Saturday, July 14, 2007

Democrats divided over curbing farm subsidies, an idea Bush supports; committee meets Tuesday

House Democratic leaders have said they will not accept a "status quo" Farm Bill, which is up for renewal this year, but they are getting some unexpected disagreement from members of their caucus, including new members from districts where relatively few farmers get payments from commodity programs. (Dept. of Agriculture map)

Freshman Democratic Rep. Zack Space of eastern Ohio has a "district of small and medium-size farms . . . far down the list of those receiving government farm payments," but opposes "major changes in the traditional price and income support programs," Dan Morgan reports in today's Washington Post. Space is one of nine freshman Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee, which will take up the bill on Tuesday. He told the Post, "I'm with the farmers back home who are generally satisfied with the commodity program we have."

Morgan writes, "A coalition of Democratic-leaning environmental organizations, anti-poverty groups and church organizations are pushing to redirect some subsidies to conservation, wetlands preservation, rural development and nutrition. But top Democrats are reluctant to push too hard for changes that could put at risk Democratic freshmen from 'red' states . . . where the farm vote is still a factor in close elections."

Morgan's story is a good summary of the issues swirling around the bill, which finds the Bush administration wanting reforms that Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota resists. To read it, click here.

Rural towns in Midwest turn sour on Iraq war as more of their youth die, Washington Post says

Tipton, Iowa, gave President Bush "the benefit of the doubt" when he launched the war in Iraq, but now that the town of 3,100 has lost two soldiers, its attitude toward Bush and his strategy has "turned more personal and more negative," reports Peter Slevin of The Washington Post's Midwest Bureau in Chicago.

"While opposition to the war has been stronger and more visible on the East and West coasts, small towns in the heartland and the South have provided the Bush administration with some of its most steadfast backers. But that support has cracked amid the echoes of graveside bagpipes and 21-gun salutes, which have been heard with greater frequency in recent months in small Midwestern communities. Two prominent Republican senators who broke with the president this month come from the nation's midsection. Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Richard Lugar (Ind.) said Bush needs to find a new direction in Iraq and a way to start bringing the troops home."

Back to Tipton, and its reaction to the recent death of Army Spec. David W. Behrle: "Regular business at City Hall stopped for a week before Behrle's body came home, as staff members made sure routes were cleared, streets were swept and flags reached the right places. 'In a town of 3,000, you wouldn't expect two of them to be killed,' Mayor Don Young said. The town's weekly newspaper, the Tipton Conservative, devoted its entire front page to the rain-swept, flag-bearing crowds that greeted the return of Behrle's body. Photos of Behrle, from a childhood Halloween to a tour in Iraq, filled an inside page. Included in the brief text was a comment from his family: 'He is 'The Man," and our hero.'" (Read more)

Krista Clark of the Conservative noted in an editorial that the county is now home to a third Iraq casualty: "Cedar County had less contact with Donald Griffith, Jr., the son of Diane and Donald Sr. of Mechanicsville. Twenty-nine when he died in a firefight in Tal Afar, Donny was a career Army soldier who was stationed and living in Ft. Lewis, Wash. before being sent to Iraq. But even though Donny had grown up in Las Vegas, the Griffith family has deep roots in Cedar County, especially in Mechanicsville, and it was back to his parents’ and his wife’s home, back to Cedar County, that he came to be buried after losing his life in the conflict." (Map from MSN Encarta)

Edwards already making headlines in Appalachia with planned Wednesday stops retracing RFK's

A planned visit by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was the lead story in this week's edition of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., and a planned stop on the other side of Pine Mountain in Wise, Va., won Edwards a story in the Coalfield Progress of Norton, Wise County's main paper. The Big Sandy News, named for far Eastern Kentucky's main river, had three articles pegged to Edwards' planned stop in Prestonsburg, including an editorial headlined "Visit is welcome but could have negative impact." (MapQuest route)

The Eagle said Edwards would be the first presidential candidate in Letcher County since Robert Kennedy came in 1968, as an "unannounced candidate" exploring poverty. Edwards is retracing the Appalachian part of Kennedy's route Wednesday to conclude a tour focused on poverty. The Eagle ran a large Associated Press color photo of Edwards on its front page, and continued its story to the editorial page, with a Tom Bethell photo of Kennedy in the town of Fleming-Neon. The paper noted that "President Lyndon Johnson declared the war on poverty in 1964 from Eastern Kentucky." The Big Sandy News, a regional, twice-weekly paper, noted Johnson's visit "to Martin and Johnson counties," which the paper serves.

"While we're pleased that a presidential candidate is showing an interest in Eastern Kentucky, we're a little cautious about Edwards' visit since the theme of his tour is poverty," opined Tony Fyffe of the News, predicting "news footage of rundown homes, trash-ridden roads and streams, etc. . . . We don't deny that thousands upon thousands of Eastern Kentuckians live in poverty, but that's the one negative image the region and the state have had to overcome for decades. Forget about the wealth and all of the successes, Kentucky is nothing more than a poverty-stricken state, according to the national media. . . . If he wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we hope Edwards returns to the region and puts his poverty action plan to work. Something tells us, however, that we'll be just a memory as soon as the tour bus leaves the region next Wednesday." The Big Sandy News has a subscription-only Web site.

Bonnie Bates of the Progress, citing a campaign release, says the former U.S. senator from North Carolina "will arrive in Wise sometime on July 17. . . . On July 18, Edwards will make an appearance at the county fairgrounds as volunteers prepare for this year’s Remote Area Medical health outreach, according to a media contact for Edwards’ campaign." Then Edwards will to to Whitesburg to answer questions from young people at the Appalshop media and arts center, and finally to Prestonsburg for a speech at the old Floyd County Courthouse. The Progress has a subscription site. The Mountain Eagle is not online.

Edwards' tour "will reinvigorate an old campaign theme and test an even older notion: that talking about poor people is a politically losing proposition," writes Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times. "The poverty rate in America has stayed fairly constant since the late 1960s. But polls show that the issue of poverty and homelessness consistently ranks low among voters' priorities. The discussion has become so fraught with moral and racial overtones that presidential contenders often find it best to say little or nothing. But Edwards insists that "people do care" about those less fortunate and believe government has a role, even a responsibility, to help those who cannot help themselves. They just have to be asked." Nine paragraphs later, Barabak writes, "Edwards could also benefit from talking about poverty, precisely because there is apparently so little political gain, demonstrating a personal conviction that transcends polling." At the story's end, he notes that the poverty tour could also counteract recent publicity about Edwards' wealth and $400 haircut. (Read more)

Maine and the Dakotas have the deadliest rural roads, study concludes

Maine had the deadliest rural roads in the United States in 2005, followed by North and South Dakota, with Iowa and Vermont tied for fourth, according to research by the Center of Excellence on Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota. The rankings are based on percentage of fatalities outside cities with a population of 5,000 or more, without regard to rural road mileage; Maine's figure was 92 percent.

In Minnesota, the state with the 15th deadliest rural roads, the study found that 72 percent of the state's traffic fatalities in 2005 occurred in areas that were defined as rural, reports Sarah Kirchner of the Albert Lea Tribune: "Overall, the Upper Midwest is a deadly place for drivers on country roads." (Read more) To see where your state ranked in 2005 and 2004, click here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Kentucky venture-capital firm pushes complete plumbing-and-electric unit to improve housing

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. invests in southeastern Kentucky, one of America's poorer regions. The area has much substandard housing, often so categorized because of plumbing issues. Now the venture-capital firm has started a business of its own, to address the housing problem and eventually create jobs.

Kentucky Highlands is building and installing “housing cores,” which have a finished kitchen, bathroom and laundry room ready to be hooked up to plumbing and electricity. It plans to demonstrate the unit at an “extreme build” home project with 150 volunteers in McCreary County on Monday, the sixth house with one of the cores. The company plans to build 14 more, for a total of 20, but says the units can also be used to upgrade houses that lack modern plumbing; it says there are 17,000 such homes in Appalachian Kentucky.

The cores installed so far have been built by contractors. The company hopes to develop a market for the cores and build a factory to construct them and hire people from the region, said Elmer Parlier, its vice president for investments. Even without a factory, “It would increase the quantity and quality of affordable housing in the area, increase homeownership opportunities in KHIC’s service area and create jobs while providing construction skills training,” said Jerry Rickett, president of the company.

“Providing all the mechanical parts of the house in a factory-built unit ... will make it easier for volunteer groups, such as Habitat for Humanity, to build houses because most of the complex plumbing and electrical tasks have been done before work at the site begins,” KHIC said in a news release.

Retired Army Gen. John Abizaid says Northern Nevada is like the Afghanistan-Pakistan border

Retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid now lives in or near Minden, Nev., about 10 miles south of the state capital of Carson City. Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal said in a post on the paper's Inside Nevada Politics blog that Abizaid said some interesting things about his new neighbors in rural Northern Nevada. She quoted from the Inside the Pentagon newsletter, which had Abizaid saying:

"It's kind of like the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. All the locals are armed. They absolutely hate the federal government. And there's a certain amount of drugs that pass back and forth across the border. So, for those of you who are not in a militia, please come and see me because I'm starting one up there." (Original article is available for $5 from's NewsStand.)

Damon backgrounds: "Abizaid spent four years as U.S. Central Command chief, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other military operations involving critical Middle Eastern countries. His retirement coincided with Bush's surge in Iraq. Abizaid wasn't known as a proponent of the surge and had testified to Congress that the Army couldn't sustain an additional 20,000 troops. Bush ordered a surge of 30,000. According to the Weekly Standard, Abizaid's philosophy in the middle of the war was that American troops acted more as an 'irritant' than a solution and that Iraqi forces would become too reliant upon them for counterinsurgency work." (Read more) Thanks to Rocky Mountain Report for the tip.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

In 'Mayberry,' ex-publishers, local bigwigs starting a paper; existing paper's new owner sues to stop it

"The owners of the The Mount Airy News and The Tribune in Elkin are trying to stop the former publishers of those two papers from printing a competing newspaper Monday," reports Sherry Youngquist of the Winston-Salem Journal. "Heartland Publications LLC has filed a lawsuit against former publishers Mike Milligan and Rebel Good, saying that the men crippled its newspapers last month by taking key employees and information with them" to start a new paper called The Messenger, based in Mount Airy, population 8,000 and the hometown of Andy Griffith and model for TV's Mayberry.

"An attorney representing the new newspaper and its staff said that the group has not filed a response and has 30 days to do so," Youngquist reports. Both men resigned to protest staff cuts made by Heartland when it bought the papers last month. "The suit alleges that information critical to the newspapers, such as passwords, notebooks and circulation lists, was erased or was missing." The suit seeks an injunction and asks that the men "return business information and not employ former workers or contract with former customers." (Read more)

In an earlier story, Youngquist wrote, "Media analysts say that the startup newspaper’s success will depend a lot on the economy but also on the person bankrolling it. C. Richard Vaughn, the CEO of John S. Clark Co. Inc., is the chief financial backer of The Messenger. Vaughn’s general-contracting company does business throughout North Carolina and the Southeast. He is listed on the articles of incorporation filed with the state as the incorporator of Surry Publishing Group Inc., which will publish The Messenger. But Surry Publishing Group’s principal address belongs to Granite Development, which is operated by Vaughn’s son, C. Richard Vaughn Jr., and Craig Hunter, the chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.

"It is unclear how The Messenger’s editorial staff will handle coverage of Hunter and Surry County government. Milligan declined to be interviewed further. But the fact that The Messenger’s editorial staff is made up entirely of local newspaper people who have been in the community many years is a big advantage, said Jock Lauterer, a lecturer and director of Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 'It also depends on a willing readership,' he said. 'If I was going to do this, I’d start a free newspaper and circulate widely.' Milligan declined to say how the newspaper would be circulated." (Read more)

Lady Bird Johnson: A would-have-been reporter who protected rural landscapes

We salute Claudia Alta Taylor "Lady Bird" Johnson, who died yesterday at 94. She did a lot for rural America by promoting highway beautification -- the first legislative initiative by a first lady -- and boosting the political career of a president who advanced programs that help rural people. She was the first chair of Head Start, "the early childhood education program that was a major compnent of his War on Poverty," notes Elaine Woo of the Los Angeles Times. (Read more)

She wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and placed in the top 10 of her graduating class in journalism at the University of Texas, but Lyndon Johnson prevailed. In the White House, she was often his closest adviser, and in 1964, after he signed the landmark Civil Rights Act, she corageously campaigned for his election in eight Southern states where opposition to the law was strong. A life well lived, much in our service.

Julie Ardery of the Daily Yonder pays tribute to Lady Bird, with some lovely pictures of wildflowers along the highways and these closing lines: "This April in Texas was a banner season for bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and white prickly poppy. A bold final spring for Lady Bird." To read the entire tribute, click here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Congressional earmarks going through with little coverage, Novak says

Conservative political columnist Robert Novak writes in the latest Evans-Novak Political Report that the professed transparency of House Democrats when it comes to earmarks on appropriations bills is "a sham" because they routinely vote to approve each other's earmarks and that isn't being covered by the news media.

"Amendments to strike transparent earmarks are brought up for a floor vote, they are overwhelmingly defeated and the news media completely ignore the story," Novak writes. "Searches of Lexis-Nexis and Google News suggest that no one -- and we mean absolutely no one -- has picked up on the story of Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and the embarrassing fight he lost to keep an earmark in his district." We suppose Novak does not include in his definition of "news media", which reported June 28 and July 3 on the removal of McHenry's earmark for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree in Spruce Pine, N.C.

McHenry blamed the 249-174 vote against his $129,000 earmark on his outspoken criticism of Democrats. "Since his election in 2004, McHenry has become one of the Democrats' most vocal critics on the House floor," reported July 3. The earlier story noted that the vote marked the first time that Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has succeeded in removing an earmark. For the latest story, click here. It notes, "Interestingly, four members of McHenry's own state delegation — usually tight-knit groupings — voted against him: Republicans Howard Coble, Robin Hayes and Sue Myrick and Democrat Brad Miller."

Novak may be more on point when it comes to traditional and local coverage. We checked the archives of the Morganton News-Herald, the daily newspaper closest to Spruce Pine, and the latest story on the matter was a June 21 report from Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press, which prominently noted McHenry's earnark, called him a "burr in the side of Democrats running the House" and said an unnamed "senior GOP member of the Appropriations Committee pointed McHenry's earmark out to reporters, calling it 'interesting.'" Sounds like the Democrats wanted at least one earmark they could defeat on the floor. (Read more)

We found nothing on the matter in the archives of the Asheville Citizen-Times, a larger paper almost as close to Spruce Pine but not in McHenry's 10th District. The Hickory Daily Record, largest paper in the 10th, noted the committee action in an editorial critical of earmarking but we found nothing in its archives on the floor vote. Both papers are owned by chains that have Washington reporters. But reporters don't have to be in Washington to write about such matters; there's plenty of information on the Web. Use it!

Small-market TV stations more likely to air 'stealth advertising,' study says

In what researchers call an “apparent threat to the long-term credibility of television news,” 90 percent of 294 monitored newscasts included at least one instance per newscast of “stealth advertising,” which researcher Jim Upshaw calls a commercial message “cloaked in some other garment than a normal commercial.”

“Small-market stations showed more commercially influenced material” than medium- and large-market stations, reports. “Advertisers’ messages are infiltrating small-market television newscasts at about the same percentage that owners of digital video recorders are skipping the commercials.”

Upshaw, a former reporter at the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., is a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon. “Stations are not telling their viewers that what they are putting on the air in news or feature stories or in other news content is being done to court a specific advertiser,” he said. “I think people need to learn to be media literate, informed viewers of television. We may not be able to stop these practices but we need to be aware that these practices do exist.” (Click here for the ScienceBlog summary.)

Upshaw's co-researchers were David Koranda, a visiting professor of advertising, and former journalism doctoral student Gennadiy Chernov, now at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. They “monitored two evening newscasts a month at 17 U.S. stations over four months in early 2004, including a February ratings sweeps week,” ScienceBlog reports. “The researchers explored promotional tone or content, product placement on the screen within stories or even on the desks of anchors, sponsored segments within newscasts and news framing, in which a legitimate story quietly raises positives images of companies or brands. . . . They documented 750 instances, about 2.5 individual slots per newscast – with an average of one minute, 42 seconds per occurrence – of commercial influences.” The study is in the June issue of Electronic News.

Weekly newspaper in rural Kentucky may be small, but it thinks big

The Todd County Standard of Elkton, Ky., has a circulation of about 2,500, but it does a better job than many larger weeklies of putting items on the public agenda. On May 17 we noted its four-story package about the need for broadband Internet service in the county. That was part of the paper's year-long "Focus on the Future" series, which continued last week with "Some BIG Ideas" for the county of 12,000 people.

The paper presented the ideas without regard to what they might cost, but none of them were outlandish. "Let's just talk about what might be possible and perhaps someday someone with the resources or the drive might just succeed," said the staff-written story. In other words, the paper is planting seeds, giving them a first dose of water and hoping others will agree to take over. That's a worthy mission for a local media outlet.

The ideas included a drive-in theater; a theme park; a wedding chapel, which might appeal to nearby Fort Campbell; a museum that shows how tobacco, still an important local crop, is grown; and "a computer for every child in Todd County that needs one." The paper invited readers to submit their own ideas, which will be published in the Aug. 29 edition. The Standard has no Web site, but click here and here to see the pages.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

China, under world scrutiny for food safety, executes food-and-drug chief for taking bribes

"In perhaps a demonstration of how serious China is about shoring up the safety of its food products, Beijing executed the former head of its State Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday," Tom Johnston of reports. Zheng Xiaoyu, 63, was convicted of taking bribes to approve untested medicine that was blamed for at least 10 deaths. The official news agency Xinhua (which posted the photo, of Zheng in court last month) did not disclose the manner of execution. "Zheng's execution was concurrent with a press conference at which China's top food and drug regulatory agencies vowed to crack down on counterfeit food and medicine," MeatingPlace reports. "Beijing has been pressured to make vast improvements after a spate of health scares tied to sub-par products, including exports of tainted food and fake drugs. (Read more) For a longer Associated Press report, click here. For the Xinhua story, click here.

Both Lancaster dailies, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, among Editor & Publisher's '10 that do it right'

Only two U.S. daily newspapers have "Lancaster" in their name, both serve many rural communities, and both are on Editor & Publisher magazine's annual list of "10 That Do It Right," a group of newspapers "shattering the perception that this is a slow-moving dinosaur of an industry that refuses to adapt to rising needs and fresh opportunities," the magazine says. "This is never a '10 Best' list, thankfully, but rather a tip of the hat to a handful of news-papers of widely varying size that have made great strides, and can serve as a model, in one or more important areas: technology, marketing, reporting, design, online, photography, community awareness, diversity, advertising, even blogging and social networking." E&P says of the Lancaster papers:

"The Lancaster (Pa.) New Era was doing something right long before the past year. It won state awards, and was the rare afternoon daily with almost as much circulation as its morning counterpart. But the New Era, founded in 1877, received national attention when its coverage of last October's tragic shootings of five Amish schoolgirls won honors including the Pulliam prize and the Religion Communicators Council's Wilbur Award." Its circulation is 41,306; Lancaster's 2000 population was 56,348, the county's 470,658.

"Lancaster, Ohio, pop. 35,335, won't ever be confused with Manhattan. Columbus is the nearest big city, about 35 minutes away. Go north, says Lancaster Eagle-Gazette Publisher Rick Szabrak, and you're in new suburbia. Go south, and you're in farmland. So when Managing Editor Antoinette Taylor-Thomas is interviewing any young person — especially a candidate of color — she stays 'blatantly honest' about homey Lancaster, where racial and ethnic minorities make up just 5.3 percent of the community." The Gannett Co. Inc. paper's circulation is 13,166. (Details on E&P's subscription-only Web site)

Community pharmacists say they're 'outraged' about proposed Medicare changes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed cuts in pharmacy reimbursements Friday, prompting "outrage," a word not usually seen in business-group press releases, from the National Community Pharmacists Association, many members of which are in rural areas.

NCPA said the proposed reimbursement formula for generic prescriptions, based on a new definition of "average manufacturer price," will drive some pharmacies out of business and "dramatically reduce patient access to community pharmacies." The group said independent pharmacies "represent 42 percent of retail pharmacies and serve a large number of underserved rural and densely populated urban areas."

The group said the average community pharmacy's profit in 2006 was $128,968, and a Government Accountability Office report in December estimated that the loss expected as a result of the new formula would be $120,622. "In other words, virtually all profit would be eliminated," NCPA said. "Under these business conditions many community pharmacies will be forced to no longer participate in Medicaid program or even go out of business, which will leave their patients to either find other alternatives for their pharmacy services or be forced to visit emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. The cost to taxpayers will increase because of this misguided approach." For the full press release, click here.

More reasons to care about the Freedom of Information Act reform bill stalled in the Senate

The Rural Blog and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues are not advocates -- except for coverage of issues, and laws that help journalists perform their First Amendment functions. That's why we keep reminding you that the House has passed a bill to improve the Freedom of Information Act and the Senate is sitting on it, because of a "hold" by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the 41-year-old FOIA is that costly lawsuits are often the only way to challenge federal agencies' denial of records or get them to even respond to records requests. Most states have an official, such as the attorney general, to provide a quick, inexpensive appeal. The bill in Congress would create a FOIA ombudsman to mediate disputes between agencies and record-seekers. It would also restore meaningful deadlines for agency, create real consequences for agencies that miss deadlines; clarify that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors and set up a FOIA hotline service. For details on the bill, from sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., click here.

Some requests filed almost 20 years ago are still pending, according to the Knight Open Government Survey released July 2 by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. "In January, the archive filed FOIA requests with 87 federal agencies for copies of their 10 oldest open or pending requests," writes Stephanie Kanowitz, Web editor for Federal Computer Week magazine. "Five agencies — the State Department, Air Force, CIA and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and FBI — reported FOIA requests that have been pending for at least 15 years, according to the report. Other findings include: Ten agencies misreported their oldest pending FOIA requests to Congress in their fiscal 2006 Annual FOIA Reports, which are required by law; 10 agencies misrepresented their FOIA backlogs to Congress; several agencies contradicted their own responses to the archive’s two previous “10 oldest” audits by reporting requests this year that were significantly older than those they produced in 2003 or 2005.

So, why should rural journalists care about FOIA? Because it opens to door to information in federal agencies that can have a lot to do with things in your area -- crime, education, the environment and federal spending, to name a few. If you think the act needs improving, write about it -- and ask your senator about it the next time he or she comes to visit. For an example, from the Kentucky New Era, see the third item below.

Weekly papers in N.C. win appeals-court ruling preventing abuse of open-records exception

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has reversed part of a trial-court ruling that allowed local ofificals to keep two weekly newspapers from getting a document because it had been placed into a personnel file.

"Whether a document is part of a 'personnel file' ... depends upon the nature of the document and not upon where the document has been filed," the panel wrote in a unanimous decision. The case was brought by The News-Reporter of Whiteville, a twice-weekly paper, and the weekly Tabor-Loris Tribune against Columbus County officials who withheld a letter sought by the papers.

In September 2005, when the county Board of Commissioners was considering whether to renew a contract with its medical director, the emergency-services director sent the board a letter discussing his work with the medical director and recommending that a new one be hired. The county made no change, and denied the newspapers' request for a copy of the letter, arguing it was exempt from the open-records law because it was in a personnel file and dealt with the performance of a county employee, The Associated Press reports.

The appeals court wrote, "While portions of the letter are protected from disclosure, those portions can be redacted, and the remainder — falling within the Public Records Act — provided to plaintiffs." The court said making anything in a personnel file exempt from disclosure "could result in governments transforming a newspaper clipping that addressed a government employee's performance into a confidential record," AP reports. For the full story, via the First Amendment Center, click here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Romney has commanding organizational lead in Iowa, but stretches the truth

"Six months before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney has taken a commanding organizational lead in this traditional kick-off state," reports Jonathan Martin of "John McCain's financial difficulties have forced him to dramatically scale back his Iowa campaign, and it's not clear whether former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or ex-Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will fully engage in the Hawkeye State caucuses. (Associated Press photo)

"That leaves Romney as the sole representative of the GOP top tier to commit to the traditional Ames Straw Poll and offer himself to voters for up close and personal inspections. The former Massachusetts governor has 20 full-time staffers, coordinators in most of the state's 99 counties, and a group of about 50 "super volunteers" that has already swept through the universe of likely caucus-goers with initial phone calls and have begun going door to door in key precincts. His effort got a big boost last week when McCain, down to just $2 million cash on hand, halved his Iowa staff to seven to save money."

Martin blames McCain's support of the failed immigration bill, and notes that Guiliani has made changes in his Iowa staff, but you have to wait until the second page of the story to see the reason we think Romney is ahead in Iowa: He's the only candidate who's run TV and radio ads. And they were good ads. (Read more) They were compelling. However, they stretched the truth, says the Annenberg Political Fact Check at the University of Pennsylvania, which said today that he "exaggerates his record and traffics in ambiguous language." We'd spell it "trafficks," but we put much stock in FactCheck, because it's run by Brooks Jackson, a former investigative and political reporter for The Wall Street Journal and CNN. To read his latest on Romney, go to

Kentucky newspaper holds McConnell's feet to the fire on Freedom of Information Act reform bill

The Kentucky New Era, an 11,000-circulation daily in Hopkinsville, Ky., continues to take a leadership role in trying to get the U.S. Senate to consider a bill that would improve the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The paper published an editorial June 27 asking Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to get Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to release his “hold” on the bill, which the Justice Department opposes. Last week, when McConnell was in town, New Era reporter Joe Parrino buttonholed him on the subject.

“McConnell defended a move by his colleague Sen. Jon Kyl to hold back legislation on the release of public information," Parrino reported. "McConnell said he hadn’t yet discussed the matter directly with Kyl but understood his colleague’s reservation to be about the bill’s national-security implications. McConnell dismissed any notion that Kyl is trying to bury the bill.”

“All Sen. Kyl is saying is that we need to bring it up, debate it and he may need an amendment,” McConnell told Parrino. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not going to pass.” Parrino noted, “Kyl placed the hold secretly and owned up to it only when the Society of Professional Journalists queried every single U.S. senator about the matter.” (Read more) For details of the bill, click here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Freshman Democrats Webb, Tester, McCaskill are the U.S. Senate's ‘redneck caucus’

The Rural Blog has taken note of Virginia's Jim Webb since he started running for the U. S. Senate in 2006, mainly because a major part of his strategy was to bring rural voters back to the Democratic Party -- and he succeeded. He also started making waves very quickly, having a personal dust-up with President Bush at the White House. Now he and Bush are back on speaking terms, and he has "lowered his profile," but his criticism of Bush's Mideast policies, which helped elect Webb, "is unabated," reports The Virginian-Pilot.

Dale Eisman reports from Washington that Webb "and several other first-term Democrats, particularly Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, have formed an informal ' redneck caucus.' It's an allusion to their residence in 'red,' or Republican-leaning, states and their interest in lunch-pail issues, including raising the minimum wage and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to overseas workers." McCaskill told Eisman, "We were the three that probably were least expected to win" and also "come from the reddest states."

Eisman writes, "Their arrival in the Senate has given comfort to North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan. For years, he's been a lonely crusader for populist causes like increased controls on international trade and the repeal of tax laws that he says encourage companies to export jobs. Dorgan told Eisman, "It's a breath of fresh air to have Sen. Webb and about five others. A lot of senators put on a blue suit . . . and think they're 10 feet tall, but Jim has a great sense of humor." (Read more)