Saturday, October 26, 2013

Alabama paper, university students to compile cases of denied open-records requests in state

Here's a good idea: Collect information about officials' denials of requests for government records in a state, then compile them in a way that will give journalists and other citizens a clearer understanding of the law and how it's being used and abused. That's what The Anniston Star and students at the University of Alabama plan to do. For details, see Page 3 of the October issue of AlaPressa, the newsletter of the Alabama Press Association.

The project follows on the heels of one in which students in the university's master's degree program in community journalism "collected and analyzed more than 1,000 pages of documents detailing spending on 2012 political ads from five television stations in the Birmingham market and published a special report on their findings," the Star reported this summer. The newspaper has a continuing relationship with the degree program.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mine-safety agency targets three habitual violators for stricter scrutiny, may pick more

UPDATE, Nov. 26: Coal River Mining LLC's Fork Creek No. 1 mine in Lincoln County, West Virginia, was added to the list for failing to report a series of worker injuries, MSHA says.

Two underground coal mines in West Virginia and one in Kentucky will come under stricter scrutiny because they have a pattern of violating health and safety laws, the Mine Safety and Health Administration announced Friday. More may be added, MSHA said.

The mines targeted are Tram Energy’s No. 1 in Floyd County, Kentucky; Brody Mining’s No. 1 in Boone County, W.Va.; and Pocahontas Coal Co.’s Affinity Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va. "The agency is still reviewing the injury records of several mines to determine if they should be considered for a POV notice based on this screening," MSHA said in a news release.

Federal law has long allowed MSHA to target repeat violators, but agency policy required "disagreements with companies over violations and fines to be resolved before the agency can take such matters into account," Manuel QuiƱones of Environment & Energy News notes. That policy has been changed.

The Tram mine, which started production last year, received 120 "serious and substantial" violation notices and 40 closure orders from MSHA during the period that the agency reviewed to find patterns of violation. No mine received more closure orders, and Tram has racked up about $169,000 in unpaid penalties.

Okla. geologists issue warning about earthquakes, but the state's news media seem to ignore it

"Federal and Oklahoma authorities are warning that people in and around Oklahoma City are at much greater risk from earthquakes than they were four years ago, possibly because of oil and gas drilling-related activities," Mike Soraghan of EnergyWire reports.

"These don't look like normal earthquake sequences," seismologist Bill Leith, senior science adviser for earthquake and geologic hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey, told Soraghan. (USGS seismic hazard map of Oklahoma; click on image for larger version)

The Oklahoma Geological Survey joined USGS in issuing an "earthquake swarm" warning this week, which Soraghan calls "the closest any state official has come to saying earthquakes have been 'induced' by deep injection of wastewater from drilling," a major industry in the state. The agencies said "disposal" wells could be a contributing factor.

"If the idea was to get the word out in Oklahoma, it does not appear to have worked," Soraghan writes. "A search did not show that the statement was covered by general-circulation newspapers in Oklahoma or the state's television news outlets."

Injection wells have become more common with the advent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which uses high volumes of chemically-laced water that requires deep disposal. "More than 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger have rattled central Oklahoma since 2009, according to USGS," Soraghan reports. "That's about 40 a year. Before that, there were usually one to three a year." (Read more)

Some Nov. 5 elections could have major rural impact

Election Day, Nov. 5, will not be a busy one in the U.S., but some rural Americans have a chance to vote on major issues affecting them. Lou Jacobson of Governing magazine included some in his guide to state and local elections on Nov. 5, and we have others.

Texans can vote on Proposition 6, which would create funds for water projects in the state, which has been hard hit by recent droughts. In an editorial, The Dallas Morning News writes: "Texans can stand pat, wait and hope we have enough water to survive the next killer drought and the one after that. Or we Texans can get ahead of these conditions and provide the supplies the state will need alongside a fast-growing population." The proposition "would ratify the decision legislators made during their 2013 session to use $2 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund, put that money in a new water-funding bank, and use the investment to help communities finance their projects." (Read more) (DMN photo: Drought- dried lake in Texas)

Colorado voters have two important issues. Amendment 66, backed by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, "asks for nearly $1 billion in tax increases to support school reform and changes in how the state distributes money to school districts," Jacobson writes. "The money would support early-childhood education, at-risk students, English-language learners, charter schools and locally determined innovations such as longer school days and years." Also in Colorado, residents from 11 rural counties will vote whether or not they want to secede, in response to state legislators passing laws that are unpopular in rural areas, requiring background checks for private gun sales and a certain amount of renewable energy in the portfolio of rural electric cooperatives, now dependent on relatively cheap coal. The referendum would not be binding. (Wall Street Journal map)

The Whatcom County Council in northwest Washington state is having an election, with two incumbents and two challengers seeking seats. This rural election could have major implications on the coal industry. The council will vote on permits that would allow construction of a proposed $600 million port in Bellingham that would ship 48 million tons of coal per year to Asia from Wyoming and Montana, enough to power between 15 to 20 power plants. Environmentalists oppose the permits, which the coal industry desperately wants, needing exports to make up for its loss of domestic market share to natural gas.

In another election, the Detroit suburb of Novi will let voters decide whether it will put official notices on its website instead of the local newspaper, stirring fears among community papers that other governments will do likewise and increase momentum for the state legislature to follow suit. Such battles are being fought in several legislatures.

FDA recommends tighter rules on hydrocodone, key element of prescription-pill abuse epidemic

"The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended tighter controls on how doctors prescribe the most commonly used narcotic painkillers, changes that are expected to take place as early as next year," Barry Meier reports for The New York Times. "Drugs at issue contain a combination of hydrocodone and an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or aspirin and are sold either as generics or under brand names like Vicodin or Lortab." (Associated Press photo by Toby Talbot)

"Doctors use the medications to treat pain from injuries, arthritis, dental extractions and other problems," Meier writes. "The change would reduce the number of refills patients could get before going back to see their doctor. Patients would also be required to take a prescription to a pharmacy, rather than have a doctor call it in. The new regulations would reduce by half, to 90 days, the supply of the drug a patient could obtain without a new prescription."

In 2011, about 131 million prescriptions for 47 million patients, or about five billion pills, were written for medications containing hydrocdone, Meier writes. "Prescription drugs account for about three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths in the United States, with the number of deaths from narcotic painkillers, or opioids, quadrupling since 1999, according to federal data." (Read more)

More than 6.1 million Americans abuse prescription pills, and last year there were 22,133 prescription drug deaths. 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. A pair of documentaries were recently released depicting prescription drug abuse in West Virginia.

UPDATE, Oct. 28: "The story behind the FDA’s turnaround . . . involved a rare victory by lawmakers from states hard hit by prescription drug abuse over well-financed lobbyists for business and patient groups, one that came during a continuing public health crisis," Meier and Eric Lipton report for the Times. Cited are Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, whose district borders West Virginia. (Read more)

Researchers in Spain say genetically modified tobacco could be used to produce biofuels

Researchers in Spain believe genetically modified tobacco plants could be used as raw material for producing biofuels, Salon reports. Ruth Sanz-Barrio, an agricultural engineer at the Public University of Navarre, said tobacco proteins called thioredoxins are biotechnological tools that can be used to make plants better producers of biofuels. Sanz-Barrio said she has increased the amount of starch produced in the tobacco leaves by 700 percent and fermentable sugars by 500 percent.

“With these sugars, according to the theoretical calculation provided by the National Centre for Renewable Energies, one could obtain up to 40 litres of bioethanol per tonnes of fresh leaves.”Sanz-Barrio told reporters. “We believe these genetically modified plants could be a good alternative for producing biofuels.” Tobacco is among the plants that is easiest to modify genetically. (Read more)

Journalist doing podcasts with people who share positive views of rural America; seeks guests

Journalist Becky McCray of Small Biz Survival has started what she hopes will be a regular podcast segment entitled "Positive View of Rural." Her first effort is with Luther Snow, who "shares his work with North Slope Alaska villages, and how what he found could apply to most any rural area," she writes. Three more podcasts have  been recorded, but McCray is looking for suggestions for future shows. She reports that her three recorded subjects are: "Mike Knutson, an experienced rural leader now working in rural housing; Scott Meyer, a young startup guy with such a soft spot for rural that his blog is called Digital Homesteading; Caleb Pollard, a rural leader turned brewer with a strong sense of creating a legacy." To hear the podcast with Snow, read more, or contact McCray, click here.

Worldwide campaign promotes U.S.; states like Louisiana reporting record tourism dollars

Buses driving around London advertise vacations to the Louisiana bayou, while shoppers in stores can see videos of what it's like on the beaches of South Carolina. It's all part of a U.S. tourism campaign by a company called Brand USA, "a nonprofit, public-private partnership created by legislation President Barack Obama signed in 2010" to promote all 50 states to world travelers, Pamela Prah reports for Stateline. "The program is funded by the private sector, mostly the tourism-related industry, with matching federal funds of up to $100 million a year from a $10 fee that international travelers pay when they visit the U.S. Last year, the first full year of operation, Brand USA received $60 million in private-sector funding. That more than doubled to $130 million this year." (Brand USA photo)

One of the first states to work with Brand USA was Louisiana, which reports shatter tourism records, with 26.3 million visitors in 2012 resulting in $10.7 billion, and $665 million in state tax revenue generated through domestic and international visitors. That represents a more than 26-to-1 return on investment of state funding, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said in a news release. The state has created promotional videos in German, French and Spanish for the company's website, Prah reports.

The website Discover America has links to each state, promoting tourist attractions, state facts, outdoor adventures, the state's history, and fun suggestions for travelers, such as ordering grits and saying y'all in Alabama, where to get the best desserts in Nebraska, and to order a Moxie soda in Maine.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lack of insurance providers and hospitals in rural areas lead to higher premiums under Obamacare

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was designed to make it easier for uninsured Americans to buy insurance at an affordable rate. But the exact opposite is happening in rural areas, where a lack of insurance providers has eliminated competition between insurance companies, leading to higher prices, Reed Abelson, Katie Thomas and Jo Craven McGinty report for The New York Times. In the roughly 2,500 rural counties served by the federal exchange, 58 percent have plans offered by only one or two providers, and people in 530 counties only have one choice for a provider. A state-by-state interactive map is available by clicking here.

"In rural regions, several factors combine to create a landscape that is inhospitable to newcomers," the Times writes. "Developing relationships with doctors and hospitals can be costly where cities and towns are widely scattered and the pool of potential customers is small." States such as Wyoming, with a population of 600,000, are in a difficult situation. Tom Hirsig, Wyoming’s insurance commissioner, told the Times, “I think the problem was that the Affordable Care Act was designed for where the majority of the people live, in the big cities where there’s a lot of competition among health care providers. You’ve got to have some bargaining chips, and we don’t have that much."

Many rural areas only have one hospital, "giving insurers little leverage when negotiating reimbursement rates," the Times writes. "Only one Wyoming county is served by more than one hospital, said Stephen K. Goldstone, the chief executive of WINHealth. In southwest Georgia, another rural region, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is the dominant carrier, and it is the only insurer operating in 54 of the state’s 159 counties. Only one carrier, Highmark Blue Cross, is offering coverage in West Virginia, which has high rates of obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes." (Read more; NYT chart shows states on federal exchange)

As misinformation abounds, journalists at all levels need to offer facts and references on health law

By Al Cross, Director
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

The need for journalists at all levels to report the facts on health reform was freshly illustrated this week in a column by Washington Post writer Dana Milbank, in which he said bad information "is perhaps the biggest problem facing Obamacare."

"Because of all the noise and disinformation, President Obama and the Democrats don’t just own Obamacare as a political issue. They own health care," Milbank writes. "Anytime something bad happens — premiums rise, or employers change plans or pare coverage — Obamacare will be blamed, even if the new law had nothing to do with the change."

For example, opponents of the law blame it for rising insurance premiums. That's true in cases where people had bought cheap policies that didn't cover much, because the law requires policies to cover 10 specific areas of service. But "Premiums were up about 4 percent last year, a much slower growth rate than the average annual increase of 13.2 percent between 1999 and 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation," Milbank writes. "But it’s easy to blame Obamacare for something that would have happened anyway."

We also hear of businesses dropping health coverage for their employees, but Obamacare isn't the only reason. "Long before Obamacare, as many as a quarter of all businesses each year made reductions in health-care coverage," Milbank writes. "The only difference is now businesses can blame Obamacare."

Sean Hannity of Fox News added to the misinformation by interviewing a North Carolina contractor who claimed that "he would have to provide health insurance to anybody working more than 30 hours a week," Milbank reports. "Salon’s Eric Stern called Cox, and he found that Cox’s business has only four employees — and therefore is not affected by the new requirement, which applies to businesses with 50 or more workers."

Obamacare's opponents call it "a job killer" because of the 30-hour rule, and point to "statistics showing the bulk of recent hiring has been for part-time jobs," Milbank writes. "In reality, according to an analysis by Moody’s, factors other than Obamacare were at work (most of the new jobs were in industries that always use more part-time workers). But the new law gets the blame." (Read more)

Such misinformation was the target of an editorial in The Sentinel-News, a twice-weekly newspaper in Shelbyville, Ky. It said "Misinformation and carefully constructed lies" abound, and many people have "fallen victim" to exaggerated individual experiences posted on social media and "even worse, the acceptance and delivery of similar items by otherwise responsible broadcast news outlets."

The editorial called on readers to find out the facts for themselves, and directed them to local sources of information. That's a message that would be worth repeating by every newspaper in the country, and worth the investment of some reporting time. That's especially true in rural areas, where people are more likely to be uninsured and benefit from the law.

D.C. and urban America are disconnected from the Farm Bill, which is more important than they know

David Rogers
"Farm Bill gets no respect," reads the Politico headline over a story by David Rogers, a veteran congressional reporter who is clearly taken aback at how an ever-urbanizing America fails to appreciate the importance of the legislation that guides production of its food, secures the nutrition of the poor and helps rural America keep up with the rest of the country.

"As quickly as the president mentioned the Farm Bill recently, Washington’s pundits dissed him for elevating something deemed unworthy," Rogers writes. "Maureen Dowd looked down her nose in Sunday’s New York Times. The scene at Fox News was almost comical. Brit Hume heaved one of his damning sighs. AP’s Julie Pace wrote off passing a farm bill as 'fairly easy' work. George Will said it’s all about welfare."

Rogers asks, "How did the nation’s capital become so disconnected from a farm and food debate that touches so much of America itself? A farm bill is about more than corn and cotton futures. Beyond the nation’s vast croplands, it impacts the federal forests and millions of acres of prairie lands held in conservation. It is perhaps the single most important piece of legislation that addresses rural economic development. Its trade and food aid titles are a reminder of how important America’s agricultural power can be overseas. Even the beleaguered honey bee has a stake in new research provisions."

From there, Rogers touches all the main bases: the fight over cuts in food stamps, ending direct payments to producers of commodity crops, new measures for organic and specialty crops, and limits on subsidies: "More of an effort is made to help only producers who have put seed in the ground, put themselves at risk and experienced a loss." Just how that loss is defined is up for debate in the conference committee that starts meeting next week.

Most importantly, perhaps, the hide-bound commodity lobbies are under pressure to show more flexibility themselves," Rogers writes, noting Farm Bureau's backing out of a deal to require conservation practices by people getting crop-insurance subsidies. "Fair or unfair, the disconnect surrounding the Farm Bill is real. And farm-bill advocates admit that new approaches are needed to expand their base of support in Congress." He notes, "
Just 34 House seats are judged more than 50 percent rural, according to Census numbers. Just 77 have a rural population of over 40 percent."

Rogers quotes Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: “There is a huge interest in all things food-related among the public at large, probably more so than at any time in recent memory. On those local-food and public-health issues, as well as on soil, water, and wildlife conservation, rural jobs and business development, and support for young and beginning farmers …support is strong. Today’s Washington establishment tends to look right past those concerns as somehow unworthy of serious attention. But, to be fair, what they see so often is hard fought and very arcane debates between commodity interests and regions of the country over how best to divvy up subsidies to grain and cotton farmers and dairy producers.”

DirecTV ad pokes fun with Appalachian stereotypes; would any other minority group be so treated?

UPDATE, Oct. 25: DirectTV has pulled the commercial and in a statement wrote: "It certainly was not our intent to offend anyone and we apologize if there were customers that did not like the ad or found it offensive. The commercial ended its broadcast run on Monday and will no longer be airing." (Read more)

Perhaps you've seen the commercial with the dirty, creepy "mountain people" who have a goat in their kitchen and a man tied to a chair. It seems like you might have stumbled into the latest sequel to the film "Wrong Turn," in which inbred hillbillies find new and creative ways to kill city folks who have wandered off the main road. It's actually a commercial for DirecTV, which somehow makes the connection that if you had the company's new voice-control system, you won't end up being murdered by crazies in the mountains because, well, crazy killers don't quite have the listening capacity that DirecTV does.

Patrick Baker
Patrick Baker, an associate professor of law at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., responds in an op-ed in The Courier-Journal. Baker writes for the Louisville newspaper: "Imagine the social and political backlash against DirecTV if they ran an ad that depicted and preyed upon African-American, Jewish or Native American stereotypes. The media would crucify them as a corporate entity. Mountain folk are the last acceptable bastion for those who would mock and degrade a people based on heritage and culture."

"The people who make their lives in these mountains are earnest, forward-thinking, hard-working individuals worthy of respect and admiration," Baker writes. "I live and work in Appalachia. My family hails from southeastern Kentucky, and I wear my families’ heritage like a badge of honor. By the second decade of the 21st Century, haven’t we learned to celebrate other cultures, viewpoints, ethnicities and diversity? . . . DirecTV’s ad clearly illustrates all that is still wrong in our society, and it should pull the ad and issue a formal apology. Too bad ,DirecTV, the mountain people didn’t do what you wanted: They boycotted your product and decided not to laugh." (Read more)

Families in 24 states worse off under child-care aid policies in 2013 than in 2012, advocates say

Families in 24 states were worse off under one or more key child care assistance policies in 2013 than in 2012, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. "Many families with incomes too low to afford child care on their own do not qualify for child care assistance because of states’ restrictive income criteria," the report says. "A family with an income above 150 percent of poverty ($29,295 per year for a family of three) could not qualify for assistance in 14 states. A family with an income above 200 percent of poverty ($39,060 per year for a family of three) could not qualify for assistance in 38 states. Approximately half of the states reduced their income limits or kept their income limits the same as a dollar amount, without any adjustment for inflation, between 2012 and 2013." (Read more) To read the full report click here. To view state coverage click here.

Iowa scientists say climate change is threatening the state's highly productive agriculture

Scientists in Iowa say climate change is posing a threat to the future of the state's farms. In their report, entitled "Iowa Climate Statement 2013: A Rising Challenge to Iowa Agriculture," the authors write: "Our state has long held a proud tradition of helping to 'feed the world.' Our ability to do so is now increasingly threatened by rising greenhouse gas emissions and resulting climate change. Our climate has disrupted agricultural production profoundly during the past two years and is projected to become even more harmful in coming decades as our climate continues to warm and change." (Map by Union of Concerned Scientists: How Iowa's climate could become more like that of Kansas, then Arkansas)

Iowa ranks first in the U.S. in corn and soybean production, and the state produces 28 percent of the nation's pork and much of its cattle, according to Iowa Farm Bureau. Changing weather, which can indicate climate change, is a major concern for producers. This spring was the wettest in the 140 years the state has kept records, "creating conditions that hampered the timely planting of corn and soybean fields," which led to 62 of Iowa's 99 counties experiencing severe enough storms and flooding to be declared federal disaster areas. The wet spring was followed by a hot and dry summer, with the extreme change in temperatures causing severe problems to crops. The report states: "In a warming climate, wet years get wetter and dry years get dryer and hotter. The climate likely will continue to warm due to increasing emissions of heat‐trapping gases."

Intense rain increases soil erosion, and "the increase in hot nights that accompanies hot, dry periods reduces dairy and egg production, weight gain of meat animals, and conception rates in breeding stock," the report states. "Warmer winters and earlier springs allow disease‐causing agents and parasites to proliferate, and these then require greater use of agricultural pesticides. Iowa’s soils and agriculture remain our most important economic resources, but these resources are threatened by climate change."

The report was signed by 156 scientists specializing in areas such as agronomy, biology, chemistry, biochemical engineering and geography. To read the full report, click here.

Federal judge says W.Va. poultry farm doesn't need EPA pollution permit for its stormwater; a key case?

"A federal court ruled yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot require a West Virginia poultry operation to obtain a Clean Water Act permit for is storm water in what farm groups are calling a major victory," Amanda Peterka writes today for Greenwire.

The case, Alt v. EPA, involves a debate about discharges from Lois Alt's farm in Old Fields, W.Va., in the ridges and valleys of the Eastern Panhandle, and whether they should be protected by a Clean Water Act exemption for agricultural stormwater, Peterka writes.

The debate began in June 2012 when EPA ordered Alt to get a Clean Water Act permit for the stormwater thought to be coming from her farm or pay a civil penalty of up to $37,500 per day. She argued that a permit isn't required for agricultural stormwater, but EPA said that exemption only applied to "areas where manure, litter or process wastewater has specifically been applied in accordance with the nutrient management practices, not to areas where they may have inadvertently accumulated during livestock operations," Peterka writes.

U.S. District Judge John Bailey of West Virginia wrote: "This court declares that the litter and manure which is washed from the Alt farmyard to navigable waters by a precipitation event is an agricultural stormwater discharge and therefore not a point source discharge—thereby rendering it exempt." 

Farm groups applauded the result, worrying that if EPA had won, it would "open concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to permitting requirements for stormwater discharges," Peterka writes. Environmental groups in the case said they are "deeply concerned that the ruling will make it more difficult to restore the health of waterways across the country, including the Chesapeake Bay."

An appeal seems likely. Peterka writes, "In a statement, EPA said it and the Department of Justice 'are reviewing the court's decision'."

House may act on farmworker immigration bills

The issue of immigration reform—making a way for undocumented workers (including farm workers) to gain legal status and perhaps citizenship—has gained new momentum in Congress after a Senate-passed bill stalled in the House. President Obama and White House staffers called House offices asking to move legislation. The House, leaders of which have said it would not pass an omnibus bill, may attempt to finish two of the bills, H.R. 1773 and H.R. 1772 before 2014, Agri-Pulse reports.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., wrote both bills. H.R. 1773 would allow admit 500,000 temporary agricultural laborers each year. H.R. 1772 would require all employers to use E-Verify, a federal work-authorization program that is now voluntary for non-federal employers.

Goodlatte hopes the House will pass the bills this year. The United Farm Workers and other immigration-reform groups have staged more and more protests across the nation. UFW brought together some California farm workers to deliver 8,000 signed letters advocating reform to Rep. Kevin McCarthy. "As majority whip and California's most powerful Republican, Congressman McCarthy not only has the power but a duty to represent one of California's leading industries," UFW Vice President Armando Elenes told Agri-Pulse.

Not everyone agrees with the proposed reforms. More than "100 groups representing workers and immigrant, civil rights and faith communities wrote to Congress Tuesday to state their opposition to H.R. 1772," Agri-Pulse reports. They said the reform wouldn't fix the immigration system; it would decrease worker protection and threaten the jobs of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and authorized workers.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said, "Not one single person should lose his or her job because of a government error or an employer's failure to follow the program's rules. Before this legislation is rushed to the House floor, our representatives should listen to the stories of real people who have suffered greatly due to errors in the databases on which E-Verify relies."

Companies would have from six months to two years to comply with the bill, depending on the number of employees. Farmers would have five years to comply with an E-Verify mandate, Agri-Pulse reports. Along with this, the Senate bill (S. 744) passed four months ago will help establish a blue card program for experienced farm workers.

"The new H-2C visa program included in Goodlatte's guestworker bill would allow workers to stay in the United States for up to 18 months, as opposed to the maximum of one year issued to current H-2A visa holders." (Read more)

New Farm Bill may lead to more closures and mergers of USDA's Farm Service Agency offices

The fate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency offices is in the hands of Congress and its decision on a new Farm Bill. Farm bills passed by the House and Senate would eliminate direct payments, "which are funds awarded to commodity producers regardless of individual need or market conditions," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Without direct payment processing, some speculate the workload for Farm Service Agency field offices could drop substantially," and target more of them for closure.

The agency has been eliminating offices in small counties for several years. Lat year it consolidated 125. "Offices not staffed by USDA full-time employees, or staffed by fewer than two full-time employees and within 20 miles of another FSA office, were listed for closure," Agri-Pulse notes. "The plan prompted a bill, introduced by Reps. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), to prevent the closure of FSA offices without a workload assessment.The bill did not receive a floor vote, but it illustrates the difficulties USDA faces in closing offices."

"Greg Fogel of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the entire workload created by direct payments would not be lost because FSA could be tasked with new commodity programs," Agri-Pulse writes. "That’s a point echoed by USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse, who pointed to several proposed farm programs dealing with shallow losses, a new dairy program and the Stacked Income Protection Program for cotton – just to name a few." Scuse told Agri-Pulse, “We will have to see what farm bill looks like, but there will still be plenty of work for the Farm Service Agency.” Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but is available for a free trial by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Report puts pressure on animal agriculture and Congress to do something about issue of antibiotics

The federal Centers for Disease Control reported last month that 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, but Congress continues to kill "every effort to restrict the feeding of farm animals the same antibiotics used in human medicine, even as antibiotics have grown less effective in treating infection," Melinda Henneberger reports for The Washington Post. "And regulation has gotten weaker under the Obama administration." (Graphic by Antimicrobial Resistance Learning Site)
Henneberger writes about a report by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Its director, Bob Martin, said studies "show that as much as 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are fed to food animals," Henneberger writes. "The more a particular germ is exposed to antibiotics, the more rapidly it can develop resistance. Most scientists agree that over-prescribing the drugs to humans is the predominant cause for bacteria evolving to outsmart them. Feeding the drugs widely to control and prevent disease in cows, pigs and chickens also is believed to play a role."

Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told the Post in an email that their plan to address the issue “is to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion and feed efficiency. FDA believes these drugs should be used only in situations where they are necessary for treating, controlling or preventing a specifically identified disease—and only under the oversight of a veterinarian.” (Read more)

However, the FDA is "limited in ruled-making authority," Agri-Pulse notes. This means Congress should intervene, said Michael Blackwell, former dean of the college of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which in 2008 recommended phasing out non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.

Advocates of using antibiotics disagree. "Farm and pharmaceutical lobbies have blocked all meaningful efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in raising livestock in the United States," Henneberger writes. Emily Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, told the Post that producers "have made significant progress over the past decade and have for years been using antibiotics judiciously."

Some people see the livestock industry's response as an indication that they are paying attention to the issues at hand and some compromise could be in the offing. "Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who participated in the 2008 Pew Commission but did not contribute to CLF's new analysis, said he sees Tuesday's back-and-forth as a clear signal for all parties interested in antibiotics to come to the table," Agri-Pulse reports.

To read the full report click here. To read other items about this issue, click here, here and here.

Study finds link between mountaintop-removal coal mining and depression in Central Appalachia

People who live near mountaintop-removal coal mines are more likely to suffer from depression than those who live in areas where the practice doesn't occur, according to a study by West Virginia University, published in Ecopsychology. The study, which sampled 8,591 adults in the region, found that 17 percent of those living in areas with mountaintop removal showed signs of depression, compared to 10 percent in other areas. 

Researchers said the "disparity was partly attributable to socioeconomic disadvantage, but after statistical control for income, education and other risks, depression risk for residents in the mountaintop removal area remained significantly elevated. This study contributes to the empirical evidence in support of the concept of solastalgia and indicates that persons who experience environmental degradation from mountaintop removal coal mining are at elevated risk for depression."

"Solastalgia is a term coined to describe this placebased distress engendered by unwelcome environmental change," Ken Ward of The Charleston Gazette explains on his Coal Tattoo blog, citing a similar study from last year. "Solastalgia is a psychoterratic mental health issue; that is, it is an earth-related mental health problem stemming from negatively perceived and felt environmental change. Solastalgia is especially distressing for those who directly witness the destruction of their home environment and who feel intimately connected to the place in which they are rooted." (Read more)

Rural law enforcement officers in remote areas often respond to calls without support of backup

Law enforcement officers in rural and remote areas —where there's lots of ground to cover, many people to serve and protect and a limited number of police on staff— know they often have to approach their jobs differently than officers who have partners or back-up on the way. It's easy to forget the high demand put on such officers, who are often on their own when dispatched to calls.

This is common knowledge to most rural journalists, but not to all their readers, viewers and listeners. So from time to time, it's good to do a story like John Hult did for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, reporting that officers had to learn to earn the trust of citizens, while placing their own trust and safety in the hands of the community. (A-L photo by Emily Spartz: Hanson County Sheriff Randy Bartlett)

"Trainers at the state’s police academies teach new officers how to respond under the assumption that there will be two officers for every domestic violence call and four for every burglar alarm," Hult writes. "In rural South Dakota, however, cops respond to disputes and suspicious circumstances alone, wearing bullet-proof vests as they approach rural homes and farmsteads. Backup, if available at all, might be 45 minutes away. Cops in small towns need to be especially skilled at talking people down. They also need to earn and keep the trust and respect of the community because their safety depends on it."

The high demand, and sometimes long hours, of the job has led to high turnover, with officers leaving for bigger cities that offer more money and safety, Hult writes. In places like Hanson County, in the southeastern part of the state, Sheriff Randy Bartlett and one deputy patrol a 436 square-mile area with 3,600 residents. With only two officers on staff, the nearest backup is usually state troopers or the state Division of Criminal Investigation, which is called upon to investigate serious crimes in small counties.

For many officers, the solution is building good relationships with the community, Hult writes. "Douglas County Sheriff Jon Coler sustained a broken arm one year into the job when he was attacked outside an Armour bar. The other patrons came to his aid and helped him subdue the suspect. Roger Knutson, a police officer in Beresford, a town of 2,000, said that "building a rapport and reputation for common sense within the community is important for keeping the peace and for an officer’s protection." Knutson told Hult, “For every bar fight I’ve ever been in, I had a local behind me." It also helps to build professional relationships with other officers, troopers and deputies in the area. Barlett told Hult, “You don’t have to like everyone, but you have to be professional. If I treat someone unprofessionally, is he going to come running when I call for help?” (Read more)

GOP sponsor says key Democrats back his measure to block state laws on inhumane agriculture

Steve King
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the third-ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said key Democratic support makes him expect the final Farm Bill will include his legislation to "prohibit states from enacting laws that place conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods sold within its own borders but produced in other states," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "The language is not included in the Senate-passed farm bill."

King said he has the support of the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), ranking Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota and four Democratic members of the conference committee that will resolve differences in the House and Senate versions.

The Humane Society of the United States opposes King's legislation, "saying it would annul several state bans on 'inhumane factory farming practices' and rules regulating agricultural practices," Agri-Pulse notes. The Humane Society said the amendment "includes a definition of agriculture so broad it would override any state law regulating agricultural products and end-products."

King argues that "the Constitution reserves the regulation of interstate commerce to the Congress, not the states," Agri-Pulse reports. King told the newsletter, “The (amendment) prohibits states from entering into trade protectionism by forcing cost prohibitive production methods on farmers in other states." King explained his act in an editorial in National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but is available for a free trial by clicking here.

Researcher says required buffer between gas drilling sites and homes needs to be increased

West Virginia needs to re-think its Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act of 2011, which prohibits drilling sites withing 625 feet of an occupied dwelling. Other states have similar laws, with varying distances. The law only requires measurements be made from "the center point of drilling permits, wrongly assuming that emissions all come from sources at that center point," Michael McCawley, interim chairman of West Virginia University's Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences, told state lawmakers Monday, Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette.

"As an example, McCawley noted that at one location where he found the highest pollutant levels, both his monitors and a drilling company, used to burn off excess flammable gases, were located 625 feet from the center of the well pad," Ward writes. McCawley told lawmakers, "You could have a flare literally right outside somebody's bedroom window under the setback. I don't know that any company would do that on purpose. But it would be legal."

McCawley "noted that the setback provision treats all locations equally, not taking into account the potential for some gas drilling sites in narrow hollows to be subject to weather inversions that trap pollutants near the ground," Ward writes. "McCawley recommended instead that more air-quality monitoring be done at drilling sites and that the data be used, along with public health guidelines, to require the best pollution control systems be used by industry." (Read more)

Graduate student uses photography to capture Hispanic culture in rural East Tennessee

The Hispanic population in Tennessee rose from 34,077 in the 1980 census to 228,846 in 2010, and the state's Hispanic share of the population rose from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 4.6 percent in 2010, an increase of 134 percent, the third-highest growth rate in the country, according to a study by the University of Tennessee. Ten percent of all Tennessee births are Hispanic, and it's expected that within the next three to five years, 10 percent of the state's kindergarten students will be Hispanic.

Photographer Megan King, who will graduate from East Tennessee State University in December with a BFA in photography and a BA in Spanish, received a grant in 2012 to work on a project called "Hispanic Appalachia," to capture visual images of Hispanics in East Tennessee. She writes on her website: "By photographing businesses, people, churches, homes and other aspects of the community, I am attempting to show the importance of diversity in this historically conservative region of the United States. In the photographs Hispanic culture is represented by vibrant colors, food, clothes and often decorations. These qualities create a visual juxtaposition to this region's cultural heritage; however, it is important to see that the Hispanic and Appalachian cultures can blend in a nearly indiscernible manner." To see King's photos click here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rising real-estate prices, falling crop prices raise more fears of a farmland bubble in Corn Belt

Years of continually rising farmland prices have led some to fear a real-estate bubble is buiding, and now that some crop prices have dropped, those worries have increased, William Watts reports for The Wall Street Journal. In Iowa, farmland value has risen 20 percent in the past four years, from an average price of $3,850 an acre in 2009 to $8,400 in 2013. Similar gains have been reported across the rest of the Corn Belt and Northern Plains.

John Taylor, national farm and ranch executive for U.S. Trust, a private bank that is part of Bank of America, told Watts, “In general, if you ask, is farmland in a bubble, I’ll say, no. But if you ask, are some people paying bubble prices, I’ll say, yes.” Brent Gloy, an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University, said if prices continue to surge in the face of intensifying headwinds, it would then be a troubling sign that a bubble was building in farmland. He told Watts, “This is the moment of truth, I think." (Iowa State University graphic)

Low interest rates "have affected farmland prices in more ways than one, noted Jim Farrell, president and chief executive of Omaha-based Farmers National Co., a farm-management and land sales firm," Watts writes. "Low rates make it cheaper to finance land purchases, but they’ve also fueled a hunt for yield that’s helped boost demand for farmland. At the same time, worries that there will be nowhere to park the proceeds from a farm sale have helped limit the supply of farmland on the market, he noted." (Read more

Lack of recycling in rural areas is a big reason 14 percent of Americans still don't have it

"Industry experts agree that rural areas, which make up 16 percent of the population, are a big reason why 14 percent of all Americans still lack access to recycling, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates," writes Brian Eason for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.

In some rural areas, people would need to drive over 100 miles just to recycle paper and plastic. In Mississippi, only half the citizens have access to a recycling program. Mark Williams, an administrator for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, says the problem stems mainly from spread-out populations and long distances. "It is difficult for a rural state," he told Eason. "And I tell people we have to work harder to be successful."

Fewer than 20 percent of Mississippians participate in a local recycling program," Eason writes. "Wyoming, the second-least-densely populated state in the country, diverts only 15 percent of its waste to recycling or compost, half of the national average of 30 percent," Eason writes.

The reluctance to participate in drop-off programs may be a result of its inconvenience, but curbside programs haven't been much more successful. In Columbus and West Point, Ga., only 354 households out of 14,000 signed up for the service. The route would have been 571 miles long, Philip Crossley, a district manager for Waste Pro USA, told Eason. The program ended in September, after two years.

One strategy to encourage rural people to participate in recycling programs is showing that "recycling and jobs go hand in hand," Eason writes. "Recycling generates four to five times as many jobs as landfills does because you're using the materials over and over again," Williams said.

Study finds huge language gap between children from wealthy families and those with low incomes

In rural areas, 26.2 percent of children live in poverty, according to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, while the majority of public school students in 17 states, including most of the rural South, are considered low-income by the Southern Education Foundation.  A study conducted 20 years ago found a direct connection between low-income parents and the early development of children's language skills, finding that by age 3, children from wealthier families had heard three million more words than children of low-income families. A follow-up study by Stanford University not only confirmed the earlier data but also found that by age 2, wealthier children have learned 30 percent more words than low-income children, with the language gap between wealthy and poor children evident in some cases as early as 18 months of age, Motoko Rich reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Ramin Rahimian: Reading from a transitional kindergarten student's journal in Freemont, Calif.)

The study compared children from homes where the median income was $69,000 to homes where it was $23,900. "Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read," Rich writes. Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children, told Rich, “That gap just gets bigger and bigger. That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

Trying to get low-income children caught up hasn't been easy, Rich writes. "President Obama has called for the federal government to match state money to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds from low and moderate income families, a proposal in the budget that Congress voted to postpone negotiating until later this year. The administration is also offering state grants through its Race to the Top Program to support early childhood education. Critics argue, however, that with so few programs offering high-quality instruction, expanding the system will prove a waste of money and that the limited funds should be reserved for elementary and secondary education."

During the 2010-11 school year, 28 percent of all 4-year-olds in the country were in state-financed preschools, and only 3 percent of 3-year-olds were, Rich writes. "The National Governors Association, in a report this month calling on states to ensure that all children can read proficiently by third grade, urges lawmakers to increase access to high-quality child care and prekindergarten classes and to invest in programs for children from birth through age 5. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have policies requiring that third graders be held back if they do not meet state reading proficiency standards, according to the Education Commission of the States." (Read more) (Census Bureau map)

Despite intraparty opposition, Ohio's GOP governor finds a way to get Medicaid to 275,000 people

John Kasich
Low-income residents in states that are not expanding Medicaid have been left in an insurance gap by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. However, low-income residents in Ohio no longer need to worry about being uninsured, a status that is more common in rural areas. After nine months of battling GOP members who control the legislature and oppose health reform, Republican Gov. John Kasich has found a way to expand Medicaid, paving the way for more than thousands low-income residents to get insured.

"State figures suggest that 275,000 Ohioans will become eligible for Medicaid for the first time," Amy Goldstein reports for The Washington Post. "The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 330,000 people in Ohio would have fallen into a coverage gap without the expansion." Ohio is the 25th state state to expand Medicaid, and the eighth with a Republican governor.

Kasich "turned to a relatively obscure state board with power over certain budget decisions," Goldstein writes. The board voted 5-2 to accept $2.55 billion in federal money to cover the cost of expanding Medicaid in Ohio through July 2015. "It does not spell out whether Ohio will provide money to keep Medicaid more generous in future years, when the state would need to chip in a small portion of the expense. And even before the board acted, some conservative Republican lawmakers were threatening to go to court, alleging the governor illegally bypassed the legislature." (Read more)

Jim Siegel and Catherine Candisky report for The Columbus Dispatch: "Starting Jan. 1, mostly childless adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $16,000 for a one-person household, can begin receiving health care coverage under the state-federal program. The childless adults who would gain health coverage include many long-time unemployed, mentally ill, veterans and prison inmates." (Read more)

Farm to School program served 21 million, spent more than $350 million on local food in 2011-12

Schools that participated during the 2011-12 school year in the Farm to School program purchased and served more than $350 million in local food, according to the U.S. Deprtment of Agriculture, which Tuesday released its first-ever Farm to School census. The program served 38,000 schools and 21 students, with 43 percent of public school districts using the program, and another 13 percent having committed to launching one in the near future. (USDA photo)

The program "is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized USDA to assist eligible entities, through grants and technical assistance, to improve access to local foods in schools," according to the USDA. "It is also a core element of the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the department's work on local food systems. In mid-November, USDA will announce approximately $5 million in Fiscal Year 2014 Farm to School grants to help school districts across the country further develop their farm-to-school programming." (Read more) To view state-by-state information on the program click here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

35 million in U.S. don't use Internet, and many who do have trouble getting broadband in rural areas

In the United States 35 million adults (15 percent of the total) don't use the Internet, and 20 percent of those people are from rural areas, though rural areas have only 16 percent of the total population, according to a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Why don't these people use the Internet? Some may think that it isn't relevant to them, it's too difficult to use, or it's too expensive. Many people simply do not have access to it, Keith Darnay reports for The Bismarck Tribune.

Ben Bajarin, director of consumer technology at Creative Strategies Inc., lives in what he calls "the last mile." He and his wife live just south of San Jose, Calif., and Silicon Valley, but don't have access to decent broadband. "I am part of the 30 percent of Americans who don't have real broadband access at home," he writes for Time Tech. He gets 3 to 5 megabits per second (Mbps) and pays more than $100 per month for it. "It's not true broadband, but it's the best I can get," he writes.

Bajarin gets 50-60 Mbps at work, so he knows what good broadband is like. "Internet access is often taken for granted. When you don't have the same access, you quickly realize how valuable it is." The solution to the problem is wireless technology, but we're six or seven years from the next evolution of wireless broadband, "and we're even further from the next evolution being widely adopted," he writes.

Bajarin sees value in working to provide broadband (or faster broadband) for as many people as possible—in rural areas, throughout America and around the world. "I live in the last mile, and it's a challenge for me, given my line of work. But the important thing to remember is that there are still billions of people who have no access at all."

Public libraries are 'lifelines for rural communities'

Whatever the changes in rural American communities, the public library remains one constant that has something for everybody. There are 8,956 public libraries in the U.S., with 77.1 percent considered small (populations less than 25,000) and 46.8 percent in areas categorized as rural, according a report by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Only 16 percent of the U.S. population is rural. In fiscal year 2011, there were 167.6 million recorded visits to rural public libraries, a 4.2 percent increase since 2008, and 301.2 million visits to small libraries, a 4.6 percent increase since 2008.

One reason for the success of rural libraries, which we have noted before, is access to the Internet. Perhaps the bigger reason for the success of rural libraries is something that is rarely offered by anyone else in our consumer-drive society, a public meeting place with free access to a multitude of items, with no demand to purchase something and move along. In fact, most libraries encourage people to spend as much time as needed enjoying the services.

For places such as Myrtle, Mo., a town of 300 in the Ozarks that doesn't even have a bank or a restaurant, the one-room public library is a perfect place for residents to congregate. And new librarian Rachel Reynolds has taken to social media to get the library filled with goodies. With the library only getting $200 a month for books and supplies, Reynolds has used the Internet to seek donations, already garnering 1,000 books since taking over four months ago, Jennifer Davidson reports for NPR. (Davidson photo: Librarian Rachel Reynolds checks out a book to visitor Phyllis Smith)

Tena Hanson of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries told Davidson, "Often, the library is the only place in a small community that people can go to access technology, to fill out job applications, to continue their learning." Hanson said "libraries in remote places are lifelines for rural communities, because the Internet doesn't always reach towns with rugged terrain," Davidson reports.

Mississippi Delta's population keeps falling, dramatically in several counties

Last year the number of people living in non-metro counties, the most common definition of rural America, declined for the first time since the Census Bureau began estimating populations. Population losses aren't anything new in the Mississippi Delta, where demography and economics caused 16 counties to lose between 10 to 38 percent of their population from 2000 to 2010—and 12 lost 50 to 75 percent since 1940, The Economist reports in a recent post on its "The Economist Explains" blog. (Commercial Appeal photo by Alan Spearman: Greenville, Miss., lost more than 7,000 residents in 2000-10)

The unnamed blogger answers the question, "Why are so many people leaving the Mississippi Delta?" Where the region differs from many rural areas is its history of agriculture and slavery and the mass migration of African Americans, who fled the South for the North in the middle of the 20th Century. "The Delta was built not just on agriculture but on slave labour—and lots of it," says the British magazine. "Slaves cleared the brackish, heavily forested floodplain and turned it into arable land. Slaves planted and reaped the cotton fields. After America's civil war, ex-slaves and their descendants provided a vast pool of cheap labour. Railroads into the Delta opened up new markets, but they also carried away workers looking for more opportunity to Chicago during the Great Migration, to military and defence industries during the second world war and to the industrial Midwest and north-east when America's car and steel industries were thriving."

Agriculture is still a major commodity in the Delta, "but farms that once required hundreds of people have become mechanised," The Economist notes. As an example of struggling population, the news source cites Issaquena County, which in 1860 had a population of 7,224 slaves and 587 whites. The current population is 1,386, with 40 percent of those people living below the poverty line. In all, the county has 10 private non-farm business that employ only 99 people, which The Economist says is "a tax base that nightmares are made of and that functional schools and services are not." (Read more) Oddly shaped Issaquena County is the second southernmost county in the Delta (see map of Delta counties). 

Thursday webinar on health reform to look at state decisions on coverage and financing

The third in a series of informative webinars for journalists about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is scheduled from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday. The Kaiser Family Foundation webinar will look at where states stand on implementation and the impact of state decisions on coverage and financing. The event will be hosted by Robin Rudowitz and Rachel Garfield, associate directors for the foundation’s Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, who will give a short presentation before answering questions.

Journalists who want to register can RSVP by clicking here. Shortly after registering, each participant will receive a confirmation email that contains information about how to join the webinar. If you are unable but would like to receive all future updates on the series, please email your name and media affiliation to Video and transcripts are also available for the first two webinars, “What Do Consumers Need to Know About Health Reform’s Changes” and “Understanding Insurance Premiums Under the Affordable Care Act.”

Program promotes math and science among Alaska Natives, brings rural students to college campus

A University of Alaska program is trying to spark an early interest in math and science in Alaska Natives with the hope that the students will continue their education through college, earning degrees in math and science, Tim Bradner reports for Morris Communications, owner of several Alaska newspapers. Known as the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, the program, which only had one student in the university's science and engineering programs during its first year in 1995, now has 400 students. In 2012, 32 students graduated with degrees in math and science. (Alaska Public Media photo by Ellen Lockyer: An ANSEP instructor helping a student build a computer)

In order to reach rural Alaskans, many of whom live in very remote areas, ANSEP recently started a program to bring middle and high school students from 95 communities to the college's Anchorage campus for summer intensive programs that include an emphasis "on peer-taught study groups, with older ANSEP students teaching younger ones so that the older Native students are seen as role models," Bradner writes.

Professor Herb Schroeder, who founded ANSEP, told Radner that "more than 80 percent of the middle school students graduating from eighth grade who have been through ANSEP’s Middle School Academy have completed Algebra 1. Nationally, only 26 percent of students achieve this." One incentive to keep students interested is that the program gives every student a computer that they assemble—and get to keep—if they take and pass certain courses. (Read more)