Saturday, May 10, 2008

Obama's likely landslide loss in West Virginia signals trouble in the fall with rural, white voters

West Virginia votes Tuesday. With Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by 40 percentage points or more in some polls, the outcome is not in doubt. But the expected vote in one of America's whitest, poorest and most rural states points up the problems Democrats fear Obama will have in November with rural whites, especially older ones and those who have not been to college.

Stephen Braun of the Los Angeles Times reports on interviews with Democrats in Moorefield, W.Va.: "Some fear voters will be turned off by Obama's black heritage. Others, they say, will find reason to doubt his patriotism or will perceive him to be an elitist. It remains unclear how racial unease will factor into election-day decisions come November. Those hidden impulses are elusively difficult to capture in polling. But seasoned Democratic players here reckon that some racially tinged voting will inevitably occur far beyond Hardy County's cresting hills."

"There's a lot of bigotry in the country, not just West Virginia," Democrat Clyde See Jr., former speaker of the state House and two-time candidate for governor, told Braun. And Braun found some of it for himself, quoting one suspicious Democrats "Obama just doesn't sound right for an American president" and an Obama supporter on some of her neighbors: "They're convinced he is a Muslim, a terrorist, a guy who's coming to take away their guns. It's just sad." (Read more)

Bill Clinton 'ginning up resentments' by rural voters against elites and Obama, ABC correspondent says

As the Democratic race for president focuses on two of the most rural states, West Virginia and Kentucky, where Hillary Clinton is heavily favored, her husband is "ginning up resentments" against Barack "Obama and his elitist political/media cabal allies," ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper writes on his "Political Punch" blog.

In a blog post headlined "Bill Clinton's Message to Rural America," Tapper writes that Bill Clinton is "using the kind of language Democrats typically use against Republicans -- as in, stuff you say when you don't want voters to vote for the other guy under any circumstance." Drawing on a report from ABC's Sarah Amos, he quotes Clinton in Ripley, W.Va., Friday night:

"Hillary is in this race because of people like you and places like this and no matter what they say. And no matter how much fun they make of your support of her and the fact that working people all over America have stuck with her, she thinks you're as smart as they are. ... They say I have been exiled to rural America, as if that was a problem. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be here than listening to that stuff I have to hear on television."

"His message to these voters: Obama and the media are laughing at you and think you're stupid!!! Obama has a clear problem with white working class voters. This kind of rhetoric exacerbates it," Tapper writes. "Clinton knows that -- he's trying to drive up turnout to maximize his wife's popular vote argument to superdelegates. He has every right to do so -- the race is not over, no nominee exists yet. But this is what keeps Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi up at night." (Read more)

Tapper wrote that Obama is avoiding "any real campaigning in West Virginia." After he posted, the Obama campaign announced it would hold a rally in Charleston, West Virginia's capital and largest city, on Monday, followed by one in Louisville, Kentucky's largest city, Monday night. Obama is expected to be in the Lexington, Ky., area on Tuesday, the day West Virginia votes. Kentucky votes a week later, as does Oregon.

Farm Credit Banks making permanent their experimental loans for community facilities

Lending institutions in the Farm Credit System, the major source of loans for farmers in the U.S., have been experimenting with financing community facilities in agricultural areas. The pilot program would become permanent under a rule proposed yesterday by directors of the Farm Credit Administration.

The idea behind such loans is that "Economic growth in rural areas is seen as crucial to attracting young adults and their families into and back into farming," writes Julie Harker of Brownfield Network. FCA Chairman and CEO Nancy Pellett told Brownfield in an interview that young farm families need "a second job for a spouse ... good schools, good medical services, recreational opportunities, etc. And these are the types of things that we need to bring those young people back to the community." (Read more)

The plan would allow loans for "essential community facilities, basic transportation infrastructure," disaster recovery, rural-development projects sponsored or guaranteed by government, and "venture capital funds that invest in rural businesses that create jobs and economic growth under certain conditions," FCA said in a press release. The agency said it has approved such loans "on a case-by-case basis to initiate pilot programs" since 2005, and 37 lending institutions in the system "have made investments through these pilot programs."

Illegal migrant farm workers depend on spiritual healers, home remedies and self-medication

Migrant farm workers in California's Central Valley "need help because they are in the United States illegally and because they are poor," reports Kevin Sack of The New York Times. "Few have health insurance, but the backbreaking nature of their work, along with the toxicity of American poverty, insure that many are ailing." (Times copy desk: That should be 'ensure.' This is a story about lack of insurance, remember?)

Sack writes that the workers "may visit a clinic or hospital if they are severely ill. But for many illegal immigrants, particularly indigenous Mexican groups like the Mixtecs, much of their health care is provided by a parallel system of spiritual healers, home remedies and self-medication. Stories abound here of people who died — of cancer, diabetes, even gangrene — because they did not make it to an emergency room until it was too late. Public health officials also worry that the lack of access to conventional care may contribute to the spread of communicable diseases. They warn that the rampant use of antibiotics, often without medical direction, may speed the development of resistant bacterial strains." (Read more)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Poverty is about real people, not politics, Youth Radio essayist says on NPR

Machlyn Blair of Blackey in southeastern Kentucky talked with former Sen. John Edwards last fall about what it's like to live in a poor place, during a stop on the "poverty tour" of Edwards' presidential campaign. When he saw himself on television with Edwards, "My perspective began to shift," the 21-year-old said in an essay on National Public Radio today.

"It made me realize that when lots of Americans think about poverty they probably think about all the usual stereotypes. Like hillbillies, junked out cars and kids without shoes — they probably think about here. . . . I always knew that things didn't add up around here, though. I saw people working hard every day and then going home with nothing. When I was 17, I learned the phrase "the working poor'" — I'm not sure that anything else has made me feel as small as those three words did, because then I started to realize that struggling with poverty wasn't a personal thing, that the whole problem was a lot bigger than me or where I live."

Blair said he has been unable to go to college and is considering coal mining, the best-paying job in the area. "The coal industry pays miners decent wages to do dangerous work, but the industry also tears down our mountains and pollutes our water," he said. "I guess that's a part of living in a poor place: feeling like you have to do things that are not the best choices for you or your community. You do it because it seems like the only way you'll survive."

Blair concludes, "The issue of poverty isn't about debates or which political party you're with. There are people here, who are in real need of a new kind of help." To listen to his essay, click here. It was produced by the Appalachian Media Institute and Youth Radio.

Obama says his rural problem is overstated; Clinton backs Farm Bill; N.Y. Post decries 'hillbillies'

Sen. Barack Obama told The Oregonian "that his problems in reaching out to rural and blue-collar workers have been overstated," Jeff Mapes and Harry Esteve report. "He said many of those voters prefer Clinton, but he predicted they would stick with the Democrats in the fall." Obama told the Portland paper, "Where we have been having problems is with voters over 65. ... I am the younger candidate, and they may be putting a higher premium on experience, so we're going to have to do more effective outreach to seniors." (Read more)

Obama, however, did not have anything to say about the Farm Bill, now in final form and awaiting House and Senate votes and a presidential veto. Sen. Hillary Clinton issued a press release saying that she would vote for the bill. "“Saying no to the farm bill would be saying no to rural America," she said.

In a column headlined "Desperate hillbillies threaten to break up party," Charles Hurt of the New York Post writes, "First it was Bill Clinton dismissing Barack Obama as just another black candidate winning South Carolina. Now comes Hillary Rodham Clinton, splashing moonshine onto those smoldering embers by telling West Virginia voters that 'hardworking Americans, white Americans' support her, not Obama." (Read more)

Hurt was writing about Clinton's comments in an interview with USA Today: "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on. . . . Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." (Read more)

The comment riled columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times, who writes that Clinton's real message was "He can’t win! Don’t you understand? He’s black! He’s black! The Clintons have been trying to embed that gruesomely destructive message in the brains of white voters and superdelegates for the longest time." Ben Smith of Politico notes, "The blunt talk on appealing to whites surfaces the day after the last round of primaries in which there's a substantial number of black voters." Herbert writes that the "Southern strategy" of Richard Nixon won't work any more because racial attitudes have moderated: "The idea that most white people — or most working-class white people — are unwilling to give an African-American candidate a fair hearing in a presidential election is a slur against whites." (Read more)

Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post about Tuesday's exit polls: "Among white active churchgoers in both states, a majority said Wright was very important to their vote, and in each state about nine in 10 of those for whom the issue was very important voted for Clinton" (Read more)

In West Virginia and Oregon, Clinton started new TV ads that don't mention Obama. "The West Virginia spot focuses on trade deals and special interests, while the Oregon one criticizes the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war," writes John Broder of The New York Times. In Beaverton, Ore., Clinton contrasted her health-care plan with Obama's, but did not mention him by name. Broder writes, "It was nothing Mr. Obama had not heard before and was relatively gentle, at least in comparison with her pointed attacks on the stump and on the airwaves in the most recent primaries, in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana, where she taunted her rival about his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and Mr. Obama’s remarks about 'bitter' small-town voters." (Read more)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Utah mine disaster was preventable, and manager should face criminal charges, House panel says

The coal-mine disaster that killed nine people in Utah last summer could have been prevented if the general manager or other officials at the Crandall Canyon Mine had shared key information with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, a congressional investigation has found.

The report said that the manager should be charged with crimes, that "the mining company should never have submitted a request to remove coal from the section of mine where the collapse occurred, and that federal mining officials should not have approved the proposal, because of foreseeable dangers," Ian Urbina writes for The New York Times.

The report said the Murray Energy Corp. mine failed to tell MSHA about a collapse five months before the Aug. 6 collapse that was similar and killed six miners. Three more died during rescue efforts, which were suspended. MSHA is due to issue its own report next month. (Read more)

Final Farm Bill is unveiled, faces a veto by Bush

UPDATE, 7 p.m: The final version of the Farm Bill "will have to overcome a veto by President Bush to actually make it into law," Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network reported this afternoon from Washington. Congressional negotiators said they might be able to override a veto. The bill bans subsidies "to anyone making more than $500,000 of non-farm adjusted gross income per year and ending direct payments to anyone with an AGI of more than $750,000 a year from any source. The Bush administration had wanted a $200,000 AGI means test for all farm program payments." (Read more) The limit could be $1.5 million for a couple if both were deemed to be farmers. The effort to limit subsidies was blocked by rice and cotton producers, Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., told Brownfield's Bob Meyer. (Read more)

Earlier post, revised: "The House is viewed as less likely to override a veto," writes Philip Brasher, Washington reporter for The Des Moines Register. "The 231-191 vote on the House version of the bill last summer fell well short of the two-thirds majority." Bush said the bill would cost too much and not do enough to limit subsidy payments for the wealthy. "The administration also wanted the bill to liberalize rules for international food aid so that some commodities could be procured closer to where they are needed rather than being shipped from the United States," Brasher reports. (Read more)

Energy Department unveils plan to break up clean- coal project; backers of one big plant play for time

In the face of congressional opposition, the U.S. Department of Energy said yesterday it would move ahead with its plan to split $1.3 billion in clean-coal appropriations among four projects and forsake an industry-backed project in the Illinois Basin coalfield while keeping the project's name, FutureGen.

The department said it "would solicit applications from power plant developers to win a piece of the $1.3 billion the agency has set aside to help finance new coal-fired power plants that use carbon capture and storage technology, or integrated gasification combined cycle technology," writes Cassandra Sweet of Dow Jones Newswires.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is vowing to keep alive the original idea for a plant in Mattoon, Ill. (Encarta map), "and has suggested that he would block Bush administration appointments to the DOE to do so," Sweet reports. Durbin is in harness with the FutureGen Alliance of utility and coal companies, which told Sweet that congressional approval will be needed to reallocate funds earmarked for the Mattoon project. The allies hope to keep the original plan in place until a new president takes office -- perhaps Durbin's Illinois colleague, Barack Obama. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is scheduled to testify today before the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. (Read more)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Humane Society videos show downer cattle outside auction markets in Pa., Md., N.M. and Texas

The Humane Society of the United States last week gave Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer video that it took last month at livestock auction markets in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas and New Mexico, showing "downer cattle in various states of distress or neglect," reports Tom Steever of Brownfield Network. The group released the videos today.

The Humane Society says on its Web site, "The shocking abuse of 'downer' cows occurs not just at slaughter plants but may be an everyday happening at livestock auctions and stockyards around the country." The organization's undercover video showing abuse of downer cows at a slaughter plant in California in January led to the nation's largest recall of meat, much of it from school lunchrooms. The group asked Schafer to ban all use of downer cows for human consumption and enact regulations requiring "more humane treatment of animals destined for the food supply, at every step from producer to slaughter."

The Livestock Marketing Association said, "We intend to work immediately with the businesses where the improper handling reportedly occurred, as soon as they are specifically identified." It said the HSUS refused to meet with LMA before holding a press conference today, and said "their genuine concern for animal welfare" was in doubt because the videographers "did nothing about the animals in distress."

HSUS President Wayne Pacelle said helping animals "wasn’t part of this particular operation," Steever reports. "None of the on-line video shared with reporters Wednesday showed cattle actually being abused, however in all four cases, the animals were unable to stand or walk." (Read more) For audio of Steever's 30-minute interview with Pacelle, click here.

Kentucky special: Memo to journalists on primary

Last night’s results in North Carolina and Indiana leave Kentucky as the largest state yet to vote in the presidential primaries, with the Democratic nomination still undecided. Our state has never played such a role before, but it’s possible that the closest primary on our May 20 ballot will be for U.S. senator, not president.

Kentucky’s presidential primary already has an anticlimactic air about it. Nationally, more superdelegates remain at stake than regular delegates, and the candidates’ focus is shifting to them. Sen. Barack Obama may trot out some to endorse him today; Sen. Hillary Clinton has already started talking more about full seating of delegates from Florida and Michigan, which currently have none because they held primaries too early.

Clinton’s end-game strategy has called for her to gain the edge in total popular vote by racking up big margins in Kentucky, West Virginia (which votes next Tuesday) and Puerto Rico (which votes June 1). But Obama’s big margin in North Carolina makes that strategy less likely to succeed, and now Clinton supporters are pointing to the other state that votes May 20: Oregon. “She needs to shake something up. . . . She has to win Oregon,” Clinton supporter James Carville, who has some experience in Kentucky, said on CNN this morning.

For the rest of this memo, click here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clinton repeats big rural success in Ind.; in rural N.C., where many voters are black, Obama wins

A huge margin among rural voters helped Sen. Hillary Clinton post an early lead in the Indiana presidential primary tonight, but Sen. Barack Obama edged her out among the much larger number of rural voters in North Carolina on the way to a big victory in that state, which has more rural residents than any other. (Photo of Obama in Raleigh by The Associated Press)

In the North Carolina exit poll by Edison Mitofsky Research, 46 percent of voters were defined as rural, and Obama won them, 50 percent to 44 percent. He carried suburbs 53-44 and urban areas 66-32. Among the one-fifth of voters in the Indiana exit poll who live in rural areas, Clinton won 70 percent of the vote. She carried suburbs 54-46 and Obama won urban areas 62-38. But a third of the voters in North Carolina were African Americans, many of them in rural areas, primarily the eastern third of the state, and they favored Obama 91 to 6. The black vote went likewise in Indiana, but was only 15 percent of the total and very little of it was rural. Obama "weeks ago gave up hopes of victory in Indiana, with its mostly white population scattered in small towns and rural areas," writes Jackie Calmes of The Wall Street Journal. (Read more; subscription required)

Race and rurality aside, the big predictors in the Indiana result were age and education. Clinton won voters over 40, Obama those under 40. College education was two sides of the same coin: Degree holders chose Obama 56-44, while the non-graduates favored Clinton by the same margin. Among those who went to college but got no degree, Clinton won 56-43. Divided by whether they had been to college at all, the voters split 50-50. In North Carolina, education made little if any difference, reflecting the larger number of African American voters.

Among the 10 percent of Indiana voters who are white and said race was important in their choice, 79 percent voted for Clinton. Among the 15 percent who said gender of the candidate was important, two-thirds of them women, 62 percent voted for Clinton. Among the 44 percent who defined themselves as moderates, Clinton won 53-46. Among the 23 percent who said they are independents, Obama won 53-47. Among the 11 percent who are Republicans, Clinton won 53-45.

In North Carolina, race was important to 17 percent of voters, about evenly divided between white and black. Those blacks chose Obama by 93 to 6 and the whites chose Clinton by 60-35 -- the same result found among the slightly more than half of whites who said race was not important. Twenty percent of Tar Heel voters said gender was important, and Obama won 53 percent of them, carrying both men and women in that group -- indicating that while they said gender was important, it was not a deciding factor for most. The result may also reflect a resistance among Southern rural voters, black and white, to a woman as commander in chief.

Bill Clinton's talk, voter's reaction, writer's report lay open the raw underbelly of the rural vote

(Photo from Indiana by Scott Olson, Getty Images)
Despite several items about Bill Clinton and rural voters, we couldn't resist one more before the polls close today, after reading Toby Harnden's story for The Telegraph, a British newspaper, from Zebulon, N.C., population 4,329. (It sounds more rural than it is; it's in Wake County with Raleigh, the capital.)

"In a feat of endurance notable even for the most relentless campaigner in American politics, the former president chalked up an astonishing nine events in North Carolina, beginning at 7:30 a.m. and finishing at close to midnight," Harden begins, later quoting Doug Hattaway, who was a spokesman in the White House and now for the campaign: "The rural votes have provided a real margin for her and he’s really turning people out for her by going the extra mile."

Clinton told the crowd in Zebulon, "They have declared Hillary dead more times than a cat’s got lives. But people like you in places like this brought her back in New Hampshire, they brought her back on Super Tuesday." But the quotes that caught our attention came from 74-year-old real estate broker Marion Lipscomb, who just seems to us like a person of influence in Zebulon.

He said of Clinton, “He’s one hell of a guy. He likes women and so do I. He tells the truth about as much as I do.” He said of Barack Obama, “He’s a Muslim. The president of Iran’s a Muslim too and he wants to kill all the Jews. I’m not sure what this one here wants to do but if he’s elected there’ll be turmoil in this country.” (Read more)

We suspect that many American reporters have gleaned such inflammatory quotes but have not used them because they would feel obliged to add that Obama is a practicing Christian, as Mark Barabak of the Los Angeles Times noted after a similar quote today. But we tend to think that no matter where journalists hail from, they should not hide the raw underbelly of public opinion.

Montana woman mourns loss, wants to remind rural residents to use their seat belts

This video,, tells a very sad story about one night's bad choices causing life time pain and struggle. It is a PSA the Montana Department of Transportation just released and it is very powerful.

Drunk driving is one of the many acts of violence we have to deal with here in Montana. Having a loved one not wear a seat belt, then die, is another. Five years ago this August, I lost someone very close to me on a stretch of Montana Highway 2. He was 15 miles from the ranch coming off of a dirt road onto the highway. It was late and we don't have lights out there. He skipped the highway and did a nose dive into a 5-foot irrigation ditch. He would have walked away without a scratch but wasn't wearing his seat belt and crushed his chest on the center console. He was 27 when he died.

Lack of seat belt use isn't discussed enough out on the prairie. We all just hop in our trucks and speed off down a dirt road or empty stretch of highway. I want there to be an open forum for discussion over the seat-belt use in rural communities. Did you know that in the last five years, 1,063 drivers and passengers died in vehicle crashes on Montana roads? More than 70 percent – 751 people – were not wearing their seat belts. Single vehicle, run-off-the road crashes cause over 60 percent of the fatalities in Montana — most due to ejection from the vehicle, according to MDOT.

The more people who see the video, the better chance that someone's son or daughter will chose to buckle and it will save their life.

Jennifer Lehman, Great Falls, Mont.

College senior in Northern New York challenges rural stereotypes perpetuated by fellow students

"Rural people are one of the last groups in America in which society deems to be fair game for attack," writes St. Lawrence University senior Jon Cardinal, left, in the campus newspaper, The Hill News, mentioning media representations, Barack Obama's "bitter" comment (which Cardinal says "has been misconstrued"), jokes his fellow students tell about "hicks and rednecks", and their "redneck parties, calling for their friends to wear flannel shirts and hunting hats and act as if you’re a Bible thumpin,’ Dale Earnhardt lovin,’ black person hatin,’ gay bashin,’ gun totin,’ trailer park livin,’ dumb slob. Can you imagine the outrage that would emerge if a party was held with a theme that played off of societal stereotypes of black people or Jews or women or Native Americans or other such groups?"

Cardinal continues, "You can call a rural person a dumb, racist, gun crazy, religious zealot without even turning a head. To many in our urban areas and in our wealthier communities this characterization is a no-brainer. But to those people I would advise that after branding a “redneck” an ignorant rube they look in the mirror and realize that they may be acting like ignorant elitists, unwilling or too lazy to look deeper into the complexities of our society. Because the truth is that there are just as many racists in cities and among the wealthy as there are in small towns and among the working-class – racism is a disease that plagues all of our nation. They would find that people use guns in rural areas mostly for sport whereas people use guns in cities to kill other people or to protect themselves out of fear of crime. They would realize that people are deeply religious in cities and towns alike, and that our society as a whole struggles with its acceptance of homosexuality because otherwise, we would have risen up by now and ended the injustice that says our GLBT sisters and brothers aren’t entitled to the same rights that straight people are."

Cardinal then mentions his own rural upbringing in nearby Ogdensburg, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River, and how impressed he was with Obama's speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. "What really caught my attention was his ability to unite and to point out what we all share in common," he writes. "I hope that for the purposes of my argument here we can always remember to embrace our differences, whether they be racial, economic, gender, cultural and yes, rural versus urban, knowing that we can learn a lot from each other while at the same time recognizing all that we share in common." For the entire 1,675-word article, click here.

May 13 conference to focus on needs of rural vets

With the war in Iraq in its sixth year and a new generation of veterans needing care, Geisinger Health System of Danville, Pa., will host a conference May 13 with military and civilian experts to increase understanding and meet the unique challenges faced by rural soldiers. The goal of the conference, "Combat Stress Injuries/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Implications for Rural Veterans and Their Families," is to encourage regional health care workers to work together to triage vulnerable rural soldiers to the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies. (Encarta map)

Today, rural soldiers returning from a deployment — and eager to get home — often find themselves miles away from the closest government facility. As a result, many postpone needed behavioral care. The conference will focus on making sure rural soldiers receive timely care from the appropriate source. Attendees will include doctors, nurses, social workers, mental health counselors and veterans. Florida State University Traumatology Institute Director Charles Figley, Ph.D., will be the keynote speaker. Retired U.S. Army officer and former Wilkes-Barre television news anchor Keith Martin will be the moderator.

Geisinger Health System says it is one of the nation’s largest integrated health services organizations and serves more than 2 million residents of central and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Monday, May 05, 2008

As fast-food outlets open and supermarkets close, obesity and diabetes increase in rural America

Small towns all over rural America have been gaining fast-food restaurants and losing supermarkets for many years. That is probably contributing to obesity and diabetes in rural areas, suggests a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

The study examined the correlation between the health of nearly 40,000 Californians and the mix of retail food outlets near their homes. For rural areas, "near" was within five miles. The study "shows clearly that you are at a higher risk for obesity and diabetes if fast food and convenience stores dramatically outnumber grocery stores and produce markets in your neighborhood," says a press release from PolicyLink, a social-justice organization.

For a PDF of the study report, click here.

McCain, in Iowa, says he would veto new Farm Bill

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a longtime foe of farm subsidies, isn't changing his tune now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Last week in Iowa, a state that benefits greatly from subsides in the federal Farm Bill, he said he would veto the new bill awaiting passage in Congress.

“I do not support it,” McCain said. “I would veto it. I would do that because I believe that these subsidies, the subsidies are unnecessary.” In an interview with The Des Moines Register, he added, “At this time, to have an increase in agricultural subsidies when farmers are having higher incomes than at any time in memory, I just think it’s legislation that’s not in keeping with the economic hard times of America where people are losing their homes and their jobs.”

Reporter Thomas Beaumont wrote that McCain said "He was willing to risk the political backlash in heavily agricultural states such as Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, which also have been among the most competitive electoral battlegrounds in the previous two presidential campaigns. But he said he hoped voters in farm states would appreciate his plan to expand markets for U.S. agricultural products abroad." (Read more) Hat tip to Barbara Leach of My Rural America for alerting us to Beaumont's story.

Clinton mailer attacks Obama's stances on guns

A last-minute mailing by Hillary Clinton, aimed at rural voters and gun owners in Indiana (and perhaps North Carolina), pushes the truth envelope in attacking Barack Obama for his changing positions on Second Amendment issues, writes Greg Sargent on Talking Points Memo (from which the image was taken).

The mailer says Obama told a Chicago group that he favored a ban on handguns, said in Idaho that he supports the right to keep and bear arms in order to get votes, and "accused people in rural places and small towns of being 'bitter' people who 'cling to guns'."

The latter quotation was selective and "omitted all of Obama's references to people's economic circumstances, leaving the misleading impression that all Obama did was 'accuse' rural and small-town Americans of those things, Sargent writes. Also, "The mailer says Obama made the small town comments 'this month,' as opposed to last, meaning it could have been drafted in late April, which of course ended only a few days ago." But it may leave the impression that he repeated the controversial comments he made to donors in the San Francisco in early April, as reported here and analyzed here.

High fuel costs squeeze rural emergency services

High fuel costs are squeezing rural fire and ambulance services, "and most small town and rural fire chiefs don't see an end to the high costs in sight," Dustin Tracy reports in the Northwest Arkansas Times. (Read more)

While state and local laws and policies vary widely, this seems like a story that could be done almost anywhere. How are your rural communities coping with $4-a-gallon diesel fuel and $3.59-a-gallon gasoline?

A new kind of high-tech 'farm' blooms in rural areas

Cheap electricity, particularly that generated by dams, has brought massive "server farms" of Internet-based businesses to some rural areas, with the promise of economic dividends, but skeptics say expectations are too high, Hugo Kugiya reports for the Los Angeles Times from Quincy, Wash., pop. 6,000, just across the Cascade Mountains from the Internet hot spot of Seattle, where Microsoft, Intuit and Yahoo have built a server hub.

"Rural America -- particularly the inland Northwest, where wind- and water-generated electricity is some of the cheapest in the nation -- is suddenly coveted by technology companies. They construct sprawling buildings with massive computer servers, the hidden muscle and bone that process the seemingly weightless, rapidly growing data of people's everyday lives," Kugiya writes. "For a town like Quincy, built on potatoes and apples, the arrival of high tech has proved an inspirational and a cautionary tale."

The town spent millions to buy land and install infrastructure, and "arrival of Microsoft and Yahoo triggered a wave of local real estate development last year," but many homes went unsold and prices have been slashed, Kugiya writes. But Aleeta Merred, executive director of the Quincy Valley Chamber of Commerce, told him,"It's like we're still waiting for something. So far, we're not really seeing the growth we expected."

Some basic facts: "Data centers employ dozens, not hundreds. Some are technicians and engineers, but most are electricians, plumbers, heating and cooling specialists: skilled tradespeople, but not the makings of another Silicon Valley," Kugiya writes. "The hope is that every job at the data center will support two or three other jobs in town -- a subcontractor or a short-order cook, a teacher or a landscaper." (Read more)