Friday, November 30, 2007

N.D. farmers lose lawsuit to raise hemp, but DEA set to allow research in state 8 years after request

Two North Dakota farmers who sued to end the federal policy that regards hemp as marijuana lost in court yesterday, but in the meantime, the Drug Enforcement Administration ook a step toward allowing North Dakota State University to conduct research on industrial hemp.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland "wrote that the problem facing state-licensed hemp farmers David Monson and Wayne Hauge needs to be addressed by Congress if they hope to ever grow the versatile crop which is used in everything from food and soap to clothing and auto parts," reports USAgNet. The farmers may appeal. One point of contention could be that Hovland "ruled that hemp and marijuana are the same, as DEA has contended for years. However, scientific evidence clearly shows that not only is industrial hemp genetically distinct from the drug marijuana, there are also absolutely no psychoactive effects from ingesting it," USAgNet reports.

Two weeks after the hearing in the case, DEA has sent a Memorandum of Agreement to North Dakota State "which, if signed by the school, would clear the way for industrial hemp research there," USAgNet reports. "NDSU filed an amicus brief in support of the farmers' lawsuit which highlighted the university's eight-year struggle to secure a license from the DEA to grow industrial hemp for research as mandated by state law." (Read more) "NDSU has been required by state lawmakers to study industrial hemp as an alternative crop but has been unable to get DEA permission," reports Blake Nicholson of The Associated Press. DEA's conditions are related mainly to security concerns. (Read more)

Kentucky adds 4-H agent-at-large with focus on science and technology

Across the country, groups are trying to get more students interested in science and math. The National 4-H Council hopes to do the same, and in Kentucky, Toney Earle has been named the state's first 4-H agent-at-large for science, engineering and technology programs. he will work in the almost entirely rural western end of the state.

Earle's major focus areas will include biotechnology, robotics, forces in motion, global positioning systems and geographic information systems, according to a University of Kentucky news release. Earle, formerly a 4-H youth development agent in McCracken County, moved into his new role at the beginning of October and works from UK's College of Engineering facility at Paducah.

The goal is to get more young people interested in the subjects of math and science — areas where American students are trailing their peers internationally. Over the next five years, the National 4-H Council wants to use the program to add 1 million new young people to the association in the next five years. Kentucky hopes to add 50,000.

"If we can get them interested in something related to engineering, then we can show them that they need to be concentrating on math and science," Earle said in the release. "It’s not just having fun with robots, for example. You have to know not only that it is fun but the why behind them. You’ve got to understand the science that makes them work.” For the news-release site, click here. (Releases are not posted immediately)

Renew Rural Iowa attracts funds, plans investments

Rural areas need more jobs, and a program in Iowa is showing signs it can help answer that problem. Renew Rural Iowa, a $3 million project of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, set out to "to find, mentor and fund job-creating businesses in rural Iowa," and after year it is drawing additional investors, reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network.

The initial $3 million has grown to a total of $22.5 million in funding, thanks to contributions of other companies. That money will be used to invest in 20 businesses that Renew Rural Iowa believes will create more jobs for rural Iowans. The project is a three-year initiative, but its directors told Shinn they are hopeful the project will be extended even longer. (Read more)

To find out more about Renew Rural Iowa, go here.

Strong seat-belt laws help reduce rural road deaths

Resistance to meaningful seat-belt laws is often stronger in rural areas, but states without such laws have more fatalities on their rural roads, according to a study by the University of Minnesota Center for Rural Safety.

"Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of fatalities in rural areas in 2005, none had primary seat belt laws, or laws that allow law enforcement officers to pull people over for not using their seat belts," the center said in a release. "In contrast, 13 of the 20 states with the lowest percentage of fatalities in rural areas had enacted primary seat belt laws." The map above reflects laws was they were in 2005; Kentucky, for example, has since passed a primary law.

The Federal Highway Administration says 57 percent of fatalities occur on rural roads (those located outside of areas with a population of 5,000 or more) though only 21 percent of the U.S. population is generally considered rural. Just over half of the fatal rural accidents involved a driver from a metropolitan area.

Cartoonist at Utah weekly resigns after plagiarism

Until recently, The Park Record in Park City, Utah, enjoyed a luxury few other weekly newspapers have — a prize-winning cartoonist. This week, however, editors of the 7,300-circulation paper said they had no choice but to ask for the resignation of that cartoonist, John Kilbourn, after a reader noticed similarities between a recent cartoon and one from Mad magazine, the newspaper reports. Kilbourn's drawing bore a strong resemblance to a cartoon titled "Bananaz" drawn by Mort Drucker for Mad about 45 years ago.

"Kilbourn, who has been drawing cartoons for The Record since April, 1997 said he believed he had made enough changes in the original to warrant re-running it with a different caption," according to The Record's staff report. "However, after receiving a fax of the original drawing from KPCW reporter Rick Brough on Tuesday, Record publisher Andy Bernhard and editor Nan Chalat-Noaker say they had no other choice than to ask for Kilbourn's resignation." The paper noted Kilbourn had won many awards from the Utah Press Association for his cartoons. (Read more)

When Brough saw Kilbourn's Nov. 14 cartoon — "a parody of the Ben Cartwright family in the TV western 'Bonanza' sharing a bathtub and poking fun at Park City officials for ignoring traffic problems on Bonanza Drive" — it reminded him of Mad magazine," writes Paul Beebe of The Salt Lake Tribune (which like The Record is owned by MediaNews Group). Brough searched his collection of issues of Mad and discovered Kilbourn's cartoon looked just like the Drucker cartoon from around 1962.

"It was pretty close to the original. What I should have done is put in an apology to Mort Drucker," Kilbourn told Beebe. "To be honest with you, it was really late at night. I kind of do these as a side job and didn't think of putting it in there." Kilbourn also draws for City Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Salt Lake City. (Read more)

Clinton: I'm trying to balance national, state and local news media needs in campaign

Sen. Hillary Clinton's keep-away game with journalists, one topic of a recent Iowa-related post here and on our home page, is a focus of a story in The Washington Post today by media reporter Howard Kurtz. "Reporters can generally get close enough to watch but no further, as if separated from the candidate by an invisible sheet of glass," he reported from Concord, N.H. (Associated Press photo: Cheryl Senter)

Kurtz wrote only about complaints from national and big-city reporters, the only ones he ever seems to care about. "Campaigns often brush off national correspondents in favor of local journalists, who tend to be less critical," he wrote. But when he finally got to ask Clinton a question -- just one question was allowed, he wrote -- she said local and state reporters have "a very big role to play" and "The balancing is really intense."(Read more)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day-long seminar at SNPA Traveling Campus in Richmond will examine energy issues in the South

The Southeastern United States is one of the most fertile fossil fuel sources in the country. Energy prices are going up. There is continued talk of oil self-sufficiency and “greener” ways to use coal. And there are proposals in the area for new nuclear power plants after 30 years without such development. These and other changes facing the region’s energy supply will be the subject of a seminar at the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Traveling Campus in Richmond, Va., Dec. 4-6. The program on "Covering Energy Issues in the South" will be a full-day segment on Thursday, Dec. 6, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend any sessions at Traveling Campus programs.

The seminar is aimed at journalists who cover energy, business, the environment and government, this seminar will feature some of the nation’s most respected experts on energy. Topics will include the future of coal as an energy source and what can be done to reduce its environmental impact; nuclear power plants; the world oil supply; and strategies to address climate change issues. For more details on the program, the distinguished faculty and other programs at the Traveling Campus, go to the Rural Calendar, here.

Missouri newspapers stand by decision to withhold name of MySpace 'cyberbully'

Earlier this month, the St. Charles Journals of St. Peters, Mo., broke the story of Megan Meier, 13, who hanged herself after a relationship on ended. Her "boyfriend" on MySpace was actually a 47-year-old neighbor whose daughter knew Meier, but in reporting the story, the St. Charles Journals — which publishes several weeklies in the suburbs of St. Louis — have refused to reveal the identity of that woman. Since the story appeared Nov. 11, other media outlets, such as Fox News and The New York Times, have named Lori Drew (click here for the latest Times story), but the St. Charles Journals reporter and editor stand by the decision to keep the name out of print.

"We are sticking with it because the things that helped us make our decision haven’t changed," Dave Bundy, editorial director of the newspaper group that includes several community papers owned by Lee Enterprises, told Joe Strupp of Editor and Publisher. "We were concerned about the daughter [of Drew] and to what extent she was involved and dragged along with this." Pokin's stories can be found here.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which, like the St. Charles Journals, is owned by Lee Enterprises, has revealed the name. But Steve Pokin, the Journal reporter broke the story after getting a phone call from Meier's great aunt, agreed with the decision to withhold Drew's name. "She is not being accused in a court of law, she is not being sued and our take is that we don’t run suspects unless charges are filed," he told Strupp. (Read more)

SPJ Sunshine Network will track open-government issues, candidate stands at local and state levels

The Society of Professional Journalists today announced its Sunshine Network, a group of volunteers to highlight open-government issues at local and state levels. The effort is designed to ramp up to Sunshine Week, an annual observance led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and funded primarily by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For the 2008 observance, to be held March 16-22, the theme is to ask candidates for president and other offices about freedom-of-information issues.

"Volunteers will identify key problems in their states’ freedom of information laws, develop three to five questions to be posed to state and local political candidates, and then encourage journalists and others to get candidates’ responses on the record," SPJ said in a release. “It is crucial that citizens know candidate positions on open, transparent government,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said in the statement. “The American people deserve to know whether politicians asking for public trust in each state believe government should be accountable.”

The effort is an extension of ASNE's national Sunshine Campaign, which has begun a work on a database of federal candidates' stances and statements on open government issues. SPJ has compiled other databases on freedom of information, including a state-by-state breakdown of access to prisons. (Read more)

Anniston Star's reporting helps inspire Alabama officials to seek inspection program for dams

After noticing stories on Kentucky's Wolf Creek Dam and its problems, Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star, wondered about the conditions dams in the newspaper's home state of Alabama. A few days later, the 25,000-circulation daily reported that Alabama is the only state that does not inspect its dams, and it does not even know exactly how many dams there are.

Since January, The Star has been following the story, and this week the Alabama Water Resources Commission passed a resolution asking for a statewide inspection program. To read a recent story on the situation, go here. To read a recent editorial about the state's dams, go here.

Davis wrote about the recent resolution and The Star's ongoing coverage on the Behind The Star blog, which offers an "inside look at the operations of The Anniston Star." (Read more)

Google pledges to get greener by pushing alternatives to coal-fired electric plants

The success of Google Inc. has seemed limitless, and now its executives hope to end the world's dependence on coal as a source of electric power. Executives of the giant firm, whose "server farms" use huge amounts of electricity, much of it generated by burning coal to drive steam turbines, announced Tuesday that they would be pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a renewable energy initiative aimed at replacing coal power, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The plan is called RE<C, meaning "renewable energy cheaper than coal." The company is already getting 30 percent of the power for its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, from solar panels on the roof (in Reuters photo by Kimberly White). (Read more)

This initiative will draw upon the resources of, the company's for-profit philanthropic subdivision that owns $2 billion in Google stock, reports The New York Times. Still, some on Wall Street worry that the move could be the only thing that slows the company, Brad Stone writes. “My first reaction when I read about this was, ‘Is this a joke?’” Jordan Rohan of RBC Capital Markets told Stone. “I’ve written off Google’s competition as a threat to Google’s long-term market share gains. But I haven’t written off Google’s own ability to stretch too far and try to do too much. Ultimately, that is the biggest risk in the Google story.” But after the announcement, Google's stock rose $7.57, or 1.1 percent, to $673.57, and Stone reports that Hewlett-Packard announced Tuesday it would be installing a 1-megawatt solar system at its San Diego plant and would purchase 80 gigawatt-hours of wind energy in Ireland. (Read more)

As Farm Bill amendments are sorted out, critics say it must do more to improve kids' nutrition

The number of amendments the Senate will consider on the Farm Bill "has been narrowed down, in principle, to about five amendments from Democrats and about 10 for the Republicans," reports Agri-Pulse. "A couple of additional amendments that are not considered germane to the bill may also be allowed." It remained unclear yesterday whether Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would schedule debate for next week or later in December, Agri-Pulse reports. (Subscription site, but a free trial is available)

It also remains to be seen whether any of the Senate amendments will deal with complaints that some farm subsidies encourage unhealthy school lunches and overweight kids. Nicole Gaouette of the Los Angeles Times reports, "The $288-billion Senate bill would spend more on fruits and vegetables, but children's health advocates say that it still tilts much more toward subsidizing farmers than promoting healthful food. They say they are concerned about rising rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-driven diseases. Organizations such as the President's Cancer Panel have directly linked agricultural policy and cancer."

Critics say the Farm Bill's support of crops such as corn and soybeans leads to more processed food in school cafeterias, which they say only adds to the nation's obesity problem. About 16 percent of children are obese, and that percentage is expected to jump to 24 by 2015. The Senate bill would expand a fruit-and-vegetable program for school lunches. (Read more) Meanwhile, Agri-Pulse reports on a school-foods report card from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, saying two-thirds of the states "have no or weak nutrition standards to limit junk-food and soda sales." Kentucky and Oregon had the best such policies. (Read more)

Health care from group set up to aid Third World prompts coalfield writer to urge health education

Recently, we ran an item about residents of Central Appalachia getting health care from a group that was created to provide care to the Third World. In The Coalfield Progress of Norton, Va., longtime Appalachian advocate Frank Kilgore, at attorney in St. Paul, Va., makes a similar reference in arguing for a big investment in health education to improve the region's poor health status.

"The term 'Third World' comes up often when the coalfield region’s health care system, economic see-saw and environmental degradations come into focus," Kilgore writes. "Our region’s health care statistics are still shameful, and the images of the huge crowds at annual Remote Area Medical health care events in the Virginia communities of Wise and Grundy are not acceptable in the world’s richest nation in one of the nation’s richest states."

Kilgore says there's plenty of blame to go around, but holds up a mirror for his readers: "The state of the region’s poor health statistics has many causes, most of them preventable. Coalfield residents, more than almost any other national sub-group, eat too much of the wrong foods, fail to exercise and go about abusing drugs, alcohol and tobacco at alarming rates. . . . We cannot allow another generation of coalfield youth to become national poster children for bad choices. The state governments of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia and federal agencies must make health education and preventative health care a priority in the coalfields and other under served areas. Thousands of lives and billions of taxpayer dollars in treatment expenses hang in the balance." (Read more; subscription may be required)

Wall Street Journal sums up problems of ethanol

The Wall Street Journal is the latest media outlet, and perhaps the most influential, to report on the turnaround in the fortunes of ethanol -- once hailed as economic salvation for a large part of rural America, now suffering from sharply declining profit margins (Journal graphic) and a storm of criticism, all summed up by reporter Lauren Etter:

"The fortunes of many U.S. farmers, farm towns and ethanol companies are tied to corn-based ethanol, of which America is the largest producer. . . . A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that biofuels 'offer a cure (for oil dependence) that is worse than the disease.' A National Academy of Sciences study said corn-based ethanol could strain water supplies. The American Lung Association [see comment below] expressed concern about a form of air pollution from burning ethanol in gasoline. Political cartoonists have taken to skewering the fuel for raising the price of food to the world's poor."

What happened to prices and profit? Because ethanol is usually 10 percent of a blend with gasoline, the market for it became saturated as many new distilleries started up. "Some observers regard the profit squeeze as part of an ordinary industry shakeout that will ultimately leave the best producers in a position to thrive," Etter writes. "As ethanol prices were pushed lower and corn prices stayed high, ethanol profit margins dropped from $2.30 per gallon last year to less than 25 cents a gallon."

Etter goes on to give a comprehensive and authoritative rundown of the situation, including a Washington angle: "The fuel's lobby is pleading with Congress to drastically boost the amount of ethanol that oil refiners must blend into gasoline. But formidable opponents such as the livestock, packaged-food and oil industries also have lawmakers' ears. What once looked like a slam-dunk could now languish in pending energy legislation that might not pass for weeks, if ever." (Read more; subscription may be required)

Steven Mufson of The Washington Post reports, however, that negotiators on the energy bill are nearing agreement. "There has been one change in the biofuels measure. While the Senate bill required that at least 3 billion gallons of "advanced biofuels" derived from sources other than corn be used starting in 2016, escalating to 21 billion gallons by 2022, new language would require that the first advanced biofuels be used in 2013. That might ease demand for corn, which has soared in price, and recognize that companies are making progress in using new feedstocks in pilot projects." (Read more)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Retiring N.H. agriculture commissioner reflects on evolution of farming in Granite State

New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor, retiring after 25 years in the appointive job, writes in his last column for his department's Weekly Market Bulletin that farming in the Granite State "has evolved greatly over those years," with the loss of most dairy farms and many apple orchards but a huge expansion of farmers' markets, horticulture and other products.

"The profit opportunities afforded by a growing population of prosperous nearby consumers have invigorated every sector of New Hampshire agriculture," Taylor writes. "Maple, equine, Christmas trees, meat animals for ethnic markets — you name it, our market prospects are close by and they’re ready to spend." (Subscribe to the Bulletin)

Taylor's replacement, Lorraine Stuart Merrill, was confirmed this week and will be sworn in next week. She and Taylor are both farmer-journalists, as this item noted.

Illegally dumped deer carcasses make hunting season unpleasant for some

Some rural residents in Michigan dread the beginning of deer hunting season, because each year it brings the nuisance of illegally dumped deer carcasses. In Bennington Township, Mich., Rick and Dawn Lucas had 17 deer carcasses dropped within 100 yards of their home, reports The Argus-Press in Owosso. The problem is not a new one, but it might be getting worse due to under staffing at the Department of Natural Resources, reports Scott Atkinson. In rural areas such as around the Lucases, a lack of witnesses and patrols means the problem might not be going away soon. (Read more)

The problem is prevalent in other states, reports the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald. Outdoors editor Brad Dokken interviewed hunters and officials who said it is all too common. "'It,' in this case, is the practice of dumping deer carcasses - the bones and crud that's left over after the meat has been removed - in waterways, roadside ditches or other highly visible place," Dokken writes. "Besides being illegal, dumping carcasses is unsightly and gives all deer hunters a bad name." He also cites the latest weekly report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources which included plenty of complaints about the illegal dumping. " You know who you are," Dokken tells would-be dumpers, "and it's time to clean up your act." (Read more)

Democrats think Ohio's governor could woo swing state's crucial rural voters in 2008

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, left, is one of the most popular executives in the country, and his fellow Democrats are hoping that popularity could help in the 2008 presidential election, especially when it comes to the state's rural voters, who gave pivotal support to President Bush in his two elections.

Strickland, the state's first Democratic governor since 1989, and a former congressman for rural southeast Ohio, took office by winning over many of those voters in 2006, but experts are uncertain he could help a Democratic nominee do the same next year as the nominee for vice president, reports The Chicago Tribune.

"Strickland's former campaign strategists estimate he earned the votes of some 560,000 Ohioans who voted for Bush in 2004," Jim Tankersley writes from Columbus. "A swing of 60,000 votes from Bush to Kerry would have pushed the state and the White House into Democratic hands. So everything else being equal, the Strickland strategists estimate, all the 2008 Democratic nominee has to do is hold onto 1 in 9 voters who went for Bush and Strickland."

Republican strategists say that won't be easy, since the Democratic candidates are not like Strickland. But Strickland and other state Democrats say that to win non-urban voters, the nominee should follow the governor's style, which Strickland told Tankersley means avoiding "divisive" issues and partisan "name-calling." (Read more)

Farmers join micro-distillery boom by opening stills of their own, some called 'artisnal'

In the era of Prohibition, many farmers did extra (and illegal) business by distilling spirits. Now, many are getting back in the business, legally. Two years ago, the farm-based High Plains Liquor Co. was the first distillery in Kansas since Prohibition, but now it is just one of many rural operations starting to cash in on the micro-distillery boom, reports The New York Times.

Seth Fox (in photo by Ed Zurga for the Times) opened his distillery at the perfect time, reports Susan Saulny. "With its abundance of grain and fruit, the Midwest stands poised to capitalize on the confluence of trends unlike any other region and could, in time, come to rival California, currently the leader in small-scale distilling, experts said," she writes. "Small, private distilleries are opening at a rate of about 10 to 20 a year. There are about 100 across the country. Some are attached to wineries, restaurants and breweries, or, increasingly, are located on farms."

To capitalize on the boom, agricultural states are easing decades-old laws regarding distilleries, and the micro-distilleries — which offer products such pumpkin-infused vodka — are popping up in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and elsewhere. The products are not the only draw, Saulny writes, since the stills themselves have become tourist magnets. (Read more)

After court ruling, Homeland Security promises changes to immigration policy

As part of a promised crackdown on illegal immigration, the Department of Homeland Security proposed to punish employers of illegal immigrants. The department planned to send letters threatening legal action for employers if they did not fire employees whose Social Security numbers could not be verified. In October, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled against these "no-match" letters, and last week, Homeland Security filed a motion asking for time to revise the rule, reports The New York Times.

Breyer's ruling had blocked the sending of the first batch of letters and asked that the administration perform a survey of small businesses to determine the impact of the rule, reports Julia Preston. "In a four-page motion filed Friday, the government, without acknowledging any flaws in the original rule, asked Judge Breyer to suspend the case so the Department of Homeland Security could rewrite the rule and conduct the small-business survey, which it expects to do by March 24," Preston writes. "The government said that it wanted to 'prevent the waste of judicial resources' and that it was confident the amended rule would 'fully address the court’s concerns.'"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Philanthropist investing in Clifton Forge, Va., to revitalize the small town

In the scenic Allegheny Highlands of Virginia, the 4,000 residents of Clifton Forge have seen better days. Over the last few decades, many factory and railroad jobs have disappeared, forcing many to commute elsewhere, even to neighboring West Virginia. Louise Belmont, the granddaughter of the founder of Reynolds Metals Co. (now Alcoa), has fallen in love with the town, and she wants others to come see what it has to offer, reports The Roanoke Times.

By buying up property, Belmont has begun her own personal economic development project, as she hopes to transform the town "into a tourist destination for leaf watchers, hikers, kayakers and folks who want to go antiquing, shopping or just plain relax," Jay Conley writes.

She has secured an option to buy the old high school (above in Times photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis) and turn it into an arts center. So far, she has opened an antique store, Gallery 416, and bought the town's popular hangout, Averill's Country Store, which she has renovated. Her efforts have inspired others, and the town is working to create a tourism trail to unite the communities of the Allegheny Highlands, Clifton Forge's interim town manager LeeAnn Tyler told Conley. (Read more)

Rural Mainstreet Index says the outlook for the rural economy in Upper Midwest is improving

A survey of rural bankers says the economic outlook for rural areas is improving, reports Radio Iowa. Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss performed the survey — which is called the Rural Mainstreet Index — by talking to bankers in small communities in 10 states, Matt Kelley reports. Bankers in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

This is the first sign of improvement since August, and that's likely due to higher grain prices for farmers, Goss told Kelley. Goss' earlier survey of purchasing managers showed the opposite, that regional growth was slowing at a rapid pace. He told Kelley the new survey was less biased toward urban areas, and thus it is a better indicator of the rural economic outlook.

"We will see some bleeding of the economic downturn into rural America, but I think with very good farm income, with a farm bill that's moving through Congress and will ultimately be signed by the president and will be pretty good, I think the farm economy's going to hold up better than the urban areas," Goss said. (Read more)

After leaving New York City for rural Long Island, some newcomers don't like what they've found

A few weeks ago, we reported about how some new rural dwellers were surprised by the real sights and sounds of rural life near horse farms in Georgia. Some New Yorkers who moved from the city to parts of Long Island are experiencing the same culture shock, reports The New York Times.

Recently, more New Yorkers have moved to the North Fork area of Suffolk County on Long Island (at left in a Times graphic) to escape the sprawl of the city and of the nearby Hamptons. The new development has brought the newcomers into conflict with their farming neighbors, reports Corey Kilgannon. The newcomers "are not nearly as enamored of the less pleasant aspects of farms, like noisy machinery, animal smells, pesticides, dust from plowing, and zoning that lets homeowners keep barnyard animals," Kilgannon writes. "More and more, those culture clashes are the subject of town hall meetings and political campaigns in Riverhead and Southold, with officials caught in the battle over supporting farmers’ livelihoods and other homeowners’ quality of life."

Suffolk County leads the state agricultural production and has 700 farms that cover about 34,000 acres, Kilgannon reports. That farmland is the main draw for summer tourists and these new homeowners, but increasing development might put it in jeopardy. "People move out to farm country and want its benefits — the views, the charm — without realizing that farms make noise and create a degree of odor and dust,” Joseph M. Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, a lobbying organization, told Kilgannon. “This has become farming in suburbia, and farmers have to be good neighbors, but it isn’t Disneyland.” (Read more)

Wal-Mart adds lobbyists, ups campaign contributions to help improve image and impact

For years, leaders of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. kept their focus on the company's stores — many of which are in rural areas — and let politics and policy play out in Washington without them. As the economy has slowed, and as critics have grown more vocal in their attacks against Wal-Mart, the company has changed that stance. Now, the giant retailer is taking a more active role in policy by adding lobbyists and increasing campaign contributions, reports The Washington Post.

Wal-Mart calls the philosophy behind the new approach "engaging the opposition," and that includes environmentalists, reports Ylan Q. Mui. "The overarching goal is to improve the company's image so it can operate unhindered by the automatic opposition its reputation has inspired," Mui writes. "It also had a specific legislative agenda spanning issues such as normal trade relations with China and the number of hours truck drivers are allowed to work. In its attempt to make its desires known, it has transformed its lobbying force from a humble two-man shop to a $2.5 million operation that employs some of K Street's heaviest hitters."

Wal-Mart now spends more than any other retailer on lobbying, and in the 2006 election cycle, gave $1.3 million in contributions, mostly to Republicans. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., served on Wal-Mart's board from 1986 to 1992, but returned $5,000 to the company's political action committee during her Senate re-election campaign in 2006. As a presidential candidate, she has received "$19,190 in donations from Wal-Mart executives and employees this year -- more than half of the total Wal-Mart employees have given to all presidential candidates, according to campaign finance records," Mui writes. (Read more)

Writer sees parallels in rural voters' ouster of Australian government and political trends in U.S.

Rural voters were key to last weekend's ouster of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and the Daily Yonder's Bill Bishop, right, sees some parallels between Howard's shrunken base of support and those of Republicans in the United States.

"Howard had built his previous electoral victories in the suburbs and rural communities with a combination of conservative, values-based positions and strong economic performance," Bishop writes. "Howard campaigned against gay marriage and migrants seeking asylum in Australia. He refused to issue an apology for the treatment of Aboriginal Australians. And he refused to sign the Kyoto treaty aimed at stemming global warming. Howard strongly supported the invasion of Iraq and President Bush."

Bishop adds, "Like Bush's strong showing in the rural U.S., Howard had a near monopoly in rural parts of Australia. In the 2004 parliamentary election, Howard's Liberal party won 41 of the 45 seats classified as rural by the Australian Electoral Commission. That rural-based coalition crumbled Saturday, when the Labor Party's Kevin Rudd won what's been described as a landslide election. . . . Rudd won 14 of those 45 rural seats and the Labor party was competitive in the Australian exurbs for the first time in a decade."

Rudd promised to sign the Kyoto treaty, which had a higher profile because of what Bishop calls "an epic drought" that is stressing rural regions. Royce Millar of The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, reports that "A study of the costs of climate change has found rural communities will pay almost twice as much as city dwellers for the effects of environmental degradation." (Read more) Also among Rudd's campaign promises were broadband Internet connections for the whole country, a key issue in rural areas worldwide. Darren Osborne of The Australian, a national newspaper based in Sydney, write before the election that “For many voters in regional and rural Australia, broadband could be the election issue that decides who gets their vote.” (Read more)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Western Carolina University studies the possibility of an 'inland port' in Southern Appalachia

The words port and Appalachia might look odd together, but researchers at Western Carolina University say the mountains could be the perfect place for a different kind of port. WCU researchers are studying the possibility of an "inland port" — a transportation hub that would ease the growing strain on traditional seaports, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times.

A port in Southern Appalachia likely would take advantage of nearby rail lines and interstate highways, reports Jordan Schrader. The WNC study, which has won more $250,000 in federal and state money, seeks to find potential sites for an inland port. The study is set to be completed in 2008.

The first inland port was built in northern Virginia, and it has brought 7,000 jobs to the Front Royal area since it opened in the 1980s, members of the Appalachian Regional Commission told Schrader. The commission believes a network of similar ports could have the same economic benefits for Southern Appalachia, Schrader adds. (Read more)

Small daily in Arizona offers week-long look at the local costs of illegal immigration

The Daily Courier of Prescott, Ariz., circulation 18,000, has begun a week-long series on the cost of illegal immigration in Central Arizona.

"Northern Arizona University Economist Ronald Gunderson argues that those people are a key benefit to the American economy, especially as the baby boom generation retires and fewer Americans are standing in the wings to fill the jobs the 'boomers' are vacating," says a long editor's note. "Local Hispanic leaders contend illegal immigrants benefit society far more than the few who commit crimes. The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and others argue that those immigrants represent substantial costs to society through law enforcement, education, health care and social services. The Daily Courier began this series of articles to put a local price tag on costs and benefits of illegal immigration and to examine how it affects local institutions and the economy. Our reporters found out quickly that it's a difficult task because even though illegal immigration is a hot political issue locally and nationally, many local institutions lack the means to separate out the costs illegal aliens generate from the expenses of serving American citizens."

In the first story, "Illegal immigrants drive up medical costs," Derek Meurer explains that Yavapai Regional Medical Center (in a Courier photo) and other local hospitals incur major costs for treating immigrants, and that those costs do not get reimbursed fully by Medicare. The costs extend to county departments. "According to a 2007 report to Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer, illegal immigration cost the Community Health Service department $1,067,615 annually," Meurer writes. "The report estimated that county departments lose $7,633,557 total each year due to illegal immigrants."

Photographers from five newspapers barred from high school football title games in Illinois

A few weeks ago, we reported a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Press Association and others challenging new credential policies limiting secondary use of sports photos taken at high school athletic events, a recent issue in several states. The IPA withdrew its suit on Nov. 16 after a compromise was struck with the Illinois High School Association for media access at the state's football championships. But when photographers from five newspapers showed up in Champaign to cover the games this weekend, IHSA officials told them to stay out, the National Press Photographers Association reports. These were the five newspapers that refused to sign an agreement pledging not to sell images from IHSA events, reports The Pantagraph of Bloomington.

"Staff photographers from The Pantagraph and four other newspapers were told by IHSA officials that their newspapers had violated the association's policy regarding secondary sales of images from state tournament events, and therefore they were banned from having access to the field," NPPA reports. (Read more) The other newspapers barred were the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, the Northwest Herald of Crystal Lake, the State Journal-Register of Springfield and the Peoria Journal Star. The IHSA said the newspapers were informed ahead of time about the ban, but a report from The Daily Herald said the newspaper did not receive such notification. The article went on to ask readers, parents and fans to send their photos to The Daily Herald.

The Panatagraph had come to cover Bloomington’s Central Catholic High School in the Class 4A title game, and its Web site includes a photo gallery from that game. Its story on the IHSA ban does not say how the paper's photographer gained field access. For a story by Steve Bauer of The News-Gazette of Champaign, click here.

IPA attorney Don Craven told the Pantagraph that IHSA officials “want to use the market that community newspapers have built over the last decades on high school sports and use it for their own benefit. The thought of anybody controlling the use of a newspaper’s photographs — other than the newspapers themselves — is not something that Illinois newspapers are willing to put up with.” For the IPA's detailed take on the issue, click here.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman replied, While the Illinois Press Association has indicated its willingness to compromise on this matter, its actions have spoken much louder than its words. We asked the IPA to have its members refrain from selling photos of our events while we continued to work to resolve this issue. We presented the IPA with a proposal nearly two weeks ago and they have yet to respond.” (Read more)

One newspaper finessed the issue. See its comment below.

Drought continues in Southeast, and rural areas' private wells feel the strain

As extreme drought conditions persist in the Southeast, predictions of a dry winter present a grim forecast for parts of Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Little of the reporting about the problem has mentioned private water supplies, but the drought is putting heavy pressure on wells around Charlotte, N.C., which suffered through its driest summer since 1948, reports The Charlotte Observer.

The biggest problem is with old-fashioned, shallow wells. "Commonly known as 2-inch wells, these typically consist of a 2-inch pipe that goes less than 100 feet down -- about one-third the depth of modern wells," Mark Price reports for the Observer. "Most were drilled prior to the '60s, and they are the least productive and most vulnerable to groundwater changes."

Now, homeowners who depend on those wells are hoping for rain but preparing for the worst. When those wells go dry, homeowners must drill new, deeper wells, Price reports. Homeowners whose wells still work are taking precautions to curb water use in hopes of squeezing more time out of those wells. That includes adding "flow restrictors on faucets" and enforcing "strict rules against car washing, lawn watering and lazy showers," Price writes. (Read more)

According to the latest projections from the National Weather Service, the drought conditions likely will continue in Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia, but should improve elsewhere over the next few months. The NWS has created the Drought Information Center, which has up-to-date conditions and seasonal outlooks. In the last few hours, Chattanooga, Tenn., has received more than 2 inches of rain, while Rome, Ga., has receive 1 inch, The Weather Channel reports. More rain is predicted for Alabama and Georgia, but it is not expected to offer much relief.

Case on gun ban in Washington, D.C., will be political fodder for next year's elections

A case that could produce a landmark decision on gun rights next year will be a major political issue in the 2008 elections, according to a story by Warren Richey in the Christian Science Monitor.

"For the first time in history we could get a definitive ruling on what the Second Amendment really means," Dave Workman, an editor at Gun Week in Bellevue, Wash., told Richey. "Gun rights is going to become a centerpiece of the 2008 presidential race, whether these guys like it or not." That could have a significant impact in rural areas, which were key to President Bush's two victories but have been trending Democratic in recent polls.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would consider the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which a federal appeals court ruled that Washington's 31-year-old ban on handguns (Associated Press photo) violated the Second Amendment because the amendment creates an individual right to own a gun, independent of any relation to the state militias mentioned in the amendment. (Read more)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Obama courts Iowa weeklies; Clinton not so much?

Iowa may be more important than ever in the Democratic presidential nominating process, because Sen. Hillary Clinton is considered likely to win the nomination if she wins the state's Jan. 3 caucuses, while a victory by Obama or former Sen. John Edwards could burst her balloon of inevitability. With such huge stakes, candidates "are scouring the state like never before," going to towns that have rarely if even been a campaign stop, Iowa veteran Jeff Zeleny reports on The New York Times' political blog, The Caucus. On that trail, Sen. Barack Obama is paying special attention to such towns' weekly newspapers -- while Clinton has given at least one weekly publisher a semi-stiff-arm.

"There is, perhaps, no better way to give an hour-long presidential visit far greater staying power than appearing on the pages of the weekly newspaper, particularly in an edition that is likely to be sitting on coffee tables at Thanksgiving time," Zeleny points out, reporting Obama's interviews in Clarion with The Wright County Monitor and in Grundy Center with four other weeklies in a 10-mile radius, three with circulations under 1,000.

Monitor Publisher Barb Mussman, a former elementary-school teacher whose paper has a circulation of 1,367, told Zeleny that no presidential candidate had ever offered her an interview, so "He's going to get a story," not just the usual picture. Her 794-word story focused on Obama's appearance at a local school (where the Monitor photo above was taken) and appeared to devote only 176 words to her interview, in which she asked about education and global warming. Its style was matter of fact, with one major exception: "The word, hope, keeps entering into Obama's remarks."

Zeleny's post spurred dozens of comments. "Everybody here thinks that it’s the blogosphere that is sooooo important - but these small newspapers, I bet they can make a real difference in a community. Why? Because everybody knows the journalists who write them," wrote a poster identified only as Petra. "In the case of Ms. Musmann, readers probably learned how to read in her classroom. Smart move indeed."

David Bordewyk, who identified himself, but not as general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, wrote, "Midwestern community newspapers are plugged in to the communities they serve. The weekly gets a story and Obama gets a better sense of the local pulse. Go one better: Scrap all the TV ads, buy ads in the community newspapers and the campaign will win big."

That, of course, is not Obama's strategy, not Edwards', and certainly not Clinton's. She has yet to grant an interview to John Beaudoin, publisher of the Logan Herald-Observer and Woodbine Twiner, who has gone public with his problem. In a comment on Zeleny's post, Beaudoin wrote, "Barack Obama and his handlers have been extremely professional to work with during this campaign. I have interviewed 21 candidates for President, including Mr. Obama, and I have been impressed with how his people have delivered information to our newspapers. I am the Publisher of two small newspapers in Southwest Iowa and have promised my readers as much information as possible on the candidates. Mr. Obama’s campaign has been top notch (which is something I unfortunately cannot say about Hillary Clinton’s campaign)."

Beaudoin has posted interviews with candidates on this page of his Web site. He said in an interview with the video site Current that the Clinton campaign has offered him a group interview with other journalists, but he has declined because of the success he has had with other candidates. "Once we got that going I thought we were building up some credibility with the Hillary campaign," he said. "This is not an entitlement thing ... I promised my readers I was going to bring them every presidential candidate, and by God, I still feel like I'm going to. Her campaign, bar none, has actually been the most defiant as far as trying to make thet interview happen." But when asked who he thinks the next president will be, he said, "I have a hard time saying it will not be Hillary."

UPDATE, Nov. 27: A survey by NBC News of 15 weekly and small daily papers in Iowa found they had "mixed experiences with all the campaigns, Democratic or Republican," the NBC political unit reports in First Read. "Most papers said that their inboxes were flooded by e-mails from all the campaigns and many received phone calls before an event to remind them to attend. The majority of newspapers reported being able to get a few minutes with a candidate either immediately after the event during the rope line or with a one-on-one interview. Senator Clinton was the exception in this case. Both Edwards' and Obama's staff were praised for their efforts to reach out to reporters and provide access to the candidate." (Read more)