Saturday, December 17, 2022

David Sawyer remembered as a changer of lives through challenges to build confidence; helped start AmeriCorps

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

David Sawyer, a Kentucky-grown back-to-the-lander who ran a student-service program at Berea College, helped start AmeriCorps and became an international consultant on the environment, civic engagement and a wide range of other topics, was remembered fondly Saturday as someone who changed people’s lives.

“He centered his life’s work on service, right livelihood,” longtime friend Peter Hille, president of the Mountain Association, said at a memorial service in Berea’s Union Church for Sawyer, who died Nov. 25 at his home in Portland, Oregon, at 71.

Hille said Sawyer took the beauty and suffering of life and “held them as if they were high-voltage cables, and with that current thrumming through him, he just glowed, didn’t he? David was incandescent, and he burned with the intensity of that truth.”

Hille and Sawyer, a Lexington native, met in the 1970s as neighbors, two of many who had moved to rural Kentucky to follow alternative lifestyles and try to live off the land.

David Hartwell Sawyer III
Sawyer became director of the Students for Appalachia service program at Berea, and when Bill Clinton became president and wanted to start a national service program for young people, the White House asked him to help start the pilot project started before Congress actually created AmeriCorps.

“We were chosen to train 50 people to train the first participants of the AmeriCorps program,” his widow, Jennifer Sawyer, said at the service. “That to me is the thing that will live on about David the most. He changed people’s lives.”

And not just with AmeriCorps. Most of the 15 speakers at the service recalled times when Sawyer turned their lives around.

Professor and therapist Blake Jones of Midway, Ky., said Sawyer “believed in us when we couldn’t believe in ourselves,” always using their last names when he got serious about something they should do. Jones recalled this exchange:
“Jones, I want you to be the student director at SFA.”
“I’m sorry, David, I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can, and you will.”

“David called himself a Buddhist Christian and I just assumed that’s just what they did; they just said stuff and just walked away. . . . So I became the student director," Jones told the crowd. “I needed unconditional love and I needed accountability, and he gave both those things to me.”

Lisa Perkins-Orta spoke at the service. (Photo from Zoom)
Lisa Perkins-Orta, an art therapist in Huntington, W. Va., told a similar story.

“He saw in me something I never knew existed,” she said, recalling how she came to his home for an SFA staff retreat and “I started crying because of how it smelled. It smelled like my Mamaw’s house and I hadn’t been home for a long time.” Without asking her permission, Sawyer told the group the story: “Perkins came in here and just wept.”

“He just bared me in front of God and everybody,” Perkins said. “That moment gave me the life lesson that who I am and what I am experiencing is worth something. . . . That was the first time that I ever saw my tears as something strong. . . . I was a little girl from Webbville, Kentucky, who didn’t want to keep on being in Webbville, Kentucky. Because of his belief, I became who I am.”

After a decade at Berea, Sawyer facilitated other national leadership programs, a global conference on climate change, and spent four years working with the BP energy company, coaching senior leaders, designing the cultural dimension of its merger with Arco. He was executive-in-residence for Kansas City’s Kauffman Foundation, promoting citizen engagement and civic innovation; the first executive director of Social Venture Partners Portland, and chief culture officer for gDiapers, maker of the world's first flushable and compostable diaper. He co-founded Converge, a network of consultants who help form social-impact networks, and at his death was president of Context, a consultancy on strategy, leadership and culture. He worked in many fields, including sustainable agriculture, education reform, national service, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, the emerging green economy, and multisector collaboration.

Some of this material appeared in the obituary published on The Rural Blog Nov. 30.

Friday, December 16, 2022

State water board in Kansas says the state should end its 'de facto' policy of draining the Ogallala Aquifer

The Kansas Water Authority decided Wednesday that the state "should scrap its de facto policy of draining the Ogallala Aquifer," Allison Kite reports for the Kansas Reflector. "Instead, the board said, the Kansas government should take steps to stop the decline of the aquifer, which supplies water to one-sixth of the world’s grain supply, and save it for future generations."

“It has taken decades for this to be said formally in writing by an official state body,” said Connie Owen, director of the Kansas Water Office. “This is nothing less than historic.”

The authority board voted almost unanimously to say in its annual report to the governor and legislature that the “policy of planned depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is no longer in the best interest of the State of Kansas,” and to recommend the state create a formal process to establish goals and actions to “halt the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer while promoting flexible and innovative management within a timeframe that achieves agricultural productivity, thriving economies and vibrant communities — now and for future generations of Kansans.”

The language had wide support among board members. “My opinion of this is that it should have been done 15 years ago, or 20,” said Lynn Goossen, a farmer who is also the board of the groundwater management district in northwest Kansas.

Hite notes, "The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground sources of fresh water, stretches across parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas. After World War II farmers started pumping water from it to irrigate crops in arid western Kansas, establishing the region as a booming farming economy. For decades, the water was used with little thought of ensuring enough remained for future generations. But now, the water is running out. Some parts of the aquifer have half the water they had before irrigation on the aquifer began. Parts of western Kansas have an estimated 10 years of water left. There’s little surface water since streams that reliably flowed through the area in 1961 all but disappeared, according to the Kansas Geological Survey."

Authority Chair Dawn Buehler said many farmers have been waiting on the government to tell them it’s time to do something: “We’ve heard that over and over from people — that, ‘Well, you know, we’re not at a dangerous zone yet because they’ll let us know when it’s time.’ I think the importance of today was saying, ‘It’s time.’ ”

Friday flora/fauna: Invasive black carp thrive in mid-America; homes found for L.A. ponies, ousted as city ends rides

Black carp (U.S. Geological Survey photo)
Invasive and damaging black carp have established themselves in the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois rivers, according to a study that is "the first to identify an established population, or one that is naturally reproducing and living to adulthood, anywhere in the U.S.," reports Meredith Howard of the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois. The study was done by Southern Illinois University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceMissouri State University and the Missouri Department of Conservation.

USGS said the carp “prey on species such as snails and mussels and pose a risk to many already imperiled native mussels in this region.” Howard notes, "Mussels improve water quality by filtering out algae, bacteria and pollutants and they also provide nutrition for other species." The carp, native to east Asia, were imported to control vegetation in Southern fish farms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the recently passed water-resources appropriation expands federal efforts to control Asian carp.

Alessia Del Val, 4, on a Griffith Park pony. (LAT/Christina House)
Since 1948, pony rides have been available in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, but under pressure from animal-welfare activists who said (sometimes yelling at children during rides) that the horses were overworked, the city didn't renew the contract for the petting zoo, which expires Dec. 21. A veterinary inspection "did not show any outright signs of neglect or animal abuse, the expert found some animals were in need of help for saddle sores, as well as hoof and dental care," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The expert recommended better shelter and amenities, such as easier access to lower water troughs."

Owner Stephen Weeks worried that he wouldn't be able to find homes for more than 30 ponies, but he said he got 50 calls a day, and by Wednesday 25 had homes. Weeks told the Times the rest will probably go to a sanctuary so they can get medical care, and he chose not to sell any for auction or to another horse-ride business. “Some ponies are obviously capable of working, but as far as commercially working, it’s just my preference,” he said. “They’ve done that, and now they should experience something new in life, less work. ... It's almost like saying goodbye to a family pet.”

Photo from The Notebook by Poplar Terrace and Friends
Bradford pear trees were once a popular landscape planting, but they turned out to have several problems, including being invasive and hurting other species. It got so bad in Kentucky that the University of Kentucky is offering a bounty (seedlings of better species) for proof of destruction of Bradfords, a cultivar of the callery pear. In Louisville, "Bradford pears were aggressively growing into a field of white flowering trees on River Road, resulting in the destruction of the much-needed native species and the surrounding forest land," so they were removed, local philanthropist Christy Brown reports in her latest Poplar Terrace newsletter. "Ultimately, while it may be alarming to see so many trees uprooted, bear in mind that removing invasive species helps protect the biodiversity our River City relies on. In order to protect the resilience of our environment, we must protect the wild lands which enrich our health, culture, and economy."

Amid shaky finances in rural health care, Heartland Forward report suggests ways to improve access and services

By Worth Sparkman
Axios NW Arkansas

Affordability, telehealth and a trained, motivated workforce are the keys to keeping the engine of rural health care running smoothly. A Heartland Forward report outlines strategies policymakers and community leaders in rural America can use to improve health care access and services.

Many rural hospitals in the U.S. face a funding crisis. Many small, independent hospitals face possible closure or consolidation through acquisition as they struggle with finances. One in 10 hospitals in Texas and more than half of Mississippi's rural hospitals are at risk of shuttering.

The report analyzes data from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee, where Heartland Forward convened focus groups and expert interviews, but researchers see potential applications for its concepts nationwide. Authors found three areas with the most possible impact:
  • Increasing price transparency and working to reduce complexity in understanding the health care system can lead to residents using it more often for preventive care rather than acute care.
  • Expanding access to telehealth by lowering policy barriers for providers and normalizing the tools for patients.
  • Boosting the health care workforce through training, streamlining licensing regulations and providing advancement opportunities for practitioners.
True to its nature as a "think and do tank," Heartland developed three tools for communities in the six-state region to use to guide care-related planning and decision making:
  • A policy recommendations document that provides a detailed map of barriers and opportunities to address affordability, telehealth and workforce issues.
  • An interactive accessibility dashboard that provides detailed county, congressional district and state-level data on various health and wellness topics.
  • An interactive labor market tool with detailed geographic data on 31 health care professions.
The bottom line: Researchers write that as access to health care declines in rural areas, the workforce becomes less productive and slows economic performance, so a focus on health and wellness will also rev up an area's economic vitality.

Holiday hits: From the gloomy octopus to the most gleeful holiday poem, let wonder guide your reading; and more ...

Illustration by Edward Koren, The New Yorker

By Heather Close

It's Friday! Take a moment to celebrate the uniqueness of our glorious planet and the joy of being alive. 

One little girl knows that there are rules for everything. So, when she decided to adopt a unicorn, she asked Animal Control for permission. And got it.

La Junta, Colorado, celebrates an unlikely friend, Aphonopelma hentzi, commonly known as the Oklahoma or Texas brown tarantula, which ranges as far east as Louisiana. This small town aims to become "Tarantula Capital of the World."

"Don't stand so close to me" was a popular song by the Police. It's also the mantra of the Gloomy Octopus--it doesn't sing. It throws things.

Need a lift out of winter melancholy? Reading about positive changes for birds and humans will make you smile.

Today, the hip Three Kings would bring gold, frankincense, myrrh and SPAM figgy pudding.

Heated, compressed and hopefully headed in the right direction, an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal explains fusion and what all the fuss is about.

Mermaids in Montana and mooncake makers in Philly's Chinatown are just two of the discoveries made by Boston Globe reporters who traveled across the nation and made some momentous stops.

Whether it's “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses, or music to cook and bake to, get those holiday play lists ready.

Still don't have a tree? There's still time. Pick a good one!

There are still so many good times to be had. A 'super-surge' holiday poem from The New Yorker will leave you feeling warm and hopeful.

News-media roundup: 2 Mich. weeklies die, but one revives; American Journalism Project may fund 4 news startups

Three Rivers, Michigan, has about 8,000 people. (Google map)
When the Traverse City Record-Eagle saw that the Three Rivers Commercial-News in southern Michigan was closing, it used it as an example of the value of news was not so community journalism in its appeal to readers for year-end donations. But today the Commercial-News is being revived by Michael Wilcox, owner of a small chain of papers in the region, the paper reports.

The news was not so good for the Straitsland Resorter of Indian River, Mich., which died because its owner wanted to retire and couldn't find a buyer after trying for three years, Rich Lamb, publisher of the Presque Isle Advance in the county to the east, writes in The Bulletin of the Michigan Press Association. "The Resorter is a money-making newspaper, so it seems odd to me there were no sale possibilities . . . Perhaps this will spark someone to pursue purchase."

The Kansas Press Association is offering its members an on-demand journalism training course aimed at address staffing issues, and some other state press associations are also offering it. “It’s really hard to convince a young kid that just graduated from a journalism school to move out to a little town of 900 people and work out there,” said Lindsey Young, a former high-school teacher who developed the course. She and her husband, Joey, own Kansas Publishing Ventures, which publishes four weeklies. The course has eight lessons and covers more than 30 topics. For more information, contact Joey Young at:

The American Journalism Project, with support from the Google News Initiative, is launching a Local News Incubator to "seed and support new local news organizations led by exceptional talent, with the aim of advancing a new generation of impact-driven and innovative news organizations from conception through launch," AJP said in a press release. It will take applications through Feb. 15 from "founders with innovative ideas to advance local news. The incubator will support up to four startup ideas; each will receive $400,000 in seed funding, and personalized, hands-on support to complete a robust research and development process and fundraising campaign." In 2020, AJP helped establish Capital B and Mountain State Spotlight through a similar model. Since its launch in 2019, AJP has invested in 33 organizations. For more and the application, visit AJP and Google News Initiative are hosting an information session Jan. 12; register here.

Immigrants and urban migrants are helping small towns grow; how welcoming is your community to them?

By Devin Deaton
Action Learning Manager, Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group

Rural communities are generally considered friendly, welcoming places. While this may be true for some, there is also a strong history of suspicion of outsiders, especially if they look, sound, or act differently from the local population. This kind of resistance or rejection is a structural barrier to opportunity for the excluded groups and the larger community.

Recent data show that many rural communities are beginning to grow, thanks to an influx of new residents, many of whom are immigrants from all over the world. Today’s economy presents a challenge for longtime and new residents alike, and this is particularly true for immigrants who may have linguistic or legal barriers to work and social services. Rural communities that are more welcoming to immigrants and new residents are more successful at attracting residents and growing their economies.

It’s not only immigrants who need to be welcomed into rural communities. Some rural places are seeing an influx of newcomers from urban areas due to the rising costs of urban living and remote employment. Welcoming community initiatives are also helping build and restore positive community relationships between Native nations and nearby non-Indigenous residents.

The changing demographics and growing diversity of many rural communities present the opportunity for long-time residents to engage one another and newcomers in a process of mutual learning that can foster a healthier community dynamic.

We recently held a virtual networking session facilitated by our co-Executive Director Chris Estes with 120 rural leaders focused on these issues. Participants shared a few organizations helping their towns and rural places be more welcoming:

Welcoming America, particularly its Rural Welcoming Initiative, provides resources and technical assistance to rural communities seeking to become more welcoming to new residents, particularly immigrants. Welcoming America's Certified Welcoming program has served as a valuable roadmap for local governments seeking to build truly welcoming communities.

Community Heart and Soul is a process tailored for small towns that can help engage the 'missing voices' in rural communities. It is a resident-driven process that engages the entire population of a town in identifying what they love most about their community, what future they want for it, and how to achieve it.
Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute supports 'weavers' who have found a more connected way to live by working in neighborhoods and towns to make connections and lead with love. Weave connects and supports weavers within the community who are creating a more welcoming place for all.

Strong Towns advocates for cities of all sizes to be safe, livable, and inviting. They work to elevate local government to be the highest level of collaboration for people working together in a place.

Rural practitioners emphasized the importance of adopting a formal welcoming plan at the city or county level. A welcoming plan can provide the strategic map to organize public and non-profit efforts at welcoming into a coherent whole. Welcoming information and happenings can be shared via social media pages, like this one from Dodge City, Kansas.

Conscious and intentional design of rural welcoming events is crucial. Whether it is designing a Welcoming Week that allows communities and businesses to showcase their cultural distinctiveness or storytelling sessions for both longtime and new residents, care must be taken to meet people where they are both physically and emotionally.

This can mean hosting gatherings at local immigrant-owned businesses or community churches rather than in public facilities. It means creating space for newcomers to bring their own food and culinary traditions, music, and cultural norms to an event. Encouraging visibility when designing an event will make it more inclusive and welcoming. Allow people to design their own ways to engage with community events instead of forcing them to get involved with the systems that already exist.

Welcoming communities require a foundation of trust. Practitioners emphasized the importance of establishing trust between longtime residents and newcomers and suggested that trust is a key ingredient to the success of a welcoming initiative.

Trust is built through hard, intentional work. Language is too often a barrier to trust, particularly with immigrant residents. Practitioners suggested that language exchanges, where residents spent time learning each other’s languages, were a good way to build trust and share culture. Aspen CSG recently published two resources on building trust and growing language skills with immigrant residents.

Open and honest communication is a primary way to build bridges among different social groups in a community. Practitioners emphasized that conversation must be two-way and that everyone should have the space for meaningful participation. This means that longtime, often white, residents must be open to and willing to enter initially uncomfortable spaces to experience new cultures, foods, and events as part of the welcoming process.”

In many communities, power is held by a local elite that can be resistant to change. Many rural practitioners suggest that shifting power dynamics is a big part of their local welcoming initiatives.
Power held by a small group can exclude many residents, not just immigrants or other newcomers. One rural practitioner from Alaska shared a story of how cultural and linguistic exchange between an Alaska Native tribe and a nearby non-native community promoted closer relationships and increased the desire of political leaders to find solutions across jurisdictional boundaries.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

New FCC broadband map faulted by telehealth advocates; it's easier to challenge, but the deadline is Jan. 13

The Federal Communications Commission's new maps of high-speed internet service in the U.S. may be "a step in the right direction" but it leaves much to be desired, telehealth advocates say.

They told senators Thursday that the maps. which will guide Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding for internet expansion, "need to be significantly revamped -- as some communities are entirely missing from the maps -- to ensure the unserved and underserved are accurately represented," Cara Smith reports for Inside Telehealth. They want the FCC to extend the Jan. 13 deadline for comments.

"A government official told Inside TeleHealth that navigating the FCC maps also were confusing, so individual community members may have significant challenges navigating the data," Smith reports. "Even if the maps are corrected in time, lawmakers and stakeholders still worry about instances of fraud, waste and abuse from contractors receiving funding to construct broadband in unserved or underserved areas."

Smith notes that the Government Accountability Office, the bipartisan auditing arm of Congress, has "called for the White House to synchronize the over 100 federal programs that aim to expand broadband access to rural areas and other locations with limited or no access to internet, and to ask for congressional help if necessary. Without a national plan, GAO said, the federal government could miss the chance to expand internet access and increase access to essential services, like telehealth."

The new map is still based on reports from telecommunications companies, but at a more granular level, Robert Gallardo, director at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, told Kristi Easton of The Daily Yonder. "That’s the same glitch that we had before, which is providers reporting on their own,” he added. “Now you can go in and challenge that availability, but it does require a little bit of prep time, meaning you can see the options you have to challenge the availability piece.”

To challenge the map, "One has to include either a bill from the provider or include a screenshot from the website that shows the package is not available for that address," Eaton reports. "The worry, according to Gallardo, is that challenging the map takes some technology know-how that not everyone may have. And the deadline to challenge for this map is Jan. 13."

Poll of rural adults finds them more aware of, and more willing to discuss, opioid problems; 47% still see stigma

Morning Consult graph compares 2017 and 2022 responses to question about access to care. Click it to enlarge.

Rural Americans say they are more aware of, and more willing to talk about, the opioid problem in the nation and their communities than they were five years ago, according to an online poll of rural adults sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.

Sixty percent said adults are more aware of the crisis than they were five years ago, and 77% said they would comfortable having a conversation about opioids, but 47% said there is stigma or shame associated with opioid abuse in their community.

Rural adults increasingly regard drug addiction as a disease. Asked if addiction to opioids is a disease or is due to a lack of will power or self-control, 57% said it's a disease and 21% said otherwise. In 2017, the numbers were 46% and 26%, respectively. Likewise, 78% said someone can accidentally or unintentionally get addicted to opioids; five years ago, 71% said that.

The poll found that more rural adults than five years ago believe there is a higher rate of opioid misuse in rural communities than in urban and suburban areas), and 48% said they know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers.

Asked if they had taken an opioid or prescription painkiller without a prescription, 5 percent said yes. The same percentage said they had abused opioids or prescription painkillers or been addicted to them. Asked how comfortable they would feel talking about that, 70% said they would feel very or somewhat comfortable discussing it with friends, 52% with siblings and 46% with parents. Beyond their immediate families, most said they would be not too comfortable, or not comfortable at all.

The margin of error for that subsample of 110 people is plus or minus 9.3 percentage points. The error margin for the whole sample of 2,010 rural adults is 2.2 percentage points. The poll was conducted online Oct. 6-13 by Morning Consult and the results were weighted to reflect gender, age, race, ethnicity, census region and education. The results are available from Farm Bureau here.

Farm Bureau and NFU, long rivals in representing farm interests, "have consistently worked to publicize and compile useful material to help address rural stress, mental health challenges and opioid misuse," they said in a press release. NFU President Rob Larew said, “We must continue to reduce the stigma to connect our loved ones with health care and treatment they may need. I thank AFBF for being a teammate on this project, and the survey results show what is possible when farm organizations work together.”

News-media roundup: Dealing with immigration status and crime-scene photos; Native joins SPJ board; defunct paper's digital archive gone; tornadoes spark journalism students

If an undocumented immigrant is involved in your reporting on a largely unrelated topic, there are ethical considerations about revealing the person's immigration status. Margarita Birnbaum, health-equity topic leader for the Association of Health Care Journalists, interviewed Marc Ramirez of USA Today about how he handles such situations.

Mass shootings have reopened the debate about whether grisly photos of crime scenes are worth the trauma they cause because of the change they may prompt, Kaiser Health News reports.

Jodi Rave Spotted Bear and Peter Szekely
Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, executive director of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance, has been appointed a director of the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ Board of Directors named Peter Szekely, former president of The News Guild of New York, to the other appointive seat at its Dec. 7 meeting. Based in Bismarck, N.D., IMFA is a non-profit that focuses on freedom of information and the need for more independent news media operations among indigenous Americans. Spotted Bear recently completed a John S. Knight Community Impact Fellowship at Stanford University and is a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Bush Fellow for leadership. For more than a decade, she covered American Indian issues for Lee Enterprises and won many awards. Szekely retired after more than 40 years as a correspondent for Reuters, mostly in Washington, D.C.

Journalism students at nearby Murray State University have helped keep the weekly Mayfield Messenger going since the West Kentucky town was devastated by a tornado a year ago, Lexington's WKYT-TV reports. And they have done stories throughout the region about tornado damage and recovery, compiled on their 270 Stories website, named for the region's area code.

The Hook, which was a beloved weekly in Charlottesville, Virginia, "closed a decade ago but its archives lived on — until its 22,000 stories were suddenly taken offline in June," The Washington Post reports. "Former staffers have theories about its mystery buyer. . . . They think someone paid to kill it. Their evidence, while circumstantial, is intriguing. There’s the mystery buyer who purchased the Hook archive from its longtime custodian a few months before it went dark. There’s the reluctance of people involved in that sale to say much about it. Then there’s the flurry of copyright complaints apparently filed by the new owner in the days and weeks after the sale."

The Associated Press says it will put "additional resources into covering democracy in the U.S., with the goal of helping an increasingly polarized public better understand their government." With money from several foundations, "AP aims to improve civic literacy and combat misinformation by bolstering its explanatory journalism and providing information and tools to local newsrooms to aid their coverage. AP will also deepen its reporting on the impact of elections and election-related policy on communities of color. The effort . . . is focused on providing solutions-based journalism rather than merely highlighting problems and extreme voices."

A record 533 journalists are detained worldwide, 13% more than a year ago, according to the annual roundup of violence and abuses by Reporters Without Borders (which uses its French acronym, RSF). "The number of those killed has increased again this year, to 57, while 65 journalists are being held hostage and 49 are missing," RSF says. "RSF has also never previously seen so many women journalists in detention. A total of 78 are currently held, a record-breaking rise of nearly 30% compared to 2021. Women now account for nearly 15% of detained journalists, compared to fewer than 7% five years ago. China, where censorship and surveillance have reached extreme levels, continues to be the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, with a total of 110 currently being held."

British Columbia amps up mining ventures; Native Americans in U.S. and Canada push for 'a seat at the table'

Argonaut Wharf near Campbell River, British Columbia, which calls itself "Salmon Capital of the World," is the primary export outlet for the Myra Falls mine in Strathcona Provincial Park. (Photo by Alex Ratson, Getty Images)
Wikipedia map
Native American tribes are asking the U.S. government "to pressure Canada to stop additional mining activity in British Columbia, which they say contaminates waters and threatens Native American ways of life in Alaska, Montana and Idaho," Jacob Fischler reports for States Newsroom.

“BC is moving full-steam ahead with doubling their amount of mines,” Jill Weitz, the natural-resource manager for the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Tribes of Alaska, who was part of the delegation, told Fischler, “Tribes and downstream communities do not have a meaningful seat at the table as it relates to the management of these shared rivers and resources that everyone is dependent upon."

Fischler writes: "British Columbia plans to expand its profitable coal, copper and gold mining industry. . . . Spending on mineral and coal exploration in British Columbia increased by 56% in 2021 over 2020, reaching $660 million, according to a study for the provincial government."

Rich Janssen Jr., head of the Department of Natural Resources for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana and Idaho, told Fischler, "Once mining impacts occur, it’s very difficult to clean them up. We’re not against mining at all, but we’re against mining that doesn’t do the environment justice.”

To support their cause, "The Native American leaders are asking for the countries to refer the matter to the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canada partnership created to oversee water issues between the two nations," Fischler writes. However, Weitz told Fischler that "historically [matters] have only been resolved when both countries recognize the need to meet."

Diana Tan, a spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy, told Fischler that "Canadian diplomats met with tribes and other advocates this week for 'constructive discussion' but did not commit to any steps beyond continuing the conversation."

With luck and help, this Appalachian finished college and is moving up; he outlines ways others could be helped

OPINION By David L. Adams

Growing up, I often heard from my parents that I needed to “get out of here.” And I did get out, from Ohio’s Appalachian foothills to a university near Cincinnati. Not far in terms of miles, but light-years in lifestyle. My trajectory from a trailer park in a small town to a two-story house in a subdivision was tenuous, but ultimately successful. For many students in Appalachia, though, college is an impossible dream.

The rate of bachelor’s degree attainment or higher in rural, Appalachian Ohio is 18.6 percent, compared to 31 percent for non-Appalachian Ohio. This trend reflects the national dynamic between rural students and college-going.

Yet this is in an era when demand for college graduates is soaring. While many factors play into this relative lack of rural postsecondary education, there are concrete, common-sense policies that school districts can put in place to change it, including increasing high school rigor and providing more Advance Placement and dual-enrollment courses.

My own journey was difficult. I wasn’t prepared. Even though I scored well on the ACT exam and took the most advanced courses my high school offered, in my first semester of college I was placed on academic probation. In addition to the academic challenges, managing the financial burdens of living independently left me with limited time to catch up.

I did make it through to graduation, though, and went on to graduate school. The reason? Luck. I got a union job that offered consistent hours and benefits. I found a landlord who gave me a discount on rent and had a family member near the college that supported me financially and emotionally. Remove any one of those girders and I would have ended up in a much different place.

In other areas of Ohio, having the academic readiness and supports to persist in college is not based on luck. It’s systemic. My home county is one of five in Appalachian Ohio designated as “economically distressed,” meaning that we have significantly higher rates of poverty and unemployment and a lower median family income relative to U.S. averages.

Among the 22 school districts within these five counties, less than half had any level of student participation in AP courses. Of those, most had AP participation rates near or below 10 percent of the student body. This matters because AP course participation and completion with a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam is positively correlated with college persistence. Similarly, many of these districts also have a low percentage of the student body that is ready for college as measured by the ACT’s “remediation free” cut score.

These facts mean that college readiness remains an enormous challenge for Appalachian Ohio, an observation supported by research. In my own experience, also echoed by research, completion of college is associated with many social and economic benefits. Moreover, there are immediate societal impacts.

Opportunity Nation, a campaign by Child Trends and the Forum for Youth Investment, created the Opportunity Index, a measure of economic and educational opportunities for communities across America. A key metric in the index is the percentage of disconnected youth — neither working nor enrolled in school or college — between the ages of 16 and 24.

Let’s be clear, not everyone needs to go to college. But we must not kid ourselves that “pathways” policies are somehow offering “choice” or “flexibility.” They are reducing many students’ choices by ensuring that they are not prepared to succeed in college should they later choose to attend.

School districts can take steps to improve college readiness, such as providing a more rigorous high school curriculum that emphasizes AP courses. It’s not a cure-all, but other Appalachian areas have shown positive results with such policies — especially when paired with professional development for teachers that helps them add that academic rigor and trains them to teach AP courses. Fortunately, such professional development courses already exist and need not be created from scratch. What is needed is a district-level emphasis to make such training and courses a priority. And the funding is there: Appalachian Ohio has access to grants through the Appalachian Regional Commission as part of the workforce ecosystems investment priority.

Some people assume that the reason for lower college education rates in Appalachian Ohio is simply that there is less need for a college degree there. Mining and farming are the most common industries associated with the area. But while these industries are more prevalent in Appalachia than in the rest of the U.S., they make up a small fraction of the region’s total industry. Further, the proportion of service industry jobs in Appalachia, including professional and technical services, is nearly equal to that in the rest of the U.S. — just over one third of all jobs.

This is not a problem of economics; it’s a problem of expectations.

My college education was a ticket out of poverty, one that too many students in Appalachian Ohio find impossible to obtain. I often wonder where I would have ended up without it. Among the 20 percent not working and not in college? Or among the hundreds who’ve died of overdoses in the region?

I can put names to those statistics. I’ve seen the consequences of a lack of opportunity. We must do better.

David L. Adams is a school psychologist and Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati, where he researches impacts of education policy on Appalachia. This was published by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent newsroom focused on inequality and innovation in education.

To thwart overuse of animal antibiotics, farmers will need prescriptions or a legal relationship with a veterinarian

Livestock producers who need to use antimicrobals, a variety of antibiotics important to their industry, will be divided into "the haves and the have nots" by a Food and Drug Administration rule that takes effect June 12, 2023, Rhonda Brooks writes for Farm Journal's AgWeb.

"If you have a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship, you will be able to get a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase antimicrobials from them or a distributor and use them," Brooks reports. "If you don’t have a relationship with a licensed veterinarian, you won’t be able to purchase such products, many of which have long been available over the counter."

The rule applies to "injectables such as penicillin, sulfa-based drugs, boluses, intramammary mastitis tubes and some topical products," Brooks reports. Many other drugs were covered by a similar rule in 2017.

The rules are aimed to prevent overuse of the drugs, which can lead to resistance to them, said Sandra Stuttgen, a veterinarian and associate extension professor at the University of Wisconsin.

“Our survival rates on cancer and (other diseases) are great until a patient gets a secondary bacterial infection and there is not a drug to treat it,” Stuttgen said. “People die or have to have extended hospital stays then, and it becomes very expensive and very emotional. It's a huge social impact.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Organized and influential, promoters and organizers of recent book bans seek influence over a lot more than books

Florida Freedom to Read Project members. The project opposes
restrictions on reading. (Photo by Todd Anderson, New York Times)
Rancorous conflicts over attempts to ban books in libraries are about a lot more than books, report Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter of The New York Times

"Traditionally, debates over what books are appropriate for school libraries have taken place between a concerned parent and a librarian or administrator," they write. "But recently, the issue has been supercharged by a rapidly growing and increasingly influential constellation of conservative groups" that have "pursued their goals by becoming heavily involved in local and state politics. . . . They have created political action committees, funded campaigns, endorsed candidates and packed school boards, helping to fuel a surge in challenges to individual books and to drive changes in the rules governing what books are available to children."

The efforts seem to have have a social agenda. "The materials the groups object to are often described in policies and legislation as sensitive, inappropriate or pornographic," the Times reports. "In practice, the books most frequently targeted for removal have been by or about Black or LGBTQ people, according to the American Library Association."

The battle is limiting how librarians do their jobs. Florida has a list of "challenged books," which it distributes to school districts. Michelle Jarrett, the library media supervisor for the School District of Osceola County, told The Times, “This list could be seen as a warning, like ‘Don’t even bother with these books.' Librarians across the state are already self-censoring for fear of retribution, and asking themselves, ‘Am I ready to defend this book, is this worth the fight?’”

The Keller Independent School District in Dallas "banned books from its libraries that include the concept of gender fluidity. The change was pushed by three new school board members, elected in May with support from Patriot Mobile, a self-described Christian cellphone carrier. Through its political action committee, Patriot Mobile poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Texas school board races to promote candidates with conservative views on race, gender and sexuality — including on which books children can access at school," the Times reports.

Keller parents who did not support the bans found themselves "outflanked by deep-pocketed organizations whose actions can change longstanding policies in a matter of months." Laney Hawes, who has four children in Keller schools, told the Times, “They ran on the campaign of, ‘We’re going to get pornography and sexually explicit books out of our school libraries.' The parents didn’t have a PAC. We couldn’t compete with these people.”

Organizing a national resistance to book bans is challenging, but pushback is happening. Emerson Sykes, a First Amendment litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Times, "The restrictions infringe on students’ right to access a broad range of material without political censorship.” Librarian groups have also been organizing resistance. The Times reports: "Librarians in Texas formed FReadom Fighters, an organization that offers guidance to librarians on handling book challenges. In Florida, parents who oppose book banning formed the Freedom to Read Project, which urges its members to attend board meetings and tracks the work of groups like Florida Citizens Alliance."

Kansas chief justice creates initiative to address the need for more rural lawyers, as other Plains states have done

Chief Justice Marla Luckert said the lack of attorneys in rural Kansas
areas was at a crisis point. (Photo by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector)

Kansas needs more lawyers. Not just any kind of lawyers; rural lawyers. It's a problem that other Great Plains states have tried to address, and now Kansas Chief Justice Marla Luckert has tackled it, reports Rachel Mipro of Kansas Reflector. "Eighty percent of all active Kansas attorneys live in six urban counties, leaving Kansas rural communities struggling to find legal help." The coal of the Rural Justice Initiative Committee is "attracting attorneys to practices in rural areas."

“We have to recognize that there is not access to justice, and the system of seeking redress for those grievances is unbalanced because it’s financially inaccessible," Luckert told Mipro. "The lack of attorneys constitutes a crisis, damaging the lives of rural residents."

To attract younger attorneys to rural areas, committee members told Mipro, "they would have to address social factors that prevent young attorneys from moving to rural areas, such as the lack of shopping centers, activities and fewer romantic prospects."

"The 35-member committee will collect data on the legal needs of rural populations, make recommendations about existing Kansas rural attorney recruitment projects and study demographic trends," Mipro. reports "At the end of 18 months, the committee will report back to the Supreme Court with its initial recommendations." Luckert told the new committee: "Good luck. It's a big task."

No. 3 GOP House member assails proposed limit on milk for WIC families; her facts were right; her prediction may not be

Jersey cows in Schodack Landing, N.Y. (Photo by AP)
When the Biden administration released its proposed changes for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) called the plan "deeply flawed" and accused it of "further restricting milk choice for families and keeping the door open for more forced vegan juice consumption," reports Jill Terreri Ramos of Politifact.  

Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, often criticizes the administration and "represents a geographically large district in New York’s North Country, and many of the state’s nearly 3,600 dairy farms are in her district," Ramos notes.

Ramos found that the WIC plan "calls for reducing the amount of milk provided in all child, pregnant and breastfeeding participant food packages." Department of Agriculture Press Secretary Marissa Perry told her, "The change is 'modest,' and represents just a 3% reduction in WIC spending on milk and milk alternative." In 2020, the program served about 7 million people.

A WIC researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Susan Gross, told Ramos: "Program participants have diverse needs, such as food allergies or being vegan, and they do not drink milk from cows. Program administrators want to explore whether other alternatives can be offered."

As for Stefanik's prediction that the proposed rule would lead to more "forced vegan juice consumption," Ramos writes, "We don’t fact-check predictions and that statement is outside the scope of this ruling. It should be noted, however, that based on the available evidence, WIC has not and will not force milk alternatives on anyone."

Noon ET Thursday: Free online session on how to use academic research as an investigative reporting tool

Neil Bedi, Rachel Lovell and Denise-Marie Ordway
Academic research can be a crucial tool for reporters to investigate problems and hold the powerful accountable. The Journalist's Resource at Harvard University is holding a one-hour webinar at noon ET Thursday to learn how scholarly studies and collaborating with researchers can strengthen news coverage — and help journalists at each stage of the investigative reporting process.

The presenters will be:
  • Neil Bedi, a ProPublica reporter. He won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for a Tampa Bay Times investigation focusing on predictive policing. He was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for a series investigating high death rates at a Florida children’s hospital’s cardiac surgery unit.
  • Rachel Lovell, an assistant professor of criminology and director of the Criminology Research Center at Cleveland State University. She's also an advocate for reporter-researcher collaborations and has helped journalists investigate issues such as sexual violence and human trafficking.
  • Denise-Marie Ordway, who trains journalists in research methods as part of her role as managing editor of The Journalist’s Resource. She was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting for an investigation into hazing at Florida A&M University that she led while at the Orlando Sentinel.
This event is free, but registration is required. Registrants will get details on how to join the session.

3 Charleston Gazette-Mail reporters say paper fired them for criticizing publisher's fawning interview with ex-coal baron

Three reporters from West Virginia's Charleston Gazette-Mail say the newspaper fired them after publicly criticized their company president's video interview with former coal baron Don Blankenship, "who was convicted of a safety violation in connection with the worst U.S. mine disaster in decades," reports John Raby of The Associated Press.

Doug Skaff
Caity Coyne, Lacie Pierson and Ryan Quinn said they were fired because of comments on Twitter about the interview by HD Media President Doug Skaff of Huntington, who is leader of the Democratic minority in the state House of Delegates. He didn't reply to messages seeking comment.

The interview, part of the “Outside The Echo Chamber” feature on the paper's website, was posted last week but is no longer there. "In response to a question about the dwindling coal industry, Blankenship calls climate change 'an absolute hoax.' The comment goes unrebutted," Raby reports. "Blankenship also is asked to promote his 2020 book about the mine disaster, in which he repeats his claims of innocence and blames the administration of then-President Barack Obama."

Don Blankenship
Blankenship once ran now-defunct Massey Energy, which owned the Upper Big Branch mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 miners. He was convicted in 2015 of a misdemeanor for conspiring to violate mine safety laws and was sentenced to one year in federal prison.

Skaff told Blankenship at the end of the interview, “Thanks for what you did for the community down there. I know your heart’s in the right place. And you want to see southern West Virginia built back to the best that they can.”

Quinn said in a series of tweets, backed by Pierson and Coyne, that Skaff shouldn't have given Blankenship a platform without giving journalists the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.

“I don’t have the words for how screwed up this is,” Coyne, who had previously announced she was leaving the paper, told AP. “I’ve met families whose loved ones died in UBB. I’ve watched them cry as they remember their relatives and their fight for answers after the disaster. Who cares where Blankenship’s heart lies? What a slap in the face to them.”

On his WestVirginiaVille newsletter on Substack, former Gazette journalist Douglas John Imbrogno recalls the newpsaper's storied history and laments this episode.

Imbrogno's post includes a screenshot from an old "Meet the Press" on NBC-TV, right, in which one of the questioners was then-Publisher Ned Chilton, whose main marching order to the Gazette staff was "sustained outrage." Imbrogno says this meant "to stick like a bloodhound to a story of misuse of power, corruption, and naked self-interest."

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Feds offer rural hospitals 'excruciating choice' of a lot more money in exchange for becoming a glorified first-aid station

Rural hospitals are a lifeline for 46 million Americans, yet an increasing number of them are closing, a situation that has prompted the federal government to initiate a new program that will offer a huge infusion of cash to more than 1,700 of them, but comes with the condition that they must end all inpatient care, "an excruciating choice," Emily Baumgaertner reports for The New York Times.

Any hospital that accepts this deal would become a "rural emergency hospital," allowing it to get monthly payments totaling more than $3 million a year and get higher Medicare reimbursements.  For many, that would be a game-changer "that would not only keep them open but allow them to expand services and staff," Baumgaertner writes, but "In return, they must commit to discharging or transferring their patients to bigger hospitals within 24 hours." 

The rationale: "Many rural hospitals can no longer afford to offer inpatient care," she writes. "A rural closure is often preceded by a decline in volume, according to a congressional report, and empty beds can drain the hospital’s ability to provide outpatient services that the community needs."

Harold Miller, president of the nonprofit Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, told the Times: “On one hand, you have a massive incentive, a ‘Wow!’ kind of deal that feels impossible to turn down. But it’s based on this longstanding myth that they’ve been forced to deliver inpatient services — not that their communities need those services to survive.”

Critics of the plan told the Times that officials behind the new program are out of touch with the difficulties of transferring patients, noting that bigger hospitals are increasingly unwilling to accept transferred patients, particularly from small field hospitals that are unaffiliated with their own systems. Add to that, they pointed to other challenges, including blizzards, downed cattle fences and mountain pass roads that are closed for months at a time. 

She also tells stories of how rural hospitals have saved patients when the hospital couldn't find another one to take the transfer and how rural hospitals routinely care for patients with chronic conditions like congestive heart failure or when they need rehabilitations. In essence, keeping these patients closer to home for their extended care. 

“I really want to give this policy a chance to work well,” Katy Kozhimannil, director of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center, told the Times. But gambling with transfers could mean that “some of the most extremely remote and marginalized communities could end up with no care at all — and that’s what we were trying to avoid in the first place.”

More than 180 rural hospitals have closed in the United States since 2005, according to a recent analysis, with a record 19 closings in 2020 alone. In 2021, the number plummeted to just two, but the more than $15 billion in pandemic-era federal aid was injected into rural hospitals to keep them open will mostly expire Dec. 31.

"Over 600 rural hospitals — 30 percent of the total — are at risk of shuttering," Baumgaertner writes. "More than 200 could close within three years, according to a study by the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. In 10 states, at least 40 percent of rural hospitals are in danger: In Kansas, 16 could close within three years; in Mississippi, 24."

The office of Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who is one of the lawmakers behind the program, said in a November statement, “The goal is to preserve patient access to emergency medical care in rural areas that can no longer support a fully operational inpatient hospital.” There are no exceptions for maternity hospitals. The new option becomes available Jan. 1.

In many states, opioid settlement funds going to local governments do not reflect communities' extreme losses

Rural America was the first to herald the incoming opioid crisis: "In the 1990s, misleading marketing by opioid companies helped drive up prescription rates, particularly in coal, lumber, and manufacturing towns across Appalachia and Maine," report Aneri Pattani and Rae Ellen Bichell of Kaiser Health News. "As painkillers flooded communities, some residents became addicted. Over time, they started using heroin and fentanyl, and the deadly epidemic spilled into suburbs and cities across the nation."

Now that settlements of lawsuits over the epidemic are being paid out, the award calculations in many states seem skewed against rural areas gaining a share that reflects their losses. Pamlico County, North Carolina, pop. 12,000, is an example Pattani and Bichell cite: "Over the past decade, it’s had the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in North Carolina. . . . Now, the county is receiving money from national settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors to address the crisis. But by the time those billions of dollars are divided among states and localities, using formulas partially based on population, what trickles down to hard-hit places like Pamlico County can be a trifling sum."

The disparities are born out in the numbers. They report, "Out of one multibillion-dollar national settlement, Pamlico County is set to receive about $773,000 over nearly two decades. By contrast, Wake County, home to the capital city of Raleigh, is set to receive $36 million during the same period, even though its opioid overdose death rate for the past decade ranked 87th in the state."

Some states do it differently. Pennsylvania considers "opioid-related hospitalizations and first responders’ administration of naloxone, an overdose reversal medication," Kaiser reports. "When that formula left 11 rural counties without 'enough money to make an impact,' the state decided each county would receive a minimum of $1 million over the 18-year settlement period, said Glenn Sterner, an assistant professor at Penn State who helped develop the state formula and co-authored a paper on it. In Colorado, pooling funds is built into the state’s model for managing opioid settlement money. The lion’s share of funds is going to 19 newly formed regions, about half of which comprise multiple counties."

Many rural communities are grateful for any financial assistance and are working creatively to make the most of what they do receive, Pattani and Bichell write. "But others worry such an approach misses an opportunity to use that money to make a difference in rural communities that have been disproportionately affected for decades."

Drought stifles barges, and railroads can't meet demand

A towboat in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 2022. Low water levels have caused some barges to
get stuck in the muddy river bottom. (Photo by Rogelio V. Solis, The Associated Press)

Beginning in the 1930s, the Mississippi River has been the main shipping method for U.S. commodities. "From the Waterhead in Minnesota down to the port in New Orleans, barges deliver over 60 percent of corn and soybean exports and around $100 billion worth of cargo every year," writes Luke Goldstein of The American Prospect. Now facing extreme drought, the river's transport power has been bottlenecked, "leaving farmers and other shippers searching for alternative options to get their goods to port before winter."

With the Mississippi congested, shippers pivoted to move goods by rail; however, Goldstein writes: "The railroads don’t have adequate capacity to serve these shippers, in large part because of recent downsizing measures, including worker layoffs. . . . Consolidation in rail has provided windfalls for financiers at the expense of nationwide rail service. Under relentless pressure from Wall Street to maximize short-term profits, the railroads have turned to the management regime known by the perversely Orwellian term 'precision scheduled railroading.' PSR entails cutting operating budgets and reducing service lines to charge monopoly prices on shippers."

For shippers, time is running out. Illinois farmer Ken Hartman, former chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, told Goldstein, “Many of our farmers are between a rock and a hard place, either faced with taking losses or paying storage at elevators until the water rises back up."

"The Mississippi River drought is yet another example of the need for rebuilding rail capacity in preparing for the climate crisis," Goldstein reports. "Transportation flexibility can certainly help mitigate the economic havoc of droughts, floods or other extreme weather conditions. Fortifying our national rail system would also help curb the overreliance on trucking, a major greenhouse gas emitter."

Using a calculation from the Millennium Institute, a nonprofit focused on energy and climate modeling, Goldstein writes, "A fairly modest investment in electrifying freight railroads could reduce carbon emissions by 39 percent."