Thursday, February 23, 2017

Study: ER patients of docs more likely to prescribe opioids have 30% greater chance of long-term use

Harvard graphic: Prescribing rates and adjusted
odds ratios for long-term opioid use.
Emergency room patients of doctors who are the biggest prescribers of opioids are 30 percent more likely to become long-term opioid users, says a study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Long-term users are defined as receiving six months’ worth of pills in the 12 months following the initial encounter.

ER patients prescribed opioids also are "more likely to have an adverse outcome related to the drugs, such as a fall, a fracture, respiratory failure, or constipation," reports Harvard. "The study also showed that patients treated by low-frequency prescribers were no more likely to return to the hospital overall or with the same complaints—findings that suggest these people were not under-treated for their symptoms."

The study consisted of 215,678 patients who received treatment from low-intensity prescribers and 161,951 patients who received treatment from high-intensity prescribers from 2008-11, based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

Doctors labeled as high-intensity prescribed opioids during 24.1 percent of patient visits, on average, while low-intensity only 7.3 percent of the time, Lenny Bernstein reports for The Washington Post. "Overprescribing by physicians has been widely blamed for helping to start an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse, which since 2000 has killed about 180,000 people through overdoses. But it has been difficult to apportion doctors' responsibility for the crisis or for policymakers to agree on measures to rein in their habits."

EPA fighting order requiring agency to study impact of Clean Power Plan regulations on coal jobs

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked an appeals court to reverse a ruling last year by a West Virginia federal judge ordering the agency to study the impact of Clean Power Plan regulations on job losses, Amanda Reilly reports for Greenwire. In a filing on Tuesday U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued that the study imposes "substantive obligations," has "no basis in the statute" and is "outside the bounds of the court's authority."

U.S. District Court Judge John Preston Bailey required EPA "to submit by July 1 an evaluation of how its Clean Air Act regulations affect coal jobs, mine closures and power plant shutdowns," Reilly writes. "Bailey agreed with Murray Energy Corp., which filed a lawsuit in 2014, that EPA failed to comply with a section of the law requiring continuing economic evaluations of its regulations. He issued the July 1 deadline after finding that EPA's initial plan to comply with the provision was insufficient."

"While most of the court action in the lawsuit took place during the Obama administration, the Trump DOJ moved to appeal the ruling earlier this month," Reilly writes. "The government, in its opening brief, raised both procedural and substantive arguments against's Murray's claims in the lawsuit. Murray CEO Robert Murray is a major Trump supporter. The district court, DOJ argued, did not have the jurisdiction to hear Murray's claims because the Clean Air Act did not impose an enforceable mandatory duty on EPA to evaluate job losses."

Medicaid expansion under Trump could increase, if states are given more discretion over programs

Analysis from The Washington Post found that under President Trump enrollment in Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could go up, especially if Tom Price, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, uses his administrative powers to grant states greater discretion in running their Medicaid programs, Timothy Callaghan and Lawrence R. Jacobs write for the Post. "Increased state discretion over Medicaid is likely to invite a new wave of Medicaid expansion in red states." (Post graphic: States with the most to gain from Medicaid expansion)
"The partisan obstacles to red states during the Obama presidency will likely ease as congressional Republicans put their fingerprints on reform," reports the Post. "Economic circumstances and administrative muscle will guide state decisions and enrollment." (Kaiser Family Foundation map: Medicaid expansion, as of Jan. 1)
"While the original ACA legislation pressured states to adopt the new expansion under the threat of losing their existing Medicaid funding, the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in NFIB v. Sebelius granted states the ability to decide whether to adopt the program without this threat," reports the Post. "Governors in 19 states—all Republican—refused to expand the program. But the 31 states that adopted the new benefits lowered the percentage of residents who were uninsured; decreased the costs that health care providers previously paid for treating the uninsured by reducing the size of the uninsured population; and reduced the burden on state budgets with increased federal funding."

"Sixteen Republican governors accepted the Medicaid expansion, and eight are facing reelection in 2018—and they’re pressuring Congress to leave Medicaid as is," reports the Post. "That’s because the added Medicaid funding has helped state budgets while enabling those states to insure an additional 12 million people, thereby reducing the amount of unpaid medical services those states have to underwrite. However, the Trump administration will probably loosen the rules under which states administer Medicaid —giving them greater discretion than they had under Obama. We can expect Republican-run states to introduce conservative proposals, such as requiring recipients to work or to pay a fee for coverage."

Rural Kansas town with national museum makes sure orphan train riders are not forgotten

(Best Places map)
Concordia, Kan. was one of the stops on the orphan trains that from 1854 to 1929 took an estimated 250,000 New York orphans from the big city to small towns, largely in the Midwest, C.J. Janovy reports for KCUR, an NPR station in Kansas City, Mo. At each stop, people awaited to adopt the children. Those that weren't adopted went on to the next stop. Children left over at the end of the line were placed in an orphanage, where "the hope was that at least they would age out of the orphanage into a wholesome community that was not New York," said Shaley George, curator of the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia.

Janovy writes, "Inside the three-room Union Pacific Depot built in 1917, one waiting room is filled with big black and white photographs showing children in New York slums in the 1800s. A social reformer named Charles Loring Brace figured the children, and society, would be better off if they found new homes with families far away from New York City's crime and poverty." So he shipped them to the Midwest. In the beginning each train carried up to 100 children, with about 10 being adopted in each town, George said.

The grandfather of Concordia resident Jim Garwood arrived in town on one of the trains in 1911 at the age of nine, Janovy writes. "He says his grandfather never really talked about the fact that he'd been on an orphan train, other than that they went back to New York one summer to try to find his sister. He finally found her and they always kept in touch with each other."

The museum, which attracts about 4,000 visitors per year, along with a PBS American Experience documentary on orphan trains and Christina Baker Kline's bestselling novel "Orphan Train," have brought renewed interest to the story. Concordia Mayor Charles Lambertz last month declared the City of Concordia as Orphan Train Town, reports Brad Lowell for the Concordia Blade-Empire, which requires a subscription. (St. Paul Pioneer Press photo)

Social media creates echo chambers that hurt democracy, journalism, says author/law professor

Social media limits exposure to different viewpoints and hurts democracy and journalism, Harvard University law professor and author Cass Sunstein told NPR's Kelly McEvers on "All Things Considered." Sunstein's latest book, "#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media," looks at how social media creates echo chambers, leading to news filters where people only look at news that reflects their ideals.

"You're listening to people who just agree with you or reading news sources that fit with your own preconceptions, it's not as if you just stay where you are," Sunstein said. "You tend to end up more extreme, which makes us get kind of blocked as a society, which isn't good for democracy and which makes it possible for people to see people who disagree with them not as fellow citizens, but as enemies who are crazy people or dupes. And that can make problem solving very, very challenging."

"Well, we're early days, really, still for Facebook and social media," he said. "And so my expectation is that Facebook and Twitter will do some experimenting on this count. It is true that kind of a quick reaction is provide people with content that they will look at. And that might be the information cocoon effect. But lots of Americans have not just a desire to see, you know, what they already think, but a desire to see some stuff that'll be challenging or eye-opening."

Sunstein suggests following people with different viewpoints. He said, "if you're left of center, have a little plan in the next two weeks to follow some smart people who are right of center. And if you're right of center, and you tend to ridicule or contempt for people on the left, follow some liberals. Find some who have at least a little bit of credibility for you. Or make a determined judgment whether you're left or right. See what you can get from the other side. And this is, you know, individual lives, but as the framers of the constitution knew, a republic is built up of innumerable individual decisions. And whether we get a well-functioning system or not depends on, you know, countless individual acts." (Read more)

Rural Texas landowners on route of proposed bullet train say it mostly only benefits urban areas

Dallas Morning News graphic: Population
growth along proposed bullet train route.
For an interactive version click here.
A proposed 240-mile bullet train between Dallas and Houston is sparking a rural/urban divide, Brandon Formby and Jill Cowan report for The Dallas Morning News. Cattle farmer John Stoneham's ranch, which consists of 1,000 acres of land in Grimes County in the southeast part of the state, "is among thousands of parcels of Texas land that could one day be home to America’s first high-speed rail line. It’s also the site of a likely collision between two of the state’s most dearly held principles: Texans’ right to do what they want with their property and the free market’s ability to solve thorny problems with little government interference."

Privately-owned Texas Central Partners says the bullet train project between downtown Dallas and northwest Houston could travel at 205 miles per hour and reduce the trip to 90 minutes, reports the Morning News. "Company executives and elected officials in the state say connecting two of the nation’s largest business hubs with a landmark transportation project will further grow Texas’ already bustling economy. Many leaders in Dallas and Houston are on board." The two cities have 13 million residents, nearly half of the state's population.

"Texas Central promises to get the $12 billion project done without taking public dollars other than through loans—and vows it will help increase tax revenue for scores of cities, counties and school districts along the route," reports the Morning News. "But landowners along the way oppose the rail project for a litany of reasons. Some doubt Texas Central’s claims about how many riders it’ll attract and the train’s broad economic benefits."

"Others don’t think a company using Japanese technology and equipment for a privately-owned transportation project should have the ability to use eminent domain to buy up their land," reports the Morning News. "Texas Central says it will only use eminent domain as a last-case scenario. But its claims that it has the power to do so have already spurred state legislation that aims to stop the project in its tracks. The company is expected to fight those bills."

"Opponents also don’t see why they should get behind a project that will change the characteristics of their land on its way to benefiting the state’s urban hubs," reports the Morning News.

Stoneham, who said Texas Central's offer of roughly $900,000 for 50 acres of his land was "way too low," told the Morning News, "It’s not going to be an easement, they’re just going to cut and run a path through. So the place is basically going to be cut in half.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Editors report on PBS about nation's mood and immigration after one month of Trump as president

Editor David Bradley
The PBS NewsHour chose three newspaper editors, including one from a 25,000-circulation daily, to give perspective from "the heartland" on the first month of President Trump's administration Wednesday night.

"He's made a few misstatements," said David Bradley, publisher-editor of the St. Joseph News-Press in northwest Missouri, but he began by saying "I think people are fairly well satisfied with what Donald Trump is doing now." He added later, "He has made a mistake, I think, on his order on immigration from those seven countries. He's correcting that right now and doing everything he can to try to keep the country safe."

Noting that many immigrants work in Missouri meatpacking, Bradley added, "I don't think people are against immigration in our part of the world. They'd like to see it done legally. . . . The main concern of people in our area, they want more and better jobs and a pro-business environment . . . a better form of taxation that's more pro-growth . . . less regulations that bog down businesses from growing . . . and they would like to see a better sense of community among all sides so they can get together and work together. . . . People are getting turned off by all the protests and all the antagonism going on," and would like to see Americans "sit back and let him run the country."

Bradley is also chairman and CEO of the News-Press & Gazette Co., which owns 13 dailies and weeklies in Missouri and Kansas, and even more TV stations in seven states. He was joined on the NewsHour by Lee Ann Colacioppo of The Denver Post, who said "People say the nastiness of the national debate has worked itself into legislative bodies here that are usually more civil," and David Haynes of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who said his readers say "the media needs to let his administration get organized" but also say "I wish he'd stop tweeting at 3 o'clock in the morning . . . One of the hopes right now is that the White House become more professional and less chaotic."

Haynes said opinion in Wisconsin is divided on immigration: "When you get out in the state, out in the rural areas . . . that's also where dairy farming is," and 40 percent of workers in the industry are immigrants, many of them undocumented. To watch the segment, click here.

More than 55,000 U.S. bridges are structurally deficient; county-level data and maps available

Nearly 56,000 U.S. bridges are structurally deficient, says the annual state level bridge report released from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. That includes 25 percent of Rhode Island bridges, 21 percent in Iowa, 20 percent in Pennsylvania and South Dakota, 17 percent in West Virginia and 15 percent in North Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Overall, in 25 states at least nine percent of bridges are considered deficient.

A 2016 poll by the Association of Equipment Managers found that 46 percent of voters—53 percent Republicans, 41 percent Democrats—believe U.S. infrastructure has gotten worse off in the last five years. The poll found that 80 to 90 percent of respondents believe roads, bridges and energy grids are in some or extreme need of repair.

Here's a Washington Post county-level map of structurally deficient bridges and a detailed example of McKean County, Pennsylvania; For an interactive version click here; for a larger versions of either map below, click on it)
This item, originally published Monday, Feb. 20, has been updated.

Could medical marijuana be a cure for the nation's opioid epidemic?

Could medical marijuana be the answer to the nation's opioid epidemic, which is a major concern in rural areas, especially in Appalachia? Christine Vestal reports for Stateline, "Some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillers that led to the epidemic."

About 1.4 million Americans legally use medical marijuana, Vestal writes. "A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with medical-marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical-marijuana laws. Another study published in Health Affairs last year found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical-marijuana laws."

"Advocates for greater use of medical marijuana argue that including chronic pain as an allowable condition could result in even further reductions in dangerous opioid use," Vestal writes. Some physicians remain cautious about recommending it. Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, which promotes the use of alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, told Vestal, “There is no doubt marijuana is much safer than opiates. So we don’t discourage its use.” But she said, “non-drug treatments are far more helpful than any drug treatment, and marijuana is a drug.” (Pew Research Center map: State medical-marijuana laws)

Study on fracking-well spills highlights lax reporting requirements in some major oil and gas states

Hydraulic-fracturing wells caused 6,648 spills of oil, chemicals and wastewater from 2005-2014 in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, says a study published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study, by researchers from Duke University, Harvard University, Florida State University, Yale University, the University of Texas, the University of Central Arkansas, the University of Cincinnati, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Geological Survey, looked at 31,482 wells and found that 75 to 94 percent of spills occurred within the first three years of a well's life or when it was drilled.

"North Dakota had the highest rate of spills while Colorado companies reported just 11 spills per 1,000 wells annually," Nicholas Kusnetz reports for InsideClimate News. "But some or all of that difference may be due to the huge differences in what the states ask oil companies to report. North Dakota requires operators to report any spill of 42 gallons or more, while Colorado and New Mexico generally don't ask for anything smaller than 210 gallons. Texas, the nation's top oil-and-gas-producing state, wasn't even included in the study because detailed data was not easily accessible. The authors did not examine data from Oklahoma because the state had not digitized all of its information."

Researchers "found that more than half of the spills occurred while companies were storing fluids in tanks or pits or transporting them through flowlines," Kusnetz writes. "Many were repeat spills from the same wells." Kate Konschnik, a co-author of the study and director of the Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative, told Kusnetz, "It's quite scattershot the amount of information being collected, the form in which it's being collected and the way in which it's being shared with the public." (Colorado spills from tanks)

U.S.-Mexico wall would cut through tribe's land, which lies on both sides of the border

President Trump's plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would cut through the heart of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose land extends along 62 miles of the border and lies in both countries, Fernanda Santos reports for The New York Times. The tribe has about 34,000 members, 2,000 of which live in Mexico. "After the Mexican-American War and then the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 delineated the border for good, most of the tribe’s land was left in present-day Arizona, where it still controls 2.8 million acres—a territory about the size of Connecticut—while a smaller piece became part of what is now the Mexican state of Sonora."

"The Tohono O’odham reservation has been a popular crossing point for unauthorized migrants and one of the busiest drug-smuggling corridors along the southern border, in part because the federal government strengthened the security at other spots," Santos writes. "While a 20-foot-tall steel fence lines the border in San Luis, Ariz., to the west, and Nogales, Ariz., to the east, here the border is a lot more permeable, guarded by bollards and Normandy barriers measuring eight feet, maybe, and, in some areas, sinking in the eroding ground." (Times map: Tohono land on both sides of the border)
Tohono O’odham leaders have made a concerted effort to increase safety, Santos writes. The tribe "reluctantly complied when the federal government moved to replace an old barbed-wire fence with sturdier barriers that were designed to stop vehicles ferrying drugs from Mexico. It ceded five acres so the Border Patrol could build a base with dormitories for its agents and space to temporarily detain migrants. "

"The number of apprehensions on the reservation has also dropped—to 14,000 last year from 85,000 in 2003, according to the tribe’s public-safety department. Still, the vehicle barriers, installed in 2006, created new headaches. One rancher, Jacob Serapo, used to fetch water for his family and cattle from a well 100 yards from his home, but the barriers left the well on the other side, in Mexico. Now he must drive four miles a few times each week to the nearest water source on the U.S. side."

Monte Mills, co-director of the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic at the University of Montana, said "because of tribal rights, building a wall across the lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation would most likely require an act of Congress."

Despite high hopes in Appalachia that Trump will bring back coal, outside experts remain skeptical


A "Frontline" segment on the PBS NewsHour took a look at the prospects for President Trump fulfilling his campaign promise to "get those miners back to work" in Appalachia, which was home to 87 percent of the coal jobs that have been lost since 2011. Economists and energy experts remain skeptical, but those in the coal industry are hopeful.

Trump won every county in West Virginia and all but the two most populous in Kentucky, Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Priyanka Boghani note. Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Frontline, "Since November 8th, everybody’s attitude has been much more positive in West Virginia and around the industry, simply because someone’s recognized the significance of the coal miner."

But John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said "I absolutely have no idea how they could take steps to bring back coal to the levels that we saw in 2008." He noted "that a lot of the investments needed to comply with Obama-era regulations had already been made, and expenses had already been incurred," adding, “In a very, very simple sense from the perspective of coal demand, the damage has already been done.”

Chris Bollinger, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky, said he "doesn’t see the fate of coal miners in Appalachia improving under Trump, even with the easing of federal regulations," Frontline reports. "In all likelihood, he said, the benefits will go to places where the cheapest coal is still easily available—in states like Wyoming and Montana."

UPS tests drone deliveries in rural areas

A drone beginning a delivery from a UPS truck
(Reuters photo by Scott Audette)
United Parcel Service tested delivery via drones on rural routes this week, Elizabeth Weise reports for USA Today. UPS's senior vice president for global engineering and sustainability at UPS, Mark Wallace, told Weise, "While the drone is making its delivery, the driver would continue to the next stop, make another delivery by hand, and the drone would then rendezvous and recharge on top of the UPS package car."

If successful, drones could cut costs for UPS in rural areas, which are the company's most expensive routes, largely because of the extra miles driven and the added time to complete deliveries, Weise writes. The company estimates that reducing driving distance "by just one mile per driver per day over one year could save the company up to $50 million."

But don't expect to get a delivery by drone any time soon, Luciana Lopez reports for Reuters. John Dodero, vice president of industrial engineering at UPS, said the company "has no timeline for when drones might be put into wider use, partly because federal authorities are still developing regulations on how to use the technology." The USA Today story says drone deliveries are still "years away."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trump plans executive orders to curtail Obama's power-plant and 'waters of the U.S.' regulations

President Trump is planning executive orders to unravel Obama-administration policies on climate-changing greenhouse gases from power plants and the extent of federal jurisdiction over water pollution. "While both directives will take time to implement, they will send an unmistakable signal that the new administration is determined to promote fossil-fuel production and economic activity even when those activities collide with some environmental safeguards," Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report for The Washington Post.

Trump signs an order (Bloomberg News photo)
According to individuals briefed on the measures, "One executive order will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities," Eliperin and Mufson write. For the Trump administration, the move will be seen "as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy," while instructing the Bureau of Land Management to "lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing."

The moratorium could be lifted immediately. The freeze on federal coal leasing has been in effect since December 2015, "and and last month the Interior Department proposed major changes to a program that guides coal exploration and production across 570 million publicly owned acres."

A second order will tell the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to rewrite a 2015 rule defining the term "waters of the United States" in the 1972 Clean Water Act, which "applies to 60 percent of the water bodies in the country," Eliperin and Mufson write. "That regulation . . . gives the federal government authority over not only major water bodies but also the wetlands, rivers and streams that feed into them. It affects development as well as some farming operations on the grounds that these activities could pollute the smaller or intermittent bodies of water that flow into major ones."

Trump has joined many industry groups who criticize these Obama-administration policies as the federal government "exceeding its authority and curbing economic growth," Eliperin and Mufson write. "While any move to undo these policies will spark new legal battles and entail work within the agencies that could take as long as a year and a half to finalize, the orders could affect investment decisions within the utility, mining, agriculture and real estate sectors, as well as activities on the ground."

Republicans steer Iowa to the right, reflecting a rural-urban divide more like rest of the nation

Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix
Known for political temperance, Iowa has suddenly joined in with its Midwestern neighbors in veering rightward on the political spectrum, longtime Des Moines correspondent Thomas Beaumont reports for The Associated Press: "It was one of four states – along with Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire – that flipped to complete GOP control in the November election, but Iowa's rush of new legislation has been the most intense." Last week, Iowa lawmakers approved a bill, similar to one proposed in Wisconsin six years ago, "that strips most public sector unions of long-held collective bargaining rights, including health insurance."

Despite an $110 million budget shortfall, Republicans are talking about a tax cut, Beaumont notes. Among other items, they are also "pressing to eliminate state money for all Planned Parenthood services, outlaw the use of fetal tissue for medical research, subject doctors who perform abortions to lawsuits by women at any time in the future, scrap minimum-wage increases in Iowa's largest counties and block municipalities from enacting sexual orientation discrimination protections." All this in a state that voted repeatedly for Barack Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix dismissed the notion "that Iowa has shifted in a lasting way beyond its half-century tradition for political balance. Instead, he says Republicans are seizing upon voter sentiment, which coincides with 20 years of pent-up Republican policy changes," Beaumont reports. "To act cautiously in light of November's heavy Republican legislative victories could hurt the GOP's chances of holding its majority, so it's all or nothing, Dix said."

In contrast, "Republican Ron Corbett, House speaker the last time his party controlled the Iowa Capitol, said Republicans showed more willingness to work with Democrats back then. That's also in part because rural Democrats were more powerful, he said. Today, the rural-urban divide in the Iowa Legislature more closely resembles that nationwide, with Republicans dominating rural areas and Democrats the urban districts."

Some Iowa residents aren't fond of risk-taking. "Thousands protested at the Capitol in Des Moines last week. And Senate Democrats held an all-night debate Wednesday night, after every member of the minority spoke to oppose it, while only two Republicans stood to promote it," Beaumont reports. "Republicans stymied each of Democrats' dozens of attempts to amend the bill."

Rural Vermont weekly's essay contest for its sale finally pays off with a buyer

Hardwick Gazette publisher Ross Connelly
(Associated Press photo by Toby Talbot)
A rural Vermont weekly that unsuccessfully sought a new owner through an essay contest has been sold. Last week The Hardwick Gazette got its 11th owner since it was founded in 1889. The buyer, Ray Small of Stamford, Conn., was one of the essayists, who weren't numerous enough to make the contest work.

Publisher Ross Connelly announced the contest in June, offering the newspaper to the essayist who best explained "why they wanted to run a community newspaper," Fletcher writes for Forbes magazine. Connelley hoped for 700 entrants at $175 each, but that fell short even after he extended the deadline. "He turned to Kickstarter to raise money to save the paper, but that campaign did not succeed either."

However, "Close to a dozen people wrote him after the contest, however, and asked about buying the newspaper," Connelly wrote in his final edition, speaking of himself in the third person.

Small and his wife bring a wealth of experience, Connelly wrote: "They both have business degrees and extensive work with various corporations in both the United States and Europe. His specialty is business reporting and management and hers is business development. She was also a professional flautist."

Connelly said he "looked forward to stepping aside after almost 31 years. He said the newspaper needs more energy than he has now, but looks back with a sense of pride and accomplishment." Connelly, 71, and his wife bought the paper in 1986. She died in 2011.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump blamed for anti-Muslim groups tripling in 2016; anti-Muslim speakers touring rural areas

The number of hate groups in the U.S. rose last year for the second year in a row, from 892 to 917, and the number of anti-Muslim groups nearly tripled from 34 to 101, says the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual Census of Hate, which includes state-level maps and appears in its quarterly Intelligence Report.

Mark Potok, a SPLC senior fellow, argues that the rise in hate groups can be attributed to President Trump, saying "the increase in anti-Muslim hate was fueled by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, including his campaign pledge to bar Muslims from entering the U.S." Along with the rise in hate groups there has been an increase in crimes against Muslims, with FBI statistics showing "that hate crimes against Muslims grew by 67 percent in 2015, the year in which Trump launched his campaign."

Anti-Muslim campaigns have become common in some rural areas, with speakers touring small towns. American Muslims have called Trump the "ring leader" championing mainstream hate.

Nearly 50 of the new anti-Muslim groups "are local chapters of ACT for America, an anti-Muslim activist group that claims Michael Flynn, who this week resigned as Trump’s national security adviser, as a board member," Abigail Hauslohner reports for The Washington Post. "Many of the groups the SPLC identified as part of the rise in extremist activity reject the label of 'hate group.'” (SPLC map: Hate groups in the U.S. For an interactive state-level version click here)

As social media drive audience for national news, local news and its media are shrinking

News is increasingly being reported and read through social media, with focus more on national news reported by tech-savvy reporters with limited journalism skills, Kathleen McLaughlin reports for The Guardian. A 2016 study commissioned by Nielsen and the Knight Foundation found that Americans are twice as likely to access news through smartphones than newspapers.

Tom Rosentiel, fellow at the Brookings Institution who founded and ran for 16 years the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center, told McLaughlin, "The real crisis in American journalism is not technological, it’s geographic. The crisis is that local journalism is shrinking. I wouldn’t say it’s dying but it’s the most threatened. There is so much more national and international news available to people, it has changed what people are interested in. (During the election) I saw clear and distinct evidence that people were consuming more national news and less local.” (Statista graphic: Number of daily newspapers has declined in U.S.)
"Local and regional newspapers across the U.S. have bled cash, staff and readers, and in the process lost much of their authority as watchdogs and influencers," McLaughlin writes. "In the wake of the most divisive presidential election in recent memory, and the midst of many hand-wringing treatises on the state of journalism, we’ve somehow overlooked what happened with local news, the place where most Americans used to get the bulk of their information."

"The scaffolding of American journalism, a basic bulwark in our apparently delicate system, is crumbling," she writes. "In its place, we’ve been left with a vacuum that filled easily through the presidential campaign and into today with Donald Trump’s bombastic, often racist and sexist reality-TV-style rhetoric and antics."

The American Society of Newspaper Editors reports that the number of people employed full-time in newsrooms has declined from 56,900 in 1990 to 32,900 in 2015, McLaughlin writes. "Most of these missing newsroom employees were not working at the national newspapers where our post-election journalistic worries have fixated. They toiled in local and regional newsrooms, in the teams that long covered often mundane but critically important workings of cities, towns and states. Newsrooms and state bureaus are decimated, and staffed with younger, cheaper talent – equally stretched and hard-working but missing much of the institutional knowledge and confidence critical to successful journalism."

"Today, with overworked and stretched staff and vastly shrunken news holes, we have entered a new, sinister era," she writes. "Papers are smaller and their content is more limited, less nuanced. Older journalists who know their beats sometimes better than those they cover have been shunted aside, in favor of lower-paid reporters who use Twitter and Instagram well, but lack foundations in history and investigations." (Read more)

As farm economy struggles, economists urge stronger federal safety net in next Farm Bill

Economists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri painted a dim picture for the farm economy and called for "safety-net changes" as lawmakers start the process of creating a new Farm Bill, Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. The economists told the House Agriculture Committee that "farm finances look to dip in 2017 for the fourth consecutive year." Though its not as bad as the 1980s, farmers are struggling, Clayton writes.

"The House and Senate agriculture committees are both ramping up hearings with the goal of getting a farm bill done by the Oct. 1, 2018. The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a field hearing next week in Manhattan, Kan.," Clayton writes. "In Washington, House Agriculture Committee leaders opened Wednesday's hearing by pointing out that the farm economy has slipped since the last farm bill was drafted. The 2014 Farm Bill also so far is projected to cost $100 billion less than initially scored, mainly due to fewer people enrolled in nutrition programs."

House Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told Clayton that the cost savings should push lawmakers to go beyond the target budget and start looking at the needs of rural America. "Because we were asked during the last Farm Bill -- when times were good -- to cut twice before measuring once, in the upcoming Farm Bill debate we will measure our requirements first and then determine what kind of a budget we will need to meet these needs," Conaway told Clayton.

"Joe Outlaw, an economist at the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M, broke down data on 100 "representative" crop and livestock farms in 29 states that he and others track the farms' cash flow and ability to maintain net worth or equity. An overwhelming majority of the crop farmers tracked by the food policy center are likely to face serious cash flow problems in 2017, barring a strong price rebound. Still, those grain farmers weren't as likely as other farmers to see large equity losses," Clayton writes.

According to Outlaw, crop insurance and commodity programs are helping farmers stay in business. "The safety net has largely worked with the exception of cotton farmers. Still, Outlaw said farm programs will probably need to be increased. He noted that farm income has fallen $23.7 billion since the last Farm Bill was passed while commodity program payments have been $13.2 billion, or a little more than half of the loss in crop receipts. Thus, in no way are commodity payments making farmer whole, he said."

Despite critics, Outlaw told Clayton that farmers are going to need more support if current market conditions continue: "Not only are programs not too lucrative, but there is a growing need to provide additional funding as adverse economic conditions are expected to continue." (Read more)

USDA re-posts some animal welfare records

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday re-posted some animal welfare records that had been taken off its website, Lydia Wheeler reports for The Hill. Animal rights groups had criticized the agency's move earlier this month to remove Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection reports from its website. USDA has said removed records would only be available through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

"USDA claimed it removed the records as part of a comprehensive review to balance the need for transparency with rules that protect individual privacy," Wheeler writes. In a statement released Friday the agency said: “The reports posted are part of a comprehensive review of the documents the agency removed from its website in early February and are in the same redacted form as before. As announced on Feb. 7, 2017, the agency will continue to review records and determine which information is appropriate for re-posting.”

Last week animal rights advocates and groups filed a lawsuit "claiming USDA violated the FOIA in removing the records," Wheeler writes. "The law requires federal agencies to provide certain records to the public as a whole and disclose any other records to individuals in response to FOIA requests." (Read more)

Trump's success in rural South followed a pattern of economic populism that dates back over 100 years

President Trump's success in the 2016 election, especially in the rural South, follows an economic and social pattern that has existed in some states for more than 100 years, reports The Economist. In Alabama, for example, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton 63 percent to 35 percent, the state's "yeomen farmers, and their descendants, have sporadically risen up against the plantation class and its modern equivalents, typically when hardship rallied them to a charismatic leader’s standard."

In some counties Trump won in landslides, taking Winston County, Alabama, with 90 percent of the vote, The Economist reports. Many of the same counties that overwhelmingly supported Trump also did the same for Andrew Jackson. "Like Trump, these yeoman farmers venerated Jackson, the brutal, populist president from 1829 to 1837." Ed Bridges, retired director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, said "the hill-country yeomanry were the 'descendants of the serfs and peasants of Europe' and 'feared the rise of a new aristocracy.'" (Economist graphic)
Clinton won almost all of the state's counties with black populations of more than 50 percent, but populism in Alabama "has not always been driven by prejudice, as might be supposed," reports the British magazine which has a usually nameless writer based in the South. "It was powered as much by a sense that government was a racket and politicians tools of the plutocracy, a deep and often reasonable conviction."

Winston County, one of the poorest counties, then and now, in one the poorest states, only had 14 slave owners at the start of the Civil War, reports The Economist. In Double Springs, the county seat, "A statue outside the courthouse depicts a hybrid Yankee and rebel soldier (most such monuments in the South mourn only Johnny Reb)."

The article also explores elections for governor that showed some of the same divisions between urbanites and rural populists, and notes, "It isn’t only Alabama. The political histories of Georgia and North Carolina, through which the Federal Road also ran, can be charted on similar maps, with the same ancient cultural divisions between uplands and lowlands, and between regions where slaves were numerous and where there were few." Don Dodd, a local historian in Winston County, said "The descendants of Alabama’s yeoman farmers are, like their forebears, 'tired of people looking down on them'."

Oroville dam episode exposes rural-urban conservative-liberal divide in California

Residents of Oroville, Calif., say the near-failure of the nation's tallest dam near their town is an example of how little their state cares about its rural residents, compared to liberals who live in coastal cities and surburbs, Trevor Hughes reports for USA Today. "The liberal, more populated parts of California suck up all the political attention and public dollars, leaving little for the men and women who help grow the nation’s food, fruits and nuts. That dichotomy has bred a mistrust of state government and a healthy skepticism of federal officials, Trump excepted," Hughes writes.

And the bigger question, Oroville residents tell Hughes, is how did state and federal officials seemingly not have the money "to properly fix the dam’s problems when they were first identified, but have seemingly untold millions available when the crisis finally arrived? . . . Statewide, Hillary Clinton clobbered Trump, winning 61 percent of the popular vote and 4.2 million more votes than Trump. On one hand, this is a state that utterly rejected Trump. On the other hand, because California is so big, there’s wide variation in political affiliations," Hughes writes.

Butte County, which includes Oroville, went to Trump 46 percent to 42 percent. Its downstream neighbor, Yuba County, reflected a more rural barometer, favoring Trump at nearly 58 percent, Hughes writes. "Here in inland California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s name evokes disgust, and President Donald Trump is seen as the one who really cares. Here, residents distrust a state government they think is all-too-eager to help undocumented immigrants and build a bullet train to serve the rich coastal elites, leaving them with little."

Brown is seen as "the bad guy" for picking fights with the president over immigration, though Trump has said that California is "out of control," suggesting that he might withhold federal funds Hughes writes.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea ordered the evacuation and then spent days defending it against critics on both sides of the aisle, Hughes writes. “We have this longstanding history in our country, based on the idea that people control the government, not the other way around,” Honea said.

State and federal emergency-management agencies waded into the political tension, too, Hughes writes. Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA under President Obama, told Hughes: “Basically, they’re like don’t mess with us. We don’t need you . . . until we need you . . . You have to understand that level of mistrust. It’s not personal.”

"Fugate said the political dynamic in California mirrors that of many states, from his native Florida to the urban-rural divide of Washington state. The Oroville Dam’s potential failure could have been the first major test of the relationship between Trump and outspoken critic Brown, who after opposing the president asked him to declare a disaster in Oroville," Hughes writes. (Read more)

Thriving Kansas town with a large immigrant population awaits Trump administration's policies

One rural Kansas town has found a blueprint for success: welcoming immigrants with open arms, Frank Morris reports for NPR. In Garden City, Kan. (Best Places map), only about 40 percent of the 27,000 residents are white non-Hispanics. An estimated 27 different languages are spoken, with residents having come largely from Mexico and Central America, but also from places such as Ethiopia, Myanmar, Somalia and Vietnam.

City manager Matt Allen said the town, which has an unemployment rate around 3 percent—the national average is 4.8—"has an economic system powered by a steady stream of irrigated corn and immigrant labor," Morris writes. Allen told Morris, "In this region, we pump water out of the ground to grow a tropical plant in the sand hills, in mass, so that we can feed cattle in mass, so that we can kill cattle in mass, so we can distribute beef in mass, and that requires a big workforce. That is the common thread through the economy." Morris writes, "All those workers, producing food that the rest of the country buys, bring wealth—in the form of stores, services and terrific ethnic restaurants—to the remote western Kansas town."

"But Garden City's model—a vibrant economy built in a difficult environment by welcoming decades of immigrant labor—faces three distinct challenges," Morris writes. One challenge is that the flow of immigrants has recently dried up, largely because of President Trump's increased enforcement of immigration. That's bad news for local industries like meatpacking that are difficult professions with high turnover rates.

Another challenge is that the city wants immigrants to know they are welcome, but fears that stance could attract some bad characters. Last year "three men were charged with plotting a terrorist attack on a mosque and apartment complex in Garden City," Morris writes.

The third challenge is that local law enforcement could be forced "to check the immigration status of otherwise law-abiding citizens," Morris writes. Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue, who said officers will continue to cooperate fully with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, told Morris, "I think that the threat to this community is the ending of what we've worked so hard over many, many years to happen here. The relationship built between police and the town's valued immigrant population. I think our community would be a dying community without the immigrants that have come in to fill in the gaps and to grow business."

Longtime Democratic strategist in Mass. leaves party, citing its failure to address rural concerns

Matt Barron
Matt Barron, a Democratic strategist who has often preached and written about the importance of rural voters to the party, has "left the party due to what he says is the party’s blatant failure to address rural concerns," Fran Ryan reports for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. "Barron, who has been a Democratic Party member for 41 years, including the last 18 years as chairman of the Chesterfield Democratic Town Committee, said the inaction by Democratic leadership in Boston toward smaller communities is concerning to him." 

Barron said the problem "is not confined to Massachusetts," Ryan writes. He said "across the country, a lack of basic rural electoral infrastructure for Democrats is giving Republicans a foothold in rural regions that had previously been Democratic." Barron told Ryan, “I did this after nine years of growing frustration at the inability of the party to compete for rural and white working-class voters. The results of the Nov. 8 election really drove this situation home to the entire nation.”

Barron told Ryan, “There is a lot that we can do, but the party needs to understand how far their money would stretch if they just put some into rural America." Barron said "targeting rural radio and newspapers must be part of the strategy," telling Ryan, “In rural America, it is less than $10 for a 60-second radio ad. That is like the price of lunch. They need to understand how cheap and cost-effective it is to reach rural people where they live.” (Read more)

Federal appeals court rules in favor of Florida doctors asking patients if they have firearms

A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that Florida doctors have the First Amendment right to ask patients if they own firearms, David Ovalle reports for the Miami Herald. The Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act in 2011, also known as "Docs vs. Glocks" was created by the Republican-controlled state Legislature after a couple "complained that a doctor asked them about guns and they refused to answer. The physician refused to see them anymore."

"The law includes a series of restrictions on doctors and other healthcare providers, requiring them to refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the physicians believe in 'good faith' that the information is 'relevant' to medical care or safety," Ovalle writes. "The statute also sought to prevent doctors from entering information about gun ownership in a house hold into medical records, and discriminating against patients or 'harassing' them because of owning firearms."

After the law went into effect, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, on behalf of a group of more than 11,000 individual Florida doctors, filed a lawsuit, Ovalle writes. "A Miami federal judge in 2012 ruled in their favor, saying the legislation was based on anecdotal information and unfounded conjecture." In 2014 a three-judge panel voted 2-1 to reverse the decision. But the plaintiffs asked that the entire appeals court consider the case, and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week overturned the decision by a count of 8-3. The law, which is supported by the National Rifle Association, could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but its constitutional questions could be too weak.

Appeals Court Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote, "There was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patient’ Second Amendment rights. ... None of the anecdotes cited by the Florida Legislature involved the improper disclosure or release of patient information concerning firearm ownership."

Maryland lawmakers push bill to make it self-defense to kill bears threatening bee colonies

Maryland lawmakers are pushing a bill that would allow bears to be killed if they threaten bee populations, Michael Dresser reports for The Baltimore Sun. They want to extend the same level of protection to bees that the state "now gives calves, goats, chickens and other animals. A person defending himself, other people or livestock is exempt from a state law that makes shooting a black bear without a permit punishable by a $1,500 fine and six months in jail for a first offense."

Black bears are mostly located in Western Maryland
Black bears are largely found in the state's four westernmost counties—Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick, Dresser writes. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources says bears are responsible for about six attacks per year on bee colonies. Some lawmakers say that's too many. Beekeepers say once a bear finds a source of honey they will attack until it is depleted. Lawmakers say the "legislation would not lead to unsustainable losses in a state bear population estimated at 2,000 adults."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Farmers shun local stores to buy chemicals online; tool allows them to compare prices and save big

FBN tool shows what others
are paying for the same products
A growing number of farmers are shopping online to save money, Jesse Newman and Jacob Bunge report for The Wall Street Journal. Last year Farmers Business Network Inc., a San Francisco-area startup backed by Google Ventures, "launched a service allowing farmers to monitor what their peers nationwide pay for hundreds of chemicals."

"Farmers use the data to negotiate for lower prices from local retailers or buy products directly from FBN," reports the Journal. "Online sellers, including some wholesale distributors and national farm retailers, often offer generic versions of popular pesticides that are cheaper than the branded counterparts frequently sold by co-ops. FBN says it also can offer products at a discount because it lacks expenses associated with brick-and-mortar facilities and is able to get better deals from manufacturers because of its national scale."

For instance, Illinois farmer Brandon Sinclair said last year he paid $26,000 online for herbicides for his corn and soybeans fields, "roughly half what he says he used to pay at his local co-operative," reports the Journal. The savings added up big, allowing Sinclair to afford "to spring for a helicopter to wrangle his herd of cattle. Now he is urging his neighbors to shop online, too."

Farmers who like online shopping say one problem is that "local prices for crop supplies can vary widely across the country," reports the Journal. Farm retailers, who say the season and the availability of supplies can fuel discrepancies in prices of chemicals, "argue that online portals can’t replace the relationships local co-ops foster with their customers and the logistics of shipping large volumes of hazardous chemicals can be a hurdle for upstarts." Others say they are considering turning to offering online sales "as a way to defend their turf."

Invasive bugs found in fallen trees three years after a tornado; be careful collecting firewood

Damage caused by ash bark beetles (Forest Service photo)
That firewood you collected from a fallen tree after a storm could be brimming with invasive species. U.S. Forest Service researchers collected firewood from ash, birch, maple, oak and pine logs once a year for three years after a 2011 tornado in Western Massachusetts, and found 38,121 beetles, comprising 42 species. The study was published in the journal Agricultural and Forest Entomology.

Eastern ash bark beetle was by far the most common species, accounting for 85 percent of the total, Holly Ramer reports for The Associated Press. "Nearly 40 states have imposed restrictions on the movement of firewood in an effort to protect forests from the pests. In New Hampshire, out-of-state firewood has been banned since 2011 and in some areas, is not allowed to be moved from county to county."

The Forest Service says of ash bark beetles: "Generally, the favored breeding material is recently cut or broken trees. Living trees weakened by mechanical damage or disease may also be attacked. Entrance, exit, and breathing holes can be found on the outside of infested trees. In July or August, the leaves on branches that have been girdled will turn yellow and then brown as the branch dies."

Unlike other federal agencies, EPA has not posted on social media since Trump took office

Screen shot today of EPA Twitter account
The Environmental Protection Agency has not posted on social media since President Trump took office, Chelsea Harvey reports for The Washington Post. Nothing has been posted on EPA's official Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts since Jan. 19, the day before Trump was sworn in. An EPA spokesperson said the agency won't post anything until a new agency head has been confirmed, but other departments that lack a confirmed leader have continued to post to social media. (Today the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general sued EPA several times, as administrator of the agency, which issued a welcoming tweet.)

"Last month’s media restrictions were instituted by Trump administration officials within days of the inauguration," Harvey writes. "The order instructed employees of the EPA, along with other agencies, to restrict their communications with the public via news releases and official social-media accounts. A memo to EPA staff members, sent on Jan. 23, noted that a digital strategist would be coming on board to oversee social-media accounts, some of which it said may become 'more centrally controlled'.”

Other agencies "resumed social-media activity almost immediately and have gone on tweeting as usual," Harvey writes. "But nearly all the EPA’s social-media accounts have been silent since Jan. 19. A small group of satellite accounts, including Twitter accounts for a few regional EPA offices and the EPA’s Office of Water, continued to tweet for a few more days following the Jan. 20 inauguration, but also fell silent before the end of the month. The agency has continued to issue news releases on its website."

One month after opening Missouri state park closes because of 'potential public safety concerns'

Jay Nixon State Park (photo by
Missouri Department of Natural Resources)
One month after opening, Missouri's newest state park has closed over “potential public safety concerns," Kurt Erickson reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The Missouri Department of Natural Resources confirmed Wednesday that Jay Nixon State Park in Reynolds County" was shut down on Feb. 8. DNR spokesman Tom Bastian told the Post-Dispatch the park's status "was re-evaluated due to limited access and lack of facilities." There are reports that the park in the Ozark foothills is inaccessible and in no condition to hike. It is near two other state parks.

There also is talk of re-naming the park when it re-opens, Erickson writes. Nixon is a Democrat who was governor from 2009-2017 and "championed the state park system during his two terms in office, arguing that an expansion will help draw tourism spending to the state. In the weeks before he left office, Nixon oversaw the opening of four parks," one of which DNR decided to name after him, a move that has angered lawmakers and was cited as a reason behind the firing of the state park director, whom Nixon appointed.

Six states ask Supreme Court to hear lawsuit against California’s egg production law

Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma are asking the U.S. Supreme Court "to hear the case against California’s egg production law," Julie Harker reports for Brownfield Ag News. "California voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 requiring egg laying hens in that state to have enough space to extend their limbs and lay down. In 2010, California legislators expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs from hens that were not raised in accordance with that standard." Since California is the most populous state, that could have broad impact.

In 2014, Missouri's then-attorney general, Democrat Chris Koster, filed a lawsuit claiming the law "violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and encroaches on Missouri sovereignty," notes the Springfield Business Journal. Last year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the states "lacked the standing to pursue the claims." Current Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, argued in new filings this week that "the Constitution gives states the right to defend its residents against out-of-state regulations."

Hawley told reporters, “The Constitution doesn’t allow California to regulate Missouri and we’re going to the Supreme Court to stop it. So if California is able to get by with this regulation. If they’re able to tell Missouri and other states what to do, rest assured that other states—usually big government, liberal states—will try the same sort of thing and that’s why we have to fight now.”

Colo. study links oil and gas industry to childhood cancer; state official says it's not persuasive

Oil and natural-gas operations can be linked to childhood cancers, says a study by researchers at the University of Colorado published in the online journal PLOS One. The study, which looked at 743 cases of reported cancer among people up to 24 years old living in rural Colorado from 2001 to 2013, found that "people ages 5-24 who were diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia were more likely to live in areas with a high concentration of oil and gas activity," John Ingold reports for The Denver Post.

Researchers looked at cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and "weighed the number of those cases reported in . . . oil and gas areas against the numbers of other kinds of cancer reported in those areas," Ingold writes. "While the researchers found no link between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and oil and gas development, they did find a statistically significant correlation between oil and gas and acute lymphocytic leukemia in people ages 5-24." (CU graphic: Number of oil and gas wells in 16.1-kilometer radius from a child’s home versus the minimum distance of an oil and gas well from the child’s home for children with at least one oil and gas well within the 16.1-kilometer radius)
Lead author Lisa McKenzie, professor at the UC School of Public Health, has been criticized before by the oil and gas industry for her research, Ingold notes. Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the new study’s "conclusion isn’t convincingly reached. He cited limitations in the study’s design and data analysis." He told Ingold, “I don’t think the study supports the conclusion that they made."

Wolk said the study "didn’t adequately account for other potential causes of cancer and said it also didn’t look at neighborhood turnover or length of exposure to the pollutants," Ingold writes. "Previous CDPHE studies have found benzene levels in neighborhoods near oil and gas developments within the accepted ranges, he said." Wolk said the new research only found 16 cases "of acute lymphocytic leukemia in areas of high-density oil and gas development during the study period."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Repealing Medicaid expansion could put more rural hospitals at risk; Tenn. senator says not to worry

Repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could lead to an increase in the number of vulnerable rural hospitals, Shawn Radcliffe reports for Healthline. A report by the Chartis Center for Rural Health found that in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014, 36 percent of rural hospitals had a negative operating margin in 2015, compared to 47 percent in states that didn’t expand the program. When it comes to the worst category of operating margins (less than negative 5 percent) 18 percent were rural hospitals in Medicaid-expansion states, compared to 30 percent in non-expansion states.

The North Carolina Rural Research Program says 80 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and Chartis lists 673 rural hospitals as being vulnerable, Radcliffe reports.

Before Medicaid expansion, hospitals still treated uninsured patients, but weren't paid for the care provided, Radcliffe notes. "By increasing the number of people with health insurance, the Medicaid expansion directly benefitted rural hospitals." Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the Arizona Center for Rural Health, told Healthline that in states that expanded Medicaid, “we saw two important trends—reduction in uncompensated charity care and a reduction in the number, or the velocity, of the rural hospital closures."

Rural hospitals in the 19 states that chose not to expand Medicaid were more vulnerable, Radcliffe writes. Of the 80 hospitals listed by the North Carolina Rural Research Program 60 are in states that didn't expand Medicaid, led by 13 in Texas, seven in Mississippi, six in Tennessee and Georgia and five in Alabama. (Kaiser Family Foundation map: Medicaid expansion states)
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate health committee, told Politico last week that Congress will not only continue the Medicaid expansion, but broaden it.

Paper reveals its county, home to a big university, is high in poverty and low in upward mobility

Greg Townshend, recently released from prison,
found work in Boone County through a statewide
program for at-risk youth. (Daily Tribune photo)
The Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Mo., has published a series examining poverty in surrounding Boone County, which it says is "one of the worst counties in the country for socioeconomic mobility," which measures an individual's upward or downward movement on the economic ladder.

"Data show that if you’re born into poverty in Boone County, you’re more likely to die in poverty than in most other counties," Jodie Jackson Jr. reports in a story that looks at a job skills program that helps people earn a living wage.

Stories in the "Left Behind" series look at how Boone County residents face obstacles in getting access to health care, finding affordable housing, moving up the economic ladder, being able to afford to have children, the link between crime and poverty and how expanding Medicaid could benefit the poor in the county and the rest of Missouri.

"Children who live in low-income households in Boone County face challenges moving up the income ladder, according to a 2015 national study conducted by Harvard University researchers," Brittany Ruess reports in a story that looks at the county's lack of economic mobility. "The study shows that Boone County has the second-worst economic mobility in Missouri and is better than only 17 percent of counties in the country."

The Tribune, which the Walters family recently sold to Gatehouse Media, also is trying to get readers involved in the series by asking them to share their stories through social media or email.

What residents in one rural Arizona border town think about increased security, plans for a wall

Residents in a rural border town are not happy being told what should happen in their neck of the woods by Americans and politicians from other parts of the country who back President Trump's increased border security efforts and plans to build a wall, Danyelle Khmara reports for Tucson Weekly.

Arivaca, Ariz. (Wikipedia Map), a town with about 900 residents located 11 miles from Mexico, gained national attention in the 1990s when migrants from Mexico and Central America began crossing into the area through the Southern Arizona desert, Khmara writes. "The desert corridor was one of the few places for undocumented people to cross after a change in border policy blocked off urban points of entry."

"During the 2016 Fiscal Year, Border Patrol made almost 65,000 apprehensions in the Tucson Sector, which stretches from New Mexico to Yuma County," Khmara writes. "They wouldn't say how many were related to drug smuggling, but government data shows they seized 728,000 pounds of marijuana and 174 pounds of cocaine."

Despite a rise in border crossings, many residents say the immigrants are harmless and keep to themselves, Khmara writes. "Many humanitarians live in and frequent this little town at the crossroads of treacherous migrant trails and heightened border security . . . A lot of the population are retirees, keeping the town financially afloat. And even if there's no supermarket, the only grocery store, nicknamed 'The Merc' carries a lot of daily items."

Longtime resident Bradley Knaub told Khmara that increased border patrols seem pointless in such as small town, telling Khmara, "When I went to town last week, I had to go through two checkpoints, and I was photographed six times. That's a little intimidating. It's kind of Orwellian." Speaking of the all, he said, "The terrain is too rough to even consider, and the amount of damage to environment and endangered animals—it's just not going to happen."

Carlota Wray, who came to Arivaca from Mexico more than 30 years ago, told Khmara, "People that are not from here don't understand how it is to live in this border community. You don't know until they build the wall behind your property or they put cameras in front of you." Local resident Diana MacDonell said, "All the people making decisions, they don't live on the border. We live here. We are doing just fine."