Friday, December 10, 2021

Many rural law-enforcement officers still use dangerous restraint techniques condemned by U.S. Justice Department

Officers in many rural police and and sheriff's departments still use dangerous restraint techniques that the U.S. Department of Justice condemned in 1995. "The agency, along with the International [Association of] Chiefs of Police, warned law-enforcement officials that keeping people restrained face down in what is known as the prone position increased the risk of death from asphyxia," reports Jerry Mitchell of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. "The Justice Department also told officers never to use a hogtie — a form of prone restraint in which officers also attach wrists to ankles behind the person’s back. Many police departments have banned the practice because of its link to positional asphyxia."

Mitchell cites the deaths of a rural Mississippi mother and son in separate incidents years apart as an example of the continuing use of the techniques—and their deadly consequences. "A joint investigation by NBC News and The Marshall Project identified at least 23 deaths involving hogtying or similar restraints across the country since 2010. At least 13 of those who died had mental illnesses or were in mental crisis," Mitchell reports.

It's also worth noting that officials involved in such cases generally blame the deaths on other factors such as intoxication or even heat stroke, but investigative journalists have been able to shine a light on such cases with footage obtained through state open-records or federal Freedom of Information Act requests.

State-by-state graphs more clearly show each county's place in pattern of Trump vote indicating impact of pandemic

On Monday, Dec. 6, The Rural Blog excerpted an NPR story headlined, "A county's vote for Trump is predictive of its Covid-19 vaccination rate, and more generally of its death rate." It was accompanied by two plotter charts on which the vaccination and death rate of each county were on the vertical axis and its percentage of vote for Trump on the horizontal axis. We used one county as an example, to show how local news media could give their audiences a sense of their place in the phenomenon.

The U.S. has 3,243 counties and county equivalents, so the dots on that pair of plotter charts are two fuzzy clouds, not clear trend patterns. Readers, especially rural ones, want to know how their county relates to other counties in their state, especially those close to them. We now know that is possible, through state-by-state graphs created by web designer Charles Gaba, who put them into the public domain by publishing them on Twitter; here are the vaccination graphs.; here are the death graphs.

Above and below are two examples. In those giving data for states with lots of counties, such as Kentucky (below), some counties may be difficult to discern. But counties' data are easily available. To enlarge or download either image, click on it.

Quick hits: farmers brace for inflation; bipartisan bill to help rural opioid crisis passes Senate; food supply-chain loans

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

The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill targeting the rural opioid epidemic. The bill now goes to the House. Read more here.

A Purdue University poll found that more than half of farmers are bracing for inflation-triggered production cost increases over the next year. Read more here.

The Biden administration is providing up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to expand food supply-chain capacity; the program is mean to result in fairer prices for farmers and greater consumer access to healthier foods. The application window opened Thursday and will remain open until Feb. 7. Read more here.

A new stem-cell study paves the way for manufacturing cultured meat. Read more here.

Bayer wins two Roundup cases in Calif., makes appeal asserting that federal pesticide regulations trump state rules

"Bayer AG won a second consecutive trial in California over its top-selling Roundup weedkiller, as a jury rejected a woman’s claim that it caused her cancer," Jef Feeley reports for Bloomberg. "The verdict Thursday in state court in San Bernardino follows a Los Angeles jury’s Oct. 5 decision rejecting a mother’s claim that her young son developed cancer from exposure to the herbicide in the family’s yard."

The verdicts come after Bayer lost three similar California trials in 2018. It wants the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out one of the cases on the grounds that federal herbicide regulations trump state regulations. A successful appeal "could help the company fend off thousands of Roundup suits," Feeley reports.

Bayer will pull the current version of Roundup from the lawn-and-garden market in 2023, but will still sell the chemical to farmers. Its active ingredient, glyphosate, has long been controversial due to reports that it can harm people, pollinators and endangered species, can increase pesticide resistance in crops, and harm crops that aren't genetically engineered to survive it.

Pandemic roundup: Nursing shortage means hospitals could be easily overwhelmed; vaccine mandate penalties delayed

Here's a roundup of recent news stories about the pandemic and vaccination efforts:

The Biden administration is delaying vaccine mandate penalties until 2022. Read more here.

The current nursing shortage means it won't take much to overwhelm hospitals this winter. Read more here.

Many nurses are leaving their jobs and tripling their salaries as travel nurses. Read more here.

The Trump administration gave a new agency $100 million to alleviate pandemic supply-chain problems in the health-care sector, but a government watchdog has found that the agency did not distribute any of the money. Read more here.

Medical professionals are often dismissive of patients with "long Covid," or symptoms that linger for months after the infection subsides. But even medical professionals themselves, who are used to being taken seriously, are having a hard time getting providers to believe they have long Covid. Read more here.

Pediatricians warn parents to watch out for long Covid symptoms in children. Read more here.

The American Psychiatric Association has added "prolonged grief disorder" to its diagnostic manual of mental disorders—an increasingly common ailment during the pandemic as many struggle with multiple losses. Read more here.

The Marine Corps is on track to have the lowest compliance rates with the coronavirus vaccine mandate. Read more here.

State lawmakers' anti-vaccine efforts may prove to be mostly symbolic, but could serve to rally Republican voters ahead of the midterm elections. Read more here.

In a New York Times op-ed, a rural Michigan doctor writes about how unvaccinated Covid-19 patients are filling the beds in the hospital where he works. Read more here.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

New cases of the coronavirus in rural areas skyrocket

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Nov. 28-Dec. 4
Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

New rural coronavirus infections skyrocketed by nearly 50 percent over the week of Nov. 28-Dec. 4. Some of that may be Thanksgiving-related data reporting interruptions, but data "indicate the spike is based on conditions on the ground," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder.

"New cases of Covid-19 in rural counties climbed to about 148,000 last week, an increase of 48,000 (or 48%) from two weeks ago. Covid-related deaths in rural counties also grew by roughly half last week, climbing from about 1,400 two weeks ago to 2,200 last week. Since the start of the pandemic, 135,339 rural Americans have died from Covid-19," Marema reports. "Last week, the rural death rate was 130% higher than the metropolitan death rate. The rural death rate has been roughly twice as high as the metropolitan rate since late August. Metropolitan counties also had a similar percentage increase in new infections and deaths last week."

Click here for more charts, regional analysis, and county-level interactive maps from the Yonder.

Though traffic was down in 2020 due to the pandemic, deaths in auto accidents hit the highest number since 2007

Even as  pandemic restrictions drastically reduced traffic, 2020 saw 38,680 deaths on U.S. roadways, the most since 2007. Road fatalities were up in rural and metropolitan areas, on all types of roads, at all times of day, and in every age group of drivers, according to the most recent figures from the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"The latest evidence suggests that after decades of safety gains, the pandemic has made U.S. drivers more reckless — more likely to speed, drink or use drugs and leave their seatbelts unbuckled," Emily Baumgaertner and Russ Mitchell report for the Los Angeles Times. "The rise in motor vehicle deaths lines up with other pandemic-era trends: Alcohol sales have soared, drug overdoses have set new records, and homicides have seen their biggest increase on record."

Some researchers believe pandemic depression is the culprit, and note that car accident deaths for Black people were more than triple the overall death rate. The disparity "could reflect a deeper sense of despair in the poorer communities hit hardest by the pandemic," Baumgaertner and Mitchell report.

However, Shannon Frattaroli, a researcher at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, wondered if the disparity "was related to a disproportionate number of Black people in the essential workforce, including delivery drivers who are 'paid by how fast you can move'," Baumgaertner and Mitchell report.

Jonathan Adkins, director of the nonprofit Governors Highway Safety Association, told the Times the trend indicates "aggressive" and "very selfish" behavior. Many governors offices, he said, have told the organization that the increase in crashes is "a symptom and a sign of the overall lack of consideration we’re showing for other citizens, whether it be wearing masks, or not getting vaccinated, or how we drive."

Report for America seeks to fill 150 reporting jobs, 40 rural

Report for America announced Wednesday that it has formed new partnerships with almost 70 newsrooms, and is seeking applicants for about 150 new reporting-corps positions, more than 40 of them in rural areas, Sam Kille reports for the nonprofit. The expansion will bring the corps to 325 members in nearly 270 newsrooms in the U.S. and its territories.

In its initial call for applications this summer, Report for America said it was especially seeking rural journalists; that commitment is evident in the newly announced newsrooms and the projects they're bringing a corps member in to pursue. They include:

  • KDLL Public Radio: Effects of state budget policies on rural communities in Alaska
  • Spectrum News 1: Farming and food production in upstate New York
  • Georgia Public Broadcasting: Rural healthcare in the “Stroke Belt”
  • NJ Spotlight News: Mental health issues in rural New Jersey
"Applications are being accepted until Jan. 31; however, those who apply before Dec. 31 will receive early consideration," Kille reports. "Corps members will be selected from a highly-competitive, national competition. Last year, more than 1,800 applications were received. Those hired become employees of their respective newsrooms and will begin their employment June 1, 2022."

Midwives can help fill the rural childbirth services gap, but say they're burned out and need better reimbursement

Rural women have less access to maternity and childbirth services, a trend only made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and one that contributes to higher mother and child mortality rates in rural areas, especially among people of color. Midwives are stepping in to help fill the gap, often with government support, but many are facing the same kind of stress and burnout other health-care professionals have reported, and say they aren't being reimbursed enough, reports Aallyah Wright of Stateline.

"In interviews with Stateline, midwives from rural areas say they’re overwhelmed and facing burnout because of an uptick in patients—even as they’re eager to help," Wright reports. "Doulas, who assist parents during childbirth but don’t provide medical care, also are seeing an increase in demand."

The need is great. More than half of rural counties don't have a hospital that delivers babies. That endangers the lives of mothers and infants; rural American women and infants face significantly higher mortality rates than in other wealthy countries. Many pregnant women who don't live near a hospital with obstetrical services have transportation problems that make it difficult to get to one further away that does. And even women who can make the trip are often pressured to give birth by scheduled Caesarian section, which carries health risks, rather than chance going into labor and not being able to make it to the hospital on time.

Other barriers to access have emerged during the pandemic: many pregnant women haven't felt safe going to a hospital or haven't been able to contact their care providers, Wright reports. Those issues, along with pandemic hospital staffing shortages, have prompted many pregnant women to turn to midwives.

"Some states, recognizing a dire need for midwifery and doula support services, have passed laws to expand care, while members of Congress are considering federal investment. Rural health experts and leaders stress that policies should focus on the challenges of affordability, insurance coverage and lack of providers in rural areas," Wright reports. "This year, at least eight states—Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Nevada and Rhode Island—have passed laws that aim to improve birthing outcomes. Many of the laws have expanded Medicaid and other health insurance coverage for midwifery and doula services, required health facilities to allow doulas to attend births or increased pathways for students to become licensed midwives."

But some states don't recognize midwives as qualified medical providers or limit what services they can provide. And even in the states that do, many midwives say the government isn't reimbursing them enough for Medicaid patients. "The Biden administration’s proposed Build Back Better Act would provide additional funding for postpartum Medicaid coverage as well as financial and programmatic support for doulas and nursing students, "Wright reports.

Such legislation can help, "but it’s going to take more rural-centric, comprehensive policies to fix health infrastructure needs in rural America that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, said Katy Kozhimannil, health researcher and director of the Rural Health Research Center at the University of Minnesota," Wright reports. "Those needs include recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce and finding ways to keep labor and delivery units open despite relatively few births. Many rural hospitals have taken a financial hit, Kozhimannil said, and the pandemic has caused them to reduce services."

Bitcoin miners power their operations with old coal-fired power plants in New York, raising environmental concerns

"In just a few years, a swath of northern and western New York has become one of the biggest Bitcoin producers in the country," Corey Kilgannon reports for The New York Times. "The prospectors in this digital gold rush need lots of cheap electricity to run thousands of energy-guzzling computer rigs. The area — with its cheap hydroelectric power and abundance of shuttered power plants and old factories — was ripe for Bitcoin mining. The abandoned infrastructure, often with existing connections to the power grid, can readily be converted for Bitcoin mining."

"The companies say they are boosting local economies by bringing industry back and creating a crypto vanguard north of New York City," Kilgannon reports. "But the surge of activity has also prompted a growing outcry over the amount of electricity and pollution involved in mining for Bitcoin. Globally, cryptocurrency mining is said to consume more electricity annually than all of Argentina. China, once home to perhaps two-thirds of all crypto mining, banned the practice this year to help achieve its carbon-reduction goals, driving some miners to New York." Read more here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Rural families, especially minorities and poor, are less likely to have access to after-school or summer learning programs

Percentage of rural children likely to participate in
after-school programs, by various demographic factors

(Afterschool Alliance chart; click on it to download or enlarge)
The demand for after-school and summer learning programs far outstrips their availability in rural America, according to a new report from the Afterschool Alliance. Such programs can provide a safe space for children, allowing parents better access to work (lack of access to child care is a major reason parents stop working or reduce work hours). Here are some of the report's top findings:

  • 11% of rural children participate in an after-school program; for every child in such a program, an average of four more children are waiting to get in.
  • 4.5 million rural children are not in an after-school program but would be if one were available—a 43% increase from 2014.
  • 2.9 million rural children would have been enrolled in a summer program in 2019 if one had been available.
  • For every rural child in a summer program in 2019, two more were waiting to get in.
  • Unmet demand for after-school programs reached 47% in 2020, up from 39% in 2014 and 2009.
  • 54% of rural families in 2019 said they wanted their child in a summer program but were unable to access one. That's up from 39% of rural families in 2008.
  • In rural areas, people of color and low-income families have the highest levels of unmet demand for after-school and summer programs.
  • Rural families, especially people of color and those with low incomes, face increasing barriers to access for such programs, such as cost of the program, lack of a safe way to get to and from the program, and more.

Non-profit helps Black entrepreneurs in Mississippi Delta

Tim Lampkin (NPR photo by Kirk Siegler)
"The mostly rural Mississippi Delta has long been synonymous with racial and economic inequality. Yet today there are a growing number of small, economic bright spots, due in part to a grassroots effort that's trying to right some of the wrongs of the past," Kirk Siegler reports for NPR.

Though the Delta's population is mostly Black, relatively few Blacks own businesses, especially Black women. There are a number of reasons: distrust of banks, banks' reluctance to lend to Black entrepreneurs, lack of local role models and more, Siegler reports. But non-profits like Higher Purpose Co. are mentoring Black business owners, assisting with everything from securing grants and loans to navigating everyday operating issues.

Tim Lampkin, 35, founded Higher Purpose when he moved back to his hometown of Clarksdale after working in corporate America. He noticed that most local businesses were white-owned, even though more than 80% of the town's 15,000 residents are Black.

Ensuring that people of color can succeed as entrepreneurs is critical, according to Bill Bynum. He has worked to help Black entrepreneurs in the Delta since the 1990s, and has served as a White House economic advisor to Republicans and Democrats, including Joe Biden. "People of color are an emerging majority and if we leave the emerging majority of Americans on the outside of the economy, then we are really in for trouble," Bynum told Siegler.

Media executive gives up NYC high life to open sanctuary for donkeys, increasingly being killed for Chinese medicine

Ron King in 2016 (photo by Wesley Verhoeve) and hugging a friend at the donkey sanctuary (photo by Hugo Vazquez).

Ron King, 52, was once the senior vice president at Time and ran major magazines such as InStyle and Southern Living. But after 20 years as a media executive in New York City, he quit last year to open a sanctuary for donkeys, which are becomign scarce, Sydney Page reports for The Washington Post.

"I never thought about donkeys in my entire life," King told Page. But a TikTok video showing the animals being led to slaughter sent King down an internet rabbit hole, where he discovered that donkeys are much-maligned but intelligent animals often slaughtered for use in Chinese traditional medicines. The practice has so reduced the Chinese donkey population that American donkeys are often shipped to Mexico for slaughter and sale to China, reducing their numbers in the U.S.

Enter King's friend Phil Selway, an art dealer and philanthropist who had been meaning to turn his 75-acre property in Northern California, into a safe space for rescued animals, Page reports. When King pitched him on the idea of a donkey sanctuary, Selway jumped at the chance to fund its launch.

"They opened Oscar’s Place Adoption Center and Sanctuary — named after one of Selway’s beloved cats — in January 2020, and alongside Selway’s contributions, the organization relies on corporate sponsorships, grants, donations and volunteers to operate, Page reports. "The nonprofit cares for abandoned donkeys that would otherwise be slaughtered. It finds the animals at a livestock auction in Bowie, Texas — which is where one of the largest auctions is held, and it’s usually the final stop for most donkeys, given its proximity to the Mexico border. Oscar’s Place then rehabilitates the animals with the goal of ultimately finding them loving, forever homes." Oscar's Place collaborates with All Seated in a Barn, a non-profit that saves horses about to be shipped abroad for slaughter.

"Donkeys are being slaughtered for the sale of their skin, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat anemia, insomnia and reproductive issues," Page reports. "The popular gelatin-based product is called ejiao, and according to the [Donkey Sanctuary] report, nearly 5 million donkey hides per year are needed to meet the surging demand. China’s donkey population — which is currently 2.68 million — has dwindled by a shocking 76 percent in the past three decades." Page's story says the U.S. population has dropped below 15,000, but that includes only wild donkeys and burros on federal land.

King now lives and works full-time at the sanctuary, which has rescued 77 donkeys and expects to receive another 50 in January. King told Page he has "never worked harder," but is committed to the cause and that being around them brings him joy: "I’ve never been happier in my whole life."

Most local hospitals are not complying with new laws requiring price transparency; how are yours doing?

More than 94% of hospitals surveyed in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania have not complied with a federal rule requiring transparency in pricing, even though the rule has been in effect for nearly a year. That's according to a nationwide survey of 500 hospitals by and an investigation by The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Leif Greiss reports. The project provides an excellent template for replicating such an investigation in your area.

The rule, enacted under the authority of the Affordable Care Act, requires hospitals to post on their websites a list of standard charges for all services, as well as negotiated rates with insurers, among other things, Greiss reports. But two Lehigh Valley hospitals, for example, instead provide a price estimate tool on their patient portal apps, and users must provide personal information including their full name and insurance number to access those estimates. Users must fill out a request form and wait for a quote from the billing department if their insurer is not listed on the website. That could force them to wait for hours or days while suffering a medical issue, and the quote is still only an estimate.

"Cynthia Fisher, founder and chairperson of, said unlike consumers in most other industries, patients have historically been left in the dark when it comes to the cost of care until after services are rendered, something that wouldn’t happen when booking a hotel or shopping at the grocery store," Greiss reports. "However, she said the point of the Hospital Price Transparency rule is to allow patients to know what they would pay ahead of time based on the hospital and insurance provider, opening a new door for competition among hospitals and insurance providers."

Monday, December 06, 2021

A county's vote for Trump is predictive of its Covid-19 vaccination rate, and more generally of its death rate

Screenshot of interactive plotter graphs shows how a higher vote for Donald Trump in 2020 correlates with a lower Covid-19 vaccination rate (left) and a higher Covid-19 death rate. In this example, Jackson County, Kentucky, which went 89% for Trump, follows trendlines created by the averages. For a larger image, click on it; for the interactive database, click here.

"Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from Covid-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden," Daniel Wood and Geoff Brumfiel report for NPR

Overall Covid-19 death rates were 2.7 times higher in counties where at least 60% of the votes went for Trump, and the higher the vote share for Trump, the higher the Covid death count. Recently, Covid-related deaths in the reddest counties were 5.5 times higher than the bluest counties, Wood and Brumfiel report. The data start in May since that's when vaccinations became widely available. 

"The trend was robust, even when controlling for age, which is the primary demographic risk," NPR reports. "The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death-rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate. The analysis only looked at the geographic location of Covid-19 deaths. The exact political views of each person taken by the disease remains unknowable. But the strength of the association, combined with polling information about vaccination, strongly suggests that Republicans are being disproportionately affected."

Republicans are the largest demographic group of unvaccinated Americans, and Kaiser Family Foundation polling shows that they're highly likely to mistrust official information sources and be exposed to misinformation. Foundation Vice President Liz Hamel said political affiliation is now the strongest indicator of vaccination: "If I wanted to guess if somebody was vaccinated or not and I could only know one thing about them, I would probably ask what their party affiliation is."

"It was not always this way," NPR reports. "Earlier in the pandemic, many different groups expressed hesitancy toward getting vaccinated. African Americans, younger Americans and rural Americans all had significant portions of their demographic that resisted vaccination. But over time, the vaccination rates in those demographics have risen, while the rate of Republican vaccination . . . has flatlined at just 59%, according to the latest numbers from Kaiser . . . 91% of Democrats are vaccinated."

Less government aid and higher production costs to partially offset higher farm income in 2021, USDA predicts

USDA map shows regions used in forecasting farm income, To enlarge, click on it.

American farms will mostly make more income this year, but less government aid and higher production costs will eat into that, according to the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service in its most recent Farm Income Forecast.

You can read the whole thing here, but below are some of the highlights:
  • Net farm income, a broad measure of profits, is estimated at $116.8 billion in 2021, its highest level since 2013.
  • In inflation-adjusted dollars, that's an $18.4 billion increase from 2020, or18.7%.
  • Net cash farm income, a more precise measure of profits, is forecast to increase by $12.6 billion, or 10.5%, in inflation adjusted dollars to $133 billion. That would mark its highest point since 2014.
  • The average net cash farm income is predicted to increase by $3,000, or 3.5%, to $89,100 per farm.
  • Projections for net cash farm income vary by region. Farms in the Heartland, Northern Great Plains, Prairie Gateway, Eastern Uplands, and Mississippi Portal are predicted to see net cash farm income increase, while farms in the Northern Crescent, Southern Seaboard, Basin and Range, and Fruitful Rim (some coastal and border states) are predicted to see a decrease.
  • Cash receipts from agricultural commodities sales are predicted to increase by $64.7 billion to $427.3 billion. That would drive most of the increase in both net income measures.
  • However, lower direct government aid and higher production expenses are expected to partially offset higher cash receipts (Spending on nearly all categories of expenses is expected to rise).
  • Direct government payments are predicted to fall by $18.5 billion, or 40.4%, to $27.2 billion.
  • Total production expenses, including farmers' housing expenses, are forecast to increase by $29.8 billion, or 8.3%, to $387.6 billion.
  • Farm assets are predicted to increase by 2.8% to $3.26 trillion in 2021, mostly because of increased real estate value. When adjusted for inflation farm assets and equity are projected to fall 1.0%. 
  • Farm debt is projected to decline by 0.8% in inflation-adjusted dollars.
  • Farms' debt-to-asset ratio is forecast to remain fairly steady at 13.91.
  • Farms' working capital, or money available for operating expenses after paying off debt, is predicted to increase 9.6% from 2020.
  • Total median farm household income is projected at $82,315, a 0.9% decline when adjusted for inflation.

Few Farm Service Agency and Rural Development state director positions filled; could hurt Biden's rural outreach

"The Biden administration has only appointed 22 state directors for the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency and Rural Development branch, out of more than 100 open spots, a major delay compared to the Trump administration," Ximena Bustillo reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. "At this point in the Trump administration, nearly every state position was announced."

The jobs, which are political appointments that don't require Senate confirmation but do call for political consultation, are mostly being filled by acting directors, including in some of the nation's most rural states. Only nine states have both roles filled, Bustillo reports. The appointment process also went slowly during Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's first term in the job, under Barack Obama in 2009.

"Some rural advocates consider the lack of appointees as a missed opportunity for the Biden administration to get people on the ground in each state, communicating changes and taking credit for Biden’s agenda," Bustillo reports. The appointees "play key leadership roles in making sure funds for programs such as rural broadband and other infrastructure projects get into local hands. That means the absence of state directors could hamper Democrats’ ability to claim credit in rural areas for their biggest policy achievements, like the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package Biden signed last month."

USDA is dealing with lower staffing levels overall, which Vilsack has blamed on Trump administration hiring freezes and funding cuts, Bustillo reports.

Webinar Thursday, Dec. 9, to discuss USDA's 'America's Diverse Family Farms' report to be released that day

The U.S. Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service will host a free, hour-long webinar at 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Dec. 9, to discuss the findings in its "America's Diverse Family Farms: 2021 Edition" report. The report is to be published earlier that day.

Agricultural economist Christine Witt will host the webinar. From the website: "This year's edition explores farm operating expenses, pandemic-related changes in direct sales, pandemic-related household unemployment, and the distribution of USDA and non-USDA pandemic assistance farms received in 2020." Click here to read the 2020 edition of the report, and click here to register for the webinar or for more information.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Robert J. Dole, whose small-town roots and virtues were central to his politics, dies at 98

Bob Dole (Photo: David Ake, AFP/Getty)
Bob Dole, a son of small-town Kansas who dominated the Senate for a decade and was the 1996 Republican nominee for vice president and president 20 years apart, died Sunday morning. He was 98.

Robert J. Dole was born in Russell, a county-seat town in the heart of the state. It had about 2,000 people at the time, grew to 6,500 by the time he was elected to the state House in 1950 and now has 4,400. The story of his upbringing there, and the town's efforts to help him recover from the nearly fatal injuries he suffered in World War II, were central to the narrative of his political career.

"Russell was a speck on the flat Kansas prairie, but in the Dole biography it took on mythic significance. In his political campaigns, Russell was cast as the shaper of noble, small-town virtues and Mr. Dole as their personification," writes Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times.

"Remembering that period, and the generosity of his neighbors, often brought him to tears. In his first appearance with President Ford in Russell in 1976, with 10,000 well-wishers crammed into the downtown business district, he thanked the townspeople for their support after the war. Then he started to cry and couldn’t go on. The audience fell silent. Finally, Mr. Ford stood and began clapping, and the audience joined in. Regaining his composure, Mr. Dole said: 'That was a long time ago.' And yet even in 1996, long after Russell and his recovery had become a staple of his origin story, he could hardly mention that period without choking up."

"Bob’s lifetime of service was rooted in a simple mission: looking out for his neighbors," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a press release. "His Dust Bowl roots fueled a special commitment to vulnerable Americans, and sure enough, Bob’s work on food security, veterans’ issues, and the rights of disabled Americans have continued to have an especially lasting impact."

Dole also ran for president in 1988, winning the Iowa caucuses but losing to George H.W. Bush in New Hampshire after refusing to pledge not to raise taxes. "If he had won the nomination, he almost certainly would have won the White House because Americans then wanted something more like a third Ronald Reagan term than a first Michael Dukakis term," writes columnist George Will in The Washington Post. "Dole probably would have won that nomination if he had won New Hampshire’s primary. And he could have, if he had campaigned as what he really wasn’t — a fervent conservative."

Will adds, "Dole was never one of those puffed-up politicians who constantly act as though they are unveiling statues of themselves. He had a Midwestern cheerfulness — see Ronald Reagan, of Dixon, Ill. — about the United States’ possibilities, but his mordant, sometimes acidic wit fit a man with some grievances against life’s close calls."

"Though Mr. Dole had promised that he would return to his Russell roots if he lost the race, that didn’t happen," writes Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal. "He was far too much a fixture in the nation’s capital by then, both in his own right and as the spouse of former senator and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. So he became a high-powered member of Washington law firms, working for clients such as the government of Taiwan."