[imgcontainer right] [img:catfishfarm.jpeg] [source]Auburn University[/source] The U.S. Department of Agriculture once issued a yearly report on the number of catfish being produced in U.S. farms, such as this massive operation in Alabama. Now, to save money, the USDA is cutting out hundreds of reports. [/imgcontainer]

Walmart wants to become the nation’s largest provider of primary health care.

In late October, the Bentonville, Arkansas, retailer sent out a request for partners who could help the company “dramatically … lower the cost of healthcare … by becoming the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation.” The memo was found by reporters with Kaiser Health News and National Public Radio. The reporters have a copy of the 14-page request.

Analysts told the reporters that Walmart is looking for ways to increase traffic in their stores. (For instance, Walmart is also increasing its banking services.)  The company may also see a growing demand for primary care that will come with the full implementation of the health care reform law in 2014.

“We have a massive primary care problem that will be made worse by health reform,” says Ian Morrison, a Menlo Park, Calif-based health-care consultant. “Anyone who has a plausible idea on how to solve this should be allowed to play.”

•In order to save money, the federal Department of Agriculture has stopped issuing dozens of reports, the New York Times reports

The ag department used to issue annual counts of all kinds of farm products, from goats to catfish. Farmers depended on the information, and so did groceries and processors. USDA reports on corn stocks, for instance, move world markets.

The USDA will continue to issue reports on the big commodities, but will not report on products with smaller markets, such as catfish, hops, honey and goats. The USDA has issued a goat census every year since 1866. But no more.

• The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out that President Obama has a chance to win, but it may mean that he must find a connection with rural voters in the Midwest. 

Cillizza writes:

“The 2012 playing field is much closer to 2008 than 2004,” Democratic strategist Tad Devine said. “In fact, Obama has many more targets than [Vice President Al] Gore or Kerry.”

What would mess up that math for Democrats, however, is if Obama were not able to hold some of the states that backed both him and Kerry .

The epicenter of that potential Democratic problem is in the Rust Belt, where an aging white population, the continued struggles of the manufacturing economy and large numbers of rural voters could make for a dangerous electoral brew.

Taken together, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will award 46 electoral votes in 2012.

• Republicans did well in Virginia, not so well in Kentucky.

Rs picked up enough seats in the Virginia legislature to take full control of all of state government for only the second time in a century. In Kentucky, meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Steve Beshear won re-election as governor, easily defeating Republican State Sen. David Williams.

It’s interesting how elections are portrayed. The Post in the story above about Virginia saw the results as bad for Obama. The L.A. Times, however, looks at Tuesday’s results (on initiatives in Ohio and Mississippi) and sees a “pause in conservative trend.” 

•Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post has an interesting column on recent studies of charter schools. They aren’t encouraging for charter school backers (including the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration). 

One study looked at charter school management organizations (CMOs) that run multiple charter schools. Strauss reports

The study, done by Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education, looked specifically at management and instructional practices at 40 of these organizations and the academic achievement of middle-school students attending schools run by 22 of these CMOs.

The findings showed that the impacts in reading, math, science and social studies were widely varied, but here’s the critical conclusion:

“Test score impact estimates for the average CMO after two to three years in middle school are positive in all four subjects, but they are not statistically significant.”

There’s plenty more in the report that isn’t likely to make the funders, the pro-charter Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, jump for joy.

• The L.A. Times this morning has a story this morning detailing the Federal Communication Commission’s $4 billion program aimed to bring broadband to low-income and rural communities. The program is to be unveiled today, the Times reports. 

Here are some details:

The FCC said a public-private partnership, which includes major broadband and computer companies and nonprofits, will make “the biggest effort ever” across the nation to help poorer citizens as well as rural residents, seniors and minorities obtain broadband access.

Those who qualify would pay $9.95 a month for Internet access at 1 megabit per second and $150 for a refurbished laptop running the Windows 7 operating system, along with applications that include digital literacy training.

“We’re at a time of real challenge in the economy, and broadband access is becoming increasingly vital to participating in it,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Tuesday.

• Floods may have wiped out as much as 14 percent of the rice paddy fields in Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter. Prices are rising. 

• Chris Clayton reports that USDA scientists are struggling to help farmers deal with more volatile weather patterns. Farmers and farm scientists can see climate change at work in their fields. 

• The lead story in the dead-tree issue of Business Week asks: “Can Shale Gas Reignite the U.S. Economy?”  The very long story opens with Chesapeake Energy’s CEO saying the U.S. “has the capacity to become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

The story has a lot of background information. Give it a look if you’re interested in the shale gas issue.

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