Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bill Moyers gives us a much-needed history lesson

A week from today, Democrats in South Carolina, many of them rural and about half of them African American, will vote in a presidential primary that has been marred by controversy stemming from Hillary Clinton's remark that it took Lyndon Johnson to realize Martin Luther King's dream of civil rights. Last night on Bill Moyers' Journal, Moyers effectively and eloquently agreed with Clinton and reminded us of the pivotal role his fellow rural Texan played in passing the public-accommodations law of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the law that ensured change would come, and remain.

Moyers criticized the reaction from the commentariat, in particular The New York Times for saying in an editorial that Clinton made "the distasteful implication that a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change." He aired Clinton's full quote: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done."

There was nothing in that quote about race. It was an historical fact, an affirmation of the obvious," Moyers said. He recalled that when he was White House press secretary, he watched as Johnson backed off his plea for King to call off civil-rights demonstrations and "came down on the side of civil disobedience, believing it might quicken America's conscience ... " Ultimately, Johnson adopted the movement's rallying cry in a speech to Congress for the 1965 law.

Moyers concluded, "
The movement had come first, watered by the blood of so many, championed bravely now by the preacher turned prophet who would himself soon be martyred. But there is no inevitability to history, someone has to seize and turn it. With these words at the right moment -- "We shall overcome" -- Lyndon Johnson transcended race and color, and history, too -- reminding us that a president matters, and so do we." (Watch the story)

Ga. schools pass up chance to offer Bible classes

Almost two years after the Georgia legislature allowed public high schools to offer Bible classes, "The idea hasn't caught on," at least in Middle Georgia, which is "smack dab in the Bible Belt," writes Julie Hubbard of The Telegraph in Macon.

"At least 10 Middle Georgia school systems said they do not offer a Bible course in their high schools, nor do they have plans to," Hubbard writes. "The costs for materials, scheduling conflicts and possible legal implications are reasons." The state school board required any such class to be "taught by a teacher who is objective and would not pass on any religious judgment to students. For some school systems, managing the course and finding an unbiased teacher wouldn't be easy."

Hubbard says more reporting is required: "Finding exactly how many school of 180 systems in the state are teaching Bible courses this school year is hard to determine. State officials say they won't know how many systems are offering the courses until June, when student records -- which show what classes students are taking -- are sent to the state." (Read more)

The other oil shock: Prices for cooking oil driven up by growth of global economy and biofuel industry

Here's a BIG story: "A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food," reports The New York Times. "A growing middle class in the developing world is demanding more protein, from pork and hamburgers to chicken and ice cream. And all this is happening even as global climate change may be starting to make it harder to grow food in some of the places best equipped to do so, like Australia."

"This is the other oil shock," Keith Bradsher writes from Malaysia. "From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food. The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter. . . . For the foreseeable future, that probably means higher prices at the grocery store and fatter paychecks for farmers of major crops like corn, wheat and soybeans."

Much of the story focuses on the important role of cooking oil in poor countries and the jump in prices for palm oil, partly driven by spreading bans on trans fats, use of soybeans to make biodiesel and American farmers switching from soybeans to corn to take advantage of the U.S. ethanol boom. "American soybean acreage plunged 19 percent last year, producing a drop in soybean oil output and inventories," Bradsher notes.

This is an excellent example of a global story with local connections, one that can be told from a local point of view anyplace corn and soybeans are raised. To read it, click here.

Rural gentrification, spurred by Internet, likely to keep increasing as more baby boomers retire

"Broad swaths of rural America" are being gentrified by "affluent retirees and other high-income types" whose "demand for amenities like interior-design stores, spas and organic markets ... is the biggest change since the interstate highway system came barreling through in the 1960s and 1970s," Conor Dougherty reports in The Wall Street Journal.

This "class colonization" is just part of a larger change, "from a resource-extraction economy to an aesthetic-based economy," Peter Nelson, an associate professor of geography at Middlebury College, told Dougherty, who further identifies him as "an expert on rural migration." The change is driven in part by the Internet, which allows work to be done from remote, second homes, but is expected to accelerate as more and more baby boomers retire.

As The Rural Blog has often noted, these changes create both challenges and opportunities for the rural areas being colonized. New jobs are created, but and and housing prices go up; infrastructure is strained, but newcomers can increase civic capital; retailers become more diverse, but social tensions are created "as longtime residents are either driven away because they can no longer afford housing or are forced to adapt to new careers," Dougherty writes from McCall, Idaho, 100 miles from Boise -- a farming and timber town that "is attracting newcomers from as far away as New York and Sydney."

Other examples cited by Dougherty: Bath County, Va., high in the Alleghenies; Eagle County, Colo., home of Vail; and Mono County, Calif., home of Yosemite National Park. (Read more)

How do you measure gentrification? Look for "an increase in residents' total dividend, interest and rent income," which is tracked by the Commerce Department. Here's a Journal graphic with a map based on that metric; it has one error: The marked location of Teton County, Wyo., is actually the location of McCall and Valley County, Idaho. For a larger version, click here.

Two years after awful accident, Kentucky officials still at odds over penalties for coal-mine operator

One of the more outrageous episodes we have read about recently is the case of Gary Wayne Bentley, a Kentucky coal operator and emergency technician who "stood by, rendering no aid" to miner David "Bud" Morris, who "was bleeding to death, his legs nearly severed below the knees" in Harlan County on Dec. 30, 2005, writes R.G. Dunlop in The Courier-Journal. "Medical professionals later said prompt medical assistance would have saved Morris' life."

Morris's widow, Stella, told Dunlop, "He was the only guy trained to do anything, and he let my husband die." (Tim Webb photo shows Stella Morris, son Landen and photo of his father)

Adding insult to outrage, after more than two years, the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing "still has not proposed penalties against the mine that are stringent enough to satisfy the panel that must approve them," the state Mine Safety Review Commission, Dunlop reports. "Late last week, while rejecting the office's fourth attempt to settle the case on terms highly favorable to Bentley, the state in effect told the office how to resolve it charge Bentley as a co-owner of the mine -- which he has acknowledged being -- rather than simply as a mine emergency technician."

Dunlop explains, "That would enable the state to impose a substantial fine on Bentley. It also could bar him as an owner or operator in the coal industry if he were found to have placed Morris in imminent danger of serious injury or death by intentionally violating the law. The commission invited the state to submit yet another proposed agreement and scheduled a hearing on Feb. 14." (Read more)

Little book offers big ideas from everyday heroes

In The Little Red Book of Everyday Heroes, author Sylvia Lovely, right, offers "simple but provocative prescriptions for civic engagement [that] tell how the Main Street heroes she knows transform communities with the ideas she explored in her first book," The Little Blue Book of Big Ideas, reviewer Al Smith writes in The Courier-Journal.

"With catchy slogans like 4 P's (Persons, Place, Perspective and Prosperity) and 3 T's (Talent, Technology and Tolerance), Lovely singles out successful transformations of community life in Morehead, Ky., and Moscow, Idaho, in which her League's consulting adjunct, the New Cities Institute, has been a partner," Smith writes. "In Morehead, a campaign to tie the town and the university closer started with "listening" sessions in which as many as 500 citizens shared ideas. In Moscow, home of the University of Idaho, the city leaders reached out to another university 12 miles to the west in Pullman, Wash., and created a 'knowledge corridor' to boost the economy of both towns."

Lovely, the executive director of the Kentucky League of Cities, "preaches inclusiveness, pointing to the benefits of cultural consciousness raising in staunchly fundamentalist enclaves like Campbellsville, Ky., where the Baptist university has recruited students from Mongolia and civic leaders host business prospects at a Mexican café," Smith writes for the Louisville newspaper's book page. (Read more) The book is published by Clark Publishing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Protestant churches are expelling more members

Alexandra Alter of The Wall Street Journal reports "a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders."

Sometimes the offenses seem to be more against the pastor than the church or some higher power. Alter begins her story with the case of a rural Michigan woman who questioned her pastor's authority, and cites a woman in rural Virginia who was voted out "for gossiping about her pastor's plans to buy a bigger house." And sometimes the supposedly private actions become public; the Virginia woman "believes the episode cost her a seat on the school board last year; she lost by 42 votes," Alter writes.

"In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database," Alter reports. "Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. ... Scholars estimate that 10 to 15 percent of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline -- about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total." (Read more)

Montana school cancels Nobel winner's climate talk

The small farming town of Choteau, Mont., is the latest hot spot in the debate over global warming. Steven W. Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana and member of the United Nations panel that shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, was scheduled to speak to the student body of Choteau High School (130 students) about his career and climate change, but some residents complained and forced a cancellation of the talk, reports Jim Robbins of The New York Times. Running (in a photo by Kurt Wilson of The Missoulian) did go ahead with his scheduled talk in the evening for the general public. A local high school basketball game, however, kept the crowd light for that event.

"Those who complained misunderstood the content of the talk, (school superintendent Kevin) St. John said, but there was no time to explain to all of them that Dr. Running was a leading scientist rather than an agenda-driven ideologue," Robbins writes.

“Disbelief was the primary reaction,” Running told Robbins. “I’ve never been canceled before. But it was almost comical. I had a pretty candid discussion with the superintendent and the school board, and they said there were some conservative citizens who didn’t want me to speak.” (Read more)

Nancy Thorton of the Chonteau Acantha, the 1,900-circulation weekly, reports that 140 people came to the evening talk, where Running spoke about the record-setting summer in Missoula and other climate issues. On a lighter note, Thornton writes that when Running discussed the shrinking of an Arctic ice pack, kindergarten student said to a first grader, "Santa Claus is in trouble." (Read more)

First bank privately owned by American Indians on a reservation opens in North Dakota

The Turtle Mountain State Bank opened this week in Belcourt, N.D., becoming the first bank on a U.S. reservation to be privately owned by American Indians, reports James MacPherson of The Associated Press. (Encarta map)

While banks on other reservations usually are owned by tribes or non-Indian companies, the new bank is owned by a group of investors led by tribal member James Laducer.
"A bank is the backbone to economic growth in any community," Laducer told MacPherson. "But people wanting to do banking had to go at least 10 to 20 miles off the reservation to get to a bank."

Belcourt is the largest town on the reservation, which has 20 businesses and a community college. (Read more)

W.Va. justice removes himself from case after photos connected him to controversial coal man

Elliott "Spike" Maynard, the chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, has removed himself from a case involving Massey Energy Co. after photos showed him alongside the company's top executive, Don Blankenship, during a Monaco vacation, reports Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. (One of those photos is at left, with Blankenship in sunglasses.)

"Maynard helped form a 3-2 majority in November that overturned a multimillion-dollar judgment against Richmond, Va.-based Massey that another company, Harman Mining, and its president, Hugh Caperton, had won in a contract dispute," Messina writes. "Caperton had asked Maynard to step down from the case before the high court reconsiders that ruling. With interest, the damages are worth $76.3 million." (Read more)

Paul J. Nyden of The Charleston Gazette first reported on the photos after Caperton filed them with the state Supreme Court on Monday. The AP ran a story earlier this week on how the photo flap highlighted the small-town nature of the state, saying, "In a state of about 1.8 million people, those in West Virginia’s universe of officeholders, bureaucrats and business leaders often joke about a single degree of separation between them."

In 2004, Blankenship bankrolled a multi-million dollar campaign that replaced a Democratic justice of the Supreme Court with a Republican, and he has said he plans to do likewise this year. However, his effort to finance a Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2006 failed. For other news on Massey, see item below.

Attire with flying-ear-of-corn brand flies off shelves

Seed company DeKalb has been using a flying ear of corn as its logo for years on its packages of corn, soybean and sorghum seeds. In August, the company stamped the logo on a line of clothing marketed at 15- to 24-year-olds, and that crowd has been buying the T-shirts, jackets and hats at a brisk pace, reports Erin Crawford of the Des Moines Register.

The company did not start the WingWear line (at left in a promotional photo) to enter the fashion business but to reach out to young people."We realized we had to do this in a way youth could connect with, through fashion and music and an online experience," DeKalb marketing manager Jason Hoag told Crawford. "Try to make a connection with them they could truly understand."

Unlike the company's past in-house efforts, a local advertising agency designed and marketed the line. Profits from the line will go toward agricultural scholarships. (Read more)

Immigration is a top issue for voters in rural S.C.

Rural farming counties in the South have seen some of the highest Latino immigration rates, and South Carolina is no exception. When the state holds its Republican presidential primary tomorrow, the issue of illegal immigration will be a key one for voters, reports of the Los Angeles Times.

Reporter Richard Fausset offers the perspective of voters in Saluda County (pop. 19,000), about hour west of the state capital of Columbia, which has "the largest ratio of Latinos in the state" and where textile-plant closures cost more than 1,400 jobs, according to the county's former planning and economic development director. Immigrants have brought cheap labor and retail spending, facts that complicate the issue here in Saluda County and elsewhere, Fausset writes. "The undocumented population has become fairly embedded, not just in Saluda, but in an awful lot of communities," Mike Deloache, a downtown real estate broker, told Fausset.

Others in the town want a hard line on the issue, and some have formed an anti-immigration group called Save Our Saluda. Marti Coleman Adams (in a Times photo by Brett Flashnick), a shop owner in Saluda and founder of the group, said illegal immigration is her main concern. “We can stay in Iraq and stay in Afghanistan,” she told Fausset. “But I’d say that if the problem of illegal immigration is not addressed, then we’re not going to have a country anymore.”(Read more)

Coal and electric firms push coal-burning power plants; opposition leads to delays of more than 50

The boom in coal-fired power plants has been tempered by "concerns about climate change, construction costs and transportation problems," reports the Los Angeles Times, and the coal and electric industries are fighting back with campaigns that pay special attention to states with early presidential primaries and caucuses, reports The Washington Post.

A recent post here mentioned Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a lobby group supported by the coal, electric and allied industries. Steven Mufson of the Post reports that the group spent $17 million last year, has a budget of $35 million this year, and has spent $1.3 million on billboard, newspaper, television and radio ads in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina — early-voting states where coal-fired power plants are facing opposition.

"One of its television ads shows a power cord being plugged into a lump of coal, which it calls 'an American resource that will help us with vital energy security' and 'the fuel that powers our way of life,'" Mufson writes. "The ads note that half of U.S. electricity comes from coal-fired plants." Another ad says, "Throughout history, new ideas have often been met with skepticism" while showing images of the Wright brothers and other inventors before talking about "clean coal technology."

The group's financial supporters include 28 companies and trade associations such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, whose members depend heavily on coal. At this week's Democratic debate in Nevada, the group had about 50 people carrying signs and handing out leaflets. Inside, each of the three candidates spent some time addressing the issue. Former senator John Edwards said, "I believe we need a moratorium on the building of any more coal-fired power plants unless and until we have the ability to capture and sequester the carbon in the ground." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "I have said we should not be siting any more coal-powered plants unless they can have the most modern, clean technology. And I want big demonstration projects to figure out how we would capture and sequester carbon." Sen. Barack Obama did not take a hard line on coal-fired electricity, but he said America must work to be "more efficient" in its energy use. (For a full transcript of the debate from the Las Vegas Sun, go here.)

In North Carolina, the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network has started running its own newspaper ads and staging protests against Duke Energy and its coal-fired plants, reports John Murawski of The News Observer in Raleigh. (Read more)

Judy Pasternak of the Times has a story today on how the debate over coal has forced companies to cancel or delay construction of new plants. "America's headlong rush to tap its enormous coal reserves for electricity has slowed abruptly, with more than 50 proposed coal-fired power plants in 20 states canceled or delayed in 2007," she writes. Pasternak has another article on the "politics of coal," tracing the debate over carbon-dioxide emissions. (Times graphic, based on data from the Union of Concerned Scientists)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Massey Energy paying record penalty for water pollution, stemming from huge coal-slurry spill

Massey Energy Co. will pay a record $20 million "for polluting streams around its coal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia," and "spend another $10 million to prevent future problems," reports Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The civil penalty is the largest ever for violating wastewater discharge permits, and "stems from the massive, 300-million-gallon slurry spill in Martin County, Ky., in October 2000, often described as the southeastern United States' worst environmental disaster, as well as 4,500 violations of Clean Water Act permits at mines in the two states," writes James Bruggers of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. The spill was "by far the worst offense," the Herald-Leader reports. (Photo of slurry pond by H-L's Charles Bertram)

The lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency last May charged that Massey "discharged excess amounts of metals, sediment and acid mine drainage into hundreds of rivers and streams in the two states," Mead writes. Many of the violations exceeded limits by 40 percent, "with some pollutants discharged at levels more than 10 times their limit, the government said," Bruggers notes.

Massey, headed by Don Blankenship, left, is based in Richmond, Va., and is the largest producer of coal in Appalachia and fourth largest in the nation. It has about 33 underground mines and 11 strip mines in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, EPA said. To read the consent decree between the firm and the Department of Justice, click here.

Illinois farmers blocking completion of oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast

In the race to transport oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, some rural Illinois farmers have become major players. Partnering with Exxon Mobil, the Canadian firm Enbridge is working to finish a pipeline from Alberta to Texas before anyone else does, but those farmers are blocking the 175-mile missing piece, reports Kari Lydersen of The Washington Post (which produced the graphic). The U.S. gets most of its foreign oil from Canada, which shipped in 1,919,000 barrels of oil per day in November, compared to 1,530,000 barrels per day from Saudia Arabia. (For data from the Energy Information Administration, go here.)

"Farmers said they are concerned about a fire along an Enbridge pipeline in Minnesota that killed two welders in November and incidents on Enbridge pipelines in Wisconsin, including a 126,000-gallon spill in February that contaminated the water table," Lydersen writes. "They also worry that the pipeline would interfere with the underground tile drainage system needed to keep their once-swampy land farmable." Some also note that the pipeline is designed for exporting oil to other countries.

Enbridge has offered farmers fair market value — plus fees for crop loss and soil damage —to use a 120-foot wide strip of their land to make way for the 36-inch diameter pipeline. David Sykuta, executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Council, told Lydersen the $350 million project was "absolutely vital" to the nation's oil economy. (Read more)

Decline of oysters means much of Chesapeake Bay could be off-limits for harvesters

The Chesapeake Bay is synonymous with seafood, but its waters are not as plentiful as in the past. In parts of Maryland, the oyster population is falling sharply, so a state advisory commission is recommending strict limits be placed on harvesting there, reports David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post.

Overfishing and disease have shrunk harvests from an average of 2.5 million bushels a year in the state in 1920 to 104,000 now, Fahrenthold writes. "To fix the problem, the commission proposed ending 'put-and-take' programs, where the government grows oysters and then puts them in the water for watermen to harvest," he writes. "Instead, it proposed making large portions of Maryland's underwater oyster beds off-limits for harvesting."

The remaining areas could be leased to private owners for oyster farms. The report from the Oyster Advisory Commission says more restrictive harvest measures are not enough to restore oysters and that other actions must be taken to minimize disease and address water quality issues. The Maryland Watermen's Association said the plan would hurt its members, who spend the winter harvesting oysters and the summer crabbing. (Read more)

Automakers put ethanol-ready cars on display at West Virginia auto show

Ethanol is still not available at many gas pumps, but there are cars ready to run on it. At the West Virginia International, automakers are showcasing their "Flexible Fuel Vehicles," which operate on ethanol and gasoline, reports The Charleston Gazette. The cars' exteriors do not look any different, but inside there are unique engine components and a computer to analyze the ethanol content of fuel.

"The cars don’t run on pure ethanol but rather E85, a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol," according to the Gazette's staff report. "Among E85’s advantages over gas is that it burns far more cleanly and derives from U.S.-grown crops like corn. When gasoline prices skyrocket, E85 is typically cheaper, but under normal circumstances the prices for each are about the same."

Currently, there are only two E85 pumps in West Virginia: one in Morgantown and another in Bridgeport. The price of E85 at one of those was $2.999 per gallon compared to $3.28 for regular 87-octane gasoline. (Read more)

A list of flexible fuel vehicles:
  • Chevrolet: Avalanche, Express, Impala, Silverado (1/2-ton pickup 2WD and 4WD), Suburban, Tahoe, Uplander
  • Chrysler: Aspen, Sebring (convertible and sedan), Town & Country
  • Dodge: Avenger, Dakota, Durango, Grand Caravan, Ram 1500
  • Ford: Crown Victoria, F-150
  • GMC: Savana, Sierra (1/2-ton pickup 2WD and 4WD), Yukon, Yukon XL
  • Jeep: Commander, Grand Cherokee Mercedes: C300 Luxury & Sport
  • Mercury: Grand Marquis Nissan: Armada, Titan
  • Pontiac: Montana

Geographic article on North Dakota stirs uproar

The January issue of National Geographic magazine included a Charles Bowden feature on North Dakota called "The Emptied Prairie." North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven did not like it one bit, and he was not the only North Dakotan taking issue with the story. Hoeven wrote a letter to the magazine's editor-in-chief, Chris Johns, calling the feature "way off the mark," reports The Bismarck Tribune.

The feature paints a bleak picture of life on the plains (along with photos such as the one above by Eugene Richards). "That’s the rub in rural North Dakota, a sense of things ebbing, of churches being abandoned, schools shutting down, towns becoming ruins," Bowden writes. "And all this decline exists amid a seeming statistical prosperity: Oil is booming, wheat prices are at record highs, and, as the average farm size grows, the land is studded with paper millionaires living in the lonely sweep of the plains, with surrounding community gone to the wind."

Hoeven's letter accentuates the positive in his state, and he points to the success of ethanol and
biodiesel facilities as well as rural businesses. "To give the magazine's readers a more accurate picture of our state, I've asked our Commerce Commissioner and Tourism Director to contact your editors and invite you back to cover what you left out -- the fact that North Dakota is a growing 21st century state with a bright future," he writes. (Read more)

Johns defended the article in an interview with The Associated Press this week.
"Why did we focus on North Dakota? Because there are some trends there that spoke to us and I love North Dakota," Johns told the AP. Johns said the story was inspired by some of his drives through North Dakota while he was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. (Read more)

The Tribune has spent plenty of ink on the story, including a column by Editor John Irby, a column by Clay Jenkinson and plenty of letters to the editor agreeing and disagreeing with the magazine article. The (Fargo) Forum weighed in with a editorial called, "Geographic look at N.D. is old news."
"Beautiful photographs and excellent descriptive writing make for a compelling, if woefully incomplete, image of rural North Dakota in 2008," the editorial board writes. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bo Derek fights slaughter of horses in Canada

Over the past few days, major newspapers have spotlighted the consequences of the end of horse slaughter for meat in the United States. At The Rural Blog, we've dubbed it the horse crisis, and now the animal-welfare side of the argument is getting a celebrity spokeswoman in actress Bo Derek. The star of the movie "10" has helped launch a campaign against horse slaughter in Canada, reports Agence France-Presse. (France is a leading consumer of horsemeat from North America.)

"Derek, who has been active in the U.S. campaign against horsemeat for six years, warned that the lack of US legislation against shipping horses for meat could lead to the slaughter of 100,000 the animals in Canada this year," AFP reports. (AFP photo)

Derek, who owns five horses, announced the campaign by the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition at a lunch in Vancouver. "It's very brutal," she said. "We've been breeding our livestock to be docile and manageable, and it's quite the opposite with horses. They're meant to be fast, and beautiful. They're simply not set up for the process of slaughter." (Read more)

Mitt Romney ran strongest in urban Michigan, but he still carried rural areas -- and evangelicals

Call it "Return of the Native," with apologies to Thomas Hardy. It appears that former Massachusetts Mitt Romney's roots in Michigan sprouted votes from him all over the state, crossing rural-urban and religious lines, as he won the state's Republican presidential primary yesterday.

Romney's margin over Arizona Sen. John McCain was larger in the state's metropolitan areas than outside them, but he still carried rural Michigan -- and even the evangelical voters who were the main target of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee but may have been less skeptical than those elsewhere of Romney's Mormon religion because he was raised in the state and his father was its governor.

"McCain made up some ground outside Detroit but failed to put together a majority in any part of the state except the Upper Peninsula," reports the Daily Yonder, which produced the pie chart. "In this region, the state’s most rural, McCain won 14 of 15 counties and beat Romney by 9 percentage points. McCain also performed well in the rural counties of Western Michigan, but Romney made up the difference in metropolitan Grand Rapids, Holland, and Grand Haven."

Huckabee got 18 percent of the rural vote, compared to 16 percent statewide. For the Yonder story, by Tim Marema, Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery, click here.

On eve of vote, Bush signals veto of mine-safety bill

President Bush yesterday threatened to veto the coal-mine safety bill that the U.S. House is scheduled to vote on today. In a policy statement, the White House said Bush's senior advisers "would recommend he veto" HR 2768 because it would jeopardize "meaningful achievements and efforts" being made as a result of a bill that Congress passed in 2006. "For example, it said, the bill would require new regulations on mine seals, even though the final rules under the 2006 law are about to be put in place," writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal.

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., argue that the administration has taken too long to implement the 2006 law, passed in the wake of the Sago Mine disaster and other fatal accidents. Miller told Carroll that the White House was making "baseless excuses" and Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville said the Mine Safety and Health Administration "has been disastrously slow to implement the laws that are on the books, and people have died as a result." MSHA took nearly the maximum time available to propose new rescue rules, The Charleston Gazette reported last week.

National Mining Association President and CEO Kraig Naasz told Carroll that the new bill "would interfere with mine safety progress." (Read more)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Strip-mining foes and Tenn. agencies ask feds to apply Endangered Species Act to mining permits

Foes of strip mining for coal and some Tennessee regulators are invoking the federal Endangered Species Act in an effort to protect the Clinch River, which rises in the coal-laden hills of southwest Virginia and drains a wide swath of East Tennessee. Their petition also mentions the Powell River, a Clinch tributary at the edge of the Tennessee River watershed, and the northward-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky. (Encarta map shows Clinch in yellow; Powell is blue line northwest of it)

Citing damage from mountaintop-removal strip mines, the environmentalists and the Tennessee officials are asking the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider the service's 1996 opinion that the act didn't stand in the way of strip-mine permits as long as mines obeyed laws.

"Current regulations, the petitioners say, are putting the most sensitive and biodiverse watersheds in two states -- some of the most biodiverse watersheds in the world -- at risk," The Roanoke Times reports. Virginia Tech wildlife professor Richard Neves told reporter Tim Thornton that the Clinch has "the highest concentration of endangered species of anywhere in the United States."

"There's evidence mounting to the harm to water quality and other resources from mountaintop removal," Cat McCue, communications manager for the Southern Environmental Law Center, told Thornton, who writes: "The SELC and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are petitioning on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association." (Read more)

The groups want the service to "consider permit-by-permit studies of mining’s possible impacts on endangered species and their habitat," reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more)

FDA says meat and milk from clones are safe, but packers say they're not buying, at least not yet

A new report from the Food and Drug Administration on the safety of food from cloned animals probably will not end the debate on clones anytime soon. Rick Weiss of The Washington Post reports that the FDA says meat and milk from cloned animals are as safe as that from conventionally-bred animals. Still, the FDA acknowledged that "Moral, religious and ethical concerns ... have been raised." (Read more)

In response to the FDA's 968-page final risk assessment, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods announced they would not be producing meat from cloned animals (such as the cows at in a photo by PRNewsFoto), reports Tom Johnston of "Tyson currently has no plans to purchase cloned livestock, especially since it will likely be a long time before such animals would even be available for market," Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told Meatingplace. "Whatever measures we ultimately take will be guided by government regulations and the desires of our customers and consumers."

In 2001, producers created a voluntary moratorium on using meat or milk from clones or their offspring, and the FDA wants that to remain in place for the time being, Johnston reports. He writes that the FDA has said it will not require special labeling for food from cloned animals, but it will "on a case-by-case basis, consider producers' requests to voluntarily label their products." (Read more)

The Society of Environmental Journalists offers a great page of resources and links for covering the issue. The page includes recent coverage of about the FDA and cloned livestock as well as information on companies working on cloned foods (such as Trans Ova Genetics and ViaGen). In addition, there is a list of consumer groups watching the issue. (Hat tip to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute)
The FDA assessed the more than 600 cloned farm animals in the United States and their offspring. Some had genes altered. "The FDA has said it will not approve gene-altered animals as food without additional tests for safety," Weiss writes. The FDA found no safety hazards for milk or meat from cloned cows or meat from cloned goats and pigs, and said it needed more information to decide on the safety of meat from cloned sheep.

The report helps clear the way for the marketing of food from cloned animals, but it will be years before that happens since those clones are still to valuable as breeders for to create what proponents call "a new generation of superior farm animals." There are other hurdles. Some consumer advocacy groups have pledged to fight against cloned animals, and U.S. trade agencies have had trouble getting foreign countries to accept gene-altered crops, a bad omen for cloned animals.

The Post also produced the graphic "From the Lab to Your Table" illustrating the life of a cloned animal, and it has excerpts from the report.

Shortcuts for narrowing searches on Google News

Google News, a search engine for media sources, has become a key tool for journalists, but sometimes has too much information to give — forcing reporters to sift through thousands of results for the perfect source. Special syntax can narrow those searches and save valuable time, reports WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C.

When searching on Google News, simply add location: followed by a postal code, city or state to narrow results to that area. For example, to search for news on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in South Carolina, type huckabee location:SC (no space between location, the colon and SC) into Google News. If searching for a first and last name, necessary for more common names, use quote marks, as in "john edwards" location:SC into the browser.

Adding in title: to a search narrows results to those with selected terms or names in the headline. For example, to search for news on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Michigan primary, type intitle:romney primary location:michigan. (Read more)

Debate over Iowa power plant draws hundreds

The fight over the future of coal power is heating up in Iowa. Hundreds of people overflowed an Iowa Utilities Board meeting Monday night to speak out on Alliant Energy's proposed $1.5 billion coal-fired plant in Marshalltown, reports Perry Beeman of the Des Moines Register (which produced the map at left).

"Among the supporters were ethanol and utility co-op workers, bankers, local government leaders, state legislators, economic development workers, corporate executives, and construction workers who said the plant would create jobs and offset emissions from older plants," Beeman writes. "Opposing the plant were Meskwaki Tribe members from nearby Tama, environmentalists and health professionals concerned about the plant contributing to lung illnesses and to global warming."

Experts working on behalf of Alliant have said the new plant would support 3,600 jobs and $200 million in personal income for Iowans — mainly those in rural areas, Beeman writes. Earlier, Beeman reported NASA climate scientist James Hansen, the former first deputy comptroller of the state of New York, would speak against the plant as a private citizen. Hansen said the climate is nearing a "tipping point" that demands a reduction in carbon emissions. (Read more)

Boom in coal-fired power plant construction creates new fronts in global-warming debate

The past few years have seen a sharp increase in the construction of coal-fired power plants, as energy companies have worked to meet increased demand. Seems like The Rural Blog has an item on one about every week (click on links below to see some). Almost every plant faces a fight from environmental groups who are making each a referendum on coal and global warming, reports Matthew Brown of The Associated Press.

According to an AP tally, at least 48 plants are being contested in 29 states, with many of those contests ending up federal and state courtrooms. "Environmental groups cite 59 canceled, delayed or blocked plants as evidence they are turning back the 'coal rush,'" Brown writes. "That stacks up against 22 new plants now under construction in 14 states — the most in more than two decades."

Supporters of the plants say coal helps alleviate the need for foreign oil and argue that environmentalists put the country's power grid at risk by opposing new construction. To make their case for coal, energy and mining companies are pouring big money — $15 million in 2007 and probably $35 million in 2008 — into the industry group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices and its promotional campaign. Last year, the Sierra Club spent $1 million fighting coal plants.

Environmentalists have seized on a Supreme Court ruling from April in the case of Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which held that carbon dioxide is a pollutant open to regulation. Last week, however, a Montana state panel upheld its air-quality permit for a proposed plant in the Great Falls area despite claims that it would emit as much carbon dioxide as 500,000 vehicles. (Read more)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Proposal to close off-road trails in western Montana national forest sparks unruly public hearing

Debate over the environment often inspires emotional responses on both sides. In the case of Bitterroot National Forest in western Montana, the talk at a public hearing went too far. U.S. Forest Service officials held a meeting Jan. 10 in Darby, Mont., to allow public comment on proposals to change the forest's travel management plan, which included the closing of trails that allowed ATVs and other motorized recereation. A crowd 0f more than 200 turned out — with the majority in favor pro-motorized recreation — and things got out of hand, reports Perry Backus of The Missoulian.

"The Bitterroot National Forest abruptly canceled a public meeting in Stevensville on updating its travel management plan following a crowded and sometimes unruly meeting on the same topic the night before in Darby," Backus wrote. "People cursed during the Darby meeting, and the U.S. Forest Service is following up on reports that a man suggested someone 'put a bullet in her head' as a woman spoke."
People were "aggressive, belligerent and angry. ... The 'f-word' was used more than once in comments," Friends of Bitterroot President Jim Miller told Backus. Miller also said it was the "ugliest meeting" he had attended. While Dan Thompson of the Ravalli County Off-Road Users Association agreed some comments were inappropriate, he said it was important for motorized recreationists to "break up that cozy little club." The next meeting on the subject is tomorrow at the Bitterroot River Inn in Hamilton. (Read more)

Teen brings a grocery store back to Truman, Minn.

In 2006, Main Street in Truman, Minn., was struggling, and its best hope did not even have a diploma. After the town of 1,259 in the southern part of the state lost its only grocery store, 17-year-old Nick Graham (in photo by Ken Klotzbach) brought a spark to Main Street by buying and reopening the store, writes Marti Attoun for American Profile magazine, a supplement to many rural newspapers.

A senior at Truman High School at the time, Graham recently had moved back to his hometown to live with his grandmother. Since the nearest supermarket was 14 miles away in Fairmont, Graham thought reopening the store was a no-brainer. “I thought it could be a community service and a profitable enterprise,” he told Attoun. “It was a buyer’s market and I pretty much got to name my price.”

Graham applied for a $22,000 loan from the Truman Development Corp. to buy the store and fixtures and after one meeting, the group's 25 members voted unanimously to give it to him. He then spent $10,000 — earned from shingling roofs and working on his uncle's turkey farm — to buy the inventory. When the Main Street Market reopened in November 2006, 400 residents came. Since then, Graham has paid off his loan, and he has bought a second store, Armstrong Foods in Armstrong, Iowa, 35 miles south of Truman.

“I enjoy what I do,” Graham says. “Rural America is an underserved market. The challenges are harder, but you’re overlooked by the competition, too.” (Read more)

Entrepreneur behind in-flight catalogs sets sights on making energy from wood waste in rural Ariz.

Robert Worsley had a multi-million dollar idea when he created SkyMall magazine to sell gifts to bored airline passengers. The Arizona entrepreneur thinks he might have an even bigger idea now. Worsley wants to turn "green waste" and the byproducts of a newsprint factory into electricity, reports Ryan Randazzo of The Arizona Republic.

Along with Tempe-based Renegy Holdings Inc., Worsley plans to open a a $53 million, 24-megawatt biomass power plant this spring near Snowflake, about 130 miles northeast of Phoenix. (Encarta map)

"The company has amassed acres of wood chips, about 300,000 tons, and the state's two largest utilities have agreed to buy electricity from the projec," Randazzo writes. "Renegy collects "green waste" from landfill drop-offs across northern Arizona, including Payson, Pinetop-Lakeside and Strawberry. The company also has deals for forest-thinning projects that are designed to prevent massive fires." (Read more)

The plant will be built at Abitibi Consolidated's paper mill in Snowflake, and the mill is welcoming the arrival, reports the Silver Creek Herald, the 3,000-circulation weekly in Navajo County. “Overall, things are looking good here at the mill,” manager John McKee told reporter Linda Kor. (Read more)

Iowa town's future may depend on keeping prison

Since 1839, Fort Madison, Iowa, has benefited from being home to a major prison. If a new state prison is built elsewhere, the southeast Iowa town could be in trouble. Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, pledged to bring the new $121 million maximum security to Fort Madison, where the penitentiary was founded as a territorial prison, but Republicans want to consider other sites, reports William Petroski of the Des Moines Register.

Fort Madison's location on the Mississippi River made it the perfect spot for a prison in the 1800s, but critics say its rural, isolated location is too far from hospitals, inmates' families or pools of professional workers. Built in 1870, the current prison (at left in a Register photo by Harry Baumert) is showing its age and in 2005 two prisoners made an escape by scaling a 30-foot wall.

"The possibility that Fort Madison could lose the Iowa State Penitentiary sends chills through the town's 11,476 residents, who have already witnessed the loss of several major employers," Petroski writes. "This includes Fruehauf Trailers; Sheaffer Pen, which will be fully closed in March; and the Catfish Bend Casino riverboat, which shut down in November after 13 years docked in Fort Madison. The unemployment rate in Lee County in November was 5.6 percent, fourth-highest among Iowa's 99 counties." A bipartisan legislative committee voted 7-2 in November to recommend Fort Madison for the new 800-bed prison, but the deal is not done. (Read more)

According to The Daily Democrat, the 5,000-circulation newspaper in Fort Madison, the new prison is not going anywhere else. State Sen. Gene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, told the Democrat's Joe Benedict that the prison has the governor's backing and will be built after work on a prison in Mitchellville is finished. (Read more)

Some farmers say animal IDs too invasive, costly

American farmers value their space, literally and figuratively, and now many are afraid a new animal-identification program will bring the eyes of the federal government a little too close too home, reports Nicole Gaouette of the Los Angeles Times. The system is voluntary, at least for now, but can keep out of contests animals and owners like Brandi Calderwood, above, who couldn't enter her steer in the Colorado State Fair because he wasn't registered. (Times photo by Nathan W. Ames)

The Bush administration has touted the National Animal Identification System as an important tool for monitoring the safety of U.S. meat, but American farmers see the tagging project as an invasion of privacy, or worse. Controlled by the Department of Agriculture, the NAIS aims to register almost every farm animal in the country — even exotic ones — and create a database that will allow the government to track a disease outbreak back to its source in less than 48 hours. Despite the system's goals, many farmers don't want to join.

"Family farmers see it as an assault on their way of life by a federal bureaucracy with close ties to industrial agriculture," Gaouette writes. "Privacy advocates say the database would create an invasive, detailed electronic record of farmers' activities. Religious farming communities, such as the Amish and Mennonites, fear the system is a manifestation of the Mark of the Beast foretold in the Book of Revelation," required to buy or sell.

The system has three parts: premises registration (to designate each property), the Animal Identification Number (assigned by group for big operations and by individual animal on small farms) and animal tracing (movements of animals must be reported within 24 hours). Owners of small farms complain the costs of tagging each animal — the microchip ID costs $1.50 — and then tracking them are too high for their operations.

Though the system is still voluntary — President Bush has not registered his Texas ranch or his eight head of cattle there — some states and farm groups have given farmers little choice. The USDA has tied certain funds to the numbers of farms a state has registered, and its youth programs require children to register their family farms. (Read more)

Congress did not fully fund the NAIS in 2008, allocating $9.75 million of the $33.2 million requested by USDA, reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network. (Read more) For an example of one small farmer's take on the NAIS, read Sharon Zecchinelli's September article for the Daily Yonder.

GM in deal with cellulosic ethanol firm in Illinois

General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, left, said yesterday that GM is partnering with a new cellulosic ethanol company, Illinois-based Coskata Inc. The announcement was "a sign the race to produce fuel out of waste is intensifying," reports Lauren Etter of The Wall Street Journal. (Los Angeles Times photo)

"Coskata plans to build a pilot-scale plant this year in Warrenville, William Roe, the president and chief executive of Coskata, said in a briefing with reporters last week," reports Matthew Wald of The New York Times. "It has demonstrated all the phases of its technology but has not linked them together in an operating plant, he acknowledged." (Read more)

Coskata "is one of nine cellulosic ethanol companies backed by billionaire investor Vinod Khosla and is one of more than a dozen companies in the U.S. that are rushing to develop a way to efficiently produce cellulosic ethanol," Etter writes. "GM, which is taking an undisclosed financial stake in the company, is making a foray into the cellulosic ethanol field as part of a broader campaign to convince car buyers it is committed to fuel economy and capable of chasing Toyota Motor Corp. in terms of environmental leadership. ... Coskata hopes that allying with GM will give the company brand recognition and an immediate platform for its fuel once it hits the market, which isn't expected to be until 2011 at the earliest."

Cellulosic ethanol is still waiting for a chemical, biological or technological breakthrough to make it commercially viable, but "A protracted bout of high oil prices and significant government support is likely to give the fuel a boost and speed up commercialization," Etter predicts. The winner of that race "will propel fuel and autos to a new level that could achieve Henry Ford's dream of running cars not on petroleum but on a range of farm products like apples, sawdust and weeds. Widespread use of the fuel could dramatically reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases significantly." (Read more)

"GM said it spent a year talking to more than a dozen ethanol producers before deciding to put what Wagoner said was a small amount of money" with Coskata, reports Ken Bensinger of the Los Angeles Times, whose story focuses more on the transportation side. (Read more)

Tiny Calif. community finally getting phone service

High-speed Internet access tops many rural residents' wish list, but in Iowa Hill, Calif., residents would settle for a telephone line. An hour northeast of Sacramento, and just nine miles from Interstate 80 -- but in the rugged Sierra Nevada -- the town of 150 will get that wish this summer, reports Todd Milbourn of McClatchy Newspapers.

"Phone companies long resisted laying the necessary copper lines, saying Iowa Hill was too remote, and too few people lived there," Milbourn writes. "But thanks to a $2.5 million state grant and the commitment of a local phone company, Iowa Hill residents will get hooked up as early as summer. When that happens, Iowa Hill will leave a surprisingly long list of far-flung California communities still lacking telephone service: Lost Hills in Fresno County, Pine Mountain in Kern County and Siskiyou County's Eddy Gulch, Godfrey Ranch and Swillup Creek, to name a few."

The town has relied on cell phones for the past decades, but service is spotty in the area's rough terrain. Most hike "Telephone Hill" on the east side of town to guarantee a signal. The difficult terrain had been one of main hurdles to the installation of a telephone line. This plan calls for the use of microwaves to help connect the more isolated households. (Read more)

FCC allows sale of Clear Channel Communications

The Federal Communications Commission has approved the sale of Clear Channel Communications, which is shedding itself of many rural radio stations. "It is continuing to divest itself of radio stations in small and mid-sized markets, with plans to eventually trim its portfolio by 450 to around 900, focusing on more valuable properties in larger markets," reports Erik Sass of MediaPost. (Read more)

Clear Channel is being bought
by private equity investors, led by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners. Lee is also an investor in Cumulus Media, another major radio operator. Bain, also based in Boston, was founded by Mitt Romney, who later became governor of Massachusetts and is now seeking the Republican nomination for president.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Painkiller abuse continues in southwest Virginia; black market in legal methadone spurs overdoses

"Rising coal prices have meant jobs and money for southwestern Virginia's mining towns. But a cloud hangs over those communities too: prescription painkiller abuse," The Washington Post reports in a 3,400-word story today, with multimedia interviews with miners.

Staff Writer Nick Miroff reports from Tazewell County, Virginia's easternmost coal county: "Nearly a decade after OxyContin slammed into southwestern Virginia and much of Appalachia, the abuse of prescription painkillers in the region is worse than ever, police and public health officials say. ... A record 248 people died of overdoses in Virginia's western region in 2006, more than those who died from homicides, house fires and alcohol-related car accidents combined. ... The problem is most acute in Virginia's poorest rural areas."

"In what is perhaps the most troubling sign of the problem's intractability, the single deadliest drug in the region in 2006" was methadone, which is given to addicts and has spawned a big black market, Miroff reports. "Methadone was linked to 78 deaths in western Virginia in 2006, and experts say that whatever ground was gained against the illegal use of OxyContin is being lost, engulfed in a widening circle of abuse that extends to painkillers, antidepressants and other prescription drugs."

Here's part of the story's coal angle: "Drug use by miners who snort or shoot up underground has been a growing cause for concern among state regulators, and a law approved last year in the General Assembly imposed stringent drug-testing policies. All newly hired miners must be screened, and random testing requirements have increased. Those who fail risk losing their miner's license. The impact of the new policies was immediate." Mine operator Noah Vandyke told Miroff, "I can't find nobody to work. The younger generation, you can't hardly find one that will pass a drug test." (Read more)

L.A. Times latest big paper to spotlight horse crisis

The latest national story on troubles facing horses, by Jenny Jarvie of the Los Angeles Times, highlights the role of the Southeastern drought and recounts some harrowing experiences and heroic efforts, such as those of Buffy Muir (at left with a horse named Don Juan) and her husband, Christopher Takacs, who set up a horse shelter in Carlisle, Ky. (Photo by Jim Winn for the Times)

"In many parts of the United States, horse owners are struggling to feed their animals after a severe drought doubled -- even tripled -- the cost of hay," Jarvie writes. "The drought has exacerbated a glut in the low end of the horse market, brought on by years of over-breeding and the recent economic downturn. Horses that once cost $500 are selling for $50. On, a website for horse classified ads, hundreds of horses -- some malnourished, but many well-fed -- are offered for free."

"It's heartbreaking," Kathy Grant, who runs a rescue center in droughty East Tennessee, told the Times. "The back roads are where you find them -- all skin and bone, just hanging their heads in the pastures, dying." She said she takes up to five calls a day from owners desperate to do something for, or with, their horses. The last three horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. closed in 2007, sending the trade to Mexico and Canada. "Exports have tripled to Mexico, where knives are repeatedly jabbed into the horses' spinal cords," Jarvie writes.

The horse community is conflicted over a measure being pushed by the Humane Society of the United States, which would "outlaw the transport, purchase, sale or donation of any horse to be slaughtered for human consumption," Jarvie reports. "Such a prospect worries Cynthia Bellis-Jones, a teacher who trains horses at her Paris, Ky., farm. She says she already sees more undernourished horses at her local stockyards." She told Jarvie, "I'm really on the fence on this. I don't like the idea of slaughter, but starvation sits even worse with me." (Read more)

UPDATE, 9:45 a.m. EST Jan. 14: Horses in trouble touch the heart, the mind and the keyboard. Recent blog items on this subject have started comment threads, and the Times story is the second most e-mailed from its site this morning.