Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama does well in rural S.C.; Democrats keep winning turnout battle, rural areas included

Barack Obama won rural South Carolina by about the same percentage that he won the whole state in today's presidential primary, according to the networks' exit poll, which gave him 52 percent of the rural vote to 27 percent for Hillary Clinton and 21 percent for John Edwards. The statewide vote was 55-27-18. (Photo: Obama at National Rural Summit candidate forum in Iowa Oct. 27)

The exit poll identified 36 percent of voters as rural, 48 percent as suburban and 15 percent as urban, based on the location of their precinct: outside a metropolitan area, inside a metro area but outside a central city, and inside the city, respectively. When the actual vote is divided between counties inside and outside metro areas, Obama did even better than statewide. "Rural counties gave him his widest margin of victory, 59 percent," reports the Daily Yonder. (Read more)

Perhaps more importantly, the first Southern presidential primary and the first with a significant African American vote continued a trend of higher turnout in Democratic primaries and caucuses than in Republican contests, according to Al Giordano in The Field, the blog of Rural Votes. "It looks like, for the first time in history, more South Carolinians voted in the Democratic presidential primary than on the Republican side. An estimated 23 percent of today’s vote came from Independents," Giordano notes, drawing from the exit poll.

One little-known fact from the Survey USA robo-polling firm, via Mark Nickolas on Political Base: "Voters in SC may only vote once. Not twice. If you voted last week, you may not vote this week. But if you did not vote last week, even if you are a Republican, you may vote this week, in the Democratic primary." Thus, Republicans got first crack at the independents, but Democrats drew more of them.

The phenomenon of stronger Democratic turnout also occurred in rural areas of the first three states that voted, according to Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters, which defines itself as "progressive." In an article this week, Ritchie wrote, "Lost in the media’s preferred storyline of gender vs. race in the 2008 Democratic primary is the massive increase in the number of rural voters and the steady migration of these voters away from the Republican Party. . . . All three states saw record rural turnout far exceeding that of the Republican Party."

Ritchie said that should be no surprise. "The last decade has seen Wall Street grabbing the lion’s share of the economic 'boom' while rural Americans endlessly waited for the promised benefits of 'free trade' to manifest," Ritchie wrote. "Rural America is now ground zero in the war to consolidate global corporations, with the corrosive spread of big-box retail threatening the fabric of rural communities. And with the disproportionate number of troops in Iraq coming from rural Reserve and National Guard units – many of whom served in critical roles at home as volunteer fire fighters, police officers and paramedics – rural America has paid more than its fair share in blood and treasure." (Read more)

Finally, one last note on rural caucus-goers in Nevada, who went for Clinton in the entrance poll (within the error margin) but for Obama if the vote is divided between metropolitan and non-metro counties. "Obama beat rival Hillary Clinton decisively in nine of 14 rural Republican-dominated counties," notes Alexandra Berzon of the Las Vegas Sun. Nevada Democrats said Obama showed them how to win in rural areas, which usually vote Republican. Cindy Trigg, a rural Democratic organizer, told the Sun, “Now any campaign will know that if you court the rurals you can have a tip in your favor.” Obama organizer Lance Whitney said, “People in rural areas see themselves in Barack Obama. They see him as a true American success story. They see him as representing something new and fresh.” (Read more)

L.A. Times examines Huckabee deal to write book on school shootings, refusal to donate any of fee

Days after two teenagers shot and killed four classmates and a teacher and wounded 10 others in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998, then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, left, got a $25,000 advance to co-write a book on youth violence -- then said he had the idea before the killings and refused to donate any of the money to the victims or the school. But in the next election, he carried Jonesboro, a city of 55,000.

The story of the book Kids Who Kill is widely known in Arkansas, but not around the country. Today, Richard Serrano writes it for the Los Angeles Times and voters in the Republican presidential primaries, where Huckabee hopes evangelical and rural voters will help him overcome his campaign's financial disadvantage.

Serrano reports that survivors "told Huckabee they wanted assurances the killers could not write books or sell their stories to Hollywood, and that Huckabee looked them both in the eyes and said: 'That would be blood money.' " At a second meeting, he said, "No one should profit."

"Dogged about why he declined to donate any of the book proceeds to the scholarship fund, Huckabee said he planned to use the money for his own children's college education," Serrano writes. "Later Huckabee stayed in his private office in the Capitol in an attempt to evade further questions. Then he rushed to his state car and slammed the door on reporters." (Read more)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Failed beef plant in Mississippi prepares to reopen

For more than three years, a 140,000-square foot facility in Oakland, Miss., has been empty — a reminder of the state's gamble on a meat processor that failed. Houston-based Windsor Quality Food Co., however, has given the facility and the town another chance, reports Lisa Keefe for, a publication for the meatpacking industry.

"Windsor bought the plant last spring," Keefe writes. "It had been built in 2003 by Mississippi Beef Processors, and closed in August 2004, only three months after it opened. The closure cost the state of Mississippi $55 million when the owners defaulted on a state-guaranteed loan."

The new facility will employ 150 people initially, but the number could rise to 400 as more production lines are added. A town of fewer than 1,000, Oakland is about 80 miles south of Memphis. (Read more)

Opponents of Va. power plant want more hearings

We've written about Dominion Virginia Power's proposed plant in southwest Virginia before, but the debate over the plant — and coal-fired power plants in general — continues to evolve. Opponents of the $1.8 billion plant want the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to make more time for comments and hearings on it, reports Kathy Still of the Bristol Herald Courier. (H-C photo of plant site)

"According to a news release issued by various groups that comprise Wise Energy Virginia, a group formed to stop the power plant from locating in the region, the DEQ has allowed 45 days for public comment," Still writes. "Feb. 26 is the deadline for comment on the draft air-pollution permit DEQ is considering. The groups are calling for 90 to 120 days for comment."

The group also wants hearings in Richmond, the Tidewater and Northern Virginia. A meeting in Richmond last month drew 819 comments and more than 120 speakers. The plant would be built in far eastern Wise County, near the town of St. Paul. (Read more)

Navajos to sue EPA for coal-fired power plant OK

The Navajo Nation has been waiting since 2004 for an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that would allow the tribe's Dine Power Authority and its partner, Houston-based Sithe Global Power, to build a coal-fired power plant at Desert Rock, N.M. This week, the tribe and Sithe informed the EPA that they intend to sue over the agency's failure to rule on the plant's air-permit application, reports Susan Montoya Bryan of The Associated Press.

The $3 billion plant would produce electricity for 1 million homes in the Southwest, and it would be the third coal-fired plant in the area. "Some Navajos and environmentalists argue that Desert Rock would harm the environment and residents' health," Bryan writes. "But DPA and Sithe have touted it as one of the cleanest coal-burning plants in the country and a much-needed source of jobs and revenue for the Navajo Nation."

Bryan later adds, "Both federal officials and Desert Rock developers have said the draft permit contains some of the strictest controls ever set for a coal-fired power plant in the United States." (Read more) Last week, a Navajo group proposed alternatives to the coal-fired plant, such as energy from solar, wind or natural gas. (Read more)

New federal rules ease restrictions on wolf hunting

The endangered gray wolves of the Northern Rockies are thriving, and that's bad news for the area's elk herds. (At left is a gray wolf in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.) The wolves are considered one of the main reasons the elk herds of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are smaller than the USFWS would like, so new federal rules have enacted to make killing wolves easier, reports the Billings Gazette.

"The rules, expected to be published in the Federal Register on Monday and take effect in late February, make it easier for state wildlife agencies, livestock owners and others to kill wolves if they're affecting elk populations or are seen attacking dogs, horses and other stock animals," Mike Stark writes for the Montana paper.

A USFWS official told Stark the new rules would not reduce drastically the area's wolf population, which is estimated at more than 1,500 and growing 24 percent per year. Last year, 26 percent of adult wolves were killed by hunters, and environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife say the new rules could mean hundreds are killed this year. The groups plan to challenge the rules in court and they oppose the USFWS plan to remove the wolves from the endangered-species list next month. (Read more)

For more on the wolves, check out the post by Andrew C. Revkin on the Dot Earth blog of The New York Times.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Drought could shut down South's nuclear plants and raise electric bills

Drought conditions have plagued the Southeast for months, and many of the region's lakes and rivers have receded to low levels. As a result, the region's nuclear power plants might have to shut down temporarily because they depend on those water sources for millions of gallons of cooling water daily, reports Mitch Weiss of The Associated Press. The temporary shutdowns of plants such as the McGuire Nuclear Station in the Lake Norman, N.C., area (at left in an AP photo by Jason E. Miczek) probably won't cause blackouts, but will spark bigger electric bills.

"An Associated Press analysis of the nation's 104 nuclear reactors found that 24 are in areas experiencing the most severe levels of drought," Weiss writes. "All but two are built on the shores of lakes and rivers and rely on submerged intake pipes to draw billions of gallons of water for use in cooling and condensing steam after it has turned the plants' turbines."

Weiss reports that 3 million customers of the four drought-affected commercial utilities rely on nuclear energy for their power and that 30 percent of the Tennessee Valley Authority's power is from nuclear plants. The TVA serves 8.7 million people. (Read more)

Ark. town hopes rare bird, prosperity reappear

Three years ago, a research team from Cornell University and the Nature Conservancy said it had made a big discovery in Arkansas: a sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, last seen in the U.S. in the 1940s. The large, yellow-eyed bird put Brinkley, Ark., on the map and put tourist dollars in locals' pockets — for a little while. Since the bird has not been seen again, the short boom has ended, reports The New York Times. (Encarta map)

"The patch of Arkansas bayou where the researchers said they spotted the bird is in the heart of Monroe County," Lara Farrar reports. "Once an agricultural and manufacturing center, the county is now one of the poorest places in Arkansas. For its roughly 10,000 residents, the reported rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker fired hopes of an economic turnaround not seen since the soybean boom of the 1970s."

Ivory-billed themed souvenirs are gathering dust, but locals such as David Baxter (in a Times photo by Kate Medley) are on the lookout for the bird and waiting for the boom it inspired to return. (Read more)

Small daily in Ky. uncovers county's improper tax

A small daily newspaper in southeastern Kentucky revealed this week that a county government has been improperly using a tourism tax to fund an airport. Whitley County has a reputation of making its own rules, and The Times-Tribune, a 6,200-circulation daily in Corbin, has found the county up to its old tricks after checking with the state attorney general.

"Since 1999, Whitley County has allocated its transient room tax revenues to the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport — but an informal opinion from the state attorney general’s office states the tax is improperly instituted because the county has no tourism commission," Managing Editor Samantha Swindler wrote for the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. paper.

The 4 percent transient room tax is paid by visitors to the county's hotels and motels. Revenues within the city limits of Corbin and Williamsburg go to the cities' tourist commissions, but revenues from Cumberland Falls State Resort Park — $50,995.15 in 2007 — go to the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport, under a 1999 county ordinance. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama invades Edwards' rural congressional base

As the presidential primary season heads toward "Tsunami Tuesday" in 22 states on Feb. 5, Sen. Barack Obama has found support from two representatives from rural congressional districts, including Rep. Rick Boucher left, a Democrat from the 9th District in southwest Virginia, reports Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"Boucher's endorsement could give the Illinois senator an important base of support in rural Southwest Virginia in the state's Feb. 12 primary," Bowman writes. While state Democratic Chairman C. Richard Cranwell endorsed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Boucher said Obama can win in both urban and rural areas, Bowman reports. “I represent a rural district of 27 counties and cities in southwestern Virginia," Boucher said in a statement. "George Bush received 60 percent of the vote in my district in 2004. I believe Senator Obama can carry it in 2008, and no other Democratic candidate can.” (Read more)

While Edwards had drawn endorsements from rural representatives early in the campaign, some such as Boucher are leaning toward Obama now, reports Julie Ardery of The Daily Yonder. In charting endorsements from representatives of the 25 most rural Congressional districts, Ardery finds Obama has picked up two — one from Boucher and one from Vermont's only representative Peter Welch, an independent. Prior to last week, Edwards was the only candidate any Democratic representative from a rural district had endorsed publicly. Four rural Democrats had endorsed Edwards, including Rep. Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, who called him "the best chance Democrats have at taking back the White House" back in October. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney has the support of six rural representatives. (Read more, including a full chart of the 25 most rural districts)

ConAgra scraps plan to build ethanol plant in N.M.

Rising construction costs and uncertainty in the ethanol market have prompted ConAgra Foods to end plans to build a $200 million ethanol plant near Clovis, N.M., reports the Clovis News Journal.

The 108-million-gallon-a-year plant was proposed in mid-2006 and was to be built near these grain elevators (at left in a CNJ photo by Tony Bullocks) on U.S. 60/84, Monte reports. Clovis is near the New Mexico-Texas border, about 220 miles east of Albuquerque.

"While some Clovis residents see Tuesday’s announcement as an environmental victory, others see it as a missed opportunity to bring jobs and economic development to the community," Gabriel Monte writes. "Clovis Industrial Development Corp. Executive Director Chase Gentry said the company’s decision cost the city about 60 high-wage jobs, $200 million in capital investment and additional tax revenue." (Read more)

Half of Wal-Mart workers on company health plans

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has about half of its stores in rural areas, responded to critics and rolled out more health insurance plans for its employees last year, including options with low deductibles and a $4 co-pay on generic prescription drugs. Since then, many of the company's workers have taken advantage of the new plans, but half still get insurance elsewhere or not at all, reports Ann Zimmerman of the Wall Street Journal.

"The world's biggest retailer by sales said 690,970 employees, or 50 percent of its almost 1.4 million staff, signed up for company-furnished health insurance during its open-enrollment period late last year, up from 47 percent a year earlier," Zimmerman writes. "The remaining employees are covered by either family members' plans or government-provided health care or forgo insurance altogether. During the past year, the percentage of Wal-Mart employees reporting that they had no coverage from any source fell to 7.3 percent from 9.6 percent."
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 15 percent of the nation's full-time workers have no health insurance. (Read more)

Columnist: Cloned food destroys valuable diversity

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration made headlines when it unveiled a study that said most cloned food was safe. Verlyn Klinkenborg right, the author of "The Rural Life" column, a farmer and a member of The New York Times editorial board, offers a thoughtful take in a Times column today.

"The real beneficiaries are the nation’s large meatpacking companies — the kind that would like it best if chickens grew in the shape of nuggets," he writes. "Anyone who really cares about food — its different tastes, textures and delights — is more interested in diversity than uniformity."
Klinkenborg argues that cloning destroys genetic diversity among animals, which once lost can't be replaced.

"As it happens, the same is true for anyone who cares about farmers and their animals. An agricultural system that favors cloned animals has no room for farmers who farm in different ways. Cloning, you will hear advocates say, is just another way of making cows. But every other way — even using embryo transplants and artificial insemination — allows nature to shuffle the genetic deck. A clone does not.

"To me, this striving for uniformity is the driving and destructive force of modern agriculture. You begin with a wide array of breeds, a truly diverse pool of genes. As time passes, you impose stricter and stricter economic constraints upon those breeds and on the men and women who raise them. One by one, the breeds that don’t meet the prevailing economic model are weeded out. By the beginning of the 21st century, you’ve moved from the broad base of a genetic pyramid to its nearly vanishing peak, which is to say that the genetic diversity present in the economically acceptable breeds of modern livestock is minute. Then comes cloning, and we leave behind all variation. . . . Breeds of animals that are not raised die away, and the invaluable genetic archive they represent vanishes. This may look like a simple test of economic efficiency. It is really a colossal waste, of genes and of truly lovely, productive animals that are the result of years of human attention and effort." (Read more)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maytag's old home town may turn to a casino

The last time we mentioned Newton, Iowa, it was to mark the closing of the Maytag plant there. (Or when Democratic presidential candidates stumped there.) Recently, a local non-profit development group offered a proposal to build a casino complex adjacent to the Iowa Speedway on Interstate 80, reports William Petroski of the Des Moines Register (which also produced the graphic at left).

Developers say the casino would draw from the 10 million cars that drive by the site each year and would pump millions back into the community, still trying to replace the 2,600 jobs lost with Maytag's closing, Petroski reports. "The Newton casino plan faces major hurdles besides obtaining approval from Jasper County voters," he writes."The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission meets in March to discuss whether to issue additional casino licenses, and some commissioners have expressed concern the state's gambling industry is becoming saturated." Iowa has 20 casinos, and Gov. Chet Culver has said Ottumwa and Fort Dodge deserve preference for any new casino licenses. (Read more)

Andy Karr of the Newton Daily News reports on a recent city council meeting at which casino developers emphasized the complex would need no taxpayer funding, just a positive referendum vote to allow gaming. (Read more)

Students' school choices can impact rural districts

In some states, students and parents can choose their school. Due to the size of those rural districts — with enrollments often in the hundreds — these shifting students can have "dramatic" effects, writes Shari Chaney Griffin of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

In Colorado, students are free to go to a school outside their neighborhood so long as there is room and transportation. In the past, students from more urban areas switched to the smaller rural schools, but now some rural districts are gaining students from their rural neighbors, Griffin reports. The loss of students means a loss of funding. For example, the Miami-Yoder district in the Pikes Peak region lost about $1 million in funding since more than 100 students in the district have shifted to other schools each year since 2004-05. The total annual budget of the Miami-Yoder district, which has 338 students, is $3.6 million. (Read more)

Rural homeless people face unique challenges

While homelessness is considered an urban concern, it also occurs in rural areas. The story of Barbara Trivitt and her children Eric, 13, and Jennifer, 15, (at left) highlights the issue of rural homeless, writes Emma Brown (who also took the photo) of High Country News, a magazine focusing on the American West.

"Federal homeless aid is hard to come by all over the rural West; needy people are dispersed, and it’s impractical to provide a full range of services in every tiny town," Brown writes. "Meanwhile, federal funding structures favor cities and leave rural organizations wanting."

Philip Mangano, head of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, coordinates the federal response to homelessness. He told Brown: “Rural folks need to get beyond the idea that someone’s going to come from Washington to solve their problem. They have to be strategic and creative in fashioning a solution.”

Brown follows Trivitt over the course of Thanksgiving week, as she and her kids live out of her Jeep Grand Cherokee at an RV park in Coos Bay, Ore. By week's end, Trivitt has lost her Jeep to repossession despite saving up $200 from her minimum-wage job. A local politician puts them up in a local motel for a week, but after that, their prospects are slim. In the West, rising housing costs and dwindling federal housing programs make finding an affordable home difficult — especially on minimum wage, Brown explains. (Read more)

To get this story, Brown obviously had to find to Trivitt and gain her trust, but there was more to the reporting than that. Here are some helpful links for researching the issue:

  • The Department of Agriculture Rural Development Web site has information on lending and other financing related to rural housing.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a Web site devoted to homelessness that includes information for those who are homeless plus national facts and figures. It includes plenty of links to other great sites, too.

Soaring price of gold reopens mines in Arizona

The glory days of the Gold Rush may be history, but the lure of gold is bringing fortune hunters back to Arizona's mines. With the price of a gold at just under $900 per ounce, weekend diggers and mining companies are returning to Arizona's mines, reports Max Jarman of The Arizona Republic. (Dale Enloe shovels dirt, which he'll sift using a machine called a highbanker; Republic photo by Pat Shannahan)

"Investors increasingly have looked to gold as a haven because of falling stock prices and the real-estate slump," Jarman writes. "Demand has pushed up the price of gold as much as 45 percent in the past 12 months and brought a dozen or so mainly Canadian mining companies into the state."

The last Arizona gold mine closed in 1998, but companies are working to reopen mines, especially in western Arizona. The state expects to bring in $300,000 this year from mineral exploration permits, up from $96,000 in 2006, Jarman reports. At the same time, more and more people are spending a weekend gold-panning. A weekend of prospecting can bring in $1,000, one gold-panning club leader told Jarman. (Read more)

Some Ky. farmers drop burley for dark tobaccos

Burley, the light tobacco used to make cigarettes, has long been the favorite crop for Kentucky's tobacco farmers. Rising fertilizer prices and uncertain labor availability, however, have led many farmers to make the switch to dark tobaccos, which are used to make smokeless tobacco products, says Will Snell, an agricultural economist at the University of Kentucky.

The trend is occurring at the same time tobacco companies are seeking more burley for export overseas. "Even though it appears we have opportunities to expand burley use, it’s pretty tough to get a lot of excitement out there right now,” Snell said in a news release from the univesity's College of Agriculture.

Companies may increase prices and incentives for farmers to grow more burley this year, but nothing is certain, Snell said. Meanwhile, the demand for dark tobacco has been growing for the past 20 years, and Snell said he expects dark-tobacco acreage to increase 10 to 15 percent this year. Most dark tobacco is grown in Kentucky and Tennessee. (Read more)

Timber theft on the rise; here are tips to prevent it

The demand for American hardwoods overseas has grown in recent years, and as result, some loggers are cashing in — by cutting down someone else's trees. Timber theft and timber trespass are not new, but "as timber values rise, so have the stakes for landowners — and the attitude of law enforcement is adjusting accordingly," Samira Jafari of The Associated Press reported recently.

The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., reported last month on theft of timber from an elderly couple who "
told police a crew of loggers came onto their property last month and cut and removed red and white oak trees valued at more than $50,000. One of the trees was at least 60 inches in diameter, the couple said." (Eagle photo shows logs left behind.) The couple wrote a letter to the Eagle saying that the man in charge of the timbering crew offered them $1,700 after the fact. "We wanted to leave those trees to our children and our grandchildren," they wrote. "It was their inheritance and we have worked our whole lives to save that for them. We are not wealthy people so this hurts us more than most." (Read more)

For your readers, listeners and viewers, here are some tips for timber owners from Jeff Stringer, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: To protect their property, owners should know their property boundaries and have them marked. If the land is remote, an owner should have someone keep an eye on the property, and owners should notify adjacent owners that they do not want their timber logged. If timber trespass does occur, owners have recourse. In Kentucky, for example, landowners are entitled to three times the value of the timber logged and three times the value of the damages caused by the trespass. For more tips and background, click here.

Timber theft is when someone intentionally steals tress from an owner, while timber trespass is when a logger cuts down an adjacent landowner's trees. States such as Mississippi and Virginia have established specific timber theft laws, while other states such as Kentucky do not have such statutes, Jafari reports. The problem is a big one for Appalachian states such as Kentucky — a 2003 Virginia Tech study said those areas lose $4 million annually to timber thieves. In Kentucky, the Appalachian Roundtable, a group of forestry experts, law enforcement officials and others, is working to raise awareness of the problem and lobby the state to make timber theft a felony. (Read more) A broader source of information is the National Woodland Owners Association.

"Data on timber theft is hard to come by because, experts say, much of it goes unreported, and many states lump it with other crimes under general property theft handled at the local level," reports Susan Saulny of The New York Times, which ran this Jon Gilbert Fox photo of George Spaulding of Royalton, Vt., with remains of a theft. “We have not been able to determine whether it’s any worse in one place or another,” Alberto Goetzl, a forest economist who is studying the extent of domestic illegal logging, told Saulny. “What we have learned is that the concern about timber theft is greater than I thought before I went into this.” (Read more)

Many woodlands have absentee landowners, who find it difficult to monitor their property or get satisfaction after they are robbed. Dean Manning and Tara Kaprowy of The Sentinel-Echo in London, Ky., write today about a family that lost more than 60,000 board feet of timber to a thief in Letcher County, home of The Mountain Eagle.

"After nine trial dates in Letcher Circuit Court, a special prosecutor reached a plea bargain with Josh Baker, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor (under $300) theft charge," without the family's consent, the Sentinel-Echo reports. Family member Ray Fields told the thrice-weekly paper, 'The sentence calls for Baker to pay us $9,000 at $400 per month and put him on two years of unsupervised probation. I told my sister, "This is happening because we don’t live in Letcher County and don’t vote in Letcher County."'" (Read more)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Local health board in Mass. backs off manure rules

Only six dairy farms remain in Essex County, Massachusetts, a jurisdiction of 500,000 north of Boston. But when the county Board of Health proposed to regulate cow manure, to protect groundwater that supplies the town of Rowley, near the coast (Encarta map), dairy farmers, horse owners and their allies raised quite a stink and prevailed, reports Lynne Hendricks for the Daily News of Newburyport.

"Though the board effectively shelved the proposed regulations from last week and approached this week's meeting in the spirit of compromise, some of those present found it hard not to call attention to the proposed regulations, which they say would severely harm their livelihoods if enacted," Hendricks wrote. Farmer Sam Herrick told the board, "What you're saying you're concerned with now has been our primary concern for 20 years. We've had a manure management plan for the past 10 years." (Read more)

Constables dwindle in Tenn., except in rural areas

Sumner County Constable James Woodward, shown patrolling the streets of Gallatin, Tenn., is one of a slowly vanishing breed. "Many counties that once relied on constables have done away with the office, concerned that its time has passed and its liabilities outweigh the benefits," reports Clay Carey of The Tennessean. "But, with at least 10 constable primaries on the Feb. 5 ballot in Middle Tennessee and more races coming up in August, the generations-old tradition hangs on," especially in rural counties.

In culturally similar Kentucky, constable is a constitutional office, so elimination is a statewide question, and unlikely. (Kentucky does require constables to post bonds before they can use blue lights, which has cut down on their number.) In Tennessee, counties can decide on their own to eliminate constables, probably one reason constables have a lobby, the Tennessee Constable Council. Its president, Larry Rains, "believes one of the office's most common criticisms -- the lack of centralized command -- is really one of its biggest assets," Carey writes. "Maybe the sheriff's friend will do something, and the sheriff doesn't want to do anything about it," Rains told him. Constables are "somebody else to call."

Rains' group "is lobbying the legislature to strengthen training requirements for constables and create a disciplinary board that can set and enforce standards," Carey writes. "Sometimes constables do overdo it, and that has led to the downfall of the position in some communities. Several readers have posted comments to the story, giving their own experiences with constables. (Read more)

Sargent Shriver, who tried to help rural America, is focus of documentary on public TV this week

Forty years ago, two wars raged in Appalachia, the Black Belt and other poor regions of America, many of them rural. One was a war on poverty, declared by Lyndon Johnson, whose presidency would falter on a deadlier war, one in Vietnam. But the other war in rural areas was one waged against the poverty warriors themselves, by local and state officials who saw them as challenges to traditional structures and their own power.

That history and much more is documented this week in an inspirational television biography of the man who ran the poverty war for Johnson. "American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver" gets a glowing review from Tom Shales of The Washington Post, who calls Shriver (in Corbis photo) an "often overlooked" hero of the Sixties, now perhaps better known as the father-in law of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Under his brother-in-law, President John Kennedy, Shriver was first head of the Peace Corps, which Shales calls "a remnant of Camelot at its most inspired." Then, as an aide to Johnson, he oversaw the War on Poverty, largely through the Office of Economic Opportunity, which included such programs as Head Start, Community Action and Job Corps, which survive, and legal aid to the poor, which survives in diminished fashion. The OEO was controversial, and came under attack from the left and right, but largely from conservative politicians in poor states such as Kentucky and Mississippi.

Here is Shales' take: "The war proved essentially unwinnable, however, especially once Southern congressmen, some still openly segregationist, got hold of it and, says the narrator, 'terrorized' it. Instead of investigating the causes of American poverty, such warped old-timers as Sen. John Stennis (D-Miss.) instead launched investigations into the programs themselves, among them the seemingly unassailable Operation Head Start, which helped impoverished and disadvantaged kids. Some 12,000 benefited from Head Start in Mississippi alone before the program there was coldly closed down. Perhaps heroes and villains were easier to spot then; Shriver seemed clearly to think in socially heroic terms and to be the target of the ignorant." (Read more)

Shriver was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1972, succeeding Thomas Eagleton, who withdrew. Shriver and his running mate, George McGovern, are the earliest major-party nominees still living. Shriver, 92, was diagnosed in 2003 with Alzheimer's Disease. His letter to friends at that time is the final dose of inspiration in the documentary. Near the start, former Johnson aide Bill Moyers remarkably dubs Shriver "the best all-around politician I've ever seen," one who conveyed "a sense of almost infinite possibilities."

The 90-minute documentary airs on some stations, such as Washington's WETA and Kentucky's KET2, tonight at 10. The national PBS schedule has it tomorrow at 10.

Bill would ban transport, sale, purchase, donation of horses for slaughter for human consumption

Since October, the closure of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. has been blamed for a crisis in care for many horses, along with drought, amateur breeding and other factors. But opponents of killing horses for meat anywhere are pressing their case in Congress, on the heels of an initial legislative victory, reports the Washington bureau of The Courier-Journal.

"Buried deep within the government spending bill Congress passed last month is a provision that effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States. The measure bars the U.S. Department of Agriculture from collecting fees to pay for horse meat inspections, without which slaughter can't legally continue," James R. Carroll writes.

Now a sponsor of that measure has "legislation that would ban the transport, sale, purchase or donation of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption. The idea would be to permanently prohibit the practice nationwide and also prevent horses from being taken to other countries for slaughter." Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Western Kentucky's 1st District told Carroll, "The problem now is that people are moving more of the horses to Mexico, where the slaughter process is even worse than it was in the U.S." The bill's other primary co-sponsor is Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. The Senate also has a bill.

Carroll reports, "Some agriculture organizations, like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, worry that banning horse slaughter is the first step in animal activists' plans to outlaw the processing of other meat. The bill is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, which "released a video report in September that it prepared on the horse slaughter industry in Mexico." (Read more)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Legislator filing bill to create trauma system for Kentucky hospitals; will rural hospitals support it?

We reported here three weeks ago that rural Americans are dying because their states lack systems to designate hospitals to treat traumatic situations. One of those states is Kentucky, but maybe not for long, if advocates can overcome a tough budget situation -- and maybe opposition from rural hospitals. Yes, you read that right. Rural hospitals. Read on.

"State Rep. Bob DeWeese (R-Louisville), a surgeon, said he expects to file legislation early this week that would create a statewide trauma system," reports Karla Ward of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The system would provide more education for doctors, nurses and paramedics to care for and assess severely injured patients, so that they are taken to the most appropriate facility as quickly as possible. ... The legislation would also encourage more community hospitals to seek designation as trauma centers, and would enable statewide guidelines and protocols on where patients should be taken for triage."

Dr. Jeffrey Coughenour, a trauma surgeon at the University of Kentucky, told Ward that states with mature trauma systems have seen a 15 to 20 percent fewer deaths from traumatic injuries. A bill to create a system in Kentucky passed the state House last year but died in the Senate. The bill's price tag is $2.8 million, which will probably be tough to get at a time when the state budget is being cut. DeWeese said the Kentucky Hospital Association supports his bill; however, that doesn't necessarily mean that all its members do.

Ward reports, "Smaller hospitals have balked at the idea because of competition -- they fear that the hospital in the next county will look better if it becomes a trauma center and they don't, Coughenour said. There's also the concern that a trauma system will cause small community hospitals to lose patients to the larger trauma centers." Coughenour told Ward that his university, which has one of the two top trauma centers in the state, gets many patients who would be as well served closer to home and has no interest in taking patients from smaller hospitals. "We don't want everybody," he said. "We're too busy here as it is." (Read more)

Did Obama or Clinton carry rural Nevada? It probably depends on how you define 'rural'

We weren't planning to write about the rural vote in Nevada's presidential caucuses, since the race there was close and the Silver State is the third least rural state, using the most common definition of "rural." But now the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns are saying that each of their candidates carried the rural areas of Nevada, and their argument helps illustrate the difficulty in defining just what is rural.

Clinton won the statewide vote, 51 to 45 percent, but news reports generally gave the rural vote to the Illinois senator. "Obama pointed to his strong showing in rural areas, where Democrats traditionally struggle," wrote Anjeanette Damon in the Reno Gazette-Journal, adopting language from Obama's press release: "We performed well all across the state, including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled." The New York Times reports, "Obama noted that he had received one more delegate in Nevada than Mrs. Clinton because of a strong performance in precincts outside Las Vegas," seat of Clark County, which cast almost three-fourths of the state's vote. Clinton "handily won Clark County," The Times' Jeff Zeleny and Jennifer Steinhauer write.

The Daily Yonder says Obama carried the rural vote, 47 to 43 percent, based on the vote in counties inside and outside metropolitan areas. (Click here for a county-by-county list, boken down between metropolitan and non-metro counties.) However, Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson said on CBS's "Face the Nation" this morning that Clinton carried the rural vote.

UPDATE, Jan. 21: The Clinton campaign still has not responded to our requests for an explanation, but we now believe Wolfson was referring to the CNN entrance poll, which had Clinton winning 44 to 42 percent (within the error margin) in areas that were defined as rural based on the size of the caucus-goer's community. Thanks to Keating Holland at CNN, who explained to us that a caucus-goer was classified as urban if the precinct was inside the city limits of a major city, suburban if outside those limits but inside a metropolitan area, and rural if outside a metro area.

The entrance poll identified 12 percent of caucus-goers as rural, the same percentage as the actual vote cast in non-metro counties. The poll showed Clinton winning suburbs (46 percent of the total) 49 to 43 percent and urban areas (42 percent of the total) 46 to 41.

CNN's method emphasizes speed over the sort of demographic accuracy we seek here. It is the latest way we have heard of defining "rural," which can also be defined as population outside defined places of 2,500 population or more. The most common, and crudest, way is the metro vs. non-metro definition, under which Nevada is the third least rural state, with only 8.49 percent of its 2000 population in "rural areas." But in the West, including Nevada, huge counties with many rural areas are included in Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas. For example, using the metro-area definition, California is the least rural state. (New Jersey ranks between California and Nevada.)

Assuming that Obama carried rural areas, Al Giordano writes in The Field, "It’s fascinating because many urban and suburban liberals often malign rural Americans as somehow being more prejudiced against African-Americans than they. Well, in three states in a row, the rural voters went for the senator from Chicago."

For the Daily Yonder's report on the rural vote in South Carolina, where John McCain beat Mike Huckabee by slightly more than his statewide margin, click here.