[imgcontainer] [img:Election2012f.jpeg] [source]Robert J. Vanderbei[/source] This map by Robert Vanderbeil shows how tightly packed Democratic voters were in the 2012, and how the “blue” vote came from large votes in very populous cities. Lexington, the U.S. columnist for The Economist, uses to map to show why rural communities are losing their relevance in American politics. See below. [/imgcontainer]

It would cost less than $10 million (only .2 percent of the total cost) to add safeguards to the Keystone XL pipeline that would protect the Ogallala aquifer from spills.

But Lisa Song at InsideClimate News says the company building the pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast has no plans to add those features. 

Song contrasts construction of the Keystone XL through Nebraska with a pipeline built through Austin, Texas, a pipeline Song says could be the safest in the nation. The Austin pipeline, for example, can detect leaks as small as three gallons a day.

Song reports that “none of the major features that protect Austin’s much smaller aquifer are included in the plan. In fact, they haven’t even been discussed.”

Leaks from Keystone are a concern in Nebraska because the pipeline runs over the Ogallala aquifer, the major source of water for much of Nebraska and the Great Plains. The technology on the pipeline would detect leaks only when they reach 294,000 gallons a day, according to Song.

Food Merger Opposed — Food & Water Watch is opposing the merger of ConAgra Foods and Ralcorp Holdings, the advocacy group announced in a press release.

Food & Water Watch believes the merger of the two large food producers could violate antitrust laws. 

“Corporations claim that these types of mega-mergers allow for efficiencies of scale that create cost savings for consumers — but the reality is, consumers rarely see a decrease in what they pay for food,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “As our food system continues to consolidate, consumers actually pay more for their food, farmers receive less, and the bankers and executives who negotiate these mergers and run the resulting monolithic corporations make out like bandits.”

The group is asking the Federal Trade Commission to extend the time for studying the proposed combination of the firms.

Relevance of Rural — Lexington, The Economist’s U.S. columnist, has been reading The Daily Yonder. 

Lexington is weighing in on the question of whether rural America is still relevant to the country’s politics. He notes the map at the top of the page — showing where the votes in November’s election came from — and how the Obama coalition neatly packs itself into urban districts. And he quotes Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, who worried that rural’s irrelevance was at the root of the problem in passing a Farm Bill.

Lexington then writes:

In short, it was time for your blogger to head to the countryside, to see how a (hopefully representative) rural community felt about its place in the American political system. Ideally, Lexington hoped to trace some of the long-term political and economic forces that have buffeted America’s rural heartlands. As luck would have it, the excellent rural blog, the Daily Yonder, recently carried an essay alerting readers to the 50th anniversary of a remarkable sociological experiment, in which a journalist-turned-researcher, Joseph Lyford, wrote a book-length study of Vandalia, a city of some 5,000 people in the middle of the Illinois countryside. 

Lexington is referring to Marcel LaFlamme’s column in the Yonder that appeared at the end of November. 

He writes in his magazine column, here:

The rural dilemma has changed, I conclude in my column. Vandalia is not about to vanish, thanks to crop insurance and other state safety nets. It does risk becoming a quaint dormitory: some locals already commute to jobs an hour or more away. But that is not what Vandalia wants. It wishes to remain a living, risk-taking community, with a voice in big political fights of the day. Yet in its fierce conservatism and piety (the city boasts 18 churches, or one for every 300 permanent residents), Vandalia feels the rest of America drifting away. Fifty years on the fight is not for survival, but for relevance.

And A Merry Christmas To You, Too — Kentucky officials are trying to punish a coal miner who testified on unsafe mining practices that led to a death in a Harlan County coal mine in 2011. Yes, this is one of those happy Christmas stories! 

Mackie Bailey provided information that led to three guilty pleas by mine supervisors in federal court. To the state, however, Bailey is a miner who broke the rules and should be punished. The state has filed a complaint against him for taking part in dangerous mining activities.

Bailey was ordered to do this work, however. He did it, and then blew the whistle on his supervisors later after a fellow miner was crushed to death. Then he testified and helped convict those responsible.

“They’re trying to punish the whistle-blower,” said Bailey’s attorney, Tony Oppegard.

The Cliff and Milk Prices — The AP explains how procrastination over settling larger budget questions (yes, the fiscal cliff) could disrupt milk prices, hurting dairy farmers. 

If a new Farm Bill isn’t passed by the end of the year, including dairy provisions, the nation will revert to an old way of pricing milk. And that will shoot the price of milk up to $6 a gallon.

Peak Farmland — The world is now farming as much land as it will ever need to produce food and fuel, a new report says. And as a result of slowing population growth and increasing yields, an area more than twice the size of France will be returned to its natural state by 2060. 

“We believe that humanity has reached Peak Farmland, and that a large net global restoration of land to nature is ready to begin,” said Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York.

“Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many had feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers,” he wrote in a speech about the study he led in the journal Population and Development Review.

Smalltown, USA — Terry Teachout writes about growing up in a small town, why he left and what he misses. He also has some good suggestions for movies and books that give small towns a fair shake.

He writes

Whenever I find myself in small towns like Spring Green (Wisconsin), I remember how it felt to grow up in Smalltown, U.S.A., where the “myth” of community is in fact a daily reality, one that strengthens and comforts all who participate in it. My mother could never have lived anywhere else, and my brother has never wanted to. I chose another path, one that I’ve never regretted taking–but you don’t have to doubt that you took the right path to know what you missed by taking it.

The Cost of Coal — A study has found that “coal industry and coal-related activities cost Virginia $22 million more than was paid by these businesses in taxes, fees and other revenue to state coffers in fiscal year 2009….” 

The single largest cost to Virginia are $37 million in tax breaks given to the industry. 

About Those Food Safety Rules — Chris Doering of the Des Moines Register reports that “two years after President Barack Obama signed a sweeping food safety bill into law, the rules at the heart of the largest food safety overhaul in more than 70 years have yet to be put in place, blocked by their sheer length, growing complexity and a White House that critics contend has delayed their implementation for political gain.” 

And the Food and Drug Administration, charged with implementing the new law, has been the subject of budget-cutting legislators.

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