes set on Pennsylvania and voters in its small towns and rural areas as he looks to win the state in November, but he may have to overcome the farm sector's concerns about his trade and immigration policies."

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, who was nominated by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and is considered one of the favorites to replace U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, said at the Democratic National Convention that "trade is important to both agriculture and forestry industries in the state, Brasher writes. He said rural voters in those sectors are 'savvy enough to understand that in their industry you can't sustain that sector, whether it's forest products, protein sector, production agriculture … without trade.'"

"Trump has called for forcing all illegal immigrants, including farm workers, to leave the country," a move not popular in agricultural areas that rely on immigrant workers, Brasher writes. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton "has proposed ending all deportations of illegal immigrants except for criminals."

Redding said jobs are the biggest issue in Pennsylvania, but gun control will also play a major role, while coal dependent regions in the western part of the state have blamed Democrats for the loss of jobs. Other rural issues, such as health, infrastructure and education, should also play a significant role in how the state's voters cast ballots.

John M. Jones III, longtime E. Tennessee publisher and founder of newspaper chain, dies at 101

John M. Jones III
John M. Jones III, longtime publisher of The Greeneville Sun, a daily newspaper covering Greene County at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, died Tuesday at 101. After graduating from Washington & Lee University and serving as an officer in the first American infantry unit to fight in Asia, winning the Bronze Star and serving as aide-de-camp to American and British theater commanders, Jones joined the Sun in 1945 as business manager at the request of his mother-in-law, Edith O'Keefe Susong, who was publisher from 1916 until her death in 1974.

Despite having no newspaper experience, Jones thrived as "a major force in local economic development and civic life from the late 1940s to the late 1990s," the Sun reports. "A former president of the Tennessee Press Association, Jones was also a former board member of what was then the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America). He served multiple terms as a member of the board of directors of The Associated Press. Jones was also an original member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and is widely regarded as the unofficial 'father' of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation."

"During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Jones played the primary leadership role in expanding the family's newspaper interests to include community newspapers in several other East Tennessee towns, including Newport, Athens, Dayton, Rogersville, Loudon/Lenoir City, and Sweetwater/Monroe County," where Jones was born and raised, the Sun reports. "The company has in recent years become Jones Media Inc., consisting of community daily newspapers in Greeneville, Maryville and Athens and non-daily newspapers in Newport, Rogersville, Lenoir City, Sweetwater, Dayton, and the High Country of western North Carolina, including Boone, as well as other media-related enterprises."

Survivors include his wife, Martha; sons John M. Jones IV of Greeneville, former editor of the Sun; Alex S. Jones of Charleston, S.C., and New York City, and Gregg K. Jones of Greeneville, head of Jones Media; two daughters, Edith Jones Floyd of Atlanta and Sarah Jones Harbison of Greeneville; and seven grandchildren. Alex S. Jones was the media reporter for The New York Times and director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. Other obituary information is here.

Obama administration to expand Central American refugee program for children fleeing danger

Associated Press photo by Eric Gay:
Youth detainees in Brownsville, Texas
The Obama administration said it will expand a program that allows unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to seek protections in the U.S. by applying within their own country, David Nakamura reports for The Washington Post. The program, launched in 2014 "after a massive influx of children that year swamped border patrol stations," allows Central American children fleeing danger to enter the U.S.

So far, from a pool of 9,500 applicants, 2,884 have been granted refugee status but only 267 have entered the U.S., Nakamura writes. "That number is minuscule compared with the thousands of children and families from those nations who are apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol each month while trying to enter the country." The Department of Homeland Security said that in June, "more than 11,000 children and family members crossed the border illegally."

"Under the expansion plans, three additional categories of people would be allowed to apply: older siblings of a qualified child, provided they have a parent already living lawfully in the U.S.; the biological parents of a qualified child; and caregivers of a qualified child, provided a parent is living lawfully in the U.S.," Nakamura writes. Also, "Mexico has agreed to increase the number of Central American refugees it will accept under its own program. And Costa Rica has agreed to provide safe harbor to as many as 200 Central American children considered in grave danger while their cases are being examined by the U.S. State Department." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fact checking the Democratic convention on gender wage gap, trade, federal health reform

Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention
The second day of the Democratic National Convention is in the books, and we take another look at how the fact checkers viewed Tuesday's speeches. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org for full context and things you may want to add.

Former President Bill Clinton said of his wife and expected Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, "She compiled a really solid record, totally progressive on economic and social issues. She voted for and against some proposed trade deals.” Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Bill Clinton suggests that Hillary Clinton was somewhat split on trade deals—she was 'totally progressive'—but her overall record as senator was to broadly support such agreements."

"As a senator, Clinton had a chance to vote on 10 trade deals, and she voted for or supported all but two: the Trade Act of 2002, essentially a trade deal involving Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, and the 2005 Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement. Moreover, as secretary of state, she also championed the negotiations that led to the Trans-Pacific Partnership; only as a presidential candidate, when challenged by Sen. Bernie Sanders, she suddenly said she opposed the final negotiated text," Kessler and Lee write. Now her ally, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, says she would support it after some things in it "were fixed."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said of Clinton, “We need a president who knows it’s just plain wrong that women make 79 cents for every dollar paid to a man.” Lee and Kessler write, "Boxer is relying on a simple calculation from the Census Bureau: a ratio of the difference between women’s median earnings and men’s median earnings. That leaves a pay gap of 21 cents. But the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the gap is 17 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages—15 cents—but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers."

Also, "Women also tend to leave the workforce for periods to raise children, seek jobs that may have more flexible hours but lower pay, and choose careers that tend to have lower pay," Kessler and Lee write. "BLS data show that women who have never married have virtually no wage gap; they earn nearly 94 cents for every dollar a man makes." Other factors include arguments that the average woman has less work experience than a man, more women than men work part-time and more women hold teaching jobs that only account for nine months of pay.

On health care, Eugene Kiely of FactCheck.org writes, "Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean claimed that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 'whole' health care plan was to replace the Affordable Care Act with 'quote, ‘Something so much better.' In fact, Trump has released a seven-point health care plan." Dean also "said that GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence 'voted to end Medicare as we know it.' Pence did vote for a budget plan that called for a major change to Medicare, but it would have retained a health insurance system for seniors."

Pesticides reduce live sperm in honeybees by 39%, says study

Neonicotinoid-based pesticides destroy sperm in male drones, says a study by Swiss researchers published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In January an Environmental Protection Agency study said the pesticides harm honeybees and other pollinators. Other studies have linked pesticides to bee deaths. Neonicotinoids are widely used on crops to attract pollinators such as bees, which are responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. (Bee Informed graphic)

Researchers found that bees that ate pollen laced with the pesticides "produced 39 percent less live sperm than those that didn't," Seth Borenstein reports for The Associated Press. "It essentially acted as an accidental contraceptive on the drones, whose main job is to mate with the queen—but not one that prevented complete reproduction, just making it tougher, said Lars Straub, lead author of the study and a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Bern. Drones, which are the product of unfertilized eggs, don't gather nectar or pollen and don't sting; they die after mating."

Bees that didn't have pesticide in their pollen averaged 1.98 million living sperm, compared to 1.2 million for bees that had neonicotinoids in their food, Borenstein writes. "This comes on top of a study published earlier this year in the online journal PLOS One that reported the high rate of U.S. honeybee colonies dying coincides with failures of queens. And the queen failure was linked to drones' dead sperm."

Public transit needs grow in rural Montana, where transportation is often costliest household expense

An increasing number of rural Montanans rely on public transportation, Jayme Fraser reports for the Billings Gazette. Not including public transport in the state's more urban locales Billings, Missoula and Great Falls, the number of federally funded public transit systems offering in-town or inter-city rides increased from nine in 2004 to 37 today. Bill Lanier, who uses public transportation to travel 21 miles to work, told Fraser, “I don’t think a lot of people appreciate it until they use it, or until they need it. I had thought it was mostly a convenience, but the more I use the bus the more I see it’s a necessity for people.” (Screenshot of interactive chart: County-by-county costs of transportation in Montana)
While transportation is the nation's second-largest expense in family budgets behind housing, it is the costliest expense for many residents in Montana, which ranks fourth in size and 44th in population. "Families with two working adults who earn the median household income—which ranges from $30,900 to $56,050 depending on region—spend more on transportation than housing costs in all but Missoula, Gallatin, and Lewis and Clark counties, according to an analysis of federal housing, transportation and Census data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development," Fraser writes.

"After the 2005 federal transportation bill nearly tripled the annual funding available to rural public transit operators in Montana, many systems that first offered rides to seniors and people with disabilities expanded to serve their whole communities, hoping to make education, employment and health care opportunities more affordable," Fraser writes. "Some Montanans ride for convenience, finding fares cheaper than the gas to commute or preferring to let a professional drive in winter weather. For others, public transit is essential. In addition to elderly residents—who make up a growing share of rural populations each year—some riders do not have a driver’s license, a car, the money to buy gas or relatives who can provide rides."

Youth homelessness is up 55% in Oklahoma in last 4 years, but few seek help from shelters

Oklahoma has seen a sharp increase in its number of homeless youth, but few seek help from shelters, Trevor Brown reports for Oklahoma Watch, part of the Institute for Non-Profit News, a group of more than 100 non-profit news sources. Oklahoma Department of Education statistics show that the state's number of homeless students increased by 55 percent over a four-year span, to 27,161 in 2014-15, the last year data was available. (Brown photo: Youth homeless shelters in Oklahoma have a hard time filling beds)

Of those homeless youth, about 1,640 were reported to be "living in unsheltered locations, such as cars, parks, campgrounds, abandoned buildings and temporary trailers," Brown writes. "More than 21,900 were 'doubling up,' meaning they were runaway or unaccompanied youths living with relatives or friends." One problem is that since about 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, some advocates fear they might be wary of going to a faith-based shelter.

State Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) who authored legislation last year to study the state's problem of homeless youth, told Brown, "We absolutely do have a huge homeless youth problem in Oklahoma. And it’s not just an urban problem, it’s also a rural problem. People are shocked when they see just how many children are homeless."

USDA town hall meeting: Missouri only state to lack established prescription drug monitoring program

Missouri is the only state that lacks an established monitoring program for prescription drugs, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) pointed out at a speech Friday at Stephens College in Columbia, Meg Vatterott reports for the Columbia Missourian. McCaskill, who said opioid overdoses now account for more deaths than automobile crashes, was speaking at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's latest town-hall meeting on rural drug abuse. Vilsack last month held a town hall meeting in Abingdon, Va.

"A bill to provide resources to expand the effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs and other methods of combating opioid addiction, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, was passed by the U.S. Senate on July 13 and is expected to be signed by the president this week, according to a news release from McCaskill's office," Vatterott writes. "But because Missouri doesn't have an official state program, the state would have been ineligible for certain grants. However, McCaskill added an amendment for local communities in Missouri with their own monitoring programs to be eligible for federal resources."

Vilsack said at the Missouri town hall meeting, "From 1993 until 2013, we have seen a 400 percent increase in opioid prescriptions. We now have over 259 million prescriptions being filled on an annual basis. That is one for virtually every adult in the United States of America." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in January that "Missouri had 1,067 overdose deaths in 2014, a 4 percent increase over 2013, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is being driven by opioids." (CDC graphic)

Lawsuit forces rural Texas town to drop 'whites only' policy for cemetery

A cemetery in a rural Texas town sued for its "whites only" policy "conceded its refusal to bury Latino residents is discriminatory and violates federal and state law," Alexa Ura reports for The Texas Tribune. Lawyers for the cemetery association that oversees the San Domingo Cemetery in Normanna (Best Places map) a town with 113 residents, "admitted defeat in court on Friday as part of a lawsuit filed after Dorothy Barrera was unable to bury the ashes of her husband, who was Latino, in the cemetery." 

"According to the lawsuit, cemetery operator Jimmy Bradford told Barrera that her request to bury her husband at the cemetery had been denied by the Normanna Cemetery Association," Ura writes. "When Barrera questioned the vote, Bradford allegedly responded that her husband couldn’t be buried there 'because he’s a Mexican,' the federal complaint detailed. Bradford then directed her to 'go up the road and bury him with the n------ and Mexicans' in the nearby Del Bosque Cemetery," which is locally regarded as the burial place for non-whites.

"As noted in a court filing, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund accepted the cemetery association’s 'offer of judgment,' proposing that a judge should enter a ruling against them for the policy and should declare their 'rule of discriminating' based on race and national origin as 'void,'" Ura writes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Silent epidemic of opioid addiction among seniors leaves a void in states that did not expand Medicaid

Older drug addicts in states that chose not to expand Medicaid have few options for treatment, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. Older adults "face mounting barriers to getting help for abuse of alcohol and opioid painkillers—not the least of which is finding they are squeezed out of scarce treatment facilities by younger people with prescription drug or heroin habits."

report by Stanford University found that people covered by Medicaid—the federal health care program for people 65 and older and those with disabilities—have “among the highest and most rapidly growing prevalence of opioid use disorder,” Vestal writes. "More than 6 out of every 1,000 Medicare patients are diagnosed with an opioid disorder, compared with 1 of every 1,000 patients covered by commercial insurance plans, according to the report." (Kaiser Family Foundation map)
Many older Americans are reluctant to ask for help for drug addiction "out of shame of being an addict at this point in their lives—creating what addiction experts call a silent epidemic," Vestal writes. "The silent epidemic also distorts the true toll that addiction has on the nation. Drug-related deaths of the elderly are often undercounted because it’s assumed on death certificates that they died of their age-related illness, not an overdose of pain pills, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who runs a New York-based group of addiction treatment centers." 

"Getting treatment can be expensive," Vestal writes. "Seniors who do seek help find that Medicare does not cover most types of addiction treatment, something advocates have been trying to persuade the federal government to change for years. Low-income seniors who are unable to pay for treatment find few options" in 19 states "where Medicaid coverage for the poor has not been expanded under the Affordable Care Act to cover able-bodied adults." (Read more)

Fact checking claims at Democratic convention on minimum wage, free college tuition, top 1%

Last week we took a look at how fact checkers rated statements made in speeches at the Republican National Convention. This week we look at the Democratic National Convention. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org for full context and things you may want to add. (CBS image: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.))

One of the biggest issues on Monday was minimum wage, which was brought up at least three times. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, “Donald Trump actually stood on a debate stage and said that wages are ‘too high’.” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said, “This November, we have a choice. You can choose a candidate who’s only out for himself, who wants to get rid of the federal minimum wage, and who would cut taxes for the richest Americans at the expense of the middle class.”  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, "Trump wants to get rid of the federal minimum wage.”

Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Trump has made contradictory statements on the minimum wage, so here is some necessary context to the claims by Gillibrand, Casey and Warren. During a November 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump was asked whether he was 'sympathetic to the protesters cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year.'"

Trump said he couldn't be sympathetic because “We are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. . . . [With] taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum.”

Kessler and Lee write, "Days later, Trump clarified he was referring to whether he would increase the minimum wage. He would not raise it, because then it would be 'too high,' he said. Then in May 2016, Trump appeared to support states' raising minimum wages, and to oppose the federal government setting a floor on wages for states to raise. Trump also said that he didn’t 'know how people make it on $7.25 an hour.' But Trump has indicated since then that 'he might be willing to trade a minimum-wage increase to obtain another policy goal,' The Wall Street Journal reported on July 19."

On other questionable claims, Robert Farley of FactCheck.org writes, "Sen. Bernie Sanders said Hillary Clinton 'will guarantee' free tuition at public colleges or universities for families with annual incomes of $125,000 or less. But free tuition is not guaranteed. States must put up matching funds for the students to receive free tuition. Sanders also said the 'top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income,' but economists whose work Sanders has cited put the figure at 52 percent for 1993 to 2015."

Map shows marijuana use by state; highest rates in West, lowest rates mostly in South, Plains states

How much cannabis do people in your neck of the woods smoke? The Washington Post has created a map of marijuana use in the U.S. using data the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration compiled from 204,000 respondents from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health to estimate monthly pot use among Americans 12 and older.

"The report finds that nationally, 7.7 percent of people 12 an older—roughly 20.3 million Americans—use marijuana monthly or more," Christopher Ingraham reports for the Post. "Broadly speaking, marijuana use rates are highest in the western states and lowest in the South." (Post map)

Trees in forests communicate, German author says

A new book by a German forest ranger has become a sensation by humanizing trees that are known to connect through their own version of social networking. Peter Wohlleben's book "has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news—long known to biologists—that trees in the forest are social beings," Sally McGrane reports for The New York Times. "They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the 'Wood Wide Web'; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots." (NYT photo by Gordon Welters: Peter Wohlleben)

The book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World, has sold 320,000 copies and has been optioned for translation in 19 countries, McGrane writes. Wohlleben purposely wrote it to be understood by anyone. He told McGrane, “I use a very human language. Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.”

While reading about trees Wohlleben "found that, in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings," McGrane writes. "Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance. By artificially spacing out trees, the plantation forests that make up most of Germany’s woods ensure that trees get more sunlight and grow faster. But, naturalists say, creating too much space between trees can disconnect them from their networks, stymieing some of their inborn resilience mechanisms."

Speaking of a curved tree, Wohlleben told McGrane, "For a forester, this tree is ugly, because it is crooked, which means you can’t get very much money for the wood. It really surprised me, walking through the forest, when people called a tree like this one beautiful. They said, ‘My life hasn’t always run in a straight line, either.’ And I began to see things with new eyes.” (Read more)

Maine governor's handwritten notes to lawmakers not public records, staff says; others disagree

A note Gov. Paul LePage sent to
Democratic state Sen. John Patrick
An argument is brewing in Maine over whether handwritten notes Republican Gov. Paul LePage frequently writes to lawmakers are subject to open records laws, Scott Thistle reports for the Portland Press Herald. "Staff members argue the notes are personal and not public documents that must be saved and accessible to the public. But others, including the state’s archivist and attorney general, say documents created by the governor that discuss state policy or business are public records, whether handwritten or not."

Republican state Senate President Mike Thibodeau made public this note he received from LePage in June 2015: “It is apparent that the Republicans in the Senate and House have not only thrown the governor under the bus, but now want to take his executive powers. Therefore, beginning today and for the remainder of my term, all bills will be vetoed requiring a 2/3rds vote in both houses."

LePage, "who promised voters in 2010 that his would be the 'most transparent' administration in state history, now has a long record of evading, avoiding or simply ignoring the state’s open records law," Thistle writes. Brenda Kielty, the state’s Freedom of Access Act ombudsman, told Thistle, “Any government record, regardless of the form in which it is in maintained by an agency or official, can be a public record.” (Read more)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Publisher of farm paper and weekly wins Ky. award for public service through community journalism

Sharon Burton
Sharon Burton, publisher of Kentucky’s statewide agricultural newspaper and a community weekly in her native Adair County, is the winner of the 2016 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.

Burton will receive the award Sept. 29 in Lexington, at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which co-sponsor the award.

For more than 27 years, Burton has published The Farmer’s Pride, a newspaper for Kentucky farmers and other agriculture interests. For more than 14 years, she has published the Adair County Community Voice, a weekly paper that has frequently been cited on the Institute’s Rural Blog as an example of journalism that serves the public.

“Sharon is a great example of a local individual who saw a need, and through entrepreneurial hard work, created publications that serve the need of her local community but also of the agricultural community of Kentucky,” wrote Jimmy Henning, associate dean for extension in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and director of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, in his nomination.

Nick Roy, the Adair County extension agent for agriculture, also nominated Burton, saying the Community Voice “was quickly recognized as a credible source of information with coverage providing openness and transparency of local government” after its founding as a monthly in 2002. “Its popularity grew and soon became a bi-monthly publication in 2005, and then a weekly newspaper in May 2007. While the Community Voice has grown and made minor changes through its development, its commitment to the betterment of the Adair County community has remained.”

One recent example was her coverage of the March referendum in Adair County that legalized the sale of alcoholic beverages, one of the most controversial issues that a rural community can address. The Community Voice covered it thoroughly, offering insightful commentary without taking sides, including a front-page essay by Burton that began with reliving her experience of buying liquor from a bootlegger on her senior prom night and went on to the current experiences of students at the local, Methodist-sponsored college and federal survey data on local drinkers. She wrote that the county has "already said yes to alcohol. But we've said yes in a way where we don’t have to take responsibility. We allow alcohol to be sold in the shadows, treating it like a heroin den; people can get their fix, but we don’t have to look at it.”

The year before, Burton played an unusual – and probably for most journalists, controversial – role in her community by serving on the board of the local hospital, which had been driven into bankruptcy by mismanagement. When the new county judge-executive asked her to serve, she had many reservations because journalists are supposed to cover news, not make it. But she agreed "because I could not think of anything more important to do as someone who loves this community and the people who made it great," she wrote, adding that she felt she could make sure the board was more transparent than it had been. She recused herself from reporting or editing any hospital stories, and had an outside professional edit them for publication.

“Sharon’s deep commitment to public service drove her to make a decision that most academically trained journalists like her wouldn’t make,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and associate professor in the UK School of Journalism and Media, where he teaches community journalism. “Public service ought to be the primary thing that drives journalists, and there are times when your role as a member of the community can conflict with your role as a journalist. Sharon did an exemplary job of managing those conflicts, which is a key to success in community journalism.”

The Al Smith Award is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the driving force for creation of the Institute, headed its national advisory board for many years and remains active as chairman emeritus. (Read more)

Democrats have moved left, become less rural; 45% would prefer a nominee other than Clinton

The Democratic National Convention kicks off today in Philadelphia. All-but-nominated Hillary Clinton will lead a party much different than the one her husband led as nominee in 1992 and president from 1993 to 2001. It's less white, more liberal, better educated and less willing to compromise, Peter Nicholas reports for The Wall Street Journal. And those reflect some of the reasons the party attracts fewer rural voters.

"Working-class white voters once loyal to the Democratic Party have gravitated to the Republicans over the past two decades, drawn by the GOP’s stance on guns, immigration and other social issues. Amid the exodus, Democrats have moved left," Nicholas writes. "Many Democrats today aren’t convinced capitalism is the best economic model or that socialism is taboo."

"Nor is the party entirely sold on its new leader," Nicholas reports. "A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll this month showed 45 percent of registered Democrats and those who lean in that direction would have preferred a nominee not named Hillary Clinton."

“I’m in the hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-Hillary-Clinton camp,” Jason Frerichs, the Democratic chairman of southwestern Iowa's Montgomery County told Nicholas, who writes, "He founded a progressive caucus within the Iowa state party that aims to elect liberals to school boards, county supervisor jobs, 'even dogcatcher,' he said." But only 38 percent of his county's vote went for President Obama in 2012, after giving him 44 percent in 2008.

Nicholas writes, "The draft party platform that Democrats approved at a two-day meeting in Orlando, Fla., highlights the sharp left turn . . . The 1996 Democratic platform celebrated free-trade deals; the proposed new platform says they don’t “live up to the hype.” Bill Clinton’s platform embraced the death penalty; the new one would do away with it. The old platform boasted of building new prison cells; the 2016 version calls for 'ending the era of mass incarceration'."

The Democratic Party platform can be viewed by clicking here. To see the Republican platform click here.

Ranchers who live near Mexico call border wall 'idiotic' but like attention it brings to issue

One of the key issues in the Republican Party platform and nominee Donald Trump's campaign is building a wall across the entire southern portion of the U.S. that borders Mexico. While supporters say it will stop drug smugglers and illegal immigrants from entering the U.S., ranchers who live and work a stone's throw from the Mexican border call the idea ridiculous and pointless, "This Land" columnist Dan Barry reports for The New York Times.

"It’s silly. It isn’t going to work," Arizona rancher John Ladd, who lives 10 miles from the Mexican border, told Barry. Even a rancher like Ed Ashurst, who lives 20 miles from the border and says he would move to Australia if Hillary Clinton is elected, told Barry, “To say you’re going to build a wall from Brownsville to San Diego -- that is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. And it’s not going to change anything.” (CNN map highlights land-border states; Texas border is the Rio Grande)
"The solution favored among ranchers is infused with a fatalism that nothing will change—government being government, and the cartels always one step ahead—so why bother?" Barry writes. "But here it goes: Intensive, round-the-clock patrols along the border are required for a fence or wall to work; otherwise, those determined to cross will always find a way. But, they argue, if you have boots on the ground, you will have no need for anything so beautiful as the Great Wall of Trump."

Border patrols say arrests in the Tucson sector—which covers about 90,000 square miles, with 262 miles of border—totaled 63,397 in the 2015 fiscal year, a tenth of the figure in the 2001 fiscal year. But locals say that while migrants are fewer, drug traffickers are more plentiful.

Some say talk of a wall at least brings more attention to the problem. New Mexico resident Crystal Foreman Brown told Barry, "Trump’s fence issue at least brings up the issue that there is an issue. For officials in Washington to act like we’re being silly and hysterical—it’s kind of inconceivable.” (Read more)

Study finds over 1/2 of e-cigs are mislabeled, with incorrect nicotine amounts; most not child-proof

E-cigarettes, which are growing in popularity among youth, especially in rural areas, are often mislabeled, says a study by researchers at North Dakota State University, published in the latest Journal of Pediatric Nursing. Researchers said that "of the 70 collected e-liquid samples that claimed to contain nicotine, 17 percent contained more than the labeled quantity and 34 percent contained less than the labeled quantity by 10 percent or more, with one sample containing 172 percent more than the labeled quantity."

Researchers also found that of the 94 e-liquid containers sampled, only 35 percent were determined to be child-resistant. Minors were also found to be present in stores, but researchers did not witness any sales to minors. The Food and Drug Administration, which announced in May it was assuming regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes, prohibited sales to anyone under 18. (Read more)

States are learning how to prevent earthquakes linked to oil and gas drillers' disposal wells

In Kansas and Oklahoma, where an increase in earthquakes has been linked to oil and gas companies' wastewater injection wells, the states have found a solution to help reduce man-made seismic activity, Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. Since placing restrictions in March on "oil and natural gas operations in certain hotspots, Oklahoma is feeling an average of about two earthquakes a day, down from about six last summer, and Kansas is feeling about a quarter of the tremors it once did."

Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015—more than 900 of magnitude 3.0 or higher—than the combined total of every state except Alaska. Before the oil and gas boom that began in 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. Oklahoma, which had 701 earthquakes of 2.8 magnitude or higher through the first six months of 2015, had 619 during that time period this year. (Stateline graphic: Oklahoma earthquakes)
"Using a growing body of research, along with trial and error, scientists and state regulators are gradually getting closer to pinpointing the cause of the startling increase in earthquakes in the Central and Eastern U.S., and preventing them," Fifield writes. "The general cause, scientists have found, is not drilling, but what happens after, when operators dispose of wastewater that comes up naturally during the oil and gas extraction process. The operators inject the wastewater into disposal wells that go thousands of feet underground, which can increase fluid pressures and sometimes cause faults underneath or nearby to move."

"To gather more data, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas are expanding their seismic monitoring systems this year, placing permanent stations across the states and moving temporary stations to new hotspots," Fifield writes. "And Oklahoma and Texas hired more staff or are contracting with scientists to study the geology of areas where earthquakes are occurring, the details of the quakes that happen, and the oil and gas activity that may be associated with them."

"About 7 million people across the Central and Eastern U.S. are now at risk of man-made shaking powerful enough to crack walls and rattle items off shelves, according to a one-year United States Geological Survey forecast released in March," Fifield writes. "The report outlined the risk from man-made earthquakes for the first time, listing the states with the highest risk in order as Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas." (Read more)

Western ranchers say resurgence of gray wolves is putting livestock at risk

A resurgence of gray wolves in Western states has put livestock in harm's way, Elaine S. Povich reports for Stateline. "As gray wolves multiply and come off endangered species lists in Western states, a new problem has emerged: Packs of wolves are harassing ranchers, their sheep and cattle. And states are trying to walk the line between the ranchers, who view the animals as an economic and physical menace, and environmentalists, who see their reintroduction as a success story." (National Geographic photo)

Donny Martorello, wolf-policy chief in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Povich, “It really is about having a large carnivore back on the landscape that has been absent for decades. If you are in a rural community, there is that uncertainty that it will threaten your way of life and how you support your family. The larger society has made the call that they value wildlife and our job is to steer [wolves] toward recovery. Wolves are doing quite well. Is there an option not to have wolves in Washington? That is not in our foreseeable future.”

Gray wolves, which have been listed as endangered or threatened in many states, have been de-listed in Montana, Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and north-central Utah, Povich writes. "In Montana and Idaho, wolves may be hunted, within tight restrictions and seasons. In the other states, there is no legal hunting of wolves. But in the parts of Oregon, Utah and Washington where wolves have been de-listed, states are empowered to eliminate wolves that have been proven to be a menace to livestock, dogs or humans, and to provide compensation for lost livestock."

Some ranchers complain that an increase in wolves has negatively affected numbers in other ways, Povich writes. Washington rancher Len McIrvin said an increase in wolves has made his cows "more skittish and haven’t calved as often since the wolves have been around." He said "when wolves harass cattle, 20 percent of the cows don’t calve in the spring, compared with a normal 2 to 3 percent." Sheep herders say the same can be said for their numbers. (Read more)

One of world's largest food suppliers says it will make global switch to cage-free eggs by 2025

Paris-based Sodexo, one of the world’s largest food suppliers, announced today that it would switch to cage-free eggs and egg products in the U.S. by 2020 and worldwide by 2025, Karin Brulliard reports for The Washington Post.

"The announcement by a major international company is a sign that the rapid shift in the U.S. to cage-free eggs, led by consumers but long championed by animal-rights activists, is going more global," Brulliard writes. The decision "will affect both liquid eggs and the 250 million shell eggs the company purchases annually for use at 32,000 schools, hospitals, corporations and other sites it services in 80 countries. . . . Battery cages—small wire enclosures whose floors are smaller than a piece of letter-sized paper—are banned in the European Union, and Sodexo said in a statement that it already uses only cage-free eggs in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium." (Read more)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Selection of Kaine leaves open to question how hard Clinton will compete for rural votes

The candidates at their first rally, in Miami. (Reuters photo)
In choosing Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, Hillary Clinton has left open to question how hard she will be competing this fall for rural votes, which increasingly have gone Republican in recent presidential elections.

Numerous media reports this week had Kaine and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, as the last two finalists in the Clinton veepstakes. A selection of Vilsack would have signaled the targeting of "white working-class men — especially in rural areas — in the Midwest," also being targeted by Donald Trump with his pick of Indiana Gov Mike Pence, Gabriel DeBenedetti and Helena Bottemiller Evich reported for Politico Tuesday.

Clinton and Vilsack have known each other for 40 years, and he supported her when he dropped out of the presidential race in 2007. But when his name surfaced as a finalist, some African Americans questioned it, giving his hasty firing of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, a black woman, in 2010 after she was misquoted by a right-wing news site.

Vilsack has little if any record on gun issues, but Kaine has an F rating from the National Rifle Association. Debuting with Clinton in Miami, he said, "When the vast majority of Americans and a majority of [National Rifle Association] members agree that we have to enact common sense gun safety measures, Hillary and I will not rest."

Kaine, 58, grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. He is the son-in-law of Linwood Holton, the first Republican governor of Virginia (a moderate, 1970-74) and a native of Big Stone Gap, in the Central Appalachian coalfield. Kaine started his political career on the Richmond City Council, which elected him mayor of the racially fractious city, then was lieutenant governor. After a term as governor (Virginia allows only one) he was President Obama's first chair of the Democratic National Committee.

"As governor of Virginia, Mr. Kaine appealed to both Democrats in urban pockets and independents in rural areas, and established a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder," writes Amy Chozick of The New York Times. But his main appeal in the 2012 Senate race was to swing voters in Northern Virginia, and when he made an appearance with Clinton in Virginia last week, it was in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Annandale.

Kaine's main electoral assets appear to be his residence — Virginia is a swing state with 13 electoral votes, and Clinton will now be able to spend elsewhere most of the money she would have spent in the Old Dominion — and his fluency in Spanish, which will help turn out Hispanic voters in several other swing states. But he may add a flourish from old-time rural campaigns; he plays the harmonica.

Kaine has no apparent blemishes on his record. Virginian Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a political consultant who once specialized in reaching rural voters for Democrats, has been skeptical of Clinton's prospects and has said he will vote for Trump, told Paul Schwartzmann of The Washington Post: "The boy is cleaner than the Board of Health. If there's one thing Hillary needs, it's clean."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Social problems in rural areas change nature of USDA and its concept of rural development

Pomeroy, Ohio (Bloomberg News photo by Ty Wright)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is "becoming Uncle Sam’s lead tool to fight a social emergency -- soaring drug use, rising suicide rates and deepening poverty -- spreading across the heartland," Alan Bjerga reports for Bloomberg News.

“We’re charged with the responsibility of filling the gap to make sure rural America hasn’t been forgotten,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bjerga, who reported from Pomeroy, Ohio, "a town of about 1,800 people about 200 miles south of Cleveland, where . . . the opioid epidemic has accompanied an ebbing-away of jobs and, among some demographics, an unprecedented drop in life expectancy. Any Norman Rockwell idyll of white-picket fences and unlocked front doors has long since been upended by globalization."

"Such social problems have changed the government’s conception of rural development, says Vilsack, who’s under consideration by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as a possible running mate. Five years ago, “We might have made a grant for a fire station,” he said in an interview. “Now it might be a substance-abuse center.” (As a candidate in 1982007, Clinton said she favored renaming the Agriculture Department the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.)

“Most people in cities are now several generations away from life on the farm, and some even think of rural areas as our dumping ground,” eminent Cornell University sociologist Daniel Lichter told Bjega. “It’s where we send our prisoners, our garbage and our toxic waste.”

Bjerga says USDA's role illustrates a point not often made: "The government, like the wider culture, is much more attuned to the problems of urban areas where most Americans live. That’s why Donald Trump’s message -- repeated at the Republican National Convention up the road in Cleveland, where he accepted the nomination last night -- of fighting for the small-town folks has resonated so much in rural parts of swing states like Ohio."

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, told Bjerga, “When your government is based on the assumption that the country is going to be 90 percent urban, you’re going to concentrate resources on urban areas,” Davis said. “The USDA becomes the ‘rural’ agency that’s left with this wide mandate, even if it’s not always the best fit.” (Read more)

Fact checkers say Trump off base on issues such as Iran deal, Syrian refugees, cost of regulation

During his speech Thursday at the Republican National Convention, presidential nominee Donald Trump said, "I will present the facts plainly and honestly. The carefully-crafted lies, and the media myths the Democrats are holding their convention next week. But here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else." (Post photo by Ricky Carioti)

According to the Fact Checker column of The Washington Post, Trump followed that statement with a lengthy list of incorrect assertions. Politifact, NBC News, The New York Times and FactCheck.org offered similar reviews of Trump's presentation.

Trump said the nuclear deal with Iran “gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us absolutely nothing." Kessler and Lee write, "Trump frequently misstates the facts about the Iran deal, making it sound like the United States simply shipped $150 billion of taxpayers’ funds to Iran. This was always Iran’s money, frozen in banks around the world, but $150 billion is the high estimate of the money that could be received."

"The Treasury Department says the figure is in the range of $100 to $125 billion, but the usual liquid assets would only be about $50 billion, as the rest of the assets are either obligated in illiquid projects (such as over 50 projects with China) that cannot be monetized quickly, if at all, or are composed of outstanding loans to Iranian entities that cannot repay them," Kessler and Lee write. "For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion. Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the Iran deal, but it’s a stretch to say 'nothing' was received. Iran’s nuclear program was certainly put on ice for at least a decade."

Speaking of Syrian refugees, Trump said, "there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from," Kessler and Lee write, "The process of vetting refugees starts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and then continues with checks by U.S. intelligence and security agencies. It takes one to two years, or longer in some cases." Politifact has a detailed description of the process.

Trump said, "Excessive regulation is costing our country as much as $2 trillion a year." Kessler and Lee write, "Trump presents an unbalanced figure here. Various organizations, such as the Small Business Administration, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have come up with similar estimates on the cost of regulations. But there is one huge element missing—the benefit side of the analysis. Every regulation has costs—but also benefits. Look at cars, for example. Seat belts are a regulation, but they also result in fewer deaths, which is presumably a benefit. Higher fuel-economy standards raise the initial cost of a car, but also result in savings on gasoline over time." (Read more)

Beyond the fact checkers, other journalists took issue with Trump. NYT columnist David Brooks said the nominee's focus on law and order was "based on a falsehood. Crime rates have been falling almost without fail for 25 years. Murder rates have been rising just recently among gangs in certain cities, but America is much safer than it was a decade ago. In the first half of 2015, for example, the number of shootings in New York and Washington hit historic lows." In his speech, Trump said the Obama adminstration had failed inner cities on crime.

"Trump dwells on illegal aliens killing our children," Brooks wrote. Between 2010 and 2014, only 121 people released from immigration custody later committed murder; that’s about 25 a year. Every death is a horror, but the number of police officers killed each year as a result of a crime is about 55, in a nation of over 320 million people. The number of police deaths decreased by 24 percent between 2005 and 2015."

Next week we will share what fact-checkers have to say about the Democratic convention. These reports excerpt only a small part of what they have to offer.

Walmart begins selling damaged apples at Florida stores, says it wants to cut food waste

Walmart, the largest grocery store chain in the U.S. with more than 4,000 stores, this week began a pilot program selling imperfect apples, so-called "ugly fruit," at 300 stores in Florida, in what says is an effort to cut food waste.

"Ugly fruits and vegetables are a fact of life on the farm," Maria Godoy reports for NPR. "Sometimes the dents and scars are so minor that you wouldn't think twice about buying them. They're perfectly edible, delicious and just as nutritious as their unmarred brethren—or perhaps even more so. But their cosmetic challenges (think hail-pocked apples or curvy leeks) have traditionally kept them out of retail stores."

Imperfect produce often ends up in landfills, Godoy writes. Statistics are not kept on how much is thrown out, but JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate for food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said about 20 percent of production is thrown out each year. Walmart, which calls the apples "I'm perfect," has already been selling imperfect potatoes, called "Spuglies," in Texas. (Read more)