Friday, November 27, 2015

USPS 'Letters from Santa' program lets children receive a personalized response

Parents whose children are sending letters to Santa Claus this year can make sure their child gets a personalized response from Kris Kringle. Through the Letters from Santa program administered by the U.S. Postal Service, parents can include a personalized note from Santa Claus inside the letter, which will be returned with a  North Pole postmark. Return letters must be received by Dec. 15. To read more or for more information on how to receive a personalized letter from Santa Claus click here.

Jobs will outnumber grads in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or environment

From 2015 to 2020 there will be 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment, says a report by Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But not enough graduates are expected to be experts in those fields, says the report.

Of those jobs, 46 percent will be in management and business, 27 percent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), 15 percent in sustainable food and biomaterials production and 12 percent in education, communication, and governmental services.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects "a 10.8 percent increase in the U.S. labor force between 2012 and 2022 due to job growth and openings from retirement or other replacements," says the report. Employment opportunities in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment occupations are expected to grow more than 5 percent between 2015 and 2020 for college graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees. "Job opportunities for food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment graduates in STEM areas are expected to grow. Expect the strongest job market for plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists, and farm-animal veterinarians."

The report says colleges and universities aren't expected to keep up with the job market. "An average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment are expected to fill 61 percent of the expected 57,900 average annual openings." That leaves the remaining 39 percent to be filled by graduates with experience in fields such  as biology, business administration, engineering, education, communication and consumer sciences. (Read more)

1/3 of New England high schoolers fail to intervene in cases of dating or sexual aggression, study finds

Two-thirds of high school students who had a chance to intervene in an instance of dating or sexual aggression did so, says a report by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. The data, gathered from 218 high school youth at three New England high schools, found that 93.6 percent of students had the opportunity to intervene in such an instance during the past year, but only 62.6 percent of them did so. Girls and students with a history of dating and sexual aggression were more likely to intervene than boys.

The main reasons given for not intervening were: "avoidance of drama or a desire to fuel drama, social status and personal repercussions, closeness with the victim and/or perpetrator, the victim being male and the perpetrator female, the failure of the dating or sexual aggression to meet a certain threshold, the dating and sexual aggression occurring online, anticipated negative reactions from the perpetrator or victim and an inability to relate to the situation."

Researchers wrote: “Although most curricula include lessons on healthy relationships and dating and sexual aggression, it is less common for bystander intervention education included. Given the mounting evidence that bystander education is a critical component of prevention, we urge policy makers and educators to enhance the presence of this type of education.” (Read more)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sanders was most popular U.S. senator this year, polls find; see how your senators rate

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont socialist who was elected U.S. senator as an independent and is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, had the highest home-state approval rating of any senator this year, according to polls by Morning Consult.

The survey, which included 76,569 respondents in all 50 states from May to November, found that Sanders has an 83 percent approval rating, Reid Wilson reports for Morning Consult. The most popular Republican among constituents is Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who received a 78 percent approval rating. Overall, 69 of 100 senators "have approval ratings of 50 percent or higher," Wilson notes.

Senators from rural states seemed to do better. "Members from smaller states tend to have higher approval ratings: All 14 senators from states with just three electoral votes sport approval ratings north of 50 percent, and seven have approval ratings higher than 60 percent," Wilson writes. "On the other end of the spectrum, senators with the lowest approval ratings tend to be either members who have just won election, about whom voters have yet to form an opinion, or those facing political trouble ahead."

Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) tied for the lowest approval ratings, at 37 percent. Peters hasn't been in office long, and Menendez is under federal indictment for corruption charges. Surprisingly, longtime Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, received an approval rating of 38 percent. McConnell was the only senator to receive a disapproval rating above 50 percent, with 52 percent of Kentuckians saying they disapprove of him, Wilson writes. Here's a list of how each senator ranked, in order of popularity; for a PDF of this chart, click here.

Three rural Iowa students educate Hillary Clinton on challenges facing rural schools

Three high school students in Keota, Iowa (Best Places map), launched a successful social-media campaign to urge Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to visit their town in the hopes of sparking a national conversation on the challenges facing rural schools, Samantha-Jo Roth reports for The Huffington Post. High school senior Megan Adam told Roth, "It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere. You look around and you see hog buildings, corn fields and bean fields, and that’s about it.”

The town has 1,000 residents and Keota High School, with a student body of 80, is in danger of closing. Even if the school stays open, it doesn't offer much for students. Abby Schulte, one of only 18 members of the school's Class of 2016, told Roth, "There’s not a lot of jobs in Keota because it’s mostly small businesses and farming. We don’t have a lot of things pulling people into our town besides our school.” Schulte "said budget cuts have hurt the quality of her education because many classes are only available online," Roth reports. She told Roth, "Our chemistry, anatomy, physics—all of that is online."

Sociology teacher Schuyler Snakenberg challenged Adam, Schulte and junior Kylea Tinneas "to find a way to improve the community, the state and the nation," Roth writes. "The students decided to capitalize on the upcoming Iowa caucuses, which have presidential hopefuls criss-crossing the state and visiting its 99 counties." Students "launched a Twitter account and corresponding hashtag in September called Keota Hopes For Hillary. They first encouraged their classmates to follow the account and use the hashtag, and then were able to connect with two campaign operatives with Hillary for Iowa." As of Tuesday the account had 1,300 followers. (Keota Hopes For Hillary photo: Abby Schulte, Megan Adam and Kylea Tinneas pose with Hillary Clinton on Nov. 3 in Coralville, Iowa)

On Nov. 3 students traveled to a Clinton event in Coralville, Iowa, where Adam was able ask Clinton, "What are your plans to help other rural schools in our same situation?” Roth writes. In her response Clinton said she would visit Keota and is expected some time next month for a town hall style event. Schulte told Roth, “I think it really demonstrates the democratic process. Such a huge political figure is coming to a school where there are only 80 kids in the high school to talk about her plans for improving society, answer our questions about the issues important to us.”

Most in U.S. know someone abusing prescription drugs; rural areas, rural youth rank high

More than 50 percent of Americans have a personal connection to prescription-painkiller drug abuse, says a report by The Kaiser Family Foundation. The report found that 56 percent of respondents say "they know someone who has taken a prescription painkiller that wasn’t prescribed to them, know someone who has been addicted, or know someone who has died from a prescription painkiller overdose," the foundation said.

Rural areas, especially in the South, have some of the highest rates of addiction to painkillers and drug overdoses, says a 2014 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, rural youth are 35 percent more likely than their urban counterparts to have abused prescription painkillers in the past year, said a September report by Penn State University.

Kaiser found that 45 percent of respondents said "they personally know someone who has taken a prescription painkiller that was not prescribed to them, including 6 percent who say they personally have done this and an additional 27 percent who say that a close friend or family member has." Also, 39 percent said "they know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, including 2 percent who say they personally have been and an additional 25 percent who say a close friend or family member has been addicted. About 16 percent say they know someone who has died from a prescription painkiller overdose, including 9 percent who say that person was a family member or close friend."

Respondents said attaining prescription drugs without a prescription is easier than getting a prescription, states the report. Overall, 77 percent said it's easier to access painkillers not prescribed to them, compared to only 58 percent of people who said they medically need drugs who were able to get a prescription.

"Large majorities say a number of efforts would be effective in reducing painkiller abuse, including treatment programs (85 percent), monitoring doctors’ prescribing habits (82 percent), public education programs (80 percent), training doctors (79 percent), and encouraging people to appropriately dispose of leftover medication (69 percent)," states the report. (Kaiser graphic)

Webinar Nov. 30 to focus on American Community Survey 5-year statistics to be released Dec. 3

The U.S. Census Bureau is hosting a webinar on Nov. 30 in advance of the Dec. 3 release of 2014 American Community Survey five-year statistics, which are based on data collected from 2010 to 2014. The survey is the only source of local estimates for 40 topics of statistics on people and housing for every community in the U.S., including ancestry, language, education, commuting, employment, mortgage status, rent, income, poverty and health insurance, the Census says.

"The webinar will show participants how to access the data, review block group-level data and provide a demonstration of Census Business Builder, a Web application that allows users to access both American Community Survey and economic statistics in map form," states the Census Bureau.. "Statistics will be available for all geographies down to the block group level regardless of population size." Embargo subscribers will have access to statistics beginning Dec. 1. (Read more)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ky. weekly tells its readers tax rates in all counties

It's tax time in many if not most areas of the country, with bills coming due, but most local taxpayers don't have any idea how their local tax rates compare to those in other counties or states. The Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., got the various tax rates for Kentucky's 119 other counties, which conveniently all come after Adair in the alphabetical list, and published them in a chart in last week's paper. Here it is (click on the image for a larger version):

Migrant workers the lifeline for agricultural industry, especially on small farms

Without migrant farmers, many small farms would be in trouble, Angela Oliver reports for The Messenger-Inquirer in Western Kentucky. More than 10 percent of H visas granted to migrant workers in the U.S. in 2012—65,345 out of 600,000—were for agricultural jobs. Kentucky has about 10,800 migrant workers on 1,400 farms.

"Many local farmers, like Keith Riney of Riney Farms, seek guidance from the Agriculture Workforce Management Association, which educates farmers on the H-2A visa program, acts as a liaison between the hiring farmers and government agencies and 'provides a voice for farmers on labor issues,' the group's website states," Oliver writes. "Through the federal program, employers can apply for nonimmigrant workers for any type of seasonal farm work for a maximum of 10 months. Local migrant workers are usually on the job from March or April to December."

Riney told Oliver, "Without extra people during the season, especially with the labor tobacco takes, our local industry wouldn't be as economically sound. We're able to gain larger incomes on smaller areas; we're able to grow more. [Migrant workers] have saved a lot of small farms." The Messenger-Inquirer, which is behind a paywall, can be accessed here. (USDA graphics)
The number of farm workers not legally authorized to work in the U.S. grew from about 15 percent in 1991 to 55 percent in 2001, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Since 2001, the share who are citizens has increased from about 21 percent to about 33 percent, while the share who hold green cards or other forms of work authorization has fallen from about 25 percent to about 19 percent."
"Among migrant workers, the largest group are 'shuttlers,' who work at a single farm location more than 75 miles from home and may cross an international border to get there," states USDA. "They made up about 12 percent of hired crop farmworkers in 2007-09, down from about 24 percent in 1996-98. More common in the past, the 'follow the crop' migrant farm worker, who moves from state to state working on different crops as the seasons advance, is now a relative rarity. These workers make up just five percent of those surveyed by the NAWS in 2007-09, down from a high of 14 percent in 1992-94. The final category in the figure are the newcomers to farming, whose migration patterns have not yet been established."

Free digital reporter's guide launched to assist journalists covering climate adaptation

To provide assistance and resources for journalists covering effects of climate change, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) this week launched the free digital Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation, "featuring an extensive resource database and a series of backgrounders to help improve coverage of society’s preparation for the impacts of climate change," writes Jennifer Nelson for the institute.

RJI executive director Randy Picht told Nelston, “Climate adaptation is an emerging and important story not just for environmental reporters but for those covering business, politics, local news, even sports. We’ve created this guide so journalists can all find the information and sources they need to get up to speed on the topic.”

The guide includes "more than 200 key adaptation resources that reporters can quickly use to identify organizations and sources central to the adaptation story," writes Nelson. "Each resource features an overview of the source and detailed information on how journalists can use it. The resources are categorized by climate risk and policy response and can be sorted by location, timeliness and whether from government, academic, advocacy or media. The backgrounder also features several dozen suggested story angles for beats ranging from health and consumer to religion and military, as well as briefs on exemplary adaptation coverage by other news organizations."

"For journalists who are newer to the climate adaptation issue, the project provides an animated explainer and an extensive backgrounder covering the basics of the issue, such as definitions and infographics illustrating climate impacts," Nelson writes. To find the guide, click here.

Open range laws creating 'Old West' mentality in which drivers pay the price for hitting livestock

In open range territory out West, where fences to keep livestock controlled are a rare sight, those unlucky enough to collide with livestock "are financially liable not only for their injuries and damage to their vehicles but also for the animal they strike," Bill Dentzer reports for the Idaho Statesman. In 2014 in Idaho, 1,100 accidents involved wildlife, compared to about 300 accidents involving domestic animals, according to the state Transportation Department.

Holding drivers responsible for hitting livestock that are roaming free equates to a system still stuck in the Old West, some say, Dentzer writes. Ken Cole, Idaho director of the Western Watershed Project, an environmental group, told Dentzer, “That a rancher is not held liable for accidents that occur on highways in particular just seems kind of outdated and antiquated. These laws were written for a time that no longer exists.”

Open range laws have been pushed to the forefront again after police in Adams County shot and killed an Idaho rancher earlier this month during a dispute over a bull that was struck by a vehicle. State and county officials say the rancher's gun discharged, but the rancher's family claims he was murdered. The incident is under investigation by Idaho State Police.

Advocates of open range laws argue that "ranchers and farmers predate roads and cars, and the burden lies with motorists to remain vigilant for domestic animals, just as they would for wildlife," Dentzer writes. John Thompson of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation told Dentzer, “If we never had an open range law, or if it had been abolished before that accident happened, nothing would be different today with regard to what happened."

"People seem to think that if you get rid of that law or have some other law, that says all livestock have to be fenced in, that that means livestock are never going to be out again—that’s just foolish," Thompson said. "You think about a bull that weighs 2,000 pounds—plus he’s going to go where he wants to go if he gets spooked or chased by something or whatever.”

Thanksgiving is the most common day for cooking fires; follow simple tips for a safe holidays

On Thanksgiving more cooking fires are reported than on any other day of the year. In 2013, a total of 1,550 cooking fires were reported, 230 percent above the average number of fires per day, says the National Fire Protection Association. The days with the second and third most cooking fires were Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. With that in mind, it's a good time to remind readers to practice safety when cooking this holiday season.

Here are safety tips:
  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food. 
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently. 
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot, and kids should stay 3 feet away. 
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns. 
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags. 
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children. 
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child. 
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children—up high in a locked cabinet. 
  • Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle. 
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

'World's oldest paper boy' retires at 96; Newt Wallace bought Winters Express in 1947

After nearly 70 years at the Winters Express in Northern California, 96-year-old publisher emeritus Newt Wallace, dubbed the "world's oldest paper boy," retired on Nov. 13. Wallace, who bought the newspaper in 1947, figured Friday the 13th "was a good time to file his last column after a working life that lasted longer than many people live," Hudson Sangree reports for The Sacramento Bee. Wallace told Sangree, "My body has outlived my mind. I can’t walk much anymore. I can’t hear. I can’t remember.” (Bee photo by RenĂ©e C. Byer: Newt Wallace)

Wallace, who for years enjoyed delivering papers in the community of 7,000, "delivered his last load of weekly papers by car (Nov. 11) to the rural Yolo County communities of Madison, Capay and Esparto," Sangree writes. "He addressed all the out-of-town papers to be mailed that day. Then he shuffled down to the Buckhorn Steakhouse and traded three newspapers for a beer—another of his longtime traditions."

"The Winters Express, circulation 2,000, started in 1884," Sangree writes. "Newt Wallace was born in 1919 and remembers his grandfather talking about fighting in the Civil War, his children said. Wallace graduated from Iowa State University and participated in ROTC, but the Army rejected him for service in World War II because of a heart condition that doctors worried might affect his longevity."

"Instead, he and his wife Ida Wallace moved around the country working as civilians on defense projects, including building the ALCAN Highway to Alaska," Sangree writes. "After the war, Wallace worked as an editor at small papers in Denison, Iowa and Upland before buying the Winters Express for $8,500 in 1947. At the time, Winters was known mainly for apricots. Hundreds of rail cars would leave the city loaded with the fruit each spring, Wallace said. Like many small-town publishers, he reported stories, sold ads, poured molten lead for type and delivered the paper himself. His wife and children worked alongside him."

"Newt Wallace and his children reckon he’s devoted the better part of 80 years to journalism," Sangree writes. "He started delivering papers when he was 10 in his native Oklahoma. Why did he work so long? 'I had nothing else to do,' he said. 'I don’t play golf. Besides, I enjoyed my work.'” Despite his long tenure, his retirement was being downplayed, mostly because many people don't see how he'll stay retired. His son Charley told Sangree, “I figure he’ll be back in two weeks." (Read more)

EPA scientists criticize agency's report on fracking water pollution

An Environmental Protection Agency panel of independent scientific advisers criticized the agency's June report that said fracking has not led to "to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S.," Neela Banerjee reports for InsideClimate News. The oil and gas industry has used the report "to argue that broad concerns about fracking's impact on drinking water are overblown."

The Science Advisory Board (SAB) wrote: "Of particular concern is the statement of no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking-water resources. Neither the system of interest nor the definitions of widespread, systemic or impact are clear, and it is not clear how this statement reflects the uncertainties and data limitations described in the report's chapters."

SAB "said that the EPA erred by not focusing more on the local consequences of hydraulic fracturing," Banerjee writes. SAB wrote: "Potential impacts on drinking-water resources are site specific, and the importance of local impacts needs more emphasis in the Report. While national-level generalizations are desirable, these generalizations must be cautiously made . . . A conclusion made for one site may not apply to another site."

SAB also said EPA "should have discussed in far greater depth its own investigations into residents' complaints of water contamination in Dimock, Pa.; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo., the panel said," Banerjee writes. "In each case, EPA scientists and consultants found early evidence of contamination, but the agency ended the investigations before further monitoring or testing could be done." The oil and gas industry has used the report "to argue that broad concerns about fracking's impact on drinking water are overblown." (Read more)

List ranks 50 Best Small Town Main Streets in America; Fort Pierce, Fla., is No. 1

Top Value Reviews has selected its 50 Best Small Town Main Streets in America, and Fort Pierce, Fla., earned the top spot. Following Fort Pierce were: Paso Robles, Calif.; Galena, Ill.; Virginia City, Nev.; Staunton, Va.; Hot Springs, Ark.; Nantucket, Mass.; Bardstown, Ky. (photo); Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; and Mackinac Island, Mich.
"Each town on this list has fewer than 60,000 residents (according to the 2010 census) and at least one notable attraction," Kelsey Fox reports for Top Value Reviews. Towns were given one point each for: "inclusion on a major register, such as the National Register of Historic Places, national parks, National Historic Landmarks; categories of downtown attractions (restaurants, wineries, antique stores, art galleries, etc.); notable and historic places; and a national ranking of some kind." To see the complete list, click here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

War on heroin, once an urban battle, now being fought in rural white America

The war on heroin, once an urban plight that mostly afflicted African Americans, is now being fought in rural white America, Clyde Haberman reports for The New York Times. Over the past decade, 90 percent of first time heroin users were White, typically people who progressed to heroin from prescription pain reliever drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet. The main reason that users switch to heroin is that it's cheap and easy to get, with an estimated 333,000 heroin users now in the U.S. triple the number from a decade ago. It is also leading to more deaths, with overall heroin overdose death increasing 39 percent from 2012 to 2013 and the rate up four times since 1999.

Attitudes have also changed from locking up users to making more of an effort to treat them, Haberman writes. "The Obama administration has significantly increased to about $12 billion, the federal budget for drug prevention and treatment. In the last few weeks, it granted early release to several thousand imprisoned drug offenders deemed nonviolent. Not everyone is thrilled with this. Some law enforcement officials predict that at least a few of the newly freed inmates will return to crime." (CDC graphic: U.S. heroin deaths)

Some activists say it's not a coincidence that there has been a shift from imprisonment to treatment as the drug has shifted from being used more by whites than blacks, Haberman writes. In any event, winning a war on drugs is a difficult task. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a four-term U.S. senator from New York, who died in 2003, wrote an essay in 1998 on the 100th anniversary of heroin’s introduction: "Since the desire of man to alter his state of consciousness is as old as human history, and technology continues to provide a breathtaking array of drugs capable of producing everything from oblivion to nirvana, I think it safe to assume that we may never win a ‘war’ against drugs.” (Read more)

Just in time for Thanksgiving, apps offer ways to reduce food waste, donate leftovers

Thanksgiving is a time when friends and families gather to eat mass quantities of food. Now is a good time to highlight the problem of food waste in the U.S., with 40 percent of all food going to waste "because of excessive portion sizes at restaurants, misinterpretation of expiration dates on packaged foods and overstocking," Danielle Nierenberg, Emily Nink and Katie Opalinska report for Food Tank. Additionally, grocery stores throw away $15 billion worth of fruits and vegetables every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There are simple ways to reduce food waste, many of them inches away, writes Food Tank. "Numerous food waste apps have been created to help consumers throw away less food in their homes with date trackers, educational platforms and recipe generators. Additionally, restaurants, grocery stores and other food businesses can use the apps to donate food they can no longer sell."

Here are some apps to consider:
  •  — connects farmers and gardeners to food pantries.
  • Green Egg Shopper — tracks expiration dates, coupons, vouchers and overall food expenditures.
  • Feeding Forward — allows California farmers and businesses to donate excess products.
  • FlashFood — Connects Arizona food service institutions to food recovery organizations and local community centers.
  • Food Cowboy — redistributes rejected deliveries from wholesalers and restaurants to food banks and soup kitchens.
  • FoodKeeper — offers storage method tips for extended life.
  • FridgePal — tracks expiration dates.
  • LeftoverSwap — arranges for pickup with community members who are interested in leftovers.
  • PareUp — allows New York City consumers to purchase discounted unsold food.
  • Reta — sends timely reminders to phone.
  • Spoiler Alert — allows food distributors to donate surplus product to charities in Boston.
  • Still Tasty — tips about storing food.
  • Waste No Food — connects farms, restaurants, cafeterias and grocery stores in San Francisco with local groups that need donations.
  • Zero Percent — allows Chicago retailers to post available donations.

Mine operators under reporting cases of black lung disease, federal mine safety chief says

Mine operators are drastically under reporting black lung disease among coal miners, writes U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main. Since 2010, miners or their widows have filed nearly 34,000 claims for compensation with the Federal Black Lung Program. "About 14,800 of these cases were first-time claims. Also since 2010, about 3,700 miners from 20 states have been awarded compensation. Yet in that same time period, mine operators reported only 701 cases of black lung from nine states to MSHA."

Since 2010, the National Institute for Mine Safety and Health "has identified 488 working coal miners in 18 states with the disease through its chest x-ray program, in which only approximately one-third of working miners participate," Main writes. "By contrast, mine operators have reported cases in only nine states. For example, NIOSH identified 47 miners with the disease in Illinois and Indiana, but operators only reported one case of the disease."

In Kentucky, "coal companies have reported only 112 cases of black lung to the MSHA since 2010, even though miners in the state were awarded benefits in 1,442 initial claims to the federal black-lung fund during the same period, the agency said," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The disease has been the primary or contributing cause of death for more than 76,000 miners since 1968, costing the government $45 billion in benefits to miners and their families. More than 40 percent of longtime miners in some regions got black lung before Congress approved rules in 1969 limiting underground miners' exposure to coal dust."

"In 2014, NIOSH researchers reported that the most deadly form of the disease, progressive massive fibrosis, had spiked to the worst level in 40 years," Estep writes. "Researchers have identified a number of possible factors for the upswing, including miners' working longer shifts, meaning longer exposure to dust; more mining of thinner coal seams in Central Appalachia, which requires cutting through more rock; inadequate dust-control rules; and failure by coal companies to comply with the rules." (Ute Fans map: Age-adjusted death rates by state, U.S. residents age 15 and over, 1996–2005)

Task force gives FAA drone registration proposal; should require most drone owners to register

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force, a group consisting of 25 members, on Saturday delivered recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration for a process for registering drones. FAA "will consider their recommendations and the public comments as we develop an Interim Final Rule on registration, which will likely be released next month and go into effect shortly thereafter," Michael Huerta, FAA chief, wrote in a blog post. "This step will be followed by another opportunity for the public to comment as we move toward issuing a final rule on registration."

Alan Levine of Bloomberg writes: "Owners of all but the smallest toy drones will have to register them with the U.S. government before the end of the year if the Obama administration adopts proposals issued by a task force it appointed. Registration—designed to make it easier for authorities to track down the growing numbers of illegal flights—should be free, easy to complete online and permit multiple devices on an owner’s filing, the task force is proposing, according to three people familiar with its recommendations who weren’t authorized to speak about it."

The report, which is not expected to be released to the public until some time this week, "would require drone operators to register on a website or via a phone app if they own UAS weighing as little as 8.8 ounces (250 grams), and attach their registration number to their drones," David Morgan reports for Reuters. "Two sources said the drone registry could ultimately provide an alternative to the more laborious, paper-based process for registering manned aircraft for both recreational and commercial drone users. Commercial operators are currently required to register their drones through the manned aircraft process on a case-by-case basis. Registration of commercial drones will be addressed in final FAA regulations expected early next year."

Tournament payment system among poultry farmers creating controversy

A tournament payment system that rewards, or penalizes, poultry farmers based on their current crop of chickens, has created a landscape that makes some farmers rich and leaves others closing up shop, Nathanael Johnson and Donald Carr report for Grist. "But chicken industry leaders and some academics maintain that the payment system does more good than harm."

"The modern chicken business works like this: A vertically integrated company like Tyson owns every step of the process from top to bottom, except for one: the farming," Johnson and Carr write. "The company provides all the chicks and the feed to farmers, who have a contract to house and feed them. The farmer grows the birds to market size and then, after the poultry company picks them up, gets a check. The size of that check depends on how efficiently the farmer converted feed to meat. And here’s where the tournament comes in: The companies grade on a curve. That is, their definition of efficiency is set by the best—or luckiest—farmer in the group. If you are growing the biggest chickens in your group you get a bonus, but if your flock is relatively scrawny, you get penalized."

Scott Marlow, executive director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, told Grist, “No matter what happens, some of the farmers are always going to win and lose, but the company always wins. Farmers have to consistently compete, but the company’s average payment is always the same. Most poultry farmers take out very expensive loans for their facilities. A million plus is an average loan. In most cases, the farmer’s home, land and assets are tied to those big loans."

Tom Vukina, who studies poultry industry organization and economics at North Carolina State University, disagrees that farmers are being exploited by the big poultry to spend their the life-savings of farmers to continuously upgrade chicken houses, Johnson and Carr write. Vukina told Grist, “Ask yourself a question. How come that this scam has not became public knowledge, and how is Tyson able to sign up new growers every year and has been doing so for almost 50 years?” Johnson and Carr write, "In other words, if the game is rigged and most farmers go bankrupt, why do these poultry farmers have waiting lists of farmers looking to sign up?"

Vukina argues that more farmers win than lose, Johnson and Carr write. He says the tournaments are “a rather elaborate scheme with tremendous positive features built over 70 years. There’s no way for a company to monitor a contract grower 24-7 with company-owned feed and company-owned chicks. The grower needs to be motivated to do the right thing for the [company]. Effort is not observable. So a tournament allows me to observe an unobservable action. Tournaments are just a payment mechanism—and, I think, the best thing since sliced bread.”

But Christopher Leonard, whose book "The Meat Racket" describes the plight of farmers who lose out under this system, said his investigations led him to believe most chicken farmers live in poverty, Johnson and Carr write. He told Grist, “You talk to someone trying to make a living off chicken houses, and you are going to talk to someone living paycheck to paycheck.”

The debate over the merits of the tournament system continue, but the main problem is that most of the concrete data on who wins and loses from such a system is in the hands of the chicken industry, which is under no transparency laws to share the information, Johnson and Carr write. "If there’s a genuine problem here, transparency would give farmers and corporations the information to fix it. And if the chicken-farmer crisis is all smoke and no fire, transparency would reveal that, too."

Parasite threatens honeybee populations this winter, scientist says

Honeybees could be in for a long, brutal winter, writes Dick Rogers, the principal scientist with the Bayer Bee Care Center in North Carolina. Since 2013, U.S. beekeepers have done a good job of reducing honey bee losses, mostly because of better management of the deadly Varroa mite, a parasite that attacks bees. But during hive evaluations this year, Rogers has found that "the vast majority of hives contained mite infestations well above the threshold level of concern."

Rogers, who said it only takes three Varroa mites per every 100 bees to put the hive in trouble, said a hive of 40,000 bees would have thousands of parasites, "which weaken bees through their feeding and disease transmission activities," he writes. "This year I’m finding at least two-thirds of the hives I’ve examined contain mite counts above that threshold and many have exceeded seven mites per 100 bees, a level that is almost certain to result in colony failure this winter . . . Recent scientific presentations at bee health conferences indicate that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is finding infestation levels up to eight mites per 100 bees this fall, which agrees with our own assessment. This does not bode well for honey bee colonies going into winter."

Honeybees populations are "responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year," Daniel Enoch reports for Agri-Pulse. "About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination, the department says on its website, and commercial production of many specialty crops—like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables—depend on pollination by honey bees."

"The Varroa mite is one of several possible factors that scientists blame for Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that began about a decade ago in which overwintering honey bee populations experienced dramatic die-offs," Enoch writes. "Other possible factors include the increased use of potentially toxic insecticides, called neonicotinoids, as well as habitat loss. From 2006 through 2011, about a third of U.S. honey bee colonies were lost each year, USDA says, with a third of these losses attributed to CCD by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent."

Murray Energy CEO accused of intimidation tactics ordered to personally tell miners of their rights

Murray Energy Corp., the largest coal mining company in the U.S., has been fined for trying to silence whistleblowers by threatening job security at Appalachian mines. CEO Bob Murray has been ordered to personally deliver speeches at mines informing workers of their rights, Cole Stangler reports for International Business Times. Murray was accused of responding to miners' filing anonymous complaints with federal agencies by visiting five northern West Virginia mines and telling 3,500 workers during mandatory meetings that they should be grateful to have jobs and told them to imagine what it would be like not to have one.

Administrative law judge Maragret Miller, who fined Murray Energy Corp. $150,000, said in her ruling: “I find interference with the right to make anonymous complaints to be a very serious matter that undermines the safety of the mine. The negligence is high.”

Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent said the company plans to appeal, Stangler writes. Broadband, who blamed the conflict on the United Mine Workers of America union, told Stangler, “There is a long history of UMWA-represented hourly employees filing false safety complaints with the federal government to intimidate management. No one wants to see total employee safety more than Mr. Robert E. Murray. Indeed, Mr. Murray frequently tells our employees that ‘there is no pound of coal worth getting hurt over,’ and no topic is discussed until all safety issues are fully addressed. Any suggestion otherwise is a blatant lie.” (Read more) (Murray Energy map: Company-owned mines. There are also mines in Utah)