Friday, August 26, 2016

Rash of drug overdoses reported in Ind., Ky., Ohio and W.Va.; man arrested with 5 lbs. of fentanyl

A rash of heroin overdoses reported this week or last week in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, has officials concerned the drugs came from the same batch, "likely mixed with either fentanyl or carfentanil," Harrison Jacobs reports for Business Insider. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, "is 80 to 100 times as powerful as morphine and about 40 to 50 times as potent as pure heroin." Carfentanil, frequently used as an elephant tranquilizer, "is 100 times as potent as fentanyl, which makes it roughly 10,000 times as strong as morphine."

Twelve heroin overdoses were reported in rural Mount Sterling, Ky.; five in rural Winchester, Ky., and 10 in rural Southern Indiana. Huntington, W.Va., next to Kentucky and Ohio, had 27 overdoses. Cincinnati had 36 on Wednesday and 90 last weekend. Also, a man was arrested this week on Interstate 70 in Henry County, Indiana, with 5 pounds of fentanyl. (Map shows driving distances to overdose locations)
Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, "said it’s too early to say whether the more potent heroin reported in neighboring areas of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia are from the same source," Greg Kocher reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He told Kocher, “When something like this is happening within the same time frame, happening in Cincinnati as it is happening in Mount Sterling, it begs the question about supply routes. Is that where Mount Sterling’s heroin is coming from? It certainly would give some indication of that, but without extensive lab testing there is no way to know."

"It’s a very scary thing," Ingram said. "What we see across the country is the drug cartels moving away from heroin and moving toward these opioids they’re going to produce themselves. People think they’re buying one thing and they’re actually buying another. The stuff they’re selling is so powerful. Some of the stuff we’re seeing produced is 50 times more potent than heroin, as if heroin wasn’t bad enough.”

Rural physicians say changes to Medicare payment system could destroy small, independent practices

Changes in the way Medicare pays doctors are forcing many small, independent, family-practice physicians to relocate, join larger groups, or become salaried employees of hospitals or health companies, Steven Findley reports for Kaiser Health News. The Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act, which has bipartisan support and lacks the political tension of federal health reform, "replaces a reimbursement system that was widely criticized by doctors and regularly ran into budget problems on Capitol Hill," Fondley writes.

"The law sets up two payment tracks," he reports. "All doctors must choose one, except for those who see too few Medicare patients or whose income from Medicare is too low." As part of one track, "Doctors choose to join larger practices or organizations called 'alternative payment models' that would be held accountable for the quality of care delivered by all the doctors in the organization."

On the other track, "Doctors whose performance and quality of care exceeds benchmarks get bonuses up to 4 percent of their total Medicare reimbursements," Findley writes. "Those will start in 2019, based on evaluations of care delivered in 2017, and will rise a maximum of 9 percent by 2022. By the same token, physicians who score poorly on quality benchmarks—which include requirements for the use of electronic health records—face penalties at the same levels. The amount the government spends on the bonuses—estimated at $833 million for 2019—must be balanced by the penalties, keeping the program 'budget neutral.' However, Congress also authorized an extra $500 million a year bonus pool through 2024 for doctors judged 'exceptional'.”

"Physicians’ concern is that the new payment system will put doctors in solo or small practices at high risk of incurring payment penalties and will push thousands into larger practices and alternative payment organizations," Findley writes. The American Medical Association and dozens of other physician trade organizations and every state medical association "said the system needs to be simplified and must 'accommodate the needs of physicians in rural, solo, or small practices in order to enhance their opportunities for success and avoid unintended consequences.' One of those unintended consequences, the AMA says, is that penalized doctors would limit the number of Medicare patients they see, or drop Medicare." (Read more)

Rural Hoosiers tell KKK members, 'Leave our town'

When three Ku Klux Klan recruiters tried to promote their cause recently in rural Winchester, Ind. (Best Places map) local residents made it clear the organization was not welcome, Keith Roysdon reports for The Star Press in nearby Muncie. "Officials let the Klan members have their say. And then townspeople told them in no uncertain terms: We don't want you here." with residents chanting "Leave our town! Leave our town! Leave our town!"

"Mayor Shon Byrum said he felt it was important that the demonstrators' First Amendment right to free speech not be denied," Roysdon writes. "But he said he was proud that residents of the Randolph County city of about 4,700 people let Klan members know they wouldn't tolerate their message." Byrum told Roysdon, "They did end up leaving after the community came out against hate."'

The KKK, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, in recent years has re-focused its agenda on immigration and border security, which also are two of the main issues in the 2016 presidential election. Indiana has 11 electoral votes and is the home of Republican Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP vice-presidential choice of Donald Trump, who has expressed strong opinions about immigration and border security. He lads Democrat Hillary Clinton in Indiana by 7 to 11 percentage points, according to RealClear Politics.

Rural Ga. residents protest planned mosque, call Muslims terrorists, rapists; say Islam not a religion

Best Places map
About 600 residents in rural Covington, Ga., flocked to a pair of town-hall meetings this week to argue mostly against plans for a mosque in the town of 13,452. While some expressed concern about increased traffic and noise, most complaints had to do with perceptions of Muslim treatment of women and the notion that the religion preaches hate and violence.

"Many of the speakers straightforwardly denounced Islam for its supposed violence and extremism," reports The Economist. "They predicted that Covington was set to become a hell of violence and jihad, in which their families would no longer be safe." One speaker said, “They’ll kill Jews, Christians, anyone that don’t believe in Allah” and suggested people rip out errant pages in the Koran to prove their good intentions. Other statements included, “If you don’t believe like they do you get your head cut off,” Islam is “a death cult" and from the mouth of a female church minister, “This is not a religion."

Bryan Fazio of The Covington News reports that one speaker said, “I don’t want these people and these teachings in our community. Were you not watching your television on 9/11/ 01? Have we lost our minds? Have we lost our common sense here? I pray that almighty God fills your heart with common sense to make the right decision. Y’all represent us. Listen to us. We don’t want this here. We don’t want this here.”

Zach Ames of Covington was in the minority.
(Newton Citizen photo by Wade Marbaugh) 
Local resident Kenneth Morrell blamed plans for the mosque on destroying a pending deal he had to sell his house, Fazio writes. Morrell told him, “I would appreciate it if the media did not demonize this community because of their concern. There are a few questions I have that I would like to ask: is this mosque actually going to be opened up to the community to attend? Do they allow testimonies in their mosque? Would they be upset if I testify to the goodness of God and the grace of God? That’s church to us. Do they consider us to be old country and dumb folks without eyes and ears and brains?”

Alice Queen of the Newton Citizen reports that one speaker said, "All I know about Muslims is what the news reports stream out to us every day. They talk about ISIS and ISIS operatives, radical Islam, Islamic sleeper cells that are trying to get into our country … that’s all that we hear about Muslims, so it’s hard for folks like me, and probably most of you tonight, to draw the line between innocent Muslims and radical Muslims."

Another speaker said, “It’s not about worship. It is about a big development in our countryside that nobody knew about … If that would have happened with any other thing besides a religious organization, everybody would have known, we’ve have had a town meeting … what bothers me is I’m labeled a bigot just because I question it. That shouldn’t be.”

The Economist reports, "The basic permission for the mosque has already been granted. The commissioners have now imposed a moratorium on the construction of new places of worship, and progress could be delayed or derailed by withholding technical permits; but those sorts of ruses would likely fall foul of the courts."

Free conference Sept. 16 in Eastern Kentucky to focus on revitalizing Appalachian economy

Jay Williams
A free conference in Eastern Kentucky will focus on ways to grow the Appalachian economy through innovation, entrepreneurism and collaboration. "Big Ideas Fest for Appalachia: Visionary Thinking and Doing" will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 at Hazard Community and Technical College. Lunch will be provided.

Hosted by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative and the Appalachian Innovations Collaborative, the event's keynote speaker will be Jay Williams, assistant secretary of commerce and director of the Economic Development Administration.

The tentative schedule of panels includes: Using Technology and Education to Grow the Economy; Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurism; Tiny Houses and housing for job creation; Art in community and economic development; Business and entrepreneurs; Agriculture and Aquaculture; and Tourism. For more information or to register click here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Deadly, legal synthetic drug that can be bought online is linked to an increase in drug overdoses

A deadly but legal synthetic drug is quickly growing in popularity among addicts in the U.S., leading to increased reports of overdose deaths. U-47700, or U-4, created in the 1970s, is considered to be at least seven times more potent than morphine and is easily available for purchase online for about $40. A quick internet search found one site selling the product, with a warning that it's not for human or veterinary use, but for scientific research.

The drug has been linked to 50 deaths nationwide, Bill Draper reports for The Associated Press. U-4 is considered to be similar to fentanyl, a widely used drug that was found during the autopsy of musician Prince. It's being reported that many users mix the drug with heroin, which leads to a potent and deadly combination. It has also led some officials to believe that some reported heroin deaths were actually caused by U-4. (CDC graphic)
After two deaths in Idaho this year, the Idaho Office of Drug Policy asked the State Board of Pharmacy "to ban U-47700 on a temporary emergency basis, until the legislature can consider making it permanently illegal," Audrey Dutton reports for the Idaho Statesman. Idaho’s pharmacy board issued a temporary rule effective Aug. 3 designating U-47700 as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. State police also issued a warning in June about the drug.

Georgia state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Republican who represents Rome, where a teenager's death is being linked to U-4, "said he hopes to meet with Gov. Nathan Deal this week in effort to pass an emergency order outlawing the drug," Blake Doss reports for the Rome News-Tribune. "An emergency executive order from Gov. John Kasich outlawed the drug in Ohio earlier this year, Hufstetler said. The Georgia Board of Pharmacy outlawed the use of the drug in April, Hufstetler said, but that doesn’t carry legal implications."

Police in Michigan's Upper Peninsula also have issued warnings about U-4, Rachel Droze reports for WLUC-TV. Detective Lt. Tim Sholander, who oversees the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team, told her, "We want people to be aware that even though it's not an illegal drug, it's causing some serious concerns across the state with overdose deaths."

To mark Park Service centennial, Obama creates national monument in Maine over opposition

In celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, President Obama on Wednesday designated 87,654 acres of forestland in Maine's North Woods as a new national monument, Kevin Miller reports for the Portland Press Herald. "Supporters hope the monument designation—on lands bordering Baxter State Park that were donated by Roxanne Quimby (co-founder of Burt's Bees)—will lure additional jobs and economic development while highlighting the region’s natural beauty and history."

While opponents acknowledge the designation could draw tourists, distrust of the federal government, fueled by the closure of paper mills, leading to lost jobs and mass migration, has many uneasy, Miller writes. Critics "fear the designation will scare away potential industrial-based opportunities, leaving only seasonal tourism jobs." (Press Herald graphic: Land designated for new national monument)
Some local residents believe commercial logging, not tourism, is the best way to revive the region's struggling economy, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report for The Washington Post. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has been a vocal critic of the decision, the state legislature has opposed it, "and Maine’s congressional delegation refused to introduce the measure necessary to create a national park, which requires an act of Congress. That left only the prospect of the president using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to declare the land a national monument—something he has done nearly two dozen times while in office."

In an attempt to appease critics "it will be the only National Park Service national monument that allows hunting," excluding bears, Eilperin and Dennis write. "It will also allow snowmobiling on all its existing trails, which means more than half the site will be open to the winter sport. However no logging, except for tree removal the Park Service conducts for conservation or safety purposes, will be permitted."

Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Post, “It may be one of the last, large national parks that we see in our lifetime. sWe’ll look back and say, ‘We can’t ever imagine why this was a controversy.’”

There are national parks, and there are 'national parks' and other similar preserves

With the National Park Service today celebrating its centennial, it's worth pondering what exactly makes a park worthy of national park designation. There are officially 59 national parks, but the service oversees 412 units that fall under 24 designations, including 83 national monuments, 50 national historical parks, 30 national memorials, 19 national preserves and four national parkways, Andrea Sachs reports for The Washington Post. Kathy Kupper, an NPS spokeswoman, told Sachs, "To us, all 412 are equal. People put the national parks on a pedestal, but legislatively they are the same.”

Sachs writes, "The federal preservation movement has roots in the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gave presidents the authority to protect an extraordinary place as a national monument. Congress wields more expansive powers over the landscape. Legislators can name or reassign a site under a wider range of categories." (Size of map dots indicates approximate number of visitors)
"President Theodore Roosevelt, for one, created 18 monuments, including the Grand Canyon; his fifth cousin, Franklin D., was responsible for 11," Sachs writes. "On June 24, President Obama introduced the newest member, the Stonewall National Monument in New York City. Only four POTUSes—Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush—did not christen any monuments." All were or are Republicans.

But national parks are the most popular, right? Actually, no. "Many travelers might assume that the postcard children of the NPS—Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon—attract the largest number of annual visitors," Sachs writes. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and Blue Ridge Parkway flip-flop for the top two spots, with about 15 million visitors each. The Great Smoky Mountains occupies third place with 10 million guests, but it takes first place among the national parks."

Farmers say Dakota Access Pipeline damaging soil; judge to rule by Sept. 9 on N.D. tribe complaints

Farmers say crews working on the Dakota Access Pipeline are disturbing their rich black soil, leading to concern about the future of corn and soybean crops, Kevin Hardy reports for The Des Moines Register. While these landowners can't do much, since they have been paid for the company to cross their land, they are hoping to make other farmers aware of the risks of accepting an easement. (Hardy photo: Various soil colors are visible in a pit dug to house the Dakota Access pipeline on Francis Goebel's property in Granville, Iowa)

"Dakota Access is required to follow soil guidelines in Iowa law and the Agricultural Impact Mitigation Plan, which was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board," Hardy writes. "But the plan stipulates only that the topsoil be segregated. Some landowners negotiated further provisions, such as separating three layers of soil, rather than two. But not all farmers knew to ask for such an arrangement."

Dakota Access attorney Bret Dublinski said "that all the contested farms already had tile buried under crops to help drain fields," Hardy writes. Dublinski, who said "It is often removed, repaired and replaced," told Hardy, "You cannot consistently argue both that Dakota Access is going to irreparably harm my soil because it hasn’t been changed in 1,000 years and then also say 'I'm concerned about my pattern tile that I put in by turning up the soil.' Those are arguments that simply cannot exist in the same space."

A protest by Native Americans that Dakota Access could damage the Missouri River, the main source of water for local tribes, has halted construction around Cannon Ball, N.D. A federal judge said Wednesday that by Sept. 9 he would rule "on the injunction filed by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to attorneys representing the tribe," Jessica Holdman reports for the Bismarck Tribune. The tribe has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "alleging violation of the National Historic Preservation Act during the pipeline permitting process."

Construction on the pipeline continues "at other locations in North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, and the project is still expected to be completed by the end of the year," Holdman writes. "According to court documents filed Aug. 18 by Dakota Access Pipeline, the project is about 45 percent complete."

Retired daily editor still trying to make a difference in S.C.'s Low Country, now as a minister

The former editor of a South Carolina daily newspaper has traded in the news desk for the pulpit. After 28 years as the editor of The Beaufort Gazette, Jim Cato retired to become an ordained but unpaid deacon in the Anglican Church. So reports David Lauderdale for The Island Packet, which like the Gazette is a McClatchy Co.-owned paper covering the state's Low Country.

The Rev. Jim Cato "has gone from being the community lightning rod to talking almost in a whisper, telling me that this story and his new role in life are not about him but about God," Lauderdale writes. "His trademark bow tie from the sharp-elbowed newsroom has been replaced with a turned collar at the ancient Parish Church of St. Helena on Church Street. On Sunday morning, he is a robed gospeler, reading to the congregation from the altar."

"At 71, he can now baptize you, marry you and bury you. Instead of sweating over editorials and columns, it is now homilies and eulogies." Cato told Lauderdale, “No matter how many editorials I wrote about prison reform, I could not see it make a difference in people’s lives like doing what Jesus asks us to do and go and show love to our neighbors. Who is your neighbor? The prisoners at the Ridgeland Correctional Institute are our neighbors. We take the words of Jesus to them in the Kairos Prison Ministry, and show the love we are commanded to show, and you do see some changes.”

"Cato graduated from the University of South Carolina while working in a newsroom," Lauderdale writes. "He said his 39 years in newspapers felt like a mission. Like church work, it doesn’t make you rich and it is often seen as a calling to do good for society. But it was history in a hurry—much ado about each fleeting instant." The headline on the story? "Retired Beaufort editor's new deadline is eternity."

Joyce Carol Thomas dies; told prizewinning stories of rural African Americans in Oklahoma

Joyce Carol Thomas in 2004
(San Francisco Chronicle photo) 
"Joyce Carol Thomas, a National Book Award-winning author who drew on her own experiences in writing books for children and young adults that accented her rural African American heritage, died Aug. 13 at a hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.," Matt Schudel reports for The Washington Post. "She was 78."

Thomas, who grew up working cotton fields in Oklahoma, published her first novel for young readers, Marked by Fire, in 1982. "Set in her home town of Ponca City, Okla., the book introduces a memorable and resilient character, Abyssinia Jackson, who appears in several subsequent books and becomes something of a mythic figure," Schudel writes. "Marked by Fire was quickly recognized as a modern classic of young people’s literature. It won both the National Book Award and the American Book Award and became a part of classroom studies throughout the country. It was later made into a musical play."

"Although she had lived in California since she was 10, Thomas found a never-ending source of literary inspiration in the rural fields and small towns of her native Oklahoma," Schudel writes. "She sought to draw portraits of black life different from stories in modern urban settings or in the time of slavery." Thomas told the African American Review in 1998, “I know of black boys and girls who squirm uncomfortably in their desks at the two-dimensional, unrelenting portrayal of young people as either victims of slavery or perennial do-ragwearers hanging out on a stoop next to a garbage can. There are black American stories somewhere between slavery and ghetto that also deserve telling.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Farmers, rural technicians fighting for open access to parts, repair information from manufacturers

Farmers and rural technicians are often hampered by an inability to make repairs to technology, farming and medical equipment, because manufacturers are not required to make parts and repair information available to customers and independent repair people, Sarah Breitenbach reports for Stateline. Lobbyists in several states have tried unsuccessfully to require manufacturers "to open access to the manuals, parts, tools, diagnostic equipment and permanent software that is almost exclusively available to their own employees and authorized dealers."

Electronics manufacturers claim that opening access could lead to counterfeiting and liability risks, Breitenbach writes. Supporters of open access disagree. Gay Gordon-Byrne, who heads the Repair Association, a group that advocates for the right of customers to make digital repairs, "said that allowing manufacturers and dealers to retain a monopoly on repair means they can make it hard to fix products and charge so much for repairs that consumers are all but required to buy new devices."

The Repair Association "is asking for a technological about-face," Breitenbach writes. "It essentially wants to go back to a time when manufacturers offered schematic diagrams to help diagnose problems, and corner repair shops could order the parts to fix most household appliances." Gordon-Byrne told Breitenbach, “You knew what was connected to what. If you wanted to take your TV or look at the schematic and say, ‘I think this [part] is fried,’ you could go down to the local TV repair shop and buy a part.”

Farmers say a lack of technicians available in rural areas makes it difficult to get equipment fixed, Breitenbach writes. "The Repair Association—whose members include farmers—says manufacturers are limiting farmers’ ability to fix equipment themselves, adding that a decline in dealers and mechanics in rural areas means farmers often lose valuable time waiting for repairs." Often, a qualified repair shop is more than 100 miles away, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. (Read more)

Rural-urban gap in internet use gap appears to be mostly about differences in education and income

A report by the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration found that rural residents with high levels of education and household income use the internet at similar rates as well-off urban residents, but a rural-urban disparity exists among people with lower education and household incomes, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. The report states: "People with lower levels of educational attainment were even more likely to find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide when living in a rural area."
Eighty-three percent of rural residents with a college degree use the internet, compared to 84 percent of urban college graduates, Marema writes. At the same time, 63 percent of rural residents with only a high school diploma use the internet, compared to 69 percent of urban ones and 52 percent of rural residents without a high school diploma use the internet, compared to 59 percent or urban ones.
When it comes to household incomes of $100,000 or more, 84 percent of those rural households use the internet, compared to 86 percent of urban households, Marema writes. "For rural residents earning $25,000 to less than $50,000 a year, that gap was 4 points (66 percent vs. 70 percent)."

"The analysis also showed that rural-urban digital divide was especially pronounced for whites and blacks, while Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans had a smaller gap," Marema writes. "Whites and blacks in rural areas were 10 percentage points lower than their urban counterparts in internet access. The rural-urban gap ranged from 2 to 5 points for people whose ethnic origins were Asian, Hispanic, or Native America." (Read more)

Feds giving $38.8 million to 29 projects in Appalachian coalfield hurt by market downturn

The Obama administration today announced $38.8 million in funding for 29 projects to help revitalize coal communities in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas and Alabama that have been affected by its anti-coal policies aimed at thwarting climate change and other factors that have hurt the coal industry.

The grants are the first deliverables on the promise President Obama made in his 2013 climate-change speech at Georgetown University, in which he said "We're going to give special care to people and communities that are unsettled by this transition." All the money was appropriated by Congress, which Obama is asking for more.

"These investments are going to make a difference in coal-impacted Appalachian communities," ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl said in a conference call with journalists.

The grants will come from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. They agencies project that the money will create 3,418 jobs and an additional $67 million leveraged through investments from other public and private partners.

Those estimates may be exaggerated for the largest grant, $7,474,100 from EDA and ARC to the University of Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky for its Kentucky College of Optometry to purchase equipment and other materials to help launch the new college. The agencies said the college will have $26 million in direct economic impact to the regional economy. Work on the college started before the grant program was announced, but EDA Administrator Jay Williams said in a telephone press conference that the money would make sure the equipment is up to date.

The coal downturn in the region is largely blamed on Obama, though cheap natural gas may have as much or more to do with it, as well as geological factors. Jason Walsh of the White House Domestic Policy Council said, "There will continue to be a robust public debate about why the energy landscape is changing," but people in the coalfields "are less interested in that debate and are more interested in funding solutions."

Other major awards are:
  • $2,750,000 ARC grant to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program in Hazard for "TechHire Eastern Kentucky Initiative: Developing a Technology-Driven Workforce." 
  • $2,500,000 in grants to the Bluewell Public Service District in Bluefield, W.Va., for improvement of the Mercer County Regional Airport. 
  • $2,285,049 EDA grant to the Upshur County Development Authority in Buckhannon, W.Va., for a center to help small businesses and provide broadband access. 
  • $2,196,450 ARC grant to the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education in Charleston, W.Va., for "EntreEd K-14: Every Student, Every Year."
  • $2,022,133 ARC grant to the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, based in Berea, Ky. for "Economic Transition for Eastern Kentucky."
  • $2,000,000 ARC grant to Ohio University for "Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability."
  • $1,500,000 ARC grant to Appalachian Sustainable Development in Abington, Va. for the Central Appalachian Food Enterprise Corridor. 
  • $1,464,251 ARC grant to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation in Lexington, Ky. for the Downtown Revitalization in the Promise Zone project
To view all funds awarded click here.

Shortages, aging workforce leading Wisconsin to try to draw young attorneys to rural areas

Lawyer shortages have plagued some rural areas. One such area in dire need of attorneys is northern Wisconsin, where nine counties have 10 or fewer attorneys practicing, Danielle Kaeding reports for Wisconsin Public Radio. Overall, 15 of the state's 72 counties have 10 or fewer active attorneys and less than 40 percent of the state's 12,752 active attorneys practice law in rural areas, according to the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Another problem is that many rural attorneys are getting close to retirement age, with 53 percent of the 17,000 attorneys residing in the state 50 or older, Kaeding writes. Amy Ferguson, co-chair of the State Bar’s New Lawyer Challenges Committee, "said the numbers raise concerns about access to justice in rural areas." She told Kaeding, "We’re seeing trends in aging out. A lot of lawyers in our area are in their upper fifties, lower sixties, seventies—even some of them looking to maybe retire soon, maybe pass on their businesses, their practices—just moving on."

Rural Wisconsin is struggling to draw recent law school graduates, who often have student loan debt ranging from $84,000 to $122,000, according to 2012 data from the American Bar Association, Kaeding reports. One way the New Lawyer Challenges Committee is trying to open up the possibility of practicing in rural areas, as opposed to urban ones, is to offer rural bus tours to young lawyers and law students to let them see the benefits of rural life.

Ferguson, who opted to practice in rural Rhinelander, said of the benefits of rural life, “It’s a little quieter. There’s not as much hustle and bustle, not as much traffic—things like that. And you can still have a very successful, rewarding, exciting legal practice in this area. It’s a closer knit legal community, which, to me, that collegiality is really a huge benefit and a huge draw to practicing and living up here."

Republican vs. Democrat is not rural vs. urban but urban vs. everyone else, says rural writer

National journalists trying to explain Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's popularity in rural areas have been flawed in their reporting, Bill Bishop opines for the Daily Yonder. "One key to understanding current political reporting is that many national reporters seem to think that any area that is not within a major U.S. city is rural. Which leads to an aside: Isn’t it interesting how this data is always pitched as rural versus urban? A better description is that the nation’s huge cities are voting very differently from everyone else."

If all national political elections were rural vs. urban, candidates popular in urban areas would win every time, because those areas have larger populations, Bishop writes. In the 2014 congressional races, Republicans got a majority of the votes, on average, in all but the nation’s largest metro areas, which includes plenty of areas that are definitely not rural. (New York Times map: Results from 2014 House election shows Republican districts in red, with hashes if district switched from Democratic)
Bishop points to an NPR story published last week that says “living in a rural area by itself shapes a person’s politics, and can particularly drive a voter toward Trump.” The story quotes Katherine Cramer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, who has termed the phrase "rural resentment" to explain rural residents who feel they are not getting the same treatment as urban areas. Cramer said, “There’s this sense that people in those communities are not getting their fair share compared to people in the cities.”

This is a common theme in similar stories, Bishop writes. In an op-ed published Saturday in The New York Times, writer Daniel Hayes "says Trump has become the 'most pro-gun-rights nominee in modern GOP history,' harnessing 'the power of the Second Amendment people – a strength that comes less from unity than desperation,'" Bishop writes. "The desperation, he writes, is primarily economic. Hayes, from Bell County in Kentucky’s eastern coalfield, says voters 'in towns like mine have come to view themselves as the men on the wall guarding the last outpost of a disappearing way of life'."

EPA says 'significant possibility' disposal wells are linked to rise in earthquakes in North Texas

The Environmental Protection Agency said in a report that that agency officials "believe 'there is a significant possibility' that recent earthquakes in North Texas are linked to oil and gas activity," Jim Malewitz reports for The Texas Tribune. Texas, home to thousands of wastewater disposal wells, "is the third-most at-risk state for man-made earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey—behind only Oklahoma and Kansas." It's believed to be the first time EPA has tied Texas earthquakes to industry activity.

The report states: “In light of findings from several researchers, its own analysis of some cases and the fact that earthquakes diminished in some areas following shut-in or reduced injection volume of targeted wells. EPA believes there is a significant possibility that North Texas earthquake activity is associated with disposal wells." EPA recommended "close monitoring of injection activity'  going forward, coupled with 'appropriate data analysis methods, in a coordinated effort to detect possible correspondence with seismic activity." (USGS map: Seismic activity in Texas from 1973 to Feb. 26, 2016)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Shortage of rural obstetrics services expected to get worse; 46% of counties lack an ob-gyn

Nearly half—46 percent—of the nation's counties, most of them rural, lack obstetrician/gynecologists and 56 percent are without a midwife, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Numbers are only expected to get worse, with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists projecting the OB-GYN shortage to reach 6,000 to 8,800 by 2020 and possibly 22,000 by 2050, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. Nationally, there are 20,000 OB-GYNs and 11,200 midwives.

The nation's female population is expected to grow 18 percent from 2010-30 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that the number of births will rise to 4.2 million per year in 2030, up from 3.9 million in 2014, Ollove writes. At the same time "the number of medical school graduates going into obstetrics and gynecology residency programs has remained steady since 1980, with about 1,205 residents entering the specialty each year, according to Thomas Gellhaus, ACOG’s president." (Stateline map: Number of OB-GYNs by state)
The problem is particularly bad in states that are large in size, but small in population, such as New Mexico, where the closest OB-GYN for some residents is 100 miles away, Staci Matlock reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican. Data from 2011 shows that nine of the state's counties lacked OB-GYN services and seven were without a midwife or an OB-GYN.

Some say the solution for New Mexico and other states that lack rural OB-GYN services is not only increasing midwives but allowing them to play a greater role in offering services, Ollove writes. "Nurse midwives are registered nurses who also complete an accredited graduate school course of study in midwifery. Licensed (or its equivalent) in all 50 states, nurse midwives are trained in all areas of maternal health, usually can prescribe and administer medications, and they deliver babies, almost exclusively in hospitals or birthing centers. (Another class of midwives, called 'certified professional midwives,' perform home births in the U.S., but they are licensed or statutorily authorized in only 29 states.)"

"In half the states, nurse midwives are permitted to practice independently," Ollove writes. "But 25 states require them to practice under the supervision of a doctor or in collaborative arrangements with doctors. But the ACNM and its state affiliates have complained for years that many doctors are unwilling to take on midwives, denying women access to these maternal health care providers."

Female mortality rates vary based on state's economic and social environment, says study

A state's economic and social environment plays a significant role in how long women live, says a study published in SSM Population Health. An investigation by The Washington Post found that the death rate of rural white women increased 23 percent in the past 15 years, compared to a 16 percent increase for white men and decreases of between 10 to 20 percent among black and Hispanic men and women. The new study may answer some questions as to why those statistics varied so widely. (Mortality rates for women ages 45-89) 
The study, which used data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, a broad federal survey of millions of Americans, looked at state and personal characteristics, such as welfare, tobacco tax rate, social ties through sports clubs, churchgoing and the level of economic inequality, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, told Tavernise, "What’s really interesting is that women are more vulnerable than men. We didn’t know that before. It says something about women in this era.”

Women still live longer than men, but the gap has narrowed since the 1970s, Tavernise writes. "Two major social changes may hold some answers: Women went to work en masse, and many more of them began to raise children on their own. Professor Berkman said. "This has been something of a double shift, especially for low and middle-income American women, many of whom are not protected by maternity and parental leave policies."

"Many of the states that had the best economic and social scores had the lowest overall mortality for women," while "many with the lowest social and economic scores had the highest mortality," Tavernise writes. States with the lowest mortality rates are: Hawaii, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Utah, Kansas, Wisconsin, Montana and Oregon. The highest mortality rates are in Maryland, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wyoming, Tennessee, West Virginia and Nevada.

Flooding that closed schools in Louisiana putting rural disadvantaged students at greater risk

School leaders in Louisiana fear that flooding—22 districts in the southern part of the state were forced to close last week—will hurt disadvantaged students who are already struggling to stay on pace, Ashley Cusick reports for The Washington Post. While some schools plan to open in the next few weeks, about 4,000 faculty and staff have been displaced, and there is concern about sending buses to students in remote areas and the condition of school buildings. President Obama was in Louisiana today, although many say his visit is too little too late. (Post photo by Shawn Fink: Textbooks drying in the Baker High School library)

"At stake is not only whether schools will be able to provide students with stability and routine at a time of great upheaval, but also whether students—many of whom are disadvantaged—will lose out on more precious learning time," Cusick writes. "District officials are planning to combine schools until all buildings are functional, in some cases running two schools out of one building. The combination of missing class time, upending school routines and scrambling to find enough teachers could come at an academic cost to students who already perform below the state average on state math and reading tests and who are overwhelmingly at risk, according to state data. Students will be bused—no matter where in the district they are staying—to school sites in their home neighborhoods."

"It is too early to estimate the cost of the damage, but Herman Brister, superintendent of the City of Baker School District, expects the losses at the district’s only high school—which serves about 550 students, the vast majority of whom are African American and poor—to be in the millions of dollars," Cusick writes. James Beverly, a custodian at Baker who estimated that each room in the school had at least two feet of water, told Cusick, “I opened the door, and it was like a river.”

Victor Mock, a bus driver for Baker, used his 71-passenger bus to rescue an estimated 800 people, then to transport school supplies and books between the flooded high school and its new location, Cusick writes. Mock, who was expected to be back driving the students to school today, told Cusick, “The water in some areas was up on the third step of the bus. It was a time when you have to let your heart overrule your mind.” (Read more)

D.C. reporter who moved to county labeled worst in natural amenities says rural life is more than sum of data

What a difference a year makes. In August 2015 Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham made snarky comments about a rural town being ranked dead last among the nation's most desirable places to live—based on a natural amenities index—then in September accepted an invitation to visit the town, leading him to move his family to the town. As one of the newest residents in Red Lake Falls, Minn., population 1,410, Ingraham says that he has re-thought his take on statistics and that data points are unable to measure the true value of a town. (Ingraham photo)

"My relocation to Red Lake Falls has been a humbling reminder of the limitations of numbers," Ingraham writes. "It has opened my eyes to all of the things that get lost when you abstract people, places and points in time down to a single number on a computer screen. The government's natural-amenities index captures the flatness of Midwestern farm country quite well, for instance. But it misses out on so much about that landscape: the sound of the breeze rustling the grain or the way the wheat catches the light at different times of day, the dry-sweet smell of a field full of sunflowers."

"The data are blind to the ever-changing tapestry of colors and textures as crops grow, flourish and wane toward harvest," he writes. "You can practically set your calendar by whatever's happening on a section of farmland on a given day. Green shoots usher in the start of June. Those shoots turn gold to mark mid-summer's prime, and now, in late August, a chill creeps into the evening air as the combines go out to reduce the fields to stubble."

"The federal data set does reflect northwest Minnesota's bitter cold," Ingraham writes. "The average January low temperature of minus-4 degrees is baked into the data, but it doesn't tell you about how our new neighbors pulled together when it got so cold in February that the water main on our street froze solid and did not thaw out until April, leaving several houses without water for weeks. They hooked up hoses from the homes with water to those without, and the town made things easy by splitting up everyone's water bills as best as they could. By the end of the ordeal, nobody seemed to be worse for the wear."

"Nor, as far as I can tell, have we come up with a good way to quantify nostalgia," he writes. "Red Lake Falls feels like the kind of town your grandparents would live in, and I mean that in the best possible way... To an adult living here for the first time, it feels like the kind of place you remember visiting during summers in childhood, where memories are built on indolent afternoons spent in broad sunny lawns while the adults relaxed on a screened-in porch with cocktails in their hands."

N.D. pulls water from Native American protesters who halted Dakota Access Pipeline construction

North Dakota’s homeland security director ordered the removal of water tanks that were replenishing the thousands of Native Americans who had converged on the rural town of Cannon Ball to protest construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Mike Nowatzki reports for The Forum of Fargo‑Moorhead. Homeland Security Division Director Greg Wilz cited "mounting reports of unlawful activity and the risk of damage." He said, "Based on the scenario down there, we don’t believe that equipment is secure." Native American leaders said people were already getting overheated. (Photo: Protesters near the Missouri River)

The $3.8 billion, 1,150-mile Dakota Access pipeline is expected to carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. The protest has temporarily halted construction, which began in June.

Native Americans have said they fear a leak from the pipeline would harm their main source of water, Phil McKenna reports for InsideClimate News. "The Standing Rock tribe, one of the poorest communities in the nation according to 2010 census data cited by the tribe, relies on the Missouri River for drinking water, irrigation, fishing and recreation, and for cultural and religious practices. The reservation covers about 3,600 square miles along the river." (Dakota Access pipeline map highlights counties traversed)

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, "who issued an emergency declaration Friday to make additional state resources available to manage public safety risks associated with the protest, called Monday for federal officials to help manage the situation," Nowatzki writes. "In an interview with conservative talk show host Scott Hennen, Dalrymple noted the campsite sits on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, whose approval of the pipeline’s river crossings led to the tribe filing a federal lawsuit to stop it. A judge will consider the tribe’s request for a temporary injunction during a hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C."

Webinar Sept. 1 on challenges and opportunities for rural immigrants to be part of the community

The Aspen Institute is hosting a webinar, "Helping Rural Immigrant Families Accumulate and Grow Assets," from 1-2:30 p.m. EST on Sept. 1. The webinar, which is the finale in a series about economic success for rural immigrant families, "will focus on the challenges and opportunities facing rural immigrants as they work to become part of the fabric of their communities through naturalization and home ownership," The Aspen Institute says in a description. "Participants will explore new data on rural immigrant naturalization rates, mixed-status families, and housing. Participants will also hear from two exceptional on-the-ground programs helping their immigrant neighbors accumulate assets and engage in local civic life."

Webinar presenters are: Allie Yee, Institute for Southern Studies; Beth Mattingly, Unoversity of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy; Marla Tofle, One Napa Valley Initiative, Napa Valley Community Foundation; and Jeremy Stremler Community Development Corporation of Brownsville. For more information or to register click here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rural white women's death rate up 23% in 15 years

"Across America, especially in rural and working-class communities, death rates have been accelerating among middle-aged white women for a generation," Terrence McCoy reports for The Washington Post as part of an ongoing series, "Unnatural Causes: Sick and Dying in Small-Town America." A Post analysis of national death rates over the past 15 years found that the mortality rate for similarly aged white women increased 23 percent, compared to a 16 percent increase for white men and decreases of between 10 to 20 percent among black and Hispanic men and women.

Wikipedia map: McCreary County
Rates are especially high in impoverished areas, such as McCreary County, Kentucky, which "has seen a 75 percent increase in the mortality rate for white women between the ages of 35 and 59, one of the highest increases in the nation," McCoy writes. A University of Washington study "found that McCreary County women are more likely to be obese and engage in life-shortening behaviors such as binge drinking than in previous generations." Smoking rates also are high.

McCoy tells the story of McCreary County through a funeral home, which said it buried 31 white women younger than 60 last year, up from 20 in 2013. According to Census Bureau and state figures, in McCreary County "nearly 40 percent of households receive food stamps and 77 percent of students qualify for free or reduced school lunches." Drugs also are an issue in the county of 18,000, with local undertaker Dan Ridener saying "there wasn’t a single family in McCreary County that hasn’t been affected by drugs, including his own daughter’s."

Fraternity attitude in state capitals shows in sexual harassment cases against male lawmakers

They hold state office, but state legislators, especially House members, are locally elected from small districts. And for some of them, going to the state capital seems like going to a party without their spouses or significant others. A growing number of them are being accused of sexual harassment, Dave Boucher and Joel Ebert report for The Tennessean. It's an issue that isn't specific to one party or one region, but that is a source of national concern of men in state capitals misusing their positions of power. With the story is a list of 12 other states with recent sexual-misconduct cases.

One problem is that "most legislatures are largely male, part-time and require members to travel away from home, creating a fraternity atmosphere," Boucher and Ebert write. Another problem is that "women make up less than a quarter of all state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That puts many female lobbyists, staffers and interns at the professional and political mercy of mainly male lawmakers." (USA Today graphic)

In Tennessee, for example, 110 of 132 lawmakers are men, Boucher and Ebert write. That disparity, along with a long-standing fraternity attitude and a belief that male lawmakers are untouchable and females are expected to put up with unwanted advances, has led to the current problems. A state attorney general report of Rep. Jeremy Durham, a Tennessee Republican who was said to have preyed on 22 women, states, "The lobbyists pereception that they could not complain about Rep. Durham's inappropriate behavior in not without support. For example, a senior male lobbyist expressed his view during an interview that enduring a legislator's sexual advances is merely part of a female lobbyist's job."

Sen. Frank Niceley, a Republican from Knoxville, told the reporters that "Tennessee's Capitol Hill culture dates back more than 200 years, when wives and children were sent away from Nashville during the annual legislative session," they write. He said "when he started serving at the Legislature in the 1980s, there was little ethical oversight. He told The Tennessean, “The lobbyists were handing out credit cards and staying out all night." Another Tennessee politician, Democrat Douglas Henry, the longest serving state lawmaker, who served in the Legislature from 1954 to 1956 and again from 1970 to 2014, said, “Women make good lobbyists because they get a man’s attention and hold it." (Read more)

Rural hospitals struggling with costs of IT and security during shift to electronic records

Seventy-six rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to the Rural Health Research Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Many reasons are often cited: a trend toward managed care rather than fee-for-service Medicaid; payment cuts by Medicare; declining rural populations; doctor and staff shortages; low volume; and a high proportion of poor and elderly patients.

One reason not often cited is that with a shift to electronic records, many small hospitals are unable to afford costly new IT and security systems, or they may over-invest in them, Daphne Chen reports for The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. During a state conference last week for rural hospital administrators, Mark Dalley of Gunnison Valley Hospital "said the changes are particularly hard on independent rural hospitals that are not affiliated with a large system." He said, "We don’t have a system to rely on for IT or HIPAA or help with business associations or help with computer security and all the things that are becoming so very important."

Rural and critical access hospitals lag behind urban and suburban hospitals when it comes to electronically sending, receiving, finding and integrating records, says a study published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. When it comes to using all four domains, only 15 percent of rural hospitals and 17 percent of critical access hospitals send, receive, find and integrate records, compared to 34 percent of suburban and urban hospitals. Rural and critical access hospitals trail urban and suburban hospitals in all four individual categories by at least 10 percent. (ONC graphic)

Trump says he would eliminate rule that expansively defining 'waters of the United States'

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Saturday in Fredericksburg, Va. that he would "eliminate the 'destructive and invasive' waters of the United States rule," Ben Kamisar reports for The Hill. The GOP candidate argued that the regulations are "so extreme it gives federal agencies control over creeks and small streams—even puddles—on private property." (Getty Images: Donald Trump in Fredericksburg, Va.)

Trump also accused Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of being against jobs that fuel rural economies, Kamisar writes. Trump said, "Hillary Clinton supports every last job-killing Obama regulation and wants to go even further. She wants to put the farmers out of business, just like she wants to put the miners and steel workers out of business." (Read more)

Rural Mainstreet Index in ag heartland has been on negative side for 12 straight months

The Rural Mainstreet Index has now been below 50, indicating economic decline, for 12 straight months. The index comes from surveys by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss of bank CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region dependent on agriculture and/or energy. The latest survey found that farmland prices are below growth-neutral for the 33rd consecutive month, with bank CEOs saying they expect land prices to fall by another 6.9 percent over the next 12 months. The survey also found that agricultural equipment sales remain close to record low.

Goss said, "Over the past 12 months, farm prices have fallen by 11 percent, cattle prices are off by 22 percent and grain prices are down by 20 percent. Weak agricultural commodity prices are pushing farm income lower and sinking the overall Rural Mainstreet economy." The survey covers Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Small-time loggers struggle to keep up with changes in technology, rising costs

Technology and global trade has remade the logging industry, forcing many small operations to go deep into debt to keep up, Sarah Schweitzer reports for The Boston Globe. Schweitzer details the struggles of Vermont logger Dave Goodhouse to keep his business running while facing competition from larger companies and from countries such as Brazil, Canada and Russia. Goodhouse, 53, has been logging since he was 19. (Globe photo by Jessica Rinaldi: Dave Goodhouse looks at a tree that’s been tagged to be cut in Reading, Vt.)

The biggest hardships are expenses, with fuel costs rising 400 percent in the last decade, labor costs increasing 67 percent, equipment costs up 112 percent and trucking costs rising 41 percent, Schweitzer writes. "Meanwhile, money earned from cut wood had risen just 37.5 percent."

A job that could once be done with tools such as a chainsaw and a skidder now needs constant upgrades and upkeep of more efficient equipment to increase productivity, Schweitzer writes. But that means increased costs, which is tough for someone like Goodhouse, who is already "on the hook for $1.2 million for his trucks and heavy equipment" and has bank loan repayments of $15,000 per month, 40 percent of what he brings in.

Add in continued upkeep on current equipment, such as the $400,000 it would cost to replace a forwarder that's close to breaking down and Goodhouse would need to increase productivity to make bank payments, Schweitzer writes. Another problem is that he has no legacy, with his only child choosing to go into another field, telling him, “I’ve watched you suffer and I don’t want to suffer like that." (Read more)

Opinion: Rider explains dangers of soring horses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently held forums in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Lexington, Ky., and Sacramento, Calif., to seek comment on proposed regulations under the Horse Protection Act that would ban soring, the use of chemicals and physical abuse to induce high steps in show horses. An additional forum will be held Sept. 6 in Riverdale, Md., with a call-in meeting on Sept. 15. Comments can be submitted online by Sept. 26.

Jo Ellen Hayden
Jo Ellen Hayden, a prize-winning dressage rider from Lexington, explains the methods and dangers of soring in an  op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Soring is, without question, the most cruel training practice I have ever seen or heard about in the entire horse world. Don’t know what soring is? You are not alone. It ranks right up there with dog fighting, but it requires a bit of explanation. It’s used by a hard core of trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse world, and involves putting caustic chemicals on the horse’s front legs, wrapping the legs in plastic wrap and bandages, and letting the chemicals 'cook' into the flesh."

"After several days, the bandages are removed and chains are fastened around the ankles of the horse, biting into the injured flesh. Extremely heavy, tall shoes ('stacks') are then attached to the front hooves with metal straps," she writes. "The effect of this painful process is that the horse tries to remove all weight from his front legs, adopting an exaggerated sitting position when moving and flinging out the front legs in a movement that is referred to as the 'big lick.' Among a very entrenched group of aficionados, the Big Lick is the pinnacle of show-horse movement."

Hayden says USDA "has finally developed a set of regulations that have (somewhat) more teeth than the original legislation proved to have" in 1970. "The new regs will eliminate the tall stack shoes (but not all weights in shoes), and also address a key problem in the inspection process at shows by mandating the use of USDA-approved inspectors—up to now, the industry paid its own inspectors, with predictable results."

"Soring advocates" contradict themselves, Hayden writes, by "insisting that soring either does not happen anymore or that only a tiny number of trainers use these methods" but also saying "that the proposed regulations will have huge economic impact. . . . The solution is obvious: Stop training for the big lick. Do what many others do—train for a natural movement, which these beautiful horses are bred for. They will start to see spectators in the stands again, instead of empty seats. Charitable sponsors will come back. And they and everyone else won’t have to see billboards about horse torture. People will come back to this breed, instead of turning away from it."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Don Parmley, a bluegrass legend, has passed

Don Parmley
You hear him play the banjo every time you watch one of America's classic TV comedies. He brought to his band Chris Hillman, who became an original member of the Byrds. He was well known in bluegrass music circles, but not so much beyond. His name was Don Parmley, and after he died July 30 at 82, country-music radio legend Eddie Stubbs gave the eulogy in Parmley's hometown of Monticello, Ky.

Parmley moved from his native Southern Kentucky to Southern California in 1956, where he "met Flatt and Scruggs and had an opportunity to play the banjo for 'The Beverly Hillbillies'," reports the Wayne County Outlook. "For nine consecutive seasons, when one scene segued into the next, the banjo interlude that viewers heard came from Parmley." He had helped start the Golden State Boys, which became the Hillmen after Parmley invited Hillman and his mandolin to join them. In 1969, with his son David, he formed the Bluegrass Cardinals, recognizing Kentucky's state bird and the mascot of his old Wayne County High School.

"The Bluegrass Cardinals rose very quickly to become a very important product of their time, the late 1970's and all through the 80's," said Stubbs, announcer for WSM in Nashville and its Grand Ole Opry. "Their standard of excellence on record and in person was second to none. There was a lot of complexity within the Bluegrass Cardinals' music, made in three-chord songs they were doing, but it was that complexity within the simplicity that made that music so great." He said the International Bluegrass Music Association should put them in its hall of fame. "What Don and David Parmley did, and their vision and the music that they made, was extraordinary."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Remote Alaska town of 5,000 still has 2 newspapers

Bing map
There aren't many small towns in the U.S. with two printed newspapers. For a while, there was one fewer. Now the Homer Tribune has resumed print publication, joining the Homer News in serving Homer, Alaska, a fishing-and-tourism town of 5,000 at one end of the nation's paved road system. Both regularly win awards from the Alaska Press Club.

“Some people prefer the Tribune, some prefer the Homer News, some of us prefer to have access to both newspapers,” Jan Knutson, coordinator for the Homer Chamber of Commerce, told Daysha Eaton of KBBI in Homer, part of Alaska Public Media.

The Tribune went online-only in June, but returned to print this month after it was bought by Alaska Media LLC, which also owns The Arctic Sounder and the Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman. The News is owned by Georgia-based Morris Communications, which also owns the Juneau Empire. "The Tribune plans to maintain a content-sharing agreement with Alaska Dispatch News," formerly the Anchorage Daily News, Eaton reports. "The parties have not disclosed the purchase price."

“We weren’t actually looking for newspapers, but we do have some talented staff that live in Homer and so it was a natural to pick up the Homer Tribune and start publishing it as well,” Alaska Media co-owner Jason Evans told Eaton. “Online is a really active and important piece of the puzzle, especially in today’s day and age. But we feel a printed paper is also really important. It is something that people can take with them to their camps. They can cut out photos and hang them on their refrigerator. As a weekly paper, we feel like a print edition is still critical to the success of it and also adds to the community.” (Read more)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Community college tuition and funding vary widely by state, and by rurality and urbanity

The costs of attending a community college differs dramatically across the nation, as does the state aid students and schools receive, says a report by the Urban Institute and American Association of Community Colleges.

Researchers found that "community colleges are increasingly relying on tuition as a major source of revenue, but tuition prices dramatically differ across the country because of a number of circumstances," Ashley Smith reports for The Urban Institute. (UI graphic: Average community college tuition by state)

Tuition and fees are lowest in California, averaging $1,420 for full-time students, while Vermont has a high of $7,530, Smith writes. The national average is $3,430. In California, where about 60 percent of public college students are enrolled in two-year institutions, a high number of students "are eligible for tuition remission, versus a state like Vermont with high tuition costs." About 21 percent of of Vermont students are enrolled in a two-year college.

Aid varies widely by state, Smith writes. "In South Carolina, for instance, the report details that 94 percent of first-time, full-time community college students are receiving grant aid, compared to 48 percent of students in New Hampshire."

Steve Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, said some states have an apparent lack of inequality disparity, Smith writes. "Take Illinois, where state aid makes up less than 5 percent of Joliet Junior College's budget, but more rural Shawnee Community College in Southern Illinois receives about 40 percent of its budget from state investment. The higher education cuts in Illinois are more devastating to colleges that rely on more state aid, he said."

Katsinas told Smith, "It's possible that it's part of the discontent that we see reflected in the 2016 elections. In a lot of rural areas it might be tied to the lack of community colleges' ability to provide training because they're so badly underfunded in these high-skill, high-wage areas like robotics ... allied health and nursing."

Justice Department to phase out use of for-profit prisons, following report on safety concerns

The U.S. Department of Justice will phase out use of private prisons. Its announcement followed an inspector general's report that said for-profit federal prisons, which are primarily located in rural areas, have a higher rate of safety and security incidents than non-contract institutions. The directive does not apply to state prisons or to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Marshals Service detainees, but would affect 13 prisons in eight states that house 22,000 inmates, Matt Zapotosky and Chico Harlan report for The Washington Post.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the goal is “reducing—and ultimately ending—our use of privately operated prisons. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."

The 13 facilities "were meant mainly to house inmates who are mostly low security, 'criminal alien' men with 90 months or less time remaining on their sentences," Zapotosky and Harlan write. "Yates said the Justice Department would review the contracts for those facilities as they come up for renewal, as all will do in the next five years. She said they would then be reduced or allowed to expire, though none would be terminated prematurely." (Post map: Prisons affected by announcement)

Nonprofits question Kentucky wish to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to do volunteer work

Gov. Matt Bevin speaks as Medicaid advisers listen.
(Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Charles Bertram)
The new Kentucky governor, a Republican who first said while campaigning that he would abolish the Medicaid expansion of his Democratic predecessor, now wants to require able-bodied adults in the expansion to do volunteer work. That isn't sitting well with the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, which represents nearly 600 of the state’s nonprofit groups, because it would mean tens of thousands of people would "need training, supervision and—in some instances—criminal-background checks," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

As part of the state's request for a federal waiver to tighten eligibility standards for the 440,000 Kentuckians who obtained health insurance through the expansion, one of the requirements Bevin "wants to include is 'community engagement' for able-bodied adults, requiring them to work, search for a job, be enrolled in classes or volunteer in their communities in order to remain in Medicaid. The state estimates these requirements could affect roughly 215,000 people," many of whom live in rural areas, some with few volunteer opportunities.

Danielle Clore, executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, "said members of her organization have limited budgets," Cheves writes. "Many cannot afford to manage a much larger staff. Some do not have enough space or work for so many additional people, Clore said. In sparsely populated rural counties, only a handful of nonprofit groups operate, she said. And some groups that work with children or the elderly require volunteers to pass a criminal-background check, which costs money and raises questions for Medicaid recipients with legal problems in their past, Clore said."

Film traces life of Harry Caudill, who sparked an era of activism and programs in Appalachia


A documentary on the life of Harry Caudill, whose 1962 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands helped spark the War on Poverty, the Appalachian Regional Commission and an era of activism in the region, is making the rounds. Harry Caudill: Man of Courage drew a good crowd at the Grand Theater in Frankfort, Ky., Aug. 18.

Caudill's oldest son, James Caudill, said it was gratifying and encouraging to see public interest in his father's issues, such as strip mining, which is much more regulated these days but still a major environmental issue in the region. "Nothing fundamental has changed," he told the crowd after the showing. "Things have changed in small ways, but they are superficial."

Caudill's book "drew national attention to the plunderous activities of the coal industry in Central Appalachia and the devastation it left," writes John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The book helped bring new environmental and property-rights laws, a massive increase in federal aid to the region and an influx of idealistic young people, some of whom still live in the mountains as idealistic old people."  Cheves and Bill Estep did a five-story biography of Caudill as part of a Herald-Leader series in 2012-13 that looked at Central Appalachia on the 50th anniversary of the book's publication.

Eastern Kentucky native Jerry Deaton, the film's writer and executive producer, told Cheves, “To me, Harry is almost like the way they describe Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird. He is one of those men put down on this Earth to do the tough work for us. And he did it. He didn’t care about the the consequences to himself. He said what needed to be said, and I admire that.”