Saturday, September 24, 2016

S.D., N.C, N.M, Iowa and N.Y. papers win top prizes from National Newspaper Association

Iowa's Sioux City Journal, The Pilot of Southern Pines, N.C., New Mexico's Taos News, the N'West Iowa Review of Sheldon and the Mid-Hudson Times of Newburgh, N.Y., won the general-excellence awards in their circulation categories of the Better Newspaper Contest of the National Newspaper Association. (Click image for larger version)
The Journal won the prize in the daily division. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle of Cheyenne placed second, The Union of Grass Valley, Calif., third and the Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, Calif., fourth.

The Pilot, a thrice-weekly, won among weeklies of 10,000 or more circulation. The Idaho Mountain Express of Ketchum was second, The Washington Missourian third and the Livingston Parish News of Louisiana fourth.

The Taos News won among weeklies with circulations of 6,000 to 9,999. The Jackson Hole News & Guide of Wyoming was second, and The Ellsworth American of Bar Harbor, Maine, was third.

The Review (which uses all caps for its name, a style we don't follow) won the 3,000-5,999 category. The Buffalo Bulletin of Wyoming was second, the Hutchinson Leader of Kansas was third and the Fountain Hills Times of Arizona fourth.

Among the smallest papers, following the Mid-Hudson Times were the Glenrock Independent of Wyoming, the West Point News of Nebraska and The Ark of Tiburon, Calif.

The contest is open to members of NNA, an organization for community newspapers. "This is an extremely competitive contest," said Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, which acts as headquarters for NNA. It also includes an advertising competition.

The winners for best local news coverage were the Litchfield Independent Review of Minnesota, circulation under 3,000; the N'West Iowa Review, 3,000-5,999; and the Idaho Mountain Express, 6,000 or more.

Winners for best investigative story or in-depth series were The Press-Republican, a daily of Plattsburgh, N.Y., for coverage of a prison break; the New Times, a large weekly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., for a package on lingering health problems of workers at a plant; and the Yamhill Valley News-Register of McMinnville, Ore., a medium-sized weekly, for a series on a drought; and The Hennessey Clipper, a small Oklahoma weekly, for stories about a school board's efforts to get state investigative records about a coach.

The Tribune Eagle and the Buffalo Bulletin won for best editorial pages in large and small circulation categories, respectively. The Echo Press of Alexandria, Minn., was judged to have the best website.

For an Excel spreadsheet of the editorial contest winners, by category, click here. For a list by newspaper, go here. For a PDF of a newspaper with the winners and many examples of their work, click here.

Tennessee governor tells newspapers that their civic role has never been more important

Bill Haslam ( image)
Newspapers have never been more important in helping the public understand increasingly complex issues, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told members of the National Newspaper Association as they gathered this week for heir annual convention in Franklin, Tenn., just south of Nashville.

"What you all do has never been as important as it is today," Haslam said, because citizens have more diverse information sources that get less editing, and many that are more aimed at seeking audience through entertainment than providing news.

The Republican governor and former business executive said those factors make it more important than ever to provide "balance and community responsibility. . . . It matters a lot that people understand the issues." He added, "The complexity of those issues is getting greater and greater."

One example Haslam may have had in mind was his desire to expand Medicaid under federal health reform, a plan that has been supported by Tennessee hospitals and other health-care interests but so far has been thwarted by more conservative Republicans.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Maps chart voter registration by state from 2008-2014: 35 million eligible voters not registered

At least 35 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote, Rebecca Beitsch reports for Stateline. Maps are available to compare voter registration in states in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. (Stateline map: Voter registration by state in 2014)
Hawaii has the lowest rate of eligible residents registered to vote, at 64 percent, followed by Wyoming (67.4 percent), Nevada (68.5) and Utah (69.9). One of the states with the highest numbers, Oregon (84.2 percent), in 2015 became the first state to add automatic registration, which registers people to vote when they apply for a license. Since the Oregon law went into effect more than 232,000 people have been automatically registered to vote, an increase of 10 percent, Beitsch reports. Others states, such as California, Connecticut, Vermont and West Virginia, have approved automatic registration.

"Under the federal Motor Voter Act, which went into effect in 1995, states must offer to register any eligible citizen who seeks a new driver’s license or public assistance," Beitsch writes. "But in many states, the law hasn’t fulfilled its potential, in part because the process often trips up would-be applicants and many state workers don’t consider it a high priority." Critics, such as New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie," say connecting registration to driver’s licenses, which are available to people who are not U.S. citizens, opens the process to fraud."

Advocates say automatic registration is one way to get more people to the polls. Other ways are online registration, which is currently available in 33 states, and same-day registration, available in 13 states, Beitsch notes.

Rise in 'dark money' political contributions fuel House, Senate races in battleground states

Political spending of "dark money," from donors whose names do not have to be disclosed, is on the rise, especially in hotly contested races in battleground states such as Nevada and Arizona, Paige Blankenbuehler reports for High Country News. An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found that more than $308 million in dark money was spent during the 2012 election, compared to $102.4 million in 2008. Numbers are 10 percent higher this year, with more than $30 million in dark money—more than $19 million on Republicans, more than $11 million on Democrats—spent on Western candidates. (High Country News graphic: dark-money contributions)
More than $4 million in dark money has been spent on the Nevada race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, Blankenbuehler writes. Republican Joe Heck, who holds a slight lead in most polls, has received $2,028,671 in dark money, while Democrat Christine Cortez Masto has received $1,520,364. The race ranks fifth in dark-money spending, behind the presidential election and Senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, which also are battleground states.

The U.S. House race in Nevada between Republican Danny Tarkanian and Democrat Jacky Rose has attracted more than $1.8 million in anonymous funding, ranking it eighth in dark money spending, Blankenbuehler reports. Arizona’s Senate seat, between Republican incumbent John McCain and Democratic House Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, has attracted more than $1.5 million—10th among all races.

More than half of all dark money in the West—$18,724,079—has been spent to attack opponents, Blankenbuehler writes. "Nevada and Arizona's Senate races stand out not only in the West but also on a national scale. For both states, this election season is crucial: Since 2012, Democrats have held sway in Nevada and Republicans are vying for more influence in the important battleground state; Arizona, while securely red historically, may be trending more purple this year."

More than 100 million prescription opioids for dental surgery unused by patients, study projects

Fifty-four percent of prescription painkillers—more than 100 million pills—prescribed each year for surgical tooth extraction remain unused after three weeks, says a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Researchers say the surplus is troubling, because studies show that people who abuse opioids often use leftover pills that were prescribed to friends and erlatives.

The study, of 79 patients prescribed prescription painkillers after dental surgery, found that only five took all the pills they were prescribed. "The majority of patients (94 percent) received a prescription for an opioid medication to manage pain, with 82 percent also receiving a prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and 78 percent received a prescription antibiotic. On average, participants who did not have post-surgical complications (93 percent) received prescriptions containing 28 opioid pills, but three weeks following surgery had only used 13, leaving more than 1,000 unused opioid pills."

Researchers say most patients stopped taking the pills within five days because they were no longer in pain. When asked to rate pain on a scale of 1 to 10, patients reported an average score of 5 only 24 hours after surgery, 51 percent said from zero to 3 on the second day, and 80 percent reported no pain after five days.

Co-author Elliot V. Hersh wrote: “Research shows that prescription-strength NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, combined with acetaminophen, can offer more effective pain relief and fewer adverse effects than opioid-containing medications. While opioids can play a role in acute pain management after surgery, they should only be added in limited quantities for more severe pain.” (Read more)

Scientists answer climate change questions that Republican skeptics asked an Obama official

Republican climate-change skeptics in the U.S. House peppered an Obama administration official with questions Wednesday. No scientist was part of the discussion, so Brittany Patterson and Kavya Balaraman of Environment and Energy News asked some scientists to comment. Their replies get beyond the politics and to the scientific facts or strongly supported scientific conclusions.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-N.Y.) said, "I was struck by his noting that the glaciers in Yosemite were disappearing. It occurred to me that had he given that speech on that very spot 12,000 years before, he would have been covered by nearly 3,000 feet of ice. Doesn't that pre-date the invention of the SUV? I think we can agree that global warming has been going on for a long time. It has been going on and off since the last ice age."

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said: "Those statements betray a profound ignorance of what the science has to say. They confuse anecdotal claims from individual regions with quantitative evidence of past climate changes." Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University, added: "It's happening so fast, that's what is unique. Those of us who have lived long enough have personal experience of warming having happened over our lifetimes (less snow, later pickup of leaves, warmer temperatures in our favorite swimming hole, etc.). And the data show that the trend is accelerating. We know from ice cores that climate has never changed that fast in the past million years."

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) asked, "How do you explain the fluctuations in CO2 levels pre-Industrial Revolution?" Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says "The carbon cycle is fundamentally tied to both the climate and to life itself and one should expect that factors that affect either will also affect the carbon cycle. Over very long time (multi-million year) timescales, carbon dioxide levels are set from a balance between volcanic gases and weathering of exposed rocks."

Jacob added: "CO2 responds to changes in vegetation and to changes in the ocean. So as the planet changes the CO2 concentration also changes. For example, CO2 is lower during glacial climates, and it was higher than today at the time of the dinosaurs. We know from ice cores that the CO2 concentration today is higher than it has been for the past 800,000 years. Also that the rate of increase in CO2 over the past century is unprecedented."

LaMalfa also asked, "What percentage of the CO2 production in the world today is caused by what people do versus what the planet itself does?" Jacob said, "Only a small percentage, but that is what causes the trend. The natural sources and sinks of CO2 are in equilibrium but the additional CO2 emitted by people doesn't all get taken up — half stays in the atmosphere and accumulates."

Schmidt said: "The natural cycle of CO2 was roughly in balance for the last 10,000 years or so — with inputs of CO2 into the atmosphere balancing removal of CO2 into the land biosphere and ocean. Estimates of this natural flux are around 90 gigatons of carbon in each direction per year. Current human-caused additions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are around 10 gigatons of carbon per year only a small part of which is being balanced by increased removal. Thus each year the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing by about 2 to 4 parts per million (ppm) due to the current imbalance. The net effect of human activity has been to raise CO2 levels from 280 ppm to over 400 ppm today — an over 40 percent increase." (Read more)

Ky. Supreme Court says anonymous online critics can be unmasked only if claims are proved false

Pikeville, Ky. (Best Places map)
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that "anonymous critics on the internet can’t be unmasked by a defamation lawsuit unless the plaintiff proves with evidence that what they said was false," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by an Eastern Kentucky lawyer and chairman of a local airport board who sued two unknown posters for calling him a thief, embezzler and criminal on Topix.

The court wrote: "Without free comment on matters of public concern, totalitarianism can arise. And naturally, when public speech is ‘free,’ that speech will contain comments critical of those who seek to govern,. Indeed, it is inherent in a democracy that only by exercising one’s voice can the individual citizen truly participate in the governance of society. Sometimes, negative things just need to be said.”

Critics accused Pikeville lawyer Bill Hickman of "manipulating land appraisals, building himself an airplane hangar at airport expense and generally wasting millions of dollars in public funds," Cheves writes. He sued the posters, named as John Does 1 and 2, "for defamation and filed an affidavit that said their comments were 'not true and are totally baseless.'" He had hoped to unmask the defendants through subpoenas issued to Topix and the local internet service provider and demanded that their lawyer reveal their identities. Hickman's lawyer, who said they are pretty sure they know the identities of the posters, said his client is confident he can prove the allegations are false.

Larry Webster, attorney for the defendants, called the ruling a "victory for free speech." He told Cheves, “Especially in a small community, when you take on the establishment, it can lead to consequences, to ostracism, to repercussions. There can be more freedom of expression when people don’t have to fear what will happen to them for speaking out.” (Read more)

Most New Hampshire counties projected to see growth, but average age keeps increasing

Loss of population in rural areas is a concern in many states. New Hampshire is experiencing a different phenomenon. Nine of the state's counties are predicted to grow, but much of that growth consists of an influx of older residents, Gretchen Grosky reports for the New Hampshire Union Leader. It's projected that by 2040 one-third of the population of the Granite State, already the second oldest in median age, will be 65 and older, according to a report from the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning. (NHOEP graphic)
New Hampshire officials estimate that by 2040 there will be 408,522 residents 65 or older—a 129 percent increase over the 2010 Census report of 178,268—and residents 85 and older is projected to be 85,121, an increase of 244 percent, Grosky writes. The only county not to see growth, Coos County, is expected to see a 22 percent drop in the number of school age children by 2040. A state official said Coos County is already the state's oldest county. (Read more)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rural broadband adoption leads to higher levels of voting and civic engagement, study finds

Rural residents who use broadband are more likely to vote and even more likely to contact a public official, says a study by Oklahoma State University's Brian Whitacre and Jacob Manlove, published in the academic journal Community Development. The study, based on 50,000 respondents from the Census Bureau's 2011 Current Population Survey, found a "positive relationship between higher broadband and certain measures of engagement," Whitacre and Manlove write for the Daily Yonder. (Chart: Instances of voting in rural communities went up as broadband adoption increased)
The study found that "as rates of rural broadband adoption increase, so do rates of voting in local elections, contacting local public officials, joining a neighborhood group and discussing politics with friends or family," Whitacre and Manlove write. "Interestingly, however, higher broadband adoption also meant less talking with neighbors, and less confidence in corporations. The number of community anchor institutions, meanwhile, was positively related to items like talking with neighbors, asking for favors from neighbors, and trusting people in neighborhoods." (Chart: Instances of contact public officials in rural communities went up as broadband adoption increased)
To account for other factors that affect civic engagement, such as education, income, race, and age, researchers ran an additional analysis using individual-level data that controlled for those factors, Whitacre and Manlove write. They "still found that broadband adoption had a significantly positive impact on several specific measures of civic engagement: contacting public officials, boycotting a company, joining a sports organization, becoming an officer in an organization, and discussing politics with family or friends."

"There were, however, negative relationships with seeing or hearing from friends, talking with neighbors, and confidence in corporations," Whitacre and Manlove write. "Perhaps most importantly, simple 'access' didn’t have much of an impact—demonstrating that getting people to actively use the technology is most important for getting them civically engaged." (Read more)

Writer sees rural-urban divide creating two one-party nations, hampering governance

Lee Drutman
The rural-urban political divide is creating two one-party nations, opines Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America, in a column for The New York Times. "Most large cities, college towns, the Northeast and the West Coast are deep-blue Democratic. Ruby-red Republican strongholds take up most of the South, the Great Plains, the Mountain States and the suburban and rural areas in between."

"Rather than compete directly against each other, both parties increasingly occupy their separate territories, with diminishing overlap and disappearing common accountability," he writes. "They hear from very different constituents, with very different priorities. The minimal electoral incentives they do face all push toward nurturing, rather than bridging, those increasingly wide divisions."

Presidential candidates in recent years, especially Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this year, are ignoring large parts of America, with Trump instead largely focusing on rural areas and Clinton on urban ones, Drutman writes. "In the 2012 presidential election, only four states were decided by five or fewer percentage points, and the median state-level margin of victory was a whopping 16.9 percent (in other words, not even close). Compare that with the 1976 presidential election, when 20 states were decided by five or fewer percentage points (and 31 were decided by eight percentage points or fewer), and the median state-level margin of victory was 5.9 percent."

Those trends are true in the House, Senate and some state elections, where many races have been one-sided, Drutman writes. "These patterns are likely to continue: The current partisan geography is a natural political alignment. Around the world, urban areas tend to be left-leaning and cosmopolitan; rural and suburban areas tend to be conservative and populist." (NYT graphic)

"The deeper problem is that a system without much effective two-party competition is a system that pushes entirely in the opposite direction," he writes. "If a vast majority of seats are now safe for one party or the other, candidates don’t face any re-election incentive to reach out to the other party’s voters. Instead, they increasingly focus on the fear of a primary challenge. Especially on the right, this looming primary challenge (even if it is rare) means that members do not want to be seen as compromisers. This does not bode well for a functioning Congress." (Read more)

Rural-urban gap grows on immigration, trade, led by Trump's call for walls, border restrictions

Sadiq Khan
Integration, inclusion and openness, not walls, suspicion and profiling, are the best chance to defuse terror and maximize economic growth, London mayor Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim elected mayor of a major Western city, has been preaching during a tour of the U.S., Ronald Brownstein reports for The Atlantic. Those differing ideals have created a rural-urban divide in many countries like the U.S., especially among rural Donald Trump supporters, who favor border walls and immigration restrictions.

Like many industrialized nations, these issues have divided the U.S, creating an increasing rural-urban gap, fueled by Trump's growing strength in places that feel left behind, Brownstein writes. Most urban cities in the U.S. view immigrants "as a source of economic and cultural vitality, trade as an engine of prosperity and integration of Muslim communities as the central defense against radicalization and terror. All of this collides with the bristling defensive nationalism championed" by people like Trump.

People like Trump "raise alarms against trade and immigration and portray greater restrictions and surveillance as the key to fighting Islamic terror," Brownstein writes. "Stressing isolation over integration, Trump responded to the New York attacks by reiterating his calls for limiting Middle Eastern immigration and expanding law enforcement profiling of 'people that maybe look suspicious.'"

"Almost everywhere, these messages have struggled in large urban areas and resonated in smaller places, especially those that have little tradition of racial diversity or have lost manufacturing jobs to trade," Brownstein writes. "The choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton is virtually certain to widen an already imposing metropolitan divide: in 2012, President Obama won America’s 100 largest counties by a combined margin of 12 million votes while losing the other 3,000 by about seven million votes." (Read more)

Rural areas that attract many tourists should be on alert for terrorist activity, suspicious behavior

While major cities are often the target of terrorist attacks, officials say rural areas, especially ones that attract large numbers of tourists, should be on the alert, report Cara Chapman of the Press-Republican in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Joe Mahoney, state reporter for the paper's owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (Best Places map)

Craig DuMond, undersheriff of Delaware County, said "targets may include schools, electrical transmission lines, reservoirs that supply New York City with drinking water or anyplace where people gather, such as county fairs," Mahoney and Chapman write.

The federal government has labeled the area around Buffalo and Niagara as a "high threat target area," because the region, which includes Niagara Falls and the Peace Bridge, the most heavily traveled footbridge on the U.S./Canada border, draws millions of visitors per year, Mahoney and Chapman write. "The region is also home to key infrastructure, such as the Niagara Power Project, the hydroelectric power station above the falls."

David Rousseau, interim dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the State University at Albany, told reporters, "Violence and terrorism have occurred in lots of different rural areas of the U.S, and all jurisdictions have to be in a position to respond and try to prevent these incidents."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposes free photo IDs stamped 'voting purposes only'

Free state-issued IDs proposed in Wisconsin would allow holders to vote, but could not be used for anything else, such as opening a bank account or proving identity when picking up a child from school, Patrick Marley reports for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker said it wants to stamp "voting purposes only" on the IDs, in an effort to encourage residents to pay for IDs that can be used for other purposes.

In 2011 Walker signed a voter-ID law that "required people to show photo ID at the polls, but also made state IDs free to those who said they needed them for voting purposes," Marley writes. That led more people to skip the $28 fee for the ID in favor of the free one. In 2015 the state made $437,000 from ID sales, down from $3.2 million in 2010. The money goes to the state transportation fund.

Officials say forcing residents to pay for IDs would increase transportation revenue by $1 million over two years, Marley writes. That's not sitting well with some. Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, told Marley, "I don’t think the elderly and low-income people who don’t drive should be the state’s target for boosting revenue for transportation spending." Peacock also said having two forms of state-issued IDs could cause confusion.

Wisconsin is one of several states with controversial voter ID laws. Republicans favor voter-ID laws, saying they cut down on voter fraud, but Democrats say there is scant evidence of voter impersonation and the laws make voting more difficult for minorities—who are more likely to vote Democratic.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Census drops bad data showing rural income drop; Trumpers cite it to argue rural areas lagging behind

On Monday the Census Bureau announced it was removing findings from a report that showed rural household incomes were on the decline, Max Ehrenfreund reports for The Washington Post. When the report was released last week it was widely reported that household median incomes rose for the first time since 2007, increasing 3 percent in metro areas and 4 percent in suburban areas, but dropping 2 percent in rural areas. Reports failed to take into account a change in the way metro and non-metro areas were defined from 2014 to 2015. In truth, rural household incomes actually rose 3.4 percent in 2015.

"The flawed estimates were based on the bureau's Current Population Survey, one of several surveys conducted regularly by the bureau," Ehrenfreund writes. "The problem resulted from how, as the population grows and Americans move from one part of the country to another, the bureau must adjust the boundaries that define metropolitan areas. These adjustments, carried out every decade, altered the map for the Current Population Survey last year." Changes in definitions of regions moved about 6 million from rural to urban areas.

Some rural residents, especially those who favor Donald Trump, say they are not benefiting from the rise in incomes, Binyamin Appelbaum, Patricia Cohen and Jack Healy report for The New York Times. Ralph Kingan, mayor of Wright, Wyo., told NYT, "We ain’t feeling too much of all that economic growth that I heard was going on, patting themselves on the back. It ain’t out in the West.” (NYT graphic: Change in annual household income)

The Times writes, "While the economy finally is moving in the right direction, the real incomes of most American households still are smaller than in the late 1990s. And large swaths of the country—rural America, industrial centers in the Rust Belt and Appalachia—are lagging behind. The repeated assertions by Trump that the middle class is being decimated and the economy is in decline ring true to his supporters. Many Americans, even those who are prospering, remain pessimistic about the fragile recovery."

David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, co-authored a study that "found that voting patterns had shifted most in the parts of the country that lost the most jobs as a result of increased trade with China," NYT writes. "The study, which focused on congressional elections, found that voters in districts with heavy job losses have tended toward ideological extremes, replacing moderates with more conservative or liberal representatives."

Some rural counties are among 50 battleground counties to watch in presidential election

Fifty battleground counties could be the deciding factor in the 2016 presidential election, Louis Jacobson reports for Governing. "The outcome of the presidential election is determined by the Electoral College. But in many cases, it comes down to the ballots cast in just a handful of the country's more than 3,000 counties." While most of the counties Governing lists are largely urban, a few are mostly rural. Here's a look at some of those counties.

Marquette County, Michigan
(Wikipedia map)
Marquette County, Michigan: "The Upper Peninsula's biggest county, is historically Democratic, but it's overwhelmingly white and rural, making it a good spot for inroads by Trump," Jacobson writes.

Watauga County, North Carolina (Wikipedia)
Watauga County, North Carolina: The county is "rural and mountainous but also home to a university—Appalachian State—and the high-end tourist community of Blowing Rock, making it a microcosm of the state's urban-rural and young-old divides," Jacobson writes. "It's one of just four counties in the state with more unaffiliated voters than either Republicans or Democrats, and it has been a hotbed of controversy over election rules."

Cedar County, Iowa (Wikipedia)
Cedar County, Iowa: "The county has received attention ever since Al Gore and George W. Bush tied there in 2000, with Gore narrowly winning on a recount," Jacobson writes. "Cedar has gone for the popular-vote winner every four years since 1992 and observers say the results usually align with the statewide outcome."

44.5% of Americans 12 and older took prescription painkillers in 2015; 15.9% of users misused them

Nearly half of all Americans 12 and older took prescription painkillers in 2015, says a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The results, from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (67,500 respondents), found that 119 million people—44.5 percent of the population—used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year. Of the 119 million, 7 million were 12 to 17 years old, 15.5 million were 18 to 25 and 96.6 million were 26 or older. Most people who took prescription painkillers—84.1 percent—did not misuse them. (SAMHSA graphic: Prescription painkiller use among Americans 12 and older in 2015)
About 97.5 million people used pain relievers (36.4 percent), 39.3 million used tranquilizers (14.7 percent), 17.2 million used stimulants (6.4 percent), and 18.6 million used sedatives (6.9 percent). When asked why they used prescription painkillers, 62.6 percent said to relieve physical pain. The most common response for using tranquilizers was to relax or relieve tension (44.9 percent of respondents) or to help with sleep (20.4 percent). When it came to stimulants, the most common responses were to help be alert or stay awake, help concentrate, or help study. Among sedative users, 71.7 percent said they were used to help with sleep.

Among people who misused pain relievers, the most common source of the last pain reliever they obtained was from a friend or relative (53.7 percent). About one third misused a prescription from a doctor and 1 in 20 people who misused pain relievers bought the last pain reliever they misused from a drug dealer or stranger.

Calif., top dairy state, has law to cut methane emissions from cow flatulence, other sources

Environmental Protection Agency graphic
California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill intended to cut methane emissions from sources such as cow flatulence, in the nation's top dairy state, Sharon Bernstein reports for Reuters. Under the bill "the state will cut emissions of methane from dairy cows and other animals by 40 percent and black carbon from diesel trucks and other sources by 50 percent. The bill also mandates the state to reduce emissions of fluorinated gases, or hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigeration."

Enteric fermentation—methane that livestock produce as part of their digestion—accounts for almost one third of the emissions from the agriculture sector, while manure management accounts for about 14 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the sector, Jeremy White reported in August for The Sacramento Bee. California's dairy industry produces 20 percent of the country's milk.

Brown, a Democrat, has signed several bills aimed at climate change in recent weeks, "including one that by 2030 will mandate an overall reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions to 40 percent below the level released in 1990," Bernstein writes. "In addition to black carbon, which comes from trucks as well as the burning of organic material and other sources, the bill also requires reductions in hydrofluorocarbons, used in refrigeration and to power aerosol products."

Employment and education opportunities in Central Appalachia are looking more high-tech

A recent conference in Eastern Kentucky examined ways to revitalize the Central Appalachian economy through job creation and education opportunities in the coal-depleted region. "Big Ideas Fest for Appalachia: Visionary Thinking and Doing" brought together 200 people, including students and teachers, to discuss opportunities to improve the region, while also presenting ideas already in place that are benefiting communities, Tom Eblen reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The best parts of the conference were the reports from students and teachers about how they are learning new technology," Eblen writes. One such project is, an online social learning network that enables "young people and their teachers throughout Central Appalachia’s distant 'hollers' to share ideas, learn about new technology and see what each other are doing with it."

Jay Williams, assistant U.S. commerce secretary for the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and Hal Heiner, secretary of Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Cabinet, spoke about Appalachia’s possibilities, Eblen writes. "Heiner focused on helping students earn some college credits while in high school to help encourage them to move on to post-secondary education, either at college or technical schools, which he thinks haven’t been valued enough as a career pathway. Williams, a former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, discussed the similarities between the collapse of the steel-making industry in his hometown and Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry."

"Speakers from Appalachia talked about the need for more cooperation among counties and regions and more long-term investments in the future, especially for technology infrastructure such as high-speed broadband," Eblen reports. "Rather than trying to bring a lot of outside industry into the region—a strategy that has met little success—many people have focused on developing entrepreneurship among people who already live here and want to stay. The key is not just creating small companies to meet local needs, but to produce goods and services that can be exported to bring more wealth into the region."

South Dakota says no to federal plan for refugees

Refugees are not welcome in South Dakota. Tim Jurgens, director of Lutheran Social Services Center for New Americans, the state's only resettlement program, said it will not participate in the federal effort to resettle refugees escaping poverty and violence, citing the debate over immigration in the state, Patrick Anderson reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. (Leader graphic: Number of refugees relocated in South Dakota)
"Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress about the White House’s plan Tuesday, announcing the administration’s 2017 goal of finding new homes for 110,000 refugees," Anderson writes. Jurgens said the center has no plans to increase its yearly cap of 420 newcomers, "in part because it wants to be mindful of people opposed to welcoming refugees. ... Meanwhile, the group has raised millions of dollars for a new space for its refugee services, and was awarded a $250,000 grant Thursday from the federal government to help immigrants prepare for citizenship." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Land rush for solar farms could net landowners big bucks, but landowners should beware

Solar-panel farm (Getty Images by Peter Macdiarmid)
In many parts of the U.S. there is a rush by solar-power developers to lock up land that would be good for solar-panel farms.

Rural New York landowners are being flooded with offers of big bucks to allow solar panels on their property, David Robinson reports for The Buffalo News. The land rush is similar to the leasing flurry that swept across parts of the state "in the early 2000s as natural gas drillers scrambled to sign leases with landowners in anticipation that the state would approve regulations that allowed the development of highly productive gas wells using the controversial hydraulic fracturing process. That land rush petered out when the state banned fracking."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo "has set a mandate for the state to get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with the state offering its own incentives in addition to federal subsidies to encourage the installation of solar panels across the state," Robinson writes. That's led to an aggressive push "for more electricity to be generated from solar and other renewable sources."

Landowners can earn about $1,500 per acre over a 20-year period for agreeing to solar panels, Robinson writes. Over 20 years that can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.

Big money hasn't been enough to sway some residents, Robinson writes. One such resident, Cemal Basaran, said the contract allowed the company to "opt to lease just a portion of his 116 acres, but signing a deal would prevent him from putting solar panels anywhere else on his property that is within a one-mile radius" of their panels. "He was bothered by restrictions on burning wood and other activities that could reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the panels. And he was concerned about provisions that could allow Cypress Creek to extend the 20-year lease for another 20 years."

Dennis Vacco is a former state attorney general now working with the New York State Farm Bureau to help landowners understand the potential risks and rewards of signing deals to allow solar panels, Robinson writes. He "said landowners should proceed cautiously before signing a lease, including determining whether a solar farm would change the zoning of the land from an agricultural designation, potentially triggering a tax penalty for putting farmland into commercial use. Also, once the lease expires, how much work and money would be required to restore the property to a usable state after the panels are taken out?" (Read more)

National Farm Safety and Health Week runs through Saturday; safety videos are a big hit

National Farm Safety and Health Week began Sunday and runs through Saturday. This year's theme is “Farm Safety: A Legacy to be Proud of.” The week 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," says the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety at Northeast Iowa Community College. The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that agriculture, forestry and fishing combined have 22.2 deaths a year for every 100,000 workers.

A feature being promoted this year is U.S. Agricultural Safety and Health CentersYouTube channel. It includes more than 90 safety and health videos related to agriculture, forestry and fishing, says a press release. Some of the most popular topics have been grain bins, dairy, tractor rollovers, needlestick injuries and heat illness. Recent videos feature dairy stockmanship. Many videos are in English and Spanish.
Now that harvest season is underway, drivers in agricultural areas need to be on the lookout for slow moving tractors on rural roadways, Cindy Larson reports for the News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind. Indiana has created the "Be Alert, Slow Down, Share the Road" campaign to educate residents about the dangers of driving on rural roads during harvest time. The campaign includes safety tips for driving on roads where one might encounter farm equipment.

NRA TV ad for rural areas implies that electing Hillary Clinton will cost you your guns and your life

A new $5 million National Rifle Association advertising campaign aimed at rural areas implies that electing Hillary Clinton could cost you your guns and your life, James Hohmann reports for The Washington Post. The commercial, which begins running today, features a woman asleep in bed when an intruder breaks in. She goes to get her gun from a safe, but the safe appears empty, then the safe disappears. "The spot ends with yellow police tape and cop cars parked in front of the house, leaving the ominous impression that something terrible has happened to the woman."

A female narrator, who says it takes police 11 minutes to respond to a 911 call, says: “Hillary Clinton could take away her right to self-defense. And with Supreme Court justices, Hillary can. Don’t let Hillary leave you protected by nothing but a phone.” 

Half of the $5 million in advertising will go toward broadcast networks in battleground states in rural Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, Hohmann writes. "The other half will run on national cable, including Dish and Direct TV, which disproportionately serves rural communities."

Prescription drug makers spent $880M on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2006-2015

Prescription drug makers spent more than $880 million on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2006-2015 and employed an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists, Liz Essley Whyte, Geoff Mulvihill and Ben Wieder report for the Center for Public Integrity. Groups fighting for tighter prescription restrictions spent about $4 million on political contributions and lobbying and employed an average of eight state lobbyists each year. (Center for Public Integrity graphic)

Analysis by The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that drug makers "often employ a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on the drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl," Whyte, Mulvihill and Wieder write. They have created "a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids."

One problem is that for years groups, such as Pain Care Forum, have touted the vital role of painkillers to lawmakers, Wieder and Matthew Perrone report in a separate story. In 2012 drug makers and Pain Care Forum affiliates sent a study to U.S. senators that estimated that "more than 100 million Americans—roughly 40 percent of adults— suffered from chronic pain... Few knew the report stemmed from legislation drafted and pushed by forum members and that their experts had helped author it."

The groups failed to mention drug overdoses tied to prescription painkillers, Wieder and Perrone write. "Deaths linked to addictive drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet had increased more than fourfold since 1999, accounting for more fatal overdoses in 2012 than heroin and cocaine combined."

The Center for Public Integrity and AP investigation found "similar feedback loops of information and influence play out regularly in the nation’s capital, fueled by money and talking points from the Pain Care Forum, a loose coalition of drugmakers, trade groups and dozens of nonprofits supported by industry funding that has flown under the radar until now," Wieder and Perrone write.

Agriculture secretary begins new round of town-hall meetings on rural opioid abuse

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services map
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has kicked off a new round of town-hall meetings on rural opioid abuse, visiting Tolland, Conn. on Monday. Three more town-hall meetings are scheduled, tonight in Brighton, Colo., Monday in Grants Pass, Ore. and Sept. 29 in Fayettesville, N.C. Vilsack also announced that USDA will display information about addiction resources from the Centers for Disease Control in all of its local offices.

In March Vilsack announced town-hall meetings in New Hampshire, Missouri, Nevada, Mississippi and Appalachia to "bring together local and state government partners, the health community and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue and discuss possible solutions," according to USDA.

Vilsack said in a statement: "Over the past few months, I've seen firsthand the devastation that opioid addiction is causing in communities across the country. After hearing from mothers and fathers who've lost their children to opioid misuse, and listening to mayors and medical personnel appeal for greater treatment resources, it's clear that rural communities need our help. In order to better serve our communities, I've directed USDA's local teams to step up as leaders and expand our resources and programs to battle the opioid epidemic."

In July President Obama called on Congress to approve $1.1 billion in new funding to make opioid treatment available for every American. A White House press release includes county-level maps of every state's opioid and heroin overdose deaths from 2010-14 and how much funding each state would qualify for under the proposal. USDA also in June announced $1.4 million for five Appalachian projects to fight opioid use.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Rural household incomes rose 3.4% in 2015; reports failed to mention change in definitions

Reports last week that said rural households incomes declined in 2015, while rising in all other areas, failed to take into account a change in the way metro and non-metro areas are defined.

Initial analysis of a Census Bureau survey released Tuesday showed that median incomes rose 7.3 percent in metro areas and 4 percent in suburban areas, but dropped 2 percent in rural areas. An American Community Survey (ACS) released on Thursday showed that rural household incomes actually rose 3.4 percent in 2015, Quoctrung Bui reports for The New York Times.

The problem stems from a change in 2015 of the definition of metro and non-metro areas, Isaac Shapiro and Arloc Sherman report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS) used by the Census Bureau, rural areas consisted of 50 million people in 2014, but only 44 million in 2015. The ACS survey consisted of 42 million people in non-metro areas in 2014 and 44 million in 2015. When using ACS data metro and non-metro areas had nearly identical changes in household income. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities graphic: Results from American Community Survey)
Another problem is sample size, Bui writes. CPS used a sample of 100,000 addresses, while ACS uses 3.5 million. "So on balance, the American Community Survey estimates will generally be better for smaller geographic areas than the Current Population Survey. The trade-off is that the CPS asks more in-depth questions regarding income and poverty."

Half of all guns in U.S. owned by 3% of population, says study

Nearly half of the 265 million guns in the U.S. are owned by three percent of the population, says an unpulished study by Harvard University and Northeastern University. Gun owners "tended to be white, male, conservative, and live in rural areas," Lois Beckett reports for The Guardian. The study found that gun ownership increased by 70 million since 1994, but the percentage of Americans who own guns has gone down from 25 percent to 22 percent. (Guardian graphic)

Researchers say the surge in gun ownership is fueled by fear, Beckett writes. Matthew Miller, of Northeastern, told Beckett, “The desire to own a gun for protection—there’s a disconnect between that and the decreasing rates of lethal violence in this country. It isn’t a response to actuarial reality."

Most of the 55 million gun owners own an average of three guns and nearly half own one of two, Beckett writes. About 7.7 million Americans own between eight and 140 guns. The study also found that 400,000 guns were reported stolen last year, compared to an average yearly theft of 230,000, (Read more)

Truckers say regulations for highway speed limitations will increase risk of accidents

Truckers say reducing their highway speeds will not increase safety, but instead will lead to an increased risk of collisions, Tom Krisher reports for The Associated Press. "The government has proposed requiring electronic speed limiters on all trucks and buses over 26,000 pounds manufactured after the regulation goes into effect. Speeds could be limited to 60, 65 or 68 mph when the rule is finalized after a comment period that ends Nov. 7." Critics say truckers, who get paid by the mile, oppose lower speed limits, because it would mean they wouldn't be able to drive as far each day.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that from 2004-2013 an average of 1,044 people died per year in crashes involving heavy trucks on roads with speed limits of at least 55 mph, Krisher writes. "The agency also found that if truck speeds were limited to 60 mph, 162 to 498 lives per year would be saved because the impact of a crash would be less severe. At 65 mph, up to 214 lives would be saved, and as many as 96 would be saved with a 68-mph limit." (NHTSA graphic: Percentage of fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2014)
Truckers argue that slowing their speeds, while allowing cars to continue to drive 70 or faster, increases the chances of trucks being hit from behind by cars, Krisher writes. Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the largest group of independent truckers, said that most accidents involving trucks and cars going the same direction on highways is the result of cars rear-ending trucks. (Read more)

Community newspapers need to report on drug overdose deaths, says writer

Ken Blum
Community newspapers need to confront the drug epidemic by reporting on individual drug overdose deaths, writes Wayne County, Ohio resident Ken Blum in a story that originally appeared on his blog, Black Inklings. Newspapers often write about drug abuse and drug arrests, but refer to drug overdose deaths by saying the person "died unexpectedly."

"It’s not that the problem hasn’t been reported," he writes. "It is that the quantity and quality of the reporting in no way matches the scope of the crisis in this country—not drug use, mind you, but overdose deaths from lethal and illegal drugs, particularly the most demonic and deadly of all, heroin and its monstrous new cousin, unimaginably 50 times more potent than pure heroin—fentanyl."

"My guess is the stigma associated with drug like heroin, and the newspaper’s sensitivity to the feelings of the family of a person who died from overdosing on the most stigmatized drug of all," Blum writes.

"But what good does hiding the cause do?" Blum writes. "Does it inform readers about the human tragedy of an epidemic that’s right under their noses, happening to people they know and respect? Does it alert readers to the danger in their midst—not only the danger of taking opioids, but also the danger of the crimes associated with the culture of drug abuse, such as break-ins, robberies and any one of a hundred crimes to obtain the money to make a buy. Does it help raise the community’s awareness of drug dealers in its midst, and encourage citizens to report suspicious persons to law enforcement?"

Blum continues, "And is it a violation of the fundamental ethics of journalism? A crime has been committed in that someone sold the illegal drug to the victim and possession in itself is a crime; there has been an investigation by law enforcement and an autopsy, and the most ominous result of all for that crime has occurred—a death in your town. How can you not report it, including the name of the victim?" (Read more)

Washington newspaper launches monthly dedicated to state's legal pot industry

The Spokesman-Review has launched a publication dedicated to Washington state's legal marijuana industry, Adreana Young reports for Editor & Publisher. The monthly Spokannabist has grown from an initial 12-page production in May to 16 pages. Dan Fritts, product development manager, told Young, "Our whole vision is that there hasn’t been anything in the local market here that’s being done or produced by local media that’s covering this industry, so we saw that as an opportunity.”

In 2012 Washington was the first state to legalization recreational marijuana, Young writes. The industry is expected to reach $800 million this year. Spokane County, with a population of 479,398, has 18 retail locations.

"While the Spokesman-Review doesn’t have a dedicated staff yet for the Spokannabist, Fritts said that may change depending on the success of it," Young writes. "They’re currently working on growing and solidifying the publication in the region and creating a digital component, which may include a website or an app."

Fritts told her, “We’re trying to be very objective, truthful, and informative. We’re not trying to be pro-industry; we’re not trying to be one of these cultural magazines, if you will. But report the facts and let people know what’s going on.” (Read more)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

As coal declines in Appalachia, what is its legacy in health, including mental health?

As the coal industry declines, rapidly in Central Appalachia, there are "clues suggesting that health and mental-health issues will pose enormous challenges to the affected coal communities, and will linger for decades," Georgia State University biology professor Roberta Attanasio writes for The Conversation US.

Appalachia's death rates are higher than in the nation as a whole, Attanasio notes: "A study that examined the elevated mortality rates in Appalachian coal mining areas for 1979-2005 linked coal mining to 'socioeconomic disadvantages' and concluded that the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighed its economic benefits."

Attanasio notes research showing correlations between mountaintop-removal mining and poor health: "They show that when mountaintop removal increases, well-being decreases. However, they do not show that mountaintop removal directly causes a decline in well-being because of the nature of the pollutants and the nature of the exposure to them. Despite the intricacy of studying this area, links to adverse outcomes such as birth defects, cancer, and lung, respiratory and kidney disease, are undeniable."

Mountaintop mining may also affect some people's mental health, Attanasio writes: "People who gain a strong sense of identity from the land are most likely to experience negative outcomes. Environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia as 'a feeling of chronic distress caused by negatively perceived changes to a home and its landscape,' which he observed in his native Australia due to the effects of coal mining. People who experience solastalgia lack the solace or comfort provided by their home; they long for the home environment to be the way it was before. In a study of Australia published in 2007, Albrecht and collaborators documented the dominant components of solastalgia linked to open-cut coal mining in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales – the loss of sense of place, the feeling of threats to personal health and well-being, and a sense of injustice and/or powerlessness."

Attanasio notes a survey-based study in Central Appalachian areas with and without coal "indicated that individuals who experience environmental degradation caused by mountaintop-removal mining are at increased risk for depression. The study showed that the odds of a score indicative of risk for major depression are 40 percent higher in areas subjected to mountaintop-removal mining when compared to non-mining areas. Furthermore, the risk of major depression is statistically elevated only in mountaintop-removal areas, and not in areas subjected to other forms of mining, even after statistical control for income, education and other risks."