Friday, January 19, 2024

Mass-shooting report aims to help police elsewhere; Uvalde still divided; editor has advice for community journalists

Uvalde County (Wikipedia map)
The Justice Department's Thursday report on the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is designed to help avoid the mistakes police made, but seems unlikely to heal the divisions that remain in the town of 15,000 and same-named county of 25,000.

“They’re recomending stuff that we already knew,” but “In a lot of smaller towns like Uvalde, police chiefs have to be questioning, ‘What’s in this report?’ . . . Let’s make sure I don’t become that person,” said John Miller, CNN's law-enforcement analyst and former spokesman for the FBI and the New York Police Department.

Miller said a gunman's killing of 19 students and two teachers, and the physical injury of 17 others, was “an incident that was just too big in a place that was just too small.” He said the incdent commander, the school police chief, should have ceded authority to better-equipped agencies. The investigation was requested by then-Mayor Don McLaughlin, a Republican.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, in Uvalde, said “The report concludes that had law-enforcement agencies followed generally accepted practices in an active shooter situation and gone right after the shooter to stop him, lives would have been saved and people would have survived,” rather than letting 77 minutes elapse between their first arrival and their killing of the shooter.

The report was the fullest account yet of the tragedy, but some victims' families said it should have named more names. Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, said on CNN that the purpose of such a "critical indicdent review is not to hold people accountable, but to make a complete statement of facts and say how law enforcement can learn from mistakes."

Victims' families continued to demand action from local District Attorney Christina Miller Busbee, who has said she would wait for the report before taking any action. But they said many of their neighbors want to move on and not "be known as the place with a mass shooting," said Brett Cross, who was a guardian of a child killed in the shooting. "Maybe these people will start taking us seriously." UPDATE, Jan. 19: Sources tell the Austin American-Statesman that a judge has empaneled a grand jury "to consider possible criminal charges against law-enforcement officers. . . . It is unclear what charges the grand jury seated in Uvalde County state district court might consider against the officers, but they possibly include child endangerment or injury to a child, the Statesman confirmed." As for civil suits, in Texas they must be filed within two years of the injury.

Cross told CNN that the Uvalde community remains “very divided,” noting that several officers remain in their positions, some of them elected. “They don’t want to believe that the people grew up with failed our children.” Adam Martinez, father of an injured survivor, told CNN, “If we don’t put pressure, nothing is going to happen. . . . It’s uncomfortable when you have to say people didn’t do their job. . . . You have to go against the grain, and more people have to do that.”

Pedro "Pete" Arredondo, the school police chief, lost his job. In November, "Lt. Mariano Pargas of Uvalde police, who was the acting police chief on the day of the shooting, resigned days before the City Council was set to discuss his termination. He had been placed on leave in July; he stepped down following a CNN report that showed he was told that “eight to nine” children were alive in the classrooms but he failed to coordinate action," the Texas Tribune reported. He was re-elected to the county commission. The Washington Post reported one year after the May 24, 2022, shooting, "The first state police officer disciplined after the massacre was given the option to resign and now works for a local sheriff’s office."

Jan. 21 front page; for a larger version, click on it, or right-click to download.
UPDATE, Jan. 20:
The Uvalde Leader-News reports, "On Friday, Jan. 19, a dozen people were selected to serve on a special grand jury that is expected to spend at least six months studying the May 24, 2022, Robb school shooting investigation. About 300 people were summoned to appear at 9 a.m. in the 38th Judicial District Court, and 67 people appeared. Juror turnout has been an ongoing issue for the court. Judge Camile DuBose said in some cases, a mailed summons may fail to reach the intended juror, but some people simply choose not to show up. She said for those who fail to appear, she can summon them to a hearing, where a $100 fine may be imposed on those who have no valid excuse for their failure to appear. For those who don’t show for the hearing, the sheriff’s office may be asked to locate the person and summon them to court."

Julye Keeble of The Leader-News explores possible outcomes: "Police officers are largely difficult to prosecute for inaction, and the law does not require police to risk their lives to protect the public. Per a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, police officers do not have a constitutional duty to protect others from harm. Few cases against law enforcement for failure to act are presented, and those that are typically fail." Keeble notes the acquittal last year of a school resource officer on charges for failing to protect students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018.

"An ongoing debate, particularly seen in the wake of the Robb shooting, is whether police have a moral imperative to take action sooner in mass casualty situations, which often see a delay before an attacker is confronted," Keeble writes. "Though medical findings have not been made public, families allege some of those who died after the attack might have lived if bleeding had been staunched and they received medical treatment. Several Uvalde Police officers who were on the scene within minutes charged forward toward the adjoined classrooms where the attacker was, but were repelled after he fired at them. Two officers were wounded by shrapnel, and though one tried again to move forward, no others would follow. Officers told others the attacker had an AR rifle, and the destructive power of the weapon was likely a factor in guiding police decisions."

Leader-News Publisher Craig Garnett asked Garland at the press conference about the quality of the police response, especially in light of the police response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. That comparison “is not entirely true, and the response was a failure,” said Hugh Clements Jr., director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which prepared the report.

Garnett's advice to community journalists

For his work on the tragedy and its aftermath, and his first 22 years at the paper, Garnett won the 2023 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky, publisher of The Rural Blog. He will receive the award Feb. 29 at the University of Texas-Austin, at a symposium, "Courage, Tenacity, Integrity and Innovation in Rural Journalism." For the audience at the Institute's Al Smith Awards Dinner in October, he had a video message for community journalists, published this week by The Daily Yonder. He said in part:

Craig Garnett
"One of the things we’ve taken away from May 24 is that we didn’t do enough before. We have a wall full of plaques from the South Texas Press Association, the Texas Press Association, but we didn’t do enough. We didn’t ask enough questions. We didn’t hold people running for elected office to account like we should have. We didn’t question people who wanted to run our institutions closely enough. What motivated them? What experience do they have? What would they do in a crisis?

"And we certainly didn’t hold our law enforcement to a high enough standard, the people who swore to protect us. So, we will work harder in the future to do that, to make sure that we know as much as we can about people who intend to lead our community, especially in the aftermath of a tragedy. We want to know how they’ll react. It’s not entirely possible. There are all kinds of things that pop up that you can’t plan for, but you can get a sense of where people’s souls lie and what their commitment is to your community.

"And that’s what I would advise to my fellow publishers in small towns. Pay attention. Pay attention to everything, to those people who run institutions, to the kid who’s slipping between the cracks, who might one day become the same school shooter we had. Be invested beyond what you are now, if that’s possible. I know most of you work your hearts out. But if there’s one thing we would like to do better, it would’ve been that."

In their first 3 years, Biden has sent as much federal money to farmers as did Trump, who likes to talk about his largesse

Politico illustration
Former president Donald Trump "makes hay in farm states like Iowa by reminding farmers of how much money the federal government paid them during his presidency," but President Biden has delivered about the same in the first three years of their presidencies: $57 billion.

So reports Garrett Downs of Politico's Weekly Agriculture, adding, "Nearly half of Trump’s total $109 billion in direct payments were delivered in his final year, 2020." That's when the Department of Agriculture "paid farmers more than $52 billion, an unprecedented sum since USDA began recording farm payment data in 1933. Those tallies don’t include billions in other types of farm support, like crop insurance and loan financing — traditionally the largest types of ag subsidies."

Applying other measures, "Biden has been better for farmers than Trump," Downs writes. "Net farm income has actually gone up since the Democrat entered the White House. On average, net farm income has totaled $165 billion between 2021 and 2023, compared to $94 billion between 2017 and 2019. Farm income reached a record high of nearly $189 billion in 2022. And while it is projected to drop off in 2023 (USDA is still tallying receipts from December 2023), it remains above the 20-year average for receipts."

Looking ahead, Downs notes that Trump is proposing "a universal tariff on nearly all goods," while Biden "is telling farmers that his administration is working to distribute the recent surge in ag profits to farmers across the spectrum, not just the largest ag conglomerates." Joe Glauber, former chief USDA economist, told Downs that Trump’s proposed tariff could bring another trade war and “really hurt U.S. agriculture.”

When that happened under Trump, he used the USDA's Commodity Credit Corp. to send $28 billion in relief to farmers, but Glauber said farmers shouldn't expect another bailout. “I think that’s taking a big leap of faith,” he said. “Those were big, extraordinary payments, and I think it may be naive to think that they would be there year in and year out.”

When it comes to controlling invasive, herbicide-resistant weeds, farmers might be losing the battle

Kochia is also known as burning bush, Mexican firebrush,
mock cypress or tumbleweed. (Cornell photo)

Viruses and bacteria aren't the only things that can develop science-challenging resistances; weeds can also genetically modify to subvert herbicides and spread. "Crop-killing weeds such as kochia are advancing across the U.S. northern plains and Midwest, in the latest sign that weeds are developing resistance to chemicals faster than companies can develop new ones to fight them," report Rod Nickel and Tom Polansek of Reuters. "In many cases, weeds are developing resistance against multiple herbicides, scientists said."

When uncontrolled by herbicides, noxious weeds multiply so quickly that the intended crop gets choked out. Nickel and Polansek write, "Reuters interviewed two dozen farmers, scientists, weed specialists and company executives and reviewed eight academic papers published since 2021 which described how kochia, waterhemp, giant ragweed and other weeds are squeezing out crops in North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota as chemicals lose their effectiveness."

While weeds are always part of farming, prolific herbicide-resistant weeds kill crops. Farmers "say their losing battle with weeds threatens grain and oilseed harvests at a time when growers are grappling with inflation and extreme weather linked to climate change," Reuters reports. "Kochia, which spreads as many as 30,000 seeds per plant, can cut yields by up to 70% if left unchecked, according to Take Action, a farmer resource program of the United Soybean Board."

Herbicide development takes years, and many "candidates" fail to make the cut. "FMC plans the 2026 launch of an herbicide to kill grassy weeds in rice crops based on the industry's first new mode of action, a term for how a chemical kills a weed, in three decades," Nickel and Polansek explain. "The herbicide was in development for 11 years. . . . The world's biggest agriculture chemical and seed company, Germany's Bayer, hopes to produce its first new mode of action herbicide in over 30 years by 2028."

There is another answer to the problem. Reuters reports, "Bill Freese, scientific director of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, said farmers should shift away from crops genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides, which lead to plants becoming resistant to multiple chemicals through repeated sprayings. 'It's like this toxic spiral,' Freese said. 'There's no end in sight.'"

As more Americans chose to eat more cheese, farmers look for ways to increase milk fat content

Jersey cows produce milk that is high in butterfat and
has a golden hue. (Wis. Jersey Breeders Association photo)
What's better than cheese? More cheese. That's what many Americans are telling the U.S. dairy industry. But heightened demand for rich-tasting young gouda and spunky blue cheese comes with a catch -- dairy farmers need their cows to produce fattier milk, reports Kirk Maltais of The Wall Street Journal. "Just five years ago, dairy farmer Melvin Medeiros said his herd consisted entirely of Holsteins, which are the black-and-white spotted cows. . . . Now about 70% are brown Jersey cows, which are smaller but produce a fattier milk."

In dairy-producing states such as Wisconsin and Vermont, loving cheese is threaded throughout the culture, but the rest of the country is catching on. "Cheese consumption is at an all-time high, with Americans eating an average of 42 pounds a year in 2022, according to the most recent data available from the Department of Agriculture," Maltais writes. "That is up 17% over the previous decade." Although butter sales declined in 2022, consumption is still up 9% compared to a decade ago. 

Beyond switching cow breeds, what else can farmers do to "squeeze" fattier milk from their herd? It comes down to keeping cows comfortable and providing a richer diet. "Cross-ventilated barns ensure animals don't get too hot," Maltais explains. "Keeping cows cool helps them get fatter — and produce fattier milk. Medeiros adds oilseeds like cottonseed and canola to their feed."

Michael Hutjens, professor emeritus of animal sciences with the University of Illinois, told Maltais, "We're seeing a lot more money invested in fans and sprinklers." Maltais reports: "Hutjens said breeding and genetics could help push up fat levels in milk even more."

Rural Tennessee communities want agreements to ensure that they will benefit from Ford's big electric vehicle complex

Ford and SK's mega EV complex in Tennessee is nearly six square miles.
(BlueOval City photo)

Named after Ford's iconic logo, Blue Oval City is a burgeoning electric vehicle development in Stanton, Tennessee, a rural town of 615 residents, many of whom are working to ensure the massive operation provides regional community advantages.

"The joint venture, between Ford and Korean company SK Innovation, promises 6,000 good-paying jobs for residents of the small, rural communities. . . . Development on such a large scale will, [residents] fear, change the community, suck up water and electricity, and prompt an influx of newcomers and development," reports Katie Myers of Grist. "The towns orbiting Stanton are sitting down with Ford and SK to negotiate a binding agreement that will ensure they benefit from Blue Oval City as much as the companies do."

Community advocates wanted residents to have a say in what benefits the companies provided, including youth facilities and support for road maintenance, alongside binding assurances for responsible plant waste disposal. To empower regional voices, they formed a coalition, which "drafted a list of stipulations, called a community benefits agreement, that it wants Ford/Blue Oval SK to abide by," Myers explains. "CBAs are a contract between a corporation and a coalition of local organizations that gives the community, through binding arbitration, leverage to ensure the commitments are kept."

In Los Angeles, the entertainment industry used CBAs to negotiate for a large sports arena, but a CBA's purpose and power can be broadly applied. Vonda McDaniel, the president of the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, "is helping to formulate Blue Oval agreement and plan town halls," Myers reports. "The process has been lively." McDaniel told her: "We haven't had a whole lot of wilting flowers that have shown up at our meetings. . . . The community is feeling a bit squeezed; there's heavy equipment up and down the road every day."

The "squeeze" is understandable. Blue Oval City is a 3,600-acre campus covering nearly six square miles. The complex is slated to open in 2025 and will employ at least 5,700 people. The surrounding towns of Covington, Brownsville and Stanton have an estimated population of 19,015.

Kathleen Mulltigan, who leads the National Labor Leadership Initiative at Cornell University, told Myers: "What we're really trying to do is bring real democracy into the economic realm, because a lot of the work of shaping the economy happens without workers having any voice in it."

The coalition will need Ford and SK to come to the negotiation table. The group plans to "take a complete draft of the agreement in hand early in the new year," Myers reports. "Even if the effort is not immediately successful, community members say, the relationships they've built with one another will only get stronger, leaving possibilities for further organizing open down the road."

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Health quick hits: Sacklers could compensate opioid victims, but deny responsibility; blood donations sink to 20-year low

Many family members want the Sackler family to pay for 
their part in the opioid overdose epidemic. (Photo via CNN)

The Sackler family, who owned Purdue Pharma, the maker of the synthetic opioid OxyContin, could "act today to compensate opioid overdose victims," write Regina LaBelle, J.D., and Madison Fields, J.D. in their opinion for MedPage Today. "The family could voluntarily establish a fund to compensate people harmed by Purdue's marketing of OxyContin and allow individuals to choose to release future claims. However, it appears that the family's insistence that they bear no responsibility for the overdose deaths involving OxyContin and their desire to be shielded from future civil litigation [through bankruptcy] will prevent this from happening. . . . Purdue has made the Sacklers one of the wealthiest families in the U.S., with a collective worth estimated at $11 billion."

As blood donations sink to their lowest level in 20 years, the American Red Cross has issued a blood shortage emergency. "There does not appear to be enough donated blood to meet demand among hospitals and patients in need," reports Jacqueline Howard of CNN. "Data from the national organization America's Blood Centers indicates that at least 17 community blood centers have a one-day supply or less. . . . One unit of blood, equivalent to about a pint, is typically collected during a donation, and experts estimate that a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood."

Mobile medical units can reach more rural residents
in need of addiction care. (HealthAffairs photo)
A new study by the University of Colorado shows that one way to help rural areas fight addiction is to send more mobile methadone clinics to remote areas, reports Julia Milzer of CU Anschutz Medical Campus. "The research focused on the impact of adding new treatment services exclusively to rural Louisiana, where, like in many other remote parts of the country, there are limited care infrastructures and barriers to transportation. . . . The analysis revealed mobile methadone would have a distinct impact in rural communities if these locations were prioritized and recommended operators collaborate with state and local policymakers regarding where to locate them to help maximize their impact." To learn more about mobile methadone, click here.

Family medicine doctors who train in obstetrics could
help fill care gaps. (UIC photo)
A key to solving some of the rural maternal health care shortage could be obstetric training for family physicians. "In the 1980s, about 43% of general family physicians who completed their residencies trained in obstetrics," reports Sarah Jane Tribble of KFF Health News. "In 2021, the American Academy of Family Physicians' annual practice profile survey found that 15% of respondents had practiced obstetrics. . . . In July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a nearly $11 million investment in new rural programs, including family medicine residencies focusing on obstetrical training."

 Ian Cousins
(Courtesy photo, Undark)
Removing forever chemicals from drinking water is expensive, with consumers the most likely target for paying the bill. Some experts are suggesting a different course to avoid the extreme cost.

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to "finalize an enforceable cap on PFAS in drinking water that will require thousands of utilities around the country to update their treatment methods," reports Charles Schmidt of Undark. Ian Cousins, an environmental chemist at Stockholm University and "one of the world's leading researchers on PFAS exposure, said the public might be better served by a policy that prioritizes hot spots of PFAS contamination."


Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Big non-metro vote gives Trump a majority in Iowa caucuses

Trump, in red, prevails in caucuses. Haley's share in dark red, DeSantis's in pink. (NBC News projects graph)

Donald Trump's majority win in Monday night's Iowa Republican presidential caucuses was driven by rural and small-city caucus-goers, who have him 57 percent of their votes compared to 47 percent of those in cities and suburbs, according to the entrance poll for news organizations. Overall, Trump got 51 percent. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the second-place finisher, did best in suburbs, getting 27%; former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who finished a close third, did best in cities, with 27%.

Other findings in the poll reflected Trump's rural dominance. He got 55% of white evangelicals, 63% of those with no college degree, and 74% of those who have never been to college. Trump carried every county but Johnson, home to Iowa City and the University of Iowa and the county with "the highest share of voters with bachelor’s degrees of any Iowa county," The Washington Post reports.

Wall Street Journal map, adapted by The Rural Blog; click to enlarge.
UPDATE, Jan. 17: The Wall Street Journal reports, The Republican front-runner saw his biggest improvement over 2016 in counties that reflected his core supporters: older voters, those without a college degree, lower-income voters and evangelicals. . . . One of Trump’s biggest increases in support came in counties with a higher proportion of older voters, growing by an average of nearly 35 points compared with 2016, versus his nearly 27-point increase statewide. Many of those counties are also rural areas, another source of strength for Trump."

Post columnist David Von Drehle writes, "Huge margins among sparse populations gave Trump an appearance of invulnerability. But the closer the race drew to a population center — someplace big enough to have a Costco or a Chick-fil-A — the weaker he appeared. . . . Recent history teaches us that this year’s general election will be won or lost on precisely that ground, not in farm country but in the Chick-fil-A precincts."

Presidential campaigning in Iowa has traditionally been about "championing policies aimed at helping the state’s farm-driven economy. But this year, the Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination have largely avoided over-the-top pandering to local priorities — and any such attempts appear not to be as effective as in the past, report Anjali Huynh and Kellen Browning of The New York Times. The main reason is "Trump, who has run in the style of an incumbent, has dominated the state while barely setting foot in it. Though he refers to Iowa farmers in his speeches and talks about how he has poured money into the state, Mr. Trump has eschewed the classic retail politicking that is a mainstay of the caucuses in favor of larger rallies while focusing his message more on national issues. . . . Local issues have instead served more as a differentiator among the candidates competing for second place, rather than part of a winning strategy."

Extreme weather and extremely high insurance rates may have to go together as insurers try to manage losses

At least 26 deadly tornadoes hit the U.S. in 2023.
(NOAA artist rendering, Unsplash)
After catastrophic losses from extreme weather and wildfires, insurance companies asked for significant increases in auto and home insurance rates, but state regulators told them no. Insurers like Allstate went to the "nuclear option," reports Jean Eaglesham of The Wall Street Journal. The company threatened to "stop renewing auto insurance for customers in three states that hadn't given in to its demands, which would have left those policyholders scrambling for coverage. . . . The states blinked. New Jersey approved auto rate increases for Allstate averaging 17%, and New York, a 15% hike."

Ten years ago, getting auto and home insurance was generally affordable. That's no longer the case for many Americans. Eaglesham writes, "Homeowners and drivers are facing sharply rising premiums, less coverage and fewer, if any, choices of insurer. In some places, the only options are bare-bones coverage or none at all. That can make homes worth less and harder to sell, and cars less affordable."

With insurers coming off of some of their worst years on record, along with the unpredictable costs of nature's calamities, insurance expenses are not likely to come down. Eaglesham reports, "The past decade of global natural catastrophes has been the costliest ever. Warmer temperatures have made storms worse and contributed to droughts that have elevated wildfire risk."

Barry Gilway, a 52-year veteran of the industry who retired in 2023 as head of Florida's Citizens Property Insurance, a state-created insurer of last resort that sells plans to people who can't get coverage elsewhere, told Eaglesham, "I have never seen the overall market this bad."

For consumers, shopping around, if possible, offers one panacea. "Nancy Piel, who lives Lake Forest, Ill., a Chicago suburb, contacted three agents last year after Nationwide increased the cost of insuring her two homes and 2011 minivan to $18,000," Eaglesham reports. "According to one agent, Chubb quoted even more: $29,000. She ended up insuring with Cincinnati Insurance for $10,500. The coverages were all very similar, she said."

States that have been deserted "by many big insurers are trying to tempt companies back by making it harder for policyholders to sue them," Eaglesham explains. "Despite some concessions from regulators, insurers are bracing for a tough future. Allstate Chief Executive Tom Wilson said that everywhere in the country is at some risk from increasingly severe weather. 'There is no place that's safe,' he said, 'and no place that's not going to be impacted.'"

Elite colleges begin recruiting more in rural towns; some students are interested, but many will opt to stay near home

A University of Chicago recruiter from Maine speaks at a
college fair in rural Tenn. (Photo by Austin Anthony, THR)

For years, rural high school students were rarely visited by recruiters from highly selective universities, but that trend is changing, with schools such as MIT and Yale seeking students from rural places. While some students are excited about the opportunities, others are saying "no thanks," reports Jon Marcus for The Hechinger Report. The recruitment is "part of an effort to pay more attention to rural America, where students are less likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to go to college and, if they do, more likely to drop out."

There's a disconnect between high school and college for rural students. "Rural students graduate from high school at a higher rate (90 percent) than their counterparts in cities (82 percent) and suburbs (89 percent). But only 55 percent go directly to college," Marcus writes. A new consortium called STARS, or Small Town and Rural Students College Network, is working to bridge the rural-to-college gap.

STARS has 16 top colleges and universities participating in its program, which provides schools with financial assistance for travel and staffing needs. Some STARS schools went to Crossville, Tennessee, pop. 12,000, to recruit from an area they had never visited. Karen Hicks, a lead counselor at Crossville's Stone Memorial High School, told Marcus: "They've never come and taken an interest in us. But the big thing right now is rural, and they're finally seeing it, I guess. I love it in the sense that it gives our kids opportunities. I hate that they didn't see it before."

Despite the recruitment efforts, some rural students will choose to remain close to home. Laura Kidwell, another Stone Memorial school counselor, told Marcus, "Even the ones that have the higher scores, that can survive at some of the more prestigious colleges, they like it here, and they don't necessarily want to leave. They want to be within driving distance from home and their family and friends."

"Rural students often face cultural differences at universities that mostly enroll people from other backgrounds, said Corinne Smith, an associate director of admissions at Yale," Marcus reports. "Smith is also the advisor to the Rural Student Alliance at Yale, formed five years ago to help rural students feel more of a sense of belonging. When the group was started, she suggested social activities such as apple-picking." But the students, who may come from a town with one traffic light, asked for "help getting used to the unaccustomed urban traffic noise outside their dorms or off-campus apartments and for town tours to get to know their surroundings better."

A year of agriculture stories includes news about 'right to repair,' shortages with milk cartons and battles with avian flu

January is a good time to think about the year that was, and one way to review the past 52 weeks from a farming perspective is to check out news headlines, which Philip Gruber of Lancaster Farming does in grand fashion. Here is one of Gruber's headlines from each month in 2023.

January hallmarked some right-to-repair news, which was met with a mixed response. "John Deere signs a memorandum of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation to ensure that farmers and independent repair shops have access to many of the tools and software farmers need for repair. . . . The National Farmers Union says the agreement lacks teeth and only applies to one manufacturer."

Norfolk's 38-car derailment in East Pastine,
Ohio (NTSB drone photo via Wikipedia)
February brought to the forefront hazardous chemicals traveling on rail into unsuspecting communities. "A Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derails and catches fire near East Palestine, Ohio. Initial state and federal testing find little cause for concern about toxic contamination of farms or homes, but the event becomes a major national story."

March ushered in a push for Farm Bill climate change support for farmers. "Organized by Farm Aid, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other groups, farmers rally in Washington to call for the 2023 Farm Bill to include incentives for farmers to combat climate change."

April marked a terrible loss in Texas. "An estimated 18,000 cattle are killed in an explosion at a Texas dairy farm. It is the deadliest barn fire involving cattle in at least a decade, according to the Animal Welfare Institute. An accidental truck fire was determined to be the cause, Lubbock media reported."

California's law prevailed in May.
(Successful Farming photo)
May saw Proposition 12 become the expected norm. "The Supreme Court rejects a pork industry challenge to a California law on sow housing."

June opened the door for no-slaughter meat. "The U.S. approves a lab-grown meat for the first time."

July marked seven months in the ongoing battle with avian bird flu for 2023, with poultry farmers shouldering many of the costs. "Delaware and Pennsylvania lawmakers are among the sponsors introducing a bill to enhance federal aid for farmers affected by avian influenza."

August added some court changes on federal water jurisdiction. "The Biden administration revises its rule on federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction in response to a court decision. . . . Ag groups say the changes don't address all of the issues from the case."

Domesticated minks are not suited for
the wild. (Lancaster Farming photo)
September brought untimely deaths to domesticated minks, who don't fare well in the wild. "Some 7,400 mink are set free inside a fenced area at a fur farm in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. About 400 that escaped the farm die within two weeks."

October reminded the public that chicken isn't the only food that can contain dangerous bacterial diseases. "A salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupe begins. From mid-October to mid-December, health officials in the U.S. and Canada confirm at least 10 deaths, dozens of hospitalizations and hundreds of illnesses. . . ."

Even the Simpsons got milk.
(AMP image via Fast Company)

November's got milk but no milk cartons. "Schools across the region adapt to a shortage of milk cartons caused by a supply chain issue. In New York, one of the first states to be affected, some schools serve milk in pitchers or dispensers rather than single-serving cartons."

December is more on milk month. "The U.S. House passes the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act. Repealing part of a 2010 law, the bill would allow whole milk to be served in schools." The bill was squashed in the Senate.

There you have it -- a year of headlines. For more on what happened in 2023, click here. For more ag news from Lancaster Farming, click here.

Do party endorsements change school board elelctions? An analysis of 10 states looks at board elections and outcomes

In 2023, most school board election winners did not have party endorsements. (Ballotpedia graph)

School board elections are primarily non-partisan, but some include candidates with party endorsements, which may provide "helpful information regarding candidates' stances and policy positions," Ballotpedia reports. However, endorsements and party affiliations can shift an election's focus onto narrow issues, which can change voter experience and election outcomes.

Ballotpedia covered every 2023 school board election and endorsements in 10 states: Colorado, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, which held 5,254 elections for 8,758 school board seats.

Democratic candidates had the most endorsements, and "among the top 10 endorsers, seven were liberal, and three were conservative," Ballotpedia reports. "The top liberal endorsers had a 68% win rate in contested elections, on average, compared to a 48% win rate among the top conservative endorsers."

"Most winning candidates received no endorsements," Ballotpedia analysis showed. "Of the 8,758 seats up for election, candidates with no endorsements won 73%, followed by liberal candidates with 15%, and conservative candidates with 11%."

Separate from endorsements, candidates can have party affiliations. Of the 10 states covered, Ballotpedia "identified that Democratic and Republican wins primarily came from districts where those parties made up a majority or plurality of voters. This remained the case both in Pennsylvania, where school board elections are partisan, and in Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, where candidates' party affiliations do not appear on the ballot."

To read more analysis accompanied by descriptive graphs and national maps by Ballotpedia, click here.