Friday, May 24, 2024

Uvalde families have filed a $500 million suit against Texas state police just before anniversary of school shooting

Front page of Uvalde Leader-News special
memorial section for Robb Elementary shooting.

On May 24, 2022, Salvador Ramos, 18, killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in rural Uvalde, Texas. It was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. school since 2012 when 28 were killed in Sandy Hook, Conn., another small community.

Now, the families of 17 of the 19 fourth-grade children who were shot and killed and two who were wounded have "filed a $500 million federal lawsuit against nearly 100 state police officers who were part of the botched law enforcement response," report Acacia Coronado and Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press. "The lawsuit. . . is the latest of several seeking accountability for the law enforcement response. More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on the scene, but they waited more than 70 minutes before confronting the shooter."

On the day of the attack, once teachers and students realized an active shooter was in their school, they followed active shooter protocols. The state police did not. "The lawsuit notes that state troopers did not follow their active shooter training or confront the shooter," Coronado and Ventuno write. This federal lawsuit is the first "to be filed after a 600-page Justice Department report was released in January that cataloged 'cascading failures' in training, communication, leadership and technology problems that day."

Earlier this week, the families "agreed to a $2 million settlement with the city, under which city leaders promised higher standards and better training for local police," Coronado and Ventuno write. "Families said the settlement was capped at $2 million because they didn't want to bankrupt the city where they still live. . . . The settlement establishes May 24 as an annual day of remembrance, a permanent memorial in the city plaza, and support for mental health services for the families and the greater Uvalde area."

The $500 million federal lawsuit isn't the only active lawsuit brought by families, nor is it the biggest. "A separate lawsuit was filed by different plaintiffs in December 2022 against local and state police, the city, and other schools and law enforcement, seeking at least $27 billion in class-action status for survivors," AP reports. "And at least two other lawsuits have been filed against Georgia-based gun manufacturer Daniel Defense, which made the AR-style rifle used by the gunman."

Solar companies are offering many farmers more than $1,000 per acre for land leases, survey shows

Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture producer survey
graph via Farm Journal

Solar companies need a tremendous amount of open land to achieve their installation goals, which means asking farmers for acreage leases. "A survey of farmers shows the majority of farmers are being offered more than $1,000 per acre by companies for solar leasing, which could also drive up the price of cash rental rates," reports Tyne Morgan of Farm Journal. "As the Biden administration works to accelerate their 'clean energy' plan across the U.S., land is in high demand, especially for future solar projects."

Michael Langemeier, an agricultural economist with Purdue University, says the Ag Economy Barometer is revealing "the sticker shock of solar leasing rates," Morgan writes. "The survey of 400 agricultural producers is now asking farmers how many have actively engaged in discussions with companies about leasing farmland you own for solar installation, and the response was surprising."

April's survey showed a substantial increase in the number of farmers who engaged in talks with a solar company representative over the past six months. Morgan reports, "In April, 19% of farmers said they’ve had discussions, up from 12% in March. The bigger surprise may be in the high rates solar companies are offering farmers."

According to the survey, 58% say the rates were more than $1,000 per acre. Survey percentages were tallied for the entire U.S., but the offers ranged from around $750 in the Great Plains to more than $1,200 in the eastern Corn Belt.

While top-dollar solar lease prices may offer a good return for landowning farmers, the cost of cash-rent agreements will also increase. Langemeier told Morgan, "That's going to put upward pressure on cash rents, and it's probably going to put upward pressure on land values, given that it's local. . . . And so it probably impacts a fairly local area, depending on whether your area has solar leasing or not, but it certainly has pretty wide ramifications on what's going on in agriculture.”

Crop prices that don't meet production inputs also tempt farmers to consider solar leases. 

Plagued by EMS worker shortages and poor funding, rural EMS services in Minnesota get some much-needed help

Lawmakers approved a new pilot program to address the
state's rural EMS response times. (Adobe Stock photo)

Rural ambulance services have been short-staffed for years, but in Minnesota, the situation has become so extreme that lawmakers have stepped in with financial support and a 'sprint' pilot program. "The 'EMS emergency' declared by Minnesota lawmakers is far from over, but rural services in the state recently got some good news," reports Elizabeth Daigneau of Route Fifty. Legislators approved a $30 million aid package for rural emergency medical services.

The bill provides $24 million in emergency aid for EMS providers and focuses on providing relief to the state's non-urban regions. "It would also create a new Office of Emergency Medical Services to oversee Minnesota's EMS network," Daigneau explains. "Most notably, it would provide $6 million to launch a 'sprint medic' pilot program in three counties in northern Minnesota."

The sprint medic concept is meant to streamline EMS responses by "sending out a single paramedic in a car or truck directly to an emergency to begin treatment," Daigneau reports. "The idea is that these roving paramedics who would be patrolling the area have more training than the current emergency medical technicians. . . . They could reach emergencies more quickly. . . and, in some cases, resolve calls to keep ambulances with advanced life support equipment from being dispatched unnecessarily."

While $30 million won't solve all the EMS struggles, it will help response times. David Kirchner, evaluation coordinator for the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor, told Daigneau, "In some communities, the situation is becoming dire enough that not only are the ambulances not sufficient, but there's not even someone to answer the phone when 911 calls the ambulance company."

The bill was routed to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for approval. While it isn't the $120 million originally requested, Daigneau adds, "supporters say it still provides some much needed relief."

For the rural Midwest to grow, communities need to address housing shortages and affordability issues

FarmdocDaily graph, from 2023 UIUC Rural Vitality Survey
Many rural areas would like to see their populations grow, but housing shortages limit their capacity to attract and keep new residents. "In many communities, housing options are limited both in terms of affordability and type," reports Mark White for FarmdocDaily. "Given relatively slow population growth and an aging population, many Midwestern communities struggle to expand and/or update their housing stock."

University of Illinois researchers conducted studies on rural vitality, including resident surveys. They examined the housing limitations in rural Illinois communities and found "that many residents cannot find housing that meets their budget, needs, or standards," White writes. "Almost two-thirds of survey respondents believed that finding an affordable home within their region was difficult, particularly for renters, and almost 60% of survey respondents believed that their community lacked a variety of housing options. . . . It’s also important to note that these housing challenges are not limited to just northern and central Illinois. Communities around the Midwest and other parts of the country face similar challenges."

Too few homes are being built in the Midwest, and a lack of assisted care providers "suppresses turnover as many older residents stay in their homes longer than they would prefer," White reports. "In addition to shrinking and aging populations, other contributing factors have limited new home construction in farm dependent counties. . . . . For instance, the value of land for agriculture exceeds the value of land for housing development — particularly for housing that meets the needs of first-time homeowners or rental properties."

If rural counties and towns want to attract and keep a fresh workforce with new residents who move in and stay, housing shortages must be intentionally and collaboratively addressed. "Local communities might explore programs to address derelict or distressed properties. Such investments can limit the deterioration of the existing housing stock, which can also stabilize property values to benefit the local tax base," White explains. "Rural communities might also consider efforts to promote more diverse types of residential housing (e.g., multi-family, rental) that sometimes face opposition from existing residents and homeowners. Regardless, no one strategy — nor one local or regional actor — can solve community housing challenges."

Opinion: This Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to teach children to love America despite its wounds

An illustration piece from 'Manual of Patriotism' 1900.
(Library of Congress photo via The Wall Street Journal)
As we launch into Memorial Day picnics, celebrations and sales, it's a good time to rethink the day — why it was created, who we are honoring and what opinion of our country we leave for future generations to follow. Surely, this idea mixes the good, the bad and the ugly, but what about love? In her opinion for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan suggests that a legacy of love of country is the best Memorial Day remembrance. 

"Parents, teach your children to love America, either as an extension of your own love or as a simple kindness to them," Noonan writes. "We live in an age in which children are instructed in 100 different ways through 100 different portals that America is and always was a dark and scheming place, that its history is the history of pushing people around, often in an amoral quest for wealth but also because we aren't very nice."

Whether out of suspicion, personal experiences or a desire to protect, some parents have taught their children to distrust and perhaps be disgusted by their homeland. "What does this atmosphere of unlove for America do to kids? . . . To kids from difficult circumstances, it means there is no hope; you won't escape a violent or unhappy family into a better place, the world outside, because it isn't better," Noonan explains. 

Kids are the ultimate dreamers. To kill that innate existence is to do them a horrible injustice, according to Noonan. "It denies a dream of a good thing you can make better. It undercuts the idea the people you came from were brave and hardy and did marvelous things. It robs you of a sense you've got this within you and can go on and be a marvel, too."

Where do we go from here? "I've spent the past few days reading an old book that couldn't possibly be published today because it's so full of respect for America. Manual of Patriotism: For Use in the Public Schools of the State of New York, runs 461 pages of text and was published in 1900," Noonan writes. "The manual was written after the Legislature passed an 1898 law requiring public schools to display the American flag and 'encourage patriotic exercises.'"

What's the best way to teach children to love their country? "You let them have fun. You hold pageants and parades, have them read poems and learn songs," Noonan suggests. "Have children memorize and recite Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." Have them enact the battle of Lexington and Concord and read aloud Emerson's 'Concord Hymn':

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world."

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

New doctors are avoiding abortion ban states, new analysis shows. Restrictions may add to mutiple-care shortages.

Fewer new doctors are applying for residency in
abortion ban states. (Hush Naidoo Jade photo, Unsplash)
States with significant restrictions or bans on  abortions may be inadvertently discouraging graduating medical students from applying for residency in their state, which could exacerbate regional physician shortages. Julie Rovner and Rachana Pradhan of KFF Health News report, "According to new statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges, for the second year in a row, students graduating from U.S. medical schools were less likely to apply this year for residency positions in states with abortion bans and other significant abortion restrictions."

State battles over abortion aren't limited to uncertainties for doctors and pregnant patients; the tensions have "also bled into the world of medical education, forcing some new doctors to factor state abortion laws into their decisions about where to begin their careers," Rovner and Pradhan write. "Fourteen states, primarily in the Midwest and South, have banned nearly all abortions. . . . A preliminary review of a new analysis by the AAMC found that the number of applicants to residency programs in states with near-total abortion bans declined by 4.2%, compared with a 0.6% drop in states where abortion remains legal."

The AAMC's analysis shows that when new doctors start avoiding certain states, those states gain fewer doctors, which adds to regional physician shortages in many specialties. KFF Health News reports, "The organization tracked a larger decrease in interest in residencies in states with abortion restrictions not only among those in specialties most likely to treat pregnant patients, like OB-GYNs and emergency room doctors, but also among aspiring doctors in other specialties."

The number of new doctors applying for OB-GYN and internal medicine residency slots in those states "dropped 6.7%, compared with a 0.4% increase in states where abortion remains legal," Rovner and Pradhan explain. "For internal medicine, the drop observed in abortion ban states was over five times as much as in states where abortion is legal."

The U.S. is looking at producing its own rubber; the industry could offer a hardy crop, jobs and less foreign reliance

The U.S. uses 1.5 million metric tons of rubber each year.
(Graphic by Adam Dixon, Ambrook Research)
Made-in-America rubber may become a new crop for farmers and a new manufacturing industry for the United States. "Scientists, farmers and major corporations are working together to lay the groundwork for domestic rubber production," reports Kate Morgan of Ambrook Research. Even though rubber is in "roughly 50,000 different products across U.S. manufacturing sectors, almost all of the 1.5 million metric tons or more, worth $2 billion — is imported, mostly from Southeast Asian rubber plantations." However, considering how much rubber the nation uses, reliance on a single foreign regional supplier may leave U.S. manufacturing vulnerable.

American rubber production begins with growing rubber plants, such as guayule (pronounced "why-you-lee"), which "grows wild in parts of Texas and Mexico, but it's also easy to cultivate and grow on farms throughout the region. Drought-tolerant and disinclined to disease, there's not much that bothers it," Morgan explains. When Guayuule stems are ground up and put "through a process of distillation and filtration, the result is a high-quality natural latex" for producing "everything from surgical gloves to car parts. . . . Many believe this shrub is the best candidate for developing a domestic rubber market."

Guayule is fairly impervious to conditions.
(Wikipedia photo)
The U.S. has put off rubber plant production partly because of the extreme labor used in hand-tapping Hevea, the most commonly used rubber plant. Research shows that other types of plants work better with less work. "Rubber-producing plants could be grown in the U.S. — not to mention planted and harvested mechanically, rather than with the arduous manpower required for Hevea — on a massive scale," Morgan reports. "Guayule offers many opportunities for farmers, especially in parts of the U.S. that are growing more difficult to irrigate and cultivate."

The next hurdle for American rubber production is finding a manufacturer. Katrina Cornish, professor of horticulture and biological engineering at Ohio State University, told Morgan, "It's all there, there's just no processing infrastructure. We've got farmers who are willing to grow these crops and lots of companies wanting to buy the latex. We need a full-scale processing plant, and we're looking at somewhere around a $70 million price tag." Morgan reports, "Once it's refined, Cornish added, rubber made from guayule or any other plant could be used — it could upend our entire rubber supply chain."

A pasteurization primer explains why processed milk is safe to drink even amid avian flu outbreaks in dairy cow herds

Undeniably Dairy photo
The outbreak of H5N1 avian flu has now infected cows, sparking widespread concern about the safety of consuming cow milk. Dairy expert Kerry E. Kaylegian explains pasteurization and how it plays a crucial role in preventing foodborne illness, including avian flu, for The Conversation, an academic journalistic platform.

What can make milk unsafe? Like many animal foods, dairy products come with "numerous opportunities for contamination by pathogens that cause illness and organisms that make food spoil," Kaylegian writes. "Our milk comes from animals that graze outdoors and live in barns. Milk is picked up from the farm in tanker trucks and delivered to the processing plant. . . . Listeria monocytogenes comes from environmental sources like soil and water. . . . Other pathogens commonly associated with dairy animals and raw milk include E. coli, Campylobacter, the most common cause of diarrheal illness in the U.S.; and Salmonella."

How does heat make dairy safer to consume?
"Pasteurization heats every particle of a food to a specific temperature for a continuous length of time to kill the most heat-resistant pathogen associated with that product," Kaylegian explains. 

How is dairy pasteurized? Milk processors can choose between pasteurization methods, such as vat or  high-temperature short-time pasteurization, which can process large quantities of milk. However, the end result is the same: pathogen-free milk. Kalegian writes, "Processors may treat milk beyond minimum times or temperatures to provide an extra margin of safety or to reduce bacteria that can cause milk to spoil, thus increasing the product's shelf life."

How does avian flu in cows change how dairy products are handled?
The processes are the same, and once milk is pasteurized, it is considered safe. Kaylegian adds, "Research so far has shown that virus particles end up in the milk of infected cows but that pasteurization will inactivate the virus. The Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers not to drink raw milk because there is limited information about whether it may transmit avian flu. . . . The agency also urges producers not to manufacture or sell raw milk or raw milk products, including cheese, made from milk from cows showing symptoms of illness." 

Kerry E. Kaylegian is an extension food scientist in Pennsylvania. As part of her work, she provides technical support to milk processors working to produce high-quality, safe dairy foods. 

To watch a video on pasteurization, click here.

Opinion: Addressing white rural rage may mean using a broader scope of understanding and asking better questions

The book White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy by Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman has continued to stir debate. The Rev. Daniel Schultz shares his insights on the book's controversial themes in his opinion for Raw Story. An excerpt of his opinion is shared below. To read his entire opinion, click here.

To begin with, the book faces two primary objections. "First, Schaller and Waldman may have misrepresented or misunderstood scholarship on the rural context. Second, their thesis — that white rural voters pose a unique threat to American democracy — may be overstated and undersupported.

"I've known of Schaller and Waldman's work for a long time and know Tom himself at least a little. So, I was surprised to see the vehemence and breadth of the pushback on the new book. I was equally surprised to see other folks I know strongly defend their thesis. The authors got their own word in at The New Republic."

Natilyn Photography image, Unsplash
It's time to consider that rural voters may be voting for race. "While I was groping around for what I did want to say, Noah Berlatsky ... just went ahead and nailed it: 'Democrats struggle not with rural voters in general, but with white rural voters in particular. And white rural voters do not vote for the GOP because they are rural. They vote for the GOP because they are white.'

"That's pretty much it. As one scholar argues, if you control for other factors, the difference between rural and urban voting patterns essentially disappears. Race is a much stronger predictor than things like income, religion or place of residence."

Social life and an unwillingness to 'rock the boat' motivate rural voters. "There is one factor particular to rural areas that deserves consideration before we look at potential answers to the 'rural problem.' Rural folks traditionally don't move around as much as city folks. Deep roots feed social capital through rich networks of relations, neighbors and friends. . . . But those same roots provide lots of incentives not to rock the social boat."

"There's a need to start asking better questions. "I don't say these things to valorize or demonize rural areas. It's just that knowing them helps us to ask the right questions. . . . The usual hot take is that they've been hoodwinked by Republicans into voting on culture rather than cold hard cash. But that doesn't give them much credit. They're not fools." 

"Democrats and progressives will need to do a lot less writing off rural districts as hopeless and a lot more intentional work on developing solidarity with them. . . . It would help if there were a leftwing media ecosystem to push the good news coming out of those developments."

Quick hits: Documentary on Uvalde Leader-News shooting coverage to air; adding solar can benefit farms; wildfire prep

Front page of Uvalde Leader-News special
memorial section for Robb Elementary shooting.
A new documentary, Print It Black, that premieres on ABC News Live and Hulu at 8 p.m., E.T. on Friday, May 24, will examine how Uvalde Leader-News journalists covered the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in 2022, reports Kory Grow of Rolling Stone magazine. "A trailer for the film shows the stress and devastation the staff felt in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, beginning with reporter Kimberly Mata-Rubio, who lost her daughter, Alexandria, in the massacre." The trailer also presents the "public cries for justice that followed the massacre, which was made worse by a delay on the part of local authorities to act after the shooting began."

Some farmers are welcoming solar energy as a way to save on their electrical bills and maximize land use. "Jerry Howle was skeptical about installing a $300,000 solar panel system on his South Carolina chicken farm. Then he found out he could get it free of charge," report Amrith Ramkumar and Patrick Thomas of The Wall Street Journal. "Solar panels now sit on his two chicken houses, powering giant fans that keep as many as 60,000 birds inside cool. The panels are being paid for entirely by subsidies from the new climate law and will virtually eliminate the farm's $10,000 annual utility bill."

Wildfire season can be unpredictable, but planning and reliable tools can make managing it easier. Wirecutter has gathered a "best of wildfire preparedness" to help those who live in wildfire-prone areas be as ready as possible. "This guide to wildfire preparedness builds on the expertise of its original author, Eve O'Neill, who was forced to evacuate her California home in 2017 during the Tubbs Fire, which killed 22 people," reports Ellen Airhart of Wirecutter. "This list was also informed by interviews and research conducted for our larger guides to the best emergency-preparedness supplies and the best gear for your bug-out bag."

Solar storms knocked some farmers offline during peak
planting time. (Photo by Chris Ensminger, Unsplash)
While active solar storms knocked some farmers offline during the thick of planting season, the problem was not as dramatic as some reported. "Many farmers were forced to press pause and wait until GPS satellites came back online. . . . It seems, however, that like most things discussed online [on] social media channels perhaps made the situation seem a bit more dire than it turned out," reports Matthew J. Grassi of Farm Journal. Curt Covington from AgAmerica told Grassi, "There were some scattered reports of these storms delaying planting over the weekend, particularly in the Midwest, but no major disruptions have been reported by farmers at this time."

Many American families are facing some hard health care realities -- there aren't enough in-home care workers and those that do exist are often outside of their financial reach. As a result, many children are forced to care for aging or injured family members, reports Clare Ansberry of The Wall Street Journal. "There are an estimated 5.4 million children under the age of 18 providing care to parents, grandparents or siblings with chronic medical conditions or functional decline, up from about 1.3 million nearly 20 years ago, according to two reports from the National Alliance for Caregiving and others."

U.S. mining company Energy Fuels opened the mines last
year. (Photo by S. Hermann/F. Richter, Pixabay via MT)

To lessen U.S. dependence on Russian uranium and keep global energy promises, "Three uranium mines have gone into production along the Arizona-Utah border, with more on the way elsewhere in the Mountain West, as market conditions for the mineral needed for nuclear energy improve in response to a global push to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels to slow climate change," reports Wyatt Myskow of Inside Climate News. "The biggest problem the mining industry faces — especially with uranium—is opposition from local communities, tribes and environmentalists. The three mines that just started operations endured years of pushback and litigation."

Friday, May 17, 2024

Journalists can help their audience avoid purchasing or renting real estate with environmental problems

House in Bethel, Vermont, severely damaged by Hurricane
Irene. (USFWS from Flickr Creative Commons via SEJ)

Purchasing a home or renting a place with environmental concerns can be financially, physically and emotionally harmful. Journalists can help their readers and listeners avoid these problems by focusing stories on real estate risks. State and local governments require disclosure of some of those risks before a sale, but others, such as flood risks, may fall outside government oversight, reports Joseph A. Davis for the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Not all home sellers and agents will disclose dangers or flaws unless compelled to. "Sellers will play up features like schools, shopping, transit, restaurants and so on. Drinking water problems? Not so much," Davis writes. "What some consumer advocates miss is how many environmental risks come with real estate purchases."

Davis provides a list of story ideas to consider as your audience heads into prime real estate sales and moving season. A limited number of his ideas are edited and shared below. For the full list, click here.

Disclosure requirements: Every state has different requirements. Find out yours at SOLD.com, a nationwide real estate business.

Home inspectors: Whatever the legal environment near you, professional home inspectors know about it. Find them in your locality. Some may talk to you.

Lead paint: Federal law requires disclosure of lead paint risks in real estate sales. However, the question of whether the risks have been adequately mitigated can be tricky and subjective.

Flood risk/history: Federal law does not require disclosure, but some 29 states do. Find out if your state is one of them. People anywhere can find out if a property lies in the Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated flood plain.

Lead in water: Lead service lines are common in older houses in many U.S. cities. Remember Flint? Only a few states require disclosure.

What's in the drinking water: Some communities have contaminants in their source water and even in their treated drinking water. This is true of private wells, too. Home sellers are not required to disclose this, but the law does require utilities to disclose what's in their treated water. Ask for your utility's Consumer Confidence Report.

Carbon monoxide: If a building is heated with gas or oil (or, rarely, other combustibles), toxic carbon monoxide may be released into the living space. Tuning or replacing the furnace may be in order. CO detectors are rarely required but are inexpensive and available.

Dam safety: Most dams are safe. But if a building is downstream of a large or old dam, check on the risks. Start with the National Inventory of Dams. If a nearby dam is rated "high" or "medium" hazard, there may be issues. What you really want is the inundation map for the dam (if it is accurate and available).

Rural women who experience intimate partner violence face barriers when asking for and accessing help

Adobe Stock photo
While the number of U.S. domestic violence incidents peaked during the pandemic, overall numbers have remained high even as the pandemic has waned. In rural areas, many women still live in fear and face a range of traumatic issues, reports Liz Carey of The Daily Yonder. A new study found that women living in rural settings who experience intimate partner violence, or IPV, need access to more help and outside support.

The study from the University of Minnesota's Rural Health Research Center found that rural victims "face more barriers and resource limitations that could affect their health and well-being," Carey explains. "Attempts to address intimate-partner violence in rural areas should be tailored to the specific needs of the people and places in those areas, the study said."

Alyssa Fritz, who led the research team, said they "spoke with 15 state and national advocacy organizations. . . to determine what barriers rural victims face and what opportunities exist to address those challenges," Carey reports. "All respondents said rural victims lack access to services like shelters, advocacy, legal services and law enforcement. . . . If programs that address intimate partner violence exist, they are underfunded and understaffed."

For rural communities to offer support, victims need to have access to health care, which is sometimes difficult to provide in a rural setting. And women who do find care often face social stigmas for speaking out. "Nearly half of the organizations brought up a lack of privacy and confidentiality in small communities as an extra challenge that rural victims have to consider when they weigh whether or not to reach out for help or leave," Carey adds. "In other cases, attitudes and societal norms in some rural communities may justify or normalize violence and victim-blaming."

Study respondents advocated for more investment in "rural community infrastructure to ensure that IPV victims have the resources they need to leave their abusers and to heal in safety," Carey writes. "From rural housing access to affordable child care to investment in broadband internet and transportation infrastructure, providing rural IPV victims with resources, services and information is key."

Opinion: As new generations move into American politics, changes could 'actually erase' social polarization

Younger generations share more common views.
(Adobe Stock photo)
Will the U.S. ever reach a less polarized political environment? New research indicates that as power transitions to new generations, present tensions may ease, write Sally Friedman and David Schultz for The Conversation, a journalistic platform for academics. "The rise of younger generations to political power may actually erase the deep social divisions associated with polarization. . . . That's one of the strong possibilities for the future suggested by the diverse array of findings of our research."

Friedman and Schultz explain: "For the past 30 years, baby boomers (those born roughly between 1946 and 1964) and members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1925 and 1945) have driven and defined American politics. For the most part, the Silent Generation and the older baby boomers were the core of the Republican Party. The younger baby boomers, along with many Gen Xers (born roughly between 1965 and 1981), formed the core of the Democratic Party."

It's worth noting that millennials (born between 1982 and 1995) and Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2013) have emerged as significant political forces. Their liberal leanings and strong support for the Democratic Party have been instrumental in securing Democratic election victories in 2018, 2020, and 2022, particularly in swing states.

Millennials and Gen Zers, who are less defined by party choice, will replace the previous generations, which "may lessen polarization" caused by strict party affiliation.

Over the last 50 years, more Americans have come to define themselves as left or right-wing, with fewer identifying in the broader middle. However, the current partisanship may subside as new generations move into the political forefront. "Younger generations are more likely to self-identify as liberal. As we and others explain in several chapters of our book, surveys show they are more liberal on a whole range of issues regarding social matters, the economy, immigration and climate change," Friedman and Schulz write. "The consensus on political views among members of these younger generations means there is potential for decreasing polarization."

Ultra-processed foods are unhealthy and may lead to chronic issues more common in rural populations

Ultra-processed foods are more accessible for many
rural residents. (Adobe Stock photo)

A common misconception about rural living is that residents have more access to farm-fresh food, but that idea is more of a myth. Rural residents often lack income and access to healthy, fresh food, which means their diets can evolve into a mishmash of cheaper and more ultra-processed food that may contribute to chronic health problems. Alice Callahan of The New York Times reports, "Scientists have found associations between UPFs and a range of health conditions, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal diseases and depression, as well as earlier death." Many of these conditions are more common in rural populations.

While rural populations aren't alone in eating ultra-processed food, they do tend to be more obese than their urban counterparts, and UPFs can contribute to obesity, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and other health issues. "UPFs can be easy to overeat — maybe because they contain hard-to-resist combinations of carbohydrates, sugars, fats and salt, are high-calorie and easy to chew," Callahan explains. "It's also possible that resulting blood sugar spikes may damage arteries or ramp up inflammation, or that certain food additives or chemicals may interfere with hormones, cause a 'leaky' intestine or disrupt the gut microbiome."

A direct link between obesity and UPFs hasn't been established, but researchers are exploring the relationship. Dr. Kevin Hall, a nutrition and metabolism researcher at the National Institutes of Health, told Callahan, "There are many 'strong opinions' about why ultra-processed foods are unhealthy. But there's actually not a lot of rigorous science on what those mechanisms are."

Some countries have "explicitly recommended avoiding or limiting UPFs or 'highly processed foods,'" Callahan reports. "The U.S. dietary guidelines contain no such advice, but an advisory committee is currently looking into the evidence on how UPFs may affect weight gain, which could influence the 2025 guidelines. . . . It's difficult to know what to do about UPFs in the United States, where so much food is already ultra-processed, and people with lower incomes can be especially dependent on them, Dr. Hall said."

Reimagine Rural podcast just launched its second season; Tony Pipa's latest travels look at rural economics

The Reimagine Rural podcast just launched its second season, which features a deeper exploration of the economic opportunities available to rural towns and how local people are coming together and participating in the process. Once again, Tony Pipa of the Brookings Institute plays host as he travels throughout the United States, visiting rural communities and uncovering what challenges and innovative strategies are taking shape.

This season highlights how rural development often includes engagement with outside interests and investment. In some areas, Pipa explores the new place-based federal resources available through recent legislation, which shows readers how some public policies and rural places combine.

In the first episode, he visits Humboldt, Kansas, and New Berlin, N.Y., to discuss what could be described as a rural version of corporate social responsibility. In the second, he stops in Humboldt County, Calif., to explore the importance of doing things differently if a major offshore wind installation is to fulfill its promise of prosperity for local tribes and residents.

Future episodes will be released throughout the summer. Each one will delve into a specific issue, such as affordable housing, broadband connectivity, and the resurgence in advanced manufacturing. 

Reimagine Rural can be found on any favorite podcast platform, or find the podcasts here (with full transcripts).

Listeners also may be interested in the podcast Funding Rural, hosted by Erin Borla. This podcast discusses how philanthropy can better serve rural communities.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Free webinar on Friday about demystifying LexisNexis for research-based reporting; registration takes 2 minutes

The National Press Club Journalism Institute is hosting a learning webinar on accessing and customizing the LexisNexis database on Friday, May 17 at 11:30 a.m., E.T. 

Register here.

LexisNexis provides a library of legal, business, government, high-tech and news articles, which are starting points for researching story ideas. Its database also provides access to articles that are paywall-protected.

Because LexisNexis houses so much information, the database can be confusing. To teach reporters how to navigate this resource, award-winning investigative reporter and editor Brad Hamilton will walk participants through how to customize LexisNexis to source stories, find unexpected story angles, and identify and reach potential sources through LexisNexis’ "Contact References" database.

LexisNexis is a fee-based database service that some newsrooms provide staff access to. Most public libraries offer access to their communities, and National Press Club members have free access to the LexisNexis database as part of their annual membership. Hamilton will also provide journalists an avenue to access LexisNexis at a discount.

An aluminum smelter hasn't been built in the U.S. in 45 years; proposed sites are in Kentucky and Ohio

Smelting furnaces in an aluminum plant
(Adobe Stock photo)

Aluminum is versatile, abundant and light, and it is in hundreds of commercial items, including appliances, zippers, golf clubs and indoor furniture. Despite its excellent manufacturing properties, the raw material has production drawbacks — its smelters use loads of electricity and the fossil fuels used to create that electricity harm the environment, reports Maddie Stone of Grist. However, in the United States, the way aluminum is made may soon change. Century Aluminum Company, a global aluminum producer, is negotiating with the Department of Energy for up to $500 million in grant money to build a new aluminum smelter.

Promoted as the "green aluminum smelter," the facility would be "the nation's first new aluminum smelter in 45 years, which could double the amount of virgin, or primary, aluminum the country produces while emitting 75% less CO2 than older smelters, thanks to increased efficiency and the use of renewable electricity," Stone writes. "The grant, which is awaiting finalization, is a 'huge vote of confidence and a shot in the arm' for the industry, said Annie Sartor, the aluminum campaign director at Industrious Labs, a nonprofit focused on industrial decarbonization."

Protecting the environment while supplying the U.S. with tons more aluminum means the production process matters for aluminum, which requires extreme amounts of electricity. Rebecca Dell, an industrial decarbonization expert with the nonprofit ClimateWorks, told Stone, "We're talking about truly eye-watering amounts of electricity. . . . The first, most important thing to do is to use clean electricity."

Creating a climate-friendly smelter means Century Aluminum must find a site to support its clean energy demands. "According to the DOE, Century Aluminum's preferred site is in Kentucky, a state with lackluster clean energy credentials," Stone writes. "Sartor says she expects a plant of this size to require 'somewhere in the neighborhood of a gigawatt' of power.'" Sartor added, "The only way that will happen is if gargantuan amounts of clean energy get built in Kentucky. . . . There's no other way around this."

While Kentucky is the favored location, Century Aluminum hasn't decided. "Locations within the Ohio and Mississippi River basins are also reportedly under consideration," Stone reports. "Dell believes that brings an interesting political dimension to the project because Century Aluminum expects the smelter to create more than 1,000 full-time union jobs and another 5,500 construction jobs."

Incoming president of American Medical Association says AMA cares about getting more doctors in rural areas

With new research showing rural Americans are more likely to die early from the five leading causes of death than their urban counterparts, "the American Medical Association is sounding the alarm," reports Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News.

AMA President-elect Bruce Scott (AMA photo)
"Rural health is America's health," Dr. Bruce Scott, the AMA president-elect, told reporters in a May 9 press conference in conjunction with the National Rural Health Association annual conference in New Orleans. "We need policymakers to understand that the American Medical Association is deeply concerned about the ever-widening health disparities between urban and rural communities, disparities that are at the root of why rural Americans suffered disproportionately high rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory illness, diabetes, and unintentional injuries." 

Scott, who is board-certified in both otolaryngology and facial plastic surgery, will become AMA president in June. He pointed to several environmental, economic and social factors factors that put people who live in rural communities at a higher risk of death from these often preventable conditions. But the AMA's focus, he said, is on the health-care worker and the physician shortage and how this affects rural people's health. 

He added that these shortages are hitting rural areas the largest and are "creating health-care trends that are simply unacceptable. We need to reverse these trends for all individuals to live a long, healthy and active life." Scott said rural areas have about 30 physician specialists for every 100,000 residents, compared to 236 per 100,000 in urban communities, and he noted that more than 130 rural hospitals closed from 2010 to 2021, with many more on the verge of closing today. 

Also, he said that in 2023, 65% of rural communities had insufficient access to primary-care physicians, including pediatricians. And, he said there are not enough residency spots to train doctors in rural areas. "History has shown us that residents, 80% of the time, tend to wind up practicing within 80 miles of where they've done the residency," Scott said. "So residency location becomes very important. In addition, medical schools are receiving fewer and fewer applicants from individuals from rural areas."

When dollar stores open in rural places, local independent grocers take more of a hit than their urban counterparts

Rural groceries are less likely to survive a dollar store opening.
(USDA graphic)
The local grocery has long been an important fixture in small-town life. But as dollar stores have popped up across the country, rural grocers have had a more difficult time staying open than their urban counterparts, report Keenan Marchesi, Sandro Steinbach, and Rigoberto A. Lopez for Amber Waves. "In 2015, independent grocers represented about half of the food retailers in 44 percent of U.S. counties. Leading up to 2015, however, dollar stores were becoming increasingly visible in rural counties, according to the USDA Economic Research Service research."

Researchers analyzed data from urban and rural grocers from 2000 to 2019 to determine how a new dollar store's entry affected independent grocery stores. Amber Waves reports, "Results showed that when a dollar store opened in a census tract [rural or urban], independent grocery retailers were 2.3% more likely, on average, to exit the market. Employment at independent grocery stores fell about 3.7%, and sales declined by 5.7%"

ERS chart
The data revealed a contrast in the economic impact of a dollar store opening in a rural area compared to an urban one. "For instance, the likelihood of an independent grocery store exiting a rural census tract after a new dollar store opened was 5%, about three times greater than in urban census tracts," Marchesi, Steinbach and Lopez explain. "Similarly, the decline in employment in rural tracts was about 2.5 times as large as in urban tracts, and the decline in sales was nearly double in rural census tracts."

The research also showed that a rural independent grocery store was less likely to rebound from the negative financial impact caused by a dollar store opening. By contrast, urban independent grocers were able to weather a dollar store's entry. Amber Waves reports, "This could reduce grocery store options in rural areas for the longer term. Dollar stores generally have a more limited selection of food products, focusing more on prepacked and processed foods." When a local rural grocery closes and doesn't return, residents' access to fresher, healthier food will at least in part be decided by what dollar stores choose to stock, which could ultimately hurt a community's overall health.

Early week quick hits: Addressing mental health issues; finding funny stories; using lasers to make birds leave

Colorado Department of Agriculture photo via Successful Farming

Farming and ranching are two livelihoods that are tough on the human body and mind. For men and women in either or both professions, seeking help for mental stress can mean overcoming social stigmas and a lack of access. A new film, Legacy, from the Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado Farm Bureau aims to break down social barriers for farmers and ranchers who experience isolation and mental health issues, reports Lisa Foust Prater of Successful Farming. The film takes viewers into the stories of "several farmers and ranchers who share glimpses into their lives, including losing a loved one to suicide or facing their own struggles with mental health. . . .They speak candidly about the struggles faced by those working in agriculture and the difficulties with finding help." Watch the film here.

Cancer used to be a disease people mostly over 50 had to worry about. Now, many younger people are turning up with aggressive cancers, and researchers can't yet explain what has changed. "Adults in the prime of their lives, often otherwise outwardly healthy, are dying of cancers that appear to develop more quickly and be more deadly than in the past, for reasons that scientists cannot adequately explain, reports Dylan Scott of Vox. "Scientific authorities around the world see this as one of the most pressing questions for modern medicine."
Reading a funny book can make life sweeter.
(Adobe Stock photo)

One of The Rural Blog writers insists that the world needs more laughter. With that idea in mind, here are 22 books that could help you giggle, guffaw, chortle and even snort out loud. "The humor these authors embrace traverses the gamut, from sardonic to screwball, mordant to madcap, droll to deranged," report Dwight Garner, Alexandra Jacobs and Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times. "The critic Albert Murray understood that wit is power, and that knowing where the funny is takes us closer to the nub of things. Best of all, it's available to anyone. As Murray wrote, 'It is always open season on the truth.'"

As many rural hospitals and clinics have closed or limited services, getting medical care or chronic health treatment services has become an uphill battle for residents. The American Heart Association visited Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, the Dakotas and West Virginia to shed light on rural health challenges and how residents and communities are working to overcome obstacles. Their exploration and discussions are presented in the docuseries, "Health Wanted: Find Care in Rural America." Click here for each state's episode.

Lasers can deter birds.
(Bird Control Group photo via SF)
Some Wisconsin farmers use lasers to keep wild birds away from their animals, reducing their chance of avian flu exposure. "When the human eye examines one of Craig Duhr's lasers at a Wisconsin farm, only a green dot is visible. But to birds, a variety of green beams and shifting patterns appear," reports Jonah Beleckis of Wisconsin Public Radio. Laser beams do not harm birds, but the birds "simply see the lasers as a threat and leave the area. . . . Wisconsin's agriculture department recommends farmers use biosecurity measures, such as lasers, to protect poultry flocks."

Maine Monitor analysis,
from State Fire Marshal data

Maine firefighters have the cool trucks and trademark hats, and some even have a station dog. But fighting fires is not what they spend most of their time doing. Amber Stone of The Maine Monitor reports, "A mere 4.5 percent of the 160,435 calls for service in 2022 were for fires, according to a Monitor analysis of State Fire Marshal data. Seventy percent of those calls were for emergency medical response. More than half of Maine's 338 registered fire departments are also licensed at some level to provide emergency medical services, according to Maine EMS, and more are considering doing so."

Friday, May 10, 2024

Bobbie Foust, still reporting at 90, wins Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism in Kentucky

Bobbie Foust
Bobbie Foust, for decades a fixture in West Kentucky journalism, is the winner of the 2024 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, presented by the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Foust has edited three newspapers in the region and reported for others, and though she just turned 90, she is still covering city council meetings according to her decades-old approach: “Be honest, be accurate; be open with people, be kind when I can, but perform the journalistic function: report the facts and let the results fall where they may.”

In semi-retirement Foust is also writing historical articles about the region, and continuing her community service. In 2018, she served as the news-media liaison and adviser for a group of Marshall County High School students who sought gun-control measures after a mass shooting at the school in the pro-gun county. One of the parents, Gloria Hollifield, said in an award nomination, “She has the tenacity and the courage to stand for what is right, regardless of the backlash she undoubtedly faced.”

While Foust was not acting as a journalist in that role, she was using her journalism experience and skills to perform a public service, said Al Cross, director emeritus of the rural-journalism institute and secretary of the SPJ chapter. “In community journalism, journalists are by definition members of the community they serve, sometimes in ways other than journalism,” he said. “Bobbie has made clear since supposedly retiring eight years ago that she will continue to help her neighbors with journalism and other community service.”

Foust retired from the Herald-Ledger in Eddyville in January 2016, but has continued to write for The Paducah Sun and The Lake News in Calvert City, and cover the Calvert City council for the Benton Tribune-Courier, which she edited twice. She also edited the Marshall County Messenger and was editor of the Eddyville paper in her first stint there.

She has interviewed Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and Billy Graham; covered executions at the Kentucky State Penitentiary; and has long followed the evolution and devolution of Land Between the Lakes, the recreation area created on 170,000 acres that the Tennessee Valley Authority took from people living between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. As TVA prepared to give up the LBL to the Forest Service, and Foust tried to hold officials’ feet to the fire, TVA Board Chair “Craven [Crowell] got to where he wouldn’t talk to me,” Foust recalled, adding that in her career, “That has been the continuing story that I feel like may have benefited the citizenry.”

Foust began her career at Calvert City’s first newspaper, the Valley Sun, in 1961. The newspaper closed the next year, but Foust said she freelanced as she dealt with “four little curtain-climbers” that she brought into the world from 1956 to 1959. In 1968 she joined The Calvert News and then its parent paper, the Benton Tribune-Democrat, and then its successor, the Tribune Courier. She joined the startup Marshall County Messenger as editor in 1977 and returned to the Tribune Courier in 1979, becoming editor in 1980.

Foust made the Tribune Courier a National Blue Ribbon Newspaper, an award given by the National Newspaper Foundation, and won many awards from the Kentucky Press Association, including Freedom of Information, Community Service, news and sports reporting, and photography. But she fell out with the paper’s owner, Walt Dear, and went to work with her friend Frances Baccus at the Eddyville paper, where she was editor. When it sold three and a half years later, she joined The Paducah Sun, the regional daily, and stayed seven years, until she turned 65.

She and her husband Ray Foust traveled widely, but she also helped with special projects at the Sun, and in 2001 Editor Jim Paxton made her editor of the Tribune Courier, which his family media company had purchased. She left 20 months later when her husband suffered a terminal illness, but after his death again she joined the Herald Ledger, by then also a Paxton paper, as a reporter. Even after she left the job in 2016, she kept doing journalism “because I love it,” she says. “I will probably write something the day that I die. . . . I’m curious about what’s going on; I love interaction with people.”

Institute for Rural Journalism Director Benjy Hamm said, “Few journalists in Kentucky history can match the longevity and level of service that Bobbie Foust has provided as a reporter and editor to numerous communities in the commonwealth since 1961. She exhibits many of the qualities of Al Smith – including a lifetime of service – and is a worthy recipient of the award named for him.”

Bluegrass SPJ President Casey Parker-Bell of KET, a fellow native of the Jackson Purchase, said, “Bobbie Foust’s story exemplifies the type of journalism that Kentucky needs. She has the tenacity and courage all journalists should strive for, and is deserving of this year’s Al Smith Award.”

The award is named for the late Albert P. Smith Jr., who was the driving force for creation of the Institute for Rural Journalism, headed its advisory board and was its chair emeritus until his death in 2021. He published newspapers in Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the first winner of the award, in 2011.

Foust will be honored at the Al Smith Awards Dinner Oct. 10 at the Embassy Suites Lexington on Newtown Pike, near Interstate 64/75. She will be joined by Eric Meyer, editor-publisher of the Marion County Record in Kansas, the 2024 winner of the Institute’s national Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, along with winners of chapter scholarships. The guest speaker will be Campbell Robertson, who covers Kentucky and other states for The New York Times. For updates see www.RuralJournalism.org.

Besides Smith, previous winners of the Smith Award, and their affiliations at the time, are:
2012: Jennifer P. Brown, Kentucky New Era; and Max Heath, Landmark Community Newspapers
2013: John Nelson, Danville Advocate-Messenger
2014: Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery, The Daily Yonder
2015: Carl West, The State Journal, Frankfort
2016: Sharon Burton, Adair County Community Voice and The Farmer’s Pride
2017: Ryan Craig, Todd County Standard, and the late Larry Craig, Green River Republican
2018: Stevie Lowery, The Lebanon Enterprise
2019: David Thompson, Kentucky Press Association
2020: Becky Barnes, The Cynthiana Democrat
2021: WKMS News, Murray State University
2022: Chris and Allison Evans, The Crittenden Press, Marion
2023: Ben Gish and Sam Adams, The Mountain Eagle, Whitesburg