Monday, January 26, 2015

States trying, and failing, to tax e-cigarettes

E-cigarette use is on the rise in recent years, especially among teens in rural areas, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose rules to give it authority over e-cigarettes, an industry that accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual sales. While industry members and users claim e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes and actually help reduce smoking, state officials say e-cigarettes should be considered the same as tobacco and have tried—and mostly failed—to place taxes on e-cigarettes, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. (Povich photo: A vape shop in Sunset, Utah)

Minnesota and North Carolina tax e-cigarettes, but last year 12 states—Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Washington—failed to pass proposed taxes on e-cigarettes, Povich writes. States such as Utah, Indiana, Washington and New Jersey are trying to tax e-cigarettes this year, while last week Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder "vetoed a package of bills designed to regulate and tax e-cigarettes, saying it wasn’t tough enough."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, told Povich, “I feel strongly that we should tax electronic cigarettes similar to the way we tax other tobacco products. There are some who think these new products are not harmful, but just like traditional cigarettes, they contain nicotine and other toxic and addictive substances. Flavoring and marketing targeted to make these products enticing to youth is particularly concerning.”

Among adults, e-cigarette use rose from 3.3. percent in 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2013, and the number of cigarette smokers who used e-cigarettes increased from 9.8 percent to 36.5 percent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Povich writes. More than 1.78 million—or 10 percent—of middle and high school students said they have tried e-cigarettes, according to a study from 2011-12 by the CDC. The Utah Department of Health said that 5.8 percent of teens and pre-teens said they used e-cigarettes last year.

The e-cigarette industry says it is being targeted with tougher standards than cigarettes and is rolling out people like Utah truck driver Brian Fisher—who claims e-cigarettes saved his life—to promote their cause, Povich writes. Fisher, who was diagnosed with lymphoma five years ago, told Povich, “I tried everything to get off cigarettes, and couldn’t do it. I found out about vaporizers, and they saved me, basically." (Read more)

Women less likely to run for state legislature if it means time away from children, study says

Because women do the majority of child rearing, they often opt for job flexibility over political positions that require large amounts of time away from home, says a study by Yale University, John Sides reports for The Washington Post. As a result, "the farther away a state legislative district is from the state capital, the less likely it is that there will be at least one female candidate in that district or a woman serving as state legislator."

Study author Rachel Silbermann asked a national sample of undergraduates if they would rather take a job in Congress five hours away or a job as a state legislator at distances of either 15 minutes or five hours away. She said women were twice as likely as men to pick state legislator over Congress if the state capital is closer to home.

"The common thread in these analyses is the fact that time spent traveling to and from work is particularly burdensome for those who spend time caring for children," Silbermann writes. "Thus, elected offices that require a politician to travel a long distance will, all else equal, be less attractive to those who expect to spend more time caring for children."

Women only make up 19 percent of members of Congress, 24 percent of state legislators and 10 percent of governors, Silbermann writes. Women in public office are less likely than men to be married (88 percent of men compared to 71 percent of women), more likely to be divorced, separated or widowed (25 percent women, 6 percent men), less likely to have children under 6 (3 percent women, 6 percent men) and less likely to have children under 18 (14 percent women, 22 percent men).

Rural areas are cutting obstetrics services; cite insurance concerns related to new standards

Pregnant women in rural areas are having to travel farther to give birth, as more rural hospitals eliminate obstetrics services. From 1985 to 2000, the number of hospitals offering obstetrics services dropped by 23 percent, says a study by the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, John Lundy reports for the Grand Forks Herald. In 2008, only 6.4 percent of obstetrician–gynecologists practiced in rural areas, says The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Overall, 49 percent of U.S. counties lacked an OBGYN in 2010. (Best Places map)

In rural Minnesota, hospitals are being forced to cut obstetrics services, Lundy writes. Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital in Ely, Minn., announced last month that it is discontinuing obstetrics services this summer, and Cook County North Shore Hospital in Grand Marais, Minn. is expected to make a similar decision this week because of insurance concerns. The hospital averages 9.5 births per year.

"For Cook County's hospital, the tipping point came in the form of a report received in late October from Coverys, its professional liability insurer, said Kimber Wraalstad, the hospital's administrator," Lundy writes. "The hospital's level of obstetrics care falls short of current accepted standards in five areas, the report from Coverys found." The biggest problem is that guidelines established by ACOG say access to an emergency cesarean section must be available within 30 minutes. The nearest available C-sections from the Cook County hospital are 110 miles away in Duluth. (Read more)

Obamacare efforts target rural areas with low enrollment; deadline is Feb. 15; it's a local story

Plenty of misinformation is still floating around about federal health reform, inhibiting enrollment in rural areas. With the second annual open-enrollment deadline a little more than two weeks away, and state and national media not focused on the subject like they were a year ago, it's a good time for rural news media to educate readers, listeners and viewers about Obamacare.

“A lot of people in rural areas get information from word of mouth, and last year there was a lot of negative background noise,” Dr. Dan Derksen of the University of Arizona College of Public Health, told Caitlin Schmidt of the Arizona Daily Star. “Last year, it was new for everyone. Now it’s Round 2, and people know people who enrolled last year, and they can talk about it.” (Star photo by A.E. Araiza: Edilia Quiroz of United Community Health Center discusses the law with health-care professionals, case managers and social workers)

After the first enrollment period last year, "one of the lowest enrolled groups were people who live in rural and remote areas," Schmidt reports. During the second enrollment period, which ends Feb. 15, advocates in Arizona and other states have put more emphasis on enrolling rural residents.

Manufactured homes, a staple of rural areas, cost less, but come with higher interest rates

After several years of declining sales of manufactured homes—more commonly known as mobile homes or trailers—sales are beginning to climb. While manufactured homes are cheaper than houses, they come with high finance rates, which in the long run make the homes a bad investment, Lance George, Director of Research and Information at the Housing Assistance Council, writes for the Daily Yonder. More than half of all manufactured homes are located in rural areas, a large portion of them in the South.

Sales of new manufactured homes were at 58,000 in 2014, up from 56,300 in 2013, George writes. There are about 6.8 million occupied manufactured homes in the U.S., with manufactured homes selling for an average price of $64,000, compared to $269,000 for a newly constructed single family home. (For an interactive version click here)
While it might appear that manufactured homes are a better deal, "the majority of manufactured homes are still financed with personal property, or 'chattel,' loans," George writes. "With shorter terms and higher interest rates, personal property loans are generally less beneficial for the consumer than conventional mortgage financing. Roughly 60 percent of manufactured home loans in 2013 were classified as 'high cost' (having a substantially high interest rate) which is more than eight times the level of high cost lending for newly constructed single family structures."

"Manufactured homes are typically sold at retail sales centers where salespersons or 'dealers' receive commissions, often exacerbating these finance issues. In some cases, dealers resort to high-pressure sales tactics, trapping consumers into unaffordable loans," George writes. (Read more)

Modern Farmer paid staff walks out, leaving future of quarterly magazine up in the air

The future of Modern Farmer—a magazine that has never been geared toward your everyday farmer—could be in doubt, after its remaining paid editors walked out on Friday, Kim Severson reports for The New York Times. Despite more than 1 million unique page views per month and support from big-name advertisers, the fate of the quarterly with a circulation of 100,000 had been in question for months.

In December, founder Ann Marie Gardner left, and the spring issue was canceled, Severson writes. "Gardner remains in a dispute with Frank Giustra, a hard-nosed Canadian financier who owns a majority of the company. But after the remaining editorial staff members departed Friday, Giustra’s public relations firm said in an emailed statement that plans for a summer edition were underway, and any replacement hires 'will continue to reflect the high standards of reporting that Modern Farmer has had in the past.'” Currently the editorial content is in the hands of two interns whose tenure ends Feb. 1. (Read more)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Decline in papers' coverage of congressional races has left readers less informed, less likely to vote

A decline in local coverage of congressional races  in recent years has led citizens to be less informed about federal issues and less likely to become engaged in those issues, says a study by researchers at George Washington University and American University in Washington, D.C., GWU political-science professor Danny Hayes writes for The Washington Post.

"Our analysis, based on a large-scale study of local coverage and citizen behavior in every congressional district across the country, demonstrates that the fading of two-newspaper towns is not the only problem," Hayes reports. "When the content of local news deteriorates—as has happened nationwide in an era of newsroom austerity—so do citizen knowledge and participation."

Researchers looked at the newspaper with the largest circulation in each congressional district, examining the number of stories about House races in the month leading up to the November 2014 election, Hayes writes. Of the 6,000 stories analyzed, researchers said that the most competitive races received the most coverage, while races thought to be less competitive received little coverage.

"When we merge our newspaper data with survey data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we find that voters in districts with less news coverage know less about the candidates running for the House," Hayes writes. "For instance, as the volume of news coverage declines, citizens are less able to identify candidates as liberals or conservatives. They are also less likely to say that they will cast a ballot in the House contest. We find that this is true not only for the least politically engaged voters but also those who are typically more attentive to politics. Where the news environment is impoverished, engagement is diminished for all citizens." (Read more)

"It's not surprising that there is less news coverage of House races in newspapers, because most papers have reduced staff, but there could be another reason," says University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. "As partisan redistricting has reduced the number of competitive districts and competitive races, that has probably resulted in less coverage."

Battle in Iowa about who is to blame for water pollution could affect farmers nationwide

An impending lawsuit in Iowa about who is to blame for water pollution could have a major impact on farmers throughout the country, Donnelle Eller reports for The Des Moines Register. "The federal government now considers water from farmlands as surface runoff and exempts it from oversight." But Des Moines Water Works, which says three northwest counties are to blame for polluting central Iowa's water supply, "contends the underground tiling widely used by farmers bypasses the natural filtering soil provides, acting as 'a continuous mechanism for transporting nitrates to streams.'"

Experts and environmentalists say the suit could lead to a "decades-long national fight over who is responsible for water pollution that originates from cropland that often is hundreds of miles away," Eller writes. "They say the outcome could, for the first time, indirectly require farmers to meet federal clean-water regulations that limit nutrients such as nitrates and phosphorus that enter U.S. waterways." (Register graphic)

The utility says drainage districts in Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties have siphoned groundwater laden with nitrates into the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for central Iowa, along with the Des Moines River, Eller writes. "Testing since March shows nitrate levels in one drainage district were nearly four times the amount the federal government says is safe for drinking water. Infants younger than 6 months are particularly at risk with high nitrate levels, potentially becoming seriously ill without treatment."

"The high levels have forced the Des Moines utility to treat the water to reach acceptable nitrate levels, a cost that approached $1 million in 2013," Eller writes. "The utility argues that drainage districts, and ultimately farmers, should be responsible for curbing nitrate pollution. It contends that districts should be required to obtain permits under the federal Clean Water Act, which would bring to bear limits on nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous."

Agriculture leaders contend that a lawsuit would be costly and might not even lead to the water problems being resolved, Eller writes. "They also say it deflects from work currently underway that is reducing pollutants, such as building wetlands, terraces and buffer strips." (Read more)

Kansas official links surge in earthquakes to disposal of saltwater from fracking practices

For the first time a Kansas official has said that disposal of saltwater from hydraulic fracturing could be to blame for a recent increase in earthquakes in the south-central part of the state, Karen Dillon reports for the Lawrence Journal-World. Rick Miller, geophysicist and senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey, told Dillon, “We can say there is a strong correlation between the disposal of saltwater and the earthquakes."

Kansas, which didn't have a single reported earthquake in 2012, had 120 last year, Dillon writes. Neighboring Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes last year with 564, after averaging three earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher per year from 1975 to 2008. (Kansas Geological Survey graphic: In January there has been nine earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or higher and four of 3.0 or higher)
"In other states with a surge in earthquakes, including Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, scientific studies and government officials concluded more than a year ago that the temblors were likely the result of injecting saltwater into disposal wells," Dillon writes. "But in Kansas, experts have said they were unsure what was causing the earthquakes."

But Rex Buchanan, director of the Kansas Geological Survey, said that many people wrongly believe fracking causes earthquakes, Dillon said. Buchanan said he does not consider disposing of the leftover saltwater to be part of fracking. He told Dillon, "That distinction is tough for some people, and some people see it as semantic distinction. I like to be technically precise about what is going on here. If someone were to say these earthquakes were caused by fracking, there might be one or two, but there is no evidence for it. The issue of saltwater disposal is completely different.” (Read more)

Louisiana farmers say some restaurants are falsely claiming to serve farm-to-table products

Some Louisiana farmers say area restaurants are falsely claiming to be participating in farm-to-table by advertising that they use local products when they are not or are only using small amounts, Megan Wyatt reports for Daily World in Opelousas, outside Lafayette. Farmers say restaurants have latched onto farm-to-table as a buzzword to trick customers into believing they are eating local products and supporting local businesses. (Advertiser photo by Paul Kieu: Marguerite Constantine checks goats on her farm in Moreauville, La.)

In fact, some farmers argue that farm-to-table is a meaningless notion, Wyatt writes. Acadiana farmer Brian Gotreaux said that McDonald's or Burger King could be considered farm-to-table restaurants "since they source their food from some kind of a farm and it ends up on a table." Restaurant owner Ryan Trahan—who every two days buys 120 pounds of chicken, 80 pounds of turkey, 40 tilapia filets, 20 dozen eggs and about 100 pounds of fresh winter produce from local farms—told Wyatt, "All food really comes from a farm, whether it be a commercial farm or a local farm or whatever. Everything can be farm-to-table."

Either way, most area farms don't receive enough business from local restaurants that it significantly impacts their revenue, Wyatt writes. Gotreaux told her, "I can't say one way or another that it would make or break us. It's a small movement here in Lafayette. A lot of people think it's bigger than it really is."

Farmers in other parts of the state agree, Wyatt writes. Anthony Yakaboski, who grows peaches, purple hull peas, melon, okra and other local produce on his farm in Farmerville in north Louisiana, said "he does not see any real difference in business from the local foods movement." He told Wyatt, "Everybody says local, fresh is the way to go, but they don't really practice what they preach." Marguerite Constantine, who raises goats in Moreauville, told Wyatt, "We've been very disappointed in some of the restaurants that we thought would embrace the ability to purchase locally." (Read more)

Workshops help coal-reliant communities grow and diversify their economies

The NADO Research Foundation and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have created the “Coal-Reliant Communities Innovation Challenge,” which invites "counties and regional development organizations in areas experiencing economic challenges due to the contraction of the coal industry" to compete in a team-challenge competition designed help grow and diversify these economies, says NACo.

Teams that submit winning applications will be selected to attend one of three hands-on workshops guided by expert facilitators and practitioners, says NACo. The first challenge will be held in April in Pikeville, Ky. Other challenges will be held in Colorado and West Virginia. The deadline to apply for the Pikeville challenge is Feb. 27. For more information or to submit an application, click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Access to quality broadband linked to population growth in U.S. counties, study finds

People are more likely to move somewhere that offers good broadband services, says a study by Broadband Communities that found that "counties with better broadband access are adding population at 10 times the rate of counties that lack good broadband connections," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder.

The study says that counties in the top 10 percent of broadband-access rankings had an average population growth of 3.18 percent from 2010 to 2013, while counties in the top half averaged a population growth of 2.79 percent, Marema writes. Counties in the bottom half averaged an increase of 0.27 percent, but counties in the bottom 10 percent had a population decline of 0.55 percent. From 2010 to 2012, rural counties lost population for the first time.

"The study used data from the Census and the National Broadband Map for all 3,144 U.S. counties plus the District of Columbia," Marema writes. "It ranked counties by broadband access on a percentile basis within each state and then calculated population changes for counties grouped into those rankings." (Yonder map: Percent of population within county with access to at least 25 Mbps download speed. Dots represent all 3,144 counties)

E-cigarette vapors emit high levels of carcinogens that can cause lung cancer, study says

Vapor produced by electronic cigarettes can contain a surprisingly high concentration of formaldehyde—a known carcinogen that can cause lung cancer through prolonged exposure—researchers reported Wednesday in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Rob Stein reports for NPR. (Getty Images by Dan Kilwood)

Use of e-cigarettes among rural teens has risen in recent years, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose rules to give it authority over e-cigarettes, an industry that accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual sales.

"E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid that contains nicotine to create a vapor that users inhale," Stein writes. David Peyton, a chemistry professor at Portland State University who helped conduct the research, told Stein, "We simulated vaping by drawing the vapor—the aerosol—into a syringe, sort of simulating the lungs. That enabled the researchers to conduct a detailed chemical analysis of the vapor. They found something unexpected when the devices were dialed up to their highest settings."

The e-cigarette industry dismissed the report, saying they found formaldehyde only when e-cigarettes were cranked up to their highest voltage levels, Stein writes. Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association told him, "They clearly did not talk to [people who use e-cigarettes] to understand this. They think, 'Oh, well. If we hit the button for so many seconds and that produces formaldehyde, then we have a new public health crisis to report."

"If you hold the button on an e-cigarette for 100 seconds, you could potentially produce 100 times more formaldehyde than you would ever get from a cigarette," Conley said. "But no human vaper would ever vape at that condition because within one second their lungs would be incredibly uncomfortable." (Read more)

Scheduling lunch after recess may lead to less food waste and better nutrition, study says

According to a new study conducted at seven schools in Utah, scheduling school lunch later in the day could help children to eat more nutritious foods and reduce food waste. Researchers found that children threw away more food when they ate lunch before recess instead of afterward. Much of the food they threw away was fruits and vegetables, Roberto A. Ferdman writes for The Washington Post.

Cornell and Brigham Young University researchers spent 14 days studying the behavior of school children during lunch at the seven schools. Three of the schools served lunch after recess, and the other four severed it before recess. The researchers kept track of how many fruits and vegetables children discarded and how many they ate.

"Students who ate lunch after recess ate 54 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who ate it before," Ferdman reports. The number of students who ate at least one serving of fruit and vegetables was 45 percent greater at the schools that served lunch after recess than the schools who served it beforehand. This is because students are hungrier for lunch after playing, and if they have already had recess, they will not rush eating their lunch so they can go play.

"If recess is held before lunch, students come to lunch with healthy appetites and less urgency and are more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables," David Just, one of the study's authors, said in a statement, Ferdman writes.

A 2014 study also concluded that providing lunch before recess led to more food waste for about the same reasons. It is unknown how many schools currently serve lunch before recess, but in 2011, only 4.6 percent of elementary schools reported serving lunch after recess. (Read more)

Tainted water a way of life for Appalachian residents in Southern West Virginia coalfields

For some residents in the coalfields of Appalachian West Virginia whose water systems were installed nearly 100 years ago by coal companies—most of whom have since abandoned the region—water boil advisories are a way of life, Jessica Lilly, Glynis Board and Roxy Todd report for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. (Lilly photo: It's common to see people gathering water from mountain springs in McDowell County)

In Keystone in McDowell County, one of the nation's poorest counties, a water advisory has been in place since 2010, while neighboring Northfork has been on a boil water advisory since 2013, WVPB writes. McDowell County had more than 100,000 residents during the region's coal-boom in the 1950s, but today, because coal is no longer a viable option for employment, there are fewer than 20,000 residents.

"It's common to see folks filing up water jugs and tanks from mountain springs. For many, it's the only source of water they have," WVPB writes. Betty Younger, who grew up in McDowell County, said "she just assumes not to drink it, rarely uses it for cooking and doesn't even count on regular access." She told WVPB, “You never know when you’re going to have water."

The source of the region's water problems are vast and are part of the reason why Southern West Virginia is one of the least healthy areas in the country and has some of the shortest average life spans, WVPB writes. Tainted water can be attributed partially to mountaintop removal, with minerals and metals (like manganese, which has been associated with intellectual impairment in children) found in water supplies.

"But for all of the concerns about water compromised by natural and industrial sources, and the cancer, decay, infection and disease that can come with regular exposure to that contamination, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute Paul Ziemkiewicz said that the biggest threat in water supplies throughout southern West Virginia [and many areas in the state] by a long shot is raw sewage," WVPB writes.

Maggie Nevi, the Project Coordinator for the Waste Water Treatment Coalition in McDowell County, told WVPB, “Right now 67 percent of the county has no form of waste water treatment whatsoever. And they do what’s called straight-piping, which is exactly what it sounds like.”

That has led to "bacteria, parasites and viruses that can cause short-term problems like diarrhea, eye infections, respiratory infection and long-term problems like cancer, Dementia and Diabetes," WVPB writes. "And there are growing concerns about potential illnesses or effects from exposure to pharmaceuticals and synthetic hormones introduced through sewage." (Read more)

County-level maps detail all federally declared disasters from 1964-2014

Disasters are more likely to occur in California and Oklahoma, but no U.S. county is immune to them, according to county-level data of disasters declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1964-2014, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. (Post map: to view county-level data, click here)
The map above details disasters in which a state governor requests a federal disaster declaration applying to one or more counties and the president approves it following review, Ingraham writes. Disasters consist of: Severe storm, flood, hurricane, snow, fire, ice tornado, drought, coastal storm, freeze, typhoon, earthquake, volcano, fish kill, tsunami, mudslide, chemicals, toxic waste, human-caused, terrorism and dam break. Severe storms, fire and flood are the most commonly declared disasters. (Federally declared severe storm disasters from 1964-2014)
Los Angeles County, California, has had the most declared disasters since 1964, at 53, Ingraham writes. San Bernadino County, California, has had 45, followed by Riverside County, California (44), Oklahoma County, Oklahoma (39), San Diego County, California (36), McClain County, Oklahoma (35), Essex County, Massachusetts (34), Ventura County, California (34), Collier County, Florida (34) and Delaware County, New York (33).

Cheaper to preserve old barns as businesses or tourist attractions than to build a new barn

Repairing an old barn or preserving its historic value by altering it into a business or tourist attraction is often more cost effective than tearing it down and building another one, said Steve Stier, former president of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network, Juliana Moxley reports for Great Lakes Echo, a service of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. (Echo photo by Cindi Van Hurk: A sunflower quilt block outside Harrisville, Mich.)

Stier said the cost of legally disposing of a farm can be steep and older barns are most likely taxed at lower rates than newer ones, Moxley writes. And because traditional barns were used for storage and shelter, they are sturdy and easily adaptable because they've been used as churches, restaurants, furniture stores, wineries and event spaces.

Another fad is turning old barns into quilt trails, "where painted wooden squares are displayed on a series of barns as a tourist attraction," Moxley writes. "Many barn quilt trails in Michigan attract tourists who buy gas, food and lodging, Stier said." There are at least 13 quilt trails in Michigan, where hand-painted designs on wood are displayed on nearly 30 barns and other buildings on the trail. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

U.S. school system receives a grade of C by Quality Counts report; 10 states given a grade of D

The U.S. school system received a grade of C in Education Week's 2015 Quality Counts reports, and several states with large rural populations were given a grade of D. Grades were based on three categories: "The Chance-for-Success Index provides a cradle-to-career perspective on the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes throughout a person's life. The school finance analysis assesses spending patterns and equity. The K-12 Achievement Index rates states on current academic performance, change over time and poverty-based gaps."

"To score the states in all three of these areas, the center employs a 'best-in-class' approach," reports Education Week. "For each indicator in a given category, the top state receives 100 points. All other states are awarded points based on their performance relative to that state. Category scores are calculated as the average of scores across indicators. A state's overall summative score is the average of the three graded categories."

Massachusetts had the highest score, 86.2, followed by New Jersey (85.5), Maryland (85.2), Vermont (83.0), New Hampshire (82.4), Connecticut (82.3), Wyoming (80.6), Pennsylvania (80.1) and New York (80). Mississippi ranks last with a grade of D and score of 64.2. Also earning grades of D are Nevada (65), New Mexico (65.5), Arizona and Oklahoma (67.6), Idaho and Alabama (67.7), Louisiana (68.5), South Carolina (68.9) and California (69.2). (Read more) (To view an interactive map click here)

Maps show how demographics are expected to drastically change in U.S. by 2030

The American population is growing at a rapid rate, and it's expected to increase by 49 million people by 2030, says The Urban Institute, Emily Badger reports for The Washington Post. The increase in population, coupled with Baby Boomers retiring, "will dramatically alter the age demographics of many communities, leaving some with larger burdens on social services and fewer workers to help fund them." The Urban Institute has created a series of interactive maps to show expected population changes. (Click on maps for larger versions)
"And nearly every corner of the country will grow more diverse—from rural Wisconsin, where small minority populations could double in size, to metropolitan Houston, which could have more than one million new Hispanic residents by 2030," Badger writes. "These changes will be simultaneous and swift, and they'll affect everything from how we use resources, to where we build new communities, to how we educate our kids." (Projected Hispanic population change by 2030)
The white population is expected "to fall in densely populated parts of the Northeast, on much of the Pacific Coast and through the middle of the country," Badger writes. The Hispanic population is expected to rapidly increase, especially in the South and Midwest, while "the trends for blacks are much more uneven, with population significantly increasing in some parts of the country and declining in others." (Projected black population change by 2030)

Journalist's Resource details quick and easy way to create an agriculture graphic for media use

Graphics are a useful tool to enhance a story. Journalist's Resource has put together a simple step-by-step procedure on how to design a time-series graph, using Chartbuilder and readily-available U.S. Department of Agriculture information on Data.gov to quickly and easily build a graph on organic farming.

"We went to Data.gov and searched for 'organic crop,'” John Wihbey writes for Journalist's Resource. "That brought us to a USDA landing page with lots of related datasets. We then hit 'download' on Table 3, which had the acreage estimates, and got an Excel spreadsheet with a bunch of rows and columns relating to all manner of organic certified crops and the extent of their acreage." (Graphic created by Journalist's Resource using Data.gov and Chartbuilder)
"The first order of business was to look at the data and observe the trends," Wihbey writes. "We’re not doing data science here, and we’re only looking for illustrative data to provide some context around the rise of organic produce. It’s the kind of chart that could plausibly accompany a daily story—nothing too fancy."

"To get this data into the proper format to make it a time series, however—to clean it up—we had to flip or 'transpose' it, so that the date range was descending in the first column (the vertical field)," Wihbey writes. "We highlighted the row of data in the original and copied it. We then opened up a new sheet (tab at the bottom of the Excel file) and hit 'Paste Special' and clicked 'Transpose.'"

"We then had the basic form of the data we needed," he writes. "We just cut and pasted the cleaned-up data from Excel into the designated field in Chartbuilder and then adjusted the colors and put proper sourcing labels in the 'Chart Options' field. We adjusted the Y (vertical) axis a bit so the units represented were sufficiently fine that they provided useful information. You can then simply hit 'Create Image of the Chart' in the Export field and plug the chart right into your article/website." (Read more)

Thieves in Kentucky county targeting barn wood and reselling to flooring manufacturers

Thieves have been known to target scrap metals, especially copper, in an attempt to turn a fast buck. But a south-central Kentucky county is dealing with repeated thefts of barn wood, which has become a hot commodity in home decor, Deborah Highland reports for the Bowling Green Daily News. So far, three barns have been targeted in Barren County, including one instance in which thieves ripped an entire side off a barn.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Deputy Mike Houchens told Highland, “They are taking the lumber on the outside of the barn and reselling to flooring manufacturers. . . . Sooner or later we would hope, since they are pretty much dismantling barns, that somebody is going to catch them doing that. This takes manual labor and takes time to do so." (Read more)

Rural counties have yet to recover jobs losses from recession; metro counties have added jobs

While urban areas have recovered job losses from the 2007 recession, rural areas are still a long way from recovering, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. Metro areas now have more people working than when the recession began, but rural counties had 556,000 fewer jobs in November 2014 than in November 2007, one month before the recession began. The recession officially ended in June 2009.

"There are 1,260 rural counties with fewer people working than seven years ago; 711 rural counties have more jobs than in November 2007," Bishop writes. In comparison, 633 urban counties have fewer jobs, and 533 have more jobs. The rural unemployment rate has risen since the recession, from 4.8 percent in November 2007 to 5.5 percent in November 2014. In urban counties, the unemployment rate has increased from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent.

The biggest job gains were in Texas and North Dakota, two states that have benefited greatly from the oil and gas boom, Bishop writes. The biggest losses were in the Appalachian coalfields, rural Michigan, the Sun Belt South, patches of the Mountain West and New England. (Yonder map: To view an interactive version, click here)

New Mexico district judge overturns rural county's ban on oil and gas drilling

A federal judge ruled on Monday that an oil and gas drilling ban adopted by a rural northeastern New Mexico county is unconstitutional and invalid, Staci Matlock reports for The New Mexican in Santa Fe. Mora County commissioners voted in April 2013 to ban fracking in the county of 4,500 people. The oil and gas industry—and some landowners who wanted to lease drilling rights—filed a lawsuit in November 2013.

U.S. District Judge James O. Browning said Mora County's "ordinance violated the First Amendment by 'chilling' protected activities by corporations," Matlock writes. "He also found the ordinance violates state law and that the county lacks the authority to enforce it on state land."

"The ordinance grew out of concerns for protecting land and water after oil and gas companies in recent years leased mineral rights for more than 30,000 acres in Mora County," Matlock writes. "Neighboring San Miguel County has approved land use regulations similar to rules adopted a few years ago by Santa Fe County that restrict oil and gas development but don’t ban it. And Mora County commissioners had been working to create restrictive oil and gas regulations similar to Santa Fe County’s when a group began pushing for an outright ban in Mora County." (Read more)

Website selects 10 small cities that should be on everyone's bucket list to visit in 2015

Bustle, a website designed for women, has selected 10 small cities that should be on everyone's bucket list to visit in 2015, Chesley Grasso writes for the website. The cities are: Telluride, Colo.; Idyllwild, Calif.; Williamsburg, Va.; Sedona, Ariz. (above); Newport, R.I.; Beaufort, S.C.; Ketchum, Idaho; St. Augustine, Fla.; Gatlinburg, Tenn.; and Langley, Wash. (Read more)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Company makes a living cleaning up meth cook sites in West Virginia

As of Nov. 30, 2014, West Virginia state police had busted 290 meth labs, down from 531 in 2013, but an increase from 2012 (284 busts), 2011 (229 busts), 2010 (154 busts) and 2009 (146 busts). That's 1,634 meth lab busts in one state in less than six years. While the busts make the news, one has to wonder what becomes of the sites after law enforcement have finished their investigations.

What happens is that people like Jennifer McQuerrey Rhyne step in. Her company, the only one in the state dedicated solely to cleaning up meth sites, cleans up about 20 sites per year, getting paid around $10,000 per job. Journalist Nick Klepper, who shadowed Rhyne and her team at a clean-up job in Clarksburg, details for Vice the process her company goes through in cleaning up a meth site. (Klepper photo: Cleaning up a meth cook site in Clarksburg)

At the Clarksburg site, Rhyne "tested surfaces in each room with a kit, and only three of them had enough meth residue to meet West Virginia's standard for contamination, 0.1 micrograms per 100 square centimeters," Klepper writes. "Then she filed paperwork with the state Department of Health and Human Resources and awaited an OK to clean, a process that can take weeks, much to the annoyance of landlords."

"The process of cleaning up a meth site is not all that complicated, chemically speaking," Klepper writes. "The solution Jennifer and her crew use is a mix of carpet cleaner, degreaser and dish soap. Like the ingredients for meth itself, all that can be bought at Lowe's. They spray it onto every surface. It usually takes three sprays and scrubs before the residue is below the state standard."

"Jennifer deposits everything she takes from a site at a municipal landfill, where it is buried, but first she has to photograph each item and file an accompanying form, all of which goes to the state," Klepper writes. "After conferring with a few sanitation workers sitting in a trailer, she drives the truck to a set of metal dumpsters full of tires, stoves, bedframes and five-gallon buckets. The place smells like gasoline and burned plastic. Jennifer puts on gloves, photographs each item and tosses it into a dumpster." (Read more)

Residency offers educational opportunities for disadvantaged Appalachian women

The New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) at Bluefield College (Va.) is seeking 14 disadvantaged Appalachian women to participate in a three-week residential experience on campus "designed to help participants confront their circumstances, overcome their conditions and pave the way for a new and better life," Paul Hess reports for WVVA TV in southern West Virginia. The residency will take place from May 10 to 30.

NOSW was created in 1987 at Berea College in Eastern Kentucky, expanded to Lees-McCrae College in Banner Elk, N.C., in 2005 and Bluefield College three years ago, Hess writes. It was created "to improve the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income, under-educated, middle-aged women in the Appalachian region."

To apply online for the May session, visit www.bluefield.edu/nosw or for more information or to receive and submit an application by mail, contact Casey Palmer at 304-887-7738 or clpalmer@bluefield.edu.

More than 200 communities have entered contest that awards $10 million to stimulate growth and revitalization

More than 200 communities have already entered a contest that will reward $10 million in prize money for "best business plans for economic development and improved quality of life," reports Business Wire. "The winners will also share best practices and great ideas for innovative growth among all the communities that participate in the competition."

The America's Best Communities competition, an initiative designed by Frontier Communications and DISH Network, is open to all towns and cities in Frontier's service areas with populations between 9,500 to 80,000, says a press release from Frontier. Smaller communities can collaborate on projects.

Entrants are required to submit and implement their best plans for future growth and prosperity, the release said. In February judges will select up to 50 qualified applicants, each of which will be awarded $35,000 to develop their plans and proposals. Communities will then have seven months to refine and submit their final proposals in September.

In April, 50 quarter-finalists will be selected and awarded $50,000 in development funds for their revitalization proposals, writes Business Wire. "At the end of the competition in April 2017, the top three applicants will share $6 million in prize money—$3 million to the winner, $2 million for second place and $1 million for third place—money to be used to continue to implement their improvement plans." (Frontier map of service areas)

USDA approves Monsanto's genetically modified soybeans, cotton

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week gave Monsanto final approval for genetically engineered "herbicide-tolerant crops to be used with a new herbicide the company says will fight problematic weed resistance on farm fields," Carey Gillam reports for Reuters. The genetically modified cotton and soybean plants have been granted non-regulated status. Monsanto is still waiting for final approval from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Monsanto is also "awaiting approval from Chinese regulators to allow imports of the new soybeans," Gillam writes. "China is a key buyer of U.S. soybeans, but the country has shown reluctance to approve imports of new GMO crops recently. Last week, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley told analysts the company expects to have Chinese approval in time for a commercial launch in 2016."

Consumer, environmental and farmer groups have criticized the GMO crops, saying that "using more herbicides on weeds will only increase weed resistance over the long term," while also posing health and environmental risks, Gillam writes. Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a food issue research group, told Gillam, "The pesticide treadmill spins on, and that's great news for Monsanto. This is just the latest in a endless string of favors from our federal government to Monsanto." (Read more)

Interactive maps detail state-by-state energy production, consumption and expenditures

The U.S. Energy Information Administration website has created extremely useful interactive state-level maps that detail energy production, consumption and expenditures. For example, this map shows Pennsylvania's energy production sites, and provides data showing that the state is the fourth largest coal-producing state since 2012. It shows that the state's natural gas production—primarily from Marcellus Shale—has increased 72 percent since 2011 and that in 2013 the state generated 40 percent of its net electricity from coal and 35 percent from nuclear power. (To view state-by-state maps click here)

Census Bureau makes data easier to find and read

The Census Bureau has improved its Search and QuickFacts functions on its website, reports Carolyn Crist of CoveringPoverty.org. "That may seem small, but it'll help you find statistics and data even easier than before," she writes. "The improved search feature provides access to information and visualizations, and you can filter by content type, such as image or video. Also, QuickFacts has a better view that allows you to see charts, maps and stats for up to six locations at once. You can also share on social media, embed numbers and download content."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Crisis in rural Georgia hospitals means state is 'approaching Third World care,' network chief says

Stewart-Webster Hospital has closed.
Eight rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2001, "and dozens more are hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate — ultimately threatening access to critical health care for nearly 1 in 10 Georgians," Misty Williams reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Georgia lawmakers, hospital executives and community leaders are scrambling for ways to stem the financial bloodletting. But the truth is that some hospitals are simply beyond saving. And because of that, some people, inevitably, will die."

Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, a network of rural Georgia hospitals, told Williams, “We’re approaching Third World care in the state of Georgia. The future has pain in it; there’s just no way around it.”

"Of Georgia’s 61 remaining rural hospitals, nearly two-thirds lost money in the year for which they most recently reported results," Williams reports. "Twenty-one suffered budget shortfalls — many in the millions of dollars — for at least five years in a row, according to an AJC analysis of the latest hospital financial data from the state. Another 17 ended four of the five years in the red. Only seven made a profit each year."

Threats to rural hospitals "have intensified in recent years — falling patient volumes, aging populations, payment cuts by government programs and commercial insurers alike, large numbers of uninsured and new regulations created by the Affordable Care Act," Williams notes. "The health law is also reducing support to hospitals under the assumption that they will have more paying patients under Medicaid expansion. But Georgia has rejected expansion," as have most other Southern states. "Unlike its counterparts in other states, the Georgia Hospital Association has not been seen as actively advocating for Medicaid expansion," Andy Miller reports for Georgia Health News.

Williams wrote a three-part series, which is behind a paywall but can be accessed with a one-day subscription via the first installement. A complete version of that story is here.

Congress is expected to renew two programs that subsidize rural hospitals

Federal programs that subsidize small and Medicare-dependent rural hospitals are scheduled to expire April 1 but will be extended as part of bipartisan legislation pending in Congress, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The Low Volume Hospital (LVH) and Medicare-Dependent Hospital (MDH) programs have been repeatedly renewed, and are "expected to be linked to must-pass legislation reimbursing physicians for treating Medicare patients," Brian Tumulty reports. About 600 hospitals get subsidies from the LVH program and 177 get help from the MDH progam.

"Schumer said the renewals have been short term because providing long-term financing would be so expensive," Tumulty reports. "It's one of the legacies of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which called for federal budget savings by limiting Medicare payments to the overall economy's rate of growth. It was named the Sustainable Growth Initiative at the time, but the formula hasn't been sustainable in the real world because health care costs have increased faster than the rest of the economy."

A first: Federal judge says over-applying manure to fields subjects dairy to solid-waste regulation

Can manure be spread so thick that it can be considered a solid waste subject to state and federal regulation? Yes, a U.S. district judge in Washington state ruled last week, marking the first time a federal court has said manure from livestock facilities can be so regulated, Ayesha Rascoe of Reuters reports.

Judge Thomas Rice of Washington's Eastern District rules that Cow Palace Dairy in Zillah, Wash., "polluted groundwater by over-applying manure to soil," Rascoe reports. "In one instance, the plaintiffs in the case said Cow Palace applied more than 7 million gallons of manure" to a field that was already "sufficiently fertilized."

Cow Palace plans to appeal, one of its attorneys said. "There's a reason no court has ever done this," Debora Kristensen told Rascoe. "It's because the statute was not intended to apply to these situations." She said the dairy already has an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to address water-pollution issues. (Read more)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First Pulitzer Prize for rural weekly editors went to N.C. pair that fought Klan; PBS airs documentary

The holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a good time to recognize a courageous rural weekly newspaper editor who took on the Ku Klux Klan years before King and others created the movement that won civil rights for the descendants of African American slaves.

Last week PBS aired "The Editor and the Dragon," a University of North Carolina film by Walt Campbell about the late W. Horace Carter, editor and publisher of the Tabor City Tribune, who, with an allied editor in nearby Whiteville, were the first weekly editors to win a Pulitzer Prize. PBS affiliates around the country continue to broadcast the hour-long documentary.

When the Klan came to town, Carter said, he told his wife: "I can't approve of this intimidation of people by an outfit that's organized outside the law. . . . It may be very unpopular, but I have to do what I think is right, and what my conscience tells me to do."

That was risky, said UNC Professor of Leadership and Public Policy Hodding Carter III, whose family published a daily paper in Greenville, Miss., at the time: "Everything in these towns was played out on the personal level. Everything in these towns was played out on the absolute level that you either won or you lost, and sometimes the winning or losing consisted of living or dying."

In an editorial, Horace Carter (no kin to Hodding) called the Klan "the personification of fascism and Naziism." He thought almost all in local authority agreed with him, but he learned differently. "Amazingly, I had almost no favorable reaction when those first editorials were written," he said in the documentary.

But he kept writing, and went beyond criticism of the Klan to advocate equal opportunity for blacks. He got a tip that he was to be murdered. "At the height of the crusade, there was never a day that we didn't get threats" of such things as arson and kidnapping of his children, he said. Klan Grand Dragon Thomas L. Hamilton threatened a boycott, which "would have been the end of the Tabor City Tribune," Carter says, but despite that and continued threats, "He pushed even harder in his editorials," narrator Morgan Freeman says in the documentary.

After a big Klan rally, Carter got an editorial ally: his old friend Willard Cole, editor of The News Reporter in Whiteville, also in Columbus County, who suffered the same sorts of threats. When the Klan became more violent, the FBI started its first civil-rights investigation, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and convictions, and the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service to Carter and Cole.

"We only did what any reputable newspaper would have done," Carter said. He did a national speaking tour, but went back to Tabor City and remained publisher of the Tabor-Loris Tribune until he died, in 2009. For more details of his life and career, click here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

More than half of U.S. public school students are low-income; South, West have highest rates

More than 50 percent of U.S. public school students are from low-income families, and some of the highest concentrations of poverty are located in states with large rural populations, says a report by the Southern Education Foundation, Lyndsey Layton reports for The Washington Post. It's the first time in at least 50 years that the majority of public school students are from low-income families.

Overall, 51 percent of public school students were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program during the 2012-2013 school year. Mississippi led the way at 71 percent, Layton writes. New Mexico was second at 68 percent, followed by Louisiana, 65 percent; Oklahoma and Arkansas, 61 percent; Georgia and Texas, 60 percent; Utah and Florida, 59 percent and Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina, 58 percent. (To view the interactive post map click here)

Carey Wright, Mississippi’s state superintendent, said providing quality preschool is the key to help poor children, Layton writes. Wright told Layton, “That's huge. These children can learn at the highest levels, but you have to provide for them. You can’t assume they have books at home or they visit the library or go on vacations. You have to think about what you’re doing across the state and ensuring they’re getting what other children get."

The Obama administration "wants Congress to add $1 billion to the $14.4 billion it spends annually to help states educate poor students," Layton writes. "It also wants Congress to fund preschool for low-income children. Collectively, the states and federal governments spend about $500 billion annually on primary and secondary schools, with about $79 million coming from Washington." But many Republicans in Congress have criticized funding preschools. (Read more)

There is no doctor shortage in U.S., but there is one in rural and underserved areas, report says

Rural America may be experiencing a doctor shortage, but the U.S. is not, says a report by the Institute of Medicine, Adrianna McIntyre reports for Vox. The Association of American Medical Colleges has said that by 2020 the U.S. will have a shortage of 91,000 doctors, 45,000 in primary care and 46,000 surgeons and specialists, McIntyre writes. (AAMC graphic: Some groups claim graphics like this are used to try to lobby the government to fund doctor training programs)

But the Institute for Medicine said they find 'no credible evidence' that a doctor shortage actually exists because "shortage projections use questionable doctor-patient ratios, don't consider geographic differences in physician supply and ignore the role of new technology and alternate providers like nurse practitioners."

Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist, told McIntyre, "Maybe it looks like there's a doctor shortage, but that's because the system is inefficient. Inefficient cars require more gas. Inefficient health care systems require more doctors."

The report said there are plenty of doctors to go around, but they aren't going where they're needed, such as rural areas, McIntyre writes. Chandra told McIntyre, "Right now Medicare pays more to providers who work in more expensive areas—providers who work in Manhattan get more than providers who work in Milwaukee. Maybe what you want to do is offer additional payments to physicians working in underserved areas."

Another problem, the report said, is that primary care doctors are paid less than specialists, which is leading more young doctors to gravitate towards careers as specialists, McIntyre writes. But even when young doctors go into primary care, they are more inclined to look in urban areas. Atul Grover, a physician and spokesman for the AAMC, said that "physicians weigh other factors when deciding where to practice, like prestige and quality of living. No salary bump can turn rural Idaho into Boston." (Read more)

Once critics of net neutrality, Republicans now favor it; Democrats wary of GOP motives

Republican lawmakers in Congress, who were once some of the most vocal critics of net-neutrality, are now some of its biggest supporters, Brendan Sasso reports for the National Journal. "For years, members of the party have decried net-neutrality regulation as a 'government takeover of the Internet' that would 'restrict our Internet freedom.' But now, top GOP lawmakers are frantically working on net-neutrality legislation that's even stronger than what many Democrats supported in previous years."

Why the change of heart? "At this point, pushing strong net-neutrality legislation is the only hope that Republicans have to keep the Federal Communications Commission from classifying Internet providers as public utilities like phone companies," Sasso writes. "They fear that move would strangle the Internet with even more onerous regulations."

But some Democrats in Congress fear Republicans are only supporting net-neutrality to get a "watered-down bill that's exactly . . . what the opposition and their lobbyists want," Sen. Al Franken, (D-Minn.), said, Sasso writes. Craig Aaron, the president of activist group Free Press, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post that net-neutrality supporters shouldn't be fooled by Republicans. He wrote: "This proposed legislation should be exposed for what it is: a cynical effort by the cable lobby to prevent the FCC from enforcing the law to keep the Internet open. Why would we trust the fiercest opponents of Net Neutrality to protect our Internet freedom?"

At issue is Title II of the Communications Act, Sasso writes. "The FCC could use Title II to not only oversee how the providers manage traffic, but also set retail prices, impose new government fees and determine which customers they have to serve."

The Republicans' net-neutrality bill "would bar the FCC from classifying Internet service under Title II. Instead, it would grant the FCC new authority only to deal with net neutrality," Sasso writes. "The FCC's 2010 net-neutrality rules relied on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, a nebulous provision that says the agency can 'promote the deployment' of broadband. The Republican principles state that new legislation should clarify that Section 706 doesn't actually give the FCC any power."

"Without Title II, it's the only other real tool the FCC has to regulate Internet providers," Sasso writes. "Killing Section 706 would undercut the FCC's plan to preempt state laws that limit cities from building their own broadband networks. Just this week, Obama urged the FCC to overturn the state restrictions to ensure that local governments can deliver high-speed Internet to their residents if they choose. The FCC plans to vote in February on petitions from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to invoke Section 706 to preempt their states' laws against city-owned broadband." (Read more)

UPDATE: For a report on the bill from The Washington Post, click here.

Republican governor who once sued to overturn ACA, now an advocate for Medicaid expansion

Since Republicans gained control of Congress in November, Republican governors from Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming who previously refused Medicaid expansion in their states as part of federal health reform have come out in support of the Affordable Care Act, maybe none as adamant as Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who hails from the state with the nation's smallest population but has quickly become a national voice in favor of expansion. Expansion in Wyoming would extend benefits to 17,600 low-income residents.

During his State of the State address on Wednesday Mead told lawmakers that Wyoming can no longer afford to wait to pass a Medicaid expansion bill, Trevor Brown reports for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Mead said, "We have fought the fight against the (Affordable Care Act). We've done our best to find a fit for Wyoming. We are out of timeouts, and we need to address Medicaid expansion this session."

Mead, who was once part of a lawsuit to overturn Obamacare, said in November that he would "support an expansion plan that was developed out of negotiations between the Wyoming Department of Health and the federal government," Brown writes. Mead said during his address, "The fact is many of us don't like the ACA, including me. But here's another fact: Our federal tax dollars help pay for the ACA, and Wyoming tax dollars pay for the ACA. Do we choose to have that Wyoming money be returned to Colorado, California or Wyoming? I say Wyoming." (Read more)

Type 2 diabetes medication found in Lake Michigan altering hormonal systems of male fish

The type 2 diabetes medication Metformin found in Lake Michigan is changing the hormonal systems of fish exposed to it, says a study by the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin, Keith Matheny reports for the Detroit Free Press. The long-term effects of the drug on fish and their ability to reproduce are unknown.

Researchers found that male fathead minnows exposed to Metformin at the levels found in Lake Michigan for four weeks "showed disruption of their endocrine systems, producing a chemical messenger usually associated with females' egg production," Matheny writes.

"The drugs [that] are not completely broken down by people's bodies after ingestion are excreted and then are not fully removed by wastewater treatment processes," Matheny writes. Reseacher Rebecca Klaper told Matheny that even though the levels of the drug in Lake Michigan are low, "It's enough to raise an alarm bell that this might be something that causes changes in reproduction of fish. It's something that definitely warrants further study." (Read more) (Free Press graphic: Pharmaceuticals and personal-care byproducts persist at low levels miles from sewage discharge pipes in Lake Michigan)

Physicist on 'CBS This Morning' misstates the process of hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes

Michio Kaku, Ph.D.
Dr. Michio Kaku, who often discusses science on CBS News programs, is a brilliant physicist. But today on "CBS This Morning" he wandered off base as he discussed earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing.

Kaku, a professor at City University of New York, said there is evidence that a swarm of small earthquakes in Oklahoma is being caused by "hydraulic fracking," specifically the injection of wastewater to free gas and oil from dense, deep shales.

Whoa, Professor. Yes, fracking does involve the injection of wastewater, but not to produce oil and gas. The process injects a mixture of water, chemicals and sand, and results in wastewater that must be disposed of -- in separate injection wells, the type of wells that have been associated with quakes.

Perhaps Kaku was condensing information into the time CBS gave him, but he was also off base on a bit of geography. He said the largest quake ever in the U.S. was near New Madrid, on the border of Missouri and Tennessee. Actually, New Madrid, Mo., sits across the Mississippi River from a bit of Kentucky that is separated from the rest of the state by the bending river.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting by on nothing in America, in the words of some who wrote about it on Reddit

Many of America's poor are fighting a losing battle to improve their station, mainly because it costs more to be poor, Max Ehrenfreund reports for The Washington Post, drawing from a discussion thread on Reddit: "an extraordinary thread full of devastating stories about what it's like to get by with nothing in the United States of 2015."

Being denied a checking account means paying a fee to cash a check. Not having disposable money means buying items in smaller quantities or on credit—which costs more in the long run—or having to purchase something at the marked price, without having the ability to wait for a sale.

"It's easy to feel that "when you are poor, the 'system' is set up to keep you that way," in the words of one Reddit user," Ehrenfreund writes, quoting others:

"When you are broke, you can't plan ahead or shop sales or buy in bulk. Poor people wait to buy something until they absolutely need it, so they have to pay whatever the going price is at that moment. If ten-packs of paper towels are on sale for half price, that's great, but you can only afford one roll anyway. In this way, poor people actually pay more than others for common staple goods."

"I buy 'fish' antibiotics online because I can't afford health care. . . . Amoxicillin and such. Mostly for husband who has Lyme's disease. We can't afford our monthly health care rates. We are 30-somethings in the US. Really feel like a 'bottom feeder'."

"I'm making $150-$200 a week, and I need new shoes. So I can buy $60 shoes that will last, or $15 Walmart shoes. So I buy the Walmart shoes and some groceries instead of just the $60 shoes and no groceries. Three months later I'll need new shoes again. But I'll also have to pay rent, and my light bill is due. So I'll pay the light bill and buy some 'shoe glue' for $4 to fix my shoes for another few weeks until I can buy the $15 ones again."

One writer who admitted to regularly raiding dumpsters wrote, "I grew up in a fairly rural area. When that happened? I know that in winter, grey squirrel tastes [expletive] gross. Sure, people from the South can claim that their brown and red squirrels are delicious, but I would rather eat [expletive] out of a pig's ass than eat another bite of goddamn squirrel meat. Or jackrabbit. Or goddamned dandelion greens." (Read more)

New wave of farmers are young, city-raised, college-educated and environmentally conscious

While the average age of farmers rose from 51 to 58 in the last three decades, a new, young breed of environmentally aware, city-bred, college educated farmers is emerging, Fred Gebhart reports for Healthline. Zach Wolf, a 30-something farmer in New York, told him, "Young farmers today are environmentally aware and socially active. Sustainability isn’t an ideal; it is a life they want to live and to help others live.”

Where did this new breed of farmer come from? "Many observers trace this trend back to the 2007 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma," Gebhart writes. "Author Michael Pollan traced the origins of four meals: a McDonald’s lunch, a dinner from Whole Foods market, another using ingredients from a small Virginia farm and a feast of items he foraged and hunted. The book was a wake-up call to the problems associated with Big Agriculture, including reliance on petroleum, environmental and biologic degradation, obesity, poor nutrition and bland, boring food."

The number of farms is down from 6.4 million in 1910 to 2.2 million in 2010, as farmers moved from rural areas to urban ones to seek other jobs, Gebhart writes. In recent years the trend has been reversed, with more people moving from urban to rural areas to become farmers. Nationally, the number of young farmers is up 3 percent, and the number of farmers under 35 in Maine is up 40 percent. (USDA graphic)

More young farmers has led to more organic farming, Gebhart writes. "Organic sales surged 11.5 percent in 2013, hitting a record $35 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. Most families—81 percent—choose organic food at least some of the time."

"The new generation of farmers has grown up in an era that values personal integrity and involvement," Gebhart writes. "Environmental issues are key because an unhealthy environment makes for unhealthy people. Climate change isn’t a debate; it’s a global problem that needs local change. Technology can improve almost anything, and collaboration is a way of life."

Wolf told him, “Young farmers bring a whole new mindset to traditional difficulties. Almost all of us are college-educated, which creates a different attitude toward learning and solving problems. Most of us didn’t come from farming families, so we had to learn through apprentice programs or some kind of hands-on training.” (Read more)

Justice Department revises guidelines for issuing subpoenas to journalists in news-leak probes

In a move that affects all journalists, the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced that it has "revised guidelines for obtaining records from the news media during criminal leak investigations, removing language that news organizations said was ambiguous and requiring additional levels of review before a journalist can be subpoenaed," Eric Tucker reports for The Associated Press.

The Obama administration has been criticized for being overly aggressive in filing subpoenas for reporters' telephone records and emails, including spending several years trying to compel a New York Times reporter to testify in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information, Tucker writes. The Justice Department abandoned that case this past week.

In February 2014 the department "issued new rules designed to give news organizations an opportunity to challenge subpoenas or search warrants in federal court," Tucker writes. "But news organizations expressed concern that the protections applied only to journalists involved in 'ordinary newsgathering activities,' language they said was vague and could be exploited by zealous prosecutors. That provision has been deleted in the new guidelines, which also require the attorney general in most instances to authorize subpoenas issued for the media and for the Justice Department's criminal division to also be consulted." (Read more)

Rural residents in Calif. and Texas say bullet trains will hurt property values, environment, wildlife

Rural residents in California and Texas are less than thrilled about the prospect of bullet trains rumbling through their neighborhoods at high speeds. Construction of California's voter-approved bullet train began last week. The first phase is a 142-mile segment north and south of Fresno, The Associated Press reports. The $68 billion project, expected to be completed by 2029, will travel 200 miles per hour over 520 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The system will eventually be extended from Sacramento to San Diego, covering 800 miles, says California High-Speed Rail Authority. Texas officials have proposed a bullet train from Dallas to Houston, cutting the 240-mile trip from about four hours to 90 minutes, Aman Betheja reports for The Texas Tribune. (Terrain.org map)
More than 1,000 rural residents voiced their opposition to the California bullet train on Wednesday night in Lake View Terrace, saying the train will hurt property values and harm wildlife, Michael Larkin and Beverly White report for KNBC 4 in Los Angeles. Tujunga resident Bridget Riley said the train will have negative impacts economically and environmentally. She told KNBC 4, "It would destroy the property values. It would destroy everything! And needless to say, the Angeles National Forest."

Equestrian riders also fear that the train will hurt the horse industry, Dana Bartholomew reports for the Los Angles Daily News. San Fernando Valley horse owner John Rigney told Bartholomew, "This is the last bastion of equine life in the city of Los Angeles. This recreation space, with thousands who also visit Hansen Dam, would be destroyed.”

Rural officials in Texas have similar fears, having "expressed concern about the noise from trains whizzing past their quiet towns dozens of times a day and about a track dividing farmland and reducing property values," Betheja writes. Byron Ryder, the county judge in Leon County, located about halfway between Dallas and Houston, told Betheja, "I haven’t heard anything positive about it whatsoever. I’ve talked to other judges and commissioners up and down the line, landowners up and down the line. No one wants it.”

While a federally-required environmental study still has to take place, officials have narrowed potential routes down to two "that appear to be least disruptive," Betheja writes. "One runs largely along the rights of way of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and would depend on Texas Central Railway making a deal with that company. The other route is straighter and travels mostly along electricity transmission lines. That route has fewer people living near it, said Shaun McCabe, a Texas Central Railway environmental and engineering vice president." (Read more)

Map shows winemakers and commercial brewers

Nearly 10,000 winemakers and 4,500 commercial brewers work in the U.S., Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. While California, Oregon and Washington are known for an abundance of wineries and the Denver area has blossomed into the country's beer capital, winemakers and commercial brewers are spread out throughout the country, and many of them are located in unsuspecting places. This Post map shows the locations of all the known winemakers and commercial brewers. Click on it for a larger version.