Saturday, September 12, 2015

Independent governor overcomes GOP legislature to make Alaska 30th state to expand Medicaid

The Alaska Supreme Court has cleared the way for Gov. Bill Walker to expand eligibility for the federal-state Medicaid program, over the political and legal opposition of the state legislature. Alaska will become the 30th state to expand Medicaid to people with household incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Most Republican-controlled states have not, despite the federal government's heavy subsidy of the expansion.

Walker, a former Republican, was elected as an independent with the support of the state Democratic Party. He says the expansion will save the state money by replacing state funds with the federal subsidy. For a report from Tegan Hanlon of Alaska Dispatch News, click here.

"The expansion will, among other changes, increase federal reimbursement to 100 percent from 50 percent for medically necessary travel for Medicaid-eligible Alaska Natives and American Indians receiving care in Indian Health Service facilities, which is a major medical expense and care concern in rural Alaska," Kirk Johnson reports for The New York Times.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Urban migration has led to a decrease in rural poverty rates since 'War on Poverty' was declared

Urban migration has led to lower poverty rates in rural areas—especially in the South—since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a "War on Poverty" 50 years ago, Jens Manuel Krogstad reports for the Pew Research Center. According to U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in the South dropped from 35.6 percent in 1960 to 16.4 percent in 2010. The Midwest dropped from 17.7 percent to 14.1 percent, Northeast from 14.4 percent to 12.6 percent and the West from 16.1 percent to 14.8 percent. The overall rate dropped from 22.1 percent to 14.9 percent. The number of impoverished living in the South was 41 percent in 2010, down from 49 percent in 1960. While rates in the Midwest and Northeast have remained the same, the number of impoverished in the West has increased from 11 percent to 23 percent.

The main reason is migration, Krogstad writes. "As rural areas, such as in the Midwest, have become less impoverished since the 1960s, those areas make up a smaller share of the U.S. population overall. At the same time, urban centers have gained in total population and hold a greater share of the U.S. population overall." (Pew graphic)

"For example, in 1960, places like Maine and North Dakota had higher poverty rates than many of the nation’s biggest metro areas," Krogstad writes. "But by 2010, the reverse was true: High-poverty areas were in counties that are a part of the nation’s largest metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, but not in places like Nebraska and South Dakota. At the same time, the share of the population in the nation’s urban areas increased from 70 percent to 81 percent over that 50-year period."

While the South still struggles with poverty, with 14 of 16 states above the national average, rates are on the decline, Krogstad writes. "In Appalachia, the poverty rate remains above the national average, but has been cut nearly in half (from 30.9 percent in 1960 to 16.6 percent in 2010). Poverty is also entrenched in Texas counties that share a border with Mexico. In 12 border counties home to colonias—residential areas that lack basic infrastructure like clean water, septic or sewer systems or electricity—the poverty rate has dropped from 49 percent to 31 percent over the same time period."

National Farm Safety & Health Week set for Sept. 20-26; plenty of materials avaialable for journalists

This year's theme for National Farm Safety & Health Week is "Ag Safety is not just a slogan; it's a lifestyle." The safety week, scheduled from Sept. 20-26, was created to "remind local and rural communities that agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. and farm injuries and fatalities are preventable through education," states a press release from the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) at Northeast Iowa Community College.

U.S. Department of Labor data says that in 2013 farming accounted for 500 fatalities, or 23.2 deaths per every 100,000 workers, states the release. "Each year since 1944, the third week of September has been recognized as National Farm Safety & Health Week. This recognition has been an annual promotion initiated by the National Safety Council and has been proclaimed as such by each sitting U.S. President since Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first document."

From Monday through Friday, Sept. 21-25, NECAS will host a safety webinar. Webinars scheduled are: Rural Roadway Safety Webinar; Confined Spaces - Manure Pit Entry; Harvest Season: Are the Children Safe?; Agrisafe: Healthier is Here; and Research to Practice in Agriculture: The National ROPS Rebate Program. There will also be a program, "AgChat" on Sept. 22. The NECAS website also has a list or resources for story ideas.

In addition, 10 agricultural centers have joined forces to create a YouTube channel that features 80 safety training videos. Topics include grain bins, dairy, tractor rollovers and heat illness. Five new videos were added recently, including four on needlestick injuries (two Spanish, two English) and one on hearing protection.

Which states are the most and least welcoming to refugees and asylum-seekers?

Of the roughly 70,000 refugees entering the U.S. each year, five states with large rural populations—Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont—were the most welcoming in 2013 and 2014, taking in 100 immigrants per every 100,000 residents, Jeff Guo reports for The Washington Post. Five other states with large rural populations—Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming—have taken in the least refugees, with Hawaii taking in 6 refugees over the past 11 months, Mississippi 10, Arkansas 14 and Montana and Wyoming having no record of taking in any refugees.

Refugees, mostly from Iraq, Burma, Bhutan and Somalia, are considered "people who apply for protected status from outside of the U.S.," Guo writes. Asylum-seekers, mostly from China, Egypt, Ethiopia and Nepal, who are "fleeing crises in their home countries can also try to first come over on a tourist or business visa and then apply to stay permanently—to seek asylum. These people aren’t considered refugees, bureaucratically speaking. Rather, they are counted separately, as asylum-seekers." In 2013, 25,000 asylum-seekers came to the U.S. (Read more) (Post map)

Another rural hospital to close, bringing total closures to 58 in past five years

Mercy Hospital Independence, a 75-bed facility in southeastern Kansas, announced on Thursday that it will cease operations on Oct. 10, reports Russell Hulstine for KOTV 6 in Tulsa. In a statement hospital officials "cited declining population and the challenges of recruiting and retaining physicians, increasing capital improvement needs and shrinking reimbursement as factors in the decision to close." Once the hospital closes, Montgomery County (Wikipedia map) will only have one hospital for its 34,000 residents.

Mercy will be the 58th rural hospital to close in the past five years, Rick Cohen reports for Nonprofit Quarterly. "Earlier this year, the National Rural Health Association identified 283 rural hospitals in danger of shutting down. That is ten percent of all rural hospitals in the nation."

Last month Cochise Regional Hospital in Douglas, Ariz., on the U.S.-Mexican border closed, meaning that the nearest hospital for the community's 17,000 residents is 20 minutes away, Kate Sheehy reports for Arizona Public Media. Since the hospital closed, "the fire department is called out on average nearly a dozen times per day, 30 percent more than in the past," said Fire Chief Mario Novoa. He told Sheehy, “Approximately 1,500 square miles from one fire department, with 6 ambulances. We’re busy; we’re busy."

EPA erred in allowing pesticide harmful to honeybees to be marketed, appeals court rules

The Environmental Protection Agency should not have allowed an insecticide blamed for killing bees to be developed to be marketed by Dow AgroSciences, a U.S. Appeals court ruled on Thursday, Carey Gillam reports for Reuters. The ruling "is significant for commercial beekeepers and others who say a dramatic decline in bee colonies needed to pollinate key food crops is tied to widespread use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. Critics say EPA is failing to evaluate the risks thoroughly."

The lawsuit filed in 2013 "specifically challenged EPA approval of insecticides containing sulfoxaflor, saying studies have shown they are highly toxic to honey bees," Gillam writes. Honeybees, which pollinate $15 billion worth of crops, have been dying at higher than average rates every winter, losing 42.1 percent of colonies last year. Overall, colonies actually rose from 2.4 million to 2.7 million from 2006-2014.

While beekeepers praised Thursday's decision, "Dow said in a statement that it 'respectfully disagrees' with the ruling and will 'work with EPA to implement the order and to promptly complete additional regulatory work to support the registration of the products,'" Gillam writes.

Transportation Secretary pitches rural transit during closing session of National Rural Assembly

Anthony Foxx
Rural areas need more options for public transit, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said during a speech Thursday at the National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C., Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. Foxx said, "One of the myths I’m trying to dispel is that transit is an urban phenomenon and that all rural communities care about is roads. I’ve seen too much to believe that. I’ve heard from rural people who have said, ‘I’d still be unemployed if I didn’t have a van or bus to get to my new job.’ Or ‘I have an older person I couldn’t get to the doctor or the clinic if it weren’t for transit.'”

Foxx, who urged poeple to speak up about the vitality of transit in rural areas, said, “We as a nation—we cannot afford to have our rural communities disconnected because the fiber of this country is knitted together by every single place. Every community matters. . . . Transportation is something that we do together. I’ve never seen a ‘single-person’ road before. I’ve never seen a ‘Democrat-or-Republican’ road, a rural-or-suburban-or-urban road."

Foxx also discussed the difficulty in rural road repair projects, Marema writes. He said "rural areas—like the rest of the nation—face a backlog in basic repairs and maintenance to infrastructure like roads and bridges," Marema writes. "But DOT grants for local improvements can be a big problem for smaller communities because of 'match.' DOT grant programs like TIGER require local government to match federal dollars with their own spending. Small and poor communities can suffer, as a result, Foxx said. (Read more)

Heifer program on reclaimed strip mine proving to be a success in Central Appalachia

A project in Eastern Kentucky is using a reclaimed strip mine to raise cattle in an effort to spur economic development in a region hurt by the loss of coal jobs, Mallory Powell reports for University of Kentucky News. D & D Ranch, which consists of 1,000 acres, is the home of the East Kentucky Heifer Development Project, which helps local farmers improve their cattle herds. (UK photo)

Charles May, Perry County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said "many of the small farms in the area don't have the resources—in terms of land, time or expertise—to properly develop their herds, especially with consideration to genetics," Powell writes. "The project at D & D Ranch, however, can do it for them. Every October, around 300 heifers are brought to the farm from 80 to 100 individual producers. Each heifer is checked, wormed, vaccinated, artificially inseminated and receives expert and dedicated care until it and its calf are sold or returned to their home farm the following September."

More than 6,100 heifers from more than 200 farms in 18 Kentucky counties and five neighboring states have participated in the program, "with an estimated return of more than $1 million in sales going back to the farmers," Powell writes.

The Eastern Kentucky Bred Heifer Sale in 2014 "had a sale average of $2,553, surpassing the previous year's sale average by more than $1,000 per head, and the top-selling heifer brought in $3,100," Powerll writes. "Surveys of farmers indicate that their weaning weights have increased by 150 pounds as a result of the program, and, according to May, local livestock auction facilities credit the project as a major contributor to the improved quality of cattle they sell."

"In addition to its unusual location, the project is also distinctive in its model and standards," Powell writes. "Individual beef producers consign their cattle to the ranch (but retain ownership) for the entire season, instead of keeping them on their own farms, as in most other heifer development projects. Ranch operators "personally take care of each animal from the time it enters the ranch until it leaves. Thanks to such expert and dedicated care, the project has the highest standards of any heifer development program in the state. All animals have to be farm-raised, for example, and the required pelvic measurement is 10 centimeters larger than industry standard in order to reduce calving problems." (Read more)

Initiative in Wisconsin, Minnesota aims to get local buyers to purchase 20% of food from local farmers

Nineteen businesses in 15 counties across northwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota have committed to buying 20 percent of their food locally by 2020 under the Superior Compact, Danielle Kaeding reports for Wisconsin Public Radio. To help farmers meet demand from local buyers, an initiative called the AgriBusiness Academy has been created.

Andrea Huggenvik, of the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board, told Kaeding, "They’re really looking to purchase food from local farmers and are sometimes struggling to have enough farmers to produce enough food that they need." Huggenvik said the academy will cover business plans, contracts and what foods local buyers want. (Google map: Businesses that have agreed to buy 20 percent of their food locally)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tobacco farmers trying to adjust to being phased out by major corporations

A declining tobacco market—attributed to health concerns, taxes, smoking regulations and restrictions and the growing popularity of e-cigarettes—has led to a downturn in business for local growers on year-to-year contracts with major corporations, Melissa Blankenship reports for the Henry County Local in Northern Kentucky.

Philip Morris International, which "had been purchasing the majority of tobacco sold at the Carrollton, Ky., warehouse where most Henry County (Wikipedia map) farmers sold their crop, announced it would no longer serve as the buyer but instead would buy from Universal Leaf Corporation," Blankenship writes. "In addition, the Carrollton warehouse was eliminated as a selling location," meaning Henry County farmers with contracts through Universal would have to take their tobacco to neighboring towns. "Also, Universal increased the standards on growers for their end product, including a much lower moisture content allowability, which leads to problems with holding bales together, lightens the total pounds sold per acre and leads to a higher risk of rejection by the buyer." 

Former Henry County University of Kentucky agriculture extension agent Steve Moore told Blankenship, “The local and world demand for tobacco products is going down. They had all these contracts, and farmers could raise tobacco without a contract and sell it, and it would get absorbed into the system. There was too much supply and not enough demand. It was a wreck about to happen, and this is the year it happened.”

Moore said "tobacco companies went with a contract system so they could buy only what they needed, but cheap tobacco showed up outside of the contracted amounts, and the companies bought it," Blankenship writes. He "estimates that as many as 95 percent of Henry County farmers were contracted to sell their tobacco with Philip Morris International and that the company needed to cut its supply by 20 to 25 percent, which meant it had to make decisions about how many and which growers it was going to purchase from."

Moore told Blankenship, “Farmers could still grow some tobacco, but they aren’t likely to sell it for much of a profit. It’s a bust year for a lot of growers; generations of tobacco growers got cut this year. Some had made farming commitments, and now they won’t have that source of revenue and will have to make adjustments. Tobacco has been very good to Henry County farmers for a very long time. You could certainly pay your bills with it.”

That’s exactly what Henry County farmer Clint Woods—who estimates that over 15 year he has sold Philip Morris about a million pounds of tobacco—did with his tobacco money, Blankenship writes. "But several years ago, Woods began diversifying into beef cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay. His goal all along was to transition away from tobacco, which last year represented about 60 to 70 percent of his farm income." Woods, whose tobacco contract was not renewed this year, told Blankenship, "We were living off the tobacco and letting the cows pay for themselves and re-investing any profit back into the herd. We were aggressively building a herd and gaining pasture with the hope of phasing out of tobacco.” The Henry County Local is behind a paywall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture tobacco forecast says that Kentucky burley tobacco production is forecast at 118 million pounds, down 28 percent from 2014. National burley production is forecast at 157 million pounds, down 26 percent from last year. Production of Kentucky dark, fire-cured tobacco is forecast at 32.3 million pounds, down 11 percent from 2014. Kentucky dark, air-cured tobacco production is forecast at 13.5 million pounds, down 7 percent from last year. Dark tobacco Kentucky total is forecast to be 45.8 million pounds or 28 percent of Kentucky production. About 30 percent of the money paid for tobacco in Kentucky this year will be for dark tobacco, said University of Kentucky economist Will Snell.

Inactivity by FAA leading states to create own regulations on commercial drone use

While the Federal Aviation Administration sits on its hands about official commercial drone regulations, several states have been "eager to pass their own policies on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), mandating everything from where drones can be flown to whether law enforcement can use them to gather evidence," Sarah Breitenbach reports for Stateline. "But advocates for the technology, which is growing in popularity both commercially and among hobbyists, say legislatures are overstepping their authority and hamstringing an industry ripe for growth." (Free Lance-Star photo by Peter Cihelka: Joshua Olds launches a drone during a precision farming demonstration in August in Bruington, Va.)

"According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), an industry-supported group, at least six states—Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Virginia—have passed legislation restricting the commercial use of drones," Breitenbach writes. "Another eight have restrictive legislation pending, and 45 states considered at least 156 bills relating to drones this year," FAA in February drafted limits on drones, but final rules could still be two or three years away. It is currently illegal to fly commercial drones in the U.S., but FAA has granted more than 1,000 exemptions for businesses to use the aircrafts.

Michael Drobac, executive director for the Small UAV Coalition, said that "drones are being used in a rapidly growing number of industries," Breitenbach writes. "FAA estimated as many as 7,500 small commercially operated drones could be in use by 2018 if the necessary regulations are put in place. The devices can be used by realtors to showcase properties, by utility companies to safely inspect cellphone towers and high-voltage power lines, and by farmers to monitor crops."

Tom McMahon, a spokesman for AUVSI, said regulating how drones can be used is unnecessary because "existing state-level policies on privacy, trespassing and harassment can be used to address illegal acts committed with drones," Breitenbach writes. He told her, "It’s a new technology, but don’t restrict the technology. Instead, prosecute the person who is using the technology maliciously.” (Read more)

In some rural and agricultural areas, officials lack staff, time to regulate illegal businesses

Illegal businesses are allowed to stay in operation in some rural and agricultural areas because of laws that are difficult to enforce and a lack of  regulators, Lynn Thompson reports for The Seattle Times. In King County, Washington, "county code-enforcement officers mostly respond to complaints—and because of a lengthy appeals process—illegal enterprises operate in rural and agricultural areas, sometimes for years." (Times photo by Dean Rutz: this illegal tree removal business in Fall City, Wash., violates zone rules but has remained in operation)

Residents outside Fall City have complained about an illegal tree removal and landscaping business that employs 10 and is a constant source of noise, traffic and strangers, Thompson writes. "The county issued its first 'stop work order' for clearing and grading without a permit in March 2013. Since then, it has issued five other violation notices, including for converting a house into an office and running a landscaping business as a home occupation."

"King County allows home businesses in rural areas if they are limited in scale and 'subordinate to the primary use of the site as a residence,' according to the department’s rules," Thompson writes. "They must have fewer than three employees working on site and no more than three who report to the site but work primarily elsewhere. A permit is required when a structure is built or the use of the property changes. The county also allows home industries for businesses with more employees and more equipment, but those require a conditional-use permit, which is subject to public notice, public appeals and conditions set by the county."

Matt Rengo, the owner of the Fall City business, claims he is the victim of harassment and exaggerated allegations from his neighbors, but he "hasn’t reduced the size of his business or paid any county fines," Thompson writes. "On Aug. 14, two days after the county fined him a third time, he submitted an application for a permit that could allow him to continue to operate as a home industry."

"County officials say the process for handling code violations errs on the side of leniency to give the violator every opportunity to correct the problems," Thompson writes. John Starbard, director of the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review, said "the timelines for compliance are long, appeals can be appealed, violators can ask for more time and they can defer the payment of penalties." One problem is manpower, with five code-enforcement officers to cover about 1,000 square miles. Each has about 260 open cases. (Read more)

Decline of coal severance taxes hurting local economies in Central Appalachia

Central Appalachian communities that have seen a decrease in coal production and mine closings—blamed on tougher environmental regulations and cheaper natural gas—are also seeing a reduction of severance taxes from coal companies, creating financial woes for many towns and counties, Margaret Newkirk, Tim Loh and Mario Parker report for Bloomberg.

In Eastern Kentucky’s Letcher County, "emergency response time for sheriff’s deputies averages an hour, up from 30 minutes a year ago," reports Bloomberg. "Martin County, also in Eastern Kentucky, couldn’t afford to open its public swimming pool this summer. West Virginia’s Boone County, once the richest in the state, is considering ending free garbage pickup." Kelly Callaham, judge-executive of Martin County, said the county budget dropped from $8.5 million to $7 million over the past three years. Callahan told Bloomberg, “It’s just been devastating to us. You take a million and a half out of a budget that size, it’s a disaster.” (Bloomberg graphic)

That's the same tune many towns and counties are singing. "The Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state economic development organization, classifies 93 of 420 counties as distressed," reports Bloomberg. "Many of them are in Central Appalachia, which straddles Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia."

"The region has been mined for two centuries, and the cheapest and best coal has been dug up," reports Bloomberg. "The remaining seams are lower quality and more expensive to mine. Many utilities have replaced Appalachian coal with cheaper fuel from Illinois and the Powder River basin in Wyoming and Montana, or switched to burning natural gas. Coal’s share of electricity generation in the U.S. will fall to 35 percent this year, from 50 percent a decade ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal production is expected to fall to less than 914 million tons, the lowest in 29 years. The number of active pits in the U.S. has plunged 39 percent from the end of 2005 through June 2015."

Loss of severance taxes, which "mining companies pay into state coffers based on the value of coal tonnage taken from the earth," has been evident, with Kentucky counties getting $23.4 million in 2015, down from $62 million five years ago, Bloomberg reports. Boone County received $2 million this year, down from $6 million in 2011. Letcher County’s quarterly severance checks dropped to $200,000, from about $700,000 two years ago, forcing the sheriff’s office to lay off employees so it could make its pension payments. Jim Ward, the county’s top official, told Bloomberg, “You take all of that money out of our budgets, and what do you expect us to do?”

Things have gotten so bad that about a dozen of these towns and counties—which are mostly pro Republican and anti President Obama—have asked Republican leaders to get behind the president's Power + Plan to spend $1 billion over five years in an effort to help areas hurt by a sharp downturn in coal jobs. (Read more)

Coal production to reach lowest output since at least 1986, says Energy Information Administration

The U.S. coal output "will shrink to 913.6 million tons in 2015, the least since 1986," the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday in its Short-Term Energy Outlook, Mario Parker reports for Bloomberg. This is the seventh time this year the outlook has been lowered. (Bloomberg graphic)

The report states, “Lower mining costs, cheaper transportation costs and favorable exchange rates will continue to provide an advantage to mines in other major coal-exporting countries compared with U.S. producers,” Parker writes. "Coal’s share of electricity generation will fall to 35 percent, the lowest in records going back to 1949, EIA forecasts show." Jeremy Sussman, an analyst at Clarksons Platou Securities in New York, told Parker, “Nobody was expecting it to be a good year for coal, but it’s certainly turned out to be worse than most were expecting." (Read more)

Agriculture Secretary says philanthropy needs to play a bigger role in rural America

Foundation investments in rural America have decreased not just regarding grant making but also capital investment, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during the keynote speech on Wednesday at the National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C., Rick Cohen reports for NonProfit Quarterly.
Vilsack said, “We began early [in his tenure at USDA] to have a conversation with the private foundation world," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "What we’ve seen unfortunately, tragically, is not an increase in investment; we’ve actually seen a decrease . . . Private philanthropy needs to understand the role that rural America is going to play in the really big picture.” (Yonder photo by Shawn Poynter)

It's helpful to host rural philanthropy conferences in response to calls for rural philanthropy—such as the ones the Council on Foundations held in Missoula, Little Rock and Kansas City—but "when a deal is cut with the foundation sector's trade association with the obvious purpose of increasing foundations' rural investment, and the results are actually negative, that should be a wake-up call for foundations—and their nonprofit partners," Cohen writes.

Discussion is only helpful when followed by actions, and a panel of grantmakers who spoke before Vilsack's speech—Justin Maxson, president of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation; Kathy Annette, president of the Blandin Foundation; Heeten Kalan, a senior program officer with the New World Foundation; and Jamie Bennette of ArtPlace America "were at a loss to name the rural philanthropy venue where funders could push for more attention to rural," Cohen writes.

Dee Davis, the founder of the Center for Rural Strategies and the chair of the National Rural Assembly steering committee, said, "I think the Secretary has a lot of hope for rural America, and he has an ambitious agenda, and I think he's tired of seeing philanthropy play such a negligible role. . . . The Secretary seemed discouraged that philanthropy keeps pulling back into their own area codes." (Read more)

Career college accused of lying about graduation rates, loans agrees to pay $1.2M to ex-students

Daymar College, a for-profit college accused in a 2011 suit by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway of coercing as many as 5,000 students into buying overpriced textbooks and misleading students about transferring credits, financial aid and job placement opportunities, "has agreed to pay $1.2 million to ex-students, according to a copy of the tentative deal," Andrew Wolfson reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Daymar, which once had nine campuses in Kentucky and now has four, has a large rural enrollment. (West Kentucky Journal map: Daymar campuses in 2010)

"The proposed settlement would provide only a small portion of the $30,000 or more in federal loans many students incurred before at least some of them ended up working in fast-food restaurants and other low-wage jobs," Wolfson writes. "The agreement calls for Daymar to pay $1.4 million to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office, which would keep $200,000 in attorney’s fees and money to pay a claims administrator. Students who attended Daymar in the five years ending July 27, 2011 would split the rest; the amount for each would depend on how many join the settlement and how many terms they were enrolled."

"Daymar would be required to inform prospective students about the graduation rate for programs, their median debt and their default rate on loans," Wolfson writes. "The company also would be required to tell them in a 'Know Before You Go' pamphlet that 'it is unlikely that any credit earned at Daymar will be accepted at any other institution.'"

"Daymar would be allowed to tell students about prospective jobs in the field only if the figures it used could be substantiated by government data for the areas where the campus is located," Wolfson writes. "It would have to provide free, bimonthly career services workshops, including to past employees, a free skills class for first-term students and set up a hotline that allows students to lodge complaints anonymously. The compliance monitor also could employ 'mystery shoppers,' who would pose as prospective students. Significant violations could be punished by additional penalties under the terms of the deal." (Read more)

UPDATE, Sept. 12: "Borrowers at for-profit and two-year institutions are responsible for 70 percent of student loan defaults," Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis report in a paper for the Brookings Institution.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Young leaders at National Rural Assembly look at ways to re-frame rural news to affect public policy

Re-framing rural news stories to avoid stereotypes—rural poverty and picturesque landscapes—to focus instead on affecting public policy in rural communities, was one of the focuses of a workshop on Tuesday at the National Rural Assembly in Washington D.C., Gabe Schwartzman reports for the Daily Yonder. About 25 young adults from around the country participated in the day-long workshop. (Yonder photo by Shawn Poynter: Ada Smith of Kentucky and Rebecca Haider of Minnesota discuss re-framing rural stories at the National Rural Assembly)

"No matter where they are located, the participants said their communities frequently get pigeon-holed in the metro-based media coverage that influences public policy," Schwartzman writes. Eric Dixon, a policy coordinator for the Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center and an Eastern Kentucky resident, told Schwartzman, "It’s important to remember that poverty in rural places was not inevitable, that it was created by a set of policy decisions. Policy makers don’t understand that it’s systemic, that it’s not people just as individuals who are facing these issues.”

Schwartzman writes, "Young leaders identified other challenges in effectively communicating with policy makers, from the lack of accurate and accessible rural data to the difficulty accessing elected officials. Rebecca Haider, who manages data research and outreach for the Center for Small Towns at University of Minnesota in Morris, said survey data for small towns is often inadequate. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, for example, can be misleading or inaccurate because it does not sample enough residents to be statistically valid for many uses, she said."

One workshop group took the New York Times article about rural poverty, "What’s the Matter with Eastern Kentucky," which called the region the worst place in the U.S. to live, and changed the approach to the story, Schwartzman writes. Claire Boyd, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, said the region wasn’t an economic dead-end, as portrayed in the article, noting that the region has had a recent surge in youth led businesses. (Read more)

Editor who fears media circus in his county says remove county clerks' names from marriage licenses

Kim Davis, county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, has made international news for refusing to issue marriage licenses, citing her religious belief against same-sex union. Davis—who last week was sent to jail for contempt of court but was released Tuesday on the condition that she not interfere with issuance of licenses by her deputies, who had agreed to issue them—has received support and opposition from presidential candidates; local, state and national politicians; and just about everyone with an opinion, while other county clerks who have also openly refused to issue marriage licenses have mostly gone unnoticed.

One of those clerks—who has publicly supported Davis—is Casey Davis (not related to Kim Davis), county clerk in Casey County, Kentucky. Larry Rowell, editor of Casey County News, emailed The Rural Blog a column he wrote about Casey Davis. Since the column is not available online, we have published it here in its entirety. The column is headlined, "One stroke of the pen would bring peace."
"With the jailing Thursday of Rowan County Court Clerk Kim Davis for her defiance of a judge's order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the implications of this action are far reaching, beyond even the scope of imagination.

"Here are some possibilities:

Larry Rowell
"With Kim Davis jailed, what about our Casey County Clerk, Casey Davis, who remains resolute that he will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples? When is this storm coming to our quiet little corner of the Commonwealth?

"Will the ACLU and its legions of fairness campaign cavorters descend on our Courthouse lawn to focus the national spotlight on our clerk?

"Granted, Davis has already made the national news; it just hasn't brought the protesters on a continuing basis to Liberty.

"Davis, whether one agrees with him or not, has actually come up with a sensible solution that addresses both sides of this problem. If Gov. Steve Beshear would issue an executive order removing clerk's names from marriage licenses, then that resolves the issue of Christian clerks authorizing marriage for anyone, gay, straight or remarried.

"On the other side, gay couples would still get their blank license forms from the clerk's office, take it to whoever solemnizes the wedding, and then return it to the clerk's office to be recorded for posterity.

"It's a win win situation for everyone, including a governor who hired outside counsel to do Attorney General Jack Conway's job when he refused to appeal a judge's ruling declaring Kentucky's 2004 constitutional amendment making marriage between a man and a woman unconstitutional.

"Granted, Conway is not required to appeal every decision, even if the governor wants him to. It was solely Conway's decision.

"Here's another possible scenario –there's a Beshear on the ballot this fall. Andy Beshear is running for attorney general, and the question begs itself, will Kim Davis and Casey Davis supporters remember the governor's inaction on this matter when they step into the voting booth in November?

"It seems politically expedient if the governor wanted to help his son's chances of winning, then an executive order to remove clerks' names from marriage licenses might be the ticket to this seat in Frankfort for his son.

"Davis's supporters would be happy, and why would gay couples care? They still get their licenses. 
"On a larger scale, will this issue of non-action on the governor's part hinder Conway's chances to succeed Beshear in the governor's mansion? Possibly, as Conway's opponent, Matt Bevin, has publicly and unequivocally thrown his support behind Kim Davis. Conway need not underestimate the memory of evangelicals of voting age, especially those 50 and older.

"However, with predictions of voter turnout this fall hovering in the low teens, will it matter? That remains to be seen as does other unforeseen consequences from the June Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage."

Mississippi-based Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation garnering national attention

The Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, formed in 1999 at the University of Mississippi to work in communities and classrooms to support racial equity, has recently been called on to help with healing on a national level, in the wake of racially motivated incidents, such as the shooting of an African American by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.—which led to rioting—and the murders of nine African Americans at a historic church in Charleston, S.C., and the arrest of a white suspect with ties to hate groups, writes Christopher Schultz, director of development and communications for the institute.

"Through a series of discussion circles and retreats, the Winter Institute’s Welcome Table helps community stakeholders 'build bridges of trust to hold the weight of the truths they must tell one another,'" Schultz writes. "People develop trust and work together with open hearts to effect lasting change in their communities. Word is spreading: The program works with 18 partner communities, and recent demand nearly exceeds the Winter Institute’s capacity."

The Welcome Table has been getting national attention, especially in stories involving President Obama's response to racially-motivated shootings and the controversy over the Confederate flag, Schultz writes. The institute was mentioned two times in The Washington Post, once on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe" and NPR's "On Point" and also in Salon.

"Momentum is growing toward change, which begins locally, person-to-person, in communities where trust has frayed as separation has grown," Schultz writes. "The Winter Institute’s Welcome Table is being recognized as a useful tool in helping communities beyond Mississippi heal and pursue equity." (Read more)

Nebraska law protects underage drinkers who call for medical help; other states have similar laws

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey for 2013 found that 66.2 percent of high school students reported that they had tried alcohol at least once and that 34.9 percent currently drink alcohol. The survey for 2010 found that 9.6 percent of rural high school students binge drink, compared to 8.5 percent of urban students. The 2013 National Survey on Drug use and Health reports that 11.3 percent of non-metro residents ages 12 to 20 say they drink alcohol.

The prevalence of rural underage drinking is a cause for concern. Lawmakers in Nebraska are hoping to curb rural underage drinking—or at least better treat those who have had too much to drink—with a law that went into effect Aug. 30 that offers immunity from charges such as minor-in-possession for those that "call for assistance for themselves or a friend who has had too much to drink," Erika Stewart-Finkenstaedt reports for the Omaha World-Herald. "Under the law, only those who stay at the scene and cooperate with law enforcement are protected. The immunity applies to any underage drinkers."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln students approached State Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, about the need for such a law, Stewart-Finkenstaedt writes. UNL student body president Thien Chau told Stewart-Finkenstaedt, “We need to accept the reality that drinking occurs in a college environment, and we need to educate on how to be safe, responsible and look out for one another."

Not everyone supports the law, Stewart-Finkenstaedt writes. Nicole Carritt, director of Project Extra Mile, which works to prevent underage drinking, said "the bill could have required education and counseling for the intoxicated person and the 911 caller before they obtained amnesty from prosecution." She told Stewart-Finkenstaedt, "We feel this proposed legislation sends unintended mixed messages to our youth about the state’s tolerance of underage drinking."

Similar laws—more than 28 other states and Washington, D.C., have such laws—have been successful, Stewart-Finkenstaedt writes. "A 2006 Cornell University report found that while 19 percent of college students thought about calling for help for someone who was intoxicated, only 4 percent actually did." But since 2002, when Cornell was granted medical amnesty to students, the college has seen a 176 percent increase in on-campus alcohol-related calls — from 63 to 174." (The Medical Amnesty Initiative map: For an interactive version, click here)

Rural Minnesota lacks social workers to comply with immediate child abuse aid law

Rural counties in Minnesota lack enough trained professionals to meet state requirements that a child protection worker must take an abuse case within 24 hours, Don Davis reports for the Grand Forks Herald. About half of the state's 87 counties are unable to comply with state requirements, mainly because rural areas do not have social workers available nights and weekends, and rural law enforcement personnel are typically not trained in that capacity. (Minnesota Department of Health map)

"Lawmakers suggested that rural counties look into ways to keep trained social workers on call at all times, perhaps by working with neighboring counties," Davis writes. "New rules were expected to be in place Jan. 1 requiring counties to have that capability, but social workers said they will not be ready."

Carole Wilcox of the Human Services Department told a Legislative Task Force on Child Protection—which earlier this year approved extra money for around-the-clock child protection— that funds are needed, instead, "just to fund investigating an increasing number of abuse reports," Davis writes. "New guidelines governing the child protection process are due out Oct. 1 after public comments are heard." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

8-year-old rural journalist self-publishes monthly newspaper, doesn't shy away from hard news

An eight-year-old girl in rural Selinsgrove in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River Valley is the brains behind a community newspaper that doesn't shy away from covering the hard news in the town of 5,000, Joe Pompeo reports for Columbia Journalism Review. Hilde Lysiak is responsible for all story ideas, writing, reporting and photography for The Orange Street News, a monthly newspaper, while her father, Matt, a former New York Daily News reporter, handles editing, typing, layout and printing. The newspaper's slogan is “All the News Fit For Orange Street," named after the street where the Lysiaks live. (Hilde Lysiak conducting an interview)

"Two hundred copies of each issue are distributed around town in local businesses, like a cafe where Hilde is known to hunker down on deadline with her usual toasted bagel and side of bacon," Pompeo writes. "More than 40 people pay $1 to $2 a year to have Hilde hand-deliver The Orange Street News to their doors, many of whom the Lysiaks had never heard of before subscription letters began arriving in the mail." Hilde also has plans to increase circulation by selling advertising.

"For an industry with an uncertain future, where newspapers and newspaper jobs have been disappearing like a species on the road toward extinction, where 'reporter' tends to rank low on the list of desirable careers, it feels refreshing to see someone so young so interested in journalism," Pompeo writes. "But Hilde isn’t just another precocious kid with a hobby. She attends town meetings. She covers crime without the police department’s cooperation. She shows up at the scenes of breaking news events. Sure, Hilde’s far from being a pro, but she still provides a public service in a town without a dedicated local news outlet."

Hilde, who began the newspaper as a family digest, debuted her four-page, full-color newspaper folded on 11 by 17-inch sheets in December, Pompeo writes. "She caught the journalism bug from her father, watching with awe and excitement as he hustled for New York’s 'hometown newspaper.' She’s drawn to the profession for the same reason lots of reporters are: It’s a license to ask people nosy questions and get them to tell you things." (Best Places map: Selingsgrove)

Hilde isn't afraid to tackle the tough stories, Pompeo writes. "In June, after Hilde’s competitors reported there had been a break-in on Orange Street, Hilde paid a visit to the police station to ask for the address. The cops wouldn’t give it out, so she went knocking on doors until she found the right house. Hilde landed an interview with its resident, who gushed that her dog, Zeus, had saved the day: 'Hero Dog Thwarts Intruder!' Hilde’s headline proclaimed. As for the perpetrator, Hilde dubbed him (or her) 'The Orange Street Bandit.'"

Judging by the front page of the April issue, which reads “Print is dead—at least at Selinsgrove High School,” a career in media reporting might be in store, Pompeo writes. Hilde wrote. “Journalism students at Selinsgrove say they would like a printed paper but there isn’t enough money in the budget.” The young reporter "got tipped to the story when she was at the local cafe talking to a high school girl she’s friendly with. Superintendent Chad Cohrs pushed back, telling Hilde: 'An electronic version can be done more frequently and with more current information than a paper version. For those who still want a paper version, I would suggest they hit the print button on their computers.'”

Hilde told Pompeo, “I just want to do as many issues as possible, and I want to expand. I want more people reading it. I don’t really want to work for a newspaper. I want to do my own. I kind of want it to become as big as the Daily News one day.” Selinsgrove borough president Brian Farrell told Pompeo, “People think it’s cute. As far as being taken seriously or competing with other newspapers, I don’t know if I’d go that far. But hopefully in the future it will. She could turn it into whatever she wants.” Hilde's mother, Bridget, says, “She wants to talk, and she wants to talk about meaningful things." (Read more)

We want to know what you're writing about the Ky. county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses

Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis has made international news for refusing to issue marriage licenses, citing her religious belief against same-sex unions. Much has been written and said about Davis, who last week was sent to jail for contempt of court but was released today on the condition that she not interfere with issuance of licenses by her deputies, who had agreed to issue them. The Rural Blog would like to hear what rural journalists are writing about Davis and whether they support or oppose her actions. Links to stories, or copies, if your website is behind a paywall, can be sent directly to

Stacey Menser, a reporter with The Times Leader in Princeton, in the heart of Western Kentucky, compares Davis to Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has been outspoken about Mexicans and immigrants, and who recently had Mexican-American reporter Jorge Ramos, a U.S. citizen, removed from a press conference, after which a Trump supporter told Ramos to “Get out of my country. Here is an excerpt from Menser's column (if blocked by a paywall, click here):
Stacey Menser
We don’t need to "Free Kim Davis." She should be in jail. Kim Davis chose not to do her job. Her job as a county clerk is to issue and register legal documents for citizens of her county. And she chose not to do that. When she was sworn into office as county clerk, she took an oath to uphold the laws of the federal and state governments. She, and no one else serving in a government position, has the right to pick and choose which laws to uphold. If she can’t fulfill her duties because of her personal religious beliefs—and she says she can’t—then she should have stepped down from her position back in June when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples be allowed to marry across the United States—Kentucky included.

She has turned the Rowan County Courthouse into a circus; and she has turned all the eyes of the world to Kentucky, where she is making our whole state look like a bunch of backwards, insensitive idiots.

As a Christian, I find her argument that she is working 'under the authority of God' to be offensive. Yes, I believe God can use the simplest of people to do amazing things. But the God I know is a God of love, not hate. I see Kim Davis as a hypocrite, picking and choosing which Biblical verses, according to her interpretation, best suit her current situation. And that situation is standing in front of cameras and courtrooms and proudly denying tax-payers the rights afforded to them by the U.S. Government.

She looks at homosexuals (when she can spot them), the same way that particular Trump supporter looked at Jorge Ramos. You look different, you sound different, you act different and you are not welcome here. You are not welcome to enjoy the rights of an American citizen. So where is the line? Who is 'in' and who is 'out' in this country? Who gets to enjoy freedoms here in the U.S.? Freedoms of religion, freedom to marry, freedom to take an active role in the democratic system? I thought it was everyone, every single person living in our country. But I am afraid that’s not the case anymore; maybe it never was. The more I look at the behaviors of the 'in' crowd, the better I feel about tendering my resignation from the group. I’m out.

Weekly editor wins $2.7M in California lottery, keeps on reporting community news

If you won the lottery, what would you do? Mary Duan, editor of the Monterey County Weekly, has decided to keep reporting community news, despite her husband's winning $2.7 million in the state lottery, reports Jim Romenesko.

Mary Duan
"I told [publisher Erik] Cushman about the win and maybe not-so-gently suggested he start shopping for my replacement while I was on vacation. To keep a long story short, they [the publisher and the CEO] talked me out of it. I’m still here," Duan writes in a column, "Everything you ever wanted to know about winning a chunk of Lotto money."

When people ask what she's going to do with the money, Duan writes, "After the government gets its cut (and no, Monterey County GOP henchman Paul Bruno, we are not suddenly going to convert to the GOP because of the tax rate), it’s still an astounding amount of money for regular working folks. So what are we going to do? Pay for our kids’ college. Finish the flooring and put baseboards in the big stupid Victorian we’ve been working on for the past five years. Replace that damn piece of tile in the kitchen that’s been broken for about six months. Give to a few local charities we like, ones that focus on feeding the poor and giving shelter to the homeless. Give to our old church in Berkeley, which provides sanctuary to political refugees from Central America (I can almost hear Bruno’s cries of agony over that one). But we’re going to bank most of it because it means we can both retire someday."

While Duan was on vacation, her co-workers turned her desk into a shrine, writes managing editor Mark Anderson. "The significance of some of the shrine’s totems is self-evident. Those include a jar of Advil, a small bag of Kranky Mexican cookies, a Yoda statue and a Yoda Pez dispenser. There are four scratched-off lottery scratchers and a Quail Motorsports Bonhams auction catalog, because she can now afford things like the rare 1924 'Pegasus' hood ornament (estimated value $5,000-$6,000). Other artifacts are more symbolic. Like the orange electric pepper grinder, presumably placed there because good journalism is a hell of a grind, with a little peppery kick. Or the can of SPAM, because quality reporting involves synthesizing a lot of disparate ingredients into something vaguely digestible."

Pakistani journalist learns about U.S. community journalism through stint at Rapid City Journal

Sarah B. Haider, a Karachi, Pakistan-based features writer and copy editor who works for The News International, a 10,000-employee national daily published from three different Pakistani cities, had the opportunity to learn about community journalism in the U.S. under the International Center for Journalists fellowship program run by the U.S. State Department. Haider spent three weeks working at the Rapid City Journal. She wrote about her experience working at a community newspaper and going from a city of 20 million people to one of 70,000. Here is an excerpt from her column.
Sarah Haider
"The thought of meeting new people, adjusting to an alien culture, performing to the best of my abilities and most of all, being accepted while being so different, was frightening for me. But after spending 21 days here, my perception about Americans and their culture has been completely changed—and in the most positive of ways.

"Before landing in Rapid City, I had envisioned it to be something like New York—a fast-paced lifestyle, skyscrapers, double-decker buses and people of all shades of color. However, Rapid City turned out to be nearly the complete opposite: small, peaceful, extremely beautiful but not so ethnically diverse. I had never lived in a small city before, so being in Rapid City was a welcome change for me. I loved the scenic view of the Black Hills surrounding the city, the eateries in every nook and corner of the city and those unique life-sized bronze statues of American presidents situated throughout downtown.

"The placement gave me a chance to learn about community journalism, which is not practiced back home. Going on reporting assignments and covering issues which people face on a community level was, indeed, eye-opening. I really appreciate how I was allowed to work independently and was given a chance to go and cover different events and stories, which helped me to understand the kinds of issues that people in America face. I really appreciate how each of my stories received detailed feedback from the editors. This practice helped me improve my writing skills to a great extent. I was also able to observe how the newspaper industry in the U.S. struggles to remain in the business and how newspapers strive to survive through the Internet in the face of competition from other media outlets.

"Most importantly, this journalism-exchange program helped me remove many misconceptions that people in Pakistan generally have about American society. First, most people believe that being the citizens of a superpower country, Americans are arrogant people. This is completely unfounded. Throughout my stay here in the U.S., I found Americans to be extremely friendly and humble. If you ask them for help, they generally go out of the way to assist you, irrespective of your background.

"Second, Americans are by and large peace-loving people and are not warmongers as they are perceived to be. Just like every other country in the world, the views of the government do not necessarily reflect that of the public.

"Similarly, people-to-people contact helped me present a positive view about my country, too. Issues related to terrorism and political instability, killing of journalists and other social problems are very much real in Pakistan, but that doesn’t mean that every Pakistani subscribes to terrorist ideals. It’s only the small percentage of people who make headlines and then, the world generalizes."

West Texas fracking operations have spilled 1.6 million gallons of pollutants since 2005, report says

Fracking operations on University of Texas System lands in West Texas have spilled at least 1.6 million gallons of oil, saltwater and other pollutants from wells and associated equipment since 2005, says a report released today by the Austin-based Environment Texas Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., Ralph K.M. Haurwitz reports for the Austin American-Statesman.

The report, based on Texas Railroad Commission records, says "vast quantities of methane have been released by the 4,132 wells drilled since 2005" that were subjected to hydraulic fracturing "in which huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals are injected under pressure to create fractures in rock that coax oil and natural gas out of the ground," Haurwitz writes. (Environment Texas and Frontier Group map)

"Annual royalty payments and other proceeds from companies that lease mineral rights from the UT System increased 400 percent since 2006 to a record $1.1 billion last year, owing in large part to fracking and horizontal drilling techniques that have unlocked resources once thought out of reach," Haurwitz writes.

Mark Houser, CEO of the UT System’s University Lands Office, said in an emailed statement that he has not seen the report but that "University Lands has numerous provisions in place to protect the natural resources and to ensure that companies developing these resources are compliant with the environmental protections and the regulations developed by the Texas Railroad Commission, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and other state and federal regulations." (Read more)

Walmart phasing out assault weapons; company cites dwindling customer demand

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer and a staple in rural areas, announced it is phasing out assault weapons, not because of political reasons, but because of lagging interest from customers, Sarah Halzack reports for The Washington Post. The chain, which is in the process of fully phasing out assault weapons, carried MSRs in about one-third of its 4,588 stores nationwide. Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, told Halzack, "We’re focusing on other hunting and sportsman firearms, such as shotguns and rifles, based on customer demand."

The chain "has recently received pressure from shareholder Trinity Church in New York to reconsider its gun sales policy," Halsack writes. "The church last year filed a lawsuit that aimed to force the retailer to allow a shareholder vote on Trinity’s proposal for the board of directors to more closely review Walmart’s decision to sell weapons with high-capacity magazines. After a federal judge initially ruled that Walmart must allow the shareholder vote, an appeals court later lifted that injunction, meaning Walmart will not be required to include this proposal at its upcoming annual shareholders meeting." (Read more)

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Big papers look at gay-friendly university town riven by clerk's stand against same-sex marriage

Friday in Morehead (Getty Images photo by Ty Wright)
The fight over an elected county clerk's refusal to issue marriage licenses because of her religious belief against same-sex marriage has brought international attention to Morehead and Rowan County, Kentucky, populations 6,800 and 23,700, respectively. Morehead is not a typical Appalachian-foothills county seat; it is the home of Morehead State University, enrollment 11,000, and has a vibrant gay community, and that has made for some lively interactions, including some vigorous protests -- but no physical altercations.

Still, Richard Fausset of The New York Times reports, "People here are confronting a question similar to one being faced elsewhere around the country: Is there a road back to the old politesse and grace that have helped this area manage its town-gown tensions for decades? Or does the bitter clash of worldviews reflect an unraveling of whatever it was that once knit disparate people together?"

Fausset and Kentucky freelancer Jim Higdon, writing for The Washington Post, note that Morehead is one of only eight Kentucky towns with "fairness ordinances" banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It was adopted without public opposition, Fausset quotes the American Civil Liberties Union as saying.

"For years, gay members of the university community and Apostolic Christians have tip-toed around each other," Higdon reports. "But the Supreme Court’s decision in June in favor of same-sex marriage made a collision perhaps inevitable, as the only thing standing in the way of gays who wanted to marry was the signature of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, a member of the Apostolic Church."

The gay community in Morehead is probably the reason that among the three Kentucky clerks who have stopped issuing marriage licenses, Davis is the only one to have been sued (and sent to jail for defying a federal judge's order). "There is no LGBT community to speak of in those other rural areas," Higdon notes. For coverage from The Morehead News, a thrice-weekly, click here.

Daily Yonder asks what the candidates should be saying to get rural votes, and gets many answers

Hillary Clinton is slipping in the polls, but she is the only presidential candidate who has issued a rural platform, Dee Davis and Isaac Boone Davis point out for the Daily Yonder: "With all the speeches, ads, meet-and-greets, publicity stunts and general folderol, why is so little being said about rural issues? The Daily Yonder asked folks what they think the next president should be talking about to get the rural vote." The responses dealt with agriculture, education, housing, health, forestry, culture, labor, transportation and investment, from a wide range of experts, activists and people in the front lines. Read it here. For a Yonder story about the National Rural Assembly later this week, go here.

Critics of contract farming boosted by HBO host John Oliver, who does long segments on issues

John Oliver of "Last Week Tonight" (HBO)
Critics of contract poultry farming got a boost from John Oliver, host of the HBO show "Last Week Tonight," with his May segment "that illustrated how the companies most associated with chicken in the U.S. take advantage of farmers. Since then, things haven't been quite the same," Jason Abbruzzese reports for Mashable.

"In 18 minutes, he did what we've been trying for 30 years to do and that is just reach a general, broader audience," North Carolina chicken farmer Craig Watts told Abbruzzese. "The story that he told, I cannot tell you how hard that is to tell to someone that is not really familiar with it."

"Plenty in the media are willing to take on tough subjects, but none are creating the type of wake" that Oliver does each Sunday night, Abbruzzese writes. Page views on sites about contract chicken farming spikes after Oliver's May 17 segment ( chart):