Friday, September 05, 2014

Series examines problems facing rural Veterans Affairs hospital in southern Washington

Sheila Hagar of the Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla, Wash., had a series this week examining staff and service delivery problems at the local Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center and its outlying community based outpatient clinics it administers regionally. (Union-Bulletin photo by Greg Lehman: Dr. Don Hill)

In one story Hagar documents continued frustrations that led one doctor to quit the medical center. "Dr. Jonathan Hibbs understood what it would mean to walk away last month from an institution like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs," Hagar writes. "Not being allowed to do his best doctoring for some of the nation’s most vulnerable patients, however, was a final straw in eight years of working for the institution, some of that time spent in medical management at Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center."

"The physician saw the agency trip over its own rules again and again," Hagar writes. "While he was medical director of the Yakima community-based outpatient clinic, Hibbs said he came to regard the health care system as top-down management designed to work against employees and patients."

"Veterans who first go to the Yakima CBOC with an emergency situation, like bleeding gut or a heart attack, are sent to hospital emergency rooms as protocol demands, the doctor explained," Hagar writes. While the VA usually pays for that service, if the same veteran goes directly to either of Yakima’s two hospitals, without first checking in with CBOC, "the VA often balks at paying those bills, especially if the chest pain turns out not to be a heart attack. Even though the more direct route to care is medically safer, VA payment system encourages veterans to waste steps and time in getting help, Hibbs said."

Another problem is travel, with planned surgeries often re-routed to VA hospitals farther away, such as Portland, Seattle, Spokane or Boise, Hagar writes. "Hibbs calls the situations horrendous. The veterans he’s cared for generally do not have the resources for such trips: Gas, lodging, meals for themselves and often for someone who has come along to help add up, he pointed out."

Not only that, but travel is risky in an area that can get severe winter weather, Hagar writes. Hibbs  "supplied a number of news reports, including one about a 51-year-old veteran who died when a VA van driven by a volunteer drifted off the road and crashed while en route to a VA clinic in White City, Ore., in 2011. In winter of 2008, five veterans from Yakima were headed to Seattle for appointments over Snoqualmie Pass when the van transporting them skidded on an icy road and struck a median. At least one suffered injuries, and responders had difficulty getting to the scene."

Gibbs isn't the only one with complaints. Another doctor, Don Hill, also quit the medical center citing too many problems, Hagar writes. In a 2012 letter he wrote to a state representative but never sent, he said problems included:

• Results—labs and imaging, for example—for patients sent to Walla Walla were often delayed in getting back to the Yakima clinic.
• “Those had to be scanned in Walla Walla; we were not permitted to do that in Yakima for some reason,” Hill said. “Then I would not have the report for when the patient came back in.”
• Referrals for diagnostic testing and specialty care often reflect more of a concern for preserving equipment and specialists within the parent facility—Walla Walla, Spokane, Seattle, etc.—than for the safety and benefit of the patient.
• Patients with established non-VA providers are required to be seen in the Yakima clinic to get approval for prescriptions ordered by that outside doctor, Hill said. Those prescriptions would then be entered into the computer system under the VA provider’s name so they could be dispensed by a VA pharmacy service, usually through the mail from the Walla Walla VA hospital. (Read more)

Other stories in the series:

Obesity continues to be an issue among American adults, especially in the South

Americans keep getting fatter, led by the South, the nation's most obese region. In 2013 in Mississippi and West Virginia, two mostly rural states, 35.1 percent of adults were obese, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post. In 18 states at least 30 percent of adults are obese, and most of the South is included in that list. Only Colorado and Hawaii have obesity rates lower than 22 percent.

Those numbers are a dramatic rise from 1990, when every state had an obesity rate of 15 percent or less, Ferdman writes. By 2000, only Arizona and Colorado were below 15 percent, and by 2010 no state was below 20 percent.

"There is, for instance, a stark racial divide: Obesity rates rates for blacks exceed 40 percent in 11 states and 30 percent in 41 states; for Latinos, they are greater than 30 percent in 23 states; but for whites, they are higher than 30 percent in only 10 states," Ferdman writes. "There is also a wealth divide: Over a third of U.S. adults earning less than $15,000 a year are obese, while only a quarter of those earning more than $50,000 annually carry that distinction. And there's even a generational divide: Baby boomers (adults aged 45 to 64 years old) are more likely to be obese than any other age group." (Read more) (Post map: To view an interactive version click here)

Women earn less than men, and fewer women than men work, especially in mostly rural states

Women's annual salaries remain lower than men's in several rural states, and many rural states are severely lacking in equal pay for men and women, says a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Women have the lowest median annual earnings in Arkansas, Mississippi, South Dakota and West Virginia, at $30,000, and Louisiana has the worst ratio of earnings between men and women. The report, which also looked at the percentage of women in the workforce and percentage of women in managerial or professional occupations, gave West Virginia and Alabama overall grades of F.

West Virginia, which was ranked last of all states and Washington, D.C., was ranked 49th for earnings ratios between men and women, last for percent of women in labor force and 44th for women in managerial or professional occupations. Alabama, ranked 50th overall, was 43rd in median salary, at $31,200, 46th in earnings ratios between men and women, 50th in percent of women in labor force and
42nd for women in managerial or professional occupations.

"Women in West Virginia are making less now than they were in 2010—when women were making 69 percent of what a man makes, as compared to 66 percent today, according to the report," Mackenzie Mays reports for the Charleston Gazette. Tara Martinez, executive director of the West Virginia Women’s Commission told Mays, "We’re actually moving backward,. The discouragement and the hopelessness that I see as part of my job. I take it home with me. Sometimes you look at where women are, especially in this state that we all love so much, and you say, ‘OK, what hope do I give them?’ The hope that I try to convey is that their voice is the only way to make the change that they need to make their lives better in this state.”

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming were given a D-; Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma and Kentucky were given a D; and Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah were given a D+. Washington D.C. was the only area to receive an A. (Institute for Women’s Policy Research map)

Americans are limited in broadband provider options; FCC wants to promote more choices

About 80 percent of American homes are connected to wireless broadband connection, but most consumers are limited in their choice of providers. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, wants to change that. Wheeler said in a speech that the FCC plans "to promote more choices and protect competition because a lack of adequate consumer choice inhibits innovation, investment and economic benefits," Edward Wyatt reports for The New York Times.

Wheeler said: “There is an inverse relationship between competition and the kind of broadband performance that consumers are increasingly demanding. This is not tolerable.” In his speech Wheeler cited statistics from the Commerce Department’s State Broadband Initiative, which includes a report on Broadband Availability in Urban vs. Rural Areas. (National Broadband Map)

Interactive tool shows county-level migration data

Where did people living in your county move from, and where did those who left go? Emily Badger of The Washington Post reports about updated county-level migration maps with information from 2008-2012 through Census Flows Mapper.

The U.S. Census Bureau data looks at county-to-county flows, as well as breaking down migration patterns by employment status. For example, Kanawha County, West Virginia, (below) had a population of 190,764 in 2012, with 3,871 people moving to the county from another state and 4,124 leaving for another state. At the same time 4,235 West Virginians moved from another county to Kanawha County, while 4,091 moved to a different county within the state. Also, 347 people moved to the county from outside the U.S. To view the maps, click here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Maps detail county-level data showing how many U.S. schools remain segregated

For the first time minority students are the majority in U.S. schools, but segregation still exists, with white, African American and Hispanic students often attending different schools, Emily Badger reports for The Washington Post. County-level data is now available from The Urban Institute, using information from the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, to highlight where students remain segregated. (Urban Institute map: For an interactive version click here)

"A couple of patterns immediately stand out, but it's important to distinguish what's driving them," Badger writes. "Large portions of the West, the Great Plains and the Midwest appear on these maps as if they're doing a great job integrating minority students. But that's largely because there are few minorities living there. Conversely, it appears in these same places as if nearly all white children are attending majority-white schools. But that's due to their underlying demographics as well." (Urban Institute map: For an interactive version click here)

Reed Jordan, a research assistant at the Urban Institute, told Badger, "One thing that this map doesn’t show is that there are two forms of segregation going on: one is by race and the other is by income. It really isn’t just that black students attend schools where most of the other children are of color. It’s that black students attend schools where most of the other children of color are poor." (Urban Institute map: For an interactive version click here)
Margery Austin Turner, a senior vice president at the Urban Institute told Badger, "This isn’t just a feel-good issue or 'gee what are we doing wrong with respect to minority kids?' Our country is becoming majority-minority. We all need to know how to talk to each other and work with each other, and appreciate each others' perspectives. If we’re not giving our kids the opportunity to learn that when they’re young and open-minded, it’s not good for our whole country’s future." (Read more)

Pilot program to help veterans transition from military service to rural and underserved areas

The Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot (RVCP), a two-year program, will give up to $2 million to participating governments and organizations to help veterans and their families transition from military service to civilian life in rural or underserved communities, according to a press release from the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.

The awards will not only help veterans adjust to rural life but also assist with the coordination of health care and benefits, the availability of medical and mental health services and outreach for veterans and their families. "WIth such a large percentage of enrolled veterans residing in rural and highly rural areas, we welcome the opportunity to focus on this unique population and the great strides Veterans Affairs has made to improve their access to care," said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Interim Under Secretary for Health.

The five participants are: the Maine Department of Labor, Westcare Washington, Inc., Volunteers of America North Louisiana, New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services and Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors. (Read more)

Perdue Foods says it has removed all antibiotics from its chicken hatcheries

A major poultry distributor is phasing out antibiotics. Perdue Foods announced on Wednesday that it has removed all antibiotics from its chicken hatcheries, a move that took five years to implement and that goes above and beyond voluntary guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "The company completely phased out the use of antibiotics approved for use in humans as well as antibiotics used for growth promotion in chicken production."

The company said "it will continue to use antibiotics approved for animal use to combat an intestinal parasite as well as for the treatment and control of illness in sick chicken flocks," Agri-Pulse writes. Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president of food safety, quality and live operations said in a statement: “It is not realistic or responsible to eliminate all antibiotics. No matter how carefully you raise animals, some are going to be exposed to infections that can only be treated with antibiotics. As veterinarians, we have a responsibility to properly treat those animals." (Read more)

Ongoing documentary project captures history of Appalachia from seniors 80 and older

A road trip has turned into a project to document Appalachia through the stories of people who have lived in the region for several decades, Bill Lynch reports for the Charleston Gazette. While traveling from Virginia to New Orleans, Shane Simmons and Jason Barton came up with the idea, deciding that "they wanted to talk to people, learn something of their history and culture and maybe find out things that were in danger of being lost." (Gazette photo: Shane Simmons conducting an interview for the project)

The idea turned into "The Appalachian Project," an ongoing documentary on Facebook in which Simmons and Barton interview Appalachians 80 and older, Lynch writes. Initially, Simmons said when they started the project in February the hope was to get 1,000 to 2,000 likes by the end of the year, but as of Thursday the site had 6,851 likes. Simmons told Lynch, "We had no idea there was such a demand for what we're trying to do"

Simmons said "they expected the senior citizens they spoke with to tell them that the greatest thing that had changed during their lifetimes was technology," Lynch writes. "Instead, they said people had changed." Simmons told him, "They told me people don't get together like they used to. They don't visit homes and that kind of thing. We've lost that closeness." (Read more)

Blue Bunny to close Utah facility; about 100 employees to be affected by decision

St. George Blue Bunny facility
(Chris Caldwell/Spectrum)
One of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. is taking a major economic hit. The Blue Bunny ice cream plant in St. George, Utah, announced on Tuesday that it is closing its facility, David DeMille reports for The Spectrum & Daily News. About 100 employees work at the facility.

Wells Enterprises, Inc., the parent company of Blue Bunny, said in a statement that the decision was made to "optimize its existing capacity in Le Mars, Iowa. The decision also allows Wells to more effectively compete in the ice cream category that has been flat to declining for several years and has been further challenged by unstable commodity costs. Wells is mindful of the impact changes of this nature have on employees and their families and is committed to helping impacted employees through this transition."

St. George, located in southwestern Utah on the Arizona border, had a population of 72,897 in the 2010 Census, well above the 2000 population of 49,628, making it the second fastest growing city in the U.S. behind Greeley, Colo. (Read more)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Osteopathic care a rapidly growing profession, especially in small towns and at rural colleges

As more rural Americans gain access to health insurance under federal health reform, those with a brand new insurance card are seeking out doctors, only to find that many small towns are facing doctor shortages and existing doctors are overloaded with patients and unable to take on new ones. That could soon change for patients seeking osteopathic care, a profession that has steadily grown. Many osteopathic programs are popping up in rural areas, such as Pikeville University in Eastern Kentucky.

"Colleges of osteopathic medicine—there are now 42, including branch campuses—are seldom attached to teaching hospitals," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. "Most send their students to community medical centers for training. The schools tend to be located in areas that are medically underserved, and they encourage their graduates to work in such areas. In the past, that has meant building osteopathic medical programs in rural areas, like Appalachia and the Great Plains. But recently, they have also located in underserved urban and suburban areas as well. (Stateline graphic)

"Osteopathic doctors are in every state, and colleges of osteopathic medicine have sprouted up in all regions, some in collaboration with public universities," Ollove writes. "According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, more than 20 percent of medical students now train in osteopathic medicine."

That wasn't always the case. The profession has grown from 13,022 osteopathic practitioners in the U.S. in 1970 to more than 82,000 today, compared to 790,000 medical doctors, Ollove writes. "Most Americans are probably unaware that two tracks of medical training exist, both of them producing fully licensed physicians. Although osteopathic medical graduates can and do go on to all the medical specialties when they become residents, osteopathic medical colleges discourage early specialization and emphasize general medicine."

Clif Knight, an M.D., and vice president for education at the American Academy of Family Physicians, "said that while some allopathic medical schools are strong in family medicine, others are not, perhaps to the point of not even having departments of family medicine," Ollove writes. Knight told him, “Osteopathic medicine has a much more consistent focus on primary care" and gives students early exposure to patients to emphasize the importance of forging strong relationships with them. (Read more)

Post office closure in remote Alaskan village leaves residents waiting for food, medication, paychecks

While the closure—or reduction of hours—of small town post offices is not impacting some locals who are only slightly inconvenienced by traveling a little longer to get to the nearest post office, the same can't be said for people living in remote areas, where the nearest office might as well be a million miles away.

That's the case in Wainwright, Ala., located about 350 miles above the arctic circle in the North Slope Borough, where the 575 residents are reeling from the closure two weeks ago of the local post office, Shannon Riddle reports for KTUU-TV in Anchorage. Robert Grimes, principal of Alak School, told her, "When you shut down the post office, you shut down the lifeline. I have teachers that are running out of medications, out of food, need to pay bills, get their checks, etc. It is the same for the people in the village. There are no roads out here. We do get small planes out here twice a day, but if you have to ship stuff in cargo, it's very expensive. The mail is subsidized, and that's how everything comes through.”

One of the problems is that Wainwright no longer has a postmaster and finding someone willing to re-locate has been difficult, Riddle said. USPS spokesperson Dawn Peppinger told Riddle, “Unfortunately, we are experiencing challenges with finding a Postmaster or Postmaster Relief who is available and willing to fly in to Wainwright and Levelock to operate the local Post Offices." (Read more)

Forget the past; rural communities trying to draw tourists with novelty of present-day life

While many rural towns try to draw tourists by re-creating the past or claiming to be the birthplace of someone famous, a small struggling town in New York is following a new trend in rural America, in which towns market the present, offering tourists a glimpse into the culture of what's happening now, Patricia Leigh Brown reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Nathaniel Brooks: Showing how to cultivate seven acres of vegetables)

In New Lebanon, located in the Hudson Valley, locals are pushing “Behold! New Lebanon,” where "ticket-buying visitors are promised an unvarnished glimpse of present-day country culture, organizers say, which includes being ferried by school buses to working farms, forests, kitchens, corrals and a speedway," Brown writes. "There they will 'behold' guides like Cynthia Creech, showing off her genetically rare breed of Randall cattle; Eric Johnson, training Border collies to shoo Canada geese off public fields; and Melissa Eigenbrodt, the local postmaster, who can demonstrate the art of tracking deer—without a gun—by following hoof scrapes along the trail."

"If the effort succeeds, New Lebanon will join an emerging rural renaissance—a movement that some are calling 'rural by choice'—in which small towns are reinventing themselves by embracing local skills and artisanship," Brown writes. "Across the country, communities are trying a variety of approaches with varying success, from designated downtown culinary districts (Bridgeton, N.J.), to artist collaboratives spearheading small-town revivals (Arnaudville, La.), to the annual Fermentation Fest in Reedsburg, Wis., which pumps roughly $300,000 into the local economy." So far, the museum project has netted $55,000, charging $15 to $25 for day tickets or $40 for the weekend.

Other areas have already found success with similar projects, Brown writes. "In Green River, Utah (population 953), a group of Auburn University design and architecture graduates and former AmeriCorps/Vista volunteers started the nonprofit Epicenter in 2009 (motto: 'Rural & Proud'). They have restored 14 houses and run school arts programs and sponsor a 'frontier fellowship' for artists in residence."

"In Reedsburg (population 9,000), between Chicago and Minneapolis, Donna Neuwirth, 60, and Jay Salinas, 55, are urban transplants who started as farmers but went beyond food, creating the nonprofit Wormfarm Institute to develop what they call a regional culture-shed," Brown writes "The Fermentation Fest—which includes artist-designed farm stands, a drive with scenic overlooks of art installations in fields, and opera performed in a hay wagon—drew 12,000 people last October." (Read more)

Groups seek endangered protection for monarch butterfly; blame Monsanto for population decline

Blaming Monsanto herbicides for the declining population of the monarch butterfly, a coalition of environmental and food-safety groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant the butterfly endangered species protection, Chuck Raasch reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The groups say the species' U.S. population last year fell to 90 percent below its 20-year average, from one billion in the mid-1990s to 35 million last year. (Post-Dispatch photo)

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety and the Xerces Society said in a joint statement that the “butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest where most monarchs are born. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields.” They said "the monarch is also threatened by climate change, drought and heat waves, urban sprawl and logging on its wintering grounds in Mexico," Raasch writes.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gavin Shire "said his agency was required by federal regulations to respond to the petition 'to the extent practicable' within 90 days," Raasch writes. "The agency could decide to extend the review up to an additional nine months before making a decision on the request. The butterfly currently has no special protection designation from the FWS." (Read more)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Study: Female school-board members less likely to speak in meetings, especially if men in majority

School boards are mostly gender-balanced, with more than 40 percent of school board members nationally being female. But a study cited in the new book The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions, found that "Unless they make up a supermajority of a board, women don't comment and endorse motions as often as men do," Sarah Sparks reports for Education Week.

The study, conducted by Brigham Young University and Princeton University, examined the minutes from 87 schools boards in 20 states, "analyzing how often men and women commented and made motions or initiated other actions during meetings," Sparks writes. Researchers looked at the number of men and women on the board, and the number of times each spoke. They found that women spoke disproportionately less than men, especially when they were outnumbered, Sparks writes. Women "only made motions as often as the men on their boards when they made up at least 60 percent of the board, and only commented as often as men when they made up 70 percent or more of the board. When in the minority, women used fewer than three-quarters of their fair share of speaking opportunities. In an 80-20 split, women in the minority contributed less than 15 percent of the conversation."

The study was similar to a 2012 University of Arizona study "that collected and analyzed recorded samples of conversations of female and male scientists," Sparks writes. "It found that when women spoke about science to other female scientists, they sounded and felt competent and engaged; when talking to male scientists about science, they felt and sounded less competent and reported less engagement—a reaction the researchers in that study attributed to women feeling subconsciously threatened by the stereotype of women being 'bad at science.'" (Read more)

Rural job growth stalls as urban jobs expand

"While the nation as a whole has finally clawed its way back to pre-recession job numbers, non-metro counties have seen virtually no growth in jobs in the last three years," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. A report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture "attributed the slower employment growth in rural areas to several factors: slow rural population growth, a lower percentage of college graduates and a higher percentage of older residents in rural areas versus metro ones." Rural areas did see growth "in agriculture and extractive industries like oil-and-gas development." (USDA graphic)

RFD-TV founder fights cable mergers but tells CNN's 'Reliable Sources' he expects them to go through

Patrick Gottsch, founder and chairman of RFD-TV, appeared Sunday on CNN's “Reliable Sources” to discuss the proposed mergers between Comcast Cable and Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-Verse with DirecTV that could lead to Rural TV being canceled in many markets. Last year Comcast canceled Rural TV in New Mexico and Colorado.

Gottsch said David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, told Congress that Comcast was "primarily an urban-clustered cable company," but at least 14 percent of the 30 million people the merged company would serve are rural. Gottsch said it would be “a significant disadvantage for our channel” for Comcast to control service to that many people and refuse to carry RFD-TV. He said he expects the merger to go through, but is “trying to do everything we possibly can to raise the awareness” of the issue. He said, “They have to make sure that large, under-served audiences are addressed in this merger.” (CNN video)

Officials hope global-oriented school helps turn things around in poor, rural N.C. county

A rural school district in North Carolina is trying to cure years of low scores and decreasing enrollment by thinking globally. Edgecombe County, where most of students live in poverty and about 80 percent are African Americans, has three of the state's lowest-performing elementary schools and has lost about 700 students in the last three years, Reema Khrais reports for North Carolina Public Radio. (Khrais photo: Kindergarten students learning Spanish on the first day of school)

But prospects appear to be on the rise through the Martin Millennium Academy in Tarboro, "a unique K-8 school with international teachers and a curriculum focused on global education," Khrais writes. Instructors hail from Nairobi, Manila, Auckland, Kingston, Beijing, London, and Tarboro. Each grade focuses on a different area of the world and incorporates that area's culture, history, geography and economy into daily instruction.

"Along with its global theme, kindergarten students have the opportunity to receive all of their instruction—Science, Math, Social Studies—in Spanish," Khrais writes. "Teachers typically don't incorporate any English instruction until the students reach third grade. The school's program will expand each year until the current kindergarten class reaches eighth grade." Researchers have said that students "enrolled in dual language/immersion programs score significantly higher on state tests than their peers and are less likely to drop out." 

Officials say the global school "will help transform their rural district and its poor academic reputation,"  Khrais writes. John Farrelly, superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools, told Khrais, “A lot of our kids have not even left the city of Tarboro, so we want to bring the world to Tarboro. We feel like global education is part of our recipe for success.” (Read more)

How we got the method for calculating the value of illegally killed wild animals

When wild animals are suspected to have been illegally killed and officials want to put a price tag on the value of those animals, they typically turn to one man — Ed Clark. Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, a teaching and research hospital for wildlife and conservation medicine, is "also an expert witness for the Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Justice Department and other agencies, testifying about how to calculate the financial value of wild animals," Eric Freedman reports for Great Lakes Echo, a service of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. (Wildlife Center of Virginia photo)

"In the 1980s, Clark developed a protocol for putting a price tag on wildlife. It originated with a situation in which the operators of a private shooting preserve in Virginia had illegally trapped hawks and migratory birds," Freedman writes. "His approach treats wildlife as property, much like real estate, without factoring in such intangibles as spiritual value or aesthetics. If a house is destroyed, what would it cost to rebuild it? If a house is damaged, what would it cost to repair?"

Clark said there are three ways to base calculations — replacement, rehabilitation and fair market value, Freedman writes, citing the case of a Wisconsin father and son who pled guilty to illegal possession of one federally protected bald eagle but weer suspected of poisoning others, and other species. They paid $100,000 in restitution to federal and state agencies and $40,000 in fines, and were barred from hunting, fishing and trapping for seven years and five years.

"Replacement means actual replacement – 'restoring to the ecosystem an animal that is able to quite literally replace the one that was taken,' he said," Freedman writes. "Thus, a chick isn’t an actual replacement for a 16-year-old eagle. In court papers, the prosecution cited Clark’s $2,500 valuation for the poisoned turkey vulture, 'based on similarity to large hawks, with adjustments for size, slow rate of maturity and longevity,' while dead crows and ravens were valued at $450-$750 each 'based on size, similarity to raptors, with adjustment for relative ease of rearing.'”

"Second, if an animal is illegally shot and wounded, what would it cost to rehabilitate it so it could return to the wild?" Freedman writes. "And third, what is the animal’s fair market value 'where a legal market exists' in the United States or abroad. As an example, he noted that birds of prey such as falcons can legally be sold."

"Under the law, doing the math for restitution is a matter of determining the 'empirical value' of an animal, without regard to what people consider a 'popular species' or the rarity of the animal," Freedman writes. Clark told Freedman, “Social valuation is not what’s being asked for. That’s entirely subjective." He said values of some animals have been well-established, such as $10,000 for an adult baby eagle and $5,000 for a juvenile. (Read more)

Farm Bill is a contentious topic in key Senate races in some major agricultural states

As political races begin to heat up, a major issue cropping up in key Senate races in largely agriculture states is the Farm Bill, Kristina Peterson reports for The Wall Street Journal. Republicans and Democrats on either side of the fence concerning the bill's merits are using it as a launching pad to promote their own campaigns while also using the bill as fuel to fire their criticism against their opponents.

"Because it was a compromise, the measure remains a target for critics, including conservatives who contend it is too expensive and liberals who say it curbs food-stamp funding too much," Peterson writes. "Incumbents who voted for it point to it as a major legislative achievement at a time when Congress is criticized for partisan gridlock. Many Democrats are touting the law, seizing the chance to pummel conservatives who oppose it—positions many took during their primary campaigns."

"Democrats in . . . this year's tight contest to determine control of the Senate are highlighting their support for the bill while many GOP candidates are saying Congress missed an opportunity to overhaul costly food-stamp and farm programs," Peterson writes.

"Not all GOP candidates are working to distance themselves from the farm bill," Peterson writes. "In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who easily defeated a primary challenger, has trumpeted his role helping to get a pilot program for hemp growers included in the bill. Meanwhile, his Democratic rival, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, has faulted Mr. McConnell's agriculture record, emphasizing that the Farm Bill technically expired under his leadership before a new deal was reached." (Read more)

Reporters-only webinar Sept. 10 offers results of foundation's employer health benefits survey

The Kaiser Family Foundation will conduct a reporters-only webinar at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, Sept. 10, to release the results of the 2014 Employer Health Benefits Survey. Participating in the event will be Drew Altman, president and CEO of Kaiser; Maulik S. Joshi, president of the Health Research & Educational Trust; the study's lead author, Gary Claxton, a Kaiser vice president and director of the Health Care Marketplace Project; and Matthew Rae, a study co-author and Kaiser senior policy analyst. After a short presentation reporters will be able to ask questions. For more information or to register click here.

Dollar General raises bid for Family Dollar

Less than two weeks after rural-centric Dollar General was spurned by Family Dollar in its takeover bid against rival Dollar Tree, Dollar General has raised its offering price to $9.1 billion, Michael de la Merced reports for The New York Times.

In July, Dollar Tree offered $8.5 billion to purchase Family Dollar. Last month Dollar General responded with an offer of $8.9 billion, but that offer was rejected, with Family Dollar citing anti-trust issues.

Dollar Tree has added new provisions to avoid antitrust issues, de la Merced writes. "Under the terms of the revised offer, Dollar General will pay $80 a share, up from its original bid of $78.50 a share and from Dollar Tree’s $74.50-a-share bid. It will also pay a $500 million reverse termination fee if their agreement falls apart over antitrust concerns. And Dollar General has more than doubled the number of stores – to 1,500 – it is willing to divest to satisfy antitrust regulators." (Read more)