Friday, July 06, 2012

Obama appeals to rural voters on rural issues; Romney's pitch is more subtle and general

The presidential candidates are appealing to rural voters in different ways. This week, President Obama’s campaign began soliciting supporters to enlist in a “Rural Americans for Obama” committee and added a section to its website that lays out its claims for the president’s achievements on agricultural and rural issues.

Mitt Romney's website has no specific references to rural issues, "which probably reflects the difference in the candidates' constituencies," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. "Obama's base includes groups that are organized around, or supportive of, federal support for rural America. Romney's main rural interest group is probably large farmers, and his campaign appears to think his support among them is solid, because its website has no specific references for farming or agriculture."

A search of Romney's site found 70 mentions of "farming" and 1,650 for "agriculture," an interesting divergence of terminology. Obama's site had "farming" 1,070 times and "agriculture" 1,130. (Stamford Advocate photo)

Obama got only about a third of the rural vote against John McCain in 2008, but this year's election will be decided in about 10 swing states, many of which have a significant rural vote, "so his campaign is trying to limit Romney's rural margin," Cross said. "It remains to be seen whether many rural voters will vote on rural issues, which generally pale in importance to the economy, health care and social issues." The campaign is trying nevertheless.

Agri-Pulse reports that an email was sent this week by Erin Hannigan, Rural Americans Vote director at the campaign organization, Obama for America, telling supporters that the president was raised by a single mother and grandparents from Kansas. Hannigan's pitch to the rural population is that Obama's Kansas background led to him being brought up “to believe in a simple American value: If you're willing to work hard, you can make a good life for yourself and a better one for your kids. The president has been working to make that a reality again in rural communities.” While the website focuses more on Obama's record of economic development in rural areas, it also lays out his record in agriculture.

House Farm Bill has more cuts in conservation, no mandatory funding for energy-related work

The House version of the Farm Bill "proposes a significant restructuring of farmland conservation programs and a downsizing of rural energy initiatives," Amanda Peterka reports for Environment & Energy News. "Unlike the Senate version, the House bill provides no mandatory funding for energy programs that help farmers and ranchers make energy efficiency improvements and plant biofuel crops." But it would expand the definition of "biobased" to include forest products.

The draft bill was released yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee and is scheduled for committee markup Wednesday. E&E reports that its conservation title differs from the Senate version by more tightly limiting enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program, "which rewards farmers and ranchers on a tiered basis for conservation activities" and does not include the Senate's "5 percent earmark for wildlife habitat projects." Like the Senate bill, it would cut to 25 million acres from 32 million the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays property owners not to use marginal lands. "The reduction in CRP acres comes amid high crop prices that have spurred farmers to plant lands rather than set them aside for habitat and water quality reasons," E&E reports.(Subscription may be required)

Both bills would end direct payments to farmers and expand the crop-insurance system and limit insurance help for farmers who put native prairie land into production, but the House would apply that only to the Prairie Potholes region of the Upper Midwest. The so-called "sodbuster" rule is favored by environmental groups, sportsmen and the National Rifle Association.

Weather no problem in California: Almond farmers to harvest third record crop in as many years

Thanks largely to excellent weather, California’s almond industry is pointed toward a third consecutive year for a record crop and its second 2-billion-pound crop in a row, reports Dennis Pollock of Western Farm Press. Growers are hoping to sustain prices in the $2 per pound range.  A U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast issued June 29 revised this year’s crop upward to 2.1 billion meat pounds. That’s up 5 percent from May’s subjective forecast and 3 percent above last year’s crop. The expected pounds per acre for 2012 are 2,690, compared with 2,670 for 2011.

“This number is about where buyers had in mind that the crop would be,” said Frank Roque, general manager of Panoche Creek Packing in Kerman, Calif., one of largest independent almond packers in California."We grew our business 13 percent last year and hope to grow it this year.” Don Cameron, general manager of Terra Nova Ranch Inc. at Helm, said that the demand is there "to use every bit of the crop, and the prices to farmers should remain at good levels. This is what the market needs."  Michael Kelley, president of the Central California Almond Growers Association, called the almond industry’s growth “a great story of sustainability for the state."

Almond growers are preparing for a harvest that is expected to be earlier than usual, possibly in the first or second week of August. Cooler temperatures in late June helped the nuts to reach proper size and also gave a boost to the hulls, the uses of which include cattle feed. (Read more)

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Newspapers in the Virginias and Ohio were hit hard by derecho storm but kept publishing

By Ivy Brashear
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

When residents of Ohio, West Virginia and northwestern Virginia woke up last Saturday, June 30, they did not expect to see as much damage as they did. The storm that moved through the region the night before knocked out power, but they assumed it would be back on by the next day. What they didn't know was that the storm wreaked havoc for more than 400 miles from Indiana to the middle of Virginia, knocking out power and phone lines, toppling cell phone towers, demolishing trees and killing Internet service. It was a derecho, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's term for "a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms." The Pocahontas Times of Marlinton, W.Va., ran this time-lapse radar image, ending just as the storm hit Marlinton:
In times of natural disaster, it is often local journalists who first put boots to the ground to get information out to their community in spite of what may seem like insurmountable odds. In the areas of Ohio, West Virginia and northwestern Virginia most affected by the derecho, journalists were without power, Internet, phone service and sometimes even their normal printing presses, but they still found a way to provide their communities with local news. For a report from Jason Sanford of the Ohio Newspaper Association, click here.

"This was one of the worst storms we've ever had," West Virginia Press Association Executive Director Don Smith said. "It was sort of a perfect storm in a bad way." Several papers hadn't finished designing pages for their Saturday editions when the power went out, and several others lost the ability to print as a result. They had to shift printing of their papers to other locations, and some had to find places that still had power where they could finish designing pages.

Smith said he sat on the porch of a Bob Evans restaurant in Charleston, plugged up his laptop and used the restaurant's free wireless Internet to send updates to and communicate with newspapers across the state. Some editors, like Anne Adams of The Recorder in Monterey, Va., were making updates on their newspaper's Facebook pages with their iPhones.

"Then, we lost cell phone service and could do nothing," Adams said. On Sunday, she was able uploaded the first full-length post-storm story on the newspaper's website. Public access to the site was limited by a paywall, which she said has since been removed so the community could have full access to storm stories and updates.

Adams said the local telephone cooperative gave her staff access to its board room. She and her reporters took four computers there and worked our of the board room until power was restored to their office.

Linda Skidmore, editor of The Inter-Mountain in Elkins, W.Va., said she and her staff were unable to print at their location, so they loaded up their computers and traveled to Fairmont to finish designing and writing the Saturday edition. The paper is normally published late Friday night and sent out to readers early Saturday morning, but readers endured a slight delay. Most got their papers late Saturday or early Sunday.

The Pocahontas Times had to move operations to the county library, which still had Internet access and electricity. Editor Pam Pritt said they stayed there until they uploaded their pages and sent them to the printing press. The paper's IT specialist was able to write a complete story explaining the derecho on his iPhone and uploaded it to the paper's website, she said.

Navigating through towns to gather stories wasn't easy. Adams said traveling 10 miles in Highland County took about three hours. Several gas stations were unable to pump gas and grocery stores had to throw away dumpsters full of perishable foods because of lack of electricity. On average, Smith said, it took about 45 minutes of waiting in Charleston to fill up a car. Several thousand people are still without power and water in both states, and Smith said it's estimated that neither will be restored in some places until Sunday. But, reporters kept doing what they do best, he said: reporting the news.

"We were sort of like Superman: we jumped in the phone booth and put on the uniform," Smith said. "This is just our job. We do it all the time." Mostly reporters were frustrated by their lack of ability to get the news out because of power being out, he said, adding that readers don't often realize what reporters go through in a situation like this to get the news out to them. He said to his knowledge, not a single paper in West Virginia missed a publication date, even though some were late.

Skidmore said there was no other way for residents of her community to find information about the storm than through The Inter-Mountain. There was no TV, no radio and no Internet, and the paper was "really the only source to know what was going on." There was no question the paper would be published on schedule, she said.

"We have a long tradition of never missing an issue," she said. "We're like the mailmen: through rain, sleet, snow and shine." The newspaper office burned in the early 1970s, and the staff still published the next day. She said she and the staff kept that in mind, and decided that if the paper could come through a fire and still be published, it could surely be published after a storm. "You just go and you keep doing this," she said. "Our staff is very dedicated and just jumped in to do whatever, even if it was out of their normal realm."

Adams gives a lot of credit to her "unbelievably outstanding staff," who all live in the community and who were "all in this together." She said for her and the communities her paper serves, they rely on the weekly paper, which also serves Bath County. "I couldn't afford to lose even one issue," she said. "I can't go one week without a paper."

She also said the small, mountain communities came together to help their neighbors get through the aftermath of the storm. "If you have to have a catastrophe of this sort, there's no better place to have it than in a mountain community," she said.

Pritt said the Times is vitally important to the community. She had heard reports of a people sitting on their porch reading it by flashlight, and that shows the importance of the paper to citizens of the county. "When there is nothing else for them," she said, "they have their newspaper."

EPA explains flyovers of Nebraska and Iowa farms

Some incorrect reports and have said the Environmental Protection Agency was using drones to conduct fly-overs of livestock feed lots in Nebraska and Iowa, enraging farmers who felt their privacy was being violated by the federal government, and Nebraska's congressional delegation asked for an explanation.

Region 7 EPA Administrator Karl Brooks said the agency started doing manned flyovers with aircraft in 2010 to search for Clean Water Act violations because it costs less money and time than sending individual inspectors on the gournd, reports Todd Neeley of DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Brooks said the erroneous reports about drones make it difficult for EPA to do its job in the region.

EPA livestock waste expert Steve Pollard to spoke with Nebraska livestock producers Monday as part of a set of public forums designed to explain the flyovers. He told an estimated 120 people that EPA uses aerial inspections to identify possible runoff problems that eventually pollute streams, Joe Duggan of the Omaha World-Herald reports. The area around Lexington, Neb., has one of the highest concentrations of feed yards in the state, and Pollard said central Nebraska has higher concentrations of polluted rivers and streams than any other part of the state. (Read more)

Drought, heat and extreme weather are what global warming and climate change look like, scientists say

UPDATE, July 6: The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says extreme weather-related events "have convinced many Americans climate change is a reality," and not a "nebulous concept," The Associated Press reports.

Climate scientists have warned of the effects of global warming and climate change since at least 1988. They warned it would bring increased heat waves, more droughts, sudden downpours, widespread wildfires and terrible storms, all of which are currently happening in the U.S., stifling agriculture, costing billions of dollars in damage and forcing millions to live for days without electricity in the aftermath of a freak wind storm, know as a derecho.

"So far this year, more than 2.1 million acres have burned in wildfires, more than 113 million people in the U.S. were in areas under extreme heat advisories last Friday, two-thirds of the country is experiencing drought, and earlier in June, deluges flooded Minnesota and Florida," The Associated Press reports. It takes intensive scientific study to link individual weather events to climate change, and the extreme conditions in the U.S. aren't being seen elsewhere in the world, but leading climate scientists say that the U.S. is experiencing a microcosm of the very real effects of climate change.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," Jonathan Overpeck, geosciences and atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Arizona, told AP. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about." The National Center for Atmospheric Research's lead climate scientist, Kevin Trenberth, said the extreme conditions are exactly what he has said would happen as a result of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of these types of events in March, but not many paid much attention.

The weather patterns aren't just a summer thing; they've been happening since this past winter, AP reports. Since Jan. 1, there have been more than 40,000 high temperature records, but fewer than 6,000 low records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Though skeptics believe climate change is a myth, almost all scientists who publish research in the field say it is real, and that the U.S. and the world can expect to see many more instances of extreme weather conditions in the future as a result of climate change. (Read more)

S.C. is latest state to erect high obstacles for broadband ownership by local governments

South Carolina is the latest state to pass a bill that makes it difficult if not practically impossible for local governments to create their own publicly owned Internet providers. The move could set back the expansion of broadband into some corners of the state, likely more rural areas that large Internet providers say are hard to reach and aren't profitable because of lack of customers.

Municipal broadband watchdog Phillip Dampier said the passage of the bill is a display of the lobbying power of AT&T, South Carolina's largest private Internet provider, Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica reports. Dampier and others also allege the bill was written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative advocacy group that holds conferences for legislators and lobbyists. Farivar reports that AT&T is a member of ALEC and contributed $1,000 to South Carolina legislator Michael Gambrell, lead author of the bill. ( Read more)

Orangeburg and Oconee counties had already received federal funding to expand broadband, with Orangeburg County getting $2.4 million, Gene Zaleski of The Times and Democrat in Orangeburg reported. Seventy-five percent of the project was to be funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service money. It's unclear now whether the county will still receive that funding.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

House right wing's focus on food-stamp cuts complicates efforts to pass Farm Bill

A food-stamp fight will complicate efforts to pass a Farm Bill, reports Politico's David Rogers, perhaps the best in the business at explaining the politics of American agriculture and food policy.

To get the bill through the House, Rogers writes, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) "must go to the right of the Democratic-controlled Senate, which took only $4.5 billion from SNAP," or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which the food-stamp program was dubbed in the 1996 welfare reform bill. "But in trying to show some deft and care, Lucas is meeting stiff resistance in his own committee, where nearly two-thirds of the Republicans are freshmen from the large 2010 class so influenced by the rise of the tea party."

Getting little or no help from House GOP leaders, Lucas has abandoned his hope "to build on the decades-old farmer-food stamp coalition, which has helped sustain support for rural agriculture in the more urban House," Rogers reports. "Instead, the path chosen by the GOP is a political dead-end in the Senate and could become a nightmare for farm and crop-insurance interests trying to fend off tighter income limits on subsidies." The bill would eliminate direct cash payments to farmers but create a larger program for crop insurance.

Food stamps are the largest single part of the bill. The right wing wants to repeal "categorical eligibility," which appears to have allowed states to enroll more people in the program, ballooning its costs. Rogers calls it "an administrative shortcut that’s become far more common since the economic downturn in 2008," putting more people in need of food stamps. The impending House approach "could drive at least 1.8 million people off the rolls and has twice been rejected by the Senate." Lucas and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the committee's ranking Democrat, want to raise food-stamp eligibility to 140 percent of the poverty threshold to compensate for repeal of categorical eligibility.

Rogers sums up: "Seldom have the haves and have-nots had so much common stake in one bill. Consider that for a family of three, the distinction between 130 percent of poverty and 140 percent . . . comes down to those earning $24,817 vs. $26,726 a year — about $37 more a week. That’s less than the annual direct cash subsidies for two acres of corn today. And this in the context of a debate where it was considered a major breakthrough for the Senate to trim the rate of crop insurance subsides for producers with adjusted gross incomes in excess of $750,000." (Read more)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

School board, ACLU compromise on Commandments display by using history book page

In what could become a model for other rural school districts, a compromise has been made in Virginia concerning display of the Ten Commandments. Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times reports a page from a history textbook which shows the commandment tablets and credits the religious text as playing a role in the "roots of democracy" will replace a framed copy of the commandments in a high school in Giles County (Wikipedia map).

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sued the school board, alleging violation of the separation of church and state, but applauded the compromise. The textbook page is titled "Roots of Democracy," shows the tablets and states: "The values found in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus, inspired American ideas about government and morality." It also lists other influences on America, including Greek democracy and the Magna Carta.

Though the Liberty Counsel, which represented the school board, was also happy with the compromise, it must be approved by a federal judge. (Read more)

Congress continues federal timber payments

Federal payments to counties with national forest land will be extended after Congress voted to approve a transportation bill last week, that will also prevent student loan rates from doubling and save 2.8 million jobs by funding road and bridge projects across the country. The $100 million extension of timber payments will be a boon to rural counties that contain a high percentage of federal forest land and property, the leading example being Oregon.

The timing of the passage was "critical" for Oregon counties that have relied on timber payments, Charles Pope of The Oregonian reports, because most counties' fiscal year ends June 30. Without the extension, they would have been forced to close jails, schools, law off police officers and teachers and cut back essential services, including EMS, Pope writes. Lawmakers will use the year to discuss possible alternatives for the payments, which can be costly. (Read more)

Texas hospital boss says health law won't help much in remote rural areas without health services

Many rural advocates have applauded the Supreme Court decision that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, saying millions more will gain access to affordable health coverage. But, at least one health industry executive thinks the law will not help rural people very much, reports Ray Westbrook of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center President Tedd Mitchell said the individual mandate won't help those in rural America who can't find health care in their regions. "What everybody talks about with the Affordable Care Act is making sure that everybody has insurance coverage. And having insurance coverage in West Texas does not mean having access to care." In West Texas, in particular, there are 54 counties that are considered "frontier counties" because very few people live there, and 32 have no hospital.

A similar situation exists northward in the Great Plains, and "for a lot of rural America," Mitchell said. "While making sure everybody has an insurance card is a noble thing, it really doesn’t address our needs.” (Read more)

Cattle industry 'like a bottle,' with many farmers on the calf end, and 4 companies packing 82% of beef

"In the chicken and pork industries, nearly every aspect of the animals' raising has long been controlled by just a handful of agriculture conglomerates. But the cattle industry is still populated by mom-and-pop operations, at least at the calf-raising level," reports Peggy Lowe for National Public Radio. There are about 750,000 farmers and ranchers who have a "cow-calf operation," which average 40 head of cattle per farmer.

The small numbers of the cattle industry end there, Lowe reports: "In simple terms, the business is bottle-shaped — large at the bottom and narrowing to the neck, where just four companies control the majority of the market." Thus, even though there are many small cattle farms, they have the least amount of control over their industry.

The process generally works like this: Small producers raise calves until they're weaned and weigh about 600 pounds, they they sell them to a "backgrounder," a larger operation that buys calves in groups, transitions them to feeding and fattens them up. They gain about 800 pounds there, get immunizations and prepare for the feedlot, where they will be penned and fed three times a day in a "finishing" process. Here's where the industry bottlenecks. The Department of Agriculture reports that the top 25 feedlots control 47 percent of the market.

And her's where it really gets narrow: Most cattle are sold to just four companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill, National Beef Packaging Co. and JBS. These four deliver 82 percent of the beef on the market. Many ranchers fear the industry will soon be completely controlled by a handful of companies, and statistics tend to support this claim. In the last 20 years, the number of ranchers raising cattle has dropped more then 20 percent, according to the USDA. (Read more)

Pittsburgh paper profiles hometown boy, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, saying he steers a middle road

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 61, right, has come a long way from his "tumultuous adoptive household" in the rural Pennsylvania town of Squirrel Hill, reports Tracie Mauriello of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He rose to governor of Iowa, briefly ran for president in 2007 and was co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's primary campaign in 2008. He never thought he'd ever be chosen to be secretary because of his general opposition to President Obama politically.

Mauriello chronicles Vilsack's life and political career, summing up the latter with this: "Vilsack's faced his share of criticism from the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, which says he's too lenient on factory farmers and producers of genetically modified crops. The conservative American Farm Bureau, meanwhile, has criticized him for attempts to increase regulations without scientific proof that genetic modification is harmful. 'I would say [Vilsack] has done a pretty good job going down that line,' said Dale Moore, chief of staff to three agriculture secretaries under the Bush administration and now is American Farm Bureau executive director of public policy. 'If you've got both sides equally nervous and irritated with you, then you're probably doing a good job.' " (Read more)

Rural counties gained jobs overall last year, due in large measure to gas boom, but not all prospered

Rural America saw an overall gain in jobs over the last year, but those jobs were not distributed evenly across rural counties, according to a data analysis by the Daily Yonder. Last May, the rural unemployment rate was 8.7 percent, almost one percentage point higher than this May, but about one-third of the 2,036 rural counties across the country lost jobs during that time, Bill Bishop reports. (Yonder map)
Bishop writes the rates change significantly from county to county. North Dakota contains four counties that saw the largest gains in employment, mainly from oil and gas drilling, and also the county that saw the largest losses. The 10 states with that gained the most jobs in rural counties over the last year are North Dakota, Montana, Texas and Colorado. These gains are likely due to the natural gas boom in those states, which has exponentially increases employment. The 10 states with the biggest losses are North Dakota, Nebraska, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Minnesota and North Carolina, with the biggest percentage loss in North Dakota at 20.3 percent.

Andy Griffith dies at 86; will always be remembered as sheriff in Mayberry, modeled after his hometown

Andy Griffith, who exemplified rural America for a generation of television viewers, died today at his home in Roanoke Island, N.C. He was 86.

From 1960 to 1968, Griffith was Sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show," set in Mayberry, N.C., which he as show co-owner modeled after his home town of Mount Airy, just south of the Virginia border in the shadow of the Blue Ridge and Pilot Mountain (also the name of a tiny town that became the larger town of Mount Pilot on TV). After the show went into reruns, which still continue, it was succeeded by a spinoff, "Mayberry R.F.D," and the town's name became a metaphor for small-town America, sometimes favorable, sometimes not.

The first show "gave rise to other small town, Main Street USA shows," Joanne Ostrow writes for The Denver Post. Until then, TV "was centered in New York duplexes . . . urban police stations and hospitals, and suburban ranches and Colonials." Doug Martin of The New York Times notes that "The Real McCoys" debuted in 1957 (and offers several other tidbits, such as Griffith's endorsement of President Obama's health-care reforms). The Times' Neil Genzlinger says the McCoy show was "unflattering," but the Griffith show countered a rural and especially Southern "stereotype defined by ignorance and bigotry" and confirmed "the notion that the moral center of the country lives somewhere in a small town." Griffith "made rural values universal," The Boston Globe said in an editorial.

Mount Airy, population 10,000, gradually adopted a Mayberry image, particularly after the decline of the region's main industries: textiles, tobacco and furniture. "Tourism has really saved us," Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry County Arts Council, told CNN. Griffith originally resisted helping the town promote itself as Mayberry, perhaps remembering prejudice he felt growing up on the wrong side of the town's railroad tracks, but in recent years participated in those efforts, including establishment of the Andy Griffith Museum. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

As Lonesome Rhodes, with Patricia Neal
Griffith's first big star turn was as "a country singer and egomaniacal psychopath named Lonesome Rhodes in the gut-wrenching drama 'A Face in the Crowd.' It is the story of a wildly popular entertainer who becomes too big too fast and is corrupted beyond salvation. His fall from grace is even faster than his sudden rise from anonymity," Dennis Rodgers writes for the Raleigh News & Observer. "Griffith nailed it. He was dead-on brilliant. His demonic anger and barely controlled energy were difficult to watch, however, and the public stayed away in droves. Today, film buffs consider it a classic. But when it was released, only critics seemed to approve."

As lawyer "Matlock"
Griffith's last big role was as fictional Wilmington, N.C., lawyer Ben Matlock, in an eponymous series that ran "off and on from 1986 to 1995," Rodgers writes. "Griffith’s Matlock was wise, cranky, stubborn, funny and 100 percent Andy. Those who knew the actor said he was much closer to Matlock’s persona than he ever was to TV’s beloved sheriff. It was also a favorite of fans of the old show who tuned in to catch the sly Mayberry-related asides Griffith would slip into the dialogue."

Rodgers concludes, "Andy Griffith never won an Oscar, an Emmy or a Tony for his acting. But then, around here we never thought of him as an actor. He was just our friend and neighbor and we were so proud of him we couldn’t hardly stand it. And if the rest of the world happened to tune in to his popular shows and just happened to assume folks in North Carolina were anywhere near as good-hearted as Andy Taylor, Ben Matlock or the good people of Mayberry, well, that was OK with us, too." (Read more)

Read more here:

For coverage from the Mount Airy News, click here. For an obituary from Inside TV, go here. TV Week has reaction, including President Obama's, and some video clips, including a "Face in the Crowd" trailer and a segment from another movie, "No Time for Sergeants," which followed TV and Broadway versions that starred Griffith.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Rural principal, urban school executive set webinar on implementing new Common Core Standards

The principal of a rural high school in the middle of the country will be one of two presenters in a July 11 webinar on how local schools can implement the new Common Core Standards for education. Tracey Lamb, principal of Fulton County High School in Hickman, Ky., on the Mississippi River, will present along with Steve Gering, chief leadership officer of the Chicago Public Schools.

The webinar, from 2 to 3 p.m. EDT, is sponsored by Education Week and the Success for All Foundation, and is further underwritten by The Wallace Foundation. It will be moderated by Catherine Gewertz, assistant editor of Education Week. The webinar is free but registration is required. Fore more information and a link to registration, click here.

Walking horse group sues USDA over new rules requiring penalties, set to start next week

A USDA inspector looks at the feet
of a Tennessee walking horse
(Dipti Vaidya, The Tennessean)

A leading Tennessee Walking Horse industry group sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week to block the federal effort to impose minimum penalties for soring and otherwise abusing horses, reports Duane Gang of The Tennessean.

Earlier this month, USDA announced it would require organizations that inspect horses on its behalf to assess minimum penalties to violators of the Horse Protection Act, the 1970 law that makes it illegal to show or transport a sored horse. SHOW Inc. filed the lawsuit in Texas, claiming that the new rules violate the constitutional right to due process. The lawsuit seeks to prevent USDA from putting the rule into effect next Monday, July 9. In a statement, SHOW said the new rules punish organizations that are working to change the industry.

Gang explains: "Soring is the practice of using chemicals and other methods, including putting foreign objects in the horses’ hooves, to produce a higher gait. Dripping harsh chemicals on the horses’ front feet forces them, because of pain, to lift their legs higher. The walk is prized in walking horse competitions." In announcing the new rules this month, the government said it will now require horses found in violation of the act to be dismissed from the show. If a horse is sored, those responsible are to be suspended from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions.

A recent analysis by The Tennessean showed a significant difference between the number of violations issued by the industry when USDA officials are present and when they leave the inspections up to industry groups, notes Gang: "When the USDA was present, horse industry inspectors found seven times as many violations of the Horse Protection Act."

House votes to boost subsidies for rural flights

Deeming it "a rural issue," a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives allowed passage of a transportation and housing spending bill that would boost funding by 11 percent for a government program that subsidizes air travel to rural areas, an initiative long criticized by budget watchdogs as rife with waste. Democratic support was strong but lawmakers ultimately voted 261-163 to provide $214 million for the Essential Air Service program, which pays carriers to continue flights to more than 100 small communities, such as Dodge City, Kan., and Huron, S.D.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that critics say the flights often are little-used and can cost taxpayers hundreds of dollars per passenger. The program “lavishly subsidizes some of the least essential air services in the country,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. Some Republicans, however, said their constituents depend on the service. “It is the only way some of these airports stay open,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a freshman whose district covers 69 counties in central and western Kansas. Without the program, Huelskamp said, his constituents would have to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest airport.

Small Illinois town feels betrayed by closure of prison, major employer in their underemployed town

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn
The people in the tiny rural town of Tamms, Ill., with 11 percent unemployment and its main source of jobs the state's maximum-security prison, just got word that the big-city governor they supported is mothballing the "supermax" facility. Jim Suhr of the Associated Press reports that the Southern Illinois town feels more than a bit betrayed by Gov. Pat Quinn's decision, made though lawmakers approved money to maintain the site, as well as a second facility in the north-central Illinois town of Dwight. Calling the closure “a profound and staggering loss,” the five-county Southern Five Regional Planning District and Development Commission forecast that eliminating the Tamms' prison’s 250 jobs ultimately would cost more than 200 more indirectly.

Quinn has offered to sell the 14-year-old facility to the federal government, but the pending closure has fostered ill will, "fanning the perception that Quinn and other Chicago powerbrokers don’t care much about folks outside the Windy City," writes Suhr. Illinois has been under pressure to close Tamms from activists who argue "its tough security measures are inhumane, and lawmakers have had to make a number of painful spending decisions given the state’s enormous budget crisis. Quinn aides say the Tamms prison is half-empty and three times as expensive to run as other facilities. Quinn signed the new state budget Saturday, saying he would use money from the shuttered prisons to restore funding to the Department of Children and Family Services, the agency in charge of maintaining child welfare in the state." In offering to see the prison to the federal government,  Quinn noted its isolated location and access to an interstate as selling points.

Appalachian coal layoffs prompt prescriptions from newspapers and thinkers in the region

The widespread layoffs at coal mines in coal-dependent Central Appalachia have prompted editorial commentary from various vantage points, including a thrice-weekly newspaper, a weekly, a regional daily and the president of a regional development and investment group.

In a reader poll by the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville, Ky., more than twice as many people blame "regulations" as "market conditions" for the layoffs, but the newspaper editorialized: "The reasons for the mining cutbacks are varied, and many factors are to blame; from simply a reduced need for coal to regulations that seek to reduce or end the country’s reliance on the natural resource. But, now’s not the time for finger-pointing and blame. Now’s the time to stop fighting amongst ourselves about whether mining is right or ethical and decide to ensure the future of our region. For years, the call falling on deaf ears locally has been that our economy must be diversified. And, while some progress has been made, it’s not been enough. The technological advances of recent decades, which once promised to break down the region’s barriers to success, have not paid the dividends expected. But, something has to happen and it must happen now." The weekly paper (which is largely behind a pay wall) says that the federal government is responsible for the regulations, "So, perhaps it’s time for the federal government to pony up and begin to mitigate the changes that occurring here."

The Hazard Herald wrote, "We can’t predict when we’ll reach the bottom of the current downturn, but what we can say is that if we don’t work to diversify now, our economy is going to sputter to the point that it can’t support the people it currently does." The weekly paper suggested tourism development, "But in the end we’re going to have to attract or create an industry or industries that will replace the hundreds of jobs we have lost, and more we are likely to lose. (Read more)

In an editorial titled "In decline," referring to the coal industry, The Independent of Ashland, Ky., a daily, says the fight "should not be a choice between saving the environment or saving jobs. Instead, we must find a way to preserve jobs without leveling our mountains, burying our streams and polluting our air. An impossible task? Well, it won’t be easy but it is the best hope of keeping coal an important source of energy." (Read more)

Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, makes some specific suggestions in the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Create regional planning and funding infrastructure. We need a new and participatory body that can plan, implement, fund and evaluate economic development in the region. Tie it to the creation of a permanent fund using coal severance taxes, and we have a powerful new way to move forward. Invest more in small business and entrepreneurship. We need more successful small businesses and more entrepreneurs with the potential to build larger businesses and create jobs. Building a more effective infrastructure to support entrepreneurs at all levels is key. Support local leadership development and capacity building. Eastern Kentuckians must be central to solutions in the region. Building from and expanding existing efforts to support and involve local leaders in economic development is a central facet of a strong economy. Build around economic sectors important to the region. We should create special support resources for key parts of the economy and communities — health care, tourism, child care, wood products, local foods, energy efficiency, housing — as all play important economic roles and could play a larger role with targeted support." (Read more)
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Health-care law is a lot about rural America

The historic Supreme Court decision last week upholding almost all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prompted Jon Bailey, director of research and analysis at the Center for Rural Affairs, to point out the law's very rural focus. He said it "talks about the rural health-care infrastructure system, how we pay for that, how we incentivize that, and how we get people to become health-care professionals in rural areas." Bailey told Janell Baum of Farm Futures that several provisions of the act specifically address rural health facilities, financial assistance to bring in extra doctors and hospital staff, and funding for preventive services. He said provisions in the insurance portion of the law may also help more rural businesses and farms find ways to insure their employees.

Bailey acknowledged that along with these benefits come significant funding challenges. "I think that is may be the next big part of health care," he said. "We are probably never going to reverse the costs, but how can we control it? The ACA doesn't really address that but that’s the next big issue on the horizon."

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman told Baum his federation is "concerned" about potential increases in costs for businesses and individuals, and fears the law would "impose a new financial burden on our members." Stallman called for a market-based reform, encouraging Congress and President Obama to address remaining concerns. The more liberal National Farmers Union supported the findings of the Supreme Court, and praised the "significant, necessary reforms that help all Americans … afford insurance and the preventive care they need," Baum reports.

Local officials in Pa., outmaneuvered in legislature, sue for right to zone out oil and gas wells

When the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law this year that stripped local authority over where natural-gas wells could be drilled, cities and townships decided to take matters into their own hands. Seven municipalities have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, which charges an "impact fee" for gas wells and sends the money to localities but also overrides local governments’ zoning authority. The case was argued June 6, reports Alice Su for the Center for Public Integrity. (Associated Press photo)

At first glance, writes Su, "The impact fee of up to $50,000 per well seems to put wealth from drilling on the Marcellus Shale into citizens’ hands. But gas companies can drill wherever they like, even if local councils vote to keep the wells out of their jurisdictions. “It gives industry the right to tell us how we’re going to plan our townships rather than the other way around,” said David M. Ball, a petitioner in the lawsuit and councilman of Peters Township, Washington County. “What happens when the next industry comes down the line, like the homebuilders’ industry?” Ball asked. “Pretty soon, what does zoning even mean?” Coppola said he receives “hundreds and hundreds of letters” every day from townships and boroughs in support of the suit.

Su notes that last month, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, which says it represents 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s land area, passed two resolutions stating opposition to “any legislation that would remove, reduce or inhibit local government authority” or “pre-empt the existing authority of townships to regulate land use.” Ball said, “I’ve personally not heard of one municipality that has said they support the zoning provisions of Act 13.” Whether the Commonwealth Court affirms Act 13 or not, White, Coppola, Milburn and Ball agree that the law will most likely be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “Act 13 eventually is going to be undone,” Coppola said. “It strips away too many rights of individuals. People are just going to go crazy.” (Read more)

Sunday, July 01, 2012

N.C. governor vetoes legislature's industry-involved approach to regulation of hydraulic fracturing

More than 150 people across from the Governor's
Mansion last week called for a veto of the bill.
(Photo via the Charlotte Observer)

Read more here:
UPDATE, July 3: The legislature overrode the lame-duck governor's veto, thanks to the mistaken vote of a Democratic representative, the News & Observer reports.

Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue of North Carolina today vetoed a bill that would have put hydraulic fracturing in the state under control of a board half made up of members "with ties to mining or natural-gas production," Dan Kane of the Raleigh News & Observer reports. An override would require three-fifths votes, which the bill did not get in the House or Senate.

"Perdue said in a statement that she did not think the legislation went far enough to protect the environment," Kane writes. "Five weeks ago, Perdue issued an executive order that outlined her approach to allowing fracking in an environmentally safe way that included input from health, environment and public-safety officials."

Republicans note that fracking would boost jobs and promote energy independence. Environmentalists say it isn't worth the risk, and point to a new U.S. Geological Survey "estimate of far less natural gas in the state than state geologists had previously thought existed," Kane notes. "The federal estimate said the state has 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Deep River Basin, which covers 150 miles from Durham to the South Carolina border. If the estimate is accurate, the deposits amount to about 5.6 years of usage based on 2010 consumption in North Carolina." (Read more)