Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas special: Struggles of the rural poor over 50 years harken thoughts of the first Christmas

Marie Cirillo
(Photo by Georgiana Vines,
Knoxville News-Sentinel)
In 1967, Marie Cirillo came to the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River, on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky, to help people there who lived in poverty. She retired three years ago from the Clearfork Community Institute, which she founded, but continues to help people in need. Her latest effort, to help homeless people with newborns, encountered some difficulties, prompting her to write an essay about it, her career and Christmas. Here's part of it:

"In the midst of these few short months, I have been conscious of several significant things happening to me. I think this was my Christmas Gift.  I was thinking a lot about Mary and Joseph and why they had to leave their home to go to a city to register. . . . I wondered how many times Joseph must have gotten off the donkey or, in today's world, out of his car to see if some household would give them a place to stay. I began to compare that Christmas birth recorded in the Bible with the birth of the two families I have come to be with these past few months.

"Then, in the midst of being with the families, hearing their stories, trying to do for both when there were no decent houses in the valley, then finding worn-out houses and soliciting help in repairing our first, relationships got confusing. . . . This has been mentally and physically challenging – but I am not alone. And that has been challenging but Oh, so wonderful. The hard thing to encounter is the talk by critics. They judge the family undeserving and me a fool. . . .

"There was a time when the Spirit moved men to write what we read as The Old Testament. Times changed over these several centuries, but I have a feeling that there had to be similar emotional situations between Mary and Maegan and my other mother, Casey, and her husband Adam. A newborn infant and two others – told to leave their house in two days, and when that did not happen, a man was sent to break down the door and throw everything in the house out on the ground. They came to me, Casey angry, Adam beside himself.  And so life continues in this little no-place that actually is some very important place that the stars will shine on this Christmas Eve of 2016.

"This year I am finding different reasons for why and how to celebrate Christmas. I am not doing what I have done every years since being in this Tennessee hinterland. But this year I felt responsible to this community where I have lived these past 49 years. Turning the corner into a 50th year and seeing how things are getting worse, brings out the best of the least of us and finds me more in tune with the birth of Jesus to a woman named Mary and a husband named Joseph. It was easy for the shepherds to feel one with this family."

To read the entire essay, click here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Highest rates of chronic absenteeism are in rural schools, says Department of Education report

Chronic absenteeism from school in Kansas districts
Chronic absenteeism has become a national concern in many schools, especially in rural areas, where rates are often higher than amogn urban students. A report by the U.S. Department of Education found that one in seven students were chronically absent—missing 15 or more days—during the 2013-14 school year. In Kansas, nine of the 10 schools with the highest rates of chronic absenteeism were in rural areas, Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports for The Topeka Capital-Journal.

The research "indicates chronic absence is highly concentrated in certain suburbs and cities, including places struggling with poverty and racial segregation," Llopis-Jepsen writes. "Yet areas with the highest rates of chronic absence are farther removed from the cities, in the countryside and in towns. Researchers say chronic absence isn’t the same as truancy, which receives more attention but usually focuses on unexcused absences."

Researchers suggest several reasons students miss school, Llopis-Jepsen writes: "They are ill, need to care for younger siblings during the day, or lack stable housing and move frequently, which leads to days lost during moving and re-enrollment. Some avoid school because they fear bullying or other negative situations there. Some don’t go because they or their families have other activities they would like to do, or they don’t see it as important."(Nationwide absenteeism: AP map)

Logging is by far deadliest job, followed by fishing, roofing, waste, iron and steel, driving, farming

Logging remained the deadliest job in 2015, says a report by the U.S. Department of Labor. Overall, the U.S. had 4,836 fatal work injuries in 2015, up from 4,821 in 2014. Of those fatalities, 2,054 involved transportation; 800 involved falls, slips or trips, 722 involved contact with objects or equipment, 703 came from violence or injuries caused by persons or animals (417 were homicides), 424 were caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments, and 121 by fires and explosions. (BLS graphics: Civilian occupation fatal work injuries in 2015)
Among civilian occupations, logging resulted in 132.7 deaths per 100,000 workers. Next was fishing (54.8), aircraft pilots and flight engineers (40.4), roofers (39.7), refuse and recyclable materials collectors (38.8), structural iron and steel workers (29.8), drivers/sales workers and truck drivers (24.3), farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers (22), electrical power-line installers and repairers (20.5) and first-line supervisors of landscape, lawn service and groundskeeping workers (18.1). Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers had the most overall deaths, 885, with farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers second with 252 deaths.

Among industrial categories, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting had the highest rate, at 22.8 per every 100,000 workers. Construction had the most deaths, 937. That was followed by transportation and warehousing (765), agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (570), professional and business services (477), government (457), manufacturing (353), retail trade (269), leisure and hospitality (225), other services such as public administration (202), wholesale trade (175), educational and health services (139), mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (120), financial activities (83), information (42) and utilities (22).

E&E News graphic:
Fatal injuries in oil and gas  industry
When it comes to oil and gas, 50.6 percent of fatalities (45 of 89) involved transportation, Pamela King reports for Energywire. The total number of oil-and-gas fatalities dropped 38 percent in 2015, down from 144 deaths in 2014. Seventy-three of the 2014 deaths involved transportation, and more than 90 percent of them are credited with a lack of people wearing a safety harness. Transportation deaths remained steady in 2014 and 2015, at 50 to 51 percent, but those figures were up from 39 percent in 2013.

One challenge of fighting the opioid epidemic is that painkillers do their job really well

How respondents say painkillers affect their physical
health and the ability to do their jobs (Post graphic)
One of the biggest barriers to beating the nation's opioid epidemic, which is disproportionately rural, could be that the painkillers do as intended: make the pain go away, says a report by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation. Also, users see opioids as far less addictive and dangerous than do their household members who are not using painkillers.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has discouraged doctors from prescribing opioid painkillers for chronic pain treatment after a sharp rise in overdose deaths related to opiates ranging from prescription painkillers to heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl," Emily Guskin reports for The Post. CDC Director Tom Frieden told The Post that "prescription opiates are as addictive as heroin."

But the survey of adults who have used opioids for at least two months in the past two years "found that opioid users say the painkillers make a significant difference—92 percent say that prescription painkillers reduce their pain at least somewhat well, including over half (53 percent) say they do so 'very well,'" Guskin writes. "In a separate question, 57 percent say their quality of life is better than if they had not taken the medications."

The survey found "that about 1 in 20 Americans have taken the drugs to treat pain for at least two months over the past two years, representing a significant barrier to curbing the country’s reliance on the drugs," Guskin writes. When asked why they take painkillers, 44 percent said for chronic pain, 25 percent for pain after surgery, 25 percent from pain after an accident of injury, 3 percent for recreational use and 2 percent said for other reasons.

Overall, "34 percent of long-term opioid users say they became addicted to or physically dependent on the drugs (separately, 31 percent say they are dependent, 23 percent say they are addicted)," Guskin writes. "The poll finds that people who live in the same household as a long-term opioid user report a more negative picture across the boar—54 percent say the person they live with is or was addicted to or dependent on painkillers. Household members are also more likely than opioid users themselves to say the painkillers have had negative impacts on the user's physical health (39 percent vs. 20 percent of users) and the user's mental health (39 percent vs. 19 percent)."

2016 is likely to end as the hottest year on record

2016 will likely turn out to be the hottest year on record, surpassing last year's totals, says an analysis released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year through November was the warmest on record during the 122 of record-keeping. January, February, March, April, May, June, July and August all set warmth records. "El Nino drove much of the record warmth during the first two-thirds of 2016, while a weak La Nina cooled the globe down during the past few months," NOAA said.

2016 has been 1.69 degrees hotter than the 20th-century global average temperature of 57.2 degrees, NOAA said. "The planet's sea-surface temperature was the second-warmest on record for November and the season from September to November. The land surface temperature was the 12th warmest on record for November and the eighth warmest from September to November." (NOAA graphic)

Farm Bureau, states ask EPA to delay new rule aimed at protecting farm workers from pesticides

The nation's biggest farm lobby and state agriculture departments are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to delay a new safety rule for farm workers, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, for a year "because EPA has not told states how to implement it," Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture claim EPA violated the law by not delivering “enforcement guidance, educational materials, and training resources necessary to effectively implement the rule changes and assist the regulated community with compliance activities.”

"One specific sticking point is the 'designated representative' provision in the November 2015 Worker Protection Standard (WPS) rule, Davies reports. "That provision would allow farm workers to choose a person - a member of a nonprofit group, for example - to request pesticide hazard and application information, which must be accessible to workers or handlers of pesticides." Farm groups have been critical of the provision, saying it could compromise "confidential business information.'"

AFBF and NASDA also note that the provision was not in a "draft final" rule submitted to Congress in May 2015, which EPA acknowledged, and say the requirements for application exclusion zones, which “must be free of all persons other than appropriately trained and equipped handlers during pesticide applications,” are unclear. "The Association of American Pesticide Control Officials had asked EPA in August to consider delaying the effective date" of the rule and let states allow allow workers housed in an exclusion zone to “shelter in place” instead of leaving the area, "as the rule would appear to require," Davies reports.

Leader of 'Cornbread Mafia,' largest domestic pot operation, is nabbed after eight years on the lam

John Robert "Johnny" Boone
(photo via Kentucky State Police)
The one-time leader of the largest domestic marijuana production ring in the U.S. was arrested near Montreal Thursday after eight years on the run. John Robert "Johnny" Boone, 70, led the creation of what came to be known as the "Cornbread Mafia" in the 1970s and had been wanted since 2008, when police found 2,400 cannabis seedlings on his farm near Springfield. He has two federal convictions and faces the possibility of life in prison without parole if convicted a third time. He served 15 years in prison as the result of a 1987 arrest.

The Cornbread Mafia "operated in nine Midwestern states on isolated farms, guarded in some instances by bears and lions, and with workers described as a 'paramilitary force,' ultimately producing $350 million in pot seized in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to prosecutors," reports Andrew Wolfson of The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

Boone is the leading character and subject of the cover photo in The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History, a book by freelance writer James Higdon, a resident of Marion County, Kentucky, where most of those arrested in connection with the ring lived. Another ringleader, Joe Keith Bickett of Marion County, recently published his own account, The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia, which reveals how the ring was established and how it got its name.

"The Cornbread Mafia considered themselves the modern-day successors to Kentucky’s moonshine runners during Prohibition, who often evaded federal agents in rows of corn stalks and barns, according Boone’s one time associate Les Berry Jr.," reports Fernando Alfonso III if the Lexington Herald-Leader. Boone was tracked by U.S. marshals and arrested by Canadian police on immigration charges. He is awaiting extradition. For the Marshals Service press release, via The Mirror, click here.
Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article122536754.html#storylink=cpy

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fake 'news' is more than just stuff made up; it's also lazy journalism, showing the need for good reporting, especially rural, Moyers staffer writes

The rise of fake news has proven, that now more than ever, quality reporting is essential to keep people informed, especially in smaller communities, reports Kathy Kiely, a journalist of 40 years, for (Bill) Moyers & Co. "I am convinced that if anything good comes of this year, it will be the renewed interest it has prompted in the nuts and bolts of democracy and the things we do to preserve it," Kiely writes. "One of those is the free flow of information. Good information. News that informs, not just titillates."

"Fake news isn’t just the made-up kind you see on your Facebook feed (the new supermarket tabloid rack)," she writes. "Fake news is also 'breaking news' purveyed by TV stations that then feed you a breathless headline about some VIP (or candidate) doing or saying something meaninglessly incremental. Fake news is talking heads instead of issues. Fake news is bothsideism. Fake news is all of those things real news outlets have begun to resort to in the absence of the resources and the will to cover the real thing."

That's where the power of the press and education, especially in rural communities, comes into play, Kiely writes. For example, Mississippi Today, founded by two former editors of USA Today (one of the places Kiely has worked), has a staff of 13, mostly recent college graduates, who cover the entire state. Also, the Pine Tree Watchdog, a publication of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, has increased news coverage in the state.

Others examples are the Daily Yonder and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which both exclusively cover rural news, she writes. Al Cross, director of the institute, which publishes The Rural Blog, teaches a class at UK where students use what some call the “teaching hospital method” of journalism—"where carefully supervised reporters-in-training do actual work." The institute provides online news coverage for the small town of Midway, Ky. (Best Places map) and this year put together a 20-page print edition, with news of the local races for mayor and state legislature.

One of the obstacles is funding, she writes. Cross told her, “Nobody wants to give money for journalism unless they can compromise your independence. Everybody’s got an agenda." Naomi Schalit, co-publisher of the Pine Tree Watchdog, told Kiely, “It’s much easier to get subject-related funding. But then you can’t be as nimble as you need to be as newspeople.”

Democrats need to stop giving up on rural voters, opines Center for Rural Strategies president

Dee Davis
Democratic candidates have cut themselves off from rural voters and it cost them at the polls in November in the presidential election and congressional races, opines Dee Davis, director of the Center for Rural Strategies, in the Daily Yonder., which the center publishes: "Democrats have a progressively hard time talking to rural voters: no communications channels, no cultural connection, no common vision. And that made a critical difference in 2016 when rural turned out and urban votes declined."

"Democrats seem to say, 'Rural America, vote your pocketbooks,' or 'Vote for us because our policies make your life better,'” Davis writes. "But that kind of electoral transaction rarely happens. That is what Larry Bartels at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions calls the 'folklore of democracy.' And it is only that—a story we tell ourselves about self-government. People vote their identity. They vote their culture, their church, their family, their neighborhood. Politics today is about creating, maintaining and expressing social identity."

"The Trump campaign took advantage of cultural identification in building their 'us-against-the-elites, us-against-the-press, us-against-the-world' community'" he writes. "Most of his voters were not convinced Hillary was going to confiscate their guns or that Trump was going to breathe life back into necrotic coalmines and steel mills. But they saw more of themselves in that storytelling community, comprised of hunters, miners, and millhands—part of an iconic America where folks like them were still valued."

"Democrats have relied on a 'demographics-is-destiny' approach that seeks to take advantage of increasing urbanization, increasing racial diversity, and increasing education levels for party growth while moving away from traditional constituencies like rural and white blue-collar voters," he writes. "One goal of this plan has been to turn dynamically changing states like Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia into blue states in short fashion. But the hemorrhaging of blue-collar white voters keeps pushing the timeframe back."

"Another Democrat goal of 2016 was to use Donald Trump’s charged rhetoric against Mexican immigrants to win over wavering Republican states," he writes. "However, half of Latino voters reside either in California, a reliably blue state, or Texas, a reliably red one. Latino votes did not flip any state to the Democrats."

Lawmakers ask feds to investigate black lung; Obamacare repeal could be obstacle to benefits

Progressive massive fibrosis in underground miners
 with more than 25 years experience (Coal Workers’
 Health Surveillance Program, Ky.,Va.,W.Va,1974–2015)
Reports that black-lung disease among coal miners in Central Appalachia is significantly higher than federal records show has led to requests for more accurate reporting of the disease, Howard Berkes reports for NPR. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) want the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Department of Labor Coal Mine Workers' Compensation Program, and black lung clinics funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration to work together do a better job obtaining counts of progressive massive fibrosis, the most progressive form of black lung.

Scott and Casey sent NIOSH a letter asking it to lead a study of complicated black lung cases identified by its own national testing program, by the Coal Mine Workers' Compensation Program and by HRSA, which doesn't require its clinics to report cases of progressive massive fibrosis, Berkes reports.

An NPR survey of black lung clinics across Appalachia—11 responded—found 962 cases "of what is also known as 'complicated' black lung so far this decade," Berkes writes. "In roughly the same time period, NIOSH reported just 99 cases nationwide." A report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that an Eastern Kentucky radiologist contacted NIOSH about finding 60 active or former coal mining patients in Pike County from Jan. 1, 2015 to Aug. 17, 2016 that were consistent with progressive massive fibrosis.

Another concern is that repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could make it difficult for coal miners to get benefits for black-lung disease, Eric Boodman reports for Stat, the national health-and-science website of The Boston Globe. The 2010 reform law "shifted the burden of proof from the miners onto the mining companies." Before the law, 19 percent of black lung disease claims were successful. In 2015, 28 percent of claims were successful. The law says someone who spent at least 15 years in the mines and can prove they have breathing issues ... is presumed to have black lung "unless a company can prove otherwise," reports Angela Reighard of WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky.

Ky. state senator wins defamation suit against rival whose television ad portrayed him as a drug dealer

A state senator in Winchester, Ky. (Best Places map), has won a defamation lawsuit against a former rival for running false political ads against him during the 2014 election, Nick Storm reports for cn|2's "Pure Politics." Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado sued R.J. Palmer, then the leader of the Senate's Democratic minority, for a television ad that "essentially cast Alvarado as a drug dealer." A jury on Wednesday awarded Alvarado $200,000.

The ad "used courtroom video from 2010 carefully spliced together to cast Alvarado, who unsuccessfully challenged the Senate Democratic floor leader for the seat in 2010, in a negative light," Storm writes. "In the 30-second advertisement, a defendant addresses a judge in a Montgomery County courtroom in November of 2010 on a drug charge. The ad cuts to a back and forth between the defendant who was arrested for attempting to traffic $3,000 worth of prescription pills. The original court complaint cited falsehoods in the ad including 'deliberately editing video to change the context ad facts involved and also by deliberately ignoring easily-obtainable facts that would disprove the claims made in the advertisement in question'.”

Palmer's ad implied that Alvarado, "a medical doctor, was 'getting rich off addiction' by unlawfully prescribing $3,000 worth of oxycodone to a criminal defendant," Adam Beam reports for The Associated Press. "Alvarado said the footage was altered, adding the defendant had a valid prescription." Alvarado also sued Palmer's political consultant, Dale Emmons, for defamation, but that case was settled in March when Emmons sent Alvarado a written apology.

Ga. cop fired for flying Confederate flag sues city to get job back; refuses help from 'neo-Confederates'

A former police officer in Roswell, Ga. (Best Places map), fired in July for flying the Confederate flag at her home has sued to get her job back, Hatcher Hurd reports for the Alpharetta Roswell Herald. After a resident complained about the flag, Sgt. Silvia Cotriss was first suspended, then fired.

She sued, "saying the city violated Cotriss’ First Amendment rights in terminating her by denying her right of free speech," Hurd writes. Attorney David Ates said in a statement: "Sylvia Cotriss, a 20-year veteran with the Roswell Police Department, was not making any political statement and certainly was not involved with any kind of hate group. She was simply displaying a symbol of her cultural heritage. Cotriss has the same rights of free speech as any American. Merely flying the Confederate flag does not mean she is taking any kind of racial position. But she is fired for it." He also noted that the state offers a license plate with the Confederate flag.

Ates also announced this week that they have denied a request for help from the Southern Legal Resource Center, whose founder Kirk Lyons has been classified as "neo-Confederate" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kristal Dixon reports for the Roswell Patch. Ates told the Patch, "We felt that their presence was distracting from the real issue in this case."

N.C. leaves transgender bathroom law as it is

The North Carolina Senate on Wednesday voted down a repeal of the state's controversial transgender bathroom law, Bruce Henderson and Jim Morrill report for The Charlotte Observer. "The state House adjourned without voting on repeal of the bill that has cost North Carolina millions of dollars in lost jobs, sports events and boycotts. With that, the hope of compromise between legislators and Charlotte, which enacted the ordinance that gave rise to HB2, dissolved."

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger blamed Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper for the repeal failing to pass, reports The Observer. He told reporters, “I think Roy Cooper tried to do everything he could to sabotage a reasonable compromise." Berger claims that Cooper "called Democratic senators and urged them not to support Berger’s bill, which would have coupled HB2’s repeal with a months-long moratorium on city ordinances" like the one Charlotte repealed this week, allowing transgender people to use the public restrooms of the gender with which they identify.

Cooper, who beat Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November partly on his stance against the law, told reporters Wednesday "that Republican leaders 'broke the deal' to fully repeal HB2 in return for Charlotte’s action," reports The Observer. He said, “I told (Democratic legislators) to stick to this deal. What (Republicans) were trying to do was tack on something that wouldn’t work. They didn’t have the guts to put the (repeal) bill out on the floor by itself.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rural liberal-arts colleges fight enrollment loss by improving connections with their communities

Liberal arts colleges in rural areas struggling with enrollment and financial difficulties are saving themselves by investing in their communities, Douglas Belkin reports for The Wall Street Journal. Of the 300 private four-year colleges in rural areas and small towns, 43 percent saw declines in enrollment from 2009-2014, according to Journal analysis of U.S. Department of Education data. "Though urban and suburban institutions similarly saw enrollment drops, rural college leaders are worried that their remote locations will make it harder for them to recover."

"America’s rural colleges were once the backbone of the country’s higher education system," Belkin notes. "Many of the smaller schools have withstood the Civil War, two World Wars and more recent recessions." (Journal graphic: Shrinking enrollment at rural colleges)
"Today, like other pillars of small-town America, rural schools are in jeopardy," he writes. "Loss of manufacturing jobs, construction work and less lending activity for new businesses have combined to shrink the populations around campus. With many companies either moving or downsizing, there are few work opportunities for those left behind, let alone for new college graduates."

In some rural areas, residents don't pay much attention to the local college, figuring it has nothing to offer them, Belkin writes. Some colleges are trying to change that. For example, southern Michigan's Albion College, where enrollment has dropped 30 percent in the past 10 years, has given 13 full scholarships to local students in the past two years. Mauri Ditzler, who was recently hired as president of the 181-year-old school, told Belkin, “We can’t survive if this town isn’t healthy. And the town can’t survive without us." For more on Albion, see our blog item from Dec. 8.

Accidental shootings skyrocket after Christmas; most involve boys and young men

Accidental shootings spike during holidays, especially around Christmas, according to an analysis by USA Today and The Associated Press. Ryan J. Foley and Meghan Hoyer report for AP that last year during the period between Christmas and New Year's Day, 59 people were injured and 32 killed as a result of unintentional shootings. (AP/USA Today graphic: Accidental shootings per day involving minors from January 2014 to June 30, 2016)
Of the 59 victims shot during last year's Christmas holidays, they "were mostly male and young, with a median age of 19," AP report. "Nearly half the shootings were self-inflicted and most occurred in their own homes." Rural residents are twice as likely as urban ones (39 percent to 18 percent) to own guns, says the Pew Research Center.

Analysis found several reasons for a spike in accidental shootings around Christmas: children and teenagers are out of school and have access to unsecured guns; adults are drinking alcohol and inattentive to gun safety or their children; new guns were given and received as gifts in the tens of thousands; and it’s a popular time to go hunting.

An earlier investigation by AP and USA Today "found that accidental shootings involving children happen far more often than federal government statistics show," reports AP. Based on incidents compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, they found that "more than 320 minors age 17 and under and more than 30 adults were killed in accidental shootings involving minors. Nearly 700 other children and 78 adults were injured."

W.Va. officials do little to curb suspicious orders of prescription drugs, says Gazette-Mail series

From 2007 to 2012, drug wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into West Virginia, where 1,728 residents fatally overdosed on those two painkillers, Eric Eyre reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The story is part of a series on the state's painkiller epidemic that uses county-level data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. A January report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of opioid deaths, at 35.5 per every 100,000 people. (Gazette-Mail graphic: Average hydrocodone and oxycodone doses per person, by county, from 2007-2012)
One of the problems prior to June 2012 was that West Virginia failed to enforce a state regulation that "directs wholesale distributors to set up systems to identify 'suspicious' orders for highly addictive narcotics," Eyre reports in a separate story. "It requires the wholesalers to report those questionable orders to the pharmacy board. And the regulation spells out what orders should be flagged: those 'of unusual size, orders deviating substantially from a normal pattern, and orders of unusual frequency'.” (Gazette-Mail graphic: Opioid doses per 10,000 people from 2007-2012)
From 2001 to June 2012 the pharmacy board received only two reports of "suspicious" orders, Eyre writes. Since there have been more than 7,200. But it hasn't stopped the flow of drugs, mainly because the "rule about suspicious orders doesn't dictate what the pharmacy board is supposed to do with the reports. So the board shelved them—every one. The pharmacy board didn't investigate. It never contacted the wholesalers or pharmacies. It didn't pass the reports along to law enforcement authorities."

Instead of "suspicious" sales going down, they actually went up, Eyre reports. For example, in Mingo County on the southwestern border of the state, Tug Valley Pharmacy's "sales orders for the painkiller hydrocodone jumped from 820,000 pills in 2007 to more than 2.4 million in 2008 and more than 3 million in 2009, DEA records show. But the increases didn't prompt wholesalers to send a single suspicious order report about Tug Valley to the pharmacy board those years."

The pharmacy board, which for the first time Monday publicly discussed the "suspicious" sales reporting requirement, last week voted unanimously "to send letters to drug wholesalers, asking them to report suspicious orders," Eyre writes. There's no record that the board ever previously notified distributors of the suspicious order rule.

Oklahoma issues new guidelines to combat rise in earthquakes linked to hydraulic fracturing

Oklahoma regulators on Tuesday released "guidelines to deal with the risks of earthquakes induced from hydraulic fracturing operations in oil and gas development, an expansion of their previous responses to earthquakes linked to wastewater disposal wells" for fracking fluids, Paul Monies reports for The Oklahoman. Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015—941 of magnitude 3.0 or higher—than the combined total of every state except Alaska. Prior to the oil and gas boom that began in 2009, the state averaged only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. (Natural Gas Intelligence graphic)
The guidelines "call for companies to shut down for at least six hours if a quake of magnitude 3 or greater is centered within 1.25 miles of a fracking operation," Mike Soraghan reports for Energywire. "During that time company officials and regulators would confer about how to change the operation. If there were to be a quake of magnitude 3.5, the fracking operation would shut down until company officials and regulators confer about whether the operation can continue."

"For quakes between magnitudes 2.5 and 3, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is to contact nearby operators who are expected to implement their internal plans for earthquake mitigation," Soraghan writes. While the guidelines are voluntary, "OCC has the power to shut down an operation to address earthquake problems."

Many in the oil and gas industry praised the guidelines, Soraghan writes. Until recently many in the oil and gas industry, along with Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, refused to acknowledge a link between fracking and earthquakes. That changed last year when the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which originally denied any link between seismic activities and fracking operations, said "that most of the quakes are 'very likely' triggered by oil and gas activities." In March OGS for the first time released maps of earthquakes attributable to human activity.

Outgoing N.C. governor calls legislative session to repeal of controversial transgender bathroom law

Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who in May filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department to save North Carolina's controversial transgender bathroom law, has called a special session for today to consider repealing the law, Jim Morrill and Steve Harrison report for The Charlotte Observer. HB2 has been "seen by critics as an anti-LGBT measure, prompted boycotts and cost the state millions of dollars as well as lost jobs." It was a factor in Republican McCrory's narrow loss last month to Democrat Roy Cooper. The state Senate and House remain under Republican control.

A few hours after the Charlotte City Council voted 10-0 "to rescind the LGBT ordinance that prompted HB2," McCrory said in a video: “This sudden reversal, with little notice after the gubernatorial election has ended, sadly proves this entire issue, originated by the political left, was all about politics at the expense of Charlotte and the entire state of North Carolina."

"Cooper, who lobbied for the council action, announced earlier that GOP legislative leaders had promised to repeal HB2," the Observer reports. He said in a statement: “Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore assured me that as a result of Charlotte’s vote, a special session will be called for Tuesday to repeal HB2 in full. I hope they will keep their word to me and with the help of Democrats in the legislature, HB2 will be repealed in full.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Feds finalize long-debated Stream Protection Rule; senators from coal states vow to overturn it

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which spent nearly the entire Obama presidency working on the Stream Protection Rule, issued a final version Monday with "new limits on coal mining near waterways," Dylan Brown reports for Greenwire. "The new guidelines stringently define 'material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area' that the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act—the guiding law of OSMRE—is designed to prevent."

"The stream rule mandates states, SMCRA's primary regulators, to require additional data gathering and monitoring at and around mine sites," Brown writes. "It also imposes new financial assurance and reclamation requirements. OSMRE leaders have said that substantial technological advances in the decades since Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act forced the need for new oversight procedures." The law passed in 1977, before mountaintop mining was fully developed.

Lawmakers from Kentucky and West Virginia, two of the biggest coal-producing states, were quick to criticize the rule. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement: “This costly regulation, along with others that are already having a devastating impact, are part of the Administration’s plan to demolish these coal communities right now and long after the president has left office." McConnell said when Congress convenes next month he plans to "introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn" the regulation.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called the rule "very alarming in its scope and potential impacts," and said, "I believe that the manner in which this rule making was executed was flawed and lacked transparency, and I will pursue legislation to ensure it does not harm our coal-mining communities and economies.” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement: "The Stream Protection Rule would cause significant harm to both surface and underground coal mines. I am confident that we will be able to use the Congressional Review Act to stop this rule from taking effect.”

Poll: 'Merry Christmas' offensive to few; Trump voters more concerned about 'war on Christmas'

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to bring back "Merry Christmas" and end the backlash of people being pushed to use alternative greetings or risk offending someone, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. But a survey by Public Policy Polling shows that people are far less offended by "Merry Christmas" than some might think.

The survey of 1,224 registered voters—48 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, 46 percent for Trump—found that only five percent of Clinton voters say are offended by "Merry Christmas," and 2 percent of Trump's were. Overall, 94 percent of Clinton voters and 97 percent of Trump voters said they were not offended by the phrase. Only 3 percent of all respondents said they were offended by it.
Differences were greater when voters were asked if they were offended by "Happy holidays;" 17 percent of Trump voters said they were, but only 7 percent of Clinton voters did. Ninety percent of Clinton voters answered that they "are not personally offended" by the phrase, compared to 76 percent of Trump voters.

Trump supporters were more adamant when it came to choosing between "Merry Christmas" and "Happy holidays." Of that group, 69 percent preferred "Merry Christmas," 4 percent "Happy holidays" and 26 percent said it doesn't make a difference. Of Clinton voters, 23 percent preferred "Merry Christmas," 14 percent "Happy holidays" and 63 percent said it didn't make a difference which one was used.

When asked if they think there is a "war on Christmas," 60 percent of Trump voters said there is, and only 9 percent who voted for Clinton said so. The poll reports says, "In fact 24 percent of Trump voters say that the 'war on Christmas' concerns them more than a potential war with China would."

EPA and farm groups, allied in Mississippi River nutrient case, win favorable ruling

Area designated as Mississippi Basin (USDA)
A federal court ruled last week that "Mississippi River Basin states should be given a chance to address nutrient pollution first, before the federal government steps in," Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse. Environmental groups "sought an order from the court that would force the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt numeric water-quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus in the 10 Mississippi River Basin states." EPA and farm groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, were on the opposite side.

Environmental groups released a report "faulting EPA for failing to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the 1.1 million-square-mile Mississippi River Basin," Davies writes. They said the agency "needs to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to force states to adopt numeric water quality criteria for rivers, streams and lakes."

U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey said the Clean Water Act takes a “state-driven approach” to water pollution, Davies writes. "Despite 'undisputed scientific data surrounding the serious nature of the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the nation's waters,' Zainey said he had to defer to EPA's approach 'to continue in its comprehensive strategy of bringing the states along without the use of federal rulemaking.'" He said, "Even if the court were to disagree with EPA's stance on rulemaking, the court cannot properly substitute its own judgment for that of the agency."

Ellen Steen, AFBF chief counsel, said they were "happy with the decision, in particular 'the court's strong language supporting the purposeful design of the Clean Water Act to leave states in the lead role when it comes to water quality improvement,'" Davies writes.

Trump's choice to head EPA drawing many records requests, attack ads from environmental group

Scott Pruitt (Associated Press photo)
Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, could be one of his most controversial and most scrutinized picks, Mike Soraghan reports for Energywire. Pruitt, who has been attorney general of Oklahoma since 2010, has made a habit of attacking the agency he is slated to run. That may be why his office is drawing a bevy of open records requests. As of last Wednesday, there had been 52 requests.

The Sierra Club last week unveiled a "five figure" ad campaign aimed at denying Pruitt the position, Jennifer Yachnin reports for Greenwire. The digital ads, which include the message "'say no to #PollutingPruitt for EPA," will be aimed at Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R), Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly (D), Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R), West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D), Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R).

Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said, "Scott Pruitt's record isn't pretty. He is a climate-science denier who, as attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, repeatedly partnered with the state's largest polluters to block health and environmental safeguards."

Tensions rising in rural Montana town that is part-time home to 'alt-right' movement founder

Best Places map
A rural ski-resort community in Montana has stepped into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Whitefish, Mont., home to 6,400 residents, also is the part-time home of Richard Spencer, founder of the "alt-right" movement, which seeks a whites-only state, Katie Mettler reports for The Washington Post. The activist's parents, Sherry and Rand Spencer, are part-time Whitefish residents and Sherry owns a commercial building there.

Sherry "says she was targeted by activists, who, using the threat of massive protests as leverage, tried to bully her and her tenants into selling her commercial building and distancing herself from her son," Mettler writes. "Those same activists tell a different story—that what transpired was the work of a tightknit community trying to defend itself."

Richard's parents, who say they don't share their son's racial opinions, penned an op-ed piece in the local Daily Inter Lake, in which they wrote: “Our tenants are innocent victims and their businesses are threatened with boycotts for something over which they have no control. There is no justification for their sustaining collateral damage. We, too, are victims, having no role in any of the events that have unfolded recently.” Rand said in an email to the Daily Inter Lake that Sherry "has decided to sell the building in response to the threats," Lynette Hintze reports for the newspaper.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Richard Spencer "as an 'academic racist,' is highly educated and has worked for years to promote the creation of a minority-free 'ethno-state' and pride in white identity," Mettler writes. Spencer’s alt-right movement has claimed President-elect Donald Trump as its champion and Spencer "inspired a Nazi-like 'Hail Trump!' salute at a D.C. conference hosted by his National Policy Institute."

The incident in Whitefish drew the attention of neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, which published a post Friday with a headline "Jews Targeting Richard Spencer’s Mother for Harassment and Extortion," Mettler writes. The post, which told people to “TAKE ACTION!," called "the Jewish people a 'vicious, evil race of hate-filled psychopaths'" and "shared the names of the Whitefish activists, who are all women, and their photos, which were accompanied by sexist commentary and digitally altered with overlays of the Star of David. The post included the women’s phone numbers, Twitter handles and email addresses, plus the names and contact information for their husbands." While the post said not to advocate or provoke violence, some women said they received death threats.

Monday, December 19, 2016

N.J. legislators considering Christie bill today to remove paid public notices from newspapers

UPDATE, Dec. 20: The bill has stalled because the speaker of the House has postponed a vote on it, the Newark Star Ledger reports. Dec. 22: Here's a rundown from the Public Notice Resource Center, with links to several stories, about the failure of the bill.

For several years, local newspapers have been battling efforts by local governments to reduce or eliminate requirements that they publish paid public notices in newspapers. Now a governor has entered the fray. New Jersey lawmakers today will consider a proposal by Republican Gov. Chris Christie to stop requiring legal notices to be run in newspapers, Kate King reports for The Wall Street Journal. Christie claims the move would save taxpayers money, but publishers and critics say it "is retaliation for the tough coverage of him," King writes.

"The measure could sap revenue from newspapers by allowing municipalities to bypass the publications and post the legal notices online themselves," King reports. "Publishers warn of hundreds of layoffs across the state if the requirement to run legal notices in newspapers is lifted." The 146 municipalities, many of them small towns, who responded to an email survey earlier this year by the New Jersey League of Municipalities "reported spending $1 million in total on legal notices last year, or about $7,200 on average."

Christie has called newspaper coverage of his decisions unfair and excessive, King writes. He said The Star Ledger in Newark has "been out to get me since I ran for governor in 2009," saying the "media’s coverage of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure investigation as being unfair and excessive." Democratic State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who was co-chairman of a legislative committee that investigated the lane closures, said Christie is “absolutely” seeking to punish the press. He told King, “It’s an attempt by the governor to silence his critics.”

In an op-ed piece published Sunday on his official account, Christie wrote: "For years newspapers have enjoyed a statutorily protected monopoly on the publication of a vast array of legal notices. Monopolies are always bad for our economy and, in this case, awfully expensive for our citizens." He said that since 90 percent of the state's households have internet access, and 100 percent of libraries have access, public notices can be accessed by residents for free.

Newspapers say they are still the best way to publish the notices, because citizens happen upon them in newspapers and don't go looking for them online. Most state newspaper associations have websites on which they publish public notices for free, and some states have laws requiring them to do so.

But Christie writes, "This bill, and their fight over it, unmasks their greed. In fact, their true disinterest in transparency and the public’s access to information through a free press—not to mention their undeniable hypocrisy — are fully displayed by the fact that this op-ed was refused publication. I was therefore left with no choice but to disseminate this opinion myself, which will no doubt be read by a vast majority of the population online."

Rural areas have been the victims of fake internet news stories, often involving celebrities

Fake election news stories were more popular
on Facebook than real ones (BuzzFeed graphic)
Rural areas are not immune to the growing phenomenon of fake "news" stories, Craig Silverman and Jeremy Singer-Vine report for BuzzFeed News. One of the more prevalent fake motifs has celebrities moving to a small city or town. BuzzFeed counted at least 342 such stories.

For example, Hot Springs, Ark., which relies on a booming tourist industry of 3 million annual visitors, thought it was getting a new celebrity resident when a social-media story reported that Clint Eastwood was moving there, BuzzFeed reports. Local residents and news ouitlets began reporting the story, but Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau noticed something was off when the same site reported a similar story about singer Katy Perry moving to a small town in Texas.

"These stories appeared on sites with legitimate-sounding news domains such as kspm33.com, mckenziepost.com, ky6news.com, and km8news.com," BuzzFeed reports. "The design of each site was strikingly similar—often just the colors and the name were changed. The text, too, was a simple copy-and-paste effort; just the celebrity’s name and location were changed from one story to the next. It quickly proved to be an effective strategy as the stories began to spread across the internet."

Experts say the local focus is part of the trick, so that people in one small town aren't aware the same type of news is occurring in another small town, BuzzFeed reports. Other sites say films are being shot in a town, or "Male celebrities suddenly had very complimentary things to say about the women in specific towns. Celebrities began getting flat tires in obscure places, naming somewhat obscure locales as their favorite vacation spots and buying homes in unexpected communities." (Read more)

Trump should lower expectations for reviving coal industry, Murray Energy CEO says he told him

Robert E. Murray, CEO and owner of Murray Energy Corp., the largest independent coal producer in the U.S., said he told President-elect Donald Trump to scale back his promises to revive the coal industry, Matt Egan reports for CNN Money. Murray told CNN, "I've suggested to Mr. Trump that he temper his expectations." Murray said coal "can't be brought back to where it was before the election of Barack Obama."

Trump, who promised to revive the coal industry, won big in coal counties, especially in Appalachia, telling miners in May, "Get ready because you're going to be working your asses off!" Egan writes. "Murray, a fierce opponent of Obama, believes Trump has the 'courage and commitment to stop the destruction of the coal industry.'" However he added, "that will be about all he can initially do." 

Murray said he "is confident that Trump's promises to rip up Obama-era EPA regulations will prevent coal's market share from crumbling even further," Egan writes. Murray told CNN, "If he just stops it where it is, that will be a wonderful thing." (CNN graphic)

Coal's downfall, mistrust of Democrats have turned West Virginia from blue to red, big-time

West Virginia, one of the nation's most rural and coal-dependent states, has flipped from solidly blue to overwhelmingly red in recent years, largely because residents see Democrats as enemies of coal, Dante Chinni and Matt Rivera report for NBC News. Bill Clinton won West Virginia in 1992 by 13 points, but Al Gore lost it narrowly in 2000 and Donald Trump took it by more than 42 percentage points this year, beating Hillary Clinton 68.6 percent to 26.5 percent.

"Since 2010 West Virginia's coal production has declined 30 percent and coal jobs by more than 27 percent," NBC reports. The biggest reason is cheaper natural gas, but in coal-dependent counties people blame President Obama's environmental regulations to cut power-plant carbon-dioxide emissions 30 percent. Hillary Clinton's electoral drubbing in the state has been "driven in part by her promise to put 'a lot of coal miners' out of work in pursuit of clean energy. The words were pulled out of context, but they fit into a narrative people here knew well." (NBC graphic: Boone County, West Virginia has lost more than 4,000 coal jobs in the past five years; note that the chart's baseline is not zero and the numbers go to five decimal places, mostly fractions of 7)
Mike Plante, a Democratic strategist in Charleston, said "Trump was able to run up his massive margins, because the president-elect knew how to talk to people in state who feel left out of the national conversation," NBC reports. Plante told the network, "Trump was telling a story. Trump was saying the elites are all looking down their noses at you. 'I'm going to stick it to the people that stick it to you.' … West Virginia is the butt of a lot of jokes, and we feel that acutely here."

Rural areas, which traditionally lean Republican, have swayed even more so in recent years as Democrats became more associated with liberal, diverse, college-educated urban centers, NBC reports. West Virginia is 92 percent white and only 19 percent of adults are college-educated, compared to 30 percent nationally.

Even as West Virginia voters say they distrust Washington, "People still express a strong desire for government spending—especially Trump supporters—for the roads and other infrastructure that can aid a place where private sector jobs are fleeing," NBC reports. "And whether residents like it or not, government makes up a big part of this state's economic fortunes. A full 19 percent of those employed in the state work for some form of government—the public sector. That's higher than the 14 percent who work for the public sector nationally." West Virginia also ranked ninth in federal spending per capita in 2014, at $11,973 per person. (Read more)

EPA scientists disagree if glyphosate (Roundup) has cancer-causing ingredients

Members of the Environmental Protection Agency's Scientific Advisory Panel disagree on whether glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes cancer, Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse. Some members agreed with EPA's assessment that the world's most widely used herbicide is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans," while others said that "the evidence was 'suggestive' of carcinogenic potential for the chemical."

"Panel members who supported EPA said the evidence from the epidemiological and animal studies was simply not strong enough to support anything else," Davies writes. "But there was uncertainty all around the table as members wrestled with EPA's review of the data in its September 2016 'white paper.'"

"The controversy over the chemical primarily stems not from any regulatory finding, but from a conclusion by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in March 2015 that glyphosate probably causes cancer in humans," Davies writes. "Representatives of both the European Food Safety Authority and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment offered testimony disagreeing with the IARC conclusion." The European Union in June threatened to stop selling U.S. weed killers.

Obama administration denies permit for copper-nickel mine near Minnesota wilderness area

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday denied a lease for a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness, a popular tourist destination in northern Minnesota, Dan Kraker reports for MPR News. Kathleen Atkinson, a regional forester with the Forest Service, said "We're concerned about the impacts of copper-nickel mining in sulfide deposits, because there is extensive research that shows that should impacts occur, it would be virtually impossible to mitigate those impacts."

Bob McFarlin, spokesman for Twin Metals Minnesota, which has projected the mine could create 850 jobs and operate for at least 30 years, said, "We believe the action taken by the Bureau of Land Management is contrary to federal law. We've already filed suit, earlier this year, challenging the authority of the bureau to make such a decision. That lawsuit will continue. We believe we will prevail." (Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness map)
The Obama administration "has launched a rare, two-year national environmental review to answer a question that has dogged Minnesotans for years: Is the state’s crown jewel, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, at such risk from copper-nickel mining that trillions of dollars worth of precious metals should remain in the ground for decades in order to protect it?" Josephine Marcotty, reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "If federal regulators decide the answer is yes, they could place much of the watershed of the BWCA off limits to minerals exploration for the next two decades."

"The affected zone—234,000 acres of Superior National Forest land in the Rainy River watershed—is about 50 times bigger than the leases held by Twin Metals Minnesota," Marcotty writes. "It holds some of Minnesota’s primary deposits of precious metals, but it also drains into a pristine and much-loved wilderness. That would put the Boundary Waters on a par with other iconic places across the country, such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and the Front Range in Montana, all of which been granted similar protections."

"But it could cripple Minnesota’s nascent copper mining industry, especially if DFL (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) Gov. Mark Dayton follows through on his pledge to halt new mineral exploration on state-owned lands near the Boundary Waters," Marcotty writes. "Geologists say that about two-thirds of the known precious-metal mineral deposits in Minnesota lie within that watershed, and more than half are controlled by the state and federal governments."

Sinclair, which has been accused of political bias, offered a deal Trump took advantage of

President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law said Friday that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has been accused of airing conservatively biased specials in previous elections, made an agreement with Trump's campaign to give the candidate extended coverage, Josh Dawsey and Hadas Gold report for Politico. Sinclair, which refers to itself as the nation's leading local news provider, has 173 television stations, 482 channels and is in 81 U.S. markets. In recent years it has been buying up small-market television stations.

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns TV stations "in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks," reports Politico. "In exchange, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, Kushner said. Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience—around 250,000 listeners—than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000."

Scott Livingston, vice president of news at Sinclair, denied that the company cut a deal with Trump, Politico reports. He "said the offer for extended interviews with local anchors was made to both candidates. Trump did a handful of interviews, while Sen. Tim Kaine did a few as well, though Hillary Clinton did not." A Trump spokesman noted that "the deal included the interviews running across every affiliate but that no money was exchanged between the network and the campaign."

"Sinclair, a Maryland-based company, has been labeled in some reports as a conservative-leaning local news network," reports Politico. "Local stations in the past have been directed to air 'must run' stories produced by Sinclair’s Washington bureau that were generally critical of the President Obama administration and offered perspectives primarily from conservative think tanks, The Washington Post reported in 2014."

N.C. Republicans enact law taking powers away from Democrats and their incoming governor

Outgoing North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday signed into a law a measure that critics say will benefit Republicans and take power away from Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper, Richard Craver reports for the Winston-Salem Journal. McCrory lost a close race in November to Cooper. The state House and Senate are Republican-controlled.

McCrory signed SB 4, which "makes significant changes to the state and county elections boards, and would return the state Supreme Court to partisan races," Craver writes. "The bill also would combine the state elections board with the campaign-finance, lobbying and ethics commissions into one state agency."

Craig Jarvis, of The News & Observer in Raleigh, notes that "Republican legislators who wrote Senate Bill 4 describe it as an effort to make elections oversight bipartisan. But the result would be to deprive the incoming Democratic administration of control of state and county elections boards."

HB 17, which was approved Friday afternoon and is expected to be signed by McCrory, would strip the governor's power to appoint University of North Carolina trustees, Craver writes. It also will "require the advice and consent of the Senate for governor appointments as state department heads and reduce the number of exempted state employees from 1,500 back to 300—the same level as in the months before Gov. Pat McCrory was elected. A Senate amendment would raise the number to 400." Democrats say that could make as many as 1,200 McCrory appointees career state employees.

Cooper told reporters, “If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court and they don’t have a very good track record there.”