Friday, July 17, 2015

East Texans fear military exercise is an invasion

Paranoia has taken hold among some in East Texas, with fear of a government takeover, Manny Fernandez reports for The New York Times. Jade Helm 15 is an eight-week military exercise that began today in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Utah. But in some rural Texas towns, the maneuver "has generated paranoia for months fueled by conservative bloggers and Internet postings." (NYT photo by Tamir Kalifa: Scott Degenaer, outside his home in Christoval, Texas)

"Local officials who have been briefed on the exercise say it is modeled after the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II," Fernandez writes. "It calls for some military personnel to play the role of the occupiers and for others to work undetected as part of the resistance. Military maps show Texas and Utah as 'hostile,' other states as 'permissive,' and still others as uncertain but leaning hostile or friendly."

In the East Texas town of Christoval, distrust of President Obama has led some of the 422 residents to bury weapons or stock up on ammunition, Fernandez writes. "According to some right-wing bloggers and activists, the exercise is part of a secret plot by the Obama administration to impose martial law, confiscate firearms, invade red-state Texas or prepare for instituting 'total population control.' A report on Infowars, a website operated by Alex Jones, a libertarian-leaning talk radio host from Texas, suggested Helm was an acronym for Homeland Eradication of Local Militants."

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott "was criticized for giving legitimacy to conspiracy theorists when he ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15," Fernandez writes. Navy veteran Scott Degenaer, who questioned if Fernandez and photographer Tamir Kalifa were really from the Times or part of the military exercise, told Fernandez, “With Obama being in there with the way he’s already stomped all over the Constitution, pushing his presidential authority to the max, it would only be just the stroke of a pen for him to do away with that. This man is just totally anti-U.S. I mean, he just signed a deal with Iran.”

Senate bill would keep horse-slaughter ban House has dropped, but agrees with House on extending waiver of rule for whole grains in school meals

"A ban on horse slaughter would be extended another year and genetically engineered salmon would have to be labeled" as such under a Senate appropriations bill that includes the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration, Philip Brasher of Agri-Pulse reports.

"The Senate Appropriations Committee also adopted amendments to the legislation Thursday that would extend a waiver from the whole-grains requirements for school meals and force USDA to delay the end of an import ban on beef from Brazil and Argentina," Brasher writes. "Both the whole-grains waiver and the beef-import measure are also contained in the House version of the fiscal 2016 spending measure. The extension of the ban on horse slaughter and biotech salmon labeling requirement are not in the House bill. The Senate committee approved both provisions without a roll-call vote."

Last year the House included a ban on horse slaughter and Congress passed it. This month a motion in the Appropriations Committee to extend the ban failed on a 24-24 vote.

2014 warmest year recorded on land and sea; ocean warming is irreversible, scientists say

2014 was the warmest year ever recorded on land and sea, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed in its annual "State of the Climate" report, compiled by more than 400 scientists around the world.

"The warming of the oceans due to climate change is now unstoppable after record temperatures last year, bringing additional sea-level rise, and raising the risks of severe storms," Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian writes, citing the report. "Global sea level also reached a record high, with the expansion of those warming waters. Scientists said the consequences of those warmer ocean temperatures would be felt for centuries to come – even if there were immediate efforts to cut the carbon emissions fueling changes in the oceans."

"The oceans expand when they get warmer," Christiopher Joyce of NPR notes. "That raises sea levels, which — again, no coincidence — reached their highest point last year, as well. Glaciers continued to melt. And the extent of Arctic sea ice kept shrinking as well. On the temperature front, Europe was hotter than ever. But it wasn't hotter than blazes everywhere. The eastern U.S. got a break. The winter there was especially cold, which led some climate skeptics to question the whole idea of climate change."

Duke Energy solar plant will serve Camp Lejeune; part of Navy's move to alternative fuels

One of four Duke Energy solar projects in North Carolina will serve "the East Coast’s largest Marine Corps base as the military diversifies from petroleum power," The Associated Press reports.

"The country’s largest electric company is starting construction Friday at Camp Lejeune on a 13-megawatt solar array on 100 acres," AP reports. " The project’s goal is helping the Navy and Marines meet their energy and security goals while furthering Duke Energy’s renewable energy holdings. . . . The solar facility is expected to be online in 2015, Duke Energy said in a statement in April, when it received the green light from the North Carolina Utilities Commission for the project."

State law requires Duke to generate one-eighth of its electricity from renewable sources by 2021, and "The Navy has decided its reliance on oil is a national security problem and plans to produce at least half its on-shore energy needs from alternative sources by 2020," AP and The Charlotte Observer report.

Read more here:

Proposed rule to protect streams from mining would be tougher on coal but allow valley fills

Valley fills like this would still be allowed.
The Obama administration has proposed new rules for protecting streams from the effects of coal mining, continuing a battle between the industry and regulators that has lasted more than a decade and intensified as controversy over mountaintop-removal mining has increased.

The proposed regulations "would impose tougher standards for water quality around coal mines while requiring companies to take more responsibility for cleaning up waterways damaged by mine pollution or covered by mining spoils," reports Joby Warrick of The Washington Post.

"Coal operators would have to conduct expanded monitoring and perform additional environmental restoration, but would be freed from the threat that a 32-year-old ban on mining activities within 100 feet of streams might be used to stop them from dumping waste rock and dirt into streams" to create valley or head-of-hollow fills, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

"Specifically, the rule mandates that coal companies test and monitor the condition of streams affected by their activities before, during and after a mining operation, according to a summary of the proposal released by the Interior Department," reports Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times. "It would also require that companies restore streams and other mined areas to 'the uses they were capable of supporting before mining activities'."

The department estimated that the proposed rule, which would take effect after a year of public comment and review, would cost about 460 coal jobs but add 250 reclamation jobs. The coal industry said the job losses would be much larger. "Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said the Obama Administration has tried to hide the impact," Sean Cockerham of McClatchy Newspapers reports. "The Office of Surface Mining's own analysis of an earlier version of the rule said that it would cost 7,000 jobs." Bissett told Valerie Volcovici of Reuters that Interior officials "cooked their own books."

Republican politicians from coal states decried the move as the latest evidence of President Obama's "war on coal," but environmental groups said the rule should have been stronger.
Read more here:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Park Service tries to cut trash by banning disposable bottles; Big Water lobby fights back

In an attempt to reduce trash and litter in national parks, the National Park Service is allowing parks to stop selling disposable bottles and instead have visitors refill reusable ones with public drinking water, Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post. But water-bottling firms that brings in billions of dollars a year and employs thousands, have stepped in to block the parks from banning the plastic pollutants—and the industry found an ally on Capitol Hill to add a little-noticed amendment to a House spending bill that would kill the policy." (NPS photo)

"As environmental groups and local officials campaign for a sales ban to reduce park waste and carbon emissions, the titans that manufacture Deer Park, Fiji, Evian and 200 other brands of water packaged in disposable plastic have mounted a full-court lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill to stop the Park Service’s latest effort at sustainability," Rein writes.

Chris Hogan, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association, which represents 200 bottlers, told Rein, “This is a prominent, misleading attack on bottled water that has no justification." Big Water's campaign claims the move by the park service is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, because it's leading to more visitors choosing to drink soda, instead of water.

Park Service Director John Jarvis "issued a memo to the system’s 408 parks, national monuments and historical sites, allowing them to eliminate sales of disposable plastic water bottles," Rein writes. "The bottles were clogging the waste stream, he wrote in 2011, eating up recycling budgets at a lot of parks." About 20 parks have sworn off water sales, but the number could be higher, because parks are not required to notify headquarters when they change their policies on concessions. (Read more)

Badge of honor: Troubled sheriff’s department in Montana accuses reporter of being too aggressive

A reporter for the Missoulian is being accused of being too aggressive by the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department for her coverage of local cops and courts in western Montana, notes semi-retired Jim Romenesko on his blog. Sheriff's department Public Information Officer Brenda Bassett claims reporter Kate Haake "has misquoted her colleagues, and 'often fails to give us adequate times to respond to her inquiries and/or will try to contact multiple people within our office in an attempt to get more information than what she can legally be given. In the past, she was been quite successful at it.'"

Kate Haake
"Bassett, a former TV reporter, claims in a memo that she’s struck a deal with Missoulian management that prohibits Haake from contacting sheriff’s office employees by phone" and that she has to send all questions via email to Bassett, Romenesko writes.

That’s news to Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin, who told Romenesko:
The Missoulian has no such arrangement or agreement with the sheriff’s office.

They have made that demand and have attempted to have Kate removed from the beat because she asks questions that go beyond TV soundbites, and has covered both the sheriff’s critics as well as his supporters.

She remains our police and courts reporter and has my full support. Her stories have been and are fair, balanced and accurate. I have at no time agreed to their demands.

The problem is that there is a longstanding division in the sheriff’s department that has resulted in numerous lawsuits and human rights complaints between members of the department.

Our newspaper has aggressively covered those lawsuits and the controversy and its implications for law enforcement in Missoula.

Now the sheriff and his detractors within the department want to export their drama to the Missoulian and to discredit our reporter and newspaper. It is not going to work. We will continue moving forward with good solid journalism.

Though gas surpassed coal for electric generation recently, coal is expected to rebound somewhat

News stories this week reporting that natural gas in April overtook coal in U.S. electricity for the first time failed to mention that the Energy Information Administration "said in a May report that it expects the level of coal-generated electricity to rebound as natural gas prices rise later this year and coal-fired plants return from spring maintenance," Ken Ward reports for The Charleston Gazette. "Overall, the EIA expects about 36 percent of total U.S. electricity generation to come from coal in 2015 and 31 percent to come from natural gas."

Ward notes that The Guardian had some interesting thoughts on this development. The Guardian said: "In April a glut of fracked gas from new shale regions drove the price of gas down to just $2.50/million Btu (British thermal unit, a widely-used measure of energy), a 35 percent drop since February. This oversupply, combined with a routine seasonal shut down of coal plants, caused gas production to creep above coal for the first time."

Tyler Hodge, who works on the EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook, said "gas prices were expected to rise again in the coming months, and coal would reassert itself at the top of the production table when plants fire up again for the winter," The Guardian reports. Hodge told the British newspaper, “Power generators often use the spring months to take their plants offline for maintenance, especially coal plants. This maintenance period happened to coincide with a period of very low natural gas [prices]."

Even so, the long-term picture for coal, especially in Central Appalachia, is not good, Ward writes. Companies such as Walter Energy, which has mines in Alabama and West Virginia, continue to file for bankruptcy, while other companies are shuttering coal-fired plants or switching to natural gas.

Metro daily honors weekly editor in same county for winning National Newspaper Association award

Bill Tubbs
Bill Tubbs, owner of the weekly North Scott Press in Eldridge, Iowa, has been named the recipient of the National Newspaper Association's James O. Amos award. The Amos award, along with the McKinney award, are "recognized as two of the highest and most distinguished tributes in community journalism... presented to a working or retired newspaperman and woman who has provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and his/her community," says NNA.

Tubbs became co-owner of the Press in 1971. He and his wife Linda became majority owners in 1994 and sole owners in 2000, according to the Press. 

The Quad City Times, the daily Lee Enterprises paper in Davenport, the seat of Scott County, took time to honor Tubbs. The Times editorial board wrote: "Tubbs and his wife, Linda, lead a publishing company that reaches out across 21st century platforms with old-school attention to things that matter to his readers: Detailed accounts of public proceedings, timely recognition of community achievements and attention to the clubs, leagues, churches and events that define community."

"Don’t delve into the North Scott Press to read outrage over the latest Supreme Court ruling," says the Times. "But count on NSP to connect readers with every town and county board in its region. And you can bet Mississippi Valley Fair ribbon winners will see their names in print within a week of the fair. Congratulations to our next door neighbor, a national role model in contemporary community journalism."

Iowa utility will shut 7 coal-fired plants, pay $1.1 M

Interstate Power and Light, the Iowa subsidiary of Alliant Energy Corp., "agreed to install pollution controls at two of its largest coal-fired power plants and either retire or convert the five remaining plants to natural gas," Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. As part of a settlement from a lawsuit by the Sierra Club, Interstate "also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1.1 million to resolve claims it violated the U.S. Clean Air Act."

"Alliant will spend about $620 million to install pollution controls and another $6 million on environmental mitigation projects, including solar energy installations, replacement of coal-fired boilers, and installation of anaerobic digesters, which capture greenhouse gases from livestock manure," Volcovici writes.

SOAR leadership needs to include poor people from East Kentucky, retired anti-poverty worker writes

Leadership of Shaping our Appalachian Region, a nonprofit started in Kentucky by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from the nation's poorest and most rural district, to help solve Eastern Kentucky's economic struggles, lacks any of the very people the initiative is trying to help, opines retired anti-poverty worker Robert Shaffer in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Shaffer writes:
Robert Shaffer
The people of Eastern Kentucky, especially the poor and unemployed, should take ownership of SOAR. But this requires leadership that will allow it...The executive board includes bank presidents, chief executive officers, coal operators and attorneys—the same kind of professionals who have led all previous efforts to rebuild the region.

Poverty statistics will once again be used to bring millions of dollars to Eastern Kentucky to be spent by those who are not poor. What is never considered is the enormous price poor families pay to produce these statistics. They are, after all, the expert witnesses. Who has a greater stake in SOAR's success?

It makes common sense that poor people should have seats at the table where decisions are made about how those funds will be spent. But it is an open secret that many in leadership do not want poor people to acquire the confidence to participate at the highest levels in programs designed to enable them to rise out of poverty.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tupelo newspaper firm refuses same-sex marriage notices, bans employees from talking about policy

Clay Foster, publisher and CEO of Journal, Inc.—which owns the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Mississippi Business Journal, eight weekly publications in Northeast Mississippi and five weeklies in the suburban Memphis area—told employees that if they have a problem with the company's refusal to accept same-sex wedding announcements, they can work somewhere else, Robbie Ward reports for the Huffington Post. Employees were also told to keep their opinions to themselves and refrain from speaking about the Supreme Court decision on social media.

Foster held a meeting with the company's top leaders two days before his column preaching the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman appeared in the Daily Journal on July 5, Ward writes. He informed employees of the marriage announcement policy and "said any employee could leave who didn't like his column or the company's policies related to stifling speech at the news organization and discriminating against same-sex couples."

Foster said in an email to employees: "We'll be discussing it more in the coming days, but what we don't need is one of our papers taking an editorial position on the issue independent of any company position on the matter. I doubt that any would, but it's safer not to assume."

The Journal's 30,000-plus circulation makes it the largest newspaper in the rural U.S.  Journal, Inc. was founded by George McLean, a leader in regional economic development theory and practice. He founded the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi to "raise the quality of life for all Mississippians." 

Mo. county board votes to lower flags to protest same-sex marriage decision; likely will recant

Officials in a rural Missouri county who voted 3-0 on Monday to lower flags to half-mast for a year to mourn the Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriages said on Tuesday they "would likely meet this week to rescind the vote out of respect for veterans and those serving in the military," Doug Moore reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Dent County (Wikipedia map) Commissioner Gary Larson said, “It ain’t what our Bible tells us. It’s against God’s plan."

Presiding Commissioner Darrell Skiles said community members agreed with the commissioners' stance on same-sex marriage but felt lowering the flag was the wrong way to protest the decision, Moore writes. Skiles said "members of the military and veterans told him that lowering the flag should be reserved as a way to pay respects to fallen soldiers and dignitaries who die."

"Skiles, a cattle farmer, said he will not propose any other action to replace the flag lowering," Moore writes. He told Moore, "I think we made our point that we are strongly disappointed. We had to be very, very strongly disappointed to even do this." He said the decision by the Supreme Court hurt him "deep down inside, like the death of a near and dear loved one." (Read more)

Postal Service owes it to rural areas to provide better service, New Hampshire columnist says

"Constantly evolving technologies and lack of effective leadership from the U.S. Postal Service" are causing the agency to stray from its basic function—"to provide a letter mail delivery service to every American, no matter where they live, at a reasonable rate," opines George Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom, which describes itself as "an educational institute whose mission is to promote the principles of individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise, free markets and traditional American values as found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."

Landrith, whose column appears in the Concord Monitor, which covers central New Hampshire from the state capital, writes:
George Landrith
The quasi-government agency continues to stray far from that function. While this ultimately hurts all Americans, it especially threatens states with large rural populations. Today, we have other means to share information. But rural America lags behind more urban areas in Internet use, which only makes the USPS that much more important in many areas of the country.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service seems to be increasing service and product offerings in metropolitan centers like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York, while they are shutting down mail processing facilities and decreasing service in other areas. While service is languishing throughout most of the country, urban areas are seeing a bump in services from the USPS. Recently they expanded a service called Metro Post to other cities, even though it earned $1 for every $10 invested—a 90 percent financial loss. Add this to other new ventures like grocery delivery—now expanding in New York City—as well as a potential move into banking services, and it’s clear that the trend has been to cut back on standard mail service, which everyone relies on, in order to move into other business ventures in big city markets.

All told, customers may not be getting what they pay for. Considering the stamp price increases, we can’t help but wonder if we are subsidizing their ill-fated experiments. While the USPS will fail to elicit attention from the 2016 Presidential field, the issue is still important. The tentacles of the USPS touches too many corners of this nation to ignore its problems. Now is the time for the USPS to refocus its mission and remember its rural customers.

Natural gas reserves in Appalachia much larger than originally thought, WVU researchers say

Natural gas resources in the Utica Shale—located mostly in Appalachia—are much larger than original estimates, says a report by West Virginia University researchers released Tuesday at a workshop in Canonsburg, Pa. (Oil & Gas Financial Journal map)

"In 2013, a study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that Marcellus Shale operators produced 2.86 trillion cubic feet of gas," WVU reports. "In a 2012 study, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that technically recoverable resources in the Utica—the volume that can be extracted from the reservoir using existing technology—were 38 trillion cubic feet of gas and an additional 940 million barrels of oil. WVU’s study shows that the Utica play contains technically recoverable resources of 782 Tcf of gas and 1,960" million barrels of oil.

Terry Engelder, a Penn State University geosciences professor, who was not involved in the study, said before "the revised figures were released that the year-old Utica study numbers were likely very conservative because they could not have accounted for many of the largest wells drilled during the past 12 months," Laura Legere reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He told Legere that the figures “might make the Utica gas play second only to the Marcellus in the U.S."

The two-year study was compiled by the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium, an offshoot of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy in Morgantown, Samuel Speciale reports for the Charleston Daily Mail. Consortium Director Doug Patchen said that "oil and gas companies in the region will have to determine whether it is financially feasible to drill into the formation, which lies 4,000 to 12,000 feet below West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale play, something he said could be done in conjunction with current drilling into higher strata of rock."

Gas surpasses coal in generation of U.S. electricity

In April, gas-fired electricity outpaced coal-fired power for the first time, "another signal of intensifying pressure from the shale revolution on the coal industry," reports EnergyWire. Falling natural gas prices resulted in "31 percent of its electricity powered by gas with 30 percent powered by coal, according to research firm SNL Energy."

"Wood Mackenzie's Brett Blankenship said cheap gas colliding with new environmental regulations to curb mercury and related pollution from coal-fired plants has particularly injured coal generation," EnergyWire reports. Blankenship told the newslatter, "Low gas prices mean coal plants are running less and when they run their margins are typically compressed. So companies find it difficult to make the investments needed to comply with regulations and keep those plants running."

Hate groups foes of civil rights have misused Confederate battle flag, Civil War historian says

Misuse of what people call the Confederate flag by white racist groups over the past 75 years has changed the flag's meaning and tarnished its historical significance, opines William C. Davis, former executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech University, for The Wall Street Journal. The flag has received much publicity lately in the wake of the murders of nine African Americans at a historic Charleston church and the arrest of a white suspect with ties to hate groups. Many people have called for Confederate symbols to be removed from official buildings, and last Friday the flag was taken down from the South Carolina statehouse.

Here is an excerpt from Davis's column: 
William C. Davis
In fact, what is popularly known as 'the Confederate flag' never flew over Confederate capitols or public buildings, where different banners reigned. Rather, this emblem brought down on Friday was the Confederate 'battle flag,' designed to be carried at the head of a regiment and used as its rallying point in battle, where the flag’s blue St. Andrew’s cross on a field of brilliant red might stand out through the smoke of battle.

As such, it primarily stood for a unit’s pride in its valor in action, though all of the Confederacy’s symbols naturally carried an intrinsic affirmation of its foundational tenets, including the perpetuation of slavery. After the Union victory in 1865, those battle flags not surrendered, buried, thrown into rivers or cut up as souvenirs went home to quiet repose in closets, attics and, later, museums.

There they remained for decades, undisturbed and in the main undisturbing despite the unhappy meaning still attached to them, their image even protected by veterans’ groups from inappropriate political or commercial use.

But that all ended in the 1940s, when opponents of the emerging civil-rights movement raised the old banner for a new battle. Soon, [some] former Confederate states incorporated it into their state flags, and militant white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan began deploying it as a symbol of resistance to integration and voting rights. The worst proponents of white supremacy displayed that emblem while committing unspeakable violence against African-Americans and white supporters of civil rights. They still do: Witness Charleston.

Southern 'heritage' groups who oppose removing the battle flag are reluctant to acknowledge that this same dynamic has tainted their cherished emblem. But it has. Whatever the flag meant from 1865 to 1940, the flag’s misuse by a white minority of outspokenly bigoted and often violent people has indelibly shifted that meaning.

It is now remembered around the world with images of defiant governors standing in schoolhouse doors, with the snapping dogs of Birmingham, with police barricades to keep black youths out of classrooms, with beatings and lynchings in the night, with churches set ablaze, with fear, intimidation, hatred and the constant reminder that the descendants of slaves were not welcome in their own country.

The argument that the battle flag is displayed only as a symbol of pride in Southern heritage loses force when one recalls that while Florida, Alabama and Mississippi added elements of the banner to their flags around the turn of the last century, Georgia incorporated the battle emblem into its state flag only in 1956, and South Carolina began flying the battle flag over its state house as late as 1961. Both were unequivocal declarations of defiance to desegregation and the civil-rights movement.

Defenders of the battle flag often further assert that Southern secession and the resultant Civil War had little or nothing to do with slavery, arguing that only a tiny fraction of people in the seceding states—usually cited as 3 percent to 6 percent—actually owned slaves. Thus, they say, the flag’s opponents are wrong to condemn it is a symbol of slavery and oppression.

But somebody owned the 3.5 million slaves in the Confederate states in 1861. In fact, census records reveal that 31 percent of all Confederate households held one or more slaves. The same records show that on farms large enough to avail themselves of slave labor, as many as 70 percent of planters owned their workers. Such ownership defined wealth and social status, regional culture and economic survival.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More than 1/4 of all rural children live in poverty; interactive map has data for each county

In 2013 nearly 2.6 million children under 18 outside metropolitan areas were living in poverty, a rate of 26 percent, up from 19 percent in 1999, says a report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, David McGranahan reports for USDA and ERS. The metro rate was 21 percent in 2013, compared to 16 percent in 1999.

"One in five rural counties had child poverty rates of over 33 percent in 2009/13, but another one in five had child poverty rates of less than 16 percent," McGranahan writes. "Overall, county average rates of child poverty rose from 20 percent to 25 percent over 1999-2009/13, with the proportion of counties with child poverty rates of over 33 percent doubling in this period. Meanwhile, estimated child poverty rates declined in one in five counties."

The report is accompanied by an interactive map giving data for each county. Here's a screen grab of the map:
Researchers found that the Great Recession, lack of education among parents, and single-parent households were the main factors in the increase in numbers, McGranahan writes. "Counties where low proportions of young adults (ages 25 to 44) have completed high school are likely to have more children in families with low educational attainment and higher child poverty levels." Also, "the poverty rate for rural children in single-parent families was 50 percent, compared with 13 percent for children in rural married-couple families."

They also noted that counties that rely on manufacturing had the greatest number of poor children. Tim Marema notes for the Daily Yonder, "In rural manufacturing counties, child poverty climbed by 45 percent from 1999 to 2009-2013. During the same period, roughly one in four rural manufacturing jobs disappeared, according to the report. In contrast, agriculture-dependent rural counties saw an increase of about 6 percent in child poverty. Child poverty increased by about 5 percent in rural counties that depend heavily on the recreation industry. In mining counties child poverty also grew by about 5 percent. And counties that don’t fall into one of the other economic categories saw a child-poverty increase of 22 percent."

Editor in Davis' native county: Roof 'may have also killed some of the last remnants of the Old South'

In the Kentucky Capitol rotunda, Jefferson
Davis looks at Abe Lincoln (Courier-Journal)
Almost four weeks have passed since the killings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., time enough for writers across the country to reflect on the deed, its ramifications and their meaning. In Jefferson Davis's home county, the local publisher called for removal of the Confederate president's statue from the state Capitol, to Todd County, where his birthplace is marked with a 351-foot obelisk. Another violent tragedy in the county prompted Ryan Craig of the Todd County Standard to write again last week. His piece is long, but wonderful, as you will see from these excerpts and the full version, posted on our site (the Standard doesn't put much online):

Dylann "Roof, filled with ideas that should see no resurrection in this or any future century, may have also killed some of the last remnants of the Old South. He might have brought down a Confederate flag from a state capitol and untold statues and flags from government grounds. He might have shaken a nation so hard that it stopped and looked at itself and asked why things aren't better."

Noting the passage of civil-rights and voting-rights laws in 1964 and 1965, Craig asks, "Why . . . is racism not a relic of another time? Also, why are the ghosts of 150 years ago still floating around among us all? No one, it seemed, could have predicted the consensus of almost all as we elected to move symbols of the Confederate states to curation in a museum."

The second part of Craig's essay, punctuated by Bible verses, deals with faith and science; the third part is manly about a home invasion in which a Mennonite man was "beaten to death for money" as his wife, feeble from surgery, "did the thing a woman of faith does -- she started to sing hymns and she started to pray." He wonders when the attacker felt the hesitation that Roof told police he felt before opening fire in the church, and concludes, "May the terror for evildoers like Dylann Roof and those who would murder a 79-year-old man and nearly beat his wife to death, first and foremost, be the realization that, at some point, they had a moment of hesitation for a reason. And they should have listened."

County-level map details where sun shines the most and the least in the lower 48 states

July is the sunniest month of the year, while the sun shines the least during December and January, with July 8 being the sunniest day of the year and Dec. 26 being the least sunniest, according to county-level data from 1979 to 2011 from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. Imperial County, California, gets the most sun, while Island County, Washington receives the least. (CDC map: For an interactive version click here)

Appalachian educators and researchers try to show that the region's dialects are varied and legitimate

Researchers are interviewing Appalachian residents in an attempt to record the region's many dialects to show "that Appalachian residents speak a variety of Englishes—and not a single monolithic dialect—and that scorn for the region's speech is often based on outdated notions of how they talk," Jonathan Drew reports for The Associated Press. (AP photo by Allen Breed: A flyer in the North Carolina State University linguistics department)

Kirk Hazen, a West Virginia University linguist, has spent two decades conducting interviews throughout the state, asking residents basic questions about friends, community and their love lives, Drew writes. Hazen told Drew, "You're trying to get across the idea that all language varieties are legitimate. There's not one that's somehow damaged and then others that are just fine. They're all just fine."

"The first step in changing perceptions of mountain speech is documenting how contemporary Appalachian residents talk," Drew writes. "Hazen has used his research to illustrate that other stereotypical features of Appalachian speech have become rare—such as the demonstrative "them" ('them apples are the best') or a-prefixing ('I'm a-going to the store')." But some other Appalachianisms, like redundant pronouns ('Both sides, they always ask'), are increasingly heard in the rest of the country, even on major broadcast networks.

"Despite Hazen's research, many outsiders still have negative impressions about mountain accents, sometimes based on outdated speech features," Drew reports. "It can take decades for perceptions to change."

In southwest Virginia, middle-school teacher Lizbeth Phillips "assigns her students to keep journals of how adults in their community switch between formal and casual ways of speaking," Drew writes. "Educators say the approach known as code- or style-switching allows students to preserve the way they speak at home and improve their writing without feeling ashamed."

English professor Amy D. Clark has held summer workshops for 15 years in southwest Virginia "to help rural teachers teach students to write effectively without shaming them about their speech," Drew writes. "The same message runs through teaching units on dialect for schoolchildren in North Carolina and West Virginia." (Read more)

ArtPlace America grants go to 11 rural communities to connect art and economic-development projects

Whale camp in Kivalina, Alaska, a village to be relocated
ArtPlace America on Monday announced 38 recipients of the 2015 National Grants Program, with 11 of the grants going to projects with rural connections. Here are the rural recipients:

Re-Locate Kivalina: (Kivalina, Alaska, $500,000): "For generations Kivalina has been planning to relocate to meet 'basic needs' for clean water, sanitation, and adequate space for housing, to reinhabit traditional lands and relocate planning power in the village, and to address the impacts of global climate change that increasingly threaten the village’s barrier island location."

American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (Grand Canyon, Ariz., $500,000): "11 Native American tribes traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon will work with the National Park Service to repurpose the Desert View Area and historic Watchtower from gift shops into an inter-tribal cultural heritage center and marketplace."

Appalshop Inc. (Whitesburg/Letcher County, Kentucky, $450,000): "This project will formalize the burgeoning trend of arts programming in the county as a cultural hub to boost the regional economy through increased tourism and creative entrepreneurialism."

First Peoples Fund (Kyle, S.D., $385,000): "Native artist entrepreneurs will lead Rolling Rez Arts, mobile units that travel across the reservation delivering art, business, and retail services that would otherwise be inaccessible."

Libraries of Eastern Oregon ($250,000): The project will create programs, exhibits and projects that will work with local residents to identify and highlight the creative and cultural resources in their communities for the region's libraries in 15 rural counties and three Indian reservations.

Jamestown Fine Arts Association (Jamestown, N.D., $240,000): "The Art Park will lead a participatory design process for an outdoor performance and public art plaza near the downtown art center. The space will allow for long-term programming to serve members of the community and visitors while fueling local businesses."

Indigenous Design & Planning Institute (Zuni Pueblo, N.M., $225,000): "A series of community-wide planning events and design-build activities will help local artists, planners, and leaders build a cultural streetscape that serves as a functional and inviting marketplace."

The Haven (Charlottesville, Va., $200,000): "The Haven will partner with New City Arts Initiative to facilitate artist-led design consultation sessions with formerly homeless clients to create a more positive home environment that reflects each client’s needs."

Cal Poly State University (San Luis Obispo, Calif., $150,000): "Despite being a largely agricultural county only 3 percent of locally grown food is consumed within the county. Community food activists are working to create a local food distribution network at the county level."

Western Folklife Center (Elko, Nev., $125,000): "The vision for the project is to creatively transform a central six-block long parking lot into pedestrian-friendly green space with commercial storefront renovation and public amenities."

Art Shanty Projects (White Bear Lake, Minn., $100,000): "An artist-led mid-winter festival will transform the frozen lake surface into a community space that is part gallery and part artist residency."

Monday, July 13, 2015

Friday is deadline to sign up for 'Saving Community Journalism' workshop Aug. 5 in San Francisco

Penelope Muse Abernathy
Friday, July 17 is the deadline to register for "Saving Community Journalism," a four-hour workshop in San Francisco on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 5, before the convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. The presenters will be Penny Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who specializes in preserving quality journalism by helping the news business succeed in the digital environment and authored a book with the same main name as the workshop. She will be joined by her UNC colleague, Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing JoAnn Sciarrino.

The four-hour workshop is aimed at journalism educators but is all about developing leadership in local news organizations, so industry professionals are welcome. Topics include “How is the news business different from a decade ago, and what is the key to creating a sustainable business model?” and “What are some simple tools that will help news organizations get reliable real-time information so they can make better decisions?”  

The workshop will run from 8 a.m. to noon at the Marriott Marquis, 780 Mission St., and is limited to 40 participants. The fee is only $30. To sign up, go to Choose the workshop sponsored by the Community Journalism Interest Group of AEJMC. For further information, contact Penny Abernathy at

Telemedicine becoming more popular among rural residents; visits not always covered by Medicare

Smartphones and tablets have made it easier for people living in rural and remote areas to connect with medical professionals from the comfort of their homes, Abby Goodnough reports for The New York Times. "Health systems and insurers are rushing to offer video consultations for routine ailments, convinced they will save money and relieve pressure on overextended primary care systems in cities and rural areas alike." (NYT photo by Evan McGlinn: an employee at CHI Franciscan Health’s telemedicine center in Tacoma, Wash., monitoring far-flung patients’ vital signs)

"Advocates say virtual visits for basic care could reduce costs over the long term," Goodnough writes. "It is cheaper to operate telemedicine services than brick-and-mortar offices, allowing companies to charge as little as $40 or $50 for consultations—less than for visits to emergency rooms, urgent care centers and doctors’ offices. They also say that by letting people talk to a doctor whenever they need to, from home or work, virtual visits make for more satisfied and potentially healthier patients than traditional appointments that are available only at certain times."

Not everyone is in favor of the service, Goodnough writes. "Telemedicine is facing pushback from some more traditional corners of the medical world. Medicare, which often sets the precedent for other insurers, strictly limits reimbursement for telemedicine services out of concern that expanding coverage would increase, not reduce, costs. Some doctors assert that hands-on exams are more effective and warn that the potential for misdiagnoses via video is great."

"Legislatures and medical boards in some states are listening carefully to such criticisms, and a few, led by Texas, are trying to slow the rapid growth of virtual medicine," Goodnough writes. "But many more states are embracing the new world of virtual house calls, largely by updating rules to allow doctor-patient relationships to be established and medications to be prescribed via video. Health systems, facing stiff competition from urgent care centers, retail clinics and start-up companies that offer video consultations through apps for smartphones and tablets, are increasingly offering the service as well."

Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School, who has studied telemedicine, told Goodnough, "But I think it’s very plausible, and probably likely, that a lot of people who do a virtual visit would otherwise have stayed home. So it could increase health care spending over all.” (Read more)

Appalachian food deserts creating problems for low-income rural residents

Residents in more than 40 counties in West Virginia "endure some sort of limited food access, and the number is growing as more and more grocery stores close their doors," Roxy Todd and Jessica Lilly report for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The story is part of a audio report on Appalachian food deserts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a rural food desert as a low-income community where at least 500 persons and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population live more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store. There are 2.3 million people in the U.S. living in rural food deserts.

Bradley Wilson, a geography professor at West Virginia University said the term "food desert" often confuses people, Todd and Lilly write. He told them, “A desert is something natural, and there’s nothing natural about food deserts. A food desert is the retreat of grocery stores from a particular area. A food desert is really a symptom of a broader economic change that’s taking place. I don’t look at those as natural." To hear the entire story, click here.

Rural police say social media not the forum to request emergency assistance; 911 best option

Some rural police departments are seeing an increase in the number of people reporting emergencies to social media pages instead of calling 911, Erin Beck reports for the Charleston Gazette. The problem is that many police departments are unable to monitor sites 24 hours per day, meaning that a reported emergency may not be noticed for hours.

State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous told Beck, “We have a generation now that are becoming young adults. That’s how they communicate. That’s all they’ve ever known is to communicate with text messages and emails and in messages. They weren’t raised in an environment where you had to actually pick up the phone and call somebody and talk to them or stop in a detachment and ask for help.”

Captain James Agee of the St. Albans Police Department, which has a 26-person staff covering a town of 11,000, set up a Facebook profile so he could interact with the community, Beck writes. But the site has received several messages reporting emergencies. Agee told Beck, “If it’s at two or three in the morning, I’m really not going to see that." Luckily, he said, none of the emergencies have involved anything more serious than a suspicious car or a loud disturbance. (City-Data map)

Steve Rutherford, support services coordinator for the 911 center in Cabell County in the southwestern part of the state, said the agency uses social media to keep residents up to date on recent arrests and happenings, Beck writes. Still, some people message the site with emergencies. Rutherford told Beck, "Social media is not something we have gone to as a means of 24-hour communication at this point. 911 will probably always be the quickest way to get police assistance. Ten years from now, it may progress to that point as police departments get younger and more members are social media savvy. Ten years ago, it didn’t exist.” (Read more)

Rural areas struggling to fill vacant court reporter positions; employees can earn more in metro areas

Fewer training programs, aging employees on the cusp of retirement and recent graduates opting to take higher salaried positions in metro areas are leading to a shortage of qualified court reporters in rural areas, Jocelyn Brumbaugh reports for The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown. Pennsylvania, which at one point had about a dozen court reporting programs, now only has two. (Tribune-Democrat photo by Todd Berkley: Cambria County court reporter Shana Grow)

"According to a 2013 study conducted by the National Court Reporters Association based in Vienna, Va., the demand for court reporters will soon exceed the supply nationwide, despite a transition to digital recording in some courtrooms," Brumbaugh writes. The study said, “Decreased enrollment and graduation rates for court reporters, combined with significant retirement rates, will create by 2018 a critical shortfall predicted to represent nearly 5,500 court reporting positions."

In Cambria County, only nine of 10 court reporter positions have been filled, and two or three current employees are considering retirement in the next year, Brumbaugh writes. Filling open positions has been difficult, said President Judge Timothy Creany. He told Brumbaugh, "We have a real problem. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to address it."

One problem is that metro court reporters often earn more money because "court reporters are reimbursed at a certain rate for the transcripts they type," Brumbaugh writes. Another problem is that some metro areas have switched to digital voice recognition devices, which some people claim are easier to use. But rural officials say the technology can prove untrustworthy if more than one person is speaking at the same time. (Read more)

Coal bond prices keep falling, down 17% in second quarter; Alpha Natural Resources down 70%

Coal bond prices fell 17 percent in the second quarter, marking "the fourth consecutive quarter of price declines and the worst performance of any industry group by a long shot," Tom Randall reports for Bloomberg. Alpha Natural Resources had the biggest decline, at 70 percent, while Peabody fell 40 percent and Arch 30 percent.

"Bonds fluctuate less than stocks because the payoff is fixed and pretty much guaranteed as long as the borrower remains solvent. A 17 percent decline is huge, and it happened at a time when other energy bonds—oil and gas—were rising," Randall writes.

The biggest concerns facing the coal industry are that 17 percent of coal-fired plants will shutter over the next few years, China's coal demand is remaining flat and renewable energy is on the rise, Randall writes. Also, declining bond prices means "the cost of borrowing money goes up. And coal needs more money. Coal companies are allowed to avoid costly insurance premiums by showing they have the capital to clean up after themselves. It's called self-bonding. This year the federal government has started taking a closer look at whether the struggling coal companies still qualify."

"In the past year, global stock prices for coal companies are down almost 50 percent, but it's in the bond market that coal is really getting hammered," Randall writes. "The focus of energy finance has shifted from coal to renewables, and it's not likely to turn back." (Read more) (Bloomberg map: Coal plants on the way out by 2020. To view a larger map, click here.)

Wisconsin journalists win fight against proposed changes to open records law

A media campaign to fight a decision by a Wisconsin legislative committee to limit open records resulted in a victory for the press. Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislative leaders announced in a joint statement that the change would be eliminated from a proposed budget bill, Anna Clark reports for Columbia Journalism Review. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel used its front page to blast the decision)

On July 2 "the Republican-led legislature’s joint finance committee voted along party lines, 12-4, to add a broad provision to the budget bill that would deny reporters or members of the public to have access "to communications between elected officials and their staff or 'deliberative materials,' such as draft legislation and briefings," Clark writes. "The measure also would have created a nationally unprecedented 'legislator disclosure privilege,' permitting lawmakers to keep records secret if they are being sued, empowering them to bar current and former staff from disclosing information and admonishing legislative agencies to 'at all times observe the confidential nature' of records covered by the privilege."

Newspapers responded to the move by blasting the decision in stories and editorials, Clark writes. Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, told Clark, “News organizations around the state showed that, despite recent staff reductions, when necessary, they can marshal resources to aggressively cover a story that literally threatens our democracy.”

On July 4, Walker and legislators announced they would abandon the measure, saying in a statement that it was only meant to "provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way,” Clark writes.

Inadequate state testing of fracking chemicals putting residents at risk, California study says

The impact of hydraulic fracturing chemicals on drinking water, wildlife and crops are mostly unknown, said a report from the California Council on Science and Technology, Julie Cart reports for the Los Angeles Times. The report "said that because of data gaps and inadequate state testing, overwhelmed regulatory agencies do not have a complete picture of what oil companies are doing." (Times photo by Brian van der Brug: fracking fluids flow into containment tanks on a fracked oil well near Bakersfield in March)

"The risks and hazards associated with about two-thirds of the additives used in fracking are not clear, and the toxicity of more than half, the report concluded, remains 'uninvestigated, unmeasured and unknown. Basic information about how these chemicals would move through the environment does not exist,'" Cart writes.

"Recycled oil field wastewater used for crop irrigation may contain chemicals used during fracking and other well stimulation procedures, the report said," Cart writes. "While treatment of that water is required, the testing is not adequate, the report said. The probability of toxic exposure to humans and the environment is low, but no studies have been conducted assessing the risk, the report's authors said."

Researchers said "the potential for contamination linked to fracking "demands that the state conduct more thorough studies in order to close significant data gaps," Cart writes. For example, there is little evidence to show that oil activities are contaminating groundwater, researchers said, but little analysis has been done." (Read more)