Friday, June 24, 2022

The rural impact, and more, of the end of Roe v. Wade

How the overturn of Roe v. Wade will affect abortion in the states
Map by The Washington Post; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade today, "touching off a cascade of anti-abortion laws that probably will take effect across roughly half the country," The Washington Post reports. "Without the landmark precedent in place, the national abortion landscape will change quickly. First, 13 states with 'trigger bans,' designed to take effect as soon as Roe is overturned, will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent anti-abortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next, with lawmakers moving to activate their dormant legislation. A handful of states also have pre-Roe abortion bans that could be brought back to life." Lou Jacobson of Politifact has a state-by-state rundown.

Though most state legislatures have adjourned for the year, some governors have expressed interest in convening a special session to pass anti-abortion laws or remove anti-abortion laws already on the books, the Post reports. Here's a roundup with more on the watershed court decision:

The decision "will send shockwaves through the U.S. health-care system," including "thousands of unplanned births and thus the increased likelihood of maternal morbidity and mortality," said The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that promotes a high-performing system.

Overturning Roe will likely increase births in rural areas and strain already stressed maternity services in rural hospitals, say experts. Read more here.

The poor will be most affected, says The Economist, and the rural poor even more so, since people with more time and money will likely travel to another state to get an abortion, says The Daily Yonder. Some firms said they would cover employees' travel for abortion, The Hill reports.

The rural impact is best seen in maps. NBC News has an interactive map showing the distance and time to the closest abortion clinic from all U.S. cities of more than 50,000. UPDATE: The New York Times has maps that show the distance for every county and how that changed in the hours after the decision and how it is likely to change soon.

Some states are cracking down on doctors' ability to prescribe abortion pills via telehealth and pharmacies' ability to distribute them through the mail. Read more here and here.

Some domestic violence survivors say abortion ban will trap many women with abusive partners. Read more here.

"Democratic county prosecutors, mayors and city council members in at least seven conservative states have vowed not to enforce strict abortion bans, arguing that their job is to protect, not harm, the public," reports Christine Vestal of Stateline

Some editors and publishers at large news organizations are urging their employees to keep their views on abortion private, even on their personal social-media pages. Read more here.

In Texas, which until recently had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, doctors worried about getting sued have delayed treating pregnancy complications until patients' lives were in danger. That could be a harbinger of the future elsewhere. Read more here.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the leaked draft of the majority opinion that pregnancy is no longer an economic burden since Americans now have guaranteed protection from pregnancy discrimination, guaranteed medical leave "in many cases," and medical costs that are covered by insurance or government assistance. That's not accurate, according to some experts, who say pregnancy and raising a child remain significant economic obstacles. Read more here.

Some Democrats have speculated that Native American tribes might erect abortion clinics on tribal lands to bypass state laws, but that's mostly coming from non-Natives. No tribes have advocated for such a thing thus far. Read more here.

Supreme Court curbs limits on the right to carry guns in public, as the Senate passes a bipartisan gun-violence bill

Though the overturn of Roe v. Wade is getting top billing in most news media, the nation's highest court issued another landmark decision this week.

"The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that law-abiding Americans have a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense, issuing a watershed constitutional ruling against firearm restrictions as the nation reels from a spate of mass shootings and its political leaders are divided over how to curb such violence," Robert Barnes and Ann Marimow report for The Washington Post. "The court’s conservatives prevailed in a 6-to-3 decision that struck a New York law requiring a special need for carrying a weapon and puts at risk similar laws in Maryland, California, New Jersey, Hawaii and Massachusetts."

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Second Amendment must be subject to the same rules as other amendments: "We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need."

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer noted that there have been more than 275 mass shootings in the U.S. since January, and that gun violence is the top cause of death for American children. Case law of the Second Amendment allows state and local governments to address gun violence, he wrote, but the Supreme Court ruling will make that more difficult.

Also on Thursday, the Senate sent the House on a vote of 65-33 a bipartisan gun-violence bill that marks the most significant such legislation in decades. The House passed it 234-193 Friday, mostly along party lines, The Associated Press reports, and President Biden is expected to sign it. One of the 14 House Republicans voting for it was Tony Gonzales, whose district includes Uvalde, Texas.

Aspen paper's self-censorship, firing of editor, amid settlement with billionaire developer trigger local outcry

The Aspen Times office (Aspen Daily News photo)
Turmoil at rural daily The Aspen Times in Colorado illustrates how editorial decisions by outside managers and lack of transparency can undermine trust in a newspaper, not just for local residents but for employees of the paper, Sam Tabachnik reports for The Denver Post.

The trouble started when Swedish billionaire Vladislav Doronin, who was developing a controversial luxury hotel in Aspen, sued the Times for defamation a few months ago because he believed the paper's coverage of him falsely painted him as a "corrupt Russian oligarch," Shelly Bradbury reports for the Post.

The Times' upper management opted to withhold two opinion pieces that they worried might upset Doronin as the paper tried to negotiate a settlement. Top editor David Krause resigned shortly afterward, citing poor health and new management. New editor-in-chief and Times veteran Andrew Travers "published the columns along with a series of internal emails about why the articles had been killed," Tabachnik reports. "The Times’ publisher, Allison Pattillo, had supported his decision, Travers said. He said he only agreed to take the top job believing there would no further restrictions on what he could and couldn’t publish. But a day after publishing the columns and emails, they were removed from the Aspen Times’ website." Then Travers was fired, after less than a week on the job.

Roger Marolt, the writer whose columns had been spiked, promptly resigned, and the paper didn't run his farewell column. His columns will soon start running in the town's other daily, the locally owned Aspen Daily News. Travers and Marolt were only the latest exits under the Times' new owners, Tabachnik reports. "Ever since Ogden Newspapers out of West Virginia bought a chain of Colorado ski-town newspapers from Swift Communications in December, an accumulation of names has been sliding off of mastheads like a slow-moving avalanche," Corey Hutchins writes for Inside the News in Colorado.

Locals expressed alarm at news of the paper's self-censorship and praised the Aspen Daily News for reporting on the matter. One man wrote in a June 17 letter to the editor in the Daily News: "If Ogden is willing to censor our press and fire Andrew for allowing an important local columnist to question the motives of a new developer, who knows what they will do when the next billionaire in Aspen is not happy about his treatment by the local media? Hire Andrew back and keep The Aspen Times from becoming irrelevant. Hats off, Aspen Daily News ... for keeping it local."

During a May 24 city council meeting, Aspen's mayor blamed the tumult on outside ownership (The Times was last owned locally about 20 years ago): "I know that the leadership and the ownership of The Aspen Times may be out of town and not understand what is actually going on here, but I would hope that they spend a little bit more time looking into what the local affairs are and what this newspaper means to our community for information."

In a June 14 meeting, city council member Ward Hauenstein went further, begging wealthy locals to buy the paper, Tabachnik reports. "The owner of one of our newspapers may be a bad fit for Aspen. We value truth and freedom," Hauenstein said. "These values are being stolen from us. They were sold to the highest investor."

Scott Stanford, Ogden's regional publisher, defended its handling of the matter. "As a newspaper, we have a responsibility when someone raises a concern about our content to take that concern seriously, review it and, if it is unfair, inaccurate and not based on facts that are already established, then we should evaluate what steps we should take,” Stanford told The Post. That might include "editing, modifying or, in some cases, deleting content that we deem doesn’t live up to those standards ... That’s not suppressing free speech — that’s ensuring we do our jobs responsibly."

But Travers told the Post the columns never should have been an issue for management. "This is a columnist in a resort town writing about hotel development," he said. "It’s not the Pentagon Papers. This is pretty basic stuff in terms of what a newspaper columnist expects to do in a town like Aspen."

Travers also told the Post he's worried about the wider implications of such decisions: "If people with the money or the power to intimidate a news organization can do that and silence public discourse over something as small as this, what does that say about the state of press freedom in the U.S.?"

UPDATE, July 15: In response to calls for a boycott of the Times, Marolt writes that residents should just pay it no mind: "Ignoring requires no pacing; it induces little fatigue. Boycotting sounds like a time suck, whereas ignoring one of the newspapers might free some up."

Quick hits: House panel votes to keep firms from 4 hostile nations from buying farms; broadband boondoggle a caution

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.

In a first-of-its-kind agreement, the Biden administration has signed a deal with five Native American tribes to give them more control over day-to-day management of federal land (Bears Ears National Monument in Utah). The deal marks "a new chapter in the federal government’s often-fraught relationship with tribes," Maxine Joselow reports for The Washington Post.

Despite threats of violence, an alpaca ranch in Colorado aims to be a refuge for LGBTQ+ Americans who long for the rural life they were sometimes obliged to leave. Read more here.

On Thursday the House Appropriations Committee voted to bar companies from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran from buying U.S. farmland. The provision will be included in the annual funding bill for the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration. Read more here.

The federal government paid out a record $41.6 billion in subsidies to farmers in 2020, twice as much as in 2018. Read more here.

Like it or not, climate change must be "front and center" in the crafting of the 2023 Farm Bill, write agricultural economists Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray in their latest column. Read more here.

Though the Trump administration launched a major initiative to bring broadband to rural America in 2020, many are still waiting; a Las Vegas-based company repeatedly fumbled after winning the right to deliver broadband in parts of 15 states. The situation serves as a cautionary tale as the federal government rolls out another expensive rural broadband program, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Pandemic roundup: Publix won't vaccinate kids under 5; even asymptomatic coronavirus infection can hurt a fetus

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

Coronavirus vaccines saved nearly 20 million lives worldwide over the first year they were available to the public, according to a newly published study. Read more here.

Use of at-home coronavirus tests has been difficult or impossible for blind and visually impaired people, especially those who live alone. The Biden administration announced Thursday it's rolling out free at-home tests that are designed to be more accessible. Read more here.

Rapid tests are more prone to false negatives, but those who get such results might be less contagious, because the tests seem to be more accurate if viral loads are higher. Read more here.

Publix, a big grocery chain in the South, says it won't administer coronavirus vaccines to children younger than 5, The Associated Press reports. The Florida-based chain offers other federally approved vaccinations to babies as young as 6 months. Last week Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state isn't pre-ordering doses of the under-5 vaccine, making Florida the only state not to do so. Publix has donated $150,000 to DeSantis since Nov. 2019 but hasn't donated any more since a "60 Minutes" report in April 2021 about it.

Covid-19 can harm a developing fetus even if the infected mother shows few or no symptoms of the virus, according to University of Kentucky researchers. Read more here.

Covid-19 patients who have taken the antiviral treatment Paxlovid may experience a rebound of the virus and test positive again two to eight days after their initial recovery, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned. The CDC continues to recommend Paxlovid for patients at high risk of serious complications from Covid-19. Those who take the treatment and then test positive again or see a resurgence in symptoms should isolate again for at least five days and wear a mask for 10 days after the onset of rebound symptoms. Read more here.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Invasive Asian carp get a new name, 'copi', to entice diners, but will they bite? And will the FDA approve the name?

Asian carp jump from the Illinois River after being jolted by an electric current. (Associated Press photo by John Flesher)

You may have seen Chilean sea bass on the menu at a fancy restaurant. But the now-prized fish only landed on high-dollar menus after an enterprising fish wholesaler changed its name from the Patagonian toothfish and pitched it as a delicacy.

The State of Illinois is trying to do the same thing with Asian carp, an invasive fish that threatens ecosystems in the Mississippi River watershed. The state and partner organizations "kicked off a market-tested campaign Wednesday to rechristen as 'copi' four species previously known collectively as Asian carp, hoping the new label will make them more attractive to U.S. consumers," John Flesher reports for The Associated Press. "The federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is funding the five-year, $600,000 project to rebrand the carp and make them widely available. More than two dozen distributors, processors, restaurants and retailers have signed on. Most are in Illinois, but some deliver to multiple states or nationwide."

The name comes from "copious." State and federal officials have tried everything from fishing tournaments to bubbles and noisemakers to get invasive Asian carp out of U.S. waterways, but what to do with the captured fish has been an enduring problem. The fish show promise as pet food or fertilizer, and a processing plant in Western Kentucky exports carp to Asian audiences, where it's a popular food. It could be an easy and abundant food source in the U.S., too, if more people were willing to try them. Flesher reports. "Officials estimate up to 50 million pounds (22.7 million kilograms) could be netted annually in the Illinois River between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan. Even more are available from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast."

The state will seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration, "which says 'coined or fanciful' fish labels can be used if not misleading or confusing," Flesher notes. "Other regulatory agencies and scientific groups have their own policies and might not make the switch. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the American Fisheries Society have a committee that lists fish titles, including scientific names in Latin and long-accepted common names. The panel never adopted 'Asian carp' as an umbrella term for the invasive species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to stick with 'invasive carp' and the four individual names, as its focus is on managing and controlling their spread."

New rural Covid cases steady last week; metro death rate may be higher than rural for first time in over a year

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, June 14-20
Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

New coronavirus infections in counties outside metropolitan areas stayed relatively steady during the week of June 14-20 while Covid-related deaths in rural counties fell by about one-third. One noteworthy trend: For the first time in over a year, the weekly death rate in metro counties was higher than that in rural counties, Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. However, data was missing for Mississippi, which could skew the results.

"Rural counties reported about 61,100 new infections last week, down about 7% from two weeks ago. Metropolitan counties reported a 15% reduction in new cases, from 647,000 two weeks ago to 554,000 last week," Marema reports. "An additional 277 rural Americans died from Covid-19 last week, down from 433 two weeks ago. In metropolitan counties, the number of Covid-related deaths fell by about 20%, from 2,184 two weeks ago to 1,728 last week." Click here for more charts, regional analysis, and county-level interactive maps from the Yonder.

Natural-gas storage fields' faulty equipment leaks methane


"Infra" is Latin for "under," but "infrastructure" often seems to mean mainly things on the surface: roads, rails, runways, etc. People are aware of pipelines, sewers, etc., but they don't think about them because they don't see them. Most people are probably not aware of one of the largest elements of energy infrastructure: giant, deep underground caverns where natural gas is stored for later use. And most surely don't know that some of those storage fields leak the main component of natural gas: methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Phil McKenna of Inside Climate News tells us about that with the help of Alex Rozier of Mississippi Today, and their object example is the Petal Gas Storage Field in southeast Mississippi, which "emits the greenhouse gas equivalent of 87,000 automobiles—more than any other gas storage facility in the United States." Created by watering a salt dome and pumping out the brine in 1951, it is in the first underground salt dome carved out for gas storage, and it is the leakiest. It's only the 41st largest storage field, but emits three and a half times as much methane as the next biggest leaker, also owned by Gulf South Pipeline and parent firm Boardwalk Pipeline Partners.

"Gulf South and Boardwalk have begun to curb emissions at the Petal facility, cutting them in 2020 by nearly 50 percent of what they were in 2019, a year when Petal’s emissions were more than five times larger than any other underground gas storage facility in the country. Boardwalk executives said they slashed emissions again, this time by 54 percent, in 2021," McKenna and Rozier report. "EPA has not yet verified Petal’s 2021 emissions. . . . The Petal facility’s emissions do not violate any state or federal laws, but they call into question the ability of the oil and gas industry to voluntarily curb its own climate pollution. Emissions from the transmission and storage sector account for approximately 25 percent of the total methane emissions from the natural-gas industry. A draft rule proposed by the EPA last November includes what would be the first mandatory methane emission reductions for existing gas transmission and storage facilities."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says methane is not toxic, but health experts say it is often accompanied by volatile organic compounds and toxic gases. Petal Alderman Gerald Steele, whose ward includes the gas field, "expressed surprise that the Petal plant’s emissions were the highest from such facilities in the nation," Rozier and McKenna report. "He said that the company is an important financial contributor to the city through its employment and tax contributions." The reporters say the leaks come from faulty equipment, not the geology of the infrastructure, and their story has useful diagrams that explain.

Editor-publisher 'sees more than a headline;' Rotary Club reporter sees a hard worker who's looking for 'the best successor who will keep our community lifeline going'

Laurie Ezzell Brown
It can be difficult for a newspaper to write its own story, especially if it's for sale to the right buyer. In Texas, award-winning Editor-Publisher Laurie Ezzell Brown of The Canadian Record wrote briefly about it in her column last Christmas, and readers of the weekly have been reminded by the sale ad she runs. But not until the Canadian Rotary Club heard her story last week did she have a chance to publish a story about her situation from a more or less independent observer, club Reporter Sarah Rader. It is a testimonial to the paper, Brown, her dedication to it and the community, and her efforts to find a deserving buyer. Some excerpts:
   "There was a stint where Brown connected with a friend who owns a newspaper group that sounded promising in passing the baton of The Record. They would have kept it a community paper, kept local employees, and perhaps have bought a couple of other surrounding newspapers. However, despite how close they came to having a deal, in the end, they could not find anyone who wanted to move to the Texas Panhandle to work ...
   "In today’s time, most journalism schools are rolling out podcasters or TV anchors. What we need, though, in any area is a central, reliable, outlet telling us what’s going on in our local news, elections, council and board meetings, obituaries, sports, even down to monthly lunch specials. When people say no one reads the paper, advertising in it doesn’t work, or young people don’t care about the paper, don’t believe it. I am 32 and read the paper faithfully every week. If stories in the paper seem briefer to you lately, it may be because Brown is the only on-staff reporter right now. . . . So, it’s not surprising that Brown can’t be at 20 different events at once, making it hard to cover everything in our bustling town when she then also has to find the time to write about said events.
   "Brown reiterated how important a local newspaper is with a recent example of the Amarillo news media getting ahold of some of our county commissioners’ decisions and twisting the headlines to be clickbait instead of actually reporting factual information. Many of us know how special Canadian is, and we take great care of how our town is reflected. When bigger media outlets get ahold of something, they don’t care how what they say reflects on us here, because we’re just some small-population town in the Texas Panhandle.
   "A local editor sees more than a headline and realizes that the people involved in any story are real people she’s likely going to see in person over and over. Brown reminded us that she does, in fact, have to live with the consequences of what she reports as well as how she reports it, and has spent a lifetime with those decisions. If she has opinions, she makes sure they stay on the opinion page, not in the news articles.
   "Whether you agree with Brown’s political views and other stances, which she readily acknowledges often differ from many of her subscribers, you have to admit she is thorough, covers many different topics, and strives to be neutral and factual in her news coverage with the material she is privy to. Canadian has had one of the hardest workers in our midst, serving our community on a weekly basis, surviving on little sleep for many years, and recording all our history before our eyes, so it’s no surprise she desires a break.
   "Let’s help Brown retire by finding her the best successor who will keep our community lifeline going."

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The politics of gun control: Senators for bill say calls run in favor of it, but most are insulated from voters' retribution

Most of the 14 Republican senators who voted to advance the bipartisan gun-violence bill have political insulation, and others say they're doing what their constituents want.

Todd Young of Indiana told Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post. that his calls were "about 10 to 1 . . . in favor of reasonable prohibitions." Joni Ernst of Iowa told The New York Times that her calls from constituents were 6 to 1 in favor of "doing something."

To the south, opinion was generally more mixed and often hostile. Missouri's senators split, with retiring Roy Blunt for the bill and conservative firebrand Josh Hawley outspokenly against it and trying to change the subject. “People are absolutely furious that this bill does not do anything meaningful to address the national crime wave,” he told the Post.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chief Republican architect of the deal, said last week that gun owners' support for the framework being filled in at the time was "off the charts, overwhelming." But gun owners for whom the Second Amendment is a voting issue may be a different story; Cornyn was roundly booed at his state party convention last weekend.

Both North Carolina senators, retiring Richard Burr and fellow Republican Thom Tillis, endorsed the bill. Tillis told the Times, “When . . . people fully understand what we’re doing and more importantly, what we’re not doing, it’s not a difficult discussion for me to have in North Carolina.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said likewise.

The six-year terms of Tillis and Capito end in 2026, as do those of Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the other Southern Republicans for the bill, Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Other Republicans for it include Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who are retiring.

The only Republicans who voted to advance for the bill and are seeking re-election this year are Young and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; "neither is particularly worried about losing support from their party’s conservative base," notes Emily Cochrane of the Times. Young has already been renominated without opposition, and Murkowski "voted to convict President Donald J. Trump at his 2021 impeachment trial ... is running for re-election as a moderate [and] has repeatedly been rewarded by voters for her independent streak."

McConnell's support of the bill "was a sign that some Republicans have calculated that, given the scale of public outrage over mass shootings, their party could not afford to be seen as blocking a modest compromise on gun safety in an election year," the Times reports.

"No player was more crucial," DeBonis writes. "McConnell, however, finds himself in the minority of a divided Republican conference — a position he usually tries to avoid. . . . McConnell’s allies said there was political logic to the decision to cut a modest deal with Democrats and demonstrate to the public that the GOP is not an immovable obstacle to action to address the drumbeat of mass shootings."

David Catanese of McClatchy Newspapers, the regional D.C.-based reporter who pays the most attention to McConnell (for the Lexington Herald-Leader), gets insight from lobbyist Liam Donovan, a former Senate campaign aide: "Donovan surmised that even though the loudest voices on the right are angered, the GOP leader sees a political upside. He now has another significant vote in his pocket that he can hold up when Democrats complain the filibuster needs to be broken or amended to accomplish a legislative goal." And maybe a way to quiet the issue for a while.

“Base blowback is a sunk cost, having pursued a deal,” Donovan told Catanese. “You have to balance the prospect of a divisive vote with the fact that this is their last, best chance to take the issue off the table for the foreseeable future, and on relatively favorable terms.”

America's 'cowboy poet' Baxter Black dies at 77

Baxter Black performs in 2010 (Getty Images)
"Baxter Black, the nationally popular cowboy poet, storyteller, and philosopher of rural life in America," died June 10 at age 77 at his home in Benson, Ariz., Terri Jo Neff reports for the Arizona Daily Independent. The family didn't specify the cause of death, but a January Facebook post from his wife Cindy Lou said he had blood leukemia and dementia.

Black was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Las Cruces, N.M. He competed in rodeo through high school and college, and graduated from veterinary school in 1969. He was a practicing vet through the mid-1980s as he honed his skills as a poet and public speaker at Future Farmers of America functions, Neff reports.

"Black's first column was published in Colorado's Record Stockman in 1980. Several years later, he made his way to public radio," Rachel Treisman reports for NPR. In the mid-1980s, NPR played a recording he sent in of his poem about wildfires in Yellowstone National Park. Listeners loved the poem, and Black went on to offer commentary for "Morning Edition" for the next two decades. 

"When he wasn't on the air, Black spoke at conventions and events across the country, appeared on television programs including "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," wrote a weekly column and published and recorded audiobooks — of which Ag Daily says he sold more than a million," Treisman reports. "His column, "On the Edge of Common Sense," was published by more than 100 newspapers across the U.S. and Canada over the years."

Black retired at the end of 2021 due to health problems. "In his undated website FAQ, Black dodged a question about his top three accomplishments, saying, 'I haven't accomplished them yet'," Treisman reports. "But he did reflect on how he'd like to be remembered: 'As someone who didn't embarrass his friends.'"

Supreme Court lets stand verdict against Bayer for failing to warn users about the cancer risks of Roundup

"The Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand a multimillion-dollar verdict against the manufacturer of the popular weedkiller Roundup for failing to warn of cancer risks," Ann Marimow reports for The Washington Post. "The decision by the justices not to intervene clears the way for thousands of similar lawsuits against the company Bayer. The Biden administration had urged the court to deny the company’s request, a departure from the Trump administration’s position."

The plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, sued Bayer after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, saying that habitual use of Roundup caused his cancer, and that the company had failed to warn users of the cancer risks associated with key ingredient glyphosate, Marimow reports.

Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Agriculture Reporting Network that the ruling won’t be "the final word in the company’s attempts to shield itself from lawsuits alleging its weedkiller causes cancer. Another Bayer appeal was pending before the Supreme Court and the company suggested a case being heard by an appeals court in Atlanta could be the third."

The ruling is another blow to Bayer; last week a U.S. appeals court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency didn't have enough evidence in 2020 to rule that glyphosate doesn't cause cancer. EPA "has repeatedly concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans," Marimow reports. "California’s labeling laws are more stringent. After an international research group classified glyphosate as 'probably carcinogenic to humans' in 2015, the state required a warning label for glyphosate-based herbicides. The classification prompted a spate of lawsuits against the manufacturer of the nation’s most widely used weedkiller."

High court, in case from rural Maine areas without high schools, says states can't deny tuition aid to religious ones

"The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to religious schools," Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post. "Under Maine’s program, jurisdictions in rural areas too sparsely populated to support secondary schools of their own can arrange to have nearby schools teach their school-age children, or the state will pay tuition to parents to send their kids to private schools. But those schools must be nonsectarian, meaning they cannot promote a faith or belief system or teach 'through the lens of this faith,' in the words of the state’s Department of Education."

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the program essentially discriminates against religion, in violation of the Constitution. States are not obliged to subsidize private schools, but if they do, they can't discriminate against religious schools, he wrote. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the decision continued the dismantling of the separation of church and state sought by the nation's founders, Barnes reports.

Maine's program affects a few thousand students, but the ruling "could have far greater implications as the more conservative court systematically adjusts the line between the Constitution’s protection of religious exercise and its prohibition of government endorsement of religion," Barnes writes.

The ruling "could fuel a renewed push for school choice programs in some of the 18 states that have so far not directed taxpayer money to private, religious education," Mark Sherman reports for The Associated Press. "The most immediate effect of the court’s ruling beyond Maine probably will be in nearby Vermont, which has a similar program."

Bipartisan gun deal includes funding for telehealth coverage for Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program

In response to recent violent shootings, the Senate is moving an 80-page bipartisan deal meant to reduce gun violence. One provision, not widely reported, to expand telehealth coverage for patients with Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program coverage so more people can access mental health-care, Cara Smith reports for Inside Health Policy.

A maximum of 18 months after the bill becomes law, the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to provide technical assistance and guidance to states to improve telehealth access for Medicaid and CHIP enrollees. "The guidance would address adopting telehealth flexibilities to expand access to care, billing codes and practices, integrating telehealth services into value-based care models, strategies to deliver culturally competent care via telehealth and other best practices," Smith reports. The language in that part of the bill is identical to that of legislation released in May by the Senate Finance Committee.

"Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the lead Democratic negotiator, is hailing the bill as the biggest breakthrough on the issue of gun violence in 30 years and predicted Tuesday it would save lives," Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill. "Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the head Republican in the talks, says the legislation will take guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous or break the law but won’t affect the gun rights of law-abiding citizens."

Here are some other provisions in the bill:

  • Enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21, to search juvenile criminal records. This provision would expire in 2032, so a future Congress would have to vote to extend it.
  • Expand a grant program that allows states to use federal funding to implement crisis-intervention programs to reduce gun violence. States could use the money to support "red flag" laws to take guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others but would not be required to have such laws, a key Republican point at the end of negotiations.
  • Close the "boyfriend loophole," meaning a person convicted of misdemeanor violence against a recent dating partner would lose the right to buy or possess a firearm for at least five years.
  • Require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide states with resources to expand mental-health programs in schools.
  • Expand Medicaid funding for certified community behavioral health clinics, allowing up to 10 new states to opt into the program every 10 years.
  • Establish a new, specific criminal offense for gun traffickers and straw purchasers with tougher penalties.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Bowling Green Daily News, one of the oldest family-owned newspapers in U.S., is sold to a unit of Boone Newspapers

Publisher Emeritus Pipes Gaines announces the sale of his family's newspaper. (Daily News photo by Joe Imel)

The Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News, under local family ownership since its founding before the Civil War and in the Gaines family since 1882, is being sold to Carpenter Newsmedia LLC, an affiliate of Boone Newspapers Inc., a family-owned chain based in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Boone owns or manages more than 90 newspapers and other publications in 12 states, including seven in Kentucky. The Daily News will be the eighth and by far the largest. The company's controlling stockholder and chairman is Jim Boone, whose wife and children own the remainder. Todd H. Carpenter of Natchez, Miss., is the company’s president and CEO.

The Daily News is one of the oldest family-owned dailies in the U.S. It traces its history to 1854, and the Gaines family's ownership began in 1882. Publisher Emeritus Pipes Gaines, the president and chairman of the family firm, told The Rural Blog that the decision to sell was difficult.

"We tried our best to make it work, but sadly, the single family-owned newspaper model is hard to work now," Gaines said. Not only do families grow, creating more mouths to feed, times are tough for newspapers; Bowling Green is a growing market, but Gaines said the paper's gross revenue is a third of what it was a little over a decade ago.

Buyers have courted the family for decades, but “The answer always was, 'The Daily News is not for sale',” Gaines said. “It wasn’t that the attitude changed; the economics of it changed.”

In choosing a buyer, Gaines said in a press release, “Two considerations were very important to us. We were choosing a buyer that had the same strong commitment to quality and strong community journalism, and we were looking for a buyer that would treat our coworkers the way we would want them to be treated.”

Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but it does not include the paper's half-block of property in downtown Bowling Green, a city of nearly 75,000. Boone takes possession July 1.

UPDATE, June 26: In a farewell editorial, the Gaineses say "We remain steadfast in our belief in the power and necessity of strong community journalism."

Extreme weather kills cattle, stresses crops, risks workers

Drought conditions as of June 14 (U.S. Drought Monitor map; click on it for larger, clearer version)

Extreme weather is hammering rural America:

The Western U.S. is seeing the worst drought in 1,200 years, say scientists. The extreme drought has depleted groundwater, melted snowpack, and dried out lakes, and it's going to get worse, Kasha Patel and Lauren Tierney report for The Washington Post.

Most of the U.S. is dealing with extreme weather of one kind or another. Read more here.

The heat in the Southwest is putting outdoor workers at much higher risk of health problems or even death. Read more here.

The heat is also stressing crops. Some farmers talk about how they're dealing with it. Read more here.

Yellowstone National Park's northern half is unlikely to reopen this summer after historic flooding. It's already hurting nearby towns that rely on tourism to survive. Read more here.

A heat wave in Kansas has killed around 10,000 head of cattle, according to an early estimate. Heat kills cattle every summer, but they're often able to survive thanks to cooler nights. But high humidity in Kansas is keeping it hot at night, leaving livestock without relief, and hot weather hit earlier than usual. Read more here.

One agricultural journalist notes that conspiracy theories are already circulating about the Kansas cattle deaths and urges journalists to focus on facts. Read more here.

Newsroom leaders will discuss what they've learned about service journalism in free Zoom meeting 1 p.m. ET Monday


The American Press Institute will host an open Zoom discussion at 1 p.m. ET Monday, June 27, to discuss what local news organizations are learning about modern service journalism, or stories aimed at conveying practical information on topics like voting in a pandemic, hurricane preparedness and how people can access housing and health services. To register and share questions in advance, click here.

"Much of this work is rooted in deep listening to community needs through engagement on various venues or platforms — for example, in-person or via messaging apps or text — and experiments that can build momentum for greater work," writes Kevin Loker of API. "We’ve heard how this work is addressing local needs, supporting local civic engagement, building relationships with communities that often distrust media, informing accountability and investigative journalism, and uilding a foundation for new sources of revenue. We’ll hear from four organizations that participated in API’s Local News Ideas to Action Fund (2021) or Trusted Elections Network Fund (2020). Participants are encouraged to share questions ahead of time." The speakers will be:

Appeals court: EPA didn't have enough proof to conclude Roundup doesn't cause cancer, needs new risk assessment

The Environmental Protection Agency didn't have enough facts in 2020 to rule that glyphosate, the key ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, doesn't cause cancer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled last week. "The three-judge panel also said the EPA violated federal law by failing to consult with wildlife agencies on how to limit the impact of the herbicide on threatened and endangered species," Chuck Abbott reports for the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

In the decision, Judge Michelle Friedland ordered the EPA to review its conclusion that glyphosate doesn't pose "any unreasonable risk to man or the environment" and issue a new ecological risk assessment by Oct. 1. The opinion said EPA's conclusion was inconsistent with previous agency analyses: "EPA could not reasonably treat its inability to reach a conclusion about NHL (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) risk as consistent with a conclusion that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer within the meanings of its Cancer Guidelines." Roundup manufacturer Bayer AG announced in 2020 that it would pay more than $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits about the product, many of which claimed it caused cancer.

Meanwhile, Bayer "has asked the Supreme Court to overturn a $25 million award to Edwin Hardeman, diagnosed with cancer after using Roundup on his San Francisco Bay area property for years. It says the EPA label for containers of glyphosate, which doesn’t mention of cancer, pre-empted claims that it should have warned purchasers of the risk. The Supreme Court could decide as soon as this week whether to hear the case," Abbott reports. "The appeal to the Supreme Court was part of Bayer’s five-point plan, announced in May 2021, to resolve thousands of lawsuits against Roundup. Bayer has set aside $4.5 billion for litigation and settlement expenses for more than 30,000 cases. The plan also calls for ending sale of glyphosate for lawn and garden use, beginning in 2023."

Amy van Saun of the Center for Food Safety said in a statement that the ruling was "a major victory for farmworkers and others exposed to glyphosate ... Imperiled wildlife also won today, as the court agreed that EPA needed to ensure the safety of endangered species before greenlighting glyphosate." CFS led a coalition of groups in filing the lawsuit in May 2020. Several studies have found that glyphosate can hurt endangered species and habitats. Another study linked fetal glyphosate exposure to shorter pregnancies, which is strongly correlated with lifelong adverse health effects.

Expiring pandemic aid to schools could make hunger worse this summer for food-insecure students

Summer is always the hungry season for America’s children — when school is not in session, many students don’t get enough to eat," Bridget Huber reports for Successful Farming. "But anti-hunger groups are warning this summer could be worse than usual, since many schools have been forced to scale back or eliminate their summer meals programs because the waivers that vastly expanded access to school food during the pandemic are set to expire on June 30, unless Congress takes action."

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Wednesday the House will extend the waivers, but Republicans are putting up "considerable opposition" to new spending. "The cuts to summer meals come as families are facing high fuel and food prices and a gradual rollback of many pandemic-era programs aimed at reducing poverty and hunger," Huber reports.

Crystal FitzSimons, director of School and Out-of-School-Time Programs at the Food Research & Action Center, told Huber the organization is "very, very concerned that millions of kids are going to lose access to meals this summer."

"Before the pandemic, schools often struggled to reach hungry kids in the summer — only about one in seven students who got free or reduced-cost meals during the school year got summer meals, FitzSimons said. Pre-pandemic, schools and community organizations could offer free summer meals only in communities or neighborhoods where more than half of the students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch," Huber reports. "This meant the program didn’t reach low-income kids living in mixed-income communities. But under the waivers, free summer meals can be served in any community, regardless of income level."

Expanded summer meals programs have been popular: "In 2020, three times more summer meals were served than in 2019, according to a recent report from No Kid Hungry. Demand remained high in the summer of 2021 — even as things edged back toward normal, more than twice as many meals were served than in summer 2019," Huber reports. An Agriculture Department "spokesperson said the agency does not have projections for how many summer meals will be served this summer, but No Kid Hungry estimates that one in five sites that served meals in summer of 2021 will be ineligible to do so this year, and that nearly 7 million children could lose access to meals this summer."

Retired editor-publisher: Editorials matter, and here's why

Tim and Jeremy Waltner at Jeremy's newspaper, formerly Tim's
(Photo by Randy Dockendorf, Yankton Press & Dakotan)
This essay was prompted by the June 20 Rural Blog post about editorial pages and editorials.

By Tim Waltner

Why write an editorial?

Providing objective, fair and reliable information for our readers is at the heart of our mission as community journalists. Newspapers have a responsibility to provide residents of the communities they serve with facts, sharing information that people want and that people need. People need to have confidence that what they read in our publications is true, fair, balanced, accurate and reliable.

That is at the heart of our credibility and our responsibility to our community.

But I believe the soul of the newspaper is found on our editorial pages.

Newspapers have a responsibility to provide the communities they serve with a public forum. The newspaper should be a place where a community can talk to itself, where anyone can share an observation, a concern, a challenge or a compliment. Without that public dialogue, the citizens are deprived of an essential tool for participation in the affairs of the community. Not only do individuals suffer from the absence of public dialogue, so do the communities themselves.

The newspaper has a responsibility to lead by example by setting aside a portion of every issue for that dialogue. And the newspaper has a responsibility to lead by example with a local editorial regularly and consistently.

Contrary to what some may think, the primary purpose of an editorial is not to change people's minds or tell them how to think. Rather, an editorial should encourage people to think, offering context and perspective that helps them explore ideas in ways that they might not have considered.

Editorials should provoke thought.

They should offer perspective.

They should take a stand.

They should be bold.

They should include a call to action.

They can be affirming.

They can be critical.

They should be thoughtful.

They should be well written.

They should be relevant locally, although that doesn't mean the topics need to be exclusively local; regional, state, national and international issues have impact on local people and local people can have impact on regional, state, national and international issues.

Editorials help our readers connect with their communities. In addition, regular local columns and letters from readers help strengthen that connection.

 And here is a final observation that I fear is too often overlooked when talking about the value of editorials. The process is an important internal discipline for newspaper editors and publishers. The process asks the question: what matters the most to our community this week – or for the dailies – today?

We make that judgment when we decide what runs on our front page in every issue we publish. We should do that on the editorial page as well – regularly and consistently.

Suggesting that "there's nothing to editorialize" on implies there's nothing your community needs to talk about or think about.

I disagree with that premise.

Deciding on the topic and tone of an editorial requires taking stock of our communities in a way that's a bit different from deciding on which photo and story should lead on the front page. Rather, it’s identifying a topic for conversation that’s relevant and timely.

Not every editorial needs to be a blistering indictment. Editorials can also be affirming. Editorial can offer suggestions and solutions. Editorial can broach issues worthy of discussion.

Our editorials provide context, insight and reflect a commitment to thoughtful conversation rather than short rants and retorts on social media.

Our editorials help explain issues in a way that transcends the news coverage.

Our editorials clearly mark the difference between straight reporting and opinions.

Our editorials help lead community conversations that are essential to democracy.

The bottom line: we should make every effort to write thoughtful, clear and engaging editorials that encourage community conversations.

Our communities deserve them.

Our democracy requires them.

Tim L. Waltner began his career as a community journalist with the weekly Freeman Courier in South Dakota in the spring of 1973. The Courier had published a weekly editorial since 1960 and he continued that tradition. He purchased the weekly in 1984 and strengthened the opinion pages of the Courier. He stepped aside as publisher in 2016 and the new publisher - his son, Jeremy - continues to write both a personal column and an editorial every week. Although the elder Waltner officially retired in 2020, he continues to write a monthly column for the Courier’s opinion pages that also include other local columnists on a weekly basis. He coordinates the annual editorial critiques of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Editorial pages and editorials: Gannett move makes editor-publishers reflect; Oregon's Les Zaitz says less can do more

Gannett Co.'s recent recommendation or directive to local editors that they offer less opinion, and keep it local, has prompted reflections by rural editor-publishers. UPDATE, June 21: Here's another.

Justin Hinkley
In an editorial column headlined, "Does a newspaper need an opinion page?" Alpena News Editor-Publisher Justin Hinkley (a former reporter at Gannett's Lansing State Journal) says he sometimes wants to do away with commentary pages because "too many syndicated columnists simply preach the party line, too many letters to the editor come from the same people writing on the same topics," and "Newspaper editorials can get written in a rush and sound either bland or even preachy. And, yes, the nation’s divisions run so deep that too many people don’t want to hear from the other side at all, let alone take the time to respect the difference of opinion. Sometimes, people get nasty."

But Hinkley tells his Northern Michigan readers that he will keep the pages in the Ogden Newspapers daily because a letters section "offers more nuance and civility than, say, opinions blasted on Facebook," syndicated columnists "provide a depth of rationale for their positions that you simply don’t get listening to talking heads on TV," and editorials "show leadership and let readers know where this paper stands . . . for transparency, fiscal responsibility, and responsiveness from government."

Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz of eastern Oregon's weekly Malheur Enterprise, who won the 2018 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism, told The Rural Blog in an email, "I dropped a regular editorial page some time ago, and now I run editorials on a targeted basis -- when I really have something to say, when it's of import. That way, the editorials have more impact. The drill of doing one every week seemed more for us than for readers. I do run columns from time to time."

As for the civic forum usually provided by an editorial page, Zaitz said "Our Facebook page is very robust and we've got it monitored well enough that people are trained to behave themselves. Rarely these days do we have to pull down a comment. You can see from a Facebook post I put up this morning about the latest records mess how quickly readers react." That post was one chapter in the Enterprise's long battle with the county economic-development director, in which the newspaper has taken a strong stand for transparency and accountability. In its latest edition, it had an editorial calling for the director to be dismissed for incompetence.

I think Les is on the right track. The old maxim that readers of a newspaper deserve to know what the editor thinks doesn't apply as well in today's bubbling cauldron of information. Pick your shots and take your best. --Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Bird-flu outbreak wanes along with bird migration, but could resurge; virus is infecting foxes, bobcats, other mammals

Photo from U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr/Creative Commons
"A bird-flu outbreak in the U.S. that led to the deaths of more than 40 million chickens and turkeys and contributed to a spike in egg and meat prices appears to be waning, but experts caution the virus hasn’t disappeared and worry another surge could take hold this fall," The Associated Press reports.

The lingering threat was illustrated this month by a culling of more than 2 million birds "after infections were discovered at two large farms in Colorado," Josh Funk reports. "The number of birds culled to limit its spread dropped from a peak of almost 21 million in March to less than 800,000 in May."

In Iowa, the nation's top egg producer, which has lost the most birds (13.4 million), "No cases have been reported in the state since May 4, likely because migrating wild birds, which are blamed for spreading the virus, have moved out of Iowa," AP reports. "Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said the virus still poses a risk because more cases are being reported, but that 'It really does feel like we’re on the tail end of it for this year.'"

But "Richard Coker, a spokesman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told AP, “We are not ready to say the outbreak is winding down. We remain vigilant and encourage producers to continue to practice strong biosecurity.” AP reports, "The summer heat should help kill off the disease, but experts worry that the latest version of the virus may be hardy enough to survive the season, leading to a new outbreak when wild birds migrate later in the year."

The outbreak remains smaller than one in 2015, when 50 million turkeys and chickens were killed, making it "the most expensive animal health disaster in U.S. history," AP notes. "The government spent nearly $1 billion then to deal with infected birds, clean up barns and compensate farmers. The USDA has so far approved $793 million to cover costs this year," but that won't cover lost income, National Turkey Federation spokeswoman Beth Breeding told AP.

Wisconsin red fox kit, recovering (Dane County Humane Society)
Meanwhile, Emily Anthes of The New York Times reports that the virus is infecting wild mammals: "At least seven U.S. states have detected the virus in red fox kits, to which the pathogen appeared to be particularly lethal. Two bobcats in Wisconsin, a coyote pup in Michigan and skunks in Canada have also tested positive for the virus, as have foxes, otters, a lynx, a polecat and a badger in Europe. (Two human cases, one in the United States and one in Britain, have been reported as well, both of which were in people who had close contact with birds.) There is no evidence that mammals play a significant role in spreading the virus, and the risk to humans remains low, experts said."

Overturning Roe would increase births, strain already stressed maternal services in rural areas, experts say

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides this month that there is no constitutional right to abortion, overturning almost 50 years of case law, health officials expect more births that will put more pressure on "already strained rural obstetrics units," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder.

Brock Slabach, chief operating officer of the National Rural Health Association, told Carey that
Michigan officials anticipate between 8,000 and 20,000 additional live births a year in that state. “That could overwhelm a lot of hospitals,” he said. “Let me be clear — the maternity care crisis is already here. I don’t want to say that it’s going to get bad. It’s already bad … We are already under-staffed and under-resourced for deliveries in rural areas.” He said many rural areas are “maternity deserts,” so, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, “We could have real capacity issues with many more live births.”

Citing a report from The Commonwealth Fund, Carey says fewer than half of the nation's rural counties have obstetric services: "With fewer OB units, rural women are facing longer travel times to get to a hospital that can deliver their babies. The OB unit closures also mean increases in births outside hospitals, births in hospitals without obstetrics care, and preterm births — all of which put both mother and child at risk."

Maternal sickness and mortality is already higher for rural residents, and would likely get worse if abortions are greatly limited, Katy Backes Kozhimannil, professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the its Rural Health Research Center, told Carey. "The impact would most be felt by marginalized communities within rural areas, she said."

Carey notes: "According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the more rural an area is, the higher the rate of deaths among pregnant women. The GAO found that rural areas with small urban clusters saw 19.8 maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births, where rural areas with no urban clusters saw 23.8 deaths. In comparison, large metropolitan areas with over 1 million residents saw 14.6 deaths per every 100,000 live births, while small and mid-sized metropolitan areas saw 16.2 deaths. Greater disparities exist by race and ethnicity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Black women in rural counties had 59.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 19.7 for white women in those same counties."

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Election flap illustrates rural-urban divide in New Mexico, and what can happen when misinformation takes root

Screenshot of part of front page of Otero County's daily newspaper
Under a court order and other pressure from state officials, a county governing board in New Mexico voted 2-1 Friday to certify primary election results after refusing to do so on Monday and hiring a discredited firm to audit the votes. The all-Republican Otero County Commission's moves had nationwide repercussions.

The swing vote was Vickie Marquardt, who "said County Clerk Robyn Holmes allayed the concerns about deceased voters," reports Adrian Hedden of the Alamogordo Daily News. The dissenter was Couy Griffin, a founder of Cowboys for Trump, who was found guilty last week and sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $3,000 on the misdemeanor charge of illegally entering or remaining on restricted grounds: the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6, 2021.

Marquardt "said she was voting yes after threats from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office that commissioners could be jailed if they continued to refuse to certify the election. Marquardt said she’d rather vote for the certification, begrudgingly, than be removed from office, imprisoned and replaced by an appointee of [Democratic] Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s choosing," Hedden reports.

Otero County (Wikipedia)
The pressure also came from a Democratic state attorney general "and a state Supreme Court dominated by Democratic appointees," Morgan Lee of The Associated Press reports. "Behind the raw public frustration and anger over election security that has played out this week in New Mexico was a hint of something deeper: a growing divide between the state’s Democratic power structure and conservative rural residents who feel their way of life is under attack. . . . In the state’s vast, rural stretches, frustration over voting and political representation has been building for years. Residents have felt marginalized and overrun by government decisions that have placed limits on livelihoods — curtailing access to water for livestock, shrinking the amount of forest land available for grazing, or halting timber operations and energy developments due to endangered-species concerns. . . . Amid alienation, skepticism about the security of elections has taken flight."

AP Executive Editor Julie Pace cited the case as an example of why the news service recently created a democracy beat. "The challenge that a lot of news organizations are facing when it comes to covering democracy is that, yes, this is of course a national issue, a macro issue, but it's playing out all across the country in very local ways," Pace said on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

The episode also shows where "big lie" delusions can lead, Washington Post analyst Philip Bump writes. He notes that legislative testimony by the founder of Echo Mail, the firm the county hired for the audit, was "thoroughly debunked, stemming from a lack of understanding about how elections were run. . . . It’s worth reviewing the path by which the county commission reached this point: Donald Trump, eager to soften his likely and then actual election loss, elevated unfounded allegations about voter fraud. His supporters believed him. Various opportunists, sincere and otherwise, rushed to fill the demand for evidence of fraud that Trump created. Over time, this created a self-reinforcing narrative: since the claims of fraud defied any debunking, the purported threat of fraud remained intact. So a county that backed Trump handily — a county in which no fraud has been shown, a county that paid for a review of its votes that found no fraud — ends up rejecting its own election results. It does so out of both a concern that this unproven fraud continues undetected and out of obstinacy as authorities demand that the county officials adhere to reality."