Thursday, September 29, 2016

Police routinely misuse databases to get personal information, says AP investigation

A disciplinary report following an unauthorized search
a Miami-Dade County police officer did of a reporter
who did a story on how police officers taking official
vehicles home costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
An Associated Press investigation has found that police officers routinely misuse confidential databases "to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work," Sadie Gurman and Eric Tucker report for AP. The investigation found that no single agency tracks abuse, making it impossible to know how often violations occur.

"Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job," Gurman and Tucker write. "But the AP’s review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained."

An open records request of 50 states and about three dozen of the nation’s largest police departments, found that more than 325 times from 2013-2015 employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned, Gurman and Tucker write. "They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found."

"Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances reviewed by AP," Gurman and Tucker write. "In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best, and many cases go unnoticed."

"Some departments produced no records at all," Gurman and Tucker write. "Some states refused to disclose the information, said they don’t comprehensively track misuse, or they produced records too incomplete or unclear to be counted. Florida reported hundreds of misuse cases of its driver database, but didn’t say how often officers were disciplined. And some cases go undetected, officials say, because there aren’t clear red flags to automatically distinguish questionable searches from legitimate ones." (Read more)

Agriculture is a unique business, in which land tends to be used no matter what, researchers say

Agriculture is unique in that nearly every inch of farmland is utilized, unlike other industries where large portions of land often remained unused to save room for peaks in demand, opine Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, in their latest edition of "Policy Pennings."

While a building that houses a business may have previously held several other types of business, been altered to fit changing needs or excess space been idled or sold, "the same is not true for agriculture, particularly crop agriculture," Schaffer and Ray write. "Crop farmers tend to use all of their acres all of the time. Total planted acres remain remarkable stable over time. Farmers may change the mix of crops they grow, but they are unwilling to allow acres go unused. They typically will plant cropland to something."

"In response to several years of higher crop prices, farmers are relatively quick to convert some of their pasture land to cropland as we saw during the last decade," Schaffer and Ray write. "The shift in the other direction does happen, but historically the change has been exceedingly slow. When a farmer goes bankrupt or otherwise leaves the industry, the land does not. It is sold to another farmer and remains in production, often with higher yields."

"Unlike the building that can be used by businesses in different economic sectors, when land on the edge of town is converted to a subdivision or paved over for a shopping mall or small industrial plant, the change is virtually permanent. It would be very expensive to return it to agricultural production," Schaffer and Ray write. "Buildings can be put up most anywhere, but agricultural cropland is where you find it and it tends to be used no matter what." (Read more)

Workers' comp costs for major injuries in La., the fattest state, are more than double for the obese

State of Obesity report
Obese workers in Louisiana incur more than twice the costs of normal-weight employees for workers' compensation claims for major injuries—an initial reserve of at least $15,000—says a study at the University of Texas published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study, which looked at 2,301 injured workers reported to the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corp.—1,107 in 2011 and 1,194 in 2012—followed up on workers after three years. Researchers found that costs incurred for major injuries averaged $472,713 for obese workers, $270,332 for overweight workers and $181,413 for normal-weight workers.

Louisiana is the nation's fattest state, according to this year's "The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America" by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report found that Louisiana's adult obesity rate is 36.2 percent.

The UT study, which controlled for gender, age, marital status, and attorney involvement, found that "the logistic regression odds ratio for return to work by the end of the follow-up period for an overweight or obese individual versus a normal-weight individual was 2.95 and 3.58." The study also controlled for spinal surgeries and spinal injections, "which were found in previous studies to be associated with high workers’ compensation cost and claim duration."

Researchers did find that the increasing trend in costs for workers based on being obese, overweight or normal weigh was not evident for minor injuries with an initial reserve less than $15,000. While the average incurred cost for overweight workers was $187,801, costs for obese workers ($232,652) and normal-weight workers ($224,884) were similar.

U.S., Canadian tribes to sign joint treaty to block hunting of grizzly bears in Yellowstone area

National Park Service map shows bear range
Tribal leaders from the U.S. and Canada will sign Friday a joint treaty "aimed at blocking the proposed hunting of grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming," Rob Hotakeainen reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Tribal leaders, who consider the grizzly bear a sacred animal, are angry that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March proposed removing the grizzly bear from the federal endangered species list from the area in and around Yellowstone National Park, which would let the three states manage the bears and allow hunting.

"Tribal officials said the new treaty will be only the third cross-border treaty between U.S. and Canadian tribes to be signed in more than 150 years," Hotakeainen writes. "More than 50 federally recognized tribes have lobbied President Barack Obama to intervene. They’re backed by The Assembly of First Nations, a national advocacy organization representing the more than 900,000 First Nation citizens living in Canada."

Ranchers and state officials have argued for delisting of grizzly bears, saying numbers are up and "they constitute a threat to public safety," Hotakeainen writes. Numbers were estimated at as low as 136 in 1975, but are now estimated at more than 700. (Read more)

Stanford offers $160,000 to MBA grads who agree to work in under-served Midwest areas

Stanford University has launched a fellowship that covers tuition and other costs for master-of-business-administration students who agree to work in under-served areas in the Midwest. The Stanford USA MBA Fellowship pays for tuition and associated fees—about $160,000 over two years—for students with ties to the Midwest and who are in need of financial assistance. Students must agree that within two years of graduation they will hold a professional position for two years that contributes to economic development in under-served areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin.

To be eligible, students must "demonstrate strong ties to, and a commitment to the economic development of" one of the states, and have on the following: current residency in the region; prior residency for a minimum of three consecutive years in one of the states; a high school diploma from the region; or experiences that demonstrate a strong commitment to, and interest in, the development of the region. The application deadline is Jan. 10, 2017.

Simone Hill, an assistant director for MBA admissions at Stanford, told Zara Kessler of Bloomberg News that the program seeks “people who are interested in bringing everything that they learned back to their region to develop it. So we don’t have any specific stipulations on what we mean by ‘having an impact,’ because we know there are so many different ways you can do that.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Youth suicide rates up in at least 36 states; some blame decline in prescribing antidepressants

At least 36 states saw a rise in youth suicide rates from 2006 to 2014, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. The overall rate for suicides among people 19 and under rose during this period from 2.18 per every 100,000 teens to 2.72. The biggest increase was in Utah, where youth suicide rates rose from 2.87 for every 100,000 teens to 6.83. (Stateline map: Change in teen suicide rates from 2006-14)
Experts site a decline in psychiatric medicine for the increase in suicides, Ollove writes. In 2003 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warnings that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicide in teens and adolescents, leading many doctors to stop prescribing them. A study in 2003-04 linked higher rates of teen suicide to the decreased prescribing of antidepressants. Experts say another possible cause for the rise in teen suicides is in increase of cyber-bullying.

One study in rural Wisconsin linked higher teen-suicide rates to rural areas, "where people are more likely to be depressed and mental health services may be less accessible," Ollove writes. In Utah, for example, "public schools are barred by law from 'advocating homosexuality," which, critics say, discourages any candid conversation on the subject" and leaves LGBTQ youth with no support system. Utah does not track suicides by sexual orientation, so little data exist on that theory.

Rural towns seek ways around state laws preventing cities' extension of high-speed internet

Local governments are trying to find ways around state laws prohibiting them form extending broadband to rural areas, Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, is known as "Gig City" for its mega-gigabit speeds, but neighboring rural areas are stuck in the technology Stone Age for uploads and downloads. Chattanooga wants to expand its service to rural areas, "but a state law bans cities from doing so, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last month rejected an attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to block the state law."

"The court’s decision was limited to Chattanooga and Wilson, N.C., another city that wants to expand its service," Fifield writes. "But about 20 states have laws that ban or restrict municipal broadband, and the ruling means that any city that attempts to get around the laws won’t be able to turn to the federal agency for help. The outcome sends the fight back to the local level, where cities are looking for ways to work within the laws so they can reach residents on the other side of the digital divide."

Overall, 39 percent of rural residents and 50 percent of the lowest-income residents lack access to high-speed internet, compared to 4 percent of urban residents and 23 percent of the highest-income residents, Fifield writes. Andy Berke, the Democratic mayor of Chattanooga, said expanding broadband from cities would not only increase those numbers, but would help rural areas create jobs and economic opportunities. (Stateline graphic: Broadband access)
"Advocates for restrictions on municipal broadband, including Republican state lawmakers and free-market think tanks, say the rules are needed to keep the government from unfairly competing with businesses, which are subject to state and local regulations and taxes that many cities don’t face," Fifield writes. Providers often want to avoid rural areas because they say demand is low and costs are high to build new networks.

Christopher Mitchell, policy director at Next Century Cities, a nonprofit that advocates for more high-speed internet, said there are ways around the laws, Fifield writes. One way is through cooperatives, where customers own the network. "A city could build the fiber optic network and agree to lease it to the co-op at a low rate. Or, it could take out a bond and make a loan to the co-op to build the system."

Appalachian-state voters favor shifting away from coal, says poll taken for Sierra Club

Voters in in Appalachian coal states favor transitioning away from coal, and a bill in Congress to help fund the effort, says a poll conducted by the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The poll in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia surveyed 150 registered voters in each state. It was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm.

Asked about policymaking choices by elected officials and decision-makers, 62 percent said they should concentrate on helping "attract new employers, diversify the economy, and ensure workers get new jobs in growing industries," and 32 percent said they should prioritize "fighting government regulations that have made it harder to produce coal, to ensure the good‐paying jobs in mining come back."

The highest number was in Virginia, where 72 percent said the state should move away from coal. But only a small part of Virginia has coal. West Virginia, most of which has coal, had the lowest number (54 percent). In the two-coalfield state of Kentucky, it was 59 percent. The poll did not separate results for those who live in a coalfield and those who do not.
At least 85 percent of respondents in each state agreed that it was time for coal communities to diversify their economies. When asked if it was time to emphasize efficiency and clean energy over coal, at least 68 percent of respondents in every state except West Virginia agreed. There, it was 54 percent.
The bill in Congress, titled the RECLAIM Act, would take $1 billion in previously collected taxes on coal from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help revitalize coal communities hit hardest by the downturn in the coal industry. It drew overwhelming support, with at least 87 percent of respondents in every state supporting it and no real difference by party.
At least 74 percent of respondents in each state rated the rural economy as fair or poor, with 94 percent in Kentucky and 96 percent in West Virginia saying the rural economy is fair or poor. Only 10 percent of respondents rated their state's rural economy as excellent or good, compared to 38 percent who rated their overall state economy as excellent or good. In every state respondents rated the economies of rural coal mining areas as being far worse than the overall economy of the state.

USDA grant creating telemedicine network to fight opioid addiction in rural Virginia

Rural Virginia will soon see the benefits of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to create telemedicine networks to fight the opioid epidemic. Funding is part of $1.4 million USDA announced in June for five rural Appalachian projects. Virginia was awarded $587,000 for two projects. One, which received $434,182, will help the Carillon Clinic's Roanoke-based Carilion Medical Center "deliver health care in 12 rural counties in southwest Virginia, including 18 sites—15 of which are in StrikeForce counties" targeted for special help, says a USDA press release. Other projects are in Kentucky and Tennessee.

In Virginia, 4.6 percent of residents—about 380,000 people—are estimated to have abused opioids last year, Shefali Luthra reports for Kaiser Health News. Between January 2015 and March 2016, the state medical examiner's office recorded almost 600 deaths from prescription -opioid overdoses.

The epidemic has been particularly bad in rural areas, mostly because there are few options for help, Luthra writes. For example, in Giles County (GilesCounty.net map) which has 17,000 people spread over 360 square miles, there are no treatment programs. The nearest ones are one county over, "more than 24 miles from Pearisburg, where the Giles County mental health clinic offers only basic counseling and child psychiatry. With no closer option for an adult psychiatrist, some local physicians have turned to telemedicine."

Giles County family physician Robert Devereaux said "the nearest physician who can prescribe suboxone is 30 miles away," Luthra writes. "That's an immense distance for patients of limited means, who may not be able to afford gas or may not even have a car. But given that Devereaux sees between 25 and 30 patients a day, many with multiple chronic illnesses, handling the medication regimen required to treat drug addiction is a responsibility he's not sure he could add."

Carillon, which runs the Carillon Giles Community Hospital in Giles County, "is pushing its doctors in rural counties to get licensed to prescribe suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction," Luthra writes. "Medical residents at the system's flagship hospital in Roanoke are required to get DEA certification, and the hospital is sending two specialists to its clinics to train interested providers."

Invasive Asian carp being served up as gourmet dishes, or as 'fish hot dogs'

(Photo by Jere Downs, The Courier-Journal)
A growing number of fine-dining restaurants in Kentucky are serving up locally-sourced invasive Asian carp as trendy dishes, while some grocery stores are now stocking hot dogs made from fish, Jere Downs reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. "Humans are the only predators capable of making a dent" in the exploding population of carp, "a fish so fertile it lays one million eggs a year, a starvation threat to native fish like bluegill, crappie, bass and shad in 45 of 50 states."

So, what better way to reduce the species than to eat it. Louisville chef Shawn Ward told Downs, "Anything you can do with a fish that you spend quite a bit of money on, you can do with carp. Our biggest venture is to get people willing to try and eat carp.” Asian carp, which weigh between 45 to 70 pounds, are much cheaper than more expensive fish like bass, often costing $10 per pound, compared to $23 per pound for bass, said Louisville chef Dean Corbett.

The trend isn't exclusive to Kentucky, because carp have invaded most of the Mississippi River watershed and are threatening the Great Lakes, so one strategy is to harvest and eat them. The owners of processing plant Fin Gourmet in far Western Kentucky say they are "shipping 20,000 pounds of boneless filets each week to restaurants in Louisville, Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans and Las Vegas," Downs writes. Fin CEO Lan Chi Luu told Downs, "A shift is happening in the conversation. This is the new U.S. wild-caught fish."

But Asian carp isn't just for foodies. "While top chefs in Kentucky are starting to plate up Asian carp for gourmet diners, Asian carp hot dogs might be one of the first products to land the invasive fish inside supermarket carts," Downs writes in a separate story. Ward said he has created teriyaki and jalapeno-and-cheese flavor "fish hot dogs" that are now being sold in stores. He told Downs, "It tastes like a grilled hot dog. It’s not as strong. It’s good."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Waters family selling Columbia Daily Tribune, a well-known community paper, to GateHouse

Columbia, Missouri, has long been known among journalists as the best-covered small city in America, since it has the daily Columbia Missourian of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the Columbia Daily Tribune, owned for 111 years by the local Walters family. Now the Tribune has been sold to GateHouse Media Inc., a burgeoning chain backed by venture capital.

"GateHouse Media is owned by New Media Investments Inc. and operates 125 daily newspapers across the country," Rudi Keller wrote for the Tribune. "Overall, the company owns 620 publications in 520 markets in 35 states. Its 14 daily newspapers in Missouri include the Boonville Daily News, the Mexico Ledger and the Moberly Monitor-Index." All are in towns smaller than Columbia, population 119,000.

Andy Waters
Jason Taylor, president of GateHouse's Western Division, said the paper's 200 employees, except Publisher Vickie Russell and company President Andy Waters, will keep their jobs during the transition. "An interim publisher will be named on the day the sale closes," on or about Oct. 1, Keller reported. Russell's husband and Waters' father, Hank Waters, "will continue to write daily editorials as he has since taking over from his father on May 25, 1966," Keller wrote, quoting Waters: “It is probably a world record. I don’t know if it is something that anyone should aspire to.”

Andy Waters and his sister, Elizabeth Reifert, bought out their four siblings in 2011. Waters and Russell said in an interview that after years of spurning offers, the cost of maintaining a modern news operation made independent ownership impossible. “Bigger companies can absorb research and development, for example, and spread costs out across the entire company while we were constantly being challenged to do that by ourselves,” Russell said.

For GateHouse, the purchase is "part of an aggressive acquisition strategy it has pursued since emerging from bankruptcy in 2014," Keller notes. "On July 28, New Media reported second quarter net income of $9.4 million, the purchase of Journal Multimedia, a Pennsylvania company, for $18 million and an agreement to buy Fayetteville Publishing Co., owner of North Carolina’s oldest newspaper, also for $18 million. . . . While New Media overall is profitable, GateHouse is not."

GateHouse wants to maintain the Waters family traditions, Taylor said: “We owe it to them to shepherd this business for decades to come.” Andy Waters said that was important to the family. “They have told us over and over again, and we believe, that they have a plan for being successful in the future and that plan includes doing quality journalism, having a commitment to the employees here and a commitment to the community, and we expect that to continue.”

Rural areas still trail pre-recession employment numbers; biggest job growth in largest metro areas

Rural areas continue to struggle to reach pre-Great Recession employment numbers, Bill Bishop and Tim Marema report for the Daily Yonder. Among 1,969 non-metro counties, 1,326—67.3 percent—had fewer jobs last year than before the recession started in 2008. Only 49.8 percent of urban counties, 580 of 1,165, had fewer jobs in 2015 than in 2008. Most of the job growth occurred in areas with one million or more residents.

The Yonder sorted counties using the rural-urban continuum code, used by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to divide counties into nine categories, with 1 being the largest (one million residents or more) and 9 being the smallest (not more than 2,500 residents living in a city), Bishop and Marema write. When using this system "the top two largest categories gained gained 4.5 million jobs since 2008," while "every other county category had fewer jobs in 2015 than in 2008." (Yonder chart: Job status based on the rural-urban continuum code; click on it for a larger version)

Fact-checking the presidential debate on jobs, tax plans, climate change, trade: both made errors

The first presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton contained plenty of factual errors. We only have room here for a few. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at reports by The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org for full context and things you may want to add.

Trump said, “So Ford is leaving. You see that, their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They’re all leaving. And we can’t allow it to happen anymore.” Post fact-checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Le write, "Ford is moving its small-car production to Mexico, but the expansion will not affect U.S. workers. The company has said that while production of Ford Focus models will shift to Mexico, its plant in Michigan will build other, larger vehicles. Ford and many other automakers are finding Mexico more attractive for several reasons."

Clinton said that under Trump's tax plan "we would lose 3.5 million jobs and maybe have another recession," while under her plan, "we will have 10 million more jobs because we will be making investments where we can grow the economy.” While one report by an economist did state that Trump's plan would cost 3.5 million jobs, it also said his plan was unlikely to get passed by Congress, Kessler and Lee write. The report also said Clinton's plan would add 3.2 million during her first four years, with an additional 7.2 million from anticipated growth. The report also said her plan would face roadblocks to get through Congress. Trump has since released a new tax plan.

Trump denied that he ever said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, reports FactCheck.Org. In 2012 "he tweeted that the Chinese had created global warming but later said he was joking." Trump also "claimed 'the record shows' he was opposed to the Iraq War before it started, but there is no record of that."

Clinton stretched the truth on her statements about her 2012 praise of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, Kessler and Lee write. When Trump said she called it "the gold standard of trade deals," she claimed she said, "I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated.” Kessler and Lee write, "But the fact is she never used the word 'hoped.' Instead, she was more declarative, using the phrase 'gold standard' when she was secretary of state."

Landowners dispute shrinking natural-gas royalties, say companies are breaking lease agreements

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia map
A decline in natural-gas prices has some landowners seeing red over reduced royalty checks. They have filed lawsuits in several states claiming deductions are too high and break terms of the lease, Michael Rubinkam reports for The Associated Press. "Chesapeake Energy Corp. alone is facing royalty lawsuits in Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Pennsylvania—including one filed by the Pennsylvania attorney general—and says it has received subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Service and states over its royalty practices."

Landowners in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region have seen royalty payments decline to almost nothing, including a few instances where statements have been issued for negative amounts, Rubinkam writes. That goes against "a 1979 state law that mandates a landowner royalty of at least 12.5 percent of the value of the gas." Drillers contend that "royalty is properly calculated based on the market price, less post-production deductions for transportation and processing, a method permitted in most states."

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court "sided with the gas companies—but also noted that state lawmakers are 'best suited' to deciding how the royalties should be paid," Rubinkam writes. State lawmakers have scheduled a procedural vote on a state House bill to keep deductions from reducing royalties below the one-eighth minimum, an industry standard for decades. "The gas industry has been lobbying against it, asserting it would unconstitutionally interfere with tens of thousands of existing private contracts. Any contractual disputes should be decided in the courts, not through legislation, the drillers argue," Rubinkam reports.

Critics say big companies' monopoly of seeds and chemicals would hurt small farmers

Consumer, environment and anti-trust groups say a trio of mega-mergers could hurt small farmers, John Vidal reports for The Guardian. The deals—Bayer is looking to acquire Monsanto, Chem China is acquiring Sygenta and DuPont and Dow are merging—would mean that the three companies would control nearly 60 percent of the world's seeds and 70 percent of chemicals and pesticides used in agriculture to grow food.

Critics say "the three mega-deals have the potential to concentrate political and financial power dangerously and could force more countries to adopt a single model of farming that excludes or impoverishes small farmers," Vidal writes. "With seeds, chemicals, research and lobbying power in the hands of a tiny group of immensely powerful companies, they say, the small farmer will inevitably be blown away, competition could be stifled, and food and farm input prices will rise."
A soon to be published report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems "is expected to say that “an unprecedented wave of corporate consolidation is under way," Vidal writes. An early draft given to The Guardian says: “New technology and data-driven synergies could lead to three companies controlling 60 percent of seeds and 70 percent of agrochemicals worldwide with still greater oligopoly possible — a historic power shift throughout global agricultural inputs and even greater crop and livestock vulnerability through uniformity."

Pat Mooney, director of the ETC Group, a global agribusiness and agricultural technology watchdog, said "the mergers are linked to companies wanting control of big data and access to patents, gene traits and intellectual property," Vidal writes. Mooney told him, “These deals are not just about seeds and pesticides, but also about who will control big data in agriculture. The company that can dominate seed, soil and weather data and crunch new genomics information will inevitably gain control of global agricultural inputs – seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and farm machinery." (Read more)

Missouri Farmers Union President Richard Oswald wrote in June about the dangers of the mergers to farmers.

Rural employers failed to meet breastfeeding needs of workers in study of one Missouri town

Rural employers are not adhering to health-reform requirements allowing women to breastfeed at work, says a study of one rural town by the University of Missouri. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act "requires employers of more than 50 employees to provide sufficient space and time for mothers to breastfeed during the first year of their babies’ lives," Sheena Rice reports for the MU News Bureau. But a study led by Wilson Majee, assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions, "found a lack of compliance with the law, inadequate breastfeeding information for mothers and lack of support from co-workers and supervisors."

The study focused on 17 rural Missouri mothers—six had college degrees and six were married—20-30 years old in a town with a population of 21,500. The poverty level was 17.2 percent, compared to 15 percent statewide, 15.9 percent of residents 25 and older have a college degree, compared to 25.8 percent statewide, and 18.5 percent of the town's residents worked low-paying manufacturing jobs.

Researchers found many women felt their breastfeeding needs were a burden to employers, rather than a right of employees, Rice writes. "A majority of large employers, particularly those employing primarily women, were aware of the federal regulations; however, they mainly offered accommodations only when requested. Many mothers also said that they were met with direct ridicule from their managers and coworkers when attempting to pump milk at work. The researchers say this unsupportive and reactive work environment made pumping during work hours difficult for mothers."

Majee told Rice, "While we found that most employers were tolerant, and at least attempted to be flexible in the permitting of pumping milk in the workplace, none were proactive in the sense of encouraging the practice of breastfeeding. In our case study, we found that employers often saw breastfeeding as a personal decision, and therefore were unwilling to bring up the issue to their employees, even at crucial moments, such as when mothers file the required paperwork for family medical leave. To help these young mothers, proactive discussions should occur at all levels—family, workplace and community.”

Ballot-measure campaigns raise a lot; have no limits, little regulation on contributions

About $379 million has been raised for and against 165 state ballot measures—74 are the result of citizen petitions— in 35 states, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. Nearly half of all funds—$155 million—has gone to healthcare issues. Coming in a distant second is energy ($19.7 million), followed by marijuana ($19.2 million), firearms ($12.4 million), law enforcement ($6.8 million) and minimum wage ($3.2 million).

The state ballot campaigns are attracting widespread interest from corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and special interest groups, "as referendums increasingly replace legislatures as a battleground for people who want to make state policy, on issues ranging from legalizing marijuana and raising the minimum wage to gun control and drug pricing, and from tobacco taxes to solar energy and education," Povich writes. The main reason is that  "there’s no limit and little regulation on contributions to referendum campaigns." (Stateline chart)
California has attracted the majority of money, $313 million, with more than $96 million for "a drug pricing initiative, which would require that state agencies pay no more than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for prescription drugs," Povich writes. Most of the money, $86 million, has come from the opposition, mostly from drug makers.

While minimum wage ranks seventh in money raised, it's an issue on ballots in five states—Arizona, Colorado, Maine, South Dakota and Washington, Povich writes. The measure on every state except South Dakota would increase the minimum wage. (Read more)

Monday, September 26, 2016

A put-out Vilsack tried to resign, but then Obama made him a point man to fight the opioid epidemic

Tom Vilsack (Photo by Matt McClain, The Washington Post)
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, "frustrated with a culture in Washington that too often ignored rural America’s struggles and dismissed its virtues," tried to resign in late 2015, Greg Jaffe and Juliet Eilperin report for The Washington Post, noting that the former governor of Iowa and mayor of Mount Pleasant often said, “I just sometimes think rural America is a forgotten place.”

Instead of letting Vilsack go, "Obama asked him to take over the administration’s response to the opioid crisis that was ravaging rural America," the Post reports. In recent interviews, "He did not blame the president for the lack of attention to rural America, though his last one-on-one meeting with Obama had taken place 10 months earlier, when he tried to resign. His frustration was with the rest of the country — the media, Congress and the private sector — which he felt had ignored the struggles and contributions of a region that produced most of the country’s food and, during 15 years of war, had disproportionately filled the ranks of its military."

Jaffe and Eilperin write, "The new assignment would force Vilsack to confront not only the immediate drug crisis in the country but also the frustrations and feelings of economic hopelessness that had taken root and allowed the epidemic to flourish." Also, it was "the kind of crisis that too easily escaped the attention of powerful people in Washington. It had developed slowly, over the course of decades, in parts of rural America that were isolated, poor and often overlooked."

And it was personal for Vilsack, who "had spent his adult life fighting for rural America," the reporters note. "He was also the child of an alcoholic and prescription drug addict. The story of his mother’s addiction and her suicide attempts had long been a part of his political identity; one that he had told hundreds of times on the campaign trail." There's a lot more; it's a great story. Read it.

National Newspaper Week, Oct. 2-8, touts papers' leading role in providing news on all platforms

The theme of the 76th annual National Newspaper Week, to be celebrated Sunday-Saturday, Oct. 2-8, is "Way to Know!" The site says "the aim is to applaud and underscore newspaper media's role as the leading provider of news in print, online or in palms via mobile devices." Free materials, including editorials, columns, editorial cartoons, and promotional ads tailored to most states are scheduled to be made available today on the NNW website. If you're in a hurry to get something in a weekly paper this week, you can use materials from previous years. New and archived materials will be available on the site year-round.

Study: Immigration has positive long-term impact on economy, little effect on wages of Americans

"Waves of immigrants coming into the U.S. in recent decades have helped the economy over the long haul and had little lasting impact on the wages or employment levels of native-born Americans, according to one of the most comprehensive studies yet on the topic," Jeffrey Sparshott reports for The Wall Street Journal.

The study by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, looked at immigrant trends over the past 20 years and found that immigrants have a very small effect on wages of American-born workers, with most of that coming among low-skilled workers who are most likely high-school dropouts.

The study found that "immigration also can lead to more innovation, entrepreneurship and technological change across the economy," Researchers found that “the prospects for long-run economic growth in the U.S. would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants" and "that 'over a long time horizon (about 75 years)' the fiscal impacts of immigrants 'are generally positive at the federal level and negative at the state and local levels.'” (WSJ graphic: Jobs held by immigrants)
In 2014 there was an estimated 42.3 million immigrants in the U.S., mostly working as unskilled labor, in the service industry or agriculture, Sparshott writes. In 2012 more than half of all immigrants—53 percent—had some college and 16 percent were college graduates. (WSJ graphic: Education level of immigrants)
The study did find that "immigration can burden government finances, especially education budgets at the state and local levels," Sparshott writes. The report, citing a lack of data, doesn’t distinguish between the impacts of documented and undocumented immigrants.

More than half of 2.2 million people who need opioid-addiction treatment are not receiving care

More than half of the 2.2 million Americans who need treatment for opioid addiction are not getting it, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "A fragmented treatment system, widespread bias against addiction medications and a shortage of trained workers often thwart those seeking help. Instead, they show up in emergency rooms, or reach out to local doctors, nurses and clergy."

Opioid and heroin addiction can be treated with methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol, drugs "that have proven more effective at keeping people from abusing drugs than abstinence and 12-step therapies that don’t include the medications," Vestal writes. But not everyone is in favor of using medication to treat addiction, which has led some to turn to spiritual-based recovery programs.

Dr. James Becker, medical director of West Virginia’s Medicaid program and professor of family medicine at Marshall University, told Vestal, "Many people believe that substance abuse is a weakness of personality and that a person needs to get a handle on their disease, and in that sense, they think that relying on a drug that replaces the drug of abuse is somehow a weakness. That’s not the view of most people in the medical community. We understand that addiction is a disease, and that there are a lot of treatments out there that work for some and not for others.” (Stateline graphic; click on it for a larger version)
West Virginia, which has the nation's highest rate of overdose deaths, "is one of the 17 states where Medicaid does not pay for methadone, and it has had an adversarial relationship with methadone clinics for decades," Vestal writes. "Methadone clinics weren’t allowed in the state until 2001, and after nine for-profit clinics set up shop in West Virginia, the Legislature in 2007 placed a moratorium on opening any more."

Becker said that of the state's 300 physicians with a license to prescribe buprenorphine about 100 serve Medicaid patients, Vestal writes. He said that while most doctors who prescribe buprenorphine, typically sold as Suboxone, "do a good job of providing counseling, group classes and drug screenings to ensure patients are using it as prescribed and staying in recovery" the state has a number of cash clinics that "provide little counseling and fail to adhere to national protocols requiring drug screenings . . . These practices require a monthly cash payment of $300 or more in advance and usually give patients more medication than they need. That allows many of them to end up selling their extra doses on the street." (Read more)

Education, religion top indicators of presidential vote, followed by population density (rural-urban)

Religion and education are the demographics most likely to determine how white people will vote in the presidential election, Milo Beckman reports for FiveThirtyEight. A survey by FiveThirtyEight and SurveyMonkey shows that white voters are more likely to lean to the left if they are "more college than church" and will lean right if they are "more church than college." What it boils down to, when looking at equal influence from church and college, is that "urban voters lean left while suburban and rural voters lean right." (FiveThirty Eight graphic)

"College whites and church whites are taught different moral values in their respective houses of learning, values which trickle up into policy preferences," Beckman writes. "Members of white Christian congregations are more likely than any other racial-religious group to rank personal responsibility above structural factors, such as unequal access to education, in explaining racial disparities in income. And while secular universities rarely purport to give moral teachings to their students, research has found that college education increases tolerance."


"Republican ideology seems to be aligned with the values taught in historically white churches," he writes. "For instance, black and Hispanic members of interracial congregations hold the same individualistic social attitudes as white churchgoers, suggesting that they may adopt these conservative views after extended exposure to white church values." (FiveThirty Eight graphic: How people are more likely to vote)
Another possibility is that more educated people are more likely to agree with scientific explanations, meaning they believe in climate change as opposed to a less educated person who denies the existence of climate change, Beckman writes. Also, people tend to associate with like-minded individuals, where they reinforce each other's beliefs.

Colleges not preparing teachers for teaching multiple subjects and grades in rural areas

Colleges are not preparing teachers for jobs in remote rural areas where they might be asked to teach multiple subjects or grades, Matt Hoffman reports for The Missoulian. While nationally most elementary school teachers teach one grade and high school teachers one subject for several classes, "in Montana’s smallest elementary schools, teachers are asked to juggle multiple grades in the same classroom, sometimes with only one student per grade. In small high schools, teachers might teach every class within a subject, or even multiple subjects."

While having instructors teach multiple subjects helps the school it can be tough for teachers, Hoffman writes. "Teachers need to prepare more lesson plans for different classes or grade levels. There are often no colleagues within a department to seek advice from. It’s simply not what most teachers envision when they’re in college."

Being overworked or in over their heads can lead to teachers not sticking around long, Hoffman writes. Jilyn Oliveira, a Helena administrator who studied recruitment and retention at Montana's smallest schools in 2015, said "she found that a major indicator of teachers staying in a rural school was feeling that their own education prepared them for the job. But only about a third of teachers she surveyed said their own education prepared them for a rural school."

Teachers in small towns like Circle
might be asked to teach multiple
subjects and grades (Best Places map)
One problem is that Montana's colleges have seen drops in bachelor's degree graduates in almost every program since 2010-11, Hoffman writes. John Demming, a science teacher in rural Circle, Mont., said "the quick answer for whether teachers are prepared for a rural setting coming out of college is 'no.' Teacher prep programs are designed to teach best practices to students for an environment that they’re likely to teach in. Nationally, teachers are much more likely to end up in a school district like Missoula, Bozeman or Billings than one like Circle." (Read more)

Southwest Virginia towns turning to tourism to revitalize economies hurt by loss of coal jobs

Haysi, Va., is hoping to attract tourists and new businesses.
(Voice of America photo by Nadeem Yaqub) 
Appalachian mountain towns in Southwest Virginia hurt by the downturn in coal are hoping tourism will revitalize local economies, Nadeem Yaqub reports for Voice of America. Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, told Yaqub, "For the last 100 years or so many of these communities have had one source of employment, one source of income. And as coal has moved away and declined dramatically, now it’s important to take the next step and to work with counties to make this transition."

Cleveland, Va., has lost most of its businesses and all of its schools, Yaqub writes. "But what Cleveland does have that no downturn in the coal industry can touch is scenic mountain trails and the Clinch River, which runs through town. The local community, along with local and state partners, is implementing an action plan to develop tourism in the area. And recently, an entrepreneur opened a rental store for kayaking and rafting enthusiasts near the city’s Town Hall."

Other towns are thinking along the same lines, Yaqub writes. The nearby town of Haysi has been improving its infrastructure—new signs, paint, windows, doors, lighting—with the hopes of attracting visitors and businesses, while in Tazewell County, Virginia, a 37-mile trail is being developed for all-terrain vehicles near a mine site.

500,000 U.S. homes lack sewage disposal systems; problem especially bad in rural Black Belt

Lowndes County, Alabama
(Wikipedia map
)
About 500,000 U.S. homes—mostly in poor, rural areas—lack basic plumbing, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. Numbers are especially high in some areas of the Black Belt, "so called more for its soil than its demographics." In Lowndes County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in the nation, only half the population is on municipal sewers and a University of South Alabama survey found that "about 35 percent of homes had septic systems that were failing, with raw sewage on the ground. Another 15 percent had nothing."

Many residents are unable to afford to pay thousands of dollars for septic systems, Tavernise writes. Another problem is that the hard clay soil in this county is bad for burying things—in particular, septic tanks. Lacking a septic tank, many residents instead run a plastic pipe from their toilet under their yards and into the woods behind their houses.

Parrish Pugh, an official with the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the problem with that is that state law "forbids the use of 'insanitary sewage collection,' and the responsibility for that rests squarely with the homeowner," Tavernise writes. "Resisting is not only illegal, but could have health consequences: Raw sewage can taint drinking water and cause health problems." He told Tavernise, “My parents had a pipe that ran into the woods, and that’s good enough for me. But we didn’t know as much about disease back then. People are more educated nowadays. They are more concerned.”

Tavernise writes, "The state health department begs, cajoles, and eventually cites people who have problems and do not fix them. In the early 2000s, the authorities even tried arresting people. That prompted a public outcry and the practice soon stopped, but one person spent a weekend in jail and others were left with criminal records. The department cited about 700 people in the 12 months that ended in March, often because someone complained."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vermont weekly publisher extends essay contest for sale, adds crowdfunding campaign to fill gap

Ross Connelly
(AP photo: Toby Talbot)
A Vermont weekly newspaper publisher's effort to sell his paper through an essay contest has fallen short, so he has extended the contest again and started a crowdfunding campaign for $100,000 to fill the gap. Both will end Oct. 10. "If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, all entries received by Oct. 10 will be assessed by a panel of judges and a new owner chosen," Hardwick Gazette Editor-Publisher Ross Connelly announced. "If the combined contest and Kickstarter campaign do not succeed, all entry fees and donated money will be returned."

"In one sense, this contest is too big to fail," writes Connelly, who is 71 and wants to retire. "Transiting the Gazette to a new owner is asking people to consider the value of independent journalism and to consider that citizenship and democracy start in people’s homes, their neighborhoods, their communities, with elected officials – on the local level. Local, independent newspapers are the foundation blocks of the country's democracy and are necessary to keep it solidly in place."

Connelly has believers, and friends. "A number of readers already submitted 'I don’t want to win' essays, including the fee and a note expressing the importance of the Gazette’s survival," he reports. "A pledge was also made by an anonymous benefactor to make a substantial donation as part of a crowdfunding effort. The readers who already contributed want to see the Gazette endure. They recognize the value of the independent voice — socially, culturally and politically. It’s a sentiment being felt broadly, even internationally."

The essay contest, which began in June, seeks 400-word essays explaining why the writers want to own a rural weekly newspaper, outlining their "skills and vision." The entry fee is $175. Connelly had hoped for 700 entries, producing $122,500, a little more than half the paper's annual gross revenue. Many small, rural weeklies sell for the annual gross or slightly more. For the Gazette's news story and editorial, click here.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

S.D., N.C, N.M, Iowa and N.Y. papers win top prizes from National Newspaper Association

Iowa's Sioux City Journal, The Pilot of Southern Pines, N.C., New Mexico's Taos News, the N'West Iowa Review of Sheldon and the Mid-Hudson Times of Newburgh, N.Y., won the general-excellence awards in their circulation categories of the Better Newspaper Contest of the National Newspaper Association. (Click image for larger version)
The Journal won the prize in the daily division. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle of Cheyenne placed second, The Union of Grass Valley, Calif., third and the Antelope Valley Press of Palmdale, Calif., fourth.

The Pilot, a thrice-weekly, won among weeklies of 10,000 or more circulation. The Idaho Mountain Express of Ketchum was second, The Washington Missourian third and the Livingston Parish News of Louisiana fourth.

The Taos News won among weeklies with circulations of 6,000 to 9,999. The Jackson Hole News & Guide of Wyoming was second, and The Ellsworth American of Bar Harbor, Maine, was third.

The Review (which uses all caps for its name, a style we don't follow) won the 3,000-5,999 category. The Buffalo Bulletin of Wyoming was second, the Hutchinson Leader of Kansas was third and the Fountain Hills Times of Arizona fourth.

Among the smallest papers, following the Mid-Hudson Times were the Glenrock Independent of Wyoming, the West Point News of Nebraska and The Ark of Tiburon, Calif..

The contest is open to members of NNA, an organization for community newspapers. "This is an extremely competitive contest," said Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, which acts as headquarters for NNA. It also includes an advertising competition.

The winners for best local news coverage were the Litchfield Independent Review of Minnesota, circulation under 3,000; the N'West Iowa Review, 3,000-5,999; and the Idaho Mountain Express, 6,000 or more.

Winners for best investigative story or in-depth series were The Press-Republican, a daily of Plattsburgh, N.Y., for coverage of a prison break; the New Times, a large weekly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., for a package on lingering health problems of workers at a plant; and the Yamhill Valley News-Register of McMinnville, Ore., a medium-sized weekly, for a series on a drought; and The Hennessey Clipper, a small Oklahoma weekly, for stories about a school board's efforts to get state investigative records about a coach.

The Tribune Eagle and the Buffalo Bulletin won for best editorial pages in large and small circulation categories, respectively. The Echo Press of Alexandria, Minn., was judged to have the best website.

For an Excel spreadsheet of the editorial contest winners, by category, click here. For a list by newspaper, go here. For a PDF of a newspaper with the winners and many examples of their work, click here.

Tennessee governor tells newspapers that their civic role has never been more important

Bill Haslam (WBIR.com image)
Newspapers have never been more important in helping the public understand increasingly complex issues, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told members of the National Newspaper Association as they gathered this week for heir annual convention in Franklin, Tenn., just south of Nashville.

"What you all do has never been as important as it is today," Haslam said, because citizens have more diverse information sources that get less editing, and many that are more aimed at seeking audience through entertainment than providing news.

The Republican governor and former business executive said those factors make it more important than ever to provide "balance and community responsibility. . . . It matters a lot that people understand the issues." He added, "The complexity of those issues is getting greater and greater."

One example Haslam may have had in mind was his desire to expand Medicaid under federal health reform, a plan that has been supported by Tennessee hospitals and other health-care interests but so far has been thwarted by more conservative Republicans.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Maps chart voter registration by state from 2008-2014: 35 million eligible voters not registered

At least 35 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote, Rebecca Beitsch reports for Stateline. Maps are available to compare voter registration in states in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. (Stateline map: Voter registration by state in 2014)
Hawaii has the lowest rate of eligible residents registered to vote, at 64 percent, followed by Wyoming (67.4 percent), Nevada (68.5) and Utah (69.9). One of the states with the highest numbers, Oregon (84.2 percent), in 2015 became the first state to add automatic registration, which registers people to vote when they apply for a license. Since the Oregon law went into effect more than 232,000 people have been automatically registered to vote, an increase of 10 percent, Beitsch reports. Others states, such as California, Connecticut, Vermont and West Virginia, have approved automatic registration.

"Under the federal Motor Voter Act, which went into effect in 1995, states must offer to register any eligible citizen who seeks a new driver’s license or public assistance," Beitsch writes. "But in many states, the law hasn’t fulfilled its potential, in part because the process often trips up would-be applicants and many state workers don’t consider it a high priority." Critics, such as New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie," say connecting registration to driver’s licenses, which are available to people who are not U.S. citizens, opens the process to fraud."

Advocates say automatic registration is one way to get more people to the polls. Other ways are online registration, which is currently available in 33 states, and same-day registration, available in 13 states, Beitsch notes.

Rise in 'dark money' political contributions fuel House, Senate races in battleground states

Political spending of "dark money," from donors whose names do not have to be disclosed, is on the rise, especially in hotly contested races in battleground states such as Nevada and Arizona, Paige Blankenbuehler reports for High Country News. An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics found that more than $308 million in dark money was spent during the 2012 election, compared to $102.4 million in 2008. Numbers are 10 percent higher this year, with more than $30 million in dark money—more than $19 million on Republicans, more than $11 million on Democrats—spent on Western candidates. (High Country News graphic: dark-money contributions)
More than $4 million in dark money has been spent on the Nevada race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, Blankenbuehler writes. Republican Joe Heck, who holds a slight lead in most polls, has received $2,028,671 in dark money, while Democrat Christine Cortez Masto has received $1,520,364. The race ranks fifth in dark-money spending, behind the presidential election and Senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, which also are battleground states.

The U.S. House race in Nevada between Republican Danny Tarkanian and Democrat Jacky Rose has attracted more than $1.8 million in anonymous funding, ranking it eighth in dark money spending, Blankenbuehler reports. Arizona’s Senate seat, between Republican incumbent John McCain and Democratic House Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, has attracted more than $1.5 million—10th among all races.

More than half of all dark money in the West—$18,724,079—has been spent to attack opponents, Blankenbuehler writes. "Nevada and Arizona's Senate races stand out not only in the West but also on a national scale. For both states, this election season is crucial: Since 2012, Democrats have held sway in Nevada and Republicans are vying for more influence in the important battleground state; Arizona, while securely red historically, may be trending more purple this year."

More than 100 million prescription opioids for dental surgery unused by patients, study projects

Fifty-four percent of prescription painkillers—more than 100 million pills—prescribed each year for surgical tooth extraction remain unused after three weeks, says a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Researchers say the surplus is troubling, because studies show that people who abuse opioids often use leftover pills that were prescribed to friends and erlatives.

The study, of 79 patients prescribed prescription painkillers after dental surgery, found that only five took all the pills they were prescribed. "The majority of patients (94 percent) received a prescription for an opioid medication to manage pain, with 82 percent also receiving a prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and 78 percent received a prescription antibiotic. On average, participants who did not have post-surgical complications (93 percent) received prescriptions containing 28 opioid pills, but three weeks following surgery had only used 13, leaving more than 1,000 unused opioid pills."

Researchers say most patients stopped taking the pills within five days because they were no longer in pain. When asked to rate pain on a scale of 1 to 10, patients reported an average score of 5 only 24 hours after surgery, 51 percent said from zero to 3 on the second day, and 80 percent reported no pain after five days.

Co-author Elliot V. Hersh wrote: “Research shows that prescription-strength NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, combined with acetaminophen, can offer more effective pain relief and fewer adverse effects than opioid-containing medications. While opioids can play a role in acute pain management after surgery, they should only be added in limited quantities for more severe pain.” (Read more)

Scientists answer climate change questions that Republican skeptics asked an Obama official

Republican climate-change skeptics in the U.S. House peppered an Obama administration official with questions Wednesday. No scientist was part of the discussion, so Brittany Patterson and Kavya Balaraman of Environment and Energy News asked some scientists to comment. Their replies get beyond the politics and to the scientific facts or strongly supported scientific conclusions.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-N.Y.) said, "I was struck by his noting that the glaciers in Yosemite were disappearing. It occurred to me that had he given that speech on that very spot 12,000 years before, he would have been covered by nearly 3,000 feet of ice. Doesn't that pre-date the invention of the SUV? I think we can agree that global warming has been going on for a long time. It has been going on and off since the last ice age."

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said: "Those statements betray a profound ignorance of what the science has to say. They confuse anecdotal claims from individual regions with quantitative evidence of past climate changes." Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University, added: "It's happening so fast, that's what is unique. Those of us who have lived long enough have personal experience of warming having happened over our lifetimes (less snow, later pickup of leaves, warmer temperatures in our favorite swimming hole, etc.). And the data show that the trend is accelerating. We know from ice cores that climate has never changed that fast in the past million years."

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) asked, "How do you explain the fluctuations in CO2 levels pre-Industrial Revolution?" Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says "The carbon cycle is fundamentally tied to both the climate and to life itself and one should expect that factors that affect either will also affect the carbon cycle. Over very long time (multi-million year) timescales, carbon dioxide levels are set from a balance between volcanic gases and weathering of exposed rocks."

Jacob added: "CO2 responds to changes in vegetation and to changes in the ocean. So as the planet changes the CO2 concentration also changes. For example, CO2 is lower during glacial climates, and it was higher than today at the time of the dinosaurs. We know from ice cores that the CO2 concentration today is higher than it has been for the past 800,000 years. Also that the rate of increase in CO2 over the past century is unprecedented."

LaMalfa also asked, "What percentage of the CO2 production in the world today is caused by what people do versus what the planet itself does?" Jacob said, "Only a small percentage, but that is what causes the trend. The natural sources and sinks of CO2 are in equilibrium but the additional CO2 emitted by people doesn't all get taken up — half stays in the atmosphere and accumulates."

Schmidt said: "The natural cycle of CO2 was roughly in balance for the last 10,000 years or so — with inputs of CO2 into the atmosphere balancing removal of CO2 into the land biosphere and ocean. Estimates of this natural flux are around 90 gigatons of carbon in each direction per year. Current human-caused additions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are around 10 gigatons of carbon per year only a small part of which is being balanced by increased removal. Thus each year the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing by about 2 to 4 parts per million (ppm) due to the current imbalance. The net effect of human activity has been to raise CO2 levels from 280 ppm to over 400 ppm today — an over 40 percent increase." (Read more)

Ky. Supreme Court says anonymous online critics can be unmasked only if claims are proved false

Pikeville, Ky. (Best Places map)
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that "anonymous critics on the internet can’t be unmasked by a defamation lawsuit unless the plaintiff proves with evidence that what they said was false," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by an Eastern Kentucky lawyer and chairman of a local airport board who sued two unknown posters for calling him a thief, embezzler and criminal on Topix.

The court wrote: "Without free comment on matters of public concern, totalitarianism can arise. And naturally, when public speech is ‘free,’ that speech will contain comments critical of those who seek to govern,. Indeed, it is inherent in a democracy that only by exercising one’s voice can the individual citizen truly participate in the governance of society. Sometimes, negative things just need to be said.”

Critics accused Pikeville lawyer Bill Hickman of "manipulating land appraisals, building himself an airplane hangar at airport expense and generally wasting millions of dollars in public funds," Cheves writes. He sued the posters, named as John Does 1 and 2, "for defamation and filed an affidavit that said their comments were 'not true and are totally baseless.'" He had hoped to unmask the defendants through subpoenas issued to Topix and the local internet service provider and demanded that their lawyer reveal their identities. Hickman's lawyer, who said they are pretty sure they know the identities of the posters, said his client is confident he can prove the allegations are false.

Larry Webster, attorney for the defendants, called the ruling a "victory for free speech." He told Cheves, “Especially in a small community, when you take on the establishment, it can lead to consequences, to ostracism, to repercussions. There can be more freedom of expression when people don’t have to fear what will happen to them for speaking out.” (Read more)

Ky. Supreme Court says anonymous online critics can only be unmasked if allegations are proved false

Pikeville, Ky. (Best Places map)
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that "anonymous critics on the internet can’t be unmasked by a defamation lawsuit unless the plaintiff proves with evidence that what they said was false," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by an Eastern Kentucky lawyer and chairman of a local airport board who sued two unknown posters for calling him a thief, embezzler and criminal on Topix.

The court wrote: "Without free comment on matters of public concern, totalitarianism can arise. And naturally, when public speech is ‘free,’ that speech will contain comments critical of those who seek to govern,. Indeed, it is inherent in a democracy that only by exercising one’s voice can the individual citizen truly participate in the governance of society. Sometimes, negative things just need to be said.”

Critics accused Pikeville lawyer Bill Hickman of "manipulating land appraisals, building himself an airplane hangar at airport expense and generally wasting millions of dollars in public funds," Cheves writes. He sued the posters, named as John Does 1 and 2, "for defamation and filed an affidavit that said their comments were 'not true and are totally baseless.'" He had hoped to unmask the defendants through subpoenas issued to Topix and the local internet service provider and demanded that their lawyer reveal their identities. Hickman's lawyer, who said they are pretty sure they know the identities of the posters, said his client is confident he can prove the allegations are false.

Larry Webster, attorney for the defendants, called the ruling a "victory for free speech." He told Cheves, “Especially in a small community, when you take on the establishment, it can lead to consequences, to ostracism, to repercussions. There can be more freedom of expression when people don’t have to fear what will happen to them for speaking out.” (Read more)

Most New Hampshire counties projected to see growth, but average age keeps increasing

Loss of population in rural areas is a concern in many states. New Hampshire is experiencing a different phenomenon. Nine of the state's counties are predicted to grow, but much of that growth consists of an influx of older residents, Gretchen Grosky reports for the New Hampshire Union Leader. It's projected that by 2040 one-third of the population of the Granite State, already the second oldest in median age, will be 65 and older, according to a report from the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning. (NHOEP graphic)
New Hampshire officials estimate that by 2040 there will be 408,522 residents 65 or older—a 129 percent increase over the 2010 Census report of 178,268—and residents 85 and older is projected to be 85,121, an increase of 244 percent, Grosky writes. The only county not to see growth, Coos County, is expected to see a 22 percent drop in the number of school age children by 2040. A state official said Coos County is already the state's oldest county. (Read more)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rural broadband adoption leads to higher levels of voting and civic engagement, study finds

Rural residents who use broadband are more likely to vote and even more likely to contact a public official, says a study by Oklahoma State University's Brian Whitacre and Jacob Manlove, published in the academic journal Community Development. The study, based on 50,000 respondents from the Census Bureau's 2011 Current Population Survey, found a "positive relationship between higher broadband and certain measures of engagement," Whitacre and Manlove write for the Daily Yonder. (Chart: Instances of voting in rural communities went up as broadband adoption increased)
The study found that "as rates of rural broadband adoption increase, so do rates of voting in local elections, contacting local public officials, joining a neighborhood group and discussing politics with friends or family," Whitacre and Manlove write. "Interestingly, however, higher broadband adoption also meant less talking with neighbors, and less confidence in corporations. The number of community anchor institutions, meanwhile, was positively related to items like talking with neighbors, asking for favors from neighbors, and trusting people in neighborhoods." (Chart: Instances of contact public officials in rural communities went up as broadband adoption increased)
To account for other factors that affect civic engagement, such as education, income, race, and age, researchers ran an additional analysis using individual-level data that controlled for those factors, Whitacre and Manlove write. They "still found that broadband adoption had a significantly positive impact on several specific measures of civic engagement: contacting public officials, boycotting a company, joining a sports organization, becoming an officer in an organization, and discussing politics with family or friends."

"There were, however, negative relationships with seeing or hearing from friends, talking with neighbors, and confidence in corporations," Whitacre and Manlove write. "Perhaps most importantly, simple 'access' didn’t have much of an impact—demonstrating that getting people to actively use the technology is most important for getting them civically engaged." (Read more)