[imgcontainer] [img:Brad_Keselowski.jpeg] [source]Photo via the New York Times[/source] Brad Keselowski drives the Penske Racing car in NASCAR. [/imgcontainer]

The New York Times reports that Nascar has begun a new advertising push to attract young, urban and multicultural fans to augment their current audience of “predominantly older, rural, white men.” 

The new ad campaign will feature television commercials with drivers standing in dramatic poses making emotional statements for the camera. Says the reporter:

That feeling comes through in the initial elements like television commercials presenting drivers in larger-than-life poses. They deliver brief, emotional comments directly to the camera, often finishing one another’s sentences.

And this:

The goal is to draw “a new line in the sand, if you will,” Terry Finley, senior partner and group creative director at Ogilvy & Mather New York added, and counter stereotypes about drivers as “dumb rednecks.” To underscore that, one commercial, titled “Chess,” compares the strategies of drivers to moves by chess players.


Spending Cuts — Here’s a map showing the percent of state gross domestic product derived from federal spending. Virginia and Maryland get the most. New Mexico is high. So are South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky. 

The theory is that all these states would suffer more than others if automatic spending cuts are made March 1. 

The Sequester and the Parks — Yellowstone would open three weeks later, if spending cuts take place March 1. (There would be less money for snow plowing.) Campgrounds on the Blue Ridge Parkway would be shut. 

Those would be among the several ways the Park Service would cut back in order to comply with federal spending cuts that should kick in March 1. 

Iowa on Immigration — The latest Iowa Poll finds that 77 percent favor creating a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally — but most want the borders controlled first. 

El Dorado Promise — Murphy Oil made a $50 million commitment to El Dorado, Arkansas, saying that kids who graduate from high school will have money to go to college. A new study has found that this commitment has helped raise test scores among seventh and eighth grade students in the 19,000 person town. 

Diette Courrege Casey reports on a new study, which found that 7th and 8th graders were scoring better than peer groups in south Arkansas. Courrege writes:

The study found more than 90 percent of the Promise-eligible high school class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall. Students must have spent their entire high school career in El Dorado to be eligible for the scholarship.

Ninety-one percent of all Promise college freshmen are completing at least one year of college. The first class of Promise students graduated in 2007, and 27 percent graduated from college in five years or less. The state’s average four-year college graduation rate is 19.7 percent.

Sen. Johanns Retiring — Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns is retiring and won’t seek re-election in 2014.

Johanns is a Republican and a former Secretary of Agriculture. Four years ago, he feared he had cancer after a test revealed a spot on his lung. 

“I have to say, it does change your view of the world,” said Johanns of the initial diagnosis. “We lived with it (a possible lung cancer diagnosis) for several months. When you start looking at your life through that lens, life looks a lot different.”

The initial thinking in Nebraska is that Gov. Dave Heineman will seek the seat on the Republican side. Former University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook could seek the Democratic nomination. Hassebrook is director of the Center for Rural Affairs.

Rural Hospitals and Expanded Medicaid — The discussion in several state capitols is whether Medicaid should be expanded, as called for in the health care reform bill. Kaiser Health News has a rundown here.  This is an issue that affects every rural hospital.

A rural hospital administrator told Missouri lawmakers that failure to expand eligibility for Medicaid could put his institution, and other like it, in jeopardy, the Kansas City Star reports

If Missouri refuses to expand Medicaid eligibility (which is part of the health care reform bill passed by Congress), Kerry Noble of Pemiscot Memorial Hospital in Hayti said his southeast Missouri facility would lose about $1 million a year in federal reimbursements. And if the hospital lost this money, it would close.

“Pemiscot Memorial has 550 employees, a $20 million payroll and is the second-largest employer in the county,” Noble said. “If we lose that hospital, not only would it be difficult for patients to access medical care, it would be traumatic to the Bootheel region economically.”

Approving Keystone XL — A Wall Street Journal writer finds that “a combination of forces are lining up in a way that should make it possible for Mr. Obama to get to a ‘yes’ answer, while limiting the political fallout.” The paper is referring to the President’s upcoming decision on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands oil to the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Environmentalists oppose the pipeline, saying that tapping the tar sands will speed global warming. Some Nebraska landowners also say the pipeline endangers the Ogallala Aquifer.

On the other hand, unions and 53 U.S. Senators want President Obama to approve a permit for the Keystone XL. And the route for the pipeline has been changed to minimize danger to fragile lands in Nebraska. 

Gerald Seib writes that Obama could pair approval of the pipeline with other environmental actions aimed at limiting the release of climate change gasses. 

“Whatever the president has in mind specifically, it should be easier to sell Keystone XL if that decision is paired with one showing that the progress the U.S. already has made on climate change will continue, even if the U.S. can’t soon kick its oil habit,” Seib writes. “That is precisely the picture Mr. Obama ought to be able to paint as the big decision point nears.”

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