Friday, May 24, 2024

Uvalde families have filed a $500 million suit against Texas state police just before anniversary of school shooting

Front page of Uvalde Leader-News special
memorial section for Robb Elementary shooting.

On May 24, 2022, Salvador Ramos, 18, killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in rural Uvalde, Texas. It was the deadliest shooting at a U.S. school since 2012 when 28 were killed in Sandy Hook, Conn., another small community.

Now, the families of 17 of the 19 fourth-grade children who were shot and killed and two who were wounded have "filed a $500 million federal lawsuit against nearly 100 state police officers who were part of the botched law enforcement response," report Acacia Coronado and Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press. "The lawsuit. . . is the latest of several seeking accountability for the law enforcement response. More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on the scene, but they waited more than 70 minutes before confronting the shooter."

On the day of the attack, once teachers and students realized an active shooter was in their school, they followed active shooter protocols. The state police did not. "The lawsuit notes that state troopers did not follow their active shooter training or confront the shooter," Coronado and Ventuno write. This federal lawsuit is the first "to be filed after a 600-page Justice Department report was released in January that cataloged 'cascading failures' in training, communication, leadership and technology problems that day."

Earlier this week, the families "agreed to a $2 million settlement with the city, under which city leaders promised higher standards and better training for local police," Coronado and Ventuno write. "Families said the settlement was capped at $2 million because they didn't want to bankrupt the city where they still live. . . . The settlement establishes May 24 as an annual day of remembrance, a permanent memorial in the city plaza, and support for mental health services for the families and the greater Uvalde area."

The $500 million federal lawsuit isn't the only active lawsuit brought by families, nor is it the biggest. "A separate lawsuit was filed by different plaintiffs in December 2022 against local and state police, the city, and other schools and law enforcement, seeking at least $27 billion in class-action status for survivors," AP reports. "And at least two other lawsuits have been filed against Georgia-based gun manufacturer Daniel Defense, which made the AR-style rifle used by the gunman."

Solar companies are offering many farmers more than $1,000 per acre for land leases, survey shows

Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture producer survey
graph via Farm Journal

Solar companies need a tremendous amount of open land to achieve their installation goals, which means asking farmers for acreage leases. "A survey of farmers shows the majority of farmers are being offered more than $1,000 per acre by companies for solar leasing, which could also drive up the price of cash rental rates," reports Tyne Morgan of Farm Journal. "As the Biden administration works to accelerate their 'clean energy' plan across the U.S., land is in high demand, especially for future solar projects."

Michael Langemeier, an agricultural economist with Purdue University, says the Ag Economy Barometer is revealing "the sticker shock of solar leasing rates," Morgan writes. "The survey of 400 agricultural producers is now asking farmers how many have actively engaged in discussions with companies about leasing farmland you own for solar installation, and the response was surprising."

April's survey showed a substantial increase in the number of farmers who engaged in talks with a solar company representative over the past six months. Morgan reports, "In April, 19% of farmers said they’ve had discussions, up from 12% in March. The bigger surprise may be in the high rates solar companies are offering farmers."

According to the survey, 58% say the rates were more than $1,000 per acre. Survey percentages were tallied for the entire U.S., but the offers ranged from around $750 in the Great Plains to more than $1,200 in the eastern Corn Belt.

While top-dollar solar lease prices may offer a good return for landowning farmers, the cost of cash-rent agreements will also increase. Langemeier told Morgan, "That's going to put upward pressure on cash rents, and it's probably going to put upward pressure on land values, given that it's local. . . . And so it probably impacts a fairly local area, depending on whether your area has solar leasing or not, but it certainly has pretty wide ramifications on what's going on in agriculture.”

Crop prices that don't meet production inputs also tempt farmers to consider solar leases. 

Plagued by EMS worker shortages and poor funding, rural EMS services in Minnesota get some much-needed help

Lawmakers approved a new pilot program to address the
state's rural EMS response times. (Adobe Stock photo)

Rural ambulance services have been short-staffed for years, but in Minnesota, the situation has become so extreme that lawmakers have stepped in with financial support and a 'sprint' pilot program. "The 'EMS emergency' declared by Minnesota lawmakers is far from over, but rural services in the state recently got some good news," reports Elizabeth Daigneau of Route Fifty. Legislators approved a $30 million aid package for rural emergency medical services.

The bill provides $24 million in emergency aid for EMS providers and focuses on providing relief to the state's non-urban regions. "It would also create a new Office of Emergency Medical Services to oversee Minnesota's EMS network," Daigneau explains. "Most notably, it would provide $6 million to launch a 'sprint medic' pilot program in three counties in northern Minnesota."

The sprint medic concept is meant to streamline EMS responses by "sending out a single paramedic in a car or truck directly to an emergency to begin treatment," Daigneau reports. "The idea is that these roving paramedics who would be patrolling the area have more training than the current emergency medical technicians. . . . They could reach emergencies more quickly. . . and, in some cases, resolve calls to keep ambulances with advanced life support equipment from being dispatched unnecessarily."

While $30 million won't solve all the EMS struggles, it will help response times. David Kirchner, evaluation coordinator for the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor, told Daigneau, "In some communities, the situation is becoming dire enough that not only are the ambulances not sufficient, but there's not even someone to answer the phone when 911 calls the ambulance company."

The bill was routed to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for approval. While it isn't the $120 million originally requested, Daigneau adds, "supporters say it still provides some much needed relief."

For the rural Midwest to grow, communities need to address housing shortages and affordability issues

FarmdocDaily graph, from 2023 UIUC Rural Vitality Survey
Many rural areas would like to see their populations grow, but housing shortages limit their capacity to attract and keep new residents. "In many communities, housing options are limited both in terms of affordability and type," reports Mark White for FarmdocDaily. "Given relatively slow population growth and an aging population, many Midwestern communities struggle to expand and/or update their housing stock."

University of Illinois researchers conducted studies on rural vitality, including resident surveys. They examined the housing limitations in rural Illinois communities and found "that many residents cannot find housing that meets their budget, needs, or standards," White writes. "Almost two-thirds of survey respondents believed that finding an affordable home within their region was difficult, particularly for renters, and almost 60% of survey respondents believed that their community lacked a variety of housing options. . . . It’s also important to note that these housing challenges are not limited to just northern and central Illinois. Communities around the Midwest and other parts of the country face similar challenges."

Too few homes are being built in the Midwest, and a lack of assisted care providers "suppresses turnover as many older residents stay in their homes longer than they would prefer," White reports. "In addition to shrinking and aging populations, other contributing factors have limited new home construction in farm dependent counties. . . . . For instance, the value of land for agriculture exceeds the value of land for housing development — particularly for housing that meets the needs of first-time homeowners or rental properties."

If rural counties and towns want to attract and keep a fresh workforce with new residents who move in and stay, housing shortages must be intentionally and collaboratively addressed. "Local communities might explore programs to address derelict or distressed properties. Such investments can limit the deterioration of the existing housing stock, which can also stabilize property values to benefit the local tax base," White explains. "Rural communities might also consider efforts to promote more diverse types of residential housing (e.g., multi-family, rental) that sometimes face opposition from existing residents and homeowners. Regardless, no one strategy — nor one local or regional actor — can solve community housing challenges."

Opinion: This Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to teach children to love America despite its wounds

An illustration piece from 'Manual of Patriotism' 1900.
(Library of Congress photo via The Wall Street Journal)
As we launch into Memorial Day picnics, celebrations and sales, it's a good time to rethink the day — why it was created, who we are honoring and what opinion of our country we leave for future generations to follow. Surely, this idea mixes the good, the bad and the ugly, but what about love? In her opinion for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan suggests that a legacy of love of country is the best Memorial Day remembrance. 

"Parents, teach your children to love America, either as an extension of your own love or as a simple kindness to them," Noonan writes. "We live in an age in which children are instructed in 100 different ways through 100 different portals that America is and always was a dark and scheming place, that its history is the history of pushing people around, often in an amoral quest for wealth but also because we aren't very nice."

Whether out of suspicion, personal experiences or a desire to protect, some parents have taught their children to distrust and perhaps be disgusted by their homeland. "What does this atmosphere of unlove for America do to kids? . . . To kids from difficult circumstances, it means there is no hope; you won't escape a violent or unhappy family into a better place, the world outside, because it isn't better," Noonan explains. 

Kids are the ultimate dreamers. To kill that innate existence is to do them a horrible injustice, according to Noonan. "It denies a dream of a good thing you can make better. It undercuts the idea the people you came from were brave and hardy and did marvelous things. It robs you of a sense you've got this within you and can go on and be a marvel, too."

Where do we go from here? "I've spent the past few days reading an old book that couldn't possibly be published today because it's so full of respect for America. Manual of Patriotism: For Use in the Public Schools of the State of New York, runs 461 pages of text and was published in 1900," Noonan writes. "The manual was written after the Legislature passed an 1898 law requiring public schools to display the American flag and 'encourage patriotic exercises.'"

What's the best way to teach children to love their country? "You let them have fun. You hold pageants and parades, have them read poems and learn songs," Noonan suggests. "Have children memorize and recite Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." Have them enact the battle of Lexington and Concord and read aloud Emerson's 'Concord Hymn':

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world."

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

New doctors are avoiding abortion ban states, new analysis shows. Restrictions may add to mutiple-care shortages.

Fewer new doctors are applying for residency in
abortion ban states. (Hush Naidoo Jade photo, Unsplash)
States with significant restrictions or bans on  abortions may be inadvertently discouraging graduating medical students from applying for residency in their state, which could exacerbate regional physician shortages. Julie Rovner and Rachana Pradhan of KFF Health News report, "According to new statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges, for the second year in a row, students graduating from U.S. medical schools were less likely to apply this year for residency positions in states with abortion bans and other significant abortion restrictions."

State battles over abortion aren't limited to uncertainties for doctors and pregnant patients; the tensions have "also bled into the world of medical education, forcing some new doctors to factor state abortion laws into their decisions about where to begin their careers," Rovner and Pradhan write. "Fourteen states, primarily in the Midwest and South, have banned nearly all abortions. . . . A preliminary review of a new analysis by the AAMC found that the number of applicants to residency programs in states with near-total abortion bans declined by 4.2%, compared with a 0.6% drop in states where abortion remains legal."

The AAMC's analysis shows that when new doctors start avoiding certain states, those states gain fewer doctors, which adds to regional physician shortages in many specialties. KFF Health News reports, "The organization tracked a larger decrease in interest in residencies in states with abortion restrictions not only among those in specialties most likely to treat pregnant patients, like OB-GYNs and emergency room doctors, but also among aspiring doctors in other specialties."

The number of new doctors applying for OB-GYN and internal medicine residency slots in those states "dropped 6.7%, compared with a 0.4% increase in states where abortion remains legal," Rovner and Pradhan explain. "For internal medicine, the drop observed in abortion ban states was over five times as much as in states where abortion is legal."

The U.S. is looking at producing its own rubber; the industry could offer a hardy crop, jobs and less foreign reliance

The U.S. uses 1.5 million metric tons of rubber each year.
(Graphic by Adam Dixon, Ambrook Research)
Made-in-America rubber may become a new crop for farmers and a new manufacturing industry for the United States. "Scientists, farmers and major corporations are working together to lay the groundwork for domestic rubber production," reports Kate Morgan of Ambrook Research. Even though rubber is in "roughly 50,000 different products across U.S. manufacturing sectors, almost all of the 1.5 million metric tons or more, worth $2 billion — is imported, mostly from Southeast Asian rubber plantations." However, considering how much rubber the nation uses, reliance on a single foreign regional supplier may leave U.S. manufacturing vulnerable.

American rubber production begins with growing rubber plants, such as guayule (pronounced "why-you-lee"), which "grows wild in parts of Texas and Mexico, but it's also easy to cultivate and grow on farms throughout the region. Drought-tolerant and disinclined to disease, there's not much that bothers it," Morgan explains. When Guayuule stems are ground up and put "through a process of distillation and filtration, the result is a high-quality natural latex" for producing "everything from surgical gloves to car parts. . . . Many believe this shrub is the best candidate for developing a domestic rubber market."

Guayule is fairly impervious to conditions.
(Wikipedia photo)
The U.S. has put off rubber plant production partly because of the extreme labor used in hand-tapping Hevea, the most commonly used rubber plant. Research shows that other types of plants work better with less work. "Rubber-producing plants could be grown in the U.S. — not to mention planted and harvested mechanically, rather than with the arduous manpower required for Hevea — on a massive scale," Morgan reports. "Guayule offers many opportunities for farmers, especially in parts of the U.S. that are growing more difficult to irrigate and cultivate."

The next hurdle for American rubber production is finding a manufacturer. Katrina Cornish, professor of horticulture and biological engineering at Ohio State University, told Morgan, "It's all there, there's just no processing infrastructure. We've got farmers who are willing to grow these crops and lots of companies wanting to buy the latex. We need a full-scale processing plant, and we're looking at somewhere around a $70 million price tag." Morgan reports, "Once it's refined, Cornish added, rubber made from guayule or any other plant could be used — it could upend our entire rubber supply chain."

A pasteurization primer explains why processed milk is safe to drink even amid avian flu outbreaks in dairy cow herds

Undeniably Dairy photo
The outbreak of H5N1 avian flu has now infected cows, sparking widespread concern about the safety of consuming cow milk. Dairy expert Kerry E. Kaylegian explains pasteurization and how it plays a crucial role in preventing foodborne illness, including avian flu, for The Conversation, an academic journalistic platform.

What can make milk unsafe? Like many animal foods, dairy products come with "numerous opportunities for contamination by pathogens that cause illness and organisms that make food spoil," Kaylegian writes. "Our milk comes from animals that graze outdoors and live in barns. Milk is picked up from the farm in tanker trucks and delivered to the processing plant. . . . Listeria monocytogenes comes from environmental sources like soil and water. . . . Other pathogens commonly associated with dairy animals and raw milk include E. coli, Campylobacter, the most common cause of diarrheal illness in the U.S.; and Salmonella."

How does heat make dairy safer to consume?
"Pasteurization heats every particle of a food to a specific temperature for a continuous length of time to kill the most heat-resistant pathogen associated with that product," Kaylegian explains. 

How is dairy pasteurized? Milk processors can choose between pasteurization methods, such as vat or  high-temperature short-time pasteurization, which can process large quantities of milk. However, the end result is the same: pathogen-free milk. Kalegian writes, "Processors may treat milk beyond minimum times or temperatures to provide an extra margin of safety or to reduce bacteria that can cause milk to spoil, thus increasing the product's shelf life."

How does avian flu in cows change how dairy products are handled?
The processes are the same, and once milk is pasteurized, it is considered safe. Kaylegian adds, "Research so far has shown that virus particles end up in the milk of infected cows but that pasteurization will inactivate the virus. The Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers not to drink raw milk because there is limited information about whether it may transmit avian flu. . . . The agency also urges producers not to manufacture or sell raw milk or raw milk products, including cheese, made from milk from cows showing symptoms of illness." 

Kerry E. Kaylegian is an extension food scientist in Pennsylvania. As part of her work, she provides technical support to milk processors working to produce high-quality, safe dairy foods. 

To watch a video on pasteurization, click here.

Opinion: Addressing white rural rage may mean using a broader scope of understanding and asking better questions

The book White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy by Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman has continued to stir debate. The Rev. Daniel Schultz shares his insights on the book's controversial themes in his opinion for Raw Story. An excerpt of his opinion is shared below. To read his entire opinion, click here.

To begin with, the book faces two primary objections. "First, Schaller and Waldman may have misrepresented or misunderstood scholarship on the rural context. Second, their thesis — that white rural voters pose a unique threat to American democracy — may be overstated and undersupported.

"I've known of Schaller and Waldman's work for a long time and know Tom himself at least a little. So, I was surprised to see the vehemence and breadth of the pushback on the new book. I was equally surprised to see other folks I know strongly defend their thesis. The authors got their own word in at The New Republic."

Natilyn Photography image, Unsplash
It's time to consider that rural voters may be voting for race. "While I was groping around for what I did want to say, Noah Berlatsky ... just went ahead and nailed it: 'Democrats struggle not with rural voters in general, but with white rural voters in particular. And white rural voters do not vote for the GOP because they are rural. They vote for the GOP because they are white.'

"That's pretty much it. As one scholar argues, if you control for other factors, the difference between rural and urban voting patterns essentially disappears. Race is a much stronger predictor than things like income, religion or place of residence."

Social life and an unwillingness to 'rock the boat' motivate rural voters. "There is one factor particular to rural areas that deserves consideration before we look at potential answers to the 'rural problem.' Rural folks traditionally don't move around as much as city folks. Deep roots feed social capital through rich networks of relations, neighbors and friends. . . . But those same roots provide lots of incentives not to rock the social boat."

"There's a need to start asking better questions. "I don't say these things to valorize or demonize rural areas. It's just that knowing them helps us to ask the right questions. . . . The usual hot take is that they've been hoodwinked by Republicans into voting on culture rather than cold hard cash. But that doesn't give them much credit. They're not fools." 

"Democrats and progressives will need to do a lot less writing off rural districts as hopeless and a lot more intentional work on developing solidarity with them. . . . It would help if there were a leftwing media ecosystem to push the good news coming out of those developments."

Quick hits: Documentary on Uvalde Leader-News shooting coverage to air; adding solar can benefit farms; wildfire prep

Front page of Uvalde Leader-News special
memorial section for Robb Elementary shooting.
A new documentary, Print It Black, that premieres on ABC News Live and Hulu at 8 p.m., E.T. on Friday, May 24, will examine how Uvalde Leader-News journalists covered the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in 2022, reports Kory Grow of Rolling Stone magazine. "A trailer for the film shows the stress and devastation the staff felt in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, beginning with reporter Kimberly Mata-Rubio, who lost her daughter, Alexandria, in the massacre." The trailer also presents the "public cries for justice that followed the massacre, which was made worse by a delay on the part of local authorities to act after the shooting began."

Some farmers are welcoming solar energy as a way to save on their electrical bills and maximize land use. "Jerry Howle was skeptical about installing a $300,000 solar panel system on his South Carolina chicken farm. Then he found out he could get it free of charge," report Amrith Ramkumar and Patrick Thomas of The Wall Street Journal. "Solar panels now sit on his two chicken houses, powering giant fans that keep as many as 60,000 birds inside cool. The panels are being paid for entirely by subsidies from the new climate law and will virtually eliminate the farm's $10,000 annual utility bill."

Wildfire season can be unpredictable, but planning and reliable tools can make managing it easier. Wirecutter has gathered a "best of wildfire preparedness" to help those who live in wildfire-prone areas be as ready as possible. "This guide to wildfire preparedness builds on the expertise of its original author, Eve O'Neill, who was forced to evacuate her California home in 2017 during the Tubbs Fire, which killed 22 people," reports Ellen Airhart of Wirecutter. "This list was also informed by interviews and research conducted for our larger guides to the best emergency-preparedness supplies and the best gear for your bug-out bag."

Solar storms knocked some farmers offline during peak
planting time. (Photo by Chris Ensminger, Unsplash)
While active solar storms knocked some farmers offline during the thick of planting season, the problem was not as dramatic as some reported. "Many farmers were forced to press pause and wait until GPS satellites came back online. . . . It seems, however, that like most things discussed online [on] social media channels perhaps made the situation seem a bit more dire than it turned out," reports Matthew J. Grassi of Farm Journal. Curt Covington from AgAmerica told Grassi, "There were some scattered reports of these storms delaying planting over the weekend, particularly in the Midwest, but no major disruptions have been reported by farmers at this time."

Many American families are facing some hard health care realities -- there aren't enough in-home care workers and those that do exist are often outside of their financial reach. As a result, many children are forced to care for aging or injured family members, reports Clare Ansberry of The Wall Street Journal. "There are an estimated 5.4 million children under the age of 18 providing care to parents, grandparents or siblings with chronic medical conditions or functional decline, up from about 1.3 million nearly 20 years ago, according to two reports from the National Alliance for Caregiving and others."

U.S. mining company Energy Fuels opened the mines last
year. (Photo by S. Hermann/F. Richter, Pixabay via MT)

To lessen U.S. dependence on Russian uranium and keep global energy promises, "Three uranium mines have gone into production along the Arizona-Utah border, with more on the way elsewhere in the Mountain West, as market conditions for the mineral needed for nuclear energy improve in response to a global push to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels to slow climate change," reports Wyatt Myskow of Inside Climate News. "The biggest problem the mining industry faces — especially with uranium—is opposition from local communities, tribes and environmentalists. The three mines that just started operations endured years of pushback and litigation."