Friday, April 21, 2023

'People find sunsets to be the most awe-inspiring weather,' study says; maybe we should spend more time with them

A spring sunset reflects off Stoney Creek near Pasadena, Maryland.
(Photo by Jonathan Newton, The Washington Post)
As spring ebbs and flows into summer, it might be time to go out and gaze at some sunsets. Sunrises can be big, bold and full of promise, but sunsets can be more momentous because the air has more things to refract light. "Whether you're commuting, relaxing on vacation or quickly glancing out the window, the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows streaming from the sun grab your attention, writes Kasha Patel of The Washington Post. So many of us think, 'Wow.' We become momentarily speechless." 

"Research has shown that spending time in nature under clear blue skies can boost your mental health, but the new research suggests perhaps looking at a sunset or sunrise can be an extra boost for your emotional state. . . . Now research tells us: Sunsets are among the most beautiful fleeting weather phenomenon in a day. . . . . People find sunrises and sunsets to be the most beautiful and awe-inspiring weather, according to a study published this year by a pair of British researchers," Patel reports. "People liked them more than storms, rainbows, clear blue skies or nightscapes — and some would even be willing to pay up to 100 British pounds to see landscapes at dawn or dusk."

"Awe has typically been a difficult emotion to evoke, said lead author Alex Smalley, but feelings of awe can improve mood, increase positive emotions and decrease stress," Patel writes. "Smalley's research has shown that people can 'experience these bumps in awe and aesthetic appraisal and beauty' when looking at a sunset or sunrise. Smalley, a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter in England, told her, "We have, as Western populations, become very disconnected from the natural world. When you see something vast and overwhelming or something that produces this feeling of awe, your own problems can feel diminished, and so you don't worry so much about them."

At times our schedules do not allow us to be present, but physically seeing a sunset may not be required. Patel reports, "Smalley says his new study indicates that you might not need to see the sunset in real-time or even in person. Much of his current research uses digital stimuli of nature, such as a screen saver, to test a person's emotions. . . . He also works with an app called Portal, which uses immersive technology to transport people's imaginations to beautiful places around the world. In both cases, he said, people reported more positive emotions, moods and a strengthening of cognitive functions that are often experienced when people physically spend time in nature."

White women in rural America are dying at accelerated rates; new memoir explores why this group 'feels forgotten'

Book cover via Amazon
"A New Divide in American Death" was a Washington Post headline in 2016. The article's research pointed to an only partially explained reality: "The most extreme changes in mortality have occurred among white women, who are far more likely than their grandmothers to be smokers, suffer from obesity or drink themselves to death," Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating wrote. "The statistics show decaying health for all white women since 2000. The trend was most dramatic for women in the more rural areas."

But why? Sometimes it takes a story rather than a study to show us. Journalist and author Monica Potts grew up in Clinton, Arkansas, a town of about 2,500. She left to pursue her dreams, but her best friend, Darci, stayed in Clinton. In an interview with NPR Host Scott Detrow, Potts discusses the two women's contrasting stories in her new book, The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir Of Friendship And Lost Promise In Rural America.

Detrow: Two best friends start with the same dream but grow up to live very different lives. It's the story at the heart of a new memoir about getting out of a small town and the crushing pressures to stay in it. . . .So you're the one who, as it were, got out. But let's start with this - your friend Darci didn't. Tell us about Darci, and tell us about when the two of you were really young, the type of dreams you shared.
Potts: Darci and I met when we were really young, like, 5 or 6. From that moment on, we were almost sisters. We grew up in a small town in the Ozark Mountains. . . . It's a strong evangelical community. When we were little, we would look through an old atlas and dream about getting away when we were older to a big place. . . . When we were older, we dreamed about going to concerts and listening to bands we liked instead of the country music we heard everywhere.
Detrow: Just focusing in on that marriage message, you also write about the hypocrisy and the confusion about, your life is about getting married; your life is about finding a husband; your life is about having children. And yet, if you have sex before marriage and if you get pregnant, that's a terrible, terrible decision - and just trying to make sense of all of these conflicting messages as a teenager.
Potts: Yeah. Well, it's a terrible decision, but the path to redemption is through the church.
Detrow: At the expense of your education in many examples, right?
Potts: Yeah.
Detrow: You write about people dropping out of high school their sophomore or junior year, even, and getting married once they become pregnant.
Potts: At the expense of your education and whatever else you might have wanted for your life. Your life becomes about being a mother, and everything else you might have wanted becomes subsumed by that.
Detrow: So you go to college. You begin a career as a journalist. Darci drops out of college relatively early. She stays in and around Clinton. She's in a series of abusive relationships. . . .has drug problems. . . but you ultimately reconnected as adults.
Potts: I was working as a journalist, and I had started to read a series of studies about white women with the least amounts of education - were losing years of life expectancy compared to the generation before. That felt very personal to me. . . .That group of women was similar to the girls that I had grown up with, and I wanted to report what was happening and across rural America. . . .While I was [in Clinton] in April 2015, Darci reached out to me for the first time . . . . We met up. . . . I told her the kind of book I wanted to write. . . And she said, well, maybe you should just write about me. From there, we started to talk more about her life.
Potts: We spent a lot of time together over the next few years.
Detrow: And she really struggled in those interactions with you.
Potts: It was really up and down, and it was often painful to watch. . . . But she thought that if her story might help other people, then it would be worth it.
Detrow: And what do you think the big picture lessons are?
Potts: I've spent about five years thinking about this. . . One of the things in rural America is this perception of scarcity. I think it's easy for people here to believe that they've been forgotten, that there's no help for them, that there are no options. . . . or life outside of the church and motherhood and marriage for girls is. . . .They're just not connected to those options. I think the first place to start would be expanding those worlds and connecting people to the broader world . . . . giving people the freedom to become who they are and who they need to be.
Detrow: Over the period where you began reporting this book and writing this book, you decided to move back there yourself. Why?
Potts: There was a moment when I started to come home in my mid-30s. . . . I just realized how beautiful this place was to me. I have really deep roots here. . . . And there are things about this place I love - the wildness, the mountains, the rivers, and some of the culture. I felt I needed to close the loop before I could move on with my adulthood and experience this place anew and with fresh adult eyes.

Farmers wonder about sequestering carbon. It will take time to measure the soil's capacity, and the results may vary.

Photo via Successful Farming
It's no wonder farmers feel stress. They have to feed the planet, fuel cars, make sure their livestock is healthy, and now they have to decide whether to sequester carbon. "Much fanfare accompanies programs that pay farmers to sequester greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in their soils. Yet, questions linger as research casts doubt on whether the promise equals reality," reports Laurie Bedord of Successful Farming. Gregg Sanford, senior scientist, Department of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin, told Bedord, "I worry that we are selling ourselves a pie-in-the-sky dream we might not realize, and that it could come back to bite farmers and ultimately not get us any further down the road toward reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

Bedord explains, "About two decades ago, Sanford began reading scientific literature that suggested certain farming systems could help combat climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil." Sanford told her, "We love to support farmers and incentivize them to do things that benefit society, but we also put a ridiculous amount of pressure on farmers to save us from every-thing. I don't feel the science is there to say that if you do these practices (e.g., cover crops, no-till, etc.), you will sequester carbon across the board. In some cases, we will, but in many cases, we won't." Bedord adds, "One of the caveats with soil carbon sequestration, Sanford says, is there are places in the United States where certain types of farming management will be able to build soil carbon resources, but results may vary."

"Sanford believes that to make a big impact on soil carbon and use it as a tactic to mitigate climate change, a transformational change must occur in agriculture," Bedord writes. "If the prairies built these soils, should we consider emulating what they can do in our production systems?" Sanford told her, "To get soils in the Midwest back as close as we can to those tallgrass prairies to stabilize or accrue carbon, we need to switch from farming systems dominated by annual crops to systems dominated by or exclusively built around perennials. . . . That is our best hope for building carbon in this region, but it's a big change and a hard pitch to make."

For now, soil, not carbon credits, is farmers' focus. "Initially, Kevin Bahr was among the carbon program skeptics. As he learned more about the Truterra carbon program, Bahr says it seemed like something worth exploring and joined the program in 2021," Bedord reports. "Like most central Kansas farms, Bahr's land is diversified. . . His soils range from good black dirt to sandy loam." Bahr told her, "While we may be talking about carbon, this program is more about soil health, which is a journey that doesn't happen overnight. . . I'm employing certain practices like no-till and cover crops because they are best for my soil; the carbon credit money is like gravy on top of my mashed potatoes. It's a reward for taking care of the land the way I should."

Award-winning NPR affiliate struggles with state university overseers about investigative reporting on public figures

Rural West Kentucky has "an award-winning public radio news department struggling with administrators, particularly Murray State University President Robert 'Bob' Jackson, about investigative reporting involving state lawmakers and other public figures and institutions," reports WPSD-TV in Paducah. Examples:

When WKMS asked the local health department for Covid-19 case numbers, "including case counts from the university," Jackson somehow learned about it and called a Zoom meeting with the provost and station manager Stan Lampe, who resigned last June.

That was soon after reporter Liam Niemeyer, now at the Kentucky Lantern, sought security video showing  District Judge Jamie Jameson "walking around the courthouse in his underwear early in the morning," WPSD reports. Lampe testified before the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission, which removed the judge from office: "I felt as though . . . someone was attempting to influence me or exercise some leverage over me because of the power they hold." WPSD reports, "Lampe said he was subsequently ordered by administrators he believed were acting on Jackson's orders to provide a written explanation."

Lampe, the station's former news director, testified that he was not punished "but the public radio station had received ... changes in their budgetary allocation as you would see lawmakers contact university officials in the event that their — if, if the university official, I can't speak for that person, but I can say the station — not necessarily me, but the station — could receive some negative blowback from the administration."

In November, after Jackson spoke to the Paducah Rotary Club, "WPSD tried to speak with him about the incident involving his and Jameson's conversation and the possible WKMS story. Jackson refused to answer multiple questions before getting into the back seat of a car and being driven away. At the time of this interview, the university had not provided a statement to WPSD. Emails we obtained after the Kentucky attorney general said Murray State violated the law by withholding them reveal that Jackson's opinion about WKMS’s reporting was well known to administrators."

Business Dean David Eaton wrote, "Dr. Jackson gets complaints in regards to the 'investigative' nature of some of the news . . . along the lines of ‘We're not The New York Times.’ And this seems to be the nature of the complaints that are coming to him. … I think this may be tied to a perception of FOIA requests that ‘reporters stir up trouble.’ Or inconvenience. Or maybe shed light in places people don't want it ... which is a legit function of journalism. . . . Clearly, WKMS is not simply a publicity arm of Murray State." Eaton mentioned reporting of a lawsuit against a nonprofit headed by state Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah.

Niemeyer reported, but the station never aired, a story about another legislator's Twitter feed, "which Niemeyer characterized as 'about tweets showing nudity, sex acts and other sexual content that were "liked" by state Sen. Jason Howell's Twitter account'." Howell's district includes Murray. The Lantern ran the story. In pursuing it, Niemeyer told a MSU public-relations excutive that Lampe had "called me at my desk right before we had planned to publish the story and told me to kill it. He told me he couldn't guarantee that my job would be protected if the story ran."

Niemeyer said in the email that News Director Rachel Keller "says the Twitter account story being killed was a part of multiple incidents during her tenure as news director where [she] and/or Lampe faced pressure from university administration or public figures in the community regarding stories that the station published or reporting the station pursued."

After 17 years of debate, Iowans will be able to buy raw milk, but health questions remain; 18 other states ban sales

Michael Jennings Photography photo via Des Moines Register
After almost two decades of debate, the Iowa Legislature gave its final approval to allow the sale of raw milk from farm to consumer, reports Donnelle Eller of the Des Moines Register. "Previously passed by the House, it will let producers sell unpasteurized milk to Iowans from their farms, as well as cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other raw milk products. . . . Sen. Jason Schultz was the bill's Senate floor manager; he said that he'd waited 17 years for a raw milk bill to clear the Legislature. . . . Senate Bill 315 goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature."

The bill's passage doesn't mean the conflict over raw milk is settled. "Supporters say raw milk tastes better and has more nutrients, while opponents say it can contain bacteria that's dangerous to children and could spark a public health outbreak," Eller writes. "Several major farm organizations, including the Iowa State Dairy Association and Iowa Dairy Foods Association, registered to lobby against the bill. . . . Rep. Megan Srinivas, (D) and Des Moines infectious disease doctor, said last week during the House's debate on the bill that she's concerned children will become ill, with potentially lethal ramifications, if adults give them unpasteurized milk."

The bill sets some limits on where products can be sold along with testing requirements, but Srinivas points out that testing may not prevent illnesses. "Under Senate Bill 315, producers can sell the raw milk and related products from their farms, but not at farmers markets or restaurants. Containers must have labels saying the contents were not subject to state inspections or public health regulations," Eller reports. "It sets a testing requirement of no more than 25,000 colony-forming units, or CFUs, of bacteria per milliliter in raw milk. . . . [the testing] doesn't distinguish between the types of bacteria, Srinivas said, adding that some bacteria are good for people, while others are deadly," Eller reports. Srinivas told her, "If I had 25,000 CFUs of lactobacillus, a very healthy gut bacteria we have in probiotics, growing in my raw milk, I wouldn't be concerned. But if we have even 5,000 or 10,000 colony-forming units of Shigella, that can be lethal."

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a farmer who was the bill's House sponsor, said the legislation "allows Iowans to buy raw milk if they want it," Eller writes. Kaufmann said, "We're simply adding this to the list of foods that people can get without Jiminy Cricket, the government, sitting on their shoulder, and whispering what's best for their families." Eller adds, "Iowa is one of 19 states that has prohibited the sale of unpasteurized milk, according to Raw Milk Facts."

Thursday, April 20, 2023

DEA looks to curb telehealth prescriptions, which advocates say will complicate rural care and addiction treatment

Photo by Ted S. Warren, The Associated Press
The opioid epidemic has become a persistent, brutal feature of American life. "Its despair and suffering echo through cities large and small, from pitched tents . . . to the hamlets and hollows reeling from the opioid epidemic across Appalachia . . . a nation seemingly inured to the startling toll of addiction," wrote Kevin Deutsch of The Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, New Mexico, long plagued by drugs.

The stories of suffering, death and a medical communities stretched to their limits explain recent push-back against a new Drug Enforcement Administration "plan to resume tighter limits on the prescribing of controlled substances through telehealth," report Stephanie Armour and Liz Essley Whyte of The Wall Street Journal. "Under the proposed rules, other drugs, including Adderall, Ritalin and OxyContin, would require patients to meet in person with prescribers first or be referred by a doctor they met in person. . . . Patient-advocacy groups say the requirements would create barriers to care. . . . The in-person requirement will make it harder for certain patient populations who live in rural areas where there are few doctors or in areas where there are long waits to see a provider, according to organizations opposed to the proposal."

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, chair of the American Medical Association's Substance Use and Pain Care Task Force, told the Journal, "The DEA proposal requiring an in-person visit within 30 days to get a prescription refill is far too short and unrealistic. For patients being treated for opioid-use disorder, this proposal could result in more overdose deaths. For those who rely on controlled substances, it could result in avoidable emergency visits and hospitalizations." The Journal reports, "Dr. Brian Hurley, new president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said adding the requirement risks undermining public safety because the country is in the throes of an overdose crisis."

Why now? "The proposal comes as the Justice Department has been increasing its focus on telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substances [citing] possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act. . . . The Department of Health and Human Services  issued a special alert warning about telehealth fraud and its potential to harm patients . . . . Still, a number of medical groups say the in-person mandate isn't the solution to possible fraud. They say the DEA has rushed through the proposal, which got about 35,000 comments during a 30-day public comment period."

"A Biden official said the in-person requirement is meant to make sure that patients struggling with addiction are also screened for other health problems, such as heart conditions or diabetes," the Journal reports. "Telehealth with medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorder was linked with greater patient satisfaction, an overall reduction in healthcare costs, and an increase in the use of buprenorphine, according to a June 2022 study in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health.

In rural areas, getting health care can be harder for minorities; travel time tells the story, a new study shows

Photo from The National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Getting to a health-care provider in rural America can be tough. Details from a new study show that if you're rural and you're from a minority population, it's even harder to get needed medical treatment, reports Liz Carey of The Daily Yonder. "The report from the Rural and Minority Health Research Center looked at how close some ZIP codes were to different kinds of health care. Then they looked at access in areas with higher proportions of racial and ethnic minorities. What the study found, said Janice Probst, lead author, was that the availability of different kinds of health care was worse for rural minorities."

"If you are in a rural area, you're going to be further (from health care) than in an urban area just because that's what rural is — it's defined by being distant," Probst told Carey, "And if there are certain populations for whom it is really hard (to access health care)… If you are further away from that access or further away from those services, then you are less likely to take advantage of them."

"Researchers looked at rural ZIP codes in the lower 48 states to find out how many of them are within 15 or 30 miles of various healthcare services – a Federally Qualified Health Center or a Rural Health Clinic," Carey explains. "Then they went a step further and looked at how far urban and rural communities with higher proportions of minorities are from those same services. . . . . Consistently, the researchers found that rural ZIP code areas with higher proportions of minority residents were more likely to be further away from those health-care services."

How did the disparity develop? "The cause, Probst said, is rooted in history. She said Black populations in the 'Old South,' as well as Hispanic populations in the Southwest, are holdovers from historical settlement patterns," Carey reports. "Similarly, she said, states in the West have higher American Indian and Alaskan Native populations, but also have lower population density and require residents to travel greater distances. . . . Communities with higher proportions of AI/AN residents were more likely to have further to travel for every healthcare category the study looked at."

The study looked at "substance-abuse-disorder treatment, and only 9.7% of all urban ZIP code areas are more than 15 miles from a treatment facility, but 45.2% of rural ZIP code areas with higher proportions of AI/AN residents are," Carey writes. "Similarly, more than a third of all rural ZIP codes with higher proportions of Hispanic residents reported being more than 30 miles away from trauma centers (42.1%), intensive care units (39.7%), and obstetrics units (29.1%) . . . .The findings are important, Probst said, because the availability of care influences whether or not a patient uses that service. And without access to those services, rural residents will likely go without the health care they need."

Washington legislature passes bill to exempt newspapers from state gross-receipts tax to 'support local journalism'

Pexels/Digital Bugg photo via Columbia Basin Herald 
Efforts to shift government policies to help local news media, now focusing on states instead of Congress, have scored their first major victory. The Washington State Legislature has sent Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee a bill that eliminates the 0.35% gross-receipts tax on newspapers and certain digital news media.

Senate Bill 5199 "reduces the business and occupations tax rate to 0% for newspaper publishing and for news websites that are the successors to newspapers that were published prior to Jan. 1, 2008," reports Rebecca Pettingill of the Columbia Basin Herald. "The tax break is only effective for 10 years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2024."

The nonpartisan legislative staff report on the bill says it "states a specific public policy objective of protecting and supporting local journalism," and if a review by the legislature's audit committee "finds that [the] exemption accomplishes its goal of supporting local journalism across the state, measured by retaining 75 percent of journalism jobs, local newspapers, and community-focused online news outlets based in Washington as of December 31, 2022, or if a review finds the tax exemption enables locally based journalism outlets to continue to exist when compared to states that did not provide similar tax incentives, then a legislative presumption is created that the 2034 expiration date should be extended."

Fred Obee, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, told Pettingill, "As government watchdogs, newspapers are essential to our democracy. . . . Not only do newspapers keep the public informed and elected officials honest, they also connect merchants to their essential market and people to each other." Bob Richardson, regional general manager of Hagadone Media – Washington, which publishes the Herald, said, "The passage of Senate Bill 5199 shows the importance of newspapers in our local communities. We strive to be the voice of the people in our communities."

The bill passed the House 89-7 and the Senate 47-1, with the only no vote from Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-Auburn), who noted that it was the only tax break passed by the Legislature this session. He has sponsored other tax-break bills that haven't gotten a hearing.

Okla. official who discussed killing weekly's journalists quits

"A county commissioner in far southeast Oklahoma who was identified by a local newspaper as one of several officials caught on tape discussing killing reporters and lynching Black people has resigned from office," Sean Murphy of The Associated Press reports. A spokesperson for Gov. Kevin Stitt "said the office received a handwritten resignation letter from McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings."

The McCurtain Gazette surreptitiously recorded Jennings' conversation with Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s Capt. Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix after a county commission meeting. "During that conversation, Clardy, Manning and Jennings appear to discuss Bruce Willingham — the longtime publisher of the Gazette-News — and his son Chris Willingham, a reporter," Murphy recounts.

“I know where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” Jennings said, and Clardy replied, “I’ve got an excavator.” Jennings also said he has known “two or three hit men” in Louisiana, and “They’re very quiet guys.” Jennings also appeared to complain about not being able to hang Blacks.

In a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page on Tuesday, officials did not address the recorded discussion but claimed the recording was illegally obtained," Murphy reports. Bruce Willingham said he left a recorder on after the meeting because he suspected that the officials were conducting business in violation of the state Open Meetings Act.

Southern states on track to be nation's 'battery belt' though their leaders don't fully acknowledge climate change

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) stands next to a Rivian truck.
(Photo by John Bazemore, The Associated Press)
Once a tranquil town, Commerce, Georgia, is now on track to become one of the nation's electronic battery-making hubs, reports Shannon Osaka of The Washington Post. "The battery plant just north of Commerce is hard to miss. It looms over Interstate 85 like a monolith: sheer gray walls many stories high, a vast parking lot that extends almost half a mile. . . . The factory, which opened in early 2022, employs over 2,600 people — about a third of the town’s population. . . . It's operated and owned by the U.S. wing of the South Korean company SK Group," which has partnered with Ford Motor Co. to build two electric-vehicle battery plants just south of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. 

Clean-energy incentives "are landing in congressional districts represented by Republicans," and the Commerce plant "is one of a bonanza of electric vehicle investments that are transforming rural Georgia into a bustling 'battery belt'," Osaka writes. "But even as Gov. Brian Kemp aims to make Georgia the 'electric mobility capital of America,' he and other Republicans are doing little to put more EVs on state roads — or to acknowledge the climate reasons behind the switch. . . . Last month, the state Senate passed a tax on public EV charging. Along with the governor, most state lawmakers rarely mention emissions reductions and environmental benefits of switching to electric vehicles. . . . The result is a strange moment in Georgia's shift toward making and selling EVs: A state with one foot in — and one foot out — of a massive transition."

Even with the political teeter-totter, EV manufacturers are capitalizing on political aspects of the South. "Almost all Southern states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee, are what conservatives call 'right to work' states — meaning employees can't be required to join a union as a condition of employment," Osaka explains. "Such states have gotten the lion's share of clean energy and EV money. . . . One study by researchers at Georgia Tech that examined almost 20,000 collective bargaining agreements found that right-to-work laws are associated with lower wages among unionized employees."

Could the growth in EV jobs in the South reduce the polarization of views about climate change? "Thomas Oatley, a professor of political science at Tulane University, argues that part of the schism on climate change stems from an economic divide. Republican voters are more likely to live in areas where jobs are closely tied to carbon-emitting industries like auto manufacturing or coal-fired power generation; Democratic voters are more likely to live on the coasts and work at a desk in 'knowledge-based' jobs." Oakley told her, "If you get a growing number of people employed in the clean energy sector, that could increase support for climate policy in red and purple states."

"Georgia is far from that point today. But the tens of thousands of jobs coming to the state make it difficult for politicians to oppose the transition," Osaka adds. "Former GOP senator David Perdue, who ran for governor against Kemp in 2022, was a vocal critic of the Rivian plant. . . . But that anti-EV message failed to gain much support — Perdue was soundly defeated in the primary." Mike Carr, a partner at the consultancy Boundary Stone, told Osaka, "If Georgians start to think of themselves as the heart of clean energy manufacturing — I don't know how you run against that and win."

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Volunteers in W. Ky. county see homelessness up close as they try to help, and their weekly newspaper reports on it

Trash litters the area surrounding a homeless encampment near
near Drakesboro, Kentucky (Photo by Stacie Barton, Leader-News)
Rolling hills dotted with striking bald cypresses and homelessness. In Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, that's what food-pantry workers encountered on their stop in Drakesboro, reports Stacie Barton of the Leader-News, a local weekly. "Up on a hill overlooking U.S. Highway 431, two people in their mid-40s are living in a badly worn tent. The tent is missing its poles and was laying almost flat on the couple as they emerged to greet Scott Casebier and Debra Gorham, volunteers from Hope2All Food Pantry. They were delivering food and checking in to see if they could help in any way."

There are many reasons homelessness happens, "Mary has been on disability since childhood, but at some point fell out of the system. Scotty seemed unwilling to relive the series of events that landed him here. The two have no income at all," Barton writes. "There is a low cinderblock building people at the food pantry call the 'chicken houses.' It has been divided into three units, which are rented out to people as a place to live. . . .The chicken houses are reported to have no running water, no toilets, and only one unit has electricity. . . . Mary had lived in the chicken houses but was unable to pay the $300 in rent to stay there, so she has been living outdoors for about six months."

Barton reports, "A 16-year-old boy lives at the Central Motel in Central City with his mother, aunt and adult cousin. The four of them live in one room with only one bed. Brayden is in high school and works a job to provide for his family. . . . Brayden catches the school bus around the corner. He's lived at the motel for around five months. . . . At the other end of the motel, a young family of five is living in a room with two queen beds. There are little tricycles and a bike with training wheels sitting outside the door, and the room is tidy. Brianna is doing her best. . . . Her husband has a job at a nearby coal mine. . . . His income makes them ineligible for food stamps, Brianna said."

Casebier travels from Drakesboro to Powderly along his pantry delivery route, "There are camp trailers, storage sheds, and homes with boarded up windows," Barton writes. "Casebier said working at the pantry has shed a light on people living in precarious places around the community." He told Barton, "Being a pastor, down through the years, we help people through our churches and know it exists. But not until I got with Hope2All did I realize the needs." Barton reports, "The food pantry sends roughly 800 boxes of food home with Muhlenberg County residents each month, which are meant to feed a household. Each week, the pantry sees 20-30 new families who qualify for food assistance come through the line, which snakes around the block. Dozens more are delivered to people without transportation."

Casebier told Barton, “We have people who come to our food pantry that live like the rest of us, but then something happens." Barton writes, "Casebier wraps up his visit with Scotty and Mary by asking them if they need anything. He’ll purchase a new tent and air mattress for them, and offers to put them up in a motel for a night or two. Mary declines the offer. She said it might sound funny, but she’s gotten used to living outdoors."

The Rural Blog's publisher wants to keep rural America a place where local news media fuel democracy for the future

Most daily joys like coffee and a newspaper (a physical paper or a digital subscription) take some cash. The Rural Blog is different. It provides rural news that you can look forward to reading, free of charge, almost five days a week. Sometimes it informs, encourages, or sheds light -- sprinkled with an opinion now and then -- on just about anything that's rural or has what we call rural resonance.  


The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues publishes The Rural Blog. When Institute leadership looks at rural communities and their news media, a story emerges that needs immediate and consistent attention, nurturing, and funding. In the last 10 years, we have increasingly worked to help rural news outlets survive and serve, and our new focus is on the sustainability of rural journalism, threatened by newspaper closures that are spreading. More than 200 counties in the U.S. have no local paper, and many papers are "ghost newspapers" that fail to give their communities the news coverage they need. Many others struggle through adversity, but every month brings news of more closures or mergers.

Financial support for the viability of local news media not only helps their communities, but helps rural areas have a voice in our national direction. Giving to the Institute is an active way to support rural democracy. Our donors often leave comments; here are a few: "If you live in a rural place, journalist or citizen, you need this information. . . . I gave $200; good journalism is critical for our free society. . . . Excellent aggregator of critical rural news. . . . Rural journalism is critical if we are to have well-informed voters and engaged citizens. . . . I appreciate the caring conveyed in the articles."


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Two ways to look at how your state handled the pandemic: raw data, and data adjusted for state age and health status

How did your state handle the pandemic? These maps from The Lancet, a British medical journal, tell the story. The unadjusted rates on the left are from simple data: How many coronavirus infections and how many Covid-19 deaths were there, per 100,000 residents? The standardized rates take into account age and "comorbidities," other medical conditions that may lead to infection or death.


To illustrate the standardization, take a look at Kentucky, a state with relatively poor health status. Its infection and death rates were worse than the national average, but when adjusted for age and the high level of comorbidities in the population, both rates were better than the national average.

The maps accompany an article credited to a long list of researchers, led by Thomas Bollyky of the Council on Foreign Relations and Emma Castro of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. They write, "States' struggles in the Covid-19 pandemic were not inevitable. The nearly four-fold differences that existed across states in Covid-19 death rates, even when standardized for factors such as age and comorbidities, suggest that lower death rates were achievable. The states with the lowest standardised Covid-19 death rates—Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Maryland—are not confined to a single geographical region, nor did they all have governors from the same political party. The same is true for the states and territories with the highest standardized death rates—Arizona; Washington, D.C.; New Mexico; Mississippi; and Colorado."

But politics did play a role, the researchers wrote: "Declining economic conditions among lower-income Americans without a university degree have also weakened bonds of interpersonal trust—civic organisations, family bonds, and unions. Our results suggest interpersonal trust (i.e., trust in others) has played an outsized role in the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has in other epidemics where scientific uncertainties are great and public confidence is easily undermined. Having greater interpersonal trust motivates individuals to protect others in the community and reduces their fear of being misled and exploited by their peers. States with a higher percentage of people who voted for the 2020 Republican presidential candidate are associated with lower interpersonal trust in our study results. Trust has long been partisan in the USA, with citizens reporting less trust in government when the president comes from a different party than their own."

'Given the critical mass that we have,' single-malt whiskey to get official definition in U.S.; it has more stills than Scotland

American distilleries can choose colors and aromas that celebrate
their region. (Photo by Lauren Lancaster, The New York Times)
Single-malt whiskey is going mainstream. "In the coming months, the Tax and Trade Bureau, a part of the Treasury Department, will release an official definition of American single malt — the first new spirit category in many years and a recognition that a once-niche whiskey has entered the mainstream," reports Clay Risen of The New York Times. Steve Hawley, who in 2016 co-founded the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission to push for the new definition, told Risen, "It’s a necessary step given the critical mass that we have here, with over 200 distilleries making single malt whiskey in this country. That’s more than all of Scotland.”

Affectionately referred to as "the freewheeling cousin of Scotch, the proposed American definition is looser than Scotland’s famously rigid rules. Like Scotch, American single malt would have to be made at one distillery — hence 'single' — using 100 percent malted barley," Risen explains. "But while the Scottish version must be distilled on a pot still and aged for at least three years, neither requirement would exist in the U.S. . . . Tradition (though not law) dictates that single malt Scotch be aged in used casks, usually bourbon barrels, but no such expectation exists for its American counterpart."

The American single-malt industry continues to grow "with a diversity that reflects the country’s sheer size and its wide variety of climates, traditions and agriculture," Risen reports. "One advantage of malted barley is that it’s more like a canvas than a color. Its soft, nuanced flavors allow distilleries to layer it with influences at every step of production, from the variety of yeast and barley, to the peat or other sources of smoke used to stop the seeds from germinating, to the type of barrel it ages in. . . . Such diversity has allowed for a variety of distillery house styles to emerge."

"Master distiller Matt Hofmann draws inspiration from Pacific Northwest agriculture and culinary traditions," Risen writes. Hofmann told him, "We can do this in a way that’s not a clone of Scotch. Not that there’s anything wrong with Scotch. But it’s just like, what else is out there in an industry that’s 500 years old? For me, growing up here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s the ability to make a whiskey that is reflective of this place that I love.”

As offshore wind sails forward, fish habitats will suffer, and fishers fear getting 'squeezed out' of their livelihoods

A construction area for Vineyard Wind in New Bedford, Mass.
(Photo by Tony Luong, ProPublica)
Corporations seeking approval for offshore wind farms must move through government channels, and it's complicated. In the process, East Coast wind farm developers have created a "revolving door between the government workers and offshore-wind promoters," report Will Sennott and Anastasia Lennon of The New Bedford Light in Massachusetts, in cooperation with ProPublica. "In recent years, at least 90 people have shuttled between federal, state or local government and the offshore wind industry. . . . . Left out of this cozy relationship is one keenly affected group: more than 1 million people in the U.S. who work in the seafood industry, including 158,811 commercial fishermen."

Government authorities who determine building licensing and environmental concerns overlap. The Light explains, "Federal scientists, the commercial fishing industry and industry regulators each have sounded the alarm about potential harm to fish spawning habits and the lack of compensation for losses suffered by fishermen. . . . The Interior Department has ignored or downplayed those warnings. . . . The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is part of the Interior Department, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, have conflicting authority over the same stretches of federal waters. BOEM oversees permitting and leasing for offshore wind development, from which the federal government reaped more than $5 billion last year. NMFS is supposed to protect marine habitat and ensure the fishing industry is sustainable and economically viable."

The Light reports, "'We are very concerned about the cumulative impacts of multiple wind energy projects on the fisheries we manage,' directors of three federally established regional councils that advise NMFS wrote last fall to Amanda Lefton, then the head of BOEM. . . . Lefton said last October that she wants to ensure that 'not only can the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind coexist but that both industries can thrive." Case and point for the revolving door: "In January, Lefton left BOEM to join Foley Hoag, a law firm that has represented Vineyard Wind. There, she said in a press release, she will 'leverage' her 'experience in policy and regulation at the state and federal levels with the private sector to help businesses get projects built.'"

"The components to build turbines for Vineyard Wind, which started offshore construction last November, will be shipped from the Port of New Bedford, which is also the top-earning commercial fishing port in the nation," the Light reports. "It supports almost 15,000 jobs and moves between 390 and 544 million pounds of seafood a year from its waterfront to consumers around the world." Scott Lang, a former mayor of New Bedford and an attorney who has represented many of the city's commercial fishermen for four decades, told the Light, "The great majority of the people who rely on going out to fish will be squeezed out of the industry. This is going to be the final nail."

Another wind farm, South Fork Wind, has received a green light to build off New York's coast. "BOEM approved the projects despite repeated warnings from the NMFS about damage to the environment and the fishing industry," the Light explains, "Environmental laws require BOEM to consult with the fisheries service on projects taking place in 'essential fish habitat,' which encompasses all offshore wind projects within 200 miles of the coast. . . . Fisheries regulators have been warning BOEM since 2018 about the impact of offshore wind projects. . . . The three regional fishery councils on the East Coast wrote in last summer’s letter to the head of BOEM. They added that the 'effects will increase in magnitude as more projects are built.'"

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Newspaper's publication of surreptitious recording of Okla. officials' racist, threatening remarks brings calls for ousters

Part of the latest front page of the McCurtain Gazette-News (Image from "The Rachel Maddow Show," MSNBC)
Bruce Willingham, publisher of the McCurtain Gazette-News in southeast Oklahoma, said he left a voice-activated recorder inside the county commissioners' meeting room March 6 because he suspected they were "continuing to conduct county business after the meeting had ended, in violation of the state's Open Meeting Act," The Associated Press reports. What the recorder picked up, and the newspaper's reporting of it, has created a firestorm.

"Oklahoma’s governor is seeking the resignation of four county officials after a newspaper’s audio recording apparently captured some of them complaining about two of the paper’s journalists and knowing hit men and where two holes are dug," AP's Sean Murphy reports. "It also appears to capture one of the four making racist comments about Black people."

Protesters called for the officials' resignations at Monday's county
commission meeting. (Photo: Christopher Bryan, Southwest Ledger)
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt called Sunday for the resignations of Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s Capt. Alicia Manning, Commissioner Mark Jennings and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix. Idabel Mayor Craig Young and state Rep. Eddy Dempsey, who represents the county, echoed Stitt's call, and "More than 100 people gathered outside the McCurtain County Courthouse in Idabel on Monday, with many of them calling for the sheriff and other county officials to resign," AP reports.

In the newspaper's transcript of the recording, Clardy, Manning and Jennings appear to discuss Bruce Willingham and his son Chris, a reporter for the paper. Jennings tells the other officials, “I know where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” and Clardy responds, “I’ve got an excavator.” Jennings adds that knows “two or three hit men” in Louisiana who are “very quiet guys.” At another point, "Jennings also appears to complain about not being able to hang Black people, saying 'They got more rights than we got'," AP reports.

Dempsey told The Oklahoman, “Being from southeast Oklahoma, I don’t honestly think it was serious, but you still can’t take things like this lightly. You live in a glass bubble when you become a politician. I hope this gets resolved quickly. All my life we always say we don’t get enough recognition in southeast Oklahoma, but we don’t need this kind of recognition.”

AP reports, "Bruce Willingham said he believes the local officials were upset about 'stories we’ve run that cast the sheriff’s office in an unfavorable light,' including the death of Bobby Barrick, a Broken Bow, Okla., man who died at a hospital in March 2022 after McCurtain County deputies shot him with a stun gun. The newspaper has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office seeking body camera footage and other records connected to Barrick’s death."

Willingham told AP he has given his recordings to the FBI and the state attorney general, and has talked with federal investigators. Before that, "I talked on two different occasions to our attorneys to make sure I wasn't doing anything illegal," he said. Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, "said under Oklahoma law, the recording would be legal if it were obtained in a place where the officials being recorded did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy," AP reports. The Oklahoman reports, "The audio released online matches some of the quoted material in the story, but The Oklahoman has not yet independently verified who the speakers were in the recordings." AP said likewise. The sheriff's office says the recording was illegal. (UPDATE, May 18: Oklahoma Press Association Executive Vice President Mark Thomas said in The Oklahoma Publisher, “These public officials, including two of three county commissioners, were meeting in a public space. There is no expectation of privacy in a public space.  That’s why people are allowed to have video doorbells that show activity on a street, or dash cams in their car, or even pull out a camera and record things they see on the street.”)

Jonathan Edwards of The Washington Post reports that Willingham sued county commissioners, the sheriff’s office, Clardy and Manning in federal court, accuding them of slander. "His suit followed years of reporting on the sheriff’s department for the Gazette-News. In November 2021, the newspaper ran the first article in what would be an eight-part series about misconduct in the sheriff’s office, according to the lawsuit. Over the next five months, the newspaper exposed several instances of alleged misconduct in the sheriff’s office based on interviews with current and former employees, including homicide evidence that had been tainted, questionable hirings of employees with no previous law enforcement experience and an investigation into who in the sheriff’s office was leaking information, the suit says. In an effort to plug the leak, Clardy threatened to fire any of his employees who spoke with Willingham, and Manning told deputies she would get search warrants for their cellphones, it alleges." The suit claims Manning defamed Willingham "by telling someone that the reporter had traded marijuana for child pornography," Edwards reports, and insinuating that he had been convicted of having child pornography and sexually abusing a child.

Child-care deserts continue to be a grind for working families; what might rural areas gain if they supported care?

Child Care Aware America chart
Even with the best of planning, finding reliable, affordable child care--especially for rural families--can be nearly impossible. "Across America, about half of the population lives somewhere with inadequate access to child care, so-called 'child care deserts.' According to a 2018 report by the Center for American Progress, that number goes up to 59% for residents in rural communities," reports Erik Richards for The Daily Yonder. "These child care deserts are areas where fewer than one-third of parents are able to find available openings at a licensed child care provider."

Angela, a mother of two in rural southern Missouri, told Richards, "I actually told my daycare I was pregnant with my second before any of my family, to secure a spot for him as a child under 2. . . . It is wild to me that I lined up both my daycares a year prior to needing them." Richards reports, "Despite those efforts, Angela describes also having to ask friends and family to watch her kids so she could return to work due to gaps between maternity leave and the soonest available child care opening. She is far from alone in these challenges."

Even when child care can be found, it can be too costly. Richards reports. "These burdens exist across most U.S. states, where annual child care costs range from about $7,000 to more than $20,000 per child. Even states on the lower end of that range fail to meet the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation that families should have to spend no more than 7% of their household income on child care. As far back as 2017, child care has been the single largest household expense across much of the country, coming second only to housing costs in the Western U.S."

If child care were considered a public investment instead of a private concern, area economies would reap the benefits. "According to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute, if Missouri were to cap child care costs at 7% of income, that would expand the state's economy by $2.8 billion," Richards notes. "One of the clearest examples comes from Nobel-Prize-winning economist James Heckman, who points to returns as high as $16 for every $1 invested. Those numbers speak to long-range effects beyond the immediate economic growth."

Richards reports, "Robin Phillips, CEO of Child Care Aware of Missouri, said there are multiple dimensions of economic impact caused by a lack of affordable child care. The families she has worked with and talked to are saving less, working less, spending less, and even deciding to have fewer children. . . . Each of those translates to decreased income-tax revenues, lower sales-tax revenues, higher employee absenteeism and turnover, and lost productivity even for those who are in the workforce. Citing research from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Phillips pegged the impact from absenteeism and turnover due to child care gaps at $1.07 billion. Another marker of how child care scarcity spills over beyond the direct, first-hand experience of families with young children."

TransWest Express line approved, clearing way for largest onshore U.S. wind farm; power will travel across four states

Map of planned transmission line route via BasinAndRangeWatch.org; for a larger version, click on it.

"After a nearly two-decades-long permitting process, a 732-mile transmission line capable of sending power from what will be the largest onshore wind farm in North America to Western states got a green light last week," reports Gabriela Aoun Angueira of Grist. "The Bureau of Land Management gave final approval to begin building the $3 billion TransWest Express high-voltage transmission line. The infrastructure project will deliver three gigawatts of power from the 600-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project to grids in Arizona, Nevada, and California. That's enough energy to power about 2 million homes."

Eighteen years is a long wait. "Projects built on federal lands are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which dictates the environmental review process. NEPA does not include time limits for when environmental reviews must be completed," Angueira explains. "The TransWest Express crosses four states, through both public and private lands, and required approvals from various federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, as well as some determined property owners."Speeding the NEPA process is another process. "While there is bipartisan support for permitting reforms [to NEPA] that could speed up or consolidate the number of decision-makers, substantive changes have not yet materialized," Angueira reports. Jeremy Firestone, an expert on wind energy at the University of Delaware, told her, "If we are going to do this transition, we need to be open and transparent and provide good information about the environmental and social effects and the positive attributes of these projects as well, like the fact that they're going to replace fossil fuel generation."

"The TransWest Express could be particularly impactful for California, which has a goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2045," Angueira writes. "In a 2021 report, the state said it would have to triple its grid capacity by 2045. . . . Adding transmission capacity of this scale will be essential to converting the nation to completely carbon-free power sources. . . . Construction on the TransWest Express will start this year. . . . TransWest Express said it expects to complete the project by 2028."

Dangerous, parasitic fungus Candida auris is becoming more common in hospitals; here are details about it

Candida auris can be deadly. (Photo by Kateryna Kon,
Science Photo Library via Getty Images)

When you think of fungi, you may think of spring mushroom hunting, but there are many "funguses" among us. Many are "parasitic in humans and are known to cause diseases. . . . Parasitic fungi most commonly enter the body through a wound in the epidermis (skin). Such wounds may be insect punctures or accidentally inflicted scratches, cuts, or bruises," says the Encyclopedia Britannica.

That is precisely how a new fungus is infecting humans. "In late March 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted the threat posed by a rapidly spreading fungus called Candida auris that is causing infections and deaths among hospital patients nationwide. The unexpected rise of this recently discovered pathogen is part of a larger trend of increasing fungal infections in the U.S.," reports The Conversation, a platform for journalism by academics.

Arif R. Sarwari is a physician and professor of infectious diseases at West Virginia University. Amid rising concerns among doctors and public health officials, Sarwari helped explain what Candida auris is, how it is spreading and how worried people in the U.S. should be." This information is particularly important for rural residents who tend to be older, sicker and have fewer medical resources for education and prevention. Here's the interview:

What is Candida auris? A recently identified, single-cell fungus that can infect humans and is moderately resistant to existing antifungal drugs. You might be familiar with superficial fungal infections – like athlete's foot or vaginal yeast infections – which are quite common and don't pose significant risks to most people. In contrast, Candida auris and other related fungi can cause infections within a person's body and are much more dangerous. . . . Recently, though, infections with species of candida that are much more resistant to drugs than Candida albicanslike Candida auris – have shot up, with a nearly fivefold increase since 2019."

How dangerous are candida infections? For the most part, healthy people do not have to worry about invasive candida infections. Two groups of people are most at risk for candida infections: first are patients in intensive care units who also have central intravenous catheters and receive broad-spectrum antibiotics. Patients with weak immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy, are also at high risk of candida infection. . . . The fungi can proliferate rapidly and overcome a person's immune system when a patient is sick and on antibiotics. . . . If candida cells on a person's skin contaminate an intravenous line, the fungus can get into a patient's bloodstream and cause often deadly bloodstream infections.

What treatments are available? Three classes of antifungal drugs can be used to fight invasive candida infections. Candida albicans are susceptible to all three and easier to treat than Candida auris, which is moderately resistant to all three classes of antifungals.

How common are invasive fungal infections? The CDC estimates that in the U.S., around 25,000 patients get candida bloodstream infections every year. . . . The recent emergence of drug-resistant and more transmissible Candida auris is raising alarms among health professionals. Because this species can contaminate surfaces and easily spread from patient to patient, the fungus is causing outbreaks both within and between hospitals.

Why are fungal infections increasing? The reasons for this increase are complicated, but I think there are two main drivers: more sicker patients in hospitals and a stressed health system. . . . I view the rise of drug-resistant fungi like Candida auris through the same lens as worsening antibiotic resistance. The more antibiotics people use, the greater the chances a resistant strain will become dominant.

What can the medical community do about it? There are a few options for fighting the rise of drug-resistant Candida auris. The most effective measures are good infection control practices. These protocols include practicing good hand hygiene taking measures to detect Candida auris infections early, and isolate patients to prevent the spread. Though relatively simple, these actions are key to preventing the spread of all antibiotic-resistant pathogens, not just fungi.

Weyerhauser, our largest landowner, uses carbon offsets to boost its stock and real estate; logging practices remain

Weyerhaeuser Co. says trees in its Northern timberlands are harvested at 54 years of age, which on average
is 25 years older than fast-growing pine trees in the South. (Photo by Tristan Spinski, The Wall Street Journal)

Faster than any beaver, Weyerhaeuser Co. "has cut down more trees than any other American company . . . Environmentalists have long treated it as an enemy. . . . The new math of carbon emissions enables the lumber producer to cast itself as something quite different: a force for environmental good," reports Ryan Dezember of The Wall Street Journal in a story headlined, "America’s Most Prolific Logger Recasts Itself as Environmental Do-Gooder."

Weyerhauser's "10.6 million acres of U.S. timberland act as a giant sponge for carbon dioxide, which Weyerhaeuser says more than compensates for the greenhouse gases it emits by felling trees, sawing them into lumber and distributing wood products." The Arbor Day Foundation says that in one year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange. With that in mind, even though "Weyerhaeuser plans to increase lumber production 5 percent in the next few years, it says its net carbon footprint is negative—so much so that it is offering carbon-dioxide storage capacity to other companies," Dezember writes.

Not everyone accepts Weyerhaeuser's calculations. "Corporate executives and scientists who have criticized the carbon-offset market say the offsets sold by timberland owners allow other companies to pay a relatively small price to avoid reducing their emissions," Dezember explains. "They also say forest-preservation pacts that produce offsets often don't substantially change logging practices, which means they essentially pay timberland owners for behaving as they would anyway. . . . Potential buyers have begun demanding that offsets represent actual reductions in planned tree-cutting, and sellers want higher prices to justify lost logging income."

To put the company in perspective, Dezember reports, "Weyerhaeuser is America's largest private landowner. . . . Altogether, its trees cover an area roughly twice the size of New Jersey. Weyerhaeuser says those trees remove about 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. . . . Weyerhaeuser produces about 950,000 miles of lumber a year . . . . The company takes credit for an additional 11 million tons of carbon held in lumber ... which wouldn't be the case if a tree fell and decayed on the forest floor."

The company wants such good to increase its value. "A recent corporate reorganization at Weyerhaeuser created a 'Natural Climate Solutions' unit," Dezember reports. "Weyerhaeuser hopes its climate unit will persuade investors that its land—and its shares—should be valued higher and that it is an attractive stock for investors motivated by environmental concerns. . . . Albert Chu, a portfolio manager at Newton Investment Management who specializes in natural resources, said the firm's stock pickers are rethinking how they value timberlands and trees. He said carbon values will become a bigger part of the equation, but for now, decisions to invest in forestry stocks remain based on wood demand."

Dezember reports, "Jerry Franklin, professor emeritus at University of Washington's School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, reviewed Weyerhaeuser's carbon disclosures and said the company doesn't grow trees long enough to maximize carbon sequestration and that its single-species tree farms in the Northwest and South don't offer the same environmental benefits as natural forest ecosystems." Franklin told him, "What they would like to do is to be paid additionally for what they're doing already."