Saturday, February 08, 2014

Propane crisis stems from perfect storm of factors; feds order pipeline to change shipments

"Federal and state officials are pushing emergency measures to get propane to people who need the gas to heat their homes in the Midwest and other regions of the country beset by persistent frigid temperatures," Ana Campoy reports for The Wall Street Journal. "The measures, which include extending working hours for truckers and ordering a pipeline company to prioritize shipments to areas with tight supplies, are meant to alleviate a propane crunch that has sent prices for the fuel to record highs in some parts of the country." The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order to Enterprise TE Products Pipeline Co., "to give priority to shipments going from Texas to the Midwest and the Northeast," was "the first time the agency issued such an order," Campoy reports.

Mark Burger delivered propane near Clinton, Iowa.
(NYT photo by Scott Wilson, Getty Images)
The propane crisis was caused by a perfect storm of very cold weather, rising exports, pipeline problems and a wet corn crop, Alan Blinder and Clifford Krauss report for The New York Times, with the help of two other reporters; the four were in Texas, Alabama, Iowa and Nebraska.

"Five times as much propane was used to dry corn in recent months because of a bumper crop of wet corn last year, the result of heavy rains at the end of the growing season. Meanwhile, American propane exports exceeded 400,000 barrels a day for the first time in October, according to a recent report by the consultants RBN Energy."

The Times reports that 20 or more states "have declared emergencies or suspended certain transportation regulations, including limits on how long propane delivery drivers can remain on the road. Some states are opting for — or are at least weighing — more aggressive tactics," such as an Indiana plan to forgo sales taxes on bulk purchases at over $2.50 a gallon.

"There are also signs that the industry’s answer could soon become more forceful," the Times reports. "Oneok Inc., the pipeline giant, told federal regulators last week that it could reverse the flow of a propane pipeline to bolster supplies at a Kansas storage hub with supplies from Oklahoma. The company, however, did not say when it might act." Meanwhile, some hog and poultry farmers worry if they will be able to keep their stock warm or at least alive. (Wall Street Journal graphic)

Friday, February 07, 2014

Senate panel OKs bill to set trigger for ending Sat. mail delivery, perhaps in less than four years

A postal-reform bill with a trigger that would probably end Saturday delivery in about four years is on its way to the Senate floor. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bill Thursday, as opponents said "the changes would hurt mail delivery to rural areas and threaten the Postal Service’s mission of universal service," reports Lisa Rein of The Washington Post.

USPS wants to end Saturday delivery except for packages, on which it makes money. The bill would allow it to reduce delivery to five days a week when the total volume of mail falls to 140 billion pieces, but not before October 2017. At current rates of decline, volume would fall below the trigger level at about that time or a few months later. A House postal-reform bill would allow the service to cut back delivery to five days without limitations.

The committee defeated an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to allow guns to be carried into post offices, but approved one by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to allow guns in post-office parking lots if allowed by the state. It remains to be seen whether Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will bring the bill to the floor with such a provision.

The bill should raise concerns not only for rural newspapers that need Saturday delivery. Most depend on the mail for delivery, and the bill would give USPS would have a freer hand to raise rates. Starting in 2017, the Postal Regulatory Commission would have to approve or disapprove as a whole any package of proposed rates, instead of picking and choosing as it does now.

The bill includes several other measures aimed at eliminating USPS's operating deficit, including making permanent a recent increase in postal rates. (Read more)

Obama introduces 'Made in Rural America' to promote farmers, other rural exports

As President Obama signed the Farm Bill into law Friday, he also introduced a new program that he said would help farmers and rural businesses. The program, "Made in Rural America," will "connect rural businesses with federal resources that can help sell their products and services abroad," Nedra Pickler reports for The Associated Press. "The program’s creation comes as U.S. farmers are sending more products overseas — a record $140.9 billion in the last fiscal year — but U.S. officials say additional opportunities exist overseas for farmers and other rural business owners."

A news release from The White House says "The President has instructed his Rural Council – in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and other agencies – to commit to connecting more rural businesses of all types to export information and assistance through a comprehensive strategy including the following specific commitments, to be provided over the next nine months." For a White House fact sheet, click here.

Plans are being made to "host five 'Made in Rural America' regional forums dedicated to promoting rural exports by providing rural leaders and businesses with information about federal and other resources available to help expand exports," the release says. Also, later this year, an "Investing in Rural America" conference will "connect major investors with rural business leaders, high-level government officials, economic development experts, and other partners."

Other plans include training sessions "to equip local USDA Rural Development staff in all 50 states plus territories with the tools they need to counsel businesses on export opportunities and resources," enhancing, "counseling for rural businesses to connect with foreign buyers," the promotion of  "rural-produced goods and services at trade events including trade missions, buyer programs, trade shows, and other promotion programs," the education of local leaders "on the importance of rural exports," and to "use the BusinessUSA online platform to better connect rural businesses with export and investment resources and coordinate support from across the federal government." (Read more)

Colorado weekly covers allegations of hostile workplace at hospital, explains why it did the story

Community newspapers have always prided themselves on publishing the stories that urban papers wouldn't find newsworthy. What makes really good community papers is the effort to report anything that concerns the community, good or bad. An excellent example is the recent reporting by the weekly Herald Democrat of Leadville, Colo., which uncovered startling claims about the local St. Vincent Hospital (website photo).

Several former employees told the newspaper that the work environment at the 25-bed, critical-access hospital was hostile, leading some of them to resign, Danny Ramsey reports: "Much of the criticism centers around supervision of the nursing staff. Several former employees said their ideas and concerns were being dismissed and that voicing them put 'a target on their backs.'”

Former operating manager Jim Yopp, who resigned Jan. 22, "said he felt his concerns regarding patient safety and the overall work environment were not being listened to. Among his safety concerns was obsolete operating room equipment that could possibly be dangerous to patients," Ramsey writes. "Yopp said he approached St. Vincent CEO Joyce Beck several times to express concern about the work environment and specific concerns about his supervision, but was chastised." Yopp said he was written up for voicing his concerns.

Kelly Doke, a former emergency nurse and electronic-health-records manager, said she experienced the same treatment, Ramsey reports. She said "She brought a patient-safety issue to her superior in August. When that issue hadn’t been addressed by January, Doke went directly to Beck to discuss her concerns. She was then written up for violating the chain of command, she said. She was also told to express safety concerns verbally and not through written means." Another employee "said she was not given any verbal or written warnings before she was asked to resign." Former employees also said they had received inadequate training.

Doke and Yopp estimated that 29 nursing staff members had quit the hospital since December 2012, a turnover rate of 100 percent. The hospital refused to provide the Herald Democrat with specific turnover numbers, and cited privacy matters when asked about specific instances. (Read more)

In an editorial published the same day as the story, Editor Marcia Martinek explains the reasons behind the story. "Hospital employees came to us with their concerns last week regarding this issue; however, we first heard of the issue this past summer," Martinek writes. "We were unable to deal with it then, as our two-person staff was tied up with other matters. It went on our 'to look into' list until the issue reared its head again. We have and are attempting to get both sides of this story."

When the paper began working on the story it had to fight instant resistance from the hospital. "One hospital official questioned why the Herald was even interested in this issue," Martinek writes. "She pointed out that the Denver Post would never run a story such as the one we are pursuing. Exactly. There’s community journalism, and then there’s the kind of journalism practiced by large metro daily newspapers. It’s unlikely your child will appear on the front page of the Denver Post. It’s far more likely that your child will appear on the front page of the Herald Democrat. We are focused on this community, providing news you’re not likely to obtain elsewhere. Good, bad and indifferent." (Read more)

86% of Americans say they worry about food safety

Recent salmonella outbreaks linked to Foster Farms chicken, and the release of a study that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has serious safety inspections issues, haven't instilled much trust in food safety in America. That is reflected by a Harris Poll that found that 28 percent of Americans are seriously concerned about food safety, and 58 percent are somewhat concerned, Lynne Terry reports for The Oregonian. Of the 2,256 surveyed, 73 percent said there should be more government oversight.

In response to food recalls, 36 percent of those surveyed who earn less than $36,000 a year said they were seriously concerned, while 21 percent earning between $35,000 to $50,000 responded in kind, and 26 percent of households earning more than $50,000 said they were seriously concerned, Terry writes. (Read more) (Centers for Disease Control map: The agency says the official number of people infected with salmonella is 430, in 23 states and Puerto Rico)

Virginia's Natural Bridge will become a state park

A commercial tourist attraction, The Natural Bridge of Virginia, is on the fast track to becoming a state park. On Thursday, owner Angelo Puglisi "donated the 215-foot limestone arch, valued at $21 million, to the newly formed Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund and received conservation tax credits estimated to be worth about $7 million along with $8.6 million in cash for the balance of his Natural Bridge holdings that encompass more than 1,500 mostly forested acres," Luanne Rife reports for The Roanoke Times. Puglisi told Rife, “It is something that needs to be preserved as Mount Vernon and Monticello. I’m afraid we are losing the history of our country.” Thomas Jefferson owned the bridge. (Roanoke Times file photo)

The bridge is expected to become a park by the end of 2015. "The transaction is complicated," Rife writes. "The holdings had been divided into 35 tracts of land. The 188-acre parcel that includes the bridge is valued at $21 million and was donated to (the Conservation Legacy Fund). The deed was recorded with a conservation easement, which allows Puglisi to exercise a state tax credit. The terms require the bridge to be turned over to the state once VCLF retires the $9.1 million loan used to secure the balance of Puglisi’s Natural Bridge holdings." (Read more)

The bridge, in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Interstate 81 south of Lexington, is 20 stories tall, 100 feet wide, and 40 feet thick. The surrounding area has nature trails and caverns that descend 34 stories, and include an indoor tropical-butterfly garden, according to attraction's website.

Illegal day-care centers plague rural Missouri; bill would let rural counties opt out of state rules

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick
Illegal day-care centers, run by people without a state license, have been a persistent problem in rural Missouri. Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) has a solution: let the state's 93 rural counties "to opt out of all state child-care licensing requirements and, if they choose, create their own rules instead," Nancy Cambria and Marie French report for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Fitzpatrick said at a hearing Thursday that the illegal day-cares "lack the staff to meet state standards for adult-to-child ratios," Cambria and French write. "He said they can’t survive under the state’s enrollment limits, which cap their number of paying clients. He worries the state will soon begin shuttering these facilities, leaving hundreds of low-income parents in the lurch." One of the problems is that's it's too difficult to get a license, he said, saying, “If they can bring that (licensing) bar down a little bit, they may be able to get some of those unlicensed folks to seek licensing. . . .  I’m not trying to kill babies or make kids unsafe. I’m trying to give counties the option to come up with their own licensing plan.” 

But safety remains an issue. According to an investigation by the Post-Dispatch, 50 out of 56 child care deaths in the state from 2007 through July 2011 occurred in unlicensed day cares, Cambria and French write. Even worse, they write, "Prosecutors often declined to take action against providers accused of caring for more children than allowed by law."

Rep. Sheila Solon (R-Blue Springs) "said getting rid of these regulations would eliminate the ability for the state to shut down dangerous facilities and keep information about complaints against providers from parents," Cambria and French write. “That information is important for parents to have when they’re trying to find a place to put their most precious commodity, their children. If children are in immediate danger, we want that ability for them to be able to come in and shut them down.”

Rep. Bill Lant (R-Pineville) said Thursday "he plans to file a bill as early as next week that would largely close a loophole to a law that limits how many children a provider can care for without a license. That number is currently set at four, but an exemption allows providers to care for an unlimited number of children who are related to them," Cambria and French write. Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) "also has filed a bill for the second year to license almost all providers in the state — a move that would bring thousands of unregulated facilities under state regulation. LaFaver said Thursday his bill is intended to be a starting point for conversation about creating stricter standards. He said he has reached out to Fitzpatrick to find another solution." (Read more)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Interactive map shows all counties' oil and gas yield

The oil and gas boom continues to migrate west, but where has production seen the most change? "Rural counties increased their oil production by more than half since 2000, while metro counties pumped 15 percent less oil in 2011 than in 2000," Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder after crunching data from the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. "Natural gas production increased 62 percent in rural counties since 2000, 19 percent in counties with small cities (between 10,000 and 50,000) and 57 percent in metro counties."

The Yonder map shows changes in oil and gas production. To read more and view an interactive version of the map click here.
Here's an example of the map's interactivity:

Federal funds helping states and localities make rural railroad crossings safer

A chronic problem in remote rural areas is a lack of warning lights or arm gates at railroad crossings. With only a sign marking many crossings, it's not uncommon to see stories about a driver being killed after failing to see an oncoming train. The problem could be significantly reduced, thanks to a $220 million fund from the U.S. Department of Transportation designed to improve safety precautions. (Forum News Service photo by David Samson: A driver was killed Sunday at this Sabin, Minn., railroad crossing) 

Funds "are eligible for projects at all public crossings including roadways, bike trails and pedestrian paths," according to the Transportation Department website. "Fifty percent of a state's apportionment is dedicated for the installation of protective devices at crossings. The remainder of the funds apportionment can be used for any hazard elimination project, including protective devices." Funds can also be used "as incentive payments for local agencies to close public crossings provided there are matching funds from the railroad," and "for local agencies to provide matching funds for state-funded projects." Federal funds will cover 90 percent of the costs, and in some cases, 100 percent. (Read more)

That's good news for states like Minnesota, where about two-thirds of public railroad crossings "don’t have advanced signals for motorists and pedestrians such as crossing gates, lights and bells," Cali Ownings reports for  The Forum of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn. Minnesota will receive $6 million from the program; local agencies will have to come up with 10 percent of the costs, estimated at $50,000 to $250,000 per project. (Read more)

National Newspaper Assn. sets D.C. lobbying meeting March 13; Bob Schieffer set to speak

Leaders of the National Newspaper Association, the main lobby for rural weeklies, are reminding publishers of the group's annual meeting in Washington next month. "Governments can work for or against us. But when our voices are not heard, it can usually be predicted to go against us. That is why an industry facing the challenges we face in community newspapers cannot afford to be silent." NNA President Robert M. Williams Jr. of Georgia told members in an email today. "That is why we need YOU in Washington on March 12-13 for the We Believe in Newspapers Leadership Summit."

Williams, publisher of The Blackshear Times ("Like by many, cussed by some, read by them all") points out the issues in play: "We do not want to wake up this time next year and find advertising taxes facing us. Or even higher postal rates. Or more cuts in service. Or yet another U.S. Postal Service contract aimed directly at taking our advertising away. No one can do this work for us. Once upon a time, newspapers could count on speaking truth to power on their editorial pages alone. That is no longer enough."

The meeting will be based at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington. It will begin with a policy briefing on the morning of March 13, followed by individual visits to congressional offices. CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer will speak at dinner that night. Registration information is at The deadline for hotel registration is Feb. 22.

Rural women often shy of seeking mental health care, so physicians must step into the breach

Penn State researchers' study of 19 rural primary-care physicians in central Pennsylvania found that "Women living in rural communities are less likely than urban-dwelling women to receive sufficient mental-health care, in large part due to limited access to services and societal stigma," Victoria Indivero reports for the university. Because of stigma, some rural primary-care physicians are being asked to treat conditions that a specialist would be better qualified to treat, she reports.

"Rural women may not want to be seen walking into the office of a mental health care provider due to fear of judgment by family and friends," said the researchers, who focused their study on screening and diagnosis of mental-health conditions, barriers to treatment among rural women, management of mental illnesses in rural women and ideas to improve care for this population. One physician told researchers, "I do a lot of psychiatry in my practice that I really wish I didn't have to do, but I do it because someone's got to do it."

That raises concerns. "About one-third of the physicians reported that they routinely screened for depression, while others stated that time constraints and competing priorities would not allow them to regularly screen patients," Indivero writes. "Identification of post-traumatic stress disorder among rural women may be particularly challenging because some of the rural doctors did not feel that PTSD was likely to affect rural women. Most of the physicians noted that many of their patients were underinsured and did not have mental health coverage."

"Despite the barriers to optimal healthcare, we found that many of the physicians are seeking creative solutions and developing informal networks with mental health care professionals for consultation," Jennifer S. McCall-Hosenfeld, one of the study's authors, told Indivero. "This study reinforced the fact that there are problems with access to health care in rural communities but also provided some examples of potential solutions to those access issues, such as formalizing and expanding existing consulting networks." (Read more) The study, which appears in Mental Health in Family Medicine, is behind a pay wall, and can be accessed by clicking here.

Heroin problem keeps growing in rural America

As some states crack down on prescription drug abuse and pill pipelines, heroin use is rising, the drug has become easily accessible in rural America and officials are scrambling to keep the drug out of their towns. In a story for The Tennessean, Tom Wilemon looks at the growing problem in rural Tennessee.

The drug is widely used in Nashville and surrounding towns, said Dr. Chapman Sledge, chief medical officer of the Cumberland Heights treatment center in Nashville. Sledge told Wilemon: "I worked this weekend and I saw more heroin-addicted patients this weekend than I saw in the 10 years prior to moving up here. Seriously, I would see one or two a year. I probably had six or eight this weekend whose drug of choice is heroin. It is rampant.”

Patients addicted to opiates increased 10 percent in Tennessee from 2012 to 2013, said Ben Middleton, chief operating officer for clinic services at Centerstone, a nonprofit that runs outpatient treatment clinics, Wilemon writes. The agency does not keep specific data on heroin use. In the small town of Corinth, Miss., just across the border from Tennessee and Alabama, two heroin-related deaths were reported within 10 days of each other in January.

Heroin users come in all forms, Sledge said. He told Wilemon, “The stereotypical heroin addict, you can forget about it. These are people it would never cross your mind. It’s good kids using a drug that has an extremely high potential for addiction and also a really high potential for overdose.” (Read more)

Publication names 50 rural hospital CEOs to watch

While rural hospitals often make the news for closures or cutbacks, plenty of rural hospitals are providing excellent service. Not to let those folks go unnoticed, Becker's Hospital Review announced its list of 50 rural hospital CEOs to know. The selected presidents and CEOs "have shown commitment to providing high-quality, accessible care to their patient populations and have approached the challenge of rural healthcare with great aplomb," Heather Punke writes for the publication.

For this list, 'rural' was defined as being located outside a major metropolitan area or healthcare hub," Punke writes. "Leaders were selected based on a number of factors, including awards received; local, regional and national leadership positions held and their organization's recent performance. Nominations were also considered." To see the full list of presidents and CEOs click here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Encrypted police radios can cut newsrooms out of the loop, but some are working around it

Shelby County, Illinois, Sheriff Mike Miller with
his encrypted radios (Shelby County News photo)
By Tim Mandell
The Rural Blog

A staple of work at a community newspaper is the police scanner. Typically, one is set up in the middle of the newsroom where the entire editorial staff can keep tabs on what's happening. Many photographers have one with them at all times, ensuring that even when the newspaper is closed and reporters are unavailable, the paper can at the very least get a photograph.

But those days of rushing out of the office or being awakened in the middle of the night to cover a murder, a fire or any other breaking news event could be coming to an end in many places. More and more police departments are using encrypted scanners, leaving journalists in the dark about emergency events, and raising safety concerns.

Some newspapers have found ways to continue to get emergency updates—although it's not always successful—and can cost a hefty sum. Some police agencies have offered to lease radios to news outlets.

This week in Indiana, "as part of the $17 million upgrade, most of the channels used by Fort Wayne police and fire departments, the Allen County Police Department and New Haven Police Department will become encrypted," Rebecca Green reports for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. "The reason for the move to encrypted channels, according to Fort Wayne Public Safety Director Rusty York, is that the current 800-megahertz channels are readily available to 'bad guys' who monitored the radio traffic." York said the new system is impossible to monitor.

Last week, Columbia, Tenn., police switched to encrypted radio, and "Those who listen to emergency radio scanners might have noticed only static emanating from the Columbia police channel," Chris Moorman reports for The Daily Herald. "Chief Tim Potts said the encryption key the department is using is unbreakable." He told Moorman, There’s not a scanner on the market that would pick up what we were transmitting."

Some agencies are using other means to ensure that newspapers can keep up to date on emergencies. Mike Buffington, of Mainstreet Newspapers in Jefferson, Ga., said he listens to the scanner through a website called Radio Reference. "The 5-0 Radio iPhone app uses the same feeds, so I can listen to my feed from anywhere, regardless of whether I'm in radio range," Buffington said. In addition they "discovered that most E911 systems also dispatch data via text messages on major calls." They asked to be included, and now all the group's editors get texts when there's an emergency. 

Buffington wrote on the members-only Hotline of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. David Pugh of the Archbold Buckeye in northwestern Ohio wrote that his local police switched to digital P-25, a system that some scanners are capable of receiving. But it's not cheap, said Pugh—each scanner costs the paper $525.

Still, if a department goes for encrypted radios, some newspapers, as well as neighboring emergency responders, will be left out in the cold. "The problem that has arisen, at least locally, is that only the North Little Rock police and fire have gone to the encrypted," Arkansas Press Association Executive Director Tom Larimer told The Rural Blog. "That just means that their big brothers across the river can't hear them in the event they need assistance. Encrypted radios would seem practical only if all police, fire and other emergency units adopt them at once, and apparently some don't see the benefit of going encrypted at all."

That issue cost a man his life on Feb. 7, 2013, when a Riverside, Calif., officer was gunned down at a stop light, and his partner was injured by a suspect being sought by visiting Los Angeles police, John Asbury reports for The Press-Enterprise. The two departments were on different systems, and L.A. officials were unable to warn local police in time that a dangerous suspect was in the area. Eleven months and $172 million later, Riverside has an encrypted system that will cost $16 million a year to run, but it's on the same wavelength as neighboring agencies, Brian Rokos reports for The Press-Enterprise. Most communities lack that kind of money, leaving some areas hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

As farm lobbies push for immigration reform, technology to replace workers advances

In an attempt to push immigration reform to get passed this year, more than 70 of the biggest agricultural lobbies have formed Partnership for a New American Economy, which the group describes as bringing "together more than 500 Republican, Democratic and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform as a way of creating jobs for Americans today," according to the group's website.

"The campaign, called #IFarmImmigration, will kick off on Wednesday on Capitol Hill where farmers and ranchers will brief congressional staff about the need for changes in immigration law," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "Throughout February, participants will be releasing new research on labor shortages while telling their stories through farm tours, social and traditional media, videos and community events for members of Congress in their districts."

While the immigration bill remains in limbo, the agricultural industry continues to move forward with technology that could replace human workers with robotic equipment, Agri-Pulse reports. Qin Zhang, senior scientist at Washington State University's Center for Precision & Automated Agriculture Systems, told Agri-Pulse, “When you see a robotic tractor, it looks like a regular tractor. You tell the tractor where to go; it finds the field and plows, pulls back in and shuts down.” Most of the robotics have been used in harvesting grain crops, but scientists are exploring ways to use the technology for picking apples and other produce, and with fully-automated milking machines. So far, robots aren't able to pick apples fast enough to replace humans. (WSU photo: Fruit picking robotic hand)

Farm workers shouldn't start worrying about losing their jobs, said Erik Nicholson, national vice president of the United Farm Workers. He told Agri-Pulse that agricultural businesses “will need people to drive the machines, fix the machines.” He also said humans can better differentiate between quality crops and rotten or immature crops, saying “A machine can’t tell the difference. A machine can’t tell between a good and bad green bean.”

The technology is still in its infancy, and liability issues remain a concern, said Nick Tindall, director of government affairs at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. He told Agri-Pulse, "You don’t want a software hiccup, and it hits something. We're at the dawn of this." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

W.Va. senator blasts 'soft regulations' of state and region in wake of chemical spill that tainted water

Sen. Jay Rockefeller
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) was upset Tuesday when results of a hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s water subcommittee found that "Patchwork federal regulations are inadequate to protect the public from chemical spills such as the one last month that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 West Virginia residents," Ben Nuckols reports for The Associated Press. Rockefeller responded by saying, "Regulation is soft in West Virginia. It's always been soft. I'm here, angry, upset, shocked, embarrassed that this would happen to 300,000 absolutely wonderful people."

Rockefeller chided people living outside of Appalachia for not understanding the region and said corporations never have to take responsibility for their actions, Erica Martinson reports for Politico. Rockefeller said, “Industry does everything they can and gets away with it almost all the time, whether it’s the coal industry, not the subject of this hearing, or water or whatever. They will cut corners, and they will get away with it."

"I came from outside of Appalachia, so sometimes I see Appalachia in ways that are different than others,” said Rockefeller, a scion of the Standard Oil fortune who came to West Virginia as an anti-poverty worker and was elected governor and senator. He said the regional myth is “the idea that somehow God has it in his plan to make sure that industry is going to make life safe for them.”

Rockefeller isn't running for re-election, but the two candidates who are vying for his seat, West Virginia’s Democratic secretary of state, Natalie Tennant, and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), were in attendance, Martinson notes. "Tennant, who was a scheduled witness at the hearing, asked the subcommittee to support a 10-year study to monitor the health of people exposed to chemicals from the spill. Capito, who made an unscheduled appearance before the panel, bemoaned a pattern of poor and incorrect information that both government agencies and private industry gave to people in West Virginia." (Read more)

N.H. senator, FCC commissioner say solving rural broadband problem begins with fixing E-Rate

UPDATE, Feb. 6: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency "will consider increasing the tax paid by consumers or phone companies to finance the effort," reports Edward Wyatt of The New York Times. "Wheeler said that any increase in the tax would be preceded by a restructuring" of how the revenue is spent. "Only about half of the program, known as E-rate, currently pays for broadband connections; some of it pays for outdated technologies like pagers and dial-up connections."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte
As technology advances, some rural areas are still being left in the dust, lacking access to high-speed Internet service, which is being defined by faster and faster speeds. The problems of getting and keeping rural America connected can be solved by fixing the complicated E-rate program, which was created to help all schools and libraries, but which has been used more widely in urban areas, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ajit Pai, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, write in an opinion piece in the Concord Monitor.

Managed by the FCC, the E‑Rate program "allows schools and libraries to buy technology services (such as internet access) at a discount from communications providers. E-Rate then compensates those providers for the amount of the discount," Ayotte and Pai write. "Lower-income schools and a few rural schools receive larger discounts than their wealthier counterparts. And federal rules prioritize who gets how much for what service. A core component of E‑Rate’s mission is to give rural students the same tech-driven tools as urban and suburban students. Congress had the right idea in the 1990s, but E‑Rate today isn’t achieving its intended goals. And it’s not a matter of how much we spend but how we spend it."

Ajit Pai
But it doesn't always work that way, Ayotte and Pai write. For example, New Hampshire receives less money than any other state in the E-Rate program, getting 25 cents back for every dollar, while a more urban state like New Jersey receives three times more funding than New Hampshire. Vermont, Montana and South Dakota are also at the bottom of the list of getting back money from the program.

The problem, Ayotte and Pai write, is the lengthy and confusing process of filling out E-Rate applications: "It can take hours of paperwork, months of waiting and an understanding of E‑Rate’s convoluted and antiquated rules to even have a chance of successfully obtaining federal funding. The most successful schools tend to hire outside consultants to navigate the process for them—an option that many schools, especially small and rural ones, can’t afford. More important, they shouldn’t have to."

The solution is a student‑centered E‑Rate program, Ayotte and Pai write. "That starts with simplifying the process by reducing the paperwork needed to apply for funding and distributing aid to schools on a more equitable per-student basis (rather than the complex discount formula that the program now uses). And that means giving schools the flexibility to spend E-Rate money on technology that directly benefit students."

"We also need to end the subsidies that result in citizens from rural states like New Hampshire paying for technology services in higher population states like New Jersey. Preparing our children to succeed in the digital world of tomorrow requires us to connect them today," Ayotte and Pai write. "E-Rate must reflect the needs of today’s students, regardless of which school they attend. A student‑centered E‑Rate program would give smaller schools in rural areas a better chance to compete with their urban and suburban counterparts. It would help deliver a brighter future for children in New Hampshire and throughout rural America—and we stand ready to work with the president to ensure that E-Rate lives up to its promise." (Read more)

FCC opens door for rural groups to gain access to money for broadband service

Federal Communications Commission money for rural broadband could be in the works, if rural providers can prove why they should be awarded the funds. "Last week the FCC voted to launch an experimental program to allow surplus from the Connect America Fund to go to rural broadband providers that hadn’t previously been eligible for the support," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "The money will pay for pilot projects to help the FCC learn what approaches work best for expanding broadband service in rural areas."

"The new FCC experiment is looking for 'diverse' rural organizations to tell the commission how they would invest Connect America Fund money in rural broadband projects," Marema writes. "That opens potential applicants up to nonprofit organizations, cooperatives, municipal or tribal governments and private businesses, for starters." Edyael Casaperalta, coordinator of the Rural Broadband Policy Group, told the Yonder, “This is a chance to show the FCC that there’s a lot of interest among rural providers for this funding."

The problem, though, is convincing the FCC that there's a demand for funding. Jonathan Chambers, the chief of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, told the Yonder, “I think if we see a big expression of interest, we’ll set a bigger budget. We’ve got to hear from folks first, and I think we will. . . . But if we don't hear anything, we'll learn something.”

"In 2010, the FCC restructured the Universal Service Fund and established the Connect America Fund as part of the National Broadband Plan," Marema writes. "The fund is supposed to help telecommunications companies make the transition to new technology like broadband, especially in harder-to-reach areas like rural communities. But the funding has been available only to large 'incumbent' telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon." When some companies turned down the money, because of issues with rules, money was left in the funds. But some groups that wanted the money for rural broadband weren't eligible for it. Now they could be. (Read more)

Feds to establish seven regional climate hubs to assist and inform farmers during disasters

The Obama administration has announced the creation of seven climate hubs and two sub-hubs spread out regionally across the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico to help farmers during disasters. "The hubs will provide information about ways producers can prepare for potential threats to their crops and livestock as parts of the country are experiencing increasing severe weather events and pest invasions, which scientists have tied to the effects of climate change," David Nakamura reports for The Washington Post. "And they will coordinate resources through federal and state governments, universities and non-governmental agencies."

"The announcement is part of President Obama's post-State of the Union push to build public support for his initiatives, including a series of executive actions aimed at advancing his agenda in areas where he has not gotten much cooperation from Congress," Nakamura writes. Climate hubs and sub-hubs will be located in Ames, Iowa; Houghton, Mich.; Durham, N.H.; Raleigh, N.C.; Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico; Fort Collins, Colo.; El Reno, Okla.; Corvallis, Ore.; and Las Cruces, N.M. (Read more)

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Immigration reform may stumble on citizenship issue

Rep. Paul Ryan
The prospect of immigration reform, which improved in recent weeks to the delight of agricultural interests, has faded again with comments by lawmakers. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "said distrust of President Barack Obama runs so deep in the Republican caucus that he’s skeptical the GOP-led House would pass any immigration measure," Phillip Elliott reports for The Associated Press. "He said a plan that puts security first could pass only if lawmakers believe the administration would enforce it — an unlikely prospect given Republicans’ deep opposition to Obama." Ryan told Elliott, "This isn’t a trust-but-verify, this is a verify-then-trust approach.”

House Republicans oppose a measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally, but also fear that failing to act could lead voters to turn to Democratic candidates in the next election, Elliott writes. Instead, they are blaming the White House for the legislation's failure, and "are pushing a piecemeal approach to immigration that puts a priority on security before considering a pathway for those here illegally to earn citizenship."

"That strategy runs counter to a comprehensive bill, passed through the Senate seven months ago with bipartisan support, that includes a long and difficult pathway to citizenship," Elliott writes. "The White House, meanwhile, returned to its position that any legislation must include a way for those living here illegally to earn citizenship and that the system cannot divide Americans into two classes — citizens and non-citizens." (Read more)

Senate sends Farm Bill to Obama on 68-32 vote

"The long-tortured farm bill cleared Congress on Tuesday, ending a two year struggle that split the old farm-food coalition as never before and dramatized the growing isolation of agriculture and rural America in an ever more urban House," which reflects the nation's population, reports David Rogers of Politico. "The bill represents a landmark rewrite of commodity programs coupled with what proved in the end to be bipartisan reforms in the food-stamp program."

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 68 to 32, sending it to President Obama, who will sign it. He said it “isn't perfect” will add “certainty” for farmers and ranchers and has “a variety of commonsense reforms that my administration has consistently called for.” Rogers notes that Senate Republicans split 23-22, as their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, "jumped on board the Farm Bill at the end because of a hemp provision important to Kentucky farmers — and his reelection — back home."

The five-year, $956 billion bill is expected to slightly reduce spending on farm programs and is supported by most agricultural lobbies. "Critics on the right and the left say that such an outpouring of endorsements shows that the farm bill is filled with government spending, but it also shows the importance of the farm bill—and the activities of the Agriculture Department—in every corner of the country," Jerry Hagstrom writes for National Journal.

In a succinct analysis, Hagstrom notes, "A wide range of conservation groups praised the bill for requiring farmers who get subsidized crop insurance to comply with federal conservation standards." Rogers notes that the bill's "single biggest decision is to end the nearly 18-year-old system of direct cash payments to farmers, which cost more than $4.5 billion annually and go out at a fixed rate — whatever a farmer’s profits or even if he hasn’t planted crops."

How much does your state spend on school instruction vs. school transportation?

For every dollar West Virginia spends on transporting students to and from school it spent $6.92 on instruction, the lowest ratio in the country. Meanwhile, Vermont spends the most on instruction compared to transportation, spending $16.62 on instruction for every dollar it spends on transportation, Rural Policy Matters reports in its January issue. The U.S. average is $11.06.

"Transportation expenditures are largely a function of distance," says Rural Policy Matters, the publication of the Rural School and Community Trust, a lobby for rural schools. "Longer bus routes mean more spending on gas, maintenance, and fleet replacement. West Virginia has a highly consolidated school system, with many counties operating only one school at each grade level, therefore bus routes tend to be lengthy throughout the state. In addition, West Virginia’s mountainous terrain adds to transportation costs." (Read more)

For an interactive map that looks at rural education in each state from the 2011-12 school year, click here.

Poverty rates have dropped since War on Poverty declared, but poorest states then still poorest now

In 1959, the average poverty rate among U.S. states was 24 percent, with the 1960 U.S. Census rating Mississippi highest at 54.5 percent, Arkansas at 47.5 percent, South Carolina at 45.4 percent, and 15 other states, many of them in the South, at 30 percent or higher. President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty helped lower the national average to 14.3 by 2012, but the states that were the poorest in 1959 are still the poorest now, and are hampered by the same problems, Jake Grovum reports for Stateline. Mississippi remains at the top of the list, with a poverty rate of 22 percent, and Arkansas is at 20.1 percent. (Stateline map; to view the interactive, year-by-year version click here)
"Experts say that in some regions, the same factors that caused poverty decades ago persist today," Grovum writes. "Among them are a less-educated workforce, lower rates of health insurance, low participation rates in safety-net programs and long distances to major cities and metropolitan areas with plentiful jobs." James P. Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, whose research has found 11 percent of all U.S. counties have had persistently high poverty rates (defined as 20 percent or higher) for decades, many in the South, told Grovum, "You have these persistently poor regions. There has been some catch-up over the decades. It just hasn’t been enough.”

Other states with poverty rates above the national average: Louisiana, 21.2 percent; New Mexico, 20.4 percent; Arizona, 19 percent; Tennessee, 18.6 percent; Georgia, 18.1 percent; Oklahoma, 18 percent; Kentucky, 17.9 percent; North Carolina, 17.2 percent; New York, 17.2 percent; Texas, 17 percent; West Virginia, 16.7 percent; South Carolina, 16.7 percent; Alabama, 16. 2 percent; California, 15.9 percent; Nevada, 15.8 percent; Ohio, 15.4 percent; Florida, 15.3 percent; Indiana, 15.2 percent; Missouri, 15.2 percent; and Idaho, 14.4 percent. (Read more) (For an interactive map on how people actually experience poverty click here)

Kansas bill would outlaw local-government broadband, a source of high-speed rural Internet

A bill to outlaw broadband service by local governments in Kansas was supposed to go before a Senate committee today, but was postponed because of poor weather conditions. "Senate Bill 304, introduced by a lobbyist for the cable TV industry, would prohibit cities and counties from building public broadband networks and providing Internet service to their businesses and citizens," Dion Lefler reports for The Wichita Eagle. About 16 other states have such laws.

Officials in Chanute, a rural town of 9,100 in the southeastern part of the state, "say they’re the primary target of the proposed legislation," Lefler writes. "As part of its public utility system, the city runs an ultra-high-speed broadband network that now serves schools, city buildings, the town hospital, banks and other key businesses." In November, the Chanute City Commission "voted to work toward 'fiber to home,' which would extend access to all residents and businesses within about a three-mile radius around the city, said Larry Gates, Chanute utilities director." Gates told Lefler, “This bill is an attack on competition, an attack on municipal government. It takes away our local control and local decision making. It will hurt our efforts in economic development."

The bill contains an exception for underserved communities, but classifies an area as served "if nine out of 10 residents can get satellite Internet," Lefler writes. "Beamed from space, satellite service is available anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States that has a view of the southern sky. Satellite is generally slower and considerably more expensive than cable or telephone broadband."

The Senate Commerce Committee is divided over the bill. Its chair, Sen. Julia Lynn (R-Olathe), "said the main argument in favor of it is philosophical – the concern of government competing with private enterprise for broadband customers," Lefler repirts. "Lynn said she doesn’t think that’s a fair competition because 'They (municipalities) don’t have to pay property taxes, and they don’t have to pay franchise taxes. It ought to be up to the town to decide if they want the local city hall to take care of it. I think that would only happen in very rare instances where there’s no service.”

The committee's ranking minority member, Sen. Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City), "said several small towns in his district are considering setting up their own networks or partnering with smaller providers because 'they’ve had a heck of a time trying to provide high-speed Internet to their constituents,'" Lefler writes. Holland told him, "This (bill) would just about shut that down.” (Read more)

Monday, February 03, 2014

Health Care Journalists offering rural fellowships to group's annual conference in Denver March 27-30

Monday, Feb. 10 is the deadline to apply for a Rural Health Journalism Fellowship from the Association of Health Care Journalists to attend its annual conference in Denver March 27-30. The fellowship is intended for reporters and editors working in rural areas or who work for outlets serving a predominately rural population. AHCJ generally defines rural areas as counties with fewer than 100,000 people.

To help as many journalists as possible, travel assistance will vary based on location. Fellowships include the conference registration fee, a year's membership in AHCJ (new or extended), up to four nights in the conference hotel (Wed.-Sat.) and up to $400 in travel costs depending on location. For the application, click here.

States slower to embrace science standards than Common Core, which is being rebranded

As national education reforms march on, the details are taking more time. Although the 26 states that assisted in developing the Next Generation Science Standards agreed to consider implementing them, only eight have actually signed on now that the standards have been finalized, Liana Heitlin writes for Education Week.

The Common Core State Standards were accepted much more rapidly; there are several reasons for the difference. Some states are too busy becoming accustomed to the Common Core State Standards and are reluctant to change anything else just yet; some are experiencing legislative restrictions; and still others say it's because of the lack of federal incentives, Heitlin writes. "I always thought it would take two to three years—but I'm very optimistic the majority of states will adopt," said David L. Evans, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, a partner in developing the standards.

Even the states that chose to adopt the Science Standards are taking their time. Matt D. Krehbiel, a science education consultant for the education department in Kansas where the standards were approved in June, said, "If there's a general theme, it's that folks are really encouraging a slow approach."

"Interestingly, there's been less public back-and-forth so far about the content of the science standards than has been the case with the common core," Heitlin writes, "even given the hot-button political issues—including the teaching of climate change and evolution—embedded in the standards."

One leading critic, Thomas B. Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Michael J. Petrilli, told Heitlin: "There's not enough focus on content. . . . The standards seem to go out of their way to downplay the knowledge." Brian J. Reiser, a professor of learning science at Northwestern University, disagrees. He said the new science standards require "a greater attention to the content based on what decades of research say about the best way to help kids understand ideas."

Although states and schools aren't causing much of a ruckus over the Science Standards as some may have expected, Petrilli said when it came to the Common Core, "the backlash came much later. I wonder if with the science standards it's the same thing. The folks most likely to be opposed to these things haven't spoken up now, but perhaps they'll speak up a few years from now." (Read more)

The debate over the Common Core State Standards, which guide math and English content in 45 states and the District of Columbia, continues. To help quell objections, some states are rebranding the Common Core so it will be more readily accepted, Lyndsey Layton writes for The Washington Post. For example, Iowa uses the label "The Iowa Core," while Florida calls it "Next Generation Sunshine State Standards." Debbi Higginbotham, co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core, says renaming the Common Core will not change her opinion of it. "What they're trying to do is pull the wool over the eyes of the regular parents who are not as engaged. They're trying to say these are Florida standards they they're not."

Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a conservative commentator, is part of the impetus to rebrand the Common Core. Saying the name has become "toxic," he said, "Rebrand it, refocus it, but don't retreat."

While Common Core supporters say the standards prioritize critical thinking and analytical skills that will make students more competitive in the global marketplace, much of the controversy stems from a belief that the standards constitute a federal takeover of local education, Layton writes.

Christopher Johnson, a branding expert, said he doesn't think renaming the standard will help the situation in the long run. "It's something that might be politically expedient in the short term," he told Layton. "They might succeed in bamboozling people who are opposed to the idea of nationwide standards by giving them local names. . . . But I think it's skirting around the issue." (Read more)

Eight Chinese accused of stealing seed secrets

One of six Chinese nationals accused of traveling across the Midwest to steal trade secrets from U.S. seed manufacturers entered not-guilty pleas Monday in federal court in Des Moines, and a trial date was set for March 31, David Pitt reports for The Associated Press. Four of the other five are in China, which doesn't share an extradition agreement with the United States, and the fifth is in Canada. U.S. Attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt told Pitt that "all avenues are being considered to find and arrest" him.

Zhang Weiqiang
In a separate case, two Chinese scientists were indicted Dec. 20 in Kansas City "on federal charges accusing them of stealing seeds developed by a U.S. bioscience company and giving the seeds to members of a visiting delegation from China," AP reports. "A federal grand jury in Kansas indicted Weiqiang Zhang, an agricultural seed breeder at Ventria Bioscience's facility in Junction City, and Yan Wengui, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research geneticist in Arkansas, on one count each of conspiracy to steal trade secrets and theft of trade secrets."

Yan Wengui
"Zhang allegedly took seeds that his employer had grown and kept them at his home in Kansas," AP reports. "After a Chinese delegation visited the U.S., customs agents searched its luggage and found stolen seeds in envelopes and also in makeshift containers, including a newspaper page that had been folded in the shape of an envelope, according to court documents. If convicted, Zhang and Yan could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000."

In the other case, "Prosecutors allege in court documents that the men were hiding the seed in a storage unit near Des Moines and eventually taking it to a farm near Monee, Ill., which the FBI said had been purchased by Kings Nower Seed in March 2012," Pitt writes. Kings Nower is a subsidiary of Beijing-based conglomerate DBN Group. One of the accused is the CEO of Kings Nower Seed. "Court documents filed Jan. 8 also show the government is attempting to seize the 40-acre Illinois farm that appears to have served as a Midwest base of operation for the Chinese men. It is about 40 miles south of Chicago." (Read more)

Indictments were announced on Dec. 19, with the six men "accused of traveling across the Midwest to steal millions of dollars in seed technology trade secrets for use at their China-based seed company," Emily Schettler reports for the Des Moines Register. "The men are accused of trying to steal a parent line of corn seed from Dupont Pioneer, Monsanto and LG Seeds and covertly transferring it to China. Federal prosecutors estimate its value at five to eight years of research worth at least $30 million to $40 million." (Read more)

Obama to announce school broadband plan; top aides to discuss in conference call at 5:30 today

President Obama plans to announce tomorrow a new program aimed at putting truly high-speed broadband into schools with 99 percent of U.S. students in the next five years. The "ConnectED" initiative could be a significant boost for many rural areas.

Today at 5:30 p.m. ET, two top administration officials will hold a press conference call to preview the president’s remarks. Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council, will speak for the record but their remarks will be embargoed until 6 a.m. ET tomorrow.

Journalists should dial 1-800-230-1093 and ask for the “White House Call.” No passcode is necessary. For a White House "fact sheet" on ConnectED, click here.

Monopolies, near-monopolies, poor health status make SW Ga. health care 2d most expensive in U.S.

The most expensive areas to get covered under federal health reform are the Colorado ski resort towns of Vail and Aspen, where the wealthy have multi-million-dollar homes. The next most expensive area is rural southwest Georgia, Jordan Rau reports for Kaiser Health News. Lee Mullins, who builds swimming pools in that area, has found that mid-level health coverage for his family costs $2,654 per month, while the same insurance would be $940 per month in Pittsburgh. (Rau photo: Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Ga.)

"All the dynamics that drive up health costs have coalesced here in southwestern Georgia, pushing up premiums," Rau writes. "Expensive chronic conditions such as obesity and cancer are common among the quarter-million people in this region. One hospital system dominates the area, leaving little competition. Only one insurer is offering policies in the online marketplace, and many physicians are not participating, limiting consumer choice."

"All the ingredients for heavy health-care needs—both medical and socioeconomic—are common in the 12 counties of southwestern Georgia, which are being treated as a distinct region in the insurance market," Rau writes. "One in four children lives in poverty, and one out of every three people here is obese. Babies are more likely than those in most parts of the country to have low birth weights, according to data compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute." The data found that in five South Carolina counties that have similar demographics to southwest Georgia, "the lowest-priced silver plan is 39 percent less expensive."

Some blame Phoebe Putney Health System, which runs six hospitals in the area. "The Federal Trade Commission and Georgia’s attorney general unsuccessfully tried to reverse Phoebe’s 2012 acquisition of Palmyra Park Hospital in Albany because it made the system so dominant that they said Phoebe could essentially dictate prices," Rau writes. "In a settlement, Phoebe was allowed to hold on to Palmyra, giving it 86 percent of the regional health-care market. But insurance brokers and health-policy experts said that Phoebe’s rates for private insurers are higher than they would otherwise be to make up for the money the system loses when it cares for the large uninsured population." About 11 percent of the hospital's bills are not collected because patients didn't pay or couldn't afford to pay. (Read more)

Film by Eastern Kentucky newspaper editor explores successes, shortcomings of War on Poverty

Ralph B. Davis
Fifty years ago President Lyndon Johnson visited Eastern Kentucky and declared a War on Poverty. So how do Appalachian residents feel that war has gone? A documentary gets right to the heart of the matter, asking "leading Appalachian residents their opinions about the successes and shortcomings of the War on Poverty as well as their thoughts on how to win that war by the year 2050," The Courier-Journal reports.

"Appalachia 2050" is the brainchild of Ralph B. Davis, who knows a thing or two about Appalachia, as the longtime editor of the Floyd County Times in Prestonsburg. “Having lived and worked in Eastern Kentucky my entire life, it dawned on me one day that no one had ever asked me or anyone I know what we want to see Appalachia become,” Davis told the Louisville newspaper. “I found that unusual, considering there has been this half-century effort to ‘fix’ our region. With so much time and money spent looking for answers, I felt it would only be appropriate to ask the people who live in the region what result they want to see come out of all this. I started thinking, ‘Someone should film a documentary about this,’ and then I finally decided to do it myself.” (Read more)

The documentary will be screened at 7 p.m. Friday at the Clifton Center in Louisville. A $5 donation for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth will be requested at the door. After the screening, Davis will answer questions. To view the documentary, click below, or visit Davis's website.
Middle frame of video: John and Jean Rosenberg of Prestonsburg, longtime education and social-justice activists

Rural Alaskans struggling with USPS changes in parcel service, which raised their average rate 35%

A small change by the U.S. Postal Service is costing rural Alaskans big time. USPS changes that took effect Jan. 26 include the replacement of Parcel Post service with "Standard Post," a service that costs an average of 35 percent more, Devin Kelly reports for the Anchorage Daily News.

Many budget-conscious rural Alaskans often travel to Anchorage to shop at Costco then have the items shipped home to avoid the higher costs local businesses are forced to charge, Kelly writes. For example, a local grocery store might sell 10 pounds of sugar for $16.50, while the same item sells at Costco for $4.98.

Sending a 17-pound package now costs 4.9 percent more that it previously did, a 25-pound package 22 percent more and a 50-pound costs 53 percent more, Kelly writes. "Bypass Mail, more commonly used by businesses for large shipments, will see a more modest increase. Those packages, at least 70 pounds in weight and consolidated onto 1,000-pound pallets, will cost 6.75 percent more to send or an extra $4 for a 70-pound package." There is also concern about how smaller businesses will be able to keep up "against retail giants like Amazon, which typically ship through Priority Mail."

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich has already "sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahue, expressing his concern over numerous issues with mail processing in Southeast Alaska, including parcel post shipping," Kelly writes. "His staff said the senator was planning to meet with Donahue in the coming weeks." A spokesperson for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is also in talks with the Postal Service. (Read more)