Weekend Roundup: What’s West Worth?

Times says new USDA loan compansation program encourages fraud • BTOP grantee gets sued • Born in a log cabin, George Jones dies as 81.



During this spring lambing season, shepherd @herdyshepherd1 is adding Twitter followers even faster than news lambs. The tweeting shepherd from England’s Lake District added 1,100 followers after being featured in an Atlantic.com post. The shepherd farms Herdwick sheep, a traditional and hardy breed that is native to the English mountains.


While folks have donated more than $26 million for the benefit of victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, the town of West, Texas, has received only about $1 million in roughly the same period.

The fertilizer plant explosion in West killed 14 people and injured about 200. It blasted through a three-foot-thick concrete foundation and had enough energy left to sink a crater 10 feet deep and 90 feet wide. It destroyed a middle school, nursing home, apartment building and about 100 houses.

CNN Money, which reported the giving discrepancy between the two disasters, doesn’t mention the rural/urban focus in discussing why the contribution levels are so different. But media coverage, which is often a function of how far a story is from a major city, has something to do with it, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“When you see a disaster get a lot of attention, you see a lot of giving … and you really don’t see as many stories that show the picture of what’s happening [in Texas],”  Palmer told CNN.

Yesterday a memorial service for blast victims – mostly volunteer firefighters – was held at nearby Baylor University in Waco. Family members of the deceased told stories about their loved ones. Each victim was obviously loved and valued.

President Obama attended the service. He reiterated the theme. He said America needs towns like West.

USDA Loan Program Abuse. The New York Times accuses the U.S. Department of Agriculture of opening the flood gates on a program designed to compensate black farmers who were discriminated against by the department’s loan practices. The result is that people who couldn’t demonstrate they had been discriminated against – and some who couldn’t even demonstrate they farmed – are receiving payments from the government, the paper reports.

In 1999 the Clinton administration agreed to compensate black farmers up to $50,000 each for discriminatory loan practices of the USDA. Since that time, the Times says, other groups such as Hispanics and women farmers have been pushing for similar compensation. The courts found that discrimination did occur with these groups in 91 cases. But instead of limiting compensation to these cases, political appointees in the Obama administration set up a system to compensate thousands of people who had never claimed bias in court.

The Times examined claims forms and found that nearly 90,000 people could receive the payments, which could cost the government $4.4 billion.

Broadband Lawsuit. A Florida telecommunications company that was part of a successful proposal for federal stimulus money to build broadband access in rural areas is suing the nonprofit agency that submitted the proposal. (Article in FierceTelecom.com.)

Rapid Systems Inc. sued the Florida Rural Broadband Association after being terminated from an agreement to install and maintain equipment on a rural wireless broadband network. The suit charges that the Florida Rural Broadband Association conspired to cut Rapid Systems out of the project. Rapid Systems is asking for $25 million in damages.

The nonprofit rural broadband association used about $2 million in equipment donations as match for the federal grant proposal to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which provided grants from the stimulus package to spur development of broadband networks for rural America.

Florida Rural Broadband Association received a $30 million grant. But more than half of the counties in the grant’s service area have dropped out of the project.

He Stopped Loving Her Today. George Jones, the country music star who was born in a log cabin in the Big Thicket of East Texas, has died. He was 81.

Jones, known as the Possum, first hit the country charts in 1955 with “Why Baby Why.” His sorrowful and distinctive voice became a Nashville institution and went on to be part of 168 charting singles, including “She Still Thinks I Still Care,” “White Lightening” (which he recorded drunk, according to his autobiography), and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Jones also got the nickname “No Show Jones” because of the many concerts he canceled as the result of alcohol and drug abuse. Not known to take himself too seriously, Jones teamed up with Merle Haggard on a song by the same name.

Jones didn’t care much for today’s country music, which attempts to camouflage its pop influences underneath large cowboy hats. We found only one shot of Jones wearing a cowboy hat – from the earliest days of his career. In the rest of the web’s many photos of Jones, the Old Possum is unadorned, just like his one-of-a-kind voice.