Saturday, November 12, 2022

How to celebrate a newspaper's anniversary: engage, help out, ask for advice, and keep producing good journalism

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

Twenty years ago, as smart people were beginning to predict the death of newspapers, Sharon Burton started one. In a county that had another one (and still does). In a county of only 18,000 people. In a county listed as "economically distressed" by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Most of a recent Community Voice front page
Last week, the Adair County Community Voice celebrated its 20th anniversary, and its success may show the way for rural newspapers, which are in a lot more difficulty now than they were then.

Burton spoke at our National Summit on Journalism in Rural America in June because she is an example of the principle that good journalism is good business. Her weekly paper does investigative reporting, runs pages of official records, has a strong opinion page and is a force to reckon with. Here are several other examples.

To celebrate, the Community Voice is matching the first $1,500 in donations it receives for the local food pantry, and held an open house with soup and snacks, and invited readers to help it plan their future together: "We are also busy developing our strategy to bring you the timely news that you want, and the news that you need in the future," Burton wrote. "We want to hear form you about your news consumption and what you value the most, the least, and how you like to receive your news (print, phone, computer, etc.)."

Asked how the open house went, Burton told us, "We had one reader bring us some flowers with a note, 'To the ethical conscience of Columbia.' . . . Many of our elected officials dropped by. That tells me we can do our job, ask the tough questions and still gain their respect if we treat them with respect."

And the things that may seem small to the paper our outsiders can be really big for readers. "A woman came by and told us how much it meant to her that we ran a thank-you card for free back a few years ago (we cannot bring ourselves to charge for those)," Burton wrote. "She had been injured and was facing massive medical bills but she wanted to thank the emergency people who helped her through a very difficult situation. She said not having to pay for the thank you card meant the difference of her being able to eat." Burton had a message for her readers:



N.C. editor's keys to sustainability: Community service, diversification, mac 'n' cheese news, relevance, local owner

This is adapted from a speech and column the editor wrote about his publisher, David Woronoff.

By John Nagy
Editor, The Pilot, Southern Pines, N.C.

As someone who has been in the newspaper industry for more than 30 years, I also know how distinctive The Pilot’s actions are. There are few like it anymore.

David Woronoff
David Woronoff's core mission — and hence, our core mission — is to serve the community. Everything we’ve undertaken — every success — is undergirded by this premise of service. And good business makes for good communities. It’s a virtuous cycle.

The Pilot on Day 1 under David Woronoff was a community newspaper. On day 9,614, it is a newspaper, a family of five magazines across the state, a full-service marketing agency, a telephone directory, a bookstore and a series of digital entities. And every single one of them is relevant to their community.

In a recent essay, journalist John W. Miller asserted that what people really want to read is everyday news about their community. Most newspapers are failing to connect with their communities, Miller wrote, “because they’re not giving people enough of what they really want: stories about their neighbors that aren’t puff or hit pieces, but not investigative stories that take six months to report, either. The writeup of the high school quarterback’s workout routine. The five-phone call story about the new hotel outside of town. The profile of the new centenarian on her 100th birthday. Solid six-hundred word stories about their communities they can read on their phone or computer every day.

“These stories aren’t winning any Pulitzers but they’re also impossible for amateur citizen-journalists to generate. They require professionals, and they build an audience, and they build trust. Call it mac ’n’ cheese journalism.”

The Pilot occasionally gets a great deal of grief for its editorial opinions — the recently concluded season of election endorsements always draws sharp responses from readers — and that’s OK. But people fail to see the bigger picture. Opinion is two pages out of a 24-, or 28- or 36-page paper. Unaccounted for in the critic’s barbed words are the bridge scores, the high school sports results, the club news, a story on volunteers, the new preacher and, yes, the obituaries that The Pilot prints regularly

Moore County, in North Carolina (Wikipedia map, adapted)
Critiques are welcome; it means people care what we say and how we say it. That makes Moore County special because, in many communities, that connection is lost forever.

David Woronoff has a fondness for saying that “relevance is the coin of the realm.” People may love you or hate you, but so long as you remain relevant, you’re OK. Across our country, in communities large and small, newspapers lost relevance because they stopped caring for and benefiting their cities and towns. Most newspapers no longer have local editors or publishers. They don’t own valuable downtown real estate. Their executives don’t serve local nonprofits or sit on the hospital board. They’re not investing in their own people and core businesses, much less the community.

Within the newspaper industry, the struggle for revenue is real, and in many communities, it’s insurmountable. But it’s the self-inflicted wounds — losing relevance, no longer telling stories about your community — that are avoidable.

Some in this business may look down their noses at the concept of mac ’n’ cheese journalism, but, for me, I am happy to continue serving it and serving you.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Veterans Day roundup: How to do more than say 'Thanks!'

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Today, our country recognizes the service and tremendous sacrifices our veterans have given. 

For our readers who are veterans: There are benefits and jobs that are uniquely yours; see the bottom of this item. Thank you for your immense contribution to our country.

For civilians, read one of the stories below and find our how to support veterans when they return home. And remember that a disproportionate number of people in military service come from rural areas.

Forbes interviewed 7,000 veterans while compiling its "Best Employers for Veterans" listing.

Veteran Diana Oestreich talks about her time as an Army medic in Iraq.

Task & Purpose covers some misconceptions and items "veterans wish the general public knew."

Pew Research shares details and data about our current veteran population here. Some of their answers are unexpected.

How you can help veterans every day? Solid suggestions on how support our veterans' well-being, from Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth of the Arkansas Advocate.

Many veterans are unaware of a range of other benefits, from financial counseling to career services, that are also available to them, reports Erica Pandey of Axios.

EPA aims to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas facilities

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a regulation Friday "that agency officials said would, by 2035, lower the amount of methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 36 million tons — more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from all coal-fired power plants in a single year," The New York Times reports. Methane is "a greenhouse gas that scientists say is one of the most powerful contributors to climate change."

"The rule is part of a global effort led by the United States to control methane," the Times notes. "Although the pollutant gets far less attention than carbon dioxide, it is 80 times more powerful at heating the atmosphere in the short run. Last year, more than 100 countries joined a coalition led by the United States and Europe to cut 30 percent of methane emissions by 2030. This year, U.S. leaders are leaning on other countries to produce their plans for making good on their pledge."

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said, “We must lead by example when it comes to tackling methane pollution, one of the biggest drivers of climate change.” The proposed regulation buts flesh on the bones of the agency's existing plan to reduce methane emissions, and is the hand in the glove of the tax-and-climate bill Congress passed recently, which includes "money to stop methane leaking from oil wells, pipelines and other sources," the Times notes. "The new law includes fines of up to $1,500 per ton of methane released, to be imposed on the worst polluters. There also is $1.55 billion in the package to help companies avoid those fines by upgrading equipment."

The proposed regulation would require more monitoring and reporting by oil and gas operators, and require them to respond to credible third-party reports of significant leaks from their sites.

Showdown in Wyoming may define the rights of public access to checkerboarded public lands in the Western U.S.

Elk Mountain is a hunter's paradise. The 11,000-foot peak in southern Wyoming is home to hundreds of elk, deer and antelope. But there's a catch: "You can't get there from here," writes Michael Allen of The Wall Street Journal. "The sprawling mountain is surrounded by private ranchland. While the prime hunting ground is checkerboarded with federal and state property, a pattern created when railroads and settlers came, access is limited by an age-old Western doctrine. Ranchers consider it unneighborly for outsiders to hopscotch through their land by crossing over public sections that meet only at a corner."

Allen writes about four hunters from Missouri who got inventive. "Using a special stepladder, they climbed between two parcels owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, taking care not to set foot on the private property on either side," reports Allen. But then things got sticky. "The local sheriff got involved, and before long the four hunters found themselves facing criminal-trespassing charges in state court. The prosecutor argued that it wasn’t enough that the defendants didn’t physically touch the private property," because they were in its airspace, Allen explains. The case is still in litigation.

"The courtroom clash is drawing attention to an anomaly of Western land ownership dating back to the 19th century," Allen said. "The digital navigation company onX says it has identified more than 8 million acres of state and federal land in Western states that are blocked from public access due to the legal gray area around corner-crossing. . . .That doesn’t stop some eager hunters, who are resorting to ever-more-exotic lengths to get past the legal barriers."

Voters largely rejected 2020 election deniers on Tuesday, but the definition of 'election denier' may be overbroad

In most swing states this year, Republicans nominated "state-level candidates who didn’t only deny the results of the 2020 elections. They suggested that, if elected in their states, they would carry the gospel of voter fraud, stolen elections, and MAGA forward, using the power of their office to tilt the playing field in favor of the GOP or outright deny Democrats victories," Josh Kovensky and Kaila Philo write for Talking Points Memo.

"Fringe as their viewpoints may have been, it was unclear going into Election Day how these candidates would do; many seemed to have the wind at their backs. But by Wednesday morning, it became clear: In races across the country — from Pennsylvania governor to Arizona secretary of state — those candidates appear to have lost."

The definition of "election denier" may be overbroad. CBS News used that categorization for 308 of the 597 Republicans running in federal or statewide races, but it includes the 138 House members who voted to uphold objections to the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, 2021. Even without votes from those states, Joe Biden would have been elected.

"Some of the candidates tried to walk back their denialism after they won their primaries, probably because it doesn’t poll well," Kovensky and Philo write. "Don Bolduc of New Hampshire, for example, famously flipped his position after boasting about denying the 2020 election up until that point. It appears to not have helped him in the end: He lost to Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, who’s so far captured 53.7% of the vote compared to his 44.3%." Bolduc was one of the election deniers nominated with the help of Democratic advertising in Republican primaries, aimed at advancing weak nominees. 

Football documentary latest effort by 'This Place', a series of reports about what unites and divides a rural Va. county

Screenshot; for the 7:45 documentary, click here.
A video documentary about the local high school's football season is the latest installment in an innovative series of reports by one of Virginia's smallest rural newspapers, bolstered by a local foundation that raises and provides money for special reporting projects.

"How 8-man Football United Rappahannock County" tells how going to a smaller team and a smaller league "provided a giant lift to the school and helped unite the community around a single cause, the Rappahannock News reports. "The team went 6-5 in the Panthers’ best-ever football season, despite a disappointing ending last week with a 52-6 loss to Virginia Episcopal School in the first round playoffs. But the season’s Hollywood-movie highlight came Oct. 14 at RCHS’ Homecoming contest against Chincoteague — with a last-second, come-from-behind 36-33 win before a record crowd at Panther Stadium."

The 7-minute, 45-second documentary was financed by Foothills Forum, the foundation that raises as much as $200,000 for journalism in the county of about 7,400 people. It is part of “This Place,” a series that explores “”what divides us — and unites us — in Rappahannock County,” the News explains. “'This Place' is grounded in months of research by a team of Rappahannock News reporters and Foothills Forum volunteers who conducted interviews with dozens of county residents of diverse political, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, most of whom said there has been an increase in divisiveness and conflict in recent years.

“This documentary was made by the Rappahannock-based team of award-winning photographer Luke Christopher and editor-composer Roger Piantadosi, a former Rappahannock News editor. Other videos in the series include the Cancer Is Messy event at Eldon Farms benefiting families who endure childhood cancer, and the Amissville parade and carnival that returned in August after a two-year pandemic-pause.”

Lessons learned from a season's last roses as winter looms

By Constance Alexander

Like aging aristocrats down on their luck, the last roses huddle in the autumn twilight. Heads bowed, petals wilting, they are shabby but stoic as they brace themselves for winter.

I want to cut the last of them. Bring them inside. But I know my husband, the rose tender, would say it is best to leave the last buds on the vine. “It will make them stronger next spring,” he would advise.

Instead of questioning him further, I wait until he leaves the house for a few hours and then consult his gardening books. Flipping through page after glossy page, I seek the rules for late roses. Finally, the mandate is clear: “You should refrain from cutting three to five weeks before the first hard frost in your area,” Taylor’s Guide recommends.

The text says it does not matter if they are past their prime. Snipping them off is not recommended. It also declares that even in the Deep South, where roses may not go dormant, the spent blooms should be left.

“This gives the plants a rest,” the paragraph ends.

Even I — who have never cultivated my own garden — grasp the inherent logic. In the end, after all, hasn’t each of us earned some peace?

But I miss the roses already. Long for the delicious fragrance, they bring to the house all summer and into early fall. With a vase full of roses next to me as I write, I feel rich, pampered.

“Surely,” I’ve said to my husband more than once, “there is nothing more luxurious than roses from your own garden. They put the florist to shame.”

After I finish my research, I slip outside to the roses. Maybe I could clip just one to bring in. We would not miss it next spring, not with all these bushes laden with late blooms.

Constance Alexander
I stoop to look at the flowers. I am touched by their grace, and their easy acceptance of the change in season. The little spikes that marked their plots in spring are still in place, though some are driven so far into the ground, they could be the tops of tiny gravestones. I brush the dirt away to read the names.

They are an exotic lot: Fantin Latour, Pascali, Madame Louis Leveque. It could be a gathering of expatriates at a seedy embassy. There are some flamboyant orange buds, tight as fists. The pinks, though still lovely, are faded as yesterday’s bridesmaids. The whites are silky and splendid, like the ivory keys on an old grand piano. Spent petals are everywhere, the last scraps of summer’s confetti.

I realize I will not cut any more flowers this season and console myself with the fact that by now most of the blooms are shaggy and splayed, no longer a match for the shimmering symmetry of my cut crystal vase. My husband is right. How absolutely like him to understand the natural order of things, he who tends his children and his garden with the same loving touch.

The last time I saw my mother alive, she was in a wheelchair. I was giving her a tour of the grounds of the nursing home where strangers tended to her 24 hours a day. She did not know where she was, or who I was, yet it seemed important that I show her the last flowers in the measly garden there.

The last time I saw my husband alive was just the other day. I pointed his gaze through the windows of his room at hospice to the courtyard. The hydrangeas had already turned to rust, but there were still a few roses.

I reminded him of the roses he used to grow and sang a few bars of that old song my father used to sing to rile up my mother, “The Last Rose of Summer.”

Roy was beyond responding but he relaxed, closed his eyes, and drifted off.

When my mother died, we bid her farewell with dozens of blood-red roses, her favorite. The flowers were beautiful but odd. My husband explained to me that they were a special breed, without thorns or scent, as if the dead might be offended by signs of life.

For some, fall is the season of homecoming, with tailgate parties, football games, and chrysanthemum corsages. Imagine a queen and her court marching primly onto the football field at halftime. Their high heels sink into the 50-yard line as they pose for the crowning. In the stands, old friends hug, barely touching.

For me, homecoming means bidding farewell to the last roses, paying tribute to the joy and peace they have selflessly shared. I gaze at the garden through the window in the room where my husband took his last breaths and am reminded — despite unseasonably warm autumn temperatures — of the inevitability of the first frost.

Winter will be here before I know it, but the roses are certain to come back again next spring.

Rest in peace, Roy B. Davis Jr. Born February 27, 1939. Died on November 4, 2022.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, poet, playwright, and president of IntexCommunications in Murray, Kentucky. She is a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Texas weekly devotes its editorial page to poll-worker tribute

The opinion page of the Canadian Record this week features a photo of
an 85-year-old election worker Donna Jenkins and a list of her colleagues.
At a time when America's election systems are being falsely attacked and election officials are getting threats of violence and worse, at least one American editor decided to devote her election-week editorial page to a tribute to the local poll workers who make sure elections run smoothly and fairly.

Laurie Ezzell Brown of The Canadian Record in the Texas Panhandle begins her column, "As I have in years past, I watch Donna Jenkins as she enters the second-floor offices of the Hemphill County Clerk’s office to deliver the Precinct 202 ballot box. Donna is 85 years old, and has served the election process in some capacity for the last 40 years. . . . She is one of several citizens of Hemphill County who can count their service not in years, but in decades, though when I ask her to tell me how long it has been, she doesn’t really seem to think that matters so much. 'I’m going to do it as long as I can,' she said, almost daring anyone to tell her otherwise, though no one with a lick of sense would.

"Not only has Donna just put in 12 hours straight at the polling place, she has just driven half of the 50-mile round trip to the courthouse in Canadian to deliver the ballots. She wants to keep on working that polling place so the registered voters who cast their ballots there won’t have to make that long drive to exercise their voting rights, though there’s not a doubt in the world that they would, if necessary. . . . If you’ve voted early anytime by personal appearance in the past decade or two, you’ve probably seen Precinct 101’s Sherry Wagoner and Les Lovvorn put in a little bit tougher duty than most, working eight hours a day, 10 days at a stretch, to accommodate early voters."

Brown mentions several other longtime election workers, then makes her policy point: "While I have nothing but admiration and respect for this brain trust of experienced election workers, and for the unwavering dedication they have to their jobs, I’m really starting to worry about what comes next. Possum Jahnel is back there in the records vault, running the ballot counter, as she has been for darn near every election I’ve covered over the last 30 years. JoAnne Wheeler and Sherry have been there by her side. They’ve lasted through the era of hand-counted ballots, through the somewhat terrifying era of electronic voting, and now seem almost at peace with the electronic ballot counter. But you just have to ask yourself, sometimes, who’s going to step up and take over next? In fact, you really might ask yourself that."

Smooth election doesn't heal the breach in Shasta County

Shasta County (Wikipedia)
Tuesday's election went smoothly almost everywhere, including Shasta County, California, where a county supervisor was ousted in a March recall election, partly over doubts about election procedure. But the rural Northern California county remains deeply divided. "Local election officials and poll workers have felt threatened and under siege. The split is not so much red versus blue but traditional conservative versus far right," reports Hailey Branson-Potts of the Los Angeles Times.

“We’re tired. Down-to-the bones tired," Cathy Darling Allen, the county clerk and registrar of voters, told Branson-Potts. Allen said she has been harassed and vilified by election deniers.

Patty Plumb, who conducted a door-to-door "citizen's audit" in the county, told Branson-Potts, “The machines need to be turned off, unplugged, melted down and turned into prison bars."

Branson-Potts writes, "So it was considered a relief — a victory, to some — that election night here came and went peacefully, without violence or intimidation. But the conspiracy theories about the validity of voting, and the targeting of the elections office, won’t stop any time soon, according to both Allen and local election deniers themselves."

Turnout in election was high, but not as high as in 2018

Washington Post map; if a state's count was less than 97%, expected vote totals were used.

Turnout in Tuesday's midterm elections was unusually high, but not as high it was in 2018, according to a a Washington Post analysis of preliminary Associated Press and U.S. Elections Project data. Turnout was estimated at 46.9 percent, 3 percentage points lower than in 2018, which set a record.

"Turnout was especially high for a midterm in several battleground states, where expectations of a close contest appeared to boost voter participation," the Post reports. "Voter turnout in Pennsylvania is on track to exceed 2018 by 4 percentage points. Nearly six in 10 eligible voters in Wisconsin and Michigan cast a ballot. . . . Votes are still being counted, and in some states, it may take weeks to know the exact number of Americans who voted."

Ohio Dem did 3 points better in rural than Biden, but lost; Dem group cites party's image and lack of rural investment

Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and J.D. Vance (R) debate. (Cleveland.com)
Two Democratic candidates seeking open Senate seats in adjoining states had similar approaches but different outcomes Tuesday. In Pennsylvania, John Fetterman actively campaigned in rural areas of the state and won, while Tim Ryan did the same in Ohio and lost. Pennsylvania is more Democratic than Ohio, but Ryan "was weighed down by the party’s image and its refusal to show up and invest election resources in rural counties," said Chris Gibbs, board president of Rural Voices USA, a Democratic group that calls itself "a nationwide network of rural leaders working to ensure rural Americans have a voice in policies that impact their livelihoods."

"This election was a reminder that the Democratic brand continues to suffer in rural America," Gibbs said in a press release. "In Pennsylvania, where Rural Voices USA’s Pennsylvania steering committee got the message out on President Biden’s work to invest in broadband and other infrastructure, we saw real gains in rural votes that contributed to Senator-elect Fetterman’s victory."

In his race with Republican J.D. tord=place shpowhVance, Ryan actually improved more on President Biden's support among rural voters in Ohio than Fetterman did against the GOP's Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, report Tim Marema and Sarah Melotte of The Daily Yonder: "Ryan earned 30.5% of the rural vote, an improvement of nearly 3 points compared to Biden’s performance in 2020," while Fetterman got 29%, which was 2.4 points better than Biden.

"Fetterman’s percentage-point increase, which came from managing turnout compared to 2020, provided the Democratic candidate with his largest gain in any county type in the Daily Yonder’s categorization system," Marema and Melotte write. "Ryan had smaller drops in turnout in most parts of the state than Vance did compared to 2020, but the advantage was not big enough to make a difference in the bottom-line results."

UPDATE: After Fetterman impressed former Gov. Ed Rendell with his third-place showing in the 2016 primary, he asked for $100,000 for a car and driver so he could campaign in rural counties for Hillary Clinton, and Rendell said he begged the Clinton campaign to do it, but they said no, Al Weaver of The Hill reports. She lost Pennsylvania, the second-biggest state that swung to Donald Trump. 

Shorter corn might be a tall order for some farmers

Wall Street Journal photo by Patrick Thomas
"Seed companies are investing millions of dollars into developing new and hardier varieties of corn—but they are several feet shorter than normal, growing to about 6 feet instead of the usual 9. . . . Bayer AG, Syngenta Group and Stine Seed Co. are working on rolling out new varieties they say will help farmers grow larger crops," reports Patrick Thomas for The Wall Street Journal.

"Turns out height is a key factor in corn’s success," writes Thomas. "Tall stalks are susceptible to 'lodging'—when strong winds bend the plants at the stem near the ground, making it difficult to harvest. The [short] corn could use less water and stand up better against strong prairie winds. But the step down in height is unsettling for some farmers who associate taller corn plants with more grain production."

Tom Langer, a third-generation farmer with about 2,400 acres in south-central Wisconsin, told Thomas that even though he sees some potential benefits of the shorter corn, he and his neighbors don’t plan to plant it until its record has been proven. “They’ll be skeptical,” Langer said.

Harry Stine, whose Stine Seed has had short-stature corn on the market for more than a decade, said, “I couldn’t care less about what a plant looks like, all we go for is yield and standability."

Larry Bortz, a fourth-generation farmer outside Mason City, Iowa, told Thomas, “If they can make something that stands up and resists being blown down, that’s freaking wonderful."

Bayer said its surveys show farmers will eventually get on board, and seed companies said they have fixed problems that earlier short varieties had, including logistical problems with combines.

Nature roundup: Mexico snubs genetically modified corn; bird trends tracked; faux bacon from algae and seaweed . . .

eBird uses data from the Cornell University ornithology lab to track bird populations.

Here are a few stories about flora and fauna, some of which may take a while to read but that we have judged worthy of your time:

The president of Mexico says the country won't buy more yellow corn from the U.S. because it's genetically modified, Reuters reports.

Bird populations are declining, but what's happening to specific birds in specific areas? A new tool called eBird tracks changes over the past 15 years.

The survival of feral cows in a hurricane on the Outer Banks teaches us some things about cattle.

Why pokeweed, so poisonous that it must be boiled three times to eat, became a staple in the South.

Algae and seaweed can be used to make lots of things, including faux bacon.

Potting soil rarely contains actual soil or compost but is a sterile blend of ingredients with a big carbon footprint. National Geographic reports on the problematic components, and how to find alternatives.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Christian Nationalists: A personal telling and a history that dates to the Doctrine of Discovery over 500 years ago

"I was raised in a church of terrorists. The preacher pounded on the lectern while he boomed that all queers deserved to die, that mixed marriages were going to lead to the downfall of 'our way of life,'" Appalachian Kentucky author Silas House writes for Time

Silas House (Berea College photo)
House grew up in a family of Christian Nationalists: "I knew by then that I was gay and for that alone I’d surely be left behind when everyone I knew was whisked away in the Rapture, God’s chosen people disappearing 'in the twinkling of an eye.' Although I felt tremendous love in that church, I also realized how quickly that love would be extinguished if they knew who I really was."
House said that his childhood nightmares are alive today, "In North Carolina Lt. Gov. and pastor Mark Robinson has said that being gay or transgender is 'filth,' 'garbage' and 'perversion.' House said he lives in fear of what this country might be like should Christian Nationalists gain control: "It will be a country where women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people of other faiths will be stripped of their rights in laws justified by scripture."
How does Christian Nationalism gives one group power to terrorizes another? Laura Harbert Allen reports on this question in 100 Days in Appalachia: "Robert P. Jones, president and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, believes many Christians, especially white Christians, have a responsibility to understand a concept known as the Doctrine of Discovery, based on a papal bull or decree issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493."
“The basic idea was that Europeans, who were Christian, had the blessings of the church and the authority of the state to so-called discover any of the lands that were occupied by non-Christian, non-European people,” Jones told Allen, "And when they did they had the right to dominate those people and confiscate those lands.”

"Until the early 18th century, killing Indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans was based on religion. Christians killing 'heathens' and 'heretics,' after all, was a historic fact long before the colonization of the New World," writes Allen. "According to Yale professor Phillip Gorski as enslaved and Indigenous people started to convert to Christianity, the justification for their treatment became skin color." UPDATE, Nov. 10: The Rev. Russell Moore, editor of Christianity Today, defines Christian nationalism as "the use of Christian doctrines or symbols for the maintenance of an ethnic or a national identity. . . . It's anti-democratic by nature." Moore spoke to New Yorker Editor David Remnick in a podcast interview.

Squadrons of all-terrain wheelchairs arrive at U.S. parks

 Action Trackchair (Aimee Copeland Foundation photo)
"Georgia and South Dakota are the latest states to provide off-road wheelchairs on public trails," report Andrea Sachs and Natalie B. Compton of The Washington Post.

The arrival of "Action Trackchairs" in Georgia's Cloudland Canyon State Park is a game changer for travel blogger and Georgia native Cory Lee. Lee has cruised 40 countries on seven continents in his wheelchair but was unable to explore Cloudland trails. “I’ll finally be able to go on these trails for the first time in my life,” Lee said. “The trails are off-limits in my regular wheelchairs."

Georgia's Department of Natural Resources and the Aimee Copeland Foundation partnered to "unveiled a fleet of all-terrain power wheelchairs for rent at 11 state parks and outdoorsy destinations, including Cloudland Canyon. Action Trackchairs are equipped with tank-like tracks capable of traversing rocks, roots, streams and sand; clearing fallen trees; plowing through tall grass; and tackling uphill climbs," write Sachs and Compton.

Each program has its own reservations system and requirements. For Georgia’s service, visitors must provide proof of their disability and a photo ID, plus complete an online training course available through All Terrain Georgia. Once certified, the organization will forward the rental request to the park. People are encouraged to plan ahead: The certification course takes about an hour; the foundation needs 72-hour advance notice, and the park requires a 48-hour heads-up.

Voters expand Medicaid in S.D., reject abortion restriction in Ky., approve recreational marijuana in Mo. and Md.

Among the many referenda on Tuesday's ballots, Kentucky voters rejected a proposal that would have kept state courts from finding a right to abortion in the state's constitution. That clears the way for the state Supreme Court to hear arguments next week in a lawsuit by the state's two abortion clinics against some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, one of which kicked in when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Both clinics are in Louisville, so rural access to abortion is difficult.

Voters in Michigan added abortion rights to their constitution. Voters in California and Vermont approved similar measures that would have little effect on existing law in those states, Lou Jacobson reports for U.S. News and World Report.

Voters in South Dakota expanded Medicaid to an estimated 42,000 people under the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "The Republican-controlled state, where lawmakers have long resisted Medicaid expansion, is the seventh in the last five years to do so at the ballot box — and likely the last to do so for some time," reports Megan Messerly of Politico.

"A different health care proposal, in Oregon, was losing narrowly in early returns," Jacobson reports. "This measure was more vague.” It would add language to the constitution that says the state will "ensure" that every resident "has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right."

Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana, while those in Arkansas and the Dakotas defeated similar measures. Voters in Maryland also approved the idea, which carried every county except Allegany, at the state's western end.

"By a 2-1 margin, Iowa approved adding language to the state constitution affirming the right to own and bear firearms and require strict judicial scrutiny of any alleged violation, Jacobson reports. "Oregon voters were on their way to approving a measure to keep state lawmakers from running for reelection if they had 10 or more unexcused absences. The minority party – most recently Republicans – had used the state’s two-thirds quorum rule to shutter chamber business by not showing up for sessions. The measure was winning by a 2-1 margin. In Michigan, voters approved by a 2-1 margin a measure that would set 12-year term limits for state legislative service, as well as stiffen financial disclosure rules for legislators and statewide elected officials. And in North Dakota, voters approved an eight-year term limit for the governor and eight years in each legislative chamber. The measure passed with nearly two-thirds of the vote."

Nebraska and Nevada voters raised their states' minimum wages. "One blue state and one red state went their expected directions on ballot measures affecting labor unions," Jacobson reports. "By a 3-2 margin, Illinois appears to have passed a measure that would create a state constitutional right to collective bargaining. But in Tennessee, a right-to-work measure that makes it illegal for workplaces to mandate labor-union membership passed with 70%."

Voters in Jonesboro and the rest of Craighead County, Arkansas, cut the local library's property-tax rate in half. The vote "stemmed from protests over a gay pride book display in the library last year and a transgender author’s visit there earlier," Kenneth Heard writes for the Arkansas Advocate.

This story may be updated.

Cutting rural losses helped Fetterman win Senate seat in Pennsylvania, and may have saved Senate for Democrats

Fetterman in Murrysville, pop. 20,000, in Westmoreland County, in early October. (N.Y. Times photo by Justin Merriman)

Democrats may maintain control of the U.S. Senate because their Pennsylvania nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, campaigned in rural counties that he knew he would lose but that he thought would give him more of their vote than they gave President Biden two years ago. They did, and he won.

Fetterman used that strategy mainly in his home territory of southwestern Pennsylvania. That's what Jake Tapper and John King of CNN highlighted on their coverage of the race early this morning, citing three counties where Fetterman lost big -- but not as big as Biden did. He cut the losses.

"Winning, for him, is cutting the margins," King said. At 1:13 a.m., with Fetterman 2 percentage points ahead of Republican Mehmet Oz, CNN projected him the winner.

To many rural Democrats, Fetterman's victory will be a validation of what some of them have been saying for years, that their candidates can win rural votes if they will just show up and ask for them. The nation's leading urban Democrat, Barack Obama, said it more than 10 years ago.

"I never expected we would turn these red counties blue but we did what we needed to do, and we carried that conversation across every one of those counties, and that's why I'll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania," Fetterman told supporters. The seat is held by Pat Toomey, a Republican who didn't seek re-election.

Pennsylvania was the main toss-up in Senate races Tuesday, and thus seen as the most likely decider of Senate control -- unless the race in Georgia goes to a runoff because neither candidate exceeds 50 percent of the vote. That seems likely; Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is leading Republican Herschel Walker with 49.1% of the vote, with 95% of precincts counted. But if Democrats keep the seats they now have in Arizona, which looks likely, and Nevada, which is much less clear, the Georgia runoff won't matter.

To the west of Pennsylvania, in Ohio, Hillbilly Elegy author and Republican nominee J.D. Vance beat U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan to win the seat of retiring Sen. Rob Portman.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

How ready is your county to help with addiction recovery?

Screenshot of Recovery Ecosystem Index Map; for interactive verson, click here.

"A new national index from the Center for Rural Health Research at East Tennessee State University called the Recovery Ecosystem Index Mapping Tool drills down to the county level to assess drug recovery systems across the country," Liz Carey reports for the Daily Yonder.

Carey's object example is Vine Grove, Kentucky, which put out a vending machine for Narcan, which reverses the effects of an overdose. "They knew people would use it," she writes; "They just didn’t anticipate it being empty three days later." In 27 days, the town of 7,000 has used 169 boxes of Narcan, Police Chief Keith Mattingly told Carey.

Index information for Hardin County, Kentucky, site of Vine Grove; click to enlarge.

The mapping tool, created in association with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the Fletcher Group, a consultancy, shows the recovery resources available in every county. The index then rates each county by comparing resources and demographic information against the county’s overdose mortality rates.

“The index is intended to serve local stakeholders to help them better understand the availability of recovery-related resources in their county and neighboring counties,” Andrew Howard of the Fletcher Group told Carey.

“We are hoping that people at the community level will use this tool to first determine the recovery ecosystem score for their community, but then to dig into the data to really understand where they can invest to create a better support system for their people,” Michael Meit, co-director of the Center for Rural Health Research, told Carey. “Rural areas, I think, have more structural challenges, but (building a recovery ecosystem) is still eminently achievable in rural areas.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventiondrug overdose rates rose across the country in 2021, but in five states – California, Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont and Virginia – drug overdose rates in rural counties were higher than in urban counties. Data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 107,622 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021.

News-media roundup: Recession could be deadly for the newspaper industry; Alden drops its bid for Lee Enterprises

A recession, which most economists think is likely next year, "could threaten the embattled newspaper industry, whose two highest cost centers — labor and paper distribution — soared in the wake of the pandemic," Sara Fischer reports for Axios Media Trends.

A recession would create "almost a perfect storm for local news," Tim Franklin, senior associate dean at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, told Fischer. He noted that in recessions, advertising is usually gets the first hit, followed by subscriptions.

Matt DeRienzo, editor-in-chief of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization, says a recession could be just as bad for news media as 2008's Great Recession, but for different reasons; he says many more newspapers are now owned by venture-capital firms that prioritize profits without much regard for long-term growth.

James McDonald of Access Global Advisors, a veteran newspaper transaction adviser, told Fischer, "I think the recession will be very damaging to smaller, under-capitalized papers and have similar consequences for groups carrying too much debt. Unlike the pandemic, there won’t be rescue funds flowing to prop up their balance sheets."

Alden drops Lee takeover bid: "The economic outlook for newspapers is giving pause to private equity investors that are typically eager to eat big chains," Fischer writes. "Alden Global Capital has abandoned its bid for Lee Enterprises, at least for now, in part due to rising interest rates and a tougher market to finance deals, sources told Axios. Alden quietly sold part of its stake in Lee in April, shortly after a Delaware judge upheld Lee's rejection of Alden's two board director nominees in February. . . . Alden's $24 bid, which was once challenged by Lee's management as too low, now looks attractive compared to Lee's current share price of $18."

America’s election systems are run by overworked officials

As Americans visit the polls today or reflect on their time there, they may want to consider the amount of human energy that has gone into ensuring election security. It isn't all about the brand or age of the machine that siphons ballots. "Local election administrators work under increasingly difficult circumstances, with dwindling resources and mounting challenges," reports Amal Ahmed of Southerly. "survey of local election officials conducted by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit election reform group, finds that just 2% of them say they have everything they need to do what’s required of them."

While investments in cybersecurity and machine updating are necessary, Ahmed writes that an equal threat to American elections is the overworked, underpaid election administrators. "U.S. elections are administered at the local level – each county, or even municipality, has its own rules, and its own officials to execute them. The work is not lucrative – some make as little as $20,000 annually with a national average of $50,000."

Election officials have to be adept: "The central challenge of their work is to find solutions to the multitudes of logistical hurdles presented to them so that neither access nor integrity is sacrificed. . . .
All of which requires methodical planning and creative problem-solving. But these people are under significant pressure," writes Ahmed.

Beyond work on days when votes are cast, election officials "have faced increased public records requests and more challenges to election results, including demands for recounts," writes Ahmed. "The combined stresses have reached a boiling point, with one in five of the nation’s local election officials likely to leave their jobs before 2024. They will take with them a wealth of experience that cannot be easily replaced."

Something for coverage of the next election: Images of long voting lines can discourage voting, research shows

Newly published research "shows that people who watch a television news story that depicts polling place lines are less likely to say they will vote in future elections," the researchers write for NiemanLab.

Kathleen Searles of Louisiana State University and Christopher Mann of Skidmore College say their analysis of news coverage found that coverage of lines is prevalent, and "seeing images of lines in news stories about voting made people more likely to think that voting is time-consuming and decreased their stated confidence in elections. . . . While researchers have investigated the experience of waiting in lines to vote and the reasons for long loans at polling places, our work is the first to examine the effects of news that covers lines."

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in a 2014 report that no American should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote. According to research by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab (disclosure: Christopher Mann, this post’s coauthor, is on its advisory board), the share of voters waiting more than 30 minutes to vote in person (either on Election Day or via early voting) declined from 16% in 2008 to 9% in 2016, when the average wait time was 10.4 minutes. The trend reversed in 2020, due to Covid precautions at polling places and record-breaking turnout, with the average wait time for in-person voting rising back to 2008 levels — 14.3 minutes, with 18% of voters’ waits on Election Day exceeding the PCEA recommendation.

In their study, researchers told told participants that they would see a short video of a local news story. The story "featured a voiceover discussing early voting details and clips depicting common voting imagery such as ballot boxes and poll workers," they write. "We created a second version of the story with one difference: It also featured clips of people waiting in polling place lines." A nationally representative sample of adults, recruited online survey, was done in January 2021 and again last week.

"Americans who see news coverage that shows generic 'line' images at polling places are significantly less likely to say they will vote in future elections. In our most recent experiment about midterm elections, 54% of people who saw the TV coverage that showed lines said they 'definitely' planned to vote, while 59% of people who saw the TV coverage without lines said they 'definitely' planned to vote. Our January 2021 experiment produced a similar 5-percentage-point decrease in vote intention when people saw TV coverage showing lines compared to TV coverage without lines (64% vs 69%). Seeing news about lines to vote also appears to have negative impacts on elections beyond the polling place. After seeing stories about polling place lines, the share of respondents who reported that elections were 'well run' dropped by 6 percentage points in November 2022 and 5 percentage points in January 2021.

Searles and Mann have recommendations: "Journalists should ask themselves if 'lines' are a crucial part of the story. . . . If voting lines are important to the story, it’s useful to provide more context. Journalists can check to see if wait times are longer than the 30-minute maximum recommended by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, and can also check whether wait times are consistent throughout the day. . . . When wait times are significant, more detail is important. Are the lines indicative of a meaningful election administration failure? Are they due to high turnout? Context about reasons for a wait will help voters hold election officials accountable when there is a genuine problem. But generic images of polling place lines shouldn’t be used thoughtlessly — because they may dissuade people from voting and reduce their confidence in elections."

Monday, November 07, 2022

'All elements of a perfect storm' are here on Election Day, including 'a sprawling election-denial industrial complex'

ANALYSIS By Charlie Mathesian
Politico Nightly

It’s time to talk about it out loud: This year’s election is going to be a train wreck. Not just Election Day, but the weeks and perhaps even months to come.

For starters, it might not be clear who controls the House for days, or longer. In the Senate, it could be weeks. In fact, if the polling averages are correct, we might not know who controls the Senate until after a potential early December runoff in Georgia.

But that’s the least of the trouble ahead. All the elements of a perfect storm are present: a rise in threats against election administrators and poll workers; outdated and overstrained election infrastructure; a brain drain of officials experienced with the complexities of administering elections; external cyber threats; and an abundance of close races that could extend long past Election Day as mail-in and provisional ballots are counted, recounted and litigated.

Then, there are the hundreds of Republican candidates up and down the ballot with a record of denying or expressing doubts about the 2020 presidential results — a few were even present at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. At least a dozen candidates running in competitive Senate and governor and secretary of state contests refused to commit or declined to respond when asked whether they’ll accept the results of their races.

A blowout Republican victory might remove many of the most combustible elements. But short of a red wave Tuesday, we’re looking at an ugly finish.

If those prominent election-denying candidates lose, it will not be graciously — remember, these are candidates whose political brands are rooted in their refusal to accept the 2020 election results, and their own high-profile and extra-legal efforts to overturn them. For them, the traditional pain and disappointment of defeat will be amplified because of the high expectations of midterm GOP success. And there are no party graybeards who will be able to talk them down — in fact, the post-election recriminations will likely find backing from party leaders and elected officials who fear antagonizing a base that’s been primed to believe the 2020 election was rigged.

The wellspring of these false claims, former President Donald Trump, is already laying the predicate — last week, he sought to cast doubt on the integrity of Pennsylvania’s results by claiming the 2022 results there are rigged as well.

Election Day never goes entirely smoothly across the nation. There have long been isolated cases of voter intimidation or suppression, reports of voting irregularities, precincts that run out of ballots, long lines and accusations of fraud, among other potholes. But we’ve never seen anything like these conditions, all swirling against the backdrop of a sprawling election-denial industrial complex that looks to be a permanent feature of American politics.

The perverse incentives of our current system mean it’s likely that there will be candidates who seek to take advantage of these conditions, rather than dial down the temperature by operating with caution and temperance. Don’t be surprised if there are tactical election night declarations of victory well before the outcome is clear.

The swing states that will be critical to the outcome of the 2024 presidential election may be the scenes of some of the worst behavior. Already, the Justice Department noted that seven battleground states — Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — accounted for nearly 60 percent of all threats of physical violence that election workers reported to a federal task force on election threats.

Those states are home to numerous photo-finish races this year — and some of the nation’s best-known election deniers are on the ballot in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

Well-aware of the fraught environment in which they’re operating, election administrators across the country have worked diligently to increase transparency and restore public faith in the integrity of election results.

Those efforts — and a one-sided election — might be enough to avoid widespread meltdowns this year. But that will only kick the can down the road. A Republican rout Tuesday could sweep in a collection of election-denying candidates who will have authority over approving vote tallies and certifying results — including in the battleground states that will decide the 2024 presidential election.
 
Reach the author at cmahtesian@politico.com or on Twitter at @PoliticoCharlie.

Report from executives of international agribusiness firms warns farming must change or risk ‘destroying the planet’

A report from the Sustainable Markets Initiative (a network of global CEOs focused on climate issues established by King Charles III) insists that farming practices must change, and change quickly," reports Dominic Rushe of The Guardian: "Food companies and governments must come together immediately to change the world’s agricultural practices or risk 'destroying the planet'," the report said. The report studied potatoes, rice, and wheat crops.

While the report recognized some progress, it insists that the changes have not been fast enough, and "must triple by 2030 for the world to have any chance of keeping temperature rises under 1.5C, a level that if breached, scientists argue, will unleash even more devastating climate change on the planet," Rusche writes.

The report is signed by executives of Bayer, Mars, McCain Foods, McDonald’s, Mond─ôlez, Olam, PepsiCo, Waitrose and others. "They represent a potent political and corporate force, affecting the food supply chain around the world," reports Rusche. "They are also, according to critics, some of those most responsible for climate mismanagement with one calling the report 'smoke and mirrors' and unlikely to address the real crisis."

“We are at a critical tipping point where something must be done,” said task force chair and outgoing Mars CEO Grant Reid: "The interconnection between human health and planetary health is more evident than ever before. . . . It won’t be easy, but we have got to make it work."

Agriculture is the world's largest industry, employing around 1 billion people. It is facing a multitude of stressors including post pandemic supply-chain issues, inflation and extreme weather. The need for deep change in farming practices "also comes amid mounting skepticism about promises to change from companies that have contributed to climate change," writes Rusche.

Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at Grain, a non-profit organization that works to support small farmers, said it was increasingly difficult for big agricultural and food companies to ignore climate change, “but I don’t think any of these companies – say a McDonald’s – has any commitment to curtail the sales of highly polluting products. I don’t think PepsiCo is going to say the world doesn’t need Pepsi.”

With poor internet, 'digital dignity' is lacking, researchers say: 'Waiting is a way of experiencing the effects of power'

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 16 million people in rural America lack high-speed internet, but that number may be far higher – some estimates go as high as more than 150 million Americans lacking adequate broadband, according to new research in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communicationreports Kristi Eaton of The Daily Yonder. 

Researchers Nick Mathews of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Christopher Ali of Penn State conducted 19 interviews with families in an unnamed rural county on the East Coast who lacked adequate broadband connections. They came up with a new concept: "digital dignity," the idea that someone should have the same access to a digital life as anyone else.

“These people in this county and these people without broadband access . . . don’t have this sense of digital dignity because they do not live in the same way that we do, and it’s a fact that is underappreciated, and, frankly, is taken for granted,” Mathews told Eaton. “The idea that I can be talking to you on Zoom right now, or I can be looking up anything I want to right now, is . . . taken for granted by society in general. And there are millions of people who do not have this access, and they’re being left behind.”

The researchers found that waiting for an internet connection "is a common, stressful and vexing part of living," the lay summary of the report says. The authors' abstract says, "Waiting is a way of experiencing the effects of power. This article finds those waiting for fixed broadband connection are powerless to end the waiting and increasingly frustrated with the powerful—the governmental officials, policy makers, and broadband providers—who control their waiting."

Poor connection can lead to fundamental lifestyle changes. "In one case study, a family became a 'second-shift family,' meaning they often slept at unconventional hours," Eaton reports. "One teenager would get home from school, do her homework, eat dinner and go to bed at 7 p.m., so she could awake at 3 a.m. to be able to use the Internet. During the summer, she would sleep all day so she could use the Internet at night. Eventually, the parents started following the teenager’s lead."

This research also found that some rural workers are excluded from Zoom calls because they do not have broadband. “When you cannot participate in a meeting, or in a conversation with colleagues or with supervisors, that limits your potential for a promotion, and anything along those lines," Mathews told Eaton. "So it is a really dire situation for some of these people."

Diesel-fuel supplies reported short, especially in Southeast

Image from Southern Farm Network
Supplies of diesel fuel are running short "across the country and especially in rural America," reports Mike Davis of Southern Farm Network. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told Davis, "I’m hearing that the southeastern quadrant of the United States is where the problems are more pronounced, and that includes areas like Tennessee and further into the Southeast."

Farmers and other diesel users have been mainly concerned about costs of the fuel, but "In certain pockets of the country where it’s more acute than others, there’s a real and growing concern about the availability of diesel, and there are a lot of reasons for that," Steenhoek said. "The war in Ukraine has certainly contributed to that." Robert Rapier of OilPrice.com reports that "The primary reason is the cutoff of Russian imports." Also, "U.S. refinery capacity has fallen in the past few years as several unprofitable refineries were closed."

Diesel shortages could become worse in the Northeast, where home heating oil claims much of the refinery output at this time of year. "I think, overall, this is something that is going to be an emerging concern in this country," Steenhoek told Davis. He said areas that get diesel supplies from river barges are threatened by low water in rivers. "In those areas that are further removed from the river and more in the Midwest and the northwestern part of the Midwest, I’m hearing fewer concerns about getting diesel supply. I think it depends on which part of the country you’re in. I do think that this is a trend that we’re going to be hearing more of."