Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bush plan for aid to relieve world food crisis includes promotion of genetically modified crops

The Bush administration's plan to relieve the world food crisis includes "language that would promote the use of genetically modified crops in food-deprived countries," an idea that is "intensely disputed," Stephen Hedges of the Chicago Tribune reported this week. "Opponents of GMO crops say they can cause unforeseen medical problems. They also contend that the administration's plan is aimed at helping American agribusinesses."

Mark Rosegrant of the International Food Policy Research Institute endorsed the idea, saying because genetically modified crops are "showing quite a bit of potential in starting to address some of the long-term stresses, drought and heat." But Noah Zerbe, an assistant professor of government and politics at California's Humboldt State University, said many such crops require "fertilizer and water at the right times, and herbicides to go along with that," and "most African farmers . . . can't afford these inputs."

When the U.S. tried to introduce genetically modified crops to Africa in 2002, several African nations refused, partly because of opposition from the European Union. "In a severe drought, Zambia rejected the U.S. aid altogether," Hedges reported. "Several other countries accepted the U.S. corn, but only after it was milled." (Read more)

Obama's Appalachia problem stems from gender, class and economic concerns, not its heritage

Appalachian scholar Ron Eller, left, takes issue with journalist Jonathan Tilove's analysis, published here, that Barack Obama's problem with rural voters is fundamentally an Appalachian problem, stemming from the rural region's traditional culture.

"Such characterizations of Appalachia not only obscure the historical diversity of the region and project a static view of human culture but also ignore most of the recent scholarship on Appalachia that contradicts the idea of Appalachian 'otherness' and attributes its history and economic problems to political struggles that have shaped the rest of the nation," Eller, a history professor at the University of Kentucky, writes in the Daily Yonder. "Appalachian voting patterns are much more a reflection of fundamental class, racial, and gender differences in America than they are of any ethnic heritage within the region."

Eller acknowledges the role of race and education in Obama's poor performance in Appalachia, but says prejudice in the region "is often a reflection of more deeply seated insecurities that are rooted in gender and class. For blue collar voters in Appalachia, economic concerns, not Appalachian identity, shaped their decisions at the polls. Job insecurity, rising food and gas prices, and uncertain access to health care and education turned Appalachian voters toward the more working class message of Hillary Clinton, especially among women who occupy the center of the modern mountain economy."

Eller concludes, "Obama has yet to learn this basic truth about Appalachia. The cultural conservatism that has often fueled a misunderstanding of the region’s history and problems is grounded in economic conditions, hopes, and values that reflect those of the larger society. Appalachia is only the “other America” if we want to ignore the contradictions and challenges of our time. We do so at our own peril." (Read more)

Eller is author of Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers: The Industrialization of the Appalachian South, and the forthcoming Uneven Ground, a book about the development of Appalachia since World War II. He is a founding member of the advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The maps below appeared in The New York Times today with a column by Charles M. Blow analyzing Appalachia's vote in the primaries and Obama's prospects there for the general election.

Obama's Ky. campaign focuses on his religion

The Constitution says there shall be no religious test for "any office or public trust under the United States," but Barack Obama is conducting what The Revealer calls "a blatant Christian campaign" in an effort to avoid in Kentucky's Tuesday primary an embarrassment like the one he suffered last week in West Virginia, one of the few states more rural than Kentucky.

"In addition to radio and television ads that began airing this week, a handbill [right] is being distributed that deals entirely with the Democratic presidential candidate's religion -- even relating his salvation experience," reported Joseph Gerth of The Courier-Journal. In radio ads, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler say Obama is a Christian, and a narrator in a TV ad says "Through his service as a community organizer and his Christian faith, he came to believe in something larger than himself."

The handbill, like one distributed in other Southern states, "calls Obama a 'Committed Christian' and has a picture of him standing in a pulpit with a large cross behind him," Gerth wrote. "A survey released this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 85 percent of Kentuckians identified themselves as Christians. And in a 2007 Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll, 49.8 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians." (Read more)

"One aim of the flier is to counteract the persistent and false belief held by some voters that Obama is Muslim," wrote Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post, who called the flier "startling." For the general election, the piece "also signals Obama's determination to compete for evangelical voters, who may not be as enthralled with John McCain as they have been with past Republican presidential nominees." (Read more)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama's rural problem is an Appalachia problem

Much has been written about Barack Obama's problem with rural voters, but we haven't seen anything better than the piece this week by Jonathan Tilove, left, who has covered race for Newhouse News Service since 1991. Tilove focuses, appropriately we think, on Appalachia and its traditional culture, and uses a nicely varied set of sources to make his case.

"There are enormous regional differences in how whites vote, differences with deep historical roots," Tilove writes, noting how well Obama did in Vermont, the most rural state and the second-whitest. But Vermont was not settled by Scots-Irish, who with their neighbors from the northern English borderlands largely settled Appalachia. Their descendants' main problem with Obama may not be his race, but his approach.

"With his Harvard pedigree, mellifluous voice and high-minded talk of moving beyond the politics of confrontation, he is totally out of place in Appalachia," Tilove writes, quoting what Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, former rural adviser to John Edwards, told Politico the day before West Virginia's primary: "We've heard all this 'hope' and 'change' stuff since the English kicked the Scotch-Irish out in the 1700s. We're 'hoped' out. Nothing ever changes out here."

Tilove writes, "For those keeping score, seven of the 10 whitest states have held primaries or caucuses. The Illinois senator has won five and the New York senator two — New Hampshire by an inch and now West Virginia by a country mile. Stretch it to the 20 whitest states and the tally is 12 for Obama and five for Clinton, with three to go. If you limit it to primary and not caucus states, of the 20 whitest states, Obama has won four — Vermont, Wisconsin, Utah and Missouri — and Clinton has won five — New Hampshire, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio."

Citing Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo, Tilove writes, "The map of Appalachia lines up pretty well with a map of counties where Clinton has won more than 60 percent of the vote. Tilove also cites Dana Houle, who has written about the Appalachia vote on Daily Kos: "Houle does not believe that Obama's difficulty in Appalachia does not necessarily translate into a broader or more permanent problem with white voters." Houle pits it this way: "Obama doesn't have a racial problem. It appears that Appalachia has an Obama problem."

Tilove also cites one of the most important books about ethnicity in America, Albion's Seed, by Brandeis University historian David Hackett Fischer. It teaches us that there are significantly different ethnicities among whites, such as the four main groups that came from Great Britain. "Obama appeals more to whites like those in New England ... who inhabit the lands first settled by the more intellectual and moralistic Puritans, and the places from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest where those New Englanders migrated," Tilove explains. "Voters in Appalachia are Andrew Jackson Democrats, for whom John McCain, with his Scots-Irish heritage and temperament, may appear to be the real McCoy."

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., says in his 2004 book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, that his forebears formed the "core culture around which Red State America has gathered and thrived." But he thinks their descendants have common ground with the core Democratic constituency. He wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2004, "The greatest realignment in modern politics would take place rather quickly if the right national leader found a way to bring the Scots-Irish and African Americans to the same table." Tilove quotes that and notes, "It's an intriguing statement from a man who two years later was elected to the Senate and now is mentioned as a potential running mate for Obama." (Read more)

For an analysis that is much to the contrary, click here.

UPDATE, May 21: In the wake of Kentucky's May 20 primary, which produced results similar to West Virginia's, CNN analyst Bill Schneider picked up on the theories of Tilove, Saunders and Webb, an Appalachian who wrote a book about the Scots-Irish called Born Fighting. He said of Clinton, "She comes across as a fighter. Obama is running as a conciliator and a consensus-builder," and that is not working "with blue-collar and Appalachian whites who want a more combative style of politics … Obama’s betting that voters are fed up with the fight and want to try something different – for a change."

UPDATE, May 22: On Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers accuses the national media of superficial, simplistic reporting on the Appalachian vote. Appalachian Media Institute youth producer Ada Smith expresses concern on National Public Radio that stereotyping of Appalachian voters will make talking about racism and dealing with it more difficult. "I think we may be scared to admit that more Americans than just Appalachians have a race problem," she says. "Instead of questioning how we're going to deal with racism as a country, it's easier to make Appalachia the scapegoat, carrying the load." To listen, click here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

J-Lab New Voices grants include many rural ideas

Several projects with clear or potential impact on rural areas are winners in the fourth annual round of New Voices grants from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which was the major initial funder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Winners get $12,000 in the first year and $5,000 in matching support in the second year.

From the press release, here are selected project:
  • Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project. Partnering higher learning with public and commercial media, this project will create a regional news service for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists and students at Miami University and Earlham College will produce stories for an interactive Web site and content will be shared with local mainstream media. Pilot partners include WMUB and WECI public radio, the Cincinnati Business Journal, Cox Ohio newspapers in Dayton, Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown, and Gannett’s Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana. They seek to create a new model for covering regional news.
  • The Kentucky Citizen Media Project: The Lexington Commons. A University of Kentucky partnership will build a digital neighborhood newspaper. While it will highlight Lexington news, the leaders also hope to build a sense of community across lines of race, ethnicity and income. The university’s Department of Community and Leadership Development is spearheading the project in partnership with the University’s Cooperative Extension Service, which will help recruit citizen reporters, and the Department of Agricultural Communications, which will launch and maintain the project’s Web site.
  • Grass Roots: Digital Journalism in the Nation’s Birthplace of Aviation. Journalism professors at Kent State will mentor student reporters and general aviators to cover Ohio’s 166 public airports, 772 private airfields and 18,000 pilots. Reporters will take photos, audio and video to go on a central Web site. The project also plans to produce mini-documentaries and a book. Content will be available to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s, local public television stations and the university’s NPR affiliate.
  • Cool State Online. Journalism students and faculty at California State University-Los Angeles will partner with community groups to launch “micro-bureaus” to cover the San Gabriel Valley’s largely Asian and Latino community. Computer science grad students will help build a news management system for the project.
  • The Appalachian Independent. A civic group will create a bi-weekly online newspaper community for the rural community around Frostburg, Md., modeled on the National League of Cities’ Inclusive Community Program. Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland students and faculty will participate.
  • Immigration: The View from Here. KBUT-FM community radio in Crested Butte, Colorado, will explore the local impact of immigration, which has tripled in the last decade in rural Gunnison Valley. The station will train citizen journalists and produce stories for its daily news show and 30-minute specials. All content will be in English, with Spanish translations posted online. The station will share MP3 files of the features with all the state’s community radio stations.
  • Voices of Rural Alaska. Koahnic Broadcast Corp. will train people in remote Alaskan native villages to record interviews, first-person diaries and reports on issues that affect their daily lives. One-to-three minute segments will be broadcast monthly on KNBA-FM and National Native News. They will also be available online as podcasts and offered to the Alaska Public Radio network.

Clinton, Obama support Farm Bill, but she is more complimentary of it

An earlier version of this item incorrectly said the candidates had voted on the bill.

The Farm Bill is on its way to the White House and a promised veto by President Bush, then a likely override by at least a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. The Senate voted 81-15 for the bill today. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were campaigning and did not vote, but issued statements in favor of the bill, which John McCain opposed.

Clinton issued a press release that strongly endorsed the bill, repeating an endorsement she made last week but saying she favors "closing loopholes that disproportionately benefit wealthy corporate farmers." Barack Obama's release (not available online) said the bill could have been much better, with tighter limits on subsidies and a ban on meatpacker ownership of livestock, but "We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good." (You know the Democratic race has changed when Obama starts repeating one of Bill Clinton's quntessential quotes.)

McCain was also campaigning and did not vote, but as reported here 10 days ago, he told The Des Moines Register, "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."

Interior calls polar bears 'threatened,' says move won't affect environmental rules; groups disagree

(Canadian Press photo by Jonathan Hayward) Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne made the polar bear a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act yesterday, but warned that his action "should not open the door to use of the ESA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources." Environmental groups disagreed.

"The law says what it says, not what the administration wishes it says," Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Washington Post. "This is great news for polar bears. . . . It's also a watershed moment, the strongest statement we've had to date from this administration about global warming."

Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which recommended that the bear be listed as threatened, "said such regulations would be justified only if the administration could prove a direct connection between the emissions and the polar bears' predicament," writes the Post's Juliet Eilperin. "We have to be able to connect the dots," Hall told her. "We don't have the science today to be able to do that." (Read more)

What's the difference in threatened and endangered? "A species is listed as threatened when it is at risk of becoming endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. In contrast, a species is endangered when it is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range," says the Interior Department news release. For the rest of it, click here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Knight News Challenge awards include several intended to help rural areas in U.S., other nations

Several projects designed to help rural areas and journalists who serve them were among the winners in the second annual round of awards from the Knight News Challenge, which the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation started to help what it calls "digital information innovations that transform community life."

Some of the smaller awards may have some of the larger impacts. For example, Ryan Sholin, left, director of community site publishing at GateHouse Media, doing business as Reporting On, received $15,000 for a project to allow reporters working on similar topics to "communicate and share ideas using a social networking tool and a web site," which will show "how many journalists across the country are working on the same issue, such as declining tax bases or water problems," Knight Foundation said in a news release. "Reporters then could exchange resources and approaches, or use one another’s communities as examples in their own stories. Journalists in small newsrooms often feel isolated. Given the opportunity to communicate with others, a reporter can add context to articles and, perhaps most importantly, know when a seemingly small local story is part of a larger regional, or national, trend."

DataDyne of Washington, D.C., is getting $325,000 for a project to make it easy for cheap cell phones to "select and receive news feeds, expanding the news universe for those whose only digital device is a cell phone. Users, particularly in areas where Internet access isn’t affordable, will be able to receive news via text messaging. They also will be able to rate top stories in lists to be shared with friends. The project will be tested in the rural area of a developing country."

The University of Waterloo in Ontario was awarded $200,000 for a project to "connect rural radio stations to the Internet by using new software and computer-based FM transmitters. The innovations will significantly reduce the cost of creating the stations in India from an estimated $50,000 to $2,500.

Minciu Sodas, an online laboratory operated by Andrius Kulikauskas, right, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Lithuania, got $15,000 for blogging "about different methods of getting digital information to rural areas that don’t have Internet access. He will discuss using a 'reader,' or a device for writing and reviewing text files stored on any USB flash drive. The device is meant for people in rural areas with marginal online access so that messages can be physically transported to and from places connected to the Internet. In this system, an individual would load a USB drive at an Internet cafĂ©, then travel to a village where the information could be read with another device. This method will be discussed in contrast to the pros and cons of using the $100 wireless laptop."

Rhodes University in South Africa received $630,000 for a project in which "Local news reports disseminated through cell phones will help connect an all-black township in South Africa with the white population living in the urban center – giving everyone in Grahamstown equal access to news and information. Articles from the community newspaper, Grocott’s Mail, will be delivered to mobile phones, the only modern communications system available in the rural township."

Some other winners have potential for rural areas, though that angle was not mentioned in Knight Foundation's description of them. David Cohn, left, doing business as, won $340,000 for Spot Journalism, a project that will seek small, online contributions to finance local investigative reporting by "independent journalists and residents" who will propose stories, Knight Foundation said. "If enough donors contribute the amount needed, a journalist will be hired to do the reporting. The money has to come from a variety of sources, though. Each project will need many small contributions before being approved in order to avoid personal crusades."

The Bakersfield Californian newspaper received one of the larger awards, $837,000, for Printcasting, which will allow easy creation of advertising-supported, "customized publications with a mix of local news and information. The software will help aggregate feeds from news organizations, bloggers or newsletters, for example, so that would-be publishers can pick and choose among them to create a niche publication. The Printcasting model then will guide users through placing articles, photos and ads onto a template that either could be delivered by e-mail or printed at home and distributed. For example, a publication for reef-diving photographers could include ads for nearby dive shops or underwater cameras. The idea is to pair localized ads and content to create targeted publications."

The awards totaled $5.5 million. Knight Foundation highlighted a $350,000 grant to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and Martin Moore for a project to create technology to give users more information about the sources of digital content and ways to easily access more detailed information. The project project "is a partnership between the Media Standards Trust and the British-based Web Science Research Initiative, of which Berners-Lee is a director. For a complete list of winners and descriptions of projects, click here.

House passes final version of Farm Bill by veto- proof majority; Senate expected to follow suit

The House-Senate conference report version of the Farm Bill passed the House 318-108, "28 votes more than the two-thirds majority required to override a threatened veto of the measure by President Bush," reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network. A Senate vote on the measure is expected Thursday. "It's expected to pass the Senate by a veto-proof majority as well," Shinn reports. (Associated Press chart)

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., noted that the bill included new limits on subsidies and country-of-origin labeling for meat and did not add to the federal deficit. But Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., "noted prices for so-called program crops are historically high," Shinn writes. "That, according to Kind, meant now was the perfect time for a more aggressive shift away from traditional farm programs." (Read more)

The bill "is a farm bill in name only," and "continues to balance subsidy payments to the wealthy on the backs of the middle class taxpayer," Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in a release. "This bill is loaded with taxpayer-funded pet projects at a time when Americans are struggling to buy groceries and afford gas to get to work." He said the bill "does not target help for the farmers who really need it, and it increases the size and cost of government while jeopardizing the future of legitimate farm programs by damaging the credibility of farm bills in general."

For President Bush's statement on the bill, click here. For a White House "fact sheet," click here. For a Department of Agriculture compilation of editorial criticism of the bill, click here.

Methamphetamine labs are on the rise in Alabama

Methamphetamine use is a cancer within many rural communities nationwide. Federal and state legislation has been implemented in recent years to curb the production of the drug, commonly known as meth, but this has not curtailed its existence.

Mike Cason writes in the Birmingham News that Alabama is facing a resurrection in meth labs. "More meth cooks in the past year have started using a simpler, 'one-pot' cooking method that takes fewer ingredients and can be mostly completed in a two-liter plastic soft drink bottle, authorities say."

The Talladega County Drug Task Force has "found 70 of the 'one-pot' or 'shake and bake' meth labs since October,' compared to 45 meth labs discovered by the task force in all of 2007.

Matt Germanowski, a supervisor in the federal Drug Administration's office in Birmingham told the News that, "the 'one-pot' labs have not emerged as a significant problem in Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties. 'Meth is still a rural drug.'"

Inquiring journalist wants to know: Are high prices leading to shutdown of rural gasoline stations?

With gas prices around $4 a gallon, are some rural stations closing down for one reason or another? That could be a story for you, and for Howard Berkes, rural correspondent for National Public Radio.

Howard, left, asked the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues if we had heard of rural stations "shutting down because their pumps can't handle gas prices as high as they are." We recalled that gas-station signage can be so expensive that the last time a dollar barrier was broken some closed. This may be happening again, or the rising prices may have stiffened competition and reduced demand to the point that some stations are closing. Or there may be other reasons. Or it may not be happening at all. In any event, it sounded like an interesting story to pursue, and we're happy to help Howard and you do that. You can post a comment here or e-mail him.

Farm cost increases outpace those of food prices

Soaring food prices, especially foundational foods such as barley, milk, corn and rice, are invoking concern worldwide. However, farmers are not racing out to plant more of these crops in hopes of cashing in on the higher prices.

Jerry Hirsch writes in The Los Angeles Times that "farmers are planting cheaper-to-grow wheat and soy" because "the cost of planing some crops in rising as fast as their prices, and sometimes faster, leaving little incentive to increase production of some foods that remain in high demand around the world."

According to Wells Fargo & Co., it costs a farmer approximately 47 percent more to farm an acre of corn this year compared to last year, but the price of corn has increased only 35 percent during the same time frame. Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, told the Times, "'The price of crops drove what farmers did last year,' now 'it's costs, and that's prompting farmers to reevaluate how they allocate their land this year."'

The Times article notes "one problem for all farmers: the rising cost of fertilizer, which has nearly doubled in the last year, according to the Department of Agriculture." This increase in fertilizer costs has yet to be offset by increases in produce prices. Jim Prevor, editor of Produce Business magazine, recently told The Associated Press that "some produce prices are already beginning to creep up due to fertilizer and other costs, but major increases won't be seen until farmers curtail crops that become too expensive to grow." Farmers are affected by an assortment of other increased costs, including shipping expenses, diesel fuel, seed prices, and higher rents, that has resulted in cutbacks and alterations to farming methods or crops planted.

Iowa starts charging fees for reviewing requests for records if lawyers' review takes more than 3 hours

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is generally not an advocacy organization, but we do advocate for the coverage of issues -- and the tools that journalists need to perform that public service. That's why we're against the idea of letting government agencies charge the public and the press for time that their lawyers spend reviewing requests for public records.

The latest proponent of this bad idea is Democratic Gov. Chet Culver of Iowa, whose office started charging such fees after The Des Moines Register made "two unusually large and unconnected requests for public e-mails" in March, Lee Rood of the Register reported last week. "The requests also came after the governor’s office had mulled for more than a year about rare requests for large numbers of public information that take a lot of agencies’ time to compile," Rood writes, quoting Culver General Counsel James Larew as saying that charging fees to retrieve public documents is supported by case law and has prompted requesters to scale back their requests, and the new fees were intended to “discipline” requesters, not restrain them. "The charges can be levied when a request for records is estimated to take more than three hour of lawyers’ time, Larew said."

"The advice runs contrary to past practices of numerous city and state agencies, which sometimes charge citizens or media to retrieve and copy records and e-mails but have not harged for having lawyers review records that are presumed public under law," Rood reports. "At stake is whether the government or its citizens should bear the cost of determining whether a record should be kept confidential. Open records experts say the new charges — which have been estimated at $25 and $35 an hour — are largely untested in Iowa courts and uncommon in other states across the country." Rood's story is reprinted in the latest issue of the Iowa Newspaper Association Bulletin.

Rood reported in a follow-up story that Iowa's Senate majority leader said he didn't like the idea of making access to public records more expensive, and said the legislature would review the policy. But Culver defended the idea at a press conference, and bad ideas like this have a way of spreading, and they are more likely to affect rural news outlets, which often lack the newsroom budgets to pay fees for government lawyers. Our advice: If you see this happening in your state, work with other journalists and news-media organizations to nip it in the bud. But it's also a good idea to avoid overly broad records requests, and to be willing to negotiate with agencies about the extent of requests and the cost of fulfilling them.

Hundreds of immigrants arrested in raid on Iowa meatpacking plant; largest ever at a single site

Around 390 workers were arrested by federal agents Monday at a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa. The AgriProcessors facility, the country's largest kosher packing plant, was temporally shut down in the raid's aftermath.

Josh Nelson wrote in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that the raid "now ranks as the largest one ever targeting a single site." The majority of those arrested came from Guatemala and were male. Charges range "from aggravated identity theft to fraudulent use of a Social Security number. The amount of people facing criminal charges could increase as the investigation continues." (Courier photo by Matthew Putney)

Susan Saulny reported in The New York Times, "The raid had been planned for months and was conducted in coordination with local law enforcement." Mark Gray, a professor who focuses on immigration at the University of Northern Iowa, told Saulny, "It's absolutely devastating to the local economy."

The Associated Press reported that immigration rights activists feared such a raid would come. "Several activists gathered Sunday at a Waterloo church and at the home of a local social worker to discuss what they consider to be an impending raid." The activists dicussed strategies for child care and identifying detainees in the event of a raid, and distributed flyers to migrant workers that provided contact information for local immigration attorneys and details of what they should do if confronted by police.

For the Iowa Independent, Doug Burns interviews University of Iowa professor Stephen Bloom, author of Postville, "which examines a cultural calamity in the small, predominantly Lutheran town after Lubavitcher Jews settled there to run the local slaughterhouse, resurrecting the local economy but shaking up life for the rural Iowans who already lived there." Bloom tells Burns the illegal workforce was an open secret. "The only way the meat-packing industry could operate in Iowa was this way, since fewer and fewer Iowans want to work for minimum wage, doing such back-breaking work with such few benefits (if any)," he said. "The question wasn't whether the raids were going to happen. It was when." (Read more)

Ethanol producer says pipeline operators are figuring out how to handle the fuel

A major obstacle to the continued growth of the ethanol industry is the inability to ship the fuel in pipelines, where condensation of water can contaminate the product. Pipeline companies are figuring out how to prevent that, and ethanol will be in pipelines before too long, the CEO of the country's second-largest ethanol producer predicted yesterday.

Don Endres of VeraSun Energy Corp., based in Brookings, S.D., told Doug Cameron of Dow Jones Newswires that the condensation problem can be resolved by alternating shipments of ethanol and unleaded gasoline. Shipping in pipelines, rarher than rail or truck, would improve logistics and reduce costs for the industry.

"Endres predicted the first pipelines -- which are also being developed by Brazilian ethanol producers, who make the fuel using sugar -- would be short, running to local rail lines," Cameron writes. "However, he forecast the development of long-haul pipelines running from the Midwest corn belt to the East Coast and from the eastern edge of the region to southern states." (Read more)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Some lobbying groups support Bush's vow to veto the Farm Bill, but they are badly outnumbered

President Bush should keep his promise to veto the Farm Bill, and Congress should not override him, because its payment limits would still funnel most subsidy dollars to the richest farmers, among other reasons, opponents of the bill said today.

The bill would ban subsidies to anyone with more than $500,000 of annual non-farm adjusted gross income per year and end direct payments to anyone with an AGI of more than $750,000 a year from any source. An amendment by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would have imposed a "hard cap," limiting subsidy recipients to $200,000 per year to anyone from all sources. The cap had a majority of votes in the Senate, but failed "because a procedural rule required the amendment to pass by at least 60 votes," writes Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network.

The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs focused on the subsidy limit at a press conference held by foes of the bill. Oxfam America said its objections "are more broad-based, involving not only payment limits, but reducing subsidies generally and increasing cash-based spending on food aid," Shinn reports. "The National Wildlife Federation also came out Tuesday in opposition . . . largely because the measure included only a watered-down version of the so-called sod-saver program aimed at keeping native grasslands out of agricultural production."

But these groups are clearly in the lobbying minority. The National Farmers Union "said 557 groups with widely divergent priorities had come out in support of the pending farm bill," Shinn writes. "NFU President Tom Buis said the diversity of groups backing the new farm bill argued for a strong vote in favor of the measure." (Read more)

Biotech firms race to create crops for new climates

Food security and healthy crops are of utmost importance to farmers and consumers worldwide. The biotechnology industry is trying to develop genes that will enable crops to overcome the effects of climate change.

Rick Weiss of the Washington Post reports, "A handful of the world's largest agricultural biotechnology companies are seeking hundreds of patents on gene-altered crops designed to withstand drought and other environmental stresses, part of a race for dominance in the potentially lucrative market for crops that can handle global warming." The genes will boost crops' abilities to "survive drought, flooding, saltwater incursions, high temperatures and increased ultraviolet radiation -- all of which are predicted to undermine food security in coming decades," Weiss writes.

The Post story was based on an advance look at a report released today by ETC Group, an Canada-based activist group that advocates for subsistence farmers. The report contends that the applications are an intellectual-property grab, but the companies said "Gene-altered plants will be crucial to solving world hunger but will never be developed without patent protections," Weiss reports.

Washington Post reveals racism encountered by Obama campaign workers in Indiana

As Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by more than 2 to 1 in West Virginia yesterday, The Washington Post published a troubling story detailing instances of prejudice and racism experienced by Obama campaign staffers in other states, Indiana in particular. Kevin Merida wrote, "For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season."

In West Virginia, pre-election reporting found Obama's race was a disqualifier or a disincentive for a significant slice of voters, and so did the exit poll by Edison Mitofsky Research. Twenty-one percent of Democratic voters said the race of a candidate was important to them, and Clinton was the choice of 82 percent of those voters -- 17 percent of the total. Eight percent of the electorate said race was the most important factor for them, and Clinton won 85 percent of those voters, or 7 percent of the total. Among the 77 percent of voters who said race was not important to them, Clinton won 57 percent of the vote. African Americans were only 3 percent of the total electorate, so little that exit-poll results for them were not released.

The controversy over Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had an impact. Half the voters said they believe Obama at least somewhat shares the views of Wright, and Clinton won 80 percent of that vote -- or 40 percent of the total Democratic ballots. Just over half of voters said they did not believe Obama shares their values.

Among voters who said candidate gender was important to them, three-fourths voted for Clinton. Those voters were 18 percent of the electorate and were evenly divided between men and women; 61 percent of the men and 85 percent of the women voted for Clinton. Race and gender aside, education continued to be a major predictor of vote. Clinton won 72 percent of white voters without a college degree. "Those voters have rarely for a Democrat in presidential elections," CNN analyst Bill Schneider pointed out. Among voters who have a bachelor's degree, Clinton won 57 percent. Among those with advanced degrees, the candidates were tied. (College graduates were 30 percent of the electorate.)

In Indiana last week, 16 percent of Democratic voters in the exit poll said the race of a candidate was important to them. Two-thirds of those were white, and Clinton won 78 percent of their vote -- or about 8 percent of the total Democratic electorate in the Hoosier State.
The Post story reported that Indiana vandals smashed a large plate glass window, stole an American flag, and defaced other windows with anti-Obama remarks at his campaign office in Vincennes, a town of 18,000, on the eve of the state's May 6 primary. Ray McCormick, a farmer and conservationist who put a massive "Farmers for Obama" billboard along a major highway, took photographs of the damage (including the one above) and wanted to notify the media, but campaign officials told McCormick they did not want to make a big deal of the incident. The Vincennes Sun Commercial ran only a police-blotter item. Later, the office and two others in Indiana received bomb threats, campaign sources told the Post. The paper also detailed racist remarks directed at Obama campaign workers in the Rust Belt city of Kokomo, pop. 46,000.

According to the Secret Service, Obama was placed under its protection earlier than any previous U.S. presidential candidate. The protection was granted partly because of racist postings on white supremacist Web sites. Obama has spoken little about racism during his campaign and has focused on connections among Americans rather than divisions, but the controversy over his former pastor has raised the profile of race. Racism has been called our nation's "original sin," and we do not believe such issues, especially in rural areas, should be ignored by journalists or citizens.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Notice to Kentucky journalists: Learn how to open government at Sunshine Seminars May 29, June 5

Kentucky’s open-meetings and open-records laws are some of the strongest in the nation, but journalists in the state often don’t take full advantage of them, so they miss stories that their readers need and want. To help reporters and editors at all levels improve their skills at using state and federal freedom of information laws, two Sunshine Seminars have been scheduled, May 29 in Lexington and June 5 in Madisonville.

These workshops are sponsored by the Kentucky Press Association and the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, both in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky.

The panelists will include leading experts: Jon Fleischaker of the Dinsmore & Shohl law firm, author of the state open-meetings and open-records laws; Amye Bensenhaver, the assistant attorney general who usually handles open-records and open-meetings cases; and veteran Courier-Journal Frankfort Bureau Chief Tom Loftus, who mines campaign-finance data for important stories. Presenters will also include journalists from weekly and daily newspapers, who will tell how they used freedom-of-information laws to keep government open and cover closed court proceedings. There will be plenty of time for questions and answers, and discussions of your own experiences.

The workshops will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time, in the Buckner Room of the Herald-Leader and the Country Cupboard Restaurant in Madisonville. Both locations include a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., and lunch will be provided. Registration is $20 per person. Registration deadline for the May 29 seminar in Lexington is Friday, May 23. Registration deadline for the June 5 seminar in Madisonville is Friday, May 30.

Click here for the registration form, complete it and return it to KPA by the applicable deadline date. If paying by credit card, fax the registration form to KPA at 502-226-3867. If paying by check, mail the form and a check for $20 per person to: Sunshine Seminars, Kentucky Press Association, 101 Consumer Lane, Frankfort KY 40601.

Rural areas fall farther behind metros in income; most counties where income declined are rural

Personal income in rural America, as a percent of metro personal income, fell for the third straight year from 2005 to 2006, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. It reports that of the 227 counties that suffered declines in personal income, 194 were rural. An overwhelming majority of counties with declining income from 2005-2006 are classified as rural.

Bill Bishop and Kathleen Miller write in the Daily Yonder, "In the BEA's calculation, personal income is a comprehensive measure of the income of all persons from all sources. It includes wages, salaries, employer-provided health insurance, dividends and interest income, social security benefits, and other types of income, including farm subsidy or disaster payments. Also, in this study, 'rural' counties are defined as those that are 'non metro' counties according to the U.S. Census." That is a somewhat blunt instrument, because there are many rural areas in metro areas; in fact, about half of the rural U.S. population lives in metro areas.

National average personal income increased 6.7 percent from 2005 to 2006, but most rural counties were below national averages for absolute personal income, and increases in it, from '05 to '06. Income increases equal to or higher than the national average were reported in only 18 percent of rural counties (362 out of 2,029). Only 3.4 percent of rural counties (68 out of 2,029) generated average incomes greater than the national average, many of which are resort communities. For the Yonder's report, click here.

Is your county among the well-off or the worse-off? Here are the 50 rural counties with the largest percentage declines in income between 2005 and 2006; the 50 rural counties with the largest percentage increases in income; the 50 rural counties with the lowest personal incomes in 2006; and the 50 rural counties with the highest personal incomes in 2006.