Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mike Pence says he's a small-town guy, and he is; 'knows what end of the cow does what'

Reuters photo by John Sommers
"I'm really just a small-town boy" who "grew up with a cornfield in the backyard," Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said after Donald Trump introduced him as his choice for vice president today.

Michael Barbaro and Monica Davey report for The New York Times: “Leslie Lenkowsky, a former professor at Indiana University who has known Mr. Pence for 20 years, said that in an age of business-minded governors who deliberately avoid touchy social issues, "Mike sees himself as a champion of a very culturally conservative set of values that represent small-town Middle America." . . . His conservatism, friends said, is firmly rooted in his Indiana childhood, a postcard from a tranquil Midwest of the 1960s. The son of a gas station manager, he was a quiet altar boy whose favorite childhood memory was playing in a neighborhood creek.”

As a talk-radio show host in 1998, "Long after government regulators had confirmed the lethal consequences of cigarette smoking, Mike Pence mocked their warnings as 'hysteria'," the reporters write. "And long after Republicans’ war on big government was fading, [Congressman] Pence defiantly opposed his own party over the creation of signature programs like No Child Left Behind and a Medicare prescription drug benefit. . . . He is so abstemious that he once declared that to avoid temptation, he would never appear anywhere alcohol was served unless his wife was with him. This has earned Mr. Pence, 57, both the admiration of Republican voters who identify with his homespun manner and the frustration of outsiders who see him as a dangerous anachronism."

Many small-town folks would describe themselves as Pence typically does: “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” The reporters note, "Those animating forces were at the center of the most consequential – and controversial – decision Mr. Pence made as governor: signing a 2015 law that could have made it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay couples just as same-sex marriage was spreading across the country. The national firestorm generated by the law was so fierce that sports leagues, trade groups and technology companies threatened to boycott Mr. Pence’s state, forcing him to revise the law in a compromise that infuriated both sides of the debate."

Trump's selection of Pence was cheered by agriculture interests. “He is truly agriculture's dream candidate,” Don Villwock, who recently retired after more than a decade as president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, told Agri-Pulse in an email. National Cattlemen's Beef Association lobbyist Colin Woodall told Oklahoma Farm Report that when Pence was on the House Agriculture Committee, “He was very engaged and willing to help us on several things. We're encouraged it's somebody [with] their hand on the pulse of agriculture and … really probably knows what end of the cow does what.”

The biggest gap between Trump and Pence may be on trade," Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse. "Pence has been a strong supporter of trade agreements, voting in favor of the Korean Free Trade Agreement in 2011 and the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement. In April of 2015, Pence sent a letter to Indiana's congressional delegation urging them to support trade promotion authority, which gives a president the authority to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an amendment-free, up or down vote. TPA has since been approved, and the administration has wrapped up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries. The administration is also in the process of negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union."

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ethics panel rebukes congressman fighting horse abuse for allowing Humane Society lobbyist wife to contact his staff; he says issue killed his bill

Whitfield and wife Connie Harriman Whitfield in his office. (Washington Post, 2010)
Legislation to tighten the rules on treatment of show horses has fallen victim to an ethical breach by a retiring congressman and his wife, a lobbyist for the group pushing the measure, the congressman said yesterday.

The House Ethics Committee reproved Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky's First District for failing to prohibit lobbying contacts between his staff and Connie Harriman Whitfield, a lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States. The committee said the breach was unintentional, but Whitfield said the horse-show groups that filed the complaint got what they wanted.

"Whitfield's bill did not come up for a vote in the last Congress, despite support from a range of animal and veterinary groups and more than 300 co-sponsors in the House," reports Matthew Daly of The Associated Press. "Whitfield blamed that outcome on the ethics inquiry, which he said was initiated by groups including the Tennessee-based Performance Show Horse Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration" in Shelbyville.

"The committee questioned Whitfield's claim that he didn't even know his wife was a registered lobbyist until October of 2013," Joseph Gerth reports for The Courier-Journal of Louisville. Two months later, Politico did a report on the matter.

Whitfield also led the effort to ban horse slaughter in the U.S. In a prepared statement, he said, "Championing the welfare of animals has been a passion that my wife and I have shared throughout our 25 years of marriage. My commitment to animal protection is the reason I became the target of an ethics complaint." He said the committee did not find that he has given his wife special access to his staff, a more serious charge, but "I made a mistake."

Minnesota deems 300 lakes, rivers and streams impaired; farm runoff largely to blame

More than 300 of Minnesota's lakes, rivers and streams—40 percent of those tested—are "impaired by farm runoff, bacteria, mercury or other pollutants," Dan Gunderson reports for Minnesota Public Radio. The largest share of polluted water is in the western and southern parts of the state, where agriculture is more plentiful. Overall, the state tested about two-thirds of its lakes, rivers and streams. (MPR photo by Alex Kolyer: Whitewater River)

Minnesota is required to submit a list of polluted waters to the Environmental Protection Agency every two years. "The federal Clean Water Act says water should be drinkable, fishable and swimmable. By 2020, Minnesota will complete an assessment of all 80 major watersheds in the state. Lakes and streams will then be monitored every 10 years will show if the state is reducing pollution." The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this year proposed removing two bodies of water from the list because of improved conditions. (Read more)

House passes GMO labeling bill, which President Obama is expected to sign into law

The House voted on Thursday to require labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, "clearing the bill’s final obstacle before it heads to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it into law," Stephanie Strom reports for The New York Times. The Senate passed its GMO bill earlier this month. (Reddit image)

The problem is that different groups are interpreting the laws differently, Strom writes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration "has said the bill’s definition of which foods would require labeling would not include many products containing highly refined oil and sweeteners like canola oil or high-fructose corn syrup. After processing, such ingredients contain no genetic material that would identify them as coming from a genetically engineered source, which is what the bill requires." The Agriculture Department, which oversees GMO labeling under the law, disagrees with that interpretation.

"The bill allows companies several choices for labeling," Strom writes. "They can add text to a label stating that it contains genetically engineered ingredients; put a symbol (yet to be determined) on packaging to denote such ingredients; or use a 'digital link' like a quick response, or QR, code that consumers can scan with their smartphones."

"Many proponents of GMO labeling contend that anything short of text will allow food companies to obscure the genetically engineered ingredients in their packaging," Strom writes. "They object in particular to QR codes, which they consider discriminatory because many consumers do not have access to the tools needed to read them. Senators supporting the measure have suggested that grocery stores will supply devices to help consumers navigate the codes, but there is no mention of that in the bill that Congress has passed."

White House Rural Council announces workshops to help rural businesses grow exports

The White House Rural Council has announced "a workshop series to provide targeted assistance for rural small businesses working to grow demand through international sales." Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "Strong rural communities are key to a stronger America. ... Through the administration's "Made in Rural America" export and investment initiative, USDA is working to help farmers, ranchers and rural businesses access federal export programs, connect with new customers and markets abroad and bring new opportunity to rural America."

At least 60 Made in Rural America small business export workshops will be held from July 26 to Aug. 31. "The Made in Rural America export and investment initiative, launched by the Obama Administration in February 2014, helps American businesses increase exports from rural areas by connecting companies with resources, expertise, counseling and technical assistance." (Read more)

Democratic Miss. AG drops appeal of blocked religious objections bill; GOP governor still fights it

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said he won't appeal a federal judge's ruling blocking the state's religious-objections law, Jimmie Gates reports for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. Hood said in a statement: "I am convinced that continuing this divisive and expensive litigation is not in the best interests of the state of Mississippi or its taxpayers."

Hood is a Democrat. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant plans to use his own attorney to appeal the judge's ruling, Gates writes. Bryant said in a statement: "I'm obviously disappointed the attorney general has abandoned his duty to defend the constitutionality of a duly enacted statute. I have engaged nationally recognized appellate attorneys, at no cost to the taxpayers of Mississippi, to appeal the district court’s ruling. This appeal is about the state’s legitimate interest in protecting religious liberty—not political posturing about tax reform or the state budget. Mississippi Democrats’ failed policies have rendered them unable to win elections, so they have joined secular progressives in their attempts to legislate through the courts." (Read more)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

DOT proposes rules for crude-oil trains; safety board fears upgrading old cars will take 15 years

The U.S. Department of Transportation "on Wednesday released proposed new spill-response rules for rail carriers carrying crude oil," reports McClatchy Newspapers. "Rail carriers transporting crude oil would be required to plan for the maximum amount of spillage in a derailment and would be required to provide monthly notification to state and tribal emergency responders of the number of rail cars loaded with crude oil expected to pass through an area on a weekly basis. The information would include the routes the trains are expected to travel and a description of what hazardous materials they will be carrying." (McClatchy map)

Crude-oil spills have been on the rise in recent years, with more oil spilled on U.S. railways in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined. The 2013 derailment in Quebec that resulted in 47 deaths was on route from North Dakota to Maine.

The National Transportation Safety Board warned that "accident-prone tank cars used to haul crude oil and ethanol by rail could remain in service for another 15 years under federal rules that allow companies to phase in upgrades to the aging fleet," Matthew Brown reports for The Associated Press. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement that "without mandatory, periodic benchmarks for meeting the requirements, the decision to upgrade to safer tank car designs 'is left entirely to tank car fleet owners, and may be driven by market factor influences, not safety improvements.'"

Tom Simpson of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank-car manufacturers and owners, "said the industry is committed to putting stronger cars in place," Brown writes. "Members of the group will meet deadlines for replacing or upgrading the cars, he said, noting that demand for rail cars has eased after crude-by-rail shipments decreased over the past two years in response to lower oil prices."

Brexit vote in Britain mirrors growing rural-urban political divide in U.S., author says

The controversial Brexit vote in Great Britain is a mirror of the 2016 presidential election, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. Cities in Britain voted to stay in the European Union, while rural areas voted to leave.

"Like the U.S., Great Britain is a country that is divided politically—and geographically," he writes. "The Brexit election was close nationally, within 1.4 percentage points. But in the communities where most British citizens live, the election wasn’t close at all. More than 41 percent of all voters lived in a council area where the Brexit vote was decided by margins of 20 percentage points or more. (There are 433 council areas in Great Britain.) Nearly seven out of 10 voters lived in a council where the margin was greater than 10 percentage points."

"The most pro-EU parts of Britain were in the City of London," Bishop writes. "The most pro-Brexit councils were in the East Midlands and East of England. We’ve seen a similar geographic divide for some time in this country. In the 2014 Congressional elections, Democrats had majorities only in counties that were part of the nation’s largest cities, metro areas with a million or more people. Outside those places, Republicans won by landslide margins." (Yonder map: An example of the growing rural-urban divide)
"By the 2012 presidential election, more than half of all voters lived in a county where the contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama was decided by a landslide of 20 percentage points or more," Bishop writes. "The proportion of Americans living in these landslide counties has been growing steadily since 1976."

The main reason, Bishop and retired statistician Robert Cushing said in their book The Big Sort, is that Americans want to live near like-minded individuals, Bishop writes. "Politically, this would mean that people would vote the same way during national elections. Practically, it would mean people were living in separate countries. People would see their own views reinforced by their neighbors. And they would not understand those who disagreed with them politically because they never knew the other existed." (Read more)

Vilsack in running for Clinton's VP; Trump to name running mate Friday; CBS says it's Ind. Gov. Pence

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack
Could Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack be Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's running mate? There's increasing chatter that Vilsack "could be emerging as a real contender late in the process," James Hohmann reports for The Washington Post. "He’s a sleeper, but he has several qualities that make him appealing to the Clintons. Vilsack declined to answer questions about whether he’s being vetted during an interview on MSNBC last night, referring questions to the campaign. That’s a surefire indicator that he’s being considered."

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
Republican Donald Trump is expected to name his running mate at 11 a.m. ET on Friday, and CBS News is reporting that his pick will be Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Vilsack, a popular and low-risk choice, was governor of likely swing state Iowa from 1999-2007, Hohmann writes. Vilsack also is well-known in rural America, regions in which Clinton mostly performed poorly in primaries. "With the president’s approval rating rising, Clinton is essentially running to serve Obama’s third term. Vilsack’s work in the administration could help her make that case as she tries to galvanize the Obama coalition."

"Vilsack, like Obama, actively supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, touting it as especially beneficial for farmers," Hohmann writes. "Clinton was an early cheerleader for the TPP negotiations, but she flipped under pressure from labor and the protectionist left. Downplaying the divide, the ag secretary sounded a conciliatory tone during his MSNBC sit-down last night, saying that the deal will either pass or fail before the next president takes office."

Where Vilsack could suffer is that "while he was once chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he’s not a feisty attack dog—traditionally the role that the vice president plays," Hohmann writes. "Farmers know the 65-year-old. Hispanic and African Americans, millenials and single women—constituencies with which Clinton needs to run up the score—by and large do not. Vilsack also does not speak Spanish," like another possible vice presidential candidate Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Earlier bedtimes for preschool-aged children reduces obesity among teenagers, says study

Putting small children to bed earlier reduces obesity among them as teenagers, says a study by The Ohio State University College of Public Health, published in The Journal of Pediatrics. The study looked at 977 participants of preschool age (an average of 4.7 years old) at 10 U.S. sites in 1995-96, then again when the children were 15. The study participants were all born in 1991. Child obesity is more common in rural areas.

Of the study group 25 percent went to bed at 8 p.m. or earlier, 50 percent from after 8 p.m. but before 9 p.m. and 25 percent after 9 p.m. The obesity rate by age 15 of the children put to bed earliest was 10 percent. It was 16 percent among those put to bed after 8 p.m. but before 9 p.m. and 23 percent among those that went to bed after 9 p.m. The study states, "Preschool-aged children with early weekday bedtimes were one-half as likely as children with late bedtimes to be obese as adolescents. Bedtimes are a modifiable routine that may help to prevent obesity."
The research is "the first to utilize data collected over a 10-year period," Kaitlin Fochesato reports for The Columbus Dispatch. "The research was based on data from something called the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which was started 25 years ago and funded by the National Institutes of Health," said lead researcher Sarah Friedman, who said the idea was conceived during a meeting of researchers from the National Academy of Sciences.

Report: Kansas lost 30% of education students from 2011-14, leading to rural teacher shortages

Kansas is struggling to fill rural teaching positions, as more candidates choose jobs in the suburbs and fewer college students major in education, says a report by a task force of academics and educators, Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports for The Topeka Capital-Journal. Urban areas are also struggling to fill positions, leaving Kansas with 277 unfilled teaching positions during the spring semester. Of those unfilled positions, 40 percent were in the mostly rural southwestern part of the state.

In 2014, the most recent year data was available, 5,380 students were studying education at Kansas higher-education institutions, down from 7,750 in 2011, Llopis-Jepsen writes. The main reasons students cited for not studying education were "low teacher pay, low esteem for the profession, actions by the Legislature affecting the profession and retirement benefits, and unstable school funding."

The report estimates that the No. 1 reason teachers leave jobs in Kansas is retirement, Llopis-Jepsen writes. The report found that the "perception that the teaching profession is 'aging' is incorrect. More than one-fifth of Kansas teachers have fewer than five years of experience. Forty percent have fewer than 10 years." (Read more)

State and federal wildlife officers in North Carolina can now use aircraft to shoot destructive wild hogs

North Carolina's state and federal wildlife control officers can now shoot feral hogs from aircrafts, Dan Boylan reports for The Charlotte Observer. Lawmakers on July 1 passed the 2016 North Carolina Farm Act, which leaves Virginia as the only state in the continental U.S. that doesn't allow the federal government to use aerial culling. Ashton Godwin, the Wildlife Resources Commission's legislative liaison, told Boylan, "It's culling for wildlife management—not sport. We have no intention to open this to the public." (Observer photo by Abbie Bennett shows captured wild hogs.)

Wild hogs, which weigh 150 to 250 pounds and congregate in groups, cause up to $1.5 billion in damages annually in the U.S., Boylan writes. "Disease is also an issue. Three years ago, North Carolina was ground zero for PEDv—the highly contagious porcine diarrhea virus. Since April 2013, PEDv has killed an estimated 10 percent of America's hog population. North Carolina's $11 billion-a-year pork industry, which employs more than 46,000 people, has felt the threat."

Well owners in regions with high levels of corrosive elements should test for lead in their water

Well owners in regions where corrosive water levels have been detected should "investigate and determine whether lead is present in their drinking water," says the National Ground Water Association. While corrosive water is not a health risk to humans or animals, "the presence of lead-leaching components in a well system or household plumbing is a concern, especially in older houses and well systems."

The amount of lead in water is a result of "the length of time water is in contact with lead before being used" and "the corrosiveness of the water (due to either high pH or low pH)," says the association. "Based on these two measures, parts of the U.S. may have residential water well systems yielding potentially corrosive groundwater, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Its research suggests if private well users are not aware their source water is corrosive, are not treating for it, and have lead-content pipes, plumbing fittings, or well system components, they may be at risk for having lead in their drinking water." (Read more)

The Commonwealth Fund issues its second Scorecard on Local Health System Performance

Population health is usually measured by lines of government jurisdiction, such as states and counties. But regional health systems often don't follow those lines, and are built around major hospitals that perform complex surgeries. The hospital referral networks create regional health-care markets, and the U.S. has 306 of them, as defined by the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. Here's a screenshot from it:
The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that aims to create a high-performing health system, uses the regional markets to measure the health of their population and the efficacy of their health systems. Today it issued its second Scorecard on Local Health System Performance, based on 2013 and 2014 data and comparing it to the 2011 data used on the first scorecard. The 2014 data reflect the impact of federal health reform, especially the state-by-state expansion of eligibility for the Medicaid program.

"The scorecard shows that many U.S. communities experienced improvements: fewer uninsured residents, better quality of care in doctors’ offices and hospitals, more efficient use of hospitals, and fewer deaths from treatable cancers, among other gains," The Commonwealth Fund says. "Still, the persistence of widespread differences between areas is a reminder that many local health systems have yet to reach the potential attained elsewhere in the country."

The scorecard data are presented in interactive fashion, showing changes in the four major dimensions (access, prevention and treatment, healthy lives and avoidable trips to the hospital, including hospital costs) and the 35 individual elements that make up those dimensions. Here's an example:
The hospital regions are based on ZIP codes but in most cases roughly follow county lines. The Dartmouth Atlas allows you to look up data by ZIP code. For examples of stories about the five regions based in one state, see Kentucky Health News.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sexually abusive physicians are allowed to continue practicing nationwide, Atlanta paper reports

UPDATE, July 19: Susannah Nesmith explains for Columbia Journalism Review how the newspaper pursued the story.

Despite accusations of sexual misconduct from 17 women,
Austin physician Philip Leonard is still practicing. (AJC)
Little is being done in the U.S. to punish physicians who sexually abuse patients, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The year-long probe by Carrie Teegardin, Danny Robbins, Jeff Ernsthausen and Ariel Hart found more than 3,100 doctors "who were publicly disciplined since Jan. 1, 1999 after being accused of sexual infractions. More than 2,400 were sanctioned for violations that clearly involved patients. The rest were disciplined for sexual harassment of employees or for crimes such as child pornography, public indecency or sexual assault."

Of the more than 2,400 "publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct, half still have active medical licenses today," the APC reports. "Georgia and Kansas, for example, allowed two of every three doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct to return to practice, orders on board websites show. In Alabama, it was nearly three out of every four. In Minnesota, it was four of every five."

"Society condemns sexual misconduct by most citizens and demands punishment," the newpsaper reports. "But when a physician is the perpetrator, AJC found, the nation often looks the other way. Physician-dominated medical boards gave offenders second chances. Prosecutors dismissed or reduced charges, so doctors could keep practicing and stay off sex offender registries. Communities rallied around them."

"Many, if not most, cases of physician sexual misconduct remain hidden," the story goes on. "State boards and hospitals handle some cases secretly. In other cases, medical boards remove once-public orders from their websites or issue documents that cloak sexual misconduct in vague language. When cases do come to the public’s attention, they are often brushed off by the medical establishment as freakishly rare. It doesn’t necessarily happen every day, but it happens far more often than anyone has acknowledged."

In some cases victims refuse to say anything, the AJC reports. "Intimidated, confused or embarrassed, they fear that no one will take their word over a doctor’s. Colleagues and nurses stay silent. Hospitals and health care organizations brush off accusations or quietly push doctors out, the investigation found, without reporting them to police or licensing agencies."

"The medical profession has never taken on sexual misconduct as a significant priority," the story reports. "And layer upon layer of secrecy makes it nearly impossible for the public, or even the medical community itself, to know the extent of physician sexual abuse. Dr. Gene Abel, an Atlanta physician and nationally recognized expert in evaluating sexual misconduct by professionals, told the AJC, “There just isn’t accurate data." (Read more)

Drones are interfering with efforts to fight Utah wildfires; special session called to address issue

Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert called a special session for today "to pass emergency legislation to punish drone pilots flying over wildfires," Robert Gehrke reports for The Salt Lake Tribune. "This past weekend, drone traffic hampered firefighting efforts on the Saddle Fire in southwestern Utah, grounding air tankers until the airspace was cleared to avoid collisions. The Legislature passed a law making it illegal to fly in areas restricted due to firefighting efforts, but the legislation to be considered this week will stiffen the penalties and possibly allow the fire commander to take down drones in the area." (Deseret News photo: Utah wildfire)

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Don Ipson (R-St. George), said technology is available to jam the signal to drones and force them to crash, Gehrke writes. He told Gehrke, "This summer, wildfires in the state have become significantly worse due to drones interrupting air operations. It is dangerous and completely unacceptable, and this legislation takes steps to ensure that our emergency management personnel are safe and empowered to do their jobs effectively."

Gehrke writes, "A measure passed earlier this year makes it a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison if a drone causes a firefighting air tanker to crash, a third-degree felony if a drone collides with a firefighting aircraft, a class A misdemeanor if a drone keeps a tanker from dropping its retardant and a class B misdemeanor for operating a drone in a restricted area. nce tankers are airborne, Ipson said, they cannot land filled with retardant, and they have had to drop their payloads away from the flames so they could land." (Read more)

Vermont now requires some free preschool for all children; 70% of parents of children under 6 work

A new law in Vermont, where more than 50 percent of the population is rural, requires "communities to offer at least 10 hours a week of free, high quality preschool for 35 weeks per year to children in that age group," Lisa Rathke reports for The Associated Press. The law, the first of its kind in the U.S., would "provide publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs to all 3- and 4-year-olds as of this month, state officials say. Previously, some districts offered publicly funded preschool voluntarily." (Rathke photo: A preschool student reading in Hinesburg, Vt.)

More than 70 percent of Vermont children under age 6 have working parents, so universal pre-K is critical to supporting working families, said Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration, Rathke writes. Shumlin, a Democrat, "signed the law in 2014 and it went into effect July 1, but some communities implemented programs early. The programs include those operated by community programs, public schools, private early education and care programs and Head Start. To qualify, programs must be licensed or registered by the Department for Children and Families and the curricula must be aligned with the state's early learning standards."

"The average weekly cost of childcare for pre-school aged children in a licensed center in Vermont in 2014 was $192, according to a survey by the Vermont Department for Children and Families," Rathke writes. The law will reduce those costs, said officials at one preschool. (Read more)

Young owner of three weeklies says he's getting it right by staying true to local news print coverage

Joey Young
A young newspaper publisher in Kansas who now owns five publications has focused his attention on local news and print journalism, instead of digital news that strays from connecting with the hometown readers. Joey Young, owner of Kansas Publishing Ventures, owns three weekly newspapers, The Clarion, Newton Now and Hillsboro Free Press, a monthly shopper and a quarterly glossy magazine, Young writes on his blog, Newspaper Disruptor. He bought his first newspaper in 2012 at the age of 27, saying at the time that he was the youngest newspaper owner in the state.

"I often tell people to quit drinking the Kool-Aid and start reading things that challenge your way of thinking and how you run your news operation to see if you can grow from it," Young writes. "It hurts me that so many of my brothers and sisters have forgotten the gal who brought them to the party and ignore their print products."
"Clearly there is room for growth digitally, but until there is a business model that doesn’t bankrupt distributing journalism, I think I will keep improving my print product and just playing in the online world for now," Young writes. "Daily papers and folks like Jeff Bezos might have the funds to experiment and throw content online for free with no real monetary business model, but for community newspapers like the ones I own, I think we should let the big guys figure it out before we jump head first in a digital frenzy."

Young has never taken a journalism class, but served as sportswriter for the Hutchinson Community College newspaper, after his wife, the editor, was in need of someone to fill that role, Lindsey Bauman reported in September for The Hutchinson News. After graduation he got a job at the Harvey County Independent, then was managing editor of The Clarion, before working at his hometown paper, The Hutchinson News. Two years later when the The Clarion—his wife’s hometown paper—was for sale he bought it.

Minneapolis workshop will discuss how to prepare students to be reporters in community journalism

Do you have ideas about, or would you like to learn more about, how journalism educators can better prepare students for reporting jobs in community journalism? A four-hour workshop in Minneapolis on Aug. 3 is for you.

The workshop, “Putting the ‘Hyper’ Back in Hyperlocal: Teaching Students to Get Excited about and Involved in Community Journalism,” is a pre-conference session at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, the largest annual journalism gathering in the U.S., at the Minneapolis Hilton from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3. It's sponsored by two AEJMC interest groups, Community Journalism and the Community College Journalism Association.

The program blurb says, "The days of the regional newspaper are numbered, and when local newspapers lay off reporters, there is a hole that needs filled in community reporting. For journalism educators, the question remains how to prepare students to fill this role. This joint session with CCJA examines different approaches to preparing students for careers in community and hyperlocal journalism. These approaches include both classroom exercises from veteran educators and researchers, in addition to advice on how to launch a hyper-local reporting effort from advisers who have overseen these projects."

The panelists will be specialists in community journalism: Bill Reader of Ohio University, a former community newspaper editor; Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, publisher of The Rural Blog and a former weekly editor and manager; John Hatcher of the University of Minnesota-Duluth; Toni Albertson of Mount San Antonio College; Barbara Selvin of Stony Brook University; and Tim Waltner, retired publisher of The Courier in Freeman, S.D., and former president of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

The fee for the workshop is $10. To register, click here, unless you have already registered for the conference, in which case click here. For additional information contact Hans Meyer at Ohio University, 740-597-3084 or meyerh@ohio.edu.

Pa. drug overdose deaths up 23.4%; rates in rural southwestern counties among state's highest

Drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania rose 23.4 percent in 2015, according to data released Tuesday by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The state had 3,383 overdose deaths last year, or 26 deaths per every 100,000 people, up from 21 deaths per every 100,000 people in 2014. Some of the highest rates were in the rural southwestern part of the state, with Armstrong, Indiana and Cambria counties ranking behind only Philadelphia with more than 40 deaths per every 100,000 people. (Post-Gazette graphic)

Indiana County had the largest percent increase, from 10 fatal overdoses in 2014 to 36 last year, with half of the overdose deaths involving heroin and one-third oxycodone, Rich Lord reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte. Overall, eight of the top 12 counties with the highest drug overdose rates were in the southwest and heroin, fentanyl, prescription opioids or combinations of the three were found in 81 percent of all overdose victims. Some counties, such as Armstrong, are on pace for higher numbers this year.

"The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May reported that lax discipline of physicians in Pennsylvania correlates with persistent opioid prescribing," Lord writes. "Crackdowns on doctors in other states have driven declines in opioid prescribing, and in the case of Kentucky halted the increase in overdoses." However, many painkiller addicts in Kentucky have switched to cheap heroin, often laced with the highly potent fentanyl. (Read more)

Kansas rushes through a rule change that could toss out 50,000 votes in Nov. 8 general election

The Kansas State Rules and Regulations Board on Tuesday ruled that the votes of about 17,000 residents who registered to vote at the motor-vehicle department won't be counted in state and local races, Hunter Woodall reports for The Kansas City Star. "The move appeases a recent court decision while also maintaining a 2013 Kansas law that requires new voters to show their proof of citizenship." The temporary rule will last for 120 days, meaning the number of votes that might be thrown out could rise to 50,000 by the Nov. 8 general election.

Notice of the meeting went out late Monday night and the meeting took place Tuesday morning, Woodall writes. Advanced voting for the Aug. 2 primary began today. All 165 seats in the Kansas legislature are up for election this year. The Senate has 32 Republicans and eight Democrats and the House has 97 Republicans and 28 Democrats.

"Federal law allows people to register to vote in motor vehicle offices across the country," Woodall writes. "In June, a federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson’s preliminary injunction ordering Kansas to allow people who register without proving U.S. citizenship to vote in the upcoming races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House. Under the rule, such voters will receive provisional ballots, which will be set aside at polling places to be examined later. But county election officials won’t count their votes in state and local races or local ballot questions." (Read more)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pokémon Go, mobile game that spurs exercise, is accused of being biased against rural users

Still from Pokemon Go
The creators of the mobile video game, Pokémon Go, have a big hit on their hands but are being accused of snubbing rural areas. The game, which was released on Thursday, "lets you battle for Gyms, collect Poke Balls, and catch the pocket monsters themselves. However, if you don't live in a city, it could prove difficult to have much fun with it at all," Mat Paget reports for GameSpot, which provides news and reviews for video games.

However, users in small towns are finding it difficult to find Gyms and Poke Balls. The main reason is that the game is sourced from another game called Ingress, in which players capture portals from culturally significant places, such as public art, monuments and landmarks, which are more widely found in urban areas. As part of the game players travel to these locations, thus, getting exercise, whether they realize it or not.

Difficulties playing the game in rural areas led to a Facebook page, then to a petition, which states: "Without the ability to submit new requests for landmarks, players in geographically isolated regions or even places where no one HAPPENED to play Ingress have a limited or essentially nonexistent Pokémon Go experience... the point of the game is to get people to exercise, meet people, explore, etc. If having low-impact landmarks designated as Pokéstops is something the developers want to avoid, so be it."

Rural communities have become the dumping grounds for coal ash, still not heavily regulated

Shutterstock photo shows coal-ash slurry being deposited near a power plant.
There are about 2,000 coal-ash landfills in the U.S., many of them operating in rural areas where no permits or public process is required to start bringing in coal ash, Joe Werth and Molly Samuel report for NPR. That's not settling well with small communities, such as Wayne County in southeast Georgiawhere about 90 to 100 train cars bring in 10,000 tons of coal ash every day. Wayne County Commissioner Ralph Hickox told NPR, "I don't want to become the nation's dump. We didn't create the coal ash here; I don't want the coal ash here."

Werth and Samuel write, "Currently, there is little medical evidence for some residents' claims that coal ash has contributed to health problems. But the federal government recently funded a long-term study exploring the issue. In 2014, 16 million tons of coal ash were used for what's known as minefill, and the numbers keep rising. It's now the main way the industry recycles the fossil fuel waste. Mine-filling is considered a beneficial use for coal ash—and a success story for the industry. The Department of Interior oversees the practice and has yet to regulate it."

Power companies used to keep coal ash "in big, open holes called coal ash ponds. No lining was required to stop leakage, and no monitoring, to even know if it was leaking," Werth and Samuel write. "Then, in 2008, a ruptured dike spilled more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry from a pond operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considered classifying coal ash as 'hazardous waste.' The utility industry lobbied hard—and successfully—to avoid the hazardous waste designation. So in 2014, EPA's new rules said coal ash was not hazardous. Now, power companies must recycle the ash, store it more securely on site, or send the ash to landfills. But in the towns where that ash is ending up, nobody is quite happy with those options."

"There are some signs that government officials are getting more concerned about coal ash," Werth and Samuel write. "The Oklahoma State Department of Health recently pledged to investigate cancer rates in Bokoshe. And the Department of Interior says it is writing a new rule on minefilling, to be released by the end of the year. That will set up a whole new fight over coal waste regulations."

A well-told tale of repentance, reinvention and redemption in the rural South, now cut short

Bill Burchfield, a.k.a. Bill Arnold, in 1975 and 2016
Is 37 years of redemption through good deeds and community service enough to repay 10 years of a prison sentence that was never completed? The story of Bill Burchfield, a.k.a. Harold "Bill" Arnold, is one that questions the purpose of prison and whether or not living a good life is repayment enough, writes Andrew Miller, the southern U.S. correspondent for The Economist: "Lots of prisoners wind up inside for one-off misjudgments; many leave behind dependents and disregarded good deeds, just as Bill may do now. His case is extraordinary, but the quirks in the penitential system it highlights are routine."

Burchfield, 67, who was captured in June in rural London, Ky., was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1973 after he pled guilty in Dalton, Ga., to involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of his wife, Miller writes. Burchfield said it was an accident, but pled guilty without a trial because he was "young and scared." He escaped from prison, first in 1975, then again in 1979.

Since then he has spent most of his life in rural areas, ending up in London about nine years ago, Miller writes. "Like thousands of Americans who start again in new places, albeit with a twist, he built a different life. He had assumed the identity of a cousin from Georgia, Harold Arnold, who died as a teenager, though informally he retained his first name: a tell-tale clue within his alias that apparently no one clocked. ... He applied for a Social Security number in his cousin’s name and got one; nobody ever objected that the real Harold Arnold was dead. He was careful 'to stay inside the law'. Otherwise, fugitive though he was, he lived 'like a normal human being. I wasn’t out there trying to duck and dive and hide.'”

It isn't hard to find people among London's 8,000 residents who have glowing praise for Burchfield, Miller reports. They call him “A very giving, caring person,” “Just a good man,” and he was "The most kind, the most wonderful man you could ever meet. He helped so many people in the community.” One resident said Burchfield gave him a trailer that was being used as a cigarette kiosk. Burchfield was known for giving meals to people in need. He was baptized and became the deacon of a church. Burchfield told Miller, "Everybody can change. Everybody has the ability to turn their life around and do something good with it." His lawyer, Jason Kincer, told Miller, “Shouldn’t [his] debt be mitigated by the life that he has lived?”

Apparently not everyone is a fan, Miller writes: "Someone had enough of a grudge against him to tip off the authorities in Georgia. As a result he may have to serve the 10 remaining years of his old sentences, plus any additional punishment for the escape. Contemplating that prospect, he says he considers God’s forgiveness more important than Georgia’s, but hopes that earthly powers may show mercy too." Burchfield told Miller, “My health is gone. I won’t be around many more years, at the best.” He said his hope is that Georgia will say, “We don’t want him.”

That's a sentiment shared by his friends and neighbors, who started a petition "calling him 'a true and faithful friend of all citizens of Laurel County' and requesting his release has garnered hundreds of signatures." His pastor, Charles Shelton, told Miller, “It’s a different person they’re incarcerating." Tim Johnson, the beneficiary of the trailer, told Miller, “If he is the person they say he is, he is reformed. He’s still Bill Arnold to me.” (Read more)

Reports show economic impact of national parks; White House report has state-level data

Great Smoky Mountains (summitpost.org photo)
More than 300 million visits were made to national parks in 2015—a record number—according to separate reports from The White House and researchers at two universities.

The White House report, released last month, said visits fueled local economies and supported "an estimated $646 billion national outdoor economy ... with visitors spending $16.9 billion in nearby local communities." The report listed each state's park visits and estimated visitor spending in local economies, jobs supported and state economic output supported.

The report said "activities associated with outdoor recreation, conservation, water and renewable energy led to $106 billion in economic output and supported 862,000 jobs. Additionally, the report found that America’s national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and other public lands managed by the Department of the Interior hosted an estimated 443 million recreational visits in 2015—up from 423 million in 2014—and that these visits alone supported $45 billion in economic output and about 396,000 jobs nationwide."

study by Colorado State University and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University found that the total economic value of national parks and the National Park Service’s programs is $92 billion, Doug Gavel reports for the Kennedy School. Researchers, said that figure is a conservative estimate, and "two-thirds of this total ($62 billion) is for National Park lands, waters and historic sites; the remaining $30 billion is attributed to NPS programs."

"When citizens were asked if 'It is important to me that National Parks are preserved for current and future generations whether I visit them or not',” 94.9 percent of respondents agreed," John Wihbey reports for Journalist's Resource, also at Harvard. "Only 14.7 percent of respondents indicated that they do not benefit from national parks, and 6.2 percent thought the U.S. should sell off some national parks." Researchers also found that "the annual budget to run the NPS was $2.6 billion in 2014. However, there was a reported backlog of deferred maintenance costs of about $11.9 billion as of February 2016, and revenue shortfalls reportedly are driving the park system to partner more with private companies to fund repairs."

One year after nearly closing, Sweet Briar College in rural Virginia is beginning to rebound

Sweet Briar is about 12 miles north of Lynchburg, Va.
One year ago Sweet Briar College, a 114-year-old women's college in rural Virginia, was saved from closure, at least for the 2015-16 school year, largely in part to $12 million form alumni. The school's future was up in the air and many staff, faculty and students left for greener pastures. For those that stuck it out, the future could be bright.

Sweet Briar, which only had 240 students last fall—capacity is 800—is expecting 325 students this fall, Susan Svrluga reports for The Washington Post. The school has received $10.25 million in donations over the past 10 months, "five times the unrestricted funds it had raised annually in the past." Phillip Stone, the school's president, said in a statement: “2016 was a rebuilding year. We took over a mostly shuttered institution and could not start recruiting a new class until September of 2015, six months later than other institutions. The fact that we will have a student body of this size in such a short time is one more Sweet Briar miracle.”

Stone, who said the school came in $2 million under budget for this fiscal year, said it was the first time "the endowment was not touched." He said, "That is simply amazing when you consider we had a student body of only 40 percent of its previous size, were required by the settlement agreement to pay almost $5 million of severance to faculty and staff, and incurred more than $30 million of other costs due to the attempts to close.” That has the school's leaders looking to the future and a continued increase in enrollment in 2017.

Farm Foundation forum/audiocast Wednesday on 'What Brexit Means to the Global Food System'

Farm Foundation will host a forum from 9 to 11 a.m. ET Wednesday on "What Brexit Means to the Global Food System." The forum at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., will be available by audiocast, and an audio file also will be posted after the forum. Panel members are: Mike Dwyer, chief economist, U.S. Feed Grains Council; David Green, Greenhouse Communications; and John Dardis, senior vice president of U.S. corporate affairs for Glanbia and the former agricultural attache at the Irish Embassy. To register for the event click here. To register for the audiocast click here. (Read more)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Rural Tennessee town lost its hospital when big national chain didn't want to fix it up

Best Places map
A good example of the negative effects of a rural hospital closing can be seen in Selmer, Tenn., where unease has settled among the town's 4,500 residents since the town's only hospital closed in May, Dave Boucher reports for The Tennessean: "A slew of other rural community hospitals in Tennessee and across the country are facing the same problems that are outweighing financial benefits for the larger companies that own the facilities."

Since 2010 annual admissions to the hospital declined from about 1,700 to 550, Miranda Faris reported in March for The Jackson Sun. Local officials said the 45-bed hospital needed extensive repairs that would require it to close for six months, and opted to close permanently rather than make the repairs. Tennessee is one of the states that has not expanded Medicaid under federal health reform, a move that generally helps rural hospitals.

"Selmer and McNairy County are in the minority when it comes to rural communities losing hospitals, in that no immediate replacement or second option is open," Boucher writes. "Although at least eight rural Tennessee hospitals have closed or merged since 2013, five have been replaced by other satellite campuses of health systems or other clinics trying to fill the community's health-services niche."

Selmer's situation means that local residents like Richard Prindes, who suffers from several chronic ailments, now has to catch a ride with his brother 20 miles to Savannah when he needs emergency services, Boucher writes. On a recent trip the ER wait was six hours. Community Health Services, which owns the shuttered hospital through its Tennova subsidiary, "is still operating the county's emergency medical services, and the county is paying for life flights. But now when the ambulance arrives at an emergency in Selmer, EMS technicians ask patients where they want to be taken."

Feds forecast impact on three major coal regions under Clean Power Plan and without it

Appalachian coal production is forecast to decline by 79 million tons by 2040 under President Obama's Clean Power Plan, and would decline by 50 million tons without the plan, says a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The report "shows that coal production in the Appalachian region, which has declined steeply since 2000, is projected to see the smallest reduction in production attributable to the Clean Power Plan," James Bruggers reports for The Courier-Journal.

The reports says Appalachian production, which made up 26 percent of all U.S. coal production in 2015, would decline to 20 percent in 2040 under the plan. In the West, production would drop from 55 percent to 52 percent of the total; in the Interior basins (blue on EIA map), it would increase from 19 percent to 29 percent. Nationwide, coal production is projected to decline by 230 million tons—26 percent—between 2015 and 2040 under the plan, which calls for a 32 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030.
EIA found that Appalachia's production of metallurgical coal, "which is used in the steelmaking process, represented about 28 percent of its total coal production in 2014," Bruggers writes. "It won't be affected directly by the new climate regulations." which are aimed at reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. "Because Eastern Kentucky does not have much metallurgical coal, unlike West Virginia, it will bear the brunt of the changes, said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. He agreed that coal in Eastern Kentucky faces challenges beyond the Clean Power Plan, but said a variety of Obama environmental regulations have also punished the industry," Bruggers reports.

"Coal production in the Interior region of the country increases by 86 million tons by 2040 without a Clean Power Plan," Bruggers writes. "That region includes portions of Western Kentucky and Indiana. Even with those regulations, coal mining in the Interior region increases by 5 million tons by 2040, according to the report. Western production declines in both scenarios." (Read more)

Drones are being used in many new ways, including wildlife research and preservation

Drones are being used in a variety of new ways, such as wildlife research and preservation, elder and end-of-life care, fitness and catching rogue drones, Steven Overly reports for The Washington Post. (National Marine Fisheries Service photo: Scientists fly drones over humpback whales to collect breath samples.)

Samford University biology professor used drones to discover two species of endangered fish in Alabama’s waterways, "in part because the unmanned aircraft can reach areas not easily accessible by boat and can survey the water from a closer distance than a helicopter," Overly writes. Also, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a private research facility in Massachusetts, "has used the flying devices to collect photographs and breath samples from humpback whales for scientific research. A drone affixed with petri dishes hovers over the animal’s blowhole as it exhales, then returns to a ship where the sample is immediately frozen, said assistant scientist Amy Apprill. Scientists then study the microbes in each breath sample, and compare them across different species and environments."

A Cleveland-based business is using drones "to show people with terminal illness and living in hospice their beloved locations, such as a childhood hometown or favorite vacation spot, one final time," Overly writes. Drones are being used to enhance athletics, such as one "that monitors the path of blind runners using a pair of cameras and emits sound to guide those runners as they make their way around a track." In Japan, officials are using drones to use nets to catch rogue drones. (Read more)

Appalachian medical school trying to draw more in-state students, compete with for-profit schools

Knowing that physicians are more likely to practice in their home state, one Appalachian medical school is trying to attract more in-state students to its medical program. About 50 to 60 percent of in-state students that graduate from the Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, W.Va. (Best Places map), remain in the Mountain State, while only 10 percent of its out-of-state students practice in West Virginia, Dr. Joseph Shapiro, dean of the school, told Taylor Stuck of The Herald-Dispatch.

Shapiro said the state's other two medical schools, West Virginia University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, also have concentrated efforts on retaining doctors, Stuck writes. That's a big deal in states like West Virginia, which has a large rural population and a short supply of doctors. "A March 2015 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the U.S. will face a shortfall of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025," with doctor shortages higher in rural areas.

With medical school loans so high, non-profit schools are struggling to keep up with a new crop of for-profit schools, which make up about one-quarter of all medical schools, Stuck writes. Dr. Ted Epperly, who runs a family practice residency program in Boise, Idaho, that is competing with a new for-profit schools, told The Associated Press that for-profit schools look like a good deal because they bring benefits without relying on taxpayer dollars,"but it's a little bit like Walmart moving into a small community with mom-and-pop shops - it damages the existing workforce producers."

In 2015, Marshall "created an accelerated B.S./M.D. program for in-state students, which also includes a waiver for medical school that could save the student up to $20,000 or more," Stuck writes. "The program puts students on a pathway to earn their bachelor and medical degrees within the span of seven years." (Read more)

Farm lobbies meet with Clinton campaign, trying for similar meeting with Trump's camp

Farm lobbyists met with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign on June 24 and are trying to initiate a similar meeting with Republican Donald Trump, Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. Jay Vroom, president and CEO for CropLife America, told Clayton, "Our approach was to come in from a bipartisan standpoint to say we just never felt like any of us individually or collectively in the past have been more organized or strategic about interfacing with presidential candidates in the general election campaign. We thought to try to do so was a good idea and that was step one."

The most "pressing issue for the ag leaders is trade, especially given that candidates from both parties were hostile to trade agreements early in the primary cycle," Clayton writes. "Vroom said farm groups and trade supporters need to better express the net value of agricultural exports to the overall economy, including American workers."

"Speaking with Clinton's staff, the farm groups also stressed science-based regulatory policies for agriculture and general farm policy with the reality that the next president will work with Congress to craft a 2018 farm bill," Clayton writes. "The farm groups also brought up the Food Safety Modernization Act, which the FDA is continuing to draft and implement rules that are increasingly encroaching on the farm gate. Vroom said FDA needs the resources to carry out responsibilities under the law and also work with states to get uniformity. At the same time, the agency needs to avoid regulatory redundancy, he said."