Friday, March 31, 2023

Rural America gained people last year, thanks to migration to near-metro counties; most rural counties kept losing

Screenshot of Daily Yonder map; for interactive version with county data, click here.

In an evolving shift, "The nation's rural population grew slightly last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the increase was small, it is one more indication that historic losses in non-metropolitan population in the 2010s have been reversed for the time being," report Tim Marema and Sarah Melotte of The Daily Yonder. "Domestic and international migration drove the growth in the rural population in 2022," but the growth was in counties near metropolitan areas, not remoter rural counties.

"Red America is growing because blue America is shrinking," Philip Bump of The Washington Post writes after looking at the Census Bureau report through a political lens. "Rural America is dying faster than it is producing new children. . . . Nearly 645,000 residents of rural counties died while only 494,000 were born."

The Yonder reports the overall numbers: "The number of people living in non-metropolitan counties grew by 56,000 from 2021 to 2022. That's an increase of 0.12%, about the same as rural America's population gain two years ago, according to the annual Census population estimates."

Maps of the data illustrate regional gains and losses, the Yonder notes: "The Intermountain West from New Mexico north to the Canadian border saw population gains in the last year. Other regional growth patterns are obvious in eastern Texas, southwest Missouri; Florida; Tennessee, northern Georgia, and the western half of North Carolina; and New Hampshire and Maine. . . . . Another interesting pattern of growth is evident in parts of rural Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. . . . Rural regions with noticeable population loss or stagnation include the Mississippi Delta, New York, Appalachia from East Kentucky to New York, and portions of the Great Plains from Texas to North Dakota."

Washington Post map shows changes in county population, with size of dots reflecting actual numbers.

Weather 'anomalies' are felt from California to Minnesota; climate change seems to be driving precipitation extremes

Anomalies from the 1991-2020 average (Axios Visuals map from NOAA data)
California is becoming a dry dust bowl. No, wait! They've got galactic snowpack. But now, it's raining. . . . everything is sopping wet. Trying to keep up with this year's weather can be likened to riding a roller coaster. "Much of California and the midwestern United States just had some of the wettest winter weather on record, per data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration," report Alex Fitzpatrick and Erin Davis of Axios. "The opposite was true in the Pacific Northwest and in parts of Texas and Florida, which were significantly drier than average."

Extreme weather "can cause hazardous conditions from blizzards and ice storms, which prevent travel and knock out power — but it can also alleviate drought, especially in mountainous areas that rely on melting snowpack each spring to replenish groundwater supplies," Fitzpatrick and Davis report. Some moisture can be explained, "Much of California's precipitation lately has been driven by atmospheric rivers — 'long, narrow highways of moisture, typically located at about 10,000 to 15,000 feet above the surface,' as Axios' Andrew Freedman writes in this helpful description." The reasons why "Minneapolis had its second-wettest winter on record, with about 6.4 inches of precipitation — around 3.5 inches more than normal . . . . and Naples, Florida, had its driest winter on record" are not as clear.

But this seems clear: "Climate change is raising the odds and severity of precipitation extremes — both heavy rain and snow as well as prolonged and severe dry spells," Axios reports. "However, it doesn't mean every season, or even every year, will set a new all-time record."

Over-the-counter Narcan will save lives by stopping drug overdoses. It'll be available this fall; price remains a hurdle.

Doses of Narcan brand of naoloxone in a vending machine
(Photo by Erin Schaff, The New York Times)
Every first-aid kit and family medicine box will need this: Narcan. That's the brand name of a prescription nasal spray, naloxone, that reverses opioid overdoses. The Food and Drug Administration approved the medication for over-the-counter sales, a move long sought by public-health officials and treatment experts, reports Jan Hoffman of The New York Times. "With overdoses and overdose fatalities occurring in college dorms, public libraries, households, night clubs and restaurants, public-health advocates hope that naloxone nasal sprays will soon become a staple. . . . By late summer, over-the-counter Narcan is expected to be for sale in big-box chains, supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations and online retailers. New York City plans to install Narcan vending machines later this year."

Narcan is easy to give, works quickly, and has no adverse side effects. Hoffman explains, "Bystanders who see that a person slumped over is unresponsive to shaking and shouting, with slowed breathing — signs of a possible overdose — only have to unwrap the palm-size device, insert the tip into the person's nostril and depress the plunger. In most situations, the medication revives the person within two or three minutes. . . . Narcan will not work if the person has taken nonopioid drugs like methamphetamines or xylazine, an animal tranquilizer that has been infiltrating street drug supplies."

Price could be a hurdle. "Although over-the-counter status will make Narcan more widely available, the cost of the medicine could deter many. Currently, a two-dose pack of prescription Narcan is often free to people covered by Medicaid or private insurance or has a co-pay of less than $10," Hoffman reports. "But public and private insurance programs do not cover most over-the-counter medicines. Whether an exception will be made for Narcan could take months to resolve," Hoffman writes, "The company that makes Narcan, Emergent BioSolutions, declined to disclose the price it plans for an over-the-counter version, which will take several months to relabel and repackage."

The FDA is aware of the cost barrier, and is "urging other manufacturers of prescription naloxone to apply for over-the-counter approval, which could make pricing more competitive," Hoffman reports. Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told Hoffman, "We will work with any sponsor seeking to market a nonprescription naloxone product. . . . [they urged manufacturers] to contact the agency as early as possible to initiate discussions."

Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio, a nonprofit group that distributes free naloxone doses, told Hoffman: "All naloxone should have been moved over the counter. . . . Now you have the expensive version available without a prescription, but the cheaper versions need a prescription. It's important that the brand name Narcan be priced much lower over the counter than it is now. The price needs to be less than $30 for a two-dose kit, preferably much lower."

Dicamba still drifts, hurting crops; manufacturer Bayer sues four Missouri farmers for using older versions of it

Soybeans with suspected dicamba damage
(Photo by Darrell Hoemann, Investigate Midwest)
"Bayer is suing four farmers in the Bootheel of Missouri for illegally spraying older versions of dicamba on its genetically-engineered soybeans, as well as doing so after the state's cutoff date for spraying the herbicide," which can drift onto non-engineered crops and damage or kill them, reports Johnathan Hettinger of Investigate Midwest. "Critics say the lawsuits are an attempt by Bayer to blame the older version of the weedkiller for damage caused by the widespread legal use of dicamba on crops. The lawsuits, filed in January in federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri, allege that the farmers are in violation of their user agreements with Bayer and have harmed the company's reputation with the Environmental Protection Agency."

"Millions of acres of farmland and natural areas have been harmed by dicamba moving off of where it was applied since genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops were introduced in 2015. Because of the damage, a federal court banned dicamba briefly in 2020. Still, the EPA re-approved dicamba with additional restrictions months later. That approval is currently being challenged," Hettinger notes. "In response to questions from Investigate Midwest, a Bayer spokesman said that the lawsuits help 'protect grower access to the technologies. . . . The vast majority of growers abide by the law and honor their contractual agreements. In these cases, there was clear evidence of irresponsible and illegal use.'"

Hettinger explains, "George Kimbrell, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that is among those challenging the EPA's 2020 approval of dicamba, said the lawsuits by Bayer are a strategic way to blame factors other than legal use of dicamba for the herbicide's harm to farmers. 'They view this as a way to relitigate responsibility for drift harm,' said Kimbrell, who said that Monsanto, the original creator of dicamba-tolerant crops, has been suing farmers for decades for patent infringement by saving seeds from one harvest and planting them the next year. . . . In 2012, the Center for Food Safety released a report showing that Monsanto had filed at least 142 lawsuits against farmers."

"Volatilization is particularly concerning because dicamba can move for miles and harm non-target crops, especially non-resistant soybeans, or lawns and gardens. . . . . Older versions, which are more likely to volatilize are much cheaper and have been allowed for decades," Hettinger reports. "Bob Hartzler, professor emeritus of weed science at Iowa State University, said he places the onus on the EPA to take the older products off the market. Hartzler told Hettingger, "The higher volatility of these products results in more off-target movement. It seems like it would be a fairly easy fix to take the older products off the market."

News-media roundup: A Gannett ghost; a corrections dilemma; explaining reporting in stories; a GoFundMe to save a great rural paper in a town devastated by tornado

Publishing corrections increases accuracy but reduces audience trust, a study has found. "I fear that some journalists will read this as an invitation to forego corrections," Dan Gillmor writes for NiemanLab. "Not only is that ethically suspect, it’s counterproductive, since someone else is bound to notice the error and tell the world, usually with the help of other media critics. . . . Journalists should want, more than anything, for their audiences to be correctly informed. If posting corrections means a hit to their credibility in the short term, that is a risk they should be willing to take."

Trusting News suggests that in-depth stories include "explanations and insight into the reporting process," which "can help people better understand your goals and motivations while also improving perceptions of your news organization. We also know this type of transparency helps prevent people from making negative assumptions about your work, which can lead to distrust," Lynn Walsh writes. Using an investigative report by Phil Williams of Nashville's WTVF as an example, Walsh cites key points to make: the story's purpose; where the idea came from; how sources were contacted; and how information was verified.

Salinas, Calif. Los Angeles Times photo by Wally Skalij
As Gannett Co. says it expects to sell more daily newspapers, its Salinas Californian is a ghost paper, with no reporters. Over the headline "A city yearns to know its stories," James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times reports, "When brown water overflowed the banks of the Salinas River in January, flooding thousands of acres and throwing an untold number of farmworkers out of jobs, the leading newspaper in this agricultural mecca did not cover the story. Candidates in the November race for mayor also went absent from the pages of the 152-year-old news outlet. Ditto non-coverage of a police staffing shortage so serious that the police chief said the department might not have enough cops to respond to all complaints of theft, fraud, vandalism, prowling and prostitution. . . . The only original content from Salinas comes in the form of paid obituaries, making death virtually the only sign of life at an institution once considered a must-read by many Salinans." 

Ogden Newspapers is selling The Park Record, Utah’s oldest, continuously published, non-daily newspaper, to Tatiana and Matthew Prince, a prominent Park City couple who "plan to convert the paper to a non-profit or public benefit corporation to best align its mission with the community. They hope to make print copies freely available, refocus on the paper's digital experience, and bring back locals' “2-for-1” restaurant specials, the Record announced.

Natalie Perkins edits the Deer Creek Pilot at home.
(Photo by Barbara Gauntt, Clarion-Ledger)
A GoFundMe campaign is on to help the award-winning Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork, Miss., a town of 1,883 devastated by a tornado Friday. "The commercial base of the town was destroyed by the massive twister," says the Mississippi Press Association, which is putting the money in its 501(c)(3) foundation. "All proceeds from the fund will be used to cover critical operating costs of the small local newspaper, the only local media located in Sharkey and Issaquena counties." Ross Reily of the Clarion-Ledger profiles Editor-Publisher Natalie Perkins, who is also a local diaster coordinator.

UPDATE, April 3: MPA's Layne Bruce writes, "The Deer Creek Pilot has survived for years in a town sorely lacking much retail base — and now nearly devoid of it — on the reputation of its spunky and unflinching editorial product. And on the pure force of will of Natalie and Ray" Mosby, the longtime editor who died in 2021.

When the Texas Observer said was going to close, the 68-year-old liberal magazine's staff started a GoFundMe campaign and nearly reached its $200,000 goal by 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, when the total was $186,846, reports Ariana Garcia of the Houston Chronicle. The next day, the owner, the Texas Democracy Foundation, said "We have secured near-term pledges to bridge our immediate budget shortfall and feel confident that there is time for the Texas Observer to determine its future, thanks to the extraordinary success of the staff’s fundraising this week. We apologize to the staff for the abruptness of the layoff vote and deeply regret that they found out via another media outlet and the uncertainty and stress of this week."

Google is adding ‘Perspectives’ and ‘About this author’ to its search function to help verify information, "while also expanding some of its current tools, including 'About this result'," TechCrunch reports.

Grocery, destroyed by E. Ky. flood and owned by Black woman who's been there 50 years, to reopen Saturday

It was the only grocery for miles around. (Image from "East Kentucky Flood")
The Rural Blog doesn't usually run notices of non-media business openings, but we're making an exception in this case because Saturday's reopening of Isom IGA in an unincorporated community between Whitesburg and Hazard, Kentucky, will be an important milepost in the region's recovery from the flooding that destroyed the grocery.

Gwen Christon in her store, ready to open (Photo
by Ryan C. Hermens, Lexington Herald-Leader)

The tragic story of the supermarket's owner, 67-year-old Gwen Christon, who has spent 50 years working in it or to rebuild it, brought outside help, and a determination to reopen, with the help of her son, Simon, who decided two years ago to follow in her footsteps. She told the makers of the "East Kentucky Flood" documentary that she worked 50 years to buy the store and pay the mortgage, and Simon said “I’m next in line to work another 50 years and get it paid up.” She and her husband Arthur bought the store in 1998, reports The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg. She didn't own the land, but after the flood the landowner donated it to her, allowing her to get loans, reports Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Carl Sivak of MDI, a wholesale grocer, told Blackford that divine intervention is all that can explain how quickly Christon has outfitted the store with coolers and freezers that are usually on back order for nine months to a year: “To get this store back together in nine months is amazing.”

“The Lord has just put things in order for us,” the Christons' son Simon told Blackford. “There’s no other explanation.”

After announcing that she planned to reopen April 1 (a goal she will meet Saturday), Gwen Christon said of the region, “This is our home. This is our people, and we have to stick together. . . . I think we can come back stronger. I think we can come back more together.”

Isom is in Letcher County, where one-half of 1 percent of the 20,000 or so residents are African Americans. Gwen, Arthur and Simon Christon are three of them.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

America's defining values are changing; they paint a 'surprising portrait of a changing America,' new poll finds

Graphs by Wall Street Journal and NORC
How do you define "American"? Twenty-five years ago, you might have said, "patriotism, hard work, family and God," but those fundamental values are changing, a new poll taken in cooperation with the Wall Street Journal finds. "Some 38% of respondents said patriotism was very important to them, and 39% said religion was very important," reports Aaron Zitner of the Journal. "That was down sharply from when the Journal first asked the question in 1998, when 70% deemed patriotism to be very important, and 62% said so of religion. . . . Younger Americans in particular place low importance on these values, many of which were central to the lives of their parents."

Poll respondents' views shed some light on the changes. "Janet Boyer, a former Pentecostal minister who lives in southwestern Pennsylvania's coal country, patriotism has taken on a political sheen and is no longer important to her," Zitner reports. Boyer told him, "For me, patriotism has turned into right-wing nationalism." Zitner adds, "Elana Reiser, a university math teacher in New York, said that other countries rank higher on tests of math performance. She said longer vacations and maternal leaves in some European countries mean they have a better quality of life. Reiser said, "In America, you basically have to work your whole life, and you don't get breaks."

The study also found "the country sharply divided by political party over social trends such as the push for racial diversity in businesses and the use of gender-neutral pronouns," Zitner reports. "It asked whether society had gone far enough—or had gone too far—when it comes to businesses taking steps to promote racial and ethnic diversity. Just over half of Republicans said society had gone too far, compared with 7% of Democrats. Some 61% of Democrats said diversity efforts hadn't gone far enough, compared with 14% of Republicans."

It's not easy to explain the poll's results, which many may find distressing. "Bill McInturff, a pollster who worked on a previous Journal survey that measured these attitudes along with NBC News, said 'These differences are so dramatic, it paints a new and surprising portrait of a changing America.' He surmised that 'Perhaps the toll of our political division, Covid and the lowest economic confidence in decades is having a startling effect on our core values'," Zitner writes. "A number of events have shaken and in some ways fractured the nation since the Journal first asked about unifying values, among them the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent economic downturn and the rise of former President Donald Trump."

The Journal partnered on the poll with NORC, a nonpartisan research organization at the University of Chicago that was once known as the National Opinion Research Center.

Electricity from renewables exceeded that from coal in 2022

Wind turbiunes near Palm Springs, California (File photo by Ashley Landis, The Associated Press)

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says more electricity was generated from renewables than from coal in the U.S. in 2022 for the first time ever; 22% came from renewables and 20% from coal. Coal generation is being replaced largely by natural gas, which produced 39% of American electricity last year, up from 37% in 2021. Almost a third of gas came from Northern Appalachia.

"The growth of wind and solar significantly drove the increase in renewable energy and experts say these two resources will be the 'backbone' of clean energy growth in the U.S. because of their reliability and affordability," Isaella O'Malley of The Associated Press reports.

California produced 26% of the nation's utility-scale solar electricity followed by Texas with 16% and North Carolina with 8%. The most wind generation occurred in Texas, which had 26% of the U.S. total followed by Iowa (10%) and Oklahoma (9%).

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, told AP, “Over the past decade, the levelized cost of wind energy declined by 70 percent, while the levelized cost of solar power has declined by an even more impressive 90 percent. Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country.”

The changes are a challenge because the energy grid was built "to deliver power from a consistent source," AP notes. "Renewables such as solar and wind generate power intermittently, so battery storage, long-distance transmission and other steps will be needed to help address these challenges," according to Stephen Porder, a Brown University professor of ecology and assistant provost for sustainability.

$315 million for cleaner, more efficient energy in rural U.S.

(Photo by Ben Hasty, Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
Having consistent electricity can be tough and pricey for rural dwellers. "One-sixth of U.S households are in rural communities, where people often pay a larger share of their income for electricity. Reliability can be spotty, and investment in de-carbonization scant," reports Katie Myers of Grist. "Geographically scattered towns and aging infrastructure can make maintaining the grid expensive. Even simple steps to improve energy efficiency, like insulating an attic, can be out of reach for cash-poor residents, especially renters."

The Department of Energy aims to lessen some price tag troubles "by dedicating $315 million toward a sweeping effort to help rural and tribal communities modernize their electrical grids nationwide, invest in renewables, and help residents increase energy efficiency of their homes," Myers writes. A senior Energy Department official told Myers, "There isn't one ideal project. We're casting a wide net." Myers explains, "The funding is part of a broader effort to allocate more than $1 billion over the next five years to support energy projects in communities of less than 10,000 people. The goal is to promote climate resilience and address the rural energy cost burden — defined as the percentage of a household's income allocated toward energy bills each month — through 'replicable energy projects that lower energy costs, improve energy access/resilience, and/or reduce environmental harm.'"

The investments will be a first for some areas. "Brett Isaac, the founder and executive chairman of public benefit renewable energy corporation Navajo Power, said public assistance in funding the energy transition is essential for communities that have long been left behind." Isaac told Myers: "The investment from the various opportunities under the Biden administration, from infrastructure to the Inflation Reduction Act … these are all monumental because they're actually putting quantifiable investments into certain areas that have never really experienced them.' . . . Almost 30 percent of the Navajo reservation's homes still don't have electricity."

Some areas are ready to get started. "In Kentucky, Chris Woolery, a residential energy coordinator with the Mountain Association, can't wait to help rural power companies and electric cooperatives access federal funding. Advocates throughout the state have been laying the groundwork for a renewable transition for many years. . . . Woolery noted that the state is grappling with banning utilities from accepting federal funds to shut down coal plants. . . . Woolery said energy efficiency and distributed renewables could increase grid resiliency during extreme weather. Woolery told Myers, "We're working towards a vision in which access to energy is just a human right."

Myers adds, "Applications for the funds are due in June, and must include a 'community benefits plan' outlining how the project will ensure worker safety, fair wages, and diversity in hiring."

Interest-rate risks could sneak up on some community banks; regulators may need a stricter approach

Photo by Immimagery via
Big banks aren't the only ones that stocked up on bonds only later to regret it. "Dozens of other banks — most of them quite small — are deeply underwater on their bond investments and could hit trouble if they were unexpectedly forced to liquidate the investments. That's according to an American Banker analysis of regulatory filings by the country's more than 4,700 banks," reports Polo Rocha of American Banker. "The losses, a result of banks' bonds losing their value when interest rates rose, remain 'unrealized' and only theoretical. They would only cause trouble if a bank needed cash and was forced to sell the bonds early for less than it bought them, thus making the losses real."

"Bert Ely, a bank consultant, said it 'boggles the mind' that banks took on the same type of interest rate risk that brought down hundreds of savings and loan companies starting in the 1980s," Rocha adds. "Ely, who predicted what became the savings-and-loan crisis, said American Banker's analysis shows a need for regulators to take a stricter approach on the issue. Commenting on the large degree of risk many banks took on, Ely told Rocha, "It just absolutely astounds me that they can be in compliance with the regulations."

"Several bankers contacted for this story pushed back on any concern that they'd ever need to get rid of the bonds to raise cash. Those bankers said they have plenty of cash available. . . . The Federal Reserve Board launched a new program this month aimed specifically at helping banks with underwater bonds," Rocha reports. Still, "The review of call report data reveals how some banks appear to have misplanned for a scenario in which interest rates rose sharply. . . They effectively took the same position as Silicon Valley Bank, where executives thought interest rates would stay ultralow for years and were caught by surprise when the Fed raised rates aggressively." Cliff Rossi, a University of Maryland professor and former chief risk officer of Citigroup's consumer lending division, told Rocha, "It was Risk Management 101. They need to be all over that."

"The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., whose chairman has warned about unrealized bond losses across the industry since at least May 2022, declined to comment," Rocha adds. "Bank lobbying groups, as well as several of the banks in question, said American Banker's analysis is incomplete and paints an inaccurate picture of those banks' health. . . .Hugh Carney, a top executive at the American Bankers Association, said a single metric such as unrealized bond losses 'does not accurately capture the risks or health of an individual bank.'"

Native American editor and reporter Mark Trahant among six entering National Native American Hall of Fame

Mark Trahant will be inducted into the National Native
Hall of Fame. (Indian Country Today photo)
Indian Country Today Editor Mark Trahant will be inducted into the 2023 National Native American Hall of Fame. Trahant, who is a member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, is a celebrated author, editor, reporter, and former president of the Native American Journalists Association. "Trahant has had a lasting effect on media to the benefit of Native American communities through his responsible storytelling and journalism. . . . He was co-author of a series on federal Indian policy and a finalist for the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting," the 2023 class announcement says. "Books that he has written include The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, Pictures of Our Nobler Selves and The Constitution as Metaphor. . . . He was named Best Columnist by the Native American Journalists. He was a co-winner of the Heywood Broun Award. In 2019, Trahant received the NAJA-Medill Milestone Achievement Award. Trahant was chairman and chief executive officer at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

The 2023 class includes individuals who have "made contributions across a range of categories, including law, journalism, advocacy, writing, and entertainment." The induction ceremony will be held this fall. The additional inductees to be enshrined are:

Joe DeLaCruz, Quinault Indian Nation, brought intelligence and charisma to the struggle to get effective self-governance to his tribe. He served as president for 22 years and to Indians across the country. DeLaCruz built a formidable record of accomplishment, tackling such tough and long-standing issues as access to reservation lands by non-Natives, fisheries, and logging management, and perhaps most notably, the status and role of Indian tribes within the American body politics. DeLaCruz passed away in 2000. 

Will Sampson, Muscogee Creek, was an actor, artist, and rodeo competitor before passing away in 1987. Sampson's most notable roles were as Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and as Taylor the Medicine Man in the horror film Poltergeist II. . . . Sampson received the Canadian Genie Award in 1980 for "Best Performance by a Foreign Actor" in the film, Fish Hawk. He advocated for Native actors to play Native roles in movies. Sampson founded the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts for Native American actors. 

Leslie Marmon Silko, Laguna Pueblo, is an acclaimed novelist, poet, and essayist. She received the 1994 Native Writers' Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2020 Robert Kirsch Award. Silko was a key figure in the first wave of what literary critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance. Silko garnered early literary acclaim for her short story "The Man to Send Rain Clouds," which was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Discovery grant. 

Richard Trudell, a member of the Santee Dakota Sioux Tribe in Nebraska, was the founder and executive director of the American Indian Lawyer Training Program and its American Indian Resources Institute. Under Trudell's direction and vision, AILTP launched its premier publication, the Indian Law Reporter.Trudell is a veteran and received a degree in accounting and a law degree. 

LaNada Means War Jack, Shoshone Bannock, Native American writer and activist and the first Native American student admitted to the University of California in 1968. War Jack co-led the student occupation of Alcatraz Island in a peaceful protest of the federal government's ill treatment of Native people and broken treaties with tribes. . . . War Jack was on the founding board and executive board of the Native American Rights Fund for nearly a decade. She has been an elected councilwoman for her tribes and served on many boards both locally and nationally. 

The Native American Hall of Fame is located on the campus of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. Its mission is to recognize and honor the inspirational achievements of Native Americans in contemporary history. The organization also serves as a unique resource for identifying and honoring these contemporary pathmakers, new heroes, and significant contributors to American society.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Society of Professional Journalists says Fox News apparently gave its viewers false and misleading information

The Society of Professional Journalists, which has sometimes wrestled with the question of if, when and how to call out bad behavior in journalism, issued a statement Wednesday on Fox News's treatment of the allegations against Dominion Voting Systems in the weeks after the 2020 election.

SPJ President Claire Regan and the organizaiton's Professional Standards and Ethics Committee said recenly released evidence in Dominion's defamation lawsuit against Fox "appear to show that popular prime-time Fox News hosts, with support from network executives, gave their viewers false and misleading information."

The statement said the first tenet of SPJ's Code of Ethics, "Seek the truth and report it," is “a fundamental ethical rule of journalism . . . If a news organization knowingly spreads lies, either in news reporting or opinion, it has clearly breached this most sacred of principles. No responsible journalist can accept or excuse this behavior. News organizations have a fundamental obligation to be honest in the reporting and opinion they disseminate. It is unprofessional, unethical and potentially harmful for a journalist or news organization to deliberately mislead their audience, no matter the motivation or format.”

Fox has said it was reporting on matters of public concern, and that opinions endorsing the allegations against Dominion were constitutionally protected opinion. SPJ said, “The lines between factual reporting and commentary have become increasingly blurred. However, responsible opinion hosts and commentators have a duty to use verified facts as the basis of their arguments and to not peddle what they know to be lies and disinformation. Many people use the information they get from their favorite hosts and commentators to form their own opinions. We support journalists at Fox who have refused to take part in narratives of falsehoods.”

The statement concluded, “Some media companies have found footing in pandering to target audiences on all sides of our cultural and political divides. Appealing to confirmation bias and manufacturing outrage with deceptive posturing for profit, popularity or power while turning away from facts is a cynical and hypocritical strategy. It is unconscionable and an insult to the tens of thousands of American journalists, including many at Fox, who understand their obligation to serve the public interest, not the bottom line.”

We're looking for examples of how lack of broadband affects rural news outlets' ability to serve their communities

Broadband access and adoption remain major challenges for rural America, despite recent expansion of high-speed internet service to many rural areas and the prospect of more with federal infrastructre funding. The Rebuild Local News Coalition is seeking examples of how a lack of broadband infrastructure affects the ability of local news outlets to fulfill the information needs of its community, and is especially interested in examples from rural areas.

If you know of such examples, please click here to email them to Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, publisher of The Rural Blog. He is a member of the coalition's steering committee, which will hold its monthly meeting next week.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 16 million people in rural America lack high-speed internet, but that number may be far higher; some estimates go as high as more than 150 million Americans lacking adequate broadband, according to research published recently in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Small towns are creating and saving their local grocery stores; here's how a few are finding success

Prairie Market's design is inspired by a popular chain, Trader
Joe's Grocery. (Photo courtesy of Prairie Market)

You have no fried onions for tomorrow's green-bean casserole. You'll go to the store and get some if you're an urban dweller. If you're a rural dweller, you will have no fried onions unless you want to DRIVE. "The Department of Agriculture lists 76 counties nationwide that are without a single grocery store, and 34 of those counties are in the Midwest and Great Plains," reports Aaron Bonderson of Harvest Public Media. Rural grocery stores that do exist face stiff challenges. "Big-box stores and grocery consolidation have added even more pressure on local grocers. A recent USDA report shows the percentage of grocery sales from the nation's top 20 retailers more than doubled from 1990 to 2020, while the consolidation was more pronounced in rural areas."

Yet most small towns residents want a local grocery. Bonderson explains, "For about five years, Emerson, Nebraska, pop. 824, had no grocery, leaving residents to drive at least 20 miles for a full-service grocer. Then last year, the community came together to support a new co-op. . . . . Post 60 Market moved into the old American Legion building. . . . . Manager Brian Horak said the village of people invested nearly $160,000 in the store. . . . . Investors receive discounts, dividends and elect a board of directors each year to oversee large financial decisions." Horak told Bonderson, "With being a co-op and so many people bought in – it's like you got multiple owners who have just as much commitment to see this thing succeed."

Bonderson provides Circle C market in Cody, Nebraska, pop. 167, as an example: "It's run by the Cody-Kilgore school district. The store got started in 2008 with the help of several national organizations and a grant from the USDA. . . . . The Village of Cody owns the building, while the school district and a local nonprofit, Cowboy Grit, helped finance the store. . . . Each semester about eight students help at the Circle C Market as part of a class, learning important skills." Teacher and store manager Liz Ravenscroft told Boderson, "We are vital to the community. The next closest grocery store is 40 miles to the east, and the other closest grocery store is an hour to the west."

Other rural grocery stores have tweaked their business models to increase sales. "Laura and Don Palmer first started Prairie Market in Paullina, Iowa, pop. 952, eight years ago. Like many businesses, they struggled at first. Then they adjusted their hours, staying open on nights and weekends to cater to their customers, who often commute long distances," Bonderson reports. The couple painted their store a cheery shade of teal, mimicking a popular retailer. Laura Palmer told Bonderson, "My favorite store was Trader Joe's. . . . People come in the store, especially young people, they want to come in, and they want it to be vibrant and clean and organized."

Kansas is another state working to address the lack. It established "The Rural Grocery Initiative" to support rural grocery stores, reports Bonderson. The initiative's leader Rial Carver told Bonderson, "We've seen success with communities kind of becoming engaged through cooperatives, through public-private partnerships. We've even seen nonprofits and school run grocery stores, as well as municipally run stores in communities."

Once a shunned gun, the AR-15 is now America's most popular firearm; it was never intended for public use

Image from The Washington Post
How did a gun that was never made for mass use become America's favorite? The AR-15's beginnings are quiet: "Originally designed as a soldiers’ rifle in the late 1950s. 'An outstanding weapon with phenomenal lethality,' an internal Pentagon report raved. It soon became standard issue for U.S. troops in the Vietnam War, where the weapon earned a new name: the M16," report Todd C. Frankel, Shawn Boburg, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker and Alex Horton of The Washington Post. "Few gunmakers saw a semiautomatic version of the rifle as a product for ordinary people. It didn’t seem suited for hunting. It seemed like overkill for home defense. Gun executives doubted many buyers would want to spend their money on one. . . . The industry’s biggest trade shows banished the AR-15 to the back."

The move to market the AR-15 "began after the 2004 expiration of a federal assault weapons ban that had blocked the sales of many semiautomatic rifles. A handful of manufacturers saw a chance to ride a post-9/11 surge in military glorification. . . . This transformation — from made-for-combat weapon to mass-market behemoth and cultural flash point — is the product of a sustained and intentional effort that has forged an American icon," the Post writes. Randy Luth, the founder of gunmaker DPMS, one of the earliest companies to market AR-15s, told the Post, “We made it look cool. The same reason you buy a Corvette.”

The numbers tell the story: "Ten of the 17 deadliest U.S. mass shootings since 2012 have involved AR-15s. . . . after repeated mass killings involving the AR-15 that accounted for some of the nation’s darkest moments, efforts in Congress to resurrect an assault weapons ban repeatedly fizzled," the Post reports. "Calls by Democratic politicians to renew the ban fell short, with some in their own party voting against it at key moments. Almost no Republican would even entertain the idea." Sen. Chris Murphy, a vocal supporter of stronger gun laws, told the Post, “The protection of the AR-15 has become the number one priority for the gun lobby. It makes it harder to push this issue on the table because the gun lobby does so much messaging around it.”

Associated Press table from Northeastern U. Mass Killing Database
"Today, the AR-15 is the best-selling rifle in the United States, industry figures indicate. About 1 in 20 U.S. adults — or roughly 16 million people — own at least one AR-15. . . . Today, the industry estimates that at least 20 million AR-15s are stored and stashed across the country," the Post reports. "Video games introduced a new generation to the AR-15 through popular first-person shooter games such as 'Call of Duty.' Players got to simulate using military weapons with down-to-the-bolt realism."

The Post provides an AR-15 convert as an example: "Bill Shanley saw his first AR-15 up close when one of his adult sons came home with one in 2010. Father and son took the AR-15 to a gun range. Shanley couldn’t believe how loud it was. . . . . But the black rifle had little recoil. It was fun to shoot. Three shots with his old hunting rifle bruised his shoulder. Fifty rounds with the AR-15 felt like a breeze. Shanley was sold. He soon bought his own, a Smith & Wesson M&P 15." Shanley told the Post, "The AR is the modern-day musket."

"The AR-15 was also especially alluring to the gunman who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo in May 2022," the Post writes. "'The AR-15 and its variants are very deadly when used properly,' he wrote in a manifesto filled with hateful vitriol. 'Which is the reason I picked one.'. . . Ten days later, 19 schoolchildren and two adults were shot to death in Uvalde, Tex., with another AR-15, the Daniel Defense DDM4."

A real-life electric-van story from an Iowa publisher: 'We had been spending $900 a month on gasoline'

By John Cullen
Storm Lake (Iowa) Times Pilot

It’s been almost a year since the Times Pilot bought our electric van, and we receive a lot of questions about it. Here’s a progress report.

It replaced two worn-out vehicles — a van and a cube truck — that had amassed nearly 400,000 miles each. In the same month both broke down, one victim to a transmission, the other to a deer. We needed a replacement fast.

We had been spending $900 per month on gasoline, and so the economy of an electric van appealed to us, not to mention that within a decade or so internal combustion engines are going the way of the horse and buggy.

Art has had three Chevy Volts, the plug-in hybrid that was produced from 2011-2019, and barely had to fill his tank with gas because he got about 40 miles on electricity before the gas engine kicked in. Other than a trip to Byron’s in Pomeroy on Sunday evenings, he hardly drives it out of town. He’s sold on electric vehicles.

The Ford E-Transit van we bought costs about $160 per month in electricity. We put about 2,000 miles per month on it running papers all neighboring counties. The purchase price was a little more than a gasoline van, but the savings in fuel more than made up for that in the first six months.

While most electric cars these days have a range of 250-300 miles, our van’s range is about half that. Ford research found that most cargo vans average 74 miles per day, so to keep the cost and weight down, it has a smaller battery capacity. The mileage limit has worked out all right for us. We figured out routes that minimize mileage.

In summer the van’s range is up to 150 miles. In winter, the range drops to about 100 miles on the coldest days. The same limits apply to cars. Cold weather drops battery range by nearly a third.

We installed a level 2 charger, which uses 240 volts, at our office at a cost of about $1,900. It charges about 26 miles per hour. A home charger, running off regular household current, might only charge at a rate of 3 or 4 miles per hour.

There are commercial DC fast chargers along interstates that charge at a much higher rate, but they can cost $100,000 or more to install.

At the time we bought our van, Ford was the only electric option. Ford introduced its van just after it brought out its F-150 Lightning and those pickups are selling like hotcakes. Ours is the only electric van that we know of in Buena Vista County, and maybe western Iowa. As for the Lightning pickup, there is one in Storm Lake, and the owner waited 11 months for it. I’ve seen a couple Teslas in Storm Lake. They don’t have dealers. You buy direct from Tesla online. Ford and GM have service centers in practically every county seat town in Iowa. Tesla’s only Iowa service is in Council Bluffs and Des Moines.

GM produced the Chevy Volt until three years ago in favor of the all-electric Bolt, which is an inexpensive small vehicle with limited range. GM is coming out with a variety of electric vehicles later this year. Ford has the Mustang Mach-E, Lightning pickup and E-Transit van, and can’t keep up with demand. Along with European and Asian automakers, they are chasing an exploding market that Tesla has had pretty much to itself for the past five years.

There are other cost savings in electric vehicles. They require much less maintenance, for example, no oil changes and no transmissions.

The biggest challenge to electric vehicles now is the lack of public charging facilities. If you stay on interstates, you have no trouble juicing up. But if you wander up two-lane roads, even major routes like Hwy. 71, you’ll develop range anxiety real quick. There are no public chargers between Early and Spencer, nearly 60 miles. We’ve accommodated several visiting Tesla drivers at our charger who found out to their dismay about Storm Lake’s lack of charging facilities. In a few years as more electric cars hit the roads there should be chargers in every town from Schaller to Sioux Rapids, but until then, drivers be wary.

Many public charging stations, except for Tesla, are often out of service or slow. Where you can fill a gas car up in five minutes, it can take an hour or more to rejuice an electric car at a DC fast charger. Tesla is the gold standard for charging around the world. It operates its own proprietary charging stations that are fast, reliable and plentiful. The problem is that non-Teslas could not charge there until this month. Tesla is gradually converting its chargers to allow competitors, but there are only about 14 so far across the nation. That will change as Tesla converts. But non-Teslas pay a premium.

The cheapest place to charge is at home. MidAmerican Energy’s residential and business electric rates here are very reasonable, about 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Public DC fast chargers along highways cost from 30 cents to 50 cents kWh. At the higher rates, electric isn’t a whole lot cheaper than gas.

Gas stations aren’t going out of business anytime soon. There are hundreds of millions of internal combustion vehicles that will need dinosaur juice for decades to come.

Once marketed to farmers as a 'no-till' solution, herbicide paraquat is on trial; companies may have known its risk

Image via Civil Eats
While still legal and widely used by U.S. farmers, the deadly herbicide paraquat will soon face court scrutiny. "As of mid-March, more than 3,000 farmers with Parkinson's disease have filed federal lawsuits against the herbicide's former chief distributor Chevron and its lead manufacturer Syngenta, which sells it under the brand name Gramoxone," reports Grey Moran of Civil Eats. "Paraquat is applied in the greatest quantities to fields of soybeans, cotton, and grapes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It's also the deadliest pesticide used in U.S. agriculture, capable of killing a human with just a sip, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns. . . . . As far back as 1983, the journalist Andrew Revkin warned that 'the potent weedkiller is killing people,' as he starkly detailed its link to suicides and accidental deaths. A considerable body of evidence links the toxicant to Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological condition with no cure."

The use of paraquat began as "no-till" farming evolved. "It was sold to farmers as revolutionary. Its introduction into the marketplace in 1962 coincided with a growing awareness of overplowing soil, year after year until it degrades," Moran writes. "Looking to avoid another Dust Bowl, farmers were eager for ways to keep their soil intact. Chevron, a distributor of paraquat at the time, jumped on this opportunity. . . . 'Let paraquat be your plow,' a 1972 Chevron advertisement in No Till Farmer, the leading resource on no-till methods, urged soil-conscious farmers. . . . In 1984, an op-ed in The New York Times by a Chevron representative proclaimed that 'the plow has been replaced with the use of herbicides,' celebrating the 'quiet revolution.'"

"The first federal bellwether trial is set for October 2023, and it could result in payouts to affected farmers," Moran writes. "The lawsuits, which were consolidated to pool evidence, have led to a trove of hundreds of documents, published by The Guardian and The New Lede, including evidence that the companies knew—as early as the 1960s—about paraquat's potential risks to the brain and feared the potential. . . . Observing these dangers to life and health, more than 50 countries have now banned paraquat, including the E.U., U.K., China, and Brazil."

A plaintiff in the federal litigation, retired farmer Larry Wyles, told Moran, "The companies that produce this herbicide should be held responsible for whatever they are responsible for. If [my Parkinson's disease] had to do with paraquat, then they should pay dearly for that because it has helped to take the dignity out of my life. . . . . I am a shell of my former self." Moran adds, "The disease has also taken a toll on Wyles financially; last year, he had to sell the farm to pay his mounting medical bills."

Moran explains, "At the heart of all the lawsuits is the claim that exposure to paraquat is causally linked to Parkinson's disease—both in the plaintiffs' uniquely devastating cases and on a broader scientific level. . . . Lawsuit plaintiffs were never made aware of the research linking Parkinson's disease and paraquat, largely because it is not included on the label for Gramoxone. In fact, the company's website reads: 'Scientific evidence does not support a causal link between paraquat and Parkinson's disease. Syngenta rejects claims made in litigation to the contrary.' However, this could change as the EPA reconsiders its risk analysis of the herbicide, potentially revising its labeling requirements."

The plaintiffs maintain that the EPA did not protect them. "The lawsuit challenged a range of oversights, claiming the EPA considered the economic risk to growers more heavily than the health risk to farmers and farmworkers, in violation of federal pesticides law," Moran reports. "This includes ignoring the risk of inhaling the herbicide while it's sprayed. The agency, petitioners claimed, also overlooked the medical evidence relating to Parkinson's disease, citing research by the National Health Institute, the nation's main medical research agency, which 'found that people who applied paraquat were more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson's disease as those who applied other pesticides.'"

"Dr. Ray Dorsey, an advisor on the lawsuit and Professor of Neurology at the University of Rochester, noted that Parkinson's disease is the fastest-growing brain disease, but he believes its rate of growth could be slowed if environmental factors, like the spraying of paraquat, were addressed." Dorsey told Moran, "I think the EPA has a lot of explaining to do. Why is it not addressing a known environmental contributor to the rise of Parkinson's?"

Ginseng Diggers: A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia wins Appalachian Studies Association award

Ginseng Diggers: A History of Root and Herb Gathering in Appalachia
is the winner of this year's non-fiction Weatherford Award, given by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association. Author Luke Manget's debut book presents a new take on Appalachian history: "It is the first of its kind to unearth the unique relationship between Appalachia and the global trade of medicinal plants. This release provides an extensive addition to the understanding of land use and gathering commons, medicine, capitalism, and the beginnings of the pharmaceutical industry," the award announcement says.

It's an absorbing history of people and plant: "The harvesting of wild American ginseng (panax quinquefolium), the gnarled, aromatic herb known for its therapeutic and healing properties, is deeply established in North America and has played an especially vital role in the southern and central Appalachian Mountains. Traded through a trans-Pacific network that connected the region to East Asian markets, ginseng was but one of several medicinal Appalachian plants that entered international webs of exchange." Ginseng Diggers also received the 2023 James A. Duke Excellence in Botanical Literature Award in the Consumer/Popular Category. Luke Manget is an assistant professor of history at Dalton State College in Dalton, Ga.

Runners-up in the nonfiction category were Making Our Future: Visionary Folklore & Everyday Culture in Appalachia by Emily Hilliard, Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place by Neema Avashia, and Something in These Hills: The Culture of Family Land in Southern Appalachia by John M. Coggeshall.

The fiction award goes to Barbara Kingsolver, author of Demon Copperhead. Beth Macy, author of "Dopesick," described this work: "Demon is a voice for the ages—akin to Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield—only even more resilient.” Fiction Finalists were Ashley Blooms for Where I Can’t Follow and Patricia Hudson for Traces: A Novel.

The Weatherford Awards honor books that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.” They commemorate W.D. Weatherford Sr., a pioneer and leading figure in Appalachian development, youth work, and race relations, and of his son, Willis D. Weatherford Jr., who was president of Berea.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Most U.S. police departments are small; 9 of 10 have fewer than 50 officers; changing their culture is no small task

Photo by Logan Weaver, Unsplash
Words heard when a policing goes bad: "Defund. Investigate. Overhaul. Change the culture." While some big-city police departments may need a reboot, "the agencies that have been in the spotlight recently for uses of force — fatal shootings of Black men in Brooklyn Center, Minn., pop. 34,000, and Elizabeth City, N.C., pop. 19, 000, and pepper-spraying a Black and Latino man in Windsor, Va., pop. 2,700 — are more like what American law enforcement looks like, small departments in places that rarely make the news," reports Mark Berman of The Washington Post. "Nearly half of all local police departments have fewer than 10 officers. . . . . Nine in 10 employ fewer than 50 sworn officers. Brooklyn Center, which has 43 officers, and Windsor, which reported a seven-member force, fit comfortably in that majority."

Part of the problem with local is that it's local. "Experts say that while smaller departments have their benefits, including being able to adapt to their communities and hire officers with local ties, these agencies also are typically able to avoid the accountability being sought as part of the national movement to restructure and improve policing," Berman writes. "These departments' often limited resources and the decentralized structure of American law enforcement complicate efforts to mandate widespread training and policy changes, experts say."

"You want to change American policing, figure out how to get to . . . . the departments of 50 officers or less," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based group that works with police departments, told Berman. "It's unlike any other country. In places like the United Kingdom, you have a Home Office; you have standards. In Germany or Israel … they have a national police. Our policing is completely fragmented, decentralized, with no national standards."

In March, an example of "fragmented standards and fewer resources" was uncovered by The Chronicle newspaper in Cottage Grove, Oregon, pop. 11,000: "Five months after the sudden resignations of former Cottage Grove Police Chief Scott Shepherd and Captain Conrad Gagner, The Chronicle obtained documents that detail the circumstances around their departure, including racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, illegal detainment, failure to support outside law enforcement agencies," reported Ryleigh Norgrove. "After Shepherd and Gagner's resignations, city manager Richard Meyers told The Chronicle: "The investigation associated with their administrative leave has been stopped because of their resignations. It would be fiscally irresponsible to continue to pay the costs associated with an investigation regarding personal actions for people who are no longer city employees."

The issues in Cottage Grove seem less extreme than others. "Police in Windsor stopped and held Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario at gunpoint in December for not having a permanent rear license plate," Berman reports. "In video footage, officers are heard yelling and berating Nazario and are seen striking and pepper-spraying him before handcuffing him. . . . . On April 21, sheriff's deputies in Elizabeth City shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr. while attempting to serve a felony warrant."

There are no simple answers. "The rules of policing change depending on where you are," Dennis Kenney, a former Florida police officer and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at the City Universiy of New York, told Berman. Berman notes, "Kenney pointed to community policing, a concept that involves building ties between officers and the communities they patrol, as an example. Advocates of the approach had to sell it to thousands of different agencies, he said."

Christy E. Lopez, who now teaches law at Georgetown University in Washingotn, D.C., told Berman, "There are pros and cons [to the American system]. . . . It's a very big country with different challenges in parts of it. I like the idea of having different agencies that can experiment . . . . and respond to that particular community. I think there's value to that."