Friday, October 07, 2011

Northwest Missouri newspaper spotlights problems in mental health care in rural areas

Lack of resources keep many rural residents from getting mental and emotional health care, With higher rates of depression and suicide among teenagers and older adults in rural America, this is a major concern, reports Debbie Morello of the Maryville Daily Forum in northwest Missouri, noting that this is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. Monday, Oct. 10, is World Mental Health Day.

"There are people without means to get help, they have no money, no transportation and very few resources," Phil Graham, a psychologist with a part-time office in Maryville, told Morello, referring to the disparity between urban and rural availability of mental-health care. Lack of affordable insurance is another problem, as many private insurers have failed to keep up with mental health needs, Graham added.

Depression rates in rural areas tend to exceed rates in urban areas and suicide rates for teens and older adults are higher in rural areas, according to the Office of Rural Health Policy, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Read more)

Judge tells Wisconsin family it doesn't have 'fundamental right' to drink milk from its own cow

A Wisconsin judge has ruled that a family with a cow does not have "a fundamental right" to drink its milk. Circuit Judge Patrick Fielder in August ruled that Mark and Petra Zinniker could not sell raw milk through their private farm store. With the help of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, they asked for a clarification notice, which "contains a strongly-worded denial of fundamental food and farming rights,"Rebekah Wilce of The Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch reports.

In his decision, Fielder wrote: "Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd; Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow; Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer. . . . Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice." Fielder, who is planning to leave the bench, said he based his decision on the fact that the Zinnikers could not present a well-developed reason that consuming food of one's choice is a fundamental right granted by the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling is being appealed. Pete Kennedy of the defense fund reports that raw-milk advocate Max Kane is leading a campaign to have the Wisconsin Judicial Commission investigate the judge's ruling. Kane's Raw Milk Party is again attempting to get the Wisconsin legislature to pass a bill to allow farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.

Thieves steal a rural bridge in Pennsylvania

Scrap metal thefts are not new to rural areas, but stealing an entire bridge may be. Pennsylvania State Police say a bridge 50 feet long and 20 feet wide bridge was dismantled and stolen in a remote wooded area of the rural North Beaver Township in Lawrence County between Sept. 27 and Oct. 5. Authorities believe a blowtorch was used to dismantle the bridge, which containing steel web decking and I-beam supports.

The bridge, owned by New Castle Development, was infrequently used by a business to transport materials, a company spokesman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The bridge was about 100 years old and valued at close to $100,000. New Castle had recently closed the private bridge following several copper thefts in the area. (Read more

Judge says EPA lacks authority to impose stricter rules on strip mines, but leaves rules in place

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have authority under the Clean Water Act to establish stricter standards for mountaintop removal coal mines, giving the coal industry a first-round win in what is likely to be an extended court fight. The ruling allows the agency's new guidelines to reduce water pollution from surface mining to remain in place, at least until legal arguments about that are heard next June.

"EPA retains legal authority to veto or block key Clean Water Act permits that mining companies need for new mountaintop removal operations,"Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

In his ruling, District Judge Reggie Walton of Washington, D.C., said the agency "exceeded its Clean Water Act authority" by creating the new reviewing process for "dredge-and-fill" permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers and by creating an assessment procedure to decide which mining permits needed more review. Walton said the EPA has an "oversight role" but went too far.

When the EPA started issuing new permit reviews last year, the National Mining Association, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia filed a joint lawsuit to challenge the EPA's decision, claiming the agency had started a "war on coal." While the industry uses mountaintop removal because it's efficient and local and state leaders tout the jobs it creates, there is growing consensus the practice causes irreversible damage to forests, water quality and communities, and that a recent scientific study links higher rates of cancer, birth defects and other illnesses to those living near mountaintop removal sites, Ward reports.

EPA called the ruling a "procedural decision," and environmental groups that intervened in the case said it has "no effect on the new EPA water quality guidance." NMA President Hal Quinn told Ward the decision "affirms our view that the Congress did not grant EPA sweeping powers under the Clean Water Act" to delay permits and "usurp" the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for discharges into waters of the United States. (Read more)

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Big rural broadband provider with big federal loan falls flat

Open Range Communications, which was created to provide broadband to rural areas and received one of the largest loans ever made by the Department of Agriculture, "laid off over half its workforce and accepted its CEO's resignation, moves that put yet another hold on extending broadband services nationwide," Sandy Fitzgerald of Mobiledia reports.

The company operates in nearly 150 markets in 12 states. It "will continue providing WiMax service to existing customers but isn't accepting any new ones," Fitzgerald writes. The company "struggled to attract customers with its data-only WiMax service, marking about 20,000 subscribers earlier this year." The company "is reportedly up for sale" and has not said how it will repay "nearly $300 million from the Rural Utilites Service" of USDA, Fitzgerald reports.

Ala. immigration law chasing needed workers from state, and locals don't fill jobs left behind

"Alabama's strict new immigration law was touted as a job creation bill, a way to force illegal workers out of jobs and open them up for legal residents. Early indications are the plan is backfiring," Phillip Rawls of The Associated Press reports.

"The law is driving away many construction workers, roofers and field hands who do backbreaking jobs Americans generally won't. So far, few legal residents have stepped in to fill any of the vacancies, creating an absence that will surely deal a blow to the state's economy and could slow the rebuilding of Tuscaloosa and other tornado-damaged cities." (Read more)

Meanwhile, the law is making Hispanic students vanish from Alabama schools, AP's Jay Reeves reports.

Update Oct. 10: John McMillan, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, suggests the state's worker release program for inmates may be a short-term solution to replace fleeing Hispanic migrant workers, Mackenzie Weinger of Politico reports.

Plant scientist has spent his life breeding pawpaws to make them more commercial

For decades people have tried to cultivate commercial pawpaws, but found it difficult because the fruit's season is short, its soft skin makes it hard to transport and it has a large seed pod. But now, a plant scientist who's worked 35 years to breed the perfect pawpaw has developed a way to make them bigger with more flesh, making them more attractive to buyers. (Blossom Nursery photo)

Neil Petersen tells National Public Radio's Allison Aubrey that after tasting his first pawpaw 35 years ago, he had a "revelation" that the wild fruit found mostly in the Eastern U.S. was just as good as a peach or apple and should be bred and commercialized in a similar way. Shortly after this experience, he began his life's dedication to the pawpaw, and now several orchards are growing his trees and selling his version of the fruit in farmer's markets.

Bringing even more attention to the pawpaw as a commercial fruit is Ohio University food scientist Rob Brannan. Aubrey reports that Brannan has studied the nutrients in pawpaws and published a study concluding the fruit is high in antioxidants, making it comparable to cranberries and cherries by this measure. He told Aubrey that putting a "health halo" over the pawpaw would give it a commercial boost. (Read more)

Farmers say local harvest workers hard to find

Farmers are having trouble finding willing Americans to help harvest on their farms through the agricultural visa program known as H-2A. The program allows workers from Mexico to enter the country seasonally to work and fill the gaps made because Americans who are willing to work on a farm are hard to find.

Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports that the minimum wage in the program has risen to $10.50 an hour and because of that and the stagnant economy farmers can't afford to bring in enough people from Mexico to harvest. Some, like Colorado corn and onion farmer John Harold, thought they'd hire locals. However, he told Johnson that after six hours work in one day, most of the locals quit. Some left during lunch and never came back, others claimed the "work was too hard."

The H-2A program was designed to encourage farmers to hire locals as a way to avoid displacing them, and requires them to advertise their job openings in three states. Johnson reports this places great risk on farmers who have to guess the proper local-to-foreign worker ratio with their whole season's revenue at stake. Most think the program needs to be reconsidered to address this issue, including Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who supports a bill that would increase the number of guest workers admitted to the country every year.

Farmers are also faced with the problem of workers leaving if they find a job that pays better, some say, because working on a farm full-time but only for a season is a lot to ask. In 2009, 60,000 foreign workers were admitted to the country; last year, that number dropped to 56,000. (Read more)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Hallmark Cards boss says Saturday mail delivery should be preserved, for sake of rural areas

The boss of Hallmark Cards Inc. has written an opinion piece urging Congress and the U.S. Postal Service to shelve plans to end Saturday mail delivery, and to address the federally chartered corporation's budget problems by first tackling its "significant underlying organizational and operational issues."

"Cuts in delivery service should be last on the list of considerations," Donald Hall Jr. writes. "The dual strategy of raising rates while cutting Saturday delivery is no way to sustain customer loyalty or encourage use of mail. It also overlooks the dependence many — including small businesses and rural customers — have on six-day delivery."

Hall notes that the Postal Regulatory Commission said that the USPS estimate of savings by ending Saturday delivery was about double the what the commission estimated, and found that "Customers in rural and remote areas would be especially hard hit because their mail delivery would take longer, and that small businesses and other first-class mail customers who depend on timely delivery would be affected far more than bulk mailers." The commission advised USPS that it should not eliminate Saturday mail without more research of the rural impact, essentially endorsing the testimony that the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues gave the commission.

Hall concluded, "The solution to the financial crisis will not be found in failing to adequately serve small towns in remote areas. " His article is available here from the National Newspaper Association, the lobby for community newspapers, which offers it as an editorial.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., a member of the deficit-reduction "super committee," has introduced legislation to ban USPS from closing rural post offices if they are at least 10 miles from another office, The Hill reports.

White House Rural Council's report lists problems, but leaves out ways to solve them

The results of the White House Rural Council's visits to rural America this summer are in, so to speak. The Daily Yonder has sifted through the council's recently released report about these visits, and didn't have to use a fine-toothed comb to notice what the report lacked. (White House map shows visit locations)

Since President Obama created the council in June, members have traveled the country visiting rural communities and conducting a series of "roundtable discussions." As its co-chair, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, wrote at the start of the report: "Through these visits, the Council has been listening to the voice of rural Americans – to their concerns and aspirations, to what they see as the challenges that lay ahead and the opportunities open to them."

The report is based on those discussions and the President's rural tour to Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota in August. The Yonder could not find in the report a single conclusion drawn from some 200 visits made in 46 states (Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island did not receive a visit). The report does, however, include a pie chart illustrating top issues discussed during the roundtables: Education leads the list, followed closely by government programs and regulations. The report is also littered with lists: issues discussed, departmental references and every place visited, highlighting the President's visit to Peosta, Iowa. But as the Yonder points out, there is no list of policy changes or initiatives to remedy the problems facing rural Americans. (Read more)

Dove hunting returns to Iowa, with lead shot

Sept. 1 marked the first time since 1918 that hunters can legally hunt mourning doves in Iowa. This legislation could lure "an estimated 20,000 Iowa dove hunters" and possibly "contribute $6.9 million to the state's economy," according to Iowa's Natural Resource Commission. Based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual mourning dove harvest report for similar states, the National Resource Commission estimates dove season could bring $462,000 in state sales tax revenue and 90 jobs to the state, Elizabeth Weise and Adam Belz of USA Today report. (Iowa Natural Resource Commission image)

The reinstatement of dove hunting was not without controversy. A legislative committee removed a request by the commission to include a lead-ammunition ban for this year's season, electing to consider the ban next session, Weise and Belz report. Currently 35 states have some regulations against lead ammunition and 27 Iowa counties require non-toxic ammunition when hunting migratory game birds and some other game or target shooting. (Read more)

Senator blocks fast action on pipeline safety bill by refusing to allow passage without debate

UPDATE, Oct. 19: Paul dropped his hold on the bill after getting agreement to "an amendment that would commit the government to requiring pressure tests or something equally effective on older lines," Jaxon Van Derbeken of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is singlehandedly blocking quick passage of legislation to improve safety of the 2.5 million miles of oil, gas and hazardous waste pipelines that crisscross the country. Democrats want to expedite the bill so they can work on job creation. Paul says more time should be given to debate new rules in the bill. Since expedited passage requires unanimous consent, Paul's stance is preventing the bill from moving. (AP photo)

The New York Times reported recently that pipeline regulators give short shrift to rural areas. Jim Carroll, Washington correspondent for The Courier-Journal of Louisville, reports the reauthorization bill includes new safety measures prompted by several pipeline accidents, like one in San Bruno, Calif., last year that killed eight people. About 40 pipeline accidents have occurred every year since 2006, causing injuries and fatalities. Paul says the new bill "puts in place new mandates," "hires new bureaucrats" and "grandfathers in the very pipelines that have had recent problems." He said the bill will not truly address issues that hinder pipeline safety. Carroll reports it's not the first time Paul has slowed legislation by himself; he held up provision extensions in the Patriot Act earlier this year and on Monday, blocked a bill that would provide millions in benefits to elderly and disabled refugees.

The bill was unanimously approved by a Senate committee and has the support of three national oil and gas associations, and some associations in Kentucky, Paul's home state. While Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky supports Paul's exercise of his right to request debate, several senators are pressing Paul to stop blocking the bill. Paul told Carroll the Democrats are impeding the bill's progress because they won't allow an open discussion and a vote, even though they would likely get more than the 60-vote majority to move the bill out of the Senate. (Read more)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Burdens of new laws for photo IDs at polls could fall heaviest on rural voters

"New laws requiring voters to show a photo identification at the polls could have a disproportionate effect on rural voters," the Daily Yonder says, referring to a New York Times story about new laws in 14 states and a column by Tennessee state Sen. Roy Herron that bemoaned the hardship he says will be caused by a new law in the Volunteer State, using his 94-year-old mother as an example:

"My mother is one of 675,337 Tennesseans age 18 and older who, according to the Department of Safety, either have no driver's license or have a license that does not carry their photo," and his mother's birth certificate has been misplaced so she will have to go through rigamarole and expense to get one before she can get a photo ID, writes Herron, a Democrat from Dresden.

And because not all counties have a drivers' license office, "Some of the rural Tennesseans I represent will have to drive from their county through a second county and into a third to reach the closest driver's license center — a trip of 40 to 60 miles each way. Taking a day off work and with gas averaging $3.58 a gallon, even at minimum wage the expense of travel and lost wages will cost people perhaps an additional $80 to $100 to exercise their constitutional right to vote." (Read more)

Before this year, only two states had photo-ID laws. A Brennan Center for Justice study indicates that the new laws will make it harder for rural, poor, elderly and minority voters to cast ballots next year. the researchers estimate that 5 million voters will be negatively affected. Democrats fear the laws will discourage, or block many voters, especially those in groups that vote mostly Democratic, from voting. The overall impact is still in dispute, and Republicans say laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but examples of voter impersonation are hard to find the Times' Michael Cooper reports. The Brennan Center says impersonation fraud at polling places is "extremely rare."

Rural poverty grows, but rural use of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program stays low

A recent policy brief out of the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute focuses on challenges faced by rural families who get cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Authors Jessica Bean, Leif Jensen and Marybeth Mattingly found that even though rural poverty continues to grow, TANF usage in rural areas remains low.

The authors contend that while cash assistance from TANF helps low-income families, it does nothing to end poverty because the benefits do not meet the need and will do little to help families overcome the "poverty threshold." They say that the positive effects of TANF are not as common in rural areas, and that positive impacts that do happen in rural communities continue to decline with time. From the brief: "TANF is an important component of poor families' budgets. However, in its current form, it is insufficient; strengthening TANF would help alleviate some material hardship in the lives of America's neediest citizens."

The authors write that the upcoming reauthorization of the program offers an opportunity to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. They suggest that America's rural poor should not be forgotten in the process and that differences in positive impacts of the program between rural and urban poor should be acknowledged. They also write that TANF emergency and contingency funds should be re-established and the supplemental grants reconsidered.

Farms blamed for nitrate pollution in California

Nitrates are contaminating tap water in the San Joaquin Valley and farmers are being blamed. As the nation's largest dairy county, Tulare County generates more untreated animal waste than all the people in Los Angeles, the regional director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit advocacy group, Food & Water Watch told Mark Grossi of McClatchy Newspapers for a package of stories on the problem.

Thomas Harter, leading groundwater scientist at the University of California at Davis, believes nitrates may come from animal manure, but also suggests fertilizers as a contributor. Farmers are being blamed with no proof, Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida, a longtime citrus grower near Lindsay, told Grossi. "If it's my fertilizers that are causing this problem, then we'll adapt," Ishida said, welcoming a full investigation of nitrate sources.

California has regulations in place to prevent overloading the soil and crops with waste and Tulare County regulates the placement of dairies, Grossi reports. With only nine state inspectors overseeing 1,400 dairies in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys many dairy owners inspect and report on their own operations, making many activists question adequate enforcement of these rules. (Read more)

Trees decrease fossil fuel emissions, but massive die-offs could add to climate change

Some scientists now think massive forest die-offs as a result of climate change could effect the "future habitability of the earth" because people depend on forests to absorb carbon dioxide now more than ever whether they realize it or not. Justin Gillis of The New York Times reports that scientists have discovered that forests have been absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, an amount equal to the emissions from all the world's cars and trucks. If a large amount of forests die, scientists warn, trees could burn or decay and release stored carbon into the atmosphere, adding to the warming of the planet. (NYT photo: dying pine forest in Montana)

Scientists are trying several strategies to help save forests, Gillis reports. They've suggested that counties with more wealth should pay people in tropical areas to stop destruction of forests for agriculture and logging. Another plan is to thin out forests in the American West to prevent the spread of parasites and fires. Both ideas are stalling due to lack of funding. Tropical forest researcher Oliver Phillips told Gillis, “I think we have a situation where both the ‘forces of growth’ and the ‘forces of death’ are strengthening, and have been for some time. The latter are more eye-catching, but the former have in fact been more important so far.” To see an interactive map showing forest decline around the world, click here.

Even though many are predicting gloom and doom, Gillis reports that scientists also say the "point of no return" has not yet been reached and that many forests, like those in the Eastern U.S., are still sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Since CO2 is a major source of food for trees, some forests have seen an increase in growth, and a new study published in Science magazine says worldwide forests store a billion tons of carbon per year in wood. Scientists also acknowledge their predictions are crude; some predict the death of the Amazon forest, while others think forests will continue to be massive carbon-dioxide eaters through this century. (Read more)

Federal grant funds two-year study aimed at helping Appalachian Ky. development groups

A multidisciplinary team of University of Kentucky researchers will examine local economic development organizations in Appalachian Kentucky for two years to help them "work together to identify new pathways toward local and regional prosperity," a UK news release says.

Funded by a $485,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the study will cover the 54 Kentucky counties classified as "Appalachian" by Congress for service from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The counties include "a few hundred economic development organizations," ranging from entirely governmental to civic groups to nonprofits to entirely private entities.

The study's principal investigator is Wally Ferrier, an endowed associate professor of strategic management in UK's Gatton College of Business and Economics. The co-PIs are Evelyn Knight, a professor in the College of Public Health and former director of UK's Appalachian Center, and Steve Borgatti, an endowed chair of management in the college an internationally recognized researcher of business networks "We are particularly interested in how EDOs can collaborate with each other to help them derive the maximum from their operations," Borgatti said. Other researchers on the project represent the colleges of education and social work, the Department of Sociology and the Department of Community and Leadership Development in the College of Agriculture.

"Throughout the duration of the study the research team is committed to building a set of enduring partnerships between members of the Appalachian economic development community and the university," the release says. "At the study's end, the researchers hope to develop a series of conferences, webinars, and workshops where they can share their research findings in a way that is relevant, timely, and actionable." (Read more)

Monday, October 03, 2011

Alabama paper starts online radio station

The Choctaw Sun-Advocate in southwest Alabama has started on online radio station, and it has been so successful so quickly that advertising sales have already paid for the equipment, uploading expenses and licensing fees, Publisher Tommy Campbell told AlaPressa, the monthly newsletter of the Alabama Press Association.

"We've already sold more than $6,000 in ads and sponsor fees," Campbell said in late August, about a week after the launch. By mid-September, Ala Pressa reports, the station "had already drawn listeners from 37 foreign countries and 40 states, he said. . . . The station plays classic rock from the 5,000 songs Campbell has downloaded from iTunes, and it plays a variety of Christian music and church programming on Sundays. It also features local and state news and weather, calendar of events, online classified ads, public affairs programming, local obituaries and more," including warnings of severe weather.

"I definitely think it's something that smaller papers could benefit from," Campbell told AlaPressa, which reports, "Listeners who don't want to go through a computer can buy an Internet radio receiver for less than $80." The station is at

USDA-Ford Foundation conference is focusing on creating rural wealth and livelihoods; join in online

The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Ford Foundation are hosting a National Conference on Rural Wealth Creation and Livelihoods in Washington, D.C. The attendees include more than 170 rural development specialists, policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders from all regions of America, such as Lionel "Bo" Beaulieu, above, director of the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.

From a press release about the event: "Fostering wealth creation that leads to improved livelihoods in rural America is a top priority for USDA and for many regional, state and local research and development initiatives." Throughout the conference, participants and speakers will attempt answer such questions as: What do "wealth" and "wealth creation" mean? What works, where, and why - or why not - to promote wealth creation that improves rural livelihoods? How can regional policies and programs contribute to wealth creation that sticks in rural areas? How can we measure rural wealth creation progress, maintenance and outcomes? Organizers also hope the conference will develop "practical, results-relevant dialogue" to initiate action in communities around rural wealth creation and livelihoods.

The event runs through Wednesday and is by invitation, but organizers are sharing information and discussions on the conference networking site, which features conference presentations, dialogue highlights, blogs and opportunities for comments and questions here or at

Some states cut, cap local government funding

As a way to balance budgets in a down economy, several states have cut direct funding for local governments in the past several years, leaving local officials searching for ways to balance their own budgets without millions of dollars on which they've previously depended. Rob Gurwitt reports for Stateline that some states have capped local property taxes, limiting the amount of money cities, counties and towns can raise.

In some cases, lack of funding has forced local government officials to lay off up to 10 percent of their employees, cut police forces, stop paying firefighters overtime and try to get hospitals to take on ambulance services, Gurwitt reports. Other local officials have closed down parks and recreation departments, libraries and public works. Some have raised taxes and fees; Lincoln, Neb., has imposed a "wheel tax" on every vehicle in the city. To see an infographic detailing what funds have been cut from several states, click here.

Local government funds of $665 million were cut in Ohio by a quarter this year; next year, the funds will be cut to half. Gurwitt reports that this move is expected to save the state $400 to $500 million. Nebraska's state government completely cut funds for counties and cities, and Michigan's government has cut local funds by $5 billion since 2000. State governments are not willing to share revenue in these tough economic times, Gurwitt reports, but cutting local government funding is a risk for state governments since most of the state's revenue is made in areas that benefit from local funds. (Read more)

Rural unemployment rate below national average but not in far West or rural South

In August 2011, the rural unemployment rate, 8.8 percent, was below the national average of 9.08 percent and the urban average, 9.2 percent, Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder reports. More than six out of ten rural counties reported  rates below the national average.

Most with low rates were in the Mountain West, the Upper Midwest or New England. The rural South and the West Coast again had the highest rates. To see unemployment rates for urban, rural and exurban areas of your state, click here.

Lower unemployment rates in the Great Plains and other areas may be attributed to migration, Bishop reports: "Fewer people, fewer to be unemployed." Likewise, high unemployment rates in the Sun Belt may be a result of relocations to the area. (Read more)

High-on-the-hog prices spur rash of big pig thefts in Upper Midwest; farmers seek answers, security

As farmers enjoy record-high prices for hogs, pig thefts are on the rise in Minnesota, Iowa, and nearby pork-producing states. The dismal economy, pig-farm isolation and difficultly in tracing pigs may be contributing factors to the rise in pig thefts, Monica Davey of The New York Times reports. (NYT photo by Allen Brisson-Smith)

In the past, farmers might have had one or two pigs go missing, "but now, it's different. This isn't about putting food on the table," Ryan Bode of Rebco Pork, who had 150 pigs taken, told Davey. Investigators suspect the pig thieves unloaded the pigs at meat-processing plants, affiliated "drop-off" facilities or sold them at auction, Davey reports. Marc Chadderdon, an investigator for the Nicollet County Sheriff's office, believes "someone in the business somewhere has the answer as to who's doing this."

Bode's family company, which raises 60,000 pigs per year in eight buildings, said only after intense investigation were they able to find how the pig thieves entered. "They definitely did their homework. And they definitely knew what they were doing," he told Davey. The rise in pig thefts has many farmers considering adding more security to the isolated barns, or tattooing their animals. (Read more)

Gallup finds confidence in local officials steady

Americans are very unhappy with Congress, and to a lesser degree with President Obama, but have much more confidence in their local and state officials' ability to handle local and state problems, according to the latest Gallup Poll, conducted Sept. 8-11.
"Trust and confidence in local government has hovered around 70 percent for the past decade, and the recent gridlock at the federal level has done little to sully local impressions of government," writes Tim Mak of Politico. "In fact, 68 percent of respondents to a new Gallup poll on Monday said they had a 'fair' or 'great' deal of trust and confidence in their local governments." State officials scored 57 percent, the federal executive branch 47 percent and Congress 31 percent. (Read more)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Urban-schools advocacy group helping rural N.J. districts' lawsuit to recover state funding

An advocacy group for urban schools is helping 16 rural districts in New Jersey sue the state over cuts in their funding. The Education Law Center says the districts should get "nearly $19 million more than the $131 million they will get in the budget for this school year," Lisa Fleisher reports for The Wall Street Journal.

"They've had to cut teachers, they had to cut programs, they have had their class sizes go way up, they've had to cut bus routes, they've had to privatize staffing like cafeteria workers and bus drivers," Frederick Jacob, a lawyer representing the districts, mostly in southern New Jersey. Their case is based on 31 urban districts' successful challenge, with the center's help, to cuts Gov. Chris Christie made to avoid raising taxes. "Jacob said the rural school districts he represents can't raise taxes to fill in the gaps in funding, because property in town isn't worth enough," Fleisher reports.