Friday, July 18, 2014

Paddling remains legal in all or part of 19 states; critics say minorities, disabled bear the brunt

While some may view paddling in schools as a long-abandoned practice, corporal punishment remains legal in 19 states, mostly in rural areas. Paddling continues to have its fair share of critics, who say corporal punishment harms students mentally and physically, while studies say the majority of corporal punishment "is used disproportionately on minority students and those with mental, physical and emotional disabilities," Rachel Chason reports for USA Today. But some in rural areas say the practice not only works, but is supported by parents. (Map: Paddling is legal in red states)

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights says the number of students paddled has decreased in recent years, from 342,038 in 2000 to 217,814 in 2009-10, Chason writes. And five counties, three in Florida and two in North Carolina, have banned paddling for this school year.

"A 2008 Human Rights Watch report showed that although African-American students made up 17.1 percent of the student population nationwide, they made up 35.6 percent of those paddled," Chason writes. "The report also notes that children with disabilities in Texas made up 10.7 percent of the student population in the 2006-07 school year, but accounted for 18.4 percent of those paddled."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) who has reintroduced a public-school paddling ban each year since 2010, told Chason, "Most people don't even know that corporal punishment is still going on in this country. It's not just harmful physically but also psychologically. There are so many other ways of handling discipline."

The states with the highest number of students being paddled are Mississippi, Texas and Alabama; a report by the Office of Civil Rights said more than 100,000 students were paddled in those states during the 2009-10 school year, Chason writes. George Holden, a psychology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, "said those numbers are mostly coming from smaller, rural districts. He said the practice is banned in Texas's largest cities: Houston, San Antonio and Dallas." He calls paddling "counterproductive," saying it has negative long-term effects, making "students angry, less likely to communicate with teachers and less motivated to succeed."

But some rural school districts say paddling has had positive results, Chason writes. "In Coffee County, located in southeast Georgia, Superintendent Morris Leis said his school district allows paddling because it's an effective form of punishment." Leis told her, "We won't paddle a student if a parent doesn't want us to, but we don't get a lot of complaints." (Read more)

Senate passes bill requiring Federal Reserve to have board member with community-bank experience

The five-member Federal Reserve Board could soon be required to have at least one member with community banking experience. The Senate approved an amendment introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.), who "said it would help introduce balance to a Federal Reserve that has come to lean too heavily on officials with academic and 'megabank' experience." Vitter said, “There’s an unmistakable trend away from having adequate representation from folks with community bank experience." The amendment was to the Terrorist Risk Insurance Act, which passed and went to the House.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said she would welcome a community banker on the board but opposed  legislation to require one, reports Pedro Nicolaci De Costa of The Wall Street Journal. Yellen said, “The board has many different needs. I think if we were to sit down and make a list of all of the kinds of expertise that are needed and are useful, there would be more than seven items on that list. And I would, you know, prefer to see appointments made in light of the priorities, including for a community banker, rather than for the indefinite future locking in and earmarking particular seats for particular purposes.” (Read more)

Colo. governor vows to do 'whatever it takes' to beat anti-fracking initiatives if they reach ballot

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he will "do 'whatever it takes' to ensure the defeat of the two ballot initiatives that aim to give local governments more control over oil and gas drilling," Jennifer Yachnin reports for EnergyWire. (AP photo by Brennan Linsley: Hickenlooper speaking Thursday)

On Wednesday Hickenlooper announced that he didn't have enough support from state lawmakers to pass a compromise law that would give localities more control over hydraulic fracturing, which would send the issue to the ballot box, as long as proponents of the initiatives get the required number of signatures by Aug. 4. As of Wednesday the proposals still needed about 40,000 signatures.

Hickenlooper, who is facing stiff competition in his re-election bid, said, "With November's elections fast approaching, we all agree we now must turn our full attention to defeating these ballot measures. These measures risk literally thousands and thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue," Yachnin writes.

Hickenlooper said that if towns are able to ban hydraulic fracturing, it could cost the state around 2,000 jobs, reports Ivan Moreno for the The Associated Press. But while the oil and gas industry said the measures could lead to fracking being banned, supporters of the measure disagree. Mara Sheldon, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, the group behind the initiatives Hickenlooper is opposing, told Moreno, "These initiatives are not a ban on fracking; they are the right balance needed for responsible energy development. It simply doesn't belong where we live, where our food grows and where our children play." (Read more)

Rural Oregon county has spent 20 years trying to get rural areas better connected to the Internet

While the Federal Communications Commission considers a huge number of comments on its proposal to limit Internet neutrality, Camilla Mortensen writes a story for Eugene Weekly that takes a look at how rural residents in Lane County, Oregon (Wikipedia map) began bargaining in the 1990s to get fiber-optic cable in their county, and how nearly 20 years later some in the county still lack broadband.

Former Lane County commissioner Cindy Wood-Weeldreyer said "when she was first elected commissioner representing East Lane County in 1995 she focused on health and human services issues and on improving communication between the County Commission and its rural residents," Mortensen writes. "One issue Weeldreyer was dealing with was that while people in the metro area could attend commission meetings or watch them on community television, the broadcasts were not available to rural residents. With this in mind, she went to a telecommunications conference in 1997 thinking she would learn more about expanding community TV. What she got was a crash course in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the need to expand Internet services."

"Weeldreyer became a 'rural telecommunications evangelist,'" Mortensen writes. "Two regional consortiums were formed: Regional Fiber Consortium and Fiber South Consortium, which later merged into one consortium under the name of the Regional Fiber Consortium in 2007."

"Weeldreyer spearheaded an effort to bring fiber optic to Eugene and surrounding towns in the late ’90s when she discovered that a private telecommunications company was laying fiber-optic cable from Seattle to San Diego," Mortensen writes. "At that time Eugene was developing what some called a 'Silicon Forest,' with high-tech companies like Hyundai (Hynix) and Sony moving in, but Weeldreyer feared the high-tech movement would only benefit towns along the I-5 corridor, not the small timber communities she represented" in and beyond the Cascade Mountains.

"The fiber itself is the least expensive component in the effort, she says, so the question was what kind of proposal could local communities make that would induce the private company to lay dark fiber for them," Mortensen writes. "Dark fiber is simply fiber-optic cable that has not been lit up — connected to the Internet. "Communities from Coburg to Oakridge quickly adopted ordinances to join the fiber consortiums and prepared to trade right-of-way access for fiber. But Weeldreyer says when the time came to negotiate — they were thinking of asking for maybe six strands of fiber — the telecommunications company responded 'in true corporate fashion, ‘We don’t need your right-of-way.’”

"The fiber route would follow the railroad’s right-of-way, which is why there is a major fiber-optic route running through Oakridge and down to Klamath Falls," Mortensen writes. "Luckily, Weeldreyer says, Pam Berrian, telecommunications program manager for the city of Eugene, found that the city still controlled the right-of-way where the railroad crosses High Street, since the street existed before the railroad."

"Cities can charge fees for telecommunications companies to use their rights-of-way, and while Weeldreyer says most towns are reluctant to give up those moneymaking fees, this time they offered to expedite the permit and let the company have the right-of-way in exchange for 12 strands of fiber and access points to members of the consortiums along the way," Mortensen writes. "The company, then called Pacific Fiber Link, faced with a roadblock to its fiber optic network, agreed."

Milo Mecham of the Lane County Council of Governments, who has been working on the broadband issue since the late ’90s, said they received an $8.3 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant "to enhance the existing fiber-optic backbone and add 124 miles of fiber-optic network to deliver broadband capabilities in Lane, Douglas and Klamath counties," Mortensen writes. "The project, which wrapped up in the fall of 2013, installed fiber in every city in Lane County with the exception of Westfir and Dunes City," where there were no anchor institutions that qualified. (Read more)

Fla. farmer posts sign warning potential home-lot buyers of animal 'noise, odors and outdoor sex'

Residents in a rural Florida town have found a unique — and colorfully descriptive — way to fight a proposed housing development in their neighborhood. In an attempt to deter the proposed 80-home project, Englewood resident Sue Young, one of 20 farm owners in the area, has posted a sign warning potential buyers of the myriad of sounds and smells farm animals make, including the fact that anyone living near a farm is bound to witness animals having sex, Josh Taylor reports for WWSB My Suncoast.

Young told Taylor, "We are hobby farms. People come to see our animals. We raise our own animals. They want to put 80 homes on what used to be an equestrian farm. We just don't want to be changed in the zoning. We are farms, and Englewood should have farms." Young said people have responded positively to the sign and no one has been offended by it.

 City-Data map
"She says it's meant to catch some eyeballs and meant as a warning," Taylor said. "They’re concerned that once those in a gated community move in, they'll work to get rid of the annoyances around them." Young told Taylor, "It's like moving next to an airport and complaining about the traffic patterns. If you move next to a farm, we have animals that make noises and they smell. A lot of people enjoy them but they are not meant for everybody." (Read more)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Net-neutrality comment period extended until Friday

After receiving nearly 700,000 comments about its net neutrality rules, the Federal Communications Commission has extended the comment period to midnight Friday. The original deadline had been Tuesday, but after receiving so many comments, including a flurry that crashed the website, the deadline was extended, and it appears "likely that net neutrality will become the most-commented-on issue in FCC history," Gautham Nagesh reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Among those keeping close watch on the rules are rural Americans. Net neutrality "could have unintended consequences here in the hinterlands, where customers are relatively few and far between and providing broadband services at all is still an issue in some localities," the McCook Daily Gazette warns. Some rural areas already lack high-speed Internet, or any service at all, but net-neutrality could slow things down even more, with companies like Netflix, which uses as much as 34 percent of Internet traffic at peak times, being blamed for slowing down networks.

"Net neutrality rules have been sold for a decade as a way to keep the Internet 'open and free' by keeping Internet service providers (ISPs), such as phone and cable companies, from blocking or degrading Web sites," former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell writes for The Washington Post. "Its advocates have argued that ISPs have an economic incentive to act anti-competitively toward consumers and competitors. In a common hypothetical they cite, ISPs would slow — or buffer — traffic for Netflix unless it unfairly pays for more access points, or “off ramps,” and better quality of service."

"In truth, however, market failures like these have never happened, and nothing is broken that needs fixing," McDowell writes. "If consumers were being harmed by ISPs, ample antitrust, competition and consumer protection laws already exist to fix the problem. And major broadband providers have pledged, in their terms of service, to keep the Net open and freedom-enhancing. Why?  Because it is good business to do so."

Columbia law professor Tim Wu testified before Congress that the goal of net-neutrality is to give the FCC oversight of the Internet, McDowell writes. "State manipulation of the Net would shape 'not merely economic policy, not merely competition policy, but also media policy, social policy' and 'oversight of the political process,' according to Wu’s testimony. Current regulations simply do not 'capture' the Net the way more government powers would through powerful new rules, he argued."

"Wu’s vision of more government 'capture' strongly resembles old broadcast regulations spurred by a 'scarcity' of outlets in the mid-20th century — the legal rationale for government regulation of speech over the airwaves, which would never be tolerated by, say, newspapers," McDowell writes. "Even in today’s competitive and digitized media markets, broadcasters must adhere to strict rules dictating speech, or risk losing their licenses. This Supreme Court-blessed government speech control operates under aliases such as 'regionalism' and 'localism' as invoked by Wu. These rules compel broadcasters to tailor their content to serve properly (in the eyes of regulators) their 'communities of license' That could include mandates ranging from sufficient local news, sports and weather, to a minimum amount of programming for children." (Read more)

Nuisance judgment could encourage more such lawsuits against oil and gas drilling companies

Lawsuits alleging water contamination and illnesses from natural-gas wells have often led nowhere. But an April decision by a Texas jury to award a couple $2.9 million, because the company created a nuisance that interfered with the homeowners' use of their land, could encourage similar lawsuits across the country. (CNN image: Bob Parr's frequent nosebleeds helped him win his case)

"The facet of common law has existed for centuries, originally to address, say, foul odors from a neighbor's pig sty," Ellen Gilmer reports for EnergyWire. "Today, nuisance is much the same, except neighbors now fight over a towering drilling rig, or the flood lights from a fracking operation, or the slew of truck traffic trudging across their rural roads."

University of Cincinnati law professor Jim O'Reilly told Gilmer, "Whether we like fracking or not, we have to say it's a major transformation of what had been a quiet agricultural area into a major industrial area." Gilmer writes, "The extent of that transformation, which certainly varies depending on the site, plays into the nuisance test. Though the law varies state by state depending on precedent set by judges, the test for a claim remains fairly standard: Does an action unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment and use of one's property?"

But proving a nuisance claim is often difficult, Gilmer writes. Attorney Brannon Robertson told her, "You can put the same set of facts in front of two different juries, and one will do one thing and one will do another."

Companies have also found ways to get around nuisance claims, Gilmer writes. One way is to create a good relationship with people living in the vicinity of a well by keeping wells "as far from homes as possible, use sound barriers, hire contractors with safe driving records and erect fences to hide anything that might be deemed an eyesore." Another way is to follow the lead of Pennsylvania gas companies, which offered residents $50,000 to release the company from any legal liability, now or in the future. Environmentalists have criticized that approach, calling it "hush money." (Read more)

Colo. drilling and fracking controls likely headed to ballot, with possible ripple effects elsewhere

Colorado's "battle over local control of oil and gas drilling ... swung from the statehouse to the ballot box" Wednesday, reports Greg Jaffe of The Denver Post.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said "he did not have enough support to pass a compromise law" that would give localities more control over hydraulic fracturing," Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. "The announcement left energy developers and environmental groups girding for battle over two measures proposed for the November ballot that would outlaw drilling within 2,000 feet of homes and schools and give communities more power to restrict drilling with environmental laws." The proposals, which need 86,105 signatures to be put on the ballot, currently have about 42,000 signatures.

"These would be some of the first statewide votes on whether to rein in oil and gas drilling, and the results could ripple through other states trying to balance energy development against concerns about air and water quality," Healy notes. Some Democrats, including Hickenlooper, have feared that fracking bans could hurt them in their election, or re-election, bids. Hickenlooper said he would oppose the measures, Jaffe reports.

"For weeks, Hickenlooper and other leading Democrats have tried to broker a deal supported by energy companies, business groups and  [U.S.] Rep. Jared Polis, a wealthy Democrat from Boulder who is a leading backer in the campaign to put drilling restrictions on the ballot," Healy writes. "If Hickenlooper had been able to get a deal through the legislature, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats, Polis would have withdrawn his support for the ballot measures."

"A compromise to allow towns to pass stricter health and safety rules related to drilling won support from Polis, two major oil and gas companies and an assortment of environmental and business groups," Healy writes. "But that was not enough to convince Republicans in the state legislature or a handful of reluctant Democrats. On Wednesday, Polis said the deal had been thwarted by 'personal attacks and scare tactics.'” (Read more)

Higher education facilities should focus more on the rural-urban interface, researchers say

"Most Americans—taxpayers, politicians, and policy makers—have an urban-centric world view," Cornell University professors Daniel T. Lichter and David L. Brown write in Choices Magazine. "Big cities and suburbs are where most of us live and work. Urban issues and interests understandably dominate our everyday discussions; they also define America’s problems and policy solutions. Urban America is where culture is shaped and reshaped by politics, media, and money, where new jobs and technology are incubated, and where big ideas start and flourish. Rural Americans—all 46 million of them—are often left on the sidelines, presumably waiting to develop, prosper, and join the American mainstream."

"For many rural Americans, waiting for rural development is no longer an option," Lichter and Brown write. "Between 2010 and 2012 alone, 179,000 people on balance left America’s rural areas (also referred to as non-metropolitan areas), escaping the perceived cultural and economic disadvantages of rural and small-town life. Rural natural increase (births minus deaths) no longer fully offsets population losses from net out-migration. As a result, for the first time ever, nonmetro areas overall are now experiencing population declines. Rural natural decrease—deaths exceeding births—is the new demographic norm."

"The so-called urban-rural divide is not a divide at all," Lichter and Brown write. "It is a space of intense social, economic, political, and environmental interaction. It also is space where rural and urban interests are sometimes in competition, for example over land use management, while in other instances rural and urban interests are conflated."  

"The new interdependency of urban and rural America is perhaps illustrated best in the agricultural sector. America’s 'food system' cannot be examined in isolation from other aspects of the economy and society," Lichter and Brown write. "The restructuring of the meatpacking industry makes our point. Rather than shipping cattle or hogs to slaughterhouses in faraway cities, such as Chicago and Kansas City, most are now processed close to where they are raised in rural areas. For some small towns, this has been a demographic and economic boon, especially in the Midwest and Southeast, such as poultry and pork processing."

"Research and education focused on the urban-rural interface potentially benefits everyone, rural and urban alike," Lichter and Brown write. "Most college-age young adults today, unlike their grandparents, have had little or no real exposure to rural issues. Higher education, and especially land grant universities, should target social science research at the rural-urban interface, and produce educational and training programs that translate research into innovative applications and public engagement. Colleges and universities arguably must endeavor to provide a curriculum that is spatially inclusive, that views rural and urban as symbiotic rather than competitive or distinct."

"The immediate challenge is that rural issues typically are segregated, both intellectually and administratively, in land grant institutions and throughout the academy," Lichter and Brown write. "By narrowly focusing on rural issues or uncoupling them from urban, national, or global concerns, land grant universities may be missing opportunities to move forward in creative and responsive ways to pressing problems. The land grant university system should not abandon its traditional technical focus on farming and agriculture, but the current disproportionate focus on such issues can be short-sighted if it misses emerging opportunities that acknowledge the shared destinies of rural and urban people and places. Higher education, like other publicly supported institutions, is increasingly accountable to taxpayers. Targeting resources on the highest priority issues is essential for institutional sustainability." (Read more)

After years of mostly record-high numbers, grain farmers will see another decline in income this year

After years of record farm incomes and land values, commodity prices are steadily decreasing and agricultural experts are projecting the lowest average farm income in 10 years, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. (Illinois Farm Business Farm Management graphic)
Gary Schnitkey, with the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, told Agri-Pulse that the average net income for an Illinois grain farmer with a 1,400-acre operation is projected to be $45,000, the lowest number in years. Average incomes have fluctuated throughout the years, from $51,000 from 1996 to 2005, to $185,000 from 2006 to 2008, to $93,000 in 2009, to more than $250,000 from 2011 to 2012, down to $134,000 in 2013, Schnitkey says.

The reasons for lower incomes are lower projected prices of corn, down from $4.65 to $4.20 recently, and soybeans, down from $13.25 to $10.75, Schnitkey writes. Crop insurance payments are also projected to be lower "because the 2013 harvest price of $4.39 was 22 percent below the 2013 projected price of $5.65." (Read more)

John Anderson, deputy chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Agri-Pulse, "Obviously, we're looking at lower commodity prices on grains and oilseeds and probably cotton this year, so for areas that tend to be pretty heavy in row crop production, I think we've got to expect lower incomes this year."

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service predicted that 2014 net farm incomes would be $95.8 billion, a 27 percent drop from 2013 when the total was $130.5 billion, Agri-Pulse writes. Ohio State University extension ag economist Matt Roberts told Agri-Pulse, "It's going to be a brutal conversation. I think that time has come when some producers are literally going to have to walk away from the land they are producing on now, simply because the landowners aren't going to be willing to accept the lower rents that the current market conditions justify." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

Electricity generator to send carbon dioxide to oil field to boost production, reduce pollution

An electricity producer wants to provide its key greenhouse-gas byproduct to boost oil production, Rebecca Smith reports for The Wall Street Journal. The company, NRG Energy, plans "to capture some of the carbon dioxide produced by one of its coal-burning power plants outside Houston and then pipe the gas to an oil field about 80 miles away. In return, NRG and partner JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. will get a share of the extra oil that the carbon dioxide helps produce." (Associated Press photo: The Petra Nova Project will strip carbon dioxide from flue gases at NRG's West Virginia Parish power plant in Texas and pipe the gas to an oil field)

While NRG hopes to create a blueprint for success, similar efforts have had limited success in other areas, Smith writes. "Southern Co. is finishing a power plant in Mississippi that will convert coal into a combustible gas and strip out pollutants including carbon dioxide. But the project is expected to cost $5.5 billion, making it the most expensive coal plant ever built in the U.S."

"Stripping carbon from flue gases after coal is burned also has run into trouble," Smith writes. "The process is complex and the captured carbon dioxide hasn't fetched a high enough price to justify the effort. It is cheaper to build a new gas-fired power plant than retrofit an existing coal plant. In 2011, American Electric Power Co. terminated a test project in West Virginia."

But NRG backers say where others have failed they will succeed, because "the cost will be recouped by selling extra oil, not by selling carbon dioxide," Smith writes. "Set to be completed in late 2016, the Petra Nova project will strip carbon dioxide from 40 percent of the flue gases generated by the newest coal unit at NRG's W.A. Parish power plant and then will pipe the CO2 82 miles southwest to the West Ranch oil field in Jackson County, Texas. Injection of carbon dioxide at West Ranch is expected to boost daily oil production to 15,000 barrels from the current 500 barrels. The joint-venture partners will get half the added production." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mail carrier rated most at-risk U.S. job, followed by farmer and meter reader, then newspaper reporter

Mail carrier is the most endangered job in America, and farmers and newspaper reporters are not far behind, according to the CareerCast 2014 Jobs Rated projections for 2022. (CareerCast photo)

The report says mail-carrier jobs are expected to decline 28 percent in the next eight years due to "proliferation of online communication and immediate accessibility." The National Association of Letter Carriers has estimated that 25,000 carriers would lose their jobs if the U.S. Postal Service cuts first-class delivery to five days a week. USPS is also moving toward apartment-style mailboxes for neighborhoods to shorten carrier routes.

Technology will cause farming and meter-reading jobs to decline 19 percent (utility meters are increasingly read by remote telemetry) and newspaper reporting jobs to shrink 13 percent, the report says. "Technology allows those already in farming to accomplish more with fewer resources, particularly workers," the report says. "Declining subscription and dwindling advertising sales have negatively impacted the hiring power of some newspapers . . . and the long-term outlook for newspaper reporters reflects the change."

Also on the list are travel agents, a 12 percent decline; lumberjacks, 9 percent, flight attendants, 7 percent; drill-press operators, 6 percent; printing workers, 5 percent; and tax examiner and collector, 4 percent. (Read more)

Report examines role of lobbies in shaping Farm Bill

The face of the Farm Bill was the people who would be most affected by its passage: farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers, food stamp recipients, and others who stood to gain or lose by the decisions in Congress about what to include, or eliminate, from the bill. But behind the scenes, at least 600 groups lobbied between 2012 to 2014 to get their issues included in the bill, reports Harvest Public Media in "Growing Influence," an investigative collaboration with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. (Bigstock graphic)

"The Farm Bill touches everything from crops to consumers and the massive piece of legislation spends nearly a trillion dollars over the next ten years. But how was it created?" Harvest reports. "With billions at stake, hundreds of companies and outside groups lobbied on issues related to the 2014 Farm Bill and fought for pieces of the landmark legislation."

The report includes a list of reports made by lobbying groups. "With vicious fights over everything from the leveling of funding for the food stamp program to farm subsidies to conservation measures, the drafting of the Farm Bill was fraught with roadblocks at every step," Harvest says.

City council in Denton, Tex., rejects fracking ban, but voters will decide issue in November election

Residents of a North Texas town that has thrived during the oil and gas boom will decide in November whether or not to become the state's first city to ban hydraulic fracturing, Jim Malewitz reports for The Texas Tribune. Last month Denton residents pushed for a fracking ban, citing environmental concerns, and town leaders temporarily halted the practice while considering an ordinance to permanently ban the practice. On Tuesday the city council rejected the fracking ban by a 5-2 vote, sending the measure to the November ballot, where voters will decide the issue. (KDFW FOX 4 photo: Tuesday's Denton city council meeting)

Denton, with a population of 121,000, has more than 270 natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale gas field, Malewitz writes. But "fracking opponents forced the council’s vote after gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban. The proposal would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water." (Read more)

Tuesday's hearing drew 500 people, with 59 registering to speak in favor of the ban and 41 against it, Mike Lee reports for EnergyWire. "Mayor Chris Watts said he expected a fight no matter what the council did, given the opposition from state officials and the oil industry." He told Lee, "This issue is going to be settled in one of two places -- the statehouse or the courthouse."

Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, a group opposed to the ban, turned in 8,000 signatures on Monday, while Frack Free Denton, the group proposing the ban, collected 1,800 signatures, Lee writes. "Several state officials told the City Council a ban would amount to taking private property, opening the city up to lawsuits. In Texas, the rights of mineral owners trump those of surface owners." (Read more)

Montana program hopes to inspire rural teens to enter medical field, practice in rural areas

Rural areas have tried dozens of ideas to draw much-needed doctors to underserved areas, including incentives such as tax breaks, and college programs that require medical students to spend time at rural facilities in an attempt to encourage them to consider practicing in those areas. But a Montana program is taking its message to high-school students, hoping to inspire students to enter the medical field and practice in the state.

Ten Montana countiss lack any practicing physicians, and almost every county has been designated by the federal government as a primary-care physician shortage area, Derek Brouwer reports for the Billings Gazette. Enter the MedStart Summer Camp. Funded by the Montana Area Health Education Center, the camp "aims to put the wide world of health care within reach of these promising high school juniors and seniors. It’s one way AHEC hopes to encourage young Montanans to study and practice medicine, a field in high demand in the state’s rural areas, AHEC Eastern region director Mary Helgeson said." (Gazette photo by Larry Mayer: Students at the camp)

During the recent weeklong camp in Billings, the 27 participants measured vital signs at City College Billings, shadowed professionals at area hospitals, obtained X-rays of their cellphones and took part in a mock search-and-rescue operation in Red Lodge,  Brouwer writes. "On Tuesday they were at RiverStone Health to learn about the services provided by Yellowstone County’s public health department." Helgeson told Brouwer, “We want to get them excited so they’ll get their education and go back to their communities." (Read more)

Farm Service Agency works through glitches of using technology to collect crop data online

The Farm Service Agency, which has closed many of its local offices in small counties, is trying to catch up with technology. "Sometime in the future, producers should be able to use precision technology to collect all the data used in their farming operations and send verification via the Internet to their local FSA office or crop insurance agent for collection by the Risk Management Agency," reports Agri-Pulse. "That is our ultimate goal, to be able to have our producers download their equipment to an agent or to a Farm Service Agency office," USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse told the Washington newsletter.

When the service will be available everywhere and how well it works are the main questions. While MyAgData is already being used in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota, the programs in Iowa and Illinois have experienced problems with efficiency, Agri-Pulse writes. "The data was collected and matched to the common land units required by USDA acreage and production reporters, but then was printed and has to be hand-entered at the local FSA office."

Despite the glitches, Scuse said considerable progress has been made made in the past three years toward streamlining acreage crop reporting, Agri-Pulse reports: "Step one was to make sure the agencies that identify parcels of land agree to use a common identifier. Step two was to try and consolidate the crop reporting data because there were so many differences between FSA and RMA. The next step was to improve USDA's commodity tables."

Scuse told Agri-Pulse, "We had to put all those records in a stable environment. That was the most critical part. The second part, which were are currently working on, enables us to make payments and things of that nature. That will be released later this fall." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

Interactive map displays Appalachian eateries; goal is to boost tourism and economic growth

Where are the best places to eat in Appalachia? Visitors traveling through the region can now find each area's most distinctive eateries through an interactive map that includes about 650 destinations, says Visit Appalachia. "The Bon Appetit! Bon Appalachia! campaign is a project of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a regional economic development agency whose mission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in Appalachia." The map includes farmers markets, farm to fork restaurants, farm tours, festivals and events, vineyards and wineries and craft breweries and spirits. A printed map is also available that includes 282 locations. (Read more) To view the interactive map, click here.

Rural residents want to secede from Caribou, Maine; committee says city taxes are too high

Rural residents in a Maine town want to secede and return to the way things were in the 19th century before several small communities were annexed into one larger one, Julia Bayly reports for the Bangor Daily News. The group says the move would lower taxes for rural residents, who they say are being overcharged for city costs. (City-Data map)

The group of Caribou residents presented their idea at Monday's city council meeting, saying they want to take about 80 percent of the . . . outlying rural areas and form the new community of Lyndon, reviving an old name. "In 1869, several communities were annexed to Lyndon, which was officially renamed Caribou in 1877," Bayly writes.

Paul Camping, spokesman for the 20-member Caribou Secession Committee, told Bayly, “What we are trying to do is take our land in rural Caribou back away from the city of Caribou. The size and cost of [Caribou] city government is too big and too expensive.”

Lyndon would include all of Caribou except the downtown area, according to a map proposed by the committee, Bayly writes: "Camping said people who live on large lots of land away from the downtown pay a disproportionate amount of property taxes to help fund services that benefit only those who live near or in town." The city's population is about 8,000.

Mayor Gary Aiken said he thinks secession would actually raise rural taxes while lowering city ones, Bayly writes. He told her, “They would take 80 percent of the land and 30 percent of the population to cover all those roads and public works. There is no question the Caribou side would reduce expenses. It would cut our public works budget in half right away.”

"Maine law . . . spells out the process for residents of a territory to secede from a municipality," Bayly notes. In 2007 and 2011 the Maine Legislature refused to let residents in Peaks Island, who also said secession would lead to lower taxes, secede from Portland, she writes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

House passes bill to replenish Highway Trust Fund

The House passed a bill Tuesday to replenish the Highway Trust Fund through May 2015. House Republicans suggested last month ending Saturday mail (except for packages) and using the savings to replenish the fund, but The Associated Press reports that the bill "cobbles together $10.8 billion in pension tax changes, customs fees and money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. A similar bill is pending in the Senate."

"Unless Congress acts, the Transportation Department says that by the first week in August the fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, and the government will begin to stretch out payments," AP writes. "States have been told to expect a 28 percent reduction in aid on average. The fund is expected to reach a zero balance by the end of August. Some states already have begun to delay or cancel construction projects due to the uncertainty of federal money." (Read more)

Some groups, such as "The AFL-CIO and other infrastructure advocates have been pushing for an increase in the federal gas tax that is used to help pay for transportation projects," Keith Laing reports for The Hill. "The tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents-per-gallon, has been the traditional source of revenue for transportation spending since the 1950’s. The tax has been stagnant since 1993, however, and it has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient in recent years."

"Budget analysts have projected that the Highway Trust Fund will run short by about $16 billion per year if Congress does not approve a long-term bill to replenish it," Laing writes. "The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year, but the federal government currently spends approximately $50 billion annually on road and transit projects. Transportation advocates have said that the current funding level is the minimum that can be spent to maintain the present state of the nation’s infrastructure network." (Read more)

Republicans lard funding bill with anti-EPA riders

Since Republicans began running the House in 2011, they have attached many policy riders into appropriations bills, to very little effect because the Senate and White House are controlled by Democrats. But with the GOP freshly angered at the Environmental Protection Agency proposals, the House Appropriations Committee has upped the ante.

The panel approved a $30.2 billion natural-resources bill Tuesday after adding "dozens of Republican riders challenging President Barack Obama’s environmental and wildlife agenda," David Rogers reports for Politico. EPA "was the chief target, together with its proposed rule to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. But the list stretched to include trade in African ivory, the future of the Western sage grouse and even a minor EPA rule seeking to garnish the wages of 14 individuals said to owe the government an estimated $228,000."

Ranking Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York called the package a “demonstration of solidarity with climate change deniers and the coal industry,” but Chairman Hal Rogers of Appalachian Kentucky said the White House is “hell bent on adding layer after layer of regulatory red tape to the economy” and hurting his state's coal industry. (Read more)

Rural Iowa lacks ambulances; state seems indifferent

Iowa has a lot going for it, with some of the world's richest soil and the nation's highest literacy rate, but it lags much of the nation in emergency medical services. And its problems reflect those in many rural areas around the nation.

"Part of the problem in Iowa is that EMS is not a mandated service," Clark Kauffman reports for The Des Moines Register. "Cities and counties are under no obligation to provide or help fund ambulance service, causing many to heavily rely on a mix of donations and the fees billed to patients. But those fees are largely determined by Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurers." (Register photo illustration by Mark Marturello)

That means 29 of the state's counties, with more than 426,000 residents, have only one full-time ambulance, or none at all, Kauffman writes. Even though the state's population grew from 2005 to 2013 the number of EM services dropped from 891 to 781. Fourteen counties have four of fewer EM services. "At least 11 state-licensed EMS 'agencies' consist of single individuals working out of their home and car—with no other EMTs to accompany them on emergency calls that might involve more than one patient," Kauffman reports.

Worth County, which covers 400 square miles and is home to 7,600 people, have no local ambulance service. Woodford County, with 873 square miles and 102,000 people, has only one full-time ambulance service, Kauffman writes. Yet Sioux County, with a third as many people as Woodford, has 10 services. Meanwhile, state government seems to be losing interest in EMS.

"Nine years ago, the [EMS] bureau not only knew which areas of the state were underserved, it had established written goals to pursue funding opportunities to provide education in underserved areas," Kauffman reports. "Today, the agency no longer defines an 'underserved' area, nor does it specifically track or analyze data about the services that have been forced to shut down, merge or scale back their hours of coverage due to volunteer shortages or other problems.. The bureau hasn't had a full-time chief in three years, and Iowa is one of only 13 states without an EMS medical director—a position that's been vacant for 11 years here. Since 2002, the bureau's staff has dropped from 17 positions to 10. (Read more)

Missouri governor's veto strikes a blow to state's deer-breeding and fenced-hunting industry

The deer breeding and fenced hunting industry, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars to supply the rich with private fenced-in locations to hunt and has raised concerns about spread of disease from hauling animals across state lines, took a major hit in Missouri, Ryan Sabalow reports for The Indianapolis Star. Last week Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon "vetoed legislation that would have transferred oversight of the state's deer breeders from wildlife officials to Missouri's agriculture department." Twenty-one states have already banned the importation of captive deer. (Star photo)

The governor said in his veto message, "White-tailed deer are wildlife, and they are also a game animal. Putting them behind a fence does not change that fact." Sabalow writes, "That's the same argument made by Indiana wildlife officials who tried to shut down the state's high-fence hunting operations a decade ago. And it's expected to be part of the debate when Indiana lawmakers convene a summer study session on the subject in the coming weeks."

"Wildlife advocates and deer breeders across the country—including those running Indiana's 400 deer farms—have been watching the battle play out in Missouri," Sabalow writes. "Operators of fenced-hunting ranches want to be regulated by agricultural officials to avoid tighter rules proposed by wildlife agencies."

Captive deer are a $1 billion industry in North America, consisting of 10,000 farms and hunting preserves, Sabalow writes. And the industry "has enjoyed considerable lobbying clout in many states because it offers small landowners a lucrative alternative agricultural market. Some top breeding animals fetch six-figure prices, and it's not uncommon for a big antlered 'shooter' buck to sell for $10,000 or more." (Read more)

FDA wants authority over electronic cigarettes; manufacturers say more research is needed

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed rules to give it authority over electronic cigarettes, but manufacturers argue that regulations should have to wait until the FDA completes a study on e-cigarettes, even though the study isn't expected to be completed until 2018. (Associated Press photo)

The Tobacco Control Act, signed into law in 2009, gave the FDA authority to issue regulations on cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, according to the proposal, which would add e-cigarettes to that list. The public comment period is open until Aug. 8.

The proposed rules include a ban on sales of tobacco products to anyone under 18 and requiring manufacturers to disclose their ingredients to the FDA, Stacy Simon reports for the American Cancer Society. Even if the proposal is passed it could take more than a year to go into effect.

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement: "Tobacco remains the leading cause of death and disease in this country. This is an important moment for consumer protection and a significant proposal that if finalized as written would bring FDA oversight to many new tobacco products. Science-based product regulation is a powerful form of consumer protection that can help reduce the public health burden of tobacco use on the American public, including youth.” (Read more)

A Cancer Society poll found that 62 percent of respondents "favor prohibiting e-cigarettes in places where smoking is already banned," Jim Collar reports for Post-Crescent Media in Wisconsin, which in 2010 banned indoor smoking in public places. "The popularity of e-cigarettes has grown faster than research, and the effects aren’t known for either the user or those exposed to secondhand vapor, health officials say," Collar writes.

The Wisconsin Legislature did not pass a bill this year that would have exempted e-cigarettes from the state’s indoor-smoking ban on indoor smoking. Several other states have passed laws including e-cigs in their bans on sale of tobacco products to minors.

FDA researchers are spending $270 million on 48 studies to determine the risks of e-cigarettes, Sharon Begley reports for The Columbus Dispatch. "Final results might not be available before 2018, according to researchers leading the FDA-funded projects. That timetable underscores how the slow pace of science is contributing to a regulatory vacuum, allowing makers of e-cigarettes to sell their products virtually unchallenged."

"The e-cigarette industry, which Wells Fargo Securities estimates will make $2 billion in global sales this year, says the FDA must wait for the results of the research before it issues regulations, or manufacturers risk being driven out of business by unproven fears about their products," Begley writes. Lawyer Bryan Haynes, whose firm represents e-cigarette manufacturers, told Begley, "There shouldn’t be regulations akin to those for cigarettes without evidence of similar health impact, especially since the preliminary evidence is positive for the industry” when comparing e-cigarette vapor to tobacco smoke.

According to the most recent data from 2012, more than 14 million adults and nearly 2 million children have used e-cigarettes, with rates among high school students doubling from 2011 to 2012, Begley writes. "The missing science includes basic questions such as what compounds are in the vapor produced by e-cigarettes. It also includes complicated ones such as whether flavors such as butterscotch and bubble gum entice children to vape, how e-cigarette displays in online stores affect teenagers’ desire to buy vaping liquid, and, perhaps most important, whether e-cigarettes will reduce the number of smokers or produce millions of new nicotine addicts." (Read more)

Famed travel writer takes first trip in Deep South, off the interstates, and finds ruins they created

Travel writer Paul Theroux has traveled the world but until recently had never toured America's Deep South. In a story for Smithsonian magazine, "The Soul of the South," Theroux recounts his experiences in small towns in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, away from the interstate highways.

"This other Deep South, with the same pride and with deep roots—rural, struggling, idyllic in places and mostly ignored—was like a foreign country to me," Theroux writes. "I decided to travel the back roads for the pleasure of discovery—doing in my own country what I had spent most of my life doing in Africa and India and China—ignoring the museums and stadiums, the antebellum mansions and automobile plants, and, with the 50th anniversary of the civil-rights struggle in mind, concentrating on the human architecture, in particular the overlooked: the submerged fifth." (Photo by Steve McCurry: Allendale, S.C.)

"The South began for me in Allendale, in the rural Lowcountry of South Carolina, set among twiggy fields of tufted white, the blown-open cotton bolls brightening the spindly bushes," Theroux writes. "In a lifetime of travel, I had seen very few places to compare with Allendale in its oddity; and approaching the town was just as bizarre. The road, much of it, was a divided highway, wider than many sections of the great north-south Interstate, Route 95, which is more like a tunnel than a road for the way it sluices cars south at great speed."

"Approaching the outskirts of Allendale I had a sight of doomsday, one of those visions that make the effort of travel worthwhile. It was a vision of ruin, of decay and utter emptiness; and it was obvious in the simplest, most recognizable structures—motels, gas stations, restaurants, stores—all of them abandoned to rot, some of them so thoroughly decayed that all that was left was the great concrete slab of the foundation, stained with oil or paint, littered with the splinters of the collapsed building, a rusted sign leaning. Some were brick-faced; others made of cinder blocks, but none was well made, and so the impression I had was of astonishing decrepitude, as though a war had ravaged the place and killed all the people."

"When the Interstate route was plotted, it bypassed Allendale 40 miles to the east, and like many other towns on Route 301, Allendale fell into ruin," Theroux writes. "But just as the great new city rising in the wilderness is an image of American prosperity, a ghost town like Allendale is also a feature of our landscape. Perhaps the most American urban transformation is that very sight; all ghost towns were once boomtowns." (Read more)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rural hospitals at risk; they blame Obamacare and some states' lack of Medicaid expansion

Fewer patients are being admitted to rural hospitals, instead choosing to go to larger hospitals, and more rural hospitals continue to shut their doors, because of Republican-controlled states' refusal to expand Medicaid under federal health reform. From "1996 to 2012, the average number of acutely ill inpatients at critical access hospitals fell by half, from an average of 8.7 to 4.35 per hospital per day," retired rural pediatrician Wayne Myers reports for the Daily Yonder. Meanwhile, the National Rural Health Association says 14 rural hospitals closed in 2013, Abdulai Bah reports for Aljazeera America.

If the number of rural patients admitted to critical-access hospitals continues to fall, most of the inpatient business at those hospitals will be gone in the next decade, Myers writes: "Inpatient care accounts for a third or less of the revenue of critical-access hospitals, but it’s a vital stream of money for institutions that operate in the black by only 1 percent of their budgets, on average."

Fewer patients means hospitals are closing, and closures affect more than just inpatients, Myers writes. "When a hospital closes, other problems with health services arise. Communities frequently lose medical clinics associated with the hospital, specialist practices and other treatment services like physical and occupational therapy." (Read more)

Shuttering hospitals can also have dire consequences on the rest of the community, Bah writes. When North Carolina's Pungo Hospital closed earlier this month, it left 25,000 people in two of North Carolina’s poorest counties, Beaufort and Hyde, with only a 24/7 urgent care clinic for treatment. The closest hospital is 30 miles away. (Story of America photo by Eric Byler: Sign outside Pungo Hospital)

"The 50-bed Pungo Hospital was the largest employer in the predominantly African-American community of Belhaven," Bah writes. "It represented roughly 10 percent of the funds the town received each year by providing utilities such as electricity to its residents and businesses, said Town Manager Guinn Leverett. Belhaven is now considering raising property taxes by 10 percent to make up the loss of that revenue."

"The closure of Pungo Hospital is in part due to North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid, Vidant Health said in a statement," Bah writes. "Other considerations, including the failing state of the 60-year-old facility also contributed to the decision to close it. The hospital ran close to a $1.8 million deficit last year—although it’s unclear what caused the shortfall."

Failing to expand Medicaid has hurt hospitals in other Republican-controlled states, such as Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, Bah writes. Georgia has shut down four hospitals in the past two years and as many as 15 more are on the chopping block. Alabama has closed six rural hospitals in the past 18 months and 22 more are in financial trouble. Haywood Park Community Hospital in Brownsville, Tennessee announced in April that it would end inpatient and emergency room services on July 31, leaving most of the county's 10,000 residents without no access to an emergency room. (Read more)

Stories about hot topics of trains carrying crude oil and proposed rules offer a variety of perspectives

More oil was spilled on U.S. railways in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined, and that doesn't count the spillage and 47 deaths from a derailment in Quebec of a train running from North Dakota to Maine. The surge in accidents has led to new safety rules in Canada and a demand for new rules and upgrades in the U.S. as well as more readily available information on what trains are hauling. (McClatchy Tribune graphic)

The high number of "derailments across the country has triggered a high-stakes but behind-the-scenes campaign to shape how the government responds to calls for tighter safety rules," Joan Lowy reports for The Associated Press. "Billions of dollars are riding on how these rules are written, and lobbyists from the railroads, tank car manufacturers and the oil, ethanol and chemical industries have met 13 times since March with officials at the White House and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Their universal message: Don't make us pay for increased safety because that's another industry's problem."

The AP story is one of many in a fine collection of links about the subject suggested by the Society of Environmental Journalists. Here are other stories:
"Protesters Demand State, City Governments Disclose Oil-Carrying Trains' Routes" - Chicago Business Journal
"Railroads Seek To Limit Oil Train Disclosures Despite Order in Wakeof Explosions" - FuelFix
"Railroads Disclose Figures, Details on Volatile Oil Train Shipments" - AP
"What You Should Know About Crude Oil on Trains Coming Through PA" - Public Source
"Toxic Cargo Ahead" - Las Vegas Sun
"As Rail Moves Frac Sand Across Wisconsin Landscape, New ConflictsEmerge" - Wisconsin Watch
"New York Won't Keep Oil Train Details Secret" - AP
"North Dakota Fracking: Behind the Oil-Train Explosions" - Wall Street Journal
"Louisiana Refuses To Disclose Oil Train Records" - New Orleans Times-Picayune
"N.Y. Will Disclose When, Where Trains Ship Oil" - Poughkeepsie Journal
"State May Disclose Oil Train Shipments" - Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier-Post
"Delaware Won't Disclose Oil Train Details" - Wilmington News Journal
"Nebraska Refuses To Disclose Oil Train Records" - KETV ABC 7 Omaha
"Bakken Oil Trains Run Through Iowa" - Des Moines Register
"U.S. Issues Safety Alert for Oil Trains" - New York Times

EPA's McCarthy tries to clarify proposed water rules, says she was surprised by farm uproar

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told a Missouri audience Thursday she was surprised that so many people have responded negatively to proposed rules to simplify federal water laws and asked what steps the agency could have done to clarify their position, Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. McCarthy was in Missouri Wednesday and Thursday to talk about the proposed rules. (Neeley photo: McCarthy speaking Thursday in Kansas City)

"Farm groups have feared that the new rule would give EPA authority to regulate tributaries, streams, even ditches and small ponds, on U.S. farms, and that any farm activities around those structures that could, even tenuously, be linked to changes in water quality downstream would also be regulated," Neeley writes.

McCarthy acknowledged that "there will be waters on ag land that are jurisdictional, meaning they could be regulated," Neeley writes. But she said, "It doesn't mean that as a result of this that you're going to need a permit for anything.

She said, "We really didn't see the changes we're making in this proposal as having a significant impact on the agriculture community. We have kept the exemptions and the exceptions that are currently in the law that allow farmers to keep performing those farm practices that they've always been doing. I'm not going to allow confusion to continue. We're just going to get the clarity we need in the end. But it'll be a process getting there." (Read more)

Rural TV fears big cable merger; 'urban-clustered' Comcast dropping it and RFD-TV in places

Rural TV could be in trouble. A proposed merger between Comcast Cable and Time Warner Cable, as well as the merger of AT&T U-Verse with DirecTV, would give the two new giants 54 million homes. That spells bad news for Rural TV, says Patrick Gottsch, founder of its parent, Rural Media Group. The station is is distributed to 40 million homes, mostly on satellite TV. (Rural Media Group map: C and D counties are considered rural areas)
"We are not opposed to these mergers. Instead, we are working hard to raise the level of awareness of the plight of rural, independent programming in Washington, DC, and how we can ensure that our channels are treated fairly with these mergers so that rural interests are protected," Gottsch writes on the company's website. "This is a big deal, and will essentially determine RFD-TV and Rural TV's carriage for the next several years on all these cable and satellite systems." (Read more)

Gottsch's concern is that Comcast has shown little interest in Rural TV and has already canceled the station in several markets, including some in Colorado and New Mexico, where Comcast claims ratings were too low to keep the stations, Bob Fernandez reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Since pleading with viewers to get involved, Gottsch said 18,000 viewers have contacted the Federal Communications Commission to save the station.

While Comcast executive David Cohen says the company isn't anti-rural, comments he made at merger hearing in Washington don't bode well for Rural TV viewers. Cohen said, "Let's stay focused on the consumer here. If RFD-TV is sufficiently important for [subscribers], they can switch to Dish or DirecTV in those markets. ... So we're not ... controlling customer choice here. We are primarily an urban-clustered cable company." (Read more)

Professors from Utah and Stanford hit the road to learn from small-town business

After realizing that typical case studies for MBA students always use examples from major corporations and never consider small businesses, a trio of college professors in 2010 began a series of road trips to see how small businesses get the job done. The result is a book called "Roadside MBA."

"One of us — we all take credit, but nobody actually recalls whose idea it was — pointed out that owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses might benefit from a dose of MBA knowledge, but that business schools don’t always serve that market very well," professors Mike Mazzeo of Stanford University and Scott Schaefer of the University of Utah write on their website. "So we decided to hit the road in search of stories that we could use to help translate MBA strategy frameworks for owners of small and medium-sized businesses." (Map: Roadside MBA trip in 2011 from Denver to Oklahoma City)

Along the way they have "visited around 100 small and medium-size businesses," says the website. "We try to set a meeting with the owner or a general manager with significant operational and strategic oversight responsibility, and we usually start by just asking for the story of the business. From there, our visits usually turn in to a conversation in which the three of us ask questions about pricing, positioning, strategy, organization, succession, or other topics, depending on what strikes us as interesting. The people we’ve met are, without fail, creative and energetic, passionate and thoughtful, interesting and driven. It’s been really fun, and we have learned so much." (Read more)

For a review of the book from Small Business Trends click here.