Saturday, July 30, 2022

What Joe Manchin got in the climate bill for West Virginia, energy industries, sick coal miners, Toyota and himself

Manchin (Tom Williams, CQ-Roll Call, via Getty)
"Congress is suddenly poised to pass the most ambitious climate bill in United States history, largely written by a senator from a coal state who became a millionaire from his family coal business and who has taken more campaign cash from the oil and gas industry than any of his colleagues have," Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman of The New York Times write of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who holds much power in the 50-50 Senate.

So what did Manchin get in his deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer? The federal government would lease more public lands and waters for oil and gas drilling, forcing President Biden to break a campaign promise. Tax credits for carbon capture technology that "could allow coal or gas-burning power plants to keep operating with lower emissions" would be expanded, the Times reports. And Manchin got a vote on a separate bill "to speed up the process of issuing permits for energy infrastructure," such as a West Virginia gas pipeline, the Times reports.

There's more. The trust fund for coal miners with black-lung disease would become permanent; new incentives would be offered "to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed," and there would be "generous tax credits for nascent technologies like carbon capture and storage and low-emissions hydrogen fuels, which Mr. Manchin has supported."

“Those are his pet projects,” James Van Nostrand, a law professor at West Virginia University, told the Times. “I think he’s going to say, ‘I used my strategic position to bring back benefits for West Virginia.’ And he’ll probably do pretty well in the next election.” Some environmentalists complained about more oil and gas leasing, "but energy analysts and many of the country’s biggest environmental groups said that any additional emissions from fossil fuel leasing would be dwarfed by the clean-energy provisions in the bill," the Times reports.

The bill was a long time coming, and "At every step of the way, Mr. Manchin shaped the legislation," the Times reports. He killed a plan to pay utilities to replace fossil-fuel power with renewables and "bigger tax credits for consumers who bought union-made electric vehicles, a measure that was opposed by Toyota Motor, which operates a non-union plant in West Virginia. And he ensured that the tax credits for electric vehicles could not be used by the wealthiest Americans." He won a lower fee for leaks of methane and "ensured that longstanding tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry, which many Democrats wanted to repeal, went untouched."

Big part of the Eastern Ky. flood story is staggering numbers

The most awful number? Four children torn from their parents'
arms and killed: Maddison, Riley, Nevaeh and Chance Noble. 
UPDATE, July 31: The death toll is now 28 35 37.

Residents and journalists have struggled to find words to describe adequately the extent and impact of the flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Part of the story is the staggering numbers; here are some from Gov. Andy Beshear's press release Saturday:

"There have been 25 confirmed fatalities in five counties: four in Breathitt County; two in Clay County; 14 in Knott County (10 adults and four children); two in Letcher County; and three in Perry County. . . . At least 1,432 Kentuckians have been rescued by first responders from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. The Kentucky National Guard rescued 404 individuals by aircraft. The Tennessee National Guard rescued 224 by air. The West Virginia National Guard rescued 36 by air. Nineteen people and two dogs have been rescued by boat by the Kentucky National Guard. Kentucky State Police has assisted or is assisting in 624 water rescues. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has assisted in 125 water rescues. . . . 

"As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on July 30, 5,673 donors have contributed $684,668 to the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund. To donate, visit . . . 142 people are being temporarily housed at Kentucky state parks. . . . Fourteen counties and three cities have declared a state of emergency: Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike and Wolfe counties; and the City of Beattyville, the City of Paintsville and the City of Salyersville. There are more than 18,000 power outages currently being reported. . . . 18 wastewater systems are under limited operations, primarily due to flooded infrastructure. Three wastewater plants are experiencing bypasses. Nineteen water systems have limited operations due to power outages. There are 26,480 service connections without water. There are 29,214 service connections under boil-water advisory. Three drinking water systems are not operational. . . .

"At least 10 bridges remain closed in Knott, Letcher, Perry and Pike counties. A full assessment of bridge and road damage cannot be completed until flood waters fully recede. . . . Crews cleared approximately 100 rock and mud slides in the Manchester highway district and have so far replaced or repaired about a dozen highway culverts. . . . About 100 travel trailers that were purchased for tornado victims in western Kentucky, and which have been decommissioned and cleaned or were never deployed, are being delivered to Eastern Kentucky by contract haulers."

Friday, July 29, 2022

Rural journalists in small-scale study say they're afraid to report on hate groups or call certain remarks hate speech

"Journalists who cover rural areas in the United States say they are afraid to report on hate groups, and this fear is exacerbated by close community ties and limited resources among rural journalists," say four researchers who interviewed 33 journalists reporting in rural communities and published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Journalism Practice.

"Rural journalists articulate a clear definition for hate speech, but struggle to apply that definition to events within their communities, even as they articulate numerous forms of hate," Gregory Perreault of Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and his collegaues write. "Journalists often dismissed acts of hate using the residual category of 'not hate, but …' to signal something that they felt was out of place or unsuitable but did not rise to the legal definition of hate speech and thus was not worth reporting on. This approach ends up challenging journalists’ normative commitments to their communities and exemplifies their desire to avoid an objectivity trap."

Rural journalists may provide “the only nuanced local coverage community members will encounter” on the topic, the researchers write. “The journalists we interviewed articulated a clear definition for hate speech but struggled to apply that definition to the events they articulated within their communities. . . . Using the common refrain of ‘We don’t have any hate groups, but … ,‘ journalists nevertheless articulated acts of hate in their communities, which were not always associated explicitly with hate groups.”

NiemanLab reports on the paper, "Being more closely connected to their audiences, rural journalists were more reluctant to label such people and activities in their communities as hate — at least in part because of the fear of repercussion that would arise from such declarations in coverage. The researchers wrote, “Journalists in some cases felt pressure from their audience to apply false balance in their work through labeling groups like Black Lives Matter as a hate group.”

Perreault's co-authors are Ruth Moon of Louisiana State University, Jessica Walsh of the University of Nebraska and Mildred Perreault of East Tennessee State University

Trailblazing Native American journalist Tim Giago dead at 88

Tim Giago in May 2022
Longtime journalist Tim Giago, who founded the nation's first independently owned Native American newspaper, died on July 24 at his home in Rapid City, S.D. He was 88.

"Giago, who was a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, founded The Lakota Times with his first wife, Doris, in 1981, and quickly showed that he wasn't afraid to challenge those in power and advocate for American Indians," Gretchen Ehlke reports for The Associated Press.

He started the paper in 1981 out of frustration that the Rapid City Journal, where he was a reporter, rarely allowed him to cover the reservation, Alex Williams reports for The New York Times. An editor told him he wouldn't be able to remain objective in his coverage. Years later in an essay, Giago recalled that he replied to the editor: "All of your reporters are white. Are they objective when covering the white community?"

"The newspaper, run out of a former beauty salon on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, started out as a hyperlocal community weekly. But it quickly found an audience and by 1992 had shifted to a national focus and changed its name to Indian Country Today," Williams reports.

In 1998 he sold ICT to the Oneida Nation. "Two years later he founded The Lakota Journal and in 2009, he founded the Native Sun News, based in Rapid City," Tanya Manus reports for the Rapid City Journal. He later "founded the Native American Journalists Association and served as its first president. He was also the first Native American to be inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. . . . Giago’s legacy is that of a champion who used his career to confront the issues facing the Native American community. His byline on Notes from Indian Country, the column he wrote for the Rapid City Journal from 1997 to 2020, read 'Tim Giago Nanwica Kciji – Defender'."

Though the longtime mistreatment of Native American children at government boarding schools made headlines this spring, Giago tried to bring attention to the issue for years. In 2006 he published a book recounting his own tragic experiences at such a school, including digging a grave for a friend who died at age 16 from an ear infection. "Giago took a lot of heat over the book both from Catholic leaders as well as his own people but in typical fashion, he stuck to his guns, refusing to sugarcoat or walk back any of his reporting," Jourdan Bennett-Begaye and Mary Annette Pember report for ICT.

Democrats' reconcilation bill has money that can be used for a 'climate-focused Farm Bill' next year, Stabenow says

The budget-reconciliation bill announced Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has $20 billion for "voluntary conservation practices on the farm, such as cover crops, to sequester greenhouse gases in soils, plants, and trees," Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming.

Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said the money would allow the next Farm Bill, up for reauthorization next year, to be focused on climate. “We are equipping farmers, foresters, and rural communities with the necessary tools and resources to be a part of the solution and grow their local economies at the same time,” she said.

The bill has another $14 billion in rural spending and $5 billion for forests. It also "would extend or expand tax credits for sustainable aviation fuel, carbon capture, biodiesel, and renewable diesel," Abbott reports. "With the $20 billion earmarked for agricultural conservation, the Senate and House Agriculture committees could ramp up climate mitigation efforts that would otherwise go wanting." The bill "would prioritize practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase climate resiliency."

A one-page summary of the bill is available here. A summary of the bill’s climate and energy provisions is available here. The text of the bill is available here.

Are we in a recession? PolitiFact has primer with rural angle

The turbulent economy has spawned a great deal of debate about whether the U.S. is in a recession, but it turns out it's not so easy to define. Here's what to know, from Louis Jacobson  at PolitiFact.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted recently on NBC's "Meet the Press" that a common definition is two consecutive quarters of falling gross domestic product. On Thursday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the GDP fell 0.9% in the second quarter of 2022, marking the second consecutive quarter of falling GDP. Yellen said, "What a recession really means is a broad-based contraction in the economy. And even if that number is negative, we are not in a recession now."

Jacobson writes, "Yellen is correct that the official definition economists use is significantly broader than the two-consecutive-quarters shorthand. At the same time, arguing over the technical definition of whether the U.S. is in a recession is a distraction, economists say. In today’s economy, so many indicators are off-kilter because of the pandemic that old rules like the two-quarters rule may no longer apply. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the economy even without calling it a recession right now."

The two-quarter rule is widely known because it's simple and easy for the public to understand, according to Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who compiles the Rural Mainstreet Index. "But officially, the only recession arbiter is the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee. The committee has been marking the start and end points of recessions since the late 1970s," Jacobson reports. "The committee deliberates privately, but it is open about what factors it uses to determine the start of a recession, namely 'a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months.' Every recession requires 'depth, diffusion, and duration" of economic hurt.'"

On its website, the committee notes that it has sometimes called a recession even without the two-quarters rule. That includes the 2020 pandemic recession, which lasted only two months. "The committee says it weighs a variety of factors, including inflation-adjusted personal income, nonfarm payrolls, household employment data, inflation-adjusted personal expenditures, inflation-adjusted manufacturing and trade sales, and industrial production," Jacobson reports. "The biggest shortcoming of NBER’s system is that it isn’t done in real time. The fastest determinations have occurred about four months after a recession’s start; the slowest have come 21 months later."

Most of the two dozen economists PolitiFact contacted for the story warned against relying too heavily on the two-quarter rule. The data is only preliminary and gets revised later as more data comes in, they noted, which can change economic figures dramatically. That may be what's happened with the most recent GDP figures, they said. Though the GDP fell by 1.6% in the first quarter of 2022, economists said the numbers may be off-base because of issues with inventories and trade data, Jacobson reports.

Considering GDP alone overlooks other important economic data points. The unemployment rate remains historically low at 3.6%, nonfarm payroll employment continues to rise robustly, and most of the recent payroll growth has been in full-time as opposed to part-time jobs, said Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless," Jacobson reports. "Consumer spending also continues to chug along, despite high inflation."

Quick hits: Why libraries are a boon to rural areas; rural opportunity in CHIPS bill; rural LGBTQ+ Americans face greater health care barriers; latest on flooding in Kentucky

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

At least 16 people have died from catastrophic flooding in Eastern Kentucky, and more deaths are likely to be confirmed, Gov. Andy Beshear says. Read more here.

Many cities and small towns see a huge economic opportunity in just-passed House bill that would create incentives for domestic manufacture of computer chips. Read more here.

Libraries are a boon to rural society, and more important than ever during the pandemic, retired journalist Keith Roysdon writes for The Daily Yonder.

LGBTQ+ Americans in rural Appalachia face greater barriers to accessing health care, according to a recent survey of providers. That's partly because of many providers may not be familiar with unique LGBTQ+ health concerns, or willing or able to address them. Some patients may be reluctant to seek care because of stigma. Read more here.

In the rural West, 'self-reliance' can take a heavy toll on mental health. Read more here.

West Virginia has blocked five major financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, from doing business with the state because they have stopped supporting the coal industry, which has become less profitable in recent years. Read more here.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Knight Foundation, University of Vermont donors fund center to support local news media and help colleges do likewise

The University of Vermont is launching the Center for Community News, an effort to support local news media and help colleges do likewise. The $400,000 in funding comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and donors to the university's College of Arts & Sciences.

The project "builds on the successful Community News model in Vermont, which brings students together with professional editors to provide news reporting at no cost to local news outlets," a university news release said. The center's mission "is to inspire and enable collaborations between local media outlets and students." to do that, it plans to:
  • Building and maintain a comprehensive database of academic-news collaborations in the U.S. Academics, administrators and journalists who are involved in such programs are invited to fill out this form to be included and potentially get involved in future efforts.
  • Give direct support to academic and news institutions, creating case studies and advisory materials for organizations that want to launch or expand news partnerships.
  • Keep innovating the Community News model, exploring ways to grow it with new partners and a statewide content-sharing tool.
  • Keep training citizen reporters in the ethics, mechanics, and skills of responsible local journalism. The Community News Service recently graduated its third class of citizen reporters, in partnership with the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in New Hampshire.
  • In coordination with the Knight Foundation, identify regions where it will focus its efforts.
David Goodman of VT Digger recently interviewed Richard Watts, coordinator of the news service and director of the center; Lisa Scagliotti, founder and editor of Waterbury Roundabout, a new community news outlet; and Dom Minadeo, a university senior, assistant editor of The Winooski News and a reporter for the news service. The 30-minute podcast is here.

Minnesota weekly: Traditional newspaper business model can still work, with commitment to quality news coverage

Full-page ad by Minnesota newspapers
Republished from The Timberjay, Tower, Minn.
    Newspapers around Minnesota have been making a point in recent days, and we’re joining that chorus in a full-page advertisement that appears in this week’s edition. At a time when so much has been written about the imminent demise of newspapers, a recent statewide survey in Minnesota found that the vast majority of Minnesotans still regularly rely on newspapers, either in print or digital, to stay informed about their community.
    We suspect that the percentage of regular newspaper readers is even higher in small towns and rural parts of the state, where residents are more community-focused than in larger cities. Despite all the changes in how we access information today, most newspapers still remain the most credible source of local news and information.
    At the same time, we’ve reported regularly over the past few years about the closure of some longstanding newspapers in our region. Newspapers in Two Harbors, International Falls, Hibbing, Warroad, and Chisholm have disappeared, while the Duluth News-Tribune has gone from daily to twice-weekly.
    There’s no question that the industry is in trouble, in large part because the basic business model of newspapers— which dates back to the mid-1800s— has all but collapsed for many papers in the Internet age. Yet, we know from the feedback we receive every day that residents in our region rely on, and look forward to, the arrival of the Timberjay each week. And because so many area residents continue to rely on this newspaper, business owners continue to recognize the value of advertising here, both in print and on our very active website.
    In a very real sense, the traditional newspaper business model can still work, when newspapers make the commitment to quality news coverage. That was the message that Timberjay Publisher Marshall Helmberger brought last month to the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, where he was a featured speaker. The event, sponsored by the University of Kentucky-based Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, brought about 50 invited guests together just outside Lexington to discuss the challenges that print journalism faces today and to highlight some of the ideas that are helping newspapers remain successful in today’s challenging environment.
    Helmberger, and other speakers at the summit, talked about the many ways they had worked to build and maintain their newspaper’s relevance to their communities. Newspapers that are engaged in their communities and that go beyond mundane reporting and reliance on press releases, are maintaining readership and advertising.
    One key factor that helps newspapers maintain success is independence. Attendees at the recent summit were well aware of how profit-focused corporations were playing a major role in the demise of many papers. Too many newspapers have vanished as a result of a predictable downward spiral.
    Corporate vultures, like Alden Global Capital, swoop in as new owners and they quickly gut the newsroom in order to wring more short-term profits from the business. But as the newspaper’s coverage declines along with the number of reporters, readers lose interest and subscriptions dry up. Then the advertising follows suit and as the profits fizzle, the corporate owner shuts it all down, selling off the equipment and real estate to squeeze the last few bucks out of the deal. The impact on the employees and on the communities that have now lost their only reliable source of local news isn’t even part of the equation. It’s just about money.
    This same process has left communities across our region and around the country without sources of local news— and that has consequences. Studies have shown that local officials in areas without regular news coverage are more likely to make questionable decisions. Taxes tend to be higher as well because the local watchdog died an ignominious death.
    Our nation’s founders understood that accurate information was key to any form of successful self-government and it’s why they enshrined freedom of speech and of the press as the first order of business in the Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson viewed the press as just as important as the government in that it made it possible for voters to make informed choices about who would lead them.
    While the internet these days is full of “information,” much of it is nonsense, generated by bad actors and bots to manipulate the gullible. Smart users of the internet know that when they want credible information online, they turn to newspaper websites. Despite the changes in the industry, Minnesotans still trust newspapers, whether in print or online, to deliver them the news they need to be effective, contributing members of their communities. Newspapers that live up to that trust still have a viable future here.

Manchin, Schumer cut deal with big clean-energy funding

Manchin and Biden in early 2017 (Photo by Tom Williams, Roll Call)
When the Biden administration began in January 2021, with Democrats controlling the Senate on Vice President Kamala Harris's tie-breaking vote, the senator in the catbird seat was Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, more conservative and coal-oriented than the rest of his colleagues. For more than a year and a half, Manchin, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have struggled to agree on Biden's "Build Back Better" bill. Now they have a deal, and it's much smaller.

Manchin and Schumer announced an agreement today on a package to reduce the federal deficit while lowering health-care costs and investing a record $369 billion in climate and clean energy programs, Politico reports. (Here's the full text of the bill.) Over the next decade, the package would raise $739 billion in revenue, spend $433 billion, and reduce the federal deficit by about $300 billion, according to Senate Democrats' analysis. It contains no new taxes on small businesses or families making less than $400,000 a year, a Biden campaign promise.

"Their agreement, which came after Manchin had rejected climate and energy measures two weeks ago under the Democrats’ reconciliation package, is aimed at slashing carbon emissions an estimated 40 percent from 2005 levels economy-wide by 2030," Politico reports. "But it also comes with plans to ease rules that the West Virginia senator has said are constricting fossil fuel production and slowing needed upgrades to the power grid."

The streamlined permitting procedures in the bill also aim to speed the implementation of clean-energy projects, which Manchin has been leery about. "People familiar with the effort to bring Manchin back to the table on climate said there had been an intensive effort to convince him of the merits of supporting the new technologies — including from company executives who came forward with new plans to build manufacturing in West Virginia," Politico reports.

The energy portion of the bill subsidizes the purchase and manufacture of electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and includes tax incentives and rebates to help people make their homes more energy-efficient and promote the construction of energy-efficient affordable housing, The Wall Street Journal reports. It also includes tax credits to help utilities transition to clean energy production, and for domestic production of clean-energy tech such as wind turbines, solar panels, and critical minerals processing (Rare earth elements for electronics can be extracted from coal waste, which could bring new life to West Virginia coal mines). And, the bill includes a program to reduce methane emissions from natural gas wells and pipelines.

The package specifically seeks to ensure that "rural communities are at the forefront of climate solutions," according to the summary, and includes more than $20 billion to support climate-smart farming practices; $5 billion in grants for fire-resilient forests, forest conservation, and urban tree planting; tax credits and grants to promote domestic biofuels production, and $2.6 billion to conserve and restore coastal habitats and protect the rural communities that depend on them.

The package also has health-care measures that would benefit many rural residents. It would allow Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and limit Americans' out-of-pocket costs to $2,000; it would also extend key health-insurance subsidies through 2025. The bill aims to raise revenue through a 15% corporate minimum tax, closing tax loopholes and enforcing existing tax codes, Alex Thomas reports for MetroNews in West Virginia.

The Senate could vote on the bill as soon as next week. Senate Republicans are set to oppose it unanimously, but if the Senate Parliamentarian decides the bill can be passed by reconciliation, only a simple majority vote would be required. The House has yet to pass the bill, but with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden both endorsing it, its chances look good.

What's a weekly newspaper? What's a daily? Changes in the industry may be turning the terms into anachronisms

The State Journal in Frankfort, Ky., the state capital, once
published six days a week; now it prints two days a week.
What's a weekly newspaper? One that publishes three or fewer times a week, per the longstanding industry convention? What about the small dailies that now print only two or three times a week but publish new information online most days? Which raises the question, what's a daily newspaper?

"Rising costs and shrinking demand for printed publications have changed the very definition of 'daily' newspapers," reports Greg Burns of the Local News Initiative at Northwestern University. "Publishers from coast to coast – at weeklies as well as dailies – are reducing the days of the week they print, filling the gaps with e-editions and around-the-clock online access. The once-routine, seven-day-a-week print run is disappearing, with 42 of the largest 100 newspapers now delivering a print edition six or fewer times a week. Eleven of those largest dailies publish in printed form only one or two times a week.

"Some weeklies, too, are cutting back on their publishing frequency from three to two times to only once a week, even as many others supplement their print editions with daily subscriber e-newsletters – similarly defying the traditional idea of what makes a 'weekly' a weekly." The terminologies, used since daily papers began in the U.S. more than two centuries ago, may now be anachronistic.

“If you’re publishing new information daily, how much longer are we even going to use the terms daily and weekly?” ask Sara April of the newspaper brokerage Dirks, Van Essen & April. More importantly, she told Burns that some weeklies are now more valuable than dailies.

"While thousands of weeklies have folded since 2005, many in affluent, growing markets maintain strong cash flow and command relatively high valuations when sold," Burns writes. "In contrast to large dailies, which rely on subscribers for more than half of their revenue, weeklies continue to receive most of their revenue from local businesses that buy advertising and services from them and sponsor their various print and digital publications."

Burns' story is part of the State of Local News 2022 report from Northwestern's Medill School.

Eastern Ky. 'experiencing one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky's history,' governor says

Video by Ryan C. Hermens, Lexington Herald-Leader

At least three eight 16 25 people have died and hundreds have lost their homes as repeated rains filled the hollows and valleys of Eastern Kentucky, and many more deaths are expected. So is more rain.

Gov. Andy Beshear called it “one of the worst, most devastating flooding events in Kentucky’s history.” In an 11:30 a.m. news release, he said “The situation is dynamic and ongoing. In most places we are not seeing receding water – in fact, in most places it has not crested.”

Map by The Washington Post from NOAA data
At a 12:30 p.m. press conference, Beshear said three deaths had been confirmed. Two deaths were in Perry County, where Sheriff Joe Engle told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “We are having a very difficult time getting to people. Roads are blocked by trees, washed away completely or covered with water. It is now physically impossible to get to some people.”

Beshear said, "We have some people in trees, hanging on, waiting for rescue." His earlier news release said people are stranded on roofs, some teachers were stranded at a school, and "There are a number of people unaccounted for."

Beshear declared a statewide state of emergency and at least six counties declared local emergencies: Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Letcher, Owsley and Pike. More than 23,000 households were without electricity, and water systems were disrupted in several counties. Some areas reported as much as six inches of rain yesterday and Beshear said two to three inches may fall in places tonight. UPDATE: Lexington's WKYT-TV reported that almost 13 inches had fallen at Buckhorn, on the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, and more than 12 inches at Hazard, on the North Fork, since Monday night.

Upstream, parts of Wise County, Virginia, bordering Kentucky also flooded. Part of a local front page:

988 hotline can't help rural Americans as much without more state funding; only 13 states have allocated money to it

The new 988 hotline is meant to help all Americans better access mental-health support, but access is still far from universal, especially since only 13 states have appropriated money for it.

"In particular, rural Americans, who die by suicide at a far higher rate than residents of urban areas, often have trouble accessing mental-health services. While 988 can connect them to a call center close to home, they could end up being directed to faraway resources," Christina Saint Louis reports for Kaiser Health News and The Daily Yonder. "The new system is supposed to give people an alternative to 911, yet callers from rural areas who are experiencing a mental health crisis may still be met by law enforcement personnel, rather than mental-health specialists."

More than 150 million Americans, most of them rural, don't have enough mental-health professionals in their communities. And though the Biden administration allocated $105 million to help states beef up crisis call-center staffing, "states are responsible for filling any gaps in the continuum of care that callers rely on if they need more than a phone conversation," Saint Louis reports. "States also shoulder most of the responsibility for staffing and funding their 988 call centers once the federal funding runs dry."

That continuum of care is critical to effective mental-health treatment. States with successful 988 programs will "will ensure callers have a mental health professional to talk to, a mobile crisis team to respond to them, and a place to go — such as a short-term residential crisis stabilization facility — that offers diagnosis and treatment," Saint Louis reports. That's according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which runs the original National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that 988 expands upon. Without a nearby crisis team and/or treatment program, callers may not have their needs met.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Misinformation undermines democracy; what to do about it?

"Democracy in the United States is in serious trouble," and in large measure because of misinformation, write two fellows and another researcher at the Brookings InstitutionGabriel R. Sanchez, Keesha Middlemass, and Aila Rodriguez cite several recent polls, including an NPR survey that found 64% of American adults believe that U.S. democracy is in crisis and is at risk of failing, a Quinnipiac University survey showing that 76% think political instability in the nation is a bigger danger than external adversaries. "Amazingly, this suggests that Americans recognize that we are a bigger threat to our own democracy than any other potential external threat," they write. "Sadly, according to this poll, over half of Americans (53%) expect political divisions in the country to worsen over their lifetime rather than get better."

Misinformation "deliberately aimed at disrupting the democratic process . . . confuses and overwhelms voters," they write. "Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Russia’s cyber efforts and online actors were able to influence public perceptions and sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in voting, highlighting alleged irregularities, and accusing the Democratic Party of engaging in voter fraud. The 'big lie' reinforced by President Trump about the 2020 election results amplified the Russian efforts and has lasting implications on voters’ trust in election outcomes."

One poll found that 57% of white Americans believe there was voter fraud in the 2020 election, and 
another found that only 20% felt "very confident" in the integrity of the election system. In another survey, 56% said they have "little or no confidence" that elections represent the will of the people. "The implications of this trend are huge, as decreased confidence in the system decreases civic engagement," the Brookings experts write.
They note that "the National Intelligence Council has found no indications that any foreign actor has interfered in the technical aspect of voting. Also, The Associated Press investigated all claims of vote fraud in the six states that decided the 2020 election and found far too little to make a difference. At the request of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, AP allows non-subscriber weeklies to publish those stories, but few appear to have done so. 

"Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Brookings, argues that the news media has a major role to play in combatting fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns," they write. "West argues that the government should invest in media literacy so that voters can identify false information and stop its spread. Brookings offers ways to tackle the problem, including:
  • Myth busting: Some states are moving forward in educating the public by providing specific fact-checks on election information: New MexicoNorth Carolina, Connecticut and California. Colorado has cybersecurity experts to monitor sites for misinformation about election processes.
  • Education: Digital Informers at Howard University "think the best way to combat misinformation is through community engagement and educational efforts, including using trusted sources in the community to talk to individuals about what they believe. Then, those perspectives, if false, can be countered with factual information from people with respect in their community.
  • News literacy: "More long-term efforts focus on the next generation of voters: middle-school and high-school students who are highly susceptible to misinformation given how much time they spend on social media platforms and given that they have not yet developed the ability to sort out misinformation from factual content on-line. . . . Illinois was the first state to require news literacy courses to be offered at every high school. . . . Colorado now requires media literacy standards in schools, and the state provides technical assistance.
"We are clearly at a critical point in our nation’s history, and without major efforts to increase confidence in our election system – voter registration, voting processes, and tabulating ballots – we might not be able to win back the public’s trust," the Brookings experts conclude.

As warming waters drive lobster north, Mainers raise kelp

Justin Papkee, a partner farmer with Atlantic Sea Farms, hauls up kelp lines with the help of his crew, Jim Ranaghan and Chris Papkee, off Long Island, Maine, last year. (Photo by Nicole Wolf via The Washington Post)

"Seaweed is Maine's new cash crop," as the lobster industry adjusts to climate change, Kathy Gunst reports for The Washington Post. In the fall, lobster fishers "plant tiny kelp seeds on the 1,000-foot-long ropes, and by late spring, attached to each one is close to 6,000 pounds of fresh sugar kelp. The seaweed is harvested, flash frozen and used to make kelp cubes for smoothies, as well as seaweed salad, seaweed kraut and more."

The switch from lobster to kelp is the result of rising temperatures. "The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 96 percent of the world’s oceans — increasing at a rate of 0.09 degrees per year," Gunst reports. "These warming temperatures have forced the lobster population to migrate north seeking colder waters, and the impact on Maine fishermen has been profound." The industry is also growing in Alaska.

The big player in Maine's kelp industry is Atlantic Sea Farms, which works with 27 partner farmers who brought in just under 1 million pounds this year. "The company’s products are now sold in more than 2,000 stores across the country, as well as in restaurants and college cafeterias," Gunst reports. "In 2021 the company was responsible for 85 percent of the line-produced seaweed in the country."

Kelp farming has environmental benefits, ASF President Briana Warner told Gunst: “There’s so much carbon in the air, and when carbon hits the ocean surface the ocean absorbs it and changes the pH and degrades shellfish. Seaweed absorbs the carbon and nitrogen in the water. When you harvest seaweed you are removing carbon with it and leaving behind a healthier body of water.” She said mussels planted on ropes after a kelp harvest have stronger shells thanks to the removal of excess carbon.

As cyberattacks rise, so do local governments' insurance bill

The Willner, Texas, library in 2019. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
Many local and state governments are "discovering their cyber-insurance premiums have skyrocketed and that they must meet stricter guidelines if they want to get coverage or renew their policies," Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline.

“Cyber insurance used to be very cheap, but things have changed” Alan Shark, executive director of the CompTIA Public Technology Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides consulting services to local governments, told Bergal. “Insurance companies are increasing rates dramatically and raising the bar and making it harder to get insurance. Some local governments may no longer be able to get it.”

Bergal reports, "Insurance industry officials say the higher premiums for both public and private organizations are a result of rising demand for coverage amid more frequent and costly cybercrime incidents — often ransomware attacks. That means insurers have had to pay out more, which has led them to raise premiums and tighten standards for getting a policy. Some companies also have lowered caps on coverage or limited how many policies they write."

Bergal notes, "In the past several years, there has been a rash of ransomware attacks on cities, county governments, school districts, police agencies and health care systems. Local governments, especially smaller ones, can be easy prey because they may have fewer resources and staff with cybersecurity expertise. In 2021, there were at least 77 successful attacks on local and state governments and another 88 on school districts, colleges and universities, according to Brett Callow, a threat analyst for cybersecurity company, Emsisoft. This year, as of late June, there were at least 28 attacks on governments and 33 on schools."

Wild-horse advocacy group puts numbers on slaughter buys

Wild horses in a holding/adoption yard in Delta, Utah
(Photo by George Frey, Getty Images, via Greenwire)
The American Wild Horse Campaign says that since 2019, at least 840 horses and burros adopted from federal rangelands were sold at auctions that included known buyers from slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico, based on records it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act "and from affiliated wild horse rescue groups that attended the auctions," Scott Streater reports for Greenwire. It has long been presumed that foreign abattoirs were buying at U.S. auctions, but this appears to be the first documentation, with numbers of animals.

The federal Bureau of Land Management "offers $1,000 to people who adopt one of the nearly 60,000 wild horses and burros removed from federal rangelands and held in off-range holding corrals and pastures," Streater notes. "Participants receive $500 up front and an additional $500 per adopted animal a year later, after a follow-up review determines the adopter is properly caring for the horse or horses and title has been transferred to the private party. Since the program started in late 2019, it has helped adopt more than 8,200 wild horses and burros into private care."

The BLM declined to comment on the AWHC report. After complaints from wild-horse advocates, last year the agency added "steps to better screen adoption candidates and to help ensure that wild horses and burros transferred into private care through the adoption program are not later sold at auctions with known kill buyers in attendance," Streater reports. "BLM also visits adopted animals six months after adoption, instead of 12 months later."

AWHC reports says of the 840 “BLM-branded wild horses and burros identified in kill pens,” at least 312 were adopted through the incentive program. “The whereabouts of these animals remain unknown.” The group said it “identified 24 groups of related individuals” that it says have adopted multiple wild horses and burros “to the same address, then flipped all the animals to kill pens as a group after receiving the full incentive payments. . . . At least 130 BLM wild horses or burros were sent to kill pens as part of such coordinated schemes.” AWHC said the numbers “represent the tip of the iceberg, as many kill pens directly ship horses and burros to slaughter without advertising them.”

The BLM said last year that it adopted 7,369 wild horses and burros into private care in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, "the most in at least two decades," Streater reports, noting roundups aimed at making the range population "closer to the level BLM considers sustainable without damaging the rangelands, or placing the animals at risk of starvation or dying due to a lack of water — a growing concern as much of the West is experiencing extreme drought conditions. As of March 1, there are now an estimated 82,384 wild horses and burros roaming 27 million acres of federal herd management areas in 10 Western states — down from a record 95,114 in 2020."

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Uvalde paper calls police response 'a rudderless ship cast into a hurricane,' calls for more accountability and training

The Uvalde Leader-News, the twice-weekly newspaper in the town where an 18-year-old used an assault rifle to kill 19 students and two teachers, and wound 17 others on May 24, called in an editorial Sunday for more accountability for the failed police response ("a rudderless ship cast into a hurricane") and more training to prevent further such disasters. Here is the full editorial

    The special [state] House report on the mass shooting at Robb Elementary has delivered a devastating blow to public trust in two of our most revered institutions. Law enforcement and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District are singled out in the 77-page document for “multiple systemic failures.” The question that we must all consider and somehow answer is how the community goes about restoring trust.
    It is a profound challenge without precedent. No mass school shooting in the United States has ended with such glaring failures in both the law enforcement response and school district security. That fact alone has been an egregious multiplier of the misery felt by the families of victims and, by extension, the entire community.
    The House committee report, which has been widely accepted as the most credible accounting to date of the May 24 attack, described the law enforcement response as “chaotic” and “uncoordinated.” According to the report, since Columbine in 1999, active shooter training requires all officers to embrace the mantra “stop the killing, stop the dying,” even if it means sacrificing their own lives.
    “At Robb Elementary law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” the report reads.
    Furthermore, the school district’s written active shooter plan (UCISD officers hosted and helped instruct an active shooter training course for area law enforcement last March) directed the school police chief to assume command of the scene.
    As we are all painfully aware, neither UCISD police chief Pete Arredondo, acting city chief Mariano Pargas, Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco nor any state or federal officer among the 376 responders to the scene was willing to take the helm of what was clearly a rudderless ship cast into a hurricane.
    So how do we restore these ailing institutions to something approximating health? The school district took a halting first step on June 22 by placing Arredondo on administrative leave. A special meeting scheduled yesterday to consider terminating the chief was canceled Friday after Arredondo requested a formal hearing. His status is now unpaid administrative leave.
    Assuming Arredondo will soon be gone, the district should not simply add more officers to a force born of a failed culture. Administration needs to start over or disband the department altogether, as is being done by an increasing number of districts across the nation.
   UCISD building security, which received withering criticism, can be enhanced. Doors that lock reliably, lockdown alerts that actually work, and meaningful perimeter fencing could have bought the few minutes necessary to stop the Robb killer.
    For any of that to be effective, school employees will have to shake off a sense of complacency and be willing to follow strict guidelines. No propping open doors, no substitute teachers without keys, and lockdown protocols that distinguish between an active shooter and the ongoing bailouts that plague our region.
    The city of Uvalde has placed Pargas on administrative leave and is preparing for an independent review of the entire department. Following that analysis, some officers may find themselves unemployed. That will be part of the costly but necessary process of restoring trust.
    None of these measures eliminate the need for further accountability. And while spreading it around – especially among the battalion of officers who responded to Robb – is appropriate, it does not change one important fact. If our city is ever again called upon to stop an active shooter, we must have officers in place who can execute the mission without backup or hesitation. That is what the training calls for. And that is what we should demand.

Rural areas need broadband to lure remote workers, but lousy federal connectivity maps may hinder buildout

Millions of Americans began working from home during the pandemic, and many companies are allowing the practice to continue. That could be a continued boon for rural communities wanting to lure such workers, but lack of connectivity often stands in the way. Last year's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill had $65 billion for broadband buildout, but there's a problem: the Federal Communications Commission's maps are too lousy to show where broadband is needed, Editor Emeritus Urban C. Lehner writes for DTN/The Progressive Farmer:

"Consider: If even a single household in a U.S. Census block has broadband service, the FCC deems the entire block served. That may make sense in cities and suburbs, but rural census blocks can be enormous. And all it takes to count even one household as 'served' is for internet service providers to say yes when asked on the FCC's survey whether they 'could or do' provide service. As a result, the FCC's mapmaking methodology muddles the rural-broadband picture in important ways, argues Payton Flower, a recent University of Nebraska ag-econ grad, in her senior honors thesis." That means it's not only possible but likely that large swaths of rural America falsely look as though they have broadband service, Payton writes. The paper examines the challenges of mapping Nebraska's broadband status, but the issues affecting Nebraska apply most anywhere else rural too.

Another problem: the FCC's broadband maps depend on data self-reported by telecoms companies that have an incentive to overstate their rural reach in order to score federal funding. The FCC just launched a tool meant to gather more accurate information from service providers about broadband service, but the tool has been criticized for still relying primarily on self-reported telecoms data. An "FCC representative said the agency will also cross-check provider data with crowdsourced information," Diana Goovaerts reports for Fierce Telecom. "But the narrow scope of its data collection means the map won’t include information on things like adoption, affordability or the quality of the broadband service that’s actually delivered."

A better solution, Payton argues, is for states to keep a list of addresses in rural areas and which have broadband availability. Not only would that be more accurate, but the FCC seems to be more inclined to work with states that gather their own data. Georgia and Virginia are two examples of that, and Nebraska is beginning to do so as well, Lehner reports. Individuals can also test and report their connectivity via a free smartphone app launched by nonprofits in 2019 in an effort to create a nationwide rural broadband map. And Microsoft, which has long criticized the FCC's maps, just launched its own broadband mapping tool that gathers data from more diverse sources.

How to solve the issue is under debate, but there's no question that it must be solved, Lehner writes: "Some defenders of the status quo regard the lack of high-speed internet as part of the penalty people pay for choosing to live in the country. They rarely say that aloud, but some think it. Twenty years ago, when high-speed internet was in its infancy, they might have had a point. Today broadband internet is a necessity of modern life. Telecommuting, tele-medicine, online education and precision agriculture are all difficult or impossible without it. It will take time and money to extend broadband's reach in the countryside. It will take less of both if we have more accurate maps."

Chicken processors to pay farmers $85 million in antitrust settlement, scrap pay system called abusive and opaque

"Cargill Inc. and the newly formed Wayne-Sanderson Farms have agreed to pay $85 million to settle claims they violated antitrust laws by sharing information about poultry workers’ wages," reports The Wall Street Journal. "The Justice Department on Monday alleged that Cargill, Sanderson Farms, a data consulting firm and Wayne Farms for decades shared information about wages and benefits in a way that held down the pay for processing plant workers. The Justice Department also alleges that the chicken companies failed to give farmers enough information about the systems used to compensate them for raising birds for slaughter."

The settlement is technically with Cargill and Continental Grain, since Cargill and Continental just bought Sanderson Farms for $4.5 billion and will merge it with Continental subsidiary Wayne Farms. Wayne-Sanderson Farms will account for about 15% of the nation's chicken production, Diane Bartz and Tom Polansek report for Reuters. Data consulting firm Webber, Meng, Sahl and Co. also settled with the government.

According to the terms of the civil settlement, contract farmers for Wayne-Sanderson would no longer be paid through the tournament system, which forces farmers to compete against each other to determine payment. The practice has long been criticized as abusive and opaque. "The companies will pay about $85 million in restitution to plant workers, of which Cargill will pay $15 million. The government would also impose a court-appointed compliance monitor to oversee processing facilities, farms and antitrust compliance for a decade, which the companies would have to fund," the Journal's Patrick Thomas and Dave Michaels report. "Wayne-Sanderson would still offer bonuses to farmers who perform well and include a base pay, assistance for accessing capital and a profit-sharing program for growers and employees."

The settlement includes other important stipulations, Reuters reports: "The companies will not be allowed to lower the base pay of chicken growers, but will be allowed to offer incentives. The agreement also prohibits retaliation for growers who raise antitrust concerns with the government."

"Monday’s settlement with the government preventing Wayne-Sanderson Farms from using the tournament system is a major shake-up in how chicken companies have done business with farmers for decades. A shift away from the tournament model by one of the largest chicken companies could give rivals a competitive advantage or prompt a broader shift away from the model in the industry, poultry industry officials and analysts have said," Thomas and Michaels report.

Christian journalists tell Christianity Today: Believers should believe journalists, and care about the survival of local news

"Saving local media outlets is a way to love your neighbor" is Christianity Today's headline over an Angela Lu Fulton story reporting, "Christians are fighting to revive community-centered journalism."

"Organizations, politicians, and local citizens are starting to see the consequences of the demise of local media: a less-informed public, less accountability for local officials, less civic engagement, and a weakening sense of community," writes Fulton, organizer of the Reforming Journalism Project, a training for Christians interested in local journalism and CT’s incoming Southeast Asia editor.

This illustration by Rick Szuecs accompanies Fulton's story.
Her main example is John Garrett, who founded the successful Community Impact chain of free suburban newspapers in Texas.

"Garrett argues believers should care about the survival of local news because God is the author of truth and shining a light on wrongdoing, highlighting the good work of everyday people, and informing voters help a community thrive," Fulton writes. "Local news can also help Christians love their neighbors better as they learn about who those neighbors are and the struggles they face, said Mike Orren of the Dallas Morning News. He pointed to the times when readers have rallied to help individuals down on their luck after their stories were featured in the news."

Fulton offers testimonies from other journalists, including Rob Vaughn, an anchor at WFMZ, an independently owned television station covering the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.

"When friends complain to Vaughn that journalists are often politically liberal, Vaughn agrees, but argues that it doesn’t mean they don’t tell the truth or they don’t have something worth listening to. He’s concerned that as Christians push away mainstream media, they become more susceptible to disinformation." Amen!

Governor to sign bill giving Alaska Native tribes recognition

Supporters of the bill posed after its passage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy will sign a bill giving state recognition to the 229 federally recognized Native tribes in the state Thursday, the Alaska Federation of Natives announced last week.

“This is an historic moment for all Alaska tribes,” AFN President Julie Kitka said in a prepared statement. She called it “a step toward building a stronger relationship with our state government.”

"State recognition is not expected to affect tribes’ legal relations with the state, but supporters have said it is an important symbolic statement by the state, which has historically fought efforts by tribes to exert their sovereignty," James Brooks reports for Alaska Beacon, part of States Newsroom.

The legislation heads off a potentially divisive referendum called by citizens who signed petitions circulated by supporters of tribal recognition. Alaska’s constitution allows a measure to be removed from the ballot if the Legislature passes a “substantially similar” law, and Attorney General Greg Taylor concluded in June that the bill "meets that standard," Brooks reports.

New rural coronavirus infections, deaths up for fourth week

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, July 12-18
Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

New coronavirus infections and deaths in counties outside metropolitan areas rose modestly during the week of July 12-18, marking the fourth straight week of rising rates, Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. Rural counties reported 101,575 new coronavirus infections July 12-18, up 3.3% from 98,293 the week before. Metro counties reported 749,593 new infections in the same time period, up 4% from the previous week's 720,721.

The true number of cases is likely much higher than the official count, due to at-home testing and data-reporting gaps, but "even with a substantial undercount in new cases, 80% of all rural counties are in the red zone, defined as having 100 or more cases per 100,000 residents in a seven-day period," Marema reports. "The percentage of red-zone counties is even higher in metropolitan counties – over 90%."

The death rate remains fairly low in both rural and metro counties, likely because of higher immunity and/or milder dominant strains of the virus. "Rural counties reported 476 deaths from Covid-19 last week, up 14% from two weeks ago. Metropolitan counties reported 2,383 deaths, up 17% from two weeks ago," Marema reports. The Covid-related death rate has been higher in rural counties for all but one week in the past year, and the cumulative death rate is more than one-third higher in rural counties than in metro counties.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Libraries and newspapers are natural allies for intellectual freedom and accurate information, librarians tell editors

Leaders from the Lexington Public Library spoke about intellectual freedom at the
International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors conference. (Photo by Heather Chapman)
Public schools in the U.S. saw 1,586 book bans from July 2021 to March of this year, and 41% of those were tied to some sort of official directive, according to a recent report by literary and free-expression group PEN America. And though libraries have seen book challenges and bans throughout history, such efforts have spiked dramatically in the past year.

That's one reason libraries and newspapers should support each other, since they are natural allies in the quest to protect and advance intellectual freedom, said a panel of leaders from the Lexington Public Library on Friday. The panel was part of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors' annual conference, hosted by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of The Rural Blog) at the University of Kentucky.

"Diversity of viewpoints, civic engagement -- those values are appropriate for both sides of the aisle," said Heather Dieffenbach, the library's executive director. She said newspapers aren't obligated to support disputed books, but can correct misinformation often at the heart of such disputes, and help facilitate communication among locals. They can also help readers understand how libraries choose materials to add to their collections.

The misinformation can also come from people oppose book bans, said Alan Wartes of the Gunnison Country Times in western Colorado. He said when a local woman wanted Gender Queer, a frequent target of objections around the nation, taken out of the juvenile collection, defenders of the book said "This person wants to ban books." Wartes noted in a column that the woman followed procedure and went to the county commission only after the library didn't respond for two months.

Those who bring challenges often accuse libraries of being biased against conservative values, but librarians are bound by a code of ethics that calls on them to represent diverse viewpoints and ensure that they're bringing in factually accurate materials, said Tonya Head, deputy director of the Lexington library. Chief of Staff AnnaMarie Cornett, the daughter and sister of weekly newspaper publishers, said she is building a toolkit to help library patrons better understand these principles.

Patrons, papers and concerned citizens can do much to help advance intellectual freedom, said Cornett: They can inform others, and join library boards and/or the PTA. "We can be visible and vocal supporters when censorship comes for us; when it comes for libraries, for newspapers, for schools," said Cornett. "This is hard and it takes courage, especially for marginalized members of our communities. But we have a responsibility to use our voice, to use our privilege."

Libraries have long been seen as a symbol of resistance to tyranny, Dieffenbach noted. In 1939, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish warned in a speech that failure to educate Americans on how to value and preserve democracy would spur a descent into fascism. "Those of us who are concerned, for whatever reason, with the preservation of the civilization and the inherited culture of this nation find ourselves in a situation in which time is running out not like the sand in a glass but like the blood in an opened artery," MacLeish said. "There is still time left to us. But we can foresee and foresee clearly the moment when there will be none."

After quoting MacLeish, Dieffenbach said, "A lot of that could have been said yesterday."

Nebraska campaign claiming that sex ed 'grooms' kids for pedophiles is a case study in the spread of misinformation

Many conservatives object to comprehensive sex education in public schools, claiming without evidence that it makes children more vulnerable to "grooming" by pedophiles. The notion first gained a foothold in Nebraska last spring when a conservative group helped incite popular opposition to proposed standards for teaching students about issues like consent, gender identity and sexual orientation, Beth Reinhard and Emma Brown report for The Washington Post

It's a case study in how misinformation-fueled claims spread when they're not nipped in the bud.  

Retired pediatrician Sue Greenwald led efforts to object to the new standards in Nebraska, co-founding a group called Protect Nebraska Children Coalition to further her cause. "The message also spread through screenings at libraries and churches of 'The Mind Polluters,' billed as an 'investigative documentary' that “shows how the vast majority of America’s public schools are prematurely sexualizing children,'" Reinhard and Brown report. 

"Greenwald and others who have endorsed that claim acknowledged to the Post that there is no scientific body of research that shows such lessons make children more likely to be victimized," Reinhard and Brown report. "The American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics both back a comprehensive approach to sex ed that includes discussions of sexual orientation, contraception and consent. Leading child abuse experts say that arming children with information helps protect them against harm. Nonetheless, the claim that comprehensive sex ed amounts to grooming has simmered on the right for decades, often fanned by Christian conservatives who disapprove of same-sex relationships and favor home schooling and private schools over public education."

Reinhard and Brown continue, "The foundation was laid in part by Judith Reisman, a self-styled expert who opposed gay rights, claimed that gay people are more likely to sexually abuse children, and spent decades trying to discredit pioneering work by the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey."

Objections to comprehensive sex ed—along with accusations that teaching it will groom children for pedophiles—have become inextricably entwined with smears against LGBTQ people. The movement has also brought about explosive political consequences. It "helped activate an army of self-described Nebraska patriots who rose up against the standards, took over the local Republican Party and propelled a wave of far-right candidates for local and statewide school boards, a Post examination found," Reinhard and Brown report. "Earlier this month, these activists were part of a broader, anti-establishment insurgency that toppled leaders of the state Republican Party."

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Belief that 2020 election was stolen 'has fed a new wave of post-Trump activism on the right,' New York Times reports

The "insistence — a belief, a lie or an act of motivated reasoning, depending on whom you’re talking to — that the election was stolen . . . has fed a new wave of post-Trump activism on the right," Charles Homans reports for The New York Times Magazine. "In 17 of the 27 states holding elections this year for secretary of state — the top elections officer in 24 states — at least one Republican candidate is running on the claim that the 2020 election was illegitimate, according to States United Action, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for free and fair elections. In four of the eight Republican primaries held so far, that candidate has won. Scores of groups have organized at the state and local levels to conduct partisan audits of the 2020 election results, support officials and candidates who would do the same and run or volunteer for local positions that operate or monitor elections. Providing the oxygen for these efforts, and often working to connect them, are a cohort of national right-wing media figures and activists, many of them tied to the postelection efforts to stop the transfer of power."

The movement says it's for “election integrity” but it “has next to nothing in common with earlier efforts to shore up genuine vulnerabilities in the American election system,” Homans writes. He explores the movement's roots in the never-fully-organized Tea Party, which reflected concerns that were as much social and cultural as economic ("tea" stood for taxed enough already). That included immigration, which Donald Trump made the lodestar of his 2015-16 campaign, but it also included "conspiracism," one narrative of which was "a narrative of dispossession in which true Americans were losing their country to actors from outside the proper bounds of public life." That belief was disproportionately rural.

Homans reports that vote-fraud conspiracy theories began in 2016, not 2020. Trump operative Roger Stone registered in February, and the site began putting out misinformation in March and inspiring protests in April as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tried to catch Trump. After Trump won, he "shifted to warning of a Democratic plot to steal the election in November. When Trump won in November too, the narrative did not end. It simply shifted again — this time to the popular vote, which he lost." He tweeted falsely, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” In August 2020, Trump said, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” At the time, polls showed that he was likely to lose.

After the election, the ranks of those claiming fraud "were swelled by new recruits radicalized by the Covid lockdowns, which many of the Stop the Steal organizers, including [Amy] Kremer, had also rallied against," Homans reports. "Those protests had also drawn in a cohort of far-right evangelical leaders, who had portrayed the lockdowns — which imposed prolonged restrictions on church attendance — as a secular elite campaign against Christians." Another recruit was Doug Mastriano, now the Republican nominee for governor or Pennsylvania and a central figure in Homans' story.

"Jan. 6 marked the explosive end of the self-described Stop the Steal movement — but it also marked a sort of rebirth," Homans writes. "It had showed direct action of even the most extraordinary scale to be, for now, a dead end. Many of the participants in the protests and the Capitol riot returned home and redoubled their efforts to work inside the system rather than just hurling themselves against it." After voting rules were eased during the pandemic, often by bipartisan agreement, there was a backlash of laws that made them more restrictive.