Nearly a fifth of the contiguous United States has been faced with the worst drought in recent years.

[imgcontainer] [img:0710-nat-webDROUGHT.png] [source]New York Times[/source] Nearly a fifth of the contiguous United States has been faced with the worst drought in recent years. [/imgcontainer]

For about the umpteenth time, the Obama administration has started another program for “communities” that totally ignores rural America. 

Yesterday the White House announced in a press release that it had “launched Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2), a new and customized pilot initiative to strengthen local capacity and spark economic growth in local communities while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely and efficiently.”

The White House said that federal agencies will provide help to “six cities” — Chester (PA); Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Memphis and New Orleans. Chester may be officially the smallest of these cities, but it is part and parcel of Philadelphia.

“Over the past two and a half years, the Obama Administration received feedback from leaders all across the country who described the kind of partnership that would be most useful to them for economic growth,” Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes says in the White House press release.  “The result is Strong Cities, Strong Communities, an innovative new pilot that will help strengthen local communities while also delivering federal resources and assistance more effectively.”  

In other words, they looked around for two and a half years and didn’t find one rural place that met the administration’s criteria for a “strong community.” “All across the country” applied to cities only.

There’s plenty more in the release — and it all applies to “cities,” a word used 17 times in the release. For instance, “six cities” will selected to receive $1 million grants to develop economic development strategies.

We are certainly not the first to note this White House’s rural blind spot. Al Cross at the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky flagged this one. The Obama people seem to have no sense that rural communities and rural people should be included as a matter of course. It’s nothing bitter or mean. You get the sense that when they conjure a vision of America, they don’t see small towns and rural people.

And so when policies and programs are shaped and developed, rural America is left out. They don’t do it on purpose. It’s worse than that.

• Bizarre (and downright ugly) story of the week (perhaps year) goes to Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette. It involves a Washington, D.C., law firm that contends West Virginians suffer from birth defects because of rampant intermarriage. 

If you’ll recall, Ken reported earlier of a peer-reviewed study finding that birth defects were unusually high in counties where there was mountaintop removal coal mining. This week, the law firm of Crowell & Moring, which represents the National Mining Association (a coal trade and lobbying group), wrote on its website that this report was flawed because it failed to take into account “consanguinity.”

That is, the report did not take into account inter-marriage — people conceiving children with those having common ancestors.

Nice! Ward cites the research finding that Appalachians are no more likely to marry those with common ancestors than anybody else. (Anyone who has spent any time in the mountains knows that the coming of the coal industry brought people from every country in the world to the coal camps.) Still, it’s a slur that’s commonly repeated — with an impunity not granted when ugly stereotypes are applied to other minority groups. We guess it was easy for the Ivy League lawyers at Crowell & Moring to write about people they don’t know in places they have never spent much time. Thus is our world.

Well, after Ken Ward Jr. pointed out the ugliness of what the law firm had done, they at least had the good sense to pull the comment from the Crowell & Moring website. 

• Former Bill Monroe fiddle player Kenny Baker has died. The Letcher County, Kentucky, native was 85 years old.

Baker was a Navy Vet and a coal miner in Letcher County who played barn dances on the weekends. He began playing professionally and joined Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1957. The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reported:

“Many people went to bluegrass music festivals to hear Kenny Baker play the fiddle as much as they went to hear Bill Monroe sing, bluegrass music great Bobby Osborne said.”

• Urban and suburban residents are twice as likely to own smartphones as are those living in rural communities, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project poll. A third of all adults own a smart phone and for many minority and low-income people these devices have replaced computers. 

Just five percent of rural cell phone owners say that they own an iPhone compared to ten percent of urban and suburban cell phone owners.

A quarter of those with smart phones (an oxymoron if we’ve ever heard one) use their machines as the primary way to connect to the Internet. 

• Michigan is gearing up to double its wind energy capacity. A company is about to begin construction of 133 wind turbines in an area 25 miles west of Saginaw. They will produce 200 megawatts of electricity, starting next year. 

• North Dakota farmers and ranchers have complained that dust from oil industry traffic affects (adversely) fields and pastures. But heavy rains and flooding have made a state study of the claims hard to complete.

The contention is that dust stunts plant growth, slowing the photosynthesis process. And veterinarians say they have seen more dust-related respiratory allergies in cattle and horses in areas with heavy truck traffic. 

• The New York Times reports on the drought that now stretches from New Mexico to Georgia. It’s bad. 

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