Thursday, July 16, 2020

Partisan websites masquerading as local news are a growing trend; map shows whether any are near you

Screenshot of interactive map showing distribution of partisan media outlets. Red buttons and shaded areas are conservative; blue are liberal. (Nieman Lab map; click here for the interactive version.)
"The growth of partisan media masquerading as state and local reporting is a troubling trend we’ve seen emerge amid the financial declines of local news organizations. But what do these outlets mean for journalism in American communities?" Jessica Mahone and Philip Napoli report for Harvard University's Nieman Lab.

"Using previous research and news reports as a guide, we’ve mapped the locations of more than 400 partisan media outlets — often funded and operated by government officials, political candidates, PACs and political party operatives — and found, somewhat unsurprisingly, that these outlets are emerging most often in swing states, raising a concern about the ability of such organizations to fill community information needs while prioritizing the electoral value of an audience." The partisan media sites are particularly thick on the ground in Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina.

Conservative sites generally differ from liberal sites on other ways, Mahone and Napoli report: "We found that while the (few) left-leaning sites prioritize statewide reporting, right-leaning sites are more focused on local reporting, suggesting different strategies for engaging with targeted audiences and indicating the potential for these sites to exacerbate polarization in local communities."

Nieman Lab created an interactive map showing where the partisan news sites are anchored as well as the congressional district's political leanings. Click here for an in-depth explanation of how the map was created and what layers of data can be accessed.

Government payments to farmers are at historic highs, but some warn it's unsustainable

Federal farm aid over past decade. (Politico chart: click the
image to enlarge it.)
Direct government payments to farmers are at historic highs under the Trump administration as the president and the Department of Agriculture try to help farmers struggling with the trade war, record wet weather and the pandemic.

"But as agriculture grows more reliant on unprecedented taxpayer support, farm policy experts and watchdog groups warn the subsidies are growing too big and too fast, with no strings attached and little oversight from Congress — and that Washington could have a difficult time shutting off the spigot," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico. "The massive payments have been a political boon to Trump in farm country — he tweeted in January that he hoped the money would be 'the thing they will most remember' — but risk creating a culture of dependency, as farmers and ranchers work the bonus subsidies into their financial plans when making large, up-front investments in seed, feed and farm machinery."

The amount of aid, the speed with which the government is handing it out, and the lack of oversight should concern taxpayers, says Neil Hamilton, emeritus professor and former director of Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center. And, Hamilton says, the handouts have insulated the administration from political fallout stemming from their policy decisions. "The administration picked these trade fights promising agriculture that this would lead to some better world at some point," Hamilton told McCrimmon. "Rather than suffering any consequence for the ill-conceived strategy, they just said, 'Hey, let’s tap the bank. We’ll buy our way out of this.'"

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Iowa newspaper editor reflects on what it's like to be a rural Black journalist in today's political climate

Rushing looks over a new edition of the paper.
(Photo by Caroline Cummings)
What's it like for a Black journalist from Kansas City to move to rural Iowa for a newspaper job? Ty Rushing, managing editor of The N'West Iowa Review in Sheldon, joked that he didn't unpack his bags for months when he moved to rural Iowa more than seven years ago. After a few stints at area newspapers, he's now in Sheldon, a largely white community of more than 5,000 in the most conservative corner of Iowa, Caroline Cummings reports for KTVO.

"Being a Black journalist at this moment—when there’s a collective reckoning over the killings of black people at the hands of police and the systemic racism that allows for it—is not lost on him. He has covered protests over George Floyd's death in his community and those around it in Northwest Iowa," Cummings reports. 

Rushing says he has experienced racism, both in Iowa and elsewhere, but said most of his encounters in rural Iowa are positive and he's glad to have frank conversations about race. "For me to say black lives matter—I’ve been wearing this on my wrist for years—I don’t feel like that’s me being biased. I could quit my job tomorrow, get fired tomorrow and guess what: I’m a black man," Rushing told Cummings. "Being able to say that, hey, as a black man I should be able to live and enjoy the perks of being an American without concern or worry or fearing for myself from a simple traffic stop—I don’t believe that’s damaging my credibility as a journalist. It’s simply a human-rights issue."

Biden unveils $2 trillion climate plan, links it to economy

Former vice president Joe Biden unveiled Tuesday an expanded—and more expensive—version of his plan to address climate change and stimulate the U.S. economy. The plan proposes spending $2 trillion over four years, "calling for front-line, fence-line and environmentally vulnerable communities to get 40% of the benefits from his climate plan," Adam Aton reports for Energy & Environment News.

Last week a task force formed by Biden and more liberal primary rival Bernie Sanders recommended Biden set goals of eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, making all new buildings have net zero emissions by 2030, fund energy-saving upgrades to existing structures, install 500 million solar panels and manufacture 60,000 wind turbines.

Biden did not necessarily adopt all the task force's proposals, but they were taken into consideration, CNN reports. Biden did adopt its recommendation to make power plants carbon-neutral by 2035, Aton reports, as well as its recommendations on installing more solar panels, manufacturing more wind turbines, and making existing structures more energy-efficient.

Biden's plan, which carries a higher price tag than any of his other policy proposals, is a "leftward pivot" possibly meant to appease more liberal Democrats, but it also "reflects how the falling cost of renewable energy has made it easier to pitch climate policy as economic stimulus," Aton reports. When Biden announced the plan yesterday, he emphasized that plans like retrofitting buildings with LED lighting would mean jobs for electricians and union workers.

"Republicans responded by accusing Biden of trying to destroy millions of oil and gas jobs," Aton reports, but such arguments may be less powerful these days because falling clean-energy costs have made it easier to make a case for growing the economy with renewable-energy jobs. Renewable energy is a major source of jobs in the rural Midwest (a presidential battleground), far more than oil, gas or coal jobs, according to a January report.

Daily rate of new coronavirus infections in rural America climbed 150% since mid-June; see county-level data

Non-metropolitan rate, per population of new corinavirus cases, June 13-July 12
(Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.)
The number of new coronavirus cases in counties outside metropolitan areas is 150 percent higher now than a month ago, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. "In the last week, nonmetropolitan counties surpassed a record-breaking 7,000 new cases on three consecutive days. The seven-day average of new cases also hit an all-time high Monday, at 6,185 per day," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder, with a map showing in red the 78 rural counties where the equivalent of at least 1% of the population tested positive for the virus from June 13 to July 12 are shown in red.

Rural counties with high infection rates tend to have prisons or meatpacking plants, Marema notes. Also, "Rural counties with high infection rates frequently have large proportions of residents who are African American, American Indian, or Hispanic/Latino."

Click here for a more detailed breakdown of regions with higher infection rates and a searchable, ranked list of rural counties with the highest rates.

Some states putting names of banned law enforcement officers online

"In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody, Oregon has released the names of over 1,700 officers whose transgressions over the past 50 years were so serious that they were banned from working in law enforcement in the state," Andrew Selsky reports for The Associated Press.

"In the absence of an official nationwide database, a non-profit maintains a website intended to be a national registry of certificate or license revocations," Selsky reports. "The National Decertification Index provides access to records from agencies in 44 states and was created by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training."

The database isn't comprehensive; California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, don't certify or decertify officers. Georgia does decertify officers but doesn't contribute to the registry. Contributions to the database are voluntary.

Study: Rural Westerners strongly support environmental protections, but not necessarily from the government

Rural voters in the West strongly favor environmental protections and conservation, even when those actions might hurt economic growth, but they are wary of such protections when paired with government oversight, according to a study by researchers from Duke University, the University of Wyoming and the University of Rhode Island.

Rural, urban and suburban Western voters agreed on the importance of the environment and conservation: 73 percent of rural voters and 75% of urban and suburban voters said such topics were very or pretty important to them personally. Also, Western voters are more likely to support U.S. action on climate change than rural voters nationwide.

The big rural-urban divide came over the role of government regulation in protecting the environment: only 25% of rural Westerners said there needs to be more governmental oversight, compared with 42% of urban voters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Thursday webinar aims to help reporters background info to cover a 'greener' economic recovery from pandemic

The Society of Environmental Journalists will host a free Zoom webinar from 1 to 2 p.m. ET Thursday, July 16, to give journalists a deeper understanding of the connections between climate change, covid-19 and the economy, and how all of those can influence the potential for rebuilding the economy in a more environmentally friendly way. Click here to register or for more information.

The website says: "With economies opening up and emissions once again rising, we face decisions about infrastructure, industry, and regulation that will have enduring impacts on our climate and our health. What do journalists need to know to cover these decisions and help the public understand the options and tradeoffs?" Energy & Environment News reporter Nick Sobczyk will moderate a panel:
  • Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at Ceres Policy Network
  • Jonathan Pershing, environment program director, Hewlett Foundation, and former special envoy for climate change, U.S. Department of State.
  • Justin Worland, energy and environment correspondent, Time magazine.
All journalists are welcome, and the webinar will be available as a recording a day or two afterward on the SEJ website. Click here for recordings of past webinars in this series.

New Yorker magazine writer takes a look at the poultry processing industry, and one company in particular

President Trump is helping poultry-processing companies like Mountaire Farms put the squeeze on their workers, even during the pandemic, Jane Mayer reports for The New Yorker magazine.

"Unlike meatpackers, two-thirds of whom belong to unions, only about a third of poultry workers are represented by organized labor—and those who are unionized face mounting pressure," Mayer writes. The industry, which is dominated by large multinational corporations such as Mountaire, has grown increasingly concentrated, expanding its political influence while replacing unionized employees with contract hires, often immigrants or refugees. These vulnerable workers are technically hired by temp agencies, relieving poultry plants of accountability if documentation is lacking. Trump has weakened federal oversight of the industry while accepting millions of dollars in political donations from some of its most powerful figures, including Ronald Cameron, Mountaire’s reclusive owner. In 2016, Cameron gave nearly three million dollars to organizations supporting Trump’s candidacy."

Wikipedia base map
Mayer's story begins in Selbyville, Delaware, where the National Labor Relations Board ordered an election among Mountaire workers on a petition to decertify the United Food and Commercial Workers as their bargaining agent. (The election is being held by mail, and ballots are due today.) "When the union protested that this would violate the customary bar on overturning contracts before three years, the NLRB decided to broaden the case, reëxamining the entire concept of barring challenges to settled union contracts," Mayer reports. "The move has shocked labor-law experts. By statute, the NLRB has five members and is bipartisan, but the Trump Administration has filled only three seats, all with Republicans."

Meanwhile, "On April 28, 48 hours after Tyson Foods, the world’s second-largest meat company, ran a full-page ad in several newspapers warning that 'the food supply chain is breaking,' Trump issued an executive order defining slaughterhouse workers as essential. The White House had appointed Cameron to an advisory board on the pandemic’s economic impact. The executive order commanded meat-processing facilities to 'continue operations uninterrupted to the extent possible.' The Labor Department released an accompanying statement that all but indemnified companies for exposing workers to covid-19. It assured employers in essential industries that the agency wouldn’t hold them responsible if they failed to follow the CDC’s health guidelines, as long as they made a 'good faith' effort. Meat and poultry workers had to keep working and risk infection—or lose their jobs. By July 7, OSHA had received more than six thousand coronavirus-related workplace complaints but had issued only one citation, to a nursing home in Georgia."

Mayer's 8,565-word story has a lot more about Mountaire and the poultry-processing industry.

Poynter offers primer for covering accelerating business bankruptcies during the pandemic

More than a hundred major businesses of all sizes, from J.C. Penney to J. Crew, have declared bankruptcy in recent weeks, citing the economic pressures of the pandemic as the underlying cause. But the phenomenon is much farther-reaching than that, and local journalists have much to cover.

To that end, Poynter offers a primer on bankruptcies, including what the different types mean and other important background information, a link to a frequently-updated Bloomberg database of larger business bankruptcies, and tips and tools to help journalists navigate court records and cover bankruptcy stories. Read more here.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Coal-communities transition plan calls for 'restorative economic development' like that undertaken by Ky. nonprofit

By Peter Hille
President, Mountain Association for Community Economic Development

The coalfields of Appalachia—like coal-producing communities around the country—literally fueled the growth of the entire nation. Despite that, the coal economy didn’t create lasting prosperity in these communities. In fact, today, these are some of the most economically disadvantaged places in the US. These places that have given so much now bear the brunt of changes in global energy markets. They sacrificed lives, health, water, prosperity, ecosystems—and there is a debt to be paid.

Justice demands that we bring new investment to these places. That investment is needed to build a new economy, revitalize these communities, educate people of all ages to be prepared for new opportunities, and create demonstrations of what the new economy can look like – whether that is local food, health care, the creative economy, sustainable forestry, tourism, affordable housing or clean energy.

From here in Appalachia to Wyoming to the Navajo Nation, leaders from communities that once relied on coal are developing and implementing promising solutions to create inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth, driven from the ground up. These leaders need supportive public policy and investment at the local, state and federal level to accelerate this work of building a new economy.

Over the past year, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development worked with 17 public, private and nonprofit partners from throughout Appalachia and across the country to develop a platform of seven pillars that policy makers and leaders should understand in order to support our communities. The National Economic Transition platform is based on community-driven solutions, crafted by local, tribal and labor leaders living and working in America’s coal communities. It serves as a guide for legislators and philanthropic leaders, and encourages them to develop policies and make investments that support the just and equitable national transition our communities need and deserve.

One pillar of the National Economic Transition platform calls upon policymakers to invest in restorative economic development in our communities. Here are just a few examples of how MACED has been supporting that approach in Kentucky:

We have invested more than one million dollars in solar installations for small businesses and non-profits in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, saving money for these vital local enterprises, making them more resilient as energy prices rise and reducing their carbon footprint.

We’ve invested in a local wood products manufacturer, helping them double in size, adding good jobs with benefits and using sustainably harvested timber.

We’ve helped addiction recovery centers get established and grow—meeting a critical need.

We’ve trained former coal miners to work in the new clean energy economy and helped them start their own businesses in this growing market.

There’s a lot more work to be done, but there is hope and determination in these places, and a fierce commitment to a brighter future. These communities can thrive again, they just need a fair chance, and that’s what the National Economic Transition platform is all about. The livelihoods of Eastern Kentuckians, and tens of millions of people across the country, rely on us getting this transition right. Our leaders must make the decision to engage and make big, bold investments in an ambitious national community and worker transition program.

MACED is based in Berea, Ky. Information on the NET platform is at nationaleconomictransition.org or by contacting Peter Hille at peter@maced.org.

Rural sheriff, stricken with covid-19, says he should have worn a mask more, and pleads for others to wear them

Lauren and Norman Chaffins (Facebook)
The sheriff of a rural Kentucky county, stricken with covid-19, pleaded on Facebook Sunday for his readers to wear a mask. Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins, a former state trooper, said he thought he got the coronavirus on a Western RV trip. "We maintained our distance as much as we could, but did not always wear a mask," he wrote. "I am now paying the price."

His post gives detailed descriptions of his many symptoms, concluding: "The worst thing during this is that when one symptom starts to subside, I would develop two different ones. It is almost like someone is controlling them and taking turns turning them up and down as a sick joke. . . . I have had the flu. I’ve had the mumps (on the pancreas), chicken pox, measles, broken neck, and had total knee replacement. If you were to combine the painful effects of all those into one, it would not touch the hell I experienced the past six days with this coronavirus. There is no comparison. Nothing that I know of or have ever experienced compares to it."

Grayson County, Kentucky (Wikipedia)
Chaffins, a Republican, wrote three days after Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear ordered wearing of masks in public spaces indoors, or outdoors where six feet of social distancing can't be maintained. Initial enforcement is up to businesses, which are subject to enforcement from health departments.

"I’m telling you this because I want you to wear your mask," Chaffins writes. "Not because I am the sheriff, not because the governor said so, and not because the business tells you to. I want you to wear a mask because I do not want anyone to have to go through what I went through. I want you to wear a mask because I don’t want my kids or grandbabies to get sick. I want you to wear a mask because it’s just the right thing to do. It may not 100% guarantee that you won’t contract it, but wearing a mask will certainly reduce your chances. Please understand this: I am not telling you to wear a mask. We are not going to fine you or insist that you wear a mask. As your friend, I am asking you to wear a mask when you are around others and when you go out into public at least until there is a vaccine."

Last reporter at Pennsylvania paper is still asking the hard questions, even to the hedge fund that is bleeding it

Evan Brandt
(NYT photo by Haruka Sakaguchi)
Newspaper reporters play an integral role in local democracy, "but they are an endangered species being nudged toward extinction by the most important news story in decades: the coronavirus," Dan Barry reports for The New York Times. "The economic paralysis caused by the pandemic has clobbered a newspaper industry already on the mat. With revenues plummeting, substantial layoffs, furloughs and pay reductions have followed in newsrooms across the country. Meanwhile, the hedge funds and private equity firms that own many newspapers often siphon away profits rather than reinvest in local journalism."

One such hedge fund is Alden Global Capital, which controls the Pottstown Mercury in Pennsylvania, about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The Mercury has served the town of 23,000 since 1931, and is the smallest-circulation newspaper to have won two Pulitzer prizes: in 1979 for spot news photography and one in 1990 for editorial writing, Barry notes. But after three successive owners that whittled the paper down for maximum profit, the Mercury has one reporter left: Evan Brandt, 55.

Pottstown, Penn. (Wikipedia map)
Brandt worked at suburban weeklies before joining the Mercury in 1997. "Nearly all of his colleagues who didn’t quit have been laid off or bought out, effectively making him the last reporter covering Pottstown," Barry reports. "His newspaper’s distinctive building was abruptly emptied and later sold, so he works in his attic, surrounded by a display of 36 journalism awards, many for public service."

Brandt has adapted to his lone-wolf status. Because Alden consolidated the Mercury's printing with other nearby newspapers, the Mercury has a 6 p.m. deadline that makes it impossible for him to cover evening borough-council meetings for the next day's paper, so he often shares meeting notes on social media and his blog, then writes an article for the print edition the next day, Barry reports.

Brandt is responsible for covering more than a dozen other local governments and school districts, Barry writes: "He can’t bear to think of communities not knowing about a proposed tax increase, or the politics behind a town official’s ouster, or yet another public agency violating the open-meetings law by conferring in private. But it’s impossible to be everywhere. The demands of election coverage only intensify his frustration. Stretched too thin to profile the dozens of candidates in more than a dozen communities — once de rigueur for newspapers — he does what he can when he can, sometimes with bare-bone questionnaires."
Brandt visited the home of Alden co-owner
Heath Freeman to ask what value he places
on local news. He didn't get an answer.
(Photo by Lorraine Dusky)

"Evan is the voice of the voiceless," local NAACP President Johnny Corson told Barry. "He speaks for the little people. If we lose him, we’re in trouble."

Former Mercury editor Nancy March told Barry that she blames the public a little for the Mercury's downfall: "People do not recognize — do not champion — what we do. I walk around my community and they thank me. But they don’t want to support it. They don’t want to pay for it."

Brandt, the local shop steward for the NewsGuild union, reserves a healthy dose of blame for Alden, believing that the company "has no lasting commitment to Pottstown, to an informed electorate or to any other lofty ideals embodied by the best of newspapers." He told Barry that Alden is like a transient neighbor: "You rent an apartment, open all the walls, sell the plumbing, and rip out and sell the hardwood floors. Then you walk away. You don’t pay the rent, and you don’t care about your neighbors."

In 2018, news industry analyst Ken Doctor wrote in a column for Harvard University's Nieman Lab that Alden had earned $160 million in profit in fiscal 2017 from "wrecking local journalism," including $18 million—a 30% profit margin—from Philadelphia-area newspapers such as the Mercury. Brandt was incensed by the column, and became even angrier after reading that Alden co-owner Heath Freeman was expanding a $4.8 million mansion in Montauk, New York, Barry reports.

Since Brandt was in Long Island visiting family, he decided to drive to Freeman's home and try for an interview, Barry reports: "Given Freeman’s reputation for reticence, he knew he might get to ask only one question. His choice: What value do you place on local news? In other words, what is local news worth? Not in monetary terms, but in terms of an informed electorate; an accountable government; a sense of place. It would be a provocative question, posed by a proud professional in his mid-50s whose cherished world was vanishing around him. Posed to a 40-ish vulture capitalist who surfaced well after the local newspaper model was already damaged, but who was now profiting from and perhaps accelerating its decline." Freeman shook his head at the question and walked away.

Rural areas may have advantages in economic recovery from pandemic

Though the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the nation's economy as a whole, rural areas have seen fewer job losses and shorter shutdowns than average, and may be at an advantage in economic recovery, according to a quarterly report by rural lender CoBank. Job losses in rural counties averaged 9 percent, compared to 14% in metropolitan counties, Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming.

"Some 7.5 million people gained jobs in May and June, but two-thirds of people who lost work due to the pandemic were still out of work," Abbott reports. The Daily Yonder notes that rural areas, especially ones that rely on agriculture rather than tourism, were somewhat insulated from job losses, but says such rural areas were hurting economically even before the pandemic.

CoBank Vice President Dan Kowalski writes that, while rural areas might be better positioned to recover, the overall economy is fragile, and signs point to the recovery hitting a plateau. The economy could fall again after that, and economy recovery will be "shallower than previously expected" if the virus can't be controlled, Kowalski wrote.

DeVos provides few details on Trump administration push to reopen schools in the fall

School districts are grappling with how or whether to reopen schools in the fall, and though the Trump administration has called for reopening, it hasn't said how to accomplish that. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat for interviews Sunday on CNN and Fox News, but offered little clarity on the matter.

"Pressed on how schools in areas with high rates of the coronavirus should protect children and communities, she provided few details," Evie Blad reports for Education Week. "Also unclear: the details of repeated threats made by DeVos and President Donald Trump to withhold federal funds from schools that don't reopen, and exactly what a satisfactory school reopening would look like."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that schools limit bus riders, ensure that students wear masks, and space desks six feet apart, but DeVos stressed to CNN's Dana Bash that those are only recommendations, that no two schools are the same, and said that education leaders are smart enough to figure out how to tailor CDC prevention and outbreak-containment guidelines to each individual school, Blad reports.

"Pressed by Fox's Chris Wallace on why the administration would threaten schools' funding during the pandemic, DeVos reiterated previous statements that seemed to allude to a push for a private school choice option," Blad reports. DeVos, who has been a strong proponent of private education, told Wallace: "American investment is a promise to students and their families . . . If schools aren't going to reopen and fulfill that promise, they shouldn't get the funds. Then give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise."

Wallace pointed out that DeVos didn't have the authority to redirect federal funds authorized by Congress; DeVos said she is considering "all options," Blad reports.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

List of federal Paycheck Protection Program's forgivable loans is a reporting opportunity with several challenges

Photo provided to Detroit Free Press
By Al Cross
, Director and Professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

"Lisa Freeman received a curious inquiry from a TV news reporter Wednesday, writes Mark Kurlyandchik of the Detroit Free Press. "Why had her quaint, seasonal ice cream shop — a longtime fixture in downtown Saugatuck that Freeman has owned for 2½ years — been given millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration?"

Turns out that it only got about $100,000 in forgivable loans. And thereby hangs a cautionary tale about reporting on the PPP, a relief program that reached most American towns. The SBA database has errors, even including companies that didn't even apply for the funds, as CNBC reported, so any listing needs to be checked out before it's part of a news story. 

And it's important to remember that no local story on the loans can be comprehensive, at least for now, because the database is incomplete. Freeman's business should have even appeared on the public list, because it was supposed to include only those businesses getting $150,000 or more. Out of nearly 5 million recipients, only about 660,000 are listed.

Finally, you may have problems fetching information from the database, but The Washington Post has transformed it into a national interactive map, which can be focused by your location.

After clearing those hurdles, ask yourself: Aside from stories about connections with politicians, such as the one by Alfred Miller of the Louisville Courier Journal about the rural-development center started by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, what is the newsworthiness of the data? 

I publish a newspaper for Midway, Ky., a town that has only 1,800 people but a number of interesting businesses, including some that got PPP money. They include the local private university, four Thoroughbred horse farms, two restaurant companies, two small manufacturers, a big landscaping service and an arborist.

What's the news in all that? Sure, there's a story, but it wouldn't be fair to list the names and numbers (which are in ranges, not precise dollar amounts) without some context. That context is shifting as the pandemic continues, so we willook for inflection p loints for the timeliest "news pegs."

The university is private, so we don't get much information about its finances unless there is a crisis like the one it suffered eight years ago, from which it has recovered. It stopped in-person classes in March and is planning to resume classes Aug. 17, and it's the city's second-largest employer, so there's a story in its reopening, which should include some mention of the taxpayer money it got.

Midway is a big restaurant town, so there's a story in how that industry is coping with limitations on capacity and a recent rise in coronavirus cases that prompted the governor to require masks. The two firms got different ranges of PPP money, probably reflecting their different number of locations. We'll explore that with both, about which we've reported before. And we'll ask the other restaurants how they're doing, and if they got forgivable loans of less than $150,000, as seems likely.

The horse industry is important to Central Kentucky, but its inner workings are almost opaque, because most if not all farms are privately owned. Again, the loan amounts differed by farm, so the list gives us an opportunity to cover the industry – and perhaps others – in a way we haven't before.

So, the list is an opportunity, but also a challenge – especially for my students, who will be doing most of the reporting. Our school doesn't have a course in business journalism, so I hope this opportunity will give students some valuable training and experience in this area.

In a similar vein, business reporting has suffered at most newspapers and broadcast stations in the last two decades, and the pandemic has exacerbated that. Ironically, a pandemic-related action by the government now gives news outlets all over the country a chance to learn more about important local businesses, and tell their audiences about them. Let's get to work.

Biggest creditor wins bankruptcy auction for McClatchy Co.

Hedge fund Chatham Asset Management won the bankruptcy auction for McClatchy Co. Sunday, McClatchy announced. Chatham is the main creditor of the family-owned firm that is the nation's second largest local-news company, with 30 titles in 14 states.

Margaret Sullivan, media critic for The Washington Post, said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" that Chatham was the better of "two lousy options," the other being Alden Global Capital, which owns MediaNews Group and about a third of Tribune Co.

"Chatham is majority owner of Canada’s largest newspaper chain, Postmedia Network Canada. The hedge fund said, “Chatham is committed to preserving newsroom jobs and independent journalism that serve and inform local communities during this important time.”

Sullivan said, "I find that a little hard to believe because hedge funds have not been the best newspaper owners," but she said that among McClatchy people she had talked with: "There is something of a sense of relief."

Mayors of four cities served by McClatchy wrote the bankruptcy judge last week, asking him to consider the impact of the sales on the communities it serves. In Kentucky, McClatchy's Lexington Herald-Leader,  unlike most other metropolitan newspapers, serves a large rural area: Eastern Kentucky.

“Yes, the newspaper holds our feet to the fire through investigative stories and in-depth coverage,” Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton wrote. “While it’s not always comfortable, it’s always important to challenge the decisions cities make, and to deeply examine the actions of government.”

Noting her city's population of 325,000 "Unlike major media markets, we do not have a large press corps." The Herald-Leader has three journalists in Eastern Kentucky, two of them funded  by Report for America. Gorton is a Republican, but her office is nonpartisan.

Ky. economist: Trump has run a losing 'con' on promises to bring back coal; regulation not to blame, study says

This was initially published in the Lexington Herald-Leader.
By Donald Mullineaux, emeritus professor of economics, University of Kentucky

“Con Man Donald Trump” into Google’s search engine yields 87.8 million prospective readings. The dean of con artists, P.T. Barnum, would be green with envy at that number. A prolific showman and huckster, he foreshadowed Mr. Trump in many ways, including holding several political offices in Connecticut. But while Barnum wore his “badge of con” proudly, Trump routinely portrays himself, with no sense of irony, as the victim of “con jobs” and “hoaxes.” Countless examples in the media identify Trump as a con man, but one is quite relevant to Kentuckians. President Trump has promised many times “to bring back coal” and restore mining jobs. How well has he delivered on that promise?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, total U.S. coal production in 2019 was 705.3 tons, down 6.8 percent from the previous year and the lowest level of output in over 41 years. In 2018, production likewise fell by 2.4 percent. According to the Kentucky Annual Economic Report 2020, the state’s coal production likewise fell 5.2% in 2018 to 39.6 million tons, the lowest level of output since 1954. Noting that coal production accounts for less than 1 percent of Kentucky gross domestic product and just 0.3% of total employment, the report cites “cheaper sources of energy, like natural gas and renewables, more stringent air quality regulations, and weaker-than-expected demand for coal in Asia” as the primary sources of the industry’s current woes.

The USEIA forecasts that, given the onset of the pandemic induced recession, coal production will fall 22 percent this year. During the period 2009-16, when we had a different president, coal production averaged over 1 million tons per year. Even P.T. Barnum would be hard pressed to sell the recent numbers as a “comeback for coal.” As with most of President Trump’s promises, he has said virtually nothing about his strategy for reversing the fortunes of the coal industry.

The number of coal-mining jobs has likewise been in long-term decline for decades, but the trend reached a temporary bottom in 2016. Coal industry employment was relatively stable over the last few years, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis. About 178 thousand people worked in coalmines in mid-1988, but the number of jobs ranged between 51-52 thousand from 2016 through the end of 2019. As of this May, the number of jobs had dropped to 46.6 thousand, a decline of a little over 8%. Over the same long-term horizon, the number of coal miners in Kentucky dropped from a little over 29,000 in the late 1980’s to a low of 5,300 in January 2018. From there the number of jobs increased for some months, only to begin declining once again in the spring of 2019. As of this April, employment was at an ail-time low of 3,400.

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence of President’s Trump’s failure to revive the coal industry lies in the number of coal-company bankruptcies and mine closings. As of Oct. 30, 2019, 11 companies, including the largest privately held operation, had declared bankruptcy since Trump’s inauguration. And according to the USEIA, more than half of all mines operating in 2008 had closed by the end of 2018. The consumption of renewable sources of energy surpassed coal consumption in 2019 for the first time in over 130 years, according to USEIA.

Kentucky’s longest-serving senator, Mitch McConnell, has repeatedly cited regulation as the primary factor accounting for the demise of the coal industry. But a study conducted in 2019 by professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School entitled “Whither the Regulatory War on Coal: Scapegoats, Saviors, and Stock Market Reactions,” finds no significant impact of regulation (or deregulation) on the industry’s performance. Coal is simply a noncompetitive commodity in today’s marketplace and Washington politicians can do next to nothing to change that fact.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Doubts on trade deal and pandemic worry farmers

"Worried farmers and business groups are urging the United States and China to fulfill their obligations under the first stage of the trade agreement, even as the coronavirus scrambles its assumptions," April Simpson reports for Stateline.

"Whether it's in agriculture, manufactured goods or energy, neither country is on track to meet its obligations of the Phase One trade deal signed six months ago. Then, as soon as the deal went into effect a month later, the pandemic spread, and reduced demand for many agricultural products."

Soybean growers took the biggest hit because China is the biggest buyer of U.S. soybeans. North Dakota soybean farmer Tyler Stafslien told Simpson, "I'm worse off today than I was before the trade war, and I don’t see an end in sight."

Stafslien is just one example, Simpson writes: "Buffeted by a two-year trade war, followed by a disappointing — at least so far — trade deal and then a worldwide pandemic, there aren’t a lot of farmers, or rural communities, feeling flush right now." Her story recounts the trade war.

Bees had bad year, but good winter, which is more important

Bee Informed Partnership chart; hat tip to Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute
Bee colonies fared much better last winter than recently, suffering the second lowest losses in 14 years of records, but last summer was the worst ever, so the year ended April 1 was one of the worst overall. That's the upshot of the latest report from Bee Informed Partership, a nonprofit created by commercial beekeepers, beekeeping scientists and epidemiologists and leaders of other honeybee organizations.

"From April 1st, 2019 to April 1st, 2020, nearly 44 percent of colonies were lost," the report says. However, "Beekeepers only lost 22.2 percent of their colonies this past winter, from Oct. 1 to March 31, which is lower than the average of 28.6%," Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press reports. Winter is “really the test of colony health,” so the results overall are good news, said the partnership's scientific coordinator, Nathalie Steinhauer. “It turned out to be a very good year.” 

"Last winter’s loss was considerably less than the previous winter of 2018-2019 when a record 37.7 percent of colonies died off," Borenstein reports. "After that bad winter, the losses continued through the summer of 2019, when beekeepers reported a 32% loss rate. That’s much higher than the average of 21.6 percent for summer losses. Those summer losses were driven more by hives of commercial beekeepers than backyard hobby-ists."

Borenstein adds, "Beekeepers in the U.S. also may be taking more of their colonies indoors in the winter, helping them survive, said University of Georgia entomologist Keith Delaplane. New U.S. Department of Agriculture research suggests putting bees in 'cold storage' helps them survive the winter. For decades, scientists have been watching the population of pollinators — crucial to the world’s food supply — shrink. Honeybees, the most easily tracked, are threatened by mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food. Loss rates now being seen 'are part of the new normal,' Steinhauer said."

Tyson takes lead as pandemic-plagued meatpackers try to introduce robotics to the craft of meatcutting

Wall Street Journal chart
Meatpackers plagued by the coronavirus "are searching for a long-term solution" to chronic problems exacerbated by the pandemic, report The Wall Street Journal's Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman. No. 1 processor Tyson Foods is "pushing into robotics, a development the industry has been slow to embrace and has struggled to adopt."

Tyson teams that include "designers who once worked in the auto industry are developing an automated deboning system destined to handle some of the roughly 39 million chickens slaughtered, plucked and sliced up each week in Tyson plants," the Journal reports. "Deboning livestock and slicing up chickens has long been hands-on labor. Low-paid workers using knives and saws work on carcasses moving steadily down production lines.

"It is labor-intensive and dangerous work. Those factory floors have been especially conducive to spreading coronavirus. In April and May, more than 17,300 meat and poultry processing workers in 29 states were infected and 91 died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plant shutdowns reduced U.S. beef and pork production by more than one-third in late April." That was "a debacle for the $213 billion U.S. meat industry. For the first time in memory for some Americans, there wasn’t enough meat to go around."

Robotic meatcutting is a challenge, the reporters write: "Executives of Tyson and other meat giants, including JBS USA Holdings Inc. and Cargill Inc., say that is because robots can’t yet match humans’ ability to disassemble animal carcasses that subtly differ in size and shape. While some robots, such as automated 'back saw' cutters that split hog carcasses along the spinal column, labor alongside humans in plants, the finer cutting, such as trimming fat, for now largely remains in the hands of human workers, many of them immigrants."

Bill would boost broadband, horse-show enforcement; block meat-plant speedups; keep horsemeat ban, help land issues

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture with money for broadband and horse-show inspections, and language to keep the ban on slaughtering horses for meat and reverse line-speed waivers for meatpackers.

"The legislation invests over $1.055 billion, an increase of $435 million above the FY 2020 enacted level, in the expansion of broadband service," says the committee summary of the bill.

"In April, during the covid-19 rush on grocery stores, USDA approved more than 15 poultry processing plants’ requests to increase line speeds by 25%, from 140 to 175 birds a minute," Sierra Dawn McClain reports for Capital Press. The bill would block such actions.

The bill "maintains the current ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. by defunding the inspection of horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil – a provision that has been maintained by Congress regularly since the last U.S.-based plants were shuttered in 2007,"Jacqui Fatka reports for Feedstuffs.

The bill also has $2 million for USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, up from the current $1 million, sought by critics of horse shows and the practice of "soring," the use of chemicals and devices to train Tennessee walking horses to step high, Animal Wellness Action reports.

The measure also includes more than $5 million for land-title work and succession plans "to help farmers who have inherited land but don’t have a clear title or right," McClain reports. "Small-scale and minority-run farms often struggle most." Monica Rainge, director of land retention at the Land Assistance Fund, told McClain that about 60 percent of Black farmers have such property.

The bill seems less likely to pass on its own than as part of an omnibus spending package. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “made a statement to some of us senators last week that it didn’t look like Democrats were cooperating on appropriation bills.” Fatka translates: "Grassley’s comments implied that it was likely Congress was headed toward continuing programs at current levels until appropriations bills could be enacted, or an omnibus appropriations bill."

Thursday, July 09, 2020

High court says much of eastern Okla. is Indian reservation; Roberts warns of disruption in criminal-justice system

Graphic from The Washington Post
"The Supreme Court said Thursday that a large part of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation, a decision with implications for nearly 2 million residents," including most of Tulsa, report Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes of The Washington Post.

The court had to decide, in a challenge to a prosecution, whether Congress officially eliminated the Creek Nation reservation when Oklahoma became a state in 1907. In a 5-to-4 decision, it found that Congress “has not said otherwise,” so the land promised to the Creeks is still a reservation.

“If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so,” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch for himself and the court’s four liberal justices. “Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law.” 

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. warned in dissent that state prosecutions “will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out. On top of that, the court has profoundly destabilized the governance of eastern Oklahoma.”

Dillon Richards of KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City reports, "Not much immediately changes for your average person living on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's land, including in Tulsa. Oklahoma still has jurisdiction over crimes not involving members of a federally recognized tribe."

UPDATE: The Post reports, "Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and leaders of five tribal groups issued a joint statement after the ruling indicating they have made 'substantial progress toward an agreement” to submit to Congress and the Justice Department that would put in place a 'framework of shared jurisdiction'."

Biden-Sanders task force recommends goal of eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035

One of the "unity task forces" formed by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has recommended Biden adopt "a goal of eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, achieving net-zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030, and making energy-saving upgrades to as many as 4 million buildings and 2 million households within five years," Rachel Frazin reports for The Hill. "The plan also calls for a significant investment in renewable energy, including installing 500 million solar panels and manufacturing 60,000 wind turbines."

"Some of the recommendations released Wednesday set more specific targets than the former vice president’s current climate plan, which calls for a shift away from coal-fired electricity, halving the carbon footprint of buildings by 2035 and starting a national program aimed at affordable energy efficiency retrofits in homes," Frazin notes. "The climate panel is co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a leading proponent of the Green New Deal, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry."

The panel did not endorse the Green New Deal, a ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, Medicare for all or other "policies that could prove too divisive for some swing voters in November," The Associated Press reports. "Their 110 pages of recommendations should help shape the policy platform Democrats will adopt during their national convention next month — even though the entire party platform adopted in 2016 ran only about 50 pages."

The panel wrote, “The Unity Task Force urges that we treat climate change like the emergency that it is and answer the crisis with an ambitious, unprecedented, economy-wide mobilization to decarbonize the economy and build a resilient, stronger foundation for the American people.”

3% in U.S., many of them young, say they moved due to the pandemic; 6% say it made someone move into their home

"Reports on the exodus of New Yorkers from the locked down city and about the flight of wealthy urbanites to vacation homes in remote locations make it sound as if Americans have eschewed city life in droves," writes Andrea Noble of Route Fifty, reporting that a June 4-10 poll found otherwise.

"Three percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center reported having moved permanently or temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, while 6% said that someone had moved into their home as a result. Another 14% said they knew somebody who had moved," Noble reports. The reason cited most often (by 28%) was to reduce risk of infection from the novel coronavirus; 23% said they moved because their college campus had closed.

"Almost one in 10 adults between the ages of 18 and 29 said they moved, more than any other age group," Noble notes. "The closure of schools and transition for many offices to remote work has increased the appeal for people to leave dense cities for rural retreats and vacation homes. Tourist towns, worried they will become the next outbreak hotspot, have sought to keep vacationers away."

"Of the adults who moved, far more said they relocated to a family member’s home than to a second home or vacation home. Approximately 61% said they relocated to the home of a family member, while 13% said they went to a second or vacation home. It is unclear how many of the moves will be permanent, but only 9% of the people who moved said they rented or purchased a new home."

Exiled to rural northwest Connecticut, NYC brand consultant says her work has gained from the beauty of nature

Rural Intelligence, an online publication for the Berkshires and part of the Hudson River Valley, says it "asked some long-time readers in a variety of fields to reflect on what they miss from their pre-covid lives and how they are compensating for those losses." Here's one of the submissions.

Diane Meier (Photo by Jerry Bauer)
By Diane Meier

I build equity for companies and brands; in part, by reading the culture and understanding the ways assets can be created, ignited, or developed in perception or value. Manhattan embodied my drive. It carried my family’s history. And for decades, the streets of the city were my tea leaves. The material that drove insight. But here we are. Lockdown in the Northwest Corner. Surrounded by beauty and calm and Nature. Yikes.

Was I afraid of what I might lose? Of course. But to my great relief, I’ve found that I’m no less informed and certainly no less effective right here. Quite the opposite. Teams of clients, expanded staff, experts and consultants are available to me, and I to them, from everywhere in the world. And my inspiration flies in on a screen.

Across digital publications and countless platforms, one can’t miss an enormous interest in immune-boosting nutrition, and products that support sustainable practices. There’s more interest in science and biotech than I’ve seen since the invention of the heart transplant. Corporate positioning is now inextricably linked to traceable social responsibility. And when cities erupted just weeks ago, and important brands immediately posted that they “stood with the protestors,” a cultural exhale was equal to thunder. I’ve always known what to make of the signals, but now they’re even more visible and far more diverse, from London and Sydney to Omaha. Suddenly, the streets of New York seem provincial.

To the right of my screen, a full view of our East Field reveals a great horned owl who comes to sit each evening behind a cowlick of grass. Hydrangeas are blooming and trumpet flowers are about to burst. The skies are always changing. The Natural World is just being noticed, now that my gaze can encompass the cultural, the commercial, and the natural by just shifting focus at my desk in the Big Barn.

Ingmar Bergman once said that he couldn’t have a clear thought on the streets of New York. I suspect he would have appreciated the dramas of our hawks and bears, and the views of the field and the Litchfield Hills. And if he was uninterested in reading the cultural messages buried on the small screen, he wasn’t expected to save billion-dollar companies. For those of us who are asked to do just that, the new idea that where we live can deliver the beauty of Nature and the vitality of Commerce is an amazing gift I’m not taking lightly. But in the spirit of what I do –– I know I’m not alone in this revelation, either.

In that regard, I welcome my new neighbors to the world of “Rural Intelligence.” If ever a name were right and proper, it’s found its moment. Realizing this surely has been, at least for me, one of the great gifts in The Great Pause.

Diane Meier is an author and president of Meier, a New York City-based marketing firm. She lives in Northwest Connecticut.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Black progressive who nearly won Senate nod in Ky. says liberals must listen to rural conservatives, find commonality

Charles Booker in Pikeville, Ky. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo)
First-term state Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville, an African American who nearly won the nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, told The New York Times that progressives need to "show up and listen" to rural conservatives who like President Trump if they want to build a winning coalition in the Democratic Party.

"What I tell folks is that, honestly, we should take some notes from a Donald Trump — being careful when you do," Booker said in a transcribed interview. "He called out that the system is broken, and he spoke to people that, for a long time, felt like nobody even knew they existed. Now, he was stoking hatred and racism and weaponizing it, but one of the truths there is that the system is broken. And if we go to those places that are deep red, and we show up and listen, but lean into our values, you can build relationships that way."

He prefaced that by saying, "Regardless of what your political ideology is, especially in a place like Kentucky, everybody’s broke and everybody’s struggling and everybody’s trying to figure out how to keep food on the table, keep the lights, take care of their family and protect their livelihood."

Kentucky is only 8.4 percent Black, and has many rural areas with hardly any African Americans, but Booker said he had no problem "building support in rural parts of Kentucky. I spent the majority of my campaign explaining how a Black person can win in rural parts of Kentucky and how the issue of rationing insulin is not partisan. And so when I tell my story of nearly dying from diabetic ketoacidosis, and explaining that’s why I fully support Medicare for all — because nobody should die because they don’t have money in their pocket — people get it."

Booker got 42.6% of the vote in a 10-way primary won by Amy McGrath, who got 45.4% after raising more than $41 million, the most of any Senate candidate this year. "The real determinant in our race was money," he told the Times. Many political observers said Booker would have won if most the votes had been cast on primary-election day; most were absentee due to the pandemic, which also caused the election to be delayed for five weeks. During that period, Booker's campaign caught fire due to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and resulting protests, which in Kentucky focused on a police killing during execution of a no-knock warrant in Louisville.

Timber communities in Oregon suffer as Wall Street funds glean profits and tax revenue from private forest lands

"Falls City is an Oregon town built by the timber industry. Its surrounding forests are still being logged. But Falls City isn't seeing the profits. It's been that way ever since corporate timber changed the rules," says the caption for this video.

Rural logging communities in Oregon are suffering as profits and tax revenue have been siphoned by Wall Street investment funds’ growing control of private forest lands, reports ProPublica, in partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Oregonian.

In Falls City, a town of about 1,000 in the Coast Range, "More trees are cut in the county today than decades ago when a sawmill hummed on Main Street and timber workers and their families filled the now-closed cafes, grocery stores and shops selling home appliances, sporting goods and feed for livestock," report Tony Schick of OPB, Rob Davis of The Oregonian, and Lylla Younes of ProPublica. "But the jobs and services have dried up, and the town is going broke. The library closed two years ago. And as many as half of the families in Falls City live on weekly food deliveries from the Mountain Gospel Fellowship."

“You’re left still with these companies that have reaped these benefits, but those small cities that have supported them over the years are left in the dust,” City Manager Mac Corthell told a reporter.

"Wall Street real estate trusts and investment funds began gaining control over the state’s private forest lands" while public attention was focused on environmental rules that limited logging on federal lands, the reporters write. "They profited at the expense of rural communities by logging more aggressively with fewer environmental protections than in neighboring states, while reaping the benefits of timber-tax cuts that have cost counties at least $3 billion in the past three decades. . . . Half of the 18 counties in Oregon’s timber-dominant region lost more money from tax cuts on private forests than from the reduction of logging on federal lands."

Coalfields increasingly rely on federal health programs, but top coal producer, Wyoming, won't expand Medicaid

Coalfield communities increasingly rely on federal health programs as the industry shrivels, Mason Adams and Dustin Bleizeffer report in the third installment of their "Transition in Coal Country" series for the Energy News Network and WyoFile, a Wyoming news nonprofit.

"Coal states that initially rejected Medicaid expansion now see it as a way to help stem some financial losses in healthcare and provide care to residents. Increasingly, the argument that expansion is vital to aiding coal communities’ transition to a sustainable post-coal economy is gaining traction," Adams and Bleizeffer write.

Kaiser Family Foundation map, relabeled  
Some coal states, including No. 1 Wyoming, haven't used the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid, the federal-state program for lower-income people. "Still, shrinking tax revenues, jobs and resources in the industry are forcing the issue in many parts of coal country, and communities are becoming more reliant on — and even warming to — federal health programs like Medicaid," the reporters write.

Wyoming legislative leaders asked members in May to consider Medicaid expansion "in light of the coronavirus pandemic and historic losses in coal," they report, but there was no action. “I’ve been very surprised at the continued resistance to Medicaid expansion,” said Adam Searing, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. “I thought surely this would be the catalyst. But it’s still an uphill battle to overcome this ideological resistance.”

Roanoke-based Adams reports, "Medicaid expansion has remained popular in Kentucky and West Virginia, to the point that no one’s talking about repeal any more. In 2018, incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who had famously shot the cap-and-trade bill in a campaign spot eight years earlier, reprised the ad — only now he was shooting a lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The message helped carry the Democrat to victory in what had been Donald Trump’s second-best state just two years prior."

The same day, in referendums, voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah approved Medicaid expansion. The next year, a newly Democratic legislature in Virginia did likewise, and in June, do did Oklahoma voters. Missouri has a referendum Aug. 4, with business interests supportive.

Searing said, “One thing that’s struck me is how Medicaid in the last five years or so has become much more popular than it ever was. People are seeing it more like Social Security or Medicare — not so much welfare but a safety-net program.” In Kentucky, the pandemic prompted the state to enact "presumptive eligibility," which waives the usual screening process for two months. “Basically, if you’re uninsured and you’re under age 65, it will get you coverage,” Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/news/coronavirus/article244050667.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Rural growth very slow nationally, except in counties next to metro areas, or with good scenery and recreation potential

Counties outside metropolitan areas – the broadest and bluntest definition of "rural" – have fewer births, more deaths and older populations than the rest of the country, and have declined to 14 percent of the national population. However, the counties that border metropolitan areas "seem to fare better in attracting new people and keeping long-time residents," John Cromartie writes for Amber Waves, the publication of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nonmetro counties have yet to recover from the Great Recession, which was followed by years in which their overall population declined. "As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession," Cromartie writes. "Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14% in 2011-12. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years."

Much of the eastern U.S. continued to lose rural population in the second half of the decade, but "Notable rebounds are seen in some high-amenity areas, especially those close to large metro areas such as in Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. Renewed population growth on the metro periphery is also noticeable in central Texas, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest," Cromartie reports. In addition to metro proximity, rural counties that grew have "attractive scenery and recreation potential."
U.S. Department of Agriculture map and chart; to view a larger version of either one, click on it

USDA agency rejects plea from plant-based-diet group for coronavirus testing and reporting by meatpackers

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture has denied a petition from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates plant-based diets, asking FSIS to make meatpackers test their products for the novel coronavirus; report infections of workers, their families and FSIS inspectors; and label meat to warn consumers that meatpacking workers have been infected by the virus “and this product has not been certified virus-free.”

FSIS told the group that it hadn't shown people could get the virus from meat, and based on available information, "it seems unlikely" that it "can be transmitted through food." The agency also said it didn't have the authority to take some of the requested actions, and that those actions "would not contribute to FSIS’s public health mission to ensure that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked, labeled and packaged."

The agency added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have developed interim guidance for meat and poultry workers and employers. . . . Many of the measures, such as increasing frequency of cleaning and disinfection and providing face masks and/or face shields to employees, would also prevent any potential spread" of the virus to meat products.

China recently blocked imports of meat from three plants in Brazil, citing infection of workers, but there is speculation in Brazil that the Chinese have other reasons and the pandemic is just an excuse.

Judge's order to empty Dakota Access pipeline is latest reversal of efforts to expand U.S. energy infrastructure

Wikimedia Commons map, labeled by The Rural Blog
In the latest and perhaps most surprising setback for pipelines, a federal judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be emptied while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts "a more thorough analysis of how a leak . . .could affect Lake Oahe, which collects water from the Missouri River and lies half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation," The Washington Post reports.

The pipeline opened in 2017 and "carries about half a million barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin across 1,100 miles to Illinois," the Post notes. "Several tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, first challenged the pipeline in 2016. While the Obama administration slowed the pipeline’s development as it consulted with the tribes, Trump expedited its construction immediately after taking office."

Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, "who has led the legal battle on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux, said in an interview, 'I can’t think of another example where a major piece of infrastructure was shut down after being in operation a couple of years'," the Post reports. "Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the largest stake in the Dakota Access line, called the court order 'an ill-thought-out decision' and said it would immediately seek a stay so that oil could continue to flow. If the stay is not granted, company officials said, they will file an expedited appeal."

The ruling and other recent "reversals demonstrate both the enduring power of environmental laws that the Trump administration has been trying to weaken and the tenacity of environmental, tribal and community activists who have battled the projects on forested land and in federal courtrooms," the Post reports. "An April decision by a federal judge in Montana dealt a blow to the Keystone XL pipeline," and "Monday the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s petition to lift the stay."