Saturday, October 12, 2013

House votes narrowly to support Republicans' separation of food stamps from rest of Farm Bill

Democrats are a minority of the U.S. House, but they came close to prevailing today in an effort to "reassert the old agriculture and food aid alliance in upcoming talks with the Senate over a new Farm Bill," David Rogers reports for Politico.

"The 204-195 vote underscores the deep divide in the House over Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s strategy this past summer of stripping out and then rewriting the nutrition title of the five-year Farm Bill," Rogers writes. "Indeed, Saturday’s margin would have been smaller still but for the fact that the GOP leadership peeled back several Republicans who had initially supported the motion. As it was nine Republicans voted with the Democrats. At one stage in the electronic vote, the number was 12."

Rogers notes that while the House farm bill includes a food stamp authorization, it would expire in three years while the rest of the bill would expire in five. "By breaking up the old alliance, critics of the food stamp program hope to gain leverage in the future. The Democratic motion sought to instruct conferees to move toward the Senate and keep the two sets of issues linked." (Read more)

Meanwhile, the House appointed its members to the House-Senate conference committee, including Republican Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida, whose work-requirement amendment kept the bill from passing and prompted the separation of its agriculture and nutrition titles. "Democrats countered the Southerland appointment by placing Congressional Black Caucus head and food stamp advocate Rep. Marsha Fudge (D-Ohio) on the panel," Pete Kasperowicz and Erik Wasson of The Hill report.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Deadline to apply for annual National Press Foundation awards is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Tuesday at 5 p.m. is the deadline to apply for awards presented by the National Press Foundation. The awards, with links to more information about them, include:
  • The "Feddie" award, $5,000 for reporting on federal regulations and their local impact, done with originality, depth and an appreciation of economic issues at the federal and local levels.
  • The Clifford K. & James T. Berryman Award for Editorial Cartoons, for cartoonists on newspapers, websites, magazines and blogs, for printed or animated work that exhibits power to influence public opinion, plus good drawing and striking effect. The winner gets $2,500 and an engraved crystal vase.
  • The Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year award, $5,000 to an editor at any level in recognition of imagination, professional skill, ethics and an ability to motivate staff.
  • The Excellence in Online Journalism Award, $2,500 to a journalist or media organization for outstanding use of online technology producing quality journalism.
For a complete list of the NPF awards, click here.

Drug ring sprang from oil and gas boom in N.D.; leader found guilty of ordering hit on fellow dealer

Billy Owens
Too much money and too much free time can equal disaster in rural areas where shady characters are waiting to exploit any opportunities they can find. That's a problem in western North Dakota's Bakken Shale region, where a methamphetamine empire sprang up, with the drugs manufactured and sold across several Western states. Twelve people from North Dakota, Washington and Montana have since been indicted on drugs and weapon charges, and suspected ring leader Billy Owens is on trial for ordering a hit on fellow drug dealer Kenneth Moore.

Michael Cotter, the U.S. attorney for Montana, said those indicted as part of the drug ring, which began in April, 2012, "sought to exploit the Bakken region’s booming economy, but it was broken up by authorities working to curtail rising crime rates in the oil patch," The Associated Press reports. "Several people who were indicted face potential prison terms of 10 years to life if convicted. . . . At least six of the defendants were charged with possessing 50 grams or more of pure meth and 500 grams or more of a substance containing some amount of meth." (Read more)

Owens was found guilty today in Williams County. The Williston Herald is covering the trial, having reported on it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. and Friday.

U.S. lacks transportation infrastructure for newly developed oil and gas fields

"The North American shale boom has brought with it many benefits, including new jobs, cheaper electricity and the potential for energy independence," but the problem facing the growing business is finding enough transportation options to move the product to the market, Diane Cardwell reports for The New York Times. "With the glut of oil, pipelines are congested and railroads are scrambling to pick up the slack, raising concerns about hazards like the recent explosion that killed dozens in Quebec. Similarly, highways are underdeveloped for this kind of traffic, while oceangoing tankers are burdened with regulatory constraints and there is a barge shortage." (Associated Press photo by Paul Chiasson: Afetrmath of the July oil-train derailment in Quebec that killed 47)

Rail shipments of crude in the U.S. have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to nearly 234,000 last year, Cardwell notes. One way to carry the product is pipelines, but building new ones is expensive and unpopular among residents along the routes, and using existing fuel pipelines would mean adapting the system to reverse "the flow of some pipelines, building new routes, and changing which fuel goes where, a time-consuming and expensive process that can require government approval," Cardwell writes. "The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a pipeline trade group, says building the required infrastructure will take $251 billion over the next 25 years." But even then, there still won't be enough pipelines to carry all the product being produced. As a result, some oil producers "are burning the natural gas that is a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing for oil, or fracking," because it's cheaper than finding a place to put it and getting it there. (Read more)

Without Farm Bill, S.D. ranchers who lost estimated 180,000 cattle in blizzard won't get federal aid

Congress's inability to pass a new Farm Bill continues to hurt farmers and ranchers. South Dakota livestock owners who lost an estimated 180,000 cattle in last week's blizzard are not eligible for federal assistance, because the program that once protected livestock owners expired, and a new one that would provide assistance is stuck in limbo, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "That means South Dakota ranchers – and any other American livestock owners who suffer losses – are on their own." (Photo: Dead cattle in South Dakota)

About 30 inches of snow fell across the state, with some areas reporting as much as five feet, Alex Johnson reports for NBC News. The South Dakota Stock Growers Association estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent of all cattle, a $7 billion industry in the state, were killed. Some ranchers reported losing half or more of their herds. (Read more)

Livestock protection programs "expired in 2011 and weren’t reauthorized in the Farm Bill extension that year or in 2012," but they are part of the proposed farm bills that have passed the House and Senate, Marema writes. John K. Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, told the Yonder in an email: “For the past two years, thanks to the inaction of Congress, the authority for or the funding of the livestock indemnity program has expired. This is one more good reason why we need to pass the new farm bill rather than extend the old one. This is a national disgrace." (Read more)

Since decision to allow gays, some Boy Scouts lose sponsors or join Christian-based Trail Life

Has your community reacted to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay members to be admitted? It seems that some people are responding by joining the recently founded Trail Life USA, an organization similar to the Boy Scouts, with some major exceptions -- no gay members allowed, and only Christians can be leaders, Jeff Kunerth reports for the Orlando Sentinel. "And while Trail Life will ban openly gay boys, if a child shows same-sex attraction or 'gender confusion,' he will be counseled by the church ministry along with his parents." (Photo by

But those leaving the Boy Scouts for Trail Life are in the minority. Boy Scouts national commissioner Tico Perez told Kunerth that fewer than 1 percent of the organization's 2.6 million members have left since the policy was changed. And as of Sept. 22, only three churches have withdrawn sponsorship from the Central Florida Council of Boy Scouts. Bill Gosselin, director of operations, told Kunerth the May decision has actually increased membership, with the seven-county district having added 2,000 new families, and they expect to attract 6,500 by the end of October. (Read more)

The same can't be said in other states. In Kentucky, the Boy Scouts' Blue Grass Council, which consists of 209 chartered organizations in 55 counties in Eastern and Central Kentucky, announced that 20 organizations have dropped, or plan to drop, their Scouting units in response to the policy change, Ryan Quinn reports for The State Journal in Frankfort. "Civic and educational groups can become chartered organizations, but faith-based groups sponsor more than 70 percent of Scouting units nationwide." The State Journal is subscription-only, but can be viewed by clicking here.

Shutdown has millions of hunters, fishermen upset; states finding ways around closures

Fall is the big hunting season, and it's also a popular time to fish, and more than half of the 35 million Americans who hunt or fish have done so on the 609 million acres of federal land located mostly in the West, spending about $38.3 billion on travel and supplies, according to data from 2011 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. But the government shutdown has closed national parks, leaving people searching for a way to continue their favorite past times without illegally crossing barriers.

Some states have been finding creative ways to get around the shutdown and appease hunters and fishermen, Povich writes. Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin had federal barriers removed at boat launch access to the Mississippi, saying the state funds 18 percent of access to the river, giving them a say in how it's used. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, another Republican, is demanding that access to the 225 million acres of federal land that make up 60 percent of his state be open for hunters, fishermen and recreational users. He cites federal laws, including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, that say federal lands and waters are to be open and accessible without fees or permits. (Read more)

"Under pressure from governors, the Obama administration said Thursday it will allow some shuttered national parks to reopen — as long as states use their own money to pay for park operations," Matthew Daly reports for The Associated Press. Governors in Utah, Arizona, South Dakota, and Colorado have asked for permission to re-open their parks. Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead has said his office won't use state money to re-open parks. A spokesperson told the AP, "Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government." (Read more)

'Rural is cool' slogan promotes rural life on social media

A new hashtag is moving through social media, and it has nothing to do with celebrities, sports, or politics. It's a movement to promote the positive side of rural life using the motto "Rural is cool." The movement is in response to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's comments that he feared rural America is at risk of becoming less relevant, Jonah Arellano writes for the Rural Broadband Association. "It's a way for rural Americans to use their voices to shape the future of their communities and local industries. The purpose of the movement is to highlight the positive impacts and contributions of individuals, businesses and communities in rural areas." (Rural Community Building photo)

"The movement begins with one voice. The more voices that are added to the movement, the more the movement can grow," Arellano writes, saying people should use #ruraliscool to "share what's cool about rural communities on blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. All of these channels are great platforms to share stories and content about what makes rural communities wonderful places to work and live." (Read more)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Assn. of Health Care Journalists has information to help you cover the health insurance business

The Association of Health Care Journalists, a nonprofit membership organization devoted to improving health care reporting, will add "Insurance" as a core curriculum topic on its website to help journalists better understand the topic.

"Understanding health insurance in the United States has just gotten tougher," Len Bruzzese, executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, said in an email. "The implementation of health reform means reporters need an even firmer grasp on what's out there so they can assist the public."

The new section on the website will provide an organized collection of materials on the topic as well as useful daily advice from a lead editor who specializes in the topic. Joseph Burns, who has been covering health care since 1991, is AHCJ's topic leader for covering insurance. He and Pia Christensen, AHCJ's managing editor for online services, locate the recent information, edit submissions and make the site easy to search.

"The insurance industry is complex and in the midst of a landmark transformation as companies adjust to doing business under the Affordable Care Act and meet pressures to provide high quality care at lower costs," Christensen said. "Our resources will help journalists understand the insurance business, track important trends, find the untold stories and explain it all to their readers, viewers and listeners." For the AHCJ site, click here.

Some developers keep mineral rights in subdivisions in possible oil and gas exploration areas

Many homeowners who didn't read the fine print in their real-estate contract have been finding out the hard way that they don't own the mineral resources under their property, which means a prior owner has the rights to the resources. Michelle Conlin and Brian Grow report for Reuters that when the companies come calling to extract the resources, homeowners have little say in the matter, and that's a growing concern in areas where horizontal hydraulic fracturing has opened deep, dense shale deposits for natural-gas and oil development.

Texas-based D.R. Horton, the biggest U.S. homebuilder, often employs this practice, Conlin and Grow write. The company "has separated the mineral rights from tens of thousands of homes in states where shale plays are either well under way or possible, including North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Washington and California. In Florida alone, the builder has kept the mineral rights underneath more than 10,000 lots, a review of county property records shows."

North Carolina residents fought back, contacting state Attorney General Kevin Anderson, and D.R. Horton eventually agreed to return the rights to 700 homeowners, saying "it would suspend the practice of reserving the rights until the state legislature implemented a regulatory framework for fracking, which North Carolina is expected to allow in 2014," Conlin and Grow write.

Residents in Greeley, Colo., haven't been so lucky. When they found out that Mineral Resources planned to drill for resources it owned under their homes, they filed an appeal with the city; they lost 7-0. Two residents have since sold their homes, and two more have put their homes up for sale, one cutting the price by $50,000. Arlo Richardson, chief executive officer for Mineral Resources, told Grow, "We appreciate and recognize their concerns. But it doesn't change what the state of Colorado allows us to do."

Even if no one drills the land, there is still concern about its effect on homeowners, Conlin and Grow write. "Property-tax assessments don't take into account severed mineral rights. And 'lenders may not be willing to extend mortgage loans on property that is subject to intensive gas extraction activities,' according to a report last year by the North Carolina Department of Justice." (Read more)

Farm Bureau breaks deal on tying crop-insurance subsides to conservation; key Republican approves

While the government shutdown continues, the Farm Bill still waits to be resolved. And while Congress isn't focusing on the farm bill, there is plenty to report about it. Issues that could have major implications for the bill are the Supplemental Coverage Option for crop insurance and the American Farm Bureau Federation's reneging on a deal to require crop-insurance recipients to follow best conservation practices. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), praised Farm Bureau's move, signaling it will be a priority for Republicans once House Speaker John Boehner appoints members to a House-Senate conference committee that will iron out differences in the chambers' bills.

Last week the Farm Bureau said it opposed language in the Senate farm bill that ties conservation compliance to crop-insurance premium subsidies, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The "conservation compliance coalition" was created in May as a way for farm lobbies to fend off limits or bans on subsidies to people earning more than a certain amount. In return for dropping their fight for such limits, "environmental groups hoped to achieve conservation compliance on the more than 280 million acres covered by crop insurance in 2012—an option not available if the primary incentive-direct payments-are eliminated in any new farm bill." The limit "would reduce premium support on crop insurance by 15 percent for farmers with adjusted gross incomes over $750,000." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but is available for a free trial by clicking here.

UPDATE, Oct. 12: The House approved a resolution asking its conference committee members to support reducing crop-insurance subsidies to recipients with adjusted gross income of more than $750,000 a year.

On Wednesday, Lucas praised the Farm Bureau's decision, Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "The statement lays down a marker for Lucas that the battle over conservation compliance is important enough to highlight a position taken by a major farm group even though AFBF didn't issue a statement on its board's actions. Lucas calls the efforts to tie minimum conservation standards to crop insurance a 'misguided and redundant regulatory burden imposed on farmers and their property rights.'" (Read more)

The Supplemental Coverage Option was designed to let farmers buy lower-cost crop insurance based on county-wide losses, not those of a single farm, as protection against county-wide disasters such as drought, but "has evolved into more like insurance against shallow losses to the top end as well," David Rogers writes for Politico. "In the latest configuration, SCO’s premiums would be subsidized by the government at a 65 percent rate with only a 10 percent deductible and no payment limits," which would cost about $3.85 billion over the next 10 years under the House bill, according to the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.

"The single biggest factor in the FAPRI’s analysis is the 10 percent deductible allowed for farmers who enroll in both SCO and the new countercyclical, target-price program in the House bill," Rogers writes. "FAPRI’s numbers show that for corn, soybeans and wheat, farmers will gain more per acre from enrolling in SCO than they will get under the House’s price loss coverage or countercyclical program. The Senate bill also allows for a 10 percent deductible for SCO. But FAPRI’s economic model shows that many more farmers will accept for a higher 22 percent deductible for SCO in order to qualify for a fully-subsidized ARC program—the Senate’s answer to shallow losses." (Read more)

Documentary about Missouri newspaper's coverage of deadly tornado wins regional Emmy

It has been quite a year for the The Joplin Globe in Missouri and a film about it. In November the Local Media Association named the Globe the best small, local paper for its continued coverage during a deadly 2011 tornado. In June a Missouri Press Association documentary about the paper's coverage called "Deadline in Disaster" won a Mirror Award for best story about broadcast, cable or online broadcast news media. And last weekend in St. Louis, the documentary was awarded a regional Emmy in the Documentary-Cultural category, Scott Meeker reports for the Globe.

Documentary director Beth Pike, who previously won an Emmy in 2009 for the historical documentary "Trustees for the Public: 200 Years of Missouri Newspapers," told Meeker that the time spent in Joplin is something that she'll carry with her always. She said, "We saw the word 'hope' so often (in Joplin). There was hope in humankind and hope in getting through whatever obstacle was faced. Getting to know the people of Joplin and what an incredible newspaper you have, and the sense of community and hope that you have in Joplin, I'll carry that with me for the rest of my life. I think we all carried away a bit of that Joplin spirit. That was the best part of the whole experience." (Read more)

W.Va. senator slams FDA over alleged influence buying to stop tougher painkiller regulations

More than 6.1 million Americans abuse prescription pills, and the problem is most rampant in Central Appalachia, especially West Virginia, which leads the country in overdose deaths from prescription drug abuse with 28.9 deaths per every 100,000 people—a 605 percent increase since 1999, Mark Guarino reports for The Christian Science Monitor. Overall, U.S. deaths involving prescription pills have quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, according to a report released Monday by Trust for America’s Health. "Last year alone, there were 22,134 overdose deaths, with most of those deaths involving pharmaceutical drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone," Paul Nyden reports for the Charleston Gazette

Joe Manchin
Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin believes the government isn't doing enough to stop prescription drug abuse, Nyden writes. Manchin "said Wednesday that he would call for an investigation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after reports that drug companies paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get access to an FDA panel on painkillers." Manchin told Nyden he was "totally frustrated" trying to figure out how to get the federal government to regulate hydrocodones such as Vicodin and Lortab. He would like to see the FDA change hydrocodone from a Schedule III drug to a Schedule II drug, which would make it harder to prescribe. (Read more)

Patriot Coal settles with Peabody Energy over health benefits for 3,100 retired miners

"Patriot Coal Corp. said it settled all health and pension-related claims against Peabody Energy Corp. in exchange for key funding, which would help the company emerge out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy by the end of the year," Reuters reports. The long-running feud centered around 3,100 retirees and their families, who stood to lose their health-care benefits.

"In an amended reorganization plan filed with a bankruptcy court on Wednesday, Patriot said Peabody has agreed to provide $310 million, payable over four years through 2017, to fund the health and pension benefits to settle all Patriot and United Mine Workers claims," Reuters reports. "Peabody will also provide about $140 million to Patriot in the form of letters of credit." The settlement will be presented to the bankruptcy court Nov. 6. (Read more)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Federal government shutdown is shutting down logging in 150 national forests

The federal government shutdown led the U.S. Forest Service to notify 450 timber purchasers on Monday that it has shut down logging operations in 150 national forests, Jeff Barnard reports for The Associated Press. Loggers were given seven days to finish cutting and hauling out logs on timber sales where they are already working. "What this means is another economic hit to rural areas in tough economic shape during the government shutdown," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told Barnard. (Read more)

Many rural states rely heavily on timber sales. Oregon leads the country in softwood timber production, employing 76,000 people while resulting in $5.2 billion in total income and $12.7 billion in total industrial output, according to The 2012 Forest Report. Washington, which ranks second in softwood, accounts for $5 billion, making it the state's third largest commodity, according to the Washington Mill Survey. Pennsylvania leads the country in hardwood timber production, and Tennessee and Kentucky are usually second and third. Information from the Forest Service is unavailable because the website has been shut down until the government gets back to work. (Read more)

Shutdown hits hardest in the West, which has high rate of federal employment

The Four Corners region of the U.S., where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet, is home to some of the nation's most popular tourist attractions, drawing people from all over the world to the beauty of the desert, mountains, rivers, and the area's deep history of Native Americans and old west legends. But because many of the tourist spots are national parks, the region has been hit especially hard by the government shutdown, Jonathan Thompson reports for High Country News.

"Every Western state has a higher percentage of federal employees than the nation as a whole, many of whom have now been furloughed," Thompson writes."Like it or not, Westerners are dependent on the federal government, and our economies depend on federal spending. We’re also pretty lousy when it comes to getting health insurance—and oftentimes health care—to our citizenry. And we therefore stand to benefit the most from so-called Obamacare (neĆ© Romneycare), the very law that the extremists are trying to kill." (Bureau of Labor Statistics graphic shows states with above average federal employment are all in the West)
That has led many current and former Republican senators from the West to actively support the health reform law, Thompson writes. "In addition to our dependence on the feds, and our dearth of health insurance, the West is also known for its pragmatism. It’s nice to see a few of our politicians transcending ideology and displaying that trait, even in small measures." (Read more) (Kaiser Family Foundation graphic shows most Western states above national rate of uninsured)

New reality series on North Carolina farmer-chefs showcases rural life in a positive light

Reality television producers have spent the past several years poking fun at absurd stereotypes of rural life with shows about hillbillies, drunks, white trash and comical-looking characters acting like fools. But a new series is showing a different side of life in small-town America by highlighting a pair of successful restaurant owners who buy local and create dishes with local flavor. The show, "A Chef's Life," premiered recently on PBS. It "counters the Buckwilds and Swamp Peoples of the small screen with a narrative about the strengths and wisdom of rural communities," Lora Smith reports for the Daily Yonder.

The show centers around Vivian Howard and Ben Knight (PBS photo), who own the Chef and the Farmer, which opened in 2006 in Kinston, N.C. "In the opening credits of the show, Chef Vivian sets up the story’s premise: An Eastern Carolina daughter returns home to raise a family, run a small business and explore her community through the lens of food," Smith writes. "Interspersed with Vivian’s narration are beautiful sun-soaked shots of Eastern North Carolina farms and the farmers who tend them. Heritage-breed hogs root at the camera and a float resembling a giant ear of corn sails through a tiny main street parade."

"What follows is a representation of rural people and place that is rarely seen on television. The people are creative, intelligent and interesting. The family drama is relatable. And humorous moments aren’t at the expense of those on screen," Smith writes. Knight told Smith, “What you see in those other reality shows creates a huge schism in how we treat one another in this country. This show is trying to bridge that gap in a way that is approachable.” (Read more) (Yonder photo by Chris Fowler: The vendor list for Chef and the Farmer)

A second season has already begun filming. For more on the show or to find local listings, click here

Magazine picks best U.S. mountain biking towns

Where are the best towns in America to go mountain biking? The Active Times compiled a list of its top 10 mountain-biking towns, based on trail systems, parks and pump tracks, Kristin Butcher reports. The list: East Burke, Vt.; Park City, Utah; Harrisonburg, Va.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Marquette, Mich.; Bend, Ore.; Asheville, N.C.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Louisville; and Tuscon. (Read more) (Flickr photo: Mountain biking in East Burke, Vt.)

State athletic group advises Ky. schools to stop organized post-game hand shakes, fearing fights

It's considered good sportsmanship at the end of a high school sporting event to line up and shake hands with the opponents, saying "nice game" or some other variation of a friendly gesture to let the other team know that no matter what happened during the event, you wish them the best as they continue with their season and their lives. But the Kentucky High School Athletic Association is advising schools to stop the ritual because it has led to fights and physical conflicts, Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.(H-L photo: Kentucky high-school softball teams shake hands after a game)

The KHSAA said "more than two dozen fights in the past three years in Kentucky have broken out at post-game ceremonies," Blackford writes. That seems like a high number until you consider that Kentucky has more than 200 high schools that participate in 16 different sports, many with boys' and girls' teams. The schedule on the KHSAA website today has 36 girls' soccer games, eight boys' soccer games and 23 volleyball matches; last Thursday and Friday, 176 Kentucky schools played in 92 football games (eight against out-of-state competition).

The KHSAA has already backed down from its plan to ban organized hand-shaking and is just advising against it, Blackford reports. The original directive stated: "It is hereby directed that teams and individuals do not participate in organized post-game handshake lines/ceremonies beyond that interaction that is required ..." But after receiving criticism, it was changed to: "It is prescribed that teams and individuals do not participate in organized post-game handshake lines/ceremonies beyond that interaction that is required ... and the individual, unorchestrated actions by individual competitors." Teams can still voluntarily shake hands, but KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett told Blackford, "You're on notice; if you're going to do this, you're going to be accountable." (Read more)

Les Johns of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville reports, "The Sept. 21 Fort Campbell football game at Caldwell County had two ejections during the game. When the teams exchanged pleasantries during handshakes, it wasn’t entirely pleasant. Coaches intervened and prevented the altercation from getting out of hand." Johns quotes Hopkinsville High School basketball coach Tim Haworth: “I know what I’m going to tell my team — we’re shaking hands. Period, end of statement. We’re going to shake hands, and if the other team doesn’t want to, then that’s on them.” (Read more)

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Drilling firm says it doesn't know what fracking chemicals it uses, can't find out from most vendors

A Texas-based gas driller doesn't even know what chemicals are in the fluids it uses for hydraulic fracturing, court documents show. As part of a state Environmental Hearing Board appeal filed against Range Resources Corp. and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection by a Washington, Pa., resident over contaminated water, "A judge ordered that Range disclose every proprietary chemical, substance and product the company used during the drilling process relating to the company’s Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township, " Rachel Morgan reports for Shale Reporter.The company was unable to do so and had to request the information from vendors, but was only able to obtain the ingredients for four of its 55 products, Morgan writes. (Associated Press photo by Keith Strakocic: A Range site in Claysville, Pa.)

In 2011, "Amwell resident Loren Kiskadden reported to the DEP what he suspected was contamination of his water because of a nearby Range drilling site and impoundment," Morgan reports. After an inspection, the DEP said that chemicals found in his water—including butyl alcohol, chloroform, methane and acetone—could not be linked to drilling activity occurring 3,000 feet from Kiskadden's home. But it was later revealed that the DEP omitted water test results and intentionally left out a portion of test results.

Citing state and federal regulators, Range has said the water and air are fine and that if anything is contaminated, it isn't the company's fault. Critics say not knowing what chemicals Range uses makes it difficult to determine whether they are responsible for contaminating the water, Morgan writes.

Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale coordinator for Clean Water Action, told Morgan, "It’s problematic for multiple reasons. I would think from an industry perspective, you’d want to know that what they were providing you will be effective ... and certainly if something happens with the water supply and you don’t know what chemical you used, how are you possibly going to know if you are the one who introduced that chemical? It’s an irresponsible way to practice.” (Read more)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Colorado counties' secession plan on the ballot

Citizens in 11 rural Colorado counties will vote in November on whether or not to secede from the state. After state legislators passed a law that requires background checks for private gun sales, citizens in several rural counties began pushing the 51st State Initiative, Jack Healy reports from Cheyenne Wells for The New York Times.

The new state would be called New Colorado or North Colorado, and its people would uphold the farm towns and conservative ideals that people feel are disappearing, Healy reports, writing that they "bristle at gun control laws and marijuana shops, green energy policies and steps to embrace gay marriage and illegal immigrants."

Moffat County, which adjoins none of the others, "apparently wants to become Baja [Lower] Wyoming," reports Burt Hubbard of Rocky Mountain PBS. He notes that North Colorado would have only 336,000 people, "supplanting Wyoming as the least populous state." He also reports, "Colorado spends between about $60 million and $120 million or more a year in the 11 counties than the revenue it receives."

Whispers of secession are echoing in other states. "Today discontented residents in western Maryland, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the mountains of southern Oregon and Northern California are agitating for their own states," Healy writes. "And in Illinois, two rural lawmakers have floated the idea of giving the boot to Chicago."

As suburbs keep growing and rural areas lose population or stagnate, ruralites feel their voices are no longer heard in their state government. In Cheyenne County, which has a population of about 1,870, 82 percent voted for Mitt Romney, who lost the state. They think their state has changed, and not for the better. "I would've never believed the state of Colorado would become this liberal," convenience-store owner Lyle Miller told Healy. "I'm afraid for my grandchildren. I want them to have the same heritage I had." Some people think the proposal is a bad idea. George Kemp, who runs a well-water business, told Healy, "It's supposed to be United States, not split-up states."

Cheyenne County Commissioner Rod Pelton believes there could be a new state. "There's going to be a revolution of some kind," he told Healy"This is the peaceful way to go about it." However, secession appears unlikely, even if voters in the counties favor it. The state would have to allow them to do so, and then Congress could block it. Even if the counties became a new state, what would be done about ownership of state parks and highways and rights for water and irrigation? Such considerations might cause issues for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will be running for re-election next year. He told Denver radio station KOA, "There are enough people that feel their views and their opinions aren't being considered that I think that's a serious problem." (Read more)

This is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is particularly important in rural areas

Three-fourths of abused women stay with their abuser for economic reasons, especially in rural areas, Bryce Covert reports for Think Progress. Last month the Massachusetts Rural and Domestic Violence Project held a summit to look at the issue. Suleidys Tellez, who covered the event for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, writes: "Money is a central concern for victims in rural areas because abusers may cut off their access to money, education and employment, advocates say. The situation worsens in rural areas because families often live far from transportation centers, schools, hospitals and other social services."

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but it might not be getting the attention it deserves, because of the federal government shutdown. Funding is going down, but the rate of domestic partners seeking help keeps going up, and 60 percent of shelters say abuse has become more violent. Nearly 80 percent of shelters reporting an increase in women seeking help, but 80 percent are also reporting less funding, Covert reports, noting that budget "sequestration meant a $20 million reduction in funding that was predicted to result in 70,120 fewer victims getting access to recovery programs and shelters." Some programs reported receiving letters from the government prior to the shutdown saying that it would cut off funds.

Data on rural domestic abuse is hard to come by, according to the Rural Assistance Center. The abuse sometimes goes unreported, or if it does, the abused often struggle with reporting abuse to law enforcement officials or health care providers that they know personally. Rural culture often makes it difficult for women to seek help, especially in areas where women take on a more traditional role "where people avoid asking for help, and where there is less awareness of domestic violence and its impact on victims and children are communities where it is harder for domestic violence victims to seek out the resources they need," the center says.

Fifty agencies participated in the Massachusetts summit, including the national Family Independence Initiative, which showcased a program to help battered women gain financial independence after escaping abuse through "a hands-off approach in which staff members let families recovering from abuse and violence monitor and manage their own progress," Tellez writes.  Through the program, the organization "provides a stipend of up to $2,000 per year in compensation for economic progress data, which has allowed participating families to move out of poverty within two years, the program reports, and to reach realistic goals." (Read more)

European Parliament bans flavorings in tobacco products, a move likely to hurt U.S. growers

A Tuesday decision by the European Parliament could have major implications on the U.S. tobacco business. The multinational legislature approved new tobacco rules that include a ban on menthol and other flavorings, Juergen Baetz reports for The Associated Press. While the ban still needs to be compromised with the 28 European Union governments before it becomes law, diplomats said they expect a deal to be completed by the end of the year, and the law would go into affect in 2014. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Charles Bertram: State Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, has 190 acres of burley tobacco)

The ban on flavorings is expected to have the most effect on burley tobacco, a milder variety than most. In 2011, burley growers in the U.S. shipped more than $110 million worth of tobacco to Europe, and Kentucky, which ranks first in U.S. burley production, ships 43 percent of its crop to Europe, Rob Hotakainen reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Even before the parliament made its decision, all the senators from Kentucky and North Carolina were threatening the European Union with a trade complaint. They told EU officials in May that "they had 'serious concerns' about the new rules and their effect on trans-Atlantic trade relations, and have sent signals that adopting the new rules could result in tougher sledding on Capitol Hill for any new trade pact between the U.S. and the EU," AP reports.

Last year the U.S. grew 202 million pounds of burley, with 148 million pounds grown in Kentucky, Tim Thornberry reports for KyForward, an online news outlet. Will Snell, an agricultural economist at the University of Kentucky, told Thornberry that all tobacco raised in the state last year sold for more than $400 million, the first time the state has reached that level since Congress repealed the federal program of quotas and price supports in 2004. (Read more)

North Carolina totals about "$400 million in tobacco exports to Europe, selling mostly flue-cured tobacco," Gurnal Scott reports for North Carolina Public Radio. Blake Brown, North Carolina State University extension economist, told Scot the new rules "would have a fairly substantial impact on cigarette consumption in the European Union. It would cause it to decline. And if you cause cigarette consumption to go down, then it's going to have a big impact on U.S. tobacco farmers because about 34 percent -- in terms of value -- of U.S. tobacco is exported to Europe right now." (Read more)

Rural cancer survivors are more likely than urban ones to forgo treatment because of cost

Rural cancer survivors under 65 are more likely than urban ones to forgo further medical care and prescription costs for financial reasons, and rural residents 65 and older are more likely to not get medical or dental care because of cost, according to a study by the Wake Forest School of Medicine, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The study analyzed 7,804 cancer survivors, 1,642 from rural areas, in the 2006-10 National Health Interview Survey. It found that 25.3 percent of younger rural cancer survivors delayed or didn't get medical care, compared to 18 percent in urban areas; 22.1 percent of rural survivors said they couldn't afford prescriptions, compared to 15.5 percent in urban areas,; and 23.3 percent of rural survivors said they couldn't afford dental care, compared to the urban rate of 19.6 percent.

The numbers were much lower for those 65 and older, with 7.6 percent or rural survivors skipping care, 4.4 percent saying they couldn't afford prescriptions, and 4.8 percent saying they couldn't afford dental care. Less than 2 percent of urban survivors answered yes to those questions. The full report can be read by clicking here. Earlier, Wake Forest researchers determined that rural cancer survivors are living less healthy lives than their urban counterparts; for that, go here.

Farm bill stuck on food stamps, but talks and concerns are also driven by agricultural issues

"Measured in planted acres, rice, peanuts and barley could fit in the back pasture of most farm bills," David Rogers writes for Politico. "Measured in politics, they crowd right up to the road." And they are spurring renewed efforts to pass a Farm Bill, Rogers reports.

"Rice is big for Arkansas where the farm bill is already an issue between Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, in the 2014 election. Peanuts are a cash crop important to Georgia and its Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss—Speaker John Boehner's old pal and a veteran deal maker who came up through agriculture in his early years in the House," Rogers writes. "Barley is its own political brew . . . Northwest Minnesota is barley country and home to Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and driving force now behind plans to almost double the target price in support of the richer market."

Boehner has quietly said he will at last appoint House conferees to meet with the Senate to negotiate a final bill. UPDATE: Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., told Brownfield Ag News that Boehner assured her he would make the appointments within a week. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas is going for a "Big Four" meeting with the top negotiators. The big issue is food stamps and the House's desire for much larger cuts in the program, but there are many agricultural issues, too.

The University of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute has provided a 30-page analysis of the House and Senate bills including data significant to the debate. FAPRI's evaluation is mostly balanced: "Under both bills, the average estimated impacts on production and prices are generally small relative to normal annual variation caused by other factors."

The analysis says the House bill's raising of the target prices for rice, peanuts and barley, and allowing farmers to increase production up to a cap, will prompt farmers to plant more of the crops but lower prices, leaving farmers "more dependent on the government for a share of their returns."

The American Soybean Association says the analysis show potential for "global market distortions, which would increase U.S. farm program vulnerability to challenges under the World Trade Organization," Rogers reports. "Powerful business lobbies, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, are raising their own trade fears." (Read more)

Program in Washington state helps keep rural veterans and their families from going homeless

A program in southwestern Washington is helping keep rural veterans and their families from ending up homeless. In the past, the local housing authority had to wait for a veteran to become homeless before giving assistance, and the programs were for veterans only, not their families. But the newly formed Supportive Services for Veteran Families program "provides guidance to veterans and families who earn 30 percent below the federal poverty level and are most at risk of becoming homeless," Lyxan Toledanes reports for The Daily News in Longview. A $480,000 state grant will help the program start a mobile unit, allowing them to visit veterans in rural Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.

As part of the program, veterans serve as navigators, who "assist case managers in helping veterans understand and find veterans’ benefits and other services, such as health care, personal financial planning, transportation, legal, child care and tenant education," Toledanes writes. Helping out has been beneficial to veterans like Michael Fischer, a Marine who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing combat and ended up homeless before getting back on his feet with the help of the housing authority. Fischer told Toledanes, “We got hired for a reason. We’re open to the guys and giving ourselves to them. They’re going to pick up on that. I know they are, because I was (like them).”

Another veteran who overcame hardships, and now serves as a navigator, is George Brokaw. Brokaw told Toledanes, “For every veteran out there, there is hope. I want to let them know that someone out there does care. I don’t mind hugging.” (Read more) (Daily News photo by Bill Wagner: From left Michael Fischer, Della Mowell, George Brokaw and David Pennington are helping start the program)

Monday, October 07, 2013

Should websites that deal in mug shots get First Amendment protection? Journalists' group says yes

Should a mug shot taken by a law enforcement agency remain in the public domain for all time, even if charges were dropped or the person was found not guilty or has gone straight? And with a new market for companies dedicated solely to publishing mug shots on the Internet, should it be legal for these companies to charge a fee to remove a shot from their site? Those questions are being debated by journalists, lawyers, lawmakers and the people whose faces and arrest records are readily available on one of the more than 80 mugshot web sites, David Segal reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Brian Blanco: Even though charges from a 2011 arrest were dropped, Dr. Janese Trimaldi's mugshot is easily available online)

Some states have taken action. Oregon Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber "signed a bill this summer that gives such sites 30 days to take down the image, free of charge, of anyone who can prove that he or she was exonerated or whose record has been expunged. Georgia passed a similar law in May. Utah prohibits county sheriffs from giving out booking photographs to a site that will charge to delete them," Segal writes. "But as legislators draft laws, they are finding plenty of resistance, much of it from journalists who assert that public records should remain public. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argues that any restriction on booking photographs raises First Amendment issues and impinges on editors’ right to determine what is newsworthy."

"The trick is balancing the desire to guard individual reputations with the news media’s right to publish," Segal writes."Journalists put booking photographs in the same category as records of house sales, school safety records and restaurant health inspections — public information that they would like complete latitude to publish, even if the motives of some publishers appear loathsome. The Reporters Committee favors unfettered access to the images, no matter how obscure the arrestee and no matter the ultimate disposition of the case. Even laws that force sites to delete images of the exonerated, the committee maintains, are a step in the wrong direction."

The mugshot companies charge anywhere from $30 to more than $400 to remove a mug shot. And several Internet mugshot sites have been named in a class-action lawsuit filed last year by Toledo, Ohio lawyer Scott A. Ciolek, who "argues that the sites violate Ohio’s right-of-publicity statute, which gives state residents some control over the commercial use of their name and likeness. He also says the sites violate the state’s extortion law," Segal writes. But Lance C. Winchester, who represents one of the sites, said the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled time and again that mug shots are public records.  Winchester told Segal, “I understand that people don’t like to have their mug shots posted online. But it can’t be extortion as a matter of law because republishing something that has already been published is not extortion.” (Read more)

Police officers increasingly deal with the mentally ill

Prisons are seeing an increase in the number of mentally ill inmates, and law enforcement officers are being called to more and more scenes involving the mentally ill. But many police officers aren't trained in such situations, especially now that in some areas 20 percent of the calls involve the mentally ill. The number is 40 percent in places like Newport, R.I., where in August police were called to a hotel to assist a delusional Aaron Alexis, who a month later killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, Kevin Johnson reports for USA Today. (FBI photo: Aaron Alexis)
An increase in calls involving the mentally ill led officials in 1987 in Memphis to create the Crisis Intervention Team, which "offers specialized training to cadres of officers in dealing with the emotionally disturbed," Johnson writes. "It attempts to link police with mental-health professionals and community advocates to provide resources, including treatment outside the confines of prisons and jails, which have become repositories for the mentally ill." More than 2,700 other agencies have since adopted the program. Other departments, such as the one in Newport, provide their own training in dealing with the emotionally disturbed. Officials said the officers acted appropriately in dealing with Alexis, saying at the time he wasn't a harm to himself or others. (Read more)

Providing mental-health care, instead of locking up the mentally ill in prisons, has a positive impact on patients, and costs less, according to researchers at North Carolina State University, the Research Triangle Institute, and the University of South Florida, reports Science Daily. "Researchers identified 4,056 people who had been hospitalized for mental illness in 2004 or 2005 and then tracked them from 2005 to 2012." Co-author Dr. Sarah Desmarais told Science Daily, "Our research shows that people receiving medication were significantly less likely to be arrested. Outpatient services also resulted in a decreased likelihood of arrest."

Researchers also looked at costs between criminal justice and mental health treatment, Science Daily writes. "Individuals who were arrested received less treatment and each cost the government approximately $95,000 during the study period. Individuals who were not arrested received more treatment and each cost the government approximately $68,000 during the study period." Desmarais told Science Daily, "It costs about $10 less per day to provide treatment and prevent crime. That's a good investment." (Read more)

CBS and Senate panel explore abuse of Social Security disability program, running low on money

UPDATE, Oct. 8: Eric Conn earned $22.7 million in attorney fees from the Social Security Administration since 2001, the U.S. Senate committee said in a report released Monday. In 2005-2011, disability judge David Daugherty approved appeals Conn requested in all of his 3,143 cases. John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports, "Daugherty and Conn's law office communicated about upcoming cases, and when Conn's clients randomly were assigned to other judges, Daugherty used his computer to reassign them to himself, Senate investigators wrote in their report. Daugherty sped Conn's cases to approval, sometimes not even holding the required hearing. Colleagues knew what the judge was doing but did not stop him, as evidenced by interviews and internal emails." (Read more)

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The Federal Disability Insurance Program was designed to help Americans in need, but has turned into a business for shady lawyers, corrupt judges, and people looking to cash in on unneeded benefits, according to a CBS News report on "60 Minutes." Because so many people receive disability benefits -- the program serves 12 million people, up 20 percent in the last six years, and has a budget of $135 billion -- the Senate Committee on Government Affairs is releasing a report today on the program, which is quickly running out of money.

The program is especially expensive in Appalachian Kentucky and West Virginia, where more than a quarter of a million people, or 10 to 15 percent of the population, are on disability, which is three times the national average, CBS reports. Stanville, Ky., is home to lawyer Eric Conn, who runs the third largest disability practice in the country. Virtually all of his 1,823 cases were approved by former disability judge David Daugherty, who has been investigated by the federal government. Conn's clients have been awarded $500 million in claims, and the report released today "will show that Conn collected more than $13 million in legal fees from the federal government over the past six years and that he paid five doctors roughly $2 million to regularly sign off on bogus medical forms that had been manufactured and filled out ahead of time by Conn's staff," CBS's Steve Kroft reports.

"The Social Security Administration, which runs the disability program says the explosive surge is due to aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of a bad economy," Kroft reports. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), "the ranking Republican on the Senate Subcommittee for Investigations, who's also a physician, says it's more complicated than that. Last year, his staff randomly selected hundreds of disability files and found that 25 percent of them should never have been approved. Another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable." Coburn told 60 minutes, "Go read the statute. If there's any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That's pretty clear. So, where'd all those disabled people come from? You take a good concept that's well-meaning, and then you don't manage it, you don't monitor it, Congress doesn't oversight it, and pretty soon, you end up with places where, you know, you're born to be on disability."

Coburn says much of the blame falls on lawyers who use commercials and advertisements, such as billboards, to attract the "two-thirds of the people who have already applied for disability and been rejected," CBS reports. "There's not much to lose, really. It doesn't cost you anything unless you win the appeal and the lawyers collect from the federal government." Disability judge Marilyn Zahm told CBS, "If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits." Zahm and fellow attorney Randy Frye, the president and vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, "are each expected to read, hear, and decide up to 700 appeals a year to clear a backlog of nearly a million cases. They say disability lawyers have flooded the system with cases that shouldn't be there," 60 Minutes reports. Zahm said in 1971 less than 20 percent of claimants had lawyers. Now, more than 80 percent do. (Read more)

Performance tests for new teachers slow to catch on in rural states or those with many small districts

Most candidates for a teaching license are required to pass a written test, but not as many teachers have to prove the ability to perform in a classroom before being assigned a class to teach. Some states are changing that, requiring teachers to complete a performance assessment, but most states with large rural populations or many small school districts have yet to adapt to the changes, Adrienne Lu reports for Stateline.

Assessments such as edTPA, which was launched last month, "requires teaching candidates to submit lesson plans, videos of them teaching real students, examples of their students’ work and their own reflections on how they might improve. Trained third-party scorers examine the portfolios."

Jennifer Wallace, executive director of the Washington Professional Educator Standards Board, told Lu, "It really reinforces the practices we want to see in our new teachers. We’re asking them to reflect on their students, their students’ learning, to adjust their instruction and practice accordingly, and this plays a really important role in that.” Andrea Whittaker, director of teacher performance assessment at Stanford University, which helped develop edTPA, told Lu that if more than one state uses the same assessment teachers will be able to show employers in other states that they are qualified, and teachers can also benefit from feedback on their teaching abilities.

Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., participate in edTPA. Eleven states are working toward participating in the program, or already have their own assessments in place. Of the 17 states that don't have an assessment program, almost all have many small schools or a relatively large share of rural population. (Read more) (Stateline map)

Two coal-fired plants in Pa. to shut, ending 380 jobs

FirstEnergy Corp. plans to deactivate two coal-fired power plants in Greene and Washington counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, and offers no hope that the plants will be reopened or their 380 jobs saved, Joe Napsha reports for the Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh. James H. Lash, president of FirstEnergy, told Napsha that the plants just outside Pittsburgh "are losing money today and will lose money in the future. Our plans are not to run those units again."

"Lash painted a grim future for coal-fired power plants, saying electricity is priced too low in a market where demand for power has dropped and the capital investment needed to meet environmental regulations is too high," Napsha reports. "Electricity prices have dropped 10 percent from summer to fall, while the cost of natural gas –which also is used as a fuel for power generation – remains at historic low levels because of the abundance of gas from supplies such as the Marcellus shale reserves, Lash said." (Read more)