Friday, May 01, 2015

Administration issues tougher rules for oil tank cars

The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced new rules for crude-oil trains, requiring all tank cars carrying ethanol and crude oil "to be phased out within seven years or retrofitted, and the new standards will start later this year for newly constructed railcars," Timothy Cama reports for The Hill.

"The new standards include thicker steel shells, enhanced braking systems and guards to protect the ends of tank cars and their valves," Cama writes. "DOT is also mandating new standards for routing oil trains, speed limits and efforts to better prepare emergency responders and communities where oil trains travel." Canada committed to similar rules; some oil-train traffic crosses the border.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters, "Our goal and what we accomplished is to create a comprehensive approach to safety that will prevent accidents from happening, that will mitigate damage if they do and support emergency response." He said the rule "significantly improves current regulations and requirements. It will make transporting flammable materials by rail safer than it is today."

While Foxx said 99.9 percent of shipments reach their destinations safely, there has been a recent rash of derailments. More oil was spilled from trains in the U.S. in 2013 than in the previous 37 years, and 47 people in Quebec died from the derailment of a train running from North Dakota to Maine. The oil boom in areas such as North Dakota and Texas has also led to a 4,000 percent increase in oil train shipments since 2008, Cama writes.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said "it needed more time to review the final rules before passing judgement, but it welcomed the actions," Cama writes. API President Jack Gerard said in a statement: “As we review these rules, the key question is whether science and data show each change will make a meaningful improvement to safety." (Read more)

Study: Closing at-risk critical-access hospitals could cost 86,000 jobs in rural communities

Fifty rural hospitals have closed this decade, and 283 more are at risk of closure. This could lead to 700,000 Medicare patients having to seek care farther from home and the potential loss of 86,000 rural jobs, resulting in an estimated $10.6 billion loss to the Gross Domestic Product, says the 2015 Rural Relevance Under Healthcare Reform Study by iVantage Health Analytics and the National Rural Health Association.

"Critical Access Hospitals charge 71 percent less than their urban counterparts, while performance on quality, outcomes and patient satisfaction in rural hospitals is on par with urban hospitals," said a press release from researchers.
The study found that "policy changes concerning Medicare reimbursement pose a particular threat to the critical points-of-access that millions of rural Americans depend upon for their healthcare needs. Sequestration, charity care/bad-debt reimbursement cuts, disproportionate share payment cuts and the uneven adoption of Medicaid expansion under the ACA (intended to address some of these cuts) has led to significant downward pressure on rural hospital margins that may be dangerously underwater."

The study also includes iVantage's list of the top 100 critical access hospitals. For a complete list, click here

Pope Francis, world leaders sign declaration saying climate change is a 'scientific reality'

The climate change movement has one of the world's most influential and important figures on its side. Pope Francis and Vatican church leaders this week "joined with politicians, scientists and economists to draft a statement declaring not only that climate change is a 'scientific reality' but also that there’s a moral and religious responsibility to do something about it," Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post. Pope Francis this summer "is slated to release a major papal encyclical on the environment." (Associated Foreign Press photo by Osservatore Romano: Pope Francis and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meeting on Tuesday)

"The effort to mobilize religious believers to worry about climate as part of a broader, biblically grounded 'creation care' mandate has a long history (though it has traditionally focused more on evangelicals than Catholics)," Mooney writes "Books have been written about it, and one of its major spokespeople—Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical climate scientist at Texas Tech University—was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people last year."

The most important part of having Pope Francis on board is that it moralizes the issue, Mooney writes. "When issues are moralized, people feel before they think and refuse to compromise. It may not be what we strictly call 'rational, but it is politically powerful."

The declaration reads:

"The world has within its technological grasp, financial means . . . to mitigate climate change while also ending extreme poverty, through the application of sustainable development solutions including the adoption of low-carbon energy systems supported by information and communications technology."

"The financing of sustainable development, including climate mitigation, should be bolstered through new incentives for the transition towards low-carbon energy and through the relentless pursuit of peace, which also will enable the shift of public financing from military spending to to urgent investment for sustainable development."

World Press Freedom Day on Sunday is a time to highlight the importance of freedom of the press

Sunday is World Press Freedom Day. Proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Press Freedom Day "celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession," says the World Press Freedom Day website.

World Press Freedom Day "serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom—a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered," says the website.

"It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of press freedom and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession."

Web briefing for journalists May 7 to focus on World Health Assembly, global response to Ebola

The Kaiser Family Foundation is hosting a web briefing for journalists at noon (EDT) on May 7 about covering the World Health Assembly, specifically the global response to Ebola. The World Health Assembly will also address reform of the World Health Organization, combating antimicrobial resistance and how to address the rise in non-communicable diseases around the world. The World Health Assembly is from May 18-26 in Geneva.

The briefing will be led by: Jimmy Kolker, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lawrence O. Gostin, Faculty Director of the O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law at Georgetown University; Ian Smith, Executive Director of the Director-General’s Office at the WHO; and Josh Michaud, Kaiser Family Foundation associate director of global health policy. The majority of the briefing will be devoted to a question-and-answer session with journalists. To register, click here.

List narrowed to 50 towns and cities in $10 million competition to stimulate growth and revitalization

Frontier Communications and DISH Network have narrowed the America's Best Communities competition from more than 400 communities to 50 still in the running for the $10 million initiative to stimulate economic revitalization in small towns and cities, says a press release from the organizations. All 50 communities will receive $50,000 and have six months "to further develop and implement their comprehensive strategies to accelerate their local economies and improve quality of life."

The competition was open to all towns and cities in Frontier's service areas with populations between 9,500 to 80,000. Smaller communities could collaborate on projects. Entrants submitted and implemented their best plans for future growth and prosperity. In 2016, the top 16 towns and cities will advance to the semifinals. For a list of the 50 communities to advance to the quarterfinal round, click here. (Top 50 towns and cities)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Struggling rural towns need local hospitals to provide an economic pulse and create jobs

"Once home to vibrant downtowns, along with thriving local manufacturers and merchants, small towns were traditionally strongholds of the American middle class," Dionne Searcey reports for The New York Times. "In recent decades, many barely managed to hold on as young people migrated to cities, and those who stayed behind had trouble even finding work. Now, however, those towns that have been able to attract hospitals and other health care facilities have emerged as oases of economic stability across the nation’s heartland."

Nearly 50 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. "But the many successful hospitals, beyond providing an array of jobs from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder, also stimulate local spending and help attract new businesses that offer a stable of insured patients," Searcey writes.

Having a local hospital has boosted the economy in many rural towns, Searcey writes. The nonprofit 25-bed critical access hospital in Beatrice, Neb., (population 12,000) is the state's second largest employer with 512 workers. Revenue has grown from $45 million in 2004 to $100 million last year, and the number of patients has doubled since 2009. (Best Places map: Beatrice, Neb.)

One way the hospital—which six years ago ranked dead last in a patient satisfaction for Nebraska hospitals—has succeeded has been by listening to the community, Searcey writes. Thomas Sommers, the hospital’s chief executive, "disclosed the hospital’s financial information in hopes residents would feel more like stakeholders." He also hired more female doctors, added more doctors with ties to the community to cut down on turnover, began advertising that the hospital delivers babies and increased salaries in hopes of competing with larger hospitals. The hospital "now ranks above the national average in every category on Medicare’s website for comparing hospitals."

Field Memorial Community Hospital, located in one of the nation's poorest communities in Centerville, Miss.—where one-third of residents live below the poverty line—has succeeded by patterning its business plan after the success of the hospital in Beatrice, Searcey writes. "In May the hospital in the town of 1,600 plans to open a new, $21 million facility, said Chad Netterville, chief executive."

In Batesville, Ind., the No. 3 employer in the town of 6,500 is the Margaret Mary Community Hospital with 550 employees, Searcey writes. The hospital has survived by catering to the county's aging population by expanding its primary care access and rheumatology program. (Read more)

Appalachian towns near mountaintop mines have higher rates of poverty, population loss

Mountaintop removal in Central Appalachia is occurring closer to human population than it was 15 years ago, and communities located near mountaintop removal have higher rates of population loss and poverty than communities not located near mining sites, says a study by environmental group Appalachian Voices. The average mine in 2014 was located 1.5 miles from the nearest community.

The study said that despite a 50 percent drop in Appalachian coal production since 2008 and a nearly 60 percent drop in coal mined through mountaintop removal, "communities where surface mine encroachment is increasing suffer higher rates of poverty and are losing population more than twice as fast as nearby rural communities with no mining in the immediate vicinity," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder.

"The study used a Google 'geospatial analysis tool' to map the spread of mountaintop removal mining from 30 years of satellite images of Central Appalachia," Marema writes. "That information was combined with data from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to determine whether mining had moved closer or farther from human settlements."

The study included the top 50 at-risk communities, with almost all of them located in Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. No. 1 was Krypton, Ky., in Perry County, followed by: Bishop, W.Va; Roaring Fork, Va.; Wainville, W.Va.; Decota, W.Va.; Red Warrior, W.Va; Busy, Ky.; Lindytown, W.Va.; Tipton, Ky.; and Yolyn, W.Va. (Appalachian Voices map)

Chickens fed vegetarian diets are less healthy, more likely to fall ill

Chickens kept to strict vegetarian diets are less healthy and more susceptible to illnesses, Peter Whoriskey reports for The Washington Post. Many egg producers boast that their product comes from chickens fed vegetarian diets. "Yet for the chickens, who are natural omnivores that readily devour bugs and small animals when they’re available, the forced vegetarianism can be a disaster."

"Chickens on an unsupplemented vegetarian diet typically fall short of an essential protein-based amino acid known as methionine, and without it, they fall ill," Whoriskey writes. "Worse, the birds will also turn on each other, pecking at each other in search of nutrients, and these incidents can escalate into a henhouse bloodbath, farmers say."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tens of millions of organic chickens are raised in the U.S. each year, Whoriskey writes. "The vast majority of those organic chickens are fed a ration of corn and soy beans that is supplemented with a synthetic version of methionine. That might sound like a reasonable solution. But because this synthetic methionine is not from an organic source—or even a merely natural one—the federal organic program has been limiting how much farmers may feed their flocks. And those limits on artificial methionine, some farmers complain, have now been set so low that they harm the chickens."

Tracy Favre, a farmer and organic inspector who serves on the federal advisory board for organic products, told Whoriskey, “This is one of those problems caused by the fact that most Americans are so far removed from their food supply. When I see eggs in the supermarket being advertised as vegetarian this and that, I cringe.” (Read more)

Federally protected black vultures attacking livestock, leaving behind gruesome remains

Aggressive, fearless black vultures are killing livestock on some farms, and farmers can't do much to fight back against the federally protected birds, Linda Ireland reports for The Laure County Herald News in Central Kentucky. Permits can be obtained to kill the birds, but the process is long, tedious and expensive, and by the time permits arrive, the birds have usually left for the winter. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology photo)

Black vultures typically feed on the weak and young, often attacking newborns, Ireland writes. Mark Tucker, who lost five calves in 2014 to black vultures, estimates that each calf was worth between $1,500 to $1,800.

"The financial loss of the livestock is aggravated by the gruesome nature of the attacks," Ireland writes. Brandon Boone, a conservation officer with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, detailed one farmer's account of seeing a vulture "standing on the back of a newborn calf . . . trying to peck its eyes out." Farmer Donald McDowell "said a group of about 15 vultures pecked out one of his cow’s eyes as she was giving birth . . . Gil Myers described watching a wake (flock) of black vultures track a blind calf through the woods."

Landowners say coyotes have caused problems, but that's a problem they can legally take care of, with no daily bag limits for coyotes, said the KFW website, Ireland writes. But black vultures, which have increased in range and population, are protected through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. (Read more)

Small daily paper in Western Ky. exposes speeding problem, leads officials to make changes

Proving that journalists can make a difference in the community, an editorial by a rural reporter in Western Kentucky exposed a speeding problem, which led to a police investigation, resulting in officials making changes to curb speeding in downtown Hopkinsville (Best Places map).

The chain of events began when Kentucky New Era opinion editor and columnist Jennifer Brown decided to start taking walks downtown. "I’ve never paid much attention when I’m behind the the wheel—maybe because I’ve been part of the problem—but the arrival of spring does something to the way people drive," Brown writes. "Over and over, I noticed drivers who seemed downright annoyed by the pace of everything around them. Nothing gets the attention of a pedestrian like the blur and noise of a passing car when the driver guns the engine to make up that second that was lost as a pokey driver up ahead observed the speed limit."

"Walkability is high on the list of characteristics distinguishing downtown from the rest of town," Brown writes. "I’m not suggesting speed bumps on Main Street, but downtown would be more enjoyable and safer if more drivers would chill out and slow down. Maybe the police chief has some ideas." 

The Hopkinsville Police Department took note and began clocking speeders downtown, finding that nearly 76 percent of drivers—3,326 out of 4,378—were driving above the posted 25 mph, with the average speed about 30 to 31 mph, Editor Eli Pace reports for the New Era. "As a result, signs will be posted along Main Street to remind motorists of the 25 mph speed limit while HPD will use officers on foot with hand-held radars to clock speeds with a marked vehicle nearby to conduct traffic stops as needed."

The investigation also revealed that a key stoplight remained green in one direction for 90 to 100 seconds and green in the other direction for only about 35 seconds, Pace writes. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has since adjusted the lights to make them more balanced. Police Chief Clayton Sumner told the New Era that he’s already noticing an improved traffic flow. (Read more)

Study by Swiss Federal Institute of Technology links weather extremes to global warming

"The moderate global warming that has already occurred as a result of human emissions has quadrupled the frequency of certain heat extremes since the Industrial Revolution," says a study by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology published Monday in Nature Climate Change, Justin Gillis reports for The New York Times. The study is the first to "forecast, on a global scale, how those extremes might change with continued global warming." (Reuters photo by Darren Hauck: Corn in Belleville, Wis., has been infected with a fungus due to heat and drought.)

Researchers "warned that a failure to bring greenhouse gases under control could eventually lead to a 62-fold increase in such heat blasts," Gillis writes. "The planetary warming has had a more moderate effect on intense rainstorms, the scientists said, driving up their frequency by 22 percent since the 19th century. Yet such heavy rains could more than double later this century if emissions continue at a high level, they said."

For the study researchers used computer analyses of what the climate would be like if the Industrial Revolution had never happened and "focused on the sort of weather extremes that would be likely to occur in any given location on the earth about once in 1,000 days, or a little less than three years," Gillis writes. "What constitutes a one-in-1,000-day extreme varies from place to place; after all, a hot day in North Dakota might seem pretty routine in Texas. But such extremes can be damaging wherever they occur—especially hot days, which can cut farm yields and drive up food prices."

Researchers said the climate change is leading to heavier rainstorms across large parts of the U.S., specifically in the Northeast, Gillis writes. "At the same time, higher temperatures are drying out the soil and worsening the effects of droughts when they do occur, as in California over the last few years." Researcher Dr. Reto Knutti told Gillis, “The bottom line is that things are not that complicated. You make the world a degree or two warmer, and there will be more hot days. There will be more moisture in the atmosphere, so that must come down somewhere.” (Read more)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rural South and Northeast are most racist, says study that looked at Google searches for N-word

Rural areas in the South and Northeast are the most racist regions in the U.S., says a PLOS ONE study that looked at Google searches for the N-word in 196 designated television and radio markets where the regional population receives the same, or similar, programming. In a great swath running from Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Texas and southern Oklahoma, there were two major outliers, the state-capital markets of Nashville and Little Rock.

"Other hotbeds of racist searches appear in areas of the Gulf Coast, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a large portion of Ohio," Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. "But the searches get rarer the further West you go. West of Texas, no region falls into the 'much more than average' category." (Post map)

Researchers say "racist searches were correlated with higher mortality rates for blacks, even after controlling for a variety of racial and socio-economic variables," Ingraham writes. Researchers wrote: "Results from our study indicate that living in an area characterized by a one standard deviation greater proportion of racist Google searches is associated with an 8.2 percent increase in the all-cause mortality rate among Blacks."

"Racially motivated experiences of discrimination impact health via diminished socioeconomic attainment and by enforcing patterns in racial residential segregation, geographically isolating large segments of the Black population into worse neighborhood conditions," the authors wrote. "Racial discrimination in employment can also lead to lower income and greater financial strain, which in turn have been linked to worse mental and physical health outcomes." (To view a PLOS ONE interactive map of the study, click here)

Police in rural Turner Falls, Mass., asking for volunteers to help find and discard used needles

Now that snow is finally melting in the Northeast, some towns, like rural Turner Falls, Mass., are facing a new dilemma—used needles popping up in unlikely places. Because heroin is cheaper and easier to find in rural towns and Massachusetts legalized hypodermic needle possession in 2006, discarded syringes are turning up everywhere in Turner Falls, Karen Brown reports for NPR. (Brown photo: Volunteer Patrick Pezzati searches yards in Turners Falls, Mass., for discarded heroin needles)

Turner Falls police chief Chip Dodge said his force is too small to keep up with cleanups, Brown writes. That has led local police to ask citizen volunteers for help. Dodge told Brown, "It's a very strange request, I will admit. It's sort of like asking somebody to pick up a weapon. I absolutely have faith in the community, and I do believe they have the common sense to not injure themselves."

Last month's police log consists of found syringes include two by a tree in a park, one on a sidewalk, another by an ATM and another sticking into a bank of snow, Brown writes. "The final straw was when a 2-year-old boy stepped on a syringe in his back yard and ended up in the hospital. That's when Dodge posted his request on the department's Facebook page, asking Turners Falls residents to help pick up—carefully—dirty needles." (Best Places map: Turner Falls)

Community members in Scott County, Indiana, which has faced an HIV epidemic with more than 100 reported cases, are also volunteering to pick up used needles, Anders Kelto reports for NPR. 

Pulitzer Prize winning poet Ted Kooser talks to Daily Yonder about writing about rural America

Ted Kooser
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Ted Kooser has spent much of his career writing about rural life. Kooser recently sat down with Daily Yonder writer Dale Mackey to discuss his writing process, inspirations and what it means to write about rural America.

Kooser told Mackey: "Maybe forty years ago I published a poem, 'Spring Plowing,' about field mice moving their nests into a fencerow to be safe from the plow, and a woman who had seen the poem wrote to me and said that she would never again pass a freshly plowed field without thinking of those mice, and it came to me at once, 'This is my job, to show people new ways of looking at things!' And that’s what I’ve done."

Even when one of his poems is about an urban subject, is still has a rural feel, Kooser said. He told Mackey: "I’ve written lots of poems about people I’ve observed in cities, but because I like to isolate my subjects, to push all the other people out of the frame and thus put the focus on one or two people, it may seem that my subjects are walking the streets in small towns. I don’t think I could write a poem in which I described a crowd. For me a crowd is a lot of separate poems standing around together."

"From childhood I seem to have dreamed myself into the lives of others: What would it be like to live in that house, with those people? What would it feel like to be that man, looking out of his homely face? What would it be like to be handsome?" Kooser told Mackey. "I’m very thankful to have survived into my seventies and to have had grateful readers and to have received those honors, but I earned those readers and honors by sitting by myself, writing, morning after morning, and I have always known that my best work comes out of isolation. My writing has brought me into contact with thousands of people, but at every public appearance I have wished I could be at home with my wife and my books and my dog." (Read more)

Confrontation turns ugly in Central Appalachia between outsiders, residents over photographs

Central Appalachia has been represented so poorly in the media that the motives of outsiders—especially those carrying cameras—are often placed under immediate suspicion. A pair of outsiders, a camera and a misunderstanding in McDowell County, West Virginia—one of the nation's poorest counties—recently led to a full-blown incident that could have easily turned violent but luckily ended with only bruised egos. (Photo by Alan Johnston: Road sign in McDowell County, West Virginia)

Photographer Marisha Camp and her brother Jesse, a former MTV VJ, were taking photos in McDowell County when an angry parent accused the pair of photographing her son without her permission. Though no photos were taken of the child, the idea that strangers might have photographed her son led to accusations, threats and a police escort out of town for the Camps. The story became national news but only for showcasing how backwards Central Appalachian residents can be.

"As is usual when Appalachia is the subject, the story was told primarily by and about one group—outsiders visiting the area," writes West Virginian Roger May for Photo District News. "That’s not to say the Camps’s accounts of what happened aren’t valid, but they’ve been given a platform not afforded many of the others involved. The locals have been portrayed as vigilantes, as mob- or gang-like . . .  Let’s be clear: the Camps weren’t detained for looking 'out-of-town.' They were detained, illegally this West Virginian and photographer believes, because parents thought they'd photographed their children without their permission."

The Camps, who have been traveling across country collecting film for a television show they are trying to pitch, said they briefly talked to three boys in McDowell County but did not take any photos, May writes. "Soon thereafter, Marisha Camp heard someone yelling across the road and noticed a van blocking in their vehicle. The van’s owner, Jennifer Adkins, was upset because she thought the Camps were photographing her children without her consent, and she demanded the pair hand their cameras over. The situation escalated quickly."

Marisha says Adkins immediately threatened her, alluded to having a gun and demanded they hand over their cameras, May writes. Marisha has Adkins on audio saying: "Have you all looked at yourselves in the mirror? You don’t look like upstanding citizens."

After 45 minutes of arguing with an angry mob and local police, West Virginia state police arrived on the scene, "escorted the Camps out of the area and lectured them about how they 'ought to be careful about not making ugly pictures about the people of West Virginia,' Marisha Camp says," May writes. "Later that day, she contacted the McDowell County sheriff’s department and was told by a deputy, 'You’re lucky you weren’t shot.'”

Adkins, who called 911 twice, said she chased down the Camps after her son mentioned people taking photographs, May writes. Adkins, who admits threatening the Camps, and said she mentioned a gun, despite not having one, told May: “I can understand them [the Camps] being scared, but we had no choice but to question their motives. I wouldn’t have ever given them permission to take pictures of my kids, let alone talk to them, but they never gave me the chance.”

“I mean, I said I had a gun, but I didn’t. I wanted them to know I meant business and that they weren’t leaving until the police showed up," Adkins told May. "I told [Marisha Camp] that she could leave by ambulance or by a police car, but she wasn’t going nowhere until I saw that she didn’t have pictures of my boys.” Adkins said residents "she didn’t even know began to gather around. She says the other residents, who must’ve felt they were looking out for their own, 'sort of took over.'"

While the Camps may have had no intention of making McDowell County look bad, enough people have that residents are wary, said filmmaker Kate Fowler, May writes."Many in West Virginia, Fowler says, recognize that outsiders who’ve photographed their communities without consent have participated in the 'dissemination of classist and bigoted rhetoric—the visual equivalent of hate speech.'"

“No person deserves to be threatened with violence or held against their will," Fowler told May. But, she says, "We [as photographers] must not presume that our intentions are clear nor deny the trauma we may invoke through our actions, tools or intentions.” (Read more)

OSHA averages eight years to issue a new rule; lacks funds, ability to enforce rules

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the nation's top safety watchdog, lacks the resources or ability to set and enforce rules in a timely matter, Lydia DePillis reports for The Washington Post. "A Government Accountability Office report in 2012 found that it takes nearly eight years on average to issue a new rule because of the heavy burden of documentation needed to withstand inevitable industry lawsuits. It's difficult to run many of those processes at once, with a budget that has declined significantly since 2010."

Meatpacking is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, with 28,100 reported injuries in 2013 and high rates of stress conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, DePillis writes. But OSHA says it doesn't have the resources or ability to set and enforce rules. OSHA does not specifically regulate meat processing, but "There are voluntary guidelines, and there's a blanket protection, which says that companies have a 'general duty' to protect their workers using the best available information."

OSHA has been pushed to set standards for the speed of production lines, especially after the U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted to allow poultry plants to raise speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175, a move that critics said could pose safety concerns, DePillis writes. While USDA backed down, protestors "pushed the agency to answer a petition lodged in 2013 that laid out why the problem was so dire and how OSHA could help." In March OSHA denied the petition, citing lack of resources to conduct a thorough study.

OSHA's inability to set or enforce rules is nothing new. Peg Seminario, executive director for safety and health at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, told DePillis, "When you look at the hazards OSHA has been working on, most of them have been ones that OSHA has been working on for decades. The process is so slow that there is always a huge backlog. To even take it on, they’d have to not do one of these other ones. It’s a zero-sum game." (Read more)

Michael B. Jandreau, visionary leader of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, dies at 71

Michael B. Jandreau
"Michael B. Jandreau, the visionary leader of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota for almost 40 years, passed away last month at the age of 71," Marshall Matz, an agricultural lawyer and former member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, writes for Agri-Pulse. "Known to all as 'Mike' he believed that Indian Tribes had to establish a private sector economy on the Reservations if they were to participate in the American dream."

"Under Jandreau's leadership, Lower Brule established a successful Farm Corporation and one of the most diverse and innovative economies of any Reservation in the Nation," Matz writes. "The Lower Brule Farm Corporation grows edible beans, has a commercial buffalo herd and is the largest producer of popcorn in the country. The farm has expanded to some 40,000 acres with 10,000 acres under irrigation. They sell popcorn nationwide to the major brands and also market under their own brand name 'Lakota Foods.'” (Read more)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Workshops help state legislators be more civil; has your state had one? Has your legislator attended?

Editorial commentators like to complain about the decline in civility in politics and government, but how many of them know to ask their local legislators if they have attended workshops aimed at improving civil discourse and building bipartisan trust?

The workshops are held by the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Institute for Civil Discourse, chaired by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and created by the University of Arizona to honor then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson, who was seriously wounded in a mass shooting in 2011. The workshops, called the Next Generation program because half of national elected leaders come from statehouses, were conceived by then-state Rep. Ted Celeste of Ohio, Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline.

More than 200 state legislators from across the country have attended the workshops, which have been held in Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota and Maine. If your state is on that list, has/have your legislator(s) attended? If so, what did they get out of it? If not, why not? And if your state isn't on the list, why not?

30,000 square kilometers of U.S. land have been taken over by oil and gas development

Oil and gas drilling operations in the U.S. take up 30,000 square kilometers of land, says a study by University of Montana researchers published last week in Science. While the authors admit the benefits of oil and gas, they say "the well sites are rarely remediated and replanted, and so the cumulative impact could begin to take its toll through the degradation of animal habitats and the loss of plants, which sop up carbon dioxide," Eric Hand reports for Science. (University of Montana graphic: The oil and gas industry has drilled more than 2 million wells since 1900. The displaced productivity of well sites amid croplands (red) is higher than those in rangelands (green)).

"Researchers found that, since 1900, more than 2 million wells have been drilled, and most of that has happened in two spurts—one beginning in the mid-1970s with the OPEC oil embargo, and the other beginning in 2000 with the advent of directional drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other techniques that make it easier to extract oil and gas from tight rock formations," Hand writes. "In the last decade, they found, industry has been sinking more than 50,000 wells a year." Study co-author Steven Running told Hand, “Whenever we tell people there are 50,000 wells being drilled per year, they think we’re crazy. Nobody has any idea of the magnitude of this.” 

Hand writes, "Researchers combined the well locations with satellite imagery to arrive at estimates of the plant productivity lost when the dirt and gravel of a graded site replaces cropland or rangeland. The amount of lost biomass in croplands alone is equivalent to 120 million bushels of wheat—or 13 percent of what the United States exported in 2013, the team reports." (Read more)

Series features interviews of Silas House, former coal miners on future of coal in Central Appalachia

When novelist, educator and activist Silas House was 11, a strip mining operation began across the road from his family’s home in Eastern Kentucky, "making him aware of coal’s double-edged sword: the industry brought his family out of poverty, but at the same time, his family and community paid a price," begins one story in a series by The Allegheny Front, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Inside Energy called "The Future of Coal."

Silas House
"In one memorable example, at a mining site that abutted House’s father’s family graveyard, the coal company was mining so close to the graveyard that they pushed his great-aunt’s grave over the mountain and into the creek below it," reports The Allegheny Front. "House says that’s where the seeds of his activism were sown."

The activism grew when fellow Kentucky writer and activist Wendell Berry took House on a tour of mountaintop removal sites and visits with residents affected by those sites, reports The Allegheny Front. House said, "And almost every one of them would end their testimony by saying, ‘Nobody will listen to us. Please, tell our story. And please get our story out there.’ And all of us sitting there felt like we had been handed this responsibility. And that we had to do something.”

House stresses that he's not fighting against coal miners, coal jobs or coal communities, reports The Allegheny Front. House said, “When I’m talking about being against coal, I’m talking about being against these huge corporations that, you know, don’t think about balance. They don’t think about the communities that they’re harming. And for the most part, they don’t think about their miners, their employees, you know, it’s all a numbers game. And so, I always try to get at that complexity.”

Another story in the series looks at how residents in once thriving coal communities are trying to survive since the decline of coal jobs. Former Logan County, West Virginia, miner Dell Maynard told The Allegheny Front, "I've been laid off three times in the last year. I'm not kidding. And it's not because I don't try to find a job because I've found three. Oh, it's awful. I'm telling you this place is going to be a ghost town if they don't do something . . . Obama has absolutely stuck a dagger in the heart of coal."

Others, like, Shane Lucas, of Whiteburg, Ky., a coal miner for 20 years, have found new careers,  reports The Allegheny Front. Lucas, who took up farming while a coal miner to earn extra money, now makes a living growing broccoli, turnips and apple trees.

Eastern Kentuckian Ivy Brashear, a former writer for The Rural Blog who works for nonprofit Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, said, "The region is in a really critical moment of economic transition. For me, it's a really pregnant moment of opportunity."

Brashear's group "focuses on entrepreneurship, energy efficiency, forestry and local foods," reports The Allegheny Front. "She’s part of a movement that is spreading in Appalachia, calling for more dialogue, planning, and investment by citizens, government and NGOs to fill the giant hole created by coal’s hollowing out." She said, "Not that it’s easy to make that transition. It’s really not. It’s long, it’s hard and it’s expensive. But there really is no other option for us if we are to survive as a region and as a people than to search for alternatives and to do something else."

Heavy drinking, binge drinking rise; interactive map shows county data on those, and any drinking

Heavy drinking and binge drinking rose significantly from 2002 to 2012, says a county-level study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Wisconsin, published last week in the American Journal of Public Health. The study has data on heavy drinking, binge drinking and any drinking, and separate data for men and women are available.

The data are adjusted for age, and the county figures reflect statistical modeling to compensate for small sample sizes in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a continuous poll by the federal Centers for Disease Control. The data have been used to create a county-level interactive map, which shows the possible ranges of percentages, reflecting the poll's error margins. The map site also includes county-level numbers for smoking, life expectancy, hypertension, obesity, physical activity and poverty. Here's a screen grab:
The study found that Wisconsin is the heaviest-drinking state, with 12 percent of adults 21 and over being heavy drinkers, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. Following Wisconsin are Vermont, Montana, Washington, D.C., and Iowa. Utah has the lowest number of heavy drinkers, at 5.2 percent, followed by West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The national average was 8.2 percent.

Kentucky, which has a relatively small percentage of drinkers, appeared to lead the nation in increases in drinking and binge drinking and was among the leaders in heavy drinking, based on these maps:
The data show that adults in Esmeralda County, Nevada, are the nation's heaviest drinkers, and Menominee County, Wisconsin, has the highest number of binge drinkers, classified as four drinks or more for women and five drinks or more for men on a single occasion at least once during the past month.

The national average for binge drinking is 18.3 percent, but several rural counties were nearly twice that much. Following Menominee County are: Loving County, Texas, (35.5 percent); Nance County, Nebraska, (35.2 percent); Renville County, North Dakota, (34.2 percent); Esmeralda County, Nevada, (33.8 percent); Steele County, North Dakota, (33.6 percent); Nelson County, North Dakota, (33.5 percent); Ontonagon County, Michigan, (33.3 percent); Toole County, Montana, (33.2 percent); and Burke County, North Dakota, (33 percent).

Society of Professional Journalists announces winners of Sigma Delta Chi Awards

The winners of the Society of Professional Journalists' 2014 Sigma Delta Chi Awards for excellence in journalism have been announced and feature plenty of stories by rural journalists or about ideas important to rural communities.

Newspaper/Wire Service

Winner for Deadline Reporting for non-daily publication went to Ann McCreary and Marcy Stamper of the Methow Valley News for their story about firestorms that raged through the Methow Valley in Northern Washington.

Reuters won for Non-Deadly Reporting for daily circulations of 100,001 or more for its series called "Water's Edge" by Ryan McNeill, Deborah J. Nelson, Duff Wilson, Alister Doyle and Bill Tarrant. The series looked at an increase in flooding on the coastline.

Mary Beth Pfeiffer of the Poughkeepsie Journal won for Non-Deadline Reporting for daily circulation 1-50,000 for "Killers & Pain" about painkiller abuse. Also writing about drug abuse, Jeffrey Gerritt of The Blade won for Editorial Writing for daily circulation of 1-100,000, non-daily, for "Prescription: Addiction."

Winner in Investigative Reporting for non-daily publication was The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa., for "Pensions in Peril" by Terrie Morgan-Besecker.

Sam Venable of the Knoxville News Sentinel won for Feature Reporting for daily circulations of 50,001 to 100,000 for "Fragments of Hate," a story about an integration pioneer who was shot in East Tennessee just days after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

The Alaska Dispatch News won for Public Service Journalism for daily circulation 50,001 to 100,000 for its series "State of Intoxication: FASD" by Marc Lester, Kyle Hopkins, Patrick Dougherty, Pam Dunlap-Shohl and Anne Raup.

Public Service  Journalism for daily circulation 1-50,000 went to the staff of The Clarion-Ledger for its series "Hard Look at Hard Time," looking at incarceration in Mississippi.

Ashley Powers of The California Sunday Magazine won for Magazine Writing for regional/local circulation for "Their Town," which is about Mormon fundamentalists living on the border of Utah and Arizona.

Consumer Reports won for Public Service in Magazine Journalism for national circulation for “The High Cost of Cheap Chicken” by Christie Aschwanden, Ellen Kunes and Urvashi Rangan.

Radio

Maine Public Broadcasting Network won for Breaking News Reporting in 1-100 market or network syndication for its series “Ebola Healthworker Defies Quarantine,” by Patty Wight, Susan Sharon and Mal Leary.

Breaking News Reporting for 101+ market went to Sandy Hausman, Hawes Spencer and Connie Stevens of WVTF Public Radio at Virginia Tech University for “The Disappearance of Hannah Graham" about the missing University of Virginia student.

Sean Sandefur of KMUW 89.1 in Wichita won for Investigative Reporting in 101+ market for “Dangerous Chemical Invades West Wichita Drinking Water” about private water wells contaminated with chemicals.

Grace Hood, of KUNC-FM in Northern Colorado, won in Feature Reporting in 101+ market for “Finding Soldierstone” about a hidden war memorial in a remote part of the Rio Grande National Forest.

Winner of Documentaries in 101+ market was KBIA 91.3 at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., for “Heartland, Missouri” by Abigail Keel, Ryan Famuliner, Janet Saidi and Casey Morell.

Television

For Breaking News Coverage in small markets KRGV-TV in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, won for “Gun Battle in La Joya, Texas” by staff and Jenny Martinez.

WVUE-TV in  New Orleans for Documentaries, small market for “Holding Officials Accountable” by Lee Zurik, Tom Wright, Jon Turnipseed and Greg Phillips.

Public Service in Television Journalism for small market went to WLTX-TV in Columbia, S.C., for “SCDSS: The System Failed” by Clark Fouraker, Jennifer Bellamy, Darci Strickland and Marybeth Jacoby about the death of a child.

Kate Snow of NBC News won Public Service in Television Journalism for network, syndication or program service for “Hooked: America's Heroin Epidemic.”

Online reporting

Stephen Rynkiewicz, David Craig and Casey Bukro of Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists won for online column writing by an independent source.

Obama Administration to host first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering in July

The White House announced on Friday that on July 9 it will host the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering "to provide American Indian and Alaska Native youth from across the country the opportunity to interact directly with senior Administration officials and the White House Council on Native American Affairs."

The gathering is part of the President’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative launched last year "to improve the lives of American Indian youth nationwide," reports The Associated Press. "Last summer, Obama became just the third sitting U.S. president in eight decades to set foot in Indian country when he and his wife, Michelle, visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota."

Monday, April 27, 2015

U.S. overtaking OPEC as the vital oil global swing producer that determines prices

The oil boom in the U.S.—especially in Texas and North Dakota—has swung the balance of power from Saudi Arabia to the U.S., Clifford Krauss reports for The New York Times. "Put another way, the United States is overtaking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as the vital global swing producer that determines prices." (Denver Post photo by RJ Sangosti: A hydraulic fracturing site owned by Anadarko in Colo.)

"That remarkable change has been building since 2008, as American shale fields accounted for roughly half of the world’s oil production growth while American petroleum output nearly doubled," Krauss writes. "The demise of OPEC as the price manipulator is what virtually every American president since Richard Nixon had in mind when they promised to find a way to make the United States energy independent, not chained to Middle East or OPEC oil, after the oil embargoes of the 1960s and 1970s."

With all prices falling—from $100 a barrel in June to $45 a barrel during the winter—some leaders have suggested that OPEC cut production to strengthen prices—a move that worked during the last slump in 2009, Krauss writes. "But the Saudis and their Gulf allies said no. They argued that if they cut production, they would merely lose market share to the surging American producers who were increasing daily production by a million barrels year in and year out with no end in sight. The decision effectively forfeited the cartel’s traditional role as the global oil swing producer—the one and only supplier with the volume of production to raise and lower prices by managing the cartel’s output."

"The decision came as a shock to the oil market. From the moment OPEC decided to keep its production constant at 30 million barrels a day, a fairly gradual price retreat that began in July morphed into a nose dive as commodity traders dumped their oil positions," Krauss writes. "Many independent American producers saw the move as a direct attack on them, but it was really a throwing in the towel to the new reality of growing American oil output."

An increase in railroad traffic has made it possible for the U.S. to ship more oil from North Dakota to East Coast refineries, lessening the need for oil from the Middle East and Africa, Krauss writes. That forced OPEC producers to redirect their product to Asian markets, where competition forced them to cut prices.

"The U.S. Department of Energy has predicted that current U.S. "oil production of 9.4 million barrels a day will decline by 210,000 barrels a day in the third quarter," Krauss writes. "Energy experts expect further declines into 2016 (accompanied by reduced production in some conventional foreign oil fields), and many executives are predicting that prices will stabilize at $70 to $80 a barrel over the next few years, a sweet spot where consumers get a break but companies can still profit because technology is making drilling cheaper." (Read more)

Letters are taking longer to arrive, especially in rural areas

In January the U.S. Postal Service stopped offering overnight delivery for local first-class letters. In response to declining mail volume, service standards have been relaxing since 2012, and 150 plants have closed, saving $865 million. "The U.S. mail is slowing down," Lisa Rein writes for The Washington Post.

Officials are downplaying the longer delivery times, and former postmaster general Patrick Donahoe said "that consolidating mail operations into fewer plants would save money and increase efficiency," Rein reports. Donahoe said the changes only affect 4 percent of the mail, but a USPS fact sheet concerning the new stardards says they affect as much as 16 percent of first-class mail. Members of Congress from rural areas report even higher numbers.

The first set of plant closings didn't make that much difference because many of them were close together, but the 82 more plants closing in January is affecting delivery times more because trucks must travel longer distances to pick up and deliver mail.

"Preliminary internal data shows that the Postal Service did not meet even its lower targets for first-class mail during the first seven weeks of 2015," Rein reports. Letters that should take three days only arrived on time 54 to 63 percent of the time. Conversely, in 2014, three-to-five-day delivery arrived on time between 77 and 85 percent of the time. Agency spokeswoman Sue Brennan said about the plant closings, "Implementing changes of this magnitude in an organization the size of the Postal Service involves a learning curve."

Postal officials cite severe winter storms as a key reason for slow deliveries. "We acknowledge that pockets of the country have experience some service delays in [January-March]," Brennan said, "much due to the extreme weather but certainly not all. We have deployed headquarters-level operations teams to specific locations to provide on-site assistance with local management." The regulatory commission wrote in a March report that the weather show not be constantly blamed for failure to meet performance standards.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who serves on the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, said, "As service standards have slipped across the country, they're slipping worse across rural America. If you continue to close processing centers . . . and pretend you're meeting delivery standards when you're not, you're going to get bad service. The three-day delivery standard in and out of rural areas has never been true." (Read more)

Bird flu has killed more than 7 million birds in past month; officials unsure how to contain disease

UPDATED April 29, 2015: New bird flu cases have been reported in Kentucky, Iowa and Minnesota, reports Agri-Pulse. Two wild birds in McCracken County, Kentucky were found to have highly pathogenic avian influenza, five outbreaks were reported at commercial poultry farms in Iowa and a new outbreak of the H5N2 strain was also confirmed in a flock of 27,000 turkeys in Stearns County, Minnesota, the biggest turkey producing state.

"Four of Iowa's latest cases were reported in newly affected counties—two egg-laying operations in O'Brien County, one laying facility and a turkey farm in Sioux—with a fifth case found in Osceola (the county's second outbreak) on a pullet farm raising layer chickens," Agri-Pulse writes. "All told, the operations were raising about 5.8 million birds, all of which are being euthanized to slow the spread of the virus. Combined with previous outbreaks, Iowa will be depopulating almost 10 million chickens and turkeys."

Officials are at a loss about how to contain the bird flu epidemic, which has led to the deaths of 7.1 million birds in the past month—mostly in Minnesota and Iowa—and fear the disease will continue spreading throughout the Midwest and reach the heart of the chicken industry in the South, Kesley Gee and Jacob Bunge report The Wall Street Journal. "Though the casualties so far account for a fraction of the poultry industry’s annual production of about nine billion chickens and turkeys and the egg industry’s 303 million birds, industry and government officials are uncertain how the virus is spreading."

"The outbreak, the poultry industry’s worst since the 1980s, has expanded to more than a dozen states," Gee and Bunge write. "It has prompted many countries to impose bans on imports of U.S. poultry, leading to declines in overseas shipments of turkey and chicken legs, chicken feet and other products." (CNBC graphic)

"The highly infectious H5N2 strain of avian influenza is a combination of a deadly strain that originated in Asia and later combined with North American versions, according to scientists," Gee and Bunge write. "Stricken turkeys and chickens may stop eating or become lethargic, begin to cough and sneeze, and can die off quickly, according to animal health officials."

While researchers believe the virus is spread through "the droppings of wild ducks and geese as they migrate to the upper Midwest to breed during the warmer months of the year," it remains unclear "how the virus enters already tightly managed poultry houses, which typically are enclosed to prevent exposure to pathogens and predators," Gee and Bunge write. "One theory is that poultry workers unknowingly are tracking the droppings into the facilities despite stringent biosecurity practices."

"Farmers and meat companies say that workers typically change boots before entering poultry farms, outsiders usually aren’t admitted and equipment regularly is disinfected," Gee and Bunge write. "Another possibility is that wind gusts may carry virus particles on feathers or bird excrement to poultry facilities." (Read more)

West Virginia officials fighting to unseal document to reveal Appalachian pill pipeline data

Drug companies accused of shipping upwards of millions of doses of controlled substances from out of state to Southern West Virginia rogue pharmacies are fighting a request "to unseal a lawsuit complaint that would reveal details about the pain pill shipments from 2007 to 2012," Eric Eyre reports for the Charleston Gazette. The 11 drug distributors "argue that the pill numbers are 'highly confidential' and must be kept secret."

Officials argue that the records should be open to the public, especially since the region has the highest drug overdose rate in the nation, Eyre writes. Delegate Don Perdue (D-Wayne) said, “With this issue, we’re not only called on to be transparent, we’re duty-bound to pursue transparency in a situation where we have numerous deaths, addictions and a tremendous economic impact on the state. The state of West Virginia has every right to provide those statistics to the public that’s paying the bills for what’s happened.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2012, "alleges that the drug wholesalers helped fuel Southern West Virginia’s prescription drug problem by shipping an excessive number of painkillers to pill mill pharmacies in the region," Eyre writes. "In 2013, the drug companies and state government agreed to a protective order to keep certain information confidential. The judge’s order allowed the drug distributors to 'keep highly sensitive business information from falling into the hands of their direct competition,' the companies argued in a court brief filed in late February." (Read more)

Homeowners at risk of wildfires should take precautions

A 2015 risk report from analytics firm CoreLogic deemed more than 1.1 million properties in the western United States highly vulnerable to a wildfire. "It is truly a when, not if," Sen McVay, a homeowner in Evergreen, Colo., said regarding the idea that a wildfire could set his wooded community ablaze, John Roach reports NBC News.

The cost to rebuild the vulnerable homes would be $269 billion, according to the report. "There is a real opportunity to do more preventative action before [wildfire] becomes a bigger problem," said Toddi Steelman, who studies wildfire preparedness at the University of Saskatchewan. Wildfires will become a bigger concern because many baby boomers want to retire in rural settings.

Currently almost a third of homes are in areas adjoining or intermingling with wildlands, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman with the National Interagency Fire Center, said that if trends continue, "1 million more homes will be built within a half mile of the wildlands by 2030," Roach reports.

To reduce risk of wildfire damage, experts suggest "clearing flammable vegetation such as pine trees, shrubs and wood piles in at least a 30-foot perimeter around the home, using non-combustible construction materials such as ceramic shingles and composite decking instead of wood and installing wire mesh over vents to prevent windblown embers from flying in," Roach writes.

Whole neighborhoods should take these precautions to create a "large defensible space . . . and enable the fire responders, the firefighters, to do their jobs more effectively," said Thomas Jeffery, a senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic.

McVay said it was challenging to find insurance for his home. The insurer he found charged higher rates and required him to create a defensible space around his home. (Read more)

Study: Using encouraging language, conversing with children impacts their IQ, educational outcomes

Before children even attend school, their interactions with parents at home play a huge role in determining their grasp on vocabulary and conversation. University of Kansas psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that "on average, children from professional families heard more than 2,150 words an hour," Sarah Sparks writes for Education Week. "Those in working-class families heard about 1,250 words. Children in families on welfare heard little more than 600 words an hour."

While the number of words is important, how words are used also matters, said Barbara T. Bowman, a child-development professor and co-founder of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute. Children of professionals heard twice as many unique words and twice as many encouraging words than children in other family situations. According to the research, more than 85 percent of the "vocabulary, conversational patterns and language complexity of the 3-year-olds had come from their families," Sparks writes. The vocabularies of children of professionals were nearly twice the size of the vocabularies of children from families receiving welfare.

Dale Walker, an associate research professor at the Juniper Gardens Children's Project in Kansas City, Kan., did a followup study and found that children from kindergarten to 3rd grade who had heard the least words at home "were still at a disadvantage years later. I always knew where to find them; frequently, they were in the hallways for behavior problems."

An important implication of the study is the lack of exposure to encouraging language, said W. Steve Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. One problem is that "we segregate low-income children in preschool programs just for them. Children were already replicating these [family] patterns in their own interactions. What did we think the consequences would be of kids who get together and interact with each other largely negatively?"

According to the study, by age 3, children of professionals would hear approximately 45 million words, while children in poverty would only hear 13 million. "By age 3, a child's IQ was more closely related to the number of words he had heard than to any other factor, including parents' overall education or income level," Sparks reports.

Just because a family has a low socioeconomic status or the parents did not attend college doesn't mean they can't engage in positive conversations with their children. "Conversational turns are vastly more important than the number of words a child is exposed to," Jill Gilkerson, LENA Research Foundation's director of child-language research, said. One study found that students who scored in the top 10 percent on preschool language tests engaged in conversations with their parents involving 18 more turns per hour than children who scored in the other 80 percent. (Read more)

University of Missouri alumnus gives journalism school $1 million to research LGBT issues

The University of Missouri School of Journalism received a gift of $1 million "to support journalism education and research into the connection between American journalism and the advancement of human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people," reports MU.

Alumnus Timothy Blair "says he is giving the gift to MU to advance the education of students of the world’s first school of journalism on the role media have played in reinforcing stereotypes and shaping new understandings of LGBT people in American culture," MU reports. Blair said Missouri is one of 27 states that allows people to be fired from their jobs, evicted from housing or denied public accommodations and basic services based solely upon sexual orientation or identity.

The $1 million gift will create the Timothy D. Blair Fund for LGBT Coverage in Journalism, MU reports. "The fund will support the faculty and students of the Missouri School of Journalism in the pursuit of understanding the media’s role in shaping perceptions about gender stereotypes, HIV/AIDS as a force of rapid social change, the advancement of LGBT civil rights within the context of same sex marriage and the integration and acceptance of gay people and families into the fabric of American life." (Read more)

After rural Mo. town elects African American mayor, several top employees, all white, quit

Tyus Byrd, an African American woman, was sworn in as mayor of Parma, Mo., on April 14. Since then, the town of 675 has seen a series of resignations of city employees, all of them white. Byrd said she hasn't seen any resignation letters, but confirmed that since she took office the police chief, two police officers, the head of the wastewater department and the city clerk/court clerk/city collector have failed to show up for work, Noreen Hyslop reports for The Daily Statesman of Dexter, in Stoddard County.

Former mayor Randall Ramsey, whom Byrd beat by a count of 122 to 84 votes, had been in office for 37 years, from 1962 to 1974 and again from 1991 to the recent election, Hyslop writes. Parma, which has lost 21 percent of its population since 2000, is 66 percent white and 30 percent African American.

Byrd said that she never said she would clean house at City Hall if elected, and was at a loss as to why the employees quit, Stephen Deere reports in a longer story for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Locals have cited "a variety of reasons for the departures. Hurt feelings. Worries about being fired. Loyalty to the former mayor, who had been in power for much of the past half-century." (P-D map)

Some residents credit Ramsey with cleaning up a city by using federal grants to beef up the police force and fight a rise in crime, Deere writes. Others say police brutality—especially against African American residents—increased during his tenure.

Ramsey, who blamed losing the election on a strong showing from African American residents, told Deere that the employees probably quit because they assumed Byrd would enjoy the power of being able to fire them: "I feel like they didn’t want to hang around and get fired." Byrd said she never even spoke with employees and was surprised when she was told by reporters that they quit over safety concerns, citing previous run-ins with Byrd's relatives. (Read more)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Turkey believed to be the world's largest, at 37.6 pounds, is bagged in Western Kentucky

UPDATE: The turkey has been confirmed as the world record, The Lake News reports.

A wild turkey believed to be the largest ever recorded was killed last week in Western Kentucky. Cody Guess is waiting for word from the National Wild Turkey Federation to officially announce that the 37.6-pound tom he shot on his family's farm in Lyon County last week is indeed the world's largest turkey, reports The Lake News of Calvert City. (Photo by Tammy Guess, Shooter’s Supply, Eddyville)

The current record is 36 pounds. Guess's turkey "has spurs that measured one and one-quarter inches in length and its beard measured in at nine and three-quarter inches," the News reports.