Saturday, January 03, 2009

Small-town filmmaker's nationally recognized production can now be viewed online

The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress recently announced its 25 additions for 2009, and at the same time a short film added to the list last year became available for viewing online. "Our Day" made in 1938 by Wallace Kelly of rural Lebanon, Ky., left, is a silent, 12-minute movie about a day in his household.

We reported on the film in an item last Jan. 10. Last week, Kentucky Educational Television did a story about it and, with permission of the filmmaker's daughter, Martha Kelly, posted the film on its Web site. To watch it, click here. For KET's page about the movie, click here.

The film gained national attention through Home Movie Day, an annual event held in New York and other cities. It was praised for its sophisticated staging, lighting, camera work and editing. Dave Kehr of The New York Times, a member of the National Film Preservation Board, which picked the movies, called Kelly's picture "extraordinary" and said in his personal blog that it "displays a more sophisticated sense of mise-en-scene [staging] than the great majority of current Hollywood features."

Surgeons starting to disappear from rural areas

General surgeons "are the backbone of rural medicine, and all across the country they are starting to disappear," David Brown writes for The Washington Post. That means longer, more expenisve and in some cases more dangerous trips for specialized services, and it threatens the futire of some rural hospitals.

"Many young physicians are opting for non-surgical specialties, such as radiology or cardiology, in which they can earn as much money as a surgeon with less grueling and unpredictable hours," Brown explains. "Many young surgeons, in turn, choose to concentrate in fields such as transplant surgery or plastic surgery, in which they can make more money and don't have to face (usually alone) the wide range of problems a generalist faces."

The problem is getting worse and is not about to get better, because more than half of general surgeons in rural areas are over 50, "and a wave of retirements is expected in the coming decade," Brown writes. Surgeons are a key element in access to specialized health-care services, he notes: "Without general surgeons as backup, family practitioners can't deliver babies, emergency rooms can't take trauma cases, and most internists won't do complicated procedures such as colonoscopies." (Read more)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cattle ranchers say they quashed backdoor effort by feds to require registration of farm premises

Mandatory premises registration, the bugaboo of the National Animal Identification System, won't be coming in through the back door, says the leading group of independent cattle ranchers.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has canceled a September memorandum that would have required registration of premises owned by "producers involved in interstate commerce and in any of the federally regulated disease programs," according to R-CALF USA, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America.

"R-CALF had demanded the agency retract the memo," reports Tom Johnston of MeatingPlace. R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard told Bob Meyer of Brownfield Network that the retraction wouldn't affect states that require premises registration, but "Bullard says there are a number of challenges to state laws either filed or in the works and R-CALF has submitted affidavits in support of some of those producers." (Read more)

Iowa Independent posts its brag sheet for 2008

"In journalism, the scoop is the name of the game," writes Jason Hancock of the Iowa Independent. "The exclusive story is no longer the exclusive domain of the traditional media. In many cases, it’s the small, independent media that are breaking stories and driving the news these days." The Independent, one of five state-based news sites of the Center for Independent Media, claims eight such scoops in 2008.

First on the list is Doug Burns' June 29 prediction that Arizona Sen. John McCain would pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. The prediction was only in the headline, but Doug wrote it. His lede said (emphasis added) that Palin "could vault from relative national obscurity," and our friend deserves credit for a very perceptive guess, and for much good reporting on a wide range of topics.

Five of the Independent's eight scoops dealt with the presidential election, in which Iowa cast the first votes, made Barack Obama the front-runner and was a battleground state for most of the general-election race before falling into the Obama column. For the Independent's report on itself, click here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

State legislator has bill to ban corn ethanol in N.H.

Even as federal officials consider raising the amount of ethanol in gasoline from the current 10 percent, a New Hampshire legislator has drafted a bill to ban corn-based ethanol from being any part of the mix in his state, Steve Taylor reports in Lancaster Farming, a weekly journal aimed at the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

"It makes no sense environmentally when making a gallon of ethanol has a bigger carbon footprint than a gallon of gasoline, and it makes no sense to allow it to drive up food costs and availability when millions of people around the globe are facing starvation,” David Campbell told Taylor, who writes that the lawmaker is "undeterred" despite advice from "state bureaucrats" who say his idea "is an impossibility in light of ethanol mandates coming down from Washington."

Taylor, who recently retired after a long tenure as New Hampshire's appointed agriculture commissioner, reports that Campbell has allies in "owners of chainsaws, snowmobiles, outboard boat motors, weed whackers and other power equipment who have already seen their machines damaged by fuel containing ethanol. They’re the leading edge of what the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a Washington trade group, says is going to be a huge and angry mass of equipment owners should the Environmental Protection Agency go along with proposals to allow gasoline to be formulated at more than the current 10 percent level for ethanol content."

Taylor, right, also reports, "Many in the gasoline industry claim ... unscrupulous marketers are boosting ethanol content well beyond the present E-10 limit because they can make money doing it." (Read more)

So, does Taylor think Campbell's idea will go anywhere? "When it comes to setting public policy, New Hampshire is usually either first or last. An ethanol ban will be sure to stir things up, but I'll bet it will get referred to study," he told us in an e-mail. "But the New Hampshire legislature can do some startling things when it looks from the outside like an idea will go nowhere. The best recent example is a law that banned private entities from mining unknowing patients' medical records for profit. The law was recently upheld by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to the consternation of drug companies, and now a couple of other states are looking to copy."

Threatened, rural South Carolinians accept zoning

Some rural residents of Greenville County, S.C., "have banded together to do what was once unthinkable in the county's rural reaches -- ask the county to add zoning restrictions to their property," reports Ben Szobody of The Greenville News. "The grassroots movement is an example of how traditional property-rights advocates can come to embrace limited land-use rules when large-scale development threatens a way of life."

The move was prompted by a proposal for "a dense, 100-acre subdivision" with septic tanks, Szobody writes. The plan faltered, but it made zoning-shy residents think about "what robust growth is doing to the farthest reaches of a county that still contains vast swaths of prime unzoned property, and how attitudes are changing about planning ahead of growth by way of land-use restrictions." (Read more)

Massey to pay record fine in deadly coal-mine fire

A Massey Energy Co. subsidary agreed last week to pay $2.5 million in fines and $1.7 million in civil penalties for violations that caused a fire that killed two West Virginia coal miners in 2006. "Combined, the $4.2 million in criminal and civil fines appear to amount to the largest government penalty ever in a coal-mining death case," reported The Charleston Gazette.

Aracoma Coal Co. also agreed to plead guilty to 10 criminal violations, including one felony. The violations included "not providing a proper escape tunnel out of the underground mine, to not conducting required evacuation drills, and to faking a record book so it appeared the drills had been done," Ken Ward Jr. and Andrew Clevenger wrote.

The deal with federal prosecutors disposes of more than 1,300 health and safety violations at the Alma No. 1 mine, where the fire occured, and the nearby Henshaw mine. Last month, Massey settled a wrongful-death lawsuit by the two widows. The chief administrative law judge of the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission wrote that he approved the settlement "reluctantly," because the $1.7 million penalty is 61 percent of the amount the federal government initially sought, while Massey CEO Don Blankenship got a raise of more than 35 percent last year, to "a compensation package that probably exceeded $23 million." (Read more)

Wal-Mart settles most suits over labor violations

Rural America's largest employer, Wal-Mart, agreed last week to settle dozens of lawsuits alleging that it underpaid employees as a matter of course and violated other state and federal labor laws.

"The company disclosed in a regulatory filing earlier this year that it had 76 such cases; resolving 63 in one fell swoop would leave just 12 remaining cases. Wal-Mart settled a case in Minnesota earlier this month," reports Miguel Bustillo of The Wall Street Journal. "Wal-Mart lost similar cases in California in 2005 and Pennsylvania in 2006 and was ordered to pay $172 million and $187 million, respectively, for denying breaks to thousands of employees. The company has appealed both cases and they are not part of the settlement."

Paul Secunda, a Marquette University law professor, told Bustillo that Wal-Mart may have wanted to settle not only to avoid further such verdicts, but "to get their labor house in order" before Congress takes up the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workplaces to be organized by signatures of employees rather than secret-ballot elections. The bill "is fiercely opposed by Wal-Mart because the company worries it will make it easier for workers to unionize," Bustillo writes. Settling the suits could cost as much as $640 million, but Secunda said, "Compared to what unionization might cost them, I think they probably realized it was a small price to pay."

Wal-Mart said the settlements were "in the best interest of our company, our shareholders and our associates. Many of these lawsuits were filed years ago and are not representative of the company we are today." (Read more; subscription may be required)

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The Rural Blog is brought to you by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which helps rural journalists define the public agenda in their communities through strong reporting and commentary, often issues that come at them from far away but have a local impact.

In addition to the blog, the Institute conducts research, holds seminars on issues, makes presentations at other organizations' meetings and maintains a Web site,, that is a resource for rural journalists. For the Institute's annual report for 2008, click here.

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Many rural TV viewers in fringe areas will lose 'local' stations in transition to digital signals

Millions of rural Americans will no longer be able to watch some local television stations when all stations switch to digital-only programming on Feb. 17. Unlike traditional analog signals, which gradually fade with distance, "digital broadcasts either come in clear or not at all, meaning that those on the fringes of analog coverage areas will lose that reception entirely after the transition," The Associated Press reports. Also, "Many television stations will shift their broadcast footprints with the mandatory transition by changing transmitter locations, antenna patterns or power levels," Joelle Tessler writes.

The Federal Communications Commission released maps last week of the current and expected coverage areas of the 319 stations -- about 18 percent of the 1,749 full-power stations -- that are expected to lose at least 2 percent of their viewers. For a market-by-market list of those maps, click here. (The maps do not account for repeater or translator stations that rebroadcast signals to targeted areas.) In some cases, a more sensitive antenna, plus the converter box needed for all antennas, will bring in the digital signal. Rural residents may also be able to use satellite or cable service to get channels that the FCC deems local. (Read more)

The switch to digital TV is a major story in rural America, but one that many rural journalists may have difficulty covering because it's an unfamiliar subject and the sources are mostly in Washington. The National Press Foundation is sponsoring a free, 75-minute webinar on the subject on Jan. 22. Space is limited, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, click here.