[imgcontainer left] [img:UBBfamiliesindc.jpeg] [source]AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari[/source] Gary Quarles, Clay Mullins and Betty Harrah hold pictures of family members killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in April 2010. The coal mine explosion killed 29 men — and despite evidence that the explosion was the result of poor company safety practices, there have been no reforms passed to tighten mine safety laws. The three were on Capitol Hill yesterday to urge Congress to act, now more than two years after the explosion. [/imgcontainer]

Much of what we do here at the Daily Yonder is use data to tell what is happening in rural communities. Most of that data comes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The House has voted to end that program.

Yes, there is a Census every ten years. It is a very short form and collects no information on items such as poverty or migration.

The Census Bureau gets most of its detailed information from the American Community Survey. The Census surveys three million Americans about the basics of income, housing, transportation, work each year. Over time, the sample grows large enough to tell us what is happening in every U.S. county with a great deal of precision.

Quite simply, without the American Community Survey we wouldn’t know very much about what’s happening in rural America.

The survey costs $242 million a year and so the cost has become an issue. Republicans in the House also say the survey constitutes an invasion of privacy. “It is the very picture of what’s wrong in Washington, D.C.,” the lead sponsor of the amendment that would kill the ACS, Daniel Webster of Florida, said on the House floor. “It’s the definition of the breach of personal privacy.”

Those who study the U.S. are terrified the House’s efforts to end the ACS will prevail. “It’s a horrible idea,” said Jane De Lung, president of the Population Resource Center in Washington. “To not collect the data will cost the nation much more money. We won’t have the data to plan where to put the Wal-Marts, where to put the grocery stores, where to put the new roads, which languages will be spoken in our schools. We will be driving by the seat of our pants without even the minimum of a road map for where we are going.” 

The chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders said the move was “shortsighted” and would “leave us with a lack of understanding of what’s happening in the country.”

•The Pump Handle reports that workers are getting unhealthy exposure to frack sand (mostly silica). Breathing silica can cause silicosis, lung cancer and every other kind of lung problem imaginable. 

• The Senate voted 90 to 8 Thursday to proceed with debate on the farm bill. These days, that’s the first step in passing any piece of legislation.

Jerry Hagstrom at DTN says this was an “enormous victory” for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Even Southern farm-state senator voted to continue debate. They have been upset with the treatment of rice and peanut growers. 

No date was set for when debate on the actual bill will begin.

The White House expressed support for the vote. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has worked behind the scenes to move the Farm Bill along, says Politico. “At the end of the day you have to have 60 votes in the Senate, and it’s going to require 218 votes in the House so I’m confident that can be worked out,” Vilsack told Politico. “The big untold story is the rural economy is changing and getting stronger …We need to continue what is already happening. We need to continue that momentum.” 

• More than 185 rural organizations from across the country have sent a letter to every U.S. Senator asking for continuation of rural development spending in the current Farm Bill. 

Th Farm Bill now before the Senate has no funding for rural development — a situation that is almost beyond belief. 

• A company is proposing to build a horse slaughter plant in Rockville, Missouri.

This would be the first horse slaughter operation in the country to open after Congress restored funding for inspectors of these facilities last year. It would process 800 horses a day, mostly for export to Europe. 

Interesting interview in the National Journal with Rep. Frank Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who is chair of the ag committee. Here is one chunk: 

My friends on the hard left don’t want to spend any money on rural America. And my friends on the hard right don’t want to spend any money for anybody on any occasion or any reason. The question is, how do you craft the majority of the middle, who understand that making investments in rural America and production agriculture will continue to ensure us the most abundant, safest, most affordable food supply in the history of the world?

• It’s baffling, but there has been no legislative response to the April 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners. No reforms, no nothing.

Yesterday, family members of three of the men killed two years ago went to Congress to ask for legislation. Ken Ward Jr. has the rundown here.

 The picture above shows the family members at a press conference on Capitol Hill where they asked Congress to pass a bill that would stiffen protection for miners who report unsafe conditions and increase penalties for mine operators who repeatedly violate the law.

Ward writes:

I was left wondering why political leaders and industry front groups that profess to care so much about coal miners haven’t staged a massive protest outside the Capitol, demanding that Congress act to pass the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act. Why hasn’t the West Virginia Coal Forum used taxpayer money to bus coal miners to Washington to talk about health and safety? Why doesn’t FACES of Coal run constant ads on the radio demanding safety reforms?

Where were the Friends of Coal when the Upper Big Branch miners needed them?

• Mainers should check out The Working Waterfront, an online publication about life on the Main coast. Here’s an article about a boatyard making traditional wooden boats. 

• Federal agencies are working on a new national wildfire strategy as hundreds of square miles of land have burned from New Mexico to Michigan so far this year. 

• The Washington Post notes that reality television is filled with Southern stereotypes, “with epithets like “hillbilly” and “redneck” prominently displayed right in the titles.” Roger Catlin writes:

In dozens of shows — ranging from “Hillbilly Handfishing” and “Swamp People” to “Bayou Billionaires,” “Rocket City Rednecks” and “American Hoggers” — sons (and daughters) of the South make moonshine, chase wild hogs, stuff dead pets, carve duck calls, wrestle alligators, catch catfish with their bare hands, mess around in swamps and generally hoot and holler. 

While these shows often play it for laughs by highlighting the antics of their rural stars, TV executives say the shows also appeal to viewers who want to see regular folks on television.

“We haven’t received any negative response at all,” says Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet, home to the popular “Hillbilly Handfishing.” “These shows are not painting people in a derogatory way, because they’re affectionate. I think some people see themselves in the show, but for others it’s reflective of an iconic way of life.”

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