Friday, January 06, 2017

Rural voters boosted Trump, but he's late in naming his agriculture and veterans secretaries

Sonny Perdue: Secretary or not?
President-elect Donald Trump's delay in naming a secretary of agriculture is causing concern in rural areas, Alan Bjerga reports for Bloomberg News. Trump, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, has filled 13 of 15 Cabinet positions, but not the one that most connects with rural areas.

Trump also hasn't named a head of the Department of Veterans Affairs; service members hail disproportionately from rural areas. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Trump met today with Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who is an Air Force veteran and an African American.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, the second-largest farm lobby, told Bjerga, “It certainly has folks concerned or worried that maybe it just doesn’t seem to be getting the attention that we would like it to. Folks in agriculture and rural America feel like they delivered for this president and they just want there to be more attention.”

The last three presidents, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, all named an agriculture secretary before Christmas, Bjerga writes. "Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday the president-elect is continuing to meet with qualified people for the job. Spicer gave no further update when he spoke Thursday with reporters on his daily call to brief them about the transition."

Kathleen Merrigan, who was deputy to outgoing Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, told Bjerga, “People feel like they delivered for Donald Trump and now they’re kind of the last in line. I’m just stunned that it’s taking this long.” Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who served six years under Clinton, told Bjerga, “I find it in a sense unsettling because it was in small towns and rural America where the president-elect picked up his biggest margins and he hasn’t named a secretary of rural America.”

Those close to Trump say one of the top candidates is former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. "Others interviewed include former Lt. Gov. of California Abel Maldonado, former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former U.S. Representative Henry Bonilla of Texas and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller,." Bjerga reports. Also, Kip Tom, a member of Trump’s ag advisory committee and a large farm operator in Indiana, visited Trump Tower Thursday, Laurie Bedford reports for Successful Farming. Agri-Pulse reports that Tom may be under consideration to be a special ag adviser to Trump, which he might want to announce in conjunction with the secretary pick.

Trump's pledge to deport undocumented workers could lead to a labor shortage in agriculture

In California, the nation's top agriculture state, concern is growing that if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on plans to deport undocumented workers there will be a shortage of farm labor, reports Scott Smith of The Associated Press. Many of the back-breaking farm jobs held by undocumented workers are ones Americans refuse to take.

Some leaders in the industry are "calling on congressional representatives to educate the incoming president on the workforce it takes to feed the country and they’re assuring workers they’ll protect them," Smith reports.

Undocumented workers also are concerned for their safety. Leticia Alfaro, a farm food-safety supervisor told Smith "that many of her friends who work in the fields don’t have proper documentation like her, and they take Trump’s threats seriously." She said "they fear being deported and torn from their children who were born here. After Trump takes office, they wonder if it will be safe to make a simple trip to the grocery store, fearing checkpoints where they’ll be pulled over and have to show their documentation." (CNN graphic: Industries with most undocumented workers)
Fear is growing in other states, such as Texas, Florida and Georgia, that have large migrant communities working in agriculture, AP reports. "The fear stems from Trump’s campaign rallies, where he received a rousing response each time he vowed to deport people who are in the country illegally—up to 11 million. That position softened after Trump won the election, when he said he’d start with 3 million with criminal records."

"Some farmers point to Trump’s post-election shift as a sign his campaign bluster won’t become reality," the story says. "He is, after all, a businessman like them, they say. But others believe this shift underscores the president-elect’s unpredictable nature." Joe Garcia, a farm-labor contractor in California who hires up to 4,000 people each year to pick grapes from Napa to Bakersfield and along the Central Coast, told AP, “Our workers are scared. If they’re concerned, we’re concerned.” (Read more)

Computer coding program helps train and employ Eastern Ky. workers hurt by downturn of coal

A program is teaching Eastern Kentucky residents new skills that could help revive an economy hurt by the downturn in the coal industry, Bill Lucia reports for Route Fifty. TechHire Eastern Kentucky (TEKY) "was designed to give Eastern Kentuckians a shot at learning computer coding and programming skills—languages like JavaScript, Swift and jQuery, for instance. The kind of know-how a person needs to work on software development or mobile applications."

As a bonus, Louisville-based Interapt guarantees that those who finish the four-week course will transition to apprenticeships that could lead to full-time jobs, Lucia writes. "Throughout their time in class and as apprentices participants earn a $400 weekly stipend." Nearly 850 people competed for the first 53 slots. Last week 35 participants graduated from the program. About 200 people are expected to pass through the program in three years.

"TEKY is funded by $4.5 million of mostly federal grant money and falls under a national TechHire initiative, which the Obama administration launched in 2015," Lucia writes. "To develop a custom curriculum, Interapt worked with Eleven Fifty Academy, an Indiana-based nonprofit that concentrates on teaching people coding and programming skills." Ankur Gopal, CEO of Interapt, told Lucia, “You’re not going to come out of this as a Google coder. But you are going to have the skills to build technology solutions that our customers need. And you’re going to be able to build a career."

That's good news in a region that last year had 3,600 coal jobs, down from 14,300 in 2008, Lucia writes. "Coal production in the region fell from around 91 million tons in 2008, to 28 million in 2015. Statewide last October, there were fewer people working at coal mines in Kentucky than at any time since the 1800s." (Read more)

Forests need thinning to reduce wildfires and allow larger trees to get enough water, experts say

Experts say thickened Western forests need to have their smaller trees cut or burned to reduce the risk of wildfire and allow larger trees to get more water and flourish, reports The Economist. "In the early 1900s, an average forested acre in California supported fewer than 50 or so trees. After a century of efforts to fight wildfires, the average has risen to more than 300 (albeit mostly smaller) trees. The extra fuel turns today’s wildfires into infernos hot enough to devastate the landscape, torching even the big older trees that typically survived fires in the old days. Beyond this, the extra trees are worsening California’s driest ever drought."

David Edelson of The Nature Conservancy says it's "like too many straws in a drink,” the British magazine reports. He said that "as a warmer climate lengthens the growing season, trees’ thirst will only increase. This has led to a push for large numbers of trees to be cut or burned down. Overgrown forests catch more snow and rain on leaves and needles, where wind and sunlight increase the amount of moisture lost to evaporation."

The U.S. Forest Service "thinned 600 square miles of California’s watershed in the year to October, up from 367 the previous year," reports The Economist. "By burning or removing about 40 percent of tree and plant-life in these areas, the Forest Service wants to do more than put extra water in reservoirs. The goal is also to reduce the severity of wildfires and to get water into the bigger trees left standing—more than five years of drought have killed more than 66 million trees in California, aerial surveys show."

"Five times as much forest should be thinned every year, estimates Roger Bales, a hydrologist at the University of California, Merced," the magazine reports. "To find out how much extra water a thinned watershed produces, the university has placed sensors in thinned and control plots in the Stanislaus-Tuolumne Experimental Forest north of Yosemite National Park. Depending on landscape and precipitation, thinned areas shed 10-40 perecnt more water into streams. ... The hope, says Eric Knapp, a Forest Service ecologist, is that a new thinning technique will prove to produce even more water when flow volumes from next spring’s snowmelt are known."

14 deaths of Mexican gray wolves in 2016 are most since species was reintroduced into wild in 1998

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said deaths of endangered Mexican gray wolves reached record levels in 2016, Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder reports for Greenwire. Last year 14 wolves died, the most since the species was reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico in 1998. Two deaths were caused by officials attempting to capture and collar the predator for survey purposes. An estimated 97 wild Mexican gray wolves live in the U.S.

"Some of the deaths are still under investigation," Smith-Schoenwalder writes. "In FWS's October 2016 Mexican gray wolf update, it offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information that would lead to the conviction of whoever was responsible for shooting and killing Mexican wolves. Nongovernmental organizations and private individuals offered an additional $46,000."

Craig Miller, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, "said he is optimistic the numbers will increase from last year's survey, due to more pups surviving," Smith-Schoenwalder writes. "Collaboration among conservationists, officials and ranchers has increased tolerance of the predator, he said." (Read more)

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Why is opioid epidemic disproportionately rural?

Why is opioid addiction so rampant in rural areas? A story by Luke Runyon of Wichita Public Radio suggests that rural areas are the perfect breeding ground for opioid addiction.
Drug-overdose death rates by county in 2014 (New York Times map)
One problem is that rural doctors have long prescribed painkillers to patients, leading to addicts being created in an environment where they have little help to cure their ailments, Runyon writes. With few local therapy options or medication-assisted treatment programs, people suffering from pain often turn to drugs. (Washington Post map: Age-adjusted opioid overdose death rates per 100,000 people in 2015)
"Some researchers think larger economic, environmental and social factors leave rural Americans at risk," Runyon writes. "University of California-Davis epidemiologist Magdalena Cerda says the epidemic is a perfect storm. After the 2008 recession, rural areas consistently lagged behind urban areas in the recovery, losing jobs and population." Jobs that are more prevalent in rural areas—manufacturing, farming and mining—often have higher injury rates, which can lead to more people using painkillers.

Another problem is that rural residents tend to know more people, interacting with twice as many people as in urban areas, Runyon writes. Kirk Dombrowski, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said these "sprawling social networks," gives "rural people more opportunities to know where to access drugs." (Read more)

American agriculture stands to lose big if Trans-Pacific Partnership is scuttled, as Trump plans to do

Agriculture could be the big loser if President-elect Donald Trump withdraws the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Adam Allington reports for Marketplace. Trump has called TPP a "disaster" and has said "the U.S. will withdraw from TPP in favor of bilateral trade agreements."

TPP—which includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam—was signed last year to write the rules for global trade, says the Office of the United States Trade Representative. It was designed to "increase Made-in-America exports, grow the American economy, support well-paying American jobs and strengthen the American middle class."

TPP, which would have covered nearly 40 percent of the global economy, would have been big for U.S. agriculture, "particularly for exports to Japan, the world’s third largest economy," Allington writes. TPP’s failure could "mean U.S. exports will miss out on preferred access to countries, such as India, China and Japan." 

Jason Hafemeister, Associate Administrator of USDA’s foreign agricultural service, said "TPP would have cut tariffs across a range of products—from beef to wine," Allington writes. "Without it, those tariffs remain, and the door’s left open for China to increase its influence."

"China is making headway in its own bid to establish a rival regional free-trade deal, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (R-CEP)," Allington writes. "R-CEP is already under consideration by 16 countries in the Pacific region," including all the Asian and Australian/Oceania countries in TPP."

TV chef Anthony Bourdain says liberals' contempt of rural residents led to Trump's victory

President Obama and Anthony Bourdain taping an episode
of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” series in Hanoi. (CNN photo)
Privileged Eastern liberals living in political bubbles are to blame for the rural uprising that lifted Donald Trump to a presidential victory, television chef Anthony Bourdain of CNN said in an interview with Reason, a monthly libertarian magazine.

Bourdain told Alexander Bisley, "The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we're seeing now."

"I've spent a lot of time in gun-country, God-fearing America," Bourdain said. "There are a hell of a lot of nice people out there, who are doing what everyone else in this world is trying to do: the best they can to get by, and take care of themselves and the people they love. When we deny them their basic humanity and legitimacy of their views, however different they may be than ours, when we mock them at every turn, and treat them with contempt, we do no one any good."

"Nothing nauseates me more than preaching to the converted," he said. "The self-congratulatory tone of the privileged left—just repeating and repeating and repeating the outrages of the opposition—this does not win hearts and minds. It doesn't change anyone's opinions. It only solidifies them, and makes things worse for all of us. We should be breaking bread with each other, and finding common ground whenever possible. I fear that is not at all what we've done." (Read more)

Post columnist, who knows the nation better than most, says news organizations need more bureaus

Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post political columnist who earned his stripes keeping up with local and state politics all over the nation, has a recommendation for journalism paymasters who worry that their newsrooms' surprise at Donald Trump's victory indicated that they are out of touch with the country: "News organizations should commit to opening at least five bureaus in midsize and smallish cities somewhere in the middle of America in 2017."

Why? "Unlike a reporter who swoops into a city or a state for a story for which, at most, they will spend three days on the ground, establishing bureaus in these cities would, over time, make these reporters part of the community in ways that would lend them truly valuable perspective and insight into how Americans live, work and think. . . . Part of the reason we collectively didn't see Trump coming is not because we didn't have enough people, but because we didn't have people in the right places."

Cillizza writes that he has "no set list," but offers examples: Omaha (population 444,000); Knoxville (185,000); Dallas (1.2 million); Missoula (71,000) and Columbus (787,000). "Trump carried all five states," Cillizza notes. "The states represent significant geographic diversity. They range from tiny (Missoula) to pretty darned big (Dallas)."

My friend Chris apparently picked Knoxville, city of my birth, to represent the South. Chattanooga or Tupelo might be more representative. And I'm sure many will quibble with the others. But there are scores of possibilities, and Chris has a good idea, so I hope some paymasters in the news business will see the value of it.

Okla. publisher blasted for Clinton endorsement explains the separation of news, opinion and ads

Jeff Funk
The publisher of Oklahoma's Enid News & Eagle, which was highly criticized locally for its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, said in a column that the newspaper and its readers can all learn from the ordeal the role and responsibilities of community newspapers. After the endorsement the Eagle lost some advertisers and 162 local subscriptions, mostly from Republicans, but gained more than 200 subscriptions, "a majority of which appear to come from out-of-state Democrats," Manny Fernandez reports for The New York Times. Most of those subscriptions came after the Times ran a piece about the controversy.

Publisher Jeff Funk wrote, "Newspapers have been endorsing presidential candidates since at least 1860. That’s part of what newspapers do. . . . Starting last August, editorials took candidate Donald Trump to task for his comments on NATO, Muslims and women. That resulted in very few comments from readers." (Funk doesn't mention that the paper's owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., advised its papers not to endorse Trump, mainly on First Amendment grounds.)

"Then, on Oct. 9, we wrote and published an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton for president," he writes. "Wow! Reaction came like a shock wave. From the phone calls and emails coming into the newspaper office, you would think we had burst into a Catholic church during Mass and accused the pope of high crimes and malfeasance. What we thought was a well-reasoned stance on a critical political issue was flat-out offensive to a significant number of readers."

Funk draws this lesson: "We need to do a better job of educating Oklahomans on the three important—and independent—roles of a newspaper," news, opinion and advertising. "These three functions are independent of each other. That is, advertisers or opinion writers don’t decide what we’ll publish as news. We don’t prohibit people with differing opinions from advertising. And we don’t write stories about only the publisher’s favorite teams, only the best advertisers, just the candidates or causes we supported editorially, or only activities at the editor’s church or civic club."

"The News & Eagle publishes hundreds of local editorials each year and endorses or opposes numerous candidates or ballot issues—all on the 'opinion page' and all with an explanation of why we believe the way we do," he writes. "We try to express those opinions in a constructive way, and we encourage others to share their opinions as well. That’s part of what healthy newspapers do, and that’s part of the balance that keeps our communities healthy, too." (Read more)

Three startups in Alaska show demand continues for local news about rural, urban communities

Dec. 28, 2016 edition
Community newspapering appears to be alive and well in Alaska. The state has a trio of startup newspapers that are going head-to-head with established publications, Jeannette Lee Falsey reports for Alaska Dispatch News (formerly the Anchorage Daily News), itself born from community papers. "Newspaper rivalries were once part of the fabric of cities across America, including Anchorage. But between 2004 and 2014, more than a hundred papers folded or were absorbed by former foes, turning even major cities, like Seattle, into one-newspaper towns."

Marc Donadieu started the Glacier City Gazette, a 12-page, full-color newspaper published on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, after he was laid off from his job as an adjunct writing instructor at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, Falsey reports. The Gazette competes in the small market with Donadieu's ex-employer, the Turnagain Times, a "legacy paper for scoops and advertising dollars in the ski hamlet of Girdwood and nearby communities" on the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.

ECHO at an Eagle River coffee
shop (ADN photo by Marc Lester)
The Eagle River Chugiak Herald Observer (branded as ECHO News), a weekly that began publishing in the fall, is owned by an Anchorage-based company. Amy Armstrong, the newspaper's managing editor, was hired away from the competition, The Alaska Star, where she had worked since 1999, Falsey reports. Another publication, the Eagle, owned by an Arizona company, also has begun publishing in the area northeast of Anchorage.

Falsey writes, "In Alaska, community newspapers publish a mix of hyper-local and some statewide coverage, and are available, usually for free, at coffee shops and other businesses. For Girdwood and Eagle River, both communities unto themselves within the Municipality of Anchorage, the papers aim to inform people about daily goings-on that, while not necessarily remarkable, are nonetheless important to fostering the connections that underpin civic life."

Millionaires are investing in farms as a safe bet in an economy that they think may collapse

Financial whiz kid Brian Luftman has been
investing in farms (Courier-Journal photo)
Millionaire investors are purchasing farms as a safe bet in what they think is an uncertain economy, Jere Downs reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. For example, Mississippi's Barry Gollott, a self-made millionaire, has bought farms in Alabama, Kentucky and Chile. He told Downs, "In a doomsday economy, farms are where the food has to come from. The way we are going, I think default is inevitable."

Conservative investors like Gollott "are finding safety for their assets in the farmland investor pools assembled by American Farm Investors, a Lexington, Ky. investment firm conceived in the ashes of the 2008 Great Recession," Downs writes. American Farm Investors was created by Brian Luftman, "a financial whiz kid who once traded derivatives in the cattle pit of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange," sometimes making as much as $200,000 a day.

Luftman, who said he bought an Illinois farm in 2008 for $4,800 per acre and sold the farm three years later for $8,800 an acre, told Downs, "Because the market was so scary, so tumultuous, and the banks were on the verge of collapse, I bought a farm." Luftman, who now acquires one to two farms annually, said that "when he looked around for a company that managed farmland for investors like himself," he couldn't find one. So he created American Farm Investors in 2011.

"To date, the annual financial returns on the nine farms purchased and managed by AFI mirror or exceed results achieved by investors in the bond market," Downs writes. "Unlike stocks and bonds, farmland is something an investor can touch, or visit. Unlike volatile securities, farmland's been appreciating in value an average 5 percent annually." (Read more)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Rural residents pool money, resources to save, revive local businesses they deem important

After the Blue Moose Saloon closed in Renwick, Iowa, locals
bought it and re-opened it. (AP photo by Charlie Neibergall)
In some rural towns with declining populations, residents are taking matters into their own hands to revive faltering local establishments, Scott McFetridge reports for The Associated Press. For example, in Renwick, Iowa, where the population has declined from 500 to 235, locals responded to the closure of the town's only bar by pooling their funds to buy the business and fix it up so it could reopen.

A similar situation occurred "in the Missouri River village of Decatur, Neb., where a dozen people put up money to help the owners rebuild when the Green Lantern Steakhouse burned in 2008," McFetridge writes. "The restaurant, established in 1956, was what brought people into town and served as the main meeting spot in the community of 450 an hour's drive north of Omaha."

Another example is in Kiester, Minn., where "the 486 residents went so far as gaining approval from the Legislature for the city to own the local food store," McFetridge writes. "Residents later formed a co-op, and the Kiester Market sign says: 'Proud to be community owned.'"

Also, in Bowdon, N.D., with a population 135, residents "created a co-op to save a meat-cutting plant after the owner died," McFetridge writes. "Although it only employed a few people, co-op board member Larry Crowder said it was 'the busiest place on Main Street,' and residents feared Bowdon's cafe and co-op grocery could fail if the plant wasn't there to draw people into town. They managed to sell 100 shares at $5,500 apiece to fund a new plant along with grants."

This item was first posted Jan. 3 but was reposted as part of overcoming a technical issue.

Aftermath of assault at Trump rally in N.C. has a dash of hope for some, dashed hopes for others

John McGraw and Rakeem Jones meet in court
(Post photo by Liz Condo)
The presidential election was contentious, not just among candidates, but voters, leading to protests, fights and accusations of racism. One such incident took place at a Donald Trump rally in Fayetteville, N.C., a city of more than 200,000 where the population is 42 percent black and 46 percent white and Hillary Clinton won the county of 325,000 by of 56 percent to 40 percent.

Fayetteville, "an increasingly polarized city in a polarized state in a polarized country," mirrors much of the country in that is the kind of place where two varying worlds exist, one where blacks and whites live separated from each other, Terrence McCoy reports for The Washington Post. The incident at the Trump rally involved a 79-year-old white man elbowing a 27-year-old black protester in the face. While both deny race played a part in the incident, it has undeniably had an impact on it since, with "little public agreement over who was ultimately the true victim that night."

John McGraw, the assailant, said at the time, “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him," McCoy writes. McGraw now says he regrets saying those things, but has never apologized to Jones and suggests that he might be the one who is the victim of racism. McGraw, who said he often asks himself why he acted the way he did, said he has "never considered himself a bigot or a hateful person." McGraw, who said he was humiliated by the press coverage, said the event wouldn't have been news if the victim had been white or McGraw has been black.

The victim, Rakeem Jones, said he quit his job after the company's name was published and he used most of his savings to buy a car, to avoid using the bus, for his new job in a different part of time, out of fear that McGraw was serious about killing him or that a white-supremacist group might decide to try something, McCoy writes. He said in his rough neighborhood in northwest Fayetteville, "threats are sometimes carried out" and he has seen friends and family members die from violence.

The two ultimately met again in court, where Jones forgave McGraw, McCoy writes. "What he got when he returned to the trailer park that day were outraged messages and online comments. As news spread, more people started calling him a sellout for forgiving McGraw. They told him he was wrong to shake his hand, that he was wrong to hug him. But he had spent nine months thinking about McGraw and the Trump rally and believed, with the election weeks past, it was time to let it go. So when McGraw, now in his own trailer, unexpectedly phoned him the next day to see how he was doing and to thank him for his decency, Jones listened awhile and told him he appreciated the call."

This item was first posted Jan. 3 but was reposted as part of overcoming a technical issue.

DNA shows students their ancestries are mixed; knowledge could help heal a fragmented nation

Emma Krentler was surprised to find African,
Asian and Middle Eastern ancestry in her DNA.

(Washington Post photo by Melissa Rudolph)
DNA testing is showing students at West Chester University in Pennsylvania that their racial make-up isn't always what they thought it was, Susan Svrluga reports for The Washington Post. The results are giving "them a neutral place from which to start to talk" and could be a helpful in rural areas in a country fragmented by race.

Anita Foeman, founder and primary investigator of the DNA Discussion Project at West Chester, wondered: "What if people started finding out things they didn’t know about themselves?" Svrluga writes. "So she begins with a short survey asking people their race and what they know about their ancestry. They spit into a vial. Several weeks later, they get an email with an estimate of their ethnic makeup, a color-coded map of their past."

"That leads to questions, stories and curiosity," Svrluga writes. "It is a welcome reset from awkwardness, defensiveness, suspicion. Now that the DNA tests are cheaper, Foeman is able to ask all the students in her honors class—almost all of them freshmen just getting to know or redefine themselves—to take the test."

Students who identify as one race have been surprised to find they have other races in their ancestry, even if it's only a small percentage, Svrluga writes. "Statistically, Foeman and her colleague Bessie Lawton have found people overestimate their European heritage and whiteness, and underestimate ancestry from other regions. Half the people think their families will respond positively to results before they take the test. Afterward, fewer than 1 in 10 think so."

But the class has allowed students a place to talk about race, Svrluga writes. Student James Devor told Svrluga that the DNA test “helps us understand we’re not all from one special place, which is really peculiar to America. Because we’re all from different areas, with different ideas that come with that ethnic culture. What makes America great is we have all those cultures combined.” (Read more)

This item was first posted Jan. 3 but was reposted as part of overcoming a technical issue.

Controversial plan for gold/copper/zinc mine in U.P. of Mich. gets state OK; needs EPA approval

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel map
Aquila Resources announced last week that it has received two state permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for its gold, zinc and copper Back Forty Project in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula, Molly Thekan reports for WLUC in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. "The mine permit application included Aquila's plan for mining, management of tailings and waste rock, reclamation, monitoring, contingency plan and plan for financial assurance."

Native American tribes have protested the proposed mine, saying it is located on sacred ground, Brian Bienkowski reports for Environmental Health News. "The open pit gold, zinc and copper mine would be near tribal burial sites and centuries old raised garden beds along the Menominee River, the center of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin's creation story."

"Back Forty has been in the works for more than a decade," Bienkowski writes. "The mine would cover about 83 acres near the headwaters of the Menominee River." Canada-based Aquila "estimates the mine will yield 532,000 ounces of gold, 721 million pounds of zinc, 74 millions pounds of copper, 4.6 million ounces of silver and 21 million pounds of lead—metals used in many modern-day conveniences."

Joe Maki, head of the state mining division, said the operation still needs "two necessary permits before any mining begins: the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit and a wetlands permits," Bienkowski writes. "The NPDES permit goes through the Environmental Protection Agency and it’s unclear when it will go through, Maki said."

This item was first posted Jan. 3 but was reposted as part of overcoming a technical issue.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Park officials to blame for devastating Gatlinburg fire, say former U.S. Forest Service firefighters

Lisa McGill Reagan looks for personal belongings she
could save in the rubble of her home in Gatlinburg.
(Knoxville News-Sentinel photo by Brianna Paciorka)
Former U.S. Forest Service firefighters say National Park Service officials could have stopped wildfires that devastated homes and businesses near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Nov, 28, Don Jacobs reports for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Bill Gabbert, a former Forest Service firefighter who writes an online blog about wildland fires and aviation resources to battle them, said the Park Service "should have doused a 1.5-acre fire . . . days before high winds created a mega-fire that swept into Gatlinburg."

Gabbert and four other former Forest Service firefighters said "officials in the national park should have summoned every resource available when alerted Nov. 26 of the expected high winds," Jacobs reports. Gabbert added, “I’ve written for years that the best way to keep fires from becoming mega-fires is to attack them with overwhelming force, both on the ground and from the air. People say that is very expensive, but it is not as expensive as losing 14 lives and $500 million in lost structures.”

The former Forest Service firefighters "agreed park officials didn’t pay attention to the severe drought, low humidity that provided a tinderbox for flames, available options to quell the slow-moving fire before winds made the flames uncontrollable, and alarming weather forecasts," Jacobs reports. Clay Jordan, deputy superintendent of the park, "said all the options outlined by park fire management officer Greg Salansky 'made sense to me,'" Jacobs reports. Jordan told him, “There was no way the fire could have been extinguished before the winds came."

Jacobs also reports, "No one turned the first spade of dirt for several days to contain the flames" after the fire was discovered Nov. 23; "In an apparent breach of policy, no one monitored the Chimney Tops 2 fire when high winds swept flames to other ridges a mile away; and the first direct attack on the fire didn’t occur until it had grown to 35 acres four days after it was discovered, and that suppression started late Nov. 27, limiting the number of airborne water dumps on the flames."
(Read more)

Monday, January 02, 2017

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is in line to be Trump's secretary of agriculture

Sonny Perdue (Atlanta
Journal-Constitution photo)
"Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is emerging as President-elect Donald Trump's selection for agriculture secretary even though the search had focused in recent weeks on a woman or Hispanic and no official announcement has yet been issued," reports Philip Brasher of Agri-Pulse. "A source close to the transition team confirmed media reports Monday that Trump had settled on Perdue, whom the president-elect had interviewed in November."

Perdue was governor in 2003-11, after 11 years in the state Senate; he became a Republican in 1998. He is a veterinarian but "spent much of his career in business in rural Georgia, running a company with agribusiness and transportation holdings," Brasher notes.

A possible key to the selection: "Perdue's former campaign manager, Nick Ayers, is now an aide to Vice President-elect Mike Pence," Brasher reports.

Many in agriculture were expecting Trump to pick a Hispanic, since he "has yet to select one for his cabinet," Brasher writes. "Last week, Trump interviewed former Texas Gov. Henry Bonilla and former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano in Florida and later was photographed with them. Trump also interviewed former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and met briefly with Susan Combs, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and state comptroller."

Treating public notices as news, not just ads, increases readership and knowledge

The News-Graphic's public-notice page (for a
large version click on it, or here for the original)
At a time when local governments are asking state legislatures to eliminate or reduce the requirements for publishing paid public notices in newspapers, perhaps it's time for the papers to start treating the notices as the news that they are, not just advertising.

That's what Kentucky's thrice-weekly Georgetown News-Graphic is doing, making the "legal ads" look like news stories "designed to capture readers’ attention and promote the kind of serendipity that distinguishes newsprint from electronic formats," reports the Public Notice Resource Center, the national advocate for state public-notice laws.

News-Graphic Publisher Mike Scogin got the idea from newspaper design consultant Ed Henninger. “The news value of public notice is overlooked,” Scogin told PNRC. “I thought that redesigning our public-notice section was a good way to promote that. I also wanted to show the local government units that run the notices that we’re acting in their best interest.” Kentucky law requires the notices to run in 7-point type, so Scogin charges for them as if they were. “I’m happy to give up the extra space to provide our readers with information they need,” he said.

"He says local government officials have generally acknowledged the new look, but its biggest proponents have been his readers. He hears regularly from subscribers who hail the increased accessibility of the notices," PNRC reports. "Not everyone has been happy about it though. The owner of a liquor store who placed a notice in the News-Graphic to qualify for a liquor license was irate because its increased visibility prevented him from keeping his plans hidden from his local competitor."

Battles loom, some among Republicans, about farm and food policy under Trump and new Congress

The presidential election saw little discussion of farm and food issues, "Plenty of people in Washington, including powerful factions within the Republican majority in Congress, are hoping to change a wide variety of food-related policies, and believe that the new administration offers a prime opportunity to make those changes happen," Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles report for NPR's "The Salt." Kip Tom, a farmer in Indiana who was a member of Trump's advisory committee on agricultural policy, recently told The Salt that this is a time to 'swing for the fences'."

But just what that means is open for debate in the Republican Party. Some conservative Republicans will probably try again to separate the Farm Bill from food and nutrition legislation, but "Farm groups and poverty advocates are likely to mount a fierce counterattack. The stakes are high," Aubrey and Charles report. Also on the food front, "There could be attempts to roll back parts of the school-lunch reforms ushered in during the Obama administration."

Farm labor is another divisive issue for Republicans and president-elect Donald Trump. "Hostility to illegal immigration was central to Trump's campaign," NPR notes, "but farm groups, many of them bedrock supporters of the Republican Party, are adamantly opposed to any wholesale deportation of immigrants who aren't in the country legally. Many large-scale dairy farmers, and growers of fruits and vegetables, rely heavily on immigrant labor. This promises to be a delicate backroom negotiation."

When it comes to environmental regulations, Aubrey and Charles write, the question is "Which will go first?" A prime candidate is the Environmental Protection Agency's definition of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act, but "Other environmental regulations that are less well-known but probably more significant may also face scrutiny. Among them are the 'conservation compliance' provisions of the Farm Bill. Under this law, farmers who plow up native grasslands or drain wetlands can lose their federal crop subsidies. The EPA also could reduce the number of large-scale animal feeding operations that it regulates as 'point sources' of pollution."

Environmentalists are concerned about what Trump's EPA will mean for bees and other pollinators. "Scientists are concerned that the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops such as corn and soybeans is linked to bee decline. Under the Obama administration, the EPA has been reviewing the safety of neonics. The Sierra Club is watching this issue closely," saying in an email to supporters that "The fate of bees — and all the crops and ecosystems that depend on them — may come down to a standoff between the Trump administration and science itself."

Heitkamp, other Democratic senators in Trump states unsure how to satisfy hunger for change

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.
"Like North Dakota’s whooping cranes and black-footed ferrets, Heidi Heitkamp is part of an endangered species," Margaret Carlson writes for Bloomberg View. "Less than two years from now, the first-term Democratic senator will be running for re-election in a state where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 36 percentage points. Even for a centrist as popular as Heitkamp, that’s a mountain to climb."

She has company. "Heitkamp is one of 25 Democrats defending U.S. Senate seats in a post-Trump world," Carlson notes. "A few weeks ago she had a dinner of Chinese takeout for colleagues from four other states that went overwhelmingly for Trump: West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and Montana’s Jon Tester. The consensus was that that there’s a fierce hunger for change that favored Trump and that Democratic candidates must find a way to satisfy it. No one was sure how."

As for Heitkamp, she "makes the case that she’s as representative of her constituents as any Republican presidential candidate," Carlson reports. "She lives in the state, commuting to Washington. She was speaking for rural voters before Trump came on the scene. Her challenge is to keep doing so without looking like she’s rolling with the Trump tide."

Post series on rural death rates end in another town that says 'This isn't the place it used to be'

A billboard on US 23 in Chillicothe offers help. Locals say the road
brings dealers from the north; it leads south to Portsmouth, site of
Dreamland, Sam Quinones' book about how "pill mills" helped create
the opioid epidemic. (Washington Post photo by Bonnie Jo Mount)
The Washington Post ended its year-long series about "an epidemic of self-destruction in small-town and rural America" with a visit by Joel Achenbach to Chillicothe, Ohio, where 40 people died of overdoses in 2015, three times the number recorded in 2012.

"Chillicothe was once protected from urban pathologies by its very remoteness. Today, everyone lives in a wired, networked, smaller world," Achenbach reports. "Addiction is like termite rot, eating at the foundation of a community. This cultural self-destruction is particularly pernicious when women with children can’t function as mothers."

In an accompanying piece, Achenbach takes a broader look: "It’s a national phenomenon without a single, simple explanation. A study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, published in late 2015, brought national attention to the spike in the white death rate. Our data analysis showed that this was driven largely by increased mortality in white women, and we also found a geographical gradient: The death rates had jumped most significantly outside big cities."

Achenbach drove US 50, "the backbone of America," and found people "falling victim to drugs, drink and suicide — the so-called diseases of despair. . . . They’ve found a great deal of traction in places facing economic decline and social stagnation. That describes much of rural and small-town America and certainly the industrial areas of the so-called Rust Belt. . . . As globalization took hold, factory jobs grew scarcer in small cities as well. The U.S. economy began to concentrate wealth in big cities and along the coasts. Unions lost power, and unskilled labor jobs saw little or no wage growth. Now add to this the prescription painkillers heavily marketed since the 1990s. There arose a pill economy, with pills as good as cash. The opioid epidemic exploded in places that are far away, physically and culturally, from the neighborhoods where lawmakers and media figures typically live."

Achenbach writes, "Along the road, I talked to judges, police officers, truant officers, addiction recovery counselors, addicts, and ordinary people coming and going. There was a common theme: This isn’t the place it used to be."