Friday, May 25, 2012

Federal probe, big sponsorship loss put more heat on Tennessee walking horse industry

Three trainers of Tennessee walking horses pleaded guilty this week to animal-cruelty charges, and the industry's main event, the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, in Shelbyville, Tenn., suspended the leader of the three for life. The week before, the event had lost the sponsorship of PepsiCo after an ABC News "Nightline" report showed well-known Collierville trainer Jackie McConnell, right, abusing horses, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reports. (1997 photo by The Tennessean)

McConnell, the industry's trainer of the year in 1986, and two of his employees pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to defraud the United States. "All three likely face probation for up to six months after a plea agreement and recommendations of the U.S. attorney's office," reports Todd South of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Still, some "walking horse faithful" said the convictions "could deter future horse abuse," South writes.

McConnell's violation involved false paperwork, but his employees pleaded guilty to transporting and showing horses that were victims of soring, "an illegal practice sometimes involving mechanical and chemical damage to a horse's feet with such items as kerosene and metal bolts," South reports. "The abusive methods alter the natural high-stepping gait of the horse to achieve the coveted 'big lick' step, which often helps trainers win competitions."

Tracy Simmons of the Shelbyville paper reports that national coverage of the case has influenced "local public perception" of the industry. She based that on interviews, posts to the paper's Facebook page and responses to an online poll. (We think any such polls should note that they are not reliable representations of public opinion, because their samples are self-selected and not scientific, but they are more legitimate when combined with social media and interviews.)

The paper also published a letter to the editor, from Barry Childers of Shelbyville, recalling how "The Celebration started out as a simple fundraiser horse show for the Lions' Club and Rotary Club and has grown to be one of the most prestigious events in the world, resulting in a $40,000,000 impact on our area each year," and has taken steps to prevent the showing of sored horses. But this week's convictions were the first in perhaps 20 years, under a law passed in 1966.

Minnesotans in 30s and 40s moving to rural areas

Minnesotans in their 30s and 40s are moving from urban to rural areas "that otherwise are experiencing population declines" because of "community, lifestyle and economics," Minnesota Public Radio reports.

Highly disputed ban on packer ownership of cattle to be offered as Farm Bill admendment

The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association sent out an alert this week saying that a provision that would ban packer ownership of livestock will be offered as an amendment to the 2012 Senate Farm Bill next week. The move rekindles a debate that the Obama administration thought it had ended last year, largely in favor of meatpackers, especially been producers. (Photo by Peter Alexander Robb)

The amendment is authored by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. The Daily Yonder reports that the amendment is backed by the Stockgrowers and by the Rancher-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund. It is opposed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. (Read more) According to the Stockgrowers, Grassley is offering his amendment to the full Senate because he lacked support in the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

Story of Hatfield-McCoy feud, coming to TV Monday, can be found in online digital newspaper archives

The Hatfield family
The story of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys will play again in a History Channel three-part miniseries beginning Memorial Day at 9 p.m. EDT. This volatile time in Kentucky and West Virginia's history will likely draw new interest into the families' lives and battles. The non-Hollywood version of the legendary feud exists in newspaper coverage written at the time. Those pages can be accessed and researched digitally through the National Digital Newspaper Program through work being done at University of Kentucky Libraries. Read more about the program.

Here's where the Hatfield-McCoy fracas comes in. According to a university spokesperson: "From brief mentions of possible state government responses and court battles to a longer report on the imprisonment of members of both families, newspapers made the feud front page news around the world. A look at the Feb. 20, 1888, edition of The Evening Bulletin gives readers interesting insight into the characters on both sides of the conflict, including descriptions of key family members incarcerated in Louisville awaiting trial. Surprisingly perhaps, the Maysville newspapaper disputes that the men were desperadoes; it describes them as dressing well, coming off as inoffensive, and using good language.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Care in rural hospitals is just as good as that in urban hospitals, study concludes

While rural Americans have less access to primary care and have worse health outcomes, the care at rural hospitals is equal to, if not better, than that at urban hospitals, a National Rural Health Association report says.

The study also found rural health care is not more expensive than urban care. "However, urban residents rarely out-migrate to rural settings for either routine or advanced treatments or care yet many rural patients are referred to or voluntarily travel to urban providers based on the myth of better care," a study summary reads.

The study was compiled by iVantage Health Analysis, a private health-care research company. It collected data on Medicare costs and health outcomes for doctors and hospitals for 12 months and divided the results into rural and urban groups based on zip codes, to give a picture of the state-by-state importance of rural hospitals.

The study could have wider wider ramifications given changes in the federal health-care reform law and the move toward accountable care organizations, in which doctors and other providers are encouraged to team up to give coordinated care for a population of people and be paid financial incentives to do so.

"Value in health care is created by doing a few things well and not by trying to do everything," the summary reads. "The rural findings may just suggest that by national selection, rural has figured out what it does well and has optimized those services for the patient's benefit." (Read more, from the Daily Yonder)

New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville papers to publish print editions 3 days per week

For a few years, people in the newspaper industry have predicted that the digital revolution will eventually prompt daily newspapers to abandon the expensive proposition of printing every day. Now one company, the Newhouse family's Advance Publications, has taken the plunge with its dailies in New Orleans and Alabama.

The Times-Picayune, the Mobile Press-Register, The Birmingham News and The Huntsville Times will cut back their print editions to three days per week (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) this fall, the papers announced today. The move will make New Orleans, which has lost much population since Hurricane Katrina hit it in 2005, the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. The industry convention is that a daily publishes at least four times a week.

The Times-Picayune said a new business entity called NOLA Media Group, reflecting the paper's online address of, “will significantly increase its online news-gathering efforts 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” but with a smaller staff. For coverage from the Poynter Institute, click here.

Advance used virtually the same language in announcing that its new Alabama Media Group will “dramatically expand its news-gathering efforts around the clock, seven days a week, while offering enhanced printed newspapers on a schedule of three days a week.” For more from Poynter, go here.

Poll shows most U.S. adults want marijuana legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco

Over half of American adults favor "legalizing and regulating marijuana similar to the way alcohol and tobacco cigarettes are currently regulated," reports Daniel B. Wood of the Christian Science Monitor. A Rasmussen Reports poll found 56 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed. (Associated Press photo: Indoor pot farm in Laurel, Md.)

"Critics have dismissed the survey, saying its questions were asked in a particularly leading fashion – a charge that Rasmussen contests," Wood writes. "But experts who track the issue say the poll is consistent with the overall trend of steadily rising acceptance of marijuana use." The new number is "the strongest support ever recorded in favor of marijuana legalization in the U.S.," Dale Gieringer, California coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "He says the trend can be expected to continue, since younger voters are more favorable toward ending marijuana prohibition than older ones," Wood reports.

Some agricultural interests also favor legalization as a way to revive the hemp industry, which would use  plants cultivated without removal of male plants, the technique that has greatly raised the amount of psychoactive ingredient in plants raised for drug use.

Race a factor in Obama's numbers in Ark. and Ky., but it's any guess how much; coal a factor in Ky.

President Obama's "underwhelming" performance in Tuesday's primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky prompted Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post to write in his blog, The Fix, about the causes. Many "who closely follow national politics . . . ascribe the underperformance by the incumbent to a very simple thing: racism," Cillizza writes, adding that few of them will attach their names to the observation.

Exit polls in 2008 indicated that somewhere around 10 percent of white voters in the two states voted against Obama because he is black. There were no exit polls this week, but that factor surely remains, but four years have passed, Obama is president, and other factors have arisen, such as his positions on coal, which probably hurt him in Kentucky -- and in West Virginia, where two weeks ago a prison inmate got 41 percent of the vote, about what Tennessee lawyer John Wolfe got in Arkansas.

"Of 28 counties in Kentucky where there are active coal mines, Obama lost to 'uncommitted' in 18, including the five largest coal producers — Pike, Perry, Hopkins, Harlan and Letcher counties," Joe Gerth reports for The Courier-Journal of Louisville. Most of those five counties are strongly Democratic but voted against Obama in the 2008 general election.

Cillizza cites other polling data and concludes, "President Obama’s race probably is regarded as more of a negative politically in Appalachia and portions of the South than it is in other regions of the country," but "figuring out how much of the anti-Obama vote in these southern and Appalachian state primaries is directly attributable to racism simply can’t be done." (Read more)

“There’s no easy or simple answer,” Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher told Cillizza. “One man’s racial differences is another man’s cultural differences.” Obama's endorsement of gay marriage may have been a factor, for example. Still, Cillizza writes, “What we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Appalachia and portions of the South — particularly those states without large African American populations — have long been hostile to President Obama.” And he dredges up The New York Times' map of counties that voted more Republican in the 2008 presidential election than in 2004 — a belt running mainly from southwestern Pennsylvania to the Oklahoma panhandle.

Warren Buffett is bullish on community newspapers

Berkshire Hathaway Group announced last week that it is in the process of buying more than 60 newspapers from Media General, the vast majority of them community weeklies and dailies. This week, in a memo to editors and publishers at those papers, CEO Warren Buffett promised to support the newspapers' decidedly local focus after the nearly $600 million deal is finalized.

"I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future. It’s your job to make your paper indispensable to anyone who cares about what is going on in your city or town," Buffett wrote in the memo. The previous week, when the deal was announced, Buffett said in a prepared statement, "In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper. . . . The many locales served by the newspapers we are acquiring fall firmly in this mold and we are delighted they have found a permanent home with Berkshire Hathaway."

Buffett wrote that Berkshire Hathaway may continue to buy newspapers that fit the same model as those acquired from Media General:
Berkshire will probably purchase more papers in the next few years. We will favor towns and cities with a strong sense of community, comparable to the 26 in which we will soon operate. If a citizenry cares little about its community, it will eventually care little about its newspaper. In a very general way, strong interest in community affairs varies inversely with population size and directly with the number of years a community’s population has been in residence. Therefore, we will focus on small and mid-sized papers in long-established communities."
Buffett also vowed that BH Media Group will take a relatively "hands off" approach -- for example, not dictating editorial positions of local newspapers, so long as those newspapers perform well. What is interesting in Buffett's memo is that, rather than cutting staff and centralizing operations (long the modus operandi of Media General), the "Oracle of Omaha" seems to be reading directly from the community-journalism playbook:
"I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future. It’s your job to make your paper indispensable to anyone who cares about what is going on in your city or town. That will mean both maintaining your news hole — a newspaper that reduces its coverage of the news important to its community is certain to reduce its readership as well and thoroughly covering all aspects of area life, particularly local sports. No one has ever stopped reading when half-way through a story that was about them or their neighbors."
The memo also included this statement:
Your paper will operate from a position of financial strength. Berkshire will always maintain capital and liquidity second to none. We shun levels of debt that could ever impose problems. Therefore, you will determine your paper’s destiny; outsiders will never dictate it.
Whether that statement is a promise of support, or a warning against lax performance, remains to be seen. Industry watchers will begin the monitoring in earnest in mid-June, when the ownership change is scheduled to take place.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Study: The farther state capitals are from population centers, the more corrupt; coverage may play a role

New research shows that the more isolated a state capital is from major population centers, the more likely it is to harbor corruption. And the lack of news coverage may be to blame for that, reports David Lauter of the Los Angeles Times.

The study, done by Filipe Campante of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Quoc-Anh Do of Singapore Management University, used a sophisticated statistical model to determine which capitals are the most isolated from their states’ population centers. They compared that measure of isolation with a database of convictions on federal corruption charges between 1976 and 2002. The results showed that the "more isolated capital cities are associated with more corruption." Further, "the overall level of education in a state appears to play a role," with less educated states tending toward more corruption.

The researchers looked for reasons. One possibility was that newspapers, which provide most coverage of state governments, are increasingly less likely to cover the capital, especially as its distance from their circulation area increases. In examining 436 U.S. newspapers, searching for references to state government, the study found “in states where the population is more concentrated around the capital, more intense media coverage of state politics, and therefore greater accountability.” In the past decade, the number of reporters covering state capitals has dropped sharply – a reduction of  more than 30 percent between 2003 and 2009, according to the American Journalism Review.

South trails rest of nation in economic mobility

The Pew Center for the States has issued its first analysis of Americans' economic mobility, defined as "their movement up and down the earnings ladder, at the state level." According to the report's executive summary, the study focused on Americans in their prime working years, examining earnings averaged between ages 35 and 39 (measured between 1978 and 1997) and how those earnings rose or fell a decade later (measured between 1988 and 2007).

On the Pew Center's website, readers can access an interactive map and much more information about the report. To do that, click here.

A quick look at the map reveals a few key points: Eight states, primarily in New England, have consistently higher upward mobility rates compared to the nation. Nine states, all in the South, have consistently lower mobility compared to the nation. The study also revealed that geographic mobility -- that is, whether people who were born in a state stayed there or moved elsewhere -- does not drive state differences in economic mobility.

Micro-loan program to aid small, first-time farmers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced a proposed new micro-loan program that would be added to the credit options available to farmers through the Farm Service Agency. The new program, reports Agri-Pulse, would allow FSA to make smaller loans -- those with a principal balance of up to $35,000 -- and would require less paperwork for farmers.

“This new program is a step in the right direction for the next generation of farmers who often are looking for smaller loans when they’re first getting started in agriculture,” said National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Policy Associate Juli Obudzinski. Vilsack said his department is seeking public comments on the program. "As we expand options in agriculture, we're seeing a new vibrancy across the countryside as younger people—many of whom are now involved in local and regional production—pursue livelihoods in farming, raising food for local consumption,” Vilsack said. (Read more)

South Dakota has worst rural poverty in Great Plains; high levels on Indian reservations a factor

A report by the Center for Rural Affairs lists South Dakota as having the highest rate of rural poverty in the 10-state Great Plains region. According to 2010 census data used in the report, 20.6 percent of rural South Dakotans live in poverty. That’s 44,973 of the state’s 218,821 rural residents, reports Marcus Traxler in The Daily Republic. Montana was the next closest state with a rural poverty rate of 17.8 percent.

More than a fourth of South Dakota's  rural children live in poverty. Its rural childhood poverty rate is twice that of the state’s large urban areas, writes Traxler. “There are hundreds of studies out there that show that poverty and food insecurity issues have long-term effects on children and their mental and physical development,” said Jon Bailey, the director for rural research and analysis for the Center for Rural Affairs. “We have a large segment of the population that we are dooming to a life of reduced development, both mentally and physically.”

The report was compiled by Bailey and South Dakota State University graduate Kim Preston, both of whom lead rural research and analysis for the CFRA, a private, nonprofit organization based in Lyons, Neb., examining socioeconomic issues in rural America. Bailey said a high level of poverty on South Dakota’s Indian reservations is a contributing factor to South Dakota’s ranking.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Entrepreneur offers prize to university with best economic plan for Eastern Kentucky coal counties

A leading Kentucky-based entrepreneur has started a contest among three of the state's universities to develop the best plan to foster innovation, economic development and entrepreneurship in nine Eastern Kentucky Coal Field counties that are some of the poorest in the nation: Bell, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin and Pike.

Pearse Lyons, left, president of Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, announced the competition during his company's annual international symposium in Lexington. He is offering a $20,000 prize for the business school with best plan among those developed by the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and the University of Pikeville, a private school in Eastern Kentucky that is headed by former Gov. Paul Patton.

"Teams will be chosen by university officials and are expected to be made up primarily of MBA students and a select number of undergraduates," an Alltech press release said. The competition will start in November 2012 and end in January 2013, "when the students will present their final plans to a panel of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and business leaders." (Read more)

Welfare drug-testing bills fly in many states, despite questionable savings and legality

Oklahoma and Tennessee have become the two most recent states to require drug testing of people applying for welfare benefits, though the legality of such measures is still unclear, reports Pamela Prah of Stateline. Legislators in at least 28 states proposed such measures this year, with Utah and Georgia passing laws requiring some form of drug testing before an application for benefits is complete.

Legislators say the laws will reduce welfare fraud and save money, but the constitutionality of the measures and whether they will actually save money is uncertain, Prah reports. Last year Florida passed a welfare drug-testing law that required applicants to pay for the test. That law has been challenged and is "working its way through the courts" now, reports Prah. (Read more)

As coal output falls, officials worry about severance-tax money, but Ky. scholarship idea stays afloat

Officials in Appalachian states are worried that they won't receive as much money from coal severance taxes as expected because of the predicted decline in Central Appalachian coal production, but that hasn't stopped some Kentucky officials from proposing that severance-tax money be used to pay for scholarships to colleges in the region.

Severance taxes have long been a source of consistent funding for coal-producing counties, but "with so many coal companies citing lower levels of coal sales than in years past, the amount of coal severance tax collected could be lower than normal," Bailey Richards of the Hazard Herald reports. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal production for March 2012 was "down by almost 15 percent from the past two years," Richards writes. General tax collections in West Virginia were below the initial estimate for the second consecutive month, in part because it received $16 million less in coal severance funding, The Associated Press reports.

In Western Kentucky, which has part of the separate Illinois Basin coalfield, officials in Henderson say they won't be able to complete local community improvement projects if there's a decline in severance-tax funds, reports Frank Boyett of The Gleaner.

A plan to use Kentucky severance-tax dollars for college scholarships in all coal-producing counties died in the legislature this year, the University of Pikeville and the University of the Cumberlands are trying to keep the idea alive administratively for Eastern Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The schools are "vying for Gov. Steve Beshear's approval through the Department for Local Government, which distributes grants funded by coal severance money," Blackford writes.

UPike President Paul Patton, a former governor, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo originally proposed adding the school to the state system; the scholarship idea was a fallback plan. However, the plans conflict; only nine counties would benefit from the proposal of UPike, which is in the state's easternmost county, while 25 would be covered by the plan of Cumberlands, which is in Williamsburg along Interstate 75 near the Tennessee border. (Read more)

Writer documents rural California, tries to bridge urban-rural divide in state

In March 2011, writer and photographer Lisa Hamilton received a Creative Work Fund grant to travel to the rural areas of California "to tell stories that would help bridge the cultural divide between the rural and urban parts of the state," Columbia Journalism Review reports. She wanted to talk about health issues facing rural residents, but as her road trip progressed, she found the need to tell a different story.

"Before I could start talking about peoples’ complicated relationships to, say, water, I had to first establish that there are all kinds of different people in the state who have all kinds of different relationships to water. And I needed to do it using the language of stories, not the language of issues," she told CJR. She said most urban Californians had very little knowledge about the rural areas of the state and she had to "introduce people to rural California."

Photo by Hamilton: Rancher-poet Linda Hussa
Hamilton told the stories of the people she met through a mix of writing and photography. "I was challenged to be a witness," she said. "I had to sit with that person and try to understand him or her, and get the person to trust me and let me in enough to photograph in a way that tells more of a story than that initial boring appearance can tell."

She created as a repository for the stories she collected, and explains on the blog that it's meant to start conversation between rural and urban California, two parts of that state "that are at best disconnected, and often at odds." She says most urban Californians think they know everything about rural residents, but she has "aimed to demonstrate that in fact this place and its people are far more diverse and dynamic than most of us from outside realize." (Read more)

Enviros sue Forest Service for data on how it will keep white-nose syndrome out of Northern Rockies

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the U.S. Forest Service to get documents about how the agency plans to keep white-nose syndrome from reaching bats in the northern Rocky Mountains, reports Matt Volz of The Associated Press. The environmental group says the agency has taken no action to prevent spread of the disease into Montana, Idaho, Washington, and North and South Dakota.

The center's Mollie Matteson said action must be taken now to prevent spread of the disease into the Northern Rockies even though it's not yet been documented there. "We don’t know when white-nose syndrome might show up in the West, but it behooves all land managers to take all the steps they can to make sure it doesn’t happen," Matteson said. Volz reports caves and old mines have been closed in parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska an South Dakota to prevent spread of the disease to those areas, but nothing has been closed in the Northern Rockies.

Forest Service media coordinator Phil Sammon said the agency could not comment on pending litigation, but added several measures to stave disease spread are pending in the northern region. None of the measures have been approved yet.

Researchers and scientists now know that the disease hitchhiked from Europe into the U.S. Humans can't contract the disease, but they can spread it by spores attached to their clothes or shoes. It's estimated the disease has killed about 7 million bats in the eastern U.S. so far by waking bats from hibernation and forcing them to search for food in winter. They die when they find no food. (Read more)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rural computer-assisted reporting workshop held; apply for free fellowships for Investigative Reporters and Editors' next 6-day CAR Boot Camp by June 22

The R-CAR program for rural computer-assisted reporting held its second workshop May 18-20 at the University of Kentucky, where journalists from five states and Washington, D.C., learned CAR or expanded their skills with training from Investigative Reporters and Editors. This was the second Rural Computer-Assisted Reporting Investigate Mini-Boot Camp, funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation; the first was last October at East Tennessee State University. Here's a short video about the latest workshop, produced by UK journalism professor Buck Ryan:

The R-CAR program was started with a gift to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues from Daniel Gilbert, a Wall Street Journal energy reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for the Bristol Herald Courier in 2010 with his reporting on state and energy-company mismanagement of pooled natural-gas royalties in Southwest Virginia. He donated his $10,000 prize from another contest, the Scripps Howard Awards, to the Institute's endowment to create a fund that sends journalists to IRE's six-day CAR boot camp, at which he learned the skills that enabled him to do the series. The Scripps Howard Foundation matched his gift, and the state of Kentucky matched both, creating a $40,000 fund that generates enough earnings to sponsor two journalists each year. (Read more)

Kate Martin of the Skagit Valley Herald in Mt. Vernon, Wash., was the inaugural boot-camp fellow. Thanks to the boot camp, she says, "I am no longer at the mercy of my sources to look up a figure or fact for me. I can have them send me the source file and work with it on my own." IRE's next boot camp will be held in Columbia, Mo., Aug. 5-10. Applications for the R-CAR fellowships to the boot camps should be submitted to IRE by June 22. To download the application, click here.

The numbers tell the stories: Rural trauma is more likely fatal, and rural health has chronic problems

Here are stories that can be told in almost any state, just with different data: Georgia Rural Health Association Executive Director Matt Caseman writes that you are more likely to die if you suffer a traumatic injury in rural Georgia than if it's in a metropolitan area. He says 67 of Georgia's 159 counties do not have a surgeon, and 115 do not have a neurologist.

"More than 1 million Georgians live at least 50 miles from a Level 1 trauma center — the kind that handles the most serious cases. That distance makes it virtually impossible to get them to such a facility within the 'golden hour' — the period after a major trauma accident when emergency responders have the greatest chance to save a life," Caseman writes for Georgia's Saporta Report. "In metro Atlanta, there’s one fatality in every 339 accidents. In rural Georgia, it’s one fatality in every 74 accidents."

More broadly, Caseman also notes that 65 Georgia counties don't have a pediatrician, 68 don't have a gynecologist, and rural Georgians are more likely to be uninsured or under-insured and suffer from heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. He explains that rural populations are older, so they have greater health care needs, and rural Georgians are more likely self-employed, so they pay more for health insurance and don't go to the doctor so often. And more rural Georgians are on Medicaid.

Caseman has counterparts in every state, and they are members of the National Rural Health Association. All are good sources of information about rural health; so is the federal Office of Rural Health Policy.

Healthy foods are not necessarily more expensive than unhealthy ones, USDA study explains

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a report stating that healthier foods aren't necessarily more expensive than unhealthy foods. The costs per calorie of fruits, vegetables and dairy products is higher than those of healthier foods, but when figured by weight or average portion size, healthier foods cost about the same as foods high in sodium, added sugars or fat, according to the report.

Economic Research Service researchers categorized more than 4,000 foods into one of the USDA food groups, mixed dishes or "less healthy" food. Less healthy foods included canned foods, fruit-flavored yogurt and soda. "We found that the price measure used has a large effect on which foods are more expensive," the researchers wrote. For a report from Lisa Keefe of Meatingplace, click here.

Despite industry ads to the contrary, W.Va. coal employment has grown since Obama was elected

Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette writes in his Coal Tattoo blog that a policy center funded by foundations and labor unions is trying to set the record straight about coal and President Obama's coal record in that state, partly in response to industry efforts to blame the president for loss of coal jobs.  (Gazette photo: FACES of Coal billboard) 

The West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy's Ted Boettner notes, "While the Obama administration and the EPA may be taking a harder look at mountaintop-removal mining permits, a quick look at coal-mining employment in West Virginia reveals that since Obama took office in the winter of 2009 coal mining employment has grown by over 1,500 jobs or by 7.4 percent. If we measure from the end of the national recession in June 2009 (or the second quarter of 2009) to the third quarter of 2011 (the latest available data), employment in the coal mining industry has grown by 3,100. For comparison, total employment in West Virginia has only grown by 2.9 percent over this period." (Read more, with further links.)

Boettner writes that Obama may have little to do with the upswing. That has more to do with the price of coal, a steady decline in productivity and market volatility. But, he adds, any downward change in coal employment numbers in 2012 won't be then Obama's fault, either.