Friday, March 10, 2023

Despite its long history as a leader in fossil fuels, the Lone Star State leads the nation in renewable-energy production

Chart by Paul Horn, ICN, from Energy Information Admin. data
Some people say "Everything is bigger in Texas," and that sentiment rings true in the case of a subject that some may find surprising, given the state's fossil-fuel heritage: clean energy.

"A new batch of data about the country's electricity generation shows the increasing dominance of one state as the clean-energy leader . . . Texas," reports Dan Gearino of Inside Climate News. "Texas has produced more gigawatt-hours of electricity from renewable sources than any other state. . . . thanks largely to wind energy. Now, the state is expanding its lead by continuing to be the county's leader in wind energy. . . and is quickly closing the gap on California on utility-scale solar power."

Texas' dominance is partly a function of its size, but it already generates more than twice as much power from wind and solar as California, and "more than either New York or Ohio generated from all electricity sources," Gearino notes. "But Texas is also the country's leader in overall electricity generation, and it's the leader in generation from gas and coal, so the total for wind and solar, while gigantic, was just 34.3 percent of the total from all sources."

If you add up "all carbon-free electricity sources, which includes renewables and nuclear., the leader, again, is Texas, with 180,145 gigawatt-hours, followed by Illinois with 124,055 gigawatt-hours, most of it from nuclear," Gearino reports. Just about any way you slice the numbers, Texas is on top."

Chart by Paul Horn, ICN, from Energy Information Admin. data
"Texas has the best combination of wind and solar resources in the U.S.," said Eric Gimon, a senior fellow at the think tank Energy Innovation in San Francisco, told Gearino. He adds, "By that, he means the state has high winds and bright sun. . . . But Texas is more than just resource-rich. It also has vast amounts of developable land and a regulatory system that is friendly to renewable energy developers, Gimon said."

The state's renewable-energy dominance is somewhat surprising because politically, its "leadership is closely tied to fossil-fuel industries and has been hostile to cleaner options."

Doug Lewin, president of Stoic Energy, a clean energy consulting firm, told Gearino that other states "are scrambling to attract this kind of investment. And here, Texas has some subset of policymakers that seem hell-bent on slowing it down."

"But this sentiment is more pervasive in politics than it is in the business community, Lewin said. Some of Texas' largest oil and gas companies are also investing in renewable energy," Gearino reports. Lewin told him, "It doesn't look like as much of a cage match as some people in the Capitol think it is."

Amid active missile strikes, land mines and destroyed equipment, Ukrainian farmers battle to eke out crops

Ukraine photos in outline map of the nation (Howard G. Buffett Foundation)
Ukrainian farmers struggle to continue their labors in war zones. Their equipment is targeted, and as less of their land is planted, the world will be a hungrier and more dangerous place, reports Clinton Griffiths of Farm Journal. "Prior to the invasion, Ukraine was the world’s biggest exporter of sunflower oil and sunflower meal, the fourth-largest exporter of corn and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All told, Ukrainian farmers were growing about 100 million metric tons of commodities."

Illinois farmer and philanthropist Howard G. Buffett (son of Warren Buffett) is in Ukraine working to help farmers through his foundation, a global entity that works to mitigate human suffering. Buffett told Griffiths, "A lot of farmers are fighting on the front line and die on the front line, which has a huge impact on how you continue to function in your agricultural sector. This isn’t just a war on civilians, this is a war on agriculture. If people cannot feed themselves. . . . it breeds conflict. When Ukraine fails, in terms of their ability to produce agricultural products, the world becomes less safe."

Ukraine is in green. (Wikipedia globe)
Griffith writes, "Ukrainian farmers have learned it’s increasingly more difficult to grow, harvest and ship products abroad. From limited and high-priced inputs to a lack of labor, production problems appear to be a reality for the foreseeable future." Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co., told Griffins, “Ukraine, no matter what happens with the war, will probably see corn and sunflower production 40% to 50% below normal."

What's unfolding in Ukraine is difficult for American farmers to imagine. “There are landmines on hundreds of thousands of acres,” Buffet told Griffith. “More than $4 billion worth of commodities have been stolen; there’s infrastructure damaged and 84,000 pieces of farm equipment have been destroyed, and it’s not stopping. . . . Mykola Solskyi, Ukraine’s minister of agrarian policy and food said the country’s cultivated areas have decreased by about 25%. . . . Solskyi said, “There are areas farmers cannot cultivate . . . . A considerable amount of land is polluted with explosives.” 

"This year, Buffett says his goal is to spend $300 million in support of Ukrainian agriculture. That includes finding ways to provide lower interest rates for loans and moving equipment and inputs to areas in need," Griffith reports. "With a global lens, Buffett has witnessed how important Ukraine is to world stability. For him, it outweighs potentially lower prices when he hauls corn to the elevator in Decatur, Ill."  Buffett told Griffith, “I know some farmers think they’re a competitor. That’s natural. If you want to think that way, that means your neighbor is also your competitor. Yet, we don’t treat our neighbor like they’re our competitor; we treat neighbors like neighbors.”

That time again: What to know about Daylight Saving Time, and other household things to do as we reset our clocks

Electric Time technician Dan LaMoore adjusts a 1000-lb.,
12-foot-diameter clock in Medfield, Mass. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Daylight saving time (should we capitalize that?) begins at 2 a,m. local time Sunday. Here are some key facts about it, as reported by Scott Dance of The Washington Post:

Daylight time began as "a global response to wartime energy demands. During World War I, countries on both sides of the conflict adopted it to maximize daylight time during typical waking hours. . . . It no longer has as much to do with energy savings. Increasing adoption of super-efficient LED bulbs means lighting now makes up a tiny fraction of households’ energy usage. Today, the persistence of daylight saving time is more a matter of inertia — and the costs of changing more than a century of habit."

Since you have to make the effort to change your clocks twice a year, emergency managers recommend adding steps to your routine — at both the start and end of daylight saving time — that can keep you prepared all year. There are other things to do besides changing your clocks:
  • Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace their batteries, if not the devices themselves.
  • Review household emergency plans and readying your home for potential power outages or extreme cold.
  • Good Housekeeping magazine suggests some spring cleaning-type steps: flipping mattresses, cleaning refrigerator coils, replacing air filters.
To adjust to the beginning of daylight saving time itself, sleep experts encourage preparing for potential sleep disruptions. Some suggest using relaxation techniques to improve sleep in the days ahead of the clock shift, and to prioritize daylight exposure to help set your body’s internal clock.

Daylight saving time is a federal law, but states have been taking stands on it, mostly in favor of year-round daylight time; sleep experts say we'd be better off with year-round standard time. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a rundown of recent state activity.

The Brown family of rural Iowa brings music and joy to the world, and restoration to its hometown of LeMars

Brown family members are farmers and musical performers.
(Photo by Dan Videtich, Successful Farming)
The Browns are farmers and a whole lot more. "After touring the globe for 22 years, the musically gifted group decided it was time to find a home base," reports Laurie Bedord of Successful Farming. "That dream brought them back to their hometown of Le Mars, Iowa, where they revitalized several historic buildings and created a unique draw for the community. . . . The Browns' story begins nearly 140 years ago when Charles Brown homesteaded the family farm southwest of Le Mars. . . . That's where Keith and his wife, Shelly, raised their four children — Jessica, Michaela, Adam, and Andrew. . . . Because Shelly grew up in a home filled with music, she wanted to foster a love of music in their children."

Shelly told Bedord, "It was my grandmother who nurtured a love for song and music. When Keith and I started dating in college, I would drag him to my concerts. . . . As the kids came along, they were surrounded by music. . . . A college friend suggested I teach the kids singing parts." Bedord adds, "It didn't take long for Shelly to realize her children had talent. The soundtrack of their childhood was brimming with Southern gospel music, a genre filled with messages of love, understanding and compassion."

Despite farming and raising kids, Shelly had also been performing with a musical trio, Bedord writes. "In 2000, Shelly faced a dilemma. After a decade together, one woman in the trio decided to leave the group, but there were still engagements that had to be fulfilled." Shelly told Bedord, "I felt an obligation to keep those commitments and thought maybe the kids could come along and sing a few songs. At one of the events, somebody asked if we would be interested in singing as a family. . . . I took the $200 we received from our first performance and opened an account at the bank under 'The Browns.' It snowballed from there, with one request leading to another."

Bedord writes, "It wasn't long before the family's calendar began filling with engagements across Iowa. As their popularity grew, so did their travel. . . . Fast-forward to 2015. The Browns had been touring nationally and internationally for 15 years. . . . In August 2015, the family purchased a historic structure in downtown Le Mars. . . .The Browns converted the building into offices, recording studios, and a 150-seat theater for live performances. . . . The demolition and restoration meant a lot of sweat equity from every member of the Brown family."

Rob Bixenman, mayor of Le Mars, told Bedord, "The theater makes for a unique attraction to our downtown that draws many tourists to our retailers' front door." Bedord writes, "In total, the Browns performed more than 100 shows in the theater last year. Besides their traditional Christmas shows, the family plans to host myriad events in 2023. . . . Two of the Browns' most recent ventures are kitty-corner to the theater. At the Central Event Center, guests can enjoy a homemade meal showcasing Iowa foods."

Adam Brown told Bedord, "When we bought these buildings, God had a plan."

Opinion: Legislators' columns have become more partisan, and newspapers should apply certain standards to them

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

With legislative activity ramping up in most states, there may be news in those columns that legislators send to newspapers in their districts. But there may also be invective and partisanship, and that makes them opinion, which should have a higher threshold for publication. Editors and legislators can take some lessons from the latest column by Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News and two other weeklies in western Minnesota.

Reed Anfinson
Such columns "can be essential sources on legislation," lawmakers' personalities, and even reveal how they work with their colleagues, Anfinson writes, but in recent years the pieces "have become more about tearing down the opposing party and its members than informing constituents. . . . What we find strange with some of the columns we receive is they don’t reflect the character of people we’ve gotten to know."

Perhaps that's because such columns are often if not usually generated by staffs of party leadership offices and often get little if any editing from the legislators whose names are on them. If you really know your legislator, that may be easy to tell.

"We understand a politician’s column is an opinion piece," Anfinson writes. "However, there is a difference between explaining why you support or oppose specific legislation and writing with the sole purpose of vilifying its supporters, stoking fear and resentment. With the coarsening of political debate, we increase the potential for angry confrontations and violence against those whose beliefs don’t align with ours. We’ve seen the consequences in rising death threats against school boards, election workers, journalists, and opposing party members."

Anfinson quotes the late Mark Shields, a political reporter and commentator: “In every discussion, the person on the other side probably loves their country as much as you love our country; cares about their children’s and grandchildren’s future as much as you do; treasures the truth as much as you do,” so “You don’t demonize somebody on the other side.” Or you shouldn't.

"Community newspapers aren’t the mouthpiece for political action committees or political caucuses," Anfinson writes. "We sell advertising space for partisan promotion of political talking points. When we receive columns that grossly distort the truth, and are more interested in driving fear and anger, we won’t print them." He offers advice for legislators and letter writers:
  • Communicate, don’t alienate.
  • Respect all your readers, not just your political base or allies.
  • Don’t give us only political-party talking points but also provide us with your ideas for strengthening our rural communities, protecting our health, and providing sound government financial management.
That's good advice. What about election time? My advice is that as elections approach, the hurdles to publication should be higher. When a legislator files for re-election, newsworthiness of a column should be the sole standard for publication. Accordingly, it may be better to write a news story about a legislator's stance than run the opinion piece. And I'd like to see newspapers set a dead period, perhaps within 60 days of an election, during which no such columns will be published. They're an easy way to fill an editorial page, but a newspaper shouldn't be an easy vessel for self-serving messages. Unless they're in an ad.

Sharing a meal, as was once common at New England town meetings, cools passions and helps find common ground

Could a fading feature of town meetings in New England be a prescription for overcoming the increasingly partisan and divisive nature of local governments in the U.S.? Steve Taylor, former agriculture of New Hampshire, suggests so in a piece for the paper he edited before going into government: the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vermont.

Steve Taylor
"Time was when the food served on Town Meeting day was nearly as important as things like the school budget, highway maintenance and a new fire truck when they came up for discussion and votes. Many Upper Valley Vermont towns and a few on the New Hampshire side prided themselves on their midday meal traditions, and some folks turned out primarily for the dinner menu rather than the weighty subjects coming up for action," Taylor writes.

"Well, that was then, and this is now. The town meeting day dinner (it’s always dinner if it’s in the middle of the day; you eat supper in the evening) has almost become extinct in the region. Various forces have diminished this once fine tradition, including the consolidation of meeting agendas, lowered appreciation of freewheeling — occasionally rowdy — debate, a shift to disposing of town business with a day-long secret ballot and fewer volunteers stepping up to cook and serve meals for a large group. And along came the Covid-19 pandemic, which tore further at the traditional ways town meetings were set up and conducted."

Taylor then makes a point that could go beyond New England: "It’s been said that civilized people make better decisions, and that belief has long permeated discussion of the town meeting meal. Frank Bryan, a long-retired political science professor at the University of Vermont and leading scholar on the town-meeting form of government, argued that when people sit down at a communal table and share a meal, passions diminish and common ground can be found."

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Sunshine Week begins Sunday; it's a good time to promote journalism as the public's watchdog on governments

Sunshine Week, which promotes open government and the role of the news media in preserving it, begins Sunday, March 12. At a time when trust in news has faded, it's an opportunity for journalists and their paymasters to promote journalism's role as the public's watchdog on government.
Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors, now the News Leaders Association. This year, it has a new partner, the Society of Professional Journalists.

SPJ has long promoted March 16 (a Thursday this year) as Freedom of Information Day because it is the birthday of James Madison, chief author of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances."

Most of the First Amendment was written to keep government accountable to the people through speech, publication, assembly and petition. Accountability requires transparency, so we can know what government is doing. States and the federal government do that through open-records and open-meetings laws, and those laws are used as much or more by the general public as by journalists.

To deliver such knowledge to the public, NLA and SPJ want as many journalists and news organizations as possible to participate in Sunshine week by doing news stories, editorials, columns, cartoons and graphics and sharing them with You can participate on social media by tweeting @SunshineWeek or using #SunshineWeek.

News stories can explain open-government laws and how to use them, and point out other stories that were made possible by those laws. Editorials and columns can argue for open government but also address citizens' concerns about the news media and encourage letters to the editor, social-media discussions and other dialogue and engagement with the public.

Sunshine Week also encourages news organizations to hold Freedom of Information Day or Sunshine Week events, and has an events calendar for them. If your organization is holding an event and you would like it to appear on the calendar, fill out the interactive form on the Sunshine Week website.

Railroad accidents have been increasing, especially at Norfolk Southern, but have decreased along some big lines

Energy & Environment News graph; click to enlarge
"The country’s major freight railroads were becoming more dangerous even before the train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio, that sparked a chemical fire and weeks of political controversy," Mike Lee and Ellie Borst report for Energy & Environment News.

The reporters found that Norfolk Southern Corp., which had the derailment, had the largest increase in its accident rate from 2013 to 2022, rising 81 percent. Overall, the seven "Class 1" railroads "had 27 percent more accidents," E&E News reports, noting, "The increased accident rate comes as the chemical industry predicts a rise in the amount of chemicals that will be shipped by rail, trucks and other forms of transportation," and that most accidents involve trucks, which handle most of the chemical freight.

The American Association of Railroads told E&E News that the data include minor collisions in train yards and that “main line” accidents are becoming fewer. “If you were going to look at the main line accidents … 2022 was the lowest year in history overall,” said Mike Rush, the lobby’s senior vice president of operations and safety.

"Looking strictly at on-rail accidents, three of the freight railroads — Norfolk Southern, CSX Corp. and Union Pacific Corp. — had higher rates over the last 10 years," Lee and Borst report. "Norfolk Southern had one of the lowest accident rates in 2013 and now has the second highest behind Union Pacific . . .  The accident rates at Union Pacific, CSX and Norfolk Southern are far lower than they were in the 1970s and ‘80s, but they also show a stark contrast to the other four Class 1 railroads — BNSF, Canadian National, Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific — where accident rates fell between 5 percent and 65 percent over the last decade."

Huckleberry Finn, ‘Slavery was wrong' and other material teachers have dropped out of fear, or on superiors' orders

Writings by Christopher Columbus, Mary Wollstonecraft and a police data set have been cut from lesson plans. (Photos by Michael Robinson Chávez, The Washington Post; Hannah Natanson, The Washington Post; Bing Guan, Reuters)

"I took some of the natives by force. They would make fine servants. … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
 --A Christopher Columbus journal entry in 1492, from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

Under parental pressure and administrative criticism, many public-school teachers have removed texts like Zinn's book from their lessons, reports Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post. Other nixed pieces have included "Excerpts from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and a data set on the New York Police Department’s use of force, analyzed by race."

National politics and divisions have moved into the classroom. Natanson writes, "The quiet censorship comes as debates over whether and how to instruct children about race, racism, U.S. history, gender identity and sexuality inflame politics . . . At the same time, an ascendant parents’ rights movement born of the pandemic is seeking — and winning — greater control over how schools select, evaluate and offer children access to both classroom lessons and library books. . . .In response, teachers are changing how they teach."

Natanson reports, "The Washington Post asked teachers across the country about how and why they are changing the materials, concepts and lessons they use in the classroom, garnering responses from dozens of educators in 20 states." From the Post's survey, here are six things some teachers have removed from their lessons along with brief examples, both paraphrased and quoted here:

Slavery was wrong: Iowa school Superintendent Laurie Noll told Greg Wickenkamp, a middle-school teacher, not to use that phrase. She told Wickenkamp, "'Slavery was wrong,' that’s not a fact, that’s a stance." Wickenkamp is no longer a teacher.

Columbus’s journal: For 14 years, a North Carolina teacher used Zinn's book as a platform to discuss slavery and Indigenous people. Last year a parent complained that "her white son had been made to feel guilty." The school system admonished the teacher and ordered her to halt the lesson on Columbus.

Data on police use of force: A Northern Virginia teacher used the data set to get her students of color more engaged with math as it relates to events. She also used it to show differences between association and causation. The teacher asked higher-ups if she should stop teaching her lesson on the police use of force. She was told yes, because it might make children uncomfortable' because of their race or if their parents are police officers, the teacher recalled.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s book: An Arkansas high-school English teacher offered students six optional passages from this piece. The school's assistant principal started questioning the teacher with different variations of the same question: “What is the purpose of using it?” “How is it connected to what you are doing?” “Is it connected by skills?” “Is it connected by theme?” The teacher eventually dropped the optional lessons.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Of Mice and Men: A Missouri English teacher and the English department removed both books from their rosters over parental social media comments about teachers. "In the 2021-2022 school year, right before she [the teacher] was slated to start teaching Huckleberry Finn, the teacher met with colleagues at her high school. They discussed how parents in the district had begun sharing on social media details of teacher behavior they disliked, sometimes naming the educators involved. The teachers decided to cut Huckleberry Finn. Also nixed was John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which had drawn similar objections over profane language — again from white parents."

A Library of Congress video of a ‘cakewalk': For three years, a North Carolina teacher used videos "of 'cakewalks,' dances that Black Americans began performing in the antebellum era partly to mock the formal dances held by their White, wealthy enslavers . . . But things changed this fall when the video was paired with an essay by bell hooks — “Is Paris Burning?” — in which the Black feminist and social critic dissects drag ball culture in 1980s-era New York. . . . [The teacher] received a flurry of emails from four parents contending broadly that the cakewalk video and the bell hooks text were irrelevant to social studies . . . Overall, she felt she got insufficient support from the district, she said. And the parent complaints just kept coming. . . . This semester, she skipped the three-day lesson on subversion, the cakewalk video, the bell hooks text. (The author did not capitalize her name.)

News-media roundup: As 3 big Ala. papers stop printing, trade group reminds state it has plenty; Gannett has cut almost 1/2 its workers and 127 weekly papers, seeks bids

Screenshot of interview; for video, click here.
Kyle Hopkins of the Anchorage Daily News, who won a Pulitzer Prize with ProPublica for exposing failures of Alaska's criminal-justice system, including lack of attention to disappearance of Native women, inspired "Alaska Daily," ABC's Thursday-night series. Mike Blinder of Editor & Publisher interviews him.
When three major newspapers in Alabama (Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, owned by Advance Publications) stopped publishing print editions recently, it probably made many people in the state wonder about the future of their local papers. Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, says in a column distributed to members, "Alabama newspapers are alive and printing. . . . Alabama has 109 paid circulation newspapers that have a print edition at least every week." She also cites "a recent market study, conducted by the independent research firm Coda Ventures, reports 3.2 million, or 81%, of Alabama adults rely on newspapers every month for local news and advertising [and] that among consumers who plan to shop for specific products and services, the targeted reach of newspapers is unrivaled." Mason also says community papers have "news you cannot get from any other news source," are focused on making communities "stronger and safer," hold governments accountable, and provide public forums. And she didn't even mention Sunshine Week!

Since GateHouse Media bought Gannett Co. and adopted its name, it has shed nearly half its workforce, report Sara Fischer and Kerry Flynn of Axios. They say that "underscores just how much pressure the country's largest newspaper company is facing as it tries to appease stockholders and remain independent. The company "also has pushed to reduce its number of markets. It dropped its number of local-focused websites by 117, and it decreased its number of weekly newspapers by 127, according to regulatory filings." CEO MIke Reed said in a call about last month's earnings report that Gannett "would entertain bids on any of our markets."

NiemanLab table from Alliance for Audited Media data
"The scale of local-news destruction in Gannett's markets is astonishing," reads the NiemanLab headline over a story by Joshua Benton, who reports a higher job-cut figure: "Gannett has eliminated 59% of its jobs in four years. It’s as if, instead of merging America’s two largest newspaper chains, one of them was simply wiped off the face of the earth." And Gannett's big papers have lost substantially more circulation than similar papers, Benton reports, with some tables that show combined print and digital circulation. UPDATE, March 14: Gannett says the Benton misinterpreted the Alliance for Audited Media data and has requested a correction

Philanthropically funded States Newsroom, which has 37 state-based nonprofit news outlets, will be the new home for Stateline, the 25-year-old Pew Research Center news service that reports and analyzes trends in state policy. Stateline reporters will continue their work, a press release says.

Ralph Nader has pulled his financial backing for a printed newspaper in his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut, and it's the second time he's done that, Bob Sillick of Editor & Publisher reports.

The International Women's Media Foundation has published A Guide to Protecting Newsrooms and Journalists Against Online Violence, which recommends policies and best practices for newsrooms to protect staff members who are targeted simply for doing their jobs. The IWMF says, "Online violence poses a constant threat to journalists, resulting in serious implications for press freedom, including self-censorship. This abuse disproportionately affects women and diverse journalists who are often reluctant to speak out for fear of jeopardizing their careers." The guide includes case studies from "a wide range of newsrooms," IWMF says.

43% of rural hospitals are losing money; besides closing down or going emergency-only, what are their options?

Photo by Jodi Covington, Unsplash
Rural hospitals are seeking ways to survive, and as pandemic money moves out, what are their choices? "One in five rural hospitals is at risk of closing because of shaky finances, and hospitals in states that did not expand Medicaid are at the greatest risk, according to reports that came out last month," reports Liz Carey of The Daily Yonder. "The Chartis Center for Rural Health says that of the nearly 2,200 rural hospitals in the U.S., 453 are financially unstable and at risk of closing. Michael Topchik, national leader for Chartis, said 43% of rural hospitals are operating in the red. . . . To stave off closure, many rural hospitals opted to close departments."

The crisis is still brewing. Topchik told Carey, "In the last couple of years, as we’ve updated the statistics, we’ve noticed what I would call a surge in closures of services. . . . We continue to see hospitals operating with razor thin margin. . . . As the pandemic relief funds have sort of worked their way through the system. Even if the hospital stays open, it doesn’t mean they’re providing the same service they once were.”

Some distressed hospitals are applying for the Rural Emergency Hospital status, which comes with extra federal funding, but means they "would be open for emergency services only . . . . Topchik said a little under 400 hospitals were 'most likely' to consider converting to an REH, but their analysis found that only 77 of the hospitals were ideal candidates for conversion."

What are the options beyond REH? Carey reports, "The Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, a national policy center that facilitates improvements in healthcare payment and delivery systems, said the solution is to pay rural hospitals enough to cover the cost of delivering services in rural communities. Instead of switching to Rural Emergency Hospital designations, the center argues that small rural hospitals should receive additional 'Standby Capacity Payments' from private insurance companies and Medicaid to cover the extra costs rural hospitals incur. . . Paying rural hospitals enough to cover the expense of delivering services to their communities would cost about $4 billion per year, researchers at CHQPR said, equating to an increase of about 0.1% in national healthcare spending."

Opinion: Iowa editor tells Trump to call Farm Bureau for some lessons 'about dusting off his trade-war playbook"

By Art Cullen
Storm Lake (Iowa) Times Pilot

Donald Trump didn’t bother to consult Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, about dusting off his trade-war playbook with China. Trump must not have asked former ambassador to China Terry Branstad, either, about his plan to hike tariffs on Chinese goods if he is re-elected president. Or any number of farm-state politicians who went running away from the idea this week.
Art Cullen

Duvall told Politico that Trump didn’t ask him about avoiding a repeat of tanking soybean markets, then dumping $60 billion over two years to buy agribusiness support for his unproductive trade war with China. Several House Republicans from rural districts said they were extremely leery. One called Trump’s ideas “suicidal.”

A lot of politicians are piling on China these days, some for good reason and others just looking to pick a fight in perilous times. Food is not best used as a weapon. Our agricultural trade policy should foster prosperity and cooperation, and not be a source of provocation.

China is our top pork and soy customer. Farmers are not interested in taking a bath in corn and soy markets, and meat exporters do not want any land mines placed in the field of trade. Trump would do well to consult his friends in farming before going off half-cocked. Our trade in agricultural and food products and services is vital to laying a foundation for superpower cooperation.

It makes sense for the United States to protect national security by re-shoring critical industries like computer semi-conductors. We should protect ourselves from Chinese cyber-crime. We should support Taiwan and advocate for Hong Kong. But we don’t want to stumble into conflict just for its sake. When the Central Intelligence Agency tells you that China is doing this or that with Russia, take it with a grain of salt. Statements of top-secret intelligence are made public for a reason. We are the world’s leading arms dealer, supplying horrible regimes like Saudi Arabia, and we have objects flying over Wuhan, no doubt. Let’s keep things in some perspective.

Staying grounded in a pragmatic food and agriculture trade policy with China is important for U.S. agriculture, for hungry people, and to maintain the peace. It’s important for the Amazon rain forest that the U.S. can be counted on as a reliable provider of ag commodities — if we start another trade war, China will simply order up more acres in Brazil.

The problem is that people don’t think through what their rhetoric suggests. Trade wars lead to shooting wars. Food is not a weapon. Farmers are not fodder. Trump should call Duvall.

Series of columns, What I learned from dying, by rural weekly journalist Dave Taylor, will be published as book

In the spring of 2021, Dave Taylor found out he had Stage 4 esophageal cancer. The veteran journalist and editor of the weekly Hancock Clarion in Hawesville, Kentucky, began writing about the experience the week afterward in a column series called "What I Learned From Dying."

"If things go well this will be a long-term column that could serve as catharsis for me or a peek behind the gown for those who are curious," Taylor wrote in the first column. "If things don’t go as well, then maybe it’s just a long, rambling goodbye."

Dave Taylor's widow, Jamie D. Taylor, has announced that Dave's columns will be published as a book: "One of Dave’s dreams was to write a book, and while we wish the circumstances were different, we will see his dream through." Taylor's series will not be relegated to ramblings, but will share the experiences of a man who embraced life and death. 

The announcement said the book's publication comes with the "full support and blessing of Donn Wimmer, owner of the Hancock Clarion. . . . Thank you, everyone, you have been absolutely amazing to us and we count ourselves very fortunate to be so loved."

"Dave Taylor was with the Hancock Clarion and was elected to the Kentucky Press Association Board of Directors for District 3. He served two terms in that capacity until his death on Labor Day 2022," reports David T. Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association. "He wrote about his battle with cancer most every week, even writing from the hospital bed and until just before his death."

Flora/fauna quickies: Holding a baby goat can cheer you; corvid birds can 'ponder the content of their own minds'

Baby goats (Photo by Rachel Schlegel)
"Holding a baby goat is very therapeutic. It calms you and brings you so much joy. It does wonders for coping with anxiety and depression.,” says Friends of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Foundation. And baby goats aren’t cranky and stubborn like their elders!

To the south, pigs "play in the mud, run around the large field they’re sectioned off in, and enjoy the nutritious food given to them daily. Eventually, they will be sold to fine dining restaurants and artisan butcher houses throughout the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area," reports Paula Phounsavath of The News Virginian of Waynesboro, where "a family-owned pig farm has created a sustainable pork production."

An ant at work (Photo by Shannon Potter, Unsplash)
Dogs, worms and ants have an amazing thing in common: They can be trained to detect markers of illness, from Covid-19 to tuberculosis. "Next time you’re irritated that ants have gotten into your kitchen, you might take a moment to consider their extraordinary powers of perception," reports Liz Langley of National Geographic.

What can bring your hope for humanity back? A horse show. The Horse World Expo returned to Pennsylvania for nickers, neighs and whole lot of horsing around.

Time to cook cabbage. Rumor is that cauliflower and Brussels sprouts may have been ousted. "Cooked the right way, cabbage can more than rise to the occasion." We agree.

Virginia is expecting its best oyster harvest in 35 years, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

The rare Steller's sea eagle has returned to Maine.
(Photo by Zachary Holderby, The Associated Press)
Enjoy the Great Backyard Bird Count? Here's some more fun. "A rare Steller’s sea eagle native to the eastern coast of Asia, which caused a birding frenzy last winter, has returned to Maine. . . . If you're taking a specific trip, like to Japan in the winter, going out on a boat to some ice floes, that’s kind of your only chance to see one . . . But now, it’s just hanging out in Midcoast Maine.”

Of woods and men. Sounds more exciting than mice. The Conversation discusses the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. "Aldo Leopold, the famed conservationist and professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin, believed that moral beliefs evolve over time to become more inclusive of the natural world. And what’s happening in Colorado suggests Leopold was right."

Crows are more intelligent than we thought. "New research shows that crows and other corvids "know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds . . . This is considered a cornerstone of self-awareness and shared by just a handful of animal species besides humans."

With extra work and a little green thumb, you can make money from your garden. Consider growing perennial crops as a side hustle.

The glorious night sky! Eleven fantastic things to write on your calendar. "In the coming year, planetary alignments, perfectly timed meteor showers, and a pair of solar eclipses will delight stargazers around the world."

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

North Carolina lawmakers push for more partisan school board elections; labels may limit unaffiliated candidates

Some North Carolina school board meetings have become shouting matches. In this one, an Alamance County board member stood to yell and make a point. (Still from video by Loumay Alesali, UNC Media Hub)

Bit by bit, "North Carolina lawmakers have nearly tripled the number of partisan school boards across the state over the last decade — often over the objections of school board members themselves," reports Kyle Ingram of the UNC Media Hub. “It’s a move some board members say is turning their school system from a hyperlocal, traditionally apolitical governing board into a contentious microcosm of national political debates." Republicans in several other states are arguing for partisan school-board elections. 

Ingram uses Craven County as an example where partisan labels were introduced in 2022. Commenting on board meetings since the partisan change, Carr Ipock, a registered Democrat who has served on the school board for over 30 years, told Ingram, "There was more focus on national agenda items than there was on ‘What can we do to make the school system better?'" Ingram adds, "Republican legislators argue that partisan elections help voters make more informed decisions by giving them an idea of a candidates’ philosophy via their party identification."

Craven County is on the southeast coast. (Graphic by Emily Pack) 
In North Carolina, "More than 1 in 3 school boards now elect their members in partisan elections — 10 years ago, it was 1 in 10.  . . . In the 2022 midterms, nearly 3 in 4 partisan school boards elected more Republicans than Democrats," Ingram reports. Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University, told Ingram, “In the short run, it makes it more likely that conservative policies will carry the day in school boards . . . In the long run, it builds a farm team of Republicans who might one day want to run for higher office.”

Partisan boards make it harder for unaffiliated candidates to run and win, Ingram reports. Blair Craven, chair of the Henderson County Board of Education, has served as an unaffiliated member of the board since his first election in 2016. Craven told Ingram, "In my seven years of being on the school board, I’ve never made a decision that I believe is Republican in nature or Democratic in nature."

Ingram writes, "In February, the Republican-led Henderson County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution asking the legislature to make the school board partisan. Craven and the other members of the board said they were never contacted about it." Craven told Ingram, “I’m a huge fan of information for voters. But I believe if the only information you have on a school board election is whether someone has an 'R' or a 'D' or an 'I' by their name, then you’re not doing your homework.” Ingram notes, "If the bill passes, Craven’s reelection prospects become more difficult. Either he switches to an official party or gathers thousands of signatures to appear on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.

To keep the faith and the peace amid gay-rights debate, largest Methodist church in Arkansas splits three ways

Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas 
(Photo by
J.T. Wampler, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
To follow their faith and avoid further disaffiliation efforts, Fayetteville Central United Methodist Church members approved a compromise that split the church into three churches, reports Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette. "The two new congregations both favor traditional church teachings on gay marriage and ordination." The United Methodist Church has internal tensions over homosexuality. "Some members feel strongly that the church should uphold its current stances regarding gay clergy and marriage," its website notes. "Others strongly advocate for inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in all aspects of life in the church." Under a provision in the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline that was added in 2019, U.S. congregations can disaffiliate 'over issues related to human sexuality.'"

Before the split, Fayetteville Central was Arkansas' largest United Methodist congregation and one the nation's largest. The "Amicable Reconciliation and Separation Agreement" spells out the terms of the division: Fayetteville's Central United Methodist Church will remain part of the United Methodist denomination. Genesis Church, the congregation's South Fayetteville satellite campus, will spin off, becoming independent. . . A third congregation will also be formed in the coming months. Carness Vaughan, the current senior pastor, said that he and other members will be leaving to launch what they're calling Christ Church."

Vaughan told Lockwood, "God has been at work throughout this process. There's no way we could have done it without that. I really do believe that God is going to bless what's happened here." Lockwood notes, "By finding a compromise, Central members avoided the need for a lengthy discernment process and a divisive congregation-wide vote on whether to 'disaffiliate.'"

Bill Kincaid, a leader of United for Central, told Lockwood, "There is sadness around those who may depart, but we will keep them in prayer as we all seek to serve our community. Bruce Johanson, a leader of Central Wesleyans, which had favored disaffiliation, also welcomed the outcome. He told Lockwood, "We are also thankful that Genesis Church is now an independent south Fayetteville church."

Jimmy Carter was the 'first global leader to recognize climate change.' Some lessons from our last rural president.

President Carter addressing a town meeting. (Getty Images photo)
Looking back 40 years, climate change was not a popular topic; however, that doesn't mean Americans weren't warned. "Jimmy Carter was the first global leader to recognize the problem of climate change," Jonathan Alter writes for Inside Climate News. "In 1977, he commissioned the Global 2000 Report to the President, an ambitious effort to explore environmental challenges and the prospects of 'sustainable development' over the next 20 years. . . . The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued three reports contending with global warming, the last of which—issued the week before Carter left office—was devoted entirely to the long-term threat of what a handful of scientists then called 'carbon dioxide pollution.'”

One of the CEQ's reports "urged 'immediate action' and included calculations on CO2 emissions in the next decades that proved surprisingly accurate," Atler reports. "A CEQ report suggested trying to limit global average temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels — precisely the standard agreed to by the nations of the world 38 years later in the Paris climate accord. . . . With those facts in hand, Reagan’s landslide victory over Carter in the 1980 election takes on a tragic dimension: Carter had acted on every other CEQ report issued in the previous four years with aggressive legislation and executive orders. He almost certainly would have done so on this one, too, had he been reelected. . . . Gains made under Carter’s presidential leadership in the early 1980s might have bought the planet precious time."

Jimmy Carter was a different kind of politician. "He had been a nuclear engineer in the Navy and—while other politicians played golf—he spent his spare time reading scientific publications," Alter writes. During his time in office, "Carter signed 14 major pieces of environmental legislation, including the first fuel economy standards and important new laws to fight air, water and other forms of pollution. He also protected 100 million acres in the Alaska Lands bill, which doubled the size of the National Park Service."

Alter reports, "There are lessons here for the present. Carter was a political failure . . . . but he was a substantive and visionary success.. . It took a while for public opinion to catch up to him. After being burned in effigy in Alaska, he received only 26 percent of the statewide vote in the 1980 presidential election. But by 2000, a billion-dollar tourism industry had blossomed there, and polls showed residents favored Carter’s landmark achievement. . . . When he visited that year, his speech was interrupted five times for standing ovations."

Sign up for live webinar tomorrow and dig into what matters to your business readers with Jim Pumarlo's practical tips

"The business of America is business!" President Calvin Coolidge famously said. It's also a reporting beat that can add value for your readers and to your bottom line.

Neswspaper consultant Jim Pumarlo will host a webinat Thursday, March 9 at 2 p.m. Register here. Here is his pitch:

Business news has gained greater prominence since the onset of Covid-19 and its impact on the economy and employment. The effects of the pandemic necessarily resulted in a range of stories focusing on our worksites – the places we earn a paycheck as employees and purchase products and services as consumers.

Business news certainly deserves extra attention during these extraordinary times. At the same time, this is a great opportunity to explore everyday business coverage during ordinary times, too.

Newspapers often are on the defense when it comes to business news: If they grant a story for one business story, are they opening the floodgates? How can they say “yes” to one request and “no” to another? My session provides some practical guidelines and ideas for news and advertising departments alike – to help the two departments be aligned on what is news and what is an ad, and to help them develop a plan for broader business coverage, which I believe can lead to increased ad revenue.

Jim Pumarlo understands that energized newspapers are at the foundation of energized communities. As a newsroom trainer, he underscores the need for solid news content whether delivered in print or digital formats. He worked 27 years at daily newspapers in International Falls and Red Wing, Minn., the last 21 as editor at the Red Wing Republican Eagle. He then served 16 years as director of communications and media relations at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business advocacy organization. He is author of three books: Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in a Small-Town Newspaper; Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Campaign Coverage; Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage for Beginning Journalists.

U.S. Government warns about cyber-attacks; National Newspaper Association alerts members and gives steps

The National Newspaper Association is alerting members that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have released a joint Cybersecurity Advisory.

"NNA members have reported being attacked by the advised ransomware," the association says, giving steps the agency suggests you take: 

Prioritize remediating known exploited vulnerabilities.
Train users to recognize and report phishing attempts.
Enable and enforce multi-factor authentication.

You may also wish to read this article by TechCrunch that breaks down the advisory.

"Since approximately September 2022, cyber criminals have compromised U.S. and international
organizations with a Royal ransomware variant," the Cybersecurity Advisory release explains. "Royal actors disable antivirus software and exfiltrate large amounts of data before ultimately deploying the ransomware and encrypting the systems. Royal actors have made ransom demands ranging from approximately $1 million to $11 million USD in Bitcoin. . . . Royal actors have targeted numerous critical infrastructure sectors including, but not limited to, manufacturing, communications, health care and public health care and education."

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

End of pandemic means end of extra food benefits in most states; a look at one that already did it shows struggles

The poor wait for free food in Hazel Green, Kentucky.
(Photo by Reshma Kirpalani, The Washington Post)

"In the richest country in the world, some 25 million households — including 12 million households with children under the age of 18 — reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat, according to recent Census Bureau data," reports Arohi Pathak of the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy institute.

Why would so many people go hungry? The answer is simple: Some people don't have enough money for food, and the problem is getting worse, with inflation. It is about to get worse at the end of this month, with the end of extra food benefits for 41 million Americans. To illustrate what will happen, Tim Craig of The Washington Post went to one of the 18 states that have ended their emergencies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotments in the past year."

Craig met Kenny Blair and his wife in Hazel Green, Kentucky, a small town in the Appalachian foothills. He reports, "Blair and his wife hop into their truck twice a month at 4 a.m. to ensure they get a few staples at the Hazel Green Food Project’s giveaway. On a recent Friday, they waited nine hours until local prisoners on work duty started loading bags of meat and vegetables, potato chips and cookies into vehicles in one of the nation’s most impoverished communities. . . . With Kentucky serving as a warning beacon, social services agencies and charities across the country are now preparing for a summer of misery as food prices continue to soar due to inflation."

The newspaper in Norton, Virginia, alerted its readers this week.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which includes about 3,600 charities, told Craig, “We are bracing, and our agencies, member food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens are not prepared for what is about to hit them. This reduction, and end of the public-health emergency, could not be coming at a worse time.”

Not every state is completely severing benefits. "Political leaders in some states are considering ways to soften the impact of SNAP benefit reductions. . . . Last month, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation guaranteeing a minimum $95 per month SNAP benefit, the first state to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Coughlin told Craig, "I believe, that it is closer to a moral obligation than a government function to make sure the people are fed. In every town, in every state, even in affluent communities, there is somebody who is hungry.”

To them, conversion is better than closing: First rural hospitals begin converting to emergency-services-only

Administrator Christina Campos, center right, speaks to emergency-
department staff at Guadalupe County Hospital. (Adria Malcolm, KHN)
To avoid closure, some rural hospitals are choosing to adapt by transitioning into a Rural Emergency Hospital. "The designation was created as part of the first new federal payment program launched by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for rural providers in 25 years," reports Sarah Jane Tribble of Kaiser Health News. "And though it is not expected to be a permanent solution to pressures facing rural America, policymakers and hospital operators alike hope it will slow the financial hemorrhage that continues to shutter those communities’ hospitals."

CMS wouldn't tell Tribble which hospitals have applied, but she reports that one in Crosbyton, Texas, has been approved, that two in Perry and Blackwell, Okla., will apply; and that Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, which has been named one of the nation's best rural hospitals, has applied. She uses it as her object example. 

Guadalupe County (Wikipedia)
"It’s the only hospital for the more than 4,500 people living on a swath of 3,000 square miles of high plains and lakes east of Albuquerque [and] has for decades provided emergency care for a steady flow of people injured in car crashes and ranching accidents," Tribble reports. Hospital Administrator Christina Campos told her, “For years, we’ve been anticipating kind of our own demise, praying that a program would come along and make us sustainable.”

Tribble reports, "Facilities that convert will get a 5% increase in Medicare payments as well as an average annual facility fee payment of about $3.2 million in exchange for giving up their expensive inpatient beds. Dr. Paula Chatterjee, a med-school professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said outpatient and emergency visits already make up about 66% of Medicare payments for rural hospitals that are eligible to convert. . . . Still, she found that many would likely need to scale up some outpatient services . . . Even then the payment model might not be able to shift the 'foundational pressures' of declining, aging, and sicker populations that are making it hard to deliver care in rural America she said." Chatterjee told Tribble, "This feels like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

Hospital administrators worry that there will not be enough ambulances to transport more critical cases, and patients that need inpatient care will have to travel long distances, Tribble reports. Brock Slabach, chief operations officer for the National Rural Health Association, told Tribble, “It’s enough for now. But is it going to be enough for the long term? I don’t think so." Tribble adds, "The federal law will need to be amended to help larger rural hospitals with more overnight stays . . . .Top priorities for the group include adding the ability for hospitals to participate in a federal drug discount program and allowing for longer patient stays."