WASHINGTON — Omaha-based Rural Media Group has a mission to connect city slickers with country folk through programming centered on rural life.
But founder Patrick Gottsch says his group — and similar content providers — are being shoved aside by large cable companies with a much more urban focus.
And now Gottsch and the other providers are asking Congress for help.
Gottsch was in Washington last week with Daniel Whitney, the Nebraska resident more commonly known by his stage moniker Larry the Cable Guy.
"Pat Gottsch will not rest until every eye in America has 'Hee Haw' and the soybean report," Whitney said.
The men said they were among a small group of people who met President Donald Trump at the White House, a visit that included a roundtable discussion and dinner.
They also stopped by the Nebraska congressional delegation's weekly Capitol Hill breakfast for visiting constituents.
Gottsch told those at the breakfast about the Agricultural News and Rural Content Act of 2019, which was introduced by Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Bobby Rush, D-Ill.
Under that legislation, multichannel video programming distributors with 5,000 or more subscribers would be required to use at least 1% of their channel capacity for video programs that "predominantly serve the needs and interests of rural America."
Rural Media Group is the parent company of both RFD-TV and the Cowboy Channel.
Gottsch pointed to media company mergers over the years that have resulted in large conglomerates based in urban areas.
"It's created a situation where rural programming is being pushed aside," Gottsch said.
At times, those large companies have dropped rural programming networks, refused to offer them in HD or stuck them into their more expensive tiers of channels, he said.
"It's really the kiss of death," Gottsch said of such moves.
He specifically cited Comcast as a company that has dozens of minority-focused channels but has moved to wipe out rural channels.
A Comcast spokesman declined to comment, but company officials have previously suggested that dropping rural programming in some areas allowed it to focus on more popular channels.
For his part, Gottsch says Rural Media has evidence that its ratings justify inclusion with the hundreds of other channels being offered.
"We have to do a better job of communicating and staying in touch with our urban neighbors so farm bills can get passed and people understand where their food and fiber comes from," Gottsch said.
Federal regulators told him that any move on their part would require congressional authorization.
That's where the new legislation comes in — introduced by a Republican from the deep south and a Democrat representing the South Side of Chicago.
By the end of last week, the bill had garnered only nine co-sponsors, although that group does include members from both sides of the aisle.
None were from Nebraska or Iowa. Gottsch said they still have work to do asking lawmakers to back the bill.
Several members of Nebraska's all-GOP congressional delegation said they would consider the proposal.
Rep. Don Bacon expressed reservations about the government mandating private sector behavior.
But the Omaha-area congressman also said that Gottsch "makes a very compelling case" and that it's good for those in the city to have a better grasp on what's happening out in the country.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry represents Lincoln as well as some rural counties.
Fortenberry said that Gottsch has exhausted commercial remedies and that consolidation in the media sector may be anti-competitive.
"You do not want to pass legislation that sort of picks a winner or loser by regulating content," Fortenberry said. "But when you have this kind of trust, this kind of monopolistic situation, and they're being crowded out and there is a public good here, there is an argument to be made."
PANMUNJOM, Korea (AP) — With wide grins and a historic handshake, President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un met at the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone on Sunday and agreed to revive talks on the pariah nation's nuclear program. Trump, pressing his bid for a legacy-defining deal, became the first sitting American leader to step into North Korea.
What was intended to be an impromptu exchange of pleasantries turned into a 50-minute meeting, another historic first in the yearlong rapprochement between the two technically warring nations. It marked a return to face-to-face contact between the leaders after talks broke down during a summit in Vietnam in February. Significant doubts remain, though, about the future of the negotiations and the North's willingness to give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons .
The border encounter was a made-for television moment. The men strode toward one another from opposite sides of the Joint Security Area and shook hands over the raised patch of concrete at the Military Demarcation Line as cameras clicked and photographers jostled to capture the scene.
After asking if Kim wanted him to cross, Trump took 10 steps into the North with Kim at his side, then escorted Kim back to the South for talks at Freedom House, where they agreed to revive the stalled negotiations.
The spectacle marked the latest milestone in two years of roller-coaster diplomacy between the two nations. Personal taunts of "Little Rocket Man" (by Trump) and "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" (by Kim) and threats to destroy one other have given way to on-again, off-again talks, professions of love and flowery letters.
"I was proud to step over the line," Trump told Kim as they met in on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom. "It is a great day for the world."
Kim hailed the moment, saying of Trump, "I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future." Kim added that he was "surprised" when Trump issued an unorthodox meeting invitation by tweet on Saturday.
As he left South Korea on his flight to Washington, Trump tweeted that he had "a wonderful meeting" with Kim. "Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!"
Trump had predicted the two would greet one another for about "two minutes," but they ended up spending more than an hour together. The president was joined in the Freedom House conversation with Kim by his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both senior White House advisers.
Substantive talks between the countries had largely broken down after the last Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, which ended early when the leaders hit an impasse.
The North has balked at Trump's insistence that it give up its weapons before it sees relief from crushing international sanctions. The U.S. has said the North must submit to "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" before sanctions are lifted.
As he announced the resumptions of talks, Trump told reporters "we're not looking for speed. We're looking to get it right."
He added that economic sanctions on the North would remain. But he seemed to move off the administration's previous rejection of scaling back sanctions in return for piecemeal North Korean concessions, saying, "At some point during the negotiation things can happen."
Peering into North Korea from atop Observation Post Ouellette, Trump told reporters before he greeted Kim that there had been "tremendous" improvement since his first meeting with the North's leader in Singapore last year.
Trump claimed the situation used to be marked by "tremendous danger" but "after our first summit, all of the danger went away."
But the North has yet to provide an accounting of its nuclear stockpile, let alone begin the process of dismantling its arsenal.
The latest meeting, with the U.S. president coming to Kim, represented a striking acknowledgement by Trump of the authoritarian Kim's legitimacy over a nation with an abysmal human rights record. Kim is suspected of having ordered the killing of his half brother through a plot using a nerve agent at a Malaysian airport in 2017. Meantime, the United Nations said in May that about 10 million people in North Korea are suffering from "severe food shortages" after the North had one of the worst harvests in a decade.
Trump told reporters he invited the North Korean leader to the United States, and potentially even to the White House.
"I would invite him right now," Trump said, standing next to Kim. Speaking through a translator, Kim responded that it would be an "honor" to invite Trump to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang "at the right time."
Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with the leader of the isolated nation last year when they signed an agreement in Singapore to bring the North toward denuclearization.
In the midst of the DMZ gathering, Trump repeatedly complained that he was not receiving more praise for de-escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula through his personal diplomacy with Kim. Critics say Trump had actually inflamed tensions with his threats to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea, before embracing a diplomatic approach.
North Korea's nuclear threat has not been contained, according to Richard Haas, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. He tweeted Sunday that the threat of conflict has subsided only because the Trump administration has decided it can live with North Korea's "nuclear program while it pursues the chimera of denuclearization."
Every president since Ronald Reagan has visited the 1953 armistice line, except for George H.W. Bush, who visited when he was vice president. The show of bravado and support for South Korea, one of America's closest military allies, has evolved over the years to include binoculars and bomber jackets.
While North Korea has not recently tested a long-range missile that could reach the U.S., last month it fired off a series of short-range missiles . Trump has brushed off the significance of those tests, even as his own national security adviser, John Bolton, has said they violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
MANILA, Philippines — When the MV Bavaria cargo ship chugged out of a Philippine port one morning last month carrying 69 containers of rotted Canadian garbage, it didn't just end a messy diplomatic spat between the two countries.
It also signaled a sea change in the global recycling system.
After years of pressure, Canada had agreed to take back the waste, which had been exported to the Philippines beginning in 2013 falsely labeled as plastic scrap. The shipments were part of a decades-old practice in which rich countries including the United States sent used plastic to Asia to be recycled. Often, the shipments included contaminated waste that couldn't be recycled but made it past customs checks anyway, and countries had few legal avenues to send it back.
That began to change 18 months ago, when China, the biggest consumer of discarded plastics, banned nearly all waste imports to stop the smuggling of nonrecyclable scrap. The trade in plastics quickly rerouted to neighboring Southeast Asian countries that lacked effective recycling plants and disposal laws, leaving much of the waste to be burned or dumped in fields and waterways, creating health and environmental hazards.
Now those countries are also closing their doors.
Amid a growing global movement against nonrecyclable plastic, Vietnam and Thailand have said they will block all imported plastic waste in the next few years. Taiwan announced that it would accept plastic scrap only if sorted into a single type, making it easier to recycle.
The Philippines and Malaysia are also considering outright bans and have led the way in demanding that exporting countries take back containers of waste that entered its ports illegally, often with improper documentation. Indonesia said in mid-June that it had sent five containers of Canadian scrap paper back to Seattle, the trans-shipment point, after discovering that used plastic, wood, diapers and shoes were also packed inside.
"Countries in this region are bucking this whole idea that they should be dumping grounds for the world's waste," said Lea Guerrero, a campaigner with Greenpeace in the Philippines.
The outcry over plastic has echoes of three decades ago, when the United States routinely shipped dead car batteries, mercury-laced concrete and other toxic materials to the lightly regulated shores of Southeast Asia.
A 1989 global treaty known as the Basel Convention placed significant restrictions on the shipment of hazardous waste to poor countries but left open a loophole for materials — mainly plastic — that were designated for recycling. The U.S., as one of the few countries that has not ratified the treaty, can export hazardous wastes only under bilateral agreements, one of which it has with the Philippines.
In May, at a meeting in Geneva, representatives of more than 180 countries agreed to expand the treaty to include most plastic waste, placing it under the same trade restrictions as toxic substances.
It was a belated acknowledgment that although plastic has long been marketed as a reusable material, much of it cannot be recycled. That's because it is dyed, contains food or liquid residue, or is mixed with other nonrecyclable waste.
As long as China was buying more than half the world's plastic waste — it imported 6.4 million tons in 2017, before the ban was enacted — much of the industrialized world was blind to the fate of its cast-off pop bottles, grocery bags, yogurt tubs and other trash. As global plastic consumption soared to 400 million tons annually — an amount that is projected to double over the next 15 years — no country could match China's relatively efficient domestic recycling plants or its massive industrial base that repurposed old plastic into new products.
"China's ban really changed the landscape," said Richard Gutierrez, founder of BAN Toxics, an environmental action group in the Philippines. "Once they stopped taking in all this plastic, it got people to realize we have a big problem."
The Basel amendment, which takes effect in January 2021, requires shippers of plastic scrap to obtain consent from the destination country. It also lets countries refuse waste.
The case of the Canadian trash in the Philippines shows how countries often have little recourse to send back illegal plastic shipments.
The roughly 100 total containers that arrived starting in 2013 were described by Philippine importers as plastic scraps for recycling, but upon customs inspection were found to contain household waste including plastic bags, household garbage and used adult diapers.
The Philippine government asked Canada to take the shipment back. But for years Canada said it could not intervene because the shipments represented private commercial transactions between Canadian and Philippine companies.
The containers sat in Philippine ports for years. Some contents were dumped in a landfill.
"For us it was the poster child of the waste trade in Asia," said Guerrero of Greenpeace. "It just illustrated the disparity between rich and poor countries, and how when rich countries don't want to take back their trash, poor countries are practically helpless."
In April, the Philippines' tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to "declare war" over the issue. The diplomatic offensive worked. Canada hired a shipping company to retrieve the waste.
Philippine activists think many more illicit shipments have gotten through undetected across the vast archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and dozens of ports. In recent months, customs officials have intercepted waste shipments from Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea that were mislabeled as recyclable goods.
Environmental groups are urging Duterte's government to ratify the Basel amendment to ensure that it is enforced in the Philippines. A total ban on waste imports could close off one of the main remaining outlets for U.S. plastic scrap.
In Malaysia, which last year became the world's top destination for discarded plastic, officials have closed down 150 unlicensed waste importers.
Malaysia's environment minister, Yeo Bee Yin, has called for a ban on all waste imports. She was critical of industrialized nations for exporting their waste.
"If they don't dump it in my country, they'll dump it somewhere else. And that has to stop."
Sarah Joslyn would never have stood for that dining room wallpaper.
It’s not that the wallpaper that has long covered the upper half of Joslyn Castle’s dining room walls was bad. It’s that it simply didn’t fit inside Omaha’s most famous 35-room mansion, especially now.
The historic landmark’s caretakers and the Joslyn Castle Guild are working hard to return it to a place that looks and feels like it did when the Joslyn family lived here in the early 20th century.
Old-school Omahans will remember that Sarah Joslyn willed the castle to the city, which in turn gave it to the Omaha Public Schools in 1944. For a half-century, this castle was the school system’s administrative headquarters — a choice that kept the building alive but also turned it into one strange office.
“The guild wants this to feel more like a home and less like a government institution,” said Kelli Bello, Joslyn Castle’s communications and development manager.
So the wallpaper needed to go. But a dining room dilemma loomed: How in the heck could the Joslyn Castle of 2019 re-create the wall mural that the Joslyn family commissioned in the early 20th century?
How could they do this using a couple of blurry black-and-white photos?
“I started searching,” said Vija Bolin. “Like a detective.”
Vija isn’t a gumshoe by trade. She’s an Omaha artist who has spent the past quarter-century doing theater set design and painting portraits and murals. She had completed one smaller detective project for Joslyn Castle, studying old photos and repainting a flower pattern in Sarah Joslyn’s bedroom.
This was a far bigger task, so Vija got to work. She studied the old black-and-white photos like Kennedy conspiracy theorists study the Zapruder film. From these photos, she got a decent sense of the landscape mural she would be painting on one-half of the dining room.
Her husband built her a frame, which was big enough to take up their entire living room. She put the first of four panels on the frame, and started to paint.
But big problems remained. What color was the mural? And what about the other half of the room, the side not captured by any surviving photographs?
Not to mention: Who painted this thing, anyway? And why?
The first big break in the case occurred when the owners of the Brandeis Mansion, Mark Maser and husband Paul Ledwon, invited Vija to tour that house.
They had proof that a traveling painter, a muralist, came through Omaha in the early 20th century and painted murals in five prominent homes.
He painted one in the dining room of Joslyn Castle, which was destroyed by layers of office paint and wallpaper. He painted another in the Brandeis Mansion — a mural that still exists.
Vija was able to study that mural and get a much better sense of the original artist’s style than an old black-and-white photo could ever provide.
“A huge breakthrough,” she says.
She continued to study the old photos, the flora and fauna that fill the mural. She found herself staring at Omaha trees and shrubs and flowers every time she drove around town, lost in thought. Was that the tree in the painting? Was that flower?
She kept painting.
And then, a second break. Workers taking down the old wallpaper peeled back a layer of it in the corner of the Joslyn Castle dining room and made a discovery beneath that wallpaper and thick layer of oil paint. Underneath all of that, a small piece of the original mural had survived.
Vija rushed over to the castle to take a look. She realized that she needed to change her mural’s color. “Too blue,” she said.
Back in her living room, she basically started over. She painted one panel and then two. She painted a near-identical replica of the discovered piece of wallpaper in the corner, while Joslyn Castle took that piece of original wallpaper and framed it for display. But the last question nagged at her: What to paint on the other side of the room, the part of the mural she had no photographic evidence of.
The artist and members of the Joslyn Castle Guild made what I think is a perfectly irreverent decision, one that somehow honors the Joslyns and also pokes a little fun at the former man of the house.
In 1904, George Joslyn got into a gigantic dispute with the State of Nebraska over a new tax law and his big tax bill. To be fair, George Joslyn had quite a bit of money to burn. After all, he had just paid for a house that cost more than $7 million in current dollars. The man had built himself a castle. A castle with a turret.
But he felt he was being wronged, so he did the only logical thing: He boarded up the still-under-construction castle, threatened to move to the state of New York, and, in a determined bit of political theater, actually put horses and dairy cattle on the giant Joslyn Castle lawn to graze the grounds.
“I might just as well live in Russia as here, so far as being treated right is concerned,” Joslyn said at the time. (Of course the Joslyns never quit building their castle, and quietly moved in for good a few years later.)
A photographer snapped a photo of those grazing livestock, and for years afterward — years after George Joslyn’s death — Sarah Joslyn kept that photo framed in her bedroom.
So what should they do with the other side of the re-created mural? They should re-create that infamous scene, the one that Sarah Joslyn clearly loved.
Vija painted some livestock amid the flora and the fauna. And, in mid-June, the mural went up on the wall, just in time for the guild’s annual luncheon.
“We actually ate lunch in here,” Kelli Bello said. “People were looking up and admiring it. They just love it.”
You cannot take a tour of Joslyn Castle without falling in love, both with the house and the effort to restore it to George and Sarah Joslyn’s vision.
This is happening in small ways, like the polishing of brass, the hanging of period-appropriate curtains and light fixtures and the laying down of period-appropriate rugs.
It’s also happening in big ways, like the mural project and one currently underway: Using donations and grants, the castle leadership is currently restoring the maple floor in the music room after termites long ago damaged the joists underneath the floorboards.
“Thankfully the termite colonies aren’t active. There’s a lot of wood around here!” Bello said. “But yeah, it’s a pretty big week. We got a mural and a floor.”
If you want to help these efforts, you can attend a fantastic idea for a fundraiser: On Aug. 24, the castle is hosting a “summer fete” that will attempt to re-create the elaborate housewarming party that George and Sarah threw here in 1903. Expect Russian tea and stiffer drinks, music and dancing and, strangely, tarot card reading. (More info at www.JoslynCastle.com.)
Or you can simply walk through the castle, like I did with Kelli Bello and Vija Bolin last week. You will see a castle that is, bit by bit, getting better. And you will find a dining room mural that would surely meet Sarah Joslyn’s approval.