Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jack Nelson remembered as a journalist with a record of accomplishment perhaps like no other

It's difficult to imagine a journalist being praised more broadly and deeply than Jack Nelson, who died last month, was praised today at a memorial service in his adopted hometown of Washington. As his former deputy at the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau, Dick Cooper, noted, "Many journalists have exposed serious wrongdoing and gotten something done about it," but fewer have revealed outrages like the Orangeburg, S.C., massacre, even fewer have "earned the trust of millions of television viewers" like Jack did on "Washington Week in Review" and very few have "built news bureaus that were to Washington what the Yankees are to baseball," always in contention and often on top. "I'm not sure anyone but Jack did all those things. Not many came close."

And to that list of accomplishments add: the leading supporter of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (which his family has designated as recipient of memorial gifts), a pugnacious son of the rural South who took on its racism, and a great friend, evidenced by the same qualities that made him a great reporter, Energy Department official Skila Harris said: "his drive, his passion, his hard-headedness, his soft heart." Most of the other eight speakers said likewise, and many similar comments appear at Two of the more recent, back to back, came from former Carter administration officials Hodding Carter III and Bert Lance.

"So the toughest of them all is gone, and the most persistent, and among the most Southern, and for more years than you could count, just about as fine a companion for long nights and great stories as you could want," wrote Carter, now at the University of North Carolina. Lance, who was driven from the budget director's job in part by the reporting of Nelson and others, wrote. "I had the privilege of receiving phone calls -- no matter where I might be -- and personal visits with tough questions that continued until they were answered to his satisfaction. He was quite a journalist as well as a man. I shall miss him."

Gene Patterson, who was Jack's editor when he won a Pulitzer Prize for the Atlanta Constitution, said at the memorial service, "Jack Nelson came into the news media with a high school diploma and a low boiling point." Covering stories in rural Georgia, "He was a heat-seeking missile with a pencil for a warhead" and a former Golden Gloves boxer who put "the hard fist of truth into the belly" of racist officials. ... How many people do you know like Jack who dared to take on J. Edgar Hoover?"

Hoover would have howled had he known how Jack got the medical records to prove the Orangeburg massacre: telling the hospital administrator he was from "the Atlanta bureau," recalled Gene Roberts, who competed with Jack for The New York Times. "I watched in awe as Jack used his index finger like a pistol barrel" in interviews and press conferences, Roberts said, then recounted how Jack used his "command presence" to get a Ku Klux Klan official to provide protection for them and other reporters who had become objects of physical taunting by Klan members at a rural rally.

"He loved his native Souith and he knew it well," from "its charms to its brutality," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who helped lead the civil rights movement. "He was an extraordinary reporter who used his pen to prick the conscience of the nation. . . . Jack became, yes, a sympathetic referee in the fight for social justice," one who "did not seek wealth or fame; instead he saw his commitment to the truth as a high calling. . . . We all are better because Jack passed this way."

Doyle McManus, who followed him as bureau chief, said "Jack taught us three things: Break news, aim high, and share your notes." A reporter to the end, "He believed the only real reason to be a reporter was to reveal hidden facts," not write feature stories. "That was his core purpose, to increase the amount of truth in the world." Aiming high also meant "never losing your sense of outrage," and sharing your notes had its limits. Citing one example of a story Jack shared, Doyle said, "If it had been a great story Jack would have kept it for himself." Finally, Doyle said, "He taught us something about how to die," as he "appeared to be having the time of his life" during final visits from friends. "He never stopped passing on tips and leads on stories that he thought might unearth one more outrage."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Writer welcomes longer period for comment on N.Y. environmental statement on deep gas drilling

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has extended by 30 days the comment period for its draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on natural-gas drilling and fracturing in the deep Marcellus Shale formation. That's a good idea, opines Sue Heavenrich of Broader View Weekly in Candor, N.Y., and her blog, The Marcellus Effect. (The paper has no Web site.)

In the draft, "The first thing you notice is that pages and pages of the document focus on water: water withdrawal, water impoundments, wastewater disposal and protection of water resources," Heavenrich writes. "Breaking shale to release gas is a water-intensive activity. But farmers and rural residents depend on those same water resources for watering livestock, irrigating crops and cooking up hot soup for supper. And those of us who depend on private wells and springs for everything from drinking water to washing our clothes want assurances from DEC that the rules they adopt will provide adequate protection of our groundwater resources."

Two community health organizations in East Ky. offer hope for better care, reformed or not

None of the health-care reform bills before Congress are likely to affect mounting health problems in Central Appalachia, says one rural health expert, but two examples of rural health care done correctly in Eastern Kentucky are providing hope for others, reports Frank Browning of Kaiser Health News. "It’s not all about the money," Dr. Forest Callico, former director of the Appalachian Regional Hospitals and a rural health advisor to both the Clinton and second Bush administrations, told Browning, a Kentucky native. “We have to transform the way we take care of people.”

Browning highlights the efforts of Hazard-Perry County Community Ministries and Harlan Countians for a Healthy Community as two examples of good rural health care. Community Ministries, which has no religious affiliation despite its name, was organized in part by Gerry Roll, who says she wants to "create a community that values good health." In an effort to encourage locals to seek the medical care they need, "Community Ministries’ 'lay health workers' go into patients’ homes once or twice a week, call them on the phone, drive them to the grocery or even organize regular walks with their neighbors — in short, taking an interest in their life," Browning reports.

Harlan organizer Annie Fox thinks the group's efforts to tackle everything from walking trails to clinical care to adolescent drug-abuse prevention has saved the local Appalachian Regional Hospital at least a half a million dollars a year in non-compensated emergency-room visits and other care. "Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes Harlan and Perry counties, has the lowest life expectancy of any district in America: 72.6 years for men and 76.4 for women," Browning writes. Despite those numbers, Callico says the programs in Hazard and Harlan, which provide solid, bottom-up models for a profound shift in the overall health policy debate, are essential to any national reform effort that takes actual care seriously. (Read more)

The full story linked above also contains four videos about some of the women behind the two programs. Here's the one on Gerry Roll.

New report breaks down rural school data by state

A new report from The Rural School and Community Trust analyzes the state-by-state data on rural schools and students. The fifth in a series of biennial reports, Why Rural Matters 2009: State and Regional Challenges and Opportunities, calls attention to the "need for policymakers to address rural education issues in their respective states," authors Jerry Johnson, policy research and analysis manager, and Marty Strange, policy director, write in a news release. The authors will hold a Capitol Hill briefing Monday, Nov. 16.

The authors say their intent is not to compare state-by-state differences toward some arbitrary goal, but to "highlight the priority policy needs of rural public schools and the communities they serve, and to describe the complexity of rural contexts in ways that can help policymakers better understand the challenges faced by their constituencies and formulate policies that are responsive to those challenges." Each state breakdown includes contextual information about the number of rural schools compared to non-rural ones in the state, demographic rural school data and proficiency information such as test scores and graduation rates. (Read more)

Questions about carbon offsets raise uncertainty about legislation to limit climate change

A new study from the University of Tennessee’s Bio-Based Energy Analysis Group says cap-and-trade legislation would bring farmers $209 billion in net returns from 2010 to 2025. The report was commissioned by the 25x'25 Alliance, a lobbying coalition whose goal is to have at least 25 percent of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by 2025. According to a news release, the authors warn that if carbon emissions are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the alternative to a cap-and-trade system with payments to farmers for limiting carbon emissions, net farm income will fall well below U.S. Department of Agriculture baseline projections. (Read more)

Even without cap-and-trade legislation, in the last two years more than 9,000 cattlemen and crop growers signed contracts to farm in ways that are supposed to capture and store nearly 5 million tons of carbon a year, freelance journalist and former Washington Post writer Dan Morgan reports. The economic downturn and uncertainty about legislation have helped cut carbon prices from $7 a ton last year to as low as 10 cents a ton this year.

An Agricultural Research Service study in Minnesota showed test plots using no-till and other carbon storage practices showed very similar carbon levels to plots farmed using traditional methods after a year. These questions have led many farm-state lawmakers to oppose climate legislation, Morgan reports. Not all farmers will be able to sell carbon offsets due to geographic limitations, but Morgan writes, "with or without action in Washington on climate legislation, carbon seems certain to emerge as a major agricultural commodity." (Read more)

Visiting Afghans say agriculture is a key to U.S. efforts to stabilize their war-wracked nation

Six veterinarians from Afghanistan, on a visit to Colorado, say that if the U.S. wants to stabilize their country, giving the most agrarian Afghans agricultural options beyond the illicit drug trade is essential. The veterinarians were brought to the U.S. as part of the nonmilitary effort in Afghanistan, Bruce Finley of The Denver Post reports. (Post photo by R.J. Sangosti)

One told Finley, "If we keep people busy in agriculture, that will be good for security. We have a lot of land that is not used for drugs. We have no water to irrigate that land. If our agriculture is supported by the United States — if we can have a good irrigation system — this could be good land and a lot of people could get jobs." Retired Colorado State University professors escorted the six to farms, feedlots, research stations and clinics. U.S. officials aim to "improve the livestock and crop production," Finley reports, to increase income for farmers who otherwise grow opium poppies.

The veterinarians are already leading projects in their country with U.S. support, including an emerging cashmere goat industry. After the veterinarians trained 150,000 farmers to cut and comb the fibers from goats, production increased to 6 metric tons last year and is expected to top 50 tons this year. Despite the turmoil in his nation, one visitor told Finley he has no plans to leave: "I couldn't leave and go to another country. I love it because I was born there." (Read more)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wis. journalist offers lesson on stimulus reporting

The government's most recent estimate for the number of jobs the stimulus act created is 640,000. However, when Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Ben Poston began to examine those numbers in Wisconsin, he found the government data was full of problems. Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute interviewed Poston for the "Morning Meeting" post Wednesday to glean lessons journalists could learn from his work.

Poston explains that the number of indirect jobs the government says have been created by the stimulus uses a formula that says for every one direct job created by the stimulus another indirect one was created. "In the end, you wind up arguing with a formula, since the government does not try to actually measure the jobs," he told Tompkins. Even after his reporting Poston says he doesn't know the exact number of jobs created by the stimulus in Wisconsin: "All I can say for sure is that the total is less than 10,073, the figure first reported. From what I found, it's at least overstated by hundreds of jobs."

Poston concludes the interview with this advice for other journalists looking at stimulus data: "Interview the data like you would interview a source. Look carefully at the grants, contracts and loan data for any discrepancies. If the information seems irregular or improbable, it probably is." (Read more)

Newspaper near Fort Hood selling more papers, deferring to Army on whether to use 'terror' label

Single-copy sales of the Killeen Daily Herald skyrocketed following the tragic shooting in Fort Hood, Tex., last week. The Herald, circulation around 20,000, also saw its Web site crash twice on the day of the shootings at the military base. "It is probably the highest in sales that we have ever had," Vice President and General Manager Terry Gandy told Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher. "Everything has increased. We have put out additional copies and they have sold out." (Read more)

The newspaper doubled its single copy production on Friday, the day after the shooting, and increased by 75 percent on Saturday. The Sunday single copy production was increased from 8,000 to 16,000 for a special section dedicated to the shooting (right). Single copies sold out each of the three days. The paper also publishes the weekly Fort Hood Herald, which is independent from the military-sponsored newspaper, The Fort Hood Sentinel. You can read the ongoing coverage of the shooting from the newspaper, the Sunday special section and the Fort Hood Herald Wednesday special edition.

UPDATE, Nov. 13: Amid debate over whether to call the shootings "terrorism," the Herald is "deferring to the Army officials here," Deputy Managing Editor Dave Miller told Alexandra Fenwick of Columbia Journalism Review. "They’re still doing an internal investigation, the FBI too, and of course [Sen.] Joe Lieberman is saying Congress needs to investigate because he says this looks like terrorism. But if the Army is not going to label it as such, we’re not going to go with it. We have very close ties with the Army here and we don’t want to jeopardize that by throwing around terms that they haven’t used. I’m not saying we’re going to say whatever they say and just parrot it back. In the editorial pages, that’s something different. If we decide to talk about how this might be viewed on a larger scale, that might be an opinon piece." (Read more)

Lack of power lines stalls Midwest wind energy

While hundreds of wind turbines dot the landscape of western Kansas, the region has few high-voltage power lines to transmit the energy they generate. "You can put up all the towers and turbines you like, but without more transmission lines, the added electricity won’t get to the cities that could use it," Steve Everly of the Kansas City Star reports. The lines cost tens of billions of dollars and will take years to put up, if at all.

“It’s a showstopper for renewable development,” Ralph Cavanaugh, co-director of the 1.3-million-member Natural Resources Defense Council, told Everly. Kansas, which ranks third among states in wind energy potential, hopes to expand its current 1,000 megawatts of production to 7,000 megawatts by 2020. But only a late lobbying effort from Gov. Mark Parkinson kept a vital transmission line set to traverse southern Kansas on the Southwest Power Pool's agenda.

Transmission line controversies are popping up across the country, including one surrounding the $1.9 billion Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline through West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. But unlike PATH, which would transmit mostly coal-produced electricity, line development in Kansas and the Midwest has a new ally, Everly reports: "The need to improve the grid is pressing enough that it even has some new champions — environmentalists who once opposed high-voltage lines because they might carry electricity from coal-fired plants." (Read more)

Economist says purchasing Alaska wasn't worth it

A new report from a University of Iowa economist suggests the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867 hasn't been a worthwhile investment for taxpayers. "The economic benefits that have been received from Alaska over the years could have been obtained without purchasing the territory. In financial terms, Alaska has clearly been a negative net present value project for the United States," says David Barker, an adjunct professor of finance.

Barker acknowledges several positive benefits Alaska has brought the U.S., even former Gov. Sarah Palin's failed vice-presidential run. "It's a rich source of natural resources, especially oil; its vistas, open spaces and wildlife provide unmatched natural beauty; and, for many Republicans like Barker, there's Palin herself," the news release says.

Barker calculates Alaska cost the federal government $9.9 million in 1867 dollars, which translates to $16.5 billion in today's dollars after adjusting for inflation and other factors. He says any tax revenue from Alaska can best be described as "occasional spikes followed by long periods of net federal subsidy."

But what if Russia still owned Alaska? Many historians believe if the U.S. hadn't purchased it, Great Britain would have, and then made it part of Canada. Barker believes any strategic benefit from Alaska as a source of domestic oil would be maintained under Canadian ownership at a far lower cost to Americans. (Read more)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Researcher says New York state not equipped to handle increased deep gas drilling

An Ithaca, N.Y., researcher has compiled a list of 270 files documenting wastewater spills, well contamination, explosions, methane migration and ecological damage related to natural-gas production in the state since 1979. The list comes as the state tried to deal with heavy demand for gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale that uses hydraulic and chemical fracturing. Walter Hang, president of evnironmental research firm Toxic Targeting, used the state Department of Environmental Conservation's own hazard substances spills database to compile the list, Tom Wilbur reports for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.

DEC officials say the proportion of the files actually pertaining to gas drilling is less than 0.1 percent. But as New York advertises its gas industry as clean and tightly regulated on the eve of increased production, Hang says regulation is "fundamentally inadequate." DEC has temporarily suspended Marcellus permitting while it develops regulations for the process known as "fracking," pumping millions of gallons of water and chemical additives into wells under high pressure to fracture the deep bedrock and release gas.

Only 60 of the 270 cases on file were actually caught by DEC regulators, Wilbur reports. Wang says the rest were called in by residents, public-safety officials, affected parties or "people who just stumbled over them." The DEC data also shows a history of methane migration, a problem encountered in Pennsylvania fracking and New York gas operations not using fracking. Wang says the data shows DEC is not ready for an influx of drilling activity beyond all historical comparisons, despite a DEC's Division of Mineral Resources supervisor's answer to that question at a public hearing last year: "We have been doing fine so far. ... No problems." (Read more)

W. Va. political leaders seek united voice on coal

After a two-hour, closed-door meeting among coal-industry officials and some of West Virginia's top political leaders, Gov. Joe Manchin, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Shelley Moore Capito said they would join forces to seek a high-level meeting to raise coal industry concerns to the Obama administration. The politicians pledged to speak with "one voice" to clarify the administration's attempts to more strictly regulate mountaintop coal mining, Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

"It's about the economy of West Virginia," Manchin said at a news conference following the meeting. "We're just trying to find that balance right now." Rockefeller explained that President Obama wouldn't necessarily have to be present at the White House meeting, but someone who could provide "good, hard information" about the Environmental Protection Agency's goals would. Rahall added: "We need to know what the rules of the game are. We need clarity. We need EPA to get its act together."

If they're looking for a clue, the West Virginia folks might look across the Big Sandy River into Kentucky, where EPA, the Louisville District of the Army Corps of Engineers, state and federal regulators, coal interests and an environmental group seem to be reaching consensus on how mountaintop mines will be engineered, permitted and regulated. Or maybe they've already looked and don't like what they see. We reported it last week.

Capito, the only Republican in the group, said West Virginia politicians must cross political lines to achieve their goal: "I think unified voices are always louder and stronger." Representatives of Sen. Robert Byrd attended the meeting, Ward reports, but no one from Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan's office was present. County commissioners from various coal counties, several United Mine Workers representatives and more than a dozen top industry executives also attended the meeting, scheduled at the request of Logan County Commissioner Art Kirkendoll. (Read more)

Pennsylvania plan to help returning rural veterans

A new report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire reveals that veterans with service-related disabilities are more concentrated in the rural places and the South, the nation's most rural region. "The concentration of disabled veterans in the South and rural America is largely because veterans represent a higher percentage of the total population in these places, although there are also some differences in the rate of disability among veterans," report author Beth Mattingly, who is Carsey director of research on vulnerable families, said in a news release. (Read more)

Rural veterans are less likely to seek psychiatric and other mental health services due to difficulty diagnosing those problems and distance from Veterans Health Administration facilities. Many of these veterans turn to family doctors when non-specific combat-stress related symptoms appear months or years after deployment. To help combat that problem Pennsylvania Geisinger Health System has recently launched the Reaching Rural Veterans Initiative (RRVI).

The initiative seeks to assess local healthcare teams' understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of combat-related issues and develop an education program specifically designed to help the healthcare team identify and treat those issues. A select number of sites will also receive telepsychiatry services. The program is funded in part by a $375,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The state ranks third in the nation in military personnel and deployed National Guard troops, GHS writes in a news release. More than 21,000 Pennsylvania service members have been deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. Geisinger Health System, founded in 1915, is one of the nations' largest integrated health services organizations. (Read more)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How would health reform affect small businesses?

As the Senate enters discussion regarding health-care reform following House passage of a bill, questions still abound about how such legislation would actually affect certain groups. With that in mind, Sabrina Shankman and Olga Pierce of ProPublica used results from a questionnaire from American Public Media’s Public Insight Network to determine its effect on small businesses and the uninsured, both prevalent in rural America.

While two major reform bills would require employers to provide some minimum insurance, small businesses would be exempt. What's a small business? It's defined in the House bill as one with fewer than 25 employees and an annual payroll of no more than $500,000. Senate bills have slightly varied definitions of small businesses, but each of the three offer tax credits to offset higher insurance premiums until more comprehensive reform goes into effect. Small businesses have the option in each bill to buy insurance through a health insurance exchange, but help won't arrive immediately in any bill. (Read more)

The House reform plan and the Senate Finance Committee plan would standardize Medicaid eligibility across states to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, which amounts to $19,378 for a family of two. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plan would expand it to 150 percent of the poverty line, still only $21,855. The uninsured would have the option to purchase insurance from a state-based pool of private plans, and the House and HELP committee proposals include a public plan. Low-income families would be eligible for subsidies to buy insurance through the exchange, but would face a hefty tax penalty for remaining uninsured. (Read more)

Cap-and-trade unlikely to pass this year or next?

Congress is unlikely to pass pass cap-and-trade legislation this year, or next, John Harwood reports for The New York Times. Harwood adds that world leaders are also unlikely to "strike a concrete deal to limit emissions in the name of curbing global warming" at next month's climate conference in Copenhagen.

"The Democrats’ challenge, then, is to make enough progress to avoid defeat in the near term and achieve their priorities in the long term," Harwood writes. While cap-and-trade advocates insist climate legislation will bring economic and environmental boosts, critics have latched on to rising joblessness to attack the plan as "cap and tax." "People really need to step back and get away from the quick-hit political slogans," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said. "We’re looking at an enormous opportunity, and we need to grab it."

As the Senate hones in on health care legislation, prospects for an energy bill appear bleak even for next year, Harwood reports. "People who turn the switch on at home are going to be disadvantaged," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told Harwood. Some have argued that President Obama should skip the Copenhagen conference where the U.S. is likely to be criticized for not doing enough on global warming. Kerry disagrees, telling Harwood, "I don’t think it’s the right course. The president should go." (Read more)

Study says pesticides down in Corn Belt streams

Concentrations of most pesticides in Corn Belt streams declined or stayed the same from 1996 to 2006, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey. Declines in pesticide concentrations closely followed declines in their annual applications, USGS reports.

The Corn Belt, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and parts of adjoining states, has some of the highest pesticide use in the nation, resulting in widespread runoff into streams and rivers. "Elevated concentrations can affect aquatic organisms in streams as well as the quality of drinking water in some high-use areas where surface water is used for municipal supply," the USGA reports. One pesticide, simazine, increased during the period, leading USGS to suggest non-agricultural use had also increased during the period.

"Pesticide use is constantly changing in response to such factors as regulations, market forces, and advances in science,” Dan Sullivan, lead scientist for the study, said in a news release. He indicated that through history stream concentration decline has followed declines in use. But, concentrations of atrazine and metolachlor declined in one stream more rapidly than their estimated use. Skip Vecchia, senior author of the report on this analysis, explained “The steeper decline in these instances may be caused by agricultural management practices that have reduced pesticide transport." (Read more)

Monday, November 09, 2009

The most-read items on The Rural Blog last week

This is a measure of page views of individual items (usually via links sent by us or readers) and does not reflect readership by those who view the blog as a whole.
1. Warren Buffett buys Burlington Northern Santa Fe; analyst says it's a big bet on the future of coal (at least one commenter disagreed with this)
2. Some small towns running short on candidates (updated after the election)
3. Ohio and New Jersey voters approve ballot questions favored by agricultural interests
4. Dueling economists at same school offer differing views of climate legislation's effect on farmers

Deep gas drilling wastewater shows up radioactive

The big Marcellus Shale gas play in New York and Pennsylvania ran into new questions with recent discoveries that drilling and fracturing the deep rock formation generates radioactive wastewater. New York's Department of Environmental Conservation found that 11 of 13 samples contained levels of radium-226 in concentrations "as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment," reports Abraham Lustgarten of ProPublica, the nonprofit investgative reporting outlet run by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

If the findings are backed up by subsequent tests, "the energy industry would likely face stiffer regulations and expenses, and have more trouble finding treatment plants to accept its waste -- if any would at all," Lustgarten writes. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes exposure guidelines for radium, which is known to cause bone, liver and breast cancers, but many disagree over how dangerous low-level doses can be to workers who handle it, or to the public.

"Handling and disposal of this wastewater could be a public health concern," New York Health Department officials said in a confidential letter to the DEC's oil and gas regulators, which was obtained by ProPublica. "The issues raised are not trivial, but are also not insurmountable." New York drilling plans don't specify when state laws governing radioactive materials would apply, Lustgarten reports. Some experts say leftover sludge is likely to exceed the legal limits for hazardous waste and would need to be shipped across the country to landfills permitted to handle such material. One industry official told Lustgarten that disposal would be an acceptable cost of doing business. (Read more) Click on ProPublica map to make it interactive.

State of N.H. co-signs loan to reopened newspaper

Two weeks ago we reported that The Eagle Times of Claremont, N.H., had been purchased by Pennsylvania-based Sample News Group after a three-month hiatus following a bankruptcy filing earlier this year. Now it turns out that the state of New Hampshire is guaranteeing 75 percent of a $250,000 loan from Connecticut River Bank for the Eagle Printing & Publishing Co., the subsidiary Sample created to buy the paper and some affiliated weeklies out of bankruptcy. (Encarta map)

The state agreed to the loan with the idea that the newspaper would help bring jobs back to the region, John Gregg of the Valley News of Lebanon, N.H., reports, but not everyone thinks the loan is a good idea. Lou Ureneck, chairman of Boston University's journalism department told Gregg: "It certainly creates the appearance and probably the reality of a conflict in the paper's coverage of state government. It's a tough and complicated issue, but this one sounds problematic to me."

Gov. John Lynch defended the loan guarantee, saying “It's really more of a job-development, economic-development type of issue.” The day the paper started publishing, it ran a congratulatory letter from Lynch, with his photo.(Read more)

Obama: Feds to have more dialogue with Indians

President Obama met Thursday with representatives of the 400 federally recognized tribal nations in a conference he called a "unique and historic event, the largest and most widely attended gathering of tribal leaders in our history." At the meeting Obama signed a memorandum directing every Cabinet agency to give him a plan within 90 days of how it would implement an executive order from then-President Clinton calling for "regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration" between tribal nations and the federal government.

"Over the past nine years, only a few agencies have made an effort to implement that executive order, and it's time for that to change," Obama said. "After all, there are challenges we can only solve by working together, and we face a serious set of issues right now." The president said tribal nations do better when they make their own decisions, and he believes the federal government can't and shouldn't dictate policy for Indian Country, the Environmental News Service reports. Many tribal leaders took the opportunity to share concerns about environmental and land use issues affecting their tribes with the president. (Read more)

8-player football an option for rural W.Va. schools

Some high-school football teams in rural West Virginia, where population is declining, are having trouble fielding full 11-man rosters. At Hannan High School in Mason County, 11 of the team's 14 members are on the field all the time, making the game even tougher on them, and they haven't won a game all year, Dave Benton of WSAZ-TV in Huntington reports. To address the problem, some are hoping for an eight-player league for smaller schools. Advocates say smaller teams would help schools like Hannan, which are forced to play teams with dozens of reserves waiting on the bench.

But for schools like Hannan to play in an eight-team conference, the Secondary Schools Activities Commission would have to amend its current regulations. Not everyone in Mason County thinks that's a possibility, though eight-player leagues have caught on in other states. (Read more) Here's the video from WSAZ.

Scientific American takes a look at first carbon capture-storage facility at commercial power plant

In September we reported that American Electric Power's Mountaineer plant in New Haven, W.Va., was set to become the world's first commercial power plant to use carbon capture and storage. Now that facet of the Mountaineer operation is underway, with around 1.5 percent of the plant's CO2 emissions being captured and stored underground, reports David Biello of Scientific American magazine, in a detailed examination of the process and the issues involved. (Alstom photo)

"Mountaineer is the turning point," Philippe Joubert, president of Alstom Power, a subsidiary of France-based Alstom SA, which built the CCS unit, told Biello. "We believe coal is a must, but we believe coal must be clean." Alstom hopes to commercialize its chilled-ammonia technology by 2015. Estimates say the CCS process will add 4 cents per kilowatt hour to the electricity produced at Moutaineer.

Mayor Scott Hill of Racine, Ohio, which sits just across the river from Mountaineer and is likely to sit atop stored CO2 within five years, is cautiously optimistic. "It's supposed to be better down there than in the air," he told Biello. "I wonder what happens long-term." (Read more)

Administration, senators, journalism groups agree on shield law to protect confidential sources

The Obama administration, journalism groups and key senators in both parties have agreed on who and what would be protected under a federal shield law now awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The law would protect journalists who refuse to reveal their sources unless the information is necessary to protect national security interests or federal criminal prosecutions, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post reports. New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, one of the bill's sponsors, said in a statement that the new version "preserves a strong protection for reporters interested in protecting their sources, while also making sure that the government can still do the job of protecting its citizens."

President Obama said he favored a federal shield law during his campaign, but once in office his lieutenants said national-security cases should be exempt from any judicial balancing test between the public's right to know and potential damage to national security. The compromise bill says that to avoid such a test, the government must "show that disclosure of a source of information is necessary to prevent or mitigate a terrorist act or identify a perpetrator," Pincus reports. In criminal investigations, the government must show "by the preponderance of evidence" that information is likely to harm national security. The compromise also expands protection from journalists who have contract with a news organization to anyone whose primary intent is "to disseminate to the public news," the functional test that was an article of faith for many journalism groups. (Read more)

The Society of Professional Journalists said the new version of S. 448 is not perfect, but endorsed it, citing the protection it would provide to the 8,000-plus SPJ members. "As one of the largest journalism organizations in the country, and with the most potentially affected by federal shield law protection, we are not where we had hoped to be with this legislation," SPJ President Kevin Smith said. "However, after meticulously and attentively deliberating the language of the new bill and vetting it via counsel and the SPJ Government Relations Committee in order to completely understand the impact of the legislation, SPJ is supporting this latest compromise." Al Cross, publisher of The Rural Blog and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, is a member of the committee and a former SPJ president.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Democrats against health bill tended to be rural; rural Democrats who voted for it were pivotal

There was a rural flavor among the Democrats who voted against the health-care reform bill that narrowly passed the House last night. Of the 39 Democrats who opposed it, 24 are "members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition," The New York Times reports. "An overwhelming majority of the Democratic lawmakers who opposed the bill — 31 of the 39 — represent districts that were won by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential election, and a third of them were freshmen. Nearly all of the fourteen freshmen Democrats who voted 'no' represent districts that were previously Republican and are considered vulnerable in 2010. Geographically, 22 lawmakers from Southern states formed the largest opposition bloc."

Some examples included Reps. Ben Chandler of Central Kentucky and Rick Boucher (left) of Southwest Virginia, who may have felt that their votes for the bill, on top of their earlier votes for the cap-and-trade bill on climate change, would be too much baggage to take into next year's election, though Chandler won by 29 percentage points last time and Boucher was unopposed. Cap-and-trade supporter Baron Hill of Southern Indiana, in a more contested district, voted for the bill, as did highly vulnerable freshman Democrat Tom Perriello of south-central Virginia, and "Democratic officials said ... Obama’s conversation Saturday with Rep. Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, was crucial in winning one final vote," the Times' Carl Hulse and Robert Pear report.

UPDATE, Nov. 9: The Daily Yonder reports, "85 percent of the House Democrats who voted against ... came from Congressional districts more rural than the nation as a whole." Hill, "who was part of a conservative Democratic blockade to the legislation in July," was one of the last to decide to vote for the bill, Paul Kane and Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post reveal. "Hill led the effort in July to craft a more moderate public option and demanded that the vote be put off until after the summer recess. It originally appeared to be a disastrous decision, as he and dozens of other Democrats were confronted by angry protesters at town halls protesting the 'government takeover' of health care, making "public option" a household phrase. But he said the pause allowed lawmakers the chance to let their constituents voice their opinions, so that they could not be accused of rushing to a vote." Perriello, "the son of a country doctor," voted for a bill "that is not considered popular" in his district abut "was swayed by changes to the bill including provisions for bigger payments to rural doctors," the Post reports.

For a Times table of Democrats who voted against the health-reform bill, ranked by their margin of victory in last year's election, click here. For a table from the Post of all the votes, coupled with lists of the percentage of uninsured in each district and the member' campaign contributions from the health-care industry, click here. Here's a Times map of the votes by district, with Democrats in blue. Lighter shading indicates a "no" vote. To make the map interactive, click on it.