Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pulitzer Prize board chair wants more editorial entries, especially from smaller newspapers

The chair of the Pulitzer Prize board wants more entries in the editorial-writing competition, and that includes small news organizations.

"You can zero in on important community issues, drawing on your local expertise and insight to produce persuasive editorials," Paul Tash writes, citing the standard for the $5,000 prize: "clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction."

That can be accomplished at a newspaper of 2,000 circulation or 200,000, and there have been many examples, from the Golden Quill contest of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors to the Pulitzers themselves. The 2009 prize went to Mark Mahoney, left, of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., circulation 35,000, for his editorials showing the danger of secrecy in local government. For more on Mahoney, click here.

Only 54 people put in for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing. No Pulitzer was given for editorial writing in 2012 and 2008, showing that major newspapers often fall short of the standard. Bernard Stein of the weekly Riverdale Press of New York City won in 1998, and Albert Scardino of the weekly Georgia Gazette won in 1984. Roger Linscott of The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass., and Paul Greenberg of the Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial won in 1972 and 1969, respectively, for editorials on various subjects, showing that the winner does not have to mount an editorial crusade or work for a large newspaper.

No item about rural editors winning Pulitzers would be complete without mention of Hazel Brannon Smith, who won in 1964 but lost her newspaper "for steadfast adherence to her editorial duty in the face of great pressure and opposition" to her support of civil rights in Mississippi; Buford Boone of the Tuscaloosa News, who won in 1957 for "fearless and reasoned editorials in a community inflamed by a segregation issue," and Hodding Carter Sr. of the Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville, Miss., who won in 1946 for editorials about racial, religious and economic intolerance.

The deadline to enter 2013 editorials for the 2014 prize is Jan. 25. More information is here.

Political writer spotlights GOP congressman who knows how to channel, cool Tea Party fervor

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

We live in a country where politics seems more polarized than ever, sometimes on a rural-urban divide, and the most divisive players on the left and right get most of the news-media attention. But there are plenty of Republicans and Democrats who pass up the chances to throw rhetorical red meat to their political bases, and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, who represents Oklahoma's strongly Republican and relatively rural Fourth Congressional District, is one. That is made clear in a story in The New York Times by John Harwood, who accompanied Cole in the district during the August recess.

Rep. Tom Cole, in his district
Harwood's story is headlined "A Different Way for Republicans to Handle Tea Party Seal," which is certainly a timely topic, but the same lessons apply to Democrats and their urban, liberal bases. The easy-talking, matter-of-fact Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, Harwood's hometown, is in some ways of mirror image to Cole, left, who comes across in Harwood's piece as a calming influence in a political system that is lurching from crisis to crisis.

Harwood writes that the energy in the Tea Party often makes it harder for Republicans to govern and to win general elections. "Some Republican politicians display an ability to absorb the heat and reflect it back in more politically promising directions," he reports. "That’s why 2016 presidential hopefuls and House leaders could learn from recent town meetings" held by Cole, who "challenged unhappy constituents on tactics, tone and spirit."

Three elements in Cole's approach stood out to Harwood: Realism, about the impracticality of shutting down the government to thwart health reform, and the smallness of foreign aid in the federal budget, for example; respect for liberal Democrats, in the face of constituents who consider their elections illegitimate; and optimism about the future of the nation:  “I’m not one of these people who thinks the country is going to hell in a handbasket.” (Read more)

Friday, September 20, 2013

House votes to cut food stamps; Farm Bill in doubt

"The House of Representatives finally passed a bill to fund nutrition programs as part of a farm bill on Thursday through a bill that revolved around cutting $39 billion over 10 years," Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "In a narrow, 217-210 vote, House Republicans were able to pass the bill without a single Democratic vote. Fifteen Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill. It tightens eligibility requirements and would reduce enrollment of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [known by its old name, food stamps] by 3.8 million people. The bill tightens rules on how states can enroll people for the program, as well as add tighter requirements, particularly for able-bodied people. The bill takes away the ability of states to receive waivers from those work requirements when unemployment levels are high."

Frank Lucas
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) "said food aid such as SNAP is meant to provide support, but not keep people in the program. Lucas also acknowledged the SNAP bill put him in a unique position as a chairman trying to complete a Farm Bill," Clayton writes. "For people in agriculture, the narrow victory for House Republicans now at least ensures the House and Senate will move to conference negotiations over a new five-year farm bill." Lucas said, "I will admit to you this has been an unusual process, but it remains my goal to get a five-year farm bill enacted by doing everything possible to make sure that happens this year. This is a step towards that goal." The Senate bill cuts less than $4 billion from SNAP over 10 years. (Read more)

In an editorial the Los Angeles Times writes: "While it may motivate some idle adults to get to work, it would also punish those who simply can't find jobs at a time when there are three applicants for every opening."  SNAP "helps buy food for those who earn up to 30 percent more than the federal poverty level (which is $11,490 for a single adult). The amount is modest — an average of $5.10 per day for a single adult — and it's reduced as the beneficiary's income grows."

"The program has skyrocketed in cost, however, because so many people are on it: about 47 million, or 1 in 7 Americans," the editorial notes. "The fastest-growing group may be able-bodied adults without dependents, which increased from 1.7 million in 2007 to 4.5 million in 2011. That happened in part because of the surge in unemployment, particularly among younger adults, and in part because the government waived the requirement that such recipients lose their benefits after three months unless they work at least 20 hours a week or attend a training program. The House proposal would reinstate that cutoff, on the dubious theory that the availability of a few dollars in food aid per day is enough to persuade people not to work." (Read more)

The outlook for a Farm Bill is anything but clear, David Rogers reports for Politico: "What’s most remarkable are the almost polar-opposite visions of what lies ahead for the farm bill at this stage.
On one side, the new conventional wisdom is that Thursday’s food stamp vote dashed any chance of getting to a bill this year. On the other, veteran agriculture lobbyists take heart that a conference will at last begin — after all the frustration of the past two years." (Read more)

EPA issues rule requiring new coal plants to capture, store CO2; critics say it will destroy industry

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Friday requiring new coal-fired power plants to limits carbon-dioxide emissions to levels that are impossible with current technology. The rule, which would take about a year to finalize, would effectively require carbon to be captured and stored. A court challenge is likely. (Wikipedia photo: Big Bend Coal Power Station in Apollo Beach, Fla.)

EPA called the rule the "first uniform national limits on the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be allowed to emit," Jean Chemnick reports for Environment and Energy News. "The proposed standards are in line with investments in clean-energy technologies that are already being made in the power sector." EPA is expected to issue rules governing existing plants.

"Last year, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that it was unlikely the technology would become cost-competitive anytime soon," Brad Plumer writes for The Washington Post. "Power plants that can capture and store their carbon are initially expected to cost about 75 percent more than regular coal plants."

"The coal industry says the CCS mandate would effectively end new coal-fired electric generation in the U.S.," Chemnick writes. American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity President and CEO Mike Duncan told Chemnick, "The EPA's proposal confirms the administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to meaningful, long-term energy policy. Despite their talk about an 'all of the above' approach to energy, the EPA is banning the construction of modern coal plants, resulting in fewer fuel choices in the market. Fewer energy choices could cause American consumers to pay the ultimate price of higher energy bills." (Read more)

"In theory, this could mean a moratorium on all new coal plants for decades to come," Plumer writes. "In practice, though, the rule may not change much. The power industry has been building very few coal plants in recent years anyway, in part because cheap natural gas has made them uneconomical. . . . (Read  more)

Political consultant from rural town says secession movement is a rural-vs.-urban debate

"When I hear the word 'secession,' I tend to think of the Confederacy. But today, a new secession movement is taking root, and it is not blue vs. gray but rather rural against urban," writes Matt Barron, a political consultant and rural strategist from Chesterfield, Mass., a town of 1,222. "Across the nation from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Maryland panhandle to northern Colorado and northern California there is growing secessionist movement in rural areas that feel a deep geographic, cultural and political disconnection from their states’ increasingly urban power centers."

"These new rural rebels, inspired by what they say are a litany of grievances over issues such as gun rights, land use and environmental regulations, are pushing to carve out new states and political jurisdictions. But they face long odds and high hurdles to realize their goals," Barron notes. "Although the federal Constitution allows a region to break away with the approval from both a state legislature and Congress, the last time this occurred was back in 1863 when West Virginia gained statehood by jettisoning Virginia."

But even if the attempts at succession fail, they could have a major impact in future elections, Barron writes. In Colorado, unhappy voters already got rid of two Democratic senators who supported new gun controls, with both senators losing recall elections. "Talk has now turned to gunning for the defeat of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper next year. Hickenlooper is already in hot water with many rural voters in the Centennial State for signing a bill in June that will double the renewable energy requirements for rural electric co-ops, a move that opponents say will drive up utility costs for consumers and irrigation costs for farmers."

And in Maryland, if Gov. Martin O’Malley "goes ahead with plans to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, his rural constituents could make his life miserable in the cornfields of Iowa (the nation’s 14th most rural state) and the woods of New Hampshire (11th most), both early primary states." (Read more)

Woody Guthrie's home town finally embraces him, will rebuild his boyhood home

Woody Guthrie's Oklahoma hometown has forgiven him for what some thought were communist ideas, and the town wants to honor the late singer famous for his songwriting, singing and progressive politics by rebuilding his boyhood home that was town down in the 1970s, Justin Juozapavicius reports for The Associated Press. "Tensions persisted for more than a generation, but attitudes about Guthrie have slowly softened. Now developers working with the blessing of Guthrie’s relatives have announced plans to rebuild his 1860s-era boyhood home in Okemah, a time-worn town of 3,300 people desperately seeking tourism dollars." (AP photo by Sue Ogrocki)

"Best known for the song 'This Land is Your Land,' Guthrie came of age during the Great Depression and later embraced left-wing politics, including for a time some tenets of communism. By weaving social issues into his music, he re-imagined folk songs as platforms for protest, starting a creative tradition carried on by scores of other top artists," Juozapavicius writes. "In hundreds of folk songs and ballads, Guthrie’s lyrics celebrated American workers, lamented the woes of the poor and advocated for civil rights. Although revered as one of the best songwriters in American history, he was rarely acknowledged, let alone honored, by his home state, even for decades after his death in 1967." But many in Oklahoma are now celebrating Guthrie, with an annual music festival in Okemah that draws thousands, and a 12,000-square-foot museum in Tulsa that showcases his life’s work.

"The estimated $500,000 rebuild of Guthrie’s childhood home will use original planks salvaged from the run-down property, called London House, which was purchased by prominent local businessman Earl Walker in the early 1960s," Juozapavicius writes. "Walker saved the lumber for the day when his neighbors would recognize Guthrie’s importance to the town and the country. The bundle of preserved wood eventually ended up at the Okfuskee County History Center. Today, all that remains of London House are a few blocks of the home’s sandstone foundation — mostly obscured by knee-high weeds. A faded sign on the lot warns visitors against stealing the stones. London House is to be rebuilt on the same lot, and project organizers want to come as close as possible to making it look like it did when Guthrie lived there. Organizers hope to raise money for the project through donations and a benefit concert in Tulsa. Construction is scheduled for November through May." (Read more)

Is the person standing ahead of you in line at McDonald's or Wal-Mart carrying a gun?

How do major corporations deal with gun-toting customers who say it's their right to carry weapons? Starbucks, a fundamentally urban chain, recently reversed itself and said guns are no longer welcome. But most national companies, such as Wal-Mart and McDonald's, two of the biggest businesses in rural America, defer to local, state and federal laws, Julie Jargon and Paul Ziobro report for The Wall Street Journal. (Photo from The Truth About Guns: Packing in an Indianapolis Wal-Mart)

McDonald's said: “We recognize that there is a lot of emotion and passion surrounding the issue of firearms and open carry weapons laws. While we respect the differing views of all our customers, McDonald’s company-owned restaurants follow local, state and federal laws as it relates to open carry weapons in our restaurants. For franchisee-owned restaurants, operational decisions regarding open carry weapon laws are made by the independent franchisee. That said, as with all aspects of operating a McDonald’s restaurant, we expect our franchisees and their crew to follow local, state and federal laws.”

Wal-Mart also follows local laws to determine whether a customer can bring a firearm into a store, the Journal writes. But if a customer or employee feels uncomfortable by the presence of a weapon, how does Wal-Mart deal with situation? That answer is left up to the individual stores, where a manager may ask the customer to remove the firearm from the store. A spokesman said that the retailer isn’t thinking about changing that policy.

Other national businesses, such as Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Target, and Neiman-Marcus also defer to local, state and federal laws, the Journal reports. Texas Roadhouse allows guns, but if someone complains, they will ask the person to put the weapon in their vehicle. Starbucks, Chuck E. Cheese, and Costco have asked customers, excluding law enforcement officials, to not bring guns in their stores, while the Bank of Oklahoma doesn't have a policy on carrying weapons. (Read more)

Dentists say too much soda in Appalachia is akin to meth, leading to rotten teeth

Some dentists are comparing the widespread drinking of soda in Appalachia as having the same harming affect on teeth as using meth, New York NOW reports. "Public health advocates say soft drinks are driving the region's alarmingly high incidence of eroded brown teeth — a phenomenon dubbed 'Mountain Dew mouth,' after the region's favorite drink. They want to tackle the problem with policies, including restricting soda purchases with food stamps."
Diane Sawyer dubbed the term Mountain Dew Mouth in 2009 during an ABC documentary entitled “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains." The issue has been reported on this blog several times. (New York NOW photo)

"The beverage industry has repeatedly challenged claims that its products are destroying teeth. But dentists beg to differ.," New York NOW writes. "Dentists have also found that the effects of soda on teeth are strikingly similar to the effects of methamphetamine or crack on teeth. Drinking more than a soda a day raises the risk that acids found in many soft and energy drinks will eat away at your tooth enamel and its pearly white color."

Dana Singer, a research analyst at the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg, W.Va., told New York NOW that about 26 percent of preschoolers in Appalachia have tooth decay and 15 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds have had a tooth extracted because of decay or erosion. About 67 percent of West Virginians age 65 or older have lost six or more teeth owing to tooth decay or gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Singer says one of the best opportunities to curb the problem is targeting programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows recipients to buy soda," New York NOW writes. "According to a 2012 study by Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, the federal government is spending $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion on soda purchases through SNAP. Under current guidelines, any kind of soda of any size can be purchased with a SNAP card — even Mountain Dew, which has 170 calories in a single 12-ounce can." (Read more)

Video game 'Hillbilly Warfare' turns to hillbillies to save the U.S. from foreign threat

Hillbillies are all over television acting like idiots and fools, so it only makes sense that they would turn up in video games, where the hillbillies not only save the world, but find plenty of time for cow tipping. The game, "Hillbilly Warfare," was released on Sept. 5 by Richiekane Games LLC.

Here's a description of the game: "When threats against America reach an all time high leaving all branches of the military over-tasked, the United States government is forced to recruit a clan of hillbillies to conduct a series of black ops assignments. But these aren't your everyday, garden variety rednecks, they have experience in war. Whether it's an argument over the neighbor's trailer being parked too close to theirs or a custody dispute after the hog from down the road breaks into the barn and knocks up their prize-winning swine, these are some battle hardened hillbillies. With their huge cache of hillbilly grade weaponry and unparalleled wits they are more than prepared to carry out their duty to protect their country."

"Surprised at the enormous success of Operation Moonshine, the government begins recruiting other clans to join the fight. Had they attended more hillbilly family reunions or spent any time in a trailer park they would have known better. When you put too many hillbillies together like that tempers will flare. Some clans abandon their missions and declare war on others. In all the chaos it's hard to know the real enemy from those who are supposed to be helping you. You have a choice. Do you continue battling rival clans to protect your family's honor? Or do you put all that petty squabbling aside, load up the shotguns, pack up the pickup, and take this fight to the enemy? The safety of your fellow Americans is in your hands. Good luck, soldier." (Read more)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New FCC rule aims at problem of dropped phone calls in rural areas

"The Federal Communications Commission issued a rulemaking to ensure that all residents in rural areas receive their phone calls," Bryce Baschuk reports for Bloomberg BNA. "The order requires telephone carriers to retain information about the path a call has taken and other details in order to ascertain the rate of call completion, an FCC spokesman confirmed. The order also prohibits carriers from playing an audible ringing sound to callers even when the call is not actually going through."

An FCC spokesman told Baschuk that "the call data requirements will help the FCC enforce violations of its current call-completion rules. The FCC also issued a further notice of proposed rulemaking to consider possible next steps after the commission receives the call data, among other issues." Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said in a statement that the order will "enhance the FCC's ability to investigate and crack down on this problem while also taking immediate steps that will improve the performance of long-distance calls to rural America." She said, "It is shocking that in this day and age, long-distance calls to rural Americans all too often are not being completed. This is a serious and unacceptable situation for people living in rural America." (Read more)

For more background on the issue, click here.

Music reality show will follow four aspiring Appalachian singers to Nashville

A new reality show will follow four aspiring Appalachian singers as they try to make it big in the Music City. "Chasing Nashville" will premiere in October on Lifetime. Many reality shows emphasize negative aspects of rural America, but the brains behind this series claim it will be a realistic portrayal of Appalachia, Chuck Dauphin reports for Billboard magazine. Rob Sharenow, executive vice president and general manager of Lifetime, told Dauphin, "Our show tracks the actual reality of a group of amazingly talented young singers who want to be country music's stars of tomorrow. It will dive deep into their lives backstage and at home as they try to achieve what countless young Appalachian singers have tried before." Nine episodes have already been ordered by the network. (Calhoun Chronicle photo: Autumn Blair at the Calhoun County Wood Festival in West Virginia)

The stars of the show are: Autumn Blair, a coal miner's daughter related to Loretta Lynn; Helena Hunt of North Carolina, who also plays the banjo; Lauren Marie Presley, originally from Red Water, Tex., backed by a single mother; and Savannah Little of Pikeville, Ky., whose mother "manages every aspect of her career and spares no expense to ensure that she shines," Billboard reports. The show also features Kentucky-based singers Julia Knight of Lexington, Celeste Turner of Prestonsburg and Tyra Short of Pine Top. (Read more)

Women working in California strawberry fields treated with methyl bromide have smaller babies

"Women in Northern California farm towns gave birth to smaller babies if they lived within three miles of strawberry fields and other crops treated with the pesticide methyl bromide, according to researchers from the University of California-Berkeley," Lindsey Konkel reports for Environmental Health News. The study, which looked at 442 women, mostly Latinas from Mexico, living in the Salinas Valley in 1999 and 2000, found that the average birth rate among these women was four ounces less than births in areas where the pesticide was not used. Only four percent of the babies were born at what is considered a low-birth weight, less than 5.5 pounds, which has led researchers to say that the study is inconclusive.(Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health photo)

Kim Harley, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at Berkeley, told Konkel that while the clinical significance of the findings remains unclear, “for a baby on the low end of normal birth weight, 4 ounces could make a big difference.” Harley "also noted that while this group of agricultural workers, and Mexican immigrants in general, tend to have healthy birth weight babies, 'across the board, we saw a shift toward slightly lighter babies.' There’s been very little research on residential exposure to methyl bromide. Our study is the first to look at methyl bromide and birth outcomes.” Methyl bromide use "has been declining over the past decade under an international treaty that phases out chemicals that deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer," Konkel writes. But strawberries "are exempt under the ban because they are deemed 'critical uses.'" (Read more)

States rated for health-care access, affordability and treatment; prevention, healthy lives, hospital use

"If the nation’s worst state health systems performed as well as the best, nearly 86,000 fewer people would die prematurely each year," with most of those unnecessary deaths occurring in rural Southern states, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that promotes improved health care for vulnerable and underserved populations, Niraj Chokshi reports for The Washington Post. "Not only would thousands of premature deaths be prevented, the report found, but if states provided vulnerable populations with the same quality of health care their more-advantaged residents receive, some 33,000 more infants would live to see their first birthday."  

The report was based on access and affordability of health care, prevention and treatment, avoidable hospitalizations, and healthy lives, Chokshi writes. Mississippi ranked last, finishing near the bottom in every category. Alabama, which was ranked 48th, and Louisiana and Oklahoma, which tied for 49th, also finished near the bottom in every category. Arkansas was 47th, Kentucky 46th, Georgia 45th, Missouri 44th, Florida 43rd, Nevada and West Virginia tied for 41st and Tennessee was 40th. Hawaii is at the top of the list, followed by Wisconsin, Vermont, Minnesota and Massachusetts. (Read more) (Commonwealth Fund graphic)

Poverty rate in rural areas rose while declining slightly in metropolitan areas last year

UPDATE, Sept. 20: In rural areas, 26.2 percent of children live in poverty, according to the Carsey Institute. The national child poverty rate was 22.6 percent in 2012, with 16.4 million children living in poverty. The biggest increase was in New Hampshire, where the rate rose from 12 percent to 15.6 percent, and in Mississippi, where the rate rose from 31.8 percent to 34.7 percent. To read the full report click here.

The poverty rate outside metropolitan areas rose last year while the metro rate declined slightly. It was 17.7 percent in 2012, up from 17 percent in 2011, the Housing Assistance Council reports in the Daily Yonder. The overall poverty rate was statistically unchanged at 15 percent. (Council chart)
"Overall, 8.5 million people outside metropolitan areas had incomes below the poverty line in 2012, a statistically significant increase of more than 400,000 persons from the 2011 level," the article says. (Read more) For the council's full report, click here.

The 2010 census recognized 429 counties as being persistently poor -- counties with poverty rates of 20 percent or more in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Most of those counties are rural, and 86 percent are entirely rural. For a list of persistently poor counties click here.

The council says Mississippi had the highest rural and small-town poverty rate in 2010, at 24.6 percent. Second was Louisiana, at 21.3 percent, followed by Kentucky, 21.1 percent; South Carolina and New Mexico, 20.9 percent; Georgia, 20.8 percent; Arkansas, 19.6 percent; Alabama, 19.5 percent; North Carolina, 19.1 percent; and West Virginia, 19 percent. Texas had the largest number of rural or small town residents living in poverty, at 728,128. North Carolina had 538,247, Georgia 468,900, California 465,930, Kentucky 438,129, Mississippi 435,220, Ohio 375,127, Tennessee 356,661, Missouri 325,513 and Alabama, 306,684. (Read more

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Evolution disbelievers and Texas educators battle over proposed high-school biology textbooks

"Evolution proponents and critics clashed Tuesday over proposed Texas high-school biology books that point to Charles Darwin’s theory as the only logical explanation for the origin of humans and other life forms on Earth," Terrence Stutz reports for the Dallas Morning News. "The arguments came during a public hearing on 429 science, math and technology textbooks and e-books that will be used in Texas public schools beginning in fall 2014. That includes 15 biology books. But most of the debate during the 3½-hour textbook hearing centered on evolution coverage in high school biology books and whether students should be encouraged to question Darwin’s basic principles." (Associated Press photo by Eric Gay: Evolution supporters outside the Texas State Board of Education)

Southern Methodist University anthropology professor Ronald Wetherington was one of the 28 educators and experts who reviewed the biology books, Stutz writes. "He said social conservatives who were on the textbook reviewer teams made 'false claims' about the books to try to force publishers to water down evolution coverage." But Ide Trotter, a retired business dean of Dallas Baptist University, who also reviewed the books, criticized them for not including recent "evidence" that he said undermines the theory of evolution. Trotter said at the meeting: “In these books, the student is told that every scientific test supports the theory of evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth."

State Board of Education members "are scheduled to adopt new textbooks and digital books in November. School districts are not required to buy the adopted books. But most do because they cover most of the state’s required curriculum — and students are tested on those required skills and knowledge," Stutz writes. "As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas has a strong influence on books marketed in other states." (Read more)

Rural Americans are more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to lack health insurance

More rural Americans are without health insurance than their urban counterparts, and the rate of uninsured in rural areas is growing rapidly, Tim Marema and Bill Bishop report for the Daily Yonder. In 2011, 18.7 of people under 65 outside metropolitan areas lacked health insurance, while 17.2 percent of metro residents those ages lacked it. (It should be noted that many rural Americans live in metro areas because more than 25 percent of their county's workforce commutes to a metro core county.)

From 2007 to 2011, the number of uninsured people in the U.S. rose by 873,000. "Non-metro counties accounted for 442,000, or just over half of the growth in uninsured residents. That’s more than three times the number of uninsured we would expect to see if the increase was occurring evenly across metro and non-metro areas," the writers note. In non-metropolitan areas, the share of the under-65 population rose 1.2 percentage points from 2007 to 2011. "The percentage increase in metropolitan counties over the same period was a barely perceptible 0.05 percentage points."

One reason for the difference in non-metro areas could be unemployment, the Yonder ventures. "Most U.S. workers get insurance through their employer, according to a U.S. Census study. Since 2007 the number of jobs in non-metro counties has dropped by 646,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics." (Read more) (Yonder map: In darker counties, a higher percentage of the population does not have health insurance. Metropolitan counties are in blue. To view an interactive map, with data for each county, click here; the figures for small counties are estimates, with margins of error.)

Federal judge rules EPA can limit runoff from farms in Chesapeake Bay watershed

Watershed of the Chesapeake Bay
A federal judge will allow the Environmental Protection Agency "to go ahead with its plan to limit pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, delivering a setback to the American Farm Bureau Federation and allied agricultural groups that claimed EPA overstepped its authority," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "EPA’s plan would prescribe total maximum daily loads of runoff of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment into the bay."

In late August, the Maryland Department of Agriculture withdrew "its request to make immediate changes to rules governing where farmers may use chicken manure to fertilize their crops, after chicken growers warned it could cripple the state's lucrative poultry industry if imposed now," Timothy Wheeler reported for The Baltimore Sun. "According to researchers, more than 80 percent of the fields sampled on the Lower Eastern Shore and nearly 50 percent statewide are saturated with phosphorus, one of the plant nutrients in manure and a contributor to the algae blooms and dead zones plaguing the bay and its tributaries."

U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo ruled that EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act “to partner with the six states (New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia) in the bay watershed to cut the pollution that pours in from sewers and construction developments, and particularly chemical and biological waste from farms,” Agri-Pulse reports. "The challengers, she said, failed to meet the burden of proving EPA had overreached." She "concluded that EPA has authority to set TMDL allocations for upstream states in order to achieve downstream water quality standards, endorsing the agency’s 'holistic, watershed approach.' It is consistent with the law 'and practical in terms of attaining a full and fair contribution by all major source sectors and coordinated participation of all states in the watershed.'"

Agri-Pulse is subscription-only, but is available for a free trial by clicking here.

Modern Farmer aims for newer agriculturalists

A spread from the fall issue (click for larger version)
A new magazine is trying to appeal to new types of farmers. Modern Farmer, which published its first edition in April, "is trying to benefit from the first signs of growth in the total number of farms since World War II and the farm-to-table food trend that has fueled growth for farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture," Christine Haughney reports for The New York Times. For example, the magazine "offers advice on building a corn maze and articles on the effect of climate change on lettuce and oysters . . . It edges into the food-magazine sphere with luminous photography of vegetables, while articles report on straight agricultural topics."

The magazine, which has been sold in countries such as Britain, Germany and Australia, is attracting a wide variety of readers "who include an Amish farmer and vegetable supplier to Whole Foods, Brooklyn rooftop farmers harvesting kale and broccoli and myriad young farmers going back to the land," Haughney writes. Sean O’Brien, global director of footwear for the Original Muck Boot Company, told Haughney, “It’s really targeted almost a new consumer group for us. We sell a lot of boots to farmers and workers and outdoorsmen. You can look at a Modern Farmer as almost a hobby farmer. This a perfect vehicle to target that key consumer group.”

Founder and Editor-in-Chief Ann Marie Gardner, a former writer for the Times and Tatler magazine, "conceived the idea for a magazine in 2011 after she noticed that sources she interviewed for Monocle magazine seemed preoccupied by agricultural issues," Haughney writes. In spring 2012 she pitched the idea to investors, and by November had enough money to start a website and a print product. Traffic on the site "grew to 99,000 unique visitors in the United States in July, according to comScore. The first print issue sold 35,000 copies on newsstands and 13,000 by subscription." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tenn. publisher and press-group chief says papers need to write about Common Core Standards

The president's columns in state press-association newspapers and newsletters are usually "inside baseball," dealing mainly with subjects that interest editors and publishers, not their general readership. But in this month's column, Tennessee Press Association President Lynn J. Richardson, publisher of the Herald & Tribune in Jonesborough, a 4,200-circulation weekly, comes to the defense of the national Common Core Standards for mathematics, English and language arts, which have come under attack from some conservative groups.

A poll for the policy journal Education Next found that nearly two-thirds of respondents said they support the standards "at least to some extent, although there's been a significant uptick in the level of opposition to the standards over the past year," Andrew Ujifusa reports for Education Week.

Lynn J. Richardson
"The standards seem to have become controversial. They shouldn’t be," Richardson writes in The Tennessee Press. "Opponents say the federal government is imposing its will on the curriculum in the 45 states that have adopted the standards. But the Common Core isn’t a curriculum. It is a set of clearly defined goals designed to make students more ready to continue their education or find a job when they graduate. Using those goals as a road map, the local school system will still be in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding how to reach the academic destinations."

Richardson calls for more informed coverage of the issue: "As an industry, we need to educate ourselves thoroughly on the Common Core Standards so we, in turn, can help our readers understand," she writes. "More and more, I am hearing that our teachers are trained and ready, but parents are still very confused, and in many cases, apprehensive, about the process." (Read more)

When she began her term as president this summer, Richardson gave a fine speech, including a touching story about how a defining moment in her life, as a part-time reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in her native West Virginia, showed how newspapers can make a difference. A video of the speech is on YouTube, here, and a PDF is here. She also told the crowd, "I really like keeping my hand in the news side of things. To me, it’s a way to stay connected to the community in a personal way and it reminds me of when and why I decided to make newspapers my life’s work." The Herald and Tribune won this year's TPA general excellence award for weeklies with circulations of 5,000 and less.

Charts reveal opinions over time about gun control

One day after another shooting -- this one left 13 people dead in Washington D.C., including the shooter -- "Democrats and gun control activists are already pushing for another look at the nation’s gun laws," Aaron Blake reports for The Washington Post. But despite several shootings in recent years, the public still doesn't see guns and violence as one of the most important issues facing the U.S., with a Gallup poll from May finding that only 55 percent of respondents see gun violence as a high priority, ranking the issue 11th on the list, well behind the No. 1 choice, creating more jobs, which 86 percent said should be a top priority. Why is gun violence so low on the list? Using a series of charts, the Post takes a look at the public's thoughts on gun violence, and whether or not people feel the country needs stricter gun laws. (Gallup Organization graphic)
Public support for stricter gun controls dropped considerably from 1990 to 2012, just before the December, 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 dead. (Pew Research graphic)

While more people supported gun control directly after the Newtown shooting, the numbers changed considerably six months later, when people were asked if it was more important to protects the rights of gun owners or for there to be more gun control. (Pew graphic)
Polling also showed that more people saw the Newtown shooting as an isolated incident of a troubled individual, and that gun culture isn't the problem as much as mental health issues and more broader problems. (Post graphic)
"While polls showed overwhelming support for increased background checks (upwards of 90 percent) after Newtown, gun-rights advocates were far more vocal than gun-control supporters," Blake reports. "In fact, despite the tilt in public support toward background checks, anti-gun control messages were just as frequent as pro-gun control messages on Twitter until the very end of the Senate debate." (Read more) (Pew graphic)

76 community newspaper employees each get bequests of $10,000 from senator-publisher

Harry Byrd
Harry F. Byrd Jr., a U.S. senator from Virginia from 1965 through 1982, was a major force in the state's publishing industry, spending most of life heavily involved in his family's Virginia newspapers. Byrd, who died in June at the age of 98, showed his gratitude and love for the papers and the people who have also dedicated their lives to news by leaving $10,000 to each of the 76 employees who have been with the company for at least 10 years, Jim Romenesko reports on his blog.

Byrd left the money to 41 employees of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, 31 at the Winchester Star in Winchester, three at The Valley Banner in Elkton, and one at the Warren Sentinel. Byrd also gave $250,000 to the John Handley Regional Library in Winchester, $100,000 to The Salvation Army, the University of Virginia Manuscripts Library, the Christ Episcopal Church of Winchester, and the Virginia Historical Society, and $50,000 to the Henry and William Evans Home for Children, the Winchester-Frederick Historical Society, and The Masonic Home, a residential facility for adults. (Read more)

Group is formed to promote good aspects of rural life, build united voice on rural issues

In response to the mostly negative stereotypes sometimes applied to rural Americans, stereotypes further perpetuated by a seemingly never-ending slew of reality shows that depict rural residents as hillbillies and morons, the group 10,000 Friends of Rural America was created to highlight the positive aspects of rural life and to encourage rural Americans to have a united voice that can be heard across the country at a time when its population is the least rural ever. 

"Acting together, speaking in one voice, we can make rural America more visible and draw attention to its value," the group says on its website. "We can shine a light on the issues rural people and places face. We can motivate our country's leaders to give rural America a fair shake." Rural America consists of "the places that connect us and a diversity of people who work hard, pitch in and help out. Rural America is everyone's fresh air and clean water. And it is key to fueling our nation and feeding the world. Rural America has a role to play in building an economy where everyone does better, and that message isn't getting heard." Anyone interested in becoming a friend of rural America can click here.

More than half of Texas counties, all of them rural, don't have floodplain maps

More than half of Texas counties, all of them rural, don't have floodplain maps, Moss Buchele reports for State Impact. David Maidment, a hydrologist at the University of Texas, told Buchele, “It’s been done in all the populated areas where most of the people live. But about six percent of the population live in half the counties in Texas that have no floodplain mapping. I think that’s an issue of economic justice. Why should people who live in rural areas have no floodplain maps just because they live in rural areas?”

While Texas has been in a drought, there is fear that when the rain comes, many rural counties without floodplain maps will be unprepared, and many of them are in the wetter, eastern third of the state.

"Maidment advised the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a project to update floodplain maps nationwide. He says the project ran short of money, forcing the feds to pick and choose where to map," Buchele writes. While some think the state should partner with counties and local governments to create the maps, "Maidment is not hopeful that those funds will be forthcoming. He thinks that property owners could even try to pool their funds themselves, to finance mapping. As long as those maps don’t exist, he says, there will be a blind spot in flood planning in many rural parts of the state."

To read the story and/or listen to a radio interview with Maidment, click here. FEMA map from 2011 shows that they didn't finish mapping the entire state before ending the project:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Editors should be on the lookout for letter from Alabama inmate claiming to be from their area

The same letter keeps popping up in mostly small-town newspapers throughout the country. Each letter is identical to the others with one small alternation -- the author continually changes his birthplace to match the newspaper's readership. The letters, which caught the eye of Jim Romensko reader Lou Alexander, claim to be from an Alabama inmate who is searching for lost family members, or for anyone at all to contact him. Whether it's a scam, or just a lonely person looking for friends, editors should be on the lookout for the letter. A few examples of the letter can be read on Romensko's blog by clicking here.

Per-student funding of schools has dropped in many states since the Great Recession

About 33 percent of U.S. schools began the 2013-14 school year with less state funding than last year, and "states’ new budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago — often far less," Michael Leachman and Chris Mai report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The reduced levels reflect not only the lingering effects of the 2007-09 recession but also continued austerity in many states."

The center did a study of budget documents that found "At least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. Thirteen of these states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent. At least 15 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than they provided a year ago. This is despite the fact that most states are experiencing modest increases in tax revenues. Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, New Mexico is increasing school funding by $72 per pupil this year. But that is too small to offset the state’s $946 per-pupil cut over the previous five years." About 44 percent of education funding comes from state funds, the center reports.

"Cuts at the state level mean that local school districts have to either scale back the educational services they provide, raise more local tax revenue to cover the gap, or both," the report states. "Given the still-weak state of many of the nation’s real estate markets, many school districts struggle to raise more money from the property tax without raising rates. Federal employment data show that school districts began reducing the overall number of teachers and other employees in July 2008, when the first round of budget cuts began taking effect. As of August 2013, local school districts had cut a total of 324,000 jobs since 2008." (Read more)

Ocean acidification having same impact on oceans that climate change is having on land

About 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emitted through burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, gets absorbed by the seas, equaling about 20 trillion pounds each year, Craig Welch reports for The Seattle Times.  "All that CO2 is changing the chemistry of the ocean faster than at any time in human history. Now the phenomenon known as ocean acidification — the lesser-known twin of climate change — is helping push the seas toward a great unraveling that threatens to scramble marine life on a scale almost too big to fathom, and far faster than first expected." (Top photo shows a healthy coral reef; below is an unhealthy reef affected by excess carbon dioxide)

"When CO2 mixes with water it takes on a corrosive power that erodes some animals’ shells or skeletons. It lowers the pH, making oceans more acidic and sour, and robs the water of ingredients animals use to grow shells in the first place," Welch writes. The result of "changing sea chemistry already has killed billions of oysters along the Washington coast and at a hatchery that draws water from Hood Canal. It’s helping destroy mussels on some Northwest shores. It is a suspect in the softening of clam shells and in the death of baby scallops. It is dissolving a tiny plankton species eaten by many ocean creatures, from auklets and puffins to fish and whale."

"Ocean acidification also can bedevil fish and the animals that eat them, including sharks, whales, seabirds and, of course, bigger fish. Shifting sea chemistry can cripple the reefs where fish live, rewire fish brains and attack what fish eat," Welch writes. "Those changes pose risks for our food, too. Globally, overfishing remains a scourge. But souring seas and ocean warming are expected to reduce even more of the plants and animals we depend on for food and income. The changes will increase ocean pests, such as jellyfish, and make the system more vulnerable to disasters and disease. The transformation will be well under way by the time today’s preschoolers reach middle age."

Stephen Palumbi, a professor of evolutionary and marine biology at Stanford University, told Welch, There’s a train wreck coming and we are in a position to slow that down and make it not so bad. But if we don’t start now the wreck will be enormous.” But not much is being done about the problem. "Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000," Welch writes. (Read more)

Oil boom in South Texas destroying roads; state wants to return some to gravel

The booming Texas oil business is wreaking havoc on rural roads in the southern part of the state, and the state Department of Transportation is under fire for suggesting 83 miles of farm-to-market paved roads damaged by constant semi-truck traffic be returned to gravel instead of being repaired, Aman Batheja reports for The Texas Tribune. "Following a public outcry, the agency issued a 60-day moratorium on converting any roads. That has turned the end of October into a looming deadline for county officials hoping to find a way off the so-called gravel list. And as they consider options that include taking over the maintenance of the roads or soliciting donations from the energy sector, the officials say they are being punished for their region’s boom." (Tribune photo by Eddie Seal)

"The South Texas drilling boom has added billions of dollars to the state’s coffers; it has also badly damaged local infrastructure," Batheja writes. "Around the region, drivers must now navigate around and across yawning potholes, cracked asphalt and splintering shoulders. The department has struggled to maintain its farm-to-market roads, which were not designed to handle the weight of the thousands of heavy trucks that now regularly traverse rural communities." Judge Jim Huff of Live Oak County said at a public meeting, “We’re sending money up there, and we’re getting nothing back. That’s what the public perceives."

John Barton, deputy executive director of the TxDOT, "said the agency lacked the funds to maintain some of the roads as asphalt," Batheja writes. "Repaved roads that would typically last a decade are wearing away in three to four years. The road conditions and drilling-related traffic are contributing to a spike in accidents." Judge Francisco G. Ponce of Dimmit County said, “TxDOT’s priorities are not in the rural counties. I don’t know how they can sit here and say it’s safer to gravel a road than it is to fix a road.” (Read more)

Kentucky agriculture commissioner says he expects state farmers to have hemp crops next year

"Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said Thursday he will send a letter co-signed by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul informing the Department of Justice that Kentucky plans to move forward with the regulation and cultivation of hemp," reports Katie Brandenburg of the  Bowling Green Daily News. "He believes farmers in Kentucky will be able to grow hemp by next year. The cultivation cycle of hemp means that might happen by April." (Bloomberg Businesweek graphic)

Comer, like Paul a Republican, said at a meeting of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission: “We’re serious about it. We’re in a race with many other states now. When we began this race a year ago, we were one of the few participants in the race. Now, at least half the states are trying to do some type of legislation to be in the mix for the industrial hemp industry.” In April, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear allowed a hemp bill to become law without his signature.

"While hemp won’t replace major crops such as tobacco, Comer said he sees it as another tool for farmers, particularly on marginal land in eastern Kentucky," Brandenburg writes. " Hemp also has potential as a source of manufacturing jobs as it is processed, he said." Comer said, “We need to be serious about rural economic development in Kentucky, and I think that processing and manufacturing hemp is a viable option for our rural communities." (Read more)

Groups in rural Md., Colo., Calif. want to form own states; some Texans want their own country

Republican-led groups in rural areas in three states — Maryland, Colorado and California — say they want to form their own states, because they're not happy with their state governments, while a group of Texans want to form their own country. The list includes five western Maryland counties, nine counties in northeastern Colorado, counties on the California-Oregon border, and one Texas man who has a large following who think Texas should no longer be part of the U.S.

The five Maryland counties — Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll — "represent just 11 percent of Maryland’s population, but the majority of their registered voters are Republicans in a heavily Democratic state," The Associated Press reports. "Scott Strzelczyk, leader of the Western Maryland Initiative, says people are fed up with the liberal majority and want an 'amicable divorce.' He wants to live in a smaller state, with more 'personal liberty, less government intrusion, less federal entanglements.'" Strzelczyk told AP, “If you don’t belong in their party you’ll never have your views represented. If we have more states we can all go live in states that best represent us, and then we can get along.” Strzelczyk launched the initiative with a Facebook page in July, and it has drawn more than 2,200 likes. (Read more)

In Siskiyou County, at the northern end of California, the Board of Supervisors "voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution from a local grassroots organization to make a new start and form a State of Jefferson. Other nearby counties are considering similar actions," Jeff Barnard reports for AP. The county's per-capita income is well below the state average, and unemployment is at 11.5 percent. "State of Jefferson supporters hope people are angry enough this time around that the effort will break through. The boundaries are uncertain, depending on which counties want to join in, and could include a portion of southern Oregon if secession fever heats up." (Read more) (Barnard photo: A banner welcoming people to the State of Jefferson)

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"Colorado's secession drive is a manifestation of political tension that has been brewing for years as the state's metropolitan areas, concentrated along the Rocky Mountains' Front Range, rapidly grew while rural counties lost population—and political clout," Ana Campoy reports for The Wall Street Journal. "More than 85 percent of Colorado's population of 5.2 million is now urban, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and those city dwellers have helped Democrats gain control of the state House and Senate, which were dominated by Republicans for decades, as well as the governor's mansion." (Read more)

In Texas, one man has gotten 125,000 signatures for a petition to have Texas succeed from the U.S., Bud Kennedy writes for the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth. Micah Hurd, who quit the state guard, began his campaign last year. "He said he bases his views in part on his faith as a follower of Christian Reconstructionism and dominionism, a libertarian strain of Christianity. To Reconstructionists, liberty and human rights are Bible-based and the only righteous government is a theocracy under 'God’s law.'" Hurd told Kennedy, “Nowhere in God’s law does it say I must continue to be subject to a tyranny. We can remove ourselves from our fiscally irresponsible government.” (Read more)

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