[imgcontainer right] [img:68817836.jpeg] [source]Kent Kauden, Montana Department of Fish & Wildlife[/source] Since Congress last year ordered the removal of federal protections for Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, Idaho and Montana approved wolf hunts. So far, the two states have issued more than 40,000 wolf tags and hunters and trappers have killed more than 500 of the animals. [/imgcontainer]

AT&T is trying to pass a bill through the Kentucky legislature that would allow it to end mandatory landline phone service.  

Similar bills have been proposed in other states. They would remove the state requirement that large phone carriers provide landline service to any resident who has access to at least two wireless or cable providers. AT&T says landline service is a relic of a “bygone era.” The three companies included in the Kentucky bill are AT&T, Windstream and Cincinnati Bell.

Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the bill was “drafted by AT&T.” There was a vote scheduled for yesterday, but it was called off after legislators and residents from rural areas objected. 

“This bill represents a grave threat to continued, stand-alone, basic telephone service for many Kentuckians who don’t have the luxury of access to Twitter and all the things that we in urban areas tend to take for granted,” said Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council. 

AT&T says the bill is necessary to eliminate needless regulations. “To me, (the bill) takes the next step in modernizing telecommunications in the state of Kentucky,” said Rep. Paul Hornback, a Republican. “Kentucky’s telecommunications infrastructure must accommodate the rapidly changing market and new technologies that consumers are demanding.” AT&T employes 31 lobbyists, according to the Herald-Leader.

The bill stalled Wednesday, when House Speaker Greg Stumbo, from rural Eastern Kentucky said he objected. “I live in an area of the state where it is difficult to communicate with certain rural parts of my county via cell,” he said. “If you eliminate land lines in their entirety, you eliminate access in case of emergencies and for elderly people who don’t have or are not accustomed to cell phones.”

• George W. Bush got about 40 percent of the Latino vote. John McCain received 31 percent. Mitt Romney, however, is losing 5 to 1 to President Obama among Latinos. 

• A federal appeals court ruled that Congress was legal in eliminating Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains. 

Authorities figure there are 1,774 wolves in 287 packs in the area covered by Wednesday’s court decision.

• The battle over child labor rules continues, DTN’s Jerry Hagstrom reports

The Department of Labor has weakened rules that it proposed to cover children working on family farms — but the rules are still too stringent, according to Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas.

• Joel Kotkin writes in Forbes that the Republican party has a “fatal attraction to rural America.” 

Kotkin’s contention (belied, we should note, by the election results) is that Rick Santorum owes his political life to rural and small town voters. Trouble is, most voters are urban or suburban, Kotkin writes, and this is where the Republican Party should seek its future, not in the countryside.

Here’s a taste:

Rural America, of course, is changing, with many areas, particularly in the Plains, getting richer and better educated. These areas are growing faster than the national average and attracting immigrants from abroad and people from other U.S. regions. Yet the influence of newcomers, new wealth and new technology is still nascent. The political pace in rural America today still is being set by an aging, overwhelmingly white and modestly educated demographic.

Until the Republican nomination fight is settled, the party’s pandering to the sensibilities of such conservatives in rural areas could prove fatal to its long-term prospects. A Santorum nomination almost guarantees a replay of the Bryan phenomena; no matter how many times he runs, he will prove unlikely to win, even against a vulnerable opponent. Even in losing, his preachy, divisive tone — on contraception, prayer, the separation of church and state — has opened a gap among suburban voters that Obama will no doubt exploit.

The suburbs, with its preponderance of white, middle income independent voters, gave the 2008 election to Obama, and that’s where the next contest will be decided. The countryside will rally to a GOP standard bearer like Romney, albeit somewhat reluctantly, for both economic and social reasons. The battle will then shift to the suburbs, including those urban areas, common in the vast cities of the South and West, that are predominately suburban in form.

Most of the urban core, meanwhile, will vote lockstep for Obama. But the president, as thoroughly a creature of urban tastes and prejudice as to ever sit in the White House, could prove vulnerable in the suburbs, if the Republicans can deliver a message that is palatable to that geography’s denizens.

• The Senate voted to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act for one year.

The act provides funding for schools and local governments in counties where timbering has been reduced on federal lands. 

• Murray Energy Corp. will pay $500,000 to settle a criminal case stemming from the 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Utah that killed nine people. 

The settlement left U.S.District Judge David Sam none too happy, writes Salt Lake Tribune reporter Mike Correll. Judge Sam said he felt “outrage” that the fine was that small. Correll reports:

The judge said: “My initial take is outrage at the minuscule amount of the penalty provided by the federal statute.” He said he reviewed the options available to prosecutors if he rejected the plea deal, but concluded that course of action only would prolong the “sorrow and grief” without any better results.

“I’m satisfied the U.S. attorney did a very thorough and complete review as can be conducted,” Sam said.

• Here’s a segment produced by Vermont Public Radio on dairy’s “value-added future.” 

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