Friday, July 10, 2020

Doubts on trade deal and pandemic worry farmers

"Worried farmers and business groups are urging the United States and China to fulfill their obligations under the first stage of the trade agreement, even as the coronavirus scrambles its assumptions," April Simpson reports for Stateline.

"Whether it's in agriculture, manufactured goods or energy, neither country is on track to meet its obligations of the Phase One trade deal signed six months ago. Then, as soon as the deal went into effect a month later, the pandemic spread, and reduced demand for many agricultural products."

Soybean growers took the biggest hit because China is the biggest buyer of U.S. soybeans. North Dakota soybean farmer Tyler Stafslien told Simpson, "I'm worse off today than I was before the trade war, and I don’t see an end in sight."

Stafslien is just one example, Simpson writes: "Buffeted by a two-year trade war, followed by a disappointing — at least so far — trade deal and then a worldwide pandemic, there aren’t a lot of farmers, or rural communities, feeling flush right now." Her story recounts the trade war.

Bees had bad year, but good winter, which is more important

Bee Informed Partnership chart; hat tip to Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute
Bee colonies fared much better last winter than recently, suffering the second lowest losses in 14 years of records, but last summer was the worst ever, so the year ended April 1 was one of the worst overall. That's the upshot of the latest report from Bee Informed Partership, a nonprofit created by commercial beekeepers, beekeeping scientists and epidemiologists and leaders of other honeybee organizations.

"From April 1st, 2019 to April 1st, 2020, nearly 44 percent of colonies were lost," the report says. However, "Beekeepers only lost 22.2 percent of their colonies this past winter, from Oct. 1 to March 31, which is lower than the average of 28.6%," Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press reports. Winter is “really the test of colony health,” so the results overall are good news, said the partnership's scientific coordinator, Nathalie Steinhauer. “It turned out to be a very good year.” 

"Last winter’s loss was considerably less than the previous winter of 2018-2019 when a record 37.7 percent of colonies died off," Borenstein reports. "After that bad winter, the losses continued through the summer of 2019, when beekeepers reported a 32% loss rate. That’s much higher than the average of 21.6 percent for summer losses. Those summer losses were driven more by hives of commercial beekeepers than backyard hobby-ists."

Borenstein adds, "Beekeepers in the U.S. also may be taking more of their colonies indoors in the winter, helping them survive, said University of Georgia entomologist Keith Delaplane. New U.S. Department of Agriculture research suggests putting bees in 'cold storage' helps them survive the winter. For decades, scientists have been watching the population of pollinators — crucial to the world’s food supply — shrink. Honeybees, the most easily tracked, are threatened by mites, diseases, pesticides and loss of food. Loss rates now being seen 'are part of the new normal,' Steinhauer said."

Tyson takes lead as pandemic-plagued meatpackers try to introduce robotics to the craft of meatcutting

Wall Street Journal chart
Meatpackers plagued by the coronavirus "are searching for a long-term solution" to chronic problems exacerbated by the pandemic, report The Wall Street Journal's Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman. No. 1 processor Tyson Foods is "pushing into robotics, a development the industry has been slow to embrace and has struggled to adopt."

Tyson teams that include "designers who once worked in the auto industry are developing an automated deboning system destined to handle some of the roughly 39 million chickens slaughtered, plucked and sliced up each week in Tyson plants," the Journal reports. "Deboning livestock and slicing up chickens has long been hands-on labor. Low-paid workers using knives and saws work on carcasses moving steadily down production lines.

"It is labor-intensive and dangerous work. Those factory floors have been especially conducive to spreading coronavirus. In April and May, more than 17,300 meat and poultry processing workers in 29 states were infected and 91 died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plant shutdowns reduced U.S. beef and pork production by more than one-third in late April." That was "a debacle for the $213 billion U.S. meat industry. For the first time in memory for some Americans, there wasn’t enough meat to go around."

Robotic meatcutting is a challenge, the reporters write: "Executives of Tyson and other meat giants, including JBS USA Holdings Inc. and Cargill Inc., say that is because robots can’t yet match humans’ ability to disassemble animal carcasses that subtly differ in size and shape. While some robots, such as automated 'back saw' cutters that split hog carcasses along the spinal column, labor alongside humans in plants, the finer cutting, such as trimming fat, for now largely remains in the hands of human workers, many of them immigrants."

Bill would boost broadband, horse-show enforcement; block meat-plant speedups; keep horsemeat ban, help land issues

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a funding bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture with money for broadband and horse-show inspections, and language to keep the ban on slaughtering horses for meat and reverse line-speed waivers for meatpackers.

"The legislation invests over $1.055 billion, an increase of $435 million above the FY 2020 enacted level, in the expansion of broadband service," says the committee summary of the bill.

"In April, during the covid-19 rush on grocery stores, USDA approved more than 15 poultry processing plants’ requests to increase line speeds by 25%, from 140 to 175 birds a minute," Sierra Dawn McClain reports for Capital Press. The bill would block such actions.

The bill "maintains the current ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. by defunding the inspection of horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil – a provision that has been maintained by Congress regularly since the last U.S.-based plants were shuttered in 2007,"Jacqui Fatka reports for Feedstuffs.

The bill also has $2 million for USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, up from the current $1 million, sought by critics of horse shows and the practice of "soring," the use of chemicals and devices to train Tennessee walking horses to step high, Animal Wellness Action reports.

The measure also includes more than $5 million for land-title work and succession plans "to help farmers who have inherited land but don’t have a clear title or right," McClain reports. "Small-scale and minority-run farms often struggle most." Monica Rainge, director of land retention at the Land Assistance Fund, told McClain that about 60 percent of Black farmers have such property.

The bill seems less likely to pass on its own than as part of an omnibus spending package. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “made a statement to some of us senators last week that it didn’t look like Democrats were cooperating on appropriation bills.” Fatka translates: "Grassley’s comments implied that it was likely Congress was headed toward continuing programs at current levels until appropriations bills could be enacted, or an omnibus appropriations bill."

Thursday, July 09, 2020

High court says much of eastern Okla. is Indian reservation; Roberts warns of disruption in criminal-justice system

Graphic from The Washington Post
"The Supreme Court said Thursday that a large part of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation, a decision with implications for nearly 2 million residents," including most of Tulsa, report Ann Marimow and Robert Barnes of The Washington Post.

The court had to decide, in a challenge to a prosecution, whether Congress officially eliminated the Creek Nation reservation when Oklahoma became a state in 1907. In a 5-to-4 decision, it found that Congress “has not said otherwise,” so the land promised to the Creeks is still a reservation.

“If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so,” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch for himself and the court’s four liberal justices. “Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law.” 

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. warned in dissent that state prosecutions “will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out. On top of that, the court has profoundly destabilized the governance of eastern Oklahoma.”

Dillon Richards of KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City reports, "Not much immediately changes for your average person living on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's land, including in Tulsa. Oklahoma still has jurisdiction over crimes not involving members of a federally recognized tribe."

UPDATE: The Post reports, "Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and leaders of five tribal groups issued a joint statement after the ruling indicating they have made 'substantial progress toward an agreement” to submit to Congress and the Justice Department that would put in place a 'framework of shared jurisdiction'."

Biden-Sanders task force recommends goal of eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035

One of the "unity task forces" formed by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has recommended Biden adopt "a goal of eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, achieving net-zero emissions for all new buildings by 2030, and making energy-saving upgrades to as many as 4 million buildings and 2 million households within five years," Rachel Frazin reports for The Hill. "The plan also calls for a significant investment in renewable energy, including installing 500 million solar panels and manufacturing 60,000 wind turbines."

"Some of the recommendations released Wednesday set more specific targets than the former vice president’s current climate plan, which calls for a shift away from coal-fired electricity, halving the carbon footprint of buildings by 2035 and starting a national program aimed at affordable energy efficiency retrofits in homes," Frazin notes. "The climate panel is co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a leading proponent of the Green New Deal, and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry."

The panel did not endorse the Green New Deal, a ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, Medicare for all or other "policies that could prove too divisive for some swing voters in November," The Associated Press reports. "Their 110 pages of recommendations should help shape the policy platform Democrats will adopt during their national convention next month — even though the entire party platform adopted in 2016 ran only about 50 pages."

The panel wrote, “The Unity Task Force urges that we treat climate change like the emergency that it is and answer the crisis with an ambitious, unprecedented, economy-wide mobilization to decarbonize the economy and build a resilient, stronger foundation for the American people.”

3% in U.S., many of them young, say they moved due to the pandemic; 6% say it made someone move into their home

"Reports on the exodus of New Yorkers from the locked down city and about the flight of wealthy urbanites to vacation homes in remote locations make it sound as if Americans have eschewed city life in droves," writes Andrea Noble of Route Fifty, reporting that a June 4-10 poll found otherwise.

"Three percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center reported having moved permanently or temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, while 6% said that someone had moved into their home as a result. Another 14% said they knew somebody who had moved," Noble reports. The reason cited most often (by 28%) was to reduce risk of infection from the novel coronavirus; 23% said they moved because their college campus had closed.

"Almost one in 10 adults between the ages of 18 and 29 said they moved, more than any other age group," Noble notes. "The closure of schools and transition for many offices to remote work has increased the appeal for people to leave dense cities for rural retreats and vacation homes. Tourist towns, worried they will become the next outbreak hotspot, have sought to keep vacationers away."

"Of the adults who moved, far more said they relocated to a family member’s home than to a second home or vacation home. Approximately 61% said they relocated to the home of a family member, while 13% said they went to a second or vacation home. It is unclear how many of the moves will be permanent, but only 9% of the people who moved said they rented or purchased a new home."

Exiled to rural northwest Connecticut, NYC brand consultant says her work has gained from the beauty of nature

Rural Intelligence, an online publication for the Berkshires and part of the Hudson River Valley, says it "asked some long-time readers in a variety of fields to reflect on what they miss from their pre-covid lives and how they are compensating for those losses." Here's one of the submissions.

Diane Meier (Photo by Jerry Bauer)
By Diane Meier

I build equity for companies and brands; in part, by reading the culture and understanding the ways assets can be created, ignited, or developed in perception or value. Manhattan embodied my drive. It carried my family’s history. And for decades, the streets of the city were my tea leaves. The material that drove insight. But here we are. Lockdown in the Northwest Corner. Surrounded by beauty and calm and Nature. Yikes.

Was I afraid of what I might lose? Of course. But to my great relief, I’ve found that I’m no less informed and certainly no less effective right here. Quite the opposite. Teams of clients, expanded staff, experts and consultants are available to me, and I to them, from everywhere in the world. And my inspiration flies in on a screen.

Across digital publications and countless platforms, one can’t miss an enormous interest in immune-boosting nutrition, and products that support sustainable practices. There’s more interest in science and biotech than I’ve seen since the invention of the heart transplant. Corporate positioning is now inextricably linked to traceable social responsibility. And when cities erupted just weeks ago, and important brands immediately posted that they “stood with the protestors,” a cultural exhale was equal to thunder. I’ve always known what to make of the signals, but now they’re even more visible and far more diverse, from London and Sydney to Omaha. Suddenly, the streets of New York seem provincial.

To the right of my screen, a full view of our East Field reveals a great horned owl who comes to sit each evening behind a cowlick of grass. Hydrangeas are blooming and trumpet flowers are about to burst. The skies are always changing. The Natural World is just being noticed, now that my gaze can encompass the cultural, the commercial, and the natural by just shifting focus at my desk in the Big Barn.

Ingmar Bergman once said that he couldn’t have a clear thought on the streets of New York. I suspect he would have appreciated the dramas of our hawks and bears, and the views of the field and the Litchfield Hills. And if he was uninterested in reading the cultural messages buried on the small screen, he wasn’t expected to save billion-dollar companies. For those of us who are asked to do just that, the new idea that where we live can deliver the beauty of Nature and the vitality of Commerce is an amazing gift I’m not taking lightly. But in the spirit of what I do –– I know I’m not alone in this revelation, either.

In that regard, I welcome my new neighbors to the world of “Rural Intelligence.” If ever a name were right and proper, it’s found its moment. Realizing this surely has been, at least for me, one of the great gifts in The Great Pause.

Diane Meier is an author and president of Meier, a New York City-based marketing firm. She lives in Northwest Connecticut.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Black progressive who nearly won Senate nod in Ky. says liberals must listen to rural conservatives, find commonality

Charles Booker in Pikeville, Ky. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo)
First-term state Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville, an African American who nearly won the nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, told The New York Times that progressives need to "show up and listen" to rural conservatives who like President Trump if they want to build a winning coalition in the Democratic Party.

"What I tell folks is that, honestly, we should take some notes from a Donald Trump — being careful when you do," Booker said in a transcribed interview. "He called out that the system is broken, and he spoke to people that, for a long time, felt like nobody even knew they existed. Now, he was stoking hatred and racism and weaponizing it, but one of the truths there is that the system is broken. And if we go to those places that are deep red, and we show up and listen, but lean into our values, you can build relationships that way."

He prefaced that by saying, "Regardless of what your political ideology is, especially in a place like Kentucky, everybody’s broke and everybody’s struggling and everybody’s trying to figure out how to keep food on the table, keep the lights, take care of their family and protect their livelihood."

Kentucky is only 8.4 percent Black, and has many rural areas with hardly any African Americans, but Booker said he had no problem "building support in rural parts of Kentucky. I spent the majority of my campaign explaining how a Black person can win in rural parts of Kentucky and how the issue of rationing insulin is not partisan. And so when I tell my story of nearly dying from diabetic ketoacidosis, and explaining that’s why I fully support Medicare for all — because nobody should die because they don’t have money in their pocket — people get it."

Booker got 42.6% of the vote in a 10-way primary won by Amy McGrath, who got 45.4% after raising more than $41 million, the most of any Senate candidate this year. "The real determinant in our race was money," he told the Times. Many political observers said Booker would have won if most the votes had been cast on primary-election day; most were absentee due to the pandemic, which also caused the election to be delayed for five weeks. During that period, Booker's campaign caught fire due to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and resulting protests, which in Kentucky focused on a police killing during execution of a no-knock warrant in Louisville.

Timber communities in Oregon suffer as Wall Street funds glean profits and tax revenue from private forest lands

"Falls City is an Oregon town built by the timber industry. Its surrounding forests are still being logged. But Falls City isn't seeing the profits. It's been that way ever since corporate timber changed the rules," says the caption for this video.

Rural logging communities in Oregon are suffering as profits and tax revenue have been siphoned by Wall Street investment funds’ growing control of private forest lands, reports ProPublica, in partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Oregonian.

In Falls City, a town of about 1,000 in the Coast Range, "More trees are cut in the county today than decades ago when a sawmill hummed on Main Street and timber workers and their families filled the now-closed cafes, grocery stores and shops selling home appliances, sporting goods and feed for livestock," report Tony Schick of OPB, Rob Davis of The Oregonian, and Lylla Younes of ProPublica. "But the jobs and services have dried up, and the town is going broke. The library closed two years ago. And as many as half of the families in Falls City live on weekly food deliveries from the Mountain Gospel Fellowship."

“You’re left still with these companies that have reaped these benefits, but those small cities that have supported them over the years are left in the dust,” City Manager Mac Corthell told a reporter.

"Wall Street real estate trusts and investment funds began gaining control over the state’s private forest lands" while public attention was focused on environmental rules that limited logging on federal lands, the reporters write. "They profited at the expense of rural communities by logging more aggressively with fewer environmental protections than in neighboring states, while reaping the benefits of timber-tax cuts that have cost counties at least $3 billion in the past three decades. . . . Half of the 18 counties in Oregon’s timber-dominant region lost more money from tax cuts on private forests than from the reduction of logging on federal lands."

Coalfields increasingly rely on federal health programs, but top coal producer, Wyoming, won't expand Medicaid

Coalfield communities increasingly rely on federal health programs as the industry shrivels, Mason Adams and Dustin Bleizeffer report in the third installment of their "Transition in Coal Country" series for the Energy News Network and WyoFile, a Wyoming news nonprofit.

"Coal states that initially rejected Medicaid expansion now see it as a way to help stem some financial losses in healthcare and provide care to residents. Increasingly, the argument that expansion is vital to aiding coal communities’ transition to a sustainable post-coal economy is gaining traction," Adams and Bleizeffer write.

Kaiser Family Foundation map, relabeled  
Some coal states, including No. 1 Wyoming, haven't used the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid, the federal-state program for lower-income people. "Still, shrinking tax revenues, jobs and resources in the industry are forcing the issue in many parts of coal country, and communities are becoming more reliant on — and even warming to — federal health programs like Medicaid," the reporters write.

Wyoming legislative leaders asked members in May to consider Medicaid expansion "in light of the coronavirus pandemic and historic losses in coal," they report, but there was no action. “I’ve been very surprised at the continued resistance to Medicaid expansion,” said Adam Searing, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. “I thought surely this would be the catalyst. But it’s still an uphill battle to overcome this ideological resistance.”

Roanoke-based Adams reports, "Medicaid expansion has remained popular in Kentucky and West Virginia, to the point that no one’s talking about repeal any more. In 2018, incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who had famously shot the cap-and-trade bill in a campaign spot eight years earlier, reprised the ad — only now he was shooting a lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The message helped carry the Democrat to victory in what had been Donald Trump’s second-best state just two years prior."

The same day, in referendums, voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah approved Medicaid expansion. The next year, a newly Democratic legislature in Virginia did likewise, and in June, do did Oklahoma voters. Missouri has a referendum Aug. 4, with business interests supportive.

Searing said, “One thing that’s struck me is how Medicaid in the last five years or so has become much more popular than it ever was. People are seeing it more like Social Security or Medicare — not so much welfare but a safety-net program.” In Kentucky, the pandemic prompted the state to enact "presumptive eligibility," which waives the usual screening process for two months. “Basically, if you’re uninsured and you’re under age 65, it will get you coverage,” Dustin Pugel, senior policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Read more here:

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Rural growth very slow nationally, except in counties next to metro areas, or with good scenery and recreation potential

Counties outside metropolitan areas – the broadest and bluntest definition of "rural" – have fewer births, more deaths and older populations than the rest of the country, and have declined to 14 percent of the national population. However, the counties that border metropolitan areas "seem to fare better in attracting new people and keeping long-time residents," John Cromartie writes for Amber Waves, the publication of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nonmetro counties have yet to recover from the Great Recession, which was followed by years in which their overall population declined. "As in previous periods of economic difficulties, such as in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, nonmetro America experienced a steep decline in population growth rates during the Great Recession," Cromartie writes. "Nonmetro population growth fell from a peak of 0.7 percent in 2006-07 to -0.14% in 2011-12. Unlike those previous periods of difficulty, the post-recession population recovery during the 2010s has been quite slow. The nonmetro growth rate has been lower than in metropolitan (metro) counties since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years."

Much of the eastern U.S. continued to lose rural population in the second half of the decade, but "Notable rebounds are seen in some high-amenity areas, especially those close to large metro areas such as in Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. Renewed population growth on the metro periphery is also noticeable in central Texas, Colorado, and the Pacific Northwest," Cromartie reports. In addition to metro proximity, rural counties that grew have "attractive scenery and recreation potential."
U.S. Department of Agriculture map and chart; to view a larger version of either one, click on it

USDA agency rejects plea from plant-based-diet group for coronavirus testing and reporting by meatpackers

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture has denied a petition from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates plant-based diets, asking FSIS to make meatpackers test their products for the novel coronavirus; report infections of workers, their families and FSIS inspectors; and label meat to warn consumers that meatpacking workers have been infected by the virus “and this product has not been certified virus-free.”

FSIS told the group that it hadn't shown people could get the virus from meat, and based on available information, "it seems unlikely" that it "can be transmitted through food." The agency also said it didn't have the authority to take some of the requested actions, and that those actions "would not contribute to FSIS’s public health mission to ensure that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly marked, labeled and packaged."

The agency added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have developed interim guidance for meat and poultry workers and employers. . . . Many of the measures, such as increasing frequency of cleaning and disinfection and providing face masks and/or face shields to employees, would also prevent any potential spread" of the virus to meat products.

China recently blocked imports of meat from three plants in Brazil, citing infection of workers, but there is speculation in Brazil that the Chinese have other reasons and the pandemic is just an excuse.

Judge's order to empty Dakota Access pipeline is latest reversal of efforts to expand U.S. energy infrastructure

Wikimedia Commons map, labeled by The Rural Blog
In the latest and perhaps most surprising setback for pipelines, a federal judge has ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to be emptied while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts "a more thorough analysis of how a leak . . .could affect Lake Oahe, which collects water from the Missouri River and lies half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation," The Washington Post reports.

The pipeline opened in 2017 and "carries about half a million barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin across 1,100 miles to Illinois," the Post notes. "Several tribes, including the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux, first challenged the pipeline in 2016. While the Obama administration slowed the pipeline’s development as it consulted with the tribes, Trump expedited its construction immediately after taking office."

Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, "who has led the legal battle on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux, said in an interview, 'I can’t think of another example where a major piece of infrastructure was shut down after being in operation a couple of years'," the Post reports. "Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the largest stake in the Dakota Access line, called the court order 'an ill-thought-out decision' and said it would immediately seek a stay so that oil could continue to flow. If the stay is not granted, company officials said, they will file an expedited appeal."

The ruling and other recent "reversals demonstrate both the enduring power of environmental laws that the Trump administration has been trying to weaken and the tenacity of environmental, tribal and community activists who have battled the projects on forested land and in federal courtrooms," the Post reports. "An April decision by a federal judge in Montana dealt a blow to the Keystone XL pipeline," and "Monday the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s petition to lift the stay."

Charlie Daniels, whose music had broad roots and flowered across genres, dies in Nashville at 83

Daniels in 2019 (Photo by Alan Poizner, the Tennessean)
Charlie Daniels, a versatile musician and songwriter who was one of the rockingest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Monday in Nashville of a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83.

Years before the Charlie Daniels Band had a No. 1 hit in 1979 with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the Wilmington, N.C., native "had long established a remarkable, multifaceted career in Nashville," the Tennessean notes. "As a session musician, he played on three of Bob Dylan’s albums — including the revolutionary 'Nashville Skyline' — as well as recordings for Ringo Starr and Leonard Cohen. He was a fixture of the touring circuit for the next 40 years, became a tireless advocate for servicemen and women, and entered the information age as one of country music's most outspoken conservative voices."

The broad roots of his music were illustrated by the Volunteer Jam, the freewheeling Southern music festival that he started in 1974, featuring Roy Acuff, Stevie Ray Vaughn, James Brown and the Marshall Tucker Band," Bill Friskics-Warren notes in The New York Times. "Modeled after the Allman Brothers, another regular act at the Jam, Mr. Daniels’s band used dual lead guitarists and dual drummers in the service of an expansive improvisational sound that included elements of country, blues, bluegrass, rock and Western swing."

From "Uneasy Rider" and "Long Haired Country Boy," mid-1970s songs that embraced marijuana, Daniels did "Devil" and "In America," the first of many patriotic numbers. He trended toward country and gospel music in his later years, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and the country hall of fame in 2016. The hall's CEO, Kyle Young, told the Tennessean, "His music fused the immediacy of Southern rock with the classic country storytelling that he heard as a child. He brought new audiences to country music, pointing people to the sources even as he explored the edges."

Deal Funeral Directors of Statesboro, Ga., is handling arrangements and says it is "hosting a register signing Tuesday-Friday 9-3 this week for fans of Charlie Daniels to come by and sign."

Monday, July 06, 2020

As newspapers cut staff, university athletic coverage suffers

Mid-American Conference (colors denote divisions)
Staff declines in community newspapers have led to less coverage of athletic programs in the Mid-American Conference, Nicholas Piotrowicz reports for The Blade in Toledo.

"MAC schools rarely received national media attention, and some of the schools received little attention even from local media," Piotrowicz writes. "But as the years have gone on, the declines in media have only exacerbated the problem for MAC schools, most of which are in small and mid-sized markets that rely upon community journalism.
As those outlets began to struggle, the MAC started to turn into a news desert."

Consolidation of newspapers into regional entities has "almost always" led to less MAC coverage, he writes, quoting Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (and publisher of The Rural Blog): "Some stuff is going to get left behind, and unfortunately, coverage of the MAC is probably suffering because these papers see their truly local sports — high schools — as being more important than the colleges."

Here's Piotrowicz's scorecard: "In the past 18 months, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Athens Messenger, and Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune laid off full-time reporters covering the MAC. The Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, Ill., lost its Northern Illinois beat reporter, has not re-hired, and has furloughed additional staff."

Penny Abernathy, University of North Carolina professor and the leading researcher on news deserts, told Piotorwicz that ownership matters: "What we have found, given the consolidation in the industry, is there is less attachment to the community where the newspaper is located, especially if you are owned by a chain, particularly a large chain."

Search-and-rescue teams, which rely mainly on rural volunteers, are being stretched thin by the pandemic

The Rocky Mountain Rescue Group in Colorado on a mission earlier this year. (RMRG photo via Stateline)
Search-and-rescue teams, lifelines that are mainly by volunteers in rural areas, are being stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic, Alex Brown reports for Stateline.

"The pandemic has led some older and higher-risk members to stay home, while others who have lost work or changed jobs no longer have the money or flexibility to deploy. And the need to postpone or cancel in-person training means fewer new volunteers, accelerating a long-term problem," Brown writes. "The pandemic also has forced teams to adjust rescue practices for social distancing and buy protective equipment such as masks."

In some areas, such as southwestern Utah, the need for searches and rescues have increased. “We've been very taxed,” said Sgt. Darrell Cashin, a sheriff-department liaison for the teams. “When covid came out, I really thought our rescues were going to drop through the floor. But we're actually having a record year at this point, with a diminished capacity to respond. It was like the floodgates opened. It's been rescue after rescue after rescue, and it's not stopped.”

Brown reports, "In response, lawmakers in several states are considering proposals ranging from providing state funding for programs and workers’ compensation insurance for volunteers to charging people for their rescues." That would be a case of first impression for most states. "Nearly all search and rescue missions in the United States are handled by volunteer teams, who mostly pay for their own equipment and work under a patchwork of guidelines and government oversight that can vary widely by state," Brown reports.

SAR teams in many areas were already busier than before because outdoor recreation has been increasing lately, Brown notes: "Many of the newcomers to public lands are inexperienced and lack the appropriate gear, skills or fitness for major excursions. SAR leaders say they often have to rescue hikers who become lost when their phone loses its signal or dies, or who try to summit a mountain they saw on Instagram without researching the terrain or weather."

Captive newspaper in retirement community didn't cover national controversy involving 'white power' Trump tweet

The Villages complex is just east of Interstate 75.(Google map)
News coverage of President Trump's tweet of a Florida retiree shouting "white power" was a major national story for a few days, but it wasn't covered by The Villages Daily Sun, the newspaper owned by the huge retirement community where the incident happened., an independent news source serving the community, covered the controversy, beginning with the video that Trump tweeted and continuing with a story about the tweet and another one about Villagers for Trump distancing itself from the man, "who was identified by multiple media sources as a retired Miami-Dade County firefighter." It noted that he yelled the phrase “at Democratic protesters who labeled the parade participants as 'Nazi lovers' and 'cult' members. The protesters also shouted '(expletive deleted) Trump'.”

Villages News also published several letters to the editor, including one from Gary Segal of Pine Ridge, who wrote, "I very much enjoyed the video, but I was wondering why there was no mention of the parade in The Villages Daily Sun, especially the part where several drivers and passengers were yelling, 'White Power!' I think that might be newsworthy."

The Villages Daily Sun has not responded to The Rural Blog's request for comment.

Weekly publisher and county GOP chair takes down cartoon equating mask order with the Holocaust, apologizes

The paper is in Garnett, seat of Anderson County (Google map)
"A Kansas county Republican Party chairman who owns a weekly newspaper apologized Sunday for a cartoon posted on the paper’s Facebook page that equated the Democratic governor’s coronavirus-inspired order for people to wear masks in public with the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust," The Associated Press reports. Gov. Laura Kelly asked the paper to remove the cartoon.

"Dane Hicks, owner and publisher of The Anderson County Review, said in a statement on Facebook that he was removing the cartoon after 'some heartfelt and educational conversations with Jewish leaders in the U.S. and abroad.' the newspaper posted the cartoon Friday, and it drew dozens of critical responses and international attention. A blog post by Hicks on Saturday defending it also drew critical responses."

The cartoon showed Kelly wearing a mask with a Star of David on it, next to a digitally altered image of people being loaded onto train cars, with the caption, “Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask ... and step onto the cattle car.” Hicks told AP that he assembled the images and planned to run the cartoon in the paper’s print edition Tuesday. The paper, in Garnett, is the only one in the county.

Hicks said in his statement, “I can acknowledge the imagery in my recent editorial cartoon describing state government overreach in Kansas with images of the Holocaust was deeply hurtful to members of a culture who’ve been dealt plenty of hurt throughout history — people to whom I never desired to be hurtful in the illustration of my point.”

AP reports, "State law allows counties to opt out of her mask mandate, and Anderson County has done so. It has about 7,900 residents in a conservative swath of eastern Kansas, and President Donald Trump carried it with nearly 73% of the vote in 2016. The state health department has reported only four coronavirus cases for Anderson County, all of them since May 8."

Rise in covid-19 cases worries rural hospitals; overall health may have declined as people delayed care for other issues

A rise in covid-19 cases in rural areas is causing concern among rural hospitals and their staffs, amid worries about overall health, Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

"Cash-strapped and under-equipped since even before the pandemic hit, the new coronavirus forced them earlier this year to adjust their plans and resources to get through the past few months and survive in their communities -- as well as save and serve their patients," Neeley writes in the first of a two-part series. "As states and communities emerge from various restrictions and regulations that may have helped slow or contain the spread of covid-19 for the past few months, the number of cases is growing."

And cases of other diseases and disorders are more serious because many people delayed treatment in the first three months of the pandemic, so overall health may have worsened, Kyle Ulveling, cardiologist and chief medical officer at St. Anthony Memorial Hospital in Carroll, Iowa, told Neeley: "I can easily say the patients I'm seeing in clinic are sicker than they were six months ago."

In the second part of his package, Neeley uses St. Anthony as an example of how rural hospitals have dealt with the pandemic from the start, including increased use of telehealth, financial pressures from shutdown of elective procedures and dealing with coronavirus hotspots at meatpacking plants.

80 groups plan economic transition for coal communities

Eighty national, regional and local groups have proposed a "National Economic Transition Platform to support struggling coal mining cities and towns, some facing severe poverty, in Appalachia, the Illinois Basin, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and elsewhere," James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News.

The plan funded by the Just Transition Fund "stresses support for small businesses and payments for workers while transitioning to family-sustaining jobs," Bruggers writes. "It calls for reclamation and reuse of coal sites and new community infrastructure, including public health facilities and schools. Coal companies, under the plan, would be held accountable during bankruptcies."

Some of the groups aren't for the Green New Deal, "the proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy that's divided Republicans and Democrats," Bruggers notes, but Just Transition Fund Executive Director Heidi Binko told him they agree on principles of community-based economic development for coalfield communities and their plan could be used as a template for any legislative initiatives aimed at helping them.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Atlantic Coast Pipeline canceled; regulatory doubts cited

Light green area is the George Washington National Forest. (Bloomberg map)
Dominion Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. said Sunday that they are canceling the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, due to delays and concerns over the project's viability.

The companies "spent years fighting regulatory battles that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled favorably for the companies last month," allowing the line to cross the Appalachian Trail, The Washington Post notes. But the firms "said in a statement that other recent federal court rulings have heightened the litigation risk, extended the project’s timeline and further ballooned the cost of the project, which already risen from an estimated $5 billion in 2014 to $8 billion today."

"They cited a Montana court ruling last month that threw another roadblock in the path of the Keystone XL Pipeline as an example of the continued challenges such projects face," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Utilities and pipeline companies have been trying to expand U.S. pipeline networks for more than a decade to take advantage of the bounty of oil and gas unlocked by the fracking boom. But many of the projects have encountered intense opposition from landowners, Native American groups and environmental activists concerned about climate change who want to keep fossil fuels in the ground."

The pipeline would have delivered gas to the Virginia coast for compression and export.