Friday, April 03, 2015

Expanding broadband to rural areas would increase telemedicine options, improve rural health

Providing broadband access to rural areas is not just a push for more residents to be able get online to surf the Internet. Broadband is key to improving rural health, through "more cost-effective and higher-quality care, such as video consultation, remote patient monitoring and electronic health record operability," reports Health Affairs. "And in many places—particularly rural areas that have the most to gain from telemedicine and connectivity—broadband remains too expensive, unreliable or simply not available at the speeds required to enable innovations in care."

Rural healthcare providers can get around a lack of broadband availability in a variety of ways, reports Health Affairs. "Health care providers can purchase broadband access through mass market options, which are similar to the internet access purchased by individual consumers and can meet the bandwidth needs of most small providers (four or fewer clinicians)."

Federal subsidies also are available, reports Health Affairs. Within the Rural Health Care Program "subsidies for three types of services are available to public and non-profit health care providers: telecommunication services for rural providers (Telecommunications Fund); Internet access for rural providers (Internet Access Fund); and one-time capital costs for network deployment with five years of support for costs of advanced telecommunications and information services for rural and urban providers (Pilot Program)."

They real key is to initiate recommendations made in the 2010 National Broadband Plan, reports Health Affairs. Plans are: Make it easier for rural health care providers to use broadband support; expand eligibility requirements to include more health care providers; and adjust the RHCP to address the rapidly changing broadband environment. (Read more)

School bus transportation costs too steep in rural Midwest; districts dipping into education budgets

Transporting children to and from school in the rural Midwest—especially in remote locations, or in school districts that are spread out because of consolidation—is too expensive and is forcing districts to use funds from education budgets to pay for bus costs, Maya Rao reports for the Star Tribune.

Some rural superintendents "say that bringing children to school costs far more than state transportation aid and siphons money that could go to classroom instruction," Rao writes. "With some facing declining enrollment, it’s even tougher to cover the expense."

Bemidji Area Schools has nearly 80 school buses to cover 828 square miles to transport more than 5,000 students, Rao writes. Superintendent James Hess "said the district loses about 14 teachers a year and he can’t pay to keep them because he’s spending money on transportation. Teaching and textbooks are also getting short shrift, according to Hess." (Best Places map)

In some states, like Iowa, where schools receive a set amount per student, districts are struggling with decreasing enrollment, with 60 percent of the state's schools seeing a decline in enrollment, Rao writes. Jeff Corkery, superintendent in the western Dubuque district, said he has had to spend an extra $1 million over the past six years because of a lack of state funding for 45 bus routes that carry 3,200 students 4,5000 miles per day. Transportation costs $700 per pupil—twice the state average.

In Minnesota, where transportation is required for all elementary school students living at least one mile from school and all other students at least two miles away, Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) "introduced a bill this month that would funnel about $3 million to the hardest-hit districts in Minnesota to offset the gap in state transportation funding." Rural school superintendents are not pinning their hopes on the bill, considering they have been calling for similar action in recent years, with few results. (Read more)

Maps show rapid increase in amount of crude oil shipped across U.S. from 2010 to 2014

Maps released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration chart the drastic increase in crude oil shipment by rail from 2010 to 2014, which is leading to a dramatic rise in derailments, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. The U.S. moved one million barrels of crude oil per day by train in 2014, a significant increase from the 55,000 barrels per day moved in 2010. (EIA map: Crude oil shipments by rail in 2010)
"It's worth keeping in mind that both railways and pipelines deliver well over 99 percent of their crude oil safely and without incident," Ingraham writes. "But due to the sheer volume now moving across the country in one form or another, accidents are inevitable." (Crude oil shipments by rail in 2014)

EPA approves GMO herbicide use in nine more states, bringing total approved states to 15

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday gave approval for the use of Dow AgroSciences herbicide Enlist Duo in nine states. This brings the total to 15 states that can use the herbicide with new genetically modified corn and soybeans that are altered to tolerate being sprayed with it, Carey Gilliam reports for Reuters. Critics have said the approval violates environmental law and will negatively affect plants and animals, and "a coalition of U.S. farmer and environmental groups filed a lawsuit in October seeking to overturn the EPA's approval of Enlist Duo, claiming the EPA did not adequately analyze the impact of 2,4-D."

The nine states—Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma—join the six states that were approved for use in October 2014, Gilliam writes. The other six states are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. (Read more)

Gatehouse Media to close three southern Illinois publications—two newspapers and a free shopper

Gatehouse Media announced this week that it will close two southern Illinois community newspapers and a weekly shopper, reports The Randolph County Herald Tribune, which is owned by Gatehouse. Scheduled to cease publications the week of May 10 are: The Daily American, a five-times-a-week newspaper in West Frankfort; the Murphysboro American, a weekly in Murphysboro; and the Money Stretcher, a weekly free shopper distributed in several Southern Illinois communities.

Gatehouse cited financial reasons for the Illinois closures. Regional publisher Lynne Campbell told the Tribune, "Despite our best attempts to adapt to the economy in these markets and the changing media landscape, we are unable to continue. This was a tough decision that had to be made, but it will allow us to improve our remaining properties in the region."

New Media Investment Group, parent company of GateHouse—which filed for bankruptcy in 2013—in March began laying off employees from its 36 community newspapers. Many of the newspapers were formerly owned by The New York Times then by Halifax Media, which was recently purchased by New Media for $280 million.

New York Times lists '52 Places to Go in 2015'

The New York Times' list of "52 Places to Go in 2015" includes a few rural hotspots in the U.S. At No. 4 on the list is Yellowstone National Park, No. 19 is Steamboat Springs, Colo., No. 30 is Bend, Ore. (City of Bend photo), No. 39 are the Catskill Mountains of New York, and No. 50 is the Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. We bet the least known is Bend, in central Oregon, just east of the Cascade Mountains.

"Once a frontier logging town called Farewell Bend, this picturesque city of 80,000 is a seductive spot for travelers who are into craft brewing and the great outdoors," reports Dave Seminar. "The Bend region has 26 breweries, three wineries, two craft spirit distilleries, two cideries and the Cycle Pub, a tour that allows visitors to quaff craft beers while powering a sort of mobile pub by cycling."

"Two new distilleries, Cascade Alchemy and Backdrop, and a new cidery, Far Afield, are set to open this year," Seminar writes. "Bend has nearly 300 miles of single-track mountain bike trails, including two new ones, Tyler’s Traverse and Duodenum; a soon-to-open fat-bike trail (at Wanoga Sno-Park); world-class skiing at Mount Bachelor; and an embarrassment of riches for hikers, fishermen, climbers, stand-up paddle boarders and kayakers." (Read more)

It's Hug a Newsman/Woman/Person Day; get yours!

Today is National Hug a Newsman/Woman/Person Day. It's an annual observance to show appreciation to those who work hard to bring the news. It's unclear when and where the idea started; several sources say it was originated in 2009 by "Fox and Friends," but other sources say KRST-FM in Albuquerque conceived it in 2007. (YouTube video: WOLO-TV in Columbia, S.C., reporters try to get hugs)

(Hat tip to David Thompson of the Kentucky Press Association and Alan Gibson of the Clinton County News)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Coal glut is wiping out Central Appalachian coal mines; coal prices have dropped 33% in four years

Coal prices have dropped 33 percent over the past four years, making operations unprofitable for about 72 percent of Central Appalachian coal mines in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, Mario Parker reports for Bloomberg. "To make matters worse, there’s little chance of a quick rebound in prices. That’s because idling a mine to cut output and stem losses isn’t an option for many companies. The cost of doing so—even on a temporary basis—has become so prohibitive that it can put a miner out of business fast, industry analysts say."

"So companies keep pulling coal out of the ground, opting to take a small, steady loss rather than one big writedown, in the hope that prices will bounce back," a decision that is only adding to the supply gut and driving prices down, Parker writes. For instance, coal companies this year will dig up 17 million more tons of coal than power plants need. The oversupply is made worse by a decrease in exports, with overseas companies being able to get coal cheaper elsewhere.

"Central Appalachia coal has fallen four straight years on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Even after a rally in February, prices are the lowest for this time of year since 2009. Meanwhile, gas is at the second-lowest seasonal level in the past decade," Parker writes. (Arch Coal prices from 2011-2015)

"It’s partly the result of a 1977 law that requires companies to reclaim closed mine sites," Parker writes. "That includes restoring grasslands, removing waste water and sealing the mine shafts. So while a 4 million-ton-a-year mine in Central Appalachia, which has the nation’s highest coal costs, may lose $15 on every ton, the one-time expense to permanently close it could reach as much as $44 million, according to Wood Mackenzie."

Coal companies like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources have been closing up shop in Central Appalachia, Parker writes. Alpha, the second-biggest U.S. coal producer by sales, "told investors Feb. 26 that it had $640.5 million in liabilities associated with closing the mines. That’s almost three times as much as the company is worth." Arch Coal, which hasn’t made a profit since 2011, set its figure at  $418 million as of Dec. 31. (Read more)

Early research promising for an ancient remedy to fight MRSA, an antibiotic resistant superbug

Researchers in the United Kingdom reported that an ancient cure might help kill the superbug MRSA, Justin Wm. Moyer reports for The Washington Post. The leading cause of superbugs, organisms that are resistant to some—if not all—antibiotics, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is the overuse of antibiotics. Scientists have been charged to fight these infections through "technological" means.

 But researchers have recently found that MRSA is "vulnerable to an ancient remedy" made of garlic, some onion or leek, copper, wine and oxgall—or cow’s bile. Garlic and copper continue to be thought of as having antibiotic or antimicrobial properties. “We were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” Freya Harrison, one of the researchers from the University of Nottingham, told the BBC, Moyer reports.

The remedy, noted as eye salve, was found in a manuscript written in Old English from the 10th century called "Bald's Leechbook," a well-respected physician's desk reference from that time, Moyer reports. He also notes that not every remedy in the manuscript is credible, like this one from the translation of an Eastern Algo-Saxonist: “In case a man be a lunatic; take skin of a mereswine or porpoise, work it into a whip, swinge the man therewith, soon he will be well. Amen.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated MRSA contributed to the deaths of more than 5,000 people in the United States in 2013, Moyer reports, writing that "some say it could eventually kill more people than cancer."

The  research will be presented at the upcoming Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham. Moyer notes that the abstract for the conference cautions that "oxgall was no cure-all." Christina Lee, an associate professor in Viking studies at the University of Nottingham, told Moyer "that it was the combination of ingredients that proved effective against MRSA—which shows that people living in medieval times were not as barbaric as popularly thought."

Level of government control and fund distribution issues in education reflect those from 50 years ago

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the government control and fund distribution concerns in education, Alyson Klein writes for Education Week. Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law. The law increased Washington's investment in K-12 education to help the nation's poorest children.

Making sure states and districts used the funds properly turned out to be a challenge. The money was intended to help the poorest students. Schools were happy to receive monetary help but didn't necessarily want to take government suggestions about how to implement it. "This is a nation of states and a nation of local control," said Michael W. Kirst, who in 1965 served in the federal Office of Education and is now the president of the California state school board, Klein writes. ". . . It's the nature of our federalism that makes this job so hard."

The current tone of bills in Congress indicates that the next version of ESEA will "give states a lot more control over key parts of the law, including accountability, teacher quality and spending," Klein reports. But the question remains: how much should or can federal power be reduced without endangering the poorest children's opportunity to receive a good education?

Some conservative Republicans and Southern Democrats claimed that the ESEA's aid would "give the federal government a reason to interfere with local control of schools," Klein writes. Rep. Frank T. Bow, R-Ohio, said in March 1965 that the John administration and supporters of the bill "are eager to promote what they call the excellence of educational opportunity, and they can do so only by imposing their views about curriculum, teaching methods and textbooks on the local school districts.  . . . This bill is the foot in the door for federal control of education, make no mistake about it."

The 1965 law had few specifications. More than $1 billion in funds were simply supposed to go to areas with lots of poor students. Some school districts used the money to build swimming pools, install toilets and create opportunities only for white students. "Congress, over the course of more than a half a dozen rewrites of the ESEA, eventually tightened the reins," Klein reports.

Now the law has taken a civil rights flavor; for example, the No Child Left Behind law requires that states intervene in schools whose minority students aren't producing good results, even if the rest of the student population is succeeding. Discrimination and inequality in schools are still issues, said Elizabeth King, director of education policy at The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, a coalition in Washington.

Now the NCLB law has gone 13 years without an update and is overdue for one. "I think [the ESEA] didn't really do as much as it could have or as much as was needed to be done to improve the education of the people we initially targeted," said Edmund W. Gordon, a professor emeritus of psychology at Yale University and Teachers College, Klein writes. "I would vote for [the law today], but I wouldn't vote for it with the same confidence I had in '65 that it would solve all our problems."

Congressional lawmakers want to rewrite the current law, but many are skeptical the very partisan Congress's ability to pass such a major education initiative. "What's happening now is that mistaken policy is being cleaned up," said Jack Jennings, who served as an aide to Democrats on the House education committee from 1967 to 1994. The problem, he said, is that "we're going to throw out the good with the bad. We need another vision." (Read more)

Study of poor but healthy Appalachian counties seeks a community-based solution to improve this region's health

Though some people equate Appalachian areas with poverty, David Krol seeks to "shine a light" on a different picture—one that reflects "how health can flourish across Appalachia," despite data that confirms economic hardship, Krol reports for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

While Krol was reviewing the Appalachian Regional Commission's county-based economic data, which compares economic indicators like poverty and unemployment rates with national averages and then ranks each county, it occurred to him to overlay this county index with the annual County Health Rankings. For the most part, Krol found what he expected, "that the most economically distressed counties in Appalachia would also be in the lowest quartiles of health outcomes and factors for their state."

But the inspiration for this study came from the counties that did not match up, counties that were economically distressed but in the top quartile of their state in health factors and outcomes. "What was it about Wirt County, W.Va.; Pickett County, Tenn.; and Oktibbeha County, Miss., that helped them overcome significant economic challenges towards better health outcomes when similarly distressed counties in the same state did not?" he writes.

The need to know why these "unexpected outliers" occurred has prompted Krol, with the help of the Appalachian Regional Commission and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, to study how these counties have accomplished this and to look at whether this could be re-created in similar communities.

"This approach is rooted in the belief that communities have the best solutions to the problems they face—as opposed to solutions driven by outside experts," he writes. It’s an opportunity to “go beyond the data to community conversations about what’s important,” Susan Zepeda, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, told Krol.

"Quantitative data can get only get us so far—it’s up to us to ask those critical questions of “Why? How? What can be done?” Krol wrote. "It’s up to us to turn data into action." Join a panel of experts for a conversation on what we've learned from the County Health Rankings in an upcoming First Friday Google+ Hangout on April 3rd at 12:15 ET. Register for the Hangout here.

States with large rural populations slowest to make progress in advancement of working women

States that have been slowest to make progress in advancement of women's employment and earnings have large rural populations, mostly centered in the South, led by West Virginia, which ranks last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., says a report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

The study, the first of a seven-part series, used four components: median annual earnings for women who work full-time, year-round; the gender earnings ratio among full-time, year-round workers; women’s labor force participation; and the percent of employed women who work in managerial or professional occupations.

Washington, D.C. received the highest score, followed by Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Alaska and Vermont and Virginia. All those regions earned a B grade or higher. On the opposite spectrum, West Virginia was given an F. Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas also received an F. Montana and Alabama were given a D-minus; a D went to Utah, South Dakota, Kentucky, Indiana and South Carolina; and D-plus was given to Oklahoma and Florida. (IWPR map: For an interactive version click here)

West Virginia is the capital of mood-altering drugs; Rhode Island, Kentucky, Alabama not far behind

Residents in the South are more likely to use mood-altering drugs than people in other regions, says a study by Gallup that asked 450 adults in each state how often they use drugs and medications to affect their mood or relax them, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. Southern states made up six of the top 10 states where respondents said they use drugs every day, led by West Virginia as the unofficial U.S. capital of mood-altering drugs.

Overall, 28.1 percent of West Virginia respondents said they use mood-altering drugs every day, says the study. Rhode Island was second at 25.9 percent, followed by Kentucky (24.5 percent), Alabama (24.2), Louisiana (22.9), South Carolina (22.8), Mississippi (22.3), Missouri (22.2), Indiana (22.1) and Oregon (21.9). Lowest rates were in Alaska, Wyoming, California, Illinois and North Dakota. Nationally, 18.9 percent said they take drugs almost every day, while 62.2 percent said they never do.

The way the question was worded allows for errors, Ingraham writes. The question asked about drugs and medications but didn't specify which ones and didn't mention alcohol or tobacco. That left interpretation of the question up to individual respondents. A recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health said that at least 71 percent of American adults drank in the past year, and 56 percent drank in the past month, which if true, could raise the rates in most states if respondents were to consider alcohol a mood-altering drug. (Read more) (To view this interactive Post map, click here)

Fire season is upon us; fire dangers are higher in rural and remote areas with less access to water

Springtime means fire season is heating up, and it might be a good time to alert readers about the dangers of uncontrolled burns and the struggles some fire department's have fighting fires in rural and remote areas. This was the case on Tuesday outside Sioux City, Iowa, where local firefighters were unable to save a house and home business ravaged by a fire after an illegal burn got out of control and burned 30 acres of land, Nick Hytrek reports for the Sioux City Journal (Journal photo by Jim Lee: Tuesday's fire)

Sioux City Fire Rescue Chief Tom Everett said that "fewer fire hydrants and low water pressure make it harder to get enough water to extinguish a fire, especially a fast-moving grass fire," Hytrek writes. Everett told reporters, "That's always a problem when fighting a grass fire like that."

The fire started after a resident was burning garden waste without a permit, Hytrek writes. The closest fire hydrant was about a mile away, forcing emergency responders to call in tanker trucks. Everett said, according to city zoning ordinances, the location of the fire hydrant was in compliance with rules. Everett also said fire hydrants in rural areas are farther apart or are on dead-end lines, which means there's often lower water pressure. (Read more)

Northern long-eared bats earn 'threatened' status

A dramatic decline in the northern long-eared bat (FWS photo) population due to millions of deaths from white-nose syndrome has earned the species "threatened" status from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
effective May 4, Whitney Forman-Cook reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The bats are found in 37 states, Washington D.C. and 13 Canadian provinces.

FWS Director Dan Ashe told Forman-Cook, “Bats are a critical component of our nation's ecology and economy, maintaining a fragile predator-prey balance; we lose them at our peril. Without bats, insect populations can rise dramatically, with the potential for devastating losses for our crop farmers and foresters. The alternative to bats is greater pesticide use, which brings with it another set of ecological concerns.” (Read more)

California gets its first mandatory water restrictions

California's drought conditions have gotten so bad that Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday ordered cities and towns "to cut water use by 25 percent as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history," Chris Megerian, Mett Stevens and Bettina Boxall report for the Los Angeles Times. Draft regulations will be released later this month and the plan is expected to be approved in May. (U.S. Drought Monitor map: Brown area has "exceptional drought")

"The directive comes more than a year after Brown asked for a 20 percent voluntary cut in water use that most parts of the state have failed to attain, even as one of the most severe modern droughts drags into a fourth year," the Times reports. "It also came on the day that water officials measured the lowest April 1 snowpack in more than 60 years of record-keeping in the Sierra Nevada."

The order mostly focuses on urban restrictions, even though 75 percent of the state's water use is for agriculture. Cities have to stop watering median strips in the middle of roads, golf courses, campuses and cemeteries have to cut water use and water agencies will attempt to discourage water waste by accessing higher rates and fees.

The drought currently affects 37,007,923 Californians, says the Drought Monitor. Overall, 41.11 percent of the state is listed under "exceptional drought" status, 66.6 percent "extreme drought" and 93.44 percent "severe drought."

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

EPA to require weed resistance management plan for glyphosate, key ingredient in Roundup

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected next week to announce that "it will require a weed resistance management plan for glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's immensely popular Roundup weed-killer," Carey Gilliam reports for Reuters. "An EPA spokeswoman declined to give specifics of the plan but told Reuters that its requirements will be similar to those placed on a new herbicide product developed by Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co."

"Requirements for the Dow herbicide include weed monitoring, farmer education and remediation plans," Gilliam writes. "The company is required to provide extensive reporting to the EPA about instances of weed resistance and to let 'relevant stakeholders' know about the difficulties of controlling them via a company-established website."

At least 14 weed species and biotypes in the U.S. have developed a resistance to glyphosate, which has made farming more difficult and expensive on more than 60 million acres of U.S. farmland, Gilliam writes.

The plan will not address health issues, Gilliam writes. Recent studies have linked glyphosate to cancer and say herbicides like glyphosate induce antibiotic resistance before the antibiotics have time to kill the bacteria.

NPR re-focusing attention on winning over audiences with creative, fact-based journalism

The Internet has created a vast source of news outlets, a large number of which focus on celebrities, sensationalism, sports and entertainment. And that's exactly why NPR CEO Jarl Mohn feels now is the right time for NPR, which has had its fair share of layoffs, to flourish by taking advantage of its connection to a diverse audience that craves news stories.

"With 34 bureaus, evenly split between domestic and international, NPR News is a fixture for many Americans, a dependable daily friend," reports Ken Doctor for Capital. Mohn, who was hired nine months ago, told Doctor, “Most of the world is moving away from fact-based journalism. That creates a lot of opportunity for us in public radio. The world has enough sources of info about Kim Kardashian.”

NPR has about 1,500 journalists, but some have expressed concern about the quality of reporting, Doctor writes. "NPR’s own staff sets a national standard for serious, if often entertaining, national coverage; local coverage can be as good but often flags in reporting smarts, voice and quality. Anyone who has ever listened to local public radio traveling across the country can recognize the great disparities in reporting. Closing that gap is central to the next generation of NPR News—and public radio itself."

That's where Michael Oreskes comes in, Doctor writes. Hired to run NPR news operations, Oreskes will have to find a way to manage money—funding for new initiatives, beats and projects—while meshing a legacy/digital mix to its news success. As he said in a first interview, "NPR’s success will be found 'grabbing [audience] attention with stories told in creative new ways.'” (Read more)

Minnesota radio station series examines impact of crude oil derailments on local areas and residents

WCCO News Radio 830, a CBS affiliate in Minnesota, is running a five-part series called "Tracking Danger" that examines crude oil train derailments and the impacts those derailments could have on local areas. (CBS photo)

"Rice is a sleepy town of about 1,200 people, but every 15 minutes or so, trains come flying through the heart of it at 50 mph. These trains are carrying a variety of freight, but much of it is oil from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota," reports Jennifer Lewerenz. "City Fire Chief Scott Janski is in charge of a 24-man volunteer fire crew and says a derailment would overwhelm their department and worries about their ability to respond."

While Rice can rely on help from 13 other area fire departments, the closest one is 17 miles away, Lewerenz reports. That doesn't comfort local residents, one of whom told Lewerenz, "It’s actually kind of scary because I live in a residential neighborhood where there’s lots of kids, and if they’re outside playing and there’s a train that derails, I mean, they’re not really protected."

Fridley fire chief John Berg said being located near the Mississippi River is helpful and state training has been beneficial, but there is only so much a fire department can do in the event of a train derailment, reports Laura Oakes. Berg told her, “Are we prepared to respond to 30,000 gallons, 90,000 gallons, 120,000 gallons of fuel burning and put the fire out immediately? No. I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point. Are we prepared to respond to something like that, evacuate people, protect exposures and know what resources to call in? Yes.”

Oakes reports, "It’s a different story in Minnesota’s tiny rural communities with much smaller water supplies and maybe a handful of volunteer firefighters." The big challenge there, said Kevin Reed, Operations Director with the state’s Emergency Management Division, "is getting enough water to the scene to activate the chemical foam needed to fight an oil fire."

Another story looks at the impact on the Twin Cities.

Respected North Carolina community newspaper lays off 16 employees; cities declining revenue

The Fayetteville Observer, one of the top community newspapers in North Carolina and a frequent contest winner, announced on Tuesday that it has laid off 16 employees because of declining revenue, Catherine Pritchard reports for the Observer. The layoffs included seven members of the news staff.

Charles Broadwell, the newspaper's publisher and president of Fayetteville Publishing Co., the Observer's parent company, told Pritchard, "These were deep and painful cuts today. We lost some very good people, and that's sad to say." Pritchard said there are no plans for further cuts.

The Observer is the state's oldest paper and largest independent paper, as well as being one of the largest family-owned papers in the country, according to the newspaper's website.

Two Kansas counties with oil and gas operations declare earthquakes a threat to public health

Officials in two Kansas counties where disposal wells are operated have "declared earthquakes 'an immediate threat to public health, safety and welfare,'" Ziva Branstetter reports for the Tulsa World. The Kansas Corporation Commission ordered operators of disposal wells in parts of Harper and Sumner counties "to dramatically reduce the volume of oil- and gas-production wastewater they were pumping underground."

The order "says the commission can fine companies that fail to comply up to $10,000 per day. It also says the agency will no longer issue permits for some types of high-volume wells in the affected area," Branstetter writes.

Harper and Sumner counties have seen an increase in earthquakes over the past two years, and "earthquakes in Kansas are on pace to double this year," Branstetter writes. The Kansas counties are just across the border from Oklahoma, where disposal wells have been blamed for a dramatic increase in earthquakes in recent years. Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher in 2014, more than the state had in the previous 35 years combined. (Kansas Geological Survey graphic)

USDA awards $31 million in loans and grants to promote rural economic development

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday announced that it has awarded $31 million in loans and grants to 38 projects in 12 states to promote rural economic development. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: "These infrastructure investments will help rural residents start or expand businesses. The funds can be used for a wide range of needs. They can help businesses increase production and manufacturing capacity and can even help rural homeowners save money by making their homes more energy efficient."

Grants and loans were awarded to organizations in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee. For a complete list of loans and grants, click here.

National Trust names award-winning Main Streets

Cape Girardeau, Mo.
As commercial centers and social hubs, the best Main Streets can unify a town or city and draw visitors, Ben Abramson writes for USA Today. Every year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation chooses winners for its Great American Main Street contest. The award-winners for 2015 are Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Montaclair Center, N.J.; and Rawlins, Wyo. Fond du Lac, Wis., was named the "one to watch."

Winners were cited for "a great convergence of old and new," as "historic commercial buildings are being repurposed to house the arts, high-tech businesses and entrepreneurs," said Patrice Frey of the National Main Street Center in a statement, Abramson writes.

To see this year's winning Main Streets and past winners, click here. (Read more)

Printer-publisher in hard-hit Appalachian coalfield uses business-school help to revitalize company

A printing and newspaper company in southeastern Kentucky that relied heavily on the coal industry has learned to survive in an area where many residents have fled by going back to school, Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic. (Semuels photo: A new machine has helped)

CFO Paul Whitaker, whose parents started Superior Printing and Publishing in 1956, credits the company's renewed success with his attendance at 10,000 Small Businesses, a program sponsored by Goldman Sachs, where business owners attend 100 hours of courses.

"So far, around 4,600 business-owners have gone through the program in the United States and in the U.K. According to a report from Babson College, within six months of graduation, 64 percent of them had increased revenue, and 45 percent had added new jobs," Semuels writes. "When it came time for him to come up with a new business plan for the company, Whitaker took the feedback from Babson professors and the other small-business owners and decided he could expand Superior. Professors helped him outline the steps he’d need to take to put that plan into action, and helped him figure out what was viable and what was not."

Whitaker "decided that employees, who were located in two offices in two different rural towns, should come in to a weekly meeting to keep everyone up-to-date," Semuels writes. "He kept in touch with his peers from Babson and some of them became clients, allowing him to expand to print for businesses in other states and cities. He got financing to upgrade some equipment and then decided to buy a newspaper in a neighboring county, since small-town local newspapers, as far as he could tell, weren’t imploding like the rest of the media industry."

"Now, business is triple what it was three years ago, and the company has 18 employees, up from the 13 they had when Whitaker went to Babson," Semuels writes.

Superior publishes the Letcher County Community News-Press, much the smaller of two weeklies in the county. The Mountain Eagle, long known for its coal-industry coverage, has a story this week reporting that productivity of miners in the region has increased but still lags behind those of other coalfields. The Eagle has a paywall; non-subscribers can read stories two weeks after publication.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reporters say federal data, officials are increasingly off limits under the Obama administration

A growing number of reporters say that when seeking information from government agencies, they get the run-around, especially when it involves stories the Obama administration fears will hurt public support for a project, Paul Farhi reports for The Washington Post.

"Tensions between reporters and public information officers—'hacks and flacks' in the vernacular—aren’t new, of course. Reporters have always wanted more information than government officials have been willing or able to give," Farhi writes. "But journalists say the lid has grown tighter under the Obama administration, whose chief executive promised in 2009 to bring 'an unprecedented level of openness' to the federal government."

One example involves Dina Cappiello, who as the national environment writer for the Associated Press met a stone wall when she asked the Interior Department for federal data about bird deaths on wind-energy farms in 2013, Farhi writes. Cappiello, who still hasn't received an answer, believes that because the Obama administration supports the development of wind power, releasing data that wind farms kill large numbers of protected species, such as eagles and falcons, will hurt public support.

Cappiello has received similar treatment on other stories unpopular with the Obama administration, Farhi writes. She told Farhi, “I think the thread here is that all of these stories are questioning the goals and policies of the administration. All of these have the potential to set off controversy.”

Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward had to wait a week to get an official comment from the Environmental Protection Agency about the Elk River water’s potability in relation to the January 2014 chemical leak that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 residents in West Virginia.

But not all instances involve major news, Farhi writes. Linda Petersen, managing editor of the Valley Journals newspapers in the Salt Lake City area, said when she called the parks and recreation department to find out what time the Easter egg hunt started, she was told by an employee, “I’ve been instructed not to talk to a reporter ever about anything.”

Those reporters are not alone, Farhi writes. The Society of Professional Journalists conducted a study in 2012 of 146 reporters who covered government, finding that 76 percent "said they had to get approval from a public information officer before speaking to an agency employee; two-thirds said they were prohibited by the agency from interviewing an employee at least some of the time. The vast majority—85 percent—agreed with this statement: 'The public is not getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.'"

Most federal agencies received poor grades on the Center for Effective Government's second annual Access to Information Scorecard for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. But funds are available to journalists to fight freedom of information requests.

Roundup linked to cancer, study says; separate study says herbicides cause antibiotic resistance

Officials at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization, have declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, "probably" causes cancer in people, Andrew Pollack reports for The New York Times. The study, published in the The Lancet Oncology, bases its information on the same 1985 and 1991 studies by the Environmental Protection Agency, which first said Roudnup might cause cancer, then reversed that decision.

Aaron Blair, a retired epidemiologist from the National Cancer Institute and one of the researchers of the study, told Pollack, “All three lines of evidence sort of said the same thing, which is we ought to be concerned about this.” Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, accuses "the agency of having an 'agenda' and 'cherry picking' the data to support its case."

In a separate study published in the online journal MBio, researchers from New Zealand and Mexico looked at the effect of glyphosate, dicamba (Kamba) and 2,4-D to antibiotic resistance, reports Sustainable Food Trusts. They found that "even low levels of the herbicides had the effect of inducing antibiotic resistance before the antibiotics had time to kill the bacteria; in a few antibiotic/herbicide combinations they actually made the bacteria more susceptible to the antibiotic, while in other cases they had no impact."

"Residues of these herbicides typically found in food were not sufficient to induce resistance, but the researchers have identified a number of situations in homes and on farms where more direct exposure to the herbicides could result in antibiotic resistance in children and pets or farm animals and pollinating insects, such as honeybees, which can need treating with antibiotics to cure bacterial infections," Sustainable Food Trusts reports.

As many as 1/3 of rural hospitals in Kentucky are in financial trouble, state auditor says

Rural hospitals have been struggling to remain open, with 48 rural hospitals closing since 2010—including 10 in Texas—and another 283 hospitals, mostly in the South, in trouble, said the National Rural Health Association. Most of the struggling hospitals are in states that chose not to expand Medicaid.

On Monday, Kentucky state Auditor Adam Edelen said that "as many as one-third of Kentucky's rural hospitals are in poor financial shape, and the survival of some will likely depend on their willingness to adopt new business models," Melissa Patrick and Al Cross report for Kentucky Health News, which is published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which also publishes The Rural Blog.

"Unveiling a nine-month study, Edelen said 15 of the 44 hospitals examined were in 'poor financial health,' and warned, 'Closure may be an unfortunate reality for some,'" Patrick and Cross write. Gov. Steve Beshear argued that the data was dated because it was from 2013, before Kentucky, which has been one of the most successful states under the Affordable Care Act, expanded Medicaid.

Beshear said in a statement: "Hospitals received more than $506 million in 2014 through new Medicaid expansion payments, while seeing significant reductions in uncompensated care costs. Those are huge changes to hospitals’ bottom lines that are not shown here."

Edelen's "report noted that Kentucky hospitals have had higher-than-average penalties from Medicare for readmitting patients within 30 days, a newly implemented feature of the law," Patrick and Cross write. "Forty of the 63 hospitals penalized were rural, and nine of the 39 in the U.S. that got the maximum penalty were in Kentucky."

Edelen, who said the report "is 'a baseline for monitoring' by policymakers at the state and local levels" said "that to survive, rural hospitals must adapt to new business models, such as merging with larger hospitals or hiring them as managers, forming coalitions with other rural hospitals or finding a health-care niche that hasn't been served," Patrick and Cross write.

Minimum wage worker says she was fired for talking to The Washington Post about wages

A minimum wage worker at the Days Inn in Pine Bluff, Ark., said she was fired from her job for talking to The Washington Post about how the minimum wage increase would help her financially, Chico Harlan reports for the Post. Shanna Tippen "says she was fired by her boss, hotel manager Herry Patel. Earlier that day, Patel had called The Post to express frustration that he had been quoted giving his opinion about the minimum wage hike. (He objected to it.). It was soon after, Tippen says, that Patel found her in the lobby and fired her." (Post photo by Russ Scalf: Days Inn in Pine Bluff, Ark.) 

Tippen told Harlan, “He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post]. He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’ He said it was wrong for me to talk to you."

Patel argues that Tippen quit, Harlan writes. "He said that Tippen was not fired and instead walked out on the job after a disagreement. Patel said that he’d approached Tippen to ask about her past criminal record, which was described in the original Feb. 17 article. Patel said he would not rehire Tippen because of the way she’d spoken to him during the dispute." Patel told Harlan, “She walked out herself. I didn’t fire her.”

Tippen disputes those claims, Harlan writes. In fact, Harlan writes that when he went to Pine Bluff to write the story, he first interviewed Patel, who then suggested he interview Tippen. "Several days later, after I’d spent additional time with Tippen, Patel called me and threatened to sue if an article was published. Tippen, though, felt it was important to tell her story; she said many people shared her experience earning the minimum, and she had nothing negative to say about her employer.​" (Read more)

Rural Indiana town facing HIV epidemic; local doctor said they saw this coming, asked for help

A rural impoverished Indiana town is facing an HIV crisis. Austin, (Best Places map) home to about 4,300 residents, has had at least 81 cases of HIV infection, well above the five reported cases in a typical year, Shari Rudavsky reports for The Indianapolis Star. The epidemic forced Gov. Mike Pence last week to declare a public health emergency, allowing local authorities to begin a short-term needle-exchange program.

Pence's order, which lasts for 30 days, at which time it will be re-evaluated, "applies only to Scott County, and it remains up to local authorities there to decide whether they wish to establish such a program under the supervision of the Indiana State Department of Health," Rudavsky writes. Scott County Sheriff Dan McClain, who has 11 HIV positive inmates housed in the local jail, "said he would like to see a needle exchange program in his area, particularly one that includes testing, education and treatment for those who require it." He told Rudavsky, "I think if you're just flat out giving out needles, you're not going to do much good." (Read more)

William Cooke, the only doctor in Austin, said the high number of HIV cases is not surprising, Danielle Paquette reports for The Washington Post. Cooke said he believes "that people addicted to injectible painkillers might be plucking used needles off lawns, shooting up—and passing them on. He told Paquette, “We saw this coming a long time ago. There’s a lot of poverty and very few resources available to the community. We’ve been asking for help for some time.”

Cooke said he has seen many cases of patients illegally using Opana, a prescription painkiller that delivers a potent high, especially when ground into water and injected into veins, Center for Disease Control investigators found. "The nearest hospital with social services and HIV testing, Cooke said, was only five miles away. But many of Austin’s drug users lacked transportation."

Tony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Paquette, “When you don’t have a health-care system where people have access to testing and treatment, the introduction of one infection into a community of drug users can turn into an outbreak."

To watch an MSNBC interview on the issue with Beth Meyerson, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS and STD Prevention at Indiana University, click here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Obama's antibiotic plan getting mixed reviews: critics say it doesn't go far enough in agriculture

The Obama administration's National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria, a proposal to fight drug resistant bacteria responsible for two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths per year in the U.S., is getting mixed reactions.

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology praised the plan, saying in a statement: "More than half of all hospitalized patients will get an antibiotic at some point during their hospital stay, but studies have shown that 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary or incorrect, contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance."

But not everyone supports the plan. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the only microbiologist in Congress, unhappy that she wasn't consulted on the plan, released a statement criticizing it for not going far enough: "With 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States being used in agriculture mostly for prevention, any meaningful solution to the looming antibiotic resistance crisis must begin with limits on the farm, and trusting a voluntary policy that lets industry police itself will not bring about real change. Antibiotics were never meant for prevention of disease; they were meant for treatment of disease. Using them at sub-therapeutic levels for prevention has just made bacteria stronger and is rendering antibiotics ineffective."

Mae Wu, health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. said “The Obama administration needs to do more to reduce antibiotic use in animals that are not sick," Lydia Zuraw reports for Food Safety News. Allan Coukell, senior director for health programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said "While we’re pleased with the action plan’s continued emphasis on tracking antibiotic use in human medicine, we urge the administration to make even greater progress in reducing the use of antibiotics. We call now for a clear plan to review the safety of antibiotic use for disease prevention in food animals and establish systems to provide better and faster collection of data about antibiotic sales and use.”

Depressed Central Appalachian coal communities using region's rich history to promote tourism

Struggling Central Appalachian communities that once relied on the coal industry for jobs are now trying to revitalize local economies through tourism that highlights the region's rich coal history, Jonathan Drew and Allen Breed report for The Associated Press. That includes mining museums, festivals, wilderness adventures, coal-themed business or sub-regions that "have been rechristened with alluring names like the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains or the PA Wilds." (AP photo by David Goldman: A coal mine tour in Lynch, Ky.)

"Will it work? Proponents point to the region's assets, its natural beauty, its distinctive mountain character—and characters (like the feuding Hatfields and McCoys)," Drew and Breed write. "But others note the paradoxes: Environmental degradation alongside unspoiled areas, a history of poor education that for decades didn't preclude high-paying jobs, an away-from-it-all feel partly caused by a lack of good roads and other infrastructure."

Recent studies suggest that except for a few lucky areas, the trend won't work, Drew and Freed write. Suzanne Gallaway, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, told AP, "It's kind of really odd that economic practitioners push tourism to be a propulsive industry when it has such low wages.

Statistics back up those claims, Drew and Breed write. A 2012 report compiled for the Mountain State's Division of Tourism found that West Virginia's "spending and hospitality employment have been slow to grow in many counties." The report found that jobs in the Hatfield-McCoy Mountains dropped from 2004 to 2012 from 1,400 to 1,300, and "another area that includes the New River Gorge and the Greenbrier resort shed 700 tourism-related jobs during the period, the report shows."

But those numbers aren't stopping states from continuing to try to turn coal's history and culture into profits, Drew and Freed write. Business owners are trying just about everything to attract tourists, including an Eastern Kentucky couple that turned an old "company store" into a winery that sells products named after the region's coal history.

Tourism consultant Carole Morris told AP, "It's not a panacea. It's not going to be that cure-all." But she did add, "I have rarely been in a place where tourism was impossible. There's always something interesting, something in the history of a community that brings people." (Read more)

Community foundations preserve family legacies and keep farms going long after owners are gone

Community foundations are becoming more common in rural America, and many allow farmers to give a portion of their land to the community. That leaves a legacy and allows farmers to keep their farms up and running long after they retire or die, Elizabeth Williams reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer.

Patrick Costello, a Minnesota attorney and rural advocate, said the state changed "its anti-corporate farming law to allow individuals and private foundations to make retained farmland gifts to public charities as exit strategies either upon closing up foundations or making estate plans," Williams writes. "Small hospitals or small churches that found themselves going out of business also had another option of handling their farmland assets, Costello added." Costello told her, "Farmers spend a lifetime putting together a farm unit, and they really hate to see it split up and sold off, even after they've gone."

For example, 79-year-old Minnesota farmer Glenn Krog has no children, and his sole employee is also childless, Williams writes. Krog "gifted a half section of farmland to the community foundation's 'Keep it Growing' program two years ago. Krog and his employee have the benefit of farming it until they pass away. Krog's niece will inherit the rest of his farm. Then, whoever is farming the home farm owned by Krog's niece has the right of first refusal to rent the portion owned by the foundation after the death of his employee."

Another plus is a double tax benefit for making an annual charitable donation, which has whittled down Krog's estate value, reducing his future estate tax exposure. Williams writes.

More Americans returning to exurbs, which feature paved subdivisions on what was once rural land

People are returning to the exurbs, rural areas that have been paved over and turned into subdvisions, Emily Badger reports for The Washington Post. Cheap housing and easy mortgages made exurbs a popular migration destination in the early 2000s, before the housing crash left many of these areas deserted and incomplete.

"New census data, though, suggests that eight years after the housing crash, Americans are starting to move back there again," Badger writes. From 2011 to 2013 urban areas saw faster growth than exurbs. But Census data released last week "show that the exurbs are now again growing faster than more urban places, according to Brookings Institution demographer William Frey."

Frey said it's too early to tell if this trend will continue, Badger writes. He told her, "It’s not going to be reverting back to the early part of 2000s when we had this maniac exurban and suburban growth . . . We’ll have to wait until there's a generation of kids that come out that have opportunities to make decisions based on their preferences rather than just constraints. That’s not yet happened, either. It may be starting to happen." (Post graphic)

BNSF to increase safety by reducing train speeds, but only in urban areas with 100,000 residents

BNSF Railway announced last week that it will reduce all oil train speeds to 35 mph through municipalities with 100,000 or more more residents until its customers phase out old, single-hulled DOT-111 tank cars, which is expected to start in May, April Baumgarten reports for The Dickinson Press in western North Dakota. In 2013, a BNSF train running from North Dakota to Maine derailed in Quebec, killing 47 people. During that same year, more oil was spilled in the U.S. from trains than in the previous 37 years.

North Dakota critics blasted the move, saying the only state city the rule affects is Fargo, Baumgarten writes. Rep. Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) told Baumgarten, "That doesn’t do a whole lot to secure our other communities . . . I think many of our rural communities would also argue that their lives are no less at risk."

BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino countered that "slowing the trains down in all communities would reduce the amount of product BNSF could ship and would burn up time" and "it would also impact trains hauling other commodities, such as grain or anhydrous ammonia. He added the measures go beyond the federal standard." (Read more)

Common Core test opt-out movement grows; New York leads the way

Spring is standardized test season, but across the nation, opposition to Common Core tests is increasing. On Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly voted to let parents choose not to have their children take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Common Core tests and require the schools to give the children other activities to do during test time. Rocky Killion, Indiana superintendent of the year, is so averse to the exams that he even recommended parents home-school their children during testing week, Valerie Straus reports for The Washington Post.

New York is leading the opt-out movement; approximately 60,000 parents decided last year not to let their children take the tests. "The purpose of the standardized tests is to measure a student's knowledge and overall achievement in Common Core Learning Standards adopted by New York three years ago," Swapna Ramaswamy writes for The Journal News.

A post by Carol Burris, New York's 2013 high-school principal of the year, and Bianca Tanis, an elementary special-education teacher and public school parents in New York's Hudson Valley, explains what is happening in the state: "This year, the New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of pro-public school, anti-testing advocates, are sponsoring more than 40 forums across the state, and parents are coming out in droves to express their dislike of Common Core test-based reform," Burris and Tanis write.

New York legislators are also weighing in. Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco said during an interview with News 10 that school distrcts "should be providing parents with the truths and the facts and their rights. . . . They can refuse something for their kids they've never opted into," Burris and Tanis report. Former teacher Tedisco introduced a bill to help parents opt their students out and make it illegal for student or teachers to face repercussions as a result.

Others, by employing strategies such as threats and misinformation, are trying to stop the opt out movement. Some superintendents have said that state funding will no longer be available for schools whose testing participation falls below 95 percent, but the "New York State Education Department has stated that test refusal will have no effect on state aid," Burris and Taner write. (Read more)

Nevada, Oregon sign deals to protect sage grouse

The federal government, an environmental group and the world's largest gold mining company reached a deal on Thursday to protect sage grouse across more than 900 square miles of private land in Nevada, Scott Sonner reports for The Associated Press.

Barrick Gold Corp., The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will establish "a 'conservation bank,' providing the mining firm credit for enhancing critical habitat in exchange for flexibility in future operations," Sonner writes. "It aims to preserve and restore more habitat than is lost through development while at the same time providing Barrick with more certainty as it maps out new mining plans." (AP photo)

Also last week, eight eastern and central Oregon counties signed a deal with the federal government that "allows landowners to enroll their property in a voluntary conservation program," Shelby Sebens reports for Reuters. "Officials say the deal, along with other conservation agreements across Oregon, could protect over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of sage grouse habitat."

"The Oregon deal means landowners can volunteer to take steps to protect the sage grouse now, such as removing invasive grasses and marking barbed wire fences, in return for assurance that they won't have to follow additional regulations, officials said," Sebens writes.

Fish and Wildlife, which has said it wants to protect 16.5 million acres of high-value sage grouse habitat in order to save the bird from the threat of extinction, will decide in September if the species should be listed as endangered. BLM's land-use plan amendments, set to be finalized in late summer, will be a key factor in that decision.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

April is Global Astronomy Month, and rural areas are the best places to study the night sky

April is Global Astronomy Month, promoted by the international group Astronomers Without Borders, and since the stars and planets are easier to see in rural areas, rural news media should take note. It can be another case of acting locally while thinking globally.

"All people share a common bond viewing what the sky offers," John Goss writes in his monthly astronomy column for The Roanoke Times. "We all live on a very small world floating in a vast, largely unknown cosmos. Sometimes we think that with humanity’s many differences, people in different lands have little in common with one another. One commonality is that we all see the same sky."