Friday, November 10, 2017

What we can learn from small towns about showing up for your community

Whitney Kimball Coe
Rural Assembly photo
Whitney Kimball Coe dreamed about moving to the city since she was 6 years old, but at age 20 she called her parents from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., and told them she wanted to come home to Athens, her hometown of about 13,000 in southeast Tennessee. In an Oct. 31 speech at the Obama Foundation Summit, she spoke about why rural America matters, and why it holds her heart.

What pulled her back to Athens, she said, "is that deep knowledge that we already have something essential in place. I believe there is something incredibly powerful about the way we show up with each other in small, daily ways. The way we stay within sight and sound of each other.  It’s a practice. That’s the only word I can think of to describe what we do."

Coe, who directs the National Rural Assembly, acknowledges the problems rural America faces, from addiction and lack of health care to poverty. But consistently showing up to participate in the community is, she says, the hardest work we can do, something that requires humility and a level of commitment that's contrary to the individualist narrative of pop culture. She continued:
We can’t control the systemic barriers and disparities that hunt us and haunt us. We can’t control the forces of automation and globalization that have taken our livelihoods and our jobs. But we can control our response to these forces. And usually that means we just keep participating. We keep showing up. At funerals and potlucks. At PTA meetings and choir practice. At football games and city council meetings. We keep checking out library books and performing in community theater productions. We make our plans “for here and about here,” as writer Jo Carson says. And that regular practice of participation is what characterizes our relationships, and that gives us the ability to live and work and worship together in spite of disagreements. It helps us withstand the tangles of partisanship, too. It’s hard to dismiss someone when you expect to see them the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.

Read the whole speech here, reprinted in The Daily Yonder.

Telemedicine app could help address rural opioid addiction

"For President Donald Trump’s national emergency on opioid abuse to get traction in Appalachia and the rural South, the treatment effort will have to overcome some stubborn logistical barriers — and an obscure legal hurdle complicated by the president’s own push to reduce regulatory burden," Tony Pugh reports for McClatchy.

The logistical barriers to treatment in rural areas include fewer available medical care options, transportation problems (no car, too long a distance), and widespread poverty. Trump's limited emergency declaration included a call to expand telemedicine services so specialists can treat rural patients remotely via video conference. The National Institutes of Health is funding a $1.7 million study of an app called "emocha" that could help doctors remotely monitor whether rural patients were taking daily anti-addiction drugs like buprenorphine. The patients would use their phones or tablets to record themselves taking their meds, and send it to their doctor for verification. Patients could also report cravings and side effects in the app. The app can also be used to monitor patients with tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis C.

"Other emerging technology, such as online digital counseling apps, along with pharmaceutical innovations including longer-lasting doses of buprenorphine could help bridge the geographic and clinical gaps faced by opioid abusers in isolated areas," Pugh reports.

There are some problems with this approach. For one, limited access to broadband internet may limit the feasibility of telemedicine, especially in very rural areas. And a federal law designed to crack down on shady internet pharmacies is stopping doctors from prescribing controlled substances without an in-person consultation first. The American Telemedicine Association has been trying to get a federal waiver for the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act for nearly a decade, but say the Drug Enforcement Administration has been slow to respond.

"DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency is working on the waiver guidelines, but it’s unclear when the waiver will be ready and what it will entail," Pugh reports. "A senior DOJ official suggested the effort could be delayed by a Trump executive order that discourages creation of new rules by requiring agencies to eliminate two rules for every new one created. The White House did not respond to questions about the matter."

Rural Hub webinar to discuss accidental deaths in rural America

In conjunction with National Rural Health Day, the Rural Health Information Hub will hold a free webinar called "Injury Prevention and Control in Rural America — Insights from the CDC MMWR Rural Health Series." The 90-minute webinar will begin at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Unintentional injury is one of the five leading causes of death in the United States; the rate of unintentional injury is 50 percent higher in rural areas, which makes rural residents more likely to die from these injuries than their urban and suburban counterparts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently highlighted the rural-urban health disparities in three injury-related causes of death in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Rural Health Series: motor vehicle deaths and seat belt use, suicide, and drug overdose.

In this webinar, CDC researchers will discuss their findings, examine factors contributing to these disparities, and provide tools and resources to help close the gap.

Featured speakers will be:

  • Arlene Greenspan, Associate Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. 
  • Asha Ivey-Stephenson, Behavioral Scientist/Epidemiologist, Division of Violence Prevention (DVP), NCIPC, CDC.
  • Karin Mack, Associate Director for Science, Division of Analysis, Research and Practice Integration, NCIPC, CDC.
  • Laurie Beck, Epidemiologist, Transportation Safety Team within the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, CDC.

Click here to register or for more information about the webinar.

New soybean cultivar expands growing range and season, resists soybean cyst nematodes

Researchers at Clemson University have developed and released a new soybean cultivar that will extend the soybean planting season and expand southward the regions where it's possible to profitably grow soybeans. It is also resistant to soybean cyst nematodes, which are the primary pest of soybeans.

"The Agustina soybean cultivar was developed and released by soybean breeders Benjamin Fallen and Emerson Shipe. Fallen said this cultivar possesses the long juvenile (LJ) trait which gives it the ability to produce high yields even when days get shorter and daylight hours are fewer. The LJ trait also allows the Agustina soybean to be grown in regions not suited for most existing soybean cultivars," Morning Ag Clips reports.

Most soybeans in the U.S. grow between 35 and 45 degrees north, roughly from Arkansas to Minnesota. But Agustina performs best from 22 to 29 degrees north, and performed well in tests even as far south as Tampico, Mexico.

Agustina seed will be sold commercially in the U.S. and Mexico beginning in the spring of 2018.

Soybean cyst nematode distribution. University of Kentucky Plant Pathology map; click on the image to enlarge it.

ACA sign-ups set record pace for first week of enrollment

"More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, significantly beating the pace of prior years as consumers defied President Trump’s assertion that the marketplace was collapsing," Robert Pear reports for The New York Times.

Sign-ups averaged more than 150,000 per day last week, compared to 77,600 per day during the first week of enrollment in 2015. About 23 percent of the enrollees last week were new to the marketplace and didn't have insurance through the federal exchange this year.

The ACA has been much in the news lately after President Trump slashed its advertising budget to the bone, cut off cost-sharing subsidies to insurers, and halved the amount of time for open enrollment. But Matthew Slonaker, the executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, told Pear that "Perhaps there's no such thing as bad publicity. All the talk about health care in the year since the election has been good advertising for the Affordable Care Act."

And Obama administration official Lori Lodes, who is also the founder of insurance education nonprofit Get America Covered, told Pear that people visited because they were anxious and confused about coverage, and found that plans were cheaper than they expected.

"Health policy experts said that unhealthy people with the greatest need for insurance tended to sign up in the first weeks of the open enrollment period while healthy people, who are needed to stabilize the market, were more likely to sign up near the final deadline. It is, they said, too early to predict total enrollment for 2018," Pear reports.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

41% in counties that voted for Obama and Trump, or for Trump by 20 points more than for Romney (many of them rural), think U.S. is worse off now

"One year after Donald Trump’s shocking election upset, many Americans who live in the key counties that propelled him to victory remain unconvinced that the country is better off now that he’s in the White House, a new poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal shows," Carrie Dann reports for NBC.

In counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2016 and Trump in 2016, or went for Trump by more than 20 points above their percentage for Mitt Romney, a plurality (41 percent) of voters think the country is worse off now than it was a year ago; 32 percent think it’s better off. Many of the counties are rural.
This looks like a story in all the colored counties; click on the image to enlarge it.
Perhaps more importantly, 53 percent of voters in these counties say they don't think Trump has a clear agenda on how to address major issues facing the country. And though Trump has a higher approval rating in these "flip" or "surge" counties than in the nation as a whole, his approval appears to be waning.

"Obama-Trump voters represented only about 4 percent of the electorate," James Astill writes in his Lexington column for The Economist. "But because they were concentrated in the swing states of the industrial Northeast and Midwest, they outweighed Mrs. Clinton’s more modest gains with groups such as the college-educated whites who migrated from the Republicans to the Democrats. They are the main reason Mr. Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the states that sealed his victory."

That's why both parties -- and increasingly, the news media -- are paying attention to rural voters. "In the mid-term elections, the Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to take the House of Representatives, and many of their likeliest gains are in places, such as Iowa and Pennsylvania, thick with Obama-Trump voters," Astill writes. "Democrats are planning a fusillade of messaging on the bread-and-butter economic issues they believe switchers care about most. . . . Some switchers do seem open to persuasion. Almost 30 percent voted for a Democratic House candidate in 2016, which suggests both a residual tie to the party and how singularly Mrs. Clinton was disliked."

It's well-known that economic woes and cultural anxieties helped drive voters to Trump. In his column (published last week), Astill wonders whether Democrats have the wherewithal to assuage flip-voters' worries on that score. It's too soon to tell how the 2018 midterms will fall out, but the pro-Democrat carnage of yesterday's election suggests it's a possibility.

Colorado's rural startup fund could be a model for the nation

Colorado is trying a promising new program to help rural entrepreneurs succeed; they hope it will be a model for the rest of the country.

Job growth in rural areas lags significantly behind urban areas (and hasn't yet reached pre-recession levels), so more successful small businesses could give those areas an economic boost. And the entrepreneurs are there: research shows that "communities with fewer than 20,000 people have a far larger percentage of entrepreneurs. Those entrepreneurs are also more resilient, with their businesses having higher five-year survival rates," Dustin McKissen reports for VentureBeat.

But rural entrepreneurs face significant barriers to success, including access to early-stage investment capital. So Colorado's Office of Economic Development and International Trade is allocating $9 million (with an option for another $3 million) to fund startups in rural Colorado counties.

"The fund will primarily focus on agriculture, advanced manufacturing, education, health and wellness, tourism and outdoor recreation, energy natural resources, clean tech and technology, and information," McKissen reports. "While several states have offices or programs dedicated to rural economic development or state-backed venture funds, directly combining the two is rare — and needed. The fund provides real capital to a segment of the population that’s already demonstrated entrepreneurial talent and the grit to handle the ups and downs of owning their own business."

Zinke asks Senate to hurry up on confirming nominees such as Office of Surface Mining chief

Fed up with long wait times to confirm Interior Department nominees, Secretary Ryan Zinke is pressuring Senate leaders to hurry up. "In a bluntly worded letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Zinke voiced unhappiness over the 'senseless and unexplainable' delays to several pending confirmations," Michael Doyle reports for Energy & Environment News.

Some Trump administration nominees have had holds placed on them by Democratic senators, a delaying tactic not easily tracked. But some Democrats have blamed the long waits on McConnell's floor-scheduling priorities.

It will be interesting to see whether McConnell will take more definitive action now that Kentuckian Steve Gardner is among the nominees. Gardner was nominated Oct. 26 to be the director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation & Enforcement. In August OSM yanked a controversial study on the health effects of surface mining in Appalachia. Kentucky is No. 4 in U.S. coal production.

China Energy to invest $83.7 billion in W.Va. for shale gas development and chemical manufacturing

"China Energy Investment Corp. Ltd. has signed an agreement with the West Virginia Department of Commerce on an $83.7 billion plan to invest in shale gas development and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia," WSAZ-TV in Huntington reports. The deal "dwarfs" the state's gross domestic product, Bloomberg reports.

"The touted investment would extend over a 20-year period, covering projects for power generation, chemical manufacturing and the underground storage of liquefied natural gas, West Virginia’s Department of Commerce said in its announcement," Reuters reports. "The deals will likely help create jobs in West Virginia and lift its economy."

This marks the first overseas investment for China Energy, the world's largest power company, which was recently formed from a merger of the country's largest coal producer and one of China's top five utilities. "The agreement was the biggest" among up to $250 billion worth of deals signed during President Trump’s visit to Beijing, Reuters reports.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Elections have an anti-Trump feel; Maine voters override governor to expand Medicaid

Election Day brought sweeping victories to Democratic candidates across the country, even in rural areas and places that voted for President Trump in 2016. Some results may have been a referendum on Trump, as political scientist John Sides writes, but the party in the White House usually loses seats in midterm elections. Regardless of the reason, "It’s become clear that Democrats have the momentum across the country," Aaron Blake writes for The Washington Post. Here are some elections with rural resonance or special interest:

VIRGINIA: Democrat Ralph Northam was elected governor by 9 percentage points, which The Washington Post's James Hohmann says was a direct reflection of Trump's standing in the state: "Republican Ed Gillespie could not escape Trump’s unpopularity, despite his best efforts to thread the needle.” In exit polls, 34 percent of voters said the reason for their vote was to express opposition to Trump. This is especially telling in a race where pundits said Northam was having trouble connecting with rural voters. Voter turnout surged in the Northern Virginia suburbs and in rural Southwest Virginia, but the former has a lot more voters than the latter. (Post map)
Steve Kornacki of MSNBC said Gillespie wanted to do “normal bad” for a Republican in Northern Virginia and make it up in rural areas. But his numbers in northern Virginia were more like Trump’s (very bad) and though he did better in the southwest than he did when he ran for the Senate, it wasn’t enough to make up the difference. “Revenge of the suburbs,” Kornacki called it.

Democrats erased a 32-seat GOP advantage in the House of Delegates, in what Michael Martz of the Richmond Times-Dispatch calls a "tsunami election," gaining an "epochal gain in power in a legislative chamber that has been under an iron Republican grip." Recounts are likely to determine which party ultimately controls the House. The surge of votes for Northam likely helped downticket races.

Two of those new delegates may be of interest to journalists. Former reporter Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person in the country to be elected to a state legislature, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., reports. She beat out the 26-year incumbent, 73-year-old Republican Bob Marshall, who proposed a bill restricting which bathrooms transgender people could use. Roem worked for the Gainesville Times, the Prince William Times, and the Montgomery County Sentinel.

Roanoke Times photo by Heather Rousseau
In the Blacksburg area, Republican Del. Joseph Yost lost to former television news anchor Chris Hurst, who was a reporter/anchor at Roanoke's WDBJ-TV in 2015 when his girlfriend, fellow reporter Alison Parker, was shot and killed during a live remote broadcast. The incident and Hurst's career gave him "unusually high name recognition," The Roanoke Times reports. "Touched by Hurst’s heartbreaking story and angry at Trump, Democrats from Virginia and other states donated big money to Hurst’s campaign hoping to flip the seat from red to blue," and he was boosted by student volunteers at Virginia Tech and Radford University. The race between Hurst and Yost is tricky to fit into a larger narrative, though; both are young centrists, and though the district is in a solid-red region, it was split almost evenly between Democrat and Republican voters in 2016, with Hillary Clinton getting a slight edge, the Post notes.

MAINE, America's most rural state, became the first to expand Medicaid by referendum. "As many as 80,000 residents of the state will gain coverage," Quinn Libson
reports for Route Fifty. Republican Gov. Paul LePage had declined to expand the program under a main provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

COLORADO: "Voters on Tuesday passed a controversial ballot issue that gives Broomfield more local oversight of oil and gas operations in the city, a move that probably will invite a legal challenge from Colorado’s large energy sector," John Aguilar reports for The Denver Post.

MONTANA: Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins will be the new mayor of the state capital of Helena, unseating Republican incumbent Jim Smith with just over 51 percent of the vote, Thomas Plank reports for the Helena Independent Record. Helena is one of the smallest capital cities in the country, with a population of around 31,000. Trump got 55 percent of the city's vote in 2016.

WASHINGTON: Democrat Manka Dhingra won a special election to a state Senate seat, which flipped the Senate to Democratic control. That means that Washington's legislative and executive branches will now be controlled by Democrats, just as in Oregon and California.

NEW JERSEY: "Democrat Phil Murphy, a former banker and first-time candidate, won the New Jersey governor’s race by 13 points over Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor. That’s on par with Clinton’s margin a year ago, but it’s a remarkable turnabout from four years ago — when Christie got reelected with a 22-point margin of victory. It means that Democrats will have unified control of the Garden State’s government," Hohmann reports.

Foreign-born residents drive population growth in rural U.S.; interactive map has county data

Population growth in rural America was almost non-existent from 2010 to 2015, and the total rural population has been declining slightly since 2012. The little growth in 2010-15 was mostly because of foreign-born residents, The Daily Yonder reports.

"Rural America’s population grew by a scant 0.3 percent during the period and now stands at 46.2 million. Without the increase in foreign-born residents, the rural population growth would have been 0.1 percent, Census estimates show," write Bill Bishop, Roberto Gallardo and Tim Marema. Their analysis, based primarily on American Community Survey data, jibes with a Headwaters Economics report in August that said that minorities, including those who are foreign-born, are driving the growth in rural areas of Western states.
Daily Yonder map; click on the image to enlarge it. Click here for the interactive version.
The population gains and losses in that time period looked very different in large vs. small rural counties, though. Foreign-born residents increased in both large and small rural counties, but small rural counties lost native-born residents, while larger rural counties tended to gain them.

"Counties are not losing population randomly," Ken Johnson, senior demographer for the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, told the Yonder. "The people who leave rural counties tend to be young adults. So when a county loses those young people, it loses a lot of its potential, too. You’re not just losing those young adults, you’re losing the people who are going to produce the next generation." Continuing rural population decline could hurt local businesses too, he said.

WHO asks farmers to give animals less antibiotics; pork lobby says proposed ban would be amoral

A piglet on an Illinois farm gets a shot of antibiotics.
(Chicago Tribune photo by Stacey Wescott)
"The World Health Organization, worried about an increasing epidemic of drug-resistant infections, has thrown its considerable weight behind the campaign to cut the use of antibiotics in pigs, chickens and cattle that are raised for their meat," Dan Charles reports for NPR. "The WHO is calling on governments to follow the example of Denmark and the Netherlands, which have banned the use of these drugs to make animals grow faster, or simply to protect healthy animals from getting sick."

Antimicrobials are sometimes overused or misused in treating human sickness, but the amount of antibiotics used on farms is usually far greater. In its new guidelines, the WHO asks farmers not to use antibiotics to promote faster growth or prevent disease in healthy animals. Veterinarians are asked to avoid using antibiotics that are most critical in human health. And it asks governments to not allow any new antibiotics discovered in the future to be used on animals.

The National Pork Producers Council "condemned the WHO's proposals to ban the use of drugs for disease prevention, and to stop using drugs that are most critical for human health. According to the NPPC, such a ban 'is antithetical to pork farmers' and veterinarians' moral obligation to care for their pigs'," Charles reports.

Southern states, including many rural counties, could be hurt if NAFTA talks fall through

Southern states, including many of their rural counties, depend heavily on trade with Mexico and Canada, and the entire South could be hurt if the troubled North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations fall through, according to an analysis by the bipartisan Southern Legislative Conference.

Since NAFTA's implementation in 1994, exports to Mexico have risen more than 500 percent in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, and all SLC states except Oklahoma have seen an increase of at least 125 percent, Roger Moore reports. The percentage of total exports to Mexico in SLC states has gone up too, from an average of 7.2 percent in 1993 to 11.9 percent in 2016.

"Exports to Canada between 1993 and 2016 have increased in every SLC state, from a low of 12 percent in Oklahoma, to a high of 262 percent in Louisiana," Moore reports. But as a percentage of total exports, several SLC states export less to Canada than they did in 1993.

The Census Bureau says "Mexico now is the first or second most important export market for Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, and it is among the top five export markets for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia," Moore reports. "Meanwhile, Canada is the top export market for Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. For all remaining states in the region, Canada is among the top three export markets."

Imports from Canada and Mexico are also important to SLC states. "With the exception of Louisiana, Canada and/or Mexico are among the top five importers for every SLC member state," Moore reports.

Wisconsin governor promises to sign bill to lift ban on sulfide mining

The Menominee River watershed
(Wikipedia map)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign a bill lifting the state's nearly 20-year ban on gold and silver mining, which he helped enact when he was a legislator. The bill could ease the way for sulfide mining in the same mineral-rich area as the proposed Back Forty Project just over the border in Michigan. The area is right along the Menominee River, so opponents worry that the toxic sludge from the mining will pollute the river.

"Lawmakers passed statutes in 1998 that require sulfide mining applicants to show a similar mine has operated in North American for 10 years without polluting and a similar mine has been closed for 10 years without polluting. State environmental officials have never made a final determination that any applicants ever met those standards," The Associated Press reports.

"Wisconsin is the only state with such a restriction, which has kept mining companies out of the state since Rio Tinto Kennecott closed the Flambeau mine in Ladysmith in 1997 after four years of mining copper, gold and silver," Jason Stein reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Supporters of the bill argue it allows conversations about mining to occur that cannot happen under current law. Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, who authored the bill with Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, emphasized that companies that want to mine in Wisconsin will have to work with local communities in order to do so," Jessie Opoien reports for The Capital Times.

"Opponents of the new legislation are concerned with the removal of the so-called "prove it first" requirement," Opoien reports. "If a sulfide mine could operate safely, argued Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, the existing law wouldn't have prevented it from operating in Wisconsin."

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Poll: Most whites, and 2/3 of rural ones, say whites face discrimination, but few say it's hit them

Two-thirds of whites without a college degree and whites who live in rural areas think whites are discriminated against, but few of them say they have experienced such discrimination, according to a poll taken by the Pew Research Center.

"A majority of whites [55 percent] say discrimination against them exists in America today . . . and about 84 percent of whites believe discrimination exists against racial and ethnic minorities in America," Don Gonyea reports for NPR, which sponsored the poll with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

A much smaller percentage of white Americans say they've personally experienced racial discrimination. White construction worker Tim Musick of Maryland told Gonyea that he thinks whites are discriminated against because people assume that all white people are bigots. "I think that you pretty much, because you're white, you're automatically thrown into that group as being a bigot and a racist and that somehow you perceive yourself as being more superior to everybody else, which is ridiculous," he said. "I don't know what it feels like to be a black man walking around in the streets, but I do know what it feels like to be pegged, because of how you look, and what people perceive just on sight."

Lower- and moderate-income whites are more likely to say discrimination exists against whites, and that is significant because rural whites without college degrees are President Trump's voting base, says NPR Political Editor Domenico Montanaro. And rural Americans who feel dismayed about the changing culture of America tipped the election in Trump's favor.

University of Akron political scientist David Cohen says the findings fit into one of the biggest narratives of the latest presidential election. "I think this does reinforce a lot of the resentment you saw in the 2016 election, especially among white, working-class voters lacking a college degree," Cohen told Gonyea.

Gonyea posits: "Though it's possible that Trump's message to disaffected whites did make a difference in the decisive battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Cohen said the question remains: Did Trump create or significantly boost white resentment overall — or did he simply tap into a trend with deep roots and history?"

Columnist says Trump supporters in Iowa aren't changing minds, offers warning to news media

Trump at the Values Voters Summit
(AP photo by Jose Magana)
Iowan anthropologist and public-affairs radio show host Robert Leonard offers a thought-provoking poke to the news media in a guest column for the Kansas City Star. Leonard confesses that he despises President Trump, but says the huge amount of negative news about the president on news and social media aren't making a dent among rural Trump voters in his area in Iowa: "My conservative friends will vote for a fence post before they vote for a Democrat."

A friend encouraged Leonard to watch the speech Trump gave at the Values Voters Summit if he wanted to understand why rural conservatives love Trump. Leonard did, and lays out in the column the dog-whistle phrases in the speech that attract conservatives, along with the unspoken negative messages about Democrats the phrases may have evoked. "Trump called the Las Vegas shooting a 'horrific mass murder' and an 'act of pure evil.' Democrats blame the guns and want to take yours away," he writes. "Trump honored the heroes of Las Vegas, including the police officers and other first responders. Democrats elevate thugs and view our protectors in blue with disdain."

"So, big media, keep up the great writing, thoughtful analysis, logic and reasoning. And fact checking. But, remember here in Trumplandia, you won’t change any minds. The cultural fissure is too deep, and relates to fundamentally different worldviews with respect to freedom and the nature of man," he writes. "Keep preaching to the choir, coastal media elites. Continue to predict the downfall of Trump in 2020 if not before, and great victories for Democrats in congressional races in 2018, and we’ll see if it works. That’s my hope. I fear, however, such stories will only lead to complacency among the Democratic electorate."

Over 2,700 complaints about crop damage caused by dicamba; hit 4% of U.S. soybean crop

Startling figures about the damage done by a controversial herbicide were presented at a Nov. 1 meeting called by the Environmental Protection Agency and attended by pesticide manufacturers, state agriculture officials, farmer groups and environmentalists. University of Missouri plant sciences professor Kevin Bradley found that dicamba has damaged more than 3.6 million acres of soybean crops (about 4 percent of all soybeans planted in the U.S.), and damage complaints were filed in more than two dozen states. Most of the complaints were about soybeans, but other complaints said dicamba had damaged other fruits, vegetables, residential gardens, trees and shrubs.

University of Missouri map; click on the image to enlarge it.
"Reuben Baris, the acting chief of the herbicides branch of the EPA, said that 2,708 complaints had been reported to state agriculture officials about dicamba crop damage as of mid-October. They came from 25 of the 34 states where the 'over the top' application is approved for use. The largest number of complaints were filed in Arkansas, where there were 986 incidents, and Missouri, which had 310," Eric Lipton reports for The New York Times.

University of Missouri map; click on the image to enlarge it.
Dicamba has been used since World War II on fields before plants sprout, but only late last year was approved for spraying on already-sprouted soybeans and cotton that were genetically modified to resist it and are threatened by invasive weeds such as palmer amaranth (pigweed). But dicamba is notorious for its volatility, and drifts to other fields where it damages crops. Complaints have led individual states such as Missouri and Arkansas to temporarily ban its use at the state level.

When the EPA approved "over the top" use of dicamba, it notified manufacturers Monsanto, BASF and DuPont that they would have to secure new approval of its use after two years. Baris and Rick Keigwin Jr., the director of EPA's pesticide program, "made clear on Wednesday that approval might be in jeopardy if the measures being taken for the next growing season did not significantly reduce the scope of the drift damage," Lipton reports.

Federal scientist blocked from addressing climate change at wildfire conference; others on hold

The U.S. Forest Service kept an ecologist away from a national conference of fire experts, where he was scheduled to talk about the role that climate change plays in encouraging wildfires. This year's record-breaking wildfire season scorched 8.8 million acres across the Great Plains and western states.

"William Jolly, a research ecologist with the agency's Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Mont., was supposed to give a 30-minute presentation titled 'Climate-Induced Variations in Global Severe Fire Weather Conditions' at the International Fire Congress in Orlando, Fla., next month. The event is hosted by the Association for Fire Ecology," Brittany Patterson reports for Energy & Environment News.

It isn't an isolated incident. "No travel authorizations were given to researchers from the Rocky Mountain Research Station's Human Dimensions Science Program, according to AFE. That includes Karin Riley, a research ecologist who studies the relationship between climate and wildfire. Riley is vice president of AFE's board of directors," Patterson reports.

Three U.S. Geological Survey researchers have been waiting for approval for months to speak about climate change at the same conference. USGS spokesperson Catherine Puckett told Patterson that the agency is following normal procedures and anticipates that the researchers' requests will be submitted to the acting director of USGS for approval.

"A total of 48 Forest Service employees have been approved to speak at the conference, the agency said. Of those, 12 are scientists. About 110 scientists made requests to attend the event," Patterson reports. "At those levels, federal participation would be significantly down for the 2017 Fire Congress. At the last Congress, held in San Antonio in 2015, 180 federal employees attended out of the 578 total participants. Nearly 70 percent of all government participants were USFS employees, according to AFE." None of the Forest Service employees approved to speak at the conference next month appear to be addressing climate change specifically.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency blocked three scientists from making presentations at a climate-change conference, Patterson notes.

Trump and USDA name state directors for Farm Service Agency and Rural Development programs

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on Nov. 3 a slate of USDA Rural Development and Farm Service Agency state directors appointed by President Trump.

FSA directors manage farm programs. RD directors "work to help improve the economy and quality of life in rural America," the USDA said in a press release.

Perdue touted the state directors as playing a critical role in providing home-state customer service to ranchers, foresters, and farmers across the country. Many of the appointees have previous experience serving rural communities, such as Kentucky RD Director Hilda Legg who ran the Rural Utilities Service, one of the RD agencies, in the George W. Bush administration.

Click here for a complete list of FSA and RD state directors.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Texas shooting raises concern over church security

In response to Sunday's deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, population 400, part of the national conversation has turned to church security. How can churches protect themselves from active shooters? Should parishioners be allowed to carry in church?

Church shootings are, sadly, not without precedent. In 1999 a man shot 14 people, killing seven, at a youth prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, before killing himself; in 2005 a man shot and killed four people at the Sash Assembly of God Church in Fannin, Texas. And just six weeks ago a gunman shot eight people, killing one, at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Tennessee. More notoriously, in June 2015 Dylann Roof killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Even before Sunday's shooting, the Trump administration was working on efforts to train houses of worship on emergency security preparedness, including active shooter situations, Elizabeth Dias reports for Time. Jamie Johnson, the director of the Department of Homeland Security's Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships office, told Time, "We are going to be a whole lot busier in the months and years to come when it comes to safety and security for houses of worship . . . This issue will now come to the forefront of the religious conversation in America." (Johnson, previously a conservative talk show host, was appointed to the post by then-homeland security secretary John Kelly, now White House chief of staff.) Johnson has spoken at church conferences nationwide, and told Time in August, "We teach pastors and church executives to teach their members to be aware that not everyone who steps onto a church property has worship on their mind."

Anthony Williams, the police commander for the Dallas County Community College District, holds security seminars for churches in northern Texas. "He teaches de-escalation — knowing when it is best to run and hide, and when it is time to fight and defend. It all starts with preparedness," Jennifer Lindgren reports for KTVT in Fort Worth. "Williams looks at what churches can do — from the parking lot to the pulpit — to help keep the faith, but understand that these shootings are a real threat." Williams told her, "What we try to do is, we try to prepare our churches to find that balance between faith, as well as reality."

Some churches are taking such warnings to heart. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, who preached at President Trump's private inaugural church service, told Dias that his church worked with DHS to complete a safety assessment months ago. The 13,000-member church has paid uniformed and plainclothes security officers at every service, and parishioners are not allowed to carry backpacks. But they are allowed to carry guns. "It would be unthinkable in a state like Texas not to allow it," Jeffress told Dias. “We think that is safer."

Larry Rowell, a Baptist minister who recently retired as editor of Kentucky's Casey County News, asked his Facebook friends, "Should church attendees who are duly licensed to carry a concealed weapon bring it into a worship service?" Here are selected responses, in order of posting:
"My heart says no, my mind says yes."
"There are local churches that have selected members to carry."
"I used to not think yes, but times have changed . . . " (some other responses were similar)
"If he's in his right mind and can legally do so and has the preachers permission, then yes."
"I know of some churches who have at least four people who carry in the church . . ."
"We have a large church and many concealed carry members in church."
"Our church has two concealed-carry members who patrol our campus."
"Yep. But I'm not for churches 'authorizing' their concealed carrying members to be armed security. If a church 'sanctions' it, they are legally responsible for the actions of those they 'authorized'."
"I don't think they should because that is God's house."
"No. Google accidental discharge of weapon in church. And then look at the number of toddlers who shoot people to death, because they found a gun in a purse or a jacket."
"Yes. Even small churches need to have these conversations."

In response to a question, Rowell wrote that he is licensed to carry concealed, and does, but "My fear is with five or more pistol packing parishioners in a small church such as the one I lead, if a shooter enters and we have parishioners shooting at him from both sides of the church, innocent parishioners can get hit. It’s a thorny situation. There are also legal implications."

Nevada lawsuit alleges weak public defense system forces guilty pleas for poor, rural defendents

"Poor people who get charged with crimes in rural Nevada are getting cheated in court by a cash-starved public defense system that assigns lawyers who don't have enough time or resources to mount strong cases, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a lawsuit Thursday," John Schuppe reports for NBC News.

The lawsuit says that court-appointed lawyers are overworked and paid flat fees, which makes them less motivated to meet with clients and do their due diligence by closely reading the cases, challenging high bail amounts or hiring investigators when needed. That means low-income defendants, who are more likely to need public defenders, are more likely to sit in jail for long periods of time before trial, which pressures them to plead guilty even if they are innocent. The ACLU says the current system violates defendants' constitutional rights of due process and assistance of counsel; the lawsuit names three rural plaintiffs who say their public defenders pressured them to accept plea bargains without spending much time reviewing their cases.

Nevada is a mostly rural state, and most counties must fund most of their own indigent-defense systems.

"The lawsuit accuses the state of Nevada and Gov. Brian Sandoval of failing to address the problem, despite years of studies documenting it ─ and proposed legislative remedies. In June, Sandoval approved the creation of a commission to study indigent defense. But, as the lawsuit pointed out, it has no power to force any changes," Schutte reports. "A spokeswoman for Sandoval called the lawsuit 'disappointing,' saying the governor had worked with the state Supreme Court, legislature and advocacy groups on the issue. The spokeswoman, Mari St. Martin, said Sandoval, a Republican, had signed a law creating a "rural judicial district" that provided "greater access to justice for many living in rural communities."

The ACLU has filed indigent-defense lawsuits against the states of Idaho, Missouri, and Utah, along with counties in California, Washington, and Pennsylvania, and the Louisiana parish that includes New Orleans. "The action in Nevada is part of a broader push by civil rights groups to challenge what they see as the criminal justice system's discrimination against America's poor," Schutte reports.

CDC study says fentanyl and its analogs responsible for 57 percent of opioid overdose fatalities

"New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the extent to which synthetic opioids like fentanyl, along with the drug’s numerous analogs, is driving increases in overdose deaths across the nation," Quinn Libson reports for Route Fifty. Overdose data on fentanyl and related synthetic opioids like carfentanil have been hard to track because it takes expensive special toxicology testing to detect them, so the CDC acknowledges in its findings that the data may be understating the problem.

Even with possible understatement of their impact, the results are alarming: Fentanyl was detected in almost 57 percent of the 5,152 opioid overdoses that occurred between July and December 2016 in the 10-state area studied. "Because of the potency of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs and the rapid onset of action, these drugs were determined by medical examiners and coroners to play a causal role in almost all fatal opioid overdoses in which they were detected," the CDC report says. 
CDC graph; click on it for a larger version
"Fentanyl analogs were found to be responsible for 720 deaths and of those analogs, carfentanil was by far the deadliest, accounting for as many as 389 fatalities," Libson reports. "The drug, which was originally developed as a sedative for big game like elephants and hippos, is fatal in doses as small as a few grains of sugar." Of those 389 carfentanil deaths, 354 happened in Ohio. Nearly half of the deaths involving fentanyl and its analogs also involved cocaine and heroin. That fits with reports that fentanyl and its analogs are sometimes mixed with cocaine or heroin. Most of the deaths studied in the report happened to non-Hispanic white males aged 25-44 years.

The report is the first of its kind to study toxicology data across multiple states. The data was available because of the Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance Program, "a CDC partnership which funded efforts to better track opioid-involved overdoses in 12 states in 2016. That program has since been expanded to include 20 new states and Washington, D.C.," Libson reports.

Country Music Association drops restrictions on journalists' questions at Wed. night awards show

After last month's mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, the gun-control debate has become a hot topic in the country-music industry, with some stars getting vocal about it and some staying out of it. But with the Country Music Association Awards coming up Wednesday night, CMA organizers last week told reporters not to ask stars about politically sensitive topics, or risk being removed by security. The topic takes on added significance after this weekend's mass shooting at a Texas church.

From the CMA's press guidelines: "In light of recent events, and out of respect for the artists directly or indirectly involved, please refrain from focusing your coverage of the CMA Awards Red Carpet and Backstage Media Center on the Las Vegas tragedy, gun rights, political affiliations or topics of the like. It’s vital, more so this year than in year’s [sic] past due to the sensitivities at hand, that the CMA Awards be a celebration of Country Music and the artists that make this genre so great. It’s an evening to honor the outstanding achievements in Country Music of the previous year and we want everyone to feel comfortable talking to press about this exciting time. If you are reported as straying from these guidelines, your credential will be reviewed and potentially revoked via security escort."

Image from
Here's where it gets interesting: CMA Awards co-host Brad Paisley admonished organizers in a tweet the next day, and several other country musicians tweeted their support of Paisley. Shortly afterward, the CMA retracted the policy and released an apology.

Country music stars have tried to stay politically neutral in recent years. "Industry insiders still cite the Dixie Chicks (who criticized George W. Bush in 2003 and were basically blacklisted from the format) as the reason country artists are fearful of speaking up about divisive subjects, particularly given that much of their fan base leans conservative," Emily Yahr reports for The Washington Post. "The genre also has close ties to the National Rifle Association through its lifestyle brand, NRA Country, which partners with lots of Nashville singers." Could Paisley's insistence on journalistic freedom signal greater willingness among country singers to speak out on politically sensitive topics?