Friday, June 04, 2010

Appellate court rules Illinois newspaper must identify anonymous commenter for libel case

Newspapers around the country are still working to understand how libel law applies to the Internet, and now a Illinois court has ordered a newspaper to turn over information about an anonymous commenter who allegedly posted defamatory comments on the paper's website. The ruling came from the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa, Ill., against The Times of Ottawa, circulation about 11,500. "The case stems from 2008 when Donald and Janet Maxon of Ottawa took court action to force The Times to identify the person who, under the screen name 'FabFive from Ottawa,' twice posted comments, which the Maxons claimed suggested they bribed members of the Ottawa Plan Commission," Dan Churney of The Times reports.

Several neighbors had opposed the Maxons' plan to add rooms to their house for a bed-and-breakfast lodging, and the family eventually abandoned the plan after deciding it was in violation of a city ordinance, Churney writes. The Maxons wished to pursue a libel lawsuit against the commenter, but Times publisher John Newby said he would not supply the information without a court order. A Circuit Court judge dismissed the Maxons' lawsuit in 2008 and they filed an appeal.

The court's 2-1 majority ruled proper safeguards were observed in the case "to show the legitimate need for The Times to provide the commenter's identifying information," Churney reports. "In the interest of our readers and online visitors, we attempt to maintain the privacy of those who make comments," Newby said. "Until a court tells us otherwise, we feel obligated to uphold that trust. With this recent court ruling, pending no further legal actions, our course of action becomes clear and we can do so with the full support of the courts." (Read more)

Colorado battle over proposed electric transmission line illustrates roadblocks to solar power

New transmission lines are needed in many parts of the country to bring electricity from new renewable-energy sources to the grid, but many residents in the paths of the lines have objected to them. In Alamosa, Colo., the objections of a billionaire ranch owner have stalled a $180 million line, proposed over a decade ago, that would bring needed energy to the San Luis Valley along with providing an outlet for the abundant solar energy resources of the area, Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports. Perhaps in response to the controversy, the Colorado legislature recently removed the solar energy requirement from its renewable energy standard.

The legislature bumped the standard to a 30 percent renewable energy requirement by 2020, but changed language to require 3 percent to come from small-scale and locally produced energy instead of a specific solar requirement, Johnson reports. Locally produced energy would not need the transmission line which Louis Moore Bacon, who bought the 172,000-acre Trinchera Ranch the San Luis Valley in 2007, opposes. Not everyone in the valley is upset that Xcel Energy, the lead company in the power line project, appears ready to abandon its plans. "The true potential is keeping the power generation local and keeping it small enough so that local economies can benefit," Wayne Caldwell, chief financial officer at the Monte Vista Cooperative, whose members include local farmers and residents, told Johnson.

John R. Villyard, the chief executive of the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Co-op, told the Times that solar is an inadequate energy source. He favors more base-load supply from coal or natural-gas facilities. He told Johnson calls for a smaller power line that could actually get built might help his cause by reducing the emphasis on solar but still being able to supply base-load energy. Still others are angry over the loss of the needed electricity the line could have supplied to the region. "The big guys can fight it," Jason Kirkpatrick, a third-generation farmer who feels the line is essential to the valley's future, told Johnson. "We’ve seen that."  (Read more)

States look for alternatives to roadside memorials

States looking to maintain distraction-free roads wonder how to deal with roadside memorials for vehicle-accident victims. The Delaware Highway Memorial Garden at the Smyrna Rest Area provides an example of one option, Mike Chalmers of USA Today reports. The 11,000-square-foot garden opened in October 2007 with 268 bricks and has grown since to now include inscriptions for nearly 600 crash victims. (Everlife Memorials photo from Gonzalitos, Tex.)

"It's something states are going to look to duplicate," Sean Slone, a transportation policy analyst with the Council of State Governments, told Chalmers. "It gets at the roadside safety issues while still giving the families an acceptable place to mourn." Art Jipson, a sociology and criminal justice professor at University of Dayton, who has studied the memorials, told Chalmers that other states, including Maryland and Illinois, have investigated building similar memorials but none have copied Delaware's lead.

Most states prohibit roadside memorials, but few enforce the laws, Chalmers reports. "Who wants to be the legislator who says we need to remove all of these?" Jipson asked. Several states, including Alaska, California, Florida, Texas and West Virginia, will put up a memorial sign at crash sites which usually includes a safe driving message. Each state has different rules regarding the duration can stay posted and how much it costs the family. Alaska signs stay up for 10 years at no cost to the family. (Read more)

Massey beleaguered not just by mine-disaster fallout, but by anti-mountaintop-removal protests

Massey Energy has faced much public scrutiny following the April explosion that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners, but the ongoing battle between the company and environmental activists over mountaintop-removal strip mining has garnered little attention outside of Appalachia. In the past 16 months, the environmental group "Climate Ground Zero has performed 21 acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, including shackling themselves to towering draglines and bulldozers, canoeing across a toxic waste impoundment, and occupying a Massey subsidiary's office for 10 days," Peter Slavin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Massey has pursued court injunctions and financial damages against the group it calls "criminals" and "environmental terrorists."

"Activists say they are breaking the law to halt mining damage so grave it amounts to a crime," Slavin writes. "Mountaintop removal has left valleys and rivers clogged with debris, wells ruined and nearby homes uninhabitable." Over 100 members of Climate Ground Zero have been arrested with more than 30 being arrested at least twice, and 45 have spent some time in jail, Slavin reports. In the early months of the protest fines were usually $100 or less, but now members are arrested with bail set at thousands of dollars.

Until recently jail sentences were rare and no longer than 21 days, but "on April 22, Jacqueline Quimby, 27, of New Orleans, was sentenced to 60 days after a jury found her guilty of trespassing, conspiracy and obstruction ... for helping block a coal-haul road," Slavin writes. Group members live openly in the community, but have faced some local backlash. In a recent letter to the editor in the Beckley Register-Herald, one man wrote the activists were "living off of some government check" and said "coal miners work hard to pay the taxes that they are living off." In another letter, a woman wrote coal was "our history, and we as true West Virginians should be very proud of it. If these so-called concerned citizens don't like it, get out." (Read more)

Massey's board recently hired the politically connected public-relations firm Public Strategies "to advise it on how to respond to questions about the company’s governance and the board’s general oversight of the company," Stephen Power reports for The Wall Street Journal. The firm is based in Austin, Texas and includes "Dan Bartlett, a former White House counselor to then-President George W. Bush; Mark McKinnon, a media consultant who worked on Mr. Bush’s presidential campaigns on debates; and Jeff Eller, a former White House aide to then-President Bill Clinton." (Read more)

Racial tensions take center stage in Arizona community's fight over school mural

Residents of Arizona town are at odds about a new mural painted on a school wall that attempts to depict children of several races using "green" transportation. "Since the late-May unveiling of the 'Go on Green' mural, dozens of local residents have expressed their views, both pro and con," report Cindy Barks and Paula Rhoden of The Daily Courier in Prescott. Many of those comments have taken a racial tone.

R.E. Wall, director of the Prescott Downtown Mural Project, told the Courier that the artists were subject to many racial slurs and taunts from passers-by while they were painting the mural. One city councilman lashed out against the mural on his local KYCA radio talk show. "I am not a racist individual," Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair said, "but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's president of the United States today and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families, who I have been very good friends with for years, to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"

The next day Blair followed up his initial comments by adding, "The focus doesn't need to be on what's different; the focus doesn't need to be on the minority all the time." Now Wall says the pressure has mounted enough for calls to lighten the faces of the children in the mural. "They want us to lighten up the forehead and the cheeks (of the boy in the center), and make him look like he is coming into the light," Wall said, adding that school officials asked to have all of the children's faces appear more "radiant and happy." Wall and co-artist Pamela Smith, above, agreed to the request and began lightening the faces Sunday. (Daily Courier photo by Matt Hinshaw)

Miller said he also has objections to the location of the mural but acknowledged that many of the group's other projects have been successful. "Art is in the eye of the beholder," he said, "but I say (the Miller Valley mural) looks like graffiti in L.A." Miller Valley Principal Jeff Lane told the paper a committee of himself and two teachers asked the artists to "make [the children] look happier and more excited, fix the scale of the faces and remove some shadowing that made the faces darker than they are. We also wanted some changes to the banner." Wall acknowledges some of the suggestions have been "constructive criticism, which he said the artists would use to make the mural more accurately depict the photos of the Miller Valley School models," the Courier reports. (Read more)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Wyoming set to require reporting of 'fracking' chemicals, but trade secrets will be protected

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is expected to vote Tuesday in favor of "tough new rules aimed at tightening state oversight" of hydraulic fracturing by oil and gas drillers, Phil Taylor of Environment and Energy News reports.

The rules would require reporting of the chemicals used in "fracking," something the industry has successfully resisted in other states and at the federal level. "Wyoming would become the first state to require companies to submit a list of such chemicals and their concentrations to regulators as part of the permitting process," Taylor notes. Fracking "has been blamed for the contamination of three residential wells near the ranching town of Pavillion in southwest Wyoming."

State Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll told Taylor that the reporting would ensure public safety "without peeling the onion down to the formula." The proposed rules note that the state Public Records Act protects "trade secrets, privileged information and confidential commercial, financial, geological or geophysical data furnished by or obtained from any person." (Read more; subscription required)

Meanwhile, Eryn Gable of E & E reports that 42 percent of the voting shareholders of Williams Cos., a natural-gas giant, voted for a resolution that would have required the company to reveal more about the financial risks associated with fracking. "The vote comes on the heels of similar proposals at Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and EOG Resources Inc., where more than 30 percent of shareholders voted in support of a similar resolution, and Exxon Mobil Corp., where the measure received 26 percent support," Gable reports. "Organizers were initially expecting the measures to garner 20 percent of shareholder votes." (Read more; subscription required)

Wasilla paper pooh-poohs media interest in Palin fence, goes one sentence too far and apologizes

The tri-weekly newspaper in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's hometown has apologized for any suggestion in a Saturday editorial that author Joe McGinniss "would or should be the victim of violence" because he rented the house next door to Palin on Lake Lucille In Wasilla.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman editorial focused on national news-media interest in the move and Palin's construction of a fence between the lots. It concluded, "Maybe we’re out of step here, but the unanimous consensus of the newsroom is that we don’t really care if the Palins want some privacy from what they worry might be prying eyes. Fences have been known to make good neighbors and everybody knows we could use a lot more of those around here. So if the fence keeps McGinnis on one side and the Palins content, why would the Today show or ABC care? Finally, those who are fond of Joe McGinnis might remind him (if he doesn’t already know) that Alaska has a law that allows the use of deadly force in protection of life and property."

An editor's note, added Tuesday to the bottom of the editorial, reads: "In an effort to find a catchy ending, I was a bit too creative with the last paragraph. If I had it to do over again, I would have left off the last sentence of the editorial. It doesn’t add to my point, which was that there is nothing particularly newsworthy about someone moving in next door nor about a new fence going up to protect the privacy of neighbors. I certainly did not mean to suggest that McGinnis would or should be the victim of violence. For that matter, I didn’t mean to suggest the Palins would do such a thing. All of which points to the power of words. I misused them on Saturday. I’ll try to have more respect for that power next time around." The note was written by Managing Editor T.C. Mitchell, a later post revealed.

Bob Doll, national figure in small-town radio, dies

Robert "Bob" Doll, founder and editor emeritus of Small Market Radio Newsletter and author of Sparks Out of the Plowed Ground, a book about small-town radio, died Tuesday, June 1 in Seguin, Tex. He and his wife Barb started the newsletter in 1983 and sold it to Jay Mitchell 10 years later. "If I'd been born before radio, I'd have been a small-town newspaper editor like William Allen White in Emporia, Kansas," Doll said.

Doll grew up in Cincinnati and had his first full-time radio job at WDLB in Marshfield, Wis. His first management job was at WEKY in Richmond, Ky., and he was chairman of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association board in 1972. He and his partners owned The Cardinal Group of small-town stations in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio from 1960 to 1973. After selling them, he bought WAOP in Otsego, Mich. For a full biography, click here. A memorial service will be announced later.

Strange bedfellows fight for farm subsidy reform

Last month we reported that the Environmental Working Group had updated its annual database of farm subsidy payments. That announcement paired strange bedfellows in the call for subsidy reform in the next Farm Bill. The news conference to announce the updated database included comments from representatives with EWG, the Center for Rural Affairs and, "somewhat oddly, the libertarian Cato Institute," David Bennett of Delta Farm Press reports. "This is a really good area for EWG and the Cato Institute, which may not seem like natural partners, to come together," said Sallie James, policy analyst for the libertarian institute. "Those of us in favor of limited government see this as a great area for reform."

While James classified EWG's database as a tool that helps with Cato's efforts, EWG representatives called for subsidy money to be shifted to conservation efforts, not cut entirely. James even called for the Tea Party movement to become active in the fight for farm subsidy reform, saying the movement "sweeping the nation talks about ‘limited government’ and ‘get the government out of my business.’ I would really hope that so-called conservatives and Republican leaders that talk about the need for government to get out of people’s lives would agree that (reaches) to farm programs, as well as other areas."

The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, a generally liberal group, cited a failure to revitalize family farming or rural communities as reason for farm-subsidy reform, Bennett writes. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of CRA, said one reason for that ineffectiveness is "Essentially, we have a farm program that says 'The bigger you get without limit, the more money you get from the federal government.'"

Craig Cox, head of agricultural programs for EWG, also took aim at crop insurance as an area in need of reform. Crop Insurance "has many of the same flaws as countercyclical programs," he said. "How much risk are taxpayers picking up? What are the implications of that? What sort of incentives does that create? Is this really a level playing field or is the way these insurance programs are structured inordinately subsidizing a handful of crops? Clearly they do — four major commodity crops account for 80 percent of the crop insurance subsidies." (Read more)

Mississippi Delta doctor frustrated by state's resistance to health-care reform

Many health-care pundits have pointed out the irony that some of the areas that reform could help the most are the areas fighting it the hardest, and at least one rural health advocate is worried about that tension. Anne Brooks, left, a Roman Catholic nun who has run a health clinic in Tutwiler, Miss., for 27 years, "sees the nation's new health care law as a potentially happy turn in a long, hard journey," Noam Leevy of the Tribune Co.'s Washington Bureau reports. "But there's a good chance this story will end with another difficult twist in the road for Brooks and for Tutwiler," as Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has "joined a lawsuit filed by GOP officials in several states seeking to overturn the law." (Los Angeles Times photo by Lance Murphy)

Barbour "campaigned on a promise to cut the health-care safety net to balance the state budget," Leevy writes. "Shortly afterward, Mississippi began requiring Medicaid recipients to submit to in-person interviews once a year, making it the only state with such a sweeping rule. In Tutwiler, the closest registration office is in nearby Sumner. It's open one day a week, on Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., as well as the third Wednesday of month." The governor said the federal health-care overhaul "would prove disastrous" for Mississippi.

Four in 10 patients at the Tutwiler Clinic have no insurance at all. "When someone brings me a basket of squash, I'm happy," said Brooks, who received a medical degree at age 44 from Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine. In 2008, she collected $552,572 for delivering medical care, just over a quarter of the clinic's expenses, Leevy reports. The rest of her funding comes from private donations and grants. Brooks  told Leevy she's doubtful Mississippi leaders will take advantage of the federal help. "I just know I have to see my patients," she said, "It would be nice if someone could figure out a way to pay us for doing it." (Read more)

Education researcher calls out former W.Va. governor over brain-drain comments

Since leaving office former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise has become a vocal advocate for rural education as the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, but his recent comments about potential solutions to the rural brain drain may strike some rural advocates as controversial. When asked what rural communities could do to ensure that students get the education they need without encouraging them to move away, if that education over-qualifies them for local jobs, "Wise answered that we have no other choice -- that educating kids to their potential is the right thing to do," reports Catlin Howley, senior manager for education and research in the Appalachian Regional Office of ICF International. "He cited the development of highways as an analogy; interstates bring people in, but people also use them to leave."

Writing in the Daily Yonder, Howley continued: "Essentially, Wise said, it’s a risk we have to take. That risk, plus broadband, he added, might save rural communities," Howley writes. That approach didn't satisfy Howley, nor did Wise's assertion that many rural students return home after college. "It wasn’t the full back-and-forth dialogue I wanted," Howley writes. "If it had been, I would have cited some data about how rare it is for formerly rural kids to return and inspire real economic development." Wise's comments came at a meeting sponsored by the Education Alliance, the nation’s only statewide public-education fund.

Howley points to promising research suggesting "place-based approaches, which pair local curriculums with community development efforts," or that "Regional partnerships and school-district cooperatives can be used to achieve economies of scale that allow rural communities and schools to develop and fund local solutions to the twinned issues of economic decline and outmigration." Not hearing such from Wise, she writes: "The lack of any policy suggestion was disheartening, especially from a local boy, someone who should know what the rural 'brain drain' is doing to his home state. My purpose here is certainly not to bash Governor Wise. I do, however, want to point up what our exchange suggests—that we rural education activists probably need to do more education and to be more active." (Read more)

Annual 'Top 10' list of 'most endangered' rivers hits on hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal

Concerns about water pollution resulting from hydraulic fracturing have landed the Upper Delaware River in New York and Pennsylvania on the annual list of the most endangered U.S. rivers. the environmental group American Rivers releases a "Top 10" list each year with the goal of "focusing attention on environmental threats to waterways," Paul Quinlan of Environment & Energy Daily reports. The list isn't really a top 10, because there are few repeats from year to year; it's a public-relations device. Of the 10 rivers named this year, two are said to be threatened by "fracking," the natural gas drilling process that blasts millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals far underground to free trapped natural gas.

"We need to study the questions of the risk to the drinking water of 17 million people before we wind up with a Gulf-like disaster," Andrew Fahlund, American Rivers' senior vice president of conservation, said in a comparison between fracking operations and the BP PLC oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Sounds like a stretch to us, but, hey, that's PR for you.) West Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho and Alabama also had rivers listed as endangered. Three rivers were listed for threats from proposed dams. (Read more, subscription required)

Ongoing mountaintop removal in the Twentymile and Peters Creek watersheds was cited as a major threat to the Gauley River in West Virginia, Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports. The Monongahela, which also runs through West Virginia, was listed as threatened by fracking by the report. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and cooperating agencies must stop the permitting of mine activity that harms the clean water and natural areas that are essential to the health and heritage of Appalachian communities," American Rivers said. (Read more)

Database reveals homicide-case closure rates, county by county and agency by agency

How many homicides in your area remain unsolved? Which of your local police agencies have the most cold cases? How do the homicides break down by race, ethnicity, sex and weapons used? The information is in a new database that you can easily search online. It was developed by Thomas Hargrove, right, of Scripps Howard News Service in reporting a story that begins, "Every year in America, 6,000 killers get away with murder. The percentage of homicides that go unsolved in the United States has risen alarmingly even as the homicide rate has fallen to levels last seen in the 1960s. Despite dramatic improvements in DNA analysis and other breakthroughs in forensic science, police fail to make an arrest in more than one-third of all homicides."

The problem is worst in big cities, but a spot check of rural counties shows some relatively low closure rates. For example, the sheriff's department in White County in Middle Tennessee has solved only 12 of 22 homicides from 1980 through 2008; the police department in the county seat of Sparta has solved five out of six. But overall, the data should please rural cops. Hargrove told Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute, "Police in rural areas tend to be much more efficient in solving murders than authorities in major urban areas. That's because rural police often personally know the active criminals in their area and have fewer murders to solve, giving them more time to work a case."

Hargrove told Tompkins that the story can be (and probably should be) localized "anywhere in America. Reporters can see homicide clearance data for their communities at our site. Then they have to solve the mystery: Why is the homicide solution rate lower (or higher) than the national average? Why (generally) have murders become so much harder to solve in recent years than in the 1980s or 1990s?" In the interview and his story, Hargrove suggests ways closure rates can be improved. (Read more) To use the database, click here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

BP told feds it could handle a blowout; Lexington paper sees parallels between bayous and coalfield

BP Exploration and Production told the federal government that it had "proven equipment and technology" to deal with uncontrolled releases of oil like that from the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, Mike Soraghan of Energy and Environment News reports. "It didn't. Still, the Minerals Management Service took the company's word for it."

Soraghan adds, "BP isn't the only company to offer such blithe, and some say false, assurances. Most of the three dozen or so companies that kept drilling in deep water in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank got their regulatory approvals based on documents stating they could easily mop up spills, even gushers many times the stated size of the BP spill. But there's no indication they have any better method than BP." (Read more; subscription required)

The Lexington Herald-Leader sees some sad similarities in the Gulf oil blowout (please stop calling it a spill; it's not!) and the coal industry in Appalachia:
  • Corporate management that puts production above all.
  • Cozy relationships between regulators and the regulated.
  • Government agencies that behave more as servants of industry than enforcers of the law.
  • Profound damage to the environment, people and culture of a region
"The people of the Appalachian Mountains and Louisiana bayous have a lot more in common than fiddle tunes and distinctive accents," the editorial continues. "More than most, they are called on to sacrifice to satisfy this nation's appetite for fossil fuels. And more than most, they are economically dependent on energy production.

"Something else that the regions have in common: The easily accessible reserves of oil and coal have been depleted. One reason the BP well has been so hard to plug is because it's a mile underwater and reaches five miles beneath the ocean's floor. Extracting what remains of this country's coal and oil will require ever greater risks to human life and the environment. Add that to all the other reasons for aggressively promoting conservation and renewable energy." (Read more)

Anhydrous ammonia theft for meth production poses risks; three arrests in one county in a week

Earlier this month we reported the rise of thefts of anhydrous ammonia for methamphetamine production, and recent arrests in one small Southern Kentucky county reflect that trend and the dangers that accompany it. "The arrests of three men in a week in Simpson County, accused of stealing anhydrous ammonia tanks to use for making methamphetamine, highlight the bold steps makers of the drug will take to secure its ingredients - and the dangers involved for law enforcement and suspects alike," Justin Story of  the Bowling Green Daily News reports. Thefts often involve slipping a bicycle inner tube over the nozzle of a tank and transferring the ammonia from its tank to another container.

When farmers use tanks they don't realize have been tampered with, they face additional injury risk from the volatile gas. "It just seems like they just don’t care if somebody’s watching them or not," Jerry Smith, director of the South Central Kentucky Drug Task Force, said of people who attempt to steal the tanks from farms. The chemical can be dangerous when inhaled or handled improperly.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports "anhydrous ammonia stored in a makeshift container exposed to high temperatures can expand and cause an explosion," Story writes. In addition to farms, other retailers have been targeted for thefts of the chemical. "We’re in a pretty remote location in a rural setting, though we’re well-lit at night," Jay Graves, key account consultant for Schochoh Mills, a Logan County farm supply store, told Story. "When we start seeing a problem, I’ll let the sheriff know we’ve got thefts going on and they’ll patrol the area more and set up here on the property and try to catch them in the act." (Read more) BTW, that's pronounced "Shock-oh."

Mine disaster puts light, heat on inspection process

The April explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 coal miners has focused fresh attention on the tension between mine safety and production, and the conflicts miners can feel. Miner Randy Lester works at Massey's Tiller No. 1 mine in at Red Ash in Southwest Virginia, which some have described as less safe that Upper Big Branch. He told Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post that inspectors, who chronicled more than 625 serious offenses at the mine over the past three years, were being "nitpicky," Kindy reports. Lester fears government regulation of the mine could eventually cost him his job.

The injury rate at Tiller is 40 percent higher than at the Upper Big Branch and twice the national average. "Any day now, a judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is expected to rule on whether some of Tiller's contested violations are warranted," Kindy writes. "If they are upheld, the mine will be slapped with a 'pattern of violations' status, giving inspectors new authority to demand that work be halted in the mine until dangerous conditions are corrected." Still "mine's owners and operators have devoted equal effort to fighting off the sanctions," Kindy reports.
"It's a death sentence for a mine," Dave Kramer, president of Knox Creek Coal, a Massey subsidiary that runs the Tiller mine, said of the pattern of violations ruling. "To prove that a mine qualifies for a POV status, the [Mine Safety and Health Administration] uses an elaborate scorecard to evaluate safety conditions in 10 categories," Kindy writes. "Using a mathematical formula, the agency determines whether a mine qualifies for the toughest sanctions, based largely on the accumulated number of 'significant and substantial' violations." Meanwhile a mine operator has numerous options, including fixing potential problems during a 90-day notice period or contesting violations if they fall under certain categories, to delay or avoid a POV ruling.
"With this model, they are telling the mines to not pay too much attention to the fines and citations because they can always put them off with appeals," former U.S. Rep. Ken Hechler of West Virginia, author of the first federal mine-safety law, told Kindy. "These laws will never make a difference if there isn't a will to enforce safety instead of creating programs that can be manipulated." But the West Virginia disaster may be changing that inaction, as regulators are "working on legislation to shore up enforcement tools and give the MSHA greater power to shut down hazardous mines and require safety overhauls before they can reopen," Kindy reports. (Read more)

Coal company looks to trap methane from mines before government regulation increases

Consol Energy Inc., once known as Consolidation Coal Co., is working on a project to trap and consume methane gas, a mining byproduct that can trigger underground explosions and add significantly to global warming. "Consol's project is one of only a handful around the world, but is expected to be replicated as mining companies seek to capture greenhouse gas in order to sell carbon-offset credits to utilities and others," Kris Maher of The Wall Street Journal reports. Similar projects have been launched in China and Australia, the world's No. 1 and No. 4 coal producers.

"What really triggered this project and moved it forward was the potential to sell carbon offsets," Steve Winburg, Consol's vice president for research and development, told Maher. Consol plans to sell carbon credits to a utility to cover the project's $5 million cost and expects to turn a profit on it as early as this year. The project, which is run with Consol development partner Verdeo Group Inc., is located at Consol's McElroy Mine south of Wheeling, W.Va. Each year it is expected to capture and consume methane with the greenhouse-gas potential of 230,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

"Coal mines have traditionally vented methane into the atmosphere, which raises environmental concerns, because it is 21 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide," Maher writes. "Coal mine ventilation systems are the biggest source of methane emissions, accounting for 81 billion cubic feet, or 51 percent of coal-mine methane emissions in 2006, according to the Environmental Protection Agency."  Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said some in the industry believe the relatively low priority the federal government has placed on regulating methane may "be about to change." (Read more)

Western N.C. farmers bring back hops as a crop

Production of hops, an essential ingredient in beer, was driven out of the Eastern U.S. by mold in the 1920s, but a new North Carolina project is looking to see if farmers could once again make it a viable crop. "N.C. State University researchers in Raleigh and a handful of farmers in the mountains are growing experimental plots of hops, the cone-shaped flower clusters that brewers add to beer for bitterness, aroma and as a natural preservative," Jay Price of the Charlotte Observer reports. The researchers received a $28,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation, which uses earnings from North Carolina's tobacco-settlement money to finance projects aimed at developing rural economies.

Most domestic hop production now comes from arid parts of the Pacific Northwest, Price reports, but several farmers in western North Carolina began planting the crop due to a rise in hops prices several years ago and are expecting to reap their first significant harvest this year. "We'd be interested in about as much as we could get our hands on," Brooks Hamaker of Durham brewery Fullsteam said. Fullsteam plans to emphasize locally grown ingredients such as sweet potatoes, scuppernong grapes and persimmons.

"It's unbelievable how much interest this has generated," said Black Mountain farmer Van Burnette, who has planted a plot of about a fifth of an acre. "I've had more than 100 people here on one tour alone, and I get calls all the time from people who are thinking about growing it." Burnette explained if the crop is successful there is a plentiful local market for farmers with nearly 150 breweries within 200 miles of his farm. (Read more)

Lack of dentistry for kids really bad in rural Wisc.

In February we reported a study revealing that one in five U.S. children go without dental care every year, many because few or no local dentists accept patients covered by Medicaid, the federal-state medical program for the poor and disabled. The problem appears particularly bad in rural Wisconsin. "Nine of 10 dentists in the state accept few or no Medicaid patients, mostly because they say the state pays too little for the care," David Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal reports. "Rural areas have only about half as many dentists per person as urban areas do, making the search for dental care even harder in small towns."

State health officials told the Madison newspaper that the shortage, "combined with low fluoride levels in many rural drinking water supplies, means more tooth loss and untreated decay for many rural residents." Greg Nycz, executive director of the Family Health Center of Marshfield, which serves much of rural Northern Wisconsin, told the paper, "Of all of the holes [in health care], dental care is the biggest and the deepest." A network of federally funded dental clinics designed to serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured has emerged in the state, but many clinics have been overwhelmed by demand, Wahlberg reports.

"Most of these patients are a year-long project," Dr. Bob Traul, one of three dentists at the clinic in Darlington, told Wahlberg. "It's going to take a while to get them all back."  While the lack of dental care among Medicaid patients is predominately an urban problem in Wisconsin, it also has rural roots. "The 10 counties without any private dentist who provided a significant amount of Medicaid care last year are rural: Calumet, Clark, Florence, Forest, Jackson, Lincoln, Menominee, Pepin, Taylor and Vilas," Wahlberg writes. "When we see someone on Medicaid, we lose money," Dr. Kent Vandehaar, a dentist in Chippewa Falls who is president of the Wisconsin Dental Association, told Whalberg. "We can only afford to do that so much." (Read more)

'1 For All' campaign to promote First Amendment; needs help from media outlets starting July 1

By Ken Paulson, President
Newseum and First Amendment Center

Every July 4, we celebrate the Founding Fathers who gave America the gift of liberty.

Except that they didn’t.

Actually, the operative word is “fathers.” These gentlemen did a fine job of building a nation founded on freedom – unless you happened to be a woman, a slave or poor.

For all the poetic flourish of the Declaration of Independence, the most powerful passage in America’s history can be found in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The five freedoms guaranteed there gave Americans the right to speak out against injustice, to report about inequality, to protest and petition, and to draw strength from freedom of faith.

In the centuries that followed this nation’s founding, the First Amendment was used to free the slaves, extend the vote to women and ensure equal protection under the laws.

Yet despite its pivotal role in making America what it is today, there are no fireworks celebrating the First Amendment. The anniversary of its ratification on Dec. 15 goes largely unnoticed.

More tellingly, most Americans have no idea what the First Amendment says. Surveys indicate that only one American in 25 can name the freedoms of the First Amendment and that a majority – when pressed – can come up with only one, typically freedom of speech. It’s Constitutional illiteracy of the highest order.

The truth is that we don’t do a very good job of standing up for the First Amendment. Its freedoms are truly the cornerstone of democracy and make America the special nation it is.

It’s time we said that. Publicly. Passionately. Over and over again.

That’s the core concept behind 1 For All, a nationwide campaign to remind the public that there’s one amendment that we all use daily. And it’s the one that truly guarantees freedom for all.

1 For All is the collaborative effort of educators, artists, journalists, lawyers, librarians and many more who believe that the American public would benefit from a greater understanding of the First Amendment and the need to protect all voices, views and faiths.

With the help of the Weber Shandwick agency, we’ve crafted ads that celebrate freedom in America and the ways we exercise those freedoms in our daily lives. The First Amendment gives us freedom of speech, but it also provides freedom to tweet. It protects political speeches, but it also guarantees our right to sing, dance and perform.

In fact, the First Amendment enriches our lives on a daily basis. That’s the essence of 1 For All. The campaign – which will launch on July 1 – is defined by these guiding principles:

* 1 For All is non-partisan: At a time of deep political polarization, we choose not to take sides. In fact, a shared commitment to freedom of speech, press and faith should unify this nation. Organizations of all political stripes are welcome to support 1 For All but the campaign will steer clear of partisan content.

* It’s all about education: America’s teachers would like to do a better job of teaching about the First Amendment, but they often lack the resources they need. 1 For All will provide educational materials, course content and study guides for teachers of grades 1-12. In addition, 1 For All and its Liberty Tree Initiative will sponsor campus festivals celebrating and exploring First Amendment freedoms.

* 1 For All is interactive: There’s no point in celebrating free expression without encouraging some of it. Students and others will be encouraged to submit photos, videos, songs and stories that reflect the value of freedom in America.

* The focus is on all five freedoms: America’s news media are quick to defend freedom of the press and churches embrace freedom of faith, but these freedoms are interdependent and deserve the full support of all Americans. We can’t pick and choose the freedoms we like.

* We need a little help from our friends: Marketing is expensive and an organization determined not to engage in political advocacy or take a partisan position faces an uphill battle in raising the funds needed to spread the word. So we’re not going to try. Instead, we’re going to provide the ad campaign to news media, First Amendment groups, educational organizations, performing arts groups and anyone else who believes in this cause. We ask that these 1 For All partners use one of the ads on the July 1 launch date and then publish additional ads whenever space allows. 1 For All is not asking for money; we’re asking for media.

There’s extraordinary power in repeatedly marketing a message to the American people. “Got Milk” proved that. And every generation understands that “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
1 For All is an opportunity for those who believe in the importance of free expression to share one overriding message with the American people: It’s not a coincidence that the strongest, most dynamic, most creative and most ambitious nation in the history of the planet is also the most free.

One amendment. Freedom for all.

For more information about “1 for All,” and how your to join the campaign, visit

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

'Justified' renewed for second season; writers tell Kentucky paper they want to visit the state

Season one of FX's Kentucky crime drama Justified still has two episodes remaining, but the show has already been picked up for a second season. The show is supposedly set in Kentucky, mostly in Lexington and Harlan, but the creators didn't have time to visit the state before filming season one. The writers are planning a trip to Harlan later this summer, Jason Edwards of The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports. "We will see if FX and Sony will give us any money to go," executive producer Graham Yost told Edwards.

If the trip is approved, writers would spend a few days with the U.S. marshal's office in Lexington, where the show's protagonist Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant, above) works, then visit Harlan. "You know, giving this sort of newer era where a lot of people have got TiVO and stuff like that, we feel pretty good about our opening (season), and I think our numbers (ratings) have been creeping back up," Yost said. "The best part is we got a second season. So, we get to tell more stories."

Author Elmore Leonard, who created Givens, is also working on a new short story set in Kentucky, Edwards reports. You can read the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues' review of the show here on the "Rural Representations and Reviews" page. (Read more)

Will feds' support of 'buy local' hurt big farmers?

What began as a search for local produce may be turning into a political statement about the future of agriculture. Buying local could become in its own tiny way "part of a growing debate between food producers large and small over what the American food system should look like and how government might reshape it," Roger Buddenberg of the Omaha World-Herald reports. As Congress prepares to shape the 2012 farm bill, the emphasis on local food will be a major issue.

"Traditional, large-scale farmers fret that they will be slighted in favor of the 'locavore' growers who are the mainstay of upscale grocers and urban farmers markets," Buddenberg writes. "One focus of big-farmer fears is 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,' a new grant program aimed at 'better connecting consumers with local producers,' according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture." Meanwhile, USDA and the Justice Department are launching investigations into claims that large agriculture companies have too much control over the industry.

While praising Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food's goal of teaching consumers about where their food comes from, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Pat Roberts of Kansas complained it was "stinting conventional farmers, who grow the most food, in order to aid 'small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets,'" Buddenberg writes.

Buying local has taken different meanings for different people. "It can mean food grown or processed within, say, 50 miles of the consumer," Buddenberg writes. "Or it can mean food raised in a certain way — without pesticides, for instance — or by a certain kind of grower, such as a family farmer." Still to others, buying local just means "I'd rather buy my tomatoes from the nice guy," Brad Lubben, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said. While local food may continue to grow in popularity, Lubben cautions that the future of agriculture will likely consist of some mixture of large and small producers. (Read more)

FDA eyes controls on ethanol makers' antibiotics

Concerns about antibiotic use in agriculture have reached the ethanol industry. "Ethanol producers have long used antibiotics to control bacteria that can contaminate the fermentation process," Phillip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports. "But now, the Food and Drug Administration is developing a policy to regulate the use of the drugs and is conducting tests in Iowa and nationwide to determine the extent to which the antibiotics are getting into livestock feed produced by the plants."

Some ethanol producers are switching or testing alternative antimicrobial products in anticipation of possible FDA regulation. "The FDA's concern is with the potential human health hazards from using antibiotics such as penicillin and viriginiamycin that many plants use to prevent bacteria from contaminating the fermentation tanks," Brasher writes. Overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. An FDA spokesman said testing would continue through the end of the year.

The FDA is trying to "to determine the extent and level of antibiotic residues" in distiller's grains, the lucrative byproduct of the industry and a major source of feed for beef cattle and dairy farms, Brasher reports. Jeff Lautt, Poet LLC's executive vice president for corporate operations, said in a statement that the company is "testing antimicrobial techniques that do not involve the use of antibiotics" in case the FDA further restricts the use of those drugs. (Read more)

Alabama loosens regulations to hunt wild hogs

In February we reported the proliferation of wild swine had reached all but six states. Now one has loosened hunting regulations to deal with it. Alabama regulators allow property owners to "get permits to hunt the pigs at night using sniper sites," Jim Cook of The Dothan Eagle reports. "Property owners with permits also can use bait to attract hogs." Licensed hunters can shoot the pigs year-round with no limit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports feral hogs did almost $90 million in damage to farms in Alabama alone and $1.5 billion in damage to farms nationwide last year, Cook writes. Despite the new hunting regulations, Chris Jaworowski, an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources wildlife biologist, cautions that hunting and killing the hogs isn't the best population control method. "A more time and cost-effective method of reducing the population is trapping the hogs, as it is less time consuming," Cook writes. (Read more)

Ga. papers form alliance for political reporting

With the shrinkage in coverage and circulation of metropolitan newspapers, and the cutbacks in state-capital reporters, it's up to smaller newspapers to fill the vacuum, and a group of Georgia newspapers will be doing that with a historic partnership. Georgia’s largest dailies and Tennessee's Chattanooga Times Free Press have formed the Georgia Newspaper Partnership to "provide deep reporting found nowhere else in the Southeast," the group says.

“This partnership helps put an end to the idea that there are two Georgias,” said Bert Roughton Jr., managing editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has drastically reduced its circulation area in the last three years, leaving many rural areas without a metro daily. “The work that these partner newspapers do will go a long way toward providing the state’s voters a more unified voice.”

In addition to reporting projects, the parrtnership will support three statewide polls by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. So far, this is "the only large-scale, non-partisan political polling in Georgia for 2010," the group says, announcing that the first statewide polling will appear exclusively in the partner newspapers starting on July 11. (We wouldn't have indicated when we were polling, but that's just us.)

Besides Atlanta and Chattanooga, the papers in the group include the Athens Banner-Herald, The Augusta Chronicle, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The Times of Gainesville, the Georgia Times-Union (an edition of The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville), The Telegraph of Macon, the Rome News-Tribune, the Savannah Morning News, the Statesboro Herald and the Valdosta Daily Times. Sunday readership of the group alone exceeds 2.2 million.

“As a small newspaper in southeast Georgia with very limited resources, the Georgia Newspaper Partnership will allow us to give our readers much more in-depth coverage of the governor’s race and every statewide race than we could possibly have produced on our own,” said Jim Healy, executive editor of the Statesboro Herald. “Also, it will hold candidates much more accountable than in the past.”

Monday, May 31, 2010

'Fish out of water' publisher sells the Point Reyes Light in rural Marin County, California

A Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper purchased by the self-annointed "Che Guevara of literary revolutionary journalism," has been sold. The Point Reyes Light in rural Marin County, Calif., has been sold to a group of journalists, educators and community leaders by former Monterey County prosecutor Robert Plotkin, reports Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle. Plotkin, who purchased the newspaper in 2005, sold the paper for considerably less than the $500,000 he paid for it, according to several sources involved in the negotiations. Fimrite reports that the sale was financed by $350,000 in donations from 75 people, including San Francisco media financier Warren Hellman and descendents of the family that once owned The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Rural Blog reported on the newspaper during Plotkin's tenure to illustrate how important community journalism can be and how it can go wrong. Plotkin had several public disagreements with David Mitchell, who owned the paper from 1975 to 2005. Early in Plotkin's ownership, he decided to stop running all the letters submitted to the editor, unlike Mitchell. In Plotkin's parting comments, he said of his potential readership, "They wanted a newspaper that would record their births, celebrate their accomplishments and habitually congratulate them on living here."

The current ownership is a "low-profit limited liability company," known as an L3C. It will be operated like a business, with much of the revenue coming from advertising, but the profits will be invested in what Mark Dowie, chairman of the editorial advisory committee for the ownership group, Marin Media Institute, called "village journalism." (Read more)

FCC broadband move draws bipartisan ire in Congress, probably driven by telecom lobbies

More than half of the House of Representatives has objected to the Obama administration's move to redefine broadband without the approval of Congress. "This week a total of 248 members on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to reshape the regulatory framework for broadband services in order to adopt net neutrality rules," Kim Hart of Politico reports. Republicans claim the decision will reduce investment in broadband networks and kill jobs, while some Democrats feel FCC should wait for further direction from Congress.

"FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski does not need Congressional approval to adopt net neutrality, the controversial rules that would require Internet service providers to treat all Web traffic equally," Hart writes. "Genachowski, who has the support of President Barack Obama in pursuing net neutrality, has received political cover from senior Democrats, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) to move forward." The largest Internet service providers, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, have been vocal in their opposition of net neutrality and said FCC action would be challenged in court.

The objections came in a flurry of letters from legislators to Genachowski. "Consumer advocates who support net neutrality say this week’s flood of letters is 'is nothing more than a demonstration of the unparalleled political and lobbying muscle of the telecommunications industry,' according to Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a public interest group," Hart writes. Liz Rose of the public-interest group Free Press, added, "The members of Congress who signed the industry letters are attempting to drastically undercut the FCC’s ability to make a fast, affordable and open Internet available to everyone in America — and are actually taking a position against the interest of rural and low-income communities." (Read more)

Obama administration releases more details of National Rural Summit, to be held Thursday

Earlier this month we reported the Obama administration had finally followed through on a campaign promise to host a National Rural Summit. Now the administration has released additional details about the event, to be held at Jefferson College about 45 minutes south of St. Louis on Thursday. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and the full [U.S. Department of Agriculture] sub-cabinet will be there to continue the conversation about ways to rebuild and revitalize rural America with agricultural leaders, farmers, ranchers and community leaders who attend the day-long event," Southwest Farm Press reports.

The morning session will be "'A Dialogue on Rural America,' with panelists that include: Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians; James Young, mayor of Philadelphia, Miss.; Darrin Ihnen, president of the National Corn Growers Association; Steve Flick, president of Show Me Energy; John Reading, past president of the National Association of Conservation Districts; and Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer and assistant to President Obama." The afternoon events will feature breakout sessions on building critical infrastructure for a 21st Century rural economy, expanding opportunities for rural businesses, renewable energy and biofuels, farm competiveness and productivity, forest restoration, rural recreation and private land conservation and regional food systems and nutrition. (Read more)

The selection of Missouri as the location, and the presence of at least one Missourian on the main panel, should be no surprise. Missouri is one of the best bellwether states in presidential elections. More information about the summit is available at

State parks, hurt by recessionary budget cuts, look for new sources of money to stay open

In March we reported the growing trend of states cutting services at state parks in an effort to balance budgets. Now in a time "when much of the country could use a walk in the woods or a night in the mountains or a wade in the river or a picnic by the lake, states across the country seem to be creating obstacles to the great outdoors," William Yardley of The New York Times reports. States have closed campgrounds, increased fees and laid off park employess to help meet cost-cutting goals. (NYT photo by Kevin Moloney)

"In Colorado, some parks are down to one lone ranger," Yardley writes. "In Massachusetts, a few swimming ponds are closed for lack of lifeguards. Washington has started asking motorists to donate to state parks when they register their cars; Michigan will do so this fall. Georgia is considering corporate sponsorships for its parks. In Idaho, a motorcycle group offered to mow the grass at a state park on the Snake River where it holds an annual reunion."

"Right now, we’re hanging on." Virginia Painter, a spokeswoman for Washington State Parks, which has seen revenue from the new vehicle registration donations fail to meet projections, told Yardley. Still some see a silver lining in the public outcry that has risen to protect parks as reports of volunteerism are up across the country. (Read more)

Carolina Chocolate Drops push rural black music

Music in rural areas has a rich history, and one modern group is hoping to bring attention to the history of rural black music. "Ninetheenth and 20th-century black fiddle and banjo bands filled their spirited dance numbers, haunting slow waltzes, and gospel laments with clattering spoons and foot-stomping percussion," A. D. Amorosi of The Philadelphia Inquirer reminds us. "Their lyrics dealt with God, work, and passion - sometimes all at once in traditional songs such as 'Cornbread and Butterbeans.'" The Carolina Chocolate Drops are "bent on keeping that rural, rustic music authentically alive - by any means necessary," Amorosi writes.

"Three African American multi-instrumentalists and singers who met at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C., in 2005 formed the Carolina Chocolate Drops in tribute to old-time sound, with education as part of their goal," Amorosi writes. Chocolate Drops' concerts include in-depth stories of who wrote these often uncredited "traditional" songs and how they came into existence. In a review of the group's concert in Philidelphia last week, Amorosi concluded "The Drops proved the connection between new jack swing and old-time string band sounds and made each as vital as the other." (Read more)

For more information about the Chocolate Drops you can read our item from 2008.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Recessions caused the South, the most rural region, to lose the near-parity it had gained

Thanks in large measure to two recessions in less than 10 years, America's region with the highest percentage of rural population "ended the decade with three discernable patterns of distress: rural counties with persistent poverty, metropolitan areas with a growing population of poor or near-poor people, and manufacturing locales burdened with massive job losses." So says the first chapter of The State of the South 2010, a project a project of MDC Inc., a nonprofit based in Chapel Hill, N.C., that focuses on removing the barriers that separate people from education, jobs and opportunity, particularly in the South.

"The gap between the metro South and the rural South continues to widen. The South added 20.2 million jobs between 1987 and 2007, and nearly nine out of 10 jobs gained were located in metropolitan areas," the report says, citing Daily Yonder research showing that "Unemployment rates in rural counties have generally exceeded rates in urban and exurban counties (outer-ring suburbs) in the South."

The recession "knocked the South off an upward trajectory that had broadened the middle class and nearly closed the poverty gaps that perennially separated it from the rest of the country," MDC said in a news release, "Getting back on track will not be easy. The report points out that the millions of low-skill, low-wage jobs lost in manufacturing probably have disappeared for good, so the South will have to put itself on a new track, creating jobs that pay a middle-class wage or better." The report says the track should be guided by "ideas that emerge from civic discussions and purposeful, organized thinking that looks beyond current difficulties and addresses the inequities and disparities that will hold people back even when the current low economic tide rises again.” Future chapters of the report will examine five possible transformative strategies for a comeback.

The report is mainly about economics, but also has a dose of politics, as might be expected from our friend Ferrel Guillory, a former North Carolina political writer who teaches at the University of North Carolina and as the senior fellow at MDC is chief author of the report. It says 2008 "provided evidence of a South going in different directions. Eight years ago, Republican George W. Bush of Texas won the electoral votes from every Southern state defeating his Democratic opponent, Al Gore of Tennessee. Then, in 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won three Southern states; in becoming the nation’s first black president, he won the electoral votes of North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, which had once seceded from the union in an effort to sustain slavery. County-level results show that the Democratic president won in the region’s major metropolitan areas, as well as communities with large black populations in the Mississippi Delta and the Black Belt. Meanwhile, Republican John McCain received a stronger vote than Bush had four years earlier in smaller cities and rural counties of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana."

To read or download a PDF of the report's 27-page first chapter, click here.