[imgcontainer left] [img:richardtractor.jpeg] [source]Richard Oswald[/source] The Department of Labor continues to revise regulations that would govern what work children could do on family farms. Since work has been a part of growing up on a farm for, well, as long as there have been farms, farmers have protested the new regs. Here is a picture from Richard Oswald's farm in northwest Missouri. Pictured are brothers Hayden and Clay Oswald. [/imgcontainer]

Rural stocks are hot.

Deesmealz 40 — forty publicly traded companies that reflect the rural economy — are up 10.5 percent this year.

The Dow Industrials have risen 5.3 percent and the S&P 500 is up 6.9%.

• Heath Shuler is a Democrat who won the nation’s 25th most rural congressional seat, this one located in Western North Carolina. He’s not running for re-election, yet another white Southern Democrats to leave Congress.

Shuler, a football hero, always had a tough time winning. His first election was in 2006. Now his district has been changed, cutting out Democratic voters, and so Shuler retired.

The L.A. Times reports that Shuler is not interested in the North Carolina governor’s office, which opened last week when Gov. Bev Perdue (a Democrat) said she would not run for re-election.

• The Sierra Club has taken $26 million in contributions from Chesapeake Energy since 2005. Chesapeake is a gas producer and is in the middle of the debate over the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing.

Club director Mike Brune said the organization would stop taking money from Chesapeake. ““At the same time I learned about the donation, we at the Club were also hearing from scientists and from local Club chapters about the risks that natural gas drilling posed to our air, water, climate, and people in their communities,” Brune wrote yesterday. “We cannot accept money from an industry we need to change.”

• Chris Clayton reports that the Labor Department’s new proposed regulations on child farm labor still doesn’t satisfy farm representatives in Congress.

The Labor Department had issued regulations that would restrict most child labor on farms — even children working on farms owned by their parents. After farm groups objected, Labor re-wrote the regulations, expanding exemptions for children working on family farms.

Clayton reports that House members still aren’t satisfied and may try to block the revised regs.

• Ciette Courrege reports that a program that grants scholarships to graduates of a high school in El Dorado, Arkansas, is showing results.

The Murphy Oil Corporation promised in 2007 to give $50 million to the public schools to pay for scholarships. Anyone who attends all 13 years in the system will receive free tuition to an Arkansas public university. Courrege writes:

The motivation of a free college education appears to be having an effect on some students. More students are taking Advanced Placement courses, and a higher percentage of students are earning passing scores on those exams, according to the El Dorado Promise report. And the now seventh-grade students who were in third-grade when the grant was announced are doing better than a comparison group of similar students (based on test scores, income level and geography).

The district’s dropout rate also has improved; it was higher than the state average in 2006-07, but it’s fallen to below the state average now. And its graduation rate has increased, although the report didn’t give exact figures on how much.

Save The Post Office has a list of local post offices with expiring leases.

The Postal Service said it had a moratorium on office closings until May 15, but that apparently doesn’t apply to those offices that are losing their leases.

There are 1,400 of them.

• Texas cattle have moved north. Reuters reports:

Now, as the worst (Texas) drought in a century stretches into its second year, these ranchers and many of their peers are herding their animals in record numbers to the Cornhusker State and other points north, in search of grazing land that is not parched — a shift that is fueling a dramatic economic and cultural reshaping of the U.S. livestock industry.

“If we’re going to survive, we have to go north,” says Dennis Braden, general manager of Swenson in Stamford, Texas, about 170 miles west of Dallas. “We have to go.”

• The Wall Street Journal reports that the end of a federal program that compensated communities for diminished timber sales from public land is working a hardship on local government budgets.

Mostly rural counties in the Northwest have received $2.6 billion since 2000 as compensation for the reduced timber sales. Under federal law, a group of counties once received half of all the government received for timber sales. As environmental policy reduced timber sales, so, too, did the payments. In 2000, Congress authorized payments to compensate counties for this loss.

The benefits were reduced a few years ago, but they ended altogether at the end of last year. In Curry County, Oregon, these payments once contributed $3 million a year to the county budget of $5 million.

• There is going to be a difference between an urban McDonald’s and a rural McDonald’s.

The L.A. Time reports that the fast-food company is revamping its stores — 2,400 in 2012 — and opening 1,300 new restaurants. The news stores will have a “higher-end look.” And stores in major metro areas (like London and New York) will look alike and will be distinct from suburban or rural Micky Ds.

There will be seating “zones” in the stores. Slow zones for coffee sippers and Wi-Fi squatters; family zones; zones for singles sitting at high bar tables.

Would you like fries with your zone?

• The AP is reporting that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is losing support among the “urban middle class,” so he is “focusing increasingly on his traditional blue-collar and rural support base….”

“The higher educated and the well-to-do tend to have a more critical attitude toward the government,” said Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy head of the Levada Center, a leading independent polling agency. “They have more self-esteem, feel more involved in the political process and demand respect from the authorities.”

Apparently, condescension is not limited to the West!

• Here’s a good television story about a farmer in Barton County, Missouri, who has been surrounded by very large hog operations. He’s measured pollution in the runoff that comes through his property. His cattle are suffering. His wife is suffering from depression. And he can’t get any help. Heartbreaking.

• Two researchers say restricting the kinds of foods available to school kids doesn’t work.

David Just and Brian Wansink, Cornell University professors, said they studied two schools in Utah. In one, all the school lunches included fruits and vegetables. The other served fruits and vegetables only when kids asked.

Turned out that the first school served 60% more fruit, but kids only ate 1% more than at the school where students had to ask for the good food.

The researchers recommend giving children choices. By giving kids the chance to buy chocolate milk, a school was able to vastly increase the number of lunches bought at a counter that served only healthful sandwiches, fruits and salads.

They write:

Children will choose their food no matter what we place in the lunch line, even if the choice is simply not to eat. If we impose too big a change, kids will simply bring their lunch from home or have pizza delivered at the side door. Or they may skip lunch altogether and wait for an after-school junk food binge.

In an environment where choice rules, we need to make the more healthful choice the more attractive choice, not the only choice.

• Rural legislators are trumpeting an extension of subsidies for rural airports in a new Federal Aviation Administration budget.

“For communities in my home state of West Virginia, passage of the bill means a vital lifeline and engine of economic growth will be preserved,” said Rep. Nick Joe Rahall of West Virginia.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson wrote:

This is an important victory for Nebraska and for rural communities across the United States. The communities and surrounding areas served by these airports use them as economic development tools to create local jobs. They rely on having commercial air service in order to stay connected to our nation’s transportation network, conduct business, and attract new companies and employees.

• Politico is saying Rep. Ron Paul is counting on rural Nevada in Saturday’s primary.

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