Friday, November 25, 2016

Lack of safety measures at railroad crossings remains a concern and risk in many rural areas

A deadly crash at a railroad crossing last week in
rural Texas (Caller-Times photo by Courtney Sacco)
A lack of safety lights and arms at railroad crossings, especially in rural areas, continues to be a concern in the U.S., Chris Ramirez reports for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Of the 209,000 railroad crossings in the nation, 129,300 intersect with public roads, Only about one-third of those crossings have lights. "In rural areas, it's rare to find railroad crossings with lights and gates to warn drivers of an oncoming train," Ramirez notes.

While the number of crashes at railroad crossings involving vehicles has dropped from 9,461 in 1981 to 2,059 last year—fatalities are down from 728 to 244—data from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests that is partly because the number of public railroad crossings significantly decreased during that time, Ramirez writes.

The number of crossings without signals and gates has gradually declined on recent decades. "Since 1980, the number of public railroad crossings equipped with automated gates and lights has doubled—from 16,291 in 1980 to 34,296 such crossings in 2000," Ramirez writes. That's also been helped by a move in February from the Federal Railroad Administration to give $10 million to eight states—Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin—so they could install gates, lights and other safeguards at railroad crossings along energy transportation routes.

One state not on that list is Texas, which leads the nation in railroad tracks (10,469 miles) and has the highest number of crossings, about 15,000, Ramirez notes. Illinois is second, with 6,986 miles of track, followed by California (5,295), Ohio (5,288), Pennsylvania (5,151), Kansas (4,855), Georgia (4,653), Minnesota (4,450), Indiana (4,075) and Missouri (3,975).

Map shows where college grads since 2000 were most likely to move from home or school states

Seeking higher wages and better job opportunities, young college graduates have long left their rural hometowns for metropolitan areas. Now The New York Times has mapped the net migration rates by state for college graduates under 40 who earned a degree between 2000 to 2015. Those who grew up in one state, went to college in another, then moved somewhere else are counted as migrating from the state where they attended college.
College graduates moved in large numbers to cities in coastal states, generally in the South or West, as well as Colorado, New York and Massachusetts, Quoctrung Bui reports for the Times. At the same time "Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan and Iowa, and Plains states like South Dakota and Nebraska have seen the largest net losses in younger, college-educated people."

It's not common in many advanced countries for people to move away from home, Bui writes. The U.S. "has one of the highest rates of internal migration among advanced economies, and it has since at least the middle of the 19th century. A study comparing thousands of American and British census records between 1850 and 1880 showed that nearly two-thirds of American men moved across county lines, while only a quarter of British men did." (Read more)

Future of rural hospitals remains cloudy; oil bust contributed to closures in Texas

Many rural areas in Nevada lack medical care
(Las Vegas Review-Journal graphic)
From January 2010 through August of this year, 76 rural hospitals had closed, according to the Rural Health Research Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The future doesn't look much better for many rural hospitals that have stayed in business, but have struggled to make ends meet, Ron Shinkman reports for Fierce Healthcare.

"The situation raises questions about the viability of rural health care as a whole," Shinkman writes. "Some 62 million Americans live in rural areas of the U.S., making their ongoing access to suburban and urban hospitals more difficult. And the closure of rural hospitals can also create grave economic issues, because they are often the region's largest employer. Altogether, as many as 13 percent of rural hospitals across the U.S. are currently vulnerable to closure."

Many reasons are often cited for rural hospital closings: a trend among the states toward managed care rather than fee-for-service Medicaid; payment reductions by Medicare; doctor and staff shortages; a high proportion of poor and elderly patients; and declining rural populations; contributing to low patient counts.

One area that hasn't been talked about as much is the downturn in the oil industry, Shinkman writes. "In Texas, 15 rural hospitals have closed in just the past four years alone, according to the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. The drop in oil prices is expected to leave the remaining facilities vulnerable."

While telemedicine has been touted for reaching rural patients, not everyone is comfortable with the format, Pashtana Usufzy reports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Kristin Hougard, who suffers from partial paralysis, used telemedicine to consult with a doctor, and told Usufzy, "You can’t work with a doctor on a TV screen.”

Farmland value in Indiana drops; Ky., Ohio projected to follow suit; Tenn. to stay even

In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016, the four-state region of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee saw a collective average farmland value increase of 0.18 percent, a much smaller increase than the previous year's 2.2 percent, reports Dennis Badger, vice president of collateral risk management for Farm Credit Mid-America., which serves the four states.

Indiana's farmland value dropped 5.76 percent, while the other states saw increases, led by 3.69 percent in Tennessee, 2.38 percent in Kentucky and 0.35 percent in Ohio. "Kentucky and Tennessee are still experiencing increases in cropland values likely due to the recreational and urban expansion components in their markets," driving up land prices, Badger writes.

Farmand value 2017 for the region is predicted to decrease 0.9 percent through June 2017, Badger reports. Indiana is expected to see the biggest decrease, 1.5 percent, while Kentucky is forecast to drop 0.7 percent and Ohio 0.5 percent. Tennessee is predicted to remain even. (Farm Credit Mid-America graphic: Changes in farmland value)

Central Appalachian coal town turning to rich artistic history to create jobs and boost economy

Hindman, Ky. (Best Places map)
A Central Appalachian community hopes its rich artistic history will help boost an economy hurt by the downturn of coal, Tom Eblen reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader from Hindman, Ky., seat of Knott County, which has lost more than half its coal jobs in the last few years.

"Economic changes have renewed interest in developing the region’s creative industries. And why not? Bluegrass music and Appalachian crafts are popular around the world. Smart, talented people have always come out of Kentucky’s mountains; the problem was they usually had to move elsewhere to earn a living."

One way Hindman hopes to change that is through the recently opened Appalachian Artisan Center, which "has a variety of job-training programs under way, including pottery, metalworking and stringed-instrument making," Eblen writes. Hindman has long been known as an artistic center, led by the Hindman Settlement School, which annually hosts the Appalachian Writers' Workshop and Family Folk Week, both of which draw well-known Appalachian writers and musicians.

"In addition to training Eastern Kentuckians in marketable, arts-related skills, the center sees potential in cultural tourism—attracting hobbyists to come for days or weeks to learn instrument-making and other traditional skills," Eblen writes.

Kris Patrick sands a dulcimer
at the Hindman School of Luthiery
(Eblen photo)
Another key for the region is the Hindman School of Luthiery, which was created by grants "to capitalize on the local heritage of dulcimer-making and the popularity of bluegrass music," Eblen writes. Doug Naselroad, who directs the school, told him, “We have taught more than 50 people how to build instruments. There’s a lot of talent in Appalachia, and people are ready to go to work.”

One goal for the school "is to partner with the Kentucky School of Craft in Hindman and the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music in Hyden—both divisions of Hazard Community and Technical College—to start a production factory that would sell Troublesome Creek brand guitars, mandolins and other instruments," Eblen writes.

Black walnuts, once a rural 'poverty food', are gaining favor in upscale urban restaurants

Black walnuts are found in 32 states
(Atlas of United States Trees map)
Black walnuts, once an inexpensive way to spruce up Southern food, are showing up on dishes in fine dining establishments, Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Now, with local flavors once considered 'poverty foods' increasingly on the menu at even white-tablecloth restaurants, the lowly black walnut is worth adding to your holiday menu."

Lexington chef Mark Richardson uses black walnuts in a scallop dish, with butternut squash puree dressed with a black walnut vinaigrette and thinks they would work perfectly in turkey stuffing, Patton writes. Richardson told Patton, “I just think they are unique, unlike any other nut. They’ve got character and depth. Really earthy. The taste and the smell are similar and yet different. The smell is very fragrant but the flavor has more layers and changes as you eat them with sweet or savory tastes.”

Specialty Produce photo
Brian Hammons, president of Missouri-based Hammons Products, which buys about 23 million pounds of black walnuts in the hull annually, told Patton, “We’re seeing the food trends move in the direction that black walnuts really fit into. It is a food that has a great heritage in rural areas. People recall picking up nuts, grandma making a cake with them. And many people still have those roots even if they live in cities now. Others are interested in unique, wild and local foods and that all fits in with black walnut, too.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Federal judges strike down Wisconsin redistricting, set possible standard for judging partisanship

A panel of federal judges ruled Monday that legislative districts drawn in 2011 by Wisconsin Republicans unconstitutionally favored GOP candidates, and for the first time adopted a "clear mathematical formula for measuring partisanship in a district," reports Michael Wines of The New York Times. The case gives the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to provide a new standard for redistricting both legislative and congressional seats after the 2020 census.

The judges ruled 2-1 "that the maps were unconstitutional because they were 'intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters ... by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats'," , Jason Stein and Patrick Marley report for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
(Maps: Wisconsin election results, 2008 and 2012; middle map shows imputed 2012 results with plan having less partisanship)
"In 2012, Republicans won 61 percent of the Assembly seats with only 48.6 percent of the statewide vote," Katelyn Ferral reports for The Capital Times in Madison. "In 2014, the GOP secured 64 percent of Assembly seats, only garnering 52 percent of the statewide vote." Stein and Marley write, The decision comes two weeks "after an election that gave Republicans their biggest majority in the Assembly since the 1956 election. They will begin the legislative session in January with 64 of the 99 seats."

Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote "It is clear that the drafters were concerned with, and convinced of, the durability of their plan. We conclude, therefore, that the evidence establishes that one of the purposes of Act 43 was to secure Republican control of the Assembly under any likely future electoral scenario for the remainder of the decade; in other words, to entrench the Republican Party in power." The concurring judge was appointed by Jimmy Carter; the dissenter was appointed by George W. Bush.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state will appeal the decision. As a redistricting decision, it would go directly to the Supreme Court, "where its fate may rest with a single justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, who has expressed a willingness to strike down partisan gerrymanders but has yet to accept a rationale for it," Wines reports. "In Monday’s ruling, the court was swayed by a new and simple mathematical formula to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering, called the efficiency gap."

Wines explains: "The formula divides the difference between the two parties’ 'wasted votes' — votes beyond those needed by a winning side, and votes cast by a losing side — by the total number of votes cast. When both parties waste the same number of votes, the result is zero — an ideal solution. But as a winning party wastes fewer and fewer votes than its opponent, its score rises. A truly efficient gerrymander spreads a winning party’s votes so evenly over districts that very few votes are wasted. A review of four decades of state redistricting plans concluded that any party with an efficiency gap of 7 percent or more was likely to keep its majority during the 10 years before new districts were drawn. In Wisconsin, experts testified, Republicans scored an efficiency gap rating of 11.69 percent to 13 percent in the first election after the maps were redrawn in 2011."

Wines concludes, "Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a University of Chicago law professor and the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said on Monday that a number of state redistricting plans, including those in Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan, have efficiency gap scores rivaling those of Wisconsin." (Read more)

Federal judge: Seed coatings with chemicals harmful to bees exempt from federal regulation

A federal district judge in Northern California ruled Monday that "seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides will continue to be exempt from regulation under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIRFA)," Stephen Davies reports for Agri-Pulse.

In response to a lawsuit by beekeepers and environmental groups, Judge William Alsup said he was sympathetic "to the plight of our bee population and beekeeper," but said that the Environmental Protection Agency should have done more to protect bees and it was the agency's responsibility to make policy decisions on regulations, not his.

Alsup, a Bill Clinton appointee, said "that pesticide-treated seeds cannot be regulated as pesticides under FIFRA as long as the seed coatings themselves are registered, and 'the pesticidal protection imparted to the treated seed does not extend beyond the seed itself to offer pesticidal benefits or value attributable to the treated seed'," Davies writes.

The pesticide industry cheered the decision, saying it will prevent more regulation, Davies writes. Plaintiffs said they "were disappointed, but also noted that Alsup 'dismissed the case on an administrative procedure basis, not on the fundamental question of whether the exempted seeds are harming honey bees'.”

Report: 20.3 million U.S. children lack full access to essential health services; rural obstacles seen

Despite a significant increase in the number of children covered with health insurance, 20.3 million children—28 percent of all in the U.S.—still do not have full access to essential health services, says a report released Monday by the Children's Health Fund, a New York-based non-profit.

The report, based on federal data, medical journals and data from the fund's clinics, found that through Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and federal health reform, the number of uninsured children has dropped from 9.6 million—13.9 percent—in 1997 to 3.3 million—4.5 percent—in 2015, a drop of more than 67 percent.

However, researchers found that 10.3 million children—14 percent—are insured, but miss regular primary care checkups, often because of obstacles in rural areas, such as being unable to afford costs, lack of transportation, doctor shortages, or cultural or language barriers. Also, 6.7 million children on Medicaid/CHIP—9 percent of all children—"have access to primary care but have unmet needs for pediatric subspecialty care," such as pediatric cardiology.

Researchers expressed concern that President-elect Donald Trump's vows to repeal some, if not all, of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, could make it even more difficult for some children to receive care, Marc Santora reports for The New York Times. The study, which noted that employer-based health insurance premiums for family coverage increased by 73 percent from 2003 to 2013, found that "the average deductible for an individual with health insurance was 5 percent of median income in 2013, up from 2 percent in 2003."

Researchers also found "that 59 percent of pediatricians said they had a hard time collecting patients’ shares of deductibles and co-payments from families covered by private high-deductible health plans," Santora writes.

Trump counties had 36% of nation's economic activity in 2015; Clinton's 64% unprecedented

Donald Trump won more than 80 percent of U.S. counties, reflecting his rural base, but those counties only represented 36 percent of the nation's economic activity last year, based on data from the Brookings Institution, Jim Tankersley reports for The Washington Post. Trump won more than 2,600 counties, while the fewer than 500 counties Hillary Clinton won represented 64 percent of the economic activity in 2015. Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump narrowly won enough big battleground states to win the electoral vote.

The economic numbers appear "to be unprecedented, in the era of modern economic statistics, for a losing presidential candidate," Tankersley writes. "The last candidate to win the popular vote but lose the electoral college, Democrat Al Gore in 2000, won counties that generated about 54 percent of the country's gross domestic product, the Brookings researchers calculated. That's true even though Gore won more than 100 more counties in 2000 than Clinton did in 2016." (Associated Press map: How Americans voted)
Since 2000 "U.S. economic activity has grown increasingly concentrated in large, 'superstar' metro areas, such as Silicon Valley and New York," Tankersley writes. "It appears that, compared to Gore, Clinton was much more successful in winning over the most successful counties in a geographically unbalanced economy." Brookings analysis found that counties with higher gross domestic product per capita "were more likely to vote for Clinton over Trump, as were counties with higher population density. Counties with a higher share of manufacturing employment were more likely to vote for Trump.

Democrats need to stop neglecting rural America, opines former ag secretary Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman
Democratic candidates need to stop neglecting rural America, Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary under President Clinton and a former Kansas congressman, writes in an essay for Agri-Pulse. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, has expressed similar sentiments.

"The pre-existing political divide between rural and urban American communities has been widened by this election," Glickman writes. "That much is clearly true. Both for the health of the Democratic Party, and for the reunification of American society more generally, Democrats especially need to build bridges to rural America." He wrote in June: “These areas are worthy of attention by candidates for national and statewide offices. Perhaps some political consultants will tell candidates not to waste their time in a town of a few thousand people, but for the sake of good government and leadership, all American communities deserve a seat at the table.”

Even though many Democratic policies support rural areas, "rural Americans still feel isolated from Washington and, as the results of the election demonstrate, from the Democratic Party," Glickman writes. "True or not, that is a widely shared belief. The simple fact is the national Democratic Party and the presidential campaign didn't prioritize visiting rural America or talk about rural issues."

"Some campaign consultants and affiliates often argue that it is a waste of time for the national Democratic Party to focus their efforts on rural communities when they are not likely to reap substantial electoral rewards for those efforts," he writes. "Others argue that Democratic policies that support critical programs for rural Americans should speak for themselves."

"But let us be crystal clear about where the Democratic Party finds itself right now," he writes. "A big reason Secretary Clinton lost, and Democrats are reeling, having lost many seats across federal, state and local governments over the last eight years, is because of the neglect of rural America by the Party. The result this time was a reduced number of votes in rural counties of Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which may have been the electoral difference in each state." (Read more)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Presidential election system has always been skewed in favor of small, rural states; now more so

NYT chart (click on it to view a larger version)
Rural voters, given much credit for Donald Trump's victory, have long had outsize influence in presidential elections, and the advantage has become more pronounced as rural population has declined to 15 percent of the national total, Emily Badger reports for The New York Times. A Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in six of the past seven elections for president, but this year and in 2000 a Republican won the Electoral College count.

"Rural America, even as it laments its economic weakness, retains vastly disproportionate electoral strength," Badger writes. "Rural voters were able to nudge Donald Trump to power despite Hillary Clinton’s large margins in cities like New York. In a House of Representatives that structurally disadvantages Democrats because of their tight urban clustering, rural voters helped Republicans hold their cushion. In the Senate, the least populous states are now more over-represented than ever before. And the growing unity of rural Americans as a voting bloc has converted the rural bias in national politics into a potent Republican advantage." Electoral College votes are based on the number of a state's representatives in Congress, including each state's two senators.

Frances Lee, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, told Badger, “If you’re talking about a political system that skews rural, that’s not as important if there isn’t a major cleavage between rural and urban voting behavior. But urban and rural voting behavior is so starkly different now so that this has major political consequences for who has power.And it’s not just in terms of policy outcomes. This pervasively advantages Republicans in maintaining control of the U.S. national government.” (Times graphic: The minimum share of the U.S. population able to elect a Senate majority)
The perceived rural basis dates back to the beginning of the nation, Badger writes. "When the framers of the Constitution were still debating the shape of institutions we have today, 95 percent of America was rural, as the 1790 census classified the population. The Connecticut Compromise at the time created the Senate: one chamber granting equal voice to every state to counterbalance the House, where more populous states spoke louder."

"And they made sure the compromise stuck," she writes. "Today, equal state representation in the Senate is the only provision in the Constitution that cannot be amended. But even as a deliberately undemocratic body, the Senate has slipped further out of alignment with the American population over time. The Senate hasn’t simply favored sparsely populated states; politicians in Washington created sparsely populated states to leverage the Senate’s skewed power."

Landslide counties, where a candidate won by at least 20%, on the rise, especially in rural U.S.

Republican votes by county (Yonder graphic)
While the final results of the presidential election were close, in an increasing number of counties one candidate won by at least 20 percentage points, the standard definition of an electoral landslide, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. That was especially true in rural areas, where Republican Donald Trump had many lopsided victories. It's a trend that Bishop wrote about in The Big Sort, co-written by Robert Cushing, in which they looked at how many U.S. counties have become landsliders, either Republican or Democratic.

Bishop reports that 60.4 percent of Americans live in a county where this year's election was decided by 20 percentage points or more, continuing a decades-old trend. The number of landslide counties has grown from 26 percent in 1976 to 37.7 percent in 1992, to 48.3 percent in 2004, to 50.6 percent in 2012.

The trend has been more pronounced in rural counties, which have sided with Republican candidates, Bishop writes. "In this election, more than three out of every four rural voters lived in one of these politically lopsided communities—in an election nationally decided by a fraction of a percentage point."

Rural community rallies around Ind. family that lost child, helps finish 110-acre corn harvest

Connersville, Ind.
(Best Places map)
A rural community in Indiana recently joined together to help a farming family in need, Darrell Smith reports for the Connersville News Examiner. Steve and Carmen Wollyung, whose 4-year-old granddaughter died in a farming accident on Nov. 5, were left struggling to come up with money for the funeral costs, while also needing to finish harvesting more than 110 acres of corn.

Friends and neighbors started a Go Fund Me account to pay for funeral expenses, raising more than $20,000, Smith writes. Also, volunteers from throughout the community began arriving at the farm on Nov. 12 in combines, semi-trucks, pickup trucks and grain carts to help the Wollyungs finish the harvest, completing the task in one day.

More than 60 people from several counties offered to donate their time and equipment, Kylee Wierks reports for Fox 59 in Indianapolis. Steve Wollyung told Wierks, “I couldn’t believe it when I saw everyone show up to help. All of the support and the number of people wanting to help is just overwhelming. It was emotional to see everyone. Whatever we needed, they brought.”

He said he hopes sharing his story will help save lives, Wierks writes. He told Wierks, “We’re hoping this tragedy will help others down the road. Around Halloween, kids visit farms and play in corn mazes and it all looks so pretty and fun. But we need to teach them that farms are a place where serious work is done and it can be dangerous.”

Small Business Saturday, Nov. 26, is a chance to support and promote local businesses

YouTube photo
Small Business Saturday, which comes one day after the madness of Black Friday, is a national opportunity to support and promote local businesses. Scheduled the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 26 this year, the event is a great opportunity for community news media to do stories about the importance of buying local during the holiday shopping season.

Small businesses can register on the Small Business Saturday website, and shoppers can use the same website to look for small businesses in their area. American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010. Last year an estimated 95 million people shopped at small independent businesses on Small Business Saturday, while in 2014 an estimated $14.3 billion was spent at those businesses, according to American Express.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Trump's victory makes advertising agencies think they're disconnected from rural consumers

A campaign featuring employees of Johnsonville
Sausage in Sheboygan, Wis., has been successful.
Donald Trump's victory, fueled by large rural support, has advertisers "reflecting on whether they are out of touch with the same people—rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters—who propelled the businessman into the White House," Alexandra Bruell and Suzanne Vranica report for The Wall Street Journal. It has them rethinking the idea that everyone wants to live in big cities or emulate those who do.

Harris Diamond, CEO of giant ad agency McCann Worldgroup, told the Journal, “So many marketing programs are oriented toward metro elite imagery.” He said marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture and more of Middle America.

"Some marketers, concerned that data isn’t telling them everything they need to know, are considering increasing their use of personal interviews in research," Bruell and Vranica write. "Meanwhile, some ad agencies are looking to hire more people from rural areas as they rethink the popular use of aspirational messaging showcasing a ritzy life on the two metropolitan coasts. One company is also weighing whether to open more local offices around the world, where the people who create ads are closer to the people who see them."

Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, a creative firm owned by Publicis Groupe, told the Journal, “The election will have spooked the liberal elite away from high-concept, ‘Make the world a better place’ kind of advertising to "a more down-to-earth ‘Tell me what you will do for me’ approach." (Read more)

Trump faces an uphill battle to fulfill his promise to revive the U.S. coal industry

Loss of coal jobs (NYT graphic)
President-elect Donald Trump's promise to put coal miners back to work helped him win battleground states Ohio and Pennsylvania and score easy victories in other coal-heavy states, Clifford Krauss and Michael Corkery report for The New York Times. But Trump could have a hard time delivering on his promises, they report.

Coal’s No. 1 rival, cheaper natural gas, "could become an even more potent competitor under the incoming administration," Krauss and Corkery write. "The probable easing of restrictions on pipeline building and loosening of rules on gas exploration and production would mean more natural gas reaching the market."

Ted O’Brien, a coal analyst at Doyle Trading Consultants, a leading energy industry research firm, told the Times, “I don’t think the Trump presidency will have a material impact on bringing coal miners back to work. He may eliminate (environmental regulations), but I have a hard time seeing a surge in coal demand.”

Changes in energy consumption (NYT)
Krauss and Corkery write, "The bleak outlook for coal may explain why some of the industry’s executives have been reluctant to comment on how the Trump presidency may help their business: They may be wary of raising false hopes among their workers. And many may be reluctant to repeat past industry arguments that climate change was a hoax. Instead, coal producers would rather have tax incentives to support environmental improvements for coal-fired plants, as a way to ensure coal’s long-term viability even beyond a Trump administration."

Another factor in lost coal jobs is automation, Krauss and Corkery write. "High-tech shears can now shave coal from underground seams—work that formerly required hundreds of miners. Surface mining, which has been increasing in recent years, has also replaced many workers with heavy machinery." There are about 50,000 coal jobs in the U.S., down from 250,000 in 1980. Most of the losses are in Appalachia. (Read more)

Nebraska, where Trump easily won every rural county, shows his dominance in such areas

How big did Donald Trump win rural areas? Trump won 91 of 93 counties counties in Nebraska, taking 19 by at least 85 percent and 55 by at least 70 percent, Joe Duggan and Jeffrey Robb report for the Omaha World-Herald. Hillary Clinton only won two counties, Lancaster County (home to Lincoln) and Douglas County (home to Omaha). Overall, Trump won the state 69.9% to 24.8%.

Grant County had the nation's third highest percentage for Trump and Hayes County the fourth highest, Duggan and Robb write. In Grant County Trump won 93.1 percent of the vote and in Hayes County he won 92.4 percent, according to results from Politico.

Nebraska hasn't supported a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 and Grant County hasn't since 1936, Duggan and Robb write. Grant County Clerk Christee Haney said 600 of the county's 640 registered voters are Republican, but questioned whether the other 40 are "Democrats in their hearts.” (World-Herald map: How Nebraska voted in the presidential election)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tom Vilsack, who saw Trump as a real threat to Democrats, has some advice for them

Vilsack rides a Democratic donkey into the sunset in a
Des Moines Register illustration by Mark Marturello.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has unique perspectives to offer, has some ideas for his fellow Democrats as they regroup following an election that saw much of their traditional base abandon them for a candidate with mostly vague promises and no government experience.

"If the Democrats are interested in winning statewide races, winning presidential races, winning gubernatorial races, winning congressional seats, they can’t get crushed in rural areas," Vilsack told Alan Bjerga of Bloomberg News. "And what’s really frustrating is, they’ve got a pretty good message, if they delivered it."

Vilsack is the only original member of President Obama's cabinet left, and knows the American heartland that Hillary Clinton lost this month. He is a native of Pennsylvania and was a two-term governor of Iowa, spanning the states that spelled victory for Donald Trump. He discussed his ideas with Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register.

Vilsack said he wasn't as surprised at Trump's win as most Democrats because he had significantly discounted polls that showed Clinton leading: “I travel in different places than most people do and so I was exposed to a tremendous amount of on-the-ground indications of strong support for Trump-Pence in rural areas.”

He had these suggestions for Democrats: Do a better job “of explaining to people on a regular basis the benefits of government;” properly frame and deliver their message for helping people and regions in economic transition; strengthen supporting organizations such as labor unions, perhaps by letting the public buy memberships in them; constantly build new leadership; do a better job of using social media; and “find an overarching theme or connecting message” that connects the diverse elements of the party. “There’s no message that a rural voter would necessarily say, hey, they’re speaking to me. They’re speaking about me. They’re speaking for me.” A few months ago, Vilsack said "I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place." Not so much now, it seems.