Friday, September 12, 2008

More than 50 million Americans have pre-diabetes

Early detection can make all the difference. In cancer and heart disease, for example, early diagnosis means early intervention and an increased likelihood of recovery. For those at risk of diabetes, the gray area between healthy and sick is an ideal place to change habits and redirect the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 57 million Americans 21 and older have blood glucose levels considered above normal but below what qualifies as "diabetic." That is twice as many Americans who have been formally diagnosed with diabetes.

The good news is that, while pre-diabetes is a danger zone, the diagnosis offers a chance to readjust lifestyle and ward off the development of full-blown diabetes. "People with pre-diabetes already have a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease and stroke," writes Dr.Valerie Ulene for the Los Angeles Times. Add to that the fact that 25 percent of those with pre-diabetes will develop diabetes within three to five years, and that diabetes symptoms -- cardiovascular, kidney and eye disease -- often begin during this precursor stage and the gray area becomes even more significant.

Unlike the permanent effects of diabetes, simple lifestyle changes for people with pre-diabetes can literally turn the progress of the disease around. Losing a small amount of weight, getting moderate daily exercise - approximately 150 minutes per week - and improving one's diet may be enough to stop the disease in its tracks, if not just delay the condition from worsening.

"If pre-diabetes is allowed to progress, it's very hard to treat effectively," said Dr. Yehuda Handelsman, co-chairman of the American College of Endocrinology's task force on the management of pre-diabetes. "The earlier we intervene, the better." Read the rest of the article here.

Study faults rural medical referral system in Ind.

A new study at the University of Indiana points to significant problems with the state's rural medical referral system. "The findings of this study demonstrate inefficiencies in our public health care system and our inability to link people easily to a range of health care providers in rural areas," said Michael Reece, lead investigator in the study and director of The Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

"This also has an important economic impact given that our investments in the public health system may not be achieving the outcomes we need, such as improvements in health status," Reece says. The study is also significant because, he adds, "As the incidence of new HIV infections continues to increase in more diverse areas of the country, researchers can make incredible contributions to public health by focusing some of their attention to what is happening in the backyards of their own universities."(Read more)

Strip-mine permit application conflicts with desire for adventure tourism in Ky., mine opponents say

As state officials in Kentucky push for more adventure tourism in the state, some citizens say one popular destination is being threatened by the coal industry. Cassondra Kirby-Mullins of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes, "On Thursday, more than two dozen nature enthusiasts and Letcher County residents gathered to contest a permit sought by Cumberland River Coal Co. to strip mine a few miles upstream, which they say will harm the river and nearby areas."

Debris from strip mining often goes down the mountain filling, in the hollows and burying streams below. "Cumberland River is planning three hollow-fills, totaling more than 102 acres, and five sediment ponds covering more than 24 acres," Kirby-Mullins reports. "If this mining is allowed, we are going to bury one of the prime tourist destinations in the state. This stream will die," adds Tim Guilfoile, vice president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen. "I can't believe the administration is going to promote Eastern Kentucky as a tourist destination and at the same time destroy one of the few Class 1 steams in the state. That wouldn't make sense."(Read more)

UPDATE, Sept. 15: In today's Herald-Leader, Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, the leading advocate of adventure tourism in the state, reply to a cautionary Aug. 22 editorial on the subject: "In seeking to encourage exploration of Kentucky's beauty, we must not destroy it. ... Some people have misinterpreted our enthusiasm. They hypothesize that we intend unrestrained ATV use in even delicate environments and at the expense of other activities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our administration shares concerns about the unauthorized use of ATVs and believes we must strengthen the enforcement of laws protecting sensitive areas. We now lack resources to do so. As a result, public and private lands have been damaged. In addition, riders have been injured and killed because they don't use ATVs properly. We are undertaking a study to determine where ATV trespassing is a problem, how we can prevent it and how we can strengthen enforcement." (Read more)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Muslims walk out, get fired in religious-rights flap

More than 100 Muslim workers were fired from a Colorado beef processing plant Wednesday, almost a week after 250 walked off the job mid-shift over a debate on religious accommodation.

Last Friday, workers at Greeley-based JBS Swift & Co. said the company violated an agreement to accommodate their religious practices during the holy month of Ramadan. The workers claim that last Thursday, officials agreed to move their 9:30 p.m. break to 7:30 p.m., when many ended daytime fasts, but the break was cancelled without notice. Managers then worked to block restrooms and break rooms at 7:30 and harassed those who tried to take the scheduled break. The company employs hundreds of Muslim workers, mostly immigrants from Somalia.

Chris Casey of the Greeley Tribune writes, "Muslim workers said during Ramadan they fast starting at sunrise, so by 7:30 p.m., they have gone about 14-1/2 hours without food or water. A union representative said the company did not provide enough notice that those who didn't return to work by Wednesday would be fired. He said the union will file a grievance for any worker who wants to return to the plant. JBS Swift's spokeswoman said the walkout violated a collective bargaining agreement, and that the company works with the union and its workers to "accommodate religious practices in a reasonable, safe and fair manner." (Read more)

Earlier this year, Muslim workers successfully negotiateed with a Tyson processing plant in Shelbyville, Tenn., to make Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, a paid holiday off. (Read more)

Chain starts Web-only news outlet in city where the newspaper has virtually no Web presence

Here's a shot across the bow of rural newspapers that aren't effectively on the Web: GateHouse Media has started a Web-only news outlet in Batavia, N.Y., where The Daily News site offers only subscription information and sales of archived news stories. The Batavian started quietly in April. "The strategy is to launch an innovative news and community site that will eat the lunch of an incumbent newspaper that has ignored the Web," writes Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, which is advised by GateHouse online director Howard Owens.

"The Batavian practices what Howard preaches," Karp writes. "The site is anchored by a blog and has a full suite of community features (powered by Drupal), including blogs for registered users. The homepage features blog posts from community members. Many posts have generated lively discussions in comments." (Read more)

On The Batavian, Owens wrote in May about the depth and richness of journalism and interaction that are available online, using as an example concerns about decline of the city of 16,000. "A clearer picture emerges of the goals and aspiration of the City Council to clean up the city before things get too far gone," Owens wrote. "Traditional, print journalism could never achieve this depth of coverage of a single issue. By offering a method and manner to discuss choices, consequences and conditions in Batavia, The Batavian hopes to help make Batavia a stronger community." For The Batavian's birth announcement, click here and go to the bottom.

Owens writes on his own site, "We wanted to go to a town where we didn’t have a newspaper so that we could have the freedom to experiment without concerns about disrupting one of our own publications. We picked Batavia because it’s a neat, vibrant town; it’s close to our home office; and the daily newspaper there was doing nothing on the Web. ... The site is still very young, still under development (we’re working on a new design and adding additional features as we speak), but the local reception has been pleasantly strong so far."

The Daily News, which has a circulation of 12,500, serves three counties between Buffalo and Rochester. Its home Genesee County has a population of 60,000; the other two, shown in map from Daily News Web site, each have about 44,000 people.

Daily News Publisher Tom Turnbull told us in an e-mail that the newspaper's Web site, "a source of frustration for our entire staff," will be expanded "very soon" and "has been delayed for a variety of reasons." He wrote, "The Daily News has committed to bringing a first-class local news web site to our market for some time now, long before The Batavian made its debut. ... I am confident that the combination of our unique local content, the local knowledge and experience of our professional staff and our well-branded image will very quickly make the Daily News Web site the number one local news web site in our market."

Turnbull questioned whether The Batavian is a viable business enterprise, and said, "Incredibly, despite all the talk about The Batavian on the Web recently, you are the first and only member of the web community that has even attempted to contact us. And web bloggers wonder why they get no respect from the journalism community." He concluded, "I’m sure my comments will open up a firestorm of indignant responses from the Web blogging community. I don’t plan on answering any of them. I’m too busy running a news business." Turnbull's full e-mail appears as a comment below.

Exports provide economic boost to some ruralites

In the midst of difficult economic times, there is a bright spot in some smaller cities and surrounding rural areas. U.S. exports have boomed as the weakened dollar make U.S. products more competitive worldwide, and many products sent overseas are produced by rural Americans.

"Exports are impacting, in a positive manner, virtually every industry and every state," Daniel J. Meckstroth, an economist at the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, a public-policy and research group, tells Timothy Aeppel of The Wall Street Journal. Exports now make up the highest percentage of the gross domestic product since World War II. Farming, energy and aerospace are some of the greatest contributors to this growth, but the demand for American exports affects manufacturers producing items from violin strings to airplane parts.

The data supporting the article come from metropolitan areas, but Aeppel notes smaller communities such as Columbus, Ind., Kingsport, Tenn., and Waterloo, Iowa "have become trade hot spots." Such places provide employment for many rural commuters; a majority of Americans living in rural areas live in counties that are adjacent to metro areas. Many bigger cities have a large number of exports, "but their shipments to foreign customers are dwarfed by their domestic-oriented economies," Aeppel reports. (Read more)

Coal company loses water contamination suit

Several families in Eastern Kentucky have been awarded a $650,000 settlement after a jury determined that a coal company had contributed to the contamination of their water supplies. An underground coal mine in the vicinity of the families' homes caused the contamination.

Cassondra Kirby-Mullins of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes, "The families, who live in Camp Branch in Letcher County, filed the lawsuit after a two-year state investigation concluded that the mine, operated by Golden Oak Mining Company, did not cause the contamination. Golden Oak closed the mine in 1997 and filed for protection under 1bankruptcy laws."

Kirby-Mullins adds, "In all, the water supplies of 100 families were affected by the mine. Other lawsuits have been settled privately or are pending." (Read more)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ads defend high fructose corn syrup from worries that it promotes obesity, diabetes, other problems

High fructose corn syrup, a subject of nutritional controversy and agricultural profit, is getting the wrappings of a makeover with two new television commercials released by the Corn Refiners Association. The ads say HFCS is “All natural, made from corn and full of naturally occurring enzymes and is as safe as sugar. . . . and, like real sugar, fine in moderation.” Click here to view the first ad, here to view the second, or check out the Web site,

While questions still linger about the nutritional value and negative effects of HFCS, public consensus, science and informal statements from the Food and Drug Administration conclude that high fructose corn syrup is neither as safe as sugar, or natural, broadly defined. The synthesizing process changes the chemical makeup of corn, and studies have noted issues regarding insulin absorption and fat conversion, as well as high levels of HFCS in processed foods.

Though argues the product is “all-natural,” in April 2008, FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements informally ruled that HFCS should not be labeled "natural," granting the pleas of anti-HFCS groups like the Sugar Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Read the article here. Synthesized by enzymatic conversion of glucose, a natural sugar, HFCS is manufactured by breaking and rearranging chemical bonds and thus is “not consistent with our […] policy regarding the use of the term ‘natural’,” said Geraldine June, an FDA supervisor. Table sugar, sucrose, is made up of glucose and crystallized fructose, the natural sugar in fruit.

In the 1970s, corn production skyrocketed as a result of government subsidies, and manufactured fructose, or HFCS, debuted. With its cheap manufacturing costs and highly preservative nature, HFCS has become a staple in processed foods, appearing in everything from sports drinks and ketchup to bread and cough drops. From 1970 to 1997, U.S. consumption of soft drinks – one of the biggest users of HFCS – increased from 22 to 41 gallons per person per year. On average, teenage boys and girls consume two to three cans per day. A typical 20-ounce Coke contains no fat, no protein and more than 65 grams of carbohydrates, usually in the form of HFCS.

HFCS’s publicized drawbacks include its abnormally high levels of chemically altered fructose, which has contributed to speculation about the relationship between HFCS and increasing cases of obesity and diabetes. Unlike glucose, which can be absorbed and broken down by any cell in the body, fructose converts to fat more than any other sugar and can only be metabolized by the liver. Some critics see it as the “the newest health villain,” writes Datamonitor, a business industry analyst company in New York. Organic grocery chains in Seattle and North Carolina have already eliminated HFCS products from their stores, and a spokesperson for national Whole Foods Markets said, “Products [containing HFCS are] the exception rather than the norm as in conventional markets.”

Studies have shown that HFCS increases insulin levels of women taking oral contraceptives. Nutrition consultant Bill Sanda says, “Fructose reduces the affinity of insulin for its receptor, which is the hallmark of type-2 diabetes,” and clinical nutritionist Nancy Appleton writes, “Fructose ingestion in humans results in increases in blood lactic acid, especially in patients with preexisting acidotic conditions such as diabetes, postoperative stress or uremia.”

First charges, alleging child-labor violations, levied against meatpacker caught in immigration raid

Iowa officials have filed child-labor charges against the owner and four executives of the Postville, Iowa, processing plant where almost 400 workers were arrested in May on suspicion of illegal immigration. Each was charged with 9,311 violations of child-labor laws. Two of the executives, human resource employees, were also charged with falsifying paperwork for people they allegedly knew were in the country illegally. These are the first charges faced for leaders of Agriprocessors. The charges involve 32 minors, seven of whom were under 16. They allegedly operated dangerous equipment and were exposed to dangerous chemicals. A company spokesman said the workers lied about their age and produced false paperwork.

Julia Preston of The New York Times reports, "The complaint also charges that under-age workers were not paid for all the overtime they worked and were forced to work before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m., a violation of child labor laws." Preston writes. "Many of the young workers are illegal immigrants who are seeking special visas, known as U-visas, to remain in the United States to cooperate with the investigation."

Over the past few months, many have questioned why only the workers have faced charges after the May raid. Tony Leys and Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register cite Delia Junach, a worker whose husband was arrested in the May raid: "She has nothing against plant managers personally. They gave her and her husband jobs that weren't available elsewhere, and she still appreciates it. But she said if Agriprocessors' workers had to face charges, so should the bosses. 'It's fair,' she said in Spanish." (Read more)

The Rural Blog's previous coverage of the Postville raid: Hundreds of immigrants arrested in raid on Iowa meatpacking plant; largest ever at a single site (May 14) Criminal prosecutions in largest-ever raid signal feds' tougher attitude toward illegal immigration (May 24) Raided meatpacker was repeatedly notified that workers were using bogus Social Security numbers (May 25) Feds arrest two Hispanic supervisors of Iowa plant that was scene of largest immigration raid yet (July 4) In wake of record raid, more information emerging about Iowa (July 28) Iowa governor blasts packer hit by nation's largest immigration raid; state alleges safety violations (Aug. 25)

At home in North Dakota, Agriculture Secretary Schafer hears farmers' fears of a cost crunch

Chuck Haga of the Grand Forks Herald reports on the visit to the Big Iron agricultural expo in West Fargo by former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, now secretary of agriculture: "When he first attended Big Iron [ag expo] as a candidate for governor in 1992, corn was bringing $2.16 a bushel, soybeans $5.36 and wheat $3.20. Each has more than doubled in price, he said. But the costs of fuel, fertilizer, seed and land have risen, too."

There is fear among North Dakota farmers that if crop prices level off there could be serious economic distress. “You’re always optimistic if you’re a farmer,” Tom Voller, who is one, told Haga. "But you’re cautious, too. The input costs are catching up so fast, and the prices are stabilizing. It could get ugly if that continues.” Increasing the use of renewable energy could help farmers with their bottom line by alleviating their dependence on costly fossil fuels. (Read more)

Learn about government transparency from Iowa, Okla., Washington officials in webinar Thursday

Local news media that don't have reporters in state capitals, but want and need to cover state agencies and glean data from them, could benefit from a webinar on transparency in state government, to be held from 2 to 3 p.m. EDT tomorrow.

The Webinar is sponsored by the National Association of Chief State Information Officers and will be moderated by Mark Stencel, editor and deputy publisher of Governing magazine, who says, "New technologies are changing the way government and citizens communicate and interact, creating opportunities for unprecedented levels of transparency. But there also are new risks and new challenges."

The webinar will feature presentations from Steve Maslikowski of the Performance Results Division, Department of Management, State of Iowa; Lisa McKeithan, Office of State Finance, State of Oklahoma; and a representative from the Government Management Accountability & Performance unit of the Washington Governor's Office. They will discuss what they are doing in the field of transparency, what prompted them to move in the direction of transparency, and lessons they learned that might help other states as they move towards a more open government.

The webinar will include time for questions. Participants must pre-register, by clicking here. For more information, contact Shawn Karrick at or 859-514-9156.

Western Colorado counties are an example of regional cooperation for rural development

Experts agree that the three-legged stool for rural economic development is: Build on your best assets; encourage entrepreneurship; and cooperate across political boundaries. The latter is often difficult; it's human nature to look for advantage in relationships, and rural jurisdictions often compete politically and in other ways. When you spend much of Friday night cheering for your team to beat the other county's brains out, it can be harder to cooperate on Monday morning.

There are "darn few successful examples" of regional cooperation, Bill Bishop writes today in the Daily Yonder, but cites an important one: Club 20, a longstanding organization of the 20 Colorado counties on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, founded in 1953 by Preston Walker, who was publisher of The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, the rural region's largest city. Their first success was lobbying jointly in Denver for road money. The group now has 22 counties and the Ute tribe, all with an equal vote. Most work is done in committees on tourism, public lands, energy, education, water and health care. It also holds political forums; photo by Bishop shows Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar praising the group and urging it to stay bipartisan.

"There have been some ideological dust-ups as the issues have gone beyond roads and water. There are also constant reminders throughout the day that Club 20 has survived by finding issues that cross political boundaries," Bishop writes. "Club 20 has been successful enough that two other groups of counties in Colorado have copied the Western Slope coalition. There is now Action 22, made up of counties in southeast Colorado. And Progressive 15 is a coalition of rural counties in the far northeastern corner of the state." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Brushy Fork Institute builds leaders, communities; will manage ARC grants to distressed Appalachia

For 20 years, the Brushy Fork Institute has worked to develop leadership in Appalachian communities. Tonight at Berea College in Kentucky, home of the Institute, its leaders, friends and clients celebrated its success with testimonies from a national expert on rural community development and two women who helped start or revive chambers of commerce in their small, rural counties with training from the Institute.

Vaughn Grisham, right, director of the George McLean Institute at the University of Mississippi, told a packed dining room at the Boone Tavern Hotel that Brushy Fork not only teaches leadership in classic fashion, "They show you how to do it with their behavior," including trusting people "to transform their own lives." Grisham turned over the microphone for two stories of transformation, from the smallest county in Tennessee and one of the smallest in Kentucky, both along the rugged but scenic edge of the Cumberland Plateau.

"It changed our county," Gail Mills said of the training she and others from Menifee County, Ky., received at the Brushy Fork Annual Institute, the latest edition of which is going on this week. As a result, the county of 6,800 not only has a chamber of commerce, but a community center, a learning center and a food pantry. "We were going nowhere, but since the Chamber of Commerce came into being it had broadened our outlook," Mills said.

Deborah Garrett of Pickett County, Tenn., population 5,000, said likewise. "We made tourism a bigger money-maker than farming . . . and that all comes from Brushy Fork," she said. Our guess is that the leadership training also had something to do with Garrett being twice elected a county commissioner. For the county's Web site, click here. Menifee County's is here.

Wednesday, Brushy Fork will announce a new partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and Kentucky's Department for Local Government. Brushy Fork will provide training for community leaders and administer ARC Flex-E-Grants for projects in distressed ARC counties. "When you combine training with funding you get more out of both," Brushy Fork Director Peter Hille says. The first grants will go to communities that have teams at this year's Annual Institute this year. The second round, next spring, will be open to all of distressed ARC counties in Kentucky. Communities funded in the second round will be encouraged to send teams to next year's Institute.

McCain, Obama visit 2 Lebanons, one really rural

Both major presidential candidates were in Lebanon today -- not the country, but the towns, in Virginia and Ohio. In some ways they were near opposite ends of the vast spectrum that is rural America; the Ohio town and surrounding Warren County are largely suburbanized, though much farmland remains; the other town is something of an oasis in largely distressed southwest Virginia; it has managed to move away from coal mining as its principal source of income by attracting high-tech industries.

"Lebanon's success at attracting high-tech industry has landed it in the Democrats' campaign spotlight," Sue Lindsey of The Associated Press reported in an advance story. (Read more) To win a state that hasn't voted Democratic since 1964, the Obama campaign sees rural voters as the key. Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher told Daniel Gilbert of the Bristol Herald-Courier, “The candidate who is here the most frequently, who communicates about Southwest Virginia needs and concerns most directly, will be the candidate who wins over large numbers of those voters.” (Read more) Boucher's 9th District was the only one Hillary Clinton carried in Virginia's primary.

Boucher told the Lebanon crowd that Obama is a "friend of coal," reports Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton: "Obama pointed to carbon sequestration research and clean coal technology as an integral part of his plan to end dependence on foreign oil. It shouldn’t be too hard to find ways to make alternative energy sources viable if funding and brain power are thrown at the problems."

Deal adds, "In response to a question from a teenage girl about what he plans to do to alleviate poverty in rural America," Obama "pointed to new energy efforts and infrastructure improvements. ... One questioner pointed out that a lot of rural Americans are afraid Obama will 'take their guns away'." Obama replied, “I want to be absolutely clear — I believe in the Second Amendment. I will not take away your shotgun, I will not take away your rifle and I will not take away your handgun.” Deal adds, "Obama added that he believes in 'common-sense gun safety laws,' including background checks and closer tracking of firearms."

Obama still has work to do in the region, based on Deal's interview of Larry Counts, a Dickenson County native who lives in Glade Spring, outside the coalfield. "Counts said many people in the community don’t like the candidate because they think he’s a Muslim, or are afraid of his stance on gun control. 'And I hate to say this, but I think race has a little bit to do with it, too,' Counts said slowly, after a lengthy pause." (Read more; subscription may be required)

Sept. 12: For Deal's follow-up story, with interviews of Obama supporters, click here.
Sept. 10: For the McCain campaign and the national media, the news from Obama's stop was his comment that McCain and Sarah Palin running as the candidates of change is like putting lipstick on a pig. That was part of Nicki Mayo's four-minute report on, the Media General Web site for the Herald-Courier and WJHL-TV. Reporting from the other Lebanon, Ben Fischer of The Cincinnati Enquirer writes, "If there were any doubt remaining about the Republican base, it died during Tuesday's brief morning rally in Lebanon, the beating heart of Ohio Republicanism." (Read more) For a perceptive, thoughtful and funny take on Republicans' small-town theme and Democrats' reactions, from Julie Ardery in the Daily Yonder, click here.

Online media examine Palin's religious beliefs

The blogosphere is abuzz over the religious beliefs of Sarah Palin, who once attended the Assemblies of God church in Wasilla, Alaska, and now attends the non-denominational Wasilla Bible Church.

Shortly after Sen. John McCain named Palin his running mate, a video of the Alaska governor speaking at her church about the Iraq War began to circulate. Palin asked the audience to pray "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan." Just what she meant, and how she mixes her faith and her politics, are sparking much debate.

Neither complete rejection or complete acceptance of Palin's approach to faith and politics is completely justified, writes Beliefnet editor Steve Waldman. To help draw a dividing line, he has a list of "What's scary, what's not" on his online religion forum. What's not scary, Waldman says, are those aspects of Palin's religion which she uses to develop personal character, but that they get scary when combined with public policy. But he does find scary her plea to "a group of young church leaders to pray for a gas pipeline because it was God's will. ... Saying a particular public policy is God's will is far over the line ..." (Read more)

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer, an online review of religious news, finds Waldman's piece helpful in its parsing of language, noting that "Palin didn't declare the Iraq War 'God's plan' but rather hoped that the war to which she is sending her son is God's plan." However, the post criticizes Waldman for "setting his perspective up as the standard of reason ... the reasonable center Waldman upholds is an assertion, not a fact." (Read more)

Dan Kennedy of Media Nation agrees that Palin's comments about Iraq might have been misconstrued, although he finds a quote on National Public Radio article by a Pentecostal scholar who says that one could interpret Palin's remarks as calling for a holy war. Kennedy goes on to cite a comprehensive Anchorage Daily News article about Palin's religion.

Ky. environmental lawyer gets big foundation prize

For more than three decades, Louisville lawyer Tom FitzGerald, right, has fought battles for environmental protection and rural people in Kentucky. In honor of that work, he is the recipient of the 14th annual Heinz Award for the Environment from the Heinz Family Foundation, which puts its money where its mouth is with a $250,000 prize.

"FitzGerald's name is synonymous with environmental protection in Kentucky" and a natiuonal authority on the 1977 federal strip-mine law, writes Jack Brammer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "He's probably done more to protect the environment of Kentucky than any other individual," LaJuana S. Wilcher, who held Kentucky's top environmental post under a Republican governor and headed the water division of the Environmental Protection Agency, told Jim Bruggers of The Courier-Journal.

FitzGerald, a native of Queens, N.Y., told Bruggers that he came to Kentucky in the early 1970s "after eading Harry M. Caudill's Night Comes to the Cumberlands, a 1963 book that described corporate plunder of mineral wealth in Eastern Kentucky. He said he was inspired by people 'who had the courage to stand up against the ravages of strip mining.'"

Since 1984, FitzGerald, 53, has run the Kentucky Resources Council, "which provides free legal, strategic and policy assistance on environmental matters to individuals, organizations and communities," Bruggers writes. "With a budget last year of about $230,000, it has just two paid staff members, FitzGerald and an office manager, along with a stable of technical experts hired on a contract basis." (Read more)

Brammer writes, "Money from the Heinz award will 'be nice,' but the "most rewarding" part of his career, FitzGerald said, is 'the wonderful people I've met.' He mentioned the late citizen-activist Hazel King of Harlan County, who 'stood up to renegade elements of the coal industry,' and 'the thousands of people the council has represented, and my hero and mentor, John Rosenberg, and so many, many others." (Read more) Rosenberg is founding director of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky, for which FitzGerald worked.

The Heinz Foundation will also announce today similar awards in arts and humanities, the human condition, public policy, and technology, the economy and employment. The foundation is headed by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Its awards are in memory of her first husband, the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania. She called FitzGerald "a thoughtful and courageous voice on behalf of many communities, families and individuals whose environmental health would have otherwise been at risk," and "a ubiquitous and persistent leader" who has "tirelessly shouldered the causes of those without the resources or expertise to fend for themselves." For the foundation's page on the award, click here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Palin fought with her local paper, which now voices pride in her candidacy for vice president

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin got off to a rocky start as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, with her subordinates, some citizens and the local newspaper, The Frontiersman, Ken Armstrong and Hal Bernton report in The Seattle Times today.

Palin's firing of the police chief "was only part of the drama that unfolded in her first months as mayor" in late 1996 and early 1997, Armstrong and Bernton write. "The Frontiersman and Anchorage Daily News wrote one story after another about the turmoil. After notifying the librarian that she was fired, Palin backtracked and decided to keep her on. Palin had twice asked this librarian what she thought about banning books, to which the librarian responded it was a lousy idea, one she wouldn't go along with. Later, Palin told the local paper that any questions she'd raised about censorship were only 'rhetorical.' Palin put in place what the local paper called a gag order, prohibiting top city employees from talking to reporters unless she cleared it first."

After Palin tried to fill two city-council vacancies without the authority to do so, "The Frontiersman ran blistering editorials," the Times reports, saying Palin's operating philosophy was "either we are with her or against her. ... Palin promised to change the status quo, but at every turn we find hints of cronyism and political maneuvering. We see a woman who has long since surrendered her ideals to a political machine."

But Palin gradually "won folks over" and was re-elected, Armstrong and Bernton write. "Vicki Naegele, the former managing editor who wrote the editorial, defended Palin: "As a community newspaper, we held her feet to the fire. ... The need for such harsh words diminished as the months wore on." At the time, Palin said, "If nothing else, the old Frontiersman editorial points out the importance of administrative experience at the chief executive level. I grew tremendously in my early months as mayor, managing the fastest-growing city in the state, and I turned my critics around." (Read more)

Because of widespread interest in the book-banning discussions, The Frontiersman retyped its December 1996 story on the subject and posted it on its Web site, where it reports that many in the Wasilla area "are experiencing an influx of revenue from local efforts of national media" to research Palin. "The take-out business seems to be exploding as reporters eat while they work in their hotel rooms," writes reporter Michael Rovito.

In an editorial titled "We know Sarah Palin," The Frontiersman says, "We’ve known her as a governor tough enough to successfully take on the Last Frontier’s good old boy network" and voices hope that her nomination could turn attention from a rash of government scandals in the state. "Truth and transparency have been bywords for Palin. As she enters the national arena where she’ll be tugged and tormented, vilified and denigrated, we hope she sticks to her guns — metaphorically and literally. Because no matter the politics, for Wasilla, Alaska, to send its commercial-fishing, gun-toting, hockey-mom former mayor toward the White House, that’s history. And we’re proud of it." (Read more)

The nomination is obviously driving traffic to the Web site of the paper, a thrice-weekly. An unscientific, self-selected "reader's poll" asking whether Palin was a good choice for Sen. John McCain's running mate had gleaned more than 5,000 replies as of 4 p.m. Monday. There was no was for us to tell where the votes were coming from, but the results were Yes, 2,894; No, 2,403; and "Too early to tell," 291.

Outside loans bring credit crunch to rural banks

As the credit crunch worsens nationwide rural banks are being hurt. Although less likely to be big mortgage lenders, regional banks have invested outside their communities in order to boost their volume of loans. As Jack Armstrong of The Times-Union in Jacksonville writes,"Known as participation loans, these investments allow smaller, often rural banks to supplement low demand for loans in their areas by taking on loans from banks in more rapidly growing regions."

Many rural banks are feeling the effects of bad loans. "The trickle-down from bad participation loans is causing rural bank officials to take second looks, especially those loans tied to real estate and residential construction," Armstrong reports. Still, the downturn is not thought to be detrimental to rural banks' long term stability."Although it's a problem, it's not likely to lead to many small bank failures," Armstrong reports. "Participation loans rarely make up a large percentage of a rural bank's loan portfolio."

It is difficult to estimate how many bad participation loans a particular bank holds, because financial reports do not separate them out. Even if the economy continues to worsen participation loans should not have any major repercussions on the longterm stability of rural banks. But it's a question enterprising rural journalists should ask their local banks. (Read more)

Group challenges ban on pulpit endorsements

Any pastor who makes political endorsements from the pulpit risks losing their church's tax-exempt status, but a conservative legal group is looking for pastors who will endorse candidates anyway. The Alliance Defense Fund argues that the 54-year-old ban in federal law violates churches' First Amendment freedom of religion. It is recruiting pastors to break the ban by preaching explicitly political sermons on Sept. 28, with plans to mount a legal challenge to the expected investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.

"It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society," says ADF attorney Erik Stanley. "It's not for the government to mandate the role of church in society." But Peter Slevin reports in The Washington Post that the planned action has already drawn criticism from other religious leaders. A group of Christian and Jewish clergy will ask the IRS to investigate whether ADF has violated its own tax-exempt status.

Former IRS lawyer Marcus S. Owens says that, in all probability, ADF's legal strategy will not work because the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the 1954 law. He criticizes the legal group for encouraging illegal behavior. ADF argues that it is doing no such thing. Stanley told Slevin, "We're not encouraging any congregation to violate the law. . . . What we're encouraging them to do is exercise their constitutional right in the face of an unconstitutional law." (Read more)

N.C. woman takes on military recruiters in school

As manufacturing jobs dwindle in rural areas and the economy remains stagnant the lack of opportunities for high school graduates has made them important targets for military recruiters. In Wilkesboro, N.C., Sally Ferrell has been trying to inform students about alternative careers outside the military. Now she has to do that away from the local high school, because school officials who see her efforts as unpatriotic have stopped her visits.

Writes Mitch Weiss of The Associated Press, "For three years, Ferrell has asked permission to distribute pamphlets and other materials that warn students to think twice before joining the military." Such counter-recruiting groups "say recruiters have given young people misleading information about military service and often target high schools in poor and rural areas where options for graduating students are limited; the activists want students to know they have prospects besides the military."

Typically, military recruiters are given complete access to high schools, and that was the case in Wilkesboro, until the controversy arose. "Now, they can only visit twice a semester," Weiss reports. "And when they do, they have to stand at a table outside the cafeterias. They can't sit down and talk with students while they're eating lunch." (Read more)

Kentucky courthouse building program questioned

A Kentucky initiative to build large judicial centers in many rural counties leaves many wondering if the construction is the best use of tax dollars. In a series of articles in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Linda Blackford points out that some of the courthouses in smaller counties are about the same size as those in counties with four times the population.

In 1998, Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert, who recently retired, started a project to build "a new or renovated justice center in every county in the state that needed one." With 120 counties, Kentucky has more counties per capita than any state but Nebraska, and more in actual number than any but Georgia and Texas. Some are losing population; a Herald-Leader headine reads, "Grandeur comes as populations fall."

Supporters of the project say that it is necessary in order to bring much needed space, security and technology to the justice system, as well as promoting regard for the system. But others say it is poor stewardship. The average courthouse in more-populated areas has between 1 to 2 square feet for each resident in its jurisdiction. The planned Carlisle County Judicial Center in far Western Kentucky averages 7 square feet per person, at a cost to the state of $2,500 per resident.

The state builds the centers for counties and provides rent money to pay off bonds. "If something jeopardized state funding, the counties would ultimately be on the hook for something many of them could not afford," Blackford writes. "In Wolfe County, for example, loss of the $1 million paid annually by the state for use of the justice center would wipe out half of the county's annual budget." (Read more: Part 1 and Part 2 of the series)

Veterinarian who is fighting the horse crisis says education is needed to prevent overbreeding

The solution to the horse crisis can be found in the current approach to cats and dogs, according to the chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition. "Rather than breeding your mare, buy a horse. Rather than buy a horse, adopt one. Rather than discarding your horse, euthanize it," says Tom Lenz, who has also been an equine veterinarian for 35 years.

"Along with the economic crunch, removing slaughterhouses also removed the base price for a horse" Joe Scott of Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis writes, leading "to a glut of low- to mid-price-range horses that owners are trying to get rid of." The result is often abandonment for the animals. Lenz says that the problem requires an approach similar to that taken with household pets, in which preventing overbreeding is the primary focus of education and awareness campaigns.

The article provides a good overview of factors leading to the crisis: the rising prices of grain and feed, alongside the growing price of fuel; financial pressures faced from a rough economy; overpopulation after the closing of the only U.S. horse slaughterhouses; the higher transportation costs involved in transporting horses to slaughterhouses outside the U.S.; and legislation based on a "romanticized" view of horses rather than the horse industry. (Read more)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Electric co-op's members keep fighting managers

Because suburbs have expanded into the territories rural electric cooperatives established before World War II, many co-ops now serve primarily suburban customers. But they are still governed as cooperatives, and sometimes members revolt against management, as those of Cobb Electric Membership Corp. north of Atlanta did at its annual membership meeting Thursday night, attended by more than 850.

After the usual "balloons, hot dogs and a cheerful teenage chorus . . . the mood quickly turned as angry Cobb EMC members demanded the board’s ouster and called on the utility’s executives and officers to sever all financial ties with for-profit operating affiliate Cobb Energy, wrote Margaret Newkirk and Jeremy Redmon of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "To loud cheers, Cobb EMC members also passed a motion reversing a recent board decision allowing Cobb Energy to collect an 11 percent markup for operating the nonprofit cooperative."

It was the latest skirmish in a war: "The actions were the most public display yet in a year-long battle between co-op executives and members that has mostly been fought in court. The central issue has been whether Cobb Energy has siphoned co-op assets," the reporters wrote. "A judge in that case barred the co-op from holding planned board of director elections at Thursday’s meeting, but allowed the meeting to go forward. . . . Co-op supporters spoke, too, praising Cobb EMC’s service, technology and response to customers in storms." (Read more)

The latter point can be crucial; when a Louisiana electric co-op was slow to fix storm damage a few years ago, members disbanded it and sold out to an investor-owned electric company.