[imgcontainer] [img:hindman.gif] [source]Hindman Settlement School[/source] Mike Mullins died Sunday. He was director of the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky, for more than 30 years. Mike committed his life to the school and to Eastern Kentucky — its people, arts and literature. Most of all, Mullins loved his school, pictured above. [/imgcontainer]

The Obama White House announced today a $15 million competition for projects that promote cooperation and innovation by rural communities. 

The money will come from several agencies. It will go to rural regions that devise broad, cooperative “regional innovation clusters,” Commerce Secretary John Bryson said during a news conference Tuesday. 

Bryson said the competition — the Rural Jobs Accelerator —  should encourage rural regions to “bring everyone together” to discuss “how local economies can envision themselves more competitive on a global scale.” 

The competition was one of several initiatives the White House announced today as “steps to boost the rural economy.” 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his department would also expand the federal purchase of bio-based products.

And Mary Wakefield, with the Department of Health and Human Services, said her agency would work with the Department of Labor to push training programs already developed for health information technology workers. 

• InsideClimate News reports that energy companies are stepping up plans to export natural gas, just as the U.S. is turning to the fuel to replace oil and coal. 

There are no gas export facilities in the country. But the economics of the arrangement are compelling. Gas that sells for $4 a thousand cubic feet in this country sells for twice that in Europe and more than three times that amount in Asia.

• It appears the fight over farm labor regulations covering young people is not over.

Recall that the Department of Labor proposed regulations that would restrict the work young people could do, even on family farms. Labor backed off those regs, saying it would grant a “parental exemption,” but an Iowa State University official says Labor is not settled on the issue. 

“I think they (Labor) were stung by the blowback on it to begin with,” Roger McEowen, director of the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation told DTN. “They don’t understand the application of these rules and why these issues are important to farmers and ranchers. But they did not shelve it. They are proceeding slowly and maybe more quietly. They haven’t announced they are going to change the proposal; they haven’t made any commitment to change anything.”

• We reported yesterday that Mike Mullins died. He was 63 when he died of a heart attack in Hindman, Kentucky, Sunday.

Mullins was director of the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky. He was a tireless, seemingly unbiquitous presence in Eastern Kentucky. Mike hosted the annual Appalachian Writers Workshop and founded the Appalachian Family Folk Week. 

“I don’t think it can be underestimated how important he was to the literary community of the region,” author Silas House told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I think of him as holding us all together as Appalachian artists. He fostered a community of musicians and writers and thinkers in the region, and he was like a father figure to many of us.”

The Hindman Settlement School (which turns 100 years old next year) became a center of learning, arts and literature in rural Kentucky. Since 1980 it has run a nationally recognized dyslexia program.

Mullins “had a great vision and a great heart,” said author George Ella Lyon. “There was nothing too important that he wouldn’t try to do,” said Dr. Grady Stumbo.

“He cared a lot about respect and honesty. … He had a great wit. … He was very proud of his accent and where he was from. … He defied stereotypes,” Silas House said. 

Walmart brought in more shoppers during the fourth quarter, but its profits were down almost 15 percent. 

Walmart has been in a bit of a turnaround recently, trying to reinstill its reputation as the home of low prices and large variety. That message is getting through, and shoppers are returning to the blue box stores. But those gains came at a cost: lower profits.

• The Washington Post says Republican Rick Santorum is basing his campaign in small towns. In this story, the reporter follows Santorum to Steubenville, Ohio. 

“Santorum has made small, working-class towns such as Steubenville a key part of his potential road to the White House,” writes reporter Felicia Sonmez. “Just his showing up in Steubenville, Ohio, tells me that there’s something,” said one resident.

• The White House budget contains no money for the construction of a livestock disease lab in Kansas. The Obama administration is calling for a “comprehensive assessment of the project.” 

Some cattle groups have objected to moving a biolab from a New York island to the middle of the Plains — and the nation’s cattle herd.

• Indian reservations have had chronic rates of crime, higher than all but a few cities, according to the New York Times. But the Justice Department, which prosecutes most serious crimes on reservations, “files charges in only about half of Indian Country murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of sexual assault cases, according to new federal data.” 

Timothy Williams reports that the nation’s 310 Indian reservations have violent crime rates more than two and half times higher than the national average. American Indian women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the average American and are raped or sexually assaulted at four times the national average. Yet prosecution rates are low.

“One of the basic problems is that not only are they declining to prosecute cases, but we are not getting the reason or notification for the declination,” said Jerry Gardner of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in West Hollywood, Calif., which works with tribes to develop justice programs. “The federal system takes a long time to make a decision, and when it comes to something like a child sexual assault, the community gets the message that nothing is being done.”

• Cool. In this time of “craft” everything (from beer to ice cream), moonshiners have been turned into “microdistillers.” Campbell Robertson with the Times goes to Tennessee to find moonshiners who are now legal and hip. 

• Chuck Hassebrook is taking a leave of absence from the Center for Rural Affairs as he prepares to run for the U.S. Senate from Nebraska. Brian Depew will become Acting Executive Director of the Lyons, Nebraska, organization.

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