Saturday, November 17, 2007

Writer says Robertson should note harm done by Giuliani clients: OxyContin makers

Columnist Don McNay writes in The Richmond (Ky.) Register and other newspapers that he was surprised at televangelist Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for president, but not because "Rudolph's multiple marriage lifestyle does not jibe with Robertson's philosophies. I was stunned at the endorsement because Rudolph Giuliani was the lawyer who kept the makers of Oxycontin out of jail." For a Washington Post report on Giuliani's legal work for Purdue Pharma, click here.

McNay continues, "I am willing to bet that Pat Robertson has never even heard of Oxycontin and doesn't know about Giuliani's involvement. The mainstream media spend a lot of time talking about Rudolph's multiple marriages, and his friend who got indicted. They've ignored how Giuliani made his living. Helping a company that sold addictive drugs is worse than being married a few times. Each issue is a reflection of a person's character but Rudolph's divorces and affairs only hurt him and his immediate family. Oxycontin has hurt thousands of families. . . .

"Giuliani's post-mayoral career has gotten scant attention and the horrors of Oxycontin has been felt primarily in rural states, like Kentucky. Rudolph may march to the presidency, with Pat Robertson by his side, winning urban states and never having to atone for his part in the Oxycontin story. If Rev. Robertson wants to have an impact on society, he could come to Kentucky. He could visit and see the wasted lives, the wrecked families and the absolute pain that the Oxycontin has caused." (Read more)

Kentucky weekly editor-publisher dies; stores close

Stores in Dawson Springs, Ky., closed for the funeral Friday of our friend Jed Dillingham, who was the editor and co-publisher of the weekly Dawson Springs Progress, circulation 2,250. He died last Monday at 57.

"Dillingham was a longtime pillar of Dawson Springs, a community mourning the loss of a good friend," reported The Messenger of Madisonville, the daily paper in the same county. He had been editor of the family-owned weekly since January 1980 and co-publisher with his brother, Scott, since October 1980. He graduated from Western Kentucky University in 1974 and did graduate work at Ball State University in Indiana.

Dillingham has been treasurer of the West Kentucky Press Association for 15 years and a director of the Kentucky Press Association for 22 years, holding one of the geographic seats ever since the board created it. He said in a director profile that he belonged to no civic clubs or organizations because “I agree with Groucho when he said he’d never be a member of a club that would have him as a member.” KPA Executive Director David Thompson told the Messenger, “He always had a good attitude and didn’t hesitate to state his opinion. But he was never overbearing about it.”

That's exactly how we remember Jed, going back to our days together at Western, and we will miss him. We're glad he was able to publish in his last paper that Democrat Steve Beshear, a native of Dawson Springs, had been elected governor of Kentucky.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wal-Mart's new health plan means more coverage for employees, better image for retailer

For the past few years, critics have blasted Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for the health care coverage it offers employees. Recently, the company has responded with improvements, reports The New York Times.

While Wal-Mart still insures fewer than half of its 1.4 million employees, the new plan gives insurance to 100,000 employees more than were covered three years ago, report Michael Barbaro and Reed Abelson. It "is now easier for many to sign up for health care at Wal-Mart than at its rival, Target, whose reputation glows in comparison," they write. Wal-Mart employee Katrina Wagner (in a Times photo by Brandi Simons) had declined the retailer's plan last year and just passed on doctor's visits, but she enrolled in the new plan this year.

"In one sign of its success so far, the company has pushed down the price of 2,400 generic prescription drugs to $4 a month for employees, starting next year, a program that it offers, in more limited form, to its customers," Barbaro and Abelson write. "Now, the chain is even considering weight-loss clinics in its 4,000 stores and is toying with the idea of selling health insurance, hoping to finally bring coverage within reach of most Americans."

The changes come after years of public pressure from advocacy groups as well as state legislators. Several states considered bills to force Wal-Mart to expand coverage for its employees, but none of those are in effect now. (Read more)

'Marlboro Marine' cooperated with L.A. Times photographer, but not with his hometown paper

Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller was back on the front page of the Los Angeles Times this week, almost exactly three years after this photograph made him famous as the “Marlboro Marine” of Fallujah, Iraq. In a lengthy two-part series, the photographer who took that photo, Luis Sinco, described what has happened to Miller since then, from his discharge with post-traumatic stress disorder to his struggles back home in Eastern Kentucky –- including one with his local newspaper, a confrontation in which Sinco was involved.

Handling the attention was never easy for Miller, especially when it came from the Appalachian News-Express in his home Pike County, Sinco explained. An article that ran in the Pikeville daily last year, about Miller’s impending divorce, almost proved too much for him to take, and it prompted Sinco to help Miller seek treatment. That episode is recounted briefly in Sinco’s work, but there’s more to the story. To read it, in a report by Tim Wiseman of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, click here.

Katrina, Rita caused huge forestry disaster, adding to greenhouse gases and inviting exotic species

"New satellite imaging has revealed that hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced the largest single forestry disaster on record in the nation -- an essentially unreported ecological catastrophe that killed or severely damaged about 320 million trees in Mississippi and Louisiana," writes Marc Kaufman of The Washington Post, reporting on a study published today in the journal Science, primarily by researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"The die-off, caused initially by wind and later by weeks-long pooling of stagnant water, was so massive that researchers say it will add significantly to the global greenhouse gas buildup -- ultimately putting as much carbon from dying vegetation into the air as the rest of the nation's forest takes out in a year of photosynthesis," Kaufman writes.

"The downing of so many trees has opened vast and sometimes fragile tracts to several aggressive and fast-growing exotic species that are already squeezing out far more environmentally productive native species. Efforts to limit the damage have been handicapped by the ineffectiveness of a $504 million federal program to help Gulf Coast landowners replant and fight the invasive species."

James Cummins, executive director of Wildlife Mississippi and a board member of the Mississippi Forestry Commission, told Kaufman, "This is the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez accident . . . and the greatest forest destruction in modern times." (Read more) For a Los Angeles Times story on the study, by Thomas H. Maugh II and Karen Kaplan, click here.

Democratic attempt to limit Farm Bill debate fails

Unable to reach a compromise with Republicans on amendments for the Farm Bill, Senate Democrats tried today to curtail debate. Sixty votes are needed, and the vote was 55-42. Republicans voting for cloture were Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and John Thune of South Dakota. "Independent Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also voted with the Democrats," noted the Iowa Independent, which also noted the absence of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Even if Democrats had won the vote, "Senate rules would still permit up to 30 hours of debate and senators could not finish work on the bill until after the two-week recess," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register's Washington Bureau noted this morning. (Read more)

The vote came after nine days of gridlock on the bill. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said before the vote that without cloture, the Senate would be forced to extend the 2002 Farm Bill, reports Agriculture Online. "When asked how long that extension would be, one year or two, he said, 'If we can't get a farm bill through the Senate that came out of the committee without a dissenting vote, what's the point of doing it next year with the same Senate?' " writes Dan Looker.

Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced legislation to extend the 2002 Farm Bill until September of next year, reports Looker. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told Looker such an extension is necessary to keep farm programs reverting to 1938 and 1949 laws. The current Farm Bill was passed in 2002 after a year's delay. (Read more)

Reporter for small Wyoming daily wins Science Journalism Award for papers under 100,000 circ.

Jennifer Frazer's stories for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle of Cheyenne on mysterious deaths of elk in 2004 won this year's Science Journalism Award among small newspapers from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It had the allure of a detective story and an unlikely culprit: a small green lichen that most people wouldn’t notice even if they walked right over it,” Frazer said. Here's more, including judges' comments, from the AAAS release:

Frazer described the steps by which researchers determined that a poisonous lichen was the likely cause. In a two-part series, Frazer also described efforts to save the remaining elk and help the species recover. Calling her series an example of “superb local science writing,” Robert Lee Hotz of The Wall Street Journal said Frazer “opens a window into the mysteries of field epidemiology, turning a story of doomed elk into a page-turner of a lethal botany and the consequences of ecology.” Guy Gugliotta, a freelance science writer formerly with The Washington Post, said the series was a “compelling narrative detective story that shows how science can be put at the service of a community and why it matters.”

The locally owned Tribune-Eagle has a daily circulation of 15,681, according to Editor & Publisher. It circulates in southeast Wyoming and western Nebraska, and has a Sunday edition which claims a circulation of 18,500. It says it is part of the Wyoming Newspaper Group, "an affiliation of newspapers with joint ownerships and interests, along with the Laramie Daily Boomerang, the Rawlins Daily Times, the Rock Springs Daily Rocket-Miner and the Northern Wyoming Daily News in Worland." For more background on the paper, click here.

FCC starts program for broadband health networks

The Federal Communications Commission has announced a $400 million pilot program to deploy broadband health networks for rural health care in 42 states and three U.S. territories.

At a Chicago meeting of the American Health Information Community, held in conjunction with the American Medical Informatics Association's annual conference, Martin called the program "a major step toward the goal of connecting healthcare facilities across the nation with one another through broadband telehealth networks."

Martin "estimated that, over the three-year life of the program, it would ultimately enable connections with about 6,000 health-care providers," reports Fred Bazzoli of Health Care IT News. "The FCC last year launched a pilot program to provide funding for as much as 85 percent of an applicant's cost of deploying a dedicated broadband network to connect healthcare providers in rural and urban areas within a state or region."

UPDATE, Nov. 20: Kim Hart of The Washington Post reports on the first round of grants.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Television mini-series chronicles rural Watersmeet, Mich., and its Nimrods

Watersmeet, Mich., fits every definition of rural. It has a population of fewer than 1,500, and it sits among the streams and lakes of the state's Upper Peninsula. The tiny town and its high school basketball team, the Nimrods, will be in the spotlight when the eight-part miniseries "Nimrod Nation" debuts Nov. 26 on the Sundance Channel. The film was screened this week in Madison, Wis., reports the Ironwood (Mich.) Daily Globe. Members of the basketball and cheerleading squad as well as the film's director, Brett Morgen, were on hand, reports Jason Juno.

The Watersmeet Township School — which has less than 100 students — had been featured in a 2004 ESPN commercial that said, ''Without sports, who would cheer for the Nimrods?'' Those ads brought national attention to the school and its basketball, and they sparked sales of about $80,000 worth of Nimrod gear, reported The New York Times in 2004. The ads also brought Morgen to the town to film the 2005-06 basketball season.

"More a portrait of a small American town than a conventional sports documentary, 'Nimrod Nation' sympathetically observes life and conversation in the local coffee shops, hunting lodges and locker rooms as the long, cold basketball season unfolds," according to the Sundance Channel Web site.

A clip from the mini-series can be viewed here.

Denver Post investigation finds most felonies on Indian reservations go unpunished

When felonies occur on Indian reservations, only federal prosecutors, often hundreds of miles from the reservations in which they have jurisdiction, can bring the cases to court. In 65 percent of cases, they decline to prosecute, reports Michael Riley of The Denver Post. That leaves tribal prosecutors such as Vernon Roanhorse of a New Mexico Navajo reservation (at left in a Post photo by RJ Sangosti) powerless to handle anything except misdemeanors.

"Already some of the most violent and impoverished places in America, facing a steep rise in meth-fueled crime, the country's Indian reservations are also plagued by a systematic breakdown in the delivery of justice, a six-month investigation by The Denver Post found," Riley writes. "U.S. attorneys and FBI investigators face huge challenges fighting crime on reservations: They are viewed as outsiders who shouldn't be trusted; locations are remote; the high levels of alcohol use among victims, suspects and witnesses that accompany many serious crimes can also make them very difficult to prove, several U.S. attorneys said."

Added to those problems is the lack of professional tribal investigators. As a result, botched crime scenes or weak evidence doom cases from the start. In this report, Riley points to several rape cases that have not been prosecuted by federal attorneys. In some of those cases, tribal lawyers have brought misdemeanor charges but the punishments are weak. (Read more)

In the final article of the series, "Path to justice unclear," Riley explores two possible solutions: "Either pour in significant new federal resources to better fight reservation crime or rewrite federal Indian law to give tribes more authority to do the job themselves -- allowing them to prosecute felony crime, for one; giving them jurisdiction over non-Indians, for another."

Chicken-waste power plants planned in North Carolina after Minnesota startup

A company called Fibrowatt Ltd. wants to build three power plants in North Carolina that would burn chicken manure and take advantage of a new state law requiring power companies to use such fuels. "The law contains a requirement that at least 900,000 megawatt hours of electricity sold to retail customers by 2014 must come from poultry litter," reports Monte Mitchell of the Winston-Salem Journal.

That is an amount of electricity about equal to the amount that would be produced by Fibrowatt’s three proposed plants. Critics say that the bill was designed with Fibrowatt in mind," Mitchell writes. “There’s nobody else in the state I know who would benefit from this,” said Lou Zeller of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League told Mitchell. Fibrowatt's CEO told the Journal that it didn't lobby to put poultry waste in the bill.

One of the plants would be in Wilkes or Surry County, "and the others would be in Stanly, Montgomery, Monroe, Duplin or Sampson counties," Mitchell reports. "Fibrowatt recently opened the nation’s first poultry-fired electricity plant. The 55-megawatt plant in Benson, Minn., uses turkey litter as fuel to heat a boiler that drives a generator. It can produce enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes a year." The company is negotiating a contract with Duke Energy Corp. (Read more)

Baptist State Convention of North Carolina cuts ties to 5 rural colleges and universities it helped start

"In a historic vote that came after acrimonious debate, delegates to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted to sever ties to five Baptist colleges and universities they birthed years ago," writes Yonat Shimron of the News & Observer in Raleigh. The schools want "trustees from among alumni who no longer live in North Carolina and may not be Baptist," Shimron reports. "Ongoing theological controversies between Biblical literalists are also a factor in the institutions' desire to go solo."

If the change is approved on second reading at next year's convention, the schools will start electing their own trustees and no longer receive annual contributions of about $1.2 million each from the convention. "Some delegates were sharply critical of the severance plan and skeptical that the schools would maintain their Christian character," Shimron reports. "All five presidents of the colleges, however, said they planned to honor the historic Baptist and Christian principles on which their schools were founded." (Read more)

The colleges are Mars Hill College, Wingate University, Campbell University in Buies Creek, Chowan University in Murfreesboro and Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs. "Many of these colleges have become too big and cumbersome to be controlled by increasingly meager denominational resources," Shimron reports. "Brian Davis, a convention executive who worked with the college presidents, said the money the colleges receive from the convention amounts to less than 4 percent of each institution's annual budget -- a minuscule amount compared to the early days when church support helped keep the colleges afloat."

Patty Loveless rides the Santa Train through her native Central Appalachia this Saturday

The annual Santa Train will run from Pikeville, Ky., to Kingsport, Tenn., on Saturday, Nov. 17, and will feature Grammy award-winning country singer Patty Loveless. This is the 65th year for the CSX Transportation train, which this year will distribute 15 tons of toys and other gifts in eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee. Loveless, a native of Pikeville, received gifts from the train as a child. She was the train's celebrity guest in 1999 and 2002, and wrote a song, "Santa Train," that was part of her Bluegrass, White Snow: A Mountain Christmas album in 2002. Besides CSX, other major sponsors of Santa Train are the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and K-VA-T Food Stores of Abingdon, Va., which does business as Food City. Journalists interested in riding the train should e-mail Mandy Cawood at

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hay shortages from freeze and drought send prices skyward and farmers scrambling

Horse and cattle owners around the country are facing high prices for hay and a nationwide shortage. (Some Virginia cows eat grain due to the hay shortage, in an Associated Press photo by Steve Helber.)

In parts of the Midwest and South, a late spring freeze and a lengthy drought "savaged hay crops and kept pastures from greening, forcing producers to tap hay stockpiles months earlier than usual," Jim Suhr writes. "The scenario has left beef producers with few options other than selling off parts of their herds for fear there will not be anything to feed them through winter, or jockeying to buy increasingly scarce hay elsewhere at higher prices." Hay production is down 80 percent in Tennessee and 50 percent in Kentucky, where the crop produced more income than tobacco last year. Alfalfa hay, the most popular kind, is up about $25 per ton from last year; a cow needs about two tons to survive winter. (Read more)

In Virginia, prices for hay are the highest in 14 years, an auctioneer told Lancaster Farming. On average, the price for a small bale of hay was going up $1 or more every few weeks in October. (Read more) In North Carolina, a horse sanctuary is in dire straits due to the increased price of hay, reports The Charlotte Observer. (Read more) Thanks to Al Tompkins and today's "Al's Morning Meeting" on Poynter Online, which spotlighted stories on the problem.

No agreement on Farm Bill amendments; parties split on standard for producing renewable fuels

More than a week after formally taking up the Farm Bill, the Senate has yet to make much progress on the five-year, $286 billion legislation. That slow pace — thanks to disputes over the amendment process, among other things — means time is running out on the bill this year, reports the Des Moines Register. A two-week Senate recess begins Friday.

"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that senators were 'highly unlikely' to finish work on this bill this week," reports Philip Brasher from Washington. "The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, accused Republicans of holding up the bill. 'At this rate we may not have a farm bill,' he said."

The disputes over issues such as a proposal to increase the amount of biofuels used by refiners meant "the Senate chamber was quiet for long stretches of time Tuesday afternoon," Brasher writes. (Read more) "The Republicans would very much like to put it on the farm bill because they're afraid the energy bill won't move," Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher told Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network. "The Democrats would like to keep it off, because they fear if you put a renewable fuels standard on the farm bill, that that's one more chance that the energy bill won't move." (Read more)

McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., supposedly agreed to come up with a list of acceptable amendments, but this morning "it appeared no agreement had been reached on which of the roughly 240 amendments to the farm bill would actually be considered," Shinn reports. Even when the Senate passes the bill, Senators and members of the House must reconcile their two versions, making it unlikely the legislation will go to President Bush before 2008.

RFD-TV lands its biggest star: Don Imus

Last month we wrote about the possibility of Don Imus returning to television on an unlikely channel, RFD-TV. According to The New York Times, Imus will join the Omaha-based satellite channel that caters to rural audiences when he returns to the airwaves in December.

"Patrick Gottsch, a former satellite-dish installer from Nebraska who founded RFD-TV in 1988, said in an interview yesterday that he had reached agreement with Mr. Imus on a five-year contract to televise his program," Jacques Steinberg writes. "While Mr. Gottsch would not discuss any financial terms, someone else briefed directly on the deal said it could be worth up to $5 million a year — about what WABC-AM and its parent company, Citadel Broadcasting, are paying for the radio program."

A source close to Imus said he would be signing a contract in the next few days, Steinberg reports. RFD-TV will simulcast the radio show in the morning and then re-run the show in the evening on its high-definition channel. RFD-TV, which stands for Rural Free Delivery, is available in 30 million homes via satellite dish, but Gottsch (at left in Times photo by Tony Celicola) hopes Imus will help land a deal with a cable provider. (Read more)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Senators agree in principle on handling Farm Bill

The Democratic and Republicans leaders of the Senate "appear to have reached a deal on how to proceed with debate on the Farm Bill," or at least how to broker a deal, reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network.

As Majority Leader Harry Reid gave a speech blistering Republicans for holding the bill up by pushing amendments that Democrats say are not germane to the bill, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "offered a suggestion on how to wade through the 100 or so" amendments, Shinn reports. "McConnell's recommendation sounded very similar to the Farm Bill approach advocated by Reid when the measure first came to the Senate floor last week."

"I think we ought to see if we can lock in a list," McConnell said. "It will be bigger than we like, but that's how it always starts. Most of those will go away in one way or another, but at least it would help define the universe. I think that's an achievable thing, hopefully sometime this afternoon, and would allow us to get started." Shinn reports, "A clearly relieved Reid accepted McConnell's recommendation immediately. And Reid responded with something more than normal senatorial gratitude.

"It would be untoward on the Senate floor to walk over and hug the Republican leader," Reid joked. "But that's what I feel like doing." However, at 4 p.m., "Negotiations on just which Farm Bill amendments to allow were continuing," Shinn writes. "The Senate is slated to leave for Thanksgiving at the end of the week." (Read more) For audio of Reid and McConnell, click here.

Ariz. town getting $800 million rock theme park

The official Web site of Eloy, Ariz., proclaims the town of 10,000 is "right in the heart of Arizona's future," and points to the town's library, two swimming pools and three recreation centers as some the community's amenities. That list might get a lot longer, thanks to a Phoenix group of investors who plan to open an $800 million rock-and -roll theme park outside the town in Pinal County by 2012, reports The Arizona Republic.

The project is called Decades Music Theme Park, and investors chose Eloy for its location near the junction of Interstates 8 and 10 and its relative proximity to metropolitan populations, reports Ronald J. Hansen. Eloy is 65 miles from downtown Phoenix and 60 miles from downtown Tucson. Peter Alexander, a former Disney Epcot project manager who consulted on the Decades project, told Hansen the new park could attract 5.4 million visitors each year.

According to the Web site of Decades, the park "will feature interconnected Lands and Districts that represent each decade of rock music – the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s in its first phase – with interactive thrill rides, live music and other attractions where audience members can step back in time to the sights and sounds of each era." Planned attractions include the Grand Funk Railroad, which will circle the park; a Mount Rushmore-style monument with busts of Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley; and an MTV arch a la the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The park still must clear some legal hurdles, including a change to Arizona's amusement park laws to give Pinal County bonding authority, but developers already have purchased the land needed for the 240-acre park. (Read more)

Hemp should not require federal approval, North Dakota farmers argue in court tomorrow

Hemp is a cash crop in many countries, and some farmers in North Dakota want to get a piece of the action. In the U.S., hemp (in Hempline Inc. photo) is considered marijuana and thus requires federal approval to be grown legally. The farmers want that hurdle removed.

"On Wednesday, (Wayne) Hauge and David C. Monson, a fellow aspiring hemp farmer, will ask a federal judge in Bismarck to force the Drug Enforcement Administration to yield to a state law that would license them to become hemp growers," writes Peter Slevin of The Washington Post's Midwest Bureau in Chicago. "The law is the law and it treats all varieties of Cannabis sativa L. the same, Bush administration lawyers argue in asking U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland to throw out the case. The DEA says a review of the farmers' applications is underway."

Hauge and Monson argue that since hemp contains just traces of the active ingredient in marijuana, it should not be considered a drug. Monson, a Republican state legislator, helped pass a 1999 law that would that "would permit hemp cultivation and establish limits to ease the federal government's worries."(Read more)

On Election Day last week, Denver and tiny Hailey, Idaho, passed measures to go easy on marijuana possession, reports Time. In Denver, 57 percent of voters approved "lowest law enforcement priority" for the crime, reports Rita Healy. A similar measure made its way onto the ballot in Hailey, which has about 8,500 residents and is located 12 miles from the Sun Valley ski area, thanks to Ryan Davidson of Boise. "I spent maybe 20 bucks," Davidson told Healy. "I got the signatures on the petitions on my own dime. I spread the word through e-mail and phone calls and posting on blogs, I printed some fliers off my computer, photocopied them at Kinko's and put them under car windshield wipers on Monday." Three of the four pro-pot measures in Hailey passed: legalizing medicinal marijuana, decriminalizing marijuana and decriminalizing industrial hemp. Outright legalization failed. (Read more)

Proposed ethanol plants not welcome some places

Many small towns across the nation's Farm Belt have spent the past few years trying to lure ethanol plants to their communities. While the plants can bring jobs and other economic development, they can bring some odd smells and other nuisances. Because of such drawbacks, some rural communities don't want the plants anywhere near their homes, reports The New York Times.

"In Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and even Iowa, the nation’s largest corn and ethanol producer, this next-generation fuel finds itself facing the oldest of hurdles: opposition from residents who love the idea of an ethanol distillery so long as it is someplace else," Monica Davey reports from Sparta, Wisc. In the town of 9,000 near the Minnesota border, residents have opposed plans for a Coulee Area Renewable Energy plant. Months earlier, city officials had approached the company about bringing a plant to the town at a site across the water from a park, in photo by Andy Manis for the Times. Now, residents are "worried that its emissions would taint the milk-based products made at nearby Century Foods International, one of the community’s biggest employers," Davey writes. "They even argued over whether the plant would reek like burned molasses or blackened popcorn or fermenting beer."

More than 700 Sparta residents signed a petition asking for a referendum on the ethanol plant, but the City Council voted against it, report the local weekly newspapers, the Monroe County Democrat and The Sparta Herald. Two residents filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction to halt any action on the plant, but the suit was dropped last month when lawyers for the residents, the city and Coulee Area Renewable Energy reached an agreement — a tentative one that no side cared to explain, the Herald reports. In addition to the protests in Sparta, Davey reports, "At least three proposed plants have halted construction recently, industry officials said, including one in Reynolds, Ind." That's the same town that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels nicknamed BioTown U.S.A. (Read more)

Lexington paper staying in Appalachian Kentucky for reasons both commercial and journalistic

Many metropolitan newspapers have reduced their circulation and coverage areas, but the news bureaus of news bureaus of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Appalachian Kentucky "are not going anywhere anytime soon," even as the size of the paper's news staff is likely to keep shrinking, Editor Linda Austin, right, said last night.

Speaking at a Society of Professional Journalists meeting, Austin said the bureaus in Hazard and Somerset are in areas where many readers regularly shop in Lexington, and about a fifth of the Herald-Leader's circulation is in Eastern Kentucky. But she said the reasons to maintain coverage and circulation are more than commercial. "The publisher has a definite sort of First Amendment reason," she said.

Austin said a number of smaller newspapers in the region feel that they cannot aggressively pursue stories about powerful interests, so the Herald-Leader bureaus serve a watchdog function that would not otherwise be exercised. She said local papers sometimes pass along tips about controversial stories to Herald-Leader reporters in Hazard and Somerset, where The Courier-Journal of Louisville once had news bureaus.

The paper's publisher, Tim Kelly, is a native of Ashland, in the northeastern corner of the state. "I think he really is committed to maintaining that presence," she said. Austin became editor of the Herald-Leader, a McClatchy Co. paper, last February. She spoke at a joint dinner meeting of the Bluegrass, University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University chapters on the UK campus.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Los Angeles Times photographer tries repeatedly to help 'Marlboro Marine' he made famous

When Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times took this 2004 photograph of a U.S. Marine in Fallujah, Iraq, at left, he did not even know the soldier's name. After the image became famous as that of "the Marlboro Marine," Sinco met and interviewed Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller of Jonancy, Ky., but that was not the last time their paths would cross. Since then Sinco has become a part of Miller's life, especially since Miller's discharge and diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder. In a two-part series in the Los Angeles Times this week, Sinco recounts his efforts to help Miller.

"He was embarrassed about the photo's impact back home," Sinco writes of Miller. "Once our story identified him, the national fascination grew stronger. People shipped care packages, making sure Miller had more than enough smokes. President Bush sent cigars, candy and memorabilia from the White House." In the first part of the series, Sinco explains how he met Miller and then how he befriended the Marine after his discharge. Sinco attended when Miller and Jessica Holbrooks renewed their vows at a ceremony funded by a California woman and other donors in June 2006, and was called back to Eastern Kentucky less than two weeks later when Miller went missing.

At the same time, Miller's impending divorce made front-page news in his local newspaper, the Appalachian News-Express, and Sinco felt compelled to help Miller through the difficult time. "I felt torn," Sinco writes. "I didn't want to get involved. I desperately wanted to close the book on Iraq. But if I hadn't taken Miller's picture, this very personal drama wouldn't be front-page news. I felt responsible."

In part two of his package, Sinco recounts how he traveled from Los Angeles to Kentucky to drive Miller to Connecticut for an intense treatment program, stayed with Miller for more than a month of the therapy, and he made another trip back to Kentucky so Miller could retrieve his motorcycle, at right. Miller eventually dropped out of the treatment program, also turning down a chance to enroll at Yale University. He reunited with his wife for a while in West Virginia near a veterans center in Princeton, where they thought they would have more privacy, but now he's back in Kentucky. He works for a custom motorcycle shop that is connected to the Highwaymen, a Detroit-based motorcycle club that is under surveillance by police. In addition to the two-part series, Sinco produced a video report that covers his relationship with Miller from Fallujah in 2004 to today. (Read more)

Candidates talk Farm Bill; Grassley doubts forecast it will pass Senate before Thanksgiving

Before Democratic presidential candidates attended the big Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Iowa on Saturday, five of them spoke at the Food and Family Farm Presidential Summit hosted by the National Farmers Union and the Iowa Farmers Union. Sens. Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards pitched many of the same ideas about agriculture, most of which are already in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, reports Agriculture Online.

Obama "touted his support of family farms against corporate agriculture this morning by taking a couple of shots at two very big Illinois businesses, ag processor ADM and food producer ConAgra," reports Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune, quoting the Illinois senator: "The Washington insiders who matter to me live in Washington County, Iowa, not Washington, D.C. That's why as president, I'll be listening to the LRV, not ADM." Pearson explains: "The LRV is the League of Rural Voters and ADM is Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland Corp., one of the world's largest agricultural processors of soybeans and corn." (Read more)

While Dodd said he believed the Senate would finish the Farm Bill before the end of this week — the last before the Thanksgiving break — Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the only Republican to attend the summit, was not as optimistic. Since the Farm Bill is the last major legislation of the year, it offers the minority a final chance to speak out on many issues, even ones that aren't related to agriculture, Grassley told Agriculture Online. "I don't know whether we'll be done by Thanksgiving," he told reporter Dan Looker.

As for any compromise between Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to speed up the amendment process, Biden and Grassley said they had not heard anything. "I don't know what McConnell's up to," Biden told Looker. (Read more)

Drawn by scenic horse farms, Ga. homebuyers discover the true sights and smells of rural living

The postcard-like beauty of horse farms in rural Milton, Georgia, has lured many new residents to the area in Fulton County north of Atlanta. They have built expensive new homes in this rural setting, but upon moving in, some were surprised to learn horse farms are still farms, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The town of 20,000 has about 90 percent of its land zoned for agriculture; at the same time, the average price a home is more than $800,000, reports Doug Nurse. "As city officials are finding out, some Milton residents are more enamored with the visual aspects of a rural environment than with the inevitable byproducts," he writes. Farm such as Yellow House Farm may look perfect (in an AJC photo by Phil Skinner) but they still produce smells and sounds new residents find less than appealing.

The growth in Milton has put farmers and the new residents at odds,
especially since the agriculture zoning "allows a wide variety of uses that doesn't fit the increasingly suburban nature of Milton, such as chicken farms, pig farms, kennels and horses," Nurse writes. Recent conflicts include the fight between one homeowner and a neighboring farm's horse arena. In response, the city is set to begin its first comprehensive plan which may change much of the zoning to residential. (Read more)

Safety rules, court cases over environmental issues squeeze coal producers in Central Appalachia

With new coal-mine safety regulations being implemented and more being proposed in Congress, "Industry analysts expect bigger mining companies with highly productive underground mines . . . to be able to afford the new safety measures," writes Matthew Dalton of Dow Jones Newswires in The Wall Street Journal. "But underground miners in the Central Appalachian region, which includes southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia, are likely to be more affected. The mines there tend be smaller, older and higher cost -- and less able to pay for new underground mine-safety regulations. Miners have already been coping with higher labor and fuel costs associated with the region's underground mines."

So, Dalton reports, "Central Appalachian companies such as Massey Energy Corp. and James River Coal Co., both based in Richmond, Va., have been trying to switch more of their production to surface mining, which in central Appalachia involves the controversial technique of mountaintop mining." Dalton notes a recent federal-court ruling, now on appeal, that keeps Massey from getting permits for four mountaintop mines. "This case and other pending litigation filed by environmental groups have, for the time being, limited surface mining in the Appalachian region." Dalton writes. "That leaves more market share for coal miners using other methods in other regions that don't have the environmental-permit problems of Massey and other Central Appalachian producers." (Read more; subscription may be required)

For sources on covering environmental issues, from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, click here. For Institute reports on other coal issues in Appalachia, click here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Football team forfeits perfect season because of ineligible player; paper keeps name out of print

The Alabama high school football playoffs began last weekend without a team that enjoyed a perfect regular season. Two weeks ago, soon after a victory over Pell City (right, with quarterback Judd Edwards scoring) the Oxford High School team was declared ineligible. (Consolidated News Service photo by Bob Crisp)

Acting on an anonymous complaint, the Alabama High School Athletic Association ruled one of the team’s players ineligible, meaning that the Yellow Jackets had to forfeit seven of their 10 wins. That news warranted a special four-page section Oct. 30 in the local newspaper, The Anniston Star, but the coverage did not include the name of the ineligible player. Although the paper’s in-house media critic questioned the decision to omit the name, Editor Bob Davis said it was the right thing to do, especially when considering the student's age.

“We wanted to treat him with the respect of someone who is underage. It’s the same reason we withhold the names of minors — there shouldn’t be something that follows you forever,” Davis said. That was the key for his decision — the idea that forever linking this student to this incident would be unfair. Thanks to Internet search engines, it’s not far-fetched to imagine some future employer running across the student’s name and learning about the lost season. “We don’t want someone eight years from now saying, ‘You’re the guy that cost us a state championship,’ ” Davis said.

For more of this story, by Tim Wiseman of the Institute for Rural Jourmalism and Community Issues, click here.