Saturday, January 21, 2017

Study: Medicaid expansion in 2014 didn't cause migration from non-expansion to expansion states

There is "little to no evidence" that some states' expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2014 encouraged migration to expansion states from non-expansion states in that year, says the author of a study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

"Migration from non-expansion states to expansion states, among those who I classify as being potentially Medicaid-eligible, did not increase relative to migration in the reverse direction," University of Maryland Ph.D. student Lucas Goodman said in a JPAM interview about his study. He noted that the possibility of in-migration and additional taxpayer expense "were often cited by non-expanding states as a reason why they should not expand."

Goodman said he was surprised at his finding, because "Medicaid expenditures in 2014 for the newly-eligible population averaged about $5,500, which is a large amount relative to income for the typical newly-eligible individual. Yet, individuals were apparently not willing to migrate in order to gain access to these benefits."

He added, "The big question is whether migration effects will increase in the longer term, either as individuals in non-expansion states learn about the presence of the expansion in other states or states’ expansion/non-expansion decisions appear to be more set in stone." However, the reform law and Medicaid likely to undergo major changes under President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fact-checking President Trump's inaugural address

Photo via
"Generally, inaugural addresses are not designed to be fact-checked. But President Trump’s address was nothing if not unique, presenting a portrait of the United States that often was at variance with reality," write Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of "The Fact Checker" column of The Washington Post.

Trump said, “For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.” The fact-checkers write, "Trump mixes up several things here. He seems to be referring to free-trade agreements [but] ignores the fact that many U.S. industries also benefit and grow when they are able to sell products overseas. . . . Trump appears to be referring to military bases that the United States has overseas. . . . Given a defense budget of more than $500 billion, the cost of maintaining these bases is a mere pittance." And the final phrase "is hyper-exaggeration. One can argue about whether the military budget should be boosted, but there is no question that the U.S. military is stronger and more capable than any other nation’s."

Trump also said the U.S. has “spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.” The fact-checkers write, "Trump appears to be referring to U.S. involvement in military adventures, such as the 2003 Iraq invasion he supported, and possibly foreign aid. Foreign aid amounts to less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget, with about $18 billion going to economic and development aid and $8 billion for security assistance. So Trump only gets to 'trillions and trillions of dollars' by including wars. . . . But we doubt Iraqis would say the war made the country 'rich.' Contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, the United States is far wealthier than other nations."

On trade, his signature issue, Trump said “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.” The fact-checkers write, "Trump again engages in hyperbole, attributing all of the decline in manufacturing to foreign trade. . . . Some analysts calculate that between 1 million and 2 million U.S. jobs were lost after China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2000. But economists believe the biggest factor in the decline in manufacturing is automation, not jobs going overseas. Another factor is decreased consumer spending on manufactured goods." (Read more)

Award-winning publisher of small paper takes helm of Ky. Press Association, challenges his colleagues

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

The editor-publisher of the paper judged the state's best weekly for the last nine years became president of the Kentucky Press Association Friday and immediately challenged his colleagues to do better.

Ryan Craig holds his latest award from
the press association that he now leads.
"You will have fear if you do the right thing," Ryan Craig said, beginning the story of how his Todd County Standard investigated the murder of a girl in foster care, fought the stonewalling of state officials and beat them in court.

"My fear was that we wouldn't do the right thing," he said at the KPA's annual convention in Louisville. "That is the thing that concerns me about most newspapers. . . . We're not being as aggressive as we should be, doing the stories that should be done."

Craig said his Western Kentucky county is "unhealthy and uneducated," and too many workers can't pass drug tests. "There are two or three things right there you can say about YOUR home county," he told the luncheon crowd. "It's not a Todd County problem, it's a Kentucky problem."

Noting the recent, quick passage of long-sought labor and abortion legislation by the newly Republican state legislature, Craig said journalists need to ask their legislators, "What are you going to do about the real problems of the state of Kentucky?"

He concluded, "Take the power you were given and report with no fear. Become a necessary part of your readers' lives. . . . Give 'em something they want to read."

That night, Craig's nine-year winning streak ended, as the Henry County Local earned the General Excellence award for small weeklies, based on awards in 28 contest categories. The Springfield Sun was second and the Standard was third, but it won a first prize for best use of social media, which it used to engage the community in a search for missing teenagers during a flood.

Craig said afterward that for most of the contest period, he had been executive director of the chamber of commerce in adjoining, larger Logan County, where he lives. His paper, which has had only six pages some recent weeks, isn't large enough to make a big living. But he remains an example to his colleagues, who have chosen him to be a leader at a challenging time for newspapers.

Craig's predecessor, Loyd Ford of The Lake News in Calvert City, said newspapers "must embrace community advocacy. . . . Let your readers know your newspaper is an irreplaceable part of your community."

Rise of college-educated Asian immigrants means U.S.-Mexico border wall won't stop immigration

Building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border won't do much to stem the flow of immigrants into the U.S. and protect Americans from losing out on low-skilled jobs, reports Jed Kolko of the job-search site Indeed. He found that while half of all current immigrants in the U.S. are from Latin America—27 percent from Mexico—during the past five years there has been a shift, with 45 percent coming from Asia, and a large portion of them having college degrees.

"Among immigrants age 25 and older residing in the U.S. in 2015, 48 percent of those who arrived after 2010 have a bachelor’s degree, versus 35 percent of those who arrived between 2006 and 2010 and 27 percent of those who arrived in 2005 or earlier," Kolko writes. "By comparison, 31 percent of native-born adults have a bachelor’s degree."

"Among broad sectors, farming, forestry, and fishing remains on top," he writes. "But the next two sectors where immigrants account for the highest share of workers are computer and mathematical occupations and life, physical, and social sciences. Among specific occupations, the four in which recent immigrants are most prevalent are all professional or technical jobs: medical scientists, software developers, physical scientists, and economists. In seven of the top ten jobs with the highest share of recent immigrants, the vast majority of workers have a bachelor’s degree, compared with none of the ten jobs with the highest share of immigrants overall." (Indeed graphic: Share of workers who are immigrants in past five years)
President Donald Trump's pledge to build a wall, and have Mexico pay for it, was one of the key issues of his campaign, Ana Swanson reports for The Washington Post. "Support for Trump was stronger in areas where the local immigrant population is on the rise, as well as among those who cited immigration as one of the political issues they cared about most."

"The argument for barring immigrants is often an economic one," she writes. "Trump's supporters argued that immigrants were flooding into less-skilled jobs, working for cheaper wages and putting native workers out of a job—including the white male working-class voters who turned out strongly in favor of Trump." But Kolko found that "Recent immigrants are more educated, come from different parts of the world, and are more likely to work in professional and technical occupations than earlier immigrants."

Global warming could hurt crop yields significantly

Comparison of statistically estimated effects
of temperatures on observed and simulated
U.S. yields in rainfed counties
Rising temperatures caused by climate change could greatly reduce U.S. crop yields of corn, wheat and soybeans, says a study by researchers at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published in Nature Communications.

Researchers found that without efficient emission reductions, U.S. farmers could suffer yield losses of 50 percent for corn, 40 percent for soybeans and 20 percent for wheat by 2100. Bernhard Schauberger, lead author of the study, said: "Projections tell us that in the U.S., these crops will suffer from hotter days. Since these days will get more frequent with climate change, there will be harvest losses."

Researchers came to their conclusions through computer simulations, Kavya Balaraman reports for Climatewire. "According to their estimates, corn and soybean plants can lose 5 percent of their harvest for every single day that is recorded above 30 C (86 F). Such crop losses could have huge repercussions for domestic food security and—given that the U.S. is one of the largest crop exporters in the world—affect prices in the international market."

The main problem is that hotter days lead to higher water evaporation rates, Balaraman writes. "Moreover, plants tend to open their stomata—small pores on their leaves—to transpire water when temperatures increase, creating an additional source of stress. Certain studies have also suggested that high temperatures during a plant's flowering period could actually lead to a 'sterilization' effect . . . The problem is exacerbated in areas like Kansas and West Texas that are entirely reliant on groundwater resources."

Vilsack says naming former labor secretary Perez DNC chair could help party win back rural voters

Tom Perez (Getty Images)
Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said electing outgoing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez chairman of the Democratic National Committee can help Democrats win back rural areas, Alex Seitz-Ward reports for NBC News. Vilsack, who said Democrats have failed to pay attention to rural voters, "said Perez could change that by educating people who have drifted away from the Democratic Party about what government can do for them."

Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters: "I know that he understands the necessity of the party spending time and resources and being physically present in rural areas, not just the month or two before the election, but throughout the year."

Seitz-Ward writes, "In fielding questions from DNC members who represent rural states, Perez repeatedly recalled one trip he took to coal country in Kentucky, and admitted he doesn't know how the party should thread the needle between urban and rural areas on the divisive issue of guns." While in Eastern Kentucky Perez attended a meeting of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, which is focused on revitalizing the economies of an area hurt by the loss of coal jobs.

Betty Richie, a Texas Democrat who chairs the DNC's Rural Council, "said she was thrilled Perez reached out to her group and is taking this issue seriously," Seitz-Ward writes. She said "Democrats do remain in rural areas are 'uncomfortable" speaking up in an increasingly urbanized party," telling Seitz-Ward, "We have found that our voices are not resounding with the rural voters."

Perez will begin a listening tour Feb. 6 in Wisconsin, Seitz-Ward writes. "The DNC chair election will be held in late February at a party meeting in Atlanta. Only the 447 members of the DNC may cast a ballot."

About 1.4 million rural residents signed up for insurance through federally managed marketplace

About 1.4 million rural Americans purchased health care last year through the federally managed marketplace, about 10 percent more than in 2015, says a study by the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy at the University of Iowa. That represents 40 percent of the potential market outside metropolitan areas. Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin had non-metro enrollment rates above 50 percent.

Researchers found that about rural areas in about half the states, mostly in the Midwest, had higher enrollment growth. (RUPRI graphic: 2015-16 Health Insurance Marketplace enrollment rates as a percent of the potential market, by metropolitan and expansion status.)
"The study compared 2015 and 2016 data from the 36 states with non-metro counties whose individual insurance marketplace is managed through the federal system," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "The states that weren’t part of the study either managed their own marketplaces or had no non-metro counties."

Overall, metro areas had a higher rate of enrollment, 48 percent, but the gap has narrowed, says the study. Researchers found that "six of the eight states with the highest differentials (states in which metropolitan enrollment substantially outpaced non-metropolitan enrollment) were non-expansion states: Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas all showed large enrollment differences, as did Pennsylvania and Arizona in the Medicaid expansion group."

Marema writes, "Though a lower percentage of potential market purchased insurance in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, those states had a greater year-to-year increase in enrollment. That may be because private insurance was the only option for more residents in those states that didn’t expand Medicaid."

"The study noted that counties that had a concentration of residents who lived at 100 to 200 percent of the poverty income (defined as $24,300 for a family of four and $11,880 for individuals) had better enrollment rates than other counties," he writes. "The scholars theorized that was because lower-income residents are eligible for greater subsidies to help them pay for their insurance, so the insurance was a better deal."

Trump uses journalists as political props, but media did ignore rural areas, says NBC's Chuck Todd

Chuck Todd on his main set
Chuck Todd of NBC News said that during the presidential election, journalists, who are mainly based in left-leaning coastal centers, failed to properly cover rural areas, which are largely Republican and where Donald Trump was especially popular, Benjamin Mullin reports for the Poynter Institute. That only served to further the rift between Trump and the news media.

Todd told Mullin, "We didn't tell the story of the coal miners in West Virginia. I think a Trump voter would say we spent a lot of time telling the story of the DREAMer that may get deported, but we don't spend enough time telling the story of the 19-year-old in . . . Missouri who is addicted to opioids and has no job prospects."

Todd said Trump likes to use journalists as political props, Mullin writes. "There hasn't been a president since perhaps Lyndon Johnson who views politics in terms of interactions with the press, Todd said. He's used the media to score political points, a tactic that has been enabled by journalists who are ready stenographers."

Todd told Mullin, "It's not fun to be a political prop. Some of this isn't helped by what I call concierge media, which are certain individual members of the media who, if Trump calls, they listen. So he certainly knows how to manipulate that aspect of the press very well. I think having the press as a punching bag is what he wants. But acknowledging that can't influence how you cover him."

Rural Mainstreet Index in farm-and-energy heartland remains negative for 17th straight month

The Rural Mainstreet Index remained below 50 for the 17th straight month, indicating economic weakness in the 10-state region that stretches from Illinois to Wyoming and is dependent on agriculture and energy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss surveys bank CEOs in rural areas of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

The index, measured on a scale of 100, was 42.8 in January, just below December's 42.9. It was at 49 in September 2015. Farmland prices remained below 50 for the 38th straight month, rising from 26.8 in December to 33.8 in January.

Goss said, “The overall index was virtually flat from last month. Over the past 12 months, livestock commodity prices have tumbled by 7.3 percent and grain commodity prices have slumped by 11.7 percent. The economic fallout from this price weakness continues to push growth into negative territory for five of the 10 states in the region." (Creighton graphic: Rural Mainstreet Index)

Why dozens of longtime Democratic counties in the rural Midwest voted for Trump

Trempealeau County, Wisconsin (Wikipedia map) home to 29,000, is a perfect example of how Donald Trump's surprise presidential election was fueled by rural residents, Jenna Johnson reports for The Washington Post. The largely white summer tourist hub has a low unemployment rate and has long voted blue—President Obama earned 56 percent of the vote in 2012 and 60 percent in 2008—but Trump won in November with 53 percent.

"The same flip happened in 50 other Midwestern counties clustered in western Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois," Johnson writes. In the village of Trempealeau, "die-hard Democrats are still trying to figure out which of their roughly 1,600 neighbors were the 482 people who voted for Trump. Several lifelong Republicans say they voted for him, often reluctantly, but they didn’t expect him to win." Residents at a local bar, who were politically divided, "agreed that it will take at least another presidential election to see if this was a fluke or a lasting shift."

Kurt Wood, who has been Trempealeau village president since 1993, told Johnson that he voted for Clinton, but “I just think that people were not feeling the greatest about the direction of the country and thought: ‘Oh well, I’m just going to throw my vote to somebody that I think will change things.’ Still, with the idea: ‘Well, he wasn’t going to win.' I think, in all honesty, people already realize what a mistake they made.”

Johnson writes, "The unemployment rate in Trempealeau County was 3 percent late last year, one of the lowest rates in the state. What’s missing are the higher-paying jobs for more-skilled workers, several residents said, and many feel as if their salaries or retirement savings haven’t kept up with their expenses, especially for health care. Trempealeau County is 97 percent white, but a growing number of Latinos have moved to the area for manufacturing and agriculture jobs."

Clinton, who didn't make a single visit to Wisconsin and didn't do tracking polls there, was not popular in Trempealeau County, leading many Democrats to avoid voting for her, Johnson writes. Republican Treig Pronschinske, a technical-college graduate who worked in construction and unseated the Democratic state assemblyman from the area, told Johnson, “You could feel it coming. The comments were a lot of: ‘I agree with what Trump says, but I don’t really like how he acts.’ I saw right through that. They weren’t saying they wouldn’t vote for him. They just didn’t want to fight about it.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trump picks former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, filling out his Cabinet

Sonny Perdue and his wife Mary introducing then Indiana
Gov. Mike Pence in August in Perry, Ga.
(Macon Telegraph photo by Woody Marshall)
President-elect Donald Trump has picked former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, as reported likely here Jan. 2. Chris Mooney and John Wagner of The Washington Post report that Perdue had been expected to be named to the position two weeks ago, but Trump remained mum on naming a U.S. Department of Agriculture until just before his inauguration. It is the final Cabinet position to be selected.

Trump is expected to make a formal announcement today, reports Politico. "In making the announcement, the president-elect's transition team plans to stress Perdue’s focus on rural communities and family farms, describing it as a 'key part of the Trump movement,' a source says."

"Perdue started his career in politics in 1990 with a successful run for the state Senate as a Democrat, where he served until he launched his campaign for governor in 2001," reports Politico. "He switched parties and beat the Democratic incumbent, Roy Barnes, in a long-shot run for state chief executive by appealing to rural white voters, a victory many have described as similar to Trump’s."

Perdue, who grew up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine, "took conservative stances on immigration and voting rights" while governor of Georgia, reports the Post. He also "drew national headlines for holding a public vigil to pray for rain in 2007 amidst a crippling drought. Although Perdue’s Georgia is not among the nation’s top 10 agricultural states, it is home to 42,000 farms, with a strong focus in the cattle industry."

Perdue who toured USDA headquarters on Wednesday, has the support of several agricultural organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the North American Meat Institute and the National Chicken Council, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Zippy Duvall, AFBF president and a Georgia farmer, "said that Perdue is a strong administrator whose 'roots go back to the farm.'" Duvall, who was president of the Georgia Farm Bureau while Perdue was governor, said he “always had a open door to farmers,” and he “understands agriculture and its importance to our country and its citizens."

The Farm Credit Council said in a statement: “Perdue has a long history of personal involvement in agriculture. He knows the challenges facing our nation's farmers and rural families.”

Drug firm to pay $150 million penalty in opioid case

McKesson Corp., one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributors, agreed on Tuesday "to pay a record $150 million civil penalty for alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act," states the U.S. Justice Department. "The nationwide settlement requires McKesson to suspend sales of controlled substances from distribution centers in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan and Florida for multiple years."

"In 2008, McKesson agreed to a $13.25 million civil penalty and administrative agreement for similar violations," states the Justice Department. In that case the government said "McKesson failed to design and implement an effective system to detect and report 'suspicious orders' for controlled substances distributed to its independent and small chain pharmacy customers. From 2008 until 2013, McKesson supplied various U.S. pharmacies an increasing amount of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, frequently misused products that are part of the current opioid epidemic." (Opioid deaths in the U.S. in 2014, highlighting Ohio: Kaiser Family Foundation map)
In 2013, the Drug Enforcement Adminstration "began investigating reports that McKesson was failing to maintain proper controls to prevent the diversion of opioids," Lenny Bernstein reports for The Washington Post. "In a statement on its website, McKesson said it settled 'in the interest of moving beyond disagreements about whether McKesson was complying with the controlled substance regulations . . . and to instead focus on the company’s partnership with regulators and others to help stem the opioid epidemic in this country.'”

The opioid epidemic has been particularly problematic in rural areas and Appalachia. Opioid overdose deaths were up 13.4 percent in 2015, says a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC study found that Ohio had the most overdose deaths in 2014 and the highest rate per person was in West Virginia.

Obama left a legacy in Appalachia that Trump should continue, Ky. paper says in editorial

President Obama's legacy in Appalachia was greater than people give him credit for, says an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The coal miners and young people who are learning computer coding in Paintsville and Pikeville are part of Obama’s legacy. So are local food producers and tourism entrepreneurs, businesses that will grow because of better access to the internet, and thousands of working people who for the first time can see a doctor or dentist."

"Kentuckians may remember the 'war on coal,' which more than anything was a PR invention by the coal industry," states the editorial. "But, under all that noise and flak, the Obama administration was helping seed an economic transition. Under Obama, the Appalachian Regional Commission’s highest funding in 30 years—$146 million—is juicing an array of ideas and projects, including Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the 54-county network whose mission is to spark innovation and opportunity."

Obama and Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents most of Eastern Kentucky, "pushed hard for Congress to enact the RECLAIM Act, which would free up $1 billion that’s already owed to Appalachian states for reparing historic environmental damage by the coal industry," the editorial says.

"Obama created Promise Zones, which give poor places extra points in the competition for funding," the editorial notes. "Thanks to the latest round of Obama administration grants, mine electricians in Kentucky will be retooling their skills to work in energy efficiency and the University of Pikeville’s new optometry school will be spinning off jobs."

"Obama set an important precedent of support for local economies disrupted by the shift away from fossil fuels," the editorial adds. "And his health-care law was a godsend in a region that suffers high rates of disease and addiction. In addition to subsidies for buying health insurance and expanded Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act also guarantees benefits for coal miners who have worked underground for 15 years and have black lung and their widows, at a time when the debilitating disease is on the rise and too many sick miners have been unjustly denied benefits by coal company lawyers and doctors."

The editorial's forward-looking point: "President-elect Donald Trump should honor the many votes he received in Kentucky and West Virginia by supporting and expanding the efforts that are underway."

Journalists can't allow attention-seeking Trump clones to build a following, says writing coach

Jim Stasiowski
President-elect Donald Trump's successful campaign, fueled by journalists giving plenty of press to his entertainment qualities while also failing to take him seriously, could change the way campaigns are run and covered, writes Jim Stasiowski, a longtime journalist who pens a regular column on newspaper writing.

He writes, "After Trump's election, two outcomes are possible, and they may coincide: More candidates will adopt the Trump approach of loud, bold, insulting statements to gain early attention for an otherwise long-shot campaign." And, "astute journalists, both reporters and their demanding editors, will not let candidates build a following based on bombast."

Stasiowski references a mayoral candidate he once covered who "ripped into everything the city had done or was doing." He writes, "One night after a candidate forum, he took me aside and, smiling broadly, he said, 'I trust your story will make me look bad . . . As long as the press is against me, I know I will win.'"

Stasiowski writes, "He did, and as I watched Candidate Trump, I thought: If the country is as angry as he says, the negative stories will only help him because the traditional news media is perceived as propping up the status quo fueling that anger."

Washington Post adds reporter who will focus on divide between rural and urban Americans

Jose DelReal
The Washington Post recently added five reporters, including one who will focus on the rural-urban divide, the Post reports. Jose DelReal, who spent the past year covering President-elect Donald Trump, will document the rural/urban divide on "how federal and local officials, businesses and cultural institutions are managing the challenges and opportunities of change." He will also cover the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Ben Carson and the Department of Agriculture under Sonny Perdue.

DelReal, 26, is from Anchorage, Alaska, Andrew Beaujon reports for the Washingtonian. "In high school, he edited Perfect World, the teen-focused section of the Anchorage Daily News [now the Alaska Dispatch News]. There, he says, he 'saw a lot of layoffs and the sort of slow decline of the newsroom.' The experience made him and his parents, who immigrated from central Mexico, nervous about a career in journalism, but after studying U.S. history and philosophy at Harvard University he took the plunge anyway," joining the Post in 2014.

"DelReal promises 'narrowly focused' stories about people that will help illustrate the themes he’s working toward understanding," Beaujon writes. "During the campaign, he liked to get away from rallies whenever possible and wander the aisles of Walmart, trying to find people who’d talk to him. Many told him to get lost, but enough told him about their lives–what they and their friends did for work, how their towns had changed in the past two decades. He wasn’t collecting quotes for stories, just listening."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Trump still has yet to name USDA head, leading to concern that agriculture is not a high priority

President-elect Donald Trump's lack of decision on an agriculture secretary—the only Cabinet position he has not named—"has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests," Molly Ball reports for The Atlantic. "The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America."

Some Trump supporters say he "owes a debt to rural voters, from among whom he drew his strongest support in the election," Ball writes. "They are not the only ones affected by agricultural policy, of course—everybody eats, and more than 40 million low-income Americans rely on the food stamps the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers. But agriculture, from family farmers to big agribusiness, looms especially large in the landscape, economy, and culture of rural areas."

More than two weeks ago, news outlets reported that Trump was set to pick former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead USDA, Ball writes. "Perdue is well regarded in agriculture circles. A former veterinarian who grew up on a farm and owns agribusiness holdings, Perdue is an immigration hawk who once led lawmakers in a prayer for rain during a drought. But Perdue has not been announced for the post, and Trump has continued to receive a parade of other contenders."

Trump's indecision "has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president," Gary Pruitt writes for Hoosier Ag Today. "While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee."

"In an off the record conversation I had with someone I will classify as a Washington insider, the claim was made that there are those within the president-elect’s team that see agriculture as 'second tier'," Pruitt writes. "Thus, picking a new ag secretary is not a top priority. Yet, what administration recently has made agriculture a top priority?"

"Whenever the choice is made and whomever is picked, that person will need to grab the bull by the horns," Pruitt writes. "American farmers and the agriculture industry in general need a strong voice at USDA—a voice that can articulate the needs and concerns of agriculture both within the administration and without. One of the reasons farmers and rural Americans voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump is because they felt their voice was not being heard in Washington. The next ag secretary needs to solve that problem."

Pair of Senate bills introduced to fund health care benefits for retired coal miners and dependents

A pair of Senate bills were introduced to fund health-care benefits for retired coal miners and their widows, Curtis Tate reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Ten senators from Indiana, Missouri North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia "reintroduced the Miners Protection Act, which the Senate Finance Committee approved last year but which did not make it to the Senate floor." At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced a similar bill, with language blaming President Obama for coal's decline.

"Health care coverage for more than 16,000 retired United Mine Workers of America beneficiaries was set to expire at the end of December, but Congress extended it for four months in a bigger bill to fund the entire government through April," Tate writes.

The Miners Protection Act would: "Amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency;" and "Make certain retirees who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1993 Benefit Plan. The assets of Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) created following the Patriot Coal bankruptcy would be transferred to the 1993 Benefit Plan to reduce transfers from the AML fund."

McConnell's bill would make permanent the extension of health benefits for retired miners and their dependents that was included in last year's government funding bill. It also "calls on Congress to work with the Trump Administration to repeal onerous regulations that have contributed to the downfall of the coal industry and to support economic growth efforts in coal country," a McConnell press release says. "Sen. McConnell’s bill also calls on the Government Accountability Office to periodically audit the health-care benefits plan and report to Congress its findings to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely."

Trump 'worst possible scenario' for climate action, scientist says; places blame on mainstream media

Michael Mann speaking at the
American Climate Leadership Summit
Electing Donald Trump president was the "worst possible scenario" for U.S. action on climate change, said Dr. Michael E. Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and one of the scientific community's most vocal advocates for climate action, Marie Cusick reports for StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Mann told Cusick, "I couldn’t have outlined anything much more bleak than what we’ve seen. We’ve had the election of a president who is on record as a climate change denier and has appointed other climate change deniers to key posts."

Mann says journalists are partly to blame for failing to emphasize the importance of climate change in the election, Cusick writes. "Climate change didn’t get the attention it deserved. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of Hillary Clinton. Full disclosure—I was a member of her advisory board on energy and climate. She’d go out of her way to comment on climate change, even in answering questions that weren’t explicitly about it. It didn’t seem to catch on. I won’t criticize all media outlets, but writ large, our mainstream media didn’t seem very interested."

Mann told Cusick: "We’re not going to see progress from the executive branch. We’re not going to see it in Congress. We’ll have to look elsewhere . . . We’re seeing progress at the state level. The future is a clean energy future. That’s where the world is headed. We have to decide whether to get on that train now, and be part of the solution, or be left out of the greatest economic revolution of this century."

Legislation introduced to get historic Delta Queen back in business

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have sponsored legislation to get the historic Delta Queen back on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, where it would stop in many rural areas, Sheldon S. Shafer reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Legislation "would reinstate an exemption for the Delta Queen to the federal Safety of Life at Sea Act, which prohibits overnight excursions on wooden vessels. The law was passed in 1966, but the Delta Queen was granted an exemption until 2008. It has been docked ever since."

"The bill would require the Delta Queen to annually modify 10 percent of the wooden portions of the vessel—mostly cabins and public areas," Shafer writes. "The problem has been that some maritime officials fear that the wood and other structural materials on the vessel could constitute a fire-safety hazard." The Delta Queen, which is 285-feet-long and has 88 cabins, remains in dry dock in Houma, La.

The steamboat, which began service as an overnight passenger vessel in 1927, was recently named to National Trust's 2016 11 Most Endangered List, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and classified as a National Historic Landmark, Shafer writes. The steamboat was purchased in February 2015 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. that was founded in 1890 and originally was known as The Greene Line. "The company intends to move the riverboat to the Missouri site if cruising rights are restored." (Read more)

Government regulations result in less than 1% of layoffs, says Environmental Integrity Project study

Government regulations, such as the Obama administration's environmental regulations that are being blamed for the downturn in coal, cause less than one percent of layoffs, says a study by the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit. The study found that layoffs "are caused far more often by corporate buyouts, technological advances and lower overseas labor costs."

The study, which used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that "only two tenths of one percent of mass layoffs—defined as more than 50 people laid off for at least 30 days—are caused by government intervention or regulations. For every job lost due to regulations, 15 are lost due to corporate cost cutting and 30 are lost due to changes in the ownership of business or other organizational changes."

The report found that "over the last decade, the benefits of environmental regulations have exceeded their costs by a ratio of more than 10-to-1," Arianna Skibell reports for Greenwire. "And major rules provide a net economic benefit of over $500 billion per year."

West Virginia Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and a coalition of 18 state attorneys sent a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence and congressional leaders urging them to end what they referred to as job-killing regulations, Skibell writes. Morrisey wrote: "Millions of hardworking Americans justifiably feel that the federal government too easily ignores the impact that federal rules have on jobs and the economy. Indeed, by one estimate, businesses and individuals have recently spent over $2 trillion annually in regulatory compliance."

Also signing the letter were Republican attorney generals from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Low pay, aging officers leading to critical state trooper shortage in many states

State trooper in Mississippi
(Clarion-Ledger photo by Therese Apel)
Many states are facing a severe shortage of state troopers, blamed on low salaries, high workloads and an aging workforce. In Mississippi, for example, only 489 of 650 available positions are filled, with 149 of those troopers eligible for retirement, Therese Apel reports for The Clarion-Ledger. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz told Apel, "We're so shorthanded right now it's unreal. The only thing that's saved us this past year is no hurricanes in the Gulf, no major tornadoes, no floods."

While the number of troopers has declined, the "number of highway fatalities and injuries has been steadily climbing," Apel writes. Gov. Phil Bryant said on Friday: "It's troubling. We're almost at the point of declaring a disaster because we're short on troopers. If we can't get more troopers on the road we're going to lose lives. People's very lives depend upon having more troopers on that road."

One reason for the shortage is low pay, Apel writes. At least five troopers have left Mississippi for Texas, where a trooper with four years experience makes $89,264, compared to $41,000 in Mississippi. "A trainee in Mississippi makes $16,100 a year, to be bumped up to roughly $38,000 upon graduation. According to the 2015 pay scale, a Mississippi trooper doesn't top $50,000 until he or she hits the rank of staff sergeant with 16 years on the force."

Mississippi isn't alone. Alabama had 259 troopers in July 2016, or one trooper per every 19,306 drivers, reports Dothan First, part of the Nexstar Broadcasting Group. State trooper Kevin Cook told Dothan First, "There are alot of days where there may be a trooper out in one county but they are responsible for a nine other counties. That is a very common thing."

Despite graduating 37 troopers in August, Washington, where pay is low and a number of troopers are nearing retirement, still had 145 job openings, Austin Jenkins reports for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retirements have caused a shortage of troopers for the Florida Highway Patrol, reports John Rogers for WFLA News Channel 8 in Tampa.

In Virginia, poor salaries and an unsustainable workload were blamed for 103 troopers leaving the state police in the first nine months of 2016, reports The Associated Press. As of September, the state was reportedly short 220 troopers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Project '100 days of Appalachia' asks residents to respond to first 100 days of Trump presidency

Trump in Charleston, W.Va.
A project being launched this week, 100 Days in Appalachia, "will narrate the first 100 days of the Trump administration through the eyes" of people who live in Appalachia, Melody Kramer reports for the Poynter Institute. The project is a a joint collaboration between West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Daily Yonder and WVY’s Reed College of Media.

The project team—West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Dave Mistich and WVU Reed College of Media professors Dana Coester and Nancy Andrews—are "asking contributors to submit photos, words and multimedia that can respond to questions like, 'Does it surprise the reader about Appalachia specifically and rural America in general in any way?' and 'Does it challenge or shed new light on stereotypes embedded in identity politics?'"

Mistich told Kramer, "One of the things I think that we’re going to have to address is the stereotype that Appalachia is Trump nation and just a lot of low-income uneducated people, but that’s not the entire story—there are parts of West Virginia and Appalachia as a whole that have different cultures and different education levels and different socioeconomic statuses—how can tell those stories without exaggerating?"

Coester told Kramer, "If we're successful in building an audience—and if we're successful in delivering some meaningful content that bursts a few cultural bubbles—we'd love to carry this through midterms and beyond, as a potential source for understanding issues in America that aren't going away anytime soon."

USDA releases final rule intended to end soring in show horses

An award winning high-stepper
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Friday announced a final rule intended to ban soring, the use of chemicals and physical abuse to induce high steps in show horses. As part of the rule APHIS "will license, train, and oversee independent, third party inspectors, known as Horse Protection Inspectors (HPIs), and establish the licensing eligibility requirements to reduce conflicts of interest," states the agency.

The rule states: "Beginning 30 days after the publication of the final rule, all action devices, except for certain boots, are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction. All pads and wedges are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction on or after Jan. 1, 2018, unless such horse has been prescribed and is receiving therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges. This delayed implementation allows ample time to both gradually reduce the size of pads to minimize any potential physiological stress to the horses and prepare horses to compete in other classes." 

"Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, management of HPA-covered events must, among other things, submit certain information records to APHIS, provide HPIs with access, space, and facilities to conduct inspections, and have a farrier physically present to assist HPIs at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions that allow Tennessee Walking Horses or racking horses to participate in therapeutic pads and wedges if more than 150 horses are entered, and have a farrier on call if 150 or fewer horses are entered," the rule states.

Animal rights groups pushed for the Obama administration to finalize a rule before Donald Trump took office, saying there was "no guarantee he would be committed to ending the controversial practice," Michael Collins reports for USA Today. Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post after Trump was elected: “None of us can predict how President Trump will address animal welfare in the first 100 days of his administration or beyond. But momentum is clearly behind this much needed rule, and it’s been delayed for years. There’s no excuse for further dilly-dallying. It’s time to close the loop on an appalling abuse and deal with people who are abusing horses in the name of entertainment and profit.”

Amtrak plan to speed up travel between N.Y. and Boston causing concern in rural towns

A $120 million federal plan to speed up Amtrak travel between New York and Boston isn't going over well in rural towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island that could be negatively affected by the increased traffic and new tracks, Joseph De Avila reports for The Wall Street Journal. (Journal graphic: Proposed new segment of Amtrak travel between New York and Boston)
Cutting the three-hour and 30 minute trip by 45 minutes would require bringing "four new track lines and as many as 110 trains a day under its historic downtown in a tunnel" in Old Lyme, Conn., a town of 7,600 southwest of Boston, De Avila writes. Lawmakers in Connecticut and Rhode Island said the plan also would "cut through farmland, wetlands and private property along a 35-mile stretch where the new trains could zoom through at speeds of as much as 220 miles an hour. Current speeds are limited to 50 miles an hour in some spots."

The Federal Railroad Administration’s proposal, "the first comprehensive plan to upgrade the northeast corridor rail line since 1978, aims to run more trains, more quickly, but can do that only by drawing a straighter route that would largely run from Old Saybrook, Conn., through Kenyon, R.I., north of the current track," De Avila writes. "The existing track and its stations would continue to operate, but wouldn’t be able to accommodate faster speeds."

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, all Democrats, have opposed the plan, Don Stacom reports for the Hartford Courant. Blumenthal told reporters, "This plan looks more like fantasy than fact, and we're going to fight it. The feeling in Stamford is similar to southeastern Connecticut: People want safe, reliable and fast trains, but the devil is in the details."

Part of the plan includes smoothing out a curved stretch of railroad in Charleston, R.I. That has residents fearful they could be forced off their property, R.J. Heim reports for WJAR in Providence. "One stretch in particular, between New London and Charlestown, called the 'Preferred Alternative Proposal', would have a major impact on residents, wetlands, and preserves throughout Washington County." (Wikipedia map: Washington County, Rhode Island (Charleston is bright red))

Pa. pilot project to pay rural hospitals set amount each month, instead of reimbursing for services

State officials in Pennsylvania hope a new payment model for rural hospitals will keep more of them from going under, Steve Twedt and Karen Langley report for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Pennsylvania Rural Health Model, funded by $25 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will pay hospitals a set amount each month, instead of reimbursing them for services provided.

As part of the pilot project six rural hospitals—a mix of independent hospitals and hospitals affiliated with larger health systems—will be selected "to participate in an initial pilot project of the payment model, which will launch in 2018," reports the Post-Gazette. "The group will then be expanded to 24 additional hospitals in the next three years." State Department of Health Secretary Karen Murphy said the $25 million "will be used to create a rural health redesign center to provide data analytics and other support."

"Various financial reports and surveys in recent years show how much small, rural hospitals in Western Pennsylvania have struggled," reports the Post-Gazette. "For the July-September 2016 period, regional hospitals with fewer than 100 beds collectively lost $10.4 million in those three months, for a negative 4.84 percent operating margin, according to a new Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania survey of its members. That compares with a negative 4.67 percent margin in 2015. Hardest hit have been small, rural hospitals that have fewer than 100 beds but are long-established with their communities and often are the only accessible acute care setting for miles."

Judge rules in favor of BLM on methane emission rules from oil and gas on public and tribal lands

"The Obama administration's plan to cut methane emissions on public lands will take effect as scheduled today after a federal court last night rebuffed industry and state attempts to block the rule," Ellen Gilmer reports for Energywire. "The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming denied requests from two industry groups and three states, which had asked for a preliminary injunction halting implementation of the Bureau of Land Management's new rule to slash methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands."

The rule, released in November, "sets gradual caps on how much methane may be flared and requires companies to use technologies to reduce flaring and inspect for leaks of the climate-warming substance, which is the main component of natural gas," Gilmer writes. It was challenged by Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance.

Opponents "say the rule is costly, duplicative and beyond BLM's authority because it is essentially an air quality regulation that falls on U.S. EPA's and states' turf," Gilmer writes. They asked Judge Scott Skavdahl—who froze and ultimately struck down the Obama administration's hydraulic fracturing rule last year—to pause the methane rule while the litigation moves forward. Skavdahl, an Obama appointee, denied the request, finding that the challengers had not met the steep requirements for a preliminary injunction."

Warmer winters leading to rise of moose-killing ticks in Maine, N.H., Vermont

A moose captured for a tick count
(Native Range Inc. photo)
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire say climate change is leading to a rise in deaths among moose from ticks, Brian MacQuarrie reports for The Boston Globe. Winter ticks, which attach themselves to a single moose by the tens of thousands, are being blamed for killing about 70 percent of moose calves in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. "Their deadly work is being aided by warming temperatures and shorter winters that allow the parasites to survive longer, scientists believe."

"Adult females can expand to the size of a grape and engorge themselves with up to four milliliters of blood," MacQuarrie writes. Pete Pekins, chairman of the Natural Resources Department at the UNH, which is conducting a study on moose in the three states, told MacQuarrie, "The moose are being literally drained of blood. This is about as disgusting as it gets out there."

As part of the study "researchers are attaching tracking devices to the moose as part of an effort to learn how ticks are affecting them," MacQuarrie writes. "If the reduction continues, researchers said, the range of New England moose is likely to shrink northward. And for many moose that survive, the ravages of winter ticks could render them less healthy and less likely to reproduce."

New Hampshire has about 4,000 moose, down from 7,500 in the early 2000s, MacQuarrie writes. In Vermont the number has dropped from 5,000 in 2006 to 2,200 today. About 76,000 moose roamed Maine in 2012, said Maine state moose biologist Lee Kantar. While Kantar did not have current numbers, some estimates are about 60,000.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Vilsack resigns USDA, putting fresh spotlight on Trump's only remaining Cabinet vacancy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is without a permanent boss or a designated replacement for the new administration that will begin Friday.

President-elect Donald Trump has picked all his Cabinet secretaries except the one for agriculture, a job that Democrat Tom Vilsack resigned Friday. Vilsack's email to employees "did not say why he was leaving early," The Associated Press reports. "He has said he wants to remain involved with agriculture after leaving government, but has not detailed those plans."

Michael Scuse, undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, is acting secretary, but with no permanent successor named, "Some in farm country are worried that agriculture may be a low priority for the new administration," though "Rural voters were key to delivering him the presidency," AP reports.

Vilsack, noting he was confirmed on Obama's first day in office, said his successor "will be at a tremendous disadvantage, in terms of getting up to speed on all this department does."  White House Press Secretary-designate Sean Spicer told reporters Friday that Trump had given the USDA job the same attention as other Cabinet jobs and would make a decision in the near future.

AP reports, "Trump and his team have interviewed several candidates, including former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. They have also talked to potential candidates from Texas and Indiana, home state of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Ted McKinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, was at Trump Tower on Thursday."

Rural counties in Ky. overcome opposition to start syringe exchanges to head off disease outbreaks

Small, rural counties are leading the way in establishing syringe exchanges to prevent outbreaks of HIV and hepatitis C among intravenous drug users in Kentucky, according to a top state drug official.

Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, spoke with Mary Meehan of Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional journalism collaborative of public broadcasters in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. He cited Powell County, in the Appalachian foothills east of Lexington, as an example of rural counties that are changing the perception of how addiction is perceived in the state, shifting the focus toward treatment and public health initiatives and away from the criminal justice system.

So far, syringe exchanges have been approved in 25 of the state's 120 counties; several others are having debates like the one that went on in Powell County, population 13,000, reports Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News.

In nearby and much larger Madison County, the Board of Health supports a syringe exchange, but was met with "mixed feelings" about the program at a county Fiscal Court meeting, with some members concerned that the program condoned IV drug use, Ricki Barker reports for The Richmond Register. The county will host several forums to educate local citizens about the cost and benefits of the program and answer any questions that the public may have about it. Health officials told Barker that the department sees about eight to 10 patients a day with hepatitis C.

In Powell County, physician assistant Troy Brooks initially opposed a syringe exchange. "He said it seemed like a way to let addicts keep using their drug of choice without consequence," Meehan reports. But then local police showed him how bad the problems is by taking him to the playground in Clay City, where they collected 41 dirty needles, and he saw the need to protect children and first responders.

Six of the 25 syringe exchanges approved so far aren't operational yet. Thirteen are in counties deemed most vulnerable counties by the federal Centers for Disease Control, which identified 54 Kentucky counties as among the 220 most vulnerable in the nation to a rapid spread of HIV and hepatitis C infection among IV drug users.
Updated map available at

Feb. 1 is deadline to enter editorial writing contest for weekly newspapers; conference trip offered

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is accepting entries for the 57th annual Golden Quill editorial writing contest. Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 1.

Newspapers published fewer than five days per week are eligible for the contest. Entries must have been published in 2016. Each newspaper is allowed up to four entries; two is the maximum per person. The entry fee is $25 per person; checks should be made payable to ISWNE.

To enter, complete the PDF form at (under Contests) and send a tearsheet with the Golden Quill entry clearly marked. Send two copies of each entry to Chad Stebbins, Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

Entries should reflect the purpose of ISWNE: Encouraging the writing of editorials or staff-written opinion pieces that identify local issues that are or should be of concern to the community, offer an opinion, and support a course of action.

The Golden Quill winner will receive a scholarship and travel expenses up to $500 to attend ISWNE's annual conference June 28-July 2 at College Park, Md. Runners-up (called the Golden Dozen) will receive conference scholarships if they have not previously attended an ISWNE conference. Grassroots Editor, ISWNE's quarterly journal, will reprint the Golden Quill and Golden Dozen editorials in the Summer 2017 issue. For questions, email Stebbins.

Ads available for newspapers to defend public notice against attacks from local governments

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie failed in his attempt to remove public notices from newspapers in the state, but the battle over taxpayer-paid advertising for taxpayers' benefit will go on there and in other states, because local governments keep lobbying state legislators to curtail public-notice laws.

The News Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, has developed three advertisements to make the argument for newspapers, which are estimated to get 8 to 10 percent of their annual revenue from government notices designed to inform the public of government actions.

NMA has given all newspapers permission to use the ads, one of which is shown here. Click on it to view a larger version. For the ads, click here and here.