Friday, August 05, 2016

Tough pilot requirements, other concerns will slow growth of drone journalism, expert says

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

MINNEAPOLIS -- The use of drones for journalism is likely to be limited mainly to large news organizations for a while because of the requirements for a license to pilot unmanned aircraft, and adoption may be slow, an expert in the field said during a session at the national journalism educators' convention Thursday.

University of Nebraska professor Matt Waite with drones
Matt Waite, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska, said he sees "a culture of caution in newsrooms," which don't want to be test cases in an area of law that remains largely untested by courts. He said unmanned aircraft are "a gray area a lot of media attorneys are uncomfortable with."

Waite is holding an overbooked "bootcamp" next weekend to prepare about 60 would-be drone pilots for the Federal Aviation Administration exam. He said the test material includes "a lot of minutiae" that are unrelated to unmanned aircraft. "It is a lot of stuff, and I'm afraid it is going to chase off too many journalists."

But he said as more organizations use drones and an insurance market for them is stabilized, that will encourage more usage. The images available are amazing, said Katie Culver, a professor of journalism ethics at the University of Wisconsin.

Culver said that in debates over drones, news organizations haven't been as aggressive as they should be in speaking up for their First Amendment right to gather news and information.

Waite, Culver and Jacksonville University journalism professor Courtney Barclay appeared at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in Minneapolis. They discussed not only the legalities surrounding unmanned aircraft, but the ethics.

"Ethics has to start with safety," Waite said, noting that the recently issued federal regulations prohibit flying drones over people.

Culver said she fears many newsrooms will "default to technological determinism" and do what the technology allows, limiting their ethical thinking to possible consequences: What happens if X happens? She said newsrooms are aware of privacy concerns but tend to think of them more in legal terms than ethical terms, and many are more concerned about "getting what is interesting to the public rather than what's in the public interest."

An important question, Culver said, is "What are drones going to do to our credibility as journalists?" She said there is "pretty widely documented public suspicion of civilian drones," with about two-thirds of the population saying they will make things worse and one-third expecting better.

Culver suggested that news organizations follow the example of the Gannett Co. newspapers in Wisconsin and discuss the issue with "focus groups" of citizens.

Waite said most people probably don't know that anyone can legally take and publish a picture of anyone on a street, but state laws may eventually prohibit such photography or video from unmanned aircraft below a 500-foot altitude. "It's important for journalists to understand that use of that technology may be transformative in the public's mind."

Jane Kirtley of the University of Minnesota, moderator of the panel, said some state "ag-gag" laws designed to shield agricultural operations from public scrutiny have been extended to include drones.

Waite said, "Agriculture is talking out of both sides of sides of their mouth," wanting few restrictions on drones for farming but blocking others from flying over farms without permission, as was attempted in the Nebraska legislature.

He said agriculture is much more important to the unmanned-aircraft industry than journalism is: "I've often described journalism as the bug speck on the windshield when it comes to drones."

Many young men opt out of postsecondary education though it's needed to get a good job

Young white American men without college degrees overwhelmingly support Donald Trump, Cale Guthrie Weissman reports for Fast Company. "Men and women without college degrees accounted for nearly half the electorate in 2012, or roughly 64 million people," Weissman notes. "While we could ask why they support Trump, perhaps more telling is, why are there still so many of them?"

Dewayne Matthews, vice president of strategy at the Lumina Foundation, a private organization working to expand access to post-secondary education, told Weissman that since the 1980s, the number of young men who pursue higher education has increased only slightly. Since 1991, women with college degrees have outnumbered men: in 2014, it was 34 percent to 26 percent in favor of women. Matthews chalks it up to structural shifts in the economy, away from a market that relied on a workforce with only a high school diploma. "You could get those jobs in a lot of sectors," Matthews said, citing manufacturing, natural resources and forestry jobs. "These were jobs that were held mostly by men—paid very good wages—and didn’t require post-secondary education."

"Now the job market has drastically shifted and demands a workforce with at least some specialized skill," Weissman notes. "Demand for entry-level positions in dying industries like mining and factory work is waning, while sectors like computer science and engineering are continually ramping up." Yet still many young men opt out of college. "You’re talking about generations of families in communities that were built around a certain type of work," Matthews said. Wiessman adds, "Changing the culture of what young men do—or imagine they can do—for a living takes time. So is it any wonder that so many men from working-class backgrounds are heartened by Trump's promises that he will bring back coal jobs?" (U.S. Census Bureau chart.)

Startup wants to use drones to deliver medicine to rural and remote communities

Zipline photo: package dropped by a drone
A California start-up company plans to use drones to deliver blood and medicine to rural and remote island and Native Americans communities in Maryland, Nevada and Washington, Amar Toor reports for The Verge, a technology, science, art and culture news outlet operated by Vox Media. The company, Zipline, launched in 2014 with funding from Sequoia Partners, Google Ventures and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and last month began sending similar supplies by drone to Rwanda.

Keller Rinaudo, Zipline's founder and CEO, said that after announcing plans in February to deliver supplies to Rwanda, he was contacted by the Obama administration about bringing his system to rural parts of the U.S., Toor writes. "Zipline will apply for a waiver to the FAA regulations, and expects to begin operating within six months of receiving it." Rinaudo said he hopes to be operational in a year.

"Zipline's electric-powered drones, called 'Zips,' can carry up to three pounds of blood or medicine, and can fly for up to 75 miles on a single charge," Toor writes. "Hospitals can order blood or medicine via text message, and have them delivered by parachute from a Zip. The 22-pound planes navigate using GPS and cellular networks, and can make deliveries within 30 minutes, negating the need for onboard refrigeration."

Rinaudo told Toor, "When you look at rural or isolated communities, particularly Native American populations, populations that live on islands, you have serious health outcome inequalities. There’s a linear relationship between how far away you live from a city and your expected lifespan. So our hope is that this type of technology can solve those kinds of inequalities."

Barnyard dust could hold the answer to asthma

Scientists say they may have found a magic elixir, of sorts, when it comes to stopping childhood asthma: dust containing microbes from farm animals. The results of their research were published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine and have opened up the possibility of developing a spray for children who do not have access to barnyard animals, Gina Kolata reports for The New York Times. "It is a pressing problem because as many as 10.6 percent of grade-school children have asthma, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Kolata writes. There is currently no cure for asthma.

The research began around the notion that perhaps kids develop asthma because the places in which they grow up are too germ-free. "If children are exposed to microbes that stimulate their immune systems in the first few years of life, they will be protected against asthma, the hypothesis says. As asthma rates climbed, researchers published study after study supporting what has become known as the hygiene hypothesis," Kolata notes.

This particular study began when a group of researchers noticed stark differences among two
seemingly similar groups: the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of North Dakota. Asthma affects only 2 to 4 percent of the Amish, Kolata writes, but affects 15 to 20 percent of the Hutterites. The groups are very similar in genetic background, diet and lifestyle. "There was one difference, though: farming methods," Kolata explains. "The Amish live on single-family dairy farms. They do not use electricity, and use horses to pull their plows and for transportation. Their barns are close to their homes, and their children play in them. The Hutterites have no objection to electricity and live on large, industrialized communal farms. Their cows are housed in huge barns, more like hangars, away from their homes. Children do not generally play in Hutterite barns."

A Hutterite dairy farm in North Dakota
In a preliminary study, researchers found that the none of the Amish children studied had asthma and all had "a large proportion of neutrophils — white blood cells that are the immune system’s paramedics and are part of what is known as the innate immune system," Kolata writes. By contrast, six of the 30 Hutterite children in the preliminary study had asthma, "and all of them had far fewer neutrophils in their blood. . . . Instead, their blood was swarming with another type of immune cell, eosinophils, which provoke allergic reactions." (The New York Times photo by Carole Ober.)

After analyzing the dust from Amish and Hutterite homes, researchers found that Amish dust was packed with debris from bacteria; Hutterite dust was not. Researchers sent the dust to Dr. Donata Vercelli, an associate director of the asthma and airway research center at the University of Arizona, for testing in mice. "She put dust — Amish or Hutterite — into the airways of mice 14 times over a month and then exposed the animals to allergens," Kolata explains. "We found exactly what we found in the children," Vercelli told Kolata. "If we give the Amish dust, we protect the mice. If we give the Hutterite dust, we do not protect them."

The impact could be far-reaching. Dr. Talal Chatila, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School, told Kolata, "It is not far-fetched to start thinking of how one could harness those bacteria for a therapeutic intervention."

Backyard beekeepers putting their colonies, and nearby ones, at risk by not controlling mites

Novice beekeepers may be inadvertently putting their hives, and those located nearby, "in danger because they aren't keeping the bee mite population in check," Dan Gunderson reports for Minnesota Public Radio News. "Many hobbyists avoid mite treatments, preferring a natural approach, but that's often a deadly decision for the bees, said University of Minnesota bee expert Marla Spivak." (MPR News photo by Judy Griesedieck: A varroa mite, seen here infesting the pupae of a developing bee."

Spivak said surveys have shown that backyard beekeepers are taking the greatest losses nationwide, with most of the losses the result of varroa mite, Gunderson writes. Spivak said "untreated hives can spread mites and viruses to other hives within several miles. Healthy bees will invade a dying hive to steal the honey. When they do, they also carry mites with them back to their hives." Spivak told Gunderson, "The combination of the mite and the viruses is deadly."

Rural hometown of Walking Dead creator hopes zombie event will boost local economy

A rural town in Kentucky will be overrun by zombies this weekend. Cynthiana, (Best Places map) hometown of The Walking Dead graphic novel and television show creator Robert Kirkman and original artist Tony Moore, is hosting The Walking Dead Day on Saturday, with some projections saying the town of 6,354 will be overrun by as many as 30,000 visitors for the event, which will be attended by Kirkman, Moore and a horde of "walkers," as they are called in the graphic novel and on the show. A mural featuring television cast members—the event highlights the graphic novel, not the show—has been drawing the curious for the past several weeks.

Some Cynthiana residents hope the event will help revitalize the local economy, Shauna Steigerwald reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer. While there are plenty of thriving businesses, the town also has some empty storefronts downtown. Tomi Jean Clifford, executive director of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce and co-creator of Saturday's event, told Steigerwald, "We were looking for a way to put Cynthiana on the map. I feel like that's how Cynthiana is going to grow. We have to bring outsiders in."

Cynthiana, Ky: Amanda Rossmann/Enquirer
Despite moving to Los Angeles and having a net worth of $20 million, Kirkman hasn't forgot his hometown. He still visits often, and in 2014 he and wife Sonia helped the local movie theater stay in business by paying for it to upgrade to a digital projector, Steigerwald writes. Sonia also has plans to open in December a five-room bed and breakfast with a restaurant. Kirkman, who said The Walking Dead centers around "blue-collar, small-town people ... the kind of people that I interacted with in Cynthiana" told Steigerwald, "It’s really exciting right now because I think there’s a really big shift, with new people coming into the town and new businesses coming in."

Rural Oregon residents say plan to close garbage transfer stations could lead to illegal dumping

Hundreds of residents in rural areas of Lane County, Oregon (Wikipedia map) have expressed concern that a county proposal to save money by closing rural transfer stations will inconvenience rural residents and lead to an increase in illegal dumping, Saul Hubbard reports for The Register-Guard. The Lane County Board of Commissioners proposed closing eight of the counties 16 garbage transfer stations in an attempt to trim $1.5 million in annual costs from the county’s waste management system. The stations are where rural residents who don’t have doorstep garbage service take their trash and recyclables.

Several commissioners responded Tuesday to public complaints by stressing that the transfer stations need to remain open, Hubbard writes. Instead of closing the stations, they have suggested raising "garbage tipping and recycling rates at all 16 transfer stations, including the heavily used Glenwood Central Receiving Station, while holding steady the rates at the county’s Short Mountain landfill, where many commercial haulers take trash."

"That strategy essentially would require ­anyone who uses a transfer station to help cover the extra cost of keeping all 16 stations open," Hubbard writes. "County staff calculated that rates at all 16 transfer stations would have to increase by 11.3 percent, or an extra $8.64 per ton, to generate $500,000 in new annual revenue."

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Feds to fund $1 million study on effects of mountaintop removal on Central Appalachia health

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced on Wednesday that it will fund a $1 million study to examine links between surface coal mines in Central Appalachia and increased health risks of residents living near those mines. The study will be conducted over a two-year period by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Last year the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection requested the review. Similar studies are also being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers like Dr. Michael Hendryx, professor at Indiana University's School of Public Health, have been studying a link between mountaintop removal coal mining and Appalachian health for years. Hendryx's research has sparked debate in the past.

A 2012 report by Appalachian Voices found that Kentucky and West Virginia lead the nation in cancer and lung cancer deaths, with as many as 60,000 cancer deaths in those states linked to mountaintop removal, because of greater exposure to pollution. (Appalachian Voices graphic)
The report found that areas with mountaintop removal have lower life expectancy rates and "significantly higher mortality rates from heart disease than other parts of Appalachia with similar levels of poor health, smoking and poverty." The report also states that "more than 700 additional deaths from heart disease occur annually in areas with mountaintop removal compared to areas of Appalachia without mining."

Trump causes concern among oil and gas industry with comments on local fracking bans

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has raised some eyebrows with his recent remarks about hydraulic fracturing, Timothy Cama reports for The Hill. While Trump has long said he supports fracking, he now "says towns and states should be allowed to ban the drilling practice. That position is at odds with industry groups and congressional Republicans, who say the practice is safe and should be permitted nationwide."

Trump said, "I’m in favor of fracking, but I think that voters should have a big say in it. I mean, there’s some areas, maybe, they don’t want to have fracking. And I think if the voters are voting for it, that’s up to them." He said the country needs fracking, "but if a municipality or a state wants to ban fracking, I can understand that."

The comments have caused concern among some industry leaders, who say states, not communities, should make decisions about fracking, Cama notes. An oil refining industry executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Cama, "He said states and municipalities. That’s a big leap, and I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate the big leap he just took. The hope from the industry perspective is that if (Trump) gets elected, he would surround himself with detailed-oriented folks, and we’d be able to at least work with them."

13 states sue EPA over methane-emissions rules

Thirteen states are suing the Obama administration over regulations announced in May by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit methane emissions at oil and natural gas sites, Devin Henry reports for The Hill. Twelve states—Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin—joined the lawsuit along with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. North Dakota filed its own suit last month.

New regulations would "require oil and gas companies to plug and capture leaks of methane from new and modified drilling wells and storage tanks, not older, existing wells," Coral Davenport reported in May for The New York Times.

"The EPA rule is part of an Obama administration effort to reduce methane emissions by up to 45 percent by 2025," Henry writes. "The regulation limits leaks or flaring at new or modified drilling wells around the country." West Virginia Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the new regulations unnecessary and costly. He said in a statement: "The rules are a solution in search of a problem and ignore the industry’s success in voluntarily reducing methane emissions from these sources to a 30-year low."

Kansas Farm Bureau-backed challenger surprises Tea Party House incumbent

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Tea Party Republican who has been in office since 2011, lost his primary race this week to Roger Marshall, who was backed by the Kansas Farm Bureau, Justin Wingerter reports for The Topeka Capital-Journal. It was the first time in 70 years that a congressman representing the state’s 1st District was defeated in the primary. The race wasn't even that close, with Marshall earning 58,808 votes to 45,315 for Huelskamp, a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. (Associated Press photo: Roger Marshall celebrates his primary victory with wife Laina)

The Kansas Farm Bureau's backing, which came one month ago, was also unprecedented, with the organization making the rare move to choose a Republican challenger over an incumbent, Wingerter writes. "Marshall coupled the endorsement with that of the Kansas Livestock Association and other agriculture groups to depict himself as the candidate of farmers and ranchers."

"Huelskamp has been a tea party favorite inside and outside of Washington," Wingerter writes. "His opposition to virtually all appropriation bills—including those that funded agriculture programs and kept the government open—made him susceptible to being labeled an obstructionist." But Marshall portrayed him as Washington man, even calling him "Washing-Tim" and "alleged he had grown too cozy with special interests in the capital while ignoring Kansas constituents."

Politically, Huelskamp and Marshall agree on major issues, Wingerter writes. The difference came down to personality and backers. "The balanced-budget-focused ESA Fund bought large chunks of advertising time for its 'Washing-Tim' ads. Club for Growth accused Marshall of fiscal recklessness in ads. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a rare move, targeted the incumbent with a six-figure advertising purchase during the final weeks. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, sided with Huelskamp."

The Kansas Farm Bureau is not alone in political endorsements. Some state Farm Bureaus endorse and contribute to the political field while others do not.

Illinois fails to protect rural communities from massive hog farms that exploit laws, Tribune says

An investigative report by the Chicago Tribune found that Illinois, the nation's fourth-largest seller of pigs, fails to protect rural communities from massive hog farms that take advantage of weak state expansion laws, David Jackson reports for the Tribune. The report also found that hog farms are creating environmental hazards and decreasing real estate property values because of foul odors.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, "which is charged with promoting livestock production as well as regulating it, often brushed aside opposition from local officials to issue about 900 swine confinement permits in the last 20 years," Jackson writes. "Pig waste flowing into rural waterways from leaks and spills destroyed more than 490,000 fish in 67 miles of rivers over a 10-year span. No other industry came close to causing that amount of damage, the Tribune found. Many operators faced only minor consequences; some multimillion-dollar confinements paid small penalties while polluting repeatedly." (Tribune graphic)
"The state also does little to investigate allegations of animal cruelty submitted by whistleblowing employees who work for some of Illinois' most prominent pork producers," Jackson notes. "Inspectors dismissed one complaint, state files show, after simply telephoning executives to ask if it was true that their workers were beating pigs with metal bars."

"Some of the sharpest opposition to hog confinements in Illinois comes not from animal welfare activists or environmental groups but from lifelong farmers, small-town residents and rural township commissioners," Jackson writes. Their only outlet to question pork producers and government authorities about proposed operations are county-level hearings overseen by the state Agriculture Department. "To trigger a hearing, the new confinement must house more than 2,500 hogs weighing more than 55 pounds or at least 10,000 piglets below that weight. Hearings are held if the local county board requests it or if at least 75 citizens petition." Many who attended meetings told the Tribune they felt their concerns were ignored or ridiculed.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Mo. editor-publisher wins Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity, integrity in rural journalism

PLATTE CITY, Mo. – Ivan Foley, a Missouri editor and publisher who has pushed accountability journalism and open government in the face of competition, intimidation and retribution, is the winner of the 2016 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Ivan Foley in the Landmark office
At The Platte County Landmark in Platte City, just north of Kansas City, Foley has made a career of holding accountable public officials and those who would hold public office.

“He is the best advocate for the Missouri Sunshine Law of any journalist I know,” both to the public and government officials who often need “re-educating,” wrote Bill Hankins, who was a writer and photographer for the Landmark for 13 years, in nominating Foley.

“Because he always holds officials’ feet to the fire, especially when it comes to spending tax dollars, Ivan often runs counter to the local pet projects of the powers that be,” wrote Hankins, a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. “He often makes people mad … just by holding those projects up to the light to see if they sparkle or not. Some examples are when contracts had the taint of sweetheart deals, or when the school board decided to spend $500,000 for artificial turf for the football field.”

Many Landmark stories have reported violations of open-government laws, and Foley’s editorial column endorses candidates in local elections, a rarity for weekly newspapers. “Although conservative by nature and politics, Ivan is red-and-blue color-blind when it comes to critiquing the performances of local politicians,” Hankins wrote.

Landmark stories in 2012 about an ambulance district board chair getting an insider deal on a land sale resulted in the official’s corruption conviction. The same year, the paper investigated a county commissioner’s vote to award a contract to the high bidder, and his connections with the bidder. The commissioner didn’t seek re-election in 2014. Earlier, Landmark stories and columns revealed that the high-school athletic director’s son was in a group that stole a large carving of the school mascot, an incident the officials tried to cover up; and made county officials delay a raise they had granted themselves.

After the pay-raise articles in 1997, the county commission repeatedly denied the Landmark’s low bid to publish the county’s public notices. After several 1998 stories about questionable behavior by city police officers, a former officer confronted Foley in a threatening manner, but the editor “stood his ground,” Hankins wrote. Early in the next decade, after Foley reported several Sunshine Law violations by the mayor and questioned his plan to use city funds for a motorcycle rally, a friend of the mayor threatened to “punch his lights out.”

“Ivan sets a great example for journalism in rural America, where it’s usually harder to do good journalism than in metropolitan areas,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute, based at the University of Kentucky.

Foley, 53, has worked at the Landmark since 1982, when he began managing it at age 19. His father, Dwayne Foley, had bought the paper in 1979 but died of a heart attack not long afterward. Foley bought the paper from his mother, Ethel Mae Foley, in 2002. The county has two other newspapers, including one in Platte City; the Landmark has the largest circulation.

“He has grown over the years as an editor not because of some great foundation of a university journalism education,” Hankins wrote. “Rather, his editorial education was trial by fire. The fire has produced a steely editor, whose tenacity, courage and integrity help make this county what it is.”

Foley will be honored Sept. 29 at the Institute for Rural Journalism’s annual Al Smith Awards Dinner in Lexington, Ky., and receive the award Oct. 1 at his state press association convention in Branson, Mo. “The Missouri Press Association congratulates Ivan Foley for his determination in presenting the news that is important to his community,” MPA Executive Director Mark Maassen said.

The Tom and Pat Gish Award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle at Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and became nationally known for their battles with coal operators and corrupt politicians, and the firebombing of their office by a Whitesburg policeman. Past winners of the award have been the Gishes; the Ezzell family of The Canadian Record in Texas; publisher Jim Prince and former publisher Stan Dearman of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler, columnist for The Oregonian, for her work in Kentucky and Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin of the U.S. Virgin Islands for their work in Yancey County, North Carolina; Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Calhoun, Ky.; and the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M.

How one rural health center has adjusted to patient uptick since Medicaid expansion

The expansion of Medicaid under federal health care reform put many rural health clinics, especially in areas that were already experiencing doctor shortages, in tight spots. Kaiser Health News examines how the Redding-based Shasta Community Health Center in Northern California accommodated the influx of patients after health care reform. (Best Places map: Redding, Calif.)

In 2014 the number of people insured under Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, increased to 40,000 in the region served by Shasta Community Health, Pauline Bartolone reports for Kaiser. CEO C. Dean Germano said they were not prepared for the deluge of new patients, and he "decided to close the network’s five clinics to new adult Medi-Cal patients, though they continued to serve all of their existing patients and accepted new children." This month they began accepting some new patients.

Germano told Bartolone, "We quickly became overwhelmed, although there were a couple of things happening all at once. One was certainly the growth in Medicaid coverage, but at the very same time, the state of California expanded Medi-Cal managed care into 28 rural counties. We are one of them. We did not have Medi-Cal managed care prior to this."

"We were assigned patients, then assigned more patients," he said. "We quickly reached a point where we could not take on more new adult patients to our practice. We had to essentially constrain and at one point close the practice to new adult Medicaid patients." While the practice still accepted the uninsured and homeless, Germano said, "It was a very big hit [to] the community because adult patients had to go further afield to find services outside of the emergency room. Under managed care, it’s [the health plan’s] responsibility to find a medical home and some of the medical homes were 30 to 40 miles into the mountains. For patients who have transportation issues, there was no doubt that was a real imposition."

Since 2014, Shasta Community Health Center "has hired two physicians, created a family practice residency program and has a fellowship program for nurse practitioners and physician assistants," Bartolone writes. "For every new primary care provider, the clinic network can add up to 1,200 new patients, Germano said. The system now serves about 60,000 people in the area."

Trump says coal mine owners struggling to survive, industry has too many safety inspections

At a rally Monday in Harrisburg, Pa., Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that coal mine owners are struggling to survive and safety inspections are burdensome, Timothy Cama reports for The Hill. He also said solar power is too expensive, unsightly and dangerous to birds. "Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has set a goal to expand the country’s solar power capacity sevenfold and generate enough renewable electricity in the United States to power every home by 2027." (Associated Press: Trump in Harrisburg)

Trump said, “I have friends that own the mines. I mean, they can’t live. The restrictions environmentally are so unbelievable where inspectors come two and three times a day, and they can’t afford it any longer and they’re closing all the mines. … It’s not going to happen anymore, folks. We’re going to use our heads.”

Ken Ward, of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, writes, "It’s not really clear what environmental inspections Trump is talking about that involve inspectors visiting mines two or three times a day. Complete safety inspections of underground coal mines are required once per quarter—and sometimes those inspections take so long that MSHA has people at larger underground operations every day. But surely Mr. Trump, a champion of coal miners, isn’t thinking about cutting back on safety inspections."

Retired journalist calls 'Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis' an absurd book

James Branscome, who covered the Tennessee Valley Authority and strip mining for The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., in the 1970s before becoming managing director of equity research for Standard and Poor's, has written a review of J.D. Vance's popular memoir Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance has said the white working class has lost its patriotism, which has led many in Appalachia to be drawn to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The book "is being especially celebrated by conservatives and libertarians because they believe it explains the phenomenon of the decline of the poor white working class in the U.S.," Branscome writes. "No book about Appalachia has gotten this much attention since Harry Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands was published in 1963 and led President Kennedy to lay the groundwork for LBJ’s eventual War on Poverty. Caudill eloquently described the rape of a region and a people by colonialist coal barons allied with governments and called on the conscience of the nation for remedies. Vance begs to differ: 'These problems were not created by government or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them….we hillbillies must wake the hell up.'"

James Branscome
"The solution Vance suggests is for people to just get the hell out of the region and the mountaineer ghettos of the North," Branscome writes. "They are loath to do that because 'Our men suffer from a peculiar crisis of masculinity in which some of the very traits that our culture inculcates make it difficult to succeed in a changing world….It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it….Too many young men (are) immune to hard work.'"

Branscome writes, "Vance and those who love his book are asking an important question of why the white working class is angry and voting for Trump. To those of us who are concerned with the Appalachian region, it is something of a mystery of how in a few generations folks went from venerating FDR and JFK to voting for the likes of Trump. Maybe they aren’t voting for him; maybe they are just voting against all the failed programs that Harry Caudill said were not a fix to the problems he described. In many ways it’s still night in the Cumberlands."

"But all over the region that Vance doesn’t know very well, there are people shining lights brighter than his on good solutions," Branscome writes. "In an awkward stab at humility in the introduction, noting he’s very young and has accomplished little besides getting through Yale Law School, Vance says, 'I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd.' I agree."

Former Des Moines TV reporter says rural racism 'did not help my decision to stay'

Emily Victor (right) said racism in rural Iowa played a part in her not wanting to continue being a reporter for KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Lauren Ehler reports for The Des Moines Register. Victor, who is African American, said "those negative experiences did not motivate her to leave," but told Ehler, "Racism in the state did not help my decision to stay."

She "said she didn't have any problems in the metro area, but would sometimes feel uncomfortable when covering parts of rural Iowa," Ehler writes. "She said she would get negative reactions related to the color of her skin when she approached interview subjects and on social media." Victor cited a June story, caught on video, in Boone, Iowa, where while reporting a crime scene, a woman began yelling at her, pushed camera equipment and used a racial slur. Victor said, "It was something I had to get used to."

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press conducting survey through Aug. 16 on FOIA policy

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wants your feedback on a "Release One, Release All" policy under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The organization is conducting a survey for journalists and news organizations on the policy, which calls for all records released from a FOIA request to be simultaneously posted online for public viewing.

"Some reporters have expressed concerns that simultaneous release of records might negatively affect their reporting, 'giving away' their scoops that come from FOIA releases," says a press release from the Reporters Committee. "Others are less concerned about the policy, especially if there is a delay built in between the release to the requester and public posting. Beyond anecdotal evidence, however, there has been no large-scale survey on the views of those in the news media." The survey is available through Aug. 16. Access the survey here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Monsanto's unapproved herbicide-tolerant soybean seeds blamed for damaging soybean crops

Monsanto's newest herbicide-tolerant soybean seeds, now on store shelves, despite not yet being approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, are being blamed for leading to damaged soybean crops, Dan Charles reports for NPR. Xtend is immune to the herbicide dicamba, which is known for vaporizing quickly and blowing with the wind. Dicamba is "especially toxic to soybeans, even at ridiculously low concentrations."

The EPA has not yet approved the new dicamba weedkiller, which Monsanto says "has been formulated so that it won't vaporize as easily, and won't be as likely to harm neighboring crops," Charles writes. "But, Monsanto went ahead and started selling its dicamba-resistant soybeans before this herbicide was approved. It gave farmers a new weed-killing tool that they couldn't legally use. Monsanto says it did so because these seeds weren't just resistant to dicamba; they also offered higher yields, which farmers wanted."

Even though Monsanto says it has "made it clear to farmers that they were not allowed to spray dicamba on these dicamba-resistant beans," some fear farmers are using it for that exact purpose, Charles writes. Suspected use of the herbicide-tolerant soybean seeds damaging crops has led to more than 100 farmers in Missouri and 25 in Arkansas filing formal complaints with their state Department of Agriculture. Bob Scott, a weed specialist from the University of Arkansas, told Charles, "I've never seen anything like this before. This is a unique situation that Monsanto created."

Number of state psychiatric beds dropped 13% since 2010; many states facing 'critical shortage'

A "critical shortage of state psychiatric beds is forcing mentally ill patients with severe symptoms to be held in emergency rooms, hospitals and jails while they wait for a bed, sometimes for weeks," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. (Stateline graphic)

The U.S. currently has 37,679 psychiatric beds, a 13 percent drop from 43,318 beds in 2010. The current average is 11.7 beds per every 100,000 people, with Iowa only averaging two beds per every 100,000 people, three and a half in Minnesota and four in Vermont.

Some of the biggest drops in the number of psychiatric beds are in states with large rural populations. Alabama has 383 beds, down from 1,119 in 2010. Iowa dropped from 149 to 64, Kansas from 705 to 451, Louisiana from 903 to 616, Mississippi from 1,156 to 486, Missouri from 1,332 to 874 and Vermont from 52 to 25.

"Mental health advocates, attorneys and judges say the practice, known as psychiatric boarding, prevents patients from getting the care they need," Ollove writes. "Instead, such patients are sometimes strapped down or held in isolation, and often receive little or no mental health services. But the problem, which many blame on budget cuts and a shortage of psychiatrists and nurses, won’t be easy to solve. By one count, the nation needs an additional 123,300 psychiatric hospital beds."

Loss of coal jobs and population in E. Kentucky has drawn attention of federal reserve bank

The continued loss of coal jobs and population in Eastern Kentucky has drawn the interest of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, whose head will be in Hazard, Ky. on Sept. 1. The region, which saw a 21.6 percent decline in coal jobs during the first three months of 2016, lost another 6.1 percent of coal jobs from April to June, according to a report from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland graphic)

While the data shows the lost coal jobs decreased at a slower rate from April to June than from January to March, a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland shows the number of deaths is outpacing the number of births in Eastern Kentucky. The birth-to-date ratio is declining faster in Eastern Kentucky than the rest of the state and the nation.

The report states that "from 1995 to 2011, total net migration between Eastern Kentucky and different states was positive as more people moved to Eastern Kentucky than away from it: a net gain of around 1,300 people per year. However, from 2011 to 2014, a period that coincides with the recent decline of the coal industry, net migration became negative to the tune of -1,100 people per year." (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland graphic)
The majority of migration was to other counties in Kentucky or to neighboring states, with the biggest loss in state to Fayette County, home to urban Lexington, the report states. Fayette County has one of the state's lowest unemployment rates.

The state report estimates employment in the coal industry was 6,465 as of July 1, Estep writes. "That means the state has the fewest miners since 1898, before the extension of railroads opened the way for explosive growth in production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky in the early 1900s." In the second quarter of 2011, Eastern Kentucky employed 13,695 in the coal industry. The average for the same period this year was 3,764.

North Dakota's voter-ID law barred by federal judge

"A federal judge on Monday barred North Dakota from enforcing the state’s strict voter identification-card law, adding to several recent federal court rulings that such laws may disenfranchise minority voters," Michael Wines reports for The New York Times. Similar rulings were made last week in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Kansas.

"Judge Daniel L. Hovland of the United States District Court for North Dakota issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which he said had made it difficult and sometimes impossible for some Native Americans on rural reservations to cast ballots," Wines writes. While the injunction did not strike down the law, North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger indicated that "the state would not appeal the decision and that November’s election would revert to using less restrictive identification rules that were in force before the 2013 law was enacted."

"Like other voter-ID laws that have been challenged, the North Dakota statute was passed by a Republican-led legislature that asserted stronger measures were needed to curb voter fraud," Wines writes. "Democratic legislators said that it was intended solely to suppress voting among traditionally Democratic constituencies."

Monday, August 01, 2016

Officials in rural South accused of deterring black votes after Supreme Court eased Voting Rights Act

Counties and towns, mostly in the rural South, are being accused of making it more difficult for black and minority voters—who often vote Democratic—to cast their ballots, Michael Wines reports for The New York Times. In Sparta, Ga. (Best Places map), "the majority-white Hancock County Board of Elections and Registration was systematically questioning the registrations of more than 180 black Sparta citizens—a fifth of the city’s registered voters—by dispatching deputies with summonses commanding them to appear in person to prove their residence or lose their voting rights."

A lawsuit claims the board was trying to give an edge to white candidates—In November a white mayoral candidate won a narrow victory, Wines writes. "The county attorney, Barry A. Fleming, a Republican state representative, said in an interview that the elections board was only trying to restore order to an electoral process tainted earlier by corruption and incompetence. The lawsuit is overblown, he suggested, because only a fraction of the targeted voters were ultimately scratched from the rolls."

Wines writes, "In Georgia and all or part of 14 other states, the 1965 Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination to receive so-called preclearance before changing the way voter registration and elections were conducted. Three years ago, the Supreme Court declared the pre-clearance mandate unconstitutional, saying the blatant discrimination it was meant to prevent was largely a thing of the past."

"But since the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in the voting-rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, critics argue, the blatant efforts to keep minorities from voting have been supplanted by a blizzard of more subtle changes," Wines writes. "Most conspicuous have been state efforts like voter ID laws or cutbacks in early voting periods, which critics say disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Less apparent, but often just as contentious, have been numerous voting changes enacted in counties and towns across the South and elsewhere around the country."

Last year "Alabama moved to close 31 driver’s license offices, almost all in rural areas with large African-American populations, as a cost-saving measure," Wines notes. "After lawsuit threats and complaints that the closings would severely curtail local voter registration, the state chose to open the offices at least one day a month. Gov. Robert J. Bentley, a Republican, has strongly denied that the closings were racially motivated." (Read more)

Appalachian white working class has lost its patriotism but likes Trump's slogan, author writes

J.D. Vance
The white working class has lost its patriotism and desperately wants it back, writes J. D. Vance, author of the new, well-received book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance, whose extended family migrated from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio, writes, "In my culture, love of country used to be a civic religion. . . . I noticed, shortly before I began studying at Yale Law School in 2010, that my culture had begun to change. We feel trapped in two seemingly unwinnable wars, in which a disproportionate share of the fighters came from neighborhoods like ours, and in an economy that failed to deliver the most basic promise of the American Dream—a steady wage."

"The factories that took to the hollows of Kentucky and West Virginia to recruit my grandparents’ generation refused to hire mine, or closed down altogether," Vance writes. "Our thoroughfares became ghost towns, with pawnshops or cash-for-gold traders in place of family businesses. Polls suggested that, unique among all sub-populations in the country, the white working class expected its children to live less prosperous lives."

Appalachian drug use and suicide are on the rise, life expectancy is down, leading to "an entirely new belief system—mistrustful of American and resentful of its political elites—gained currency," Vance writes. Many in Appalachia blamed Obama, not because of the color of his skin, but because he seemed to have what they didn't, Vance writes: "Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities: He is a good father while many of us struggle to pay our child support. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right."

"At my high school, ranked for a time in the bottom 10 percent of public schools in the state, none of my classmates attended an Ivy League college," Vance writes. "Barack Obama attended two of them and excelled at both. He is brilliant, wealthy and speaks like the law professor that he is. Nothing about him bears any resemblance to the people I admired growing up: His accent—clean, perfect, neutral—sounds almost foreign; his credentials are so impressive that they’re frightening; he made his life in Chicago, a dense metropolis; and he conducts himself with a confidence that comes from knowing that the modern American meritocracy was built for him."

"And as president, his term started just as so many in the white working class began believing that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them," Vance writes. "We know we’re not doing well. We see it every day: In the obituaries for teenagers that conspicuously omit the cause of death (reading between the lines: overdose), in the deadbeats we watch our daughters waste their time with, and in the fast food jobs that offer little money and even less pride." (Some parents now note such addictions in obituaries.)

Then along comes a presidential candidate saying he will "make America great again," Vance writes. "Our mistrust of those in power has swelled to the point that many will support Donald Trump, who offers a slogan about greatness with little substance to support it. It’s not entirely clear how Trump plans to bring factory jobs back to Southern Ohio, or rid Eastern Kentucky of the prescription-drug epidemic, or cure Western Pennsylvania’s teenagers of their heroin addiction. Yet for people who no longer believe in the American Dream of their parents and grandparents, slogans may be enough. 'Making America Great Again' may sound trite to some, but to a people reeling from the loss of a civic faith, it’s music to their ears." (Read more)

Pennsylvania Democrat running for House says party needs to better understand rural voters

Erin McClelland
A Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Western Pennsylvania coal country said at the Democratic National Convention that the party needs to do a better job understanding rural voters, Dave Sutor reports for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Erin McClelland hopes her message will help her gain ground on Rep. Keith Rothfus, a Republican lawyer elected to Congress in 2012, who defeated her in the 2014 general election by 59.3 percent to 40.7 percent.

McClelland, a health-care professional who has specialized in addiction treatment and prevention, told Sutor, “Message wise, we're really talking about rural voters. I'm really concerned that the Democratic Party has really started to disengage rural voters. And it has been for some time. Their love for the Constitution, their love for the Second Amendment, it's not a bad thing. It's actually something that's very passionate and very pure, and should be embraced by my party and should be inspiring our policies. And it's not something that we should be rejecting." (Read more)

Study: Meat contributes to obesity at same rate as sugar; excess protein becomes fat

Meat is just as likely to contribute to obesity—a greater problem in rural areas than elsewhere—as sugar, says an international study by researchers at Australia's University of Adelaide, published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences.

Professor Maciej Henneberg said: "In the analysis of obesity prevalence across 170 countries, we have found that sugar availability in a nation explains 50 percent of obesity variation, while meat availability another 50 percent. After correcting for differences in nations' wealth (gross domestic product), calorie consumption, levels of urbanization and of physical inactivity, which are all major contributors to obesity, sugar availability remained an important factor, contributing independently 13 percent, while meat contributed another 13 percent to obesity."

Lead researcher Wenpeng You, a Ph.D. student, said, "Whether we like it or not, fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are supplying enough energy to meet our daily needs. Because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the human body." (Read more)

Growing number of parents using obits of their addicted children to highlight dangers of drug use

Obituary details Ryan Hawe's battles with addiction
A rising number of grieving parents are exposing their deceased children's addiction in obituaries in an effort to draw attention to the opioid epidemic and help others, Alexandra Rockey Fleming reports for The Washington Post.

In "swapping openness for ambiguity in death notices—'died after a long struggle with addiction' replaces 'died suddenly at home'—they are challenging the stigma and shame often bound up in substance abuse. Maybe more important, they’re sounding alarms about the far-reaching grasp of addiction."

President Obama in February proposed spending $1.1 billion in new funding to address opioid and heroin abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March proposed limits on painkiller prescriptions. Drug overdose deaths, which are growing problems in rural areas, have been especially high in Central Appalachia.

"The spike in opioid addiction rates in the past two decades is rooted in the over-prescription of pain medication such as Oxycontin, says Andrew Kolodny, a psychiatrist and senior scientist at Brandeis University," Fleming writes. "The medical and recreational use of these drugs derived from opium—and their illegal and vastly more affordable sister, heroin—is affecting the families of police officers and lawyers and politicians, he says, 'and you’re seeing a very different response that says that this is a disease, not a moral failing, from families who want to spare others the pain.'"

CDC reported that deaths related to opioids hit record levels in 2014, "mushrooming by 14 percent in just one year," Fleming writes. "There were 10,574 heroin-related fatalities nationwide in 2014—an increase caused in part by the influx of a deadly elixir of heroin and fentanyl, a potent analgesic." (Read more)

Bayer to halt U.S. sales of Belt, insecticide EPA ruled harmful to the environment

German chemicals company Bayer AG announced on Friday that it "will halt future U.S. sales of an insecticide that can be used on more than 200 crops, after losing a fight with the Environmental Protection Agency," Tom Polansek reports for Reuters. EPA said flubendiamide, marketed in the U.S. as Belt, poses risks to the environment. Flubendiamide is registered for use on crops such as soybeans, almonds and tobacco, for "as many as six applications per year, according to EPA."

Bayer, which maintains that flubendiamide is safe, said in a statement that EPA's actions are "unlawful and inconsistent with sound regulatory risk assessment practices," Polansek writes. An EPA board "ruled that farmers and retailers will be allowed to use their existing supplies of the chemical," Polansek reports.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sharing syringes isn't like sharing a bottle or a joint: it could lead to HIV or hepatitis outbreaks

Map from The Guardian highlights Wolfe County, Kentucky
Amanda Holpuch of The Guardian took a trip to Wolfe County, Kentucky, perhaps the U.S. county most vulnerable to an outbreak of HIV or hepatitis C from needle sharing by intravenous drug users, a report noted here June 16.

"A man was lying sedate after injecting drugs. His fellow users, to amuse themselves, threw needles at him like a human dartboard to see if they would stick, according to a recent police report in Wolfe County," Holpuch reports, quoting special deputy sheriff Gary Smith: “Back in the day, all we had to worry about was people drinking or smoking weed.” An unnamed captain says, “Everybody is using drugs here – end of story.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in determining the 220 counties most vulnerable, used "a sobering recipe: high rates of drug overdose deaths and prescription opioid sales, a high white population, astounding rates of hepatitis C and searing poverty," Holpuch writes. "The CDC said the top 20 most vulnerable counties identified in its report are effectively equal in vulnerability because of the analysis’s margin of error, but Wolfe County is ranked first and serves as a model for the places at most risk, 13 of which are in Kentucky."

Smith likened the sharing of syringes "to a more dangerous version of a group of men getting together to share a bottle of whiskey. Instead of swapping saliva on a bottle cap, users are exchanging all types of body fluids and pushing a needle coated with those fluids into their bodies."

Kentucky was the first state in the South to authorize syringe-exchange programs, in 2015, but local officials have yet to establish one in Wolfe County or in many of the other 54 Kentucky counties on the national list of 220, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported in July. Here is The Guardian's version of the national map: