In 2015, a trade group for major drug distributors planned to shift blame for the opioid epidemic to pharmacists, doctors and their patients. That's according to a memo mentioned in the ongoing trial in West Virginia that aims to hold some of the nation's largest drug distributors (McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health) financially liable for the epidemic.The memo was "sent to a senior executive at that trade group, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, that bemoaned 'imbalanced' coverage by reporters at local papers" and offered strategies for shunting the blame elsewhere, Lucas Manfield reports for Mountain State Spotlight.
A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Friday, June 04, 2021
Opioid trial update: Distributor trade-group memo shows plan to shift blame for drug epidemic to providers, patients
Democrat who chairs House Agriculture Committee opposes Biden plan for stricter application of capital-gains taxes
|Rep. David Scott, D-Ga.|
Abbott notes, "Very few farm families are obliged to pay estate taxes. There is an $11 million per person exclusion from estate taxes at present; it drops to $5 million per person in 2026 but will be indexed for inflation. The White House says the stepped-up basis now in force for calculating capital-gains taxes 'allows the wealthiest Americans to entirely escape tax on their wealth by passing it down to heirs,' exacerbating inequality in America." But Scott called it "a critical tool enabling family farming operations to continue from generation to generation."
Rural vaccination rate lags even farther behind metro areas
|Rural/urban vaccination rates compared to national average; rates are adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.|
"An additional 361,000 rural Americans completed their Covid-19 vaccinations last week, raising the rural vaccination rate to 31.1 percent," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. The metropolitan rate is about 8 points higher.
Click here for more data, charts and regional analysis from the Yonder.
Quick hits: A.I. could churn out next generation of fake news; rural Americans less confident about economy . . .
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 email@example.com.
The Daily Yonder has home-security tips for rural residents, ranging from the mainstream (Ring electronic doorbells with remote-access video) to the offbeat (peacocks). Read more here.
Most Americans are optimistic about the economy, but rural Americans are less so, according to a recent nationwide survey. Read more here.
Registration is now open for Agri-Pulse's 2021 Food & Ag Policy Summit West, which will take place July 12 online and in Sacramento. Read more here.
One in six Americans stay in a job they hate in order to keep health insurance, a recent poll found. Read more here.
A report shows how artificial intelligence could amplify future disinformation campaigns by churning out compelling fake "news" stories. Read more here.
Thanks to high demand for American-grown corn, soybeans and wheat, the Agriculture Department predicts U.S. farm exports will hit a record $164 billion in 2021. Read more here.
The USDA has rejected a pork industry request to increase the line speeds at slaughterhouses, and says it will uphold a March court decision striking down a Trump administration move to lift maximum line speeds. The USDA said in a statement that pork plants should revert to previous maximum line speeds as of June 30. Read more here.
Biden bid to save prairie chickens could spark oil-patch fight
|A lesser prairie chicken|
(USFWS photo by Greg Kramos)
Thursday, June 03, 2021
Study identifies areas with significant potential to reduce downstream water pollution from nitrogen fertilizers
|Regions are ranked by total nitrogen surplus. (Civil Eats map, University of Vermont data, Rural Blog label)|
Nitrogen pollution from fertilizer is a significant—and difficult to solve—environmental issue: runoff contaminates drinking water and causes dead zones and toxic algae blooms in lakes and oceans, and nitrogen released into the air as the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.
A new study from the University of Vermont's Nutrient Cycling and Ecological Design Lab, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, "identified 20 nitrogen 'hotspots' across the U.S. The clusters of counties not only represent areas where a large proportion of surplus nitrogen is being applied; they are also places where researchers say there is significant potential to reverse the trend—to the benefit of farmers, local residents, and the environment," Lisa Held reports for Civil Eats. "The study comes at an opportune time, as the Biden administration turns its focus to agriculture’s role in fighting climate change, and conversations about scaling up and targeting farm conservation programs are increasing."
The study identifies regions and ranks them by total nitrogen surplus. The first three are not surprising; they are in the corn-and-soybean-growing areas of the Midwest most often identified with nitrogen pollution. Less often identified with the problem are No. 4, the lower Ohio and mid-Mississippi river valleys, and No. 5, which includes parts of four northern Rocky Mountain states.
Federal Reserve reports, graphs show farm economy robust
|Farm loan repayment rates (Federal Reserve charts)|
Farm loan repayment rates, along with the U.S. agricultural economy in general, are improving rapidly, according to the latest Federal Reserve bank surveys on farm credit conditions in the first quarter of 2021.
Decline in local news coverage is bad for democracy, can increase polarization; research discusses ways to mitigate it
The decline of local newsrooms may be increasing political polarization and harming the fabric of American democracy, research indicates. Government aid could help small news outlets stay afloat, and focusing on local issues in the opinion section may help not only reduce polarization, but increase readership, Louisiana State University political-communication professor Joshua Darr writes for FiveThirtyEight in a wide-ranging piece that includes some of his own research.
"The local news business was devastated by Covid-19, even though consumers wanted more of its product," Darr writes. "Visits to local news websites spiked by 89 percent from February to March 2020, but newspapers did not profit from having more readers: Ad revenues for the largest newspaper publisher in the nation, Gannett, dropped 35% from 2019 to 2020. Journalists were laid off, furloughed or forced to accept early retirements or pay cuts. The pandemic, however, merely accelerated a crisis in local journalism" caused by several factors. Darr focuses on the results, citing research.
The decline of local news "has been linked to more corruption, less competitive elections, weaker municipal finances and a prevalence of party-line politicians who don’t bring benefits back to their districts," Darr reports. It also makes small-town residents getting their news mainly from national outlets that are often more partisan, making them more likely to vote for one party or the other.
Editorial practices can help tamp down polarization. In 2019, the editor of The Desert Sun in Palm Springs ran only local and regional political content on the opinion page for a month, with no mention of then-President Trump or the upcoming elections. Darr and others surveyed locals and wrote a book about the experiment. Not only did the new policy slow political polarization, it nearly doubled online readership of the opinion section, he reports."The economics of local news makes experiments like The Desert Sun’s difficult to replicate, however," Darr writes."The market is simply not providing local newspapers the resources they need to deliver the civic benefits they’re capable of, which raises the question as to what extent the government should step in to help. People have long debated whether freedom of the press means freedom from government assistance, but on this point, history is clear: Government policies like tax breaks and exemptions from some labor laws and minimum wage and overtime rules have benefited newspapers since the 18th century." One other way, already in place: preservation of laws requiring paid public notices.
A recently introduces bipartisan bill may help smaller news organizations. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Kennedy, R-La., are co-sponsoring the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would give news organizations a temporary anti-trust exemption to collectively negotiate with tech companies "with the aim of helping smaller local publications earn back the much-needed online advertising dollars currently going to Facebook and Google," Darr notes.
Investigation finds more than 80 dams could flood communities with toxic waste if they failed
|Where a dam failure would pose a significant risk to communities due to toxic waste sites, according to Undark analysis|
An investigation has identified more than 80 dams in 24 states that could flood local areas with toxic waste if they failed. The risks these dams pose to toxic waste sites are mostly unrecognized by government agencies, according to interviews with dam safety, environmental and emergency officials, leaving communities nationwide vulnerable to such disasters, James Dinneen and Alexander Kennedy report for Undark.
Small Business Administration offers pandemic-recovery grants up to $5 million to local governments, businesses
A new Small Business Administration initiative, the Community Navigator Pilot program, will provide millions in grants to eligible organizations, including state and local governments, to speed post-pandemic economic recovery. "State and local governments are among the entities eligible to apply for the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot program, which will offer $100 million in grants to agencies that develop a system to deliver services to underserved small businesses," Andrea Noble reports for Route Fifty. "The program offers eligible organizations, including governments, grants from $1 million to $5 million."
The government has already provided targeted relief from the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program and other programs, but many businesses could use advice and support in navigating the new economy, Bruce Strong, the state director of the Minnesota Small Business Development Center Network, told Noble. Even businesses that got PPP loans could benefit from a navigator program to ensure they use and document the funds properly, he said.
The program will award grants to up to 100 programs. The application deadline is in July, and the SBA expects to announce the awards in August. Click here for more information.
Wednesday, June 02, 2021
Free webinar at 1 p.m. ET Thursday, June 3, will show how rural employers can strengthen local vaccination rates
A National Rural Business Summit webinar on Thursday, June 3, will discuss how major rural employers and small businesses can engage with employees and residents to play a meaningful role in increasing the rural coronavirus vaccination rate. Strategies include sharing fact-based information, sharing personal vaccination stories, and supporting community vaccination efforts.
The free webinar will begin at 1 p.m. ET and is presented by the Rural Assembly in partnership with the Health Action Alliance, The Daily Yonder, the National Rural Health Association, The Rural America Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations. Click here to register.
In related news, a new episode of the Rural Assembly's Everywhere Radio show is all about how to overcome vaccine hesitancy in rural America. Host Whitney Kimball Coe, director of the Rural Assembly, talks with Jeff Eastman, CEO of Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit that provides free health care to those in need. Listen to the episode here.
Country music bucks pandemic bust in music industry
Canceled concerts and slightly lower music streaming rates during the pandemic torpedoed a five-year trend of rising revenues in the music industry, "but two genres have been spared the Covid crunch: children’s music and country," Lucas Shaw reports for Bloomberg. "Country in particular has thrived. U.S. residents have listened to an average of 11.1 percent more country since mid-March—an increase of 127 million streams a week. And while growth in kids’ music has subsided as more people return to work, country has only accelerated. Country music streaming climbed 22.4% in the final full week of May."There are a few theories for country music's increased popularity. "Some have argued it is comfort food at a time when people are craving any form of succor,:" Shaw reports. "An executive at Pandora, the online radio service, noted country music is a perfect complement to drinking, (Alcohol sales have also soared during the pandemic.) . . . The simplest explanation may be the most boring: country fans are learning to stream." Though country music is the third-most popular genre in the U.S., country listeners have been more apt to buy CDs and less likely to use streaming services than consumers of other genres.
New rural coronavirus infections fall for sixth straight week, but rural Covid-19 death rate rises for second week in a row
|New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, May 23-29|
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version
Rural America saw 21,179 new coronavirus infections last week, May 23-29, an 18 percent decrease from the previous week's 25,876 and the sixth consecutive week of declining cases. But "new Covid-related deaths in rural counties grew by about 25%, from 681 two weeks ago to 849 last week," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "Deaths have grown by 40% over the past three weeks in rural counties, while climbing only 4% in metropolitan counties." The nationwide rural Covid-related death rate last week was 38% higher than the metropolitan rate.
That said, new rural infections last week were the lowest in nearly a year and down 91% from their January peak, and new rural deaths were still about 80% below their mid-January peak. "Half of the nations’ 1,976 rural counties saw decreases in infections last week. About a quarter of rural counties had an increase in cases, while another quarter had little change," Murphy and Marema report.
Click here for more data, charts and regional analysis from the Yonder, including an interactive county-level map.
Land investors predict rural real estate boom will continue post-pandemic, but a rural broadband and tech gap persists
|Pew Research Center chart showing home broadband connection as of Feb. 8, 2021|
Respondents cited factors such as the increasing popularity of remote work as reasons buyers may want to—or at least now be able to—move to a rural area. Growing rural broadband access is helping make that possible, according to an April Pew Research Center report.
However, as Pew notes, a rural tech gap persists: as of 2020, 95% of urban Americans use the internet, compared to 94% of suburbans and 90% of rural Americans. And as of Feb. 8, only 72% of rural respondents said they had home broadband service, compared to 77% of urban respondents and 79% of suburban respondents. Rural residents were the most likely to report relying on a smartphone instead of home broadband in 2021, with 17% of rural respondents reporting so, compared to 16% of urban dwellers and 12% of suburbanites.
Tuesday, June 01, 2021
JBS, top U.S. beef processor, deals with ransomware attack
Stories for S.C. accountability journalism project uncover corruption, misspending in local governments
Covid roundup: Many rural health-care workers wary of vaccination; some states ban schools from requiring masks
Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:
A survey finds many rural health-care providers are hesitant about vaccination. Read more here.
According to a new survey, the two biggest factors that affect a person's willingness to get the coronavirus vaccination are the convenience of getting a shot and whether or not a vaccine will be required for everyday activities. Read more here.
A New York law firm closely tied to the anti-vaccine movement has bolstered local efforts across the nation to fight coronavirus immunization mandates. Read more here.
Moderna says clinical trial data shows its coronavirus vaccine strongly protects kids as young as 12. The company will submit the data to the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators early next month in an effort to obtain emergency authorization to administer its vaccine to 12-to-17-year-olds. Read more here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating many reports of youths who had mild heart problems after vaccination. It's unclear whether the vaccine(s) caused the heart problem, called myocarditis, which is mostly mild and tends to go away on its own. Read more here.
CDC data shows that only about 10,000 Americans were infected with the coronavirus after being fully vaccinated, and only 2% of those died. Over 130 Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Read more here.
Little-known illnesses are turning up in Covid-19 long-haulers. Read more here.
A rural church choir in Washington state tries to regroup more than a year after experiencing one of the pandemic's first super-spreader events. Read more here.
A package explores how local nonprofits tried to combat anti-vaccine conspiracies running rampant among farmworkers in northern California's wine country. Read more here.
Outer Cape Cod vaccination efforts focus on vulnerable groups and making the tourist season safer. Read more here.
A doctor from rural New York says he feels "tired but inspired" as the pandemic slows down, and also feels cautiously optimistic about the Biden administration's attention to rural needs. Read more here.
Republicans in Michigan's Senate advanced a bill last week that would bar state or local health officials from requiring coronavirus vaccinations for children, though the officials say no such mandate is being considered. In recent months, Michigan has had some of the highest new rural coronavirus infection rates in the nation. Read more here.
Iowa and Texas have banned school districts from requiring students to wear masks on campus, and other states and communities are considering similar moves. Read more here.
The Daily Yonder looks back at Grant County, Washington, one of the first places in rural America to have a major encounter with the coronavirus. Read more here.
The Yonder also has a piece about a rural county at a far reach of Minnesota that has had no Covid-19 deaths as of May 24. Read more here.
Schools across the nation are trying tactics such as pep rallies and free prom tickets to get students vaccinated. Read more here.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced recently that it will allocate $4.8 billion for coronavirus testing for uninsured Americans. Read more here.
High HIV case rate in Miss. blamed on rural stigma, lack of broadband/telehealth and reticence to discuss sexual health
New HIV diagnoses are declining in the U.S., mostly because the preventive drug PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is being used more widely. But diagnoses have remained high in Mississippi, especially in rural areas, because of stigma and lack of telehealth or broadband, Sarah Fowler reports for The Washington Post.
Those factors contribute to an overall increase in rural HIV cases, according to a May 2020 report by the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services. Black and Latino Americans are also at a higher risk of becoming infected.
Mississippi, which is largely rural and has the largest Black population percentage of any state, finds itself at the crosshairs of both trends. "Despite a recent push to install broadband across the state, many still don’t have reliable Internet access. Without it, telehealth services aren’t an option," Fowler reports.
Another problem is that health-care providers are often uncomfortable having frank conversations about sexual health with patients. As Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi's chief health officer, told Fowler: "People don't want to talk about sex in the South."
Summer safety tips for rural children, at work or at home
This summer, many rural youngsters will be working on farms, caring for younger siblings, or just staying home alone as parents work. The Progressive Agriculture Foundation offers some health and safety tips:
- Parents must establish safety rules and boundaries for children who are old enough to stay home alone. That includes being careful about what they share on social media, since posts may alert others that they're home alone.
- Make sure teens who are babysitting younger siblings know what to do in an emergency.
- Identify a trusted neighbor who can stop in periodically and check in on kids at home.
- If children will be preparing meals while parents are away, make sure they understand how to safely use kitchen appliances such as the stove, the microwave, and knives. Adults should also make sure kids know how to prevent fires and burns and what to do if one should occur.
- Kids also need to be reminded about the risks and safety precautions involved with farming equipment, how to appropriately use personal protective equipment while completing some tasks, and the importance of staying hydrated and taking breaks on hot days.
- Adults should warn youth of the dangers of "cutting corners" to get a task finished more quickly, or looking at one's phone while working.
- No matter what youth are doing outside, adults should remind them to wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours, or more often if swimming or sweating.
Monday, May 31, 2021
U.S. News picks best mountain towns in America to visit
|Time-lapse photo shows traffic at junction of Parkway (US 441) and East Parkway (US 321) in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.|
U.S. News and World Report has published a list of "Best Mountain Towns to Visit in the USA", based on what it says is its analysis of "a wide collection of . . . expert and user opinions."