Monday, June 29, 2015

Decisions about Obamacare, same-sex marriage, trade highlight the rural-urban divide

Three major decisions last week—the Supreme Court's ruling on federal health reform and same-sex marriage and Congressional renewal of fast track trade authority—are perfect examples to highlight the rural-urban divide, Shawna Thomas reports for Meet The Press.

Rural Americans have been the most critical of the Affordable Care Act, with 63 percent saying it should be overhauled or eliminated and 34 percent saying it should be eliminated, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Nationally, 25 percent of people say ACA should be eliminated, while 50 percent say it should overhauled or eliminated. (NBC News/Wall Street Journal graphic)

Similar results can be found in the ruling about same-sex marriage, Thomas writes. Only 46 percent of rural Americans wanted the court to legalize gay marriage, compared to 57 percent overall, while 47 percent of rural Americans opposed the ruling, compared to 37 percent nationally.

When it comes to trade deals, 34 percent of Americans say free trade between the U.S. and foreign countries has hurt the U.S., while 29 percent say it has helped, Thomas writes. In rural areas, 50 percent say it has hurt, while only 18 percent say it has helped. The bill from the Republican-controlled Congress "not only gave President Barack Obama a legislative victory (rural Americans are regularly the least supportive of the president), it also paves the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal."

"Whoever wins the Republican nomination in 2016 is going to have to find a way to inspire GOP's rural base while still trying to appeal tocrucial suburban swing voters," Thomas writes. "Weeks like this past one show how hard that may be." (Read more)

States not getting enough support, funding to help rural hidden homeless

States are struggling to provide care for the rural hidden homeless—people who go unseen because they're living in the woods, tents, campers, sheds, barns or occasionally on a friend's couch when it's available—and who lack the transportation to find shelters, medical care for mental illness, counseling or food vouchers, Teresa Wiltz reports for Stateline

"Often, they don’t come forward for help because they are ashamed, advocates say," Wiltz writes. "And because they’re not easily spotted, or they’re not showing up for help at agencies, some advocates for the homeless argue that the rural homeless are being undercounted."

Wendy Kinnear, regional coordinator for the state of Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness program, told Wiltz, “My frustration is that this isn’t something that people talk about. We don’t get the same funding and support. People are being undercounted—which means they’re not getting the services and funding that they can be tapping into.” (Geography of Homelessness graphic)
Some states are trying to address the needs of the rural homeless, Wiltz writes. "In Colorado, the Coalition for the Homeless runs a rural initiatives program, collaborating with 14 rural agencies to provide transitional housing, counseling, support, permanent housing and rental assistance."  In July, Virginia, "which has a large rural population of nearly 2 million, will launch its Housing Trust Fund to encourage affordable housing."

But in some state efforts haven't worked, Wiltz writes. "In North Dakota, where homelessness has skyrocketed after the oil boom created a housing shortage, legislators created a Housing Incentive Fund, allocating $35 million in 2013 to encourage the development of affordable housing. But that fund was depleted within five months."

The problem is that more money goes to fight urban homelessness, which is more visible than rural homelessness, Wiltz writes. Population determines where U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding goes. "In rural areas, there are fewer continuums of care (CoC), local, community-based organizations that are responsible for coordinating aid for the homeless, usually with federal funding distributed by the states. Fewer CoCs means fewer homeless people are being served, Kinnear said."

"HUD set aside $30 million for a competitive grant to tackle rural homelessness. But the agency didn’t get enough applicants to send money to rural areas, according to Ann Oliva, director of HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs," Wiltz writes.

Rural teen sex, birth rates higher than in metro areas, report finds; Iowa daily localizes report

Rural teenage girls are having sex at higher rates than their urban and suburban counterparts and are less likely to use birth control, leading to higher rates of rural teen pregnancies, says a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report, which used data from 2010, the most recent year it was available, found that for girls between the ages of 15-19, the teen birth rate among rural girls was one-third higher than it was for the rest of the country.

More than 45 out of every 1,000 rural girls ages 15-19 have a baby, compared to the national average of 34.2 per every 1,000 girls. While birth rates are declining nationally, the decline is slower in rural areas, where birth rates declined 31 percent from 1990 to 2010, compared to a 50 percent decline in metro areas. (National Campaign graphic)
Overall, 55 percent of rural girls ages 15-19 said they have had sex, compared to 40 percent from metro areas, and 41 percent of rural girls said they have had sex in the past three months, compared to 29 percent of metro girls. Of those girls, 71 percent of rural girls said they used birth control the first time, compared to 81 percent of metro girls, and 82 percent of rural girls who had sex in the past three months used birth control, compared to 86 percent of metro ones.

Researchers say the main reasons for higher rural teen birth rates are lower college enrollment, poverty, lack of access to health services and declining populations. Other factors are lack of health insurance, transportation barriers, fewer recreational facilities and higher rates of binge drinking.

The Gazette, in Eastern Iowa, localized the report by taking a look at state figures, finding the results held true in the state's rural counties. Iowa Department of Public Health statistics "showing teen birthrates by county between 2008 to 2012 found that 20 of Iowa’s 66 counties with populations of fewer than 20,000 had teen birthrates that ranked in the top third over all, and 39 of those counties had teen birthrates higher than the state average," Chelsea Keenan reports for The Gazette.

"Additionally, out of the 15 counties with the highest birthrates, seven had populations of fewer than 20,000," Keenan writes. "Clarke County—with a population of 9,325 in south-central Iowa—had the highest teen birthrate in the state—with a rate of 54.3 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 years old."

Kristin Fairholm, executive director of Eyes Open Iowa, a Des Moines-based group that advocates for teen sexual education, told Keenan, “Teens in rural communities engage in risky behaviors at higher rates because, a lot of times, there aren’t things to do in small-town Iowa—they have more downtime." (Read more)

Backed by the telecommunications industry N.C., Tenn. fighting attempts at city-run broadband

The cable and telecommunications industry has been fighting a Federal Communications Commission ruling paving the way for cities to become Internet service providers, "arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies," Leticia Miranda reports for ProPublica. "The FCC’s decision came after two towns—City of Wilson in North Carolina and Chattanooga in Tennessee—appealed to the agency to be able to expand their networks."
"The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states. Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband," Miranda writes. "And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service."

It comes as now surprise that North Carolina and Tennessee have received backing from the telecommunications industry, Miranda writes. "Tennessee has hired one of the country’s largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit" while North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper "received roughly $35,000 from the telecommunications industry in his 2012 run for office. Only the state’s retail industry gave more."

During the 2014 North Carolina election, the telecommunications industry gave a combined $870,000 to candidates in both parties, while in Tennessee candidates "received nearly $921,000 from AT&T and other industry players in 2014," Miranda writes. "If the court upholds the FCC’s authority to preempt restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee, it may embolden other cities to file petitions with the agency, according to lawyer Jim Baller, who represents Wilson and the Chattanooga Electric Power Board. He told Miranda, “A victory by the FCC would be a very welcome result for many communities across America." (Read more)

Rural Constable, N.Y., residents react to capture of escaped murderer in their small town

Some of the 1,400 residents of Constable, N.Y., (City-Data map) say the rural town near the Canadian border is so quiet and safe that they don't even bother to lock their doors. But over the weekend, Constable residents were at the center of one of the nation's greatest man hunts, when escaped murderer David P. Sweat was captured in their midst, Charity Vogel reports for The Buffalo News.

Verba Bontrager, who has lived for nine years on a dairy farm near where Sweat was shot and taken into custody on Sunday, told Vogel, “I never dreamed it would be this close. It wasn’t on our property, but it was right on the edge. . . . It’s kind of a shock to me . . . We heard a couple of shots; then the police cars started coming. We didn’t know exactly what was happening. After the shots, people were here, I couldn’t believe how fast. Thirty or 40 cars.”

Retired middle school teacher James L. Fleury called Constable a "very quiet town." He told Vogel, "Everybody knows everybody . . . This is the biggest event—that I know, in my lifetime. I’m very grateful that it’s over.”

D. Billy Jones, the county’s legislative chairman, "described the area as less mountainous than the southern part of Franklin County with wooded areas, fields and farmland," Vogel writes. Jones told her, "People were obviously on edge. We had a long night last night [Saturday], hoping they closed in on him. It’s been a little surreal round here. Our residents have put up with a lot. It’s been very tense, very emotional. Think there will be a lot of people tonight [Sunday] that will get a good night’s rest.” (Getty Images: Seth Lockwood, 10 and his sister Riley,12, give thanks to law enforcement officials following the capture of convicted murderer David Sweat on Sunday)

Kentucky senators McConnell, Paul twisting facts to muddy Clean Water Act rules, FactCheck says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, Republicans from Kentucky, have been twisting the facts of court cases to make the Environmental Protection Agency's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules appear to be more damning than they are, Dave Levitan reports for FactCheck. (Associated Press photo: From left, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Mitch McConnell)

Paul recently said at a dinner: "Over 40 years, we now define pollutants as dirt and your backyard as a navigable stream. It would be funny if we weren’t putting people in jail for it. Guy named Robert Lucas, down at the southern part of Mississippi, 10 years ago was 70 years old. He was put in prison for 10 years. He just got out. Ten years without parole. Ten years without early release. He was convicted of a RICO conspiracy [under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act]. RICO’s supposed to be something you go after gangsters for. You know what his conspiracy was? Conspiracy to put dirt on his own land. We’ve gone crazy."

In truth Lucas and his associates were charged with 41 counts—convicted of 40—of violating the Clean Water Act, conspiracy and fraud, Levitan writes. Lucas, who is actually 75 now and served seven years in prison before going to a halfway house, had been warned as far back as 1996 by the Justice Department that the 2,620-acre plot he was developing for low-cost housing contained wetlands and could not be used for housing. He received a long list of warnings "of the public health threat he and his partners were creating by installing septic systems in saturated soil," before finally being charged in 2004.

McConnell and Paul also co-wrote an op-ed piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader on June 16 that twisted facts, Levitan writes. They wrote: "A cautionary tale can be found in the story of Andy Johnson, a farmer who built a stock pond on his eight-acre Wyoming farm. He spent hours building it and filling it with fish, ducks and geese. Now the EPA is claiming that he violated the Clean Water Act by building the pond without a permit and is threatening to fine him $75,000—a day."

Levitan writes, "This description sounds as though Johnson simply dug a hole and added water. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA found that in order to create the pond, he constructed a dam on Six Mile Creek, a waterway deemed by the EPA to be a tributary of the Blacks Fork River, which in turn is a tributary of the Green River, which is a 'navigable, interstate water of the United States.'"

"Building the dam constituted a 'discharge of pollutants' into 'waters of the United States,' according to the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, and thus required a permit that Johnson did not have, or seek," Levitan writes. "As with the Lucas case, EPA officials say that Johnson received multiple warnings before any enforcement actions were taken."

Friday, June 26, 2015

County-level map shows that Americans are on the move; 15% of U.S. families moved in 2014

County-level data shows that Americans are on the move, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. About 15 percent of families moved in 2014, up from 11 percent during the recession but down from pre-recession numbers of 17 percent. Kimball Brace, president of Virginia-based Election Data Services, told Henderson, “The recession kept people at home. They couldn’t sell their home; they couldn’t find a job. We’re starting to see bigger numbers. We’re not all the way back.”

While some of the biggest moves have been to or from metro areas, some rural areas have seen an influx of migration led by the oil boom in North Dakota, where McKenzie County had an 18.3 percent increase in population from 2013 to 2014. (Stateline map: Where moves affect population. For an interactive version, click here)

Same-sex marriage OKd; maps shows same-sex couple estimates by county, state policies for gays

State bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision today, meaning that gay couples in 13 states where same-sex marriage was illegal—mostly in states with large rural populations in the Midwest and South—can now marry, Ana Swanson reports for The Washington Post.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, “The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them." The 13 states were same-sex marriage was illegal were: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. There are 390,000 same-sex married couples in the U.S. and another 70,000 couples living in the 13 states where same-sex marriage was illegal who would get married in the next three years, according to UCLA's Williams Institute. About one million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the U.S. (New York Times map; click here for interactive version with county data)
The court ruled in cases from Kentucky, where "voters by a 75 percent margin in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment saying that 'only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage' in the state, and in a recent Bluegrass Poll more than half of registered voters continued to oppose it," Andrew Wolfson notes for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's "administration has spent $195,400 defending Kentucky's ban in court," after Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined to appeal a lower-court ruling against it, Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. One of the plaintiffs was Tim Love, so one of the cases decided by the court was Love v. Beshear.

A poll of 1,394 respondents by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune found that 41 percent of state residents are against same-sex marriage, 14 percent are not sure and 44 percent are in favor, Ross Ramsey reports for the Tribune. A significant gap of opinions existed based on where people live, with 52 percent of urban respondents in favor of same-sex marriage, 43 percent of suburban respondents and 33 percent of rural respondents. More than 52 percent of rural respondents were against same-sex marriage, compared to 29 percent of urban respondents and 44 percent of suburban ones.

"Gay Americans still face disparities on issues like workplace and housing discrimination, hate crime and anti-bullying protection and adoption rights," Jacob Bogage writes for The Washington Post. His story is accompanied by a map drawn by the Movement Advanced Project, "a think tank that researches LGBT policy. The group created a metric to quantify a state's policies toward the LGBT community."
Click on map to view a larger version

Study: food industry workers at higher risk of occupational illness, injury and death

Compared to workers in other industries, workers in almost every step of the modern food industry are at a higher risk of occupational illness, injury and death, according to a study in the July Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Food-industry workers had a 60 percent higher rate of occupational illness and injury than workers in other industries, and severe injuries that necessitated taking time off work were twice as frequent for food industry workers. The risk of occupational death in the food industry was 9.5 times higher than in other industries.

The researchers analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data on occupational disease, accidents and deaths in food-related industries between 2008 and 2010. Using the "farm-to-table" model, the study might be able to assist in targeting particular workplace hazards within the food industry, according to Kira L. Newman of Emory University and other colleagues. The farm-to-table model framework includes five majors processes: food production, processing, distribution, storage and retail.

Those working in food processing, storage and retail were more likely to be injured as a result of a slip, trip or fall than those working in other stages of the farm-to-table model. This could be related to the high use of refrigeration, researchers said, writing, "Applying the farm-to-table model within occupational health . . . can reshape the understanding of how market forces in the food industry may impact workers and consumers."

Old Glory a source of pride for rural African Americans at flag factory in South Carolina

In a rural town 65 miles north of Charleston, S.C.—where nine African Americans were murdered in a historic church and a white suspect with ties to hate groups was arrested for the crime—the mostly African American employees of the Valley Forge Flag factory in Lane, S.C., continue to take pride in manufacturing American flags, while applauding their employer's decision to discontinue making the Confederate flag, Edward McAllister reports for Reuters. Confederate flags are not made a the Lane factory. (Reuters photo by Brian Snyder: Keisha Hardman cuts and sews U.S. flags at Valley Forge's manufacturing facility in Lane, S.C.)

African American Margaree Mitchum, manager of the 100 employees at the Lane factory, told McAllister, "I look at a flag differently now. When I started to sew, and I saw them flying, it filled my heart because I’d had my hands on them . . . For us, as black people, the Confederate flag shows racism. Everything has its place, and I think it should be taken down."

Scott Liberman, chief executive officer of Valley Forge, a company founded by his great grandfather in 1882, told McAllister of manufacturing the Confederate flag, "I wish I had stopped doing it a long time ago. If it has become offensive to people, I don't want anything to do with it." (Read more)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the Capitol grounds, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday ordered the Confederate flag and other Civil War flags to be removed from Capitol grounds. Lawmakers in Mississippi, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia have also discussed removing the Confederate flag from state grounds or license plates and the University of Texas is discussing the future of a statue of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis on school grounds, reports The Associated Press.

Rural America provides food, energy, water, recreation and soldiers for U.S., advocate writes

Diane Smith
Urban and suburban residents who don't think rural America has much to offer should think again, opines Diane Smith, founder and CEO of American Rural, which says it "focuses on expanding opportunities for rural and small town businesses and entrepreneurs."

When it comes to food, 85 percent is grown in rural areas, Smith writes for the Flathead Beacon in Kalispell, Mont. "Billions of dollars’ worth of rural American agricultural products are exported around the globe each year, and hundreds of thousands of trees are planted on farmland for sustainability."

Energy and water are other keys, she writes. "Large scale energy production facilities including fossil fuels, hydro, solar, wind, biofuels and others are often located in rural communities. . . . Rural residents are often upstream stewards of rivers, lakes, and other waterways that have a profound impact on our downstream neighbors."

Tourism is another big part of rural America. "Whether it’s our national parks, the lure of a back road, or the desire to ski, bike, hike, fish, hunt, kayak or just get away from it all, rural areas are big recreation destinations," Smith writes. "Our national parks alone host millions of Americans and overseas visitors every year, and U.S. rural tourism continues to grow robustly."

Another important thing to remember is that rural America supplies more than its share of military recruits and veterans, she writes, though her numbers are off base. Bill Bishop clarified the numbers in the Daily Yonder in 2011, and the Economic Research Service of the Agriculture Department has the latest data.

Kentucky author, farmer echoed Pope Francis' sentiments about nature and humanity in 1983

Wendell Berry delivered the Jefferson
Lecture in the Humanities in 2012.
The Vatican released Pope Francis' "first much anticipated Encyclical 'Laudato Si' ("Praise Be to You") last week. In the document and the subsequent media conference at the Vatican, scientists and theologians of varying traditions intoned dire warnings about the limits of a science-based culture and called on the world to recover a pre-Modern respect for nature that harmonizes human advances with natural integrity," Duke University student Travis Knoll writes for The Huffington Post.

"As it turns out, a U.S. author from Kentucky came to Francis' same conclusions a little over thirty years ago," Knoll writes. "Award winning author Wendell Berry advocated in his 1983 essay 'Two Economies' for a system that would prioritize the spiritual 'Kingdom of God' without neglecting economical necessities."

"Two religious humans, one the leader of more than a billion Catholics, and the other, a small Kentucky farmer, both recognize that nature and humanity are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent," Knoll writes. "If you are suspicious of the Argentine cleric in white's credentials or relevance to the U.S.'s conscience, try lending your ears to the Kentucky farmer."

Berry's essay "advocated for a practical harmony that both shaped the environment through human invention and allowed the environment to provide practical aids and limits on human development," Knoll writes. "Berry used topsoil as an example. He argued that industrialists overlooked complex ecological systems by replacing the double function of topsoil, water retention and drainage, with machines and dams that performed merely one or the other task, risking eroded ecosystems. In short, in the name of efficiency, technocrats had overlooked and reduced nature's efficiency. Turning to the ironic belief that we can or ought to control nature, Berry asked: 'What is to be the fate of self-control in an economy that encourages and rewards unlimited selfishness?'"

"Berry illustrated that while humans could ruin the environment through a divorce of humanity and nature, human engagement with nature might improve it, if scaled correctly," Knoll writes. "He pointed to an indigenous community, the Papago in Mexico, that, through irrigation and regular agriculture, had formed a type of oasis that attracted birds. The Park Service in Arizona had banned the same nation from their traditional farming methods on an ecological preserve. This restriction ironically reduced the bird sanctuary's bird and plant biodiversity." (Read more)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Poor road conditions costing drivers big money in vehicle upkeep costs; rural roads in poor shape

Poor road conditions are costing residents in six states—Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, Oklahoma and Michigan—more than $600 per year per driver in extra vehicle upkeep costs, according to analysis from TRIP, a national transportation research group, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. The average cost per state is $400-$500, with only two states—Minnesota and Tennessee—below $300. 

A report released last year by The Road Information Program, funded by lobbies interested in highways and their safety, found that one-third of rural roads in some states are rated as poor, while TRIP says federal transportation data from 2012 gave 15 percent of the nation's major rural roads a poor condition rating and another 40 percent a mediocre or fair rating. (Post graphic)

Six former railway employees charged in 2013 Quebec oil derailment that killed 47

"Six former employees of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, including the train engineer and the top executive, face charges under the Railway Safety Act and Fisheries Act for their alleged roles" in the 2013 train derailment in Quebec that resulted in the deaths of 47 people, Eric Atkins and Verity Stevenson report for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. The bankrupt company has also been charged in what was Canada's worst rail disaster in modern times. The train was carrying crude oil from North Dakota to Maine. (Getty Images by Francois Laplante-Delagrave: Photo from July 6, 2013 of Quebec oil derailment)

"The charges come as a battle over a $430-million victims’ fund is being waged in Quebec court and almost a year after a Transportation Safety Board report on the disaster found that just seven handbrakes were set on the train," Atkins and Stevenson write. "The federal government said the accused failed to ensure that the brakes were properly set on the unattended train of 63 oil tank cars that rolled down a hill in the early morning of July 6, 2013, before crashing in a series of explosions that destroyed 40 buildings and killed people in their sleep or as they enjoyed a night out in the picturesque village."

"There are also environmental charges over the spillage of oil," Atkins and Stevenson write. "All of the accused are scheduled to appear in a Lac-Mégantic court on Nov. 12. The charges have not been tested in court." (Read more)

Republican-led Congress ignoring Obama's $3 billion proposal to aid coal communities

"A massive $3 billion package to help struggling coal communities transition to a new economy is sitting unappropriated in the Republican-led Congress. And lawmakers are saying little—at least publicly—about if and how they ever plan to support it," Naveena Sadasivam reports for InsideClimate News as part of the series Coal's Long Goodbye

POWER+ plan was part of the White House's February budget proposal "to support towns and communities struggling to cope with the decline in coal production and use," Sadasivam writes. "The initiative provides coal country with an influx of cash to reclaim abandoned mines, provide job training to miners, reform health and pension funds and invest in carbon capture technology."

"In order to move the money from federal coffers to the states and counties, Congress must allocate the money from the federal budget through appropriations bills," Sadasivam writes. "Since the POWER+ proposal includes legislative reforms and fund allocations, executing the White House’s plan will require a high level of coordination in Congress."

That's where the proposal seems to be running into problems, Sadasivam writes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, Republicans from a state—Kentucky—that has lost more coal jobs than any other state, have shown little support for the proposal and have blamed Obama for coal's demise.

After the proposal was released, McConnell said it "was 'cold comfort' for the Obama administration to 'suddenly propose easing the pain they've helped inflict on so many Kentucky coal families," Sadasivam writes. Rogers said, "The president is missing the point: for centuries, this country has run on coal. Businesses large and small rely on cheap, reliable energy to remain competitive, and drawn-out rulemaking processes and bureaucratic overreach create uncertainty that will raise energy costs and threaten American jobs."

While both have said the proposal needs to be seriously considered, they "emphasized the need for regulatory relief in addition to the monetary support," Sadasivam writes. Philip Wallach of the Brookings Institution "said that unless there is a big conversation shift around climate change and energy policy, he doesn’t expect McConnell, Rogers or any of the other coal-state Republican leaders to come out in full support of the proposal," saying it would be an "unimaginable reversal." (Read more)

Gov. Mike Pence says Indiana will refuse to comply with gas emission rules unless changes are made

Gov. Mike Pence
Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence wrote a letter to President Obama saying that his state will refuse to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas emissions unless major revisions are made, Maureen Groppe reports for The Indianapolis Star. Pence didn't specify what improvements he was seeking.

"Pence made his challenge on the same day the House voted 247 to 180 to pass a bill to give states the ability to opt out of the regulations," Groppe writes. "The vote—primarily along party lines—was not strong enough to overcome a threatened White House veto. But it was backed by Indiana's seven Republican House members and by Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indianapolis."

Pence has said he isn't convinced that climate change is man-made, Groppe writes. Environmentalists say it's just another example of the governor siding with the coal industry over the health of his state's residents. The only states with higher emission rates than Indiana are Kentucky, West Virginia and Wyoming.

"If the rule goes into effect, the EPA estimates rates in the region that includes Indiana will be about 6 percent higher in 2020 than they would be without the rule," Groppe writes. "By 2030, as the cost of making energy improvements and other efficiencies begin to pay off, the increase in rates due to the rule is projected to be less than 1 percent, according to the EPA. Opponents say rate increases would be much larger."

Groppe told Obama that the regulations would "force the premature retirement of coal-fired power plants, 'threatening our stable source of affordable electricity,'" Groppe writes. Pence has also challenged the legality of the regulations, writing, "Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented." (Read more)

Duke Energy to close 12 more North Carolina coal ash ponds

Duke Energy announced on Tuesday that it will close 12 more North Carolina coal ash ponds, meaning the company "now aims to excavate 24 of its 36 ponds in the Carolinas," Bruce Henderson reports for the Charlotte Observer. After a Duke spill last year dumped 82,000 tons of coal ash in the Dan River, a state law was passed requiring "testing of all drinking wells within 1,000 feet of Duke's coal ash dumps," The Associated Press reported in May. "A separate state law passed in the wake of the Dan River spill requires the company to move or cap all of its dumps by 2029." 

Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center said "the dozen ponds in Eastern North Carolina that Duke identified Tuesday are 'heavy polluters and they’re in extremely dangerous locations,'” Henderson writes. But the 12 remaining ponds not yet charted for cleanup "hold more than 70 percent of the 108 million tons of ash held in North Carolina ponds."

"Duke wants much of that ash to stay near the power plants that produced it. Ash would be stored in lined landfills or kept in place in drained ponds with caps to keep out rain," Henderson writes.

Kaiser conference call at 2 p.m. to discuss ruling in King v. Burwell and its effect on Obamacare

The Kaiser Family Foundation will hold a special media-only conference call at 2 p.m. (EST) today to explain today's Supreme Court decision in the King v. Burwell case and to answer questions about its implications. The Supreme Court ruled by a 6 to 3 vote "that millions of Americans are entitled to keep the tax subsidies that help them afford insurance" under federal health reform, Kimberly Leonard reports for U.S. News and World Report.

"The ruling, the second case in which the justices have decided in favor of the Affordable Care Act, preserves benefits for an estimated 6.4 million Americans and deals a crippling blow to the law's Republican opponents, who have attempted to undermine it since its passage in 2010," Leonard writes. "King v. Burwell centered on whether plaintiffs' arguments that middle- and low-income adults who purchased health insurance through the federally run marketplace were entitled to subsidies based on the language of the law that says tax credits are only to be distributed for marketplaces 'established by the state.'"

The link to register for the conference call is unavailable using some forms of browsers and is best attained using Chrome. For more information or questions, contact Tiffany Ford Fields at or (202) 347-5270.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rural counties continue to see population losses

Most rural counties suffered population loss when comparing data from 2003-2007 to 2010-14, says a report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farming-dependent and manufacturing-dependent rural counties that saw population growth from 2003-2007 declined in population from 2010-14. The recession, changes in technology and aging rural populations are the main reasons for the decreases in populations. The Daily Yonder notes that non-metro counties have lost population for the fourth straight year. (USDA graphic)
Counties that rely on tourism and retirees are still growing but at a lesser rate, dropping from a growth rate of 5.1 percent from 2003-2007 to 1.4 percent from 2010-14, the report says. The oil and gas boom has spurred rural population growth in North Dakota, Texas, Montana and Pennsylvania.

But most rural counties lost population, with population growth in the Mountain West slowing for the first time in decades, the report says. For the first time, non-metro counties next to metro areas decreased in population, from gaining 900,000 people from 2003-2007, to losing 23,000 people from 2010-14.

Some of the biggest rural population declines occurred in the East, the report says. "For example, most metro counties in South Carolina maintained above average population growth through the housing crisis and recession, but non-metro areas switched from 2.1 percent growth during 2003-07 to -0.36 percent decline since 2010. Extensive areas of population decline also emerged along the North Carolina-Virginia border, in southern Ohio, and throughout New England." (USDA map)

Rural voters key for Democrats to win back control of Senate; Clinton nomination could hurt party

If Democrats want to win back the Senate next year they will have to do it by winning over rural voters in states that have swung in Republicans' favor, Matt Barron reports for The Hill. In six of the nation's most rural states—Arkansas, South Dakota, Kentucky, North Dakota, New Hampshire and North Carolina—both Senate seats are held by Republicans.

Even states that have long been considered Democrat-friendly are struggling to keep the party in control, Barron writes. "As recently as 2000, Democrats held a registration advantage in 11 of Arizona's 13 rural counties, but Republicans now hold the edge in seven of the 13."

Missouri, Nevada and Ohio face similar challenges, especially in Nevada, "where the Democrats must hold on to retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's seat," Barron writes. Rural voters will be key in Nevada, where former Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley lost the 2012 election in rural areas by 40,000 votes.

Those Republican-controlled states could face an uphill climb if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic presidential nomination, Barron writes. "Her thread-the-needle base mobilization campaign will take a huge detour away from most of rural America, and the consequences could be devastating to other Democrats sharing the ballot with her." (Read more)

Small-town police departments are understaffed, lack training and standards, says federal agency

Small-town police departments are facing a crisis, Kevin Johnson reports for USA Today. "Half of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have fewer than 10 officers, according to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly three-quarters of agencies have fewer than 25 officers patrolling counties and towns where standards are uneven or non-existent."

University of Maryland criminologist Lawrence Sherman told the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing earlier this year, "So many problems of organizational quality control are made worse by the tiny size of most local police agencies."

The task force "was established in the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, Mo., where the operations of the town's modest 53-officer department were excoriated in a March review by the Justice Department. Unmet public safety needs threaten small-town policing operations in communities across the country," Johnson writes.

"That review, which concluded that the local department engaged in a broad pattern of racially biased enforcement, also raised broader questions about the capacity of small communities to carry out crucial public safety responsibilities," Johnson writes. "Smaller agencies, the White House panel concluded, 'often lack the resources for training and equipment accessible to larger departments.'"

Similar problems can be felt across the nation. Damascus, Va., a small town of about 500 residents in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has had four police chiefs since 2007, Johnson writes. One was busted for dealing meth, two others came under fire for alleged proprieties and the fourth and most recent one said he resigned "after being told to 'quit working criminal cases' in the busy meth distribution corridor and pay more attention to the needs of tourists who also flock to the region, a gateway to the iconic Appalachian Trail." (Johnson photo: Damascus Police Department)

Mike Lambert, mayor of Sorrento, La., a town of 1,500, was told in a 2013 meeting with the town's new chief executive that the six-officer police force had "no credibility in the courts," Johnson writes. "Corruption was rampant; residents were being harassed. The capper came last year when the chief, Earl Theriot, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI when he engaged in sexual activity at his office with an unconscious woman who had been the subject of a 911 call."  Lambert's only solution was to strike a deal "with the larger, better-trained and equipped Ascension Parish Sheriff's Department."

A review by the think tank Police Executive Research Forum said one of the problems in the St. Louis area, which inlcudes Ferguson, is that "St. Louis County contains a patchwork of police departments, many of which have jurisdiction over very small areas. This has led to confusion and distrust among residents, who often feel targeted and harassed by police officers and the municipal court system.'' The group recommended "'strategic consolidations of police agencies,''' advocating for the merger of about 20 small agencies into three so-called policing 'clusters.''' (Read more)

Alabama governor orders Confederate flag to be removed from Capitol grounds

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley this morning ordered the Confederate flag at the Capitol to be taken down, Charles Dean reports for The Huntsville Times. "Asked his reasons for taking it down and if it included what happened in Charleston last week, the governor said, 'Yes, partially this is about that. This is the right thing to do. We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise; we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down.'" (Dean photo: The Confederate flag being removed this morning)

Also removed were three Civil War flags: "the First National Confederate Flag, commonly referred to as the 'Stars and Bars'; the second flag is the Second National Confederate Flag, more commonly known as the 'Stainless Banner;' and the last flag standing is the Third National Confederate Flag," Dean writes.

Oklahoma Geological Survey reversed earthquake position after failing to get donation from oilman

While coming to the conclusion last year that no link existed between oil and drilling and a rise in the state's seismic activity, University of Oklahoma officials sought a $25 million donation from billionaire oilman Harold Hamm—the top donor to the university—to build "The Continental Resources Center for Energy Research and Technology," Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire. OU never got the money, and the university's Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) has since reversed its stance, saying "that most of the quakes are 'very likely' triggered by oil and gas activities."

An email released earlier this year revealed that OGS officials have suspected since 2010 a link between oil and earthquakes. Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher in 2014, more than the state had in the previous 35 years combined. (U.S. Geological Survey graphic: Oklahoma earthquakes since 1978)

OGS "veered toward linking the seismic swarms to oil and gas drilling in the fall of 2013 when it joined in a U.S. Geological Survey statement about the rising earthquake hazard in the state," Soraghan writes. "But after that, state seismologist Austin Holland was summoned to 'coffee' with Hamm in the office of university President David Boren. Hamm has said that he was actually concerned about Holland's research linking quakes to hydraulic fracturing and was not trying to bully him."

"After the coffee meeting, Hamm continued to press Boren on man-made earthquakes, according to emails obtained by EnergyWire," Soraghan writes. "Hamm urged Boren to prohibit Holland from talking to reporters about quakes and instead have the university's spokeswoman handle such questions. When The New York Times wrote about Oklahoma earthquakes in December 2013, he forwarded the story to Boren with a note: 'This situation could spiral out of control easily.'"

Hamm also told OU officials he wanted people fired over the incident, Soraghan writes. Larry Grillot, retired dean of the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy at the University of Oklahoma, wrote in an email to university colleagues, "Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select OGS staff dismissed."

Hamm also offered to be on the search committee to replace the OGS director, who was retiring, Soraghan wites. Hamm, who wasn't put on the search committee, indicated to Grillot that he would be "visiting with Governor [Mary] Fallin on the topic of moving the OGS out of the University of Oklahoma." (Read more)

Farm app makes it easier for farmers to collect and retrieve data

Farmers are turning to technology to make their jobs easier, using the app FarmLogs "to record planting dates, watering schedules and crop yield," Steve Friess reports for The New York Times. "In addition, subscribers can receive data from FarmLogs about rainfall and soil health that is tailored to their fields." (Modern Farmer graphic: FarmLogs software maps a field in finances)

"It is a striking departure from just a few years ago, when farmers had to travel to their far-flung fields, scribble such data in notebooks and input it into hard-to-use software that resided on a specific desktop computer," Friess writes. "The FarmLogs app allows them to enter the information on mobile devices and to share it easily via the web. Certain bits of information, like the times and amounts of watering, may be transmitted to the app wirelessly through sensors in the field, saving farmers time and miles."

Jesse Vollmer, who co-created the app after hearing about his uncle's struggles with the family farm’s new data management software, told Friess, "In 2011, the Internet had changed the world but hadn’t yet changed farming.” Vollmer said about "70,000 row-crop farms of 100 acres or more in the U.S. are using some elements of the FarmLogs software to keep tabs on vital information of the growing season."

The app, which offers most of its functions for free, "compares real-time satellite images of every five square meters of field with the last five years of satellite imagery to detect whether a particular area is distressed," Friess writes. "If so, farmers receive push notifications urging them to go to that spot and see for themselves why the plants are struggling compared with previous years."

Missouri corn and soy farmer Michael Morris said that last year he tried several apps "but only FarmLogs could handle his volume of data," Friess writes. He told Friees, “We can do better nutrient placement decisions throughout the year with this technology. No other program really offers that.” (Read more)

House passes bill to overhaul toxic chemical safety laws; 1976 bill has never been reformed

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the House passed legislation to overhaul toxic chemical safety laws, Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill. Legislation, which passed Tuesday by a 398-1 vote, "would require the Environmental Protection Agency to review chemicals in products and issue risk management regulations in an expedited manner." A January 2014 chemical spill contaminated drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of people in Charleston, W.Va., and surrounding communities. 

The Toxic Substances Control Act law was originally enacted in 1976, Marcos writes. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the bill’s author, said, “The time is now to update this outdated law." Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) "warned that toxic chemicals needed to be reined in to protect public health," Marcos writes. Pallone said, “Toxic chemicals can be found in the products we use every day and are steadily building up in our bodies and the environment. Consumers are worried about chemicals like BPA and triclosan, but they don’t know how to avoid them. Something needs to change." (Read more)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer meals program struggles to reach impoverished children in rural and remote areas

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program serves 21 million children free or reduced-price meals during the school year, the challenge is getting impoverished children fed during the summer, especially those who live in rural or remote areas. The Summer Food Service Program hopes to address that need, with more than 45,000 meal sites available last summer—a 29 percent increase over 2009—serving 23 million more meals than in the summer of 2009. (Read more)

One of the greatest hurdles is serving Native American communities, where 15 percent of households are food insecure, said a statement from USDA. In La Plata County, Colorado, the Boys & Girls Club of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe is filling a need by providing free breakfast and lunch to children 18 and younger, reports Shane Benjamin for The Durango Herald. It's the only summer meal program location in the county of 53,000—6.6 percent of which are Native Americans.

Accessing every child in need is one of the main problems, reports CNN. Fewer than four million children—less than 18 percent of kids in the school lunch program—are fed through the summer program. One problem is "the federal requirement that the kids receive the food at an approved location and eat it on-site. The rationale is to ensure that the children are the ones actually consuming the meals." But that's not easy for people living in rural and remote areas with limited transportation.

One way to help combat that problem is through technology. No Kid Hungry has created a Text for Summer Sites program that allows anyone to text "food" to 877-877 to find the location of free summer meals sites, reports the Fon du Lac Reporter. The site, which received 46,000 texts from all 50 states last year, is also available in Spanish by texting "comida."

"The way this database works is when people text their zip code and a keyword to a designated number, the nearest summer meals site address will be texted back to them," reports the Reporter. "They can also call the National Hunger Hotline or visit the website to find a site near them." (Read more)

Number of veterans waiting one month for an appointment has increased 50% in past year

One year after an audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 120,000 veterans were told they had to wait 90 days for medical care, "the number of veterans on waiting lists of one month or more is now 50 percent higher than it was during the height of last year’s problems, department officials say," Richard Oppel reports for The New York Times. Rural areas are home to 5.6 million veterans

"The department is also facing a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall, which could affect care for many veterans," and "is considering furloughs, hiring freezes and other significant moves to reduce the gap," Oppel writes.

VA clinics have made moves to see more patients, seeing 2.7 million more patients in the past year than the year before, while also referring 900,000 patient to outside physicians, Oppel writes. "But what was not foreseen, department leaders say, was just how much physician workloads and demand from veterans would continue to soar—by one-fifth, in fact, at some major veterans hospitals over just the past year."

"Physician workloads—as measured by an internal metric known as 'relative value units'—grew by 21 percent at hospitals and clinics in the region that includes Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina; by 20 percent in the Southern California and southern Nevada regions; and by 18 percent in North Carolina and Virginia," Oppel writes. "And by the same measure, physician care purchased for patients treated outside the department grew by 50 percent in the region encompassing Pennsylvania and by 36 percent in the region that includes Michigan and Indiana."

"Those data include multiple appointments by individual patients and reflect the fact that patients typically now schedule more appointments than they did in the past."Oppel writes. "But even measured by the number of individuals being treated, the figures are soaring in many places: From 2012 to 2014, for example, the number of patients receiving treatment grew by 18 percent at the Las Vegas medical center; by 16 percent in Hampton, Va.; and by 13 percent in Fayetteville, N.C., and Portland, Ore." (Read more)

Meth use on the rise in some states; task force tackling drugs on Indian reservations

Meth continues to be the drug of choice, especially in rural areas. More than 1.6 million Americans were arrested in 2010 on drug charges,  and 4.5 million people were classified as abusing or being dependent on illicit drugs in 2012, Jessica Ware reports for The Independent. (Rehabs photo: The change in appearance of a drug user in just one year)

In Minnesota, the amount of meth seized in 2014 was 226 pounds, a nearly 40 percent increase over 2013, and the highest total seized in 10 years, Shannon Prather reports for the Star Tribune. Officials say the main reason for the increase in seizures is that meth is cheap and easy to find.

Meth use and trafficking is up in Oregon, with a report by the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program finding that 61 percent of law enforcement agencies cited meth as their No. 1 problem, Rick Bella reports for The Oregonian. The report says legalization of marijuana is leading to an increase in meth. Oregon will legalize recreational marijuana on July 1.

Meth is surging in Northeast Wisconsin, where the Brown County Task Force seized 727 grams of meth through April, more than three times the 237 grams seized in all of 2014, Sarah Thomsen reports for WBAY in Green Bay. Meth arrests are also up in South Dakota, with 1,517 arrests in 2014, compared to 402 in 2011, reports The Associated Press. The rise in arrests is partially blamed on cuts to anti-drug programs.

One solution has been the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDT) program, which was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and is recognized in 28 areas. The newly formed Indian Country Drug Task Force in New Mexico is the only one to focus exclusively on Native American reservations, Anne Minard reports for Indian Country.

"In many ways, Indian country is a magnet for drugs. Part of that has to do with the remoteness of reservations and the slimmer chance, in theory, of getting caught," Minard writes. "Limited economic opportunities can also make the drug trade attractive on a local level. And Mexican cartels consider reservations to be prime real estate. They bring in their purest meth, for example, if they think it’s going to a reservation."

William McClure, Salish Flathead, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Indian Affair's Office of Justice Services in Albuquerque, told Minard, “The idea is to get the tribal officers oriented into working with the drug task force, which is not only enforcement and investigations but also prevention. The goal is to empower the community and the tribes to be more independent and to eventually work the drug cases without relying on the federal agencies.”

When that doesn't work, officials can always turn to the website Rehabs, which showcases a visual array of the dangers of drug use, showing the horrible effects it has on people physically.

Failing to curb climate change could cost U.S. $180 billion in economic losses by 2100

If the world fails to take measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, it could cost the U.S. $180 billion in economic losses by the end of the century because of drought and water shortages, says a report released Monday by the White House and Environmental Protection Agency. "White House officials said the report, which analyzes the economic costs of a changing climate across 20 sectors of the American economy, is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify the impacts of global warming," Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times.

The report, which comes at a time when the Obama administration is pushing proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030, "found that global policy to curb climate change could prevent 12,000 deaths from extreme heat and cold, or what it estimated as $200 billion in savings to the American economy by 2100," Davenport writes. Regulations are expected to be released in August.

The report also found that "climate policy could prevent 720 to 2,200 bridges from becoming structurally vulnerable for an estimated savings by the end of the century of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion," Davenport writes. It could also "prevent $50 million to $6.4 billion in adaptation costs to urban drainage systems, which could be flooded by extreme storms."

"The report found a 40 percent to 59 percent reduction in probability of extreme drought, which would otherwise cost American farmers $2.6 billion to $3.1 billion," Davenport writes. "Unchecked climate change could lead to the destruction by wildfire of six million to 7.9 million acres of forest, the report found, at a cost of $940 million to $1.4 billion. And it could lead to the destruction of ecosystems such as coral reefs that support economic activity, including 35 percent of the coral reefs in Hawaii, at a loss of $1.2 billion." (Read more)

Self-driving tractors saving money and time on America's farms

While Google is getting plenty of press for its self-driving car prototype that is still years away from going on the market, farmers are already taking advantage of tractors that offer the same technology but without the hassle of federal regulations, Andrea Peterson reports for The Washington Post. Federal regulations don't specifically address tractors, mostly because they are largely used in fields, not on roads.

That means farmers like Jason Poole, a crop consultant from Kansas, can save time and money by using self-driving tractors, Peterson writes. Poole "drives the first curved row manually to teach the layout to his tractor's guidance system and handles the turns himself," Peterson writes. "But after that, he takes his hands off the steering wheel and allows the tractor to finish." He told Peterson, "We kind of laugh when we see news stories about self-driving cars because we've had that for years."

"The self-driving technology being sold by John Deere and some of its competitors [is] less technically complex than the fully driverless cars that big tech companies and car manufacturers are working on," Peterson writes. "And for now, the tractors are still supposed to have a driver behind the wheel—even if they never touch it. But they've already started to transform farming in America and abroad: John Deere is selling auto-steering and other self-guidance tech in more than 100 countries, said Cory Reed, vice president of the company's Intelligent Solutions Group."

"The systems come with their own risks, including concerns that they could be hacked," Peterson writes. "But because farm-equipment makers operate almost exclusively on private land, they've been able to bring products to market much quicker than consumer automakers—and without the same level of regulatory scrutiny." (Read more (YouTube video)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Carroll was 'generation's best, most respected, most beloved editor,' change agent and role model

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Giants of journalism gathered and spoke in Lexington, Ky., today at the memorial service for John S. Carroll, who as editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, The Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times made each paper greater and a winner of Pulitzer Prizes. But the most telling line at the historic First Presbyterian Church may have come from the pastor, the Rev. Mark Davis, who told the overflow crowd, "Journalism matters."

Carroll's career proved that, as witnessed by Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer of Time Inc. and his classmate at Haverford College in Philadelphia; Bill Marimow, former editor of the Sun and The Philadephia Inquirer and news vice president for National Public Radio; and New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, who was managing editor under Carroll in Los Angeles.

John Sawyer Carroll
"John was our generation's best, most respected, most beloved editor," said Pearlstine, who said there was a consistent theme of the tributes to Carroll on Caring Bridge: "You changed my life."

Marimow said he and Carroll talked every day from January 1973, when he went to work as an Inquirer reporter under Carroll in his first editing job, until Carroll left Baltimore for Los Angeles in 2000. "He was a superb and sensitive listener," Marimow said. "He saw the forest, clearly, when most of us were lost in the trees."

Baquet recalled how the L.A. Times newsroom, when Carroll arrived, was hurt and angry after being disrespected by its owners. "What followed over the next several years should stand as one of the finest acts of leadership in a newsroom or anywhere else in modern times," he said, adding later: "We came to believe we were the best newspaper in the world, and we had the prizes to prove it." Under Carroll, the paper won 13 Pulitzers.

"People who went to work for him came out different, with bigger, larger ideas and fewer limits, and with a belief in the power and honor of journalism that we were a part of something much larger," Baquet said. When he took over the New York Times newsroom, he told the staff that it could be run with humanity and respect, and "John was deep in my head and in my heart when I said that."

Davis's homily was based on the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-15. "John Carroll sowed seeds, in communities across this country, and in the hearts and souls and lives of his family, his friends, his colleagues. So now the crop that John had planted, decade after decade after decade, is harvested . . . literally across the world."

Carroll died June 14 at the age of 73. His family has asked that memorial gifts be made to the News Literacy Project, which helps educators teach students how to separate fact from fiction, and which he once chaired; or to the scholarship named for him at Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky. The scholarship was created from prize money won by the "Cheating Our Children" series in the Herald-Leader that helped lead to landmark educational reforms in Kentucky.

What do people in your county think about global warming? Polls and modeling give us some idea

Pope Francis had his say on climate change and global warming this week, putting the issue before the public in a new way. Polls show that Catholic Republicans in the U.S. are already more likely to believe that humans are causing global warming, but what about public opinion your locality? What do your neighbors think?

The Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication has assembled a vast raft of data compiled over 13 years, and enhanced it with some statistical modeling, to produce at least a rough estimate for each county and slightly better estimates for states and congressional districts. Here's a screen grab of the interactive county map that gives the percentages of people who said they believe global warming is caused mainly by humans:
For the interactive map with county-by-county figures, click here. The error margin at the county level is plus or minus 8 percentage points; at the district level, 7 points; and at the state level, 5 points.

The interactive maps also have county-by-county percentages for belief in global warming; knowledge that most scientists think the world is warming (most people are ignorant of that); level of worry about global warming; whether it is hurting or will hurt Americans; whether it is hurting those who responded to the polls; whether it will hurt future generations or people in developing countries; and support for policy options: renewable-energy research, requiring utilities to produce 20 percent of their power from renewable sources; regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant; setting strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants, as the Obama administration is trying to do; or a carbon tax, "if refunded to every American household."

The Yale project is conducted in cooperation with the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. It is funded by the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Energy Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, and the V.K. Rasmussen Foundation.

Confederate flag remnants still part of 7 state flags; S.C. editor calls for removal from Capitol grounds

UPDATE: In front of a bipartisan, biracial group of local and state officials, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called today for removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.

The state flag of Mississippi is the only one
with the saltire of the Confederate battle flag
Last week's murders of nine African Americans at a historic church in Charleston, S.C., and the arrest of a white suspect who had ties to hate groups and who proudly displayed the Confederate battle flag, has re-ignited the argument about the flag and its place in society and government, especially in the South, where remnants of various rebel or Confederate state flags can be seen in seven current state flags — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. (The case for Tennessee is pretty weak, in our view.)

Those seven states consist of about 60 million Americans, 12 million of them African American, "meaning roughly one third of the nation's black population lives under a state flag that evokes, at least in the eyes of many, the Confederacy," Ingraham writes. "Defenders of the flag say it's a symbol of Southern heritage. Detractors maintain that hatred and racism are an inextricable part of that heritage."

In the wake of the shootings, Graham Osteen, editor of The Sumter Item in Sumter, S.C., an hour east of the state capital of Columbia, wrote an editorial on Sunday calling for lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds, where it has flown over a Confederate memorial since 2000, when it was removed from the Capitol building in a compromise. Osteen wrote:
If the South Carolina General Assembly doesn't get the Confederate battle flag off the Statehouse grounds after what happened in Charleston this week, then we may as well replace the Palmetto Tree on the proper state flag—the beautiful blue one—with a swastika.
I'm sick of the cockeyed excuses from state politicians about why the Confederate flag issue is so complicated. Nine innocent black people are murdered by a 21-year-old white man consumed with racist hatred. He embraces the symbols that divide people, including the Confederate flag, and declares his murderous intentions in racist manifestos and photos posted online. Could it be any clearer what that flag now represents to most people? How complicated is that?
My family has been here in the American South since the 1700s, and my great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. He was a printer. He printed currency. After the South lost the war and the United States emerged intact—thank God—he became a newspaperman.
The family business he started continues today, and now six generations of my American family have been dedicated to supporting the communities we serve and protecting the First Amendment of the United States of America through publishing and communication. We have a track record, so here's some free speech for those who want to keep the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds as some twisted symbol of Southern heritage: You're misguided and morally blind. Snap out of it.
The Southern pride, heritage and bravery I want to be associated with is that of the families of the victims who on Friday forgave the monster who murdered their loved ones in cold blood. The only grace and love that could have enabled such an action comes from a faith in God and humanity so deep that we should all pray for some small part of it in our own spirit. I'm praying for just a piece of that amazing grace for all South Carolinians this week as the victims are buried. This is South Carolina's time to show the world our true, united colors as a people. Start with the flag. Do the right thing." (Read more)

Rural areas ill-prepared to fight rising hepatitis C cases from increased use of intravenous drugs

Increased use of heroin and opioid painkillers in rural America is creating a hepatitis C epidemic that small towns—especially in Appalachia and the Midwest—are ill equipped to fight, Jeanne Whalen and Arian Campo-Flores report for The Wall Street Journal. Nationally, new hepatitis C cases rose 150 percent from 2010-13, and the largest increases were in rural areas, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Central Appalachia, hepatitis C cases among young people rose 364 percent from 2006 and 2012, and two rural areas in Indiana—Austin and Fayette County—are facing a crisis brought on by shared needles.

While many areas have started a needle-exchange program to cut down on the number of shared needles, the costs of treating patients who have already contracted hepatitis C could be astronomical, Whalen and Campo-Flores write. "Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver and ultimately to the need for a liver transplant. New drugs have high cure rates but can cost more than $80,000 per patient. Lifetime treatment of HIV can run as much as $400,000." (WSJ map)
"The injection of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Opana climbed more rapidly in rural areas than in urban ones between 2008 and 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration," Whalen and Campo-Flores write. "Addicts liquefy and inject the pills for a stronger high."

The pharmaceutical industry tried to make it harder to inject drugs, but addicts found a way around those measures by cooking "tamper-resistant Opana into a viscous solution, which requires larger-gauge needles to inject," Whalen and Campo-Flores write. "Public-health officials say that spreads even more blood—and disease."

One of the main problems in rural areas is that a "spread out population makes it harder for public-health officials to track and contain outbreaks and for those in need to reach health services," Whalen and Campo-Flores write.

Social media page helping homeless people in Anchorage get reconnected with rural families

A social media campaign in Alaska is helping homeless people in Anchorage reconnect with their rural families, Michelle Theriault Boots reports for Alaska Dispatch News. The Facebook page, "Forget Me Not," was established by motivational speaker Samuel Johns as a way to give the homeless a platform to be seen and heard by family members, while allowing families to try to track down homeless relatives. A recent survey found that 51 percent of homeless people in Anchorage—many of them native Alaskans—are from rural areas.

Johns said "the group would be a virtual bulletin board for information about people living on the streets of Alaska’s largest city who had slipped out of contact with loved ones," Boots writes. "He approaches people with simple questions: Where are you from? And do you want to send a message to anyone back home?" Johns told Boots, “There’s a lot of people in rural areas who have a loved one they wonder about. This gives them a platform to see them again.”

With Johns and volunteers scouring the streets for homeless, the page has already become a success, attracting more than 4,500 followers in the first week, Boots writes. "When the group exploded with followers, Johns realized he had tapped into a previously unaddressed need. People disappear into the world of Anchorage street living, sometimes with no phone, no address and no reliable way to contact them. Their families are left to wonder." (Read more)

Popular biking event through rural Oregon shut down after riders litter trail with trash, feces

A popular 364-mile bike ride/backpacking trip through rural and remote areas of Oregon has been scrapped after tourists left large amounts of trash and feces along the route, Beau Estes reports for The Bulletin in Bend, Ore. The Oregon Outback, a bikepacking trip offered by, takes about 5-7 days to travel from Klamath Falls, the southern-most full-service stop in Oregon on Amtrak to where the Deschutes and Columbia rivers meet in the northern part of the state.

Last month about 300 riders attempted to complete the trek over Memorial Day weekend, Estes writes. Organizers said "riders this year were less than gracious guests, leaving garbage throughout the route. Some of the most outrageous offenses were reports of riders not properly disposing of human waste, leaving toilet paper and feces in impromptu campsites." Cyclists also reportedly left trash in a barn that a Silver Lake resident opened up for riders the first night of the event, and "someone pooped in the yard of the Silver Lake family that had graciously given them shelter the night before." There was also enough trash in Silver Lake’s community park to fill up an entire bin.

Ride organizer Donny Kolb wrote on the group's website: "If you can’t follow Leave No Trace ethics, if you can’t literally take care of your own s--- properly, if you can’t show respect to the folks who live on this route, and you can’t respect the wild nature you ride through, then stay home. Oregon is closed. We don’t need you, and we most definitely don’t want you. You ruined something super awesome, something I was immensely proud of.” (Read more) (Oregon Outback trail)

Rural Va. women's college to remain open at least a year; students, faculty debate returning

A 114-year-old rural women's college in Virginia has a reprieve. State Attorney General Mark Herring announced Saturday a proposal that will keep Sweet Briar College—which was scheduled to close in August—open for the 2015-16 school year, largely in part to $12 million from alumni, reports The Associated Press. (Roanoke Times photo by Heather Rousseau: Sweet Briar College students participate in an open house created specifically for them at Hollins University)

The proposal was presented today before a judge, who approved the deal, Karen Kapsidaelis reports for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Bedford Circuit Court James Updike this morning approved a mediated settlement allowing Sweet Briar College to stay open for the next academic year, telling his crowded courtroom he is confident the college will 'not merely endure' but will prevail."

School officials cited financial reasons for closing the school, a claim students, faculty and alumni disputed, saying the school exaggerated its financial woes, reports AP. "Other key elements of the agreement include the easing of restrictions on $16 million from the college’s endowment and the appointment of a new president once the governing board is reformed."

While it might be good news that the college will remain open, students who made plans to transfer and faculty who accepted positions at other schools are now faced with a dilemma of whether or not to return to Sweet Briar, mostly because it is unclear whether the school will be open beyond the 2015-16 school year, Emma Schkloven reports for The News & Advance in Lynchburg. The school has about 530 students and 110 faculty.

Rising senior Molly Van Buren, who planned to transfer to Randolph College in the fall, told Schkloven, “I’m not entirely sure how I feel. I would love to stay, but at the same time I don’t know what’s going to happen with money, the classes I’ll need [or] the professors—if they’re coming back or not. It’s just a lot of different factors that are unknown.”

Some have already made the decision not to come back, Schkloven writes. Camillia Smith Barnes, a graduate of Sweet Briar, who has been a professor at the school since 2009, has been working since June 1 at the University of Sciences and Arts of Oklahoma. She told Schkloven, "The faculty hiring cycle normally starts in the fall of the prior year. Most of us were looking for whatever we could find at the last minute there. I was fortunate enough to find a very promising job.”