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Should prisoners be counted as residents of the county where they are incarcerated? Or should convicts be considered residents of their home communities, where they were arrested, tried and convicted?

Most prisons are in rural areas and those communities have claimed their incarcerated neighbors as residents. Cities have argued that this overstates the population of rural communities, giving rural too much power in state legislatures.

A Federal District Court last month upheld a Maryland law that counts inmates as residents of their home counties. The New York Times editorial page agrees with this finding: 

The practice of counting inmates as local “residents” — even though they lack the right to vote — has been used to inflate the power of mainly rural areas where prisons tend to placed. It undercuts the power of the urban districts where the inmates actually live and where they generally return when they are released….

The state law was explicitly drafted to advance the interests of minority citizens, who are disproportionately represented among inmates and who stand to lose most when political power is shifted away from their home districts. A small group of voters challenged the law, arguing, in essence, that it was illegal for the state to correct for prisoner-related population distortions.

The court rightly dismissed this argument, adding that the state was within its rights to adjust census data for redistricting purposes. This sound ruling should encourage more states to join Maryland, New York, Delaware and California in adopting similar anti-gerrymandering laws. 

• The USDA is seeking nominations for 10 vacancies on the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s Grain Inspection Advisory Committee. If you’d like to be considered, the application form is here

• A company in New Zealand has introduced a corn variety that is resistant to pollen from genetically modified plants. 

Farmers have feared that GM crops will infiltrate non-GM fields. So, a New Zealand company has bred a plant that blocks pollen from other varieties of corn.

The breeding was done primarily to counteract the widespread use of GM corn in the U.S., with seeds imported to New Zealand.

• The American Petroleum Institute, an oil lobby, has begun a media campaign in the Midwest and in Washington, D.C., urging people to push for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline (which would carry oil sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast) is delayed, pending approval from the federal government and the state of Nebraska. 

• The sudden rise in the value of farmland has made inter-generational transfers of farms more difficult. 

• The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is calling for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in livestock farming. The OIE fears that overuse of the the medicines will lead to drug-resistant bacteria. 

Several studies have found an increase in the presence of drug-resistant bacteria. An April study, for example, found that meat on U.S. grocery store shelves often contained high levels of bacteria, much of it resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

In 2006 Europeans banned the use of antibiotics in feed that promotes growth. The U.S. still allows this practice.

• Increased gas and oil drilling in the U.S. is reviving the economy in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to this account. The steel industry is coming back, too. 

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• The Humane Society of the U.S. is sending 11 tons of grain to feed 500 cows on Western North Carolina farms hit by tornados. The tornados disrupted supplies for the small farms so the HSUS is stepping in with a week’s worth of feed.

• For the first time in China’s history, more people are living in urban areas than in the countryside. 

China’s National Bureau of Statistics said that 51.27 percent of China’s 1.34 billion people lived in cities at the end of last year.

Dan Evins, the founder of Cracker Barrel, died at his daughter’s home in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was 76 years old and had cancer. 

Evins began with a single store in Lebanon in 1969. Cracker Barrel now has 600 locations across the U.S. and 67,000 employees.

Evins began Cracker Barrel as a kind of anti-McDonalds. Instead of emphasizing the slick and the new, Evins promoted the old and played to customers’ sense of nostalgia.

• Congress is back today — and faces a January 31 deadline for when funding for the Federal Aviation Administration expires. The FAA funding includes money for rural airports, a sticking point in reauthorizing the agency. 

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