Friday, November 08, 2013

Oil trains could carry almost as much crude as proposed Keystone pipeline, pose safety issues

UPDATE, Nov. 12: Friday's 30-car derailment in rural Alabama only furthers safety concerns, especially since investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the accident. "With no apparent extenuating circumstances, experts said investigators would likely be looking hard at the condition of the tracks themselves, noting that short-line railroads like the one in Alabama have become critical final links in the thriving oil-by-rail trade -- but can suffer from neglect," Anna Louise Sussman reports for Reuters. No one was killed or injured in the accident. (Read more)

While the Obama administration has yet to rule on the future of an international pipeline that many residents along its route oppose for environmental and safety reasons, heavy Canadian oil is finding another way to U.S. ports: rails. "The equivalent of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day will soon be moving from western Canada into the U.S., even if the Keystone XL Pipeline is never built," Patti Domm reports for CNBC. (Getty Images: Oil train near  Williston, N.D.)

"Canada's railroads, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and larger Canadian National Railway Co., both report expanded oil shipments this year and both expect demand to continue to grow," Domm writes. "By the end of next year, rail loading capacity could grow enough to handle 700,000 barrels of crude a day from the oil sands region in western Canada, according to IHS data. Trains currently carry just 150,000 barrels from there, and more than 450,000 barrels a day could be riding the rails by the end of next year."

TransCanada's Keystone pipeline is designed to carry 830,000 barrels per day. Without it, IHS expects 700,000 barrels to move by rail in 2016. Rail transport could peak at 500,000 to 600,000 if Keystone and another Enbridge pipeline project, which does not need State Department approval, are put into operation, because of expected growth of oil sands production," Domm writes. Moving oil by rail, though, is more expensive, costing $4- to $5 more per barrel in the U.S., and $7-8 more from Canadian oil sands to the Gulf. (Read more) Oil trains may also pose more safety concerns, as the recent disaster in Quebec showed.

Still, the rail option has some believing Keystone isn't necessary for the oil business to continue booming, Elizabeth Douglas reports for Inside Climate News. "Conditions have changed so radically that U.S. refiners are now exporting record amounts of fuel to overseas customers, and there’s a parade of tankers delivering Texas oil to refineries on the east coast of Canada. Many benefits being touted by Keystone XL supporters—American jobs, lower oil costs, greater energy independence through lower imports—are already being delivered by the domestic oil rush. The Canadian oil pipeline might expand some of those benefits, but its significance has been eclipsed by surging production in North Dakota and Texas."

The total output of U.S. oil "rose to 7.9 million barrels per day, the highest level in more than 24 years, according to weekly production data from the federal Energy Information Administration," Douglas writes. That has led to a glut of oil in the Gulf Coast, with oil inventories in the region having "grown in nine of the last 10 weeks, and topped 197 million barrels on Oct. 25, the highest stockpile ever recorded for this time of year, according to EIA data." (Read more)

Environmental group says TVA coal ash polluted water in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama

Coal ash from Tennessee Valley Authority power plants has polluted groundwater in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington ,D.C.-based environmental group, Duane Gang reports for The Tennessean. "The toxic pollutants include arsenic, boron, cobalt, manganese and sulfate, and all are the byproducts of burning coal and storing the coal-ash waste in ponds or landfills."

The reports "comes as the five-year anniversary of the Kingston coal ash spill nears next month," Gang writes.  "In 2008, a dike broke, spilling 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into local waterways and over 300 acres of land" around a TVA plant in Kingston, Tenn. The federal utility was found liable last year in the spill and fined $11.5 million. To read the full report click here(Institute for Southern Studies photo: 2008 coal ash spill)

Programs simulate grain-bin entrapments, and how to rescue a victim

Nathan Brown (right) was trapped in a grain bin, waiting to be rescued. Typically, someone pulled into a grain bin has slim chances of survival, but in this instance, Brown was perfectly safe. That's because Brown, the vice president of the Highland County Farm Bureau in southern Ohio, was participating in a simulation as part of the local farm bureau's nationally recognized rescue program, reports Rural Community Building, a service of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "The objective was to provide the fire departments of Highland County with the proper equipment and training needed for grain bin type rescues."

Grain bin deaths continue to rise, and researchers have tried to come up with ways to make the job safer, including using technology. In Highland County they "raised over $44,000 from local business and farmers to support the purchase and outfitting of two emergency response trailers," Rural Community Building reports. In May, 36 emergency personnel were trained in the trailers, which "are completely equipped with the needed equipment for a grain bin type rescue. This equipment includes the rescue tube, safety equipment, ropes, grain removal equipment and hand tools in a single trailer that is ready to respond to a grain bin accident when needed." (Read more) (University of Arkansas graphic)

Illinois has a similar program, called Stateline Farm Rescue, which uses a simulator that has "a large round container filled with corn seed on top. Below it was a floor with small holes to allow the corn to pass through. Below that was the auger. Once turned on, it would move the corn out of the container through the floor," Zach Berg reports for the Journal Star.

To practice getting a victim out of the bin, "trainees were shown how to construct a metal tube around the victim," Berg writes. "The trainees would get into the container with the victim, using simply trays to stand on so as not to sink. The slightly curved pieces of metal that construct the tube are latched on so they can’t be pulled apart, but can still move independently of each other. The trainees pushed down on the pieces until they were down near the victims feet. Once set, it cuts off more corn from coming toward the victim and the digging begins." (Read more)

Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa, conducts rescue training all over the Midwest. Dave Newcomb, agriculture-rescue program manager for the Fire Service Institutehas been teaching a class for three years. Ohio State University also has a program. Are there similar programs in your area? (Video: Training by the Ohio Fire Academy)

New Mexico nursing curriculum will allow rural students to earn B.A. at community colleges

Nursing students in rural New Mexico will be able to stay close to home to finish their degrees. Republican Gov. Susanna Martinez announced a new nursing curriculum that will partner four-year institutions with community colleges, enabling students in rural areas to complete their bachelor's of science in nursing at a community college, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports. As part of the program students would be co-enrolled in both institutions.

Martinez said, "The lack of a common curriculum for nursing students in New Mexico has put undue stress on our health care system, causing high costs and frustrating delays for many New Mexicans who seek to serve their state and communities as nursing professionals. When burdensome and dissimilar requirements hold back the training of nurses, New Mexico families and communities suffer. These important changes will allow more New Mexicans who aspire to serve their communities as nurses to realize their goals, as well as to ensure they are then able to serve in their own communities where their families live and work."  

New Mexico is also working towards a standardized nursing curriculum and program entry requirements statewide, the Sun-News reports. "By the next academic year, officials say 63 percent of nursing students will learn from the same curriculum, with that number rising to 100 percent by 2017." Pat McIntire, nursing program director at Western New Mexico University, told the Sun-News, "If nursing courses across the state are the same, if a family circumstances change and they have to move, the courses are exact matches. There's no doubt in anyone's mind where they fall in." (Read more)

Course offers students real-world experience and introduces small town to new style of reporting

Student Justin Wright interviews former Gov.
Brereton Jones, a Thoroughbred breeder in Midway.
Students in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky have covered the small town of Midway, about 15 miles from campus, through the Midway Messenger since 2008, instructor Al Cross writes for Grassroots Editor, a quarterly, refereed journal of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

The Midway project has several functions: It provides journalism students with the opportunity to gain real-world experience writing text, creating video packages and putting together photo galleries. The project also gives the town of 1,647—which lost its newspaper 75 years ago—access to news about local government and public issues and timely features.

The Messenger works in mild competition but also cooperation with The Woodford Sun, the countywide weekly, which does not provide news on its website; the Messenger has helped to encourage this weekly newspaper to broaden its horizons. Before starting the project, Cross talked about its potential with Sun Managing Editor Stephen Peterson to make it clear he wasn't trying to compete with the paper but to supplement it. Peterson occasionally publishes an article written by a student in the course.

Laura "Nini" Edwards covers the council.
Cross also discussed the the idea with Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth to pave the way for students to cover city government. The mayor suggested the city take over the Messenger website once Cross was finished with it, but Cross told him wouldn't "be a good idea to turn over an organ of mass communication to a unit of government." He wrote that that conversation was "a harbinger of the Midway Messenger's relations with Bozarth and other city officials which would be more adversarial than they had been accustomed to having with The Woodford Sun," Cross writes. "In that would be lessons about community journalism."

The project has shed light on a variety of other interesting issues such as "involvement of students in reporting and photography outside their normal ambit . . . avoiding conflicts between the need to publish the information in a timely, useful manner and the need to provide the best instruction, and building and maintaining community relationships that facilitate reporting and readership while upholding journalistic principles," Cross writes. Other projects of this nature do exist, but few serve rural areas, he notes. Cross was inspired by both his almost-daily commute through Midway and a University of North Carolinanews site, Carroboro Commons

Students in the class are required to attend at leats one meeting of the Midway City Council. After writing a story about the meeting, Cross combines them into a composite piece, and students discuss the differences in approach between their joint story and the Sun's coverage. Students have benefited from taking the class. Morgan Rhodes, a student from the county seat of Versailles, wrote, "I hear students in other majors complaining about how they feel ill-prepared for the real world after their college experience. By writing for the Midway Messenger, I felt extremely prepared."

Al Cross
"Professional news coverage often pleases one side more than another, and in this, it made our relationship with Mayor Bozarth more adversarial," Cross writes. In 2009, the Midway reported that Midway was "sitting on more than $1 million in cash though its non-utility budget was less than $1 million, but our initial report overstated the amount because the student reporter didn't fully understand the budget and didn't ask enough questions, and I was guilty of the latter omission," Cross writes. The next year, the mayor would not give the Messenger a copy of the proposed budget, so Cross and the Kentucky Press Association obtained a state attorney general's decision, with the force law, that the proposed budget was a public record.

Cross writes that he explained to Bozarth that the Messenger must be professional and provide students with real-world experience. The mayor requested more positive coverage. They discussed several specific articles in the Messenger and "left the meeting with a better understanding of each other," Cross writes. Later he provided the mayor with useful information regarding his concerns with the U.S. Postal Service and its plan to change some operations at the Midway post office. When the mayor was on his way to becoming president of the Kentucky League of Cities, he was pleased that the Messenger published a profile about him, and relations have continued to improve, Cross writes.

Cass Herrington
In 2012, Midway College sent a news release saying the college's president had resigned. The Sun published the news release verbatim and later published an article with only one source: the ex-president. Cross writes that he "knew that the Midway Messenger had to step into the breach and do the best job it could of telling the community what had caused the resignation of the chief executive of the city's largest employer and taxpayer." Cross and a student in his class, Cassidy Herrington, made some calls and conducted interviews with some reluctant sources, finally discovering that the president "had been asked to resign due to his mishandling" of a pharmacy-school project, Cross writes. The Sun published Herrington's story.

Asked to comment on the Messenger project, Peterson wrote that he has "come to realize that the relationship between The Woodford Sun and the Midway Messenger has been much more complementary than competitive . . . After visiting and speaking to Cross's class nearly every year since the project began, I often wish I'd had a similar innovative learning experience when I was in journalism school."

Cross is happy to be a part of the Midway community and tries to "publish with the interests of the town at heart," he writes. The Messenger won't always have the contributors available to cover everything that should be covered, he tells residents, so "You can't always rely on us, but you should always look to us." Cross, 59, hopes members of the community will become more involved to keep the Messenger going after he reduces or ends his involvement. (Read more)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Revised measure says 3 million more Americans in poverty; rural states no longer poorest

We noted yesterday that the number of Americans living in poverty, especially those in rural areas, continues to rise. A new way to measure poverty says 3 million more people than the official count are poor, with rural states like Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico being overtaken as the poorest regions by California, the District of Columbia, Nevada and Florida, The Associated Press reports. The revised estimate, which takes into consideration out-of-pocket medical costs and work-related expenses, found the number of poor Americans in 2012 was 49.7 million, not 46.5 million.

The new measure, which the Obama administration put into place two years ago, "is considered more reliable by social scientists because it factors in living expenses as well as the effects of government aid, such as food stamps and tax credits," the AP reports. But for the new method to have any effect, Congress would have to adopt it, which seems unlikely because it would increase federal spending.

Under the new system, the number of poor 65 and older jumps from 9.1 percent to 14.8 percent, and the number aged 18-64 increases from 13.7 percent to 15 percent. While numbers drop for those under 18, from 22.3 percent to 18 percent, the overall number still increases from 15 percent to 16 percent. Food stamps also played a big role in overall numbers, lifting 5 million above the poverty line. Without food stamps, the percent of poor would increase to 17.6 percent. (AP graphic)

Poverty rates increased among Hispanics and Asians, with the rate for Hispanics increasing from 25.8 percent to 27.8 percent and Asians from 11.8 percent to 16.7 percent, the AP reports. Rates also rose for non-Hispanic whites—from 9.8 percent to 19.7 percent—but went down for African-Americans, from 27.3 percent to 25.8 percent. (Read more)

Vilsack tells Rural Futures meeting to 'remind America about the importance of rural America'

"The future of rural America is tied to how well the rest of America understands and supports it," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Tuesday in his keynote address at the Rural Futures Conference in Lincoln, Neb., Kate Howard Perry reports for the Omaha World-Herald. Vilsack told attendees, “Now is the time to re-emphasize, re-educate and remind America about the importance of rural America."

Perry reports: "Job creation in rural communities is possible with a focus on redirecting food waste to other purposes, exploring money-saving and environmentally friendly conservation strategies and creating an economy that includes production agriculture but isn’t dependent upon it, he said." Vilsack also spoke about the need for a new Farm Bill, and how not having one is hurting rural communities. "The public discourse about the Farm Bill has focused on the Supplemental Assistance and Nutrition Program and farm subsidies—but little in between, he said. The bill also means money for research, education and jobs, he said, and those issues need to be better explained to the 99 percent of Americans who aren’t in farming."

Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska, "said Vilsack’s message connected perfectly to what became a running theme of the conference: connecting young people to rural communities and getting them to invest in the future of their hometowns." Green told Perry, “Young people need to be a part of the solution." (Read more)

Farmers and journalism programs waiting for FAA to release regulations for use of drones

In science-fiction movies there's often a scene in which something crashes on a farm, and the curious farmer goes to investigate, only to get blasted by an alien, who then journeys to the city in its quest to conquer the earth. In "Men in Black" the alien does this while wearing the farmer's skin like a suit. More UFOs could soon be seen flying around farms—but working the land. Drones or “unmanned aerial systems” are typically used by the military but are also increasingly used as farm tools, where they "can cover large tracts of land quickly and produce centimeter-accurate crop data to help farmers plan for irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide application, and harvest with precision," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Tests are also underway on drones that spray crops. More precise pesticide applications could produce environmental benefits in addition to boosting productivity." (Shutterstock photo by Stephanie Bidouze) 

The only obstacle is that "the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow unmanned flight for commercial purposes," Agri-Pulse notes. "Congress, however, has ordered the FAA to incorporate unmanned aerial systems into U.S. airspace by Sept. 30, 2015, and pending litigation could force action sooner." Rory Paul, CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics in St. Louis, told Agri-Pulse that if the rules for model aircraft were applied to unmanned systems, “they would jump into the market with two feet,” because “timely aerial data acquisition is the missing piece of precision agriculture.”

"The FAA does have a special certification process for 'public agencies,' including police and fire departments and universities," Agri-Pulse notes. The University of Missouri received a $25,000 grant last year that it plans to use to fund research for the construction and modification of drones for its Missouri Drone Journalism Program. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which held a drone journalism conference last week, has a Drone Journalism Lab. "But the university drones are temporarily on hold, after the FAA requested in July that they cease all outdoor flight until they obtain a formal certificate of authorization. FAA says it will gather information to use in developing unmanned system regulations for six test sites the agency plans to designate by the end of the year." The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said "a favorable regulatory framework from the FAA would allow makers of drones to add $13.6 billion and 34,000 new jobs to the economy." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but is available for a free trial by clicking here. (Nebraska drone taking a water sample)

Billionaires continue to receive farm subsidies, but few since 2008; legislation would tighten rules

UPDATE, Nov. 8: Chris Clayton of DTN/The Progressive Farmer points out the long time frame used by EWG and writes, "Since 2008, only two or three of the farms owned by billionaires had received any farm payments at all. I scanned through the list of 50 billionaire farms provided by EWG and found two farms that collectively received $185,000 total. Thus, since the last farm bill was passed, 48 of those farms owned by billionaires had not received anything. Now, clearly someone slipped through the cracks on the $185,000, but that's not $11 million. The lion's share of that $11 million goes back to the 1990s when the federal government operated more like an ATM machine." (Read more)

"The federal government paid $11.3 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2012 to 50 billionaires or businesses in which they have some form of ownership, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research organization," Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times. EWG "said its findings were likely to underestimate the total farm subsidies that went to the billionaires on the Forbes 400 list because many of them also received crop insurance subsidies. Federal law prohibits the disclosure of the names of individuals who get crop insurance subsidies."

"The report is being issued as members of the House and Senate are meeting to come up with a new five-year Farm Bill," Nixon notes. "The authors of the report said it is timely, given that lawmakers are debating a House proposal that would cut nearly $40 billion over 10 years from the food-stamp program, which helps provide food for nearly 47 million people. A Senate provision would cut $4.5 billion over the same period." Scott Faber, EWG's vice president for government affairs, told Nixon, "The irony is that farm subsidies are going to billionaires at the same time that there are proposals to kick three to five million people off of food stamps. This clearly highlights the need for reform to our farm programs.” (Read more)

The Times did not mention that the House and Senate have both passed legislation requiring "individuals to 'make a significant contribution of personal labor' to a farm in order to receive benefits," Phillip Swarts reports for The Washington Times. Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told Swarts, “It’s a change that’s long overdue. It’s been an abuse that’s existed that’s allowed people who really have no role in farming to get payments.”

Part of the confusion involves the wording of who receives subsidies and how it is interpreted. "The money went to support not only farm workers but also managers. Yet the definition of what qualified as 'management' was too broad, according to the Government Accountability Office, Congress's chief watchdog arm," Swarts writes. "The Farm Service Agency that oversees the funding had difficulty determining 'whether an individual had made a significant contribution of active personal management, potentially allowing individuals who may have had limited involvement in a farming operation to receive payments,' GAO said." Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a release, “The loophole has been allowed to stand for too long. It’s time to close it once and for all and put the issue to rest so we can maintain a safety net for the farmers who really need it." (Read more)

Doctors in rural areas are older; shortage looms

According to a study supported by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy and other federal agencies, 29 percent of primary care physicians in remote rural areas are 56 or older, Meredith Fordyce, Mark Doescher, and Susan Skillman report for the Daily Yonder. Many will soon retire, and especially because fewer new U.S. medical graduates are choosing to specialize in primary care, rural areas may soon experience a greater shortage of physicians.
Darker states have a greater share of primary care providers in rural counties. (Yonder map)
Overall, rural areas had higher percentages of primary-care physicians (PCPs) near retirement than urban areas, and "as degree of rurality increased, so did the percentage of PCPs nearing retirement," the Yonder reports. In 11 states, 30 percent or more of PCPs are near retirement: North Dakota and Arkansas (30.3 percent), Vermont and Nevada (30.3 percent), Oregon (30.8 percent), Oklahoma (32.3 percent), Florida (32.6 percent), Connecticut  (33.2 percent), California (34.2 percent), West Virginia (36.1 percent) and Massachusetts (42.1 percent.)

In 72 rural counties, all PCPs are 56 or older, and 166 rural counties don't have any PCPs. "Compared to other rural counties, rural counties in the top decile [the top 10%] of near-retirement physicians were characterized by lower population density and lower socioeconomic status as measure by persistent poverty, lower education and lower employment," the Yonder reports.

"The impact of PCPs retirement is likely to come just as demand for primary care services in rural areas spikes due to overall population growth, the 'graying' of rural America and expanded insurance uptake through Affordable Care Act provisions," the Yonder reports.

Several strategies can be employed to help solve this impending issue. The National Health Service Corps and the J-1 visa waiver program both help place newly trained PCPs in locations where they're most needed. Medical schools could focus on recruiting students who have rural backgrounds or on giving current students experience working in rural community settings. Towns facing this issue should actively seek a replacement soon enough so there isn't a gap in provision as well as look into hiring "more than one new PCPs, an interprofessional team, or individual nurse practitioners or physicans assistants," the writers suggest. (Read more)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Persistent-poverty counties are increasingly likely to be rural

Persistent poverty counties are increasingly rural, with the gap between them and their urban counterparts rising from 2.4 percentage points in 2011 to 3.2 points in 2012, according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ERS classifies counties as persistently poor if 20 percent or more of the population lived in poverty at the last three censuses and the 2007-2011 American Community Survey five-year estimates). There are 353 persistently poor counties, with 301, or 85.3 percent, outside metropolitan areas, "with nearly 84 percent of persistent-poverty counties in the South, comprising more than 20 percent of all counties in the region." (ERS chart)
In 2012, 17.7 percent of the rural population, or about 8.5 million people, was in poverty, compared to 14.5 percent in metro areas, according to ERS. In the South, where an estimated 43.1 percent of the rural population lives, the poverty rate is 22.1 percent in rural areas, compared to 15.2 percent in metro areas. In the Midwest the rural poverty rate is 13.6 percent, 13.3 percent in metro; and the Northeast is 14.2 percent in rural areas and 13.4 percent in metros.

From 2007 to 2011, 703 counties, more than 22 percent of the total counties, had poverty rates 20 percent or greater, much higher than the 494 counties at those levels in 2000, ERS reports. Of the 703 counties, 571 counties, or 28.9 percent, were rural, while 132, or 11.3 percent, were in metro areas. "The majority of non-metro high-poverty counties and non-metro poor are located in areas with a long history of distressed or transitioning regional economies, many with a former dependency on natural resources and/or a largely low-skill minority population," ERS says. "Overall, high poverty counties tend to be clustered into groups of contiguous counties that reflect distinct regional and racial concentrations."

Race and ethnicity are also factors. Of the 571rural counties classified as high-poverty, three-fourths "are classified as Black, Hispanic or Native American," ERS reports. Of the remaining 25 percent of high-poverty counties, "most are located in the Southern Highlands of Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and parts of Missouri and Oklahoma. In these areas, the poor are predominantly non-Hispanic whites. Other high-poverty counties are neither minority nor Southern Highlands. They include thinly settled farming areas in the northern Great Plains, where annual income levels vary widely depending on wheat and cattle prices and output.  They also include areas with significant housing market and employment impacts associated with the 2007-09 recession and preceding financial crisis." (Read more)

Food writer Michael Pollan admits manipulation of high-profile stories, presenting one side of issues

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan, one of the world's most cited commentators on food issues, has authored more than five books and has over 330,000 followers on Twitter. In spite of the expertise many believe he has, he recently acknowledged that he isn't an objective science journalist and "manipulates high profile stories on organics and crop biotechnology, particularly at The New York Times—and the paper's editors are willing dupes," Jon Entine writes for Forbes magazine, which usually takes a pro-business view.

Pollan, whose advice is often sought about issues like crop biotechnology, generally presents himself as a moderate on the genetic engineering controversy. "I actually think my position at GM is somewhat nuanced," Pollan said on National Public Radio. "Being skeptical about science and technology is very much in the scientific spirit. . . . You can accept that GM is safe—the narrow scientific issue—without accepting that it's a good idea for the American food system, or has contributed much of value." Based on this and similar interviews, Entine writes that Pollan doesn't think genetically modified organisms are harmful but is not a supporter because GMOs are part of large-scale agriculture, which he doesn't like.

However, lately Pollan has taken a stronger stand against GMOs. In an interview with vegan alternative lifestyle promoter John Robbins, he said, "I think there is no good reason to eat this stuff right now. All they offer is an unquantifiable potential risk." Entine writes, "Pollan goes on to admit, and almost boast, how he misrepresented himself to get inside Monsanto, claiming to be just a 'garden writer'."

Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California, also admits in the interview that he is "not an objective science journalist but an advocate to the industry that has made him a millionaire," Entine reports. "He candidly says he manipulated the credulous editors at The New York Times, for which he writes regularly, by presenting only one side of food and agriculture stories." Pollan said in the interview, "When I wrote about food, I never had to give equal time to the other side. Say you should buy grass feed beef and organic is better, and these editors in New York didn't realize there is anyone who disagrees with that point of view. So I felt like I got a free ride for a long time."

On Twitter Pollan has been promoting anti-GMO studies that other scientists think are inaccurate. "Time and time again, Pollan plugs the latest anti-GMO scare study without ever reading it—an unheard of practice for a serious journalist," Entine writes, conclusing that Pollan "could end up, as viewed through the prism of history, as a tattered icon of an era when hysteria about GMOs trumped the empirical evidence—or he could emerge as a leader for positive engagement on crop biotechnology. He could be a teacher or a demagogue." (Read more)

Five Colorado counties vote to secede; coal industry seems to take major hit in Washington election

Five of the 11 Republican-heavy Colorado counties that had secession on the ballot Tuesday voted in favor of the measure, but the counties still need approval from state lawmakers and Congress to secede. But the vote in the five counties sent the message proponents wanted, which is that "they have become alienated from the more urbanized Front Range and are unhappy with laws passed during this year's legislative session, including stricter gun laws and new renewable-energy standards," Monte Whaley reports for The Denver Post(Post photo by R.J. Sangosti: Pro-secession sign in Washington County)

In Yuma County, 81.4 percent of voters favored secession, the highest of the five; 57 voted in favor and 13 against. In Kit Carson County it received 54.2 percent, the lowest of the five. Jeffrey Hare, a 51st state advocate, told Whaley, "The heart of the 51st State Initiative is simple: We just want to be left alone to live our lives without heavy-handed restrictions from the state Capitol." (Read more)

Statewide, Colorado voters shot down Amendment 66, a $1 billion income tax hike to fund education, with a 66 percent "no" vote, ABC 7 News in Denver reports: "The measure would have raised income taxes from 4.63 percent to 5 percent for taxable income up to $75,000 a year.". . . The amendment would have also required that at least 43 percent of state income, sales and excise tax revenue be set aside to pay for public education." (Read more

Also in Colorado, the cities of Lafayette, Boulder and Fort Collins approved measures to ban hydraulic fracturing in their towns, while a similar plan in Broomfield failed by 13 votes, Blake Sobczak and Peter Behr report for Environment & Energy News: "Lafayette's ballot initiative contained the strictest language, establishing an outright ban on fracking and preventing the movement of drilling waste or chemicals through town." Voters in Loveland were also supposed to vote on a measure, but it was delayed. In Ohio, a hotbed of fracking, voters in Oberlin approved a similar measure, while one failed in Youngstown. (Read more)

The coal industry may have taken a major hit in a small-town election in northwest Washington that garnered national attention, with environmental groups and the coal industry donating thousands to the elections. "If the Whatcom County Council elections were a referendum on a proposed coal export terminal, then the community appears to have taken a stand against it," Ralph Schwartz reports for the Bellingham Herald. Four seats were at stake on the council, which 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. Brian Rosenthal reports for The Seattle Times that pair of challengers took 55 and 54 percent of the votes in unofficial returns, while the incumbents who oppose the port received 57 and 56 percent of the vote. (Read more)

Texans narrowly approved Proposition 6, which dedicates $2 billion to the state water plan to help a state hurt by drought, with 51.5 percent (3,763 voters) voting in favor and 48.5 percent (3,534 voters) against, Paul Weber and Will Weissert report for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican, "called the results 'a resounding and overwhelming victory' for the bipartisan campaign that he championed. Straus told supporters, “I think you saw stakeholders who don’t always agree with one another come together in a very collaborative way.” (Read more)

In what has to be the most confusing election result, it appears that voters in Novi, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, voted for and against the same proposal. Voters had the chance to decide whether the town will put official notices on its website instead of the local newspaper, a move that has some community papers fearful that other government organizations will do the same thing. Since ballot proposals are limited to 100 words, the proposal had to be split into two parts, reports the Observer and Eccentric, which covers the Detroit suburbs. Strangely, one passed, and the other was not only rejected, but rejected big, with 59 percent against it.

Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager with the Michigan Press Association, told The Rural Blog, "I don't know why one would pass and one would not. My initial analysis of this is Proposition 2 (which passed by 260 votes) is kind of general and does still maintain there is an option for newspaper noticing. Proposition 3 (which was defeated by 1,169 votes) is specific to which organizations and looks like it eliminates newspaper notice." McGraw, though, said, "It doesn’t look like they can eliminate newspapers for the specific things cited."

Here is how the City of Novi worded Proposal 2: "Shall Section 15.2 of the Novi Charter, which currently requires publication of notices, ordinances and proceedings to be either by newspaper publication or, alternatively, by posting in the office of the Clerk and five other places in the City if the form of publication is not prescribed by Charter or law, be amended to allow publication through one or more of the following: posting in a newspaper, posting on the City’s website or publishing by any other means or methods appropriate to properly inform the general public?"

Proposal 3 read: "Shall Section 3.12 of the Novi Charter, relating to notices of election, Section 6.1, relating to Council meetings, Section 7.5, relating to publication of ordinances, Section 8.7, relating to emergency appropriations, Section 8.11, relating to annual audits, Section 9.15, relating to notification of the due date of taxes and Section 14.1, relating to public utility franchises, be amended to delete references to publication being required by newspaper or posting in certain public places and to replace such language with the requirement that publication shall be 'as required by law or this Charter?'" (Read more)

Phoenix news outlets drop effort to get photos and documents relating to forest fire that killed 19

In a case that pitted freedom of information against the claimed privacy interests of victims and their families, a pair of Phoenix news outlets dropped their lawsuit to obtain photographs and documents surrounding the June deaths of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, Tamara Sone reports for The Daily Courier in Prescott, Ariz. "According to the announcement, the settlement will ensure that photos and documents connected with the case will not be released to any media outlets. While the sheriff's office did release some records to the media, Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher declined to release any photos of the scene due to privacy issues and possible trauma it may have caused family members."

The Arizona Republic and KPNX Channel 12, both owned by Gannett Co., "filed suit against the sheriff's office and Yavapai County medical examiner in late September for the release of records and photographs. The media company alleged that 'diagrams, some photographs and other documents' are public record under Arizona state law, and residents have a 'compelling interest' in learning what led to the death of the Hotshots. In addition to requesting records and photos of the burn area, the outlets asked for copies of the photos of the Hotshots' personal items." At one point, they were also looking for copies of autopsy photos and records, but later dropped that request. (Read more)

Reduction in federal funding might make broadband expansion more difficult in rural areas

During a Senate hearing Oct. 29, Internet stakeholders said the government needs to continue promoting broadband adoption "among low income citizens, the elderly and populations situated in remote geographic locations," Bryce Baschuk writes for Bloomberg BNA. 

Roger Wicker of Mississippi, top Republican on the Communications Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, expressed concern about Federal Communications Commission data showing broadband adoption rates in rural areas were much lower than in urban areas, a phenomenon he attributed to "lack of 'digital literacy,' questions regarding the relevancy of broadband in their lives and the cost of equipment and services," Baschuk reports.

Former Sen. John Sununu Jr., honorary co-chair of Broadband for America, expressed the importance of teaching people why and how to use broadband and promoted a "light-touch regulatory approach" and retention of the moratorium on taxing Internet transactions, Baschuk reports. Sununu asaid the E-Rate program, which was authorized in 1996 and provides the nations education facilities with broadband, has lost its focus. He said E-Rate needs to solve broadband access problems due resulting from economic or geographic factors.

Citizens in rural areas in Nebraska may lose access to high-quality broadband service unless the state coughs up money to offset a reduction in federal funding," Andrew Ward writes for the Omaha World-Herald. Eric Carstenson, president of the Nebraska Telecommunications Association, said, "New federal regulations will reduce federal subsidies for broadband Internet services—such as cable, fiber optic or DSL—in many areas outside towns and cities, leaving rural residents with less-reliable options."

Former FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth told Ward the federal government's "high-cost Universal Service Fund is plagued with uncertainty and can't be counted on to provide support in the future," Grant Schulte writes for The Associated Press. Last year the state received $86 million from the fund but will likely only receive $80 million this year.

Carriers have to spend more in rural areas because they have to cover a large area that may only include a small group of paying customers. Michael Balhoff, a consultant from Maryland, "told the legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee that without the subsidy, some remote areas would turn into an 'economic wasteland' with little or more expensive service," Schulte writes. Balhoff also predicted that risk for the shutdown of small carriers with increase through 2020.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Federal appeals court issues temporary injunction blocking operation of horse slaughter plants

The prospect for immediate, legal horse slaughter in the U.S. took a hit Monday when a federal appeals court in Denver issued a temporary injunction barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from inspecting the plants, Alan Scher Zagier reports for The Associated Press. Plants in New Mexico and Missouri had hoped to open this week.

On Friday, a federal judge in New Mexico dismissed a lawsuit by animal rights groups to keep the plants from opening. The Humane Society of the United States and other animal-protection groups appealed the decision, alleging "the Agriculture Department failed to conduct proper environmental studies when it issued permits to the slaughterhouses." (Read more)

Nan Ezzell, matriarch of family that helped set standards for courage in rural journalism, dies at 93

Nan Ezzell, who nurtured two generations of crusading community journalism over more than six decades in the Texas Panhandle, died Sunday in Canadian, Tex. Ezzell, 93, was publisher of The Canadian Record, having succeeded her late husband, Ben Ezzell, and handed the editorial reins to their daughter, Laurie Ezzell Brown. The family won the 2007 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Nancy Catherine Morgan Ezzell and Ben Ezzell moved to Canadian in 1947 and eventually bought the weekly newspaper. "As co-editors and publishers of the Record, they won countless regional and state awards and were widely respected by their fellow journalists," reads the obituary her daughter-editor wrote for this week's Record. "Her much-loved column, 'Petticoat Patter,' appeared in the Record pages each week for over 55 years." (Read more)

Nancy's daughter, Laurie Ezzell Brown, co-editor and publisher of the Record, told Jon Mark Beilue of the Amarillo Globe-News, "She believed a newspaper was vital to a community. She never wavered in that. It was difficult sometimes. We lived in a tumultuous time politically and in the community, and there were times threats and attacks were made on the family. But my mom was a very gentle dignified person and peacemaker. It was difficult for her, but she stood steadfastly by Dad’s side. I don’t remember her questioning what we were doing, the importance, or the necessity in taking a political position that wasn’t necessarily popular." Laurie said of Nancy's column, "If she was critical of something, she was nicely critical. Her column was for women, and in the beginning, it was on traditional roles of women. But she evolved and was a feminist, and believed in women’s equality and women’s rights.” (Read more)

Oklahoma earthquakes seen linked to oil and gas; seismologist disagrees with assessment

Earthquakes that have been rocking the area around Oklahoma City since Saturday could be linked to oil and gas production sites, either from injection wells for drilling waste or removal of large amounts of oil and water, Mike Soraghan reports for Environment and Energy News. Officials recorded 16 earthquakes on Saturday, beginning with a 3.7 magnitude quake at 4:30 a.m. More earthquakes have been reported in the days since, with Earthquake Track recording a 3.2 magnitude quake this morning in Edmond, 15 miles outside Oklahoma City.

Over the past several years, seismologists have recorded hundreds of small quakes in the area, Soraghan writes. Katie Keranen, a Cornell University professor who has studied the tremors, "said the quakes appear to be linked to oil and gas activities in the area," Soraghan writes. Keranen told him, "These most recent earthquakes highlight the continuing seismic activity near Jones and the east Oklahoma City metro area, in a swarm which appears linked to high-volume water production and injection wells in central Oklahoma."

Kearnen "has also linked Oklahoma's largest recorded earthquake, a 5.7 near Prague in 2011, to nearby oil and gas waste injection wells," Soraghan writes. She presented her findings last month at the the Geological Society of America, saying, "Earthquakes began soon after the onset of injection. There are commonalities in the methods used for petroleum extraction from carbonate reservoirs in central Oklahoma, involving the production of high water volumes, which speculatively may explain the abundance of induced earthquakes recorded here."

Austin Holland, research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, disagreed with Kearnen's findings, telling a local news station, "We know why Oklahoma has earthquakes. It's responding to these large regional stresses that are much smaller than in California, where you can better measure the deformation on a fault." (Read more)

Ohio House passes legislation allowing motorists to keep hogs, boars and turkeys killed by vehicles

Ohio residents looking to bypass the grocery store could soon get their meat free of charge in the middle of the road. The House passed legislation Wednesday allowing people to keep feral hogs, wild boars, or a wild turkeys that they hit and kill with their vehicle, as long as they report the accident to a wildlife or law enforcement officer within 24 hours, Jeremy Pelzer reports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. The state already has a law allowing motorists to keep deer that they hit and kill. (USDA photo)

House Bill 199 passed by a vote of 94-1. State Rep. Tony Burkley (R-Payne) joked that if the bill passes, “We don’t have to wait days for local authorities or buzzards to clean up the roadway.” He said the cost of repairing the vehicle “would be offset somewhat by the additional food that may be placed on the table, so you can say it’s for the kids.” The legislation now heads to the Senate. (Read more)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Latest vision in Sedan, Kan., is multi-purpose library

Community leaders in Sedan, Kan., population 1,093, plan to raise money to build a library including new technology and various facilities, Julianne Couch writes for the Daily Yonder. Projects for town improvement are common in Sedan; other undertakings have included selling more than 11,000 beige bricks bearing the purchaser's name, and removing garbage from the creek that runs through town.

Library board member Judy Tolbert, real estate broker Dick Jones
Community leader and library board member Judy Tolbert said, "The project has the potential to unite the community and area." The library will provide space for a variety of activities. Tolbert explained the library will have a safe room to shelter residents from tornadoes, a meeting room, 20 computers, and a full kitchen. Tolbert said the kitchen will provide a place to can and preserve food that will grow in the community garden near the library. The planners also recognize the need for a cutting edge digital library, said Rudy Taylor, local newspaper publisher and editor, told Couch.

With approval of the city council, the library board has purchased a residential lot and another lot next door. Tolbert said the library will cost $783,000 to build, but with the additional equipment required for the kitchen and security system, it might be closer to $1 million. They have raised $18,000 and won't start building until they've raised the rest of it. "We are asking for money from around the region, not local money," Tolbert told Couch. "Then when people in town see regional people contributing, then the locals will ask to get involved." (Read more)

Texas' anti-terror law on ammonium nitrate fails to keep citizens safe, Dallas Morning News finds

Dallas Morning News map; click it for larger version
In 2007, Texas passed a law to keep ammonium nitrate away from terrorists, but the law says nothing about its safe handling, which has some concerned about another explosion like the one in April in West, Texas, that killed 15 and injured 300. James Drew and Matt Jacob of The Dallas Morning News found that "More than half of all facilities licensed last year by Texas to carry ammonium nitrate lacked either secure fencing or locked storage areas for the potentially explosive chemical compound," they report. "But the state didn't consider them a security risk."

The investigation found that the anti-terror law "sets a lax standard for keeping Texans safe. According to the state agency charged with enforcing the 2007 law, it has acted only once to temporarily bar a facility from selling ammonium nitrate that had recurring problems," Drew and Jacob write. This report comes on the heels of one released by the newspaper in August that found that the government has no idea how many chemical accidents occur in the U.S.

Of the 115 Texas facilities registered to handle ammonium nitrate in fiscal 2013, 62 lacked secure fencing or locked storage areas, Drew and Jacob write. "The law says an ammonium nitrate storage facility must be 'fenced or otherwise enclosed and locked when unattended.' The state chemist says a facility fails inspection if it lacks both secure fencing and locked storage areas, and added that there were no such failures in fiscal 2013. Using that double criteria, the News found two facilities in the state’s records that should have failed inspection in the last fiscal year and 40 over the fiscal 2008-13 period. The agency said it did not tally the number of failed inspections until receiving inquiries from the News and other public record requests. Last week, the agency’s director said it had always kept such a tally."

Many of the sites are in rural areas, and some are close to schools, homes and other inhabited structures, Drew and Jacob report. So, what's the law in your state, and how is it being enforced?

Some experts say fracking boom will end soon, but others say it will continue for decades

Researchers say the U.S. fracking boom won't last as long as Department of Energy estimates have predicted, Wendy Koch reports for USA Today. "Many wells behind the energy gush are quickly losing productivity, and some areas could hit peak levels sooner than the U.S. government expects, according to analyses presented last week at a Geological Society of America meeting in Denver." (Getty Images by Mladen Antonov: Marcellus Shale site in Waynesburg, Pa.)

J. David Hughes, an energy expert at the Post Carbon Institute, a research group focused on sustainability, said "sweet spots," areas with the highest yields, don't last long, Koch writes. He said unless more wells are drilled, a typical one in "the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana loses 44 percent of its production after a year and the Eagle Ford shale of Texas, 34 percent. Most of the nation's major shale regions produce both oil and gas." Hughes said oil production in the Bakken has already started to slow down and Eagle's Ford may soon follow. Charles Hall, professor at the State University of New York-Syracuse, said almost all the Bakken production comes from sweet spots.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has said the Bakken and Eagle Ford deposits will hit their oil peak in 2020, declining afterward, but William Fleckenstein, a petroleum engineering professor at the Colorado School of Mines, told Koch the boom will continue for decades. The University of Texas-San Antonio "reported in March that fewer wells will be drilled but total production of both oil and gas will rise considerably by 2022. New shale regions are also emerging, and being touted by companies looking for money to exploit them. In the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the production of oil will more than double and that of gas will nearly double by 2025, according to an investor presentation last month by Pioneer Natural Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas company." (Read more)

Rural Canadian food co-op, close to N.D., opens a year-round store with local farmers' goods

Our friends north of the border have developed an interesting version of a rural food cooperative. Rural Roots, which opened Oct. 26 in Boissevain, less than an hour from North Dakota, is Manitoba's "first grocery store that features only locally-grown produce and product," Bill Redekop reports for the Winnipeg Free Press. The co-op "is an extension of the farmers market concept -- but indoors and open year-round." The store, which is about the size of a master bedroom, is run by volunteers. It opened without any government support, using sponsors to buy all the necessary equipment. (Rural Roots Facebook photo)

"The goal is to promote local production and 'to make food personal and transparent,' board member Casey Guenther said, Redekop writes. "So, if you're looking for a steak for supper, you can go to Rural Roots' freezer and buy 'local beef from Vicky Neufeld,' as it says on one side of the freezer. If you want fresh bread, you might pick out the flax loaf 'baked by Christine Fehr.' There are photos and bios of all its small-scale farmer-suppliers." Other items include hot sauce, rice, cheese, oils, milk and dairy products, flour, lamb, and fruits and vegetables. (Read more)

Farm Bill talks go behind closed doors with some optimism but big differences, especially on nutrition

The Farm Bill's "overlong development period has given all the interests so many opportunities to state their positions that they seem more dug in than in past bill-writing efforts," Jerry Hagstrom writes for National Journal. "But at the conference last week there were signals that the conferees think the time to act has come."

At last week's initial meeting of the House-Senate conference committee, "the last and possibly only public opportunity to make the case for their views," Hagstrom writes, almost all members limited their comments to three minutes, as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., had asked. "And even the most ideological of them on the right and left were polite and stressed that they were there to compromise and finish a bill."

Lucas adjourned the committee until "the call of the chair," meaning that he will negotiate the final bill with his counterpart, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the ranking minority members on each side, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Sen, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., with input from members most concerned about specific issues and a lot of help from their staffs, who "are furiously trying to find the same “sweet spot” on an number of issues, including commodity programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, crop insurance, and conservation programs," Agri-Pulse reports.

Since President Obama said passing a Farm Bill should be one of three top priorities for Congress before year's end, there has been talk of a meeting with him and the four top negotiators. Peterson "said he has mixed feelings about such a meeting because support from Obama might cause some House members to oppose the bill," he said Obama might help to resolve the wide difference in proposed cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once called food stamps, Hagstrom reports.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told C-SPAN that negotiators should take into account last week's SNAP cut, a result of the expiration of a temporary increase funded by the 2009 economic stimulus bill, but Peterson said on AgWeb's "AgriTalk" broadcast, “One of the problems with nutrition is it’s got focused on numbers, you know, now 40 billion versus 4 billion. There’s a lot of policy issues here that need to be resolved, and everybody’s kind of forgotten about that. . . . I wish we could get back to policy, and have us do the right things policy-wise, and see where that number comes out. Senator Stabenow says, and I believe her, that she cannot go to double digits,” $10 billion or more over 10 years.

"The big question now," Hagstrom writes, "is whether the food industry will weigh in on the food-stamp cut. So far Wal-Mart and other big chains where food-stamp beneficiaries spend most of their money—about $80 billion last year—have remained silent but comments by investment analysts that the food-stamp cut may affect their bottom lines and the general economy might lead them to act." However, "Heritage Action and other conservative groups have said the food-stamp cut should be even bigger than the $39 billion in the House bill."

If no new Farm Bill passes by Dec. 31, farm law would revert to a 1949 statute that would effectively double milk prices. House Speaker John Boehner strongly opposes the committees' new approach to the dairy program and could refuse to bring the bill to a vote, but Peterson told Mike Adams on AgriTalk, “If we don't get the dairy bill that I put together, then we are going to get current law, and the committee is behind me on that.” For a transcript, click here.

Documentary examines impoverished rural Indiana community through eyes of basketball team

"Medora," new documentary opening this week examines one of Indiana's most impoverished rural communities through the eyes of its high school basketball team. But it's not a story of a championship team carrying the community on its back. In fact, the team is the worst in the state. What the film does is get an up-close and personal look at rural life in a once-prosperous town that has fallen on hard times, and showcases the lives of a group of students trying to survive while trying their best to improve their station in life.

Of the 700 residents in Medora (left, in Jackson County; Wikipedia map), about 74 percent have a high school diploma, but less than 1 percent have a college degree, and 18 percent are unemployed, according to City-Data. The average median household income in 2011 was $26,989, well below the state average of $46,438. Nearly 28 percent of residents are divorced.

The film was inspired by a 2009 New York Times article in which John Branch wrote: "Players for Medora High School have taken the court wearing work boots because their families cannot afford basketball shoes. Most smoke cigarettes. Some talk openly of drug use. All but a few come from broken homes. Poverty rates are high here, college graduates few. Drug use is rampant, several said, and many residents live in ramshackle trailer homes strewn about the hills that surround the checkerboard streets of the town. In these depressed times, there is little to cheer but the high school basketball team. Except it does not win."

Filmmakers Davy Rothbart and Andrew Cohn spent two years making the film, Edirin Oputu reports in Columbia Journalism Review. Cohn told Oputu: "When we got to the town … it just seemed like a really magical place. My first instinct, I remember talking to Davy, was ‘How does this place exist?’ There’s a bank, a bar, a school, a mill, and liquor store, and yet people still live in this town. The trend has been people leaving to go to these larger towns. And so Davy and I wanted to explore what keeps these people here: the identity, the sense of camaraderie." (Photo from "Medora")

Rothbart told Oputu that "one of the political elements of the film that I’m happiest that we managed to include" was when the mother of the Hornets’ power forward "talked about how she works in a factory and just how poor they are. I think there’s a misconception, or a misperception, by a lot of Americans that if people are struggling, if they’re on welfare, it’s because they’re lazy, they don’t want to work. In Medora there’s no jobs. And if you’re lucky enough to be one of the few that has a job, what you’re paid is not really enough to feed a family or keep a roof over your head." (Read more) The film opens Friday in Los Angeles and New York. Its website is here.