Saturday, July 21, 2007

North Dakota farmers, looking for more crop rotation to fight wheat fungus, sue to raise hemp

David Monson, looking at his canola field in photo by Dan Koeck, is "at the leading edge of a national movement to legalize growing hemp, a plant that shares a species name, a genus type and, in many circles, a reputation, with marijuana," Monica Davey reports for The New York Times from Osnabrock, N.D.

Monson "listens to Rush Limbaugh in his tractor . . . is the high school principal in nearby Edinburg, population 252 . . . [and] is a Republican representative in Bismarck, the state capital, where his party dominates both houses of the legislature and the governor is a Republican," Davey writes, with just a hint of wonder. The legislature "has passed a bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp and created an official licensing process to fingerprint such farmers and a global positioning system to track their fields," she reports.

"This year, Mr. Monson and another North Dakota farmer, with the support of the state’s agriculture commissioner, applied to the Drug Enforcement Administration for permission to plant fields of hemp immediately." But the DEA has not acted, and "hemp is considered the same as marijuana," Steve Robertson, a DEA agent at the agency's Washington headquarters, told the Times. Monson and another farmer have filed suit against the drug agency. Robertson told the Davey that the DEA was still reviewing their applications, but "he could not say much beyond that because of the litigation," she writes.

Hemp contains tetrahydrocannabinol, the substance that produces a marijuana high, but its advocates "note that it contains mere traces of THC, and that hemp (grown in other countries) is already found here in clothes, lotions, snack bars, car door panels, insulation and more," Davey writes. "Maine, Montana, West Virginia and other states have passed bills allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp, Alexis Baden-Mayer of Vote Hemp, a group that lobbies for legalization of it as a regulated crop and is helping with the lawsuit, told Davey.

In North Dakota, the hemp movement took off when wheat farmers like Monson saw their fields attacked by a fungus and needed to practice more crop rotation. "Its tall stalks survive similarly cool and wet conditions in Canada, just 25 miles north of here, where it is legal, Davey reports. Monson told her, "This is not any subversive thing like trying to legalize marijuana or whatever. This is just practical agriculture. We’re desperate for something that can make us some money." (Read more)

Federal judge in Virginia accepts plea deal, big fines for OxyContin makers -- but no jail

After asking why three executives of Purdue Pharma shouldn't go to jail for their marketing of the painkiller OxyContin, which became the scourge of the Appalachians, U.S. District Judge James Jones accepted a plea agreement that requires the company to pay $600 million in fines. "While this may not be a popular decision, my job is not to make popular decisions but to follow the law," Jones said in court at Abingdon, Va.

"Jones said it would be improper to send someone to jail for something they didn't actually do," reports Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times. The executives "were held criminally accountable for misbranding committed by other company officials. In order to obtain convictions, prosecutors did not have to prove they even knew that crimes were being committed under their watch. Not only were the convictions based solely on the executives' positions of responsibility, there was also no evidence to link the misbranding to rampant abuse of OxyContin." The executives will pay $34.5 million in fines.

The executives "sat impassively through emotional statements by people who blame them for the overdose deaths of their loved ones. Other speakers recounted their own near-death experiences," Hammack reports. "Fifty people from around the country . . . held a vigil near the courthouse in a steady rain before going inside." Hammack cites the staggering statistics: "In far Southwest Virginia alone, more than 200 people have died in the past decade from overdoses of oxycodone, an opium-based narcotic that is the active ingredient in OxyContin. Police have also reported dramatic increases in crime as addicts turn to fraud, theft and violence to support their habits." (Read more)

Sigma Delta Chi Awards have rural connections, including cartoonist -- and publisher who sees provocative editorial page as circulation booster

There were several winners with rural connections at last night's Sigma Delta Chi awards banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, but none so rural as Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia, circulation 18,500, who won the for editorial cartooning in 2006. Few papers with circulation under 20,000 have editorial cartoonists, a point noted by the judges, who said, "We applaud the Rome News-Tribune, a small newspaper, for having a full-time editorial cartoonist on staff."

Publisher Burgett Mooney III said in an interview that he wanted a cartoonist because he sees a "provocative" editorial page as a way to build and maintain circulation. "It gives us a place to really drive people to the newspaper," he said. Lester has been cartooning for the paper for five years. He was living in Rome and doing cartoons for an online news service until the dot-com bubble burst, then Mooney recruited him.

Lester tackles local, state, national and international topics, but said in an interview that he tries to make two of five cartoons a week have some local connection, often through a setting that is not identified but that local will recognize as a locale in the town of 35,000. Lester is generally conservative, but has an independent streak. The newspaper "tends to be what is considered conservative on economic matters and liberal on social issues," said the editorial-page editor, Pierre-Rene Noth.

The News-Tribune is part of News Publishing Co., which also publishes seven weeklies in northwest Georgia and Cherokee County, Alabama. The Sigma Delta Chi Awards were established in 1932 by the organization now known as the Society of Professional Journalists. The current program began in 1939, when Sigma Delta Chi presented its first Distinguished Service Awards. When Sigma Delta Chi changed its name to SPJ in the 1980s, the original name was retained for the awards and SPJ's foundation. Its board includes Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Several awards were handed out last night for coverage of rural issues by urban media. Marx Arax of the Los Angeles Times won in the magazine-writing category for a series of stories on a California raisin picker. Todd Melby and Duane Richard of Chicago Public Radio won in radio documentary for "Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students." Two awards were given for coverage of the Sago Mine disaster: to NBC Nightly News, for breaking news coverage on TV, and Mine Safety and Health News, for public service in newsletter journalism. For a complete list of this year's and past winners, click here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Coal miner's video of leaking seals leads to citation for company, which denies it's related

At last week's U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration hearing on proposed new regulations for seals in coal mines, miner Charles Scott Howard played a video that showed seals cracked and leaking water in Cumberland River Coal Co.'s Band Mill No. 2 Mine in Letcher County, Kentucky.

This week, MSHA cited the subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc. for failing to conduct a pre-shift examination of the seals. "MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said Tuesday that inspectors visited the Band Mill mine last Thursday and Friday to check the seals," reported Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Mine seals, which shut off abandoned portions of coal mines from areas where miners are working, are supposed to be checked before each work shift begins." (Read more)

Today, Arch Coal said the citation was not issued for "unsafe conditions," such as the water leaks. Kim Link, a company spokeswoman, said it was "MSHA’s interpretation of the regulation that required a pre-shift exam daily, rather the weekly exam that was currently in place." She said five daily inspections, rather than the three required by law, were made when the seals were leaking in April and May, and the mine recorded more than 178,000 employee-hours of operations last year with no accidents or injuries. (Read more)

Savannah Morning News is latest metro paper to curtail circulation in outlying counties

Another metropolitan newspaper is reducing the size of its circulation area, continuing a trend that can put more pressure on rural news outlets to cover the issues and hold local officials accountable. The Savannah Morning News announced today that it is "discontinuing home delivery along with store and rack deliveries to 17 outlying counties and portions of three others," the paper reports. "Under the plan, 95 percent of the newspaper's circulation will be within a 60-mile radius" of Georgia's main coastal city. (Map from MSN Encarta)

"Market conditions, rising fuel prices, additional taxes, postal rate increases and advertiser pressures have combined to affect newspaper distribution costs and have forced the Savannah Morning News, like many other newspapers, to reconsider its delivery processes," Morning News reporter Christian Livermore writes. He quotes Publisher Julian Miller: "Right now, we're delivering out about 120 miles - places where we have just a few subscribers and single-copy customers. With the cost of gasoline, labor, paper, trucking, everything has combined to make it impossible to recoup your investment that far out."

While many counties are affected, the change affects relatively little of the paper's circulation of 52,000. "About 1,025 subscribers are in the affected area," Livermore writes. "The Morning News will continue to distribute in 14 counties, including Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties in Georgia and Beaufort and Jasper counties in South Carolina." The story notes that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution "cut Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and parts of Georgia from its circulation territory" this year. (Read more)

Edwards tour wrapup: Coverage from the mountain papers to the metropolitans and networks

The purely rural day of presidential candidate John Edwards' "poverty tour," officially titled "Road to One America," produced much coverage in Central Appalachia and beyond. Here are tidbits and links:

The official end of the tour was in Prestonsburg, where the weekly Floyd County Times ran the photo above (by Ralph Davis), posted video on its Web site and YouTube and reported: "Edwards' speech focused on strengthening the lives of American workers, through higher wages, education and tax cuts. Although he spoke frankly about the broad spectrum between 'the very rich' and "everybody else," Edwards also said, 'People who are highly educated do very well.'" (Read more)

Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va., said "Edwards didn’t make a speech when he visited the Wise County fairgrounds Wednesday. He didn’t outline the changes he’ll make if he’s elected as the country’s leader. Nor did the former North Carolina senator take questions from the dozens of local, regional and national press representatives who covered the event. Instead, on the last day of a three-day tour aimed at highlighting the plight of poverty-stricken Americans, he listened. At an hour-long roundtable discussion conducted outside at three picnic tables, Edwards asked organizers of the annual Remote Area Medical outreach, which provides free health services, to tell him stories about healthcare problems in Southwest Virginia. He asked for it, and he got it, and so did the crowd of about 200 spectators who turned out to see a presidential candidate." (Read more) Deal also has a good "behind the scenes" story.

The nearest daily paper, Pikeville, Ky.'s Appalachian News-Express, focused on Edwards' appearance in adjoining Letcher County. Reporter Loretta Tackett wrote that the overflow crowd at the Appalshop media and arts center was nevertheless "small," and didn't give a number, but said "The stopping place was fitting for Edwards' tour, as Appalshop was founded in 1969 per President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of the 'War on Poverty.'" (Read more)

Carrie Kirschner of The Independent, a daily in Ashland, Ky., focused on an Edwards challenge to the current president, quoting the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential nominee: "I want to invite George Bush to come here. I want President Bush to see the other America and the challenges the people are faced with. I want him to understand what’s happening out here." (Read more)

The Lexington Herald-Leader highlighted youth concerns about drugs. Cassondra Kirby wrote, "They told him that teens and young adults are overdosing at an alarming rate, while others are trapped in a vicious cycle of daily drug use. Young people described common images of high school students crushing and snorting pills on desks at school, and babies born addicted to drugs." (Read more)

For The Courier-Journal of Louisville, political reporter Joe Gerth wrote, "Tracing the steps of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards issued a call yesterday for economic and social change in America," and quoted him: ""This country needs a movement to restore our values. We need a movement that actually embraces work again, not just wealth. … We need a movement to provide hope and opportunity." (Read more)

On PBS NewsHour, Roger Simon of said Edwards is following a "risky" strategy by focusing on poverty, because poor people are a small part of the electorate, but "He plays well in rural America." Susan Saulny of The New York Times reported in a story summarizing the three-day tour that Edwards "suggested that [his] 'two Americas' theme . . . was an appeal for help not just for the poor, but also for all working Americans bypassed by the nation’s prosperity." (Read more)

Last night, Edwards was in Roanoke -- not part of "official Appalachia," as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission boundaries -- but the event had that theme, because it starred bluegrass-music patriarch Ralph Stanley. The Roanoke appearance wasn't part of the official tour, but Edwards' 17-minute speech was punctuated by his recent travels," The Roanoke Times' Mason Adams reports. (Read more)

Edwards is scheduling at least one more stop in rural Kentucky. The Mississippi River town of Columbus, population 229, won an online competition for an Edwards town-hall event, beating out "cities such as Dallas and Los Angeles," thanks to Columbus native and University of Kentucky graduate Shawn Dixon, Herald-Leader Political Writer Ryan Alessi reports on the paper's PolWatchers blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Edwards concludes his anti-poverty tour where Robert F. Kennedy did, in Prestonsburg, Ky.

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards concluded his three-day poverty tour this afternoon at the old Floyd County Courthouse in Prestonsburg, Ky., where Robert F. Kennedy concluded a similar tour as he prepared to run for president in 1968. "This country needs a movement to restore our values. We need a movement that actually embraces work again, not just wealth," he said, according to The Courier-Journal's Stephenie Steitzer.

Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville wrote: "Edwards said he wasn't trying to mimic his 'political hero.' 'I don't deserve to be compared to Bobby Kennedy,' Edwards told the crowd that spilled across the courthouse lawn. He added, 'I want America to remember what he did decades ago. I want you to join us to end the work Bobby Kennedy started.'"

AP put Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the same story, saying he "made his own speech for the nation's poor on Wednesday, speaking at a recreation center in the nation's capital, and in a jab at his rival, argued that combating poverty was hardly new for him, a one-time community organizer in Chicago. Edwards, coming off criticism for getting $400 haircuts and building a new 28,000-square-foot mansion, repeatedly tapped into his own humble roots in an effort to connect with the coalfields."

Jafari reported that Edwards "heard firsthand accounts of the problems plaguing the region" and "was especially moved" by Wise, Va., coal miner James Lowe, 51, "whose cleft palate kept him from talking for five decades until a dentist last year volunteered to perform a $3,000 orthodontic procedure for free. Edwards shared the story ... at his other stops, saying Lowe and other low-income workers 'deserve better.'"

In Whitesburg, Ky., Edwards said the only solution to such problems is universal health care, and said that Lowe, "instead of being angry at living 50 years with such a condition in the world's richest nation, "was thankful and appreciative" for his treatment. "When are we going to start treating people like him … with the dignity and respect that they’re entitled to?" he asked.

Tennessee looks to Kentucky for example of how to plan rural water lines

When Tennessee legislators saw that Gov. Phil Bredesen had budgeted money to run a water line "up a mountain in Warren County for residents who don't have water, tempers flared as legislators demanded to know why one county got money when others needed it, too," Sheila Wissner reports in The Tennessean of Nashville.

Rep. Mike McDonald of Sumner County, just north of Nashville, "gathered more than three dozen signatures on a bill that would have authorized the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to develop a statewide water plan and loan fund to help communities extend more water lines. It would have been patterned after the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, which requires all projects using state or federal funds to be vetted through an organized chain of local and regional councils. The bill didn't pass this session, but McDonald says he'll push the issue again next year." he told Wissner, "We need a statewide comprehensive plan to get water to people, and then we wouldn't have these arguments."

A study the department did for McDonald in 2004 "estimated that 5 percent of Tennessee households didn't have municipal water. It would take 18,470 miles of lines to get water to 112,000 households, at a cost of $1.7 billion, the study estimated," Wissner writes. "The study did not delve into the number of households with no clean, reliable alternative water source. That number remains unknown. The problem is most evident in Middle and East Tennessee, where well drillers fight the rocky terrain" and drill dry 10-20 percent of the time.

Sometimes, existing wells go dry. That happened to Tammy and Wayne Blatt, who live on a farm near Carthage in Smith County. In photo above, by Shelley Mays of The Tennessean, Tammy Blatt washes dishes outside near the drums of water her family must buy and haul twice a week, at considerable expense.

Massachusetts lags in rural broadband, as studies show economic impact of high-speed Internet

Massachusetts, often on the cutting edge of many things, has left much of its rural population far behind in access to broadband, or high-speed Internet service. "State officials have yet to develop a comprehensive policy for fixing the telecom time warp. But this fall, three Western Massachusetts towns will participate in an experiment to test wireless networks in rural settings," reports Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Boston Globe.

"We are creating a new kind of ghetto," said Don Dubendorf , president of Berkshire Connect Inc., which works to bring broadband to businesses and institutions in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. "It's morally wrong. It's stupid economically, it's dangerous from a public safety point of view, it's absurd from a public education point of view." This fall, Dubendorf's company and Pioneer Valley Connect "will create WiFi hot spots in the towns of Florida, New Salem, and Worthington, with funding from the quasi-public John Adams Innovation Institute," Johnson writes. "The idea is to use radio transmitters to spread the signal from high-speed lines to create square-mile wireless broadband networks for homes, businesses, and municipal buildings, without the massive investment needed to wire every home."

The main argument for broadband is economic. Johnson cites a study by Gov. Deval Patrick's cable commissioner, Sharon Gillett, last year as co-chair of the Broadband Working Group of the Communication Futures Program of the Massacusetts Institute of Technology. It "found that among 22,390 ZIP codes, communities with broadband access recorded greater growth in jobs, businesses, and property values. The report said communities with broadband access experienced an additional 1 to 1.4 percent in their job growth rate between 1998 and 2002. Those communities also saw an added 0.5 to 1.2 percent growth rate in the number of businesses." (Read more)

Another study, reported today by the Center for Media Research, found that broadband use is "strongly correlated with household income." The study, by Leichtman Research Group found that:
  • 68 percent of all households with annual incomes over $50,000 now get broadband vs. 59 percent last year; 39% of all households with annual incomes under $50,000 get broadband vs. 27% last year.
  • While 81 percent of all US households have at least one computer, only 56 percent of those with annual household incomes under $30,000 have a computer at home. Just 45 percent of households with annual incomes below $30,000 subscribe to an Internet service at home, compared to 92 percent of households with annual incomes above $75,000.
  • Overall, only 7 percent of all Internet subscribers say that broadband is not available in their area.
  • Nearly three-quarters of households in the US now subscribe to an Internet service, and broadband has grown to account for over 70 percent of all online subscribers at home. LRG forecasts the total number of broadband subscribers will increase by over 40 million over the next five years. (Read more)

Edwards tells Appalachian coalfield audience he's for a carbon limit, lower each year

Deep in the Central Appalachian coalfield this morning, presidential candidate John Edwards said the U.S. should put a limit on its emissions of carbon and reduce the limit each year so that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas that causes global warming, are reduced 80 percent by 2050. A carbon limit is anathema to the coal industry, the region's major employer, but the industry's safety and environmental records make it controversial, and Edwards' remarks won applause from the crowd at Appalshop, the media and arts center in Whitesburg, Ky., and its Appalachian Media Institute for young people.

Edwards' comments came in response to a question from Nathan Hall, a Berea College student from Floyd County, who said he plans to return to the area to start a bio-fuel company. Edwards said the government should require permits for carbon emissions and auction them to “the polluters pay. … That money should be used to fuel your biofuel work” and other alternative fuels. “I’m glad you’re doing work on biofuels,” he told Hall. “That is the answer, ultimately.” Biofuels are big in Iowa, the first presidential voting state.

Edwards said a biofuel industry “can create at least a million new jobs” and the government can “direct the jobs to the places where they’re most needed,” with grants to train at least 150,000 a year, he said. “This is a great economic opportunity, and an opportunity that I think could have a real impact on this area,” he said. That would appear to require the commercial scale-up of technology to create ethanol from cellulose; Appalachia is heavily forested and raises little biofuel feedstocks such as corn and soybeans.

Stephenie Steitzer of The Courier-Journal reports that there was room for only 150 of the 300 people who showed up, so Edwards stood on top of a picnic table to address those who had waited outside and listened. "We so badly need Americans to understand that level of dignity and respect that people are entitled to," he said. "I don't know about you, but I actually believe in a country where everybody is entitled to the same level of respect. My father didn't go to college and worked in cotton mills all his life and is worth every bit as much as any president of the United States. I believe that, I will always believe it." (Read more)

Edwards is a former senator from North Carolina who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004. He is on three-day tour to highlight his goal of eliminating poverty, and his final day retraces the steps of a poverty tour conducted by New York Sen. Robert Kennedy before he declared his presidential candidacy in 1968. His final stop is in Prestonsburg, Ky. (See previous blog postings.)

Some in the region "have mixed feelings" about Edwards' visit, reported Danielle Morgan of WYMT-TV in Hazard, the region's only commercial television station. Those feelings were also reflected in a story by Samira Jafari of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville. At his first stop today, in Wise, Va., Edwards appeared conscious of concerns about how his trip might reflect on the area: “These challenges do not define the people of this area; It’s their strength and resilience, and continuing to show courage, that defines them.”

The Lexington Herald-Leader says today that much has changed in the region since Kennedy's visit: “Gone are the tar-paper shacks that dotted hillsides -- barely enough to ward off the cold of winter, even with coal stoves blazing inside. Outhouses are no longer the norm. And one-room schoolhouses are unheard of,” writes Cassondra Kirby, the paper's new reporter in Hazard. “Today, four-lane highways cut through the mountains, connecting residents with regional hospitals, community colleges, chain restaurants and retailers such as Wal-Mart. But poverty has not been whipped. High school dropout rates are still higher than in the rest of the state; per-capita income is comparatively low; and many lack access to public water and sewer systems.” Kirby's story, with help from Somerset reporter Bill Estep, focuses on ideas people in the region have for improving it. To read it, click here. (Thanks to the Herald-Leader for the photo of Edwards in Whitesburg, by Charles Bertram; and to Appalshop's WMMT for streaming coverage on its Web site.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rural wireless users to get break on roaming fees, but not as much as rural telecom companies want

The Federal Communications Commission is about to enact new regulations allowing customers of rural wireless companies "to roam in more cities and at lower rates," reports Paul Davidson of USA Today.

"Rural carriers complain that the large national carriers often charge them exorbitant roaming fees and sometimes refuse to let them roam on their networks," Davidson reports. "The strategy has squeezed many rural providers out of the market, says the Rural Telecommunications Group," a lobby for small carriers.

While the new FCC rule would require carriers to offer roaming agreements at "just and reasonable rates," it would not grant rural companies' request for a firm limit on roaming fees. "Perhaps more significant: It does not cover roaming for broadband services, a fast-growing market," Davidson writes. And if you think those cell towers along rural interstates are good news for customers of rural cell companies, not necessarily. By erecting those towers, the big firms are "reducing their reliance on small companies for coverage." (Read more)

Here are the best community papers in America, says the National Newspaper Association contest

The National Newspaper Association has announced the top placers in the general-excellence competition of its annual Better Newspaper Contest. The general-excellence awards are based on placement in detailed contest categories, which include both news and advertising. NNA has about 2,500 members. More than 85 percent are weekly papers, but its contest also has categories for dailies. The first-, second- and third-place winners will be announced at the NNA Convention and Trade Show in Norfolk Sept. 25-30.

Among dailies with circulation of 16,000 and larger, the top three papers in the contest (in no particular order here or in any category) were the Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, Calif., and two from Colorado: the Greeley Tribune and the Daily Times-Call of Longmont. Under 16,000, the top three were the Lebanon (Mo.) Daily Record, The Journal Review of Crawfordsville, Ind., and The Daily Record of Baltimore.

NNA listed six winners among non-dailies with circulation over 10,000, indicating that the judges gave three honorable mentions in the category as well as first, second and third places. The six are The Taos (N.M.) News; The Ellsworth (Me.) American; the San Francisco Bay Guardian; the Idaho Mountain Express of Sun Valley; The Independent Weekly of Lafayette, La.; and The Peninsula Gateway of Gig Harbor, Wash. We're most familiar with the Ellsworth paper, which acts like a daily; it covers the state capital and regularly does project reporting, currently on Maine's program to give all students laptop computers.

Among non-dailies with circulations of 6,000 to 9,999, two of the three winners are from favorite spots for recreation and second homes: The Eastern Edition of the Southampton Press, which serves the Hamptons area at the end of New York's Long Island; and the Jackson Hole News & Guide of Jackson, Wyo. The other winner was a perennial, the N'West Iowa Review of Sheldon, Ia. The paper carves its own niche in many ways. It is a regional weekly that is famous for publishing scores of special sections each year, it doesn't put content online, it doesn't spell out "Northwest" in its name, and would like us to put "Review" in all capital letters, but we don't approve of such typographical tyranny. However, we do approve of the job that Peter Wagner, his sons and staff do with the Review and their local weekly, the Sheldon Mail-Sun.

The winners among non-dailies 3,000 to 5,999 include some well-known, quality papers: The Hutchinson (Minn.) Leader, the Litchfield (Minn.) Independent Review and the Hood River (Ore.) News. Under 3,000, the winners are the Curry County Reporter of Gold Beach, Ore.; The Community News of Aledo, Tex., just west of Fort Worth; and the Mount Desert Islander of Bar Harbor, Maine, a paper that has the same ownership as The Ellsworth American. They make quite a pair Down East.

It's another poverty tour for this advocate, who wishes all would-be presidents would take one

As a teenager, Dee Davis (right) saw Robert Kennedy visit his hometown of Hazard, Ky. Thirty years later, he drove another liberal senator, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, around the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield to see miners suffering from coal dust. Tomorrow, he will be part of the final day of former Sen. John Edwards' anti-poverty tour, to Wise, Va., and Whitesburg and Prestonsburg, Ky. He says today in an essay on National Public Radio:

"I wish they were all coming. These things matter. It is not about party; it's about eyeballs. And there are sights that need seeing. When no one shows up to witness the obliteration of mountaintops — vast hillsides being shoved into creek beds — then desperate mining practices flourish. When the rest of the country never sees the broken families and children cut adrift from addiction, then a pharmaceutical company can get off with a fine and a pat on the rump for years of dumping pain drugs like OxyContin into these rural communities." (For a report on the case, see The Rural Blog archive for June 20.)

"People will tell you government doesn't work. But I've seen it work. It starts with somebody showing up and making an effort. I have also seen it fail. Mostly that happens when no one's paying attention." (Read more) Davis, a filmmaker by trade, is president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post reports on the tour's first day: "The 37 million Americans in families that make less than $20,000 a year, the federal definition of poverty, are not the kind of group that can push Edwards to victory. Poor people vote at lower percentages than their wealthier counterparts, by definition don't have much money to give to candidates and aren't an organized political constituency like the elderly."

"He undoubtedly knows it's an issue without a real constituency that votes," Matt Bennett, a Democratic strategist and co-founder of the Third Way think tank, told the Post. "It's brave and bold, or brave and foolhardy." But Edwards said in New Orleans, "I think the country cares" about the poor. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, said the tour will "put a face on the working poor," beyond statistics. (Read more)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Scrap metal prices make farm eqipment a bigger target for thieves

Jennifer Hemmingsen of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids reports, "As scrap prices cause metal thefts to soar, thieves are increasingly looking to Iowa farmsteads for heavy payloads like hog feeders and other equipment, police say. Already this year, Iowa law enforcement departments have identified 105 metal thefts, items that were stolen to sell for scrap, instead of for their own sake, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. Last year, there were 96 . . . up from 34 in 2005." (Read more)

The department's Jim Saunders tells Pat Curtis of Radio Iowa, "The thieves are expanding their thefts to rural farm locations. They're stealing metal hog feeders or other equipment made of galvanized and stainless steel." Saunders urged owners of valuable metal objects "to consider installing motion-sensitive lights and surveillance cameras to deter potential thieves," Curtis reports. "He says it's also a good idea to secure buildings containing tools or metal objects with quality locks. Saunders adds that placing unique markings on metal items can help in identifying the stolen material." (Read more)

Edwards tour prompts reminiscence from reporter who covered Kennedy for an Appalachian weekly

As former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina takes his 2008 presidential campaign on an anti-poverty tour, ending it by retracing the steps Sen. Robert F. Kennedy made on a similar tour in 1968, Thomas N. Bethell remembers. Bethell covered Kennedy for The Mountain Eagle, the Whitesburg, Ky., weekly newspaper, and later was research director for the United Mine Workers and managing editor of The Washington Monthly. He wrote about the Kennedy and Edwards tours for today's edition of the Daily Yonder, the new rural-news site with a political bent. Here are some excerpts:

“Are we really expected to believe that a candidate with a net worth on the high side of $60 million, a brand-new 28,000-square-foot house, and an apparent addiction to $400 haircuts wakes up every day obsessed with the goal of ending poverty in America? . . . Maybe the charitable thing to do is wait and see. After all, it was only after Robert Kennedy was martyred, a few months after his Appalachian tour, that we all decided he was genuine in his determination to battle poverty. . . . He might have been a wonderful president, the first since Franklin Roosevelt to offer real and lasting hope for hard-pressed people, rural and urban alike. Or not. In the winter-spring of 1968 it was much too soon to tell, and the summer never came.” (Photo by Paul Gordon)

“It’s a measure of how desperate some of us were that we suppressed private doubts and wrote glowing accounts of his tour. Over the ensuing decades that tour has acquired the aura of something more spiritual than political, and it’s not surprising to see John Edwards striding along the pilgrim’s path, hoping that some fragment of the enshrined Kennedy mystique will adhere to his campaign. But skepticism and cynicism, although arguably unavoidable, aren’t very useful. There would seem to be intriguing parallels between 1968 and 2007, especially in the apparent fact that the candidates’ great wealth and good fortune failed to blind them to the needs of those less lucky or gifted. And the fact that both were more wedded to well-meaning rhetoric than to far-ranging policy proposals shouldn’t be held against them, not at this point at any rate. No one, least of all Roosevelt, knew what he would do for the downtrodden until he was actually in the White House. No one, early in 1968, knew what Robert Kennedy would do: It was too soon to know, and then it was too late. No one, in mid-2007, knows what John Edwards would do or whether, if elected, he would actually have the leverage to enact the initiatives, far-reaching or otherwise, that he might deem essential to redirect and revitalize the mostly afflicted and largely outsourced economy of Appalachia. So, rather than being a time to render some sort of judgment, it seems to be a time to watch and listen … maybe even to hope.” For Bethell's entire article, click here.

Today, a voter in New Orleans asked Edwards on ABC's "Good Morning America" how he could justify a $400 haircut. “I don't,” he replied with a smile. He said that in a busy campaign, such things are arranged by others, and “I should have been paying closer attention and it shouldn’t have happened.” When host Diane Sawyer broadened the inquiry, implicitly questioning the sincerity of Edwards' anti-poverty campaign, he replied, “A completely fair question … If you look at the arc of my life, I came from having very little to having a lot. … I want that chance to be there for everybody.” He said he was involved in urban ministries in North Carolina, helped organize union workers, pushed for raising the minimum wage (which he said could be the single most important solution to eliminating poverty), and started a program for poor kids in eastern North Carolina that gives them their first year of college free if they work. To watch, click here.

Rural children are more likely than urban kids to be obese, study finds

“Here’s a surprise,” writes Geri Nikolai of the Rockford Register Star in Northern Illinois. “Children growing up in rural areas are more likely to be overweight or obese than their city counterparts. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford after reviewing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on 46,000 children.

“Of those, nearly 8,000, or 18 percent, were overweight or obese. And rural children were 25 percent more likely to have weight issues than city children, said Dr. Martin Lipsky, regional dean of the college and co-author of the study.” Lipsky told Nikolai, “Rural children may have less access to healthier foods. There may be a fast-food restaurant in small towns, but not other types of restaurants. They may lack diversity in fresh fruits and vegetables in their markets. Sometimes there is less opportunity for physical activity like sports, a sidewalk to walk on or even having to park far away from an event and walk.”

A box with the story summarizes other findings: “The study showed that overweight rural children are more likely than their urban counterparts to be white; live in households at 200 percent below the poverty level; have no health insurance; have not seen a doctor for preventive care in a year; be female; use a computer for non-school work more than three hours a day; and watch TV for more than three hours a day.” (Read more)

Sunday, July 15, 2007, Institute director take a closer look at John Edwards' upcoming anti-poverty tour

"A controversial war rages abroad, having claimed the lives of thousands of American troops. In the White House, an increasingly unpopular president limps to the end of his term. And out in some of America's poorest precincts, a telegenic candidate who hopes to replace him calls on the nation to put an end to poverty. Bobby Kennedy in 1968? Yes, and consciously echoing him this week, John Edwards in 2007," writs Richard Allen Greene of, the new, well-staffed, Washington-based Web site for political news.

We're not usually in the business of quoting ourselves, but think in this case to refrain would be hiding our little light under a bushel, so here's a section of Greene's story:

Al Cross, the veteran Kentucky political writer who now heads the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said there could be political capital in the poverty tour, which Edwards is calling "The Road to One America."

"This is not about Appalachia, it is about all the poor regions of America: the black belt, the Rio Grande, the small towns of the Great Plains that are emptying out. He is trying to tap into the part of the base that is still sensitive to these social equality messages," Cross said.

Edwards is not polling noticeably better among poor people than he is among Democrats at large, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC survey, which showed him at 10% support in Democratic and Democratic-leaning households with incomes below $20,000. Hillary Clinton drew 55% and Barack Obama 20%.

Cross dismissed that result as meaningless: "You can't put any stock in national polling of poor people. Poor people have got a lot of other things to worry about other than an election more than a year away."

For the rest of Greene's article, and some uninhibited comments from readers, click here. For a look at advance stories and editorials from the Appalachian stops on Edwards' tour, go to The Rural Blog for Saturday, July 14.