Friday, September 16, 2016

Ag heartland trend remains negative for 13th straight month in Rural Mainstreet Index

For the 13th straight month the Rural Mainstreet Index was below 50, indicating economic decline, Steve Jordon reports for the Omaha World-Herald. The index comes from surveys by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss of bank CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region dependent on agriculture and/or energy. The survey covers Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The September index was 37.3, down from 41.1 in August and 49 in September 2015, Jordon writes. With grain prices slumping, Goss said "Farm income is slated to drop by 12 percent from 2015, prompting 'an intense pessimistic outlook among bankers.' He said an expected 25 percent increase in government support payments this year won’t be enough to offset the reduced income."

"Of 173 bankers in 10 states who responded to Goss’s September survey, four out of five reported restructuring more farm loans to adjust to borrowers’ slimmer cash flow, and 1 out of 5 reported they are rejecting more ag loan applications," Jordon writes.

Unsafe building conditions leave rural Ohio town without a post office

The 898 residents in the village of Wayne, Ohio (Best Places map), have been without a post office for more than six weeks, Victoria Dugger reports for the Sentinel-Tribune in Bowling Green. Poor conditions of the post office building, including a gas leak, mold and a vermin infestation, led health and safety inspectors to force operations to be temporarily suspended on Aug. 1.

"Rural carriers are still delivering mail to residences, but delivery is said to be coming much later than usual," Dugger writes. Residents say the closure forces residents to drive to nearby Bradner, located about 2-1/2 miles from Wayne's post office. While the distance is short it is still an inconvenient trip for many to make during business hours. Wayne business owner Jeanette Heinze told Dugger, “It is a big disservice. We still mail in the outgoing (box) but you still can’t buy stamps or mail a package. For that you drive to Bradner. People aren’t getting invoices; things are all mixed up."

The post office closure also has affected the Brader Post Office. In addition to the 300 post office boxes it has for local residents, it has to accommodate additional mail for Wayne residents, Dugger writes. Barbara Potter, postmaster for Bradner Post Office, told Dugger, “We are trying to get rotary boxes by the end of the week for 24-hour access to mail." (Read more)

Missouri's Republican-led House and Senate override vetoes on gun laws, voter ID

Missouri's Republican-controlled House and Senate on Wednesday voted to override a pair of vetoes by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon of laws relaxing concealed-carry gun permits and proposing stronger rules for voter identification, Kevin Murphy reports for Reuters. The bills allow residents to carry a concealed gun without a permit and would require voters to show photo identification to vote.

The Senate voted to override the concealed carry veto 24-6 and the House 112-41, Jason Hancock reports for The Kansas City Star. "Previously, gun owners could carry a concealed weapon in public by passing a criminal background check and completing a gun safety training class in order to get a permit. On the final day of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill eliminating those requirements and allowing someone to carry a concealed firearm in public without a permit."

In vetoing the bill Nixon "said it would allow 'individuals to legally carry a concealed firearm even though they have been or would be denied a permit because their background check revealed criminal offenses or caused the sheriff to believe they posed a danger,'" Hancock writes. The law goes into effect in 30 days.

The override of the voter-ID law passed the Senate 24-6 and the House 115-41. Murphy writes, "The bill would not take effect until 2017, after this year's presidential election, and only if voters in November pass a state constitutional amendment in support of the new law. That is necessary because the Missouri Supreme Court ruled 10 years ago that such a statute violated the existing state constitution."

USDA to test online shopping for SNAP recipients

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants could soon be able to buy groceries online. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Thursday that it is seeking retailer volunteers for a two year pilot program to test using food stamps for online purchases. As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the pilot program will begin next summer and will include up to five retailers in three states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: "Online purchasing shows great promise to improve access to healthy food for SNAP participants living in neighborhoods and rural or tribal areas without grocery stores. Online purchasing will also help those who are unable to access a grocery store due to a disability or lack of transportation."
Chicago Tribune photo
Online service could help people in food deserts, Greg Trotter reports for the Chicago Tribune. "In Illinois, about 1.9 million people receive assistance through SNAP, up from about 1.2 million people some 10 years ago. The vast majority of SNAP benefits—82 percent—are redeemed at supermarkets and merchants like Costco, though in food deserts, immediate access to healthy food is often limited to what's available at corner stores."

Writer: Cookbook a love letter to Appalachian food

Ronni Lundy
Ronni Lundy, food critic for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, has written a cookbook that she calls a love letter to food in her native Appalachia, Bill Burton reports for WFPL of Louisvillle. The book, Victuals, "highlights not only the long cherished recipes of the region, but the stories of the food and people who created them."

Lundy told Burton, “One thing that happens to Appalachians and the culture of Appalachia is that we’ve had our story and our voices taken away from us. We have had other people say who we are. We’re not allowed to say who we are ourselves. So, that’s another really important part of this book for me, is that other people’s voices shine through and come through it.”

Lundy will appear at 3 p.m. Sunday at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville. To listen to the audio interview with her click here.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Household incomes decline in rural areas in 2015 even as they rose elsewhere

UPDATE, Sept. 17: The New York Times says that when rural is more broadly defined, rural incomes actually rose.

Daily Yonder graphic
Household incomes are on the rise nationally and in urban areas, but declined in rural communities, according to a Census Bureau survey released Tuesday. The survey found that household median income rose in 2015 for the first time since 2007, increasing about $2,800 to $56,516, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. Median incomes rose 7.3 percent in metro areas and 4 percent in suburban areas, but dropped 2 percent in rural areas.

When it comes to poverty, metro areas decreased by 2 percent and suburban ones by 1 percent, while poverty increased 0.2 percent in rural areas, Marema writes. "The absolute number of people living in federally defined poverty in rural America actually decreased from 2014 to 2015. But the percentage of people living in poverty climbed because the overall rural population shrunk. Non-metro population in 2015 was about 44 million, a decline of about 11 percent from the 2014 rural population estimate of about 50 million, the report said."

Outdated maps fail to account for climate change; 1/3 of La. flooding outside marked floodplain

Outdated Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps fail to account for climate change, Christopher Joyce reports for NPR. FEMA updates its flood-insurance maps every five years. "People with federally backed mortgages in the highest risk areas have to get flood insurance," Joyce notes. "People outside those areas don't."

That's become a problem in some areas, such as Louisiana, where Gov. John Bel Edwards' office has estimated that last month's flooding damaged 60,646 houses. FEMA says 109,398 people or households have applied for housing help and 25,000 National Flood Insurance Program claims have been filed," Drew Broach reports for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. An estimated 18,873 houses were damaged by the flood and 50,750 people were caught in the flood or lived in a flooded home, according to DisasterMap.net. (Image: Extent of flooding last month in Baton Rouge)
"Satellite photos show that about a third of the flooding in Louisiana last month was outside the local flood plain," Joyce writs. "The flood plain is the area that historically gets inundated by a once-a-century flood." Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at the University of California, Davis, who researches floods said "floods that occur outside the historical flood plain appear to be happening more often — in Louisiana and elsewhere."

Kathy Schaefer, an engineer who spent 10 years drawing those maps at FEMA, told Joyce. "All of the mapping had to be based on the existing conditions (at the time they were drawn, or many years earlier)." She said "those conditions were rainfall and flooding statistics from the past. Sometimes decades in the past."

BLM says it will not heed advisory council's recommendation to kill 45,000 wild horses

The Bureau of Land Management says it will not kill 45,000 wild horses, as recommended by a BLM advisory board Friday. The board recommended euthanizing up to 45,000 wild horses and burros held in captivity if the animals could not be adopted. After uproar from animal-rights activists, BLM announced that "the agency will 'continue its current policy of caring for unadopted or unsold wild horses and burros' and will 'not sell or send any animals to slaughter'," Alex Dobuzinskis of Reuters reports.

Gorey said BLM spends "nearly $50 million a year in upkeep for captured horses and burros," Dobuzinskis writes. About 67,000 of these animals "roam the U.S., mostly in Nevada and California, according to government estimates. Without natural predators, they have proliferated far beyond the roughly 27,000 animals the U.S. government says would be a population low enough to prevent overgrazing and preserve land for other animals."

Critics say numbers are overestimated, Dobuzinskis reports. "The Humane Society alleges the bureau spends so much paying private contractors to hold the animals that it cannot afford to expand its program to administer birth control to the animals on the range, which it contends would be more effective for population control than round-ups." (Read more)

Many voters, especially Trump supporters, vastly overestimate instances of voter fraud

How often registered voters think voter fraud happens 
Registered voters, especially Donald Trump supporters, believe voter fraud happens far more often than it actually does, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Of the 1,002 adults polled, 46 percent—69 percent of Trump supporters and 28 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters—believe voter fraud occurs very often or somewhat often, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement report for the Post. Voter fraud is described as multiple votes being cast by a single person, or an ineligible person casting a ballot.

A 2012 investigation by News21, a partnership of the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation, "found only 2,068 cases of alleged voter fraud had been reported since 2000, including only 10 cases of voter impersonation over the entire period," Guskin and Clement writes. A separate study by Loyola Law School "found 241 potentially fraudulent ballots over a 14-year period out of 1 billion ballots cast."

When asked if they were confident votes will be counted accurately, 49 percent of Trump supporters said no, compared to 18 percent of Clinton supporters, Guskin and Clement writes. Overall, 63 percent of respondents said they were confident votes would be counted accurately, down from 70 percent in 2004 when Republican George W. Bush was in the White House. During the 2014 election, 86 percent of Bush supporters were confident votes would be counted accurately, compared to 56 percent of John Kerry supporters. (Read more)

Jobs, economy, safety, protests, arrests highlight events surrounding Dakota Access Pipeline

Pipeline map colors counties in its route
The Dakota Access Pipeline has caused plenty of controversy and led to protests, arrests and the temporary halt of construction in North Dakota. The $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline is expected to carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken Formation crude from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois.

Supporters say shipping by pipeline is safer and less expensive than shipping by rail or truck, Devashree Saha reports for the Brookings Institution. They also say the pipeline will improve the economy with an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 construction jobs and up to 40 permanent operating jobs. "The project is also expected to generate $156 million in sales and income taxes and $55 million in property taxes annually" for the four states.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a reservation of 8,000 people in the Dakotas, "claims that the U.S. government approved the project without consulting tribal governance, something they are obligated to do, according to U.S. treaties and the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,"

The tribe says they fear a spill will contaminate their main source of drinking water, the Missouri River. Environmental and climate activists also have expressed concern about spills and some say the estimated economic benefits, particularly the number of construction jobs, are being exaggerated.

In July, the tribe "filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to address the tribe’s concerns and violating federal permitting law," Saha writes. Earlier this month "a federal judge denied the tribe’s request to put a freeze on construction. An hour later, the Obama Administration, in an unexpected intervention, ordered the Army Corps to pause construction on the project until it could revisit the controversial portion near the Native American reservation. In the meantime, the project is in legal limbo. The D.C. Circuit Court is currently hearing the legal challenge to the pipeline and the case could take months to reach a resolution."

University of Wisconsin starts nation's first rural residency program for obstetrician-gynecologists

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is launching what it says is the nation's first obstetrics and gynecology rural residency program. Beginning in 2018 one student will spend two months at each of three rural hospitals during their second and third years of residency. The hope is to eventually expand the program to more residents.

Dr. Ellen Hartenbach, residency director at UWM, said one-third of Wisconsin's rural counties lack an obstetrician-gynecologist and many women have to drive more than 60 miles to deliver a baby, Sarah Brechbill reports for WMTV in Madison. Hartenbach told Brechbill, "If they get these experiences than they're more likely to take positions in rural communities and we really need ob-gyns in rural communities in Wisconsin." (Stateline map: Number of ob-gyns by state: 46 percent of the nation's counties lack obstetrics services)

Alaska offers rural bridge, with $30,000 reward

Alaska Department of Transportation photo
A rural remote Alaskan bridge is yours for the taking, along with a cash reward of $30,000. It's common for states to offer replaced bridges for relocation, but this is the first time we've heard of a reward. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is offering the money "to anyone who will remove and maintain the historic bridge before construction on a new structure begins in 2018," Laurel Andrews reports for Alaska Dispatch News. The bridge has not been used since 2003.

The 181-foot-long, steel-truss bridge spans the Iliamna River and is located about three miles from Pile Bay, a fishing community, Andrews writes. The bridge was built in the 1930s—some reports say 1934, others 1936. "In 2003, DOT set up a temporary bridge next to the old one. But in a few years, the state plans to replace it with a structure that has a greater weight capacity, to accommodate the freight and fishing vessels. The total cost for construction will be about $5 million, 90 percent of which is federal funding, said DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow."

Dispatch News graphic
DOT, which in 2003 found the bridge to be structurally deficient, said in a public notice: "Any potential recipient will need to remove the bridge and transport it to a new location and must agree to maintain the bridge. The bridge is in a remote location and is available as-is."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

9.1% in U.S. lacked health coverage last year; rates trended lower in states that expanded Medicaid

KFF maps; click on image to view a larger version
A U.S. Census Bureau survey released Tuesday shows that the share of Americans without health insurance dropped 1.3 percentage points in 2015. Only 9.1 percent of people, or 29 million, lacked health insurance last year.

The survey, which includes data for every state, has maps showing the difference between states that expanded Medicaid under federal health reform, and those that did not. (Maib map shows ranges of uninsured rates in 2015 for Medicaid expansion status, for states that expanded as of Jan. 1, 2015)

About 4 million Americans secured health insurance in 2015 under Obamacare, Amy Goldstein reports for The Washington Post. The Census survey shows "that the gains were driven primarily by an expansion of coverage among people buying individual policies, rather than getting health benefits through a job. This includes, but is not limited to, the kind of coverage sold on the insurance exchanges that began in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act."

The "report shows insurance gains across all income levels, ages and types of employment, although some groups did better than others," Julie Rovner reports for the Kaiser Health News. "Young adults—specifically 26-year-olds—remain the most likely to lack coverage. Although the Affordable Care Act guaranteed that young adults could stay on their parents’ plans longer than in the past, that protection ends when they turn 26." (Kaiser map)
Wisconsin covers adults up to the federal poverty threshold but did not expand Medicaid. The other states with asterisks have received federal waivers for demonstration projects.

Armed militia's protest threat cancels meeting that was expected to green-light Georgia mosque

A protester calling himself Johnny Infidel holds the Koran
and an assault weapon (Covington News photo by Bryan Fazio)
Officials in Covington, Ga., canceled a meeting Tuesday that was expected to result in approval of a controversial mosque, after an armed militia posted a video on social media threatening a protest, Bryan Fazio reports for The Covington News. The mosque had drawn opposition from many in the town of 600, who had called Muslims terrorists and abusers of women.

Despite cancellation of the meeting, the armed militia, Georgia Security Force III%, protested outside the meeting's location, Fazio reports: "The protest consisted of rhetoric against Islam, Muslims and the group Council on American-Islamic Relations being shouted through a bullhorn by a man calling himself Johnny Infidel, armed with an AR-15 rifle." The group's leader, Chris Hill, said at a press conference: “I’m not against freedom of religion. [The Koran] is text suggesting doing things that are not peaceful.”

Best Places map
At the meeting, the Newton County Board of Commissioners "was to hear from county staff on creating a new zoning classification for large developments of community impact. Several Newton County commissioners also were expected to vote to lift a moratorium that was imposed on permits for places of worship during an Aug. 16 meeting, shortly after the mosque came to light. However, Monday afternoon the meeting was cancelled due to safety precautions stemming from the group’s social-media activity." 

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said in a statement: “In this case, a self-made video circulated on social media of a militia group from a neighboring county may have been trespassing on private property, and exhibiting harassing or violent behavior. Unfortunately in today’s society, uncivil threats or intentions must be taken seriously."

Trying to wake the sleeping giant of Latino voters: 52% of eligibles didn't cast ballots in 2012

The nation's growing Latino population could be the difference in the presidential election, if only enough of them would vote, Marcela Valdes writes for The New York Times. Each year another 800,000 Latinos turn 18, making them eligible to vote, and overall there are 27 million Latinos of voting age in the U.S. But only 48 percent of eligible Latino voters cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 66.2 percent of African Americans and 64.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

"Journalists have been writing about the so-called 'sleeping giant' of Hispanic voters since at least the 1970s, but the fact is that voter turnout among Latinos remains dismal," Valdes writes. "While the raw number of Latino ballots cast has tripled since 1998, so has the number of Latino citizens who don’t vote. Only once in the past 28 years, during the 1992 match among George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot that spurred a jump in overall turnout, has Latino turnout exceeded 50 percent." (NYT graphic: Percent of eligible voters who cast ballots from 1988-2012)
Some think Republican candidate Donald Trump's anti-immigration stance and his negative remarks about Mexicans will finally wake the sleeping giant, Valdes writes. Javier Palomarez, president and chief executive of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told Politico in 2015: “I think the greatest thing to ever happen to the Hispanic electorate is a gentleman named Donald Trump. He has crystallized the angst and anger of the Hispanic community. I think we can all rest assured that Hispanics can turn out in record numbers.”

Valdes writes, "But achieving record turnout for a demographic with a lackluster voting history isn’t so simple as watching them take themselves to the polls. In July, the Pew Research Center noted that 'Hispanic voters lag all registered voters on several measures of engagement' — they aren’t paying attention to election news as closely as other citizens and they aren’t thinking about the election as much."

"The problem isn’t their youth, poverty or lack of education," Valdes writes. "The problem is that when you’re poor, young or undereducated, it takes more effort to overcome your immigrant family’s low levels of political socialization. For first-generation Americans, politics is often just one more cultural expression that they must decipher on their own. It’s rarely a priority. The immigrant parents that I spoke with swam rivers and boarded airplanes to escape violence, to earn money, to educate their children. Learning to play American politics was never on the agenda." (Read more)

Number of women in prison on the rise in Okla., which leads nation in female incarceration

A study released last month by the Vera Institute found that a rising number of women in rural areas are in prison, often for non-violent offenses.

Oklahoma had the nation's highest female incarceration rate in 2014, at 142 per every 100,000 residents, says a 2015 study by The Sentencing Project. The national average is 58 per every 100,000 residents. (Sentencing Project graphic: Female incarceration rate by state in 2014)

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections released a report this week that for fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, the number of women incarcerated in the state rose 9.5 percent, Clifton Adcock reports for Oklahoma Watch. The number of women sent to jail in Oklahoma rose from 1,593 to 1,744. During the same time number of men sent to prison dropped 1 percent, to 8,282.

Excluding Tulsa County and Oklahoma County, which are largely urban, "all other counties combined sent 10 percent more women to prisons," Adcock writes. State prisons are now at 107 percent capacity, despite measures approved earlier this year by the state legislature "to reduce incarceration rates. The bills, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, lowered penalties for felony drug possession, increased the threshold for property crimes to be considered a felony and expanded specialty diversion courts."

"Voters will weigh in on similar proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot," Adcock writes. "State Question 780 would reclassify some basic drug possession and property crimes as misdemeanors, and if that generates savings by reducing the number of people incarcerated, State Question 781 would direct the money to county treatment and rehabilitation programs."

Supporters say a lack of prevention services leads to more incarceration, which leads to a cycle of incarceration for those women who are mothers, Adcock writes. Critics "say the changes would relax penalties too much for possession of serious drugs such as cocaine and meth."

Protests from governors have done little to stop flow of Syrian refugees; interactive map available

Protests from 30 governors not wanting to admit Syrian refugees have had little impact on the placement of Syrians in the U.S., Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. More than 11,000 Syrian refugees have entered the U.S. since October, many locating in states that didn't want them, and often in rural areas.

Most, but not all, states have given up fighting to keep Syrians refugees out, Henderson writes. "Indiana and Texas are appealing federal judicial rulings in an effort to block refugees from their states until they have been screened to ensure they don’t have ties to terrorist groups. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, is appealing a federal court’s recent dismissal of a suit he brought charging that the federal government hasn’t consulted with states before placing refugees, as required by the federal Refugee Act of 1980."

Tennessee has an active lawsuit, not supported by the governor or state attorney general, arguing that the state "will have to pay as much as $100 million a year on refugees from Syria and elsewhere because the state is required to provide them with health care and language help in schools. But so far, courts have rejected the states’ legal arguments. And governors have not threatened to remove refugees who are already on the ground in their states," Henderson writes. (Stateline map: Syrian refugees in the U.S. For an interactive version click here)

Bayer ups takeover bid of Monsanto to $66 billion

Bayer AG's $66 billion approved takeover bid of Monsanto Co. would "create a company commanding more than a quarter of the combined world market for seeds and pesticides in the fast-consolidating farm supplies industry," Greg Roumeliotis and Ludwig Burger report for Reuters. "The $128 a share deal, up from Bayer's previous offer of $127.50 a share, is the biggest of the year so far and the largest cash bid on record."

"Competition authorities are likely to scrutinize the tie-up closely, and some of Bayer's own shareholders have been highly critical of a takeover plan which they say risks overpaying and neglecting the company's pharmaceutical business," Roumeliotis and Burger write. "The transaction includes a break-fee of $2 billion that Bayer will pay to Monsanto should it fail to get regulatory clearance. Bayer expects the deal to close by the end of 2017."

Bernstein Research gave the deal a 50 percent chance of winning regulatory clearance, "although they cited a survey among investors that put the likelihood at 70 percent on average," Roumeliotis and Burger write. They wrote: "We believe political pushback to this deal, ranging from farmer dissatisfaction with all their suppliers consolidating in the face of low farm net incomes to dissatisfaction with Monsanto leaving the U.S., could provide significant delays and complications." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Obesity rates beginning to decline, but are still too high: a national report to localize

Some states are finally beginning to see obesity rates decline, according to the State of Obesity report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "This year’s results show that after a decade in which every state’s obese population rose, a few states have finally experienced a decrease," Trudy Lieberman writes for Rural Health News Service. Only two states, Kansas and Kentucky, saw increases. Most states remained steady, while Minnesota, Montana, New York and Ohio saw declines.

"Although rates have dropped in Montana, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio, even those decreased rates are still high," Lieberman writes. "Twenty-six percent of adults in Minnesota were still considered obese, and nearly 30 percent were in Ohio. Even in the states with the lowest rates—Colorado, California, Utah, Montana, Hawaii and Massachusetts—rates remain between 20 and 25 percent." In 1980, no state has a rate above 15 percent, and in 1990, none was above 20 percent, Lieberman notes.

"Many societal changes have conspired to increase obesity rates," said Richard Hamburg, interim president of Trust for America's Health. "Children have less opportunity for physical activities; parents are no longer comfortable sending their kids out to play and telling them to come home by dark." He also credited a rise in obesity with sedentary lifestyles—blamed largely on video games replacing physical activities—a lack of physical education in schools and more kids going to school via bus or car, instead of walking or biking.

Another reason is eating habits, Leiberman writes. Families eat out more often, consuming higher rates of sugar and fat. Also food deserts make it hard for some people, especially in rural areas, to eat healthy, and powerful marketing campaigns from food companies plays a part, especially advertisements that target children.

In North Carolina, the adult obesity rate has remained at about 30 percent for seven years, Richard Craver reports for the Winston Salem-Journal, in a good example of localizing the report. North Carolina, which is tied for 22nd for most obese state, is taking some efforts to try to educate about obesity, Craver writes. Kate Murphy, a senior communications officer with the state Department of Health and Human Services, credits the state's Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina movement with helping the state move up eight places in the 2016 edition of America’s Health Rankings for activity among adults. The movement is part of a seven-year DHHS plan (from 2013 to 2020) to address and reduce the number of obese adults and children.

Also, Novant Health Inc., which has 15 medical centers and 1,380 physicians in 530 locations in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, has a "Remarkable You" initiative that focuses on the implications of obesity, pre-diabetes and high blood pressure.

Rural white community fearful of Native American pipeline protest; arrest warrant issued for reporter

In rural Morton County, North Dakota (Wikipedia map), residents say Native American protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest are disrupting their lives and causing safety concerns, Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. "Ranchers and residents in the conservative, overwhelmingly white countryside view the protests with a mix of frustration and fear, reflecting the deep cultural divides and racial attitudes in Indian country." Jack Schaaf, a 60-year-old resident of St. Anthony, N.D., told Healy, “You get 2,000, 3,000 Natives together — is it safe?”

Residents in Morton County, which is 92 percent white and next to the state capital of Bismarck, have complained of having to pass armed guard checkpoints to go out to dinner or of lakes having been closed, shutting down locals from boating, Healy writes.

National Guard directs traffic in Morton County,
North Dakota (NYT photo by Alyssa Schukar)
But mostly they fear for their safety from an influx of unwanted visitors, Healy writes. "Residents have complained to the Morton County sheriff that out-of-state cars were playing chicken with them on the two-lane rural Highway 1806 that leads to the camp. They say strangers have walked onto their property to videotape them or have stolen hay from their pastures. One rancher said he was driving his tractor out to his field when a group of masked men on a rural county road tried to approach him." Sheriff’s officers also have been escorting the local school bus.

Tribal members, though, say their protest poses no threat to anyone, Healy writes. Jana Gipp, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux who lives on 130 acres along the Missouri River, told Healy, “We don’t know our neighbors. They don’t know that we’re hard workers. We don’t all drink. We have jobs. We have to support our families.”

Arrest warrant issued for reporter covering protest

Trespassing charges against a reporter covering the Dakota Access Pipeline protest are being called an attempt by police to silence the media, Caroline Grueskin reports for The Bismarck Tribune. Steve Andrist, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, told the Tribune in an email, "There were a lot of people at the protest site, and only two of them were charged. One was a reporter, and that certainly creates the impression that the authorities were attempting to silence a journalist and prevent her from telling an important story."

Police say reporter Amy Goodman of the liberal radio show Democracy Now! was not targeted for being a journalist, but because she was easy to identify on video, Grueskin writes: Goodman was charged in Morton County "with one count of trespassing, based on video footage of her at a protest site on private property during Labor Day weekend, according to court documents. A warrant was issued for her arrest."

BLM advisory board recommends killing 45,000 wild horses; critic says wild horse numbers inflated

BLM rounds up wild horses in July in Utah.
(Republic photo by Pat Shannahan)
The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, part of the Bureau of Land Management, on Friday recommended euthanizing up to 45,000 wild horses and burros held in captivity if the animals can not be adopted, Brandon Loomis reports for The Arizona Republic. "The program spends the bulk of its money—$49 million of last year's $77 million federal appropriation—to feed and care for horses removed from the range."

BLM's most recent survey, before this spring's foaling season, found 67,000 horses, Loomis writes. Phoenix wild-horse enthusiast Michele Anderson "said she believes the government inflates its counts of horses on the public range to justify removing them and appease cattle ranchers whose cows are in competition for water and forage. The government sometimes reports impossibly high year-to-year increases for individual herds, she said." She told Loomis, "In my opinion there is no overpopulation of horses and burros."

The advisory board passed the proposal 8-1, Loomis writes. The lone dissenting vote came from horse advocate and documentary filmmaker Ginger Kathrens. She told Loomis, "Yes, we saw damaged rangelands. The easy scapegoat has always been wild horses. But wild horses live on just a fraction of the lands that BLM manages and a fraction of the land that livestock graze on."

Still, over population has been a problem, Loomis writes. Robert Cole, an Idaho veterinarian and a member of the advisory board, said "BLM has set the appropriate horse and burro population at about 26,000 across the West, but the existing numbers may be triple that." Of the animals available for adoption, only 2,331 horses and 300 burros were adopted last year. (Read more)

Federal appeals court blocks proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement in Ala., Ga., Kan.

A federal appeals court on Friday "blocked Kansas, Georgia and Alabama from requiring residents to prove they are U.S. citizens when registering to vote using a national form," Sam Hananel reports for The Associated Press. Voting rights groups, who claimed a U.S. election official illegally changed proof-of-citizenship requirements on federal registration forms in the three states, "argued that the requirements could lead to the 'mass disenfranchisement' of thousands of potential voters—many of them poor, African-American and living in rural areas."

The changes, which had only been actively enforced in Kansas, require people seeking to register to vote "to show birth certificates, naturalization papers or other documents as proof of citizenship," Hananel writes. Voters in other states are only required to swear they are U.S. citizens, not show proof of citizenship.

Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, changed the federal form shortly after being hired in November, Hananel writes. "EAC was created in 2002 to help avoid a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore following ballot confusion in Florida. It is supposed to have four commissioners, two Democrats and two Republicans, but one of the Democratic seats is currently vacant. The remaining commissioners never acted to approve or disapprove Newby’s action."

PBS documentary debuting tonight focuses on kids in Appalachia, reservations, migrant camps

UPDATED, Sept. 16: At 2 p.m. (ET) on Sept. 29 an online screening of the movie and a live chat will take place. To register for the event click here. Also, DVDs are available for engagement purposes. For more information click here

A documentary premiering tonight on PBS takes a look at the future of children on Native American lands in the Upper Midwest, the hollows of Appalachia and West Coast migrant camps. Class of '27 "explores the life circumstances surrounding these young children—how they see the world within their constellation of family, school, and community—for stories of people coming together against the odds to help their children grow into successful graduates of the class of ’27," according to a synopsis of the film.

The Appalachian segment focuses on Owsley County, Kentucky, one of the poorest in the nation, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The film is part of "American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen," an initiative from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities keep more students on the path to graduation. It is part of the America Reframed Series.
 

Feds plan to protect red wolves by increasing numbers in captivity, move N.C. population

Pocosin Lakes National Wild Refuge Red Wolf Education
and Health Care Facility in N.C. (Associated Press photo)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday said it hopes to protect endangered red wolves by increasing their numbers in captivity, Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post: "The move ends years of speculation that the government might abandon a 30-year effort to reintroduce the animals into the wild. The reintroduction project will be greatly restricted, however, and some wolves may be removed from the wild."

The agency said it can account for fewer than 30 wild red wolves with collars and about 15 more that are unaccounted for, making it impossible for the species to sustain itself, Fears writes. The plan is to double the number of captive wolves in zoos to 400. "To do that, the service will attempt to increase the number of mating pairs from 29 to at least 52."

"At the same time, the agency said it would remove isolated packs of wild red wolves from private lands in several North Carolina counties near where they were reintroduced and place them in a single county within the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge," Fears writes. "Some of the wild wolves would likely be placed in zoos to shore up the mating pairs."

Conservation groups, who favor re-introducing red wolves into the wild, accuse Fish and Wildlife of being bullied by North Carolina landowners to abandon that course of action, Fears writes. "Landowners and farmers in North Carolina have complained that the wolves are a nuisance, but few have proven that animals have killed livestock. Red wolves, like their relatives, prefer deer, which farmers also consider a nuisance." (Read more)

Monday, September 12, 2016

E-commerce opens up opportunities for rural areas, but at a price: freight fees, fewer stores

E-commerce is booming in rural areas
like Mangum, Okla. (Best Places map)
The e-commerce boom is getting costly for rural residents, Laura Stevens reports for The Wall Street Journal. Online shopping has made it easier for rural residents to buy products that are cheaper or not available locally, while also creating business opportunities for people who want to sell online. But increased costs of delivering to rural areas is leading to added charges, while local businesses are struggling to compete with online stores, leaving residents with fewer local retail choices.

Online research firm Kantar Retail says that "About 73 percent of rural consumers—defined as those who drive at least 10 miles for everyday shopping—are now buying online versus 68 percent two years ago," Stevens writes. Of those consumers, 30 percent were members of Amazon Prime, up from 22 percent in 2014.

UPS estimates that one mile a day across its U.S. delivery fleet costs up to $50 million a year, Stevens writes. To offset the cost of adding miles driving to rural areas, UPS and FedEx "charge an extra $4 per package for remote residential deliveries. The prevalence of free shipping to consumers and the need to price items the same online and in stores, typically leaves retailers bearing this additional cost. For retailers, that adds to already steep costs."

UPS driver Vince Bledsoe said that deliveries in Mangum, Okla., a town of 2,974, once consisted of special orders, tractor parts and business deliveries, Stevens writes. With the e-commerce boom he estimates that business has increased 30 percent in the past few years. Darla Heatly, owners of Flowers Unlimited, one of only two stores left in a downtown that "just a couple of decades ago buzzed with three florists, restaurants and a furniture store" said the store "has lost much of its bridal and baby registry business to online retailers." It does have one big advantage, she said, last-minute gifts. She told Stevens, “They can’t do e-commerce if they don’t plan ahead." (Photo by Stevens: downtown Magnum)

Feds hold up Dakota Access Pipeline construction

The Obama administration has put a temporary halt to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior released a joint statement Friday saying "it would not grant a permit for a key portion of the project near Sioux land until further, extensive review." The statement came "shortly after a federal district court refused to grant an injunction to block the pipeline," Phil McKenna reports for InsideClimate News.

"The administration also said it would reassess how tribal input is taken into account in similar project reviews, and whether the whole approval process needs a comprehensive overhaul," McKenna writes. Construction had been halted in North Dakota due to protests from Native American tribes who said a leak could damage their main source of water, the Missouri River. The $3.8 billion, 1,150-mile Dakota Access pipeline is expected to carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken Formation crude from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois.

The statement said construction of the pipeline on Native American land would he halted, "until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.'"

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said in a statement: "We are disappointed with the . . . decision to intervene in this lawfully approved project and continue to postpone the construction of this infrastructure that is so vital to our nation's energy future. For too long, this project has been mired in a campaign of misinformation and violence that does not consider the greater interests of national security and the state and nation's economic prosperity. We regret that this decision, which is yet another flagrant overreach by federal government and this administration, will only allow this rancor to continue and result in more trucks and rail cars moving oil." (Read more)

Youth soccer ER cases rose 78 percent from 1990 to 2014; concussions went up almost 1,600 percent

Doug Strickland, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Soccer is a growing sport, increasingly in rural areas, where the game can be played by children of all skill levels. It's also becoming an increasingly dangerous sport, says a study by researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital published in Pediatrics.

The study found that among youth 7 to 17 years old, the number of soccer-related emergency-room cases increased 78 percent from 1990 to 2014 and the annual rate of all soccer injuries went up 111 percent. Also, the rate of concussions and closed-head injuries increased 1,596 percent, though concussions and other head injuries only accounted for just over 7 percent of all injuries. Most injuries were sprains or strains (35 percent) fractures (23 percent) and soft tissue injuries (22 percent). Thirty-nine percent of injuries were when a player was struck by the ball or another player and 29 percent from falls.

Huiyun Xiang, senior author of the study report and director of the research core at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said: "The sport of soccer has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. We’re seeing athletes play year-round now thanks to club, travel and rec leagues, and the intensity of play is higher than it ever has been. These factors combine to lead to more risk of injury.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation in November 2015 issued guidelines for youth heading, recommending that players 10 and under no longer be allowed to head the ball. Also, players 11-12 should be limited to heading the ball a maximum of 30 minutes per week, with no more than 15-20 headers per player, per week.

Hope, religion fueling Trump's rise in Appalachian Virginia coal county, but a critic calls him a drug

Financial Times map
Buchanan County, Virginia, near the heart of the Central Appalachian coalfield, gave presidential candidate Donald Trump the highest vote pecentage in the GOP primaries. The county is largely white, unemployment is high, incomes are low and college degrees are rare. What makes Trump, who earned 70 percent of the county's vote, so well-liked in Buchanan County?

"In the past seven years, more than half the region’s mines have closed," Edward Luce reports for Financial Times Magazine. "Most of the rest are operating well below capacity. With the closures went hope. Property prices collapsed. An opioid epidemic spread like brush fire. Mere mention of President Obama’s name prompts scorn. If anything, Hillary Clinton elicits even worse. Of all the candidates on either side, only Donald Trump promised a miracle." Trump said at a rally, "We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 per cent. You’re going to be proud again to be miners."

Luce writes, "Alone in the Republican field, Trump vowed to protect them. Whatever else you can say about the New York property magnate, he knows his market. Call it big-government conservatism for white people." Local resident Dana Oliver told Luce, “Coal is not coming back—it costs too much to open a flooded mine. In their heart of hearts, most people know that. Trump just gives them a little bit of hope.”

Hope and religion are all some people in Buchanan County have. "Before the start of each shift, a preacher calls for God’s blessing on the miners," Luce writes. "In this part of the world, the church is almost as ubiquitous underground as it is above. In the wake of the mine closures have come bad habits. People sell food stamps for opioid pills, says Oliver. Church attendance has fallen. God is missing in action." Oliver told Luce, “If you think about it, what Donald Trump wants to do is bring God back into their lives. That’s the way a lot of people see it.”

People like Tamara Neo, Trump’s main cheerleader for the region, say that's a good thing, Luce writes. "What most appeals to her about Trump is that he talks without a trace of political correctness. He calls things the way he sees them. Gaffes that would have felled a lesser man—calling illegal Hispanic immigrants 'murderers' and 'rapists', for example, or obsessing over supposed slights about the size of his penis—have left Trump unscathed." She told Luce, “He just keeps walking through one fire after another and coming out the other side untouched. I take this as a sign.”

Not everyone in Buchanan County supports Trump. Luce highlights Daniel Justus, who recently graduated from the University of Virginia and says "Trump is just another drug. People round here are addicted to escapism." Justus said what angers him "is that his people are clinging to a way of life that has crippled them—often literally," telling Luce, “It’s as if they have Stockholm syndrome." (Read more)

PA announcer at football game says those who don't stand for national anthem should be shot

A public-address announcer at a high-school football game in rural Alabama is in hot water for saying people who don't stand for the national anthem should be shot, Erin Edgemon reports for The Huntsville Times. During a game Friday night in McKenzie, Ala. (Best Places map), announcer Pastor Allen Joyner said: "If you don't want to stand for the national anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you since they're taking shots for you."

Controversy has swirled around the National Football League over African American players who have refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against oppression in the U.S. McKenzie has a population of 514.

While reports say the comment was cheered by those in attendance, and Facebook posts applauded Joyner, Butler County Schools Superintendent Amy Bryan wasn't happy, Edgemon writes. She said in an email, "Patriotism should be a part of school events, but threats of shooting people who aren't patriotic, even in jest, have no place at a school. Threats of violence are a violation of school policy and certainly not condoned by the school board." No action against Joyner has been reported. (Read more)