Friday, January 22, 2021

Biden seeks to overturn dozens of Trump-era environmental rollbacks; Washington Post has a tracker to follow them

Climate change was one of the four main planks in the campaign platform for President Biden, and he's wasting no time acting on it. On his first day in office, he rejoined the Paris climate accord and took aim at more than 100 environment-related actions by the Trump administration.

"Administration officials are suggesting that they will go well beyond reversing Trump’s policies. On Thursday U.S. presidential climate envoy John F. Kerry said the U.S. and other nations must commit to much deeper carbon cuts to avert dire climate impacts, and the Interior Department issued an order requiring signoff from a top political appointee for any new oil and gas lease or drilling activity. The directive, which could slow approval for more than 400 drilling permit applications, prompted an immediate outcry from the oil and gas industry," Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens report for The Washington Post. "Those initial moves are the first in what promises to be a much longer — and more arduous — effort to unwind the Trump administration’s sweeping environmental and energy policies, which were marked by aggressive deregulation, prioritizing the fossil fuels industry and sidelining efforts to combat climate change or protect imperiled animals."

The Trump administration tried to reduce or eliminate more than 200 environmental protections, and succeeded with more than 170, the Post reports. Most related to air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change, some had to do with wildlife, and some were related to infrastructure and planning. Biden can reverse some by executive order, but others will take legislation, and some will be difficult to reverse at all. 

The Post provides a guide to every environment-related rollback from the Trump administration, including an estimation of how difficult it will be for Biden to undo, and a tracker to show how many he has overturned. Read here for more.

Tyson Foods to pay $221 million to settle price-fixing lawsuit

Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. poultry producer, agreed Wednesday to pay $221.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of fixing prices on broiler chicken meat. The deal is subject to approval by a federal judge. 

"If the settlement goes forward, it would be the largest yet in a series of lawsuits that accuse a number of poultry processors of anticompetitive behavior," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network. JBS subsidiary "Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest poultry processor, said Jan. 11 that it would pay $75 million to settle antitrust claims by direct purchasers. The Tyson Foods settlement would resolve claims by direct purchasers, end users, and indirect commercial and institutional users."

The case is "part of a wave of price-fixing cases involving livestock and protein, including chicken, beef, turkey, tuna, salmon, and eggs," Mike Leonard reports for Bloomberg Law. Last week, JBS agreed to pay $24.5 million to settle a pork price-fixing lawsuit.

Burley Tobacco Growers Co-op closing; tobacco growers in any of last six years can lay claim to its millions in assets

This notice applies to landowners in only eight states, but it also signals the end of an era. In its 100th year, the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association is going out of business, and there's money to be had as its millions of dollars in assets are distributed.

People who grew burley tobacco at least once since 2015 are entitled to a share of the settlement that has been reached in the class-action lawsuit to dissolve the co-op, based in Lexington, Ky. They must make contact before Friday, Jan. 29. Information is available at the Settlement Website and from the McBrayer Firm in Lexington, or by calling 855-965-5569.

Vermont hospital wins Rural Hospital Leadership Award; here's what it and runner-up in Pennsylvania are doing right

The American Hospital Association has named Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt., as the 2020 recipient of the Rural Hospital Leadership Award. The award recognizes small and rural hospital leaders who guide their hospital and community through "transformational change" on the journey to health-care reform, says an AHA press release. Winners are chosen because they display "outstanding leadership, responsiveness to their community’s health needs and demonstrate a collaborative community process that has led to measurable outcomes." 

Titusville Area Hospital in Titusville, Pa., was recognized as a runner-up for the award. With so many rural hospitals struggling, it can be valuable to see examples of those that are thriving—and why. Journalists can customize the story by comparing SVMC and Titusville to their local hospital.

Like many rural health systems, SVMC serves a disproportionately high population of seniors, many with chronic illnesses associated with aging. The hospital uses its nurses as part of a transitional care model meant to keep seniors out of the hospital, reduce readmissions, and deliver the right care in the right setting. The hospital also strengthened its partnership with OneCare Vermont, an organization that aims to lower overall health care costs while still achieving good outcomes. 

"Under the expanded model, transitional care nurses partner with primary care providers to help patients navigate the system, identifying and closing gaps in care," according to the press release. "Particular focus is given to linking with local home care agencies, skilled nursing facilities and other community care partners. Nurses spend time in multiple care settings, including medical practices and in patient homes, and communicate through a variety of approaches to help make this commitment to continuity of care a reality, including through telemedicine. The approach has helped to address many of the social determinants of health that contribute to chronic illness in rural Vermont. This includes mismanagement of medications, unsafe and unsanitary conditions at home and lack of financial resources."

The Titusville hospital, which serves a rural and mostly low-income population, worked hard to significantly reduce the amount of time patients spent in the emergency department waiting room, and in the emergency department overall. It also tried to help non-emergency patients who had transportation challenges with measures such as new clinics and community collaborations to make it easier for people to access care.

Court strikes down Trump rule that gave states more flexibility on mitigating coal-fired power plant emissions

On Tuesday a federal appeals court struck down the "Affordable Clean Energy" rule, a Trump administration regulation that gave states more flexibility in deciding how and when to implement technology to cut down on pollution from coal-fired power plants.

"Tuesday’s ruling gives President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration an opportunity to carry out its own rulemaking without having to undo the Trump administration’s rule," Rachel Frazin reports for The Hill. "The court additionally vacated amendments that extended the timeline under which companies had to come into compliance with the rule."

The ACE role rolled back President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which never took effect because it was stayed by a 2016 court decision, Frazin reports. Environmentalists criticized the ACE rule when it was issued in 2019; they noted that it didn't set emissions caps and said it would make climate change worse.

Andrew Wheeler, Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said ACE was necessary because the Clean Power Plan didn't adhere to the Clean Air Act, Frazin reports. However, the court ruled that ACE was improperly issued, because it was based on a mistaken reading of the Clean Air Act.

Quick hits: Rural leaders speculate on what Biden might do for rural America; soil degradation costing corn farmers

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email us at heather.chapman@uky.edu.

Kansas researchers say wind energy can revive many rural economies. Read more here.

A transgender-owned alpaca ranch in Colorado may foretell the future of the rural queer West. Read more here.

Soil degradation costs American corn farmers half-a-billion dollars every year. Read more here.

As the Biden presidency begins, advisors to the Rural Assembly speculate on what the new administration might accomplish with regards to rural America. Read more here.

Trump didn't come through on promise to put coal miners back to work. Read more here.

The Biden administration promises to clean up mine land and create Appalachian jobs. Here are some things it can do to make that happen. Read more here.

An editorial from The Roanoke Times muses on Thomas Friedman's call for Biden to appoint a rural czar, and notes specific actions such a czar would need to take to be effective. Read more here.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Law professors who study rural poverty suggest five ways Biden can bridge the rural-urban divide while helping rural

President Biden now leads a country with deep economic, cultural and ideological divides between rural and urban areas. But he and his government can take concrete steps to help rural economies and bridge the rural-urban divide, Ann Eisenberg, Jessica Shoemaker, and Lisa Pruitt write for The Conversation, a site for journalism by academics. The three are law professors who study and advocate for interventions to help economically distressed rural communities; Eisenberg at the University of South Carolina, Shoemaker at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Pruitt at the University of California, Davis. Here are the top five initiatives that would help:
  1. Make sure all rural Americans have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. The pandemic has made clear that broadband is critical for education, work, health care, and more, but many rural Americans lack true high-speed access. Just how many is unclear, since the Federal Communications Commission has relied on faulty data maps. The Trump administration reversed an Obama-era rule that categorized broadband as a utility like electricity. "When broadband was regulated as a utility, the government could ensure fairer access even in regions that were less profitable for service providers. The reversal left rural communities more vulnerable to the whims of competitive markets," they write. Biden could get the ball rolling on more equitable broadband by reinstating the order that says broadband is a public utility.
  2. Help local governments avoid going broke. Local governments pay for services that range from trash pick-up to public health oversight. But many rural local governments are on the verge of fiscal collapse because of economic losses. "Federal institutions could help by expanding capacity-building programs, like Community Development Block Grants and Rural Economic Development Loans and Grants that let communities invest in long-term assets like main street improvements and housing," Eisenberg, Shoemaker and Pruitt write. "Rural activists are also calling for a federal office of rural prosperity or economic transitions that could provide leadership on the widespread need to reverse declining rural communities’ fates."
  3. Rein in Big Agriculture. Decades of policies that favor consolidation mean that big agribusinesses control most of America's farmland, the professors claim. Meanwhile, farmers lose access to affordable land, and rural communities near big farms are more likely to have unsafe drinking water, lower incomes, and greater economic inequality. "What many rural people want from agricultural policy is increased antitrust enforcement to break up agricultural monopolies, improved conditions for agricultural workers, conservation policies that actually protect rural health, and a food policy that addresses rural hunger, which outpaces food insecurity in urban areas," they write, adding that property-law reforms could help small farmers get more affordable land.
  4. Pursue broad racial justice in rural America. People of color make up one-fifth of rural America, and they're at least twice as likely to be poor as rural whites. Rural Hispanics make up more than 83 percent of farmworkers, but very few own farmland. "Criminal justice and law enforcement reforms occurring in cities are less likely to reach small or remote communities, leaving rural minorities vulnerable to discrimination and vigilantism, with limited avenues for redress," Eisenberg, Shoemaker and Pruitt write. "At a minimum, the federal government can enhance workplace protections for farm laborers, strengthen protections of ancestral lands and tribal sovereignty and provide leadership for improving rural access to justice."
  5. Focus on the basics. Some say the rural poor simply need to move to wealthier areas to improve their fortunes, but rural communities provide important connections and support systems for residents, such as child care, the professors write, arguing that large-scale federal interventions of the New Deal and Great Society have been effective and provide a model for another such intervention. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson "created public jobs programs that addressed important social needs like conservation and school building repair; established relationships between universities and communities for agricultural and economic progress; provided federal funding for K-12 schools and made higher education more affordable; and expanded the social safety net to address hunger and other health needs," they write. "A new federal antipoverty program – which urban communities also need – could go a long way to improving rural quality of life. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act targeted many of these issues. But urban communities’ quicker and stronger recovery from the Great Recession than rural ones shows that this program neglected key rural challenges."

Fact-checking President Biden's inauguration speech

President Biden "delivered a traditional speech at his inauguration that offered little for fact-checkers," FactCheck.org says. "When he did offer us some facts to check, the 46th president of the United States largely hit his marks on domestic threats, Covid-19 and the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913." 

Biden said there has been a rise in "political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism." He's correct about the rise in political extremism, FactCheck says. The Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Threat Assessment report in October said as much. As for white supremacy, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in 2019 that the number of white nationalist group chapters had increased from 100 in 2017 to 148 in 2018. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a 19.5% increase in hate crimes from 2016 to 2019, and noted that hate-crime perpetrators were increasingly white: In 2016, 46.3% of known hate offenders were white; that rose to 52.5% in 2019. In September, FBI Director Christopher Wray said "racially motivated violent extremism" made up the largest share of domestic terrorism, especially white supremacist movements.

Biden said the coronavirus pandemic has "taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II." FactCheck acknowledges being nit-picky on this one, but says "Biden would have been on firmer ground had he said there have been more Covid-19 deaths than 'battle deaths' from WWII. As of Biden's speech, 402,997 had died in the U.S. from Covid-19. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 405,399 soldiers died in World War II, but 113,842 of them were not in battle.

Biden said millions of jobs have been lost and hundreds of thousands of business have closed during the pandemic. Though the U.S. has 9.8 million fewer jobs now than in February 2020, the total number of businesses that have permanently closed due to the pandemic is unknown. "Hundreds of thousands" is likely correct though, according to several different estimates.

The president also referenced the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913, during which he said "thousands of protesters tried to block brave women marching for the right to vote." That's accurate, FactCheck reports: "On March 3, 1913, the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, more than 5,000 marchers paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in support of women’s right to vote." Crowds of men, mostly in town for Wilson's inauguration, blocked and harassed marchers. "In all, 100 marchers were injured and taken to the hospital, and a troop of cavalry from Virginia was called in to control the crowd, according to the Library of Congress essay," FactCheck reports.

For extra reading, The Washington Post has created an annotated version of Biden's speech that analyzes key statements.

Fox lays off staffers, boosts opinion; easier than competing with 'real journalism,' says its former chief political reporter

Fox News is shaking up its staff, in what employees say is a bid to revive ratings among its core conservative audience. On Tuesday the network laid off nearly 20, including political editor Chris Stirewalt, who oversaw and defended Fox's election-night projection that Joe Biden won Arizona.

Bill Sammon, the senior vice president who oversaw Fox's election night "decision desk," wasn't laid off, but he announced his retirement Monday. The move is due in part to what Fox co-founder Rupert Murdoch and other network leaders see as a mishandling of the Arizona projection, Sarah Ellison reports for The Washington Post.

The Arizona call was "the first strong indicator that Trump’s re-election hopes were imperiled after an evening of otherwise encouraging early results," Ellison reports. That "enraged the Trump campaign and altered the narrative of election-night media coverage. Trump allies publicly voiced their displeasure with the network call, while others attempted to pressure Fox to abandon it. Even some of Fox’s opinion hosts cast doubt on the projection. The Arizona call became a flash point among Trump supporters, some of whom threatened to abandon the network. Indeed, as the president continued his baseless attacks on the election results, smaller outlets such as Newsmax cornered the market on the story and saw big increases in their audience."

In the opening weeks of 2021, Fox was in third place behind CNN and MSNBC for overall viewership. Meanwhile, since the election, Greg Kelly's 7 p.m. show on Newsmax has increased its viewership 452%. That's still only 621,000 viewers, but the trend may be worrisome to Fox. 

"Fox’s 7 p.m. hour has traditionally been reserved for news coverage," Jeremy Barr reports for the Post. "But in a shake-up that has raised concerns within its news division, the network last week announced it would bump veteran anchor Martha MacCallum from that slot — part of a larger shift toward the conservative-leaning punditry programming that made Fox the most-watched cable channel in 2020."

The move "quietly shifted the balance of programming, from one that gave a slight majority of its time to news — 11 hours compared with nine for opinion — to an even split," Barr reports.

Carl Cameron, who retired as Fox's chief political correspondent in 2017, told Barr that the move is a bid to regain viewers lured away by Newsmax. "They want to restore their conservative base. They’re going to serve the people who brought them to the dance," Cameron said. "Conservatives are going to want to hear what’s wrong with Joe Biden. It’s easier for Fox to beat Newsmax and everybody else back into the woods than it is for them to try to compete with the real journalism networks."

Population declined in 16 states, Census estimates show; drop could hurt rural areas that need immigrants

Population change, July 2010 to July 2020
Stateline map based on Census Bureau estimates; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
"With a perfect storm of aging residents, low birth rates, Covid-19 deaths and immigration cutbacks, 16 states saw population decreases last year as the United States experienced the slowest national population growth since the Great Depression," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "The nation grew only about 7% between 2010 and 2020, similar to the previous historic low between 1930 and 1940, according to new Census Bureau estimates, which do not reflect the 2020 census counts. The agency will release the final 2020 census tally in March."

The population declined could hurt rural economies. "Many smaller cities and towns depend on unskilled farm or factory labor and need more immigration to stay productive," Henderson reports.

USDA eases hemp rules on 'hot' crops, sampling and testing

The Agriculture Department released a final rule last Friday to address some of the widespread complaints from growers and state officials about federal hemp regulation, Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. Here's what's in the new rule, which is to take effect March 22:
  1. It extends the window for farmers to have their hemp crops sampled by regulators, and loosens some of the sampling requirements.
  2. Farmers have more options for dealing with "hot" crops, i.e., those that have more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Under the new rule, producers can use non-compliant hemp as "green manure" or other legal purposes instead of destroying it.
  3. The rule gives farmers more wiggle room before they face legal consequences for growing hemp with too much THC. Farmers whose hemp has a certain level of THC can be considered "negligent" and face legal repercussions. The old threshold for negligence was 0.5%. Farmers, especially those new to the business, have long worried about accidentally tripping that threshold. The new rule increases the threshold to 1%, which USDA says will "increase flexibility to farmers as they learn more about how to grow compliant hemp and as the availability of stable hemp genetics improves."
  4. USDA kept one of the most controversial provisions. Hemp still must be tested in labs licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, but USDA is delaying enforcement of that requirement until 2023 because there's currently a shortage of DEA-registered labs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Biden says Americans 'must end this uncivil war' between rural and urban, 'defend the truth and defeat the lies'

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the oath from Chief Justice John Roberts, lower right; at upper left are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has, like Biden did in his speech, voiced concern about how American democracy is informed. (Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton)
By Al Cross
Director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

President Joe Biden had some words for rural journalists and their audiences in his inaugural address, saying the nation "must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal," and stand up for truth, against "lies told for power and profit."

That passage began with Biden noting that St. Augustine said "a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love." Biden asked, "What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans?  I think we know. Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth.

Biden gives his address. (Photo by Jim Bourg, Reuters)
"Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies.  Lies told for power and for profit.  And each of us has a duty and a responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies."

Those lines echoed what Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had said the day before, that the mob that attacked the Capitol two weeks earlier "was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people . . . "

Polls show that most Republicans disagree with McConnell, and with his declaration more than a month ago that Biden was legitimately elected. So the new president had some words for them:

"Look, I understand that many of my fellow Americans view the future with fear and trepidation.  I understand they worry about their jobs.  I understand, like my dad, they lay in bed staring at night staring at the ceiling wondering can I keep my health care?  Can I pay my mortgage?  Thinking about their families. About what comes next. I promise you, I get it.

"But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you.  Or worship the way you do. Or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.

"We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment stand in their shoes."

A quick check indicates that this is the first time the news media have been mentioned in an inaugural address. That is historic evidence of what many of us have thought for years, that our country has an information problem. As McConnell said on Jan. 6, before he had to flee the Senate: "We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes; with separate facts, and separate realities."

That is mainly a problem of the national news media, but when democracy has a fundamental problem, that's an issue for every American and their local news media. It's a tough topic for rural journalists; one told me this week that he would fear for his personal safety if he challenged the belief that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. Each of us must decide when and how to show courage, but courage is what we need.

New infections fall as rural Covid-19 death toll hits 60,000

New coronavirus infection rate, Jan. 10-16
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
Total rural Covid-19 deaths surpassed 60,000 last week, Jan. 10-16, accounting for 15.6 percent of all pandemic deaths in the U.S.; rural America has only about 14% of the nation's population. Though new rural infections over Jan. 10-16 decreased from the week before, rural deaths increased 1%. 

"There were 187,969 new coronavirus infections last week in rural counties, a decline of 19% from the previous week’s record level of about 232,000," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "The decline in new cases of Covid-19 was broad-based, with the new-infection rates in rural counties dropping by at least 10 cases per 100,000 in 70% of nonmetro counties. Only 24% of rural counties had an increase of at least 10 new cases per 100,000."

"The number of counties with very high rates of new cases (a daily average of more than 500 new cases per 100,000 for the week) declined last week. But counties in the red zone (100 or more new daily cases per 100,000 in a week) remained high," Murphy and Marema report. Nine of every 10 rural counties in the red zone last week.

"In rural areas, counties with very high infection rates (shown in black in the map) fell by a third to 505. Metro counties with very high infection rates (shown in gray) also fell by about a third to 336." Click here for more data and analysis from the Yonder, including an interactive map with county-level data.

First-of-its-kind study finds agriculture workers at greater risk of developing dementia

A first-of-its-kind study found that agriculture workers are at a greater risk than non-agriculture workers of developing dementia. 

University of Iowa researchers used 1998-2014 data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study of about 20,000 people over age 50 in the U.S. Those who had worked long-term in agriculture, fishing and forestry were 46% more likely to develop dementia than others. Younger seniors, those who were fully retired, and those who had worked for over 10 years at their longest-held job were even more likely to develop premature dementia or cognitive decline.

The peer-reviewed study was published in the Journals of Gerontology, and may be able to help researchers develop effective interventions to protect older farmers. The study couldn't attribute the association with dementia to hearing impairment or depression (both of which are independently associated with agriculture and dementia), but pesticide exposure may be related.

Jan. 27 roundtable to discuss new journalists' guide to covering energy and environmental issues

On Jan. 27, the National Geographic Society will host a virtual webinar to discuss the Society of Environmental Journalists' "2021 Journalists' Guide to Energy & Environment" report, which will be released that day. 

The free webinar will begin at 1 p.m. ET and will feature a keynote address by Gina McCarthy, the incoming White House National Climate Advisor and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Neela Banerjee, supervising climate editor at National Public Radio, will moderate, and Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist and climate specialist at CBS News, will interview participants. Panelists will offer predictions for the year ahead. They include: Yvette Cabrera, a senior staff writer at Environmental Justice and Grist; Sammy Roth, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times; and Mark Trahant, the editor of Indian Country Today.

Participants can choose from these breakout rooms:

  • Unshackling EPA with Cheryl Hogue and Laura Paskus
  • Department of Interior: Making History and Undoing the Past with Judy Fahys and Emily Gertz
  • Climate & Energy: The Year Ahead for Biden's Climate Strike Force with Michael Kodas and Kathi Kowalski
  • Generational Justice: The Year Ahead for the Youth Climate Movement with Meera Subramanian and TBA
Click here for more information or to register.

Pandemic is killing tribal elders, leaving cultural gaps

Pallbearers carry the casket of Jesse Taken Alive, a Lakota elder of the Standing Rock Tribe
in South Dakota, who died of Covid-19 in December. (New York Times photo by Victor Blue)

As the coronavirus pandemic tears through Native American communities, tribal elders are being killed off, "inflicting an incalculable toll on bonds of language and tradition that flow from older generations to the young," Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. "The loss of tribal elders has swelled into a cultural crisis as the pandemic has killed American Indians and Alaska Natives at nearly twice the rate of white people, deepening what critics call the deadly toll of a tattered health system and generations of harm and broken promises by the U.S. government."

"It’s like we’re having a cultural book-burning," Jason Salsman, a spokesman for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in eastern Oklahoma, told Healy. "We’re losing a historical record, encyclopedias. One day soon, there won’t be anybody to pass this knowledge down."

Tribes across the nation are putting elders and fluent indigenous-language speakers first in line to get coronavirus vaccinations, but there are often obstacles to receiving it. "Elders who live in remote locations often have no means to get to the clinics and hospitals where vaccinations are administered," Healy reports. "And there is deep mistrust of the government in a generation that was subjected without consent to medical testing, shipped off to boarding schools and punished for speaking their own language in a decades-long campaign of forced assimilation."

Activists say there still isn't a reliable death toll of Native elders. "They say their deaths are overlooked or miscounted, especially off reservations and in urban areas, where some 70 percent of Indigenous people live," Healy reports. "Adding to the problem, tribal health officials say their sickest members can essentially vanish once they are transferred out of small reservation health systems to larger hospitals with intensive-care units."

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Many states resist adapting worker safety rules to pandemic

Advocates for many occupations, including farms and factories, say they need stricter workplace safety rules during the pandemic to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. But the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued no new rules during the pandemic, and many states have failed to institute their own updates.

"Twenty-nine states are under OSHA jurisdiction for private sector workers. The 21 states with their own workplace safety agencies must meet or exceed OSHA’s standards, but they haven’t been given a strong federal benchmark to follow," Alex Brown reports for Stateline. "President-elect Joe Biden has said he will ask OSHA to reassess its decision not to issue emergency rules."

OSHA told Stateline that it has published recommendations for workplace safety during the pandemic, but its existing rules are good enough to keep workers safe, Brown reports.

"Four states—California, Michigan, Oregon and Virginia—have issued emergency standards and have changed their outreach and enforcement tactics to work better during the pandemic. Those rules cover things like testing, case reporting, personal protective equipment, physical distancing and ventilation," Brown reports. "Several other states are enforcing executive orders from a governor or a general duty clause that requires workplaces be 'free from recognized hazards.' But worker advocates say even those requirements don’t go far enough."

People of color, immigrants, and low-wage workers who can't work remotely have seen the highest virus transmission rates. "Employees without legal documentation, who often work in the most dangerous workplaces for Covid-19, are particularly vulnerable. Many don't want to report their employers, advocates say, for fear of repercussions based on their immigration status," Brown reports.

JBS to pay $24 million to settle lawsuit alleging it fixed pork prices, one of many similar cases in the meat industry

JBS SA has reached tentative settlement in a 2018 class-action lawsuit alleging that the pork giant and other large meat companies conspired to raise the price of pork.

Under a settlement preliminarily approved by a federal judge in Minnesota last week, "JBS will pay $24 million in monetary relief and agrees to cooperate with the direct purchaser plaintiffs in the case against other pork companies," Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Other defendants in the case include Agri Stats Inc., Clemens Food Group LLC, Hormel Foods Corp., Indiana Packers Corp.JBS USASeaboard Foods LLC, Smithfield Foods Inc., Triumph Foods LLC, and Tyson Foods Inc."

The case is "part of a wave of price-fixing cases involving livestock and protein, including chicken, beef, turkey, tuna, salmon, and eggs. Tuna and chicken executives are also facing actual or potential prison time for their roles in the alleged schemes," Mike Leonard reports for Bloomberg Law. "JBS subsidiary Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.—which saw its CEO hit with criminal charges in June—will pay $111 million to resolve a Justice Department probe. It also agreed Jan. 11 to settle the proposed class action for $75 million, and Tyson said the same day it had reached a deal in principle. The beef industry, meanwhile, is contending with two separate federal investigations into its prices."

Rural job gains stalled in November; see county-level data

Year-to-year percentage change in jobs for each county, compared to the national employment rate change, which was -5.2%. Daily Yonder map; click here for the interactive version.

Employment has fallen nationwide during the pandemic. Rural counties had fewer jobs to lose than suburban or urban areas and have generally regained jobs more quickly. But that trend may have stalled out in November, according to the latest employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In May 2020, rural employment was 8.8 percent lower than in May 2019. By November, the year-to-year employment rate was 3% lower. "Nationally, there were 5.2% fewer jobs this November compared to a year ago, only slightly better than the 5.1% deficit in October," Bill Bishop reports for The Daily Yonder. "But the rate of improvement softened from October to November in rural areas . . . The nation experienced a similar plateau in jobs recovery from August to September but saw modest job gains from September to October."

Job losses in rural America remain at about half that of major cities. "The central cities in the major metros had 2.86 million fewer jobs from November of 2019 to November 2020," Bishop reports. "Rural America had 617,000 fewer jobs in this same period."

Jan. 27 webinar to discuss broadband's role in rural economic development, with special attention to agriculture

A Jan. 27 webinar will discuss the role of broadband in rural economic development, with special attention to agriculture. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities' Office of Economic Development and Community Engagement will host the free webinar, from 2 to 5 p.m. ET. 

Pre-registration is required, and registrants must select a breakout session to attend when RSVPing. Sessions include:
  • Targeting Investments in Rural Broadband that Enable Rural Economies and Communities
  • Building Partnerships to Maximize the Economic Benefits of Broadband Technologies
  • Advancing Technology to Enable Universal Access
  • Digital Ready Workforce
Click here to register for the webinar or for more information.

Pandemic slows or cancels counts of homeless population

Thousands of volunteers and outreach workers count the nation's homeless population each year. But "communities are worried this year that such interactions could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus, putting both volunteers and homeless individuals at risk," Pam Fessler reports for NPR. "So with the permission of the Department of Housing and Urban Development — which requires the survey for federal grants — many places are scaling back."

That could leave a big gap in nationwide data about the homeless, a population that has been growing steadily in rural and urban areas since 2015, Fessler reports. The delayed or canceled count could also make it harder to get congressional funding for homeless assistance programs.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Some ideas for countering the big lie about the election

By Al Cross, Director and Professor
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

A week ago in this space, I wrote that journalists, including those in rural areas friendly to President Trump, have an obligation to counter his big lie of election fraud that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Today, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan and American Press Institute Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel offer some ideas for doing that.

"Stop relying on shorthand," Sullivan advises. "Too often, even the most credible journalists who are trying to cover the disastrous effects of the Big Lie explain it by sprinkling phrases into their reporting like 'baseless claims' or 'without evidence' — and seem to expect them to do all the work. But that’s simply ineffective."

“People don’t notice this boilerplate language after a while, or even begin to bristle at it,” Rosenstiel told Sullivan. “Engage in verification and explanation, not labeling.”

Sullivan offers some examples, such as learning how people absorb truthful information: "Rosenstiel says we need 'to understand the neuroscience of creating receptivity for reasonable but skeptical audiences.' Part of that involves going back to journalism fundamentals. We need to provide evidence and verification, instead of blustery claims and outrage — the bread-and-butter of cable news."

Right, but Sullivan's first example, I think, has pitfalls. She quotes a January national security report in the Post: “By mid-December, President Trump’s fraudulent claims of a rigged election were failing in humiliating fashion. Lawsuits were being laughed out of courts. State officials, including Republicans, were refusing to bend to his will and alter the vote. And in a seemingly decisive blow on Dec. 14, the electoral college certified the win for Joe Biden.” All true, but that passage has adjectives and other characterizations that would make many Trump believers stop reading.

As I said last week, rural journalists know best how to present their readers with information that they may find difficult to accept. In his Lake News in Calvert City, Ky., in a county that Trump carried by well over 3 to 1, Editor-Publisher Loyd Ford told his readers last week that he was going to follow the example that conservative commentator Paul Harvey set in 1970 when he went against his usual grain and told President Nixon that the invasion of Cambodia was wrong:

Loyd Ford
"With Paul Harvey’s words as my guide, I say this to my family, friends and people I don’t even know, 'I love you but you are wrong.' You are wrong if you believe the Presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump." Ford added several other one-line points, then: "There have been nearly 60 different lawsuits filed to overturn election results in several states, some Democrat and some Republican all of which were rejected by the courts. In almost every case those rejections were made because the president’s lawyers could not produce any proof of wrongdoing."

That's much like what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Jan. 6, as I noted last week. Many Trump believers dismiss McConnell, but he remains the strongest and most reliable Republican voice in the country. He doesn't talk much, but when he does, it matters. 

Writing in McConnell's hometown Louisville Courier Journal, author Molly McCaffrey has advice for the public at large, which makes it especially applicable to rural and community journalists:

"What those of us who are mere citizens need to do is reach out to friends, family, and neighbors who feel alienated by our government to the point that they see Donald Trump as their only hope. And by reaching out, I do not mean attack or criticize. Nor do I mean tell them what to do. That’s clearly not working. We are all born with the intuitive understanding that it’s wrong to hurt other people. But there is a group of people in America that now feel violence is justified. Telling them they’re wrong is only going to make them dig in deeper. These people feel abandoned by their government for reasons that seem absurd and offensive to many Americans — they certainly seem that way to me — but that doesn’t change the fact that that’s how they feel. They want someone who will listen to their concerns. For the past several years, Donald Trump has been that person. It’s time for that to change. It’s time for the rest of us to be that person."

On way out, feds make environmental rollbacks: cut spotted-owl habitat, opened conservation lands to development, etc.

A northern spotted owl chases a mouse in Oregon's Deschutes National Forest. (Don Ryan, The Associated Press)

"The Trump administration has gone on a spree of environmental rollbacks in its final days, loosening standards for equipment Americans use to heat their homes, reducing protected habitat for the northern spotted owl and opening conservation lands in California and Utah to development," report Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

"Every president rushes to lock in his agenda before leaving office: Bill Clinton protected tens of millions of acres of national forest from logging just before stepping down, and Barack Obama finalized a slew of rules on everything from energy efficiency to the disposal of toxic waste by dental offices. But Trump has managed to usher through an unusually large number of energy and environmental policies in just a single term, according to a Washington Post analysis, and has finalized more than two dozen since he lost the election in November." Several will help fossil-fuel, logging and mining industries.

The moves set up a clash with the incoming administration of Joe Biden, the reporters write: "As the president-elect gears up to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and put more land off limits to development, his aides will have to spend months unwinding these policies unless congressional Democrats or federal judges overturn them."

Among other things in the past week, the administration has reduced critical habitation for the northern spotted owl, which faces extinction, by 3.4 million acres. "Fish and Wildlife Service officials determined last month that the Pacific Northwest’s iconic bird should be upgraded from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. But the agency declined to do that, citing resource constraints," the Post reports. Also, the administration overturned an Obama-era rule that required oil, gas and coal companies to pay more federal royalties; "and approved a four-lane highway through Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which had been permanently protected as a wildlife reserve 25 years ago."

Snowshoes get more popular, and it's a good time for them

Snowshoes on the Falls in the River Trail in northern
New Hampshire. (Miles Howard for The Washington Post)
Looking for some calm and quiet at a turbulent time? It's also the snowiest time of the year, and that presents an opportunity: hiking with snowshoes, and it's becoming more popular.

"You can blast through the forest on a snowmobile, like Wile E. Coyote strapped to a rocket. Or you can strap on snowshoes and disappear into the silence of the frozen white woods, floating atop the powder," Miles Howard writes for The Washington Post from northern New Hampshire.

"Because of the pandemic, I’ve been tucked away indoors for too long, every muscle in my body is too tight, and, with hospitals overwhelmed with covid patients, I don’t feel like taking the physical risks of skiing or of scaling mountains with crampons. Snowshoeing is comparably low risk, beyond exposure to frigid weather, and the inherent social distancing of the sport seems to be speaking to Americans weathering the pandemic winter. Back in early spring, the market research firm Snow Sports Insights noted that snowshoeing participation grew by 12 percent."

Outdoor-equipment firm REI told Howard that its snowshoe sales have quadrupled in the past year. “We’re seeing increased enthusiasm in people embracing new outdoor activities (cycling, snowshoeing, running, hiking) and turning to the outdoors to find solace away from the pandemic,” REI’s senior public affairs manager Courtney Gearhart told him.

And it's cheap, Howard writes: "Other than a solid pair of snowshoes ($100 to $250) and a pair of trekking poles ($25 to $75) to stabilize yourself and avoid pitching over into a deep snowbank, there’s not much of an entry barrier to this sport — though first-timers looking to head deep into the outdoors should consider taking a basic introductory lesson on snowshoeing . . . Otherwise, you just pull on your warmest socks and snow boots, toss your snowshoes in the back of your car, and choose your own wintertime labyrinth to explore."

Biden to rescind border permit for Keystone XL pipeline on his first day as president, sources tell CBC and Politico

Map from Wikipedia
On his first day as president, Joe Biden "will rescind the cross-border permit for TC Energy's Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office," Politico reports, citing three unnamed sources and following up on similarly sourced report by Kyle Bakx of Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

"The move is billed as one of Biden’s Day One climate change actions, according to a presentation circulating among Washington trade groups and lobbyists, a portion of which was seen by Politico," Lauren Gardner and Ben Lefebvre report. "It's the latest development in a decade-long fight over the controversial pipeline and solidifies a campaign promise the Canadian government had hoped was negotiable." One oil-and-gas lobbyist told Politico, "The only question has always been whether labor can stave off the death sentence. And they never had a chance."

"Rescinding Keystone XL would negate one of President Donald Trump's own first actions in office and kill a project that had become a political totem in the fight between climate activists and the oil industry," Politico notes. "Despite many analysts saying the boom in U.S. shale oil made new sources of Canadian crude less important, TC Energy has fought years of legal challenges against it obtaining the needed state permits that would all it to build the pipeline.

Alberta Premier Kenney said Sunday night that he would work with TC Energy "to use all legal avenues available to protect" the province's interest in the pipeline, which would provide a better outlet for heavy crude mined from oil sands in northern Alberta.

Rural journalist thanks urban member of Congress for helping save his newspaper and caring about rural America

Rep. Ro Khanna
A member of Congress from the San Francisco area, who identifies as a "progressive capitalist," has a message and a helping hand for rural America and its newspapers.

The story of Rep. Ro Khanna and rural Iowa was told in a story by Doug Burns of the Carroll Times Herald in the Iowa Newspaper Association Bulletin in May. Burns says it's still up to date.

Burns reports he and Khanna met in December 2018, at a gathering to recognize Accenture’s development of a software-development branch in Jefferson, the seat of Greene County: "Khanna knows many rural Americans, sweeps of folks in the countryside of Iowa, are angry over real and perceived losses to their ways of life. Recent elections, as Khanna is well aware, have seen that discontent manifest in anti-immigrant language or votes and vitriol hurled against political figures tied to the urban elite. Should rural Iowans feel this angry, is it earned and real, and if so, where should it be directed?"

Khanna told Burns, “Well, they should feel angry because the governing elite of this country have let them down. We have had a digital revolution that began in the 1990s and accelerated now. You have had concentration of economic success in places like my district, Silicon Valley, or Boston or Austin, and you have had a large part of the country left out. And their talent has been left out.”

Burns quotes Khanna from a Vanity Fair magazine story in February: “Donald Trump’s whole message is ‘I’m going to bring your jobs back. I’m going to bring your pay back. I’m going to bring your dignity back. You’ve been left out.’ . . . Our message has to be that we are going to bring more jobs, more possibilities, more opportunity to communities left out than they’ve ever had before. No person should be forced to leave their hometown to get a good-paying job. A community’s biggest export shouldn’t be their kids. So we’re going to rebuild and revitalize these communities to bring them the opportunities of the technology revolution. And people get that. They intuitively get that the economy is changing; they intuitively get that just bashing up on China or bashing up on immigrants isn’t going to ultimately provide more economic opportunity for their kids.”

Douglas Burns
Then Burns quotes himself in the story by Abigail Tracy: “The future of the country is riding on this, [not] rural America and urban America preaching back and forth at each other about whether you should use gendered pronouns or how many guns you should be able to own. Those are arguments that are going to continue to divide. What we’re doing is literally potentially preventing a civil war, because this wealth inequality just can’t stand and it just won’t stay up. We can’t have only a select number of winners in a select number of places where people are just sort of succeeding by geographic accident like that. That’s just not going to hold the country together. This isn’t a charitable arm of big tech. This makes sense for big tech, too, because there’s a lot of talent here.”

After their meeting, "Khanna visited Carroll twice, and he connected our newspaper with Silicon Valley innovators," Burns reports. "Khanna inspired us to launch a digital marketing company, Mercury Boost, to capture revenue beyond our web and print ads. He put us, and our friends at the neighboring, Denison-based Spanish-language La Prensa, in the room with key people from tech companies — most notably the Facebook Journalism Project. . . . Combined, the Carroll Times Herald and La Prensa received a $75,000 grant to pursue more digital subscriptions and to construct the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation, a non-profit organization involving Carroll, Jefferson, Denison, Storm Lake and Harlan. . . . Facebook awarded the Times Herald and La Prensa an additional $85,000 in grant money to keep our newspapers alive and churning out vital public-health stories during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s a $160,000 lift from Facebook to La Prensa and The Times Herald, with $35,000 for La Prensa and the remaining funds being used to boost Carroll digital subscriptions and create the non-profit organization that will support multiple western Iowa newspapers."

Burns concludes, "Our newspapers were only in the room with the Facebook opportunity because Congressman Ro Khanna made me believe rural Iowa belonged there, right along with brand-name urban communications giants. He’s bringing this same rural-in-the-rooms-where-it-happens advocacy to other industries, from tech to biomanufacturing. It’s often said in the halls of Capitol Hill that there are Washington friends, and there are friends. Ro Khanna is both to this newspaper. Our newspaper is alive to cover Ro’s fight for rural America, and indeed America itself, and for that, we are both humbled and inspired."