Saturday, October 08, 2016

It's almost deer season, in two ways; here's how likely a vehicle-deer crash is in your state

Photo from Buffalo News via AP
Deer season is almost upon us. But many deer will be killed by motor vehicles, not by guns. And indirectly, they will kill some of the unfortunate motorists in front of which they jump. "They kill more Americans than any other animal," Karen Brulliard reports for The Washington Post. The danger time is "the next three months, when deer are friskily roaming around in search of mates to make fawns with." (Or, "with which to make fawns," if you follow the grammar, as we did at first.)

"Each year, deer in the United States are involved in more than more than 1 million collisions that cause more than 200 human deaths," Bulliard writes. "They also cost a lot of money, according to State Farm, the country’s top auto insurer, which says the average claim hovers around $4,000."

Each year, State Farm uses its claim data from the previous fiscal year to come up with rankings for the likeliest states for collisions with deer. "The most perilous state is West Virginia, whose drivers have a 1 in 41 chance," Bulliard notes. Here's the State Farm map (click on it for a larger version):

Friday, October 07, 2016

Farm Foundation Forum Oct. 19 to examine food, agriculture and rural platforms of Clinton, Trump

The food, agriculture and rural platforms of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be the subject of the Farm Foundation Forum in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The non-partisan foundation provides this opportunity in presidential elections for the candidates or their representatives to focus on issues important to agriculture and rural communities. Foundation President Constance Cullman will moderate the discussion with representatives of the campaigns. Former Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor will represent Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump will be represented by ag adviser Charles Herbster and campaign Co-Chair Sam Clovis. Each will give opening comments, followed by questions and discussion with the audience.

The forum will run from 8 to 10 a.m. EDT at the Holeman Lounge in the National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW. A free, live audiocast will also be available, thanks to Farm Credit. Participants in the live audiocast hear all the discussions and can submit questions. Audio from the session will be posted on the Farm Foundation site, which also has presentations and audio files from past forums.

The foundation says the forum is for people with an interest in agricultural, food and rural policy. There is no charge to participate, but registration is requested. Register here if you plan to attend in person; register here for the live audiocast.

Trump spoke by telephone Wednesday with directors of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which has offered Clinton the same opportunity. For an audio report from Agri-Pulse, click here.

Younger adults prefer text, not broadcast, for news

Here's a somewhat encouraging bit of research for newspapers and other media that rely on text stories, not necessarily on paper: "When asked whether one prefers to read, watch or listen to their news, younger adults are far more likely than older ones to opt for text, and most of that reading takes place on the web," reports Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center.
Overall, more Americans (46%) prefer to watch their news than to read it (35%) or listen to it (17%), a Pew survey found this year. "But that varies dramatically by age," Mitchell reports. The younger the reader, the more likely he or she is to get news online. "About eight in ten (81%) of 18- to 29-year-olds who prefer to read their news also prefer to get their news online; just 10% choose a print newspaper. The breakdown among 30- to 49-year-olds is similar. News readers who are ages 50-64, on the other hand, are more evenly split between a preference for the web (41%) and print paper (40%), while those 65 and older mostly still turn to the print paper (63%)."

"There is also evidence that younger adults who prefer to watch their news are beginning to make the transition to doing so on a computer rather than a television," Mitchell writes. "While 57% of 18- to 29-year-old news watchers prefer to get their news via TV, 37% cite the web as their platform of choice. That is far more than any other age group, including double the percentage of 30- to 49-year-old news watchers."

Norman Rockwell painting of rural newspaper office is on display at his museum in Massachusetts

Norman Rockwell's evocative painting of a rural newspaper office, hidden from public view since the National Press Club realized a few years ago how valuable it was, is now on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., thanks to the anonymous buyer who paid $11.589 million for it last fall.

The painting, "Visit to a Country Editor," was sold because the NPC didn't have proper security for it, after being stored at the museum for safekeeping. Now it is home. A museum spokesman "was tight-lipped about the acquisition, revealing no clues about the buyer’s identity, how the museum recently obtained the painting or how long the piece will remain on display," the Press Club reports in its newsletter. "The display, apparently not actively publicized by the museum, was recently discovered accidentally by Club member Michael Freedman."

Freedman said, “My biggest concern was that the Rockwell would be acquired by someone overseas and would leave the country forever. Was I surprised to see it? That would be an understatement. I was surprised, astonished and thrilled! It literally took my breath away when I turned that corner.”

The illustration of the Monroe County Appeal office in Paris, Mo., appeared in the Saturday Evening Post May 25, 1946. It was inspired by Jack Blanton, left, whom an accompanying article said was probably the nation's best-known "country editor," according to University of Alabama journalism professor Bailey Thompson.

The painting shows Blanton at his typewriter as his printer looks over his shoulder. Rockwell, who included himself in the illustration, coming in the door, spent three days in Paris "detailing the operation of the paper," reported Derek Gentile of The Berkshire Eagle after interviewing a museum official.

"Blanton’s grandson, Carter, a fourth-generation newspaperman, sold the family’s share of the paper in 1992," reported Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, noting that "a faded copy of the Rockwell painting" is displayed in the foyer of the Appeal, which has a print circulation of 826, far less than the 3,000 in Blanton's days, though the population of the county (Wikipedia map) has remained around 9,000. "The latest buyers of the paper have ties to the Chicago area."

Rural veterans are less likely than their urban counterparts to receive mental health care

Rural veterans are less likely than their urban counterparts to receive treatment for mental health conditions, says a study by the federal Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, published in The Journal of Rural Health. About 5.3 million veterans—24 percent of all veterans—live in rural areas, according to Office of Rural Health of the Veterans Health Administration.

The survey, which used data from SAMSHA's 2012-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that veterans in rural areas were 36 percent less likely than urban veterans to receive any mental health treatment, 33 percent less likely to receive outpatient treatment and 44 percent less likely to be prescribed medications. (Table: Percent of respondents answering yes to each question) 
Researchers analyzed the past 12 months for five factors: If patients stayed overnight in a hospital; received outpatient mental health treatment; received psychotropic medication; received any mental health treatment; and whether in the past 12 months they perceived an unmet need for mental health treatment/counseling that was not received. For the last variable respondents were asked, “During the past 12 months, was there any time when you needed mental health treatment or counseling for yourself but didn’t get it?”

Overall, 29 percent of rural respondents said they received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months, compared to 45 percent of urban ones. At the same time, 25 percent of rural respondents said they were prescribed medication, compared to 45 percent of urban veterans and 20 percent of rural veterans received outpatient treatment, compared to 33 percent of rural veterans.

OxyContin sales reps were told to downplay the threat of addiction as they sold the painkiller

Pharmaceutical sales representatives from health-care giant Abbott Laboratories sales reps "were instructed to downplay the threat of addiction with OxyContin and make other claims to doctors that had no scientific basis," David Armstrong reports for Stat, the health-and-medicine supplement to The Boston Globe, after reading internal documents in a lawsuit that were unsealed by a judge.

The documents revealed that offering sugary sweets was the secret to getting one surgeon to listen to sales pitches for OxyContin, and to buy the painkiller, according to internal documents obtained by  Using a tip from nurses that the surgeon liked junk food, the sales rep "showed up with a sheet cake box filled with doughnuts and snack cakes arranged to spell out the word 'OxyContin'," Armstrong reports. (Stat photo illustration)
"The doughnut ploy . . . shows the lengths to which Abbott went to hook in doctors and make OxyContin a billion-dollar blockbuster," Armstrong writes. "The sales force bought takeout dinners for doctors and met them at bookstores to pay for their purchases. In memos, the sales team referred to the marketing of the drug as a 'crusade,' and their boss called himself the 'King of Pain'.”

What Armstrong calls "a treasure trove of internal documents" became available a few months ago, when a Kentucky judge ordered their release in response to a motion by Stat, reported Kentucky Health News, published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which also publishes The Rural Blog: "Documents were part of a state attorney general's lawsuit settled in December by payment of $24 million from Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin."

Armstrong writes, "Abbott, a much larger company than Purdue, had a sales force entrenched in hospitals and surgical centers, and had existing relationships with anesthesiologists, emergency room doctors, surgeons, and pain management teams. Abbott devoted at least 300 sales reps to OxyContin sales—about the same number of people Purdue initially dedicated to the drug—as part of a co-promotional agreement with Purdue."

Abbott marketed OxyContin from 1996 through 2002 after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Armstrong writes. "With Abbott’s help, sales of OxyContin went from a mere $49 million in its first full year on the market to $1.6 billion in 2002. Over the life of the partnership, Purdue paid Abbott nearly a half-billion dollars, according to court records." (Read more)

USDA announces $401M for 26 projects to reduce rural poverty in nation's poorest communities

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Berea, Ky., Thursday to announce $401 million for 26 projects to help reduce rural poverty in some of the nation's poorest and most isolated communities, says a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release. Most of the projects are in Appalachia, the "colonias" along the U.S./Mexico border and in the Mississippi Delta. The grant fund will be managed by Justin Maxson, executive director of North Carolina-based Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and former head of the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.

The grants will make long-term, low-interest financing available to the community-development organizations, which "will 're-lend' the money to build, acquire, maintain or renovate essential community services and facilities, such as education, health care and infrastructure," Jack Brammer reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"Under the program, private financial institutions, including $100 million from Bank of America, will provide guarantees for a portion of the loans," Brammer writes. "The recipient organizations, or 're-lenders,' also must seek grants provided by seven of the nation's premier philanthropic organizations through a $22 million fund."

Vilsack said: "This effort builds on our commitment to lifting up the economic prospects of communities that have not benefited from the revitalization of rural America. By engaging with local and national partners, private-sector financial institutions and philanthropic organizations, USDA will inject a game-changing level of investment capital to reduce poverty in targeted rural areas where the capacity for growth has not been realized. As we have seen with the Obama administration's Promise Zone initiative and USDA's StrikeForce effort, targeted, place-based investments can have a real impact on reducing poverty. This funding adds another important tool in that fight."

UPDATE, Oct. 9: The Herald-Leader praised the effort in an editorial.

Why one rural West Virginia county has pinned its hopes on Donald Trump

What has fueled Donald Trump's rise in places like Logan County, West Virginia (Wikipedia map), coal mining country that once voted solidly Democratic? Trump supporters are aplenty in Logan, a county that voted for a convicted felon over President Obama in the 2012 primary and where the mayor of Logan told Hillary Clinton she's not welcome to campaign in the town, Larissa MacFarquhar reports for The New Yorker.

Locals like Rick Abraham mirror the Trump faithful: "a white Protestant man in the dying coal industry in southern West Virginia, which is one of the parts of the country most deeply and unshakably loyal to Trump, and most deeply and unshakably hostile to Hillary Clinton and President Obama," MacFarquhar writes.

Abraham "is not the Appalachian Trump voter as many people elsewhere imagine him—ignorant, racist, appalled by the idea of a female president or a black president, suspicious and frightened of immigrants and Muslims, with a threatened job or no job at all, addicted to OxyContin," MacFarquhar writes. "Those voters exist, but the political thinking of many others in Trump country is more ambivalent and complicated and non-inevitable than is apparent from signs hung on Main Street or carried at rallies."

Logan, West Virginia (New Yorker photo by Alec Soth)
"The perception that people in West Virginia are voting for Trump because they are racist or ignorant is significant, though, since it’s one of the reasons they’re voting for Trump in the first place," MacFarquhar writes.

Charles Keeney, a history professor at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, in Logan County, told MacFarquhar, “When people talk about Trump, they talk about how they don’t like the establishment or the √©lites. When they say that, they mean who they see on television—they envision people in New York City making fun of them and calling them stupid. Every time you leave the state, you get it—someone will say, Oh, you’re from West Virginia, do you date your cousin? Wow, you have shoes, wow you have teeth, are you sure you’re from West Virginia? So when they see that the media √©lite is driven out of their mind at the success of Donald Trump it makes them want to root for him. It’s like giving the middle finger to the rest of the country.”

MacFarquhar writes, "Another important factor is immigration, but not for economic reasons. In West Virginia, there are practically no immigrants. But Trump has promoted the idea that someone who cares about the fate of people new to the country must care less about those who have been here longer—and this idea resonates among people who believe that the rest of the country doesn’t care about them at all, and doesn’t see them as kin."

"When Clinton talks about Trump voters, she tends to divide them into two categories: bigots (her 'basket of deplorables') and people suffering from economic hardship," MacFarquhar writes. "What’s missing from Clinton’s two categories is a third sort of person, who doesn’t want to think of himself as racist, but who feels that strong borders describe a home. There are many such people, and not just in West Virginia." (Read more)

Perdue Farms says its chickens have no antibiotics

Wall Street Journal photo by Melissa Golden
Perdue Farms says it has eliminated all antibiotics from its chicken supply, making it the first major poultry supplier to comply with a new federal standard, Jacob Bunge reports for The Wall Street Journal. Producers have faced growing pressure from consumer groups that "prompted big restaurant chains, including McDonald’s Corp. and Subway, to unveil plans in recent years to reduce the use of antibiotics in their chicken supplies, following earlier efforts by companies such as Panera Bread Co. and Chick-fil-A Inc."

Fear has grown that "heavy antibiotic use raises the risk that dangerous bacteria could evolve to resist antibiotics that normally kill them, reducing the effectiveness of medicines that for decades have been a key health defense," Bunge writes. "Perdue’s campaign to stop using antibiotics to raise the roughly 13 million chickens the Salisbury, Md., company processes each week follows concerns raised by U.S. and international health officials about the widespread use of antibiotics in both human and animal medicine."

In 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "called on animal drugmakers to stop permitting the use of antibiotics to speed up animal growth," Bunge writes. Companies agreed to comply by 2017.

Weed could boost agriculture in Midwest while producing environmentally friendly biofuel

Pennycress field (Arvegenix photo by Jerry Steiner)
A weed once thought to be a nuisance could be the new crop to boost agriculture in the Midwest, Becky Wildt reports for the Great Lakes Echo, a project of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. Pennycress, which "naturally grows in disturbed areas with little competition, such as harvested corn fields lying bare and unproductive," has seeds that "produce oil that can be used as a raw material for biodiesel." Planted in August or September, near the end of corn season, pennycress grows until late May.

Winthrop Phippen, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Western Illinois University, told Wildt there are environmental benefits to growing pennycress: “I am using ground that farmers leave totally empty over the winter months. And I am squeezing in another crop. And I’m not having to clear wetlands, I’m not having to disturb watersheds or anything. I’m actually improving the watershed because now I’ve got green cover during the winter months. And that helps absorb any leftover nitrogen that may be in the field.” He said that "keeps excess nitrogen from running off into streams and waterways."

Jerry Steiner, chief executive officer of pennycress development company Arvegenix, said the biggest advantage of the crop is that it doesn't take away any land needed to grow food, Wildt writes. He told her, "The biodiesel industry and the renewable-jet-fuel industry are looking for a new feedstocks, the raw material needed to produce biodiesel. But they want feedstocks that don’t compete with food.” (Read more)

ASNE changes membership structure to focus on digital media, not print circulation

The American Society of News Editors announced on Tuesday that effective Nov. 1, "membership tiers for editors and other top news executives will be based on monthly unique visitors of a member's website" rather than print circulation figures, reports ASNE. "The changes were made to reflect ASNE's aim to serve newsroom leaders across all content platforms, with a specific focus on leadership in digital journalism."

Benjamin Mullin reports for Poynter, "Under the previous dues structure, editors and news executives paid membership fees according to their publication's print circulation, with a separate section for online-only news sites. Going forward, that will change. Now, membership will focus on monthly unique visitors. There are different membership tiers for news organizations with more than 10 million unique visitors ($395), 1 to 10 million unique visitors ($295), 500,000 to 1 million unique visitors ($195) and less than 500,000 unique visitors ($95)."

ASNE President Mizell Stewart III, the vice president for news operations for Gannett and the USA Today Network, said the change "is a 'long overdue' acknowledgement that 'digital media is a primary platform for storytelling and where consumers often turn first for news and information.' The leaders of U.S. newsrooms have moved far beyond their roots in daily newspapers, serving readers across every content platform. Now, ASNE’s membership structure reflects that reality."

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Researcher measures digital divide by county; the top 10 'have-not' counties are all rural

Roberto Gallardo, an associate extension professor in the Center for Technology Outreach at Mississippi State University, has created a tool called the Digital Divide Index (DDI) that uses county-level data to determine the largest digital divides in America. DDI, which uses 2014 data but will be updated regularly, combines two measures: infrastructure/adoption and socioeconomic characteristics, to score counties between 0 to 100, with a higher number denoting a larger digital divide, Gallardo writes for the Daily Yonder. (MSU map: Digital divide when taking into account infrastructure/adoption)
Infrastructure/adoption "groups three variables related to broadband availability/adoption (INFA): percent population with no access to fixed broadband 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, number of residential broadband connections, and average advertised download and upload speeds," Gallardo writes. (MSU map: Digital divide when taking into account socioeconomic characteristics)
The socioeconomic-characteristics measure combines three characteristics associated with less adoption of technology: share of population 65+, share 25 and over with less than high-school education, and poverty rate. "The overall DDI score includes both broadband availability/adoption and socioeconomic characteristics," Gallardo writes.

The 10 counties that suffer the most from the digital divide are all rural, led by Humphreys County, Mississippi, which scored a 99.8. Following it are Perry County, Alabama; Issaquena County, Mississippi; La Paz County, Arizona; Presidio County, Texas; Quitman County, Mississippi; Knott County, Kentucky; Noxubee County, Mississippi; Hickory County, Missouri; and Woodruff County, Arkansas. (Read more)

Small rural high school finds a way to get nearly half of students in advanced-placement classes

Paonia, Colo. (Best Places map)
A small rural high school in a coal-depleted region of Colorado has found a creative way to get more students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes, Kate Schimel and Leah Todd report for "Small Towns, Big Change," a High Country News series by seven news organizations in Colorado and New Mexico.

Until 2011, officials at Paonia High School, which only has 16 teachers, "felt training faculty to teach nationally certified AP classes, and recruiting enough students to make them worthwhile, seemed unattainable," Schimel and Todd write. Then came the Colorado Legacy Schools project—launched by education advocacy-and-research group Colorado Education Initiative—which funded innovative ways to increase the number and diversity of students taking AP classes.

Instead of applying for funds to train its own teachers and subsidize test fees, Paonia High "teamed up with two nearby schools, rearranging bell schedules and setting up videoconference classrooms to more than triple their collective AP offerings," Schimel and Todd write. "It’s a promising model for rural, resource-limited schools trying to bring more college-prep opportunities to their few students." Now, 66 of Paonia’s 153 students take at least one AP class.

An AP class at Paonia held via videoconference.
(High Country News photo by Brooke Warren)
"Starting in 2011, schools used the Legacy Schools grant to offer incentives," Schimel and Todd write. "Teachers received $100 for every student who passed the end-of-semester exam, and passing students earned the same payout per test. The grant, which now operates in 47 schools statewide, also relies on an aggressive recruiting campaign. By showing videos, holding assemblies, and visiting classrooms, school staff have tried to change the perception of Advanced Placement courses — from something that just the 'smart' kids do, to classes for anyone who wants to graduate college."

Critics say "if more students take rigorous classes, teachers will water down the curriculum," Schimel and Todd write. "The evidence so far suggests otherwise. Schools using the CEI grant have seen an average of 70 percent higher enrollment in AP classes in the first year, and a nearly equal jump — 65 percent — in qualifying scores. And students who take an AP course through the grant are more than twice as likely to attend and persist through their first year of college."

N.C., 2nd in nation in number of rural people, is one of the biggest presidential battlegrounds

North Carolina, which has more people living in rural areas than any state but Texas, has become one of the biggest battleground states in the presidential election. The state had 3,233,727 rural residents in the 2010 census, 34 percent of the state's population. Mitt Romney narrowly beat President Obama in 2012 in North Carolina, 50.39 percent to 48.45 percent, while Obama slipped past Sen. John McCain in 2008, 49.7 percent to 49.38 percent.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are now locked in a tight battle for the state. Elon University has Clinton leading Trump 45 percent to 39 percent; a Bloomberg poll has Clinton leading 46-45; a Quinnipiac University survey gave Clinton a 3-point lead; WRAL-TV in Raleigh has Clinton up 2 points; and the Real Clear Politics polling average has her leading by 1.3, Tim Marcin reports for International Business News. (North Carolina Rural Center map: County classification)
Clinton, who has already headlined four events in North Carolina since Sept. 1, has spent more than $22 million on advertisement in the state since Aug. 1, Valerie Bauerlein and Laura Meckler report for The Wall Street Journal. Before 2008, Democrats hadn’t won a presidential contest in North Carolina since 1976, but the state is growing, largely in urban areas, which favors Clinton and Democrats. North Carolina grew 5.3 percent from 2000 to 2015, ahead of the national rate of 4.1 percent, says the Census Bureau. The state also has a large transplant population, with about half of its registered voters having moved there from another state.

Another issue is the state's controversial bathroom law, which requires people to use bathrooms and changing rooms in government buildings and schools that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates. The law has led to boycotts and cost the state major sporting events, concerts and tourism dollars. The law is most favored by Republicans and rural residents.

Two other battleground states rank right after North Carolina in number of rural residents. Pennsylvania is third (2.7 million, 21 percent) and Ohio fourth (2.6 million, 22 percent). Perhaps having a big rural population helps you be a battleground state. For a spreadsheet of states with categories of rural and urban population and territory, click here.

Study: 2.5 million could be paying less for health insurance if they took advantage of tax credits

Commonwealth Fund graphic:
People who visited marketplaces, but didn't enroll
About 2.5 million people are overpaying for health insurance because they don't use the government exchanges or marketplaces that provide tax credits to reduce premiums, says a study by the Department of Health and Human Services. Six states—California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and Pennsylvania—each have more than 100,000 residents enrolled in off-market coverage who could be receiving tax credits through the marketplace.

HHS estimates that of the 6.9 million people who have health insurance in the off-exchange individual market, "1.9 million either have incomes that would qualify them for Medicaid or place them in the Medicaid coverage gap, or are ineligible to purchase marketplace coverage due to immigration status, while the remainder could enroll in marketplace-qualified health plans."

Amother problem is that only 46 percent of uninsured adults (as of spring 2015) were aware that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act offers financial assistance, according to a 2015 study by The Commonwealth Fund, report the fund's Sophie Beutel, Sara R. Collins and Munira Z. Gunja. Researchers also found that in 2014 more than half of people who visited the marketplace but did not enroll said they weren’t able to find an affordable plan, even though "most of these people had incomes that made them eligible for premium subsidies."

Coal baron-turned-candidate reaches $900,000 settlement in lawsuit over polluted waters

Justice (by Taz Lombardo, Roanoke Times)
Southern Coal billionaire owner Jim Justice, the Democratic nominee for governor of West Virginia, has agreed to pay a $900,000 civil penalty to settle allegations that his company's mining operations "illegally polluted Appalachian rivers and streams," Jeff Sturgeon reports for The Roanoke Times. Federal officials said they documented 23,693 violations, largely in Kentucky (nearly 13,000) and Virginia (8,800).

The federal lawsuit, "co-signed by Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia regulators, alleges that the company’s discharges 'for iron, total suspended solids, aluminum, pH and manganese' placed its facilities’ operations out of compliance with state permits and laws at various times between 2009 and 2014," Sturgeon writes. "Southern Coal’s West Virginia operations are included in the settlement, though that state isn’t a plaintiff."

The settlement "outlines compliance steps to include increased employee training, third-party audits of company facilities and the posting of water quality test results to a public website," Sturgeon writes. "Those measures, which the government said would reduce the amount of pollutant the company discharges by 5 million pounds a year, could cost an additional $4.5 million."

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Obama says he's been good for rural America

Obama at Farm Bill signing
President Obama, arguably America's most urban president, contended Tuesday that rural America has made steady progress during his administration, as his White House Rural Council prepared to hold what is expected to be its final forum, Wednesday at Pennsylvania State University.

Obama said rural America is making progress through a policy approach "that helps workers retrain and learn the skills they need for a job in the new economy, one that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs to help attract more of the new economy’s jobs to rural communities, one that upgrades our schools – from working toward universal preschool to two years of free community college – so that all our kids have the same chance to reach their potential without having to leave their hometown."

Obama said his administration has invested in in rural schools, supported rural small-business owners, deployed high-speed internet and wireless networks, and built partnerships between businesses and colleges "to help train folks not just for a job, but for a career. And for those struggling with opioid use, we’ve expanded access to treatment to help them get the care they need."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack convened the forum with a focus on rural policy, highlighting strategies for improving economic growth, health care and housing. "While gains are being made, he said, too many rural communities face hurdles that threaten success," reports Roger Van Scyoc of the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., where the forum was held.

Vilsack also announced $32 million in loans and grants aimed to promote economic development and providing access to broadband in more than 80 rural American communities. "While we have made great progress, our work to extend capital and technology to rural America is not done," Vilsack said.

Rural areas' Iraq-and-Afghanistan combat death rate is 41% higher than that of rest of U.S.

The combat death rate of American soldiers from rural areas in Iraq and Afghanistan is 41 percent higher than the rate for soldiers from elsewhere in the U.S., Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. Using analysis from a study by researchers at Boston University and the University of Minnesota published in the Memphis Law Review the Yonder found that of 6,400 soldiers killed (at the time of the study) 523 were from rural areas, an average of 27.7 deaths per every one million residents. The rate in small cities of 10,000 to 50,000 residents was 28.2 deaths per every million residents. While urban areas had the most deaths, 5,099, the rate was 18.6 deaths per every million residents.

Some studies have shown that nearly half of military recruits come from rural areas, which account for only 15 percent of the U.S. population. BU and UM researchers credit this to rural areas' shortage of education and employment opportunities. The study, "Invisible Inequality: The Two Americas of Military Sacrifice," looked at 500,000 casualties since World War II, finding that "today, unlike in World II, the Americans who die or are wounded in war are disproportionately coming from poorer parts of the country."

Researchers wrote: "We find that both fatal and non-fatal casualties in America’s wars have come from parts of the country that are lower on the socioeconomic ladder. And those differences—small during World War II—have grown In sum. We believe there is extremely strong evidence that poorer parts of America are bearing a greater share of the human costs of war.” (Yonder map: Iraq and Afghanistan casualties by county population type)

Rise in opioid use leading to more babies born addicted to drugs; few hospitals are prepared

A rise in opioid use, especially in rural areas, is leading to a growing number of babies born addicted to drugs, something many hospitals are not prepared to handle, reports Stateline. Eight years ago, most hospitals typically only saw one or two cases a year of neonatal abstinence syndrome; now, every 25 minutes a baby is born is suffering from opioid withdrawal, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (Stateline graphic: A rise in babies born addicted to opioids is leading to higher hospital costs)
"When a pregnant woman uses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, some of the substances pass through the placenta to the baby," Stateline notes. "In many but not all cases, exposure to opioids, alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy can cause the fetus to develop physical drug dependence. When the umbilical cord is cut at birth, the newborn is abruptly disconnected from its supply of drugs and can suffer withdrawal symptoms, much like adults do. Symptoms include excessive crying, sleep problems, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures and muscle cramps."

Treatment—gradually tapered doses of either morphine or methadone over three to six weeks—is simple and effective, but costly, reports Stateline. "The cost of caring for a drug exposed newborn in a hospital is nearly 20 times the cost of hospital care for a healthy infant."

Fact checking VP debate on immigration, border security, jobs, deportation, Obama's jobs record

Kaine and Pence (Photo: Andrew Gombert, Getty Images)
The vice-presidential debate between Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine contained plenty of factual errors. We only have room here for a few. 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.

Pence said Hillary Clinton and Kaine “have a plan for open borders.” Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Pence exaggerates . . . Clinton has said she would expand Obama’s executive actions on immigration and has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. But she also has supported enhanced border security. And her immigration proposal includes 'humane, targeted and effective' enforcement and focusing immigration resources on detaining and deporting those 'who pose a threat to public safety.'”

Kaine's claim of “15 million new jobs” during President Obama's term was off base, Kessler and Lee write: "Counting from January 2009, there have been nearly 11 million private-sector jobs created in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you count all jobs, including government jobs, the figure is 10.5 million. So how does Kaine come up with 15 million? He’s counting from the low point for jobs in Obama’s presidency, February 2010. When you start the clock from then, the tally is 15 million private-sector jobs and 14.8 million overall jobs."

Pence disputed Kaine's claim that Donald Trump "was proposing a 'deportation force' to 'go house to house' and send away millions of immigrants who are here illegally," reports "Trump did say that."

Kaine claimed that Pence called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “better leader” than President Obama, reports Pence didn't call Putin a "better leader" but he did call Putin a “stronger leader.”

Coal not coming back 'no matter who is elected in November,' says Kentucky Power president

Coal is not coming back “no matter who is elected in November," Greg Pauley, president and chief operating officer of Kentucky Power, told the Kentucky Governor’s Conference on Energy and the Environment last month, Curtis Tate reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Pauley said natural gas "is the primary reason why coal is on the ropes."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he will revive the coal industry, but also supports natural gas development from hydraulic fracturing, and coal will continue to struggle as long as natural gas is more cost-effective, Tate notes. U.S. coal use declined 29 percent from 2007 to 2015. It costs $95 per megawatt hour to generate power from conventional coal, compared to $73 per hour from gas.

Pauley said gas, which is expected to overtake coal this year as the country’s No. 1 source of power, "could continue to under-price coal for the next 20 to 50 years," Tate writes. "Pauley also cited stagnant or lower demand for residential power, increasing energy efficiency and the declining cost of renewable energy as factors pressuring coal." Kentucky Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Powerhas already transitioned one of its Eastern Kentucky coal-fired power plants to natural gas.

Terry Anderson, journalist and former hostage, is retired but fighting for animal rights

Terry Anderson
Terry Anderson, who was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years by Hezbollah when he was chief Mideast correspondent for The Associated Press, is now an animal rights' activist, Courteney Stuart reports for WCAV-TV in Charlottesville, Va. Anderson, who retired this year from teaching journalism, is working with Virginians for Change to Animal Legislation, "which is pushing for tougher animal welfare laws" in response to a raid and rescue last year of a Virginia farm where at least 71 horses, 28 cats and seven dogs were removed, either dead, starving or in poor health.

Anderson told the station, "You just do what you have to do. You wake up every day, and you summon up the energy from somewhere, even when you think you haven't got it. ... There is a lot of unnecessary cruelty on the local level here that needs to be addressed and isn't being addressed."

Anderson, who lives near Orange County, Virginia (Wikipedia map) is involved in other activities, Stuart writes. "He's honorary chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and as a Marine veteran, he started a charity that has built more than 50 schools in Vietnam."

Fish and Wildlife moves to protect rare fish hurt by water pollution from surface coal mining

Kentucky arrow darter
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the Kentucky arrow darter, a small fish found only in southeastern Kentucky, has been listed as threatened, reports the Center for Biological Diversity. Water pollution from surface coal mining is largely blamed for the decline in species. The Kentucky arrow darter, once found at 74 sites, now only exists at 36. Of the 38 site losses, 16 have taken place since the mid-1990s in regions where mountaintop-removal mining occurs. Fish and Wildlife "also protected 248 miles of streams in 10 counties as 'critical habitat' for the fish.'"

Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the center, said in a statement: “The Kentucky arrow darter and the streams it depends on have been absolutely devastated by surface coal mining. Endangered Species Act protection will not only help the darter survive, but will also help protect the health of the people who have to live with polluted water and air from coal mining every single day.” (Read more)

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Trump's 'Make America great again' resonates loudly, clearly in rural areas that feel left behind

Residents in some rural areas, particularly ones hurt by an economic downturn, may not be sure Donald Trump is the answer, but his slogan "Make America Great Again" hits close to home, Kevin Hardy of the Des Moines Register reports for USA Today. Rural areas could decide battleground states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin, states where rural residents make up more than 30 percent of voters.

Residents in some rural towns, such as Creston, Iowa (Best Places map), are desperate for a change to fix their local economies, and think Trump is their best bet, Hardy writes. Sharon Hower, a retired resident of Creston, told Hardy, “I don’t know what he can do, but I’d like to give him a chance to see. We’re on a downhill slide and anything he could do would be an improvement.”

Hardy writes: "Such attitudes, experts say, should come as no surprise. Because if people in any place yearn to be made great again, it’s in rural America. Clinton has promised to build on the achievements of the Obama era, offering policy recommendations to improve health care, the economy and taxes. Trump, on the other hand, paints a darker picture of a limping nation in need of more radical change. That’s a message that seems tailor-made for rural America."

Wayne Steger, a political science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, who researches the American presidency, told Hardy, “These communities are nowhere near as vibrant as they were 50 years ago. And they’re older. That message is absolutely is going to resonate. And Donald Trump a little more so because he is anti-establishment.”

Hardy writes, "In small towns throughout the heartland, people reminisce about better days. Days when downtown storefronts were occupied and humming. While the rural landscape has been changing for decades, many people sense a fresh set of threats. Facing dwindling dollars and students, community schools continue to close and consolidate. Good-paying manufacturing jobs have vanished amid a wave of globalization and automation."

Record hog numbers lead to low prices; cattle production also up, as prices remain low

Lean-hog and live-cattle future prices
per pound (WSJ graphic)
A record number of hogs being produced for food has led to a seven-year low of 48.925 cents per pound, Kesley Gee reports for The Wall Street Journal. The Department of Agriculture estimated the nation's hog and pig herd as of Sept. 1 at 70.851 million head, the largest on record for that time of year. Numbers are expected to continue to grow.

"The figure illustrates how producers responded to lofty prices and profitable margins at the start of the summer by breeding more animals—before a sharp drop in prices to multiyear lows reversed the economics for many farmers," Gee writes. "Part of the problem is livestock’s biological limits: a sow, or female breeding pig, gestates for around four months before delivering a litter of pigs. Market conditions can change drastically from the time a farmer decides to expand operations to when those animals are ready for market."

There is also concern about beef prices, Gee writes. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange showed that live-cattle futures for October increased 0.03 percent, to 98.925 cents per pound, up from a low of 97.35 cents in early trading, the lowest since November 2010. "In the week through Oct. 1, meatpackers produced 509.1 million pounds of beef, up 5.5 percent from the year-earlier period. Output has climbed 4.7 percent in 2016 over the volume produced by this time last year." (Read more)

Low salaries for beginning educators exacerbate rural teacher shortages in states like Montana

Teacher shortages in some rural areas can be directly attributed to low salaries. Montana, one of the nation's largest states in area, but among the smallest in population, pays beginning teachers less than any other state, Matt Hoffman reports for the Billings Gazette. In contrast, neighboring Wyoming pays beginning teachers over $10,000 more per year than Montana. Starting salaries also are considerably higher in nearby Idaho and the Dakotas, though those states pay below the national average. (Gazette graphic: Starting salaries for teachers in Montana and adjoining states with two years or less experience. Dashed line is national average.)
In addition to low salaries, another problem in Montana is that "In rural areas, which often cycle through young teachers for open positions, a sparse housing market can drive up costs of living," Hoffman writes.

"Some schools that received extra oil and gas money during the Bakken [oil] boom offered bonuses for teachers," Hoffman writes. "Some districts have purchased housing for teachers. Others have paid teachers at a bumped-up experience level on their salary schedules, essentially paying teachers for experience they don’t have. At least one school has agreed to pay for a teacher’s degree, under the condition the teacher stick around for a while. But programs are patchworked across the state and many districts take no special measures."

Innovative practices earn national recognition for doctor in under-served rural N.C. county

On paper, Hoke County, North Carolina (Best Places map), "is the portrait of a medically undeserved community," Marti Maguire reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh. The county of 47,000 has three primary-care doctors, about one per 16,000, compared to a state average of 1 to about 1,500. Almost one-fifth of the residents live in poverty "and about the same percentage are uninsured."

One family doctor has become the county's "secret weapon," Maguire writes. For more than 24 years, Dr. Karen Smith's Raeford-based practice has changed what patient care in the rural community looks like. "Despite challenges and opportunities to move on," Smith, who "knows her patients by name," has fought common health woes such as diabetes and heart disease, even making house visits in her pickup truck for those who can't travel.

Smith was named national Family Physician of the Year for 2017, "thanks in large part to her innovative use of technology and preventive care to maintain the health of her large patient base," Maguire writes.

Dr. Karen Smith
Her "forward-thinking use of electronic records started as soon as she got to Hoke," Maguire writes. The practice she entered had 18,000 paper charts for their massive patient load. "We got the paper charts, and we organized them electronically," Smith told Maguire. "We became one of the early adopters."

Smith kept exploring innovative uses of technology for her patients, Maguire writes: "The results are impressive. For example, she can pull up the test results of all of her patients whose diabetes is going untreated, along with their contact information. Then, she can set a date for all of them to come in at once to get information on how to improve their condition, as well as one-on-one consultation, and send notices via email and text message." (Read more)

USDA awards 29 grants for $5.8M for rural economic development in 21 states

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced 29 grants totaling $5.8 million to help rural cooperatives in 21 states "create jobs and support business expansion," says a USDA press release. Funds are through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant program, which helps fund non-profit groups.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: "America's rural communities have incredible potential to create jobs and expand economic opportunities. Many rural businesses and organizations are succeeding under the cooperative business model, and with access to additional resources, they can boost job creation and create an environment where more products are made in rural America. The funding USDA is announcing today will provide the critical training and technical assistance rural cooperatives and non-profit groups need to help strengthen America's 'Main Street' businesses." 

Recipients can use the grants "for feasibility studies, strategic planning, leadership and operations training and business plan development," says USDA. "Recipients are required to contribute matching funds that equal 25 percent of total project costs." For a full list of grant recipients click here.

How often is your state named in popular songs?

Does your state inspire musicians to write songs? Julia Silge, who writes a blog, data science ish, used figures from the Billboard Hot 100 from 1958 to the present to chart two maps, one that shows how many times a state was mentioned in song lyrics and one that divided mentions by population to find which states got more or less than their share of attention, Ana Swanson reports for The Washington Post. (Pictogram: Number of mentions by state)
"Southern states like Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky turned out to have an outsized influence, as did states like New York, Hawaii and Montana," Swanson writes. "Nebraska and Maine also fared well." (Number of mentions by state per every million residents)
Silge found that New York had the most mentions, 51, although she estimates that many of those references probably refer to the city, not the state. Second was California, with 26 mentions, followed by Georgia (21), Texas (13), Tennessee (11), Alabama (9), Mississippi (8), Kentucky (7) and Hawaii and Virginia (6).

When accounting for mentions per every million people, Hawaii was No. 1, followed by Mississippi, New York, Maine, Georgia, Montana, Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska and Kentucky.

Appeals court upholds decision blocking Kan. proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld an earlier decision blocking Kansas from requiring residents to prove they are U.S. citizens when registering to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Brian Lowry reports for The Wichita Eagle. The decision affects 19,000 Kansans who registered to vote at the DMV without showing proof of citizenship.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, refused to register those residents to vote, citing fears of voter fraud, Lowry writes. 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.

In its order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said "the National Voting Rights Act preempts the Kansas proof of citizenship requirement and that 'no constitutional doubt arises as to whether the NVRA precludes Kansas from enforcing its voter qualifications,'" Lowry writes.

Kobach was set to appear for a contempt hearing Friday, "but that was canceled after the secretary of state struck an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case," Lowry writes. "Under that agreement, local election officials will have to send out letters informing all of the voters affected by the case that they have the right to vote in federal, state and local elections this November." (Read more)

Midwest Apple Crunch scheduled for Oct. 13

Schools in the Midwest are encouraged to promote healthy eating and support local businesses during the Midwest Apple Crunch. The event, part of National Farm-to-School Month, is scheduled for noon local time Oct. 13 in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Schools can sign up for the event by clicking here.

For ideas for events to schedule click here. Resources include links to the Farm to School Facebook page, a video schools can use and a webinar with examples from Iowa and Nebraska schools showing how Farm to School Month and Midwest Apple Crunch looks in different school settings. The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs also will issue a Midwest Apple Crunch-related challenge.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Pipeline protests proliferate; local and state governments are getting involved, too

Associated Press photo via Stateline
"Pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to transport oil and gas, and it isn’t possible to meet the nation’s demand for fuel using rail or road alone," Jen Fifield writes for Stateline. "But as more oil and gas pipelines crisscross the country, environmental and energy lawyers say protests against them are becoming increasingly common."

Fifield notes the current protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in South Dakota and Iowa, passage of laws in Georgia and South Carolina that blocked pipeline companies from using eminent domain, New York's withholding of "a required water quality certificate from a pipeline that would have pumped gas from Pennsylvania to New York" and New Jersey towns' passage of ordinances to block pipelines that would run to New York. Recent pipeline leaks have added to concerns, Fifield reports.

"The approval process for pipelines varies, depending on what they will transport and whether a pipeline system crosses state lines. Pipelines that transport oil, as well as pipelines that transport oil or natural gas within a single state, are approved by that state. Pipelines transporting natural gas across state lines must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission," Fifield writes. "States rarely block proposals for new oil pipelines, although in recent years some have beefed up safety rules. Yet questions are arising in multiple states over whether private companies have the right to use eminent domain, the power to take land for a public purpose with just compensation, for projects that are sometimes unregulated by the state. Eminent domain laws for pipelines vary by state. In many states, pipeline companies must get approval from the state before using eminent domain."

Pa. Supreme Court strikes down several parts of 2012 law friendly to the oil and gas industry

"In a win for environmentalists and municipalities, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down a number of provisions to the state’s oil and gas law," Susan Phillips reports for NPR. "the court ruled that the 'doctor gag rule,' eminent domain for natural gas storage facilities, and the exclusion of private wells from notification of hazardous spills is unconstitutional. The industry no longer has a fast track to commonwealth court when it comes to challenging local zoning ordinances. And the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will have no role in examining local zoning decisions."

The 2012 law, known as Act 13, "was soon challenged by local towns wanting to maintain control over where fracking for natural gas could take place. In December, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in a plurality decision that portions of the law, including one that restricted local zoning rights, was unconstitutional," Phillips writes. "Much of the decision was based on the state’s environmental rights amendment. But the court also sent some challenges back to the lower courts, and those issues have been working their way back to the Supreme Court. By striking down the local zoning restrictions in 2013, issues over the role of the Public Utility Commission remained because the original law made the PUC the decider on whether local zoning rules violated Act 13. The PUC will have no such role."

The law "was also supposed to make things easier for doctors and patients seeking hazardous material information in case of exposure," Phillips reports. "The law requires drillers to list the chemicals used to produce oil or gas on a public website that doctors could access. But the website is not required to list all the chemicals used; it leaves off those considered to be trade secrets. These are ingredients that a company says it has to keep secret in order to maintain an edge over its competitors. Doctors could only get the trade secret chemical names and information if they signed a confidentiality agreement and agreed not to share that information. That caused an uproar in the healthcare community and one doctor filed suit." The ruling eliminates the agreements.

Timber firm tells citizens of N. Calif. town dependent on spring to 'find their own water'

The residents of Weed, California, will no longer enjoy the use of spring water that is piped from the foothills of Mount Shasta, after "Roseberg Forest Products, an Oregon-based company that owns the pipe forest where the spring surfaces, is demanding that the city of Weed find its water elsewhere," reports Thomas Fuller for The New York Times.

City Council Member Bob Hall drinks water
from the spring. (New York Times photo)
Roseberg charged the city $1 a year for the use of water from the Beughan Spring for the past 50 years. "As of July it began charging $97,500 annually," Fuller writes. "A contract signed this year directs the city to look for alternative sources."

Ellen Porter, the director of environmental affairs for Roseberg, told Fuller, "The city needs to actively look for another source of water . . . Roseberg is not in a position to guarantee the availability of that water for a long period of time."

Roseberg has not told the city of Weed what it plans to do with the water, Fuller writes, "but it already sells water to Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring, which bottles it in weed and ships it as far away as Japan."

"The corporate mentality is that they can make more money selling this water to Japan," Bob Hall, a former mayor and council member, told Fuller. "We were hooked at the hip with this company for years . . . Now they are taking advantage of people who can't defend themselves."

"Residents of Weed, including the current mayor and three former mayors, say the water has always been intended foe municipal and domestic use and should not be sold to the highest bidder," Fuller writes. Residents say that this "water war" will end in the courts and "that they have a document showing that the previous owner of Roseberg's timber business here, International Paper, handed over water rights to the city in 1982." (Read more)

Award-winning weekly editor says she has a hard nose because of the Bible and the Constitution

Sharon Burton accepted the Al Smith Award, which was on the table at the left.
The winner of an award for hard-nosed but community-oriented journalism said in accepting it Thursday night that “If there is a boldness to me, some might even call it an arrogance. it's because I believe two things,” the Bible and the Constitution.

Sharon Burton of Columbia, Ky., gave a passionate, inspiring speech to more than 200 people in Lexington at the Al Smith Awards Dinner of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. She won the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, for her establishment and maintenance of The Farmer's Pride, the statewide agricultural newspaper, and the weekly Adair County Community Voice, which has campaigned for openness and transparency in local government.

After recounting some of her experiences, including a return visit to a bootlegger after 30 years, during a local-option election, Burton explained her boldness: “First, I believe in the Bible…. and there is a tremendous freedom when someone is trying to pressure you to write or not write something. . . . Two, there's this document called the Constitution. And the Bill of Rights. It protects our inalienable rights. Our freedom of speech. Of the press. People died on this soil to have the right to make our own laws. People died on foreign soil to protect the rights we have built into those laws. We give them away too freely. When people tell me they won’t talk to me about an injustice because they are afraid for their job, I find that sad. With those freedoms come responsibility. To be informed. To speak out against injustice. To look out for one another.”

Al Smith, the former weekly publisher for whom the award is named, told University of Kentucky journalism student Alex Kerns, “I was really touched by what she said about the role of the community paper and the importance of independence, and the important of the paper being the cheerleader of the community.” For a copy of Burton's remarks, click here.