Saturday, June 17, 2017

Poll suggests rural-urban divide is more cultural, racial and ethnic than it is political or economic

A Bristol, Tenn., motel has a common pitch.
(Post photo by Michael S. Williamson)
For the second time in three weeks, a major national newspaper has taken a long look at the disparities between rural America and urban America. First, The Wall Street Journal showed how rural measures of well-being resemble those of inner cities 20 years ago. Today, The Washington Post reports in a multi-story package, "The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities." And, "On few issues are they more at odds than immigration."

The main story and 10-minute video by Jose DelReal and Scott Clement are based mainly on a poll that the Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation did of nearly 1,700 Americans, including an over-sample of more than 1,000 in rural areas and small towns so that population could be analyzed with reasonable error margins. The Post used a very broad definition of small, including "counties near population centers with up to 250,000 residents such as Augusta, Va. (population 74,997), close to Charlottesville." In the poll's terminology, "Urban residents live in counties that are part of major cities with populations of at least 1 million, while suburban counties include all those in between."

The poll found a strong rural-urban disconnect: “Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are 'very different.' That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with about 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are 'very different.' . . . Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites.”

It also found a rural resentment: "Disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans. . . . Rural residents are nearly three times as likely (42 percent) as people in cities (16 percent) to say that immigrants are a burden on the country." Among suburbanites, as defined by the Post, it's 31 percent. But those views "are more closely tied to respondents’ party affiliations than to where they lived."

Trump won the rural vote in exit polls by 61 percent to 34 percent. The Post reports, "While urban counties favored Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points in the 2016 election, rural and small-town voters backed Trump by a 26-point margin, significantly wider than GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s 16 points four years earlier." However, "Rural Americans overall have mixed views on whether Trump respects them, with 50 percent saying he does and 48 percent saying he doesn’t, a finding that goes against a common theory that Trump won by providing a relatable alternative to political elites."

What about economics? "Rural Americans express far more concern about jobs in their communities, but the poll finds that those concerns have little connection to support for Trump, a frequent theory to explain his rise in 2016. Economic troubles also show little relation to the feeling that urban residents have different values. Rural voters who lament their community’s job prospects report supporting Trump by 14 percentage points more than Clinton, but Trump’s support was about twice that margin — 30 points — among voters who say their community’s job opportunities are excellent or good."

The package includes stories exploring rural America's politics, immigration, race, and one about the finding that "Rural and urban Americans are equally likely to say grace." The full poll results are here.

UPDATE, June 18: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones sees an interesting incongruity in the poll: "The perceptions of rural folks about their communities are out of step with what they report about their personal lives. . . . When unemployment rises in a city, it’s a diffuse problem that doesn’t necessarily seem related to living in a city. Conversely, when the same thing happens in a small town, it’s probably because a factory laid off 10 percent of its workforce. That’s a punch in the gut that makes you lose faith in your town. Similarly, when someone in a small town decides to move away to look for employment elsewhere, there’s a good chance it’s someone you know. In a city it’s just the guy down the hall that you nodded to every once in a while." Drum also notes that when asked what government can do to improve their economy, 93 percent of rural people in the poll said infrastructure, while 63 percent said cracking down on immigrants.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The lack of fast internet in many rural areas is both a cause and a symptom of their problems

The Wall Street Journal, which recently said rural America had gone from being "breadbasket to basket case," has turned its attention to the lack of fast internet service in many rural areas.

"In many rural communities, where available broadband speed and capacity barely surpass old-fashioned dial-up connections, residents sacrifice not only their online pastimes but also chances at a better living," reporters Jennifer Levitz and Valerie Bauerlein write. "In a generation, the travails of small-town America have overtaken the ills of the city, and this technology disconnect is both a cause and a symptom."

They explain: "Counties without modern internet connections can’t attract new firms, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they have: ranchers who want to buy and sell cattle in online auctions or farmers who could use the internet to monitor crops. Reliance on broadband includes any business that uses high-speed data transmission, spanning banks to insurance firms to factories."

A 2015 study in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas showed that "Rural counties with more households connected to broadband had higher incomes and lower unemployment than those with fewer," the Journal reports. “Having access to broadband is simply keeping up,” said Sharon Strover, a University of Texas professor who studies rural communication. “Not having it means sinking.”

About 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to broadband service that the federal government defines as fast: downloads of 25 megabits per second. The share in urban areas is only 4 percent, the Journal notes. It maps the rate of internet subscriptions by county, and takes a look at Caledonia, Mo., 86 miles southwest of St. Louis, which the story uses as its prime example of poor internet service:
"Rural America can’t seem to afford broadband: Too few customers are spread over too great a distance," the reporters write. "The gold standard is fiber-optic service, but rural internet providers say they can’t invest in door-to-door connections with such a limited number of subscribers. . . . Smartphone service is available but has coverage gaps and isn’t always reliable in rural communities such as Washington County. Even when it works, cell service can’t match the speed or capacity of broadband."

“You just can’t compete,” Brian Whitacre, an agricultural economics professor at Oklahoma State University, told the Journal. “Running a business with a smartphone is not going to happen.”

One source of help is rural cooperatives like the Co-Mo Electric Cooperative of Central Missouri, which are getting more interested in the business and are now encouraged to get into it in states like Tennessee, which limit municipal broadband to city limits or ban it altogether. Co-Mo internet chairman John Schuster told the Journal that the service is doing well, but “The definition of making money for me and for a shareholder from AT&T is going to be two different things.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Trump, is a native of rural Kansas. He says one of his priorities is rural broadband, and it should be included in Trump's anticipated $1 trillion infrastructure package. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told a House committee meeting on the rural economy last month, “This is square on the radar scope of the president.” Also, Pai "would like to boost subsidies, rewrite regulations to cut red tape and accelerate the FCC’s own processes, he said, which have slowed access to rural broadband," the Journal reports.

Administration suspends rules aimed at protecting students from predatory, for-profit colleges

President Trump and Education Secretary
Betsy DeVos (AP photo by Evan Vucci)
"The Trump administration is suspending two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges, saying it will soon start the process to write its own regulations," reports Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post. Such colleges are prevalent in rural areas or tend to attract a disproportionate number of students from young adults in rural areas.

One rule, Strauss reports, "requires that action be taken — including possible expulsion from the federal student-aid program — against vocational programs whose graduates leave with heavy student loan debt; 98 percent of the programs that officials found to have failed to meet those standards are offered by for-profit colleges." Part of that rule was already in effect.

The other rule, which was set to take effect July 1, "relieves students of all federal loans if a school used illegal or deceptive tactics to persuade students to borrow money to attend," Strauss notes. The rules were issued after several years of study by the Obama administration.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the rules were unfair to students and schools, and could "put taxpayers on the hook for significant costs." Critics accused her "of essentially selling out students to help for-profit colleges stay in business," Strauss reports. However, the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a lobby for historically black colleges and universities, "sent a letter to DeVos this week urging her to put a hold on the implementation of the regulations and reconsider them," partly because they are vague.

Judge says Dakota Access Pipeline permits should be reconsidered; tribe wants oil flow stopped

Voice of America map
A federal judge has ruled that permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline should be reconsidered, and a Native American tribe has asked him to stop the flow of oil through the pipeline, a request he will consider Wednesday.

District Judge James Boasberg of Washington, D.C., ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers "did not fully consider the pipeline's impact on the hunting, fishing and environmental-justice rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe," report Valerie Volcovici and Ernest Scheyder of Reuters. "Legal experts on Thursday said Boasberg has quite a bit of leeway with his decision, depending on what he deems are the environmental impacts of allowing oil to keep flowing."

The line "began service at the beginning of the month, with commitments to ship 520,000 barrels of crude a day from North Dakota's Bakken region," Reuters reports. "The line was delayed during months of protests on federal land in North Dakota and as a legal battle played out in Washington. Two of the tribe's earlier arguments had been rejected by the same judge. The 1,170-mile (1,880 km) line had been a long-desired project for Bakken producers, but met heavy resistance from the tribes over concerns about water supply and sacred lands." The pipeline runs under the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Reservation at Cannon Ball, N.D.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Expect less, not more, gun control after shooting

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.,
is still in critical condition.
Don't expect this week's shooting of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise and others at the GOP baseball team's final practice to lead to more gun control. "Even after the shooting of their close friend, there is no appetite at all in the House Republican Conference for tougher gun laws," writes James Hohmann of The Washington Post. "In fact, many are citing what happened yesterday as a reason to roll back the restrictions that are currently on the books. Republicans earnestly believe that guns can never be completely kept out of the hands of criminals. They are willing to accept some personal risks to their own safety, of a lunatic getting a firearm, because they genuinely see Second Amendment rights as inviolable. Furthermore, the phrase may be a cliché, but most conservatives sincerely believe that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

"Congressional Democrats have taken notably sharper and more aggressive tactics in recent years when it comes to advocating for tougher gun laws," Politico reports, but Democratic lawmakers tiptoed around the gun issue on Wednesday. Notably, several Democrats asked to speak without attribution for fear of being seen as insensitive so soon after one of their colleagues was shot. . . . Democratic lawmakers said the day of the shooting was not the time "to revive the dormant gun control debate. It was too soon, it hit too close to home — and lawmakers simply didn’t want to stand accused of politicizing a shooting that injured a colleague and friend. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said, “We’re beyond the place where Washington responds to mass shootings. I mean, we don’t. We don’t. After Orlando and Sandy Hook, that’s clearly not how people’s minds work here.”

A leading gun-control advocate, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, said there is “feeling of resignation” in his party on the issue. “Until there’s significant changes around the country or within Congress, we know each other’s positions and we know they don’t change,” Durbin told Politico. “There’s a fatigue. We know each other’s arguments. We know what’s going to happen.”

Hohmann reports that Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was at the scene of the shooting in Alexandria, Va., said Congress should consider letting lawmakers carry firearms. “If this had happened in Georgia, he wouldn’t have gotten too far,” Loudermilk told Mike DeBonis of the Post. “I had a staff member who was in his car maybe 20 yards behind the shooter, who was pinned in his car, who back in Georgia carries a 9-millimeter in his car. … He had a clear shot at him. But we’re not allowed to carry any weapons here.” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told Buffalo's WKBW that he plans to start carrying his pistol more often. “If you look at the vulnerability, I assure you: I have a carry permit. I will be carrying when I’m out and about. On a rare occasion I’d have my gun in a glove box or something, but it’s going to be in my pocket from this day forward.”

Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) noted he has introduced legislation to make it easier for most people to carry a gun in Washington. His bill “would allow the most law-abiding among us to defend themselves,” he told The New York Times. He noted that Capitol police were there only because Scalise was. “Had there not been a member of House leadership present, there would have been no police present, and it would have become the largest act of political terrorism in years, if not ever,” he said.

Wall Street Journal says latest sugar deal with Mexico is good for producers, bad for consumers

The business-friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks the Trump administration was too friendly to sugar producers last week when it cut a new trade deal with Mexico "to guarantee that sugar prices in both countries will remain well above the world market price. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross framed the deal as a big win—and it is, for the few sugar producers on both sides of the border. The losers are millions of consumers," the editorial says.

The deal continues a trend, the editorial says: "No industry has enjoyed as much protection under the North American Free Trade Agreement as sugar producers and refiners. . . . While most of the U.S. economy had to adapt to competition from Canada and Mexico starting in 1994, the U.S. market remained heavily protected from Mexican sugar until 2008. Even when the market opened, U.S. sugar interests refused to adapt and filed anti-dumping and countervailing duty suits against Mexican exports. In 2014 the Commerce Department ruled in their favor. Mexico could have fought that ruling at a NAFTA arbitration panel, but its sugar lobby also likes high prices. So instead it agreed to comply with a U.S.-stipulated minimum price and quota, and to restrict the amount of refined sugar it ships. In other words, both sides conspired to run a sugar cartel."
The latest deal is an attempt to keep it going, the editorial says: "In March Mexico voluntarily suspended permits for exporting sugar to the U.S. as a precaution against the possibility that the U.S. would cancel the 2014 agreement and impose tariffs. Last week’s deal is an attempt to avoid those new duties in exchange for further limits on Mexican sugar exports to the U.S. The new minimum price for raw sugar will be 23 cents per pound, up from 22.5 cents. The world market price is about 14 cents. Refined sugar will now be set at 28 cents per pound, up from 26 cents. Mexico sugar exports to the U.S. will now be 70 percent raw and 30 percent refined, up from 53 percent raw and 47 percent refined."

The editorial concludes, "If this is a glimpse into Team Trump’s trade policy, it isn’t pretty. The deal suggests the strategy is to use government power to enforce cartels that protect politically powerful producers, and Mexico’s decision to roll over may encourage White House protectionists to ask for more. So much for the little guy."

Civitas sells 17 dailies, 15 weeklies to AIM Media; 5 dailies, 17 weeklies in Carolinas to Champions

UPDATE, July 7: "Civitas has been on a selling binge of late. Having once published over 100 newspapers in communities in 12 states, the company has sold 66 of its publications this month alone," reports EKBTV of Pikeville, Ky., in a story about the sale of the Hazard Herald and the Floyd County Times to Appalachian Newspapers Inc., a division of Alabama-based Lancaster Management, owner of the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville, The Paintsville Herald and the relatively new Floyd County Chronicle. The merged paper is called the Floyd County Chronicle and Times.

Lima News graphic omits the Point Pleasant Register, across the
Ohio River from Gallipolis, Ohio. Click on map for larger version.
Civitas Media, one of the larger owners of rural U.S. newspapers, getting smaller. It is selling its 16 Ohio dailies and one in West Virginia to "a Dallas firm that has amassed a portfolio of smaller newspapers in Texas, Indiana, and now Ohio," The Toledo Blade reports. Today, Civitas announced that it had sold five dailies and 17 weeklies in North and South Carolina to Champion Media LLC, and there is talk in the industry that more sales are on the way.

AIM Media Midwest LLC, an entity formed by Jeremy Halbreich, chairman and CEO of AIM Media Management, to acquire the Ohio newspapers, said it does not expect any sudden changes or job loss by affected employees at its new acquisitions. Terms of the deal, which closed Tuesday, were not released."

The largest of the Ohio papers began its story, "A new era of ownership began Tuesday for The Lima News with a commitment to local decision-making and a promise of no layoffs." The paper has a long history of chain ownership, starting with its sale to Freedom Newspapers (later Freedom Communications, now defunct) in 1956. It was among papers Freedom sold to Civitas in 2012. The News ran a page giving its history, readership data, independent editorial policy, press start time and the fact that its pages are created "at a design hub in southwestern Ohio," a common practice for chains but not one widely reported to readers.

The Ohio dailies are in Lima, Delaware, Fairborn, Gallipolis, Greenville, Hillsboro, London, Piqua, Pomeroy, Portsmouth, Sidney, Troy, Urbana, Washington Court House, Wilmington, and Xenia. The Hillsboro Times-Gazette is the paper whose editor and publisher drew national attention for endorsing Donald Trump and recently did a follow-up column for The Washington Post. The sale also includes West Virginia's Point Pleasant Register, 15 weeklies and several specialty publications, a news release said.

Halbreich, a Cleveland native, is the former chairman of Sun-Times Media in Chicago, former president of The Dallas Morning News and founder of American Consolidated Media, which owned 40 papers in Texas and Oklahoma before selling in 2007. Civitas, based in Davidson, N.C., is owned by Versa Capital Management, a private-equity investment firm in Philadelphia.

In the Carolinas, the dailies being sold to Champion are the Lumberton Robesonian, the Mount Airy News, the Rockingham Daily Journal, the Clinton Sampson Independent and the Laurinburg Exchange. The weeklies include the Elkin Tribune, the Yadkin Ripple, the Pilot Mountain News, the Carroll News, the Newberry Observer and the Pickens Sentinel.

Champion is a new company formed by Scott and Corey Champion of Mooresville, N.C. It has six dailies and 21 weeklies in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota and Virginia, a news release said. It said Scott Champion "has operated both small and large newspaper companies including American Publishing, Liberty Group Publishing, GateHouse Media and OCM. Scott’s current portfolio includes MCM Media, MCM Ohio and now Champion Media."

Trump calls mayor of shrinking island that gave him 87% of vote, tells him not to worry about sea level

The mayor holds a crab with oysters growing on it.
(Photo via Chesapeake Bay Foundation)
The mayor of a Chesapeake Bay island that is shrinking by 15 feet a year got a call from President Trump telling him not to worry about rising seas from climate change, reports Travis Andrews of The Washington Post.

The call to James "Ooker" Eskridge was prompted by a CNN story that reported, "The residents here are extremely scared that if something isn't done soon, their homes and livelihoods will be washed away." It included Eskridge saying, "We've depended on the Chesapeake Bay for a couple hundred years or more, and now it's the Chesapeake Bay that's the greatest threat to our existence. . . . Donald Trump, if you see this, whatever you can do, we welcome any help you can give us." He added later, "I love Trump as much as any family member I got."
The story noted that Trump got 87 percent of the island's vote. “He said we shouldn’t worry about rising sea levels,” Eskridge told the Post. “He said that ‘Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.’” Eskridge said he agreed that rising sea levels aren’t a problem for Tangier, because “I’m on the water daily, and I just don’t see it.” He blames the island's shrinkage on the waves of the bay causing erosion of beaches and soil.

"The Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to begin building a jetty on the west channel of the island some time this year to protect it from the harsh currents," Andrews reports. "But Eskridge said they need a jetty, or perhaps even a sea wall, around the entire island. He believes Trump will cut through red tape and get them that wall."

UPDATE, June 16: In a Skype interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Eskridge said "Sea-level rise may be occurring, but it's a slow pace," while wave erosion is seen weekly. "The island is settling, sinking, but we can pump material onto the island to build the island up." He added, "I know there's changes in the climate . . . I'm just not totally convinced that it's man-made."

Palmer amaranth, often Roundup-resistant, appears to be very smart, for a plant

Palmer amaranth (Photo: University of Delaware Carvel REC, Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kudzu was called "the weed that ate the South." Palmer amaranth could be the one that ate the Mississippi River valley, because it appears to be very smart, for a plant.

“It appears Palmer amaranth can evolve life-history traits that increase its potential to grow and reproduce in various cropping systems,” says Ramon Leon of the University of Florida, part of a research team that took samples of the weed from fields in Florida and Georgia with "widely divergent cropping histories – from short-statured vegetables and peanut crops to tall corn and cotton crops. The fields also varied in herbicide use. Some were devoted to organic production, while others had a history of intensive herbicide use." The research was published in Weed Science.

"Palmer amaranth is widely considered to be one of the most damaging and difficult to control agricultural weeds in North America, said a news release about the study. It tends to develop resistance to the weed killer glyphosate, sold mainly as Roundup, and has spread into the Upper Mississippi Valley. One of its common names is carelessweed, perhaps a warning that farmers should be diligent about removing it.

Michael Wines of The New York Times wrote in 2014, "Palmer amaranths seem as if they were designed by nature to outwit herbicides and farmers. Unlike many weeds, it has male and female versions, increasing genetic diversity — and the chances of a herbicide-resistant mutation — in each new seed. And each plant is astonishingly prolific, producing up to 200,000 seeds in an average field, said Dave Mortensen, a professor of weed and plant ecology at Pennsylvania State University." Mortensen told Wines, “If one out of millions or billions of seeds contains a unique trait that confers resistance to herbicide, it doesn’t take long when a plant is that fecund for it to become the dominant gene.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Farm Foundation Forum June 21 will explore collaboration between agriculture and nutrition

The nutrition and agriculture communities have been natural partners in feeding America and developing federal policies, but some in Congress want to separate food legislation from the Farm Bill. The next Farm Foundation Forum, "Nutrition and Agriculture: A Natural Partnership," will explore areas for collaboration in greater detail.

The forum will run from 9 to 11 a.m. June 21 at the National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW, Washington. A free, live audiocast will also be available. There is no charge to participate, but registration is requested. Register here if you plan to attend the forum in person, or here to participate in the live audiocast.

The panelists will be Craig Gundersen, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy at the University of Illinois; Karen Siebert, a public-policy adviser for Harvesters--The Community Food Network, a regional food bank; and Skye Cornell, chief programs officer at Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that tries to empower under-served consumers to make better food choices by increasing affordable access to healthy produce. Farm Foundation President Constance Cullman will moderate the discussion and audience questions.

Pro-Obamacare group starts radio ads targeting GOP senators in Alaska, Nevada, Maine and W.Va.

A group opposed to Republican health-care proposals has started rural-focused radio ads in four states with senators who could provide the key votes on a bill Senate Republicans are drafting: Alaska, Nevada, Maine and West Virginia.

"The ads focus on rural communities access to affordable health care and name-checks the Republican senator from each state as a 'deciding vote'," reports Sally Persons of The Washington Times. "The Maine spot says in part, 'Behind closed doors in Washington they’re working in secret to rush through a health-care repeal bill that will devastate health care for Maine families, hitting our rural communities and hospitals the hardest. But it can’t pass without Senator [Susan] Collins. She’ll be a deciding vote.'"

Collins is considered one of the Republicans least likely to vote for the bill. The other targeted Republican senators are Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada and Shelley Moore Capito, all of whom have voiced reservations or opposition to the bill passed by the House in May.

The ads are from Save My Care, which says it is spending "six figures" on them, or at least $100,000. The group says on its website, "Our health care system faces real challenges, and must be improved. But Congress is meeting to decide the fate of health care behind closed doors, in secret, with no input from experts or their constituents. It’s wrong, and it’s irresponsible."

UPDATE, June 18: Another pro-Obamacare group is starting a $1.5 million TV campaign Monday, June 19, The Washington Post reports: "Community Catalyst Action Fund, which bills itself as a consumer health organization," is targeting the same four senators as the radio ads, plus Arizona, without directly targeting Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Scholars say Confederate flag display was reaction to civil-rights movement; Iowan sees it differently

Photo by Sarah McCammon, NPR
An article in The Washington Post brings an interesting perspective to the continuing conflicts over Confederate symbols in public spaces, between those who argue they serve as both painful reminders and modern totems of white supremacy, and those who claim they merely represent America’s past.

In the Post, political scientists Logan Strother, Spencer Piston and Thomas Ogorzalek say displays of the Confederate flag were rare until the civil-rights movement began. “It wasn’t until 1948 that the Confederate flag re-emerged as a potent political symbol,” they write. “The reason was the Dixiecrat revolt — when Strom Thurmond led a walkout of white Southerners from the Democratic National Convention to protest President Harry S. Truman’s push for civil rights. The Dixiecrats began to use the Confederate flag, which sparked further public interest in it.”

A few years later, protests against the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering desegregation of public schools prominently featured the battle flag.  In Georgia, a new state flag was adopted that included it. The man who guided the bill through the state House, admitted that “The Confederate symbol was added mostly out of defiance to federal integration orders,” the authors write. “These symbols were not widely used after the Civil War, but were reintroduced in the middle of the 20th century by white Southerners to fight against civil rights for African Americans. These basic historical facts provide more reasons to dispense with narratives of a racially innocuous Confederate past.”

But in Pleasantville, Iowa, today, Owen Golay flies the battle flag and the "stars and bars" of the Confederate government. "Aside from some people way back in his family tree who fought on both sides in the Civil War, he has no real ties to the South," Sarah McCammon reports for NPR. "Golay says his interest in Civil War history and symbols deepened during the Obama administration, when he felt President Obama was overstepping his executive authority. He says he feels a resonance today with 19th century Southerners' resistance to what they saw as federal overreach.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

'Patient-centered care' too often means more marketing and falls short, health columnist says

Trudy Lieberman
"What passes for patient-centered care falls short" many times, Trudy Lieberman writes for the Rural Health News Service. She tells some stories, including that of a Nebraska man whose post-surgery cancer treatments were delayed two months because someone messed up at the local hospital he wanted to use. “He is so angry. We are so angry,” the man's daughter told Lieberman. “So much for urgency and professionalism.”

Another patient had difficulty getting diabetic supplies, including "pens used to inject insulin," Lieberman reports. "He ordered them and approved the charge to his credit card using a telephone automated order system. Several days later the supplier called and left a message asking him to confirm the shipment. When he called back, he learned the cost exceeded the limit for automatic approvals, and the order wouldn’t be processed until he personally approved the charge. No one had told him there was a limit. So much time had passed that he had only a two-day of supply of insulin left." The man told Lieberman, “The delay created a potential emergency.”

It got worse, Lieberman writes: "Often patient engagement has come to mean selling things, particularly tools and devices, that purport to help patients manage their care. During the man’s many calls with the supplier the company tried to sell him knee and back braces, advising that Medicare would pay if he got a doctor’s prescription." And she gives other examples of medical marketing.

Patient-centered care is a "buzz phrase that’s all the rage in health-care circles," Lieberman writes. "It goes by a lot of different names like patient engagement, patient activation, and shared-decision making. If care is truly patient-centered, it revolves around eight principles identified in research by the Harvard Medical School and the Picker Institute. They include respect for patient preferences, coordination of care, information and education, physical comfort, emotional support, involvement of family and friends, continuity and transition, and access to care."

Senate Agriculture Committee counsel is named top Rural Development official at USDA

Anne Hazlett (Photo via University of Arkansas)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has named Anne Hazlett, chief Republican lawyer for the Senate Agriculture Committee, to be assistant to the secretary for rural development. "The position will replace the undersecretary for rural development, a Senate-confirmed position that Perdue is eliminating as part of a reorganization of the department," Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. "Perdue’s reorganization has come under sharp criticism from many rural development advocates and from key congressional Democrats."

Hazlett has also been agriculture director for her home state of Indiana and as chief of staff to the lieutenant governor. "In that position, Hazlett assisted in the creation of the state’s first office of community and rural affairs," Brasher notes. "Hazlett will direct all three agencies under the Rural Development mission area: the Rural Utilities Service, Rural Business Service, and Rural Housing Service."

Perdue said Rural Development programs will get more emphasis "despite not being under a Senate-confirmed nominee," Brasher writes, quoting a USDA press release: "Removing the additional bureaucratic layer of an undersecretary will allow Hazlett as assistant to the secretary to obtain ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decisions directly from Perdue without having to have ideas or suggestions passed through channels in the office."

Hazlett has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications from Kansas State University, a law degree from Indiana University and a master’s degree in agricultural law from the University of Arkansas.

Kids Count Data Book measures factors that help or harm children's well-being; local data available

The Annie E. Casey Foundation today released its latest Kids Count Data Book, showing state trends in the well-being of children, and it's a reminder that the foundation and its state partners publish state-by-state Kids Count reports with county-by-county information about a wide range of subjects. Those generally follow the national report by a few months, but last year's reports still have much useful information, Here's the latest overall map with state rankings:

Ohio editor, one of few who endorsed Trump, says president retains most support in that county

Gary Abernathy
The editor and publisher of a small daily newspaper in rural Ohio, one of the few in the nation that endorsed Donald Trump for president, reports that the conservatives and "rank-and-file Republicans" who voted for the candidate are "still with him . . . for the most part."

Gary Abernathy runs The Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, on the edge of the Appalachian foothills. The Civitas Media paper, circulation 6,600, makes a habit of editorial endorsements, unlike many small dailies, but its list of choices last fall was locally focused and the presidential section was straightforward and short: "Despite his obvious flaws as a candidate, Donald Trump best represents the drastic shakeup that Washington needs, and best reflects the conservative fiscal and social issue values that are important to the people of southern Ohio. His focus on securing America’s borders and defeating radical Islamic terrorism is the kind of decisive attitude needed in the White House."

Highland County, Ohio (
Trump won 75 percent of votes in Highland County, "which has voted for the Republican candidate for president for decades but was particularly enthusiastic about Trump," Abernathy writes. "Interestingly, the conservatives I speak with do not really consider Trump one of them. Rank-and-file Republicans tend to view Trump more as an independent who ran under the Republican banner. But for the most part, they’re still with him. They appreciate Trump’s “America first” agenda, not because they believe in isolationism, but because they believe the U.S. and its citizens should be the government’s top priority."

Trump's lack of accomplishment on health care, tax reform, the Islamic State or his pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington "is largely blamed on overreaching courts and the open 'resistance' that appears dedicated to opposing anything Trump wants," Abernathy writes. "What Trump’s supporters also appreciate about him are the very attributes for which he is relentlessly criticized in the media. People here — a farming community supplemented by modest-paying retail jobs and a few factory opportunities — are frank and plain-spoken. They’re weary of politicians whose every statement seems carefully crafted to say nothing and offend no one. The negativity that permeates Trump coverage is a frequent subject of conversation here. Matters that are not frequently discussed here are James Comey, tax returns, the Paris climate accord and the Russians. Instead, we talk about the heroin-overdose epidemic ravaging our community."

Writing for The Washington Post, at its invitation, Abernathy said Hillsboro's rural, majority-white character "doesn’t mean its citizens or its Trump supporters are racist, homophobic or Islamaphobic. Last weekend, I covered the opening of an exhibit at our historical society that pays tribute to a school desegregation saga that unfolded here in the 1950s; the event honored surviving members of the African-American community who lived through a chapter in local history too long ignored. A big crowd, white and black, was on hand. Steps toward racial harmony happen even in Trump country."

Abernathy also had a message for big news media: "I’m an editor who is a conservative on most issues. But I’m not a conservative editor. I strive to practice and teach solid, unbiased reporting regardless of what we are covering, doing our best to demonstrate respect, accuracy and fairness to all sides. Our political leanings are reserved for the opinion page. I wish more of my liberal colleagues would acquit themselves similarly." In his latest column, Abernathy said it's fun to write for the Post, but "Some of the responses offer a reminder that thick skin remains a requirement in this business. I appreciate that the post is interested in broadening its opinion sources, so we'll see how it goes."

KC-based Harvest Public Media seeks a top editor

Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR in Kansas City, is seeking an experienced editor to run the reporting collaboration of public media stations in the Midwest. "If you’re looking for a fast-paced position with lots of responsibility and challenge, this is the job for you," the posting says. "We seek an editor who is passionate about diving deep into issues and working collaboratively with talented reporters producing top-notch journalism that both tells an interesting story and sheds light on an important topic. We cover food and agriculture issues and we’re firmly rooted in the Midwest. Being an expert on food and farming is not required, but a willingness to learn is."

The posting says the editor will drive "ambitious coverage across all of our platforms – radio, digital, social media, podcasts and more – and should be comfortable both working quickly on the news of the day and planning long-term reporting projects. The mandate is varied: one day you’ll assign a story on politics, the next you’ll work on an environment story and later that day you’ll edit a business story. The ability to work cooperatively with reporters, editors and station management, and the ability to create a team that is more than just the sum of its parts, are key elements of this job. The editor is responsible for growing reporters’ capacity and aspirations. The editor should possess a keen understanding of what makes public media journalism special, but also have ambitions to help drive public media forward." For more details, click here

Mont. congressman-elect sentenced to community service, anger class, fined for assaulting reporter

Jacobs testified before Judge Rick West.
(Billings Gazette photo by Thom Bridge)
U.S. Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte of pleaded guilty Monday confessed to assaulting Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, who pressed him on May 24, election eve, about the repeal of Obamacare. Gianforte apologized to Jacobs in a June 7 letter, and again in court.

In lieu of four days of jail time, which he said would not serve the community or taxpayers, Gallatin County Judge Rick West sentenced Gianforte to 40 hours of community service, a $300 fine and $85 in court costs. He must also take a 20-hour anger-management course, the Billings Gazette reports.

"Gianforte cut off questions from reporters after court before he could be asked about why his campaign sent out a false statement" on the evening of the assault, Holly Michels reports for the Gazette. "Last week, Jacobs and Gianforte announced they reached a civil settlement that included Gianforte writing an apology letter and donating $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists."

Monday, June 12, 2017

What percentage of your county's population is on Medicaid? Study's interactive map tells you

Since its expansion in most states under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Medicaid has become a lifeline for children, families and communities in rural America, says a study by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the rural-health research program at the University of North Carolina.

"Medicaid is a vital source of health coverage nationwide, but the program’s role is even more pronounced in small towns and rural areas, the study report says. "Medicaid covers a larger share of non-elderly adults and children in rural and small-town areas than in metropolitan areas; this trend is strongest among children. . . . In 2014-2015, Medicaid provided health coverage for 45 percent of children and 16 percent of adults in small towns and rural areas, compared to 38 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in metropolitan areas."

The findings are especially relevant at a time when Congress is debating the future of the Medicaid expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The bill passed by the House would end the expansion in 2020; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed a phase-out through 2023. President Trump said in his campaign that he would not cut Medicaid, but then he supported the House bill.

The study includes an interactive map with county-by-county data. Here's a screenshot of a section of the map focused on Kentucky, highlighting the county in the state with the largest share of adults on Medicaid:

Democrats in Congress try to mend rural fences

After Donald Trump's landslide margin among rural voters last year, Democrats in Congress are mending fences in rural areas as they look toward the 2018 elections. Two national publications reported on that in the last two days; Maggie Severns of Politico looked at the Senate and Natalie Andrews of The Wall Street Journal looked at the House.

"While many voters in rural areas complained that Democrats forgot them in 2016, and party strategists rush this year to find a new message to bring them back in the fold, Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 have little time to spare to fix their party’s issues," Severns reports. Ten of them are in states that Trump carried, and "These battleground-state Democrats are quick to note that they got elected in the first place by tending to voters outside their states’ biggest population centers."

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and a Holstein cow. (AP photo)
Severns' main example is Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who "has declared war on almond milk," she reports. "Though not a cause célèbre driving political talk on cable news, plant-based beverages called milk are a major sore spot for dairy farmers in Wisconsin, where President Donald Trump swept up to 71 percent of the vote in rural counties last November. Baldwin has introduced a bill banning the nontraditional drinks from being labeled 'milk' — one of several rural issues Baldwin and fellow Democratic senators have championed early and often this year." Severns cites other examples of incumbents work in rural hospitals in Missouri, military bases in North Dakota and the opioid crisis in Ohio.

Republican consultant Scott Jennings "said the early moves are also a sign that the national Democratic Party could be a liability in the next election," Sevens writes, quoting him: “The reason they’re having to localize these things is because they have so badly failed at making their national message anything recognizable to people who used to be Democrats in rural America. They don’t have a handle on the hysterics that are still going on in their party, and until they get a handle on that they’re going to have a problem reconnecting with Trump voters.”

Robin Johnson, a part-time professor at Monmouth College in Illinois, told Andrews of the Journal, “If Democrats can’t do a better job of reaching out to rural voters and getting more of their votes, they’re going to be consigned a permanent minority status in Washington and state legislatures.”

The focus of Andrews' story is Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, "the only member of Democratic Party leadership from the Midwest," who "has a new job: tutoring her fellow House Democrats on talking to the rural voters that her party has lost to Republicans," Andrews writes. "As one of just 12 Democratic House lawmakers representing a district carried by President Donald Trump in last year’s election, the future of Ms. Bustos’s party may depend on her instruction."

Bustos told Andrews that she tells incumbents and potential candidates, “Don’t write off small towns. Don’t write off the counties in your district that have gone Republican for the last several elections. Don’t talk down to anybody. Whether they voted for Donald Trump or voted for Bernie Sanders, talk to people, listen to people.”

Broadband 'deserts' still abound in rural America

Private enterprise and state laws are not keeping up with the demand for broadband or the technology that defines it, leaving much of rural America without service that measures up to the federal government's recently adopted standard of 25 MB download speeds. Aaron Gould Sheinin reported on the situation in Georgia for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

"When bells ring at the end of the day in schools across rural Georgia, the local fast-food joints know what to expect. Gobs of students descend on the McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s in small towns across the state. But it’s not a Big Mac, Whopper or Frosty many of the kids are after. It’s wi-fi. Sixteen percent of Georgians do not have high-speed internet access, and the vast majority of those broadband deserts are in rural counties."

"It’s not just students," Sheinin writes. "Small businesses, the backbone of most rural communities, increasingly rely on the internet for ordering, sales, payroll and more. In tiny Bluffton, in southwest Georgia, Jean Turn is the comptroller for White Oak Pastures, a world-renowned farm famous for its grass-fed beef and pastured poultry. The farm is easily the town’s largest employer and has a burgeoning online market. But doing business online is not always easy." It gets 10 MB.

In a University of Georgia poll of 11,000 rural Georgians, "only 29 percent said their internet speeds were sufficient, while 79 percent said access to broadband was very important to their quality of life," Sheinin reports. "More than 60 percent said it was very important to their ability to earn a living. It is not a problem unique to Georgia. A recent Pew Research Center study found 73 percent of Americans have broadband access at home. For rural Americans, however, that number drops to 63 percent."

Telecommunications companies have been careful not to extend fiber-optic lines that they don't think will pay for themselves, so there is much interest in wireless technology. "AT&T will begin an experiment this year for its Project AirGig, which envisions super-fast internet hubs atop power poles that beam gigabit speeds into nearby homes." But wireless doesn't work well in hilly or mountainous areas.

State laws can encourage or encourage broadband development. "2017 has been a great year for winning legislative battles against bills threatening to curb or eliminate municipal broadband networks," Craig settles reports for the Daily Yonder.

How one Great Plains town recovered from wildfire

Communities are recovering from the wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the southern Great Plains in early March. Russ Quinn of DTN/The Progressive Farmer visited Ashland, Kansas, which was near the heart of the conflagration.

"While fire didn't burn the town itself, it did burn in every direction around the town," Quinn reports. "People lost homes, buildings, livestock and miles of fences. Within days, calls came from people who wanted to donate supplies. Kendal Kay, president of Stockman's Bank in Ashland and the town's mayor, said a meeting was held quickly and a task force of 18 community members was formed to handle the aftermath of the fires."

The town benefited from a Kansas Livestock Association fund "set up previously to help people affected by other fires in the state," Quinn writes. "The Stockman's Bank contributed the first $25,000, Kay said. In addition, the town of Ashland already had the Ashland Community Foundation in place for 20 years to help raise money for different projects. After this year's fires, the foundation took in money donated from all across the nation, he said."

The fires occurred just as a grazing season was about to begin, so there was a big need for hay, and that was "the item many other ranchers and farmers could donate easiest, Kay said." Donations to the region came from as far away as Kentucky. In Ashland, "We had 50 loads of hay in one day a couple times," Kay said.