Friday, May 31, 2019

Feds allow year-round sale of fuel mix that's 15% ethanol; boon for farmers, bad for Big Oil, which says it will sue

"Farm groups are celebrating the Trump administration completing actions to allow for year-round sales of 15 percent ethanol blends or E15," AgDaily reports. "The final rule from the Environmental Protection Agency eliminates the outdated barrier that required retailers in many areas of the country to stop selling E15 during the summer months by allowing E15 to receive the same summer volatility adjustment EPA permits for E10," fuel that is 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol.

President Trump is "keeping a campaign promise to farmers suffering from the trade war with China but drawing a legal threat from the oil industry," Reuters reports. "In a nod to the oil industry, the agency also issued new rules to improve transparency in the market for biofuels credits that refiners must acquire under the nation’s biofuel law, but the steps stopped short of what many refiners were seeking."

“Corn farmers have been long-time advocates of higher blends of ethanol such as E15, touting its benefits to both the farmer and the consumer,” National Corn Growers Association President Lynn Chrisp told AgDaily. “Farmers are facing some tough times which makes this announcement particularly welcome.”

Ag Daily says "Higher blends of renewable fuels such as E15 reduce fuel prices for drivers by three to 10 cents per gallon and result in lower emissions, improving air quality and providing greater greenhouse-gas reductions. Blending additional ethanol replaces some of the most harmful components in gasoline, and cleaner ethanol results in 43 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline."

The the oil industry "views biofuels as competition for its petroleum-based fuels and has threatened to sue the Trump administration," Reuters notes, quoting Chet Thompson, the president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers: “EPA has left us no choice but to pursue legal action to get this unlawful rule overturned.”

'Orphan counties' complain about rules that mean their 'local' television news comes from other states

Map of TV markets shows Durango, and La Plata and
Montezuma counties, in Albuquerque-Santa Fe market
Many rural counties around the country complain they can't get broadcast news with sports and public affairs from their state because their "local" news comes from another state, under market boundaries determined largely by television station locations, signals and audiences.

La Plata County, in southwestern Colorado, is one of these so-called "orphan counties." Their "local" broadcast, cable and satellite TV news comes from Albuquerque, N.M., over 200 miles away. Residents have complained about it for years. But "La Plata has been in Albuquerque’s Designated Market Area for decades because that’s where Nielsen put it. Nielsen, the private data-analytics company, creates DMAs nationwide, which help set advertising rates and determine the nation’s top media markets," Corey Hutchins notes for Columbia Journalism Review.

In 2016, La Plata County (seat, Durango) became the first local government in the country to petition the Federal Communications Commission for a "market modification," which would allow satellite providers to carry programming from Denver. Albuquerque broadcasters balked because they didn't want to lose viewers, and objected to the petition. They told the FCC that proximity is more important than state lines for determining what viewers need in terms of local programming, Hutchins reports.

La Plata residents submitted hundreds of public comments to the FCC supporting the modification. "We are in desperate need of Denver programming in La Plata County," wrote paralegal Jill Fischer. "How are we expected to be educated voters if the only information we receive comes out of New Mexico?!? We need Colorado news to know what is going on in our state!"

As residents of Durango and the surrounding county wait for the FCC to rule on the petition, some "have found awkward workarounds, from lying to their satellite provider about where they live to taking home a digital antenna from the local public library," Hutchins reports.

USDA predicts sharp decrease in ag exports to China in fiscal year 2019, mostly because of falling soybean sales

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest trade forecast posted Thursday: "American farmers and ranchers are expected to send just $6.5 billion in exports to China in fiscal 2019, accelerating a downward slide over the past two years because of the U.S.-China trade war," Catherine Boudreau reports for Politico. "Last year, the U.S. shipped $16.8 billion in agricultural products to China, and in fiscal 2017 exports totaled $21.8 billion."

The decrease is mostly because of falling soybean sales. In fiscal year 2019, U.S. soybean exports are estimated to total $17 billion, down from $21.6 billion in fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30. China has historically been America's top customer for soybeans, but bought far less last year because of the trade war and because African swine fever, which devastated China's hog supply, reduced its need for animal feed, Boudreau notes. 

During trade talks earlier this year, China promised to buy an extra 10 million tons of U.S. soybeans, but put that on hold after President Trump imposed more tariffs on Chinese goods. 

GateHouse and Gannett considering merger

Gannett and GateHouse Media, the largest newpaper publishers in the U.S., are considering a merger, according to The Wall Street Journal. If the deal goes through, "about 1 of every 6 daily newspapers in the United States would be owned by a single company. Totaled up, 267 dailies would fall under a single ownership and management," Ken Doctor reports for Nieman Lab at Harvard University. "That’s an unprecedented concentration of control in the history of the American press."

Both companies have been struggling: Gannett, which has the largest audience by circulation, laid off around 400 journalists in late January, the latest in a series of staff reductions. And GateHouse, which owns the most newspapers, just made its second round of major layoffs this year. Merging could save the companies millions by consolidating distribution, printing and ad sales into regional hubs. That kind of "regionalization" is a continuing trend as publishers try to spend less on print and more on digital, Doctor reports.

There's more to it than just money, though, Doctor writes: "This move — like the other consolidations batted around so far this year — is financially strategic. It is not journalistically strategic. Both these companies have been executing various editorial strategies — some patchwork, some earnest, some with real community-serving potential — and both are severely hobbled by declining editorial budgets. This kind of consolidation would buy some time. How that time, and the money saved, gets reinvested into a longer-term solution to local journalism’s woes remains a hanging question. Still required: More capital and a better vision."

Study: young adults like living in cities significantly more than previous generations at same age

A key to vitality of rural communities is keeping rural young adults or attracting their urban-born counterparts. But that's an increasingly uphill battle, according to a new research: "A new peer-reviewed study . . . finds that not only have young people been a driving force in the urban resurgence of the past two decades, but they favor living in central urban neighborhoods significantly more than previous generations did at the same stages in life," Richard Florida reports for CityLab.

Using census data, the study tracked the net migration of young adults in the top 20 urban areas in the U.S. between 1980 and 2010, and tracked where four demographic cohorts chose to move: ages 20-24, 25-34, 35-44 and 45-64. They found that, over the three decades studied, young adults became progressively more urban, and that that has largely driven the urban resurgence of the past two decades, Florida reports. Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers showed a far greater preference for the suburbs as young adults. The increased preference for cities over suburbs among young adults began with late Gen Xers in the 1990s and has continued with Millennials.

Young adults' reasons for preferring cities differ by generation. The 20-24 group has the strongest preference for amenities (retail, entertainment, recreation, and food-service employment), but amenities have played an increasing role in attracting 25-34s over time. The biggest factor for the 25-34 and 35-44 cohorts is access to transit, probably because of work commuting, Florida reports.

It's not news that urban and suburban areas attract more people. But rural areas don't need to win a numbers game: It doesn't take most young people moving back to rural areas after college to improve local economies -- just more of them. And it helps to understand what drives where they choose to live.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

China stops 'goodwill' purchases of American soybeans

"China, the world’s largest soybean buyer, has put purchases of American supplies on hold after the trade war between Washington and Beijing escalated, according to people familiar with the matter," Bloomberg News reports. "State grain buyers haven’t received any further orders to continue with the so-called goodwill buying and don’t expect that to happen given the lack of agreement in trade negotiations, said the people, who asked not to be named because the information is private. Still, China currently has no plans to cancel previous purchases of American soybeans, the people said."

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in February that China had pledged to buy an additional 10 million tons of U.S. soybeans, but those purchases have stopped, Bloomberg reports: U.S. Department of Agriculture data "also showed that China is yet to take delivery of about 7 million tons of U.S. soybeans that it has committed to buy in the current marketing year."

Bloomberg notes that the move strikes at President Trump's political base: "In the the 2016 election, Trump carried eight of the 10 states with the largest soybean production, all of them in the Midwest. Iowa, the country’s second-largest soybean producer after Illinois, swung from Democrat to Republican in 2016 and could swing back again in 2020."

FDIC sees increase in past-due farm loans in early 2019

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s quarterly banking report found an increase in the share of farm loans that are past due. "It’s the latest data point in the broader trend of worsening conditions in the farm economy, which is grappling with Trump’s trade wars, a five-year drop in income and the highest levels of farm sector debt since the 1980s crisis," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico.

The rate of farm loans that are more than 90 days behind in payments at FDIC-insured lenders was 1.26% in the first quarter of 2019, the highest rate since 2012. According to Diane Ellis, director of FDIC's insurance and research division, community banks in the Midwest are seeing slightly higher rates of past-due loans than the national average, at 1.28%, McCrimmon reports. The Midwest has been beset by historic flooding for the past several months.

"Farmers have been able to borrow against their property, and farmland values have held steady, but FDIC officials warned that won’t always be the case," McCrimmon reports. "The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank last month said there’s 'potential for lower farmland values moving forward.'"

'News' that is really fake is likely to become more common; news media need to promote, and shore up, their reliability

Mike Allen of Axios wrote in his morning briefing yesterday, "Welcome to our sad, new, distorted reality — the explosion of fake: fake videos, fake people on Facebook, and daily cries of 'fake news.'
This week, we reached a peak fake, with Facebook saying it had deleted 2.2 billion fake accounts in three months, a fake video of Speaker Pelosi going viral, and Trump going on a fresh 'fake news' tear. A Pew survey last year found that two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites came from non-human users (bots or other automated accounts). . .. Misinformation about vaccines has led to an alarming number of measles outbreaks."

And it's going to get worse, Allen says: "It's only going to get easier to generate fake audio, fake videos and even fake people — and to spread them instantly and virally. Fake polls, fake experts, fake fundraisers and even fake think tanks are proliferating. Fake influence has become the result of an internet that's filled with fake measurement and personas. More than half of internet traffic comes from bots, not people, Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer writes in this astonishing tour of our fake world: Dozens of content farms and internet hacks make money selling or amplifying fake video views or follower accounts to politicians and influencers. Distorted images can make any crowd size look bigger or smaller than reality. Around the world, fake polls are being set up to distort elections."

Allen acknowledges, "Fakes and personas have existed on TV, radio and print for years," but as New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg notes: "Legislators have failed to stay on top of social media platforms, with their billions of hard-to-track users from all over the world."

So, more than ever, journalists and their paymasters need to emphasize their essential role as reliable sources of information, and do all we can to be trusted. That can vary from platform to platform, market to market and outlet to outlet, but we must differentiate the news from entertainment, news media from social media, and fact from opinion. We must be different, or we will die. --Al Cross, director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

Forest Service may follow lead of states in Southeast and do more controlled burns to stave off wildfires

Federal spending on fire suppression vs. prescribed fires 
(Climate Central map)
Wildfires have been increasing in frequency and intensity in recent years, partly because of climate change and partly because many forest managers have tried too hard to suppress fires. In the Southeast, managers are trying to stave off or mitigate wildfires by setting controlled fires, Maya Miller and Samantha Max report for Southerly, in partnership with The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and research group Climate Central.

"In 2018, Georgia, Florida and Alabama prescribed burns to more than 4 million acres of land, while the remaining 47 states and territories burned about 2 million acres combined, according to data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and analyzed by Climate Central, Miller and Max report. "Experts warn this data may undercount prescribed burning, but a country-wide survey by the National Association of State Foresters and the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils similarly found that, in 2017, the Southeast was responsible for two-thirds of the nation’s prescribed burns."

The federal government may follow their lead. "Staff at the U.S. Forest Service, which treated only about 1% of the nearly 200 million acres of land it manages with prescribed burns in 2018, are alarmed by their own agency’s lack of burning. For the first time in history, they’re considering restructuring the agency to facilitate more prescribed fires," Miller and Max report. However, federal funding to research controlled burns has declined for the past five years.

Even if the Forest Service wants to use prescribed burns, some steps will need to be taken first. Some forests haven't burned in so long that logging and other forest thinning tactics will need to be employed before they can set a relatively safe, productive fire, Miller and Max report.

Report: Food-stamp spending boosted rural economy during Great Recession more than other safety-net programs

Darker counties had larger SNAP redemptions in 2010 than 2008. (Base map by The Daily Yonder from USDA data)
From 2008 to 2010, during and immediately after the Great Recession, federal food stamp spending had a much larger impact on rural economies than spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits and unemployment insurance combined. That's according to a new report by the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The report marks the first time that the impact of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program spending was estimated with statistical methods, according to the ERS; past research predicted impact using economic simulations.

For every $10,000 in food-stamp benefits spent between 2001 and 2014, employment in non-metropolitan counties increased by 0.4 percent, the report found, but barely moved the needle in urban counties. SNAP payments nearly quadrupled in that time, partly because of Obama administration policies meant to stimulate the economy.

SNAP benefits had an outsized impact in rural areas because they're paid directly to low-income people who are more likely to redeem those benefits quickly instead of saving them, which drove local demand for food and other goods, the report said.

Native American and non-native rural residents team up to defend lands from what they see as threats to environment

Zoltan Grossman's examples of environmental alliances between Native Americans and non-natives
Rural areas tend to be conservative, but in places with Native Americans who are empowered by treaty rights, they "are beginning to shift the values of their white neighbors toward a populism that cuts across racial and cultural lines to challenge large corporations," Zoltan Grossman writes on The Conversation. "By teaming up to defend the place they all call home, they are protecting their lands and waters for all."

Grossman is a geographer who wrote about the relationships between tribes and rural non-Native farmers, ranchers, and fishers in his book Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands. The two were once mostly at odds. "Ever since Native Americans began to reassert their treaty rights to harvest fish, water and other natural resources, starting in the 1960s in the Pacific Northwest, a far-right populist backlash from some rural whites has sparked racial conflicts over those resources," Grossman writes. "But starting in the late 1970s, some Native nations across the country joined with their rural white neighbors — including people who had been their adversaries in treaty conflicts — to block threats to rural lands and waters, such as mining, pipeline, dam, nuclear waste and military projects."

That partnership has shown up this decade in groups such as the Cowboy Indian Alliance, which opposed the Keystone XL oil pipeline. More recently, fishing groups and Native nations in the Pacific Northwest are teaming up to oppose coal and oil export terminals and advocate for restoring fish habitats damaged by development. "The mostly white working-class residents of former logging towns in the area, who have strongly opposed timber industry regulations, have worked more easily with local tribes than with urban environmental groups to protect their local economy from fossil fuels," Grossman reports.

Non-native rural residents have found that sovereign tribal nations can more easily take fights to the federal level in a way that state and local governments can't. And Native Americans may be more motivated to fight because the survival of their cultures depends on winning. "They can’t simply move away from environmental hazards, because they have harvesting rights only within their treaty territory, and their identities and cultures are rooted in a particular place," Grossman reports.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rural residents are more likely than those in large cities to think about, plan and/or attempt suicide, study finds

Percentage of past year suicidal attempts by county type from 2010-2016 (University of Kentucky chart)
People in rural areas are much more likely to think about, plan and/or attempt suicide than people in large cities, according to a newly published study by the Rural and Underserved Health Research Center at the University of Kentucky. It analyzed responses from adults in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2010-16, divided counties into three categories: non-metropolitan (any county outside a metropolitan statistical area), small metropolitan (up to 1 million people), and large metropolitan (more than 1 million). 

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., and the odds of someone in any county considering or attempting suicide didn't change much between 2010 and 2016. Rural residents have been especially susceptible to suicide in the past two decades: a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that people in non-metropolitan areas were far more likely to die by suicide than their urban counterparts from 2001 to 2015.

The study also found that rural military veterans were less likely to consider or attempt suicide. The researchers weren't sure why, but theorized that people who had served longer in the military tended to have more education than their rural peers; higher education is associated with a lower risk of suicide. However, they also acknowledged that veterans were more likely to die after attempting suicide. So veterans who died by suicide couldn't be counted when assessing how many people in a county are suicidal, and data on suicide deaths is confidential, so the researchers can't access it.

The researchers recommend that policymakers develop and implement suicide prevention initiatives that meet the unique needs of rural residents.

Study explores risk of rising sea levels to rural coastal areas

A "ghost forest," trees killed by saltwater intrusion (Photo from Virginia Institute of Marine Science)
A new study highlights the probable impact of rising sea levels on rural coastal areas. "The paper—based on research funded by the National Science Foundation—is the first effort to synthesize the growing number of studies of land conversion driven by sea-level rise. One of the clearest signs of this conversion are 'ghost forests'—stands of dead trees with new marshlands lapping at their bleached trunks," David Malmquist reports for

Ghost forests are one of the most noticeable signs of climate change, according to lead author Matt Kirwan, an associate professor at The College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Moreover, he writes, "Recent research shows that submergence of rural land—marked by ghost forests and abandoned farm fields—is widespread, ecologically and economically important, and globally relevant to the survival of coastal wetlands."

All over the world, forests are turning into ghost forests more quickly than they once did. In the mid-Atlantic, it's happening more than twice as fast as even 150 years ago. More than 150 square miles of forest have turned into marshland since the mid-1800s, the study notes.

"Kirwan and his co-author, Keryn Gedan of George Washington University, note that the scientific community's emerging recognition of this issue has generated widespread interest in better understanding the many factors that influence the extent and pace of upland-to-wetland conversion," Malmquist reports. "These include the rate of sea-level rise, slope of the upland, tidal range, amount of sediment available for vertical marsh growth, salt tolerance of different tree and grass species, and—critically—the presence of levees and other human barriers both large and small."

Flood-defense strategies could help protect forests from rising sea levels, the authors write. They recommend that researchers study the effectiveness of local and privately owned barriers and the probability and consequences of their failure, to help landowners, government officials and environmental groups decide how best to protect the land or whether it wouldn't be feasible to save it. They also recommend studying whether stopgap solutions, like planting salt-tolerant crops and harvesting susceptible timber, will help private landowners preserve some of the value of their land.

Finally, the researchers recommend lawmakers study how policy incentives could influence future transitions from upland to wetland. "They suggest that offerings such as U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, in which farmers are paid to remove environmentally sensitive land from production, could be re-purposed as instruments for adapting to sea-level rise. They also recommend that policymakers use regional predictions of wetland gain or loss to set incentives for prioritizing wetland migration or upland protection," Malmquist reports.

Report ranks states on average prescription spending

States with top 10 average yearly per-capita
expenditure on prescriptions. (The Senior List)
A new analysis shows how much the average resident in each state spends on prescription drugs. Delaware took the top spot, with an average annual per-capita expenses of $2,331, and California came in last with $1,034, according to The Senior List. The data came from the Kaiser Family Foundation, GoodRx and the National Conference on State Legislatures

The top 10 states (see chart at left) ranged from some of the poorest, where health conditions also tend to be poor, to some of the wealthiest, where ability to pay for more expensive brand-name drugs may be a factor. 

Whatever the cause, Americans are spending far more on prescriptions these days than in years past. In 2017, the average American spent $1,025 per year on prescriptions, a 1,000% increase over the average $90 (adjusted for inflation) Americans spent in 1960. An aging population factors into this: almost half of Americans take at least one prescription medication, but for seniors it's nearly 90%.

Drug costs are taking a financial toll on some; about one in four Americans say they're having a hard time affording their prescriptions. Part of the problem is that the U.S. pays more for the same drugs than other countries do. A month's supply of the popular blood thinner Humira, for example, costs $882 in Switzerland, $1,362 in the United Kingdom, and $2,669 in the U.S.

Closure of syringe exchange in Kanawha County, West Virginia, increased health risks, study concludes

Intravenous drug users in Charleston, West Virginia, and the rest of Kanawha County are at a higher risk of bloodborne diseases and overdoses after the local health department stopped providing clean needles and other "harm reduction" measures, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University. Their increased risk raises the risk of an outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C in the wider population.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department opened the program in December 2015, and provided a syringe exchange, doses of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, and testing for infectious diseases associated with intravenous drug users like HIV and hepatitis C," but the politics shifted, Ashton Marra reports for 100 Days in Appalachia. "Restrictions were placed on the syringe services . . . and local politicians began criticizing the health department in the media, claiming the city was experiencing a spike in crime because of the syringe program." It closed in early 2018.

The researchers interviewed 27 adults who had used the program. Most participants were homeless and had used intravenous drugs within the past month. They said they had engaged in riskier behavior since the program closed because it's now more difficult to access clean needles. "One participant said he found used needles on the street and would bleach them before use," Marra reports.

Female participants said they believed they were at a greater risk of contracting HIV since the program's closure, and both genders said they were less likely to seek testing for HIV and other infectious diseases. Many said they knew testing was available elsewhere, but said they had been treated poorly at other clinics or nearby hospitals. They preferred the Charleston program, they said, because staff there treated them with respect and compassion.

"The study attempted to fill a gap in the research about how these programs affect rural areas, but existing studies showed that a syringe exchange program reduces the rates and spread of HIV and other infectious diseases in a place, which leads to not just healthier communities, but also cost savings," Marra reports. "The programs also provide access to overdose-reversing drugs that save lives and allow for greater access to information that can lead to rehabilitation and recovery."

The researchers urged rural policymakers to "take a stand against inaccurate and misleading reports" about syringe exchanges and "ensure access to sterile injection equipment and overdose prevention resources." Ignoring the evidence that exchanges work "not only presents an ethical and moral dilemma, but also sets the stage for an HIV outbreak and worsening overdose epidemic."

Bad weather delays soybean, corn planting and sprouting

Midwest farmers are significantly behind in planting due to heavy rains and flooding, and that means the nation's corn and soybean crops are significantly behind schedule.

As of Tuesday, corn planting nationwide is only 58% complete, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Crop Progress Report. The five-year average for this time of year is 90%. "Soybean plantings in the 18 states that represent 95% of the 2018 soybean acreage are only 29% complete, vs. the five-year average of 66%," Bill Spiegel reports for Successful Farming.

"As of Sunday, corn planting was just 35%, 22%, and 76% complete in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, respectively – three states that account for the bulk of the nation’s corn crop," Spiegel reports. "In the last five years, the crop in those states was 95%, 85%, and 96% complete by this time, signaling that farmers have a long way to go to get the 2019 crop in the ground."

Planting is one thing, emergence is another. According to five-year averages, by this time 69% of the nation's corn crop has sprouted; this year, it's 32%. "Emergence in Illinois, Indiana. and Iowa are 20%, 10%, and 42%, compared with the five-year averages of 84%, 65%, and 77%," Spiegel reports.

Soybeans, which are usually planted later, are farther behind. "Iowa has 32% of its crop planted, well off the five-year pace of 77%," Spiegel report. "Illinois has just 14% of its crop planted, compared with 70% from 2014-18; and Indiana is just 11% complete, vs. its five-year average of 63%." The five-year average for emergence of soybeans at this point in the season is 66%, but this year it's 11%.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rural share of population has declined partly because fewer counties are 'rural' but a demographic transition point is here

The percentage of America's population that is defined as rural has been declining for decades, but one of the reasons has been overlooked: reclassification of rural counties as "metropolitan" because their population has grown or their workers increasingly commute to the metro center. That phenomenon has become less important a factor in the declining percentage of rural population, but it needs to be remembered, Andrew Van Dam writes for The Washington Post.

"It distorts how we see rural America. It skews our view of everything from presidential politics to suicide to deaths caused by alcohol," Vn Dam writes. "Culturally, newly urban areas often have more in common with persistently rural places than with the biggest cities. Most notably, in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won only the counties defined as urban when the metropolitan classification began in 1950, while Donald Trump would have won every group of counties added to metropolitan after the initial round."

“What might be described as rural culture and values will have faded some, but they’re more alive in places that have recently urbanized than in places that have been more highly urbanized for longer,” University of California at Davis legal scholar Lisa Pruitt told Van Dam.

He writes: "If rural Americans complain of being left behind, it might be because they literally are. In government statistics, and in popular conception, rural is defined as what’s left after you have staked out all the cities and their satellites. It makes rural areas look poorer, whiter, older and more prone to alcohol-related death or suicide than under broader definitions." And why should rural Americans care about these definitional issues? "Policymakers’ disdain for rural people has prevented them from seeing and solving the challenges rural Americans face, Pruitt said."

Graphics by The Washington Post
The statistical classifications can also conflict with Americans' definition of where they live, Van Dam notes: "About six in 10 U.S. adults who consider themselves 'rural' live in an area classified as metropolitan by standards similar to those used above, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in 2017. And three in four of the adults who say they live in a 'small town'? They’re also in a metro area."

Van Dam's article is based in large part on a preliminary study presented at last year's meeting of the Rural Sociological Society by Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire, Robert Lichter of Cornell University and John Cromartie of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The decline in the rural percentage of the U.S. population no longer results from reclassification, the researchers conclude: "It also includes a component that represents the loss of demographic vitality, a pattern of rural population change—depopulation—that is now transforming many rural communities and reducing the prospect of growth for the foreseeable future."

They write, "Today, rural America is once again at an important demographic transition point. In the past . . . for nonmetropolitan counties 'left behind' by reclassification, on-going net out-migration historically was more than offset by natural increase—the difference between births and deaths. ... This historical pattern is no longer true today."

Rural-urban political split driven by design of our democracy and polarization of two-party system, Stanford prof argues

Much has been written about the rural-urban divide in American politics, which has been growing for two or three decades, but the trend is driven in part by the design of American democracy, Emily Badger writes for The New York Times, citing a new book by Stanford University political scientist Jonathan Rodden, called Why Cities Lose.

Because the Constitution gives every state two senators, “That’s an obvious problem for Democrats,” who have become concentrated in urban areas, Rodden told Badger. “This other problem is a lot less obvious.”

New York Times chart
Democrats' "other problem" is that they "tend to be concentrated in cities and Republicans to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas," Badger writes. "The distribution of all of the precincts in the 2016 election shows that while many tilt heavily Democratic, fewer lean as far in the other direction. As a result, Democrats have overwhelming power to elect representatives in a relatively small number of districts — whether for state house seats, the State Senate or Congress — while Republicans have at least enough power to elect representatives in a larger number of districts. Republicans, in short, are more efficiently distributed in a system that rewards spreading voters across space."

Citing the 2018 congressional elections, in which Democrats won moderate, suburban districts from
Republicans, Roden told Badger that Democrats need moderate “blue dogs” to overcome their geographic disadvantage.

Rodden also attributes Democrats' disadvantage to the two-party system, which in recent years has become polarized on social issues. "Today the urban party is also the party of gay marriage and gun control. The more rural party is also the party of stricter immigration and abortion restrictions," Badger writes. "We keep adding more reasons to double down on geography as our central fault line, and to view our policy disagreements as conflicts between fundamentally different ways of living."

Glyphosate (Roundup) use soars in recent decades, especially in Midwest, as weeds grow more resistant

Glyphosate use in the U.S. Click the image to enlarge it, or click here for the interactive version.
(Map by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)
Nationwide use of the controversial pesticide glyphosate has skyrocketed over the past 30 years, even as it becomes less effective against weeds and is increasingly the target of health-related lawsuits. According to U.S. Geological Survey estimates, use of glyphosate on crops rose from 13.9 million pounds in 1992 to 287 million pounds in 2016. Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup.

"A review of the agency’s data by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting shows that farmers across the Midwest used an estimated 188.7 million pounds of glyphosate in 2016 – nearly 40 times more than in 1992 when they used a total of 4.6 million pounds. The data for the year 2016 is the latest available," Christopher Walljasper and Ramiro Ferrando report for the center. "Farmers in those 12 states – including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska – grow most of the country’s soybean and corn crops. Glyphosate is now the primary way farmers manage weeds that would otherwise reduce the amount of grain they can produce. The Midwest accounts for 65 percent of the nation’s use of glyphosate for crops, according to the center’s analysis."

Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, introduced glyphosate in 1974, but the pesticide became much more popular after Monsanto began selling genetically modified Roundup-resistant seeds. Usage increased even more in 2000 after the patent expired and other companies could sell it. There were at least 40 generic glyphosate-based herbicides on the market by 2007, Walljasper and Ferrando report.

However, as weeds evolved to resist glyphosate, farmers have had to use more of it. James Benham, a longtime farmer in southeastern Indiana, told the center that farmers are in a tough place financially because they have to spend more money on seed and chemicals without seeing more profit. "Sometimes if you timed it just right, you could get away with just one spraying. Now we’re spraying as often as three or four times a year," Benham said. "That puts the farmer in that much more of a crisis mode. Can’t do without it, can’t hardly live with it."

Forest Service giving rural Job Corps program to Labor Dept., which will close nine centers and outsource 16

The Trump administration announced last week that it will shutter a U.S. Forest Service program that provides vocational training to disadvantaged rural teens and young adults. About 1,100 employees will lose their jobs starting in September, in what is believed to be the largest single layoff of federal employees in a decade, Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post.

"The Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers enroll more than 3,000 students a year in rural America," Rein writes. "The soon-to-close centers — in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington state, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oregon — include hundreds of jobs in some of President Trump’s political strongholds. In Congress, members of both parties objected to the plan."

The Labor Department will assume control of the program, and plans to close nine centers and hand over 16 to state governments or private companies. It will continue operating urban Job Corps programs, Rein reports.

Federal officials said the revamp was necessary because many of the rural programs are inefficient, low-performing, and costly. "Job Corps has been a troubled program, with student safety issues, staff turnover and, in some centers, a poor record of job placement," Rein reports.

Program encourages rural millennials to return after college

Madeline Moore at a rural farmers' market
booth in 2012. (Photo by Damian Mulinix)
Many rural millennials are told that success means leaving their hometowns for college and staying out. But three young women in Washington state have launched a program aimed at encouraging millennials to come back home after college, and create a national network of rural adults who want to strengthen their communities.

Rethinking Rural kicked off in March 2018: "We invited 50 millennials who were active in rural communities across nine states for two days of conversation in Port Townsend. We focused on why our communities matter and how we can work together to make them better," Madeline Moore writes for The Daily Yonder. "By the end, many tears were shed. These were people like me, who wanted to fight hard for their town but, more often than not, felt as if there were banging their head against a brick wall. But maybe if we started working together as like-minded young’uns, we could get more done and affect more than just our individual communities."

From that meeting, the program now has a three-year plan that includes symposia in other rural towns. In 2020, the meeting will be in Nauvoo, Alabama; in 2021 it will take place somewhere in Native American lands in the Pacific Northwest; the 2022 location has not been decided. Rethinking Rural has partnered with the Rural Assembly, a national nonprofit, to broaden its reach and is launching a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of raising $40,000.

Moore writes that the program is more important than ever to her now, as a mother. She hopes her young daughter will be able to succeed in life and go to college. "But I also hope that one day, she decides to move back and invest in the place that raised her," Moore writes. "Rethinking Rural is about making sure there is something for this generation and the next, and the next, to move back to. And that rural America is a thriving, culturally diverse, healthy place for people to set roots."

Sunday, May 26, 2019

What word does your state have the most difficulty spelling?

Map image copied from The Washington Post; for a clearer version use the link below.
"Why are people from so many states searching 'How to spell beautiful' on Google?" asks Herman Wong of The Washington Post, reporting on the search company's annual report of the word that people in each state ask it 'how to spell.'

"Beautiful" has "been a common top word in the past three years," Wong reports. "In 2019, a 'beautiful' belt runs from Virginia through the Carolinas and Georgia into Florida." The word is also tops in Texas, California and Illinois, states with large numbers of immigrants.

Google "does not say when the searches were made, nor provide additional context for the searches," Wong writes. "The company did not immediately respond to an email inquiry Friday, so we are left to our own imagination." OK, why is "Hawaii" the most-searched-for spelling word in Hawaii? We suspect because of tourists using the internet there.

What about "bougie" in New York? We had to, well, Google it. The definition is "a thin, flexible surgical instrument for exploring or dilating a passage of the body," but says it means "aspiring to be a higher class than one is; derived from bourgeois - meaning middle/upper class." USA Today's Sophia Tulp wrote in 2017, "It’s an equal-opportunity jab at anyone from hipsters and the coastal elite to the suburban or basic. The 'boujee' variation (used by Migos in 'Bad and Boujee') commonly refers to middle-class or upwardly mobile black people."