Saturday, July 30, 2016

Inspired, cooperative leadership is key to pulling rural places out of economic funk, writer says

The paper mill and harbor in Newport, Oregon, have
benefited from recent investment. (David Kidd photo)
What can help pull rural America out of the recession that lingers in many places, six years after the Great Recession bottomed out nationally?

"Experts in the rural economy say what separates the winners from the many losers is inspired leadership on the ground, whether that’s a plant owner who figures out a way to modernize and stay profitable, or economic development officials able to find a niche by building on successful enterprises or attractions that are already in place," Alan Greenblatt writes for Governing magazine, published mainly for those who govern or lobby the states and localities.

For his readers who may not be familiar with rural problems, Greenblatt writes: "While some metro areas are thriving, two out of three rural counties have experienced a net loss in their total number of businesses since 2010, after the recession had technically ended. According to a recent report by the Economic Innovation Group, half the new businesses started throughout the nation since 2010 were created in just 20 counties, out of more than 3,000 nationwide. Urban America recovers from recessions, but rural America no longer seems able to."

He adds, "It’s no longer far-fetched to talk about permanent, Appalachian-style poverty spreading across rural America. There just aren’t enough jobs. . . . The prevailing fear of the moment -- that robots are going to take over all the work -- has already happened in agriculture. A machine knows more about the exact fat and protein content of the milk from every cow it touches than a human hand ever would. Farmers are becoming almost as likely to plant sensors as seeds, helping them map out where their drones should apply fertilizer. Already, farms account for less than 1 percent of employment, but the number of agriculture jobs is projected to decline another 6 percent by 2024. The old notion that jobs in timber, farming and small-town manufacturing are secure and will last for life is not just outdated but antique."

And here's a current news peg: "The anxiety caused by diminished prospects is starting to play out politically. People wondering what happened to their good-paying jobs have been drawn to Donald Trump’s message that bad trade deals are to blame for their struggles, or to Bernie Sanders’ complaint that the economic system is rigged. . . . The decline in rural prospects is not only feeding political resentment, but causing serious social problems. Nationwide, the number of deaths among working-class whites at most age levels has been increasing, the sad result of a combination of preventable causes such as suicide and abuse of illegal or prescription drugs."

Newport and Lincoln County in Oregon
After that litany of woe, Greenblatt gives an example of local cooperation with inspired leadership: Newport and Lincoln County, Oregon, on the coast about 100 miles southwest of Portland (Wikipedia map). It has an aquarium, a marine science center that's developed a highly edible and processable seaweed, a base for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fleet, and the Oregon coast's last paper mill, which has benefited from recent investment.

"The Newport area has managed to build a collaborative culture, with city, county, port and state officials pulling together with private-sector actors to make things happen," he writes. "All the players in town seem to belong to one another’s boards -- which is not unusual -- but everyone, from Georgia-Pacific executives to county commissioners, also meets routinely through the Yaquina Foundation and the Lincoln County Economic Development Alliance. In many struggling communities, various jurisdictions will jealously fight over every scrap. In Lincoln County, a couple of calls is enough to start people working on ways of lining up financing to get a project going. The different local entities have learned that scratching each other’s backs and putting up money for projects of shared interest can end up benefiting everyone."

The lesson from Lincoln? Greenblatt writes, "There’s no magic formula, nothing you can bottle, when it comes to turning around a rural area. Rural economies once ran on commodities -- timber, corn, cattle, coal -- that by their nature were essentially the same regardless of where they came from. In today’s economy, though, places have to find a way to offer something that other similar places can’t." There's a lot more in his 3,200-word story; read it here.

As farms keep getting bigger and more mechanized, rural income inequality grows

"Farms that once generated wealth for entire communities are now creating a new class of superfarms, which are concentrating wealth and income at the top," creating a new class divide in rural areas, Patrick Jonsson reports for the Christian Science Monitor.

“What most people think of as family farms don’t exist in large numbers anymore, but what exists are large family businesses … in the $3 to $5 million range” of annual revenue, David Peters, a rural sociologist at Iowa State University, told Jonsson.

Franklin "Spanky" Laidler of Hawkinsville, Ga., said he'd
be a millionaire if he owned the farm where he works.
(Photo by Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor)
"The widening gulf between the haves and have-nots is not limited to the Rust Belt’s cast-off manufacturing workers, working class suburbanites, or inner-city poor working on a stagnant minimum wage," Jonsson writes. "The same trends have taken hold in farm country, though in different forms. The farms that once generated wealth for entire communities are now creating a new class of superfarmers," who rely on machinery and don't hire many new farmhands.

“Those who have traditionally performed jobs on the farm are left out of any sort of share in the wealth that’s being produced,” Georgia Southern University history professor Jonathan Bryant, who studies small Southern towns, told Jonsson. “That’s become a difficult situation for a lot of folks, and many just leave. Those that don’t are the people you see in those clustered groups of rotting trailer houses: They’re stuck as much as some person in a Central American country is stuck.”

The big farmers' wealth is usually not highly visible, except to those who know who owns the land, the oldest class divide in rural America. Farming has boom-and-bust cycles, and much money probably goes into intangible investments, not tangible goods that testify to wealth. But money continues to buy power, Ohio State University rural sociologist Linda Lobao told Jonsson: “It’s always the case with land in rural communities: land makes power. And power often doesn’t want change.”

And where does that leave efforts to diversify local economies and provide jobs for the young rural people who mostly move to urban places? Jonsson paints a dispiriting picture of Hawkinsville, Ga., site of his on-the-ground reporting, but cites the experts to suggest how things can be different: "Rural communities that have managed to thrive despite the dour employment dynamics exhibit similar values: an openness to change and outsiders. In many parts of the country, rural towns that have welcomed immigrants, especially, have seen their downtowns, if not thrive, at least manage a slower population decline than more insular communities."

N.C.'s voter-ID law struck down as biased; judge strips much of similar Wis. law for same reason

Election workers checked voters' ID in Asheville in March.
(Photo by George Etheredge for The New York Times)
"Courts dealt setbacks to Republican efforts in three states to restrict voting, blocking a North Carolina law requiring photo identification, loosening a similar measure in Wisconsin and halting strict citizenship requirements in Kansas," The Associated Press reports. Wisconsin and North Carolina are major swing states in the presidential election.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said the district court judge had “ignore[d] critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina. . . . We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

The voter-ID law "also abolished same-day voter registration and ended pre-registration, which had permitted some teenagers to sign up for the voting rolls before they turned 18," Alan Blinder reports for The New York Times. "Republicans argued the law protected against fraud, but critics said it was an effort to disenfranchise certain voters, particularly black and Hispanic ones."

"One of the most comprehensive studies on the subject found only 31 individual cases of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast in the United States since the year 2000," reports Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post. "The court found that North Carolina lawmakers requested data on racial differences in voting behaviors in the state." The three appellate judges wrote, "This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles." Ingraham concludes, "So the legislators made it so that the only acceptable forms of voter identification were the ones disproportionately used by white people."

In Wisconsin, a federal district judge "threw out a host of election laws, while allowing the state's voter ID law to remain in place with substantial limitations," AP reports. "Judge James Peterson ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID but lacking underlying documents such as birth certificates. He struck down restrictions on absentee and early voting, saying they discriminated against blacks. He also struck down an increase in residency requirements from 10 to 28 days, a prohibition on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to vote and a prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email."

"In the Kansas ruling, a county judge said the state must count thousands of votes in local and state elections from people who did not provide proof of U.S. citizenship when they registered," AP reports. "Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national leader in Republican voter restriction efforts, had pushed through a rule that would have set those votes aside, perhaps up to 50,000 by the November election." The ruling, four days before a primary election. "means that about 17,000 voters will have their ballots counted in races for the state Legislature and other local contests," AP reports.

North Carolina had one of the largest rural populations among the states in the 2010 census: 3,233,727, or 34 percent of its total. The only state with more rural residents was Texas, with 3.8 million, but they were only 15 percent of its population. A federal appeals court threw out key parts of a voter-ID law in Texas last week, saying they were racially discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act. Wisconsin had almost 1.7 million rural residents in 2010, nearly 30 percent of the total.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Big bourbon-making town puts the brakes on new whiskey warehouses close to residential areas

Warehouse at Barton 1792 Distillery
(Photo from
A Kentucky town whose name has been almost synonymous with whiskey making has had about enough of the bourbon boom, or at least a piece of it.

"The Bardstown City Council has voted down the Planning Commission’s recommendation to allow distilled spirits warehouses on agricultural tracts of 20-100 acres as a conditional use," Randy Patrick reports for The Kentucky Standard. "Recently, the Nelson County Fiscal Court tabled an identical proposal for rural and suburban areas outside Bardstown so that the magistrates could have more time to consider the regulation change and possible ramifications."

"Councilman Bill Buckman said the council’s no vote . . . lets the county know it doesn’t want craft bourbon distilleries and rickhouses too close to the city," Patrick writes. "Those distilleries and warehouses, he said, bring with them problems such as whiskey mold, which gets on people’s houses and cars and is hard to remove. He said that pending on the outcome of Louisville court cases about the mold, more whiskey makers are looking south toward Bardstown to build their warehouses."

Fact checking Hillary Clinton at Democratic convention on jobs, income gains, border security

 Associated Press photo by J. Scott Applewhite
Hillary Clinton wrapped up the Democratic National Convention by accepting the nomination for president. Fact-checkers looked at her speech and those of other speakers. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and for full context and things you may want to add.

Clinton said the U.S. has created “nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs” under President Obama, but that depends on when you start counting. Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "The economy has added 14.8 million private-sector jobs since February 2010, the low point after the Great Recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the gain is 10.5 million private-sector jobs from the start of President Obama’s presidency." Robert Farley of notes that the number drops to 10.1 million "when accounting for the loss of 460,000 public jobs."

"Clinton misrepresented Donald Trump’s 'I alone can fix it' line, suggesting he said he could fix everything by himself," Farley reports. Trump was referring to a 'rigged' system, and went on to talk about working with others." Clinton also "said '90 percent' of income gains 'have gone to the top 1 percent.' But that is an outdated figure, Farley reports: It’s now 52 percent.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "now covers more than 40 million more Americans," which was off base. Kessler and Lee write, "Pelosi’s prepared text said '20 million Americans.' But in a case of over-exuberance, she doubled the figure. This 20 million figure comes from a March 2016 estimate by the Department of Health and Human Services that was intended to show how many people gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act since full implementation in 2013. But it’s not necessarily precise, since it is based on survey data. . . . Not only did she double the figure, but she suggested that 40 million people currently have insurance they would not have gained before the law. (Clinton, in her speech, got the number right.)"

Kaine used old-time harmonica skills to appeal to rural Virginia, may do likewise as VP nominee

"He carries multiple harmonicas in his briefcase. He has played with members of the Dave Matthews Band and the Grateful Dead. And he has been known to show up unannounced at bluegrass jamborees around his home state, Virginia, simply looking to jam," Nick Corasaniti reports for The New York Times. "Meet Tim Kaine, vice-presidential candidate, senator, former governor—and mouth organist."

Times reporter Michael Shear says in a video accompanying the story that Kaine is likely to use the harmonica as he and Hillary Clinton run for the White House: "Part of the secret to Tim Kaine's success in Virginia politics has been in finding a way to appeal to the rural folks in Southwest Virginia, and one of the ways he did that was playing the harmonica." Music impresario Woody Crenshaw says in the video, "He has a feel for the old-time music of these mountains."

"Kaine has made music an important part of his political life," Corasaniti writes. "He has often 'sat in' at bluegrass open jam sessions while campaigning and in office. During his Senate campaign in 2012, he held a promotional contest, 'Harmonica With Tim,' in which one lucky person would win not just a dinner with Mr. Kaine, but also a one-on-one harmonica lesson. He had a bluegrass band, No Speed Limit, play his inauguration in 2006 (and he hopped onto the stage for a few songs, naturally)."

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, noted that Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee campaigned as fiddle players. He told Corasaniti that Kaine's talent helped him in Virginia: "If you show up someplace where people don’t really know you and you can play a tune, even if it’s not a tune they recognize, they think, ‘This guy’s not a politician; he can play music’."

Longtime weekly owner in Mich. who knew his job and believed everyone has a story dies at 82

Rudy Petzold, former editor, publisher and owner of the weekly Tuscola County Advertiser in Caro, Mich., died Saturday at 82,

Petzold was known for believing everyone had a story. Brett McLaughlin, whom he hired as a reporter in 1972 and who later served as publisher in 1991-2001, told Andrew Dietderich of Tuscola Today: “He sends me out to a house on M-81, just past Ellington and says ‘They got a great story there.’ I said ‘What is it?’ and he says ‘Just go, you’ll find out.’ I went and I knocked on the door and these people didn’t have a clue what the great story was. I can’t remember what the story was but I can tell you I came back with something. His point was, there’s a story at every door. He believed everybody had a story to tell and somebody else cared to hear it so get out there and write it.”

Petzold addressed how he would describe what he did if someone walked into his newspaper office and asked what he was doing:
  • I have a very special challenge and opportunity in this community. 
  • I am not too important in my community but I try to be important to my community. 
  • I chronicle and preserve the on-going history of my community – not just stories about the big shots but about wonderful everyday folks as well. 
  • I focus attention on my community problems, its needs and challenges and try to arouse people to do something about them.
  • I try to stand up for the little guy and try to be brave enough to stand up to the big guy if he gets too pushy. 
  • I make heroes out of the good people in my town who do things that might otherwise get missed: young football heroes, pretty beauty queens, wonderful neighbors, talented craftsmen, happy newlyweds, delightful jubilarians. I have the honor and joy of recording their special moments that, summed together, make up life in my community. 
  • I also have the job of pegging the heels in our community: isolating the few who use, or rather abuse their power, money or public trusts at the expense of the rest. 
  • I am sort of an unofficial member of every club and committee, because I help promote and publicize their good work and help their civic projects succeed. 
  • I don’t make a lot of money…some months none at all, but I feel well paid with a feeling of fulfillment and of being someone special and useful to many people in this community.

Suicide rates on the rise among rural residents 45-64; economy, isolation cited as main reasons

Suicide rates among rural Americans 45 to 64 rose dramatically from 1999 to 2014, Allison Schrager reports for Quartz, which is owned by Atlantic Media Co. publisher of The Atlantic. Suicide rates among men in rural areas increased from 1999 to 2014 by 57.5 percent, highest among geographic categories. Suicide rates among women increased 91.2 percent, and 96.6 percent in "micropolitan" areas with towns of 10,000 to 50,000.

“It’s a fairly similar story for women, who, it is worth noting, have historically had much lower suicide rates,” Schrager writes. “They still do—in 2014, middle-age men were more than three times as likely to die from suicide—but the gap is narrowing a bit. The suicide rate among rural, middle-age women has nearly doubled since 1999.”
“The disproportionate increase in suicides in rural areas could have something to do with economic sectors,” Schrager writes. “Certain jobs normally found in rural areas traditionally have higher suicide rates, like farming, fishing, and logging. Some speculate that the chemicals farmers are exposed to contribute to depression. Suicide is more common in communities where people are more isolated, and where there’s less access to mental health services. Rural areas also have higher rates of drug addiction. But the big, glaring reason for the uptick seems to be economics. Rural communities have faced a long economic decline alongside the surge in suicide rates.”

Climate change already impacting remote Alaskan towns that rely on hunting to survive winters

Climate change is already affecting rural remote towns in Alaska that rely on stocking up on food for long, harsh winters, Clare Leschin-Hoar reports for NPR. "Savoonga is a small community of about 650 residents that sits on the northern edge of St. Lawrence Island, 164 miles west of Nome, in the Bering Sea. It is among the first U.S. communities to experience the effects of climate change firsthand."

As a result of climate change, "Warmer winters and changing ice conditions meant hunters were unable to bag the Pacific walrus the Savoonga residents traditionally relied on as a key food source," Leschin-Hoar writes. "Three years ago, the situation became so dire, the governor declared the island an economic disaster to help loosen assistance funds. The debate here isn't over whether climate change is happening. For these rural communities, the question is whether they can continue to survive there."

St. Lawrence Island is the northernmost island on the map.
According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap (right) food insecurity rates for the state hover at 14.4 percent, just above the national rate of 14 percent, Leschin-Hoar writes. "But what makes the situation in Alaska different from many other states is its residents' dependence on subsistence hunting, especially those who live in remote communities. In 2012, the state estimated that rural residents harvested a whopping 295 pounds of wild foods per person—including fish, whale, seals, sea lions, moose, caribou, birds and wild plants from berries to kelp."

Cara Durr, director of public engagement for Food Bank of Alaska, told Leschin-Hoar."In places like Savoonga, suddenly you've got an 80 percent reduction in the amount of food you're used to having. There aren't a lot of jobs on these islands, and to say to people they now have to go to the grocery store—it's just out of reach for a lot of these people. And there are hundreds of communities like this. You can't just snap your fingers and send more food. It's incredibly expensive to ship food out there."

High transportation costs lead very rural Nevada school district to adopt four-day week

Three rural schools in rural Elko County, Nevada are the latest to switch to four-day weeks "to allow students in those areas more time at home and to cut down on travel," Hasani Grayson reports for the Elko Daily Free Press. The school board, which unanimously approved the decision, said school days will be nine hours, instead of seven and a half. (Wikipedia map: Elko County, Nevada)

"The four-day school week will help ease the burden on parents who have to travel long distances to drop their children off at school and for families who need the extra help from their children at home but it is also creating a new challenge for the teachers," Grayson writes.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Feds release quality ratings of 4,599 hospitals; industry says it's an oversimplification

Screenshot of website with hospital information
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Wednesday released its list of Overall Hospital Quality Star Ratings of nearly 4,000 hospitals in the U.S., Elizabeth Whitman reports for Modern Healthcare. "Just 102 institutions out of 4,599 hospitals, or 2.2 percent, earned five stars. Of the rest of the hospitals, 20.3 percent, garnered four stars, 38.5 percent, received three, 15.7 percent, earned two stars and 2.9 percent, received a single star. A significant proportion—20.4 percent, of hospitals—were deemed ineligible for ratings, because they lacked data to report measure results."

"Hospitals and other industry groups have stridently criticized the rating system as oversimplifying a complex matter—the quality of a multi-faceted institution—and the underlying methodology as flawed," Whitman writes. "They warned it would provide inaccurate information to consumers and damage hospitals' reputations." Richard Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, said in a statement: "As written, they fall short of meeting principles that the AHA has embraced for quality report cards and rating systems. We are especially troubled that the current ratings scheme unfairly penalizes teaching hospitals and those serving higher numbers of the poor."

Ratings consist of 64 quality measures in seven categories: Mortality; Safety of Care; Readmission; Patient Experience; Effectiveness of Care; Timeliness of Care; and Efficient Use of Medical Imaging. To find the rating of a hospital click here.

Fact checking claims at Democratic convention on veteran homelessness, Social Security, NATO

The third day of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday created more fodder for fact checkers. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and for full context and things you may want to add. (Politico photo by Jason Lee: President Obama speaking Wednesday)

President Obama said, We “cut veterans' homelessness almost in half.” The number is actually 35 percent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "He likely is referring to the decrease in homeless veterans who are 'unsheltered,' defined as 'places not meant for human habitation, such as the streets, abandoned buildings, vehicles, or parks.' The unsheltered homeless veteran population decreased by 45.9 percent from 2009 to 2015."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to gamble with your retirement benefits in the stock market.” Lee and Kessler write, "This is a tired old talking point that Democrats throw at Republicans, one that we have criticized in the past. Yet it’s particularly misplaced against Donald Trump. As a presidential candidate, Trump has repeatedly insisted that he will not touch Social Security benefits, saying it can held solvent without changing its structure. There’s no indication that he currently supports investing Social Security trust funds—now in Treasury bonds—in the stock market."

"As is typical of Trump, he sang a different tune in 2000, writing in a book that Social Security was a 'Ponzi scheme' and the retirement age should be raised to 70," Kessler and Lee write. "He also called for 'privatization' of the program. Pence, as a member of Congress, was supportive of George W. Bush’s ill-fated 2005 effort to introduce investment options. It was designed as a voluntary program, in which individuals could choose to direct a relatively small portion of their payroll taxes to investment options besides Treasury securities. But Bush could not even get a committee vote on his idea, even though Republicans controlled both houses of Congress,. That was 11 years ago, and no serious Republican has tried to push the concept again."

Eugene Kiely of, writes, "vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine claimed that Trump said he 'wants to abandon' our NATO allies. Trump has said that he doesn’t want the U.S. to leave NATO, but has suggested he would not automatically defend NATO allies that do not pay their share of defense costs."

"Obama claimed that under his administration, 'we finally began to wean ourselves off foreign oil,' but dependency on imported oil had begun to drop years before he took office," Kiely writes. "Obama said deficits have 'come down' under his administration.' That’s true, but they are expected to rise again soon under his proposed budget."

Rural areas will decide the big swing state of Pennsylvania, state ag secretary says

Rural voters in agricultural areas could be the difference in which presidential candidate walks away with the all-important 20 electoral votes in swing state Pennsylvania, where 42 of 67 counties are rural, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Republican nominee Donald Trump, who performed well during the primaries in rural areas, "has his eyes set on Pennsylvania and voters in its small towns and rural areas as he looks to win the state in November, but he may have to overcome the farm sector's concerns about his trade and immigration policies."

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, who was nominated by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and is considered one of the favorites to replace U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, said at the Democratic National Convention that "trade is important to both agriculture and forestry industries in the state, Brasher writes. He said rural voters in those sectors are 'savvy enough to understand that in their industry you can't sustain that sector, whether it's forest products, protein sector, production agriculture … without trade.'"

"Trump has called for forcing all illegal immigrants, including farm workers, to leave the country," a move not popular in agricultural areas that rely on immigrant workers, Brasher writes. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton "has proposed ending all deportations of illegal immigrants except for criminals."

Redding said jobs are the biggest issue in Pennsylvania, but gun control will also play a major role, while coal dependent regions in the western part of the state have blamed Democrats for the loss of jobs. Other rural issues, such as health, infrastructure and education, should also play a significant role in how the state's voters cast ballots.

John M. Jones III, longtime E. Tennessee publisher and founder of newspaper chain, dies at 101

John M. Jones III
John M. Jones III, longtime publisher of The Greeneville Sun, a daily newspaper covering Greene County at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, died Tuesday at 101. After graduating from Washington & Lee University and serving as an officer in the first American infantry unit to fight in Asia, winning the Bronze Star and serving as aide-de-camp to American and British theater commanders, Jones joined the Sun in 1945 as business manager at the request of his mother-in-law, Edith O'Keefe Susong, who was publisher from 1916 until her death in 1974.

Despite having no newspaper experience, Jones thrived as "a major force in local economic development and civic life from the late 1940s to the late 1990s," the Sun reports. "A former president of the Tennessee Press Association, Jones was also a former board member of what was then the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America). He served multiple terms as a member of the board of directors of The Associated Press. Jones was also an original member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and is widely regarded as the unofficial 'father' of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation."

"During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Jones played the primary leadership role in expanding the family's newspaper interests to include community newspapers in several other East Tennessee towns, including Newport, Athens, Dayton, Rogersville, Loudon/Lenoir City, and Sweetwater/Monroe County," where Jones was born and raised, the Sun reports. "The company has in recent years become Jones Media Inc., consisting of community daily newspapers in Greeneville, Maryville and Athens and non-daily newspapers in Newport, Rogersville, Lenoir City, Sweetwater, Dayton, and the High Country of western North Carolina, including Boone, as well as other media-related enterprises."

Survivors include his wife, Martha; sons John M. Jones IV of Greeneville, former editor of the Sun; Alex S. Jones of Charleston, S.C., and New York City, and Gregg K. Jones of Greeneville, head of Jones Media; two daughters, Edith Jones Floyd of Atlanta and Sarah Jones Harbison of Greeneville; and seven grandchildren. Alex S. Jones was the media reporter for The New York Times and director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. Other obituary information is here.

Obama administration to expand Central American refugee program for children fleeing danger

Associated Press photo by Eric Gay:
Youth detainees in Brownsville, Texas
The Obama administration said it will expand a program that allows unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to seek protections in the U.S. by applying within their own country, David Nakamura reports for The Washington Post. The program, launched in 2014 "after a massive influx of children that year swamped border patrol stations," allows Central American children fleeing danger to enter the U.S.

So far, from a pool of 9,500 applicants, 2,884 have been granted refugee status but only 267 have entered the U.S., Nakamura writes. "That number is minuscule compared with the thousands of children and families from those nations who are apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol each month while trying to enter the country." The Department of Homeland Security said that in June, "more than 11,000 children and family members crossed the border illegally."

"Under the expansion plans, three additional categories of people would be allowed to apply: older siblings of a qualified child, provided they have a parent already living lawfully in the U.S.; the biological parents of a qualified child; and caregivers of a qualified child, provided a parent is living lawfully in the U.S.," Nakamura writes. Also, "Mexico has agreed to increase the number of Central American refugees it will accept under its own program. And Costa Rica has agreed to provide safe harbor to as many as 200 Central American children considered in grave danger while their cases are being examined by the U.S. State Department." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fact checking the Democratic convention on gender wage gap, trade, federal health reform

Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention
The second day of the Democratic National Convention is in the books, and we take another look at how the fact checkers viewed Tuesday's speeches. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and for full context and things you may want to add.

Former President Bill Clinton said of his wife and expected Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, "She compiled a really solid record, totally progressive on economic and social issues. She voted for and against some proposed trade deals.” Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Bill Clinton suggests that Hillary Clinton was somewhat split on trade deals—she was 'totally progressive'—but her overall record as senator was to broadly support such agreements."

"As a senator, Clinton had a chance to vote on 10 trade deals, and she voted for or supported all but two: the Trade Act of 2002, essentially a trade deal involving Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, and the 2005 Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement. Moreover, as secretary of state, she also championed the negotiations that led to the Trans-Pacific Partnership; only as a presidential candidate, when challenged by Sen. Bernie Sanders, she suddenly said she opposed the final negotiated text," Kessler and Lee write. Now her ally, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, says she would support it after some things in it "were fixed."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said of Clinton, “We need a president who knows it’s just plain wrong that women make 79 cents for every dollar paid to a man.” Lee and Kessler write, "Boxer is relying on a simple calculation from the Census Bureau: a ratio of the difference between women’s median earnings and men’s median earnings. That leaves a pay gap of 21 cents. But the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the gap is 17 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages—15 cents—but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers."

Also, "Women also tend to leave the workforce for periods to raise children, seek jobs that may have more flexible hours but lower pay, and choose careers that tend to have lower pay," Kessler and Lee write. "BLS data show that women who have never married have virtually no wage gap; they earn nearly 94 cents for every dollar a man makes." Other factors include arguments that the average woman has less work experience than a man, more women than men work part-time and more women hold teaching jobs that only account for nine months of pay.

On health care, Eugene Kiely of writes, "Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean claimed that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 'whole' health care plan was to replace the Affordable Care Act with 'quote, ‘Something so much better.' In fact, Trump has released a seven-point health care plan." Dean also "said that GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence 'voted to end Medicare as we know it.' Pence did vote for a budget plan that called for a major change to Medicare, but it would have retained a health insurance system for seniors."

Pesticides reduce live sperm in honeybees by 39%, says study

Neonicotinoid-based pesticides destroy sperm in male drones, says a study by Swiss researchers published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In January an Environmental Protection Agency study said the pesticides harm honeybees and other pollinators. Other studies have linked pesticides to bee deaths. Neonicotinoids are widely used on crops to attract pollinators such as bees, which are responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. (Bee Informed graphic)

Researchers found that bees that ate pollen laced with the pesticides "produced 39 percent less live sperm than those that didn't," Seth Borenstein reports for The Associated Press. "It essentially acted as an accidental contraceptive on the drones, whose main job is to mate with the queen—but not one that prevented complete reproduction, just making it tougher, said Lars Straub, lead author of the study and a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Bern. Drones, which are the product of unfertilized eggs, don't gather nectar or pollen and don't sting; they die after mating."

Bees that didn't have pesticide in their pollen averaged 1.98 million living sperm, compared to 1.2 million for bees that had neonicotinoids in their food, Borenstein writes. "This comes on top of a study published earlier this year in the online journal PLOS One that reported the high rate of U.S. honeybee colonies dying coincides with failures of queens. And the queen failure was linked to drones' dead sperm."

Public transit needs grow in rural Montana, where transportation is often costliest household expense

An increasing number of rural Montanans rely on public transportation, Jayme Fraser reports for the Billings Gazette. Not including public transport in the state's more urban locales Billings, Missoula and Great Falls, the number of federally funded public transit systems offering in-town or inter-city rides increased from nine in 2004 to 37 today. Bill Lanier, who uses public transportation to travel 21 miles to work, told Fraser, “I don’t think a lot of people appreciate it until they use it, or until they need it. I had thought it was mostly a convenience, but the more I use the bus the more I see it’s a necessity for people.” (Screenshot of interactive chart: County-by-county costs of transportation in Montana)
While transportation is the nation's second-largest expense in family budgets behind housing, it is the costliest expense for many residents in Montana, which ranks fourth in size and 44th in population. "Families with two working adults who earn the median household income—which ranges from $30,900 to $56,050 depending on region—spend more on transportation than housing costs in all but Missoula, Gallatin, and Lewis and Clark counties, according to an analysis of federal housing, transportation and Census data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development," Fraser writes.

"After the 2005 federal transportation bill nearly tripled the annual funding available to rural public transit operators in Montana, many systems that first offered rides to seniors and people with disabilities expanded to serve their whole communities, hoping to make education, employment and health care opportunities more affordable," Fraser writes. "Some Montanans ride for convenience, finding fares cheaper than the gas to commute or preferring to let a professional drive in winter weather. For others, public transit is essential. In addition to elderly residents—who make up a growing share of rural populations each year—some riders do not have a driver’s license, a car, the money to buy gas or relatives who can provide rides."

Youth homelessness is up 55% in Oklahoma in last 4 years, but few seek help from shelters

Oklahoma has seen a sharp increase in its number of homeless youth, but few seek help from shelters, Trevor Brown reports for Oklahoma Watch, part of the Institute for Non-Profit News, a group of more than 100 non-profit news sources. Oklahoma Department of Education statistics show that the state's number of homeless students increased by 55 percent over a four-year span, to 27,161 in 2014-15, the last year data was available. (Brown photo: Youth homeless shelters in Oklahoma have a hard time filling beds)

Of those homeless youth, about 1,640 were reported to be "living in unsheltered locations, such as cars, parks, campgrounds, abandoned buildings and temporary trailers," Brown writes. "More than 21,900 were 'doubling up,' meaning they were runaway or unaccompanied youths living with relatives or friends." One problem is that since about 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, some advocates fear they might be wary of going to a faith-based shelter.

State Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City) who authored legislation last year to study the state's problem of homeless youth, told Brown, "We absolutely do have a huge homeless youth problem in Oklahoma. And it’s not just an urban problem, it’s also a rural problem. People are shocked when they see just how many children are homeless."

USDA town hall meeting: Missouri only state to lack established prescription drug monitoring program

Missouri is the only state that lacks an established monitoring program for prescription drugs, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) pointed out at a speech Friday at Stephens College in Columbia, Meg Vatterott reports for the Columbia Missourian. McCaskill, who said opioid overdoses now account for more deaths than automobile crashes, was speaking at Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's latest town-hall meeting on rural drug abuse. Vilsack last month held a town hall meeting in Abingdon, Va.

"A bill to provide resources to expand the effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs and other methods of combating opioid addiction, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, was passed by the U.S. Senate on July 13 and is expected to be signed by the president this week, according to a news release from McCaskill's office," Vatterott writes. "But because Missouri doesn't have an official state program, the state would have been ineligible for certain grants. However, McCaskill added an amendment for local communities in Missouri with their own monitoring programs to be eligible for federal resources."

Vilsack said at the Missouri town hall meeting, "From 1993 until 2013, we have seen a 400 percent increase in opioid prescriptions. We now have over 259 million prescriptions being filled on an annual basis. That is one for virtually every adult in the United States of America." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in January that "Missouri had 1,067 overdose deaths in 2014, a 4 percent increase over 2013, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is being driven by opioids." (CDC graphic)

Lawsuit forces rural Texas town to drop 'whites only' policy for cemetery

A cemetery in a rural Texas town sued for its "whites only" policy "conceded its refusal to bury Latino residents is discriminatory and violates federal and state law," Alexa Ura reports for The Texas Tribune. Lawyers for the cemetery association that oversees the San Domingo Cemetery in Normanna (Best Places map) a town with 113 residents, "admitted defeat in court on Friday as part of a lawsuit filed after Dorothy Barrera was unable to bury the ashes of her husband, who was Latino, in the cemetery." 

"According to the lawsuit, cemetery operator Jimmy Bradford told Barrera that her request to bury her husband at the cemetery had been denied by the Normanna Cemetery Association," Ura writes. "When Barrera questioned the vote, Bradford allegedly responded that her husband couldn’t be buried there 'because he’s a Mexican,' the federal complaint detailed. Bradford then directed her to 'go up the road and bury him with the n------ and Mexicans' in the nearby Del Bosque Cemetery," which is locally regarded as the burial place for non-whites.

"As noted in a court filing, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund accepted the cemetery association’s 'offer of judgment,' proposing that a judge should enter a ruling against them for the policy and should declare their 'rule of discriminating' based on race and national origin as 'void,'" Ura writes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Silent epidemic of opioid addiction among seniors leaves a void in states that did not expand Medicaid

Older drug addicts in states that chose not to expand Medicaid have few options for treatment, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. Older adults "face mounting barriers to getting help for abuse of alcohol and opioid painkillers—not the least of which is finding they are squeezed out of scarce treatment facilities by younger people with prescription drug or heroin habits."

report by Stanford University found that people covered by Medicaid—the federal health care program for people 65 and older and those with disabilities—have “among the highest and most rapidly growing prevalence of opioid use disorder,” Vestal writes. "More than 6 out of every 1,000 Medicare patients are diagnosed with an opioid disorder, compared with 1 of every 1,000 patients covered by commercial insurance plans, according to the report." (Kaiser Family Foundation map)
Many older Americans are reluctant to ask for help for drug addiction "out of shame of being an addict at this point in their lives—creating what addiction experts call a silent epidemic," Vestal writes. "The silent epidemic also distorts the true toll that addiction has on the nation. Drug-related deaths of the elderly are often undercounted because it’s assumed on death certificates that they died of their age-related illness, not an overdose of pain pills, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who runs a New York-based group of addiction treatment centers." 

"Getting treatment can be expensive," Vestal writes. "Seniors who do seek help find that Medicare does not cover most types of addiction treatment, something advocates have been trying to persuade the federal government to change for years. Low-income seniors who are unable to pay for treatment find few options" in 19 states "where Medicaid coverage for the poor has not been expanded under the Affordable Care Act to cover able-bodied adults." (Read more)

Fact checking claims at Democratic convention on minimum wage, free college tuition, top 1%

Last week we took a look at how fact checkers rated statements made in speeches at the Republican National Convention. This week we look at the Democratic National Convention. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and for full context and things you may want to add. (CBS image: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.))

One of the biggest issues on Monday was minimum wage, which was brought up at least three times. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, “Donald Trump actually stood on a debate stage and said that wages are ‘too high’.” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said, “This November, we have a choice. You can choose a candidate who’s only out for himself, who wants to get rid of the federal minimum wage, and who would cut taxes for the richest Americans at the expense of the middle class.”  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, "Trump wants to get rid of the federal minimum wage.”

Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Trump has made contradictory statements on the minimum wage, so here is some necessary context to the claims by Gillibrand, Casey and Warren. During a November 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump was asked whether he was 'sympathetic to the protesters cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year.'"

Trump said he couldn't be sympathetic because “We are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. . . . [With] taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum.”

Kessler and Lee write, "Days later, Trump clarified he was referring to whether he would increase the minimum wage. He would not raise it, because then it would be 'too high,' he said. Then in May 2016, Trump appeared to support states' raising minimum wages, and to oppose the federal government setting a floor on wages for states to raise. Trump also said that he didn’t 'know how people make it on $7.25 an hour.' But Trump has indicated since then that 'he might be willing to trade a minimum-wage increase to obtain another policy goal,' The Wall Street Journal reported on July 19."

On other questionable claims, Robert Farley of writes, "Sen. Bernie Sanders said Hillary Clinton 'will guarantee' free tuition at public colleges or universities for families with annual incomes of $125,000 or less. But free tuition is not guaranteed. States must put up matching funds for the students to receive free tuition. Sanders also said the 'top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income,' but economists whose work Sanders has cited put the figure at 52 percent for 1993 to 2015."

Map shows marijuana use by state; highest rates in West, lowest rates mostly in South, Plains states

How much cannabis do people in your neck of the woods smoke? The Washington Post has created a map of marijuana use in the U.S. using data the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration compiled from 204,000 respondents from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health to estimate monthly pot use among Americans 12 and older.

"The report finds that nationally, 7.7 percent of people 12 an older—roughly 20.3 million Americans—use marijuana monthly or more," Christopher Ingraham reports for the Post. "Broadly speaking, marijuana use rates are highest in the western states and lowest in the South." (Post map)

Trees in forests communicate, German author says

A new book by a German forest ranger has become a sensation by humanizing trees that are known to connect through their own version of social networking. Peter Wohlleben's book "has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news—long known to biologists—that trees in the forest are social beings," Sally McGrane reports for The New York Times. "They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the 'Wood Wide Web'; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots." (NYT photo by Gordon Welters: Peter Wohlleben)

The book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World, has sold 320,000 copies and has been optioned for translation in 19 countries, McGrane writes. Wohlleben purposely wrote it to be understood by anyone. He told McGrane, “I use a very human language. Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.”

While reading about trees Wohlleben "found that, in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings," McGrane writes. "Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance. By artificially spacing out trees, the plantation forests that make up most of Germany’s woods ensure that trees get more sunlight and grow faster. But, naturalists say, creating too much space between trees can disconnect them from their networks, stymieing some of their inborn resilience mechanisms."

Speaking of a curved tree, Wohlleben told McGrane, "For a forester, this tree is ugly, because it is crooked, which means you can’t get very much money for the wood. It really surprised me, walking through the forest, when people called a tree like this one beautiful. They said, ‘My life hasn’t always run in a straight line, either.’ And I began to see things with new eyes.” (Read more)

Maine governor's handwritten notes to lawmakers not public records, staff says; others disagree

A note Gov. Paul LePage sent to
Democratic state Sen. John Patrick
An argument is brewing in Maine over whether handwritten notes Republican Gov. Paul LePage frequently writes to lawmakers are subject to open records laws, Scott Thistle reports for the Portland Press Herald. "Staff members argue the notes are personal and not public documents that must be saved and accessible to the public. But others, including the state’s archivist and attorney general, say documents created by the governor that discuss state policy or business are public records, whether handwritten or not."

Republican state Senate President Mike Thibodeau made public this note he received from LePage in June 2015: “It is apparent that the Republicans in the Senate and House have not only thrown the governor under the bus, but now want to take his executive powers. Therefore, beginning today and for the remainder of my term, all bills will be vetoed requiring a 2/3rds vote in both houses."

LePage, "who promised voters in 2010 that his would be the 'most transparent' administration in state history, now has a long record of evading, avoiding or simply ignoring the state’s open records law," Thistle writes. Brenda Kielty, the state’s Freedom of Access Act ombudsman, told Thistle, “Any government record, regardless of the form in which it is in maintained by an agency or official, can be a public record.” (Read more)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Publisher of farm paper and weekly wins Ky. award for public service through community journalism

Sharon Burton
Sharon Burton, publisher of Kentucky’s statewide agricultural newspaper and a community weekly in her native Adair County, is the winner of the 2016 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.

Burton will receive the award Sept. 29 in Lexington, at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which co-sponsor the award.

For more than 27 years, Burton has published The Farmer’s Pride, a newspaper for Kentucky farmers and other agriculture interests. For more than 14 years, she has published the Adair County Community Voice, a weekly paper that has frequently been cited on the Institute’s Rural Blog as an example of journalism that serves the public.

“Sharon is a great example of a local individual who saw a need, and through entrepreneurial hard work, created publications that serve the need of her local community but also of the agricultural community of Kentucky,” wrote Jimmy Henning, associate dean for extension in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and director of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, in his nomination.

Nick Roy, the Adair County extension agent for agriculture, also nominated Burton, saying the Community Voice “was quickly recognized as a credible source of information with coverage providing openness and transparency of local government” after its founding as a monthly in 2002. “Its popularity grew and soon became a bi-monthly publication in 2005, and then a weekly newspaper in May 2007. While the Community Voice has grown and made minor changes through its development, its commitment to the betterment of the Adair County community has remained.”

One recent example was her coverage of the March referendum in Adair County that legalized the sale of alcoholic beverages, one of the most controversial issues that a rural community can address. The Community Voice covered it thoroughly, offering insightful commentary without taking sides, including a front-page essay by Burton that began with reliving her experience of buying liquor from a bootlegger on her senior prom night and went on to the current experiences of students at the local, Methodist-sponsored college and federal survey data on local drinkers. She wrote that the county has "already said yes to alcohol. But we've said yes in a way where we don’t have to take responsibility. We allow alcohol to be sold in the shadows, treating it like a heroin den; people can get their fix, but we don’t have to look at it.”

The year before, Burton played an unusual – and probably for most journalists, controversial – role in her community by serving on the board of the local hospital, which had been driven into bankruptcy by mismanagement. When the new county judge-executive asked her to serve, she had many reservations because journalists are supposed to cover news, not make it. But she agreed "because I could not think of anything more important to do as someone who loves this community and the people who made it great," she wrote, adding that she felt she could make sure the board was more transparent than it had been. She recused herself from reporting or editing any hospital stories, and had an outside professional edit them for publication.

“Sharon’s deep commitment to public service drove her to make a decision that most academically trained journalists like her wouldn’t make,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and associate professor in the UK School of Journalism and Media, where he teaches community journalism. “Public service ought to be the primary thing that drives journalists, and there are times when your role as a member of the community can conflict with your role as a journalist. Sharon did an exemplary job of managing those conflicts, which is a key to success in community journalism.”

The Al Smith Award is named for Albert P. Smith Jr., who published newspapers in rural Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding producer and host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” and federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He was the driving force for creation of the Institute, headed its national advisory board for many years and remains active as chairman emeritus. (Read more)

Democrats have moved left, become less rural; 45% would prefer a nominee other than Clinton

The Democratic National Convention kicks off today in Philadelphia. All-but-nominated Hillary Clinton will lead a party much different than the one her husband led as nominee in 1992 and president from 1993 to 2001. It's less white, more liberal, better educated and less willing to compromise, Peter Nicholas reports for The Wall Street Journal. And those reflect some of the reasons the party attracts fewer rural voters.

"Working-class white voters once loyal to the Democratic Party have gravitated to the Republicans over the past two decades, drawn by the GOP’s stance on guns, immigration and other social issues. Amid the exodus, Democrats have moved left," Nicholas writes. "Many Democrats today aren’t convinced capitalism is the best economic model or that socialism is taboo."

"Nor is the party entirely sold on its new leader," Nicholas reports. "A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll this month showed 45 percent of registered Democrats and those who lean in that direction would have preferred a nominee not named Hillary Clinton."

“I’m in the hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-Hillary-Clinton camp,” Jason Frerichs, the Democratic chairman of southwestern Iowa's Montgomery County told Nicholas, who writes, "He founded a progressive caucus within the Iowa state party that aims to elect liberals to school boards, county supervisor jobs, 'even dogcatcher,' he said." But only 38 percent of his county's vote went for President Obama in 2012, after giving him 44 percent in 2008.

Nicholas writes, "The draft party platform that Democrats approved at a two-day meeting in Orlando, Fla., highlights the sharp left turn . . . The 1996 Democratic platform celebrated free-trade deals; the proposed new platform says they don’t “live up to the hype.” Bill Clinton’s platform embraced the death penalty; the new one would do away with it. The old platform boasted of building new prison cells; the 2016 version calls for 'ending the era of mass incarceration'."

The Democratic Party platform can be viewed by clicking here. To see the Republican platform click here.

Ranchers who live near Mexico call border wall 'idiotic' but like attention it brings to issue

One of the key issues in the Republican Party platform and nominee Donald Trump's campaign is building a wall across the entire southern portion of the U.S. that borders Mexico. While supporters say it will stop drug smugglers and illegal immigrants from entering the U.S., ranchers who live and work a stone's throw from the Mexican border call the idea ridiculous and pointless, "This Land" columnist Dan Barry reports for The New York Times.

"It’s silly. It isn’t going to work," Arizona rancher John Ladd, who lives 10 miles from the Mexican border, told Barry. Even a rancher like Ed Ashurst, who lives 20 miles from the border and says he would move to Australia if Hillary Clinton is elected, told Barry, “To say you’re going to build a wall from Brownsville to San Diego -- that is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. And it’s not going to change anything.” (CNN map highlights land-border states; Texas border is the Rio Grande)
"The solution favored among ranchers is infused with a fatalism that nothing will change—government being government, and the cartels always one step ahead—so why bother?" Barry writes. "But here it goes: Intensive, round-the-clock patrols along the border are required for a fence or wall to work; otherwise, those determined to cross will always find a way. But, they argue, if you have boots on the ground, you will have no need for anything so beautiful as the Great Wall of Trump."

Border patrols say arrests in the Tucson sector—which covers about 90,000 square miles, with 262 miles of border—totaled 63,397 in the 2015 fiscal year, a tenth of the figure in the 2001 fiscal year. But locals say that while migrants are fewer, drug traffickers are more plentiful.

Some say talk of a wall at least brings more attention to the problem. New Mexico resident Crystal Foreman Brown told Barry, "Trump’s fence issue at least brings up the issue that there is an issue. For officials in Washington to act like we’re being silly and hysterical—it’s kind of inconceivable.” (Read more)

Study finds over 1/2 of e-cigs are mislabeled, with incorrect nicotine amounts; most not child-proof

E-cigarettes, which are growing in popularity among youth, especially in rural areas, are often mislabeled, says a study by researchers at North Dakota State University, published in the latest Journal of Pediatric Nursing. Researchers said that "of the 70 collected e-liquid samples that claimed to contain nicotine, 17 percent contained more than the labeled quantity and 34 percent contained less than the labeled quantity by 10 percent or more, with one sample containing 172 percent more than the labeled quantity."

Researchers also found that of the 94 e-liquid containers sampled, only 35 percent were determined to be child-resistant. Minors were also found to be present in stores, but researchers did not witness any sales to minors. The Food and Drug Administration, which announced in May it was assuming regulatory authority over electronic cigarettes, prohibited sales to anyone under 18. (Read more)

States are learning how to prevent earthquakes linked to oil and gas drillers' disposal wells

In Kansas and Oklahoma, where an increase in earthquakes has been linked to oil and gas companies' wastewater injection wells, the states have found a solution to help reduce man-made seismic activity, Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. Since placing restrictions in March on "oil and natural gas operations in certain hotspots, Oklahoma is feeling an average of about two earthquakes a day, down from about six last summer, and Kansas is feeling about a quarter of the tremors it once did."

Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015—more than 900 of magnitude 3.0 or higher—than the combined total of every state except Alaska. Before the oil and gas boom that began in 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. Oklahoma, which had 701 earthquakes of 2.8 magnitude or higher through the first six months of 2015, had 619 during that time period this year. (Stateline graphic: Oklahoma earthquakes)
"Using a growing body of research, along with trial and error, scientists and state regulators are gradually getting closer to pinpointing the cause of the startling increase in earthquakes in the Central and Eastern U.S., and preventing them," Fifield writes. "The general cause, scientists have found, is not drilling, but what happens after, when operators dispose of wastewater that comes up naturally during the oil and gas extraction process. The operators inject the wastewater into disposal wells that go thousands of feet underground, which can increase fluid pressures and sometimes cause faults underneath or nearby to move."

"To gather more data, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas are expanding their seismic monitoring systems this year, placing permanent stations across the states and moving temporary stations to new hotspots," Fifield writes. "And Oklahoma and Texas hired more staff or are contracting with scientists to study the geology of areas where earthquakes are occurring, the details of the quakes that happen, and the oil and gas activity that may be associated with them."

"About 7 million people across the Central and Eastern U.S. are now at risk of man-made shaking powerful enough to crack walls and rattle items off shelves, according to a one-year United States Geological Survey forecast released in March," Fifield writes. "The report outlined the risk from man-made earthquakes for the first time, listing the states with the highest risk in order as Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas." (Read more)

Western ranchers say resurgence of gray wolves is putting livestock at risk

A resurgence of gray wolves in Western states has put livestock in harm's way, Elaine S. Povich reports for Stateline. "As gray wolves multiply and come off endangered species lists in Western states, a new problem has emerged: Packs of wolves are harassing ranchers, their sheep and cattle. And states are trying to walk the line between the ranchers, who view the animals as an economic and physical menace, and environmentalists, who see their reintroduction as a success story." (National Geographic photo)

Donny Martorello, wolf-policy chief in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Povich, “It really is about having a large carnivore back on the landscape that has been absent for decades. If you are in a rural community, there is that uncertainty that it will threaten your way of life and how you support your family. The larger society has made the call that they value wildlife and our job is to steer [wolves] toward recovery. Wolves are doing quite well. Is there an option not to have wolves in Washington? That is not in our foreseeable future.”

Gray wolves, which have been listed as endangered or threatened in many states, have been de-listed in Montana, Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and north-central Utah, Povich writes. "In Montana and Idaho, wolves may be hunted, within tight restrictions and seasons. In the other states, there is no legal hunting of wolves. But in the parts of Oregon, Utah and Washington where wolves have been de-listed, states are empowered to eliminate wolves that have been proven to be a menace to livestock, dogs or humans, and to provide compensation for lost livestock."

Some ranchers complain that an increase in wolves has negatively affected numbers in other ways, Povich writes. Washington rancher Len McIrvin said an increase in wolves has made his cows "more skittish and haven’t calved as often since the wolves have been around." He said "when wolves harass cattle, 20 percent of the cows don’t calve in the spring, compared with a normal 2 to 3 percent." Sheep herders say the same can be said for their numbers. (Read more)

One of world's largest food suppliers says it will make global switch to cage-free eggs by 2025

Paris-based Sodexo, one of the world’s largest food suppliers, announced today that it would switch to cage-free eggs and egg products in the U.S. by 2020 and worldwide by 2025, Karin Brulliard reports for The Washington Post.

"The announcement by a major international company is a sign that the rapid shift in the U.S. to cage-free eggs, led by consumers but long championed by animal-rights activists, is going more global," Brulliard writes. The decision "will affect both liquid eggs and the 250 million shell eggs the company purchases annually for use at 32,000 schools, hospitals, corporations and other sites it services in 80 countries. . . . Battery cages—small wire enclosures whose floors are smaller than a piece of letter-sized paper—are banned in the European Union, and Sodexo said in a statement that it already uses only cage-free eggs in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium." (Read more)