Friday, August 12, 2016

Critics at public forums say USDA changes to Horse Protection Act would ruin walking-horse industry

An award-winning high-stepper
The U.S. Department of Agriculture held a pair of forums this week—in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Lexington, Ky.—to seek public feedback on proposed changes to the Horse Protection Act that would ban soring, the use of chemicals and physical abuse to induce high steps in show horses. Additional forums will be held Tuesday in Sacramento, Calif., and Sept. 6 in Riverdale, Md., with a call-in meeting on Sept. 15.

Most of the speakers at both forums opposed the new standards, saying they are unnecessary and would be harmful to the industry. The minority who supported the rules said they will protect horses from harm. Many in the horse industry have shown support for the rules. Comments can be submitted online by Sept. 26.

In Murfreesboro, horse owner Denise Rowland said, "It is a blatant attempt to bypass Congress. The Horse Protection Act was never meant to destroy the industry. To say that this legislation will not hurt the industry is to say the Titanic took on a little water," Mary Reeves reports for USA Today. "Bill Williams, a trainer, called it the "Horse Destruction Act," saying many stables "would be put out of business and employees who would lose jobs if the regulations passed."

In Lexington, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents most of Eastern Kentucky, called "the rules 'unnecessary, heavy-handed regulation' that were designed to intimidate and dismantle most of the walking-horse industry," Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He said new regulations “will impose significant and severe economic hardship on families, small businesses and communities across Kentucky, Tennessee and other states that depend on this industry for their livelihoods."

Most of the Lexington speakers agreed, saying "although only a minority of trainers use illegal methods, banning chains and pads would eliminate much of the current show horse structure and devastate the economy around it," Patton writes. Roger Varney, president of the Kentucky Horse Industry Organization, which provides inspectors for shows, said new rules "will send more walking horses to slaughter or result in more people leaving horses to starve on strip-mined land in Eastern Kentucky." He said, “These horses will not have a place to show. If you have to hire veterinarians and vet techs to come in and inspect, they are not going to be able to have a show and pay those entry fees.”

Texas eases voter ID law; court blocks ruling allowing Wisconsin voters to cast ballots without ID

Courts this week made drastically different rulings on controversial voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin, reported here previously. A federal appeals court ruled last month that the Texas law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, while in Wisconsin a federal district judge ruled that voters without photo identification can cast ballots by swearing to their identity. Republicans favor voter-ID laws, saying they cut down on voter fraud, but Democrats say there is scant evidence of voter impersonation and the laws make voting more difficult for minorities—who are more likely to vote Democratic.

On Wednesday a federal judge said "it won't be mandatory for Texans to present an ID in order to vote in the November general election," Khorri Atkinson reports for The Texas Tribune. "Under the agreement reached by Texas officials and groups suing the state, anyone without an ID can sign a declaration stating they are a U.S. citizen and present proof of residence, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck."

An appeals court on Wednesday blocked the ruling in Wisconsin, saying the judge went too far in allowing voters to cast ballots without an ID, Jason Stein and Patrick Marley report for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The three-member panel, all appointed by Republican presidents, wrote: "Our most recent decision in this case concluded that anyone who is eligible to vote in Wisconsin, but cannot obtain a qualifying photo ID with reasonable effort, is entitled to an accommodation that will permit him or her to cast a ballot. But instead of attempting to identify these voters, or to identify the kinds of situations in which the state’s procedures fall short, the district court issued an injunction that permits any registered voter to declare by affidavit that reasonable effort would not produce a photo ID—even if the voter has never tried to secure one."

Stein and Marley write, "Part of the voter ID law remains blocked because of a separate ruling in another federal trial court in recent weeks. Voters should keep following the news—the rules could change again between now and the Nov. 8 presidential election."

Too much belching and flatulence from cows being blamed for high methane emissions in California

California dairy lobbyists say the state is over-regulating by trying to reduce enteric fermentation—methane that livestock produce as part of their digestion—in an effort to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, Jeremy White reports for The Sacramento Bee. The Environmental Protection Agency says enteric fermentation "represents almost one third of the emissions from the agriculture sector" and "manure management accounts for about 14 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector." California has more dairy cows than any other state. (EPA graphic)

Enteric fermentation is more commonly known as gasiness, or "mostly belching," according to a California Air Resources Board (ARB) document, White writes. However, "'FLATULENCE' blared the subject line of an email sent out Tuesday as part of an effort by groups like the Western United Dairymen and the Milk Producers Council to beat back climate mandates. Featuring an image of a cow with a red target on its body, the email urges readers to 'say NO to unbridled ARB authority.'”

The smelly subject is part of the state's plan to curb climate-altering methane by "getting food waste out of landfills, where it releases gas as it decomposes," White writes. "ARB has also suggested slashing methane from cow manure and from enteric fermentation, a source of about half of the emissions from California’s 5.5 million beef and dairy cows."

Western United Dairymen has spent about $116,000 on lobbying since 2015. White writes. Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of the group, told him, “The focus here is to highlight ARB’s efforts at over-regulating the dairy industry. By nature’s design, [cows] pass lots of gas. Quite frankly, we want them to expel gas so they don’t explode.” (Read more)

Trump still offers no details on help for coal; leading coal backer says 'He needs to be tempered'

Trump was in Abingdon, Va., Wednesday. (AP photo)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump keeps saying he will reverse President Obama's policies and put coal miners back to work, but he has yet to say how he would that, and one of his main supporters says Obama has done so much damage to the industry that most jobs won't come back.

"He will help the coal industry all he can," coal operator Robert Murray told West Virginia MetroNews "Talkline" host Hoppy Kercheval. "But I think he actually has to be tempered because I don’t think he can do all for coal that he says he wants to do, like bring all the miners back. It will never happen. The Obama administration has destroyed the markets for the coal industry to the extent that it can’t come back to where it was. But the destruction can be stopped." Murray's remarks, which included a charge that federal mine inspectors are harassing his companies, were reported by Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Trump was in Southwest Virginia on Wednesday to meet with coal miners and executives and speak to a rally. "Trump’s intimate discussion with miners at an industrial garage was a rare departure from the massive rallies and speeches that have characterized his campaign," reports Andrew Cain of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "He returned to the rally setting shortly after in nearby Abingdon and lamented that coal workers don’t vote in larger numbers."

"He mostly did a good imitation of Casey at the bat — he struck out," The Roanoke Times said in an editorial. "Trump could have elaborated on his Detroit speech and explained how his economic program would result in increased use of coal. He did not. Instead, he merely repeated the same bromides he’s said all along: 'We’re going to put the miners back to work.' Great. How? Trump never said."

"His is a campaign based on faith, not facts," the newspaper said. "Here are some inconvenient facts that will make it difficult for even a pro-coal president to revive the coal industry: Global coal consumption is declining. It fell last year by 1.8 percent — the largest decline since the mid-1960s, when such data started being collected. One of the reasons that the Bristol-based Alpha Natural Resources had to declare bankruptcy was that it was banking on China being a big growth market for coal exports. China is, after all, the world’s biggest consumer of coal. But even China has cut its coal imports by 30 percent."

Trump "also said some things that were simply, well, strange," the editorial went on:
“Clean coal,” he started to say at one point. Was he going to talk about how his administration would invest in research to develop “clean coal” — the idea that carbon can be captured from the emissions and put to other uses rather than burned off into the atmosphere? There is such research going on – some of it taking place in the Virginia coalfields, led by Virginia Tech researchers. Instead, Trump never completed the thought: “You look at China, the amount of energy they’re using coal for. They’re not cleaning it. Believe me. … We have a very small planet compared to the rest of the universe.” That sounds like something an environmentalist might say. What point was Trump trying to make? Does he think clean technology is worth investing in? Does he think clean coal is a fiction and we should burn coal anyway? We still don’t know. If he believes the former, this was once again a missed opportunity. Which candidate has actually called for increasing federal funding into clean coal research? Umm, Clinton. . . . The global economy is a complicated thing — in which some foreign companies provide American jobs, and some American jobs are dependent on the health of economies overseas. Trump gave no indication in Abingdon that he understands that.

Is the crazy cat lady mentally ill? When is animal hoarding, which is on the rise, a crime?

Should animal hording, which is on the rise, be considered a crime or a sign of mental illness that needs to be treated? There are an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 animal hording cases each year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Sarah Breitenbach reports for Stateline. Those cases involve 250,000 animals, with the average number of animals involved per case being 50, with some cases involving thousands of animals. (ASPCA photo)

Despite the rise in cases, only two states—Hawaii and Illinois—have explicitly prohibited animal hording, Breitenbach writes. "Others rely on animal-neglect statutes that prosecute hoarders for failing to provide adequate food, water, veterinary and other care. But prosecutors are often hesitant to pursue these time-consuming cases because they require finding care for living animals and filing separate charges for each animal victim. So, groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund are pushing states to adopt laws that could end hoarding in other ways."

ALDF lawyer Lora Dunn said "prosecuting animal hoarding cases is important, because without long-term intervention animal hoarders are all but guaranteed to re-offend," Breitenbach writes. "They need to be monitored for future instances of hoarding, she said."

"But stopping animal hoarding cases is more complicated than just filing criminal charges and taking away beloved, though neglected, pets, said Randall Lockwood, a psychologist working on anti-cruelty projects at the ASPCA," Breitenbach writes. "Prosecuting animal hoarders is equivalent to criminalizing a mental health disorder, he said. In 2013, 'hoarding disorder' was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictive disorders and personal trauma, like the loss of a spouse."

"Many animal hoarders he has encountered suffered abuse as children and had parents who were alcoholics or drug addicts. Often, they were looking to pets to fill the void of human bonds," Breitenbach writes. "That attachment persists even after the animals are dead, he said, pointing to a case in which an animal hoarder in Virginia made individual coffins for his 'dozens and dozens' of cats, keeping their remains in a shed." (Read more)

How one rural town is trying to reinvent itself through small businesses and retaining local youth

Rural towns that have lost agriculture, transportation and manufacturing jobs, and have seen a decline in population—especially the younger generation—need to reinvent themselves to survive, Kristofor Husted reports for NPR. One such town to do that is Brookfield, Mo. (Best Places map), a town of 4,400 that promotes its place on the American Genius Highway, an area where Walt Disney and Mark Twain grew up.

Vacant storefronts downtown are beginning to draw businesses, Husted writes. "Kristie and Drew Harper, who recently moved to Brookfield from Seattle, have bought into this bright, new vision for the town's future. The couple own a new bistro on Main Street. ... They also bought a small piece of land, which they're using to grow their own food for their family."

Becky Cleveland, the town's economic-development coordinator and a lifelong resident, said "encouraging business, education and health care leaders in Brookfield to collaborate and support each other is key," Husted writes. "The town lacks the health-care centers and assisted-living facilities to support the local aging population, for instance. So, town leaders are working together to push state legislators to provide broadband access for local health care providers, allowing the rural population to get care via tele-medicine."

At the same time "educators are working to retain their young people—and convince high-school students that it's fine to return home after college," Husted writes. "At graduation, these students receive DVD slideshows filled with photos from early grade school and scored with emotional music. A section of the slide show touts many of the graduates who have returned to this town. It ends with an 'unending invitation' from the entire community to make Brookfield their home again." (Read more)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Community-bank association chief says megabanks hinder efforts to help his members

Camden Fine, Independent
Community Bankers group
A lobbying battle is brewing between big banks and community banks, Ben McLannahan reports for Financial Times. "As regulators pushed through new laws to rein in the biggest and most complex lenders such as Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, their smaller rivals have complained of being swept up in the effort." Small banks say "Congressional attempts to free them from an expensive, inflexible and inappropriate regime have been repeatedly thwarted by the big banks."

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal arguing "that big and small banks should unite as allies, not enemies, as they are 'interdependent' as customers as well as competitors," McLannahan writes. Camden Fine, head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents more than 6,000 banks with almost $4 trillion of assets, responded with a letter of his own. Fine said "the reliance of the biggest banks on 'a government guarantee against failure' had 'destabilised the banking ecosystem.'"

Fine also pointed out that "Democrats rejected a Republican bill to extend relief to community banks because they said it contained a host of unacceptable concessions for Wall Street," McLannahan writes. Fine told The Financial Times, “We could probably pass our agenda tomorrow, if the megabanks didn’t constantly interfere. And so the tactic of Jamie Dimon and some of the other CEOs and their trade-group allies is to try and paint this picture that community banks are somehow hurting Wall Street banks, when the truth is just the opposite.” (Read more)

Poor rural schools have improved under Obama, but more work still needs to be done

In 2007 then-Sen. Barack Obama said he was inspired by a 2005 documentary, Corridor of Shame, about the neglect of South Carolina's rural schools, to visit schools in poverty-stricken rural Dillon County, South Carolina (Wikipedia map). While there, Obama said improving education in poor areas would be one of his main priorities as president, Alan Richard reports for The Hechinger Report, which is funded in part by the Gates Foundation.

"Nine years later, as he approaches the end of his second term, educators and kids in Dillon County say President Obama made good on many of his promises," Richard writes. "Here, that came in the form of helping the town replace the decrepit J.V. Martin Middle School campus with an impressive new building. And his visits called more national and local attention to under-resourced, rural schools serving mostly minority populations."

"But in other ways, the president came late to addressing what experts and locals say are the specific needs of poor rural communities like Dillon, where roughly two-thirds of students are African-American, one-third are white and 90 percent are low-income," Richard writes. "President Obama’s signature education policies such as Race to the Top and the expanded School Improvement Grant program to turn around low-performing schools didn’t always reach places like Dillon and Southern communities like it, however, where schools face the triple problems of poverty, a legacy of racial segregation and distance from jobs and resources that could help uplift the community." (Richard photo: A 1 percent sales tax and a $3 million grant from the Obama administration helped build a new middle school in Dillon.)

In Dillon the high school graduation rate over the past four years has soared from 57 percent to 91 percent, Richard writes. But only half of graduates go to college, compared with 70 percent statewide. The schools still face teacher shortages, with salaries about $7,000 lower in Dillon than in the state's more affluent communities. Students also say some equipment is outdated.

Overall, "the nation’s students who come from low-income families have made some progress under Obama’s watch," Richard writes. "Achievement gaps have narrowed somewhat for minority students, but the differences remain glaring: 72.5 percent of African-American males finish high school on time, even as the national graduation rates reached a record high of 82 percent in 2013-14 (the latest year available). The gap in graduation rates between black and white males grew to 21 percentage points in 2012-13, the Schott Foundation for Public Education found—although federal data show a narrowing gap. South Carolina graduated just 51 percent of black males that year."

Study: More than 6 million Americans exposed to industrial chemicals in drinking-water supplies

Industrial chemicals that pose risks to developmental, immune, metabolic and endocrine systems have been found in the drinking water of more than 6 million Americans, says a study by Harvard University researchers published Tuesday in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

The study, which consisted of 36,000 Environmental Protection Agency samples taken in 2013-15, found that water was more at risk in areas with higher numbers of industrial sites that manufacture or use these compounds, military fire training areas, wastewater treatment plants and civilian airports with personnel trained in the use of aqueous film-forming foams. (Harvard graphic)
Researchers found that "194 of 4,864 water supplies across nearly three dozen states had detectable levels of the chemicals," Brady Dennis reports for The Washington Post. "Sixty-six of those water supplies, serving about six million people, had at least one sample that exceeded the EPA’s recommended safety limit of 70 parts per trillion for two types of chemicals — perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid."

"The federal government does not currently regulate PFAS chemicals," Dennis writes. "But they are on the EPA’s list of 'unregulated contaminants'  that the agency monitors, with the goal of restricting those that most endanger public health. Partly because the rules that it must follow are complicated and contentious, officials have failed to successfully regulate any new contaminant in two decades."

N.C. state epidemiologist quits, says state misleads public on screening of wells near power plants

North Carolina’s state epidemiologist resigned Wednesday, saying the administration of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee running for a second term, “deliberately misleads the public” in its screening standards to test private wells near Duke’s power plants and coal-ash ponds, Bruce Henderson reports for The Charlotte Observer. Dr. Megan Davies had worked for the state for seven years.

"The millions of tons of coal ash stored at Duke’s power plants has contaminated groundwater under them," Henderson writes. "State tests last year found that cancer-causing chemicals were present in hundreds of nearby private wells, although Duke denies coal ash is the source. Davies and the state toxicologist, Kenneth Rudo, have testified in sworn depositions that state environmental officials pressured public health scientists to relax temporary limits created to test the private wells for two elements, vanadium and cancer-causing hexavalent chromium."

On Tuesday the state Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality "released an editorial that criticized Rudo for temporary standards that it said were far more stringent than those used in other states." Davies said the temporary standards were actually developed by DEQ.

Davies, who was Rudo's boss, said department officials knew Rudo was only one of several officials who reviewed the screening standards, Henderson writes. She wrote in her resignation letter: “I can only conclude that the department’s leadership is fully aware that this document misinforms the public. I cannot work for a department and administration that deliberately misleads the public.”

New income caps for federal farm benefits affect fewer farmers than previous Farm Bill did

The 2014 Farm Bill's income limit for receiving federal farm benefits affects significantly fewer farms than the limit in the 2008 bill, which was small anyway, Ron Durst and Robert Williams report for Amber Waves, the magazine of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They estimate that about 7,000 farms would have been affected by the old limit while fewer than 2,500 are now.

"While crop insurance premium subsidies are not subject to the 2014 income cap, findings reveal that less than 0.5 percent of farms and 1 percent of crop insurance premiums would be affected by the 2014 income cap if extended to the crop insurance program." (USDA graphic: Farms affected by the 2008 and 2014 caps) 
The 2008 bill abandoned a 2002 limit on adjusted gross income "while establishing separate limits on the farm and off-farm income components of AGI," Durst and Williams write. The 2014 bill, which replaced separate limits on farm and non-farm income "with a single total adjusted gross income of $900,000," also "returned to an eligibility cap that determined payment eligibility based on a single AGI limit, as in 2002 but without an exemption for those with a high share of AGI from farm income. The cap applies to most commodity and conservation programs and payments but does not apply to premium subsidies received by farmers participating in the crop insurance program."
Federal income-tax data is not available "for farm partnerships, corporations, or limited liability companies," Durst and Williams write. "Published data from 2013, a year of record-high farm income and the most recent year for which such data are available, suggest that only about 0.7 percent of all farm sole proprietors and share rent landlords have AGI in excess of $1 million."

The 2008 bill "imposed three separate limits on the farm and nonfarm components of AGI — a $500,000 non-farm income cap, a $1 million cap affected eligibility for conservation payments, unless more than two-thirds of total average AGI was farm income" and "a person or legal entity with average AGI from farming that exceeded $750,000 was not eligible for direct payments," Durst and Williams write. Now, "Eligibility is determined on the basis of a 3-year average, and income on a joint return can be allocated as if a separate return had been filed." (Read more)

Film festival to feature documentary about transgender life in rural North Carolina

North Carolina, where the state's controversial bathroom law has received national attention for being accused of discriminating against transgender people, will host The North Carolina Gay + Lesbian Film Festival beginning Friday and running through Aug. 20 in Durham. Organizers call the festival the second largest gay, lesbian and transgender film festival in the Southeast, attracting thousands of patrons yearly.

Town Maps USA map
Among the films scheduled to play is Deep Run, a documentary produced by actress Susan Sarandon set in the rural town of Deep Run, N.C.,  home to 3,013 people. The film is described as "a powerful verite portrait of trans life in rural North Carolina. Exiled by her family and rejected by an ex, 17-year-old Spazz has no one to lean on for support. But when Spazz falls in love again and summons up the courage to become Cole, a strong-willed trans man, his candid humor and steadfast, all-inclusive Christian beliefs counter the bigotry he experiences daily. This raw documentary reveals rebirth and courage within America's deeply conservative Bible Belt." The film will be screened at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Teletherapy could ease shortage of psychiatrists in rural America

Mental health advocates hope that teletherapy can ease some of the burden on psychiatrists, especially in rural areas, which often lack such professionals. A shortage of child psychiatrists is of particular concern.

"Psychiatrists and mental health advocates say America today needs more than 30,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists, and has only 8,300—and the need appears to keep rising," Emma Ockerman reports for Time magazine. Advocates have been struggling for an answer to the complicated problem for years. Teletherapy, a therapy session conducted remotely via digital technology, is one piece of that puzzle.

"As technology has become cheaper and more reliable, telepsychiatry has emerged as a practical approach to reaching more young people," Ockerman notes. "But it’s not without its detractors. Some advocates disagree on whether appointments . . . are as effective as those carried out in-person. Others see telehealth as just one promising piece of what must be a larger, more comprehensive solution."

The American Telemedicine Association reported earlier this year that the number of states requiring private insurers to cover telemedicine as they would in-person services had doubled in the past four years, Ockerman adds. Kentucky, for example, requires that "telemental health encounters" be covered through Medicaid and private insurance, including appointments with a licensed social worker. Ockerman's story uses a Kentucky teenager as an example; to read it, click here; for a shorter version from Kentucky Health News, go here.

More than half of homebound patients live more than 30 miles from a full-time provider, says study

More than half of Americans who require home-based care live more than 30 miles from a full-time provider, making it difficult for those patients to receive treatment, says a study published this week in Health Affairs. The study found that "about 5,000 primary care providers made 1.7 million home visits to Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries in 2013, accounting for 70 percent of all home-based medical visits. Nine percent of these providers performed 44 percent of visits." (Map: Home visits in 2012)
"The study defined high-volume and full-time providers of care as those who made more than 1,000 visits per year," Elizabeth Whitman reports for Modern Healthcare. "But 53 percent of Americans, especially those in rural areas, do not live within 30 miles of one of these centers, the study found. And a minority of places offering such care also do most of the heavy lifting."

Whitman writes, "For Medicare, a program whose growth rates are projected at 7.1 percent over the coming decade, to become a $1.075 trillion program by 2026, the savings from improved home-based care could be significant. Of the $632 billion Medicare spent in 2015, 23 percent went to hospital inpatient services and a slim 3 percent went to home health."

Two-thirds of the nation's health-care spending goes for "treating older Americans with chronic conditions," Whitman writes. "Medicare insures 57 million people, most of whom are 65 years of age or above. Over the next quarter-century, the number of elderly is expected to reach roughly 72 million." (Read more)

Report and map show the real value of money and the resulting purchasing power in each state

How much is a dollar really worth in your state? The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis creates something called Regional Price Parities, which measures price fluctuations across states and metropolitan areas, Niraj Chokshi reports for The New York Times. BEA in July released a report showing the real purchasing power of money in each state.

"Imagine a store offering a range of goods and services, each for sale at the national-average price for that particular item," Chokshi writes. "Now, imagine a shopping cart filled with $100 worth of items from that store. In Hawaii, $100 buys about 85 percent of the goods in the cart thanks to the high prices there. In other words, $100 in Hawaii feels more like $85.60, compared to the national average. In Mississippi, the opposite is true. With $100, you would be able to buy the cart’s contents and more: the equivalent of $115.30 of goods and services from the national-average store."

A dollar "buys the least in the District of Columbia ($84.70), Hawaii, New York ($86.40), New Jersey ($87.30), California ($89) and Maryland ($90.70)," Chokshi writes. "The 'real value' of a dollar is highest in Mississippi, Arkansas ($114.30), Alabama ($113.90), South Dakota ($113.60) and Kentucky ($112.70)," but those states have low per-capita incomes. (Map: Per-capita incomes after adjusting for purchasing power, based on the national average prices of a variety of goods and services)

Republicans more likely to say infrastructure has gotten worse; voters want roads, bridges repaired

While Democratic officials are more likely to be heard advocating more spending on infrastructure projects, Republican voters are more likely to say that the state of the nation's infrastructure is declining, according to a poll by the Association of Equipment Managers.

The survey of 2,000 registered voters found that 41 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans believe that U.S. infrastructure has gotten worse off in the last five years. The overall figure was 46 percent.

The poll found that 80 to 90 percent of respondents believe roads, bridges and energy grids are in some or extreme need of repair. State action was favored, marginally; 76 percent said state government should do more to improve infrastructure; 72 percent said the federal government should do more; and 70 percent said local government should do more.

A 2014 report found that as much as one-third of rural roads in some states are in poor condition and many bridges are deficient. A 2015 Associated Press story said that some states have stopped repairing rural roads, in favor of bigger, costlier urban projects. (AEM graphic)
The poll found that older Americans tended to be more concerned with road conditions, Stephanie Kelly reports for Reuters. "Seventy-three percent of those 65 and older rated U.S. roads poor to fair, compared with 55 percent of 18-34 year-olds. When asked about innovation, millennials placed more importance on vertical farms for producing vegetables in urban areas, self-driving cars and drones, the report said. Older voters felt most strongly about 'smarter infrastructure.'"

Florida turtles painted, in another instance of lack of respect for wildlife, and ignorance about it

In another example of people showing a lack of respect for wildlife, turtles in Florida have turned up with painted shells, Amy Wang reports for The Washington Post. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which posted photos on Facebook of turtles that were painted, said the action cam be harmful to the animals, making them more visible to predators and “can hinder their ability to absorb vitamins they need from the sun, cause respiratory problems, allow toxic chemicals into the bloodstream and more."

The state agency said in a statement: "Tortoises and turtles don’t need touch-ups! You can paint your house, a piece of furniture, a canvas or even your own fingernails or toenails, but you should never paint the shells of turtles and gopher tortoises!”

Cases of ignorance about wildlife abound. In May, a baby bison at Yellowstone National Park had to be euthanized after tourists put it in their car, thinking it was cold. In February, an endangered baby dolphin in Argentina died after swimmers passed it around for selfies. There have also been reports of people getting dangerously close to bears for selfies and an instance in May where a two-foot long nurse shark in Florida had to be killed after swimmers taunted it, causing it to latch on to a woman's arm.

University of Missouri creates program to help fill mental-health provider shortage in rural areas

The University of Missouri announced Tuesday that a new graduate education program will help improve rural health care in the state, Sheena Rice reports for the MU News Bureau. UM received a $699,772 three-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration "to train psychology doctoral candidates in integrated, primary health-care settings, in an effort to improve health care for under-served populations with mental health and physical disorders."

In Missouri, where the number of psychiatric beds dropped from 1,332 in 2010 to 874 in 2016, an average of 14.4 beds per every 100,000 people, 37 percent of residents live in rural areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Laura Schopp, professor of health psychology and co-principal investigator for the training program, told Rice, “Placing psychology doctoral candidates within primary health care agencies will enhance the current infrastructure in Missouri’s communities and improve comprehensive care for patients. For example, a patient with diabetes may need psychological help to address mental barriers that could be preventing them from changing their behavior. Having psychologists working side-by-side with primary care providers should result in better patient outcomes and savings to the state in Medicaid dollars.”

Declining populations in rural communities could be helped by an influx of refugees

Refugees could be a remedy for rural towns struggling with population decline, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "Small towns and rural areas across the U.S. have been losing population since 2010, though the losses have shrunk to 4,000 a year in 2015 from an average of 33,000 a year earlier in the decade, according to a May report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But in many areas, refugees have helped to offset or reverse the losses." (ABC News map)

"About 70,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. last year," Henerson writes. "Iraq and Burma were the largest sources of refugees, with a combined 31,000 people. About 1,700 were from Syria; the Obama administration announced last year it wants to ramp the number up to 10,000 this year."

Some small towns are welcoming refugees with open arms, Henderson writes. Mayors from towns such as Rutland, Vt., Central Falls, R.I, Clarkston, Ga., Haledon, N.J., Socorro, Tex., Clearfield City, Utah and the Illinois college towns of Normal and Urbana have been vocally in favor of allowing refugees into their communities. But not everyone agrees. The Rutland mayor has faced opposition and the mayor of Sandpoint, Idaho, backed off from a proposal to welcome Syrian refugees after local protests.

Refugees, though, have something to offer rural communities, said Eskinder Negash, senior vice president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a network of groups that help resettle refugees around the country, Henderson writes. He told Henderson, “Every time a refugee rents an apartment, every time a refugee shops for food, there’s some income coming in for the city and going into the tax base. There’s a new realization that refugees can be an economic engine for some of these small communities.” (Read more)

Latest Trump flap obscures his allegation about Second Amendment, which seems fanciful

The flap over Donald Trump's line about "Second Amendment people" perhaps being able to do something about Hillary Clinton obscures "the substance of Trump’s accusation against Clinton: that she wants to overturn the Second Amendment, and plans to appoint judges and justices to the federal judiciary who would help her do that," write Isaac Stanley-Becker and Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post.

"Clinton has never said she wants to eliminate the Second Amendment," they report. "Even if she did, neither the president nor the Supreme Court nor lower-level federal judges have the power to do so. There are two ways to alter the Constitution. One requires a two-thirds vote of Congress and then approval by three-fourths of the nation’s state legislatures. The other requires calling a constitutional convention and, again, approval by three-fourths of the states."

Trump said yesterday in Wilmington, North Carolina: “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick — if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” Here's a video from the Post:

Trump's critics said he was inciting violence or even the assassination of Clinton, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman unloaded on him, saying "people on the fringes of society . . . are not cooled by unfinished sentences." MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Florida congressman, said the party should replace Trump as its nominee. Trump's spokesman said he was only encouraging political action.

If your reporting of presidential campaign events is interfered with, here's where to report it

In response to what it calls "the disturbing number of clashes and threats of violence against the news media during the presidential primaries," the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has launched a service to track and respond to interference with news-gathering during the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.

“Elections and freedom of the press are cornerstones of our democracy that should work hand-in-hand to ensure an informed electorate,” Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown said in a news release. “The fact that reporters are facing unprecedented obstacles to basic reporting on the campaigns demands our attention – and action.”

"The Reporters Committee will monitor interference with the news media by the presidential and vice presidential campaigns, their organizations and staff, and law enforcement officials," the release said. "Whenever possible, Reporters Committee attorneys will intervene with the candidates, parties, national and local officials and officers to stop these practices."

The committee asks journalists who are "intimidated, harassed, or otherwise prevented from news-gathering in public forums on the campaign trail" to report it at or by writing to Committee staff will also monitor Twitter (@rcfp) and Facebook ( Incidents and follow-up will be reported as they develop at, where a sign-up for updates is available.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

At least 640 oil-industry spills affected water in 2015; were any in or near your community?

Many spills of crude oil and drilling chemicals go largely unnoticed and sometimes unreported. It's up to local journalists to make sure the community is informed about the spills. Last year, there were 640 that affected groundwater or surface water in some way, Mike Soraghan and Pamela King reportsfor EnergyWire: About 2,500 spills have been reported since 2009, "but that is likely an undercount, as many oil and gas agencies don't track whether spills affect water. Some don't even track spills at the state level."

"Overall, there were at least 10,348 spills, blowouts and other mishaps at oil and gas sites last year, compared to 11,283 such events in 2014, according to EnergyWire analysis," Soraghan and King write. "In the 17 states where comparisons could be drawn, the occurrence of spills fell 8 percent between 2014 and 2015, after a rapid uptick the previous year." (EnergyWire map: spills by selected states 2012-15)
"The type of data collected, tracked and made public varies significantly from state to state," Soraghan and King write. "Oil and gas agencies in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania do not track spills at the state level. North Dakota and Utah don't specifically ask on spill forms whether the incident affected water, though North Dakota requests information about nearby water wells."

Desirée Plata, a Yale University chemical and environmental engineering professor who has studied oil spills, said "the lack of information is a shortcoming for both environmentalists and industry," Soraghan writes. "If the information were available, operators could show that they spill a small amount relative to the volume they produce and transport, she said." She told EnergyWire, "When there are surface spills, people try to do a good job but don't necessarily have all the information. That's true of industry also. It's an enormous challenge. Water spills can create more problems than land spills because the contaminants spread faster." (Read more)

Prescription-drug deaths rose fastest in rural areas; map shows each county in range of rates

 Daily Yonder map: Prescription drug deaths 1999-2014 (click on it for a larger version)
The Daily Yonder has created a county-level map, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, of increases in deaths from prescription drugs from 1999 to 2014. The map, based on the number of prescription-drug deaths per 100,000 residents, shows that many rural areas, especially Appalachia, the Southwest and the heavily Native American areas of Oklahoma, have the highest rates. The top four slots are held by West Virginia counties, led by Wyoming County, with a death rate of 54.6 per every 100,000 people. West Virginia has six of the top 11 counties, Kentucky three, and Virginia and Utah one each.

Rural or "NonCore" counties "saw an average increase in prescription drug deaths rates of about 9 percent per year from 1999 to 2014," Tim Marema reports for the Yonder. "Central counties of large metropolitan areas (1 million residents or more), on the other hand, saw the death rate climb by less than 3 percent per year on average over the same period."

"An analysis of CDC age-adjusted mortality data shows that, in general terms, the more rural a county, the greater the increase in its prescription drug-overdose death rate from 1999 to 2014," Marema writes. "The exception to the rule is counties on the fringes of the nation’s largest metropolitan counties—metros with 1 million residents or more. There, in the suburbs of large cities, the death-rate didn’t climb as fast compared to the overall trend."

The Department of Health and Human Services says that "prescription medication accounts for about half of all drug deaths in the U.S.," Marema writes. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has been holding town-hall meetings on the rural drug epidemic, said last month at a meeting in Missouri, "From 1993 until 2013, we have seen a 400 percent increase in opioid prescriptions. We now have over 259 million prescriptions being filled on an annual basis. That is one for virtually every adult in the United States of America.”

Loss of Wyoming's oil, gas and coal jobs leading to mass migration, along with unemployment benefits

The continued loss of coal and oil-and-gas jobs in Wyoming, the nation's least populated state, has led to increases in migration out of the state, and in unemployment claims from people who no longer live there. Laura Hancock reports for the Casper Star-Tribune.

"Nearly 25 percent of people claiming Wyoming unemployment benefits live in another state, according to data analyzed by the Department of Workforce Services’ Research and Planning section," Hancock reports.

In March Peabody Energy announced it was cutting 235 jobs and Arch Coal said it was cutting 230. Oil and gas jobs have also been on the decline since oil prices began to plunge in 2014.

Atlas Van Lines reported that in 2015 it moved 250 families out of Wyoming, and moved only 170 into the state, Hancock reports. Gary Stewart, whose Casper company is an agent for Atlas, said "that’s a reversal of the trend seen in recent years" when more families were moving into the state than out of it.

Many people who moved to Wyoming for jobs have returned home, Hancock writes. For instance, the number of unemployment claimants from Texas grew from 64 in May 2014 to 103 in May 2015, an increase of 64 percent. High rates of unemployment claims were also reported for people now living in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Utah. (Brookings Institution map)

Newspaper runs staff-and-AP story on Ku Klux Klan, draws complaints, runs editorial

A "white pride" rally in April in Cedar Town, Ga.
An East Texas newspaper has drawn criticism for running a story on the 150th anniversary of the Ku Klux Klan, in which it detailed the organization's history, its current agenda and its role in the region. One interesting thing the story did reveal is that the KKK's top current concerns, immigration and border security, also are two of the main issues in the 2016 presidential election.

The Longview News-Journal added to an Associated Press story, originally published June 30, and ran it Saturday. On Sunday, it ran an editorial responding to objections from readers: "The News-Journal takes seriously its responsibility to inform its audience about a variety of subjects. Some are reasons for celebration and pride, and we revel in telling those stories. Others are less palatable, but must be told. If ignoring difficult realities would make them go away we would gladly remain silent. But ignoring them has the opposite result. Ignoring uncomfortable and ugly truths allows them to gain a foothold, to grow and flourish. Ignoring them would be an abdication of this newspaper’s responsibility to its audience, which it strives to serve without fear or favor."

Texas has the most KKK groups with 52, and Tennessee is second with 16, though numbers fluctuate, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the News-Journal. "Potok said the center has seen a slight increase in Klan growth in the past year or so—a 'backlash to the backlash' over the Confederate flag and other race-related issues stemming from events such as the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting."

Potok said Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's "run for the presidency also has been energizing Klan groups," the News-Journal reports. "The Republican nominee's embrace of nationalist and protectionist policy was cited by David Duke, a former KKK grand wizard, as an influence in his decision to run for the U.S. Senate representing Louisiana."

"Klan leaders across the country said they believe U.S. politics are going their way as a nationalist, us-against-them mentality deepens across the nation," reports the News-Journal. "Stopping or limiting immigration—a desire of the Klan dating back to the 1920s—is more of a cause than ever. And the leaders say membership has gone up at the twilight of President Barack Obama's second term in office, though few would provide numbers." (Read more)

National Park Service, accused of sexual harassment, now under fire for sexy photo shoot

The National Park Service, already under fire for what Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has called a “culture” of sexual harassment, is being criticized for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit-model photo shoot at Yellowstone National Park, Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post. One photo, which appeared in National Geographic in May, shows model Jessica Gomes twerking in front of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. (National Geographic photo by Michael Nichols)

The photos "have angered park watchdogs, employees and advocates, who say the images undermine the effort to fight sexual misconduct," Rein writes. "The critics draw a line between sexual harassment and what they see as images that exploit women" Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsiblity, told Rein, The Park Service “is dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination issues which are more difficult to address when seen through the prism of this shoot."

While the photos were not criticized when they first appeared last year, critics have made their voices heard since the "Interior Department inspector general’s office issued an explosive investigation in January documenting how multiple female employees at the Grand Canyon were repeatedly propositioned for sex and were targets of unwanted attention by male employees, some of whom were their supervisors," Rein writes. "Another investigation released in June found similar sexual misconduct at Canaveral National Seashore, in Florida."

Tom Crosson, the Park Service’s chief of public affairs, told Rein that the agency doesn't apply "a morals test when granting access to our parks for legal activities," and considers only factors such as the potential effects on the park and visitors.

Wildlife officials fear storied Alaskan wolf pack has been exterminated by hunters

National Park Service photo by Tim Rains:
A wolf in Denali National Park
Wildlife officials fear that the storied East Fork wolf pack in Alaska’s Denali National Park has been wiped out by excessive hunting, Elise Schmelzer reports for The Washington Post. "The last radio-collared male was found shot dead near a hunting camp in May. Now, park officials can’t find the last three pack members: a mother wolf without a collar and her two pups. It’s impossible to know for sure what happened to them, officials said, but it’s unlikely that the mother and her pups will survive without the support and protection of a pack." They were last seen June 28.

The wolf pack, which has been documented by scientists since 1939, "is the most recent fatality of a controversial Alaska policy that allows hunters to kill wolves and other large predators in the state’s national wildlife refuges, wildlife advocates say," Schmelzer writes. "Park officials estimated 49 wolves lived in Denali National Park this spring, only three more than the park’s all-time low of 46 in 1986 and a significant decline from the early 2000s when it was common to count more than 100. In 2015, only 5 percent of Denali visitors reported seeing a wolf—down from 45 percent in 2010."

"Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the hunting of predators in Alaska’s 16 wildlife refuges unless needed 'in response to a conservation concern,'" Schmelzer writes. The state called the ban a "federal overreach into one of the state’s most lucrative industries and shrinks the moose and caribou populations that Native American groups rely on for food, The Guardian reports." A study commissioned by the Alaska Professional Hunters Association says "guided hunting generated a total of $78 million in economic activity and more than 2,210 jobs in 2012." (Read more)

Monday, August 08, 2016

Hospital rankings may contradict ads, prompt low scorers to improve, health journalist says

Hospital rankings have been making news. Most recently, U.S. News and World Report ranked more than 5,000 U.S. hospitals, but the bigger news were the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rankings of 3,662 hospitals.

Trudy Lieberman
The release of ratings by the federal agency, over the objections of the hospital industry and its allies in Congress, "sends a message that patients have a right to know what’s going on inside the hospitals they entrust with their lives or those of their family members," Trudy Lieberman says in her latest "Thinking About Health" column for the Rural Health News Service.

"The ratings reveal a contradiction between scientifically measured evidence and the advertising hospitals use to build their brand," Leiberman writes. "Hospitals like to tell their communities about new cancer treatments or new children’s wings, not mediocre ratings. . . . Those of us who have written about hospitals know that smart patients need to look way beyond the nightly advertising on TV."

The hospital industry argued that the ratings "may not take into account that many hospitals treat low-income patients with complex conditions and, thus, may not be fair to providers," Lieberman notes. "But as Leah Binder who heads The Leapfrog Group, which advocates for patient safety, has noted on, the letter sent by the senators did not mention responsibility to patients who may suffer harm in a hospital. The British Medical Journal reported in May that researchers who examined the scientific evidence concluded that in 2013 medical errors were the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer. That’s cause for alarm and may be a reason why CMS didn’t bow to political pressure."

The ratings may prompt hospitals to improve, Lieberman says. "Hospitals may also fear that consumers will see the stars, which are easy to understand, dig into the numbers behind them, ask questions, and perhaps choose other facilities if they can. If that happens, CEOs may feel mighty uncomfortable going before their boards and explaining why they received only one or two stars."

Lack of sidewalks in rural towns create safety and public-health concerns

A lack of sidewalks in rural areas is not just a safety problem, but an obstacle to public health, by making walking for exercise a challenge. In Connecticut, 38 towns don't have sidewalks, according to a December 2015 survey, Jaclyn Diaz reports for the Norwich Bulletin. "While some of the towns reported having short sections of sidewalk, the majority of the municipalities do not have any, town officials said." (Bulletin photo by John Shishmanian: With no sidewalks in Bozrah, Conn. Amber Bochain has to walk her son in the street)

An official in Franlin, Conn., said there is no need sidewalks "because most residents drive to where they need to go," but there is concern among pedestrians, runners and walkers, Diaz reports. Amber Bochain, who has to walk in the street when she takes her son for walks in Bozrah, Conn., a town of 2,627, told Diaz, "We’re always yelling at drivers to slow down and some of them do. But it’s been a close call sometimes. The white line in the road is so small it isn’t big enough for the stroller to fit so I walk alongside it so it doesn’t get clipped.”

Sidewalks have been proposed in some towns where officials say there have been no accidents but they fear the potential of them, Diaz writes. Brooklyn, Conn., home to 8,244 residents, has begun to address its problem, adding "five miles of sidewalks, with 90 percent of them along state roads." A project that began today will add 900 feet of new sidewalk linking Walmart to the rest of U.S. 6.

Rural electric co-ops getting into broadband

Rural electric cooperatives are bringing internet to under-served areas by taking a page out of the New Deal program that brought electricity and other infrastructure to rural America, Cecillia Kang reports for The New York Times. High-speed internet is finally reaching places like Zena, Okla., but through local power companies, not the telecom and cable companies that have wired most of urban America. (NYT photo by Nick Oxford: Fiber optic cable running above a former gas station outside Zena)

"In some cases, rural municipalities are also using electrification laws from the early 1900s to obtain funds and regulatory permissions reserved for utilities, in order to offer broadband," Kang writes. About 40 electric cooperatives nationwide "offer or are in the process of building networks to provide high-speed internet service, compared with just one in 2010, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit focused on community broadband networks."

"The parallels between bringing electricity and bringing broadband to rural areas run deep," Kang writes, giving her largely urban audience a history lesson most ruralites know: "In the 1930s, about 90 percent of urban residents in the U.S. had access to power, compared to just 10 percent in rural areas, according to the New Deal Network research group. At the time, President Roosevelt warned that the electricity divide excluded farm families from economic benefits provided by power. But private power companies said that it was too expensive to electrify rural areas and that even if they did, there was little profit to be made. So President Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration in 1936, a centerpiece of the New Deal, which led to the creation of thousands of small electric cooperatives using federal funds."

"With high-speed internet, there are similar dynamics," Kang reports. "Last year, the federal government declared that broadband should be treated like a utility, as essential as electricity or the phone. That spurred a new urgency to get fast internet service to remote areas, to help close the digital gap with cities. The Federal Communications Commission, which in 2014 began giving experimental broadband grants to alternative carriers like electric companies, recently proposed $2 billion in such grants over the next decade to new broadband providers such as power cooperatives."

Hog-farm runoff polluting Illinois waterways; state agencies have limited roles and a light hand

Four years after runoff from Hopkins Ridge Farms, a large-scale hog farm in Illinois, polluted more than 20 miles of Beaver Creek, wiping out at least 148,283 fish and 17,563 freshwater mussels, the creek's aquatic life is only now beginning to recover, David Jackson and Gary Marx report for the Chicago Tribune as part of an investigative series. "Authorities also have yet to collect penalties and cleanup costs from the confinement's influential owners—agribusiness executives who operate facilities in Illinois and Indiana that house tens of thousands of pigs. They deny responsibility." (To view the interactive map click here)

As hog confinements like Hopkins Ridge, which has more than 8,000 pigs, "spring up across Illinois, producing massive amounts of manure, a new pollution threat has emerged: spills that blacken creeks and destroy fish, damaging the quality of life in rural communities," Jackson and Marx write. "The lagoons that hold pig manure until farms can use it as fertilizer sometimes crumble or overflow. Leaks gush from the hoses and pipes that carry waste to the fields. And in some instances, state investigators found polluting was simply 'willful' as confinement operators dumped thousands of gallons of manure they couldn't use or sell as fertilizer."

The Tribune, which analyzed "thousands of pages from state agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the attorney general's office, found that pollution incidents from hog confinements killed at least 492,000 fish from 2005 through 2014—nearly half of the 1 million fish killed in water pollution incidents statewide during that period," Jackson and Marx write. "Pig waste impaired 67 miles of the state's rivers, creeks and waterways over that time. Using either measure, no other industry came close to causing the same amount of damage."

"Confinements with multimillion-dollar annual revenues often paid just a few thousand dollars in fines after causing massive fish kills," Jackson and Marx write. "Many went to court to challenge authorities; since 2005, the state attorney general has filed or resolved at least 26 pollution lawsuits against swine confinements. Some operators polluted repeatedly. And the multistate pork producers who supply the pigs and profit from the confinements were rarely held accountable, the Tribune found."

"The state agencies responsible for protecting waterways and aquatic life—the EPA and DNR—play limited roles in determining where new confinements can be located or assessing their potential pollution risks," Jackson and Marx write. "Instead, Illinois livestock confinements are granted permits solely by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, whose mission is to promote livestock agriculture as well as regulate it. Under state law, the department cannot consider a confinement owner's environmental record when reviewing an application to build a new site, and officials have issued numerous new permits to operators with multiple infractions." (Read more)

Animal-rights activists changed tactics to win more freedom for hens

Animal-rights activists changed the way the food industry treats hens by changing their tactics and strategy against the poultry industry, Karin Brulliard reports for The Washington Post. Instead of trying to liberate hens, they fought for better living conditions, using facts and figures to back up their case. (Post graphic; click on it to enlarge)

They also used "ballot measures, campaigns against companies, foodie culture and, above all, the power of the internet" to change the culture of the industry, Brulliard writes. The result is that "in the past two years, nearly 200 U.S. companies—including every major grocery and fast-food chain—that together buy half of the 7 billion eggs laid monthly have pledged to use only cage-free eggs by 2025."

"Figures are what he and other advocates use to justify their focus on the plight of egg-laying hens: Nearly all captive animals in the U.S. are used for food,"  Brulliard writes. "Nine out of 10 land animals raised to be eaten are chickens. Currently, about 90 percent of egg-laying hens are packed together in stacks of wire cages so small that they cannot spread their wings. Eliminating those cages would improve the lives of 280 million animals—while not costing consumers all that much more, proponents say."

"Activists view Sodexo’s February 2015 decision to do so in the U.S. as the catalyst," Brulliard writes. "The coup de grace came six months later with a pledge from McDonald’s, America’s largest egg buyer." (Read more)

Expatriate from rural area stuck in poverty says it has lost its sense of community

Stilwell, Oklahoma, is the poorest 
rural area in the northeastern part 
of the state. (Best Places map)
Poverty has become a way of life in some rural Oklahoma communities, Michael Overall reports for the Tulsa World. "Simply being rural is itself a significant risk factor for poverty, according to the nonprofit Oklahoma Policy Institute. Rural areas always tend to be poorer than urban or suburban communities, with 14.2 percent of the rural U.S. population living in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of the urban population, according to Oklahoma Policy’s research. And the national average jumps to 16.8 percent poverty in rural counties—like Adair County in eastern Oklahoma—that are not contiguous with an urban area."

Shelldon Miggletto, who recently resigned as city clerk of Stilwell, in the poorest rural area in northeastern Oklahoma, told Overall, “We’re the forgotten poor. Or maybe we’re not forgotten, just ignored. We have three to four generations of families in which welfare is a way of life. They don’t know any better. They don’t know how to break out of the cycle."

According to Oklahoma Policy, the three main factors that contribute to rural poverty are: lack of amenities, leaving people with nothing to do; geographic isolation, with no cities close by or a lack of transportation opportunities; and social norms, such as teenage parents, no jobs and low education, which leads many to adopt an attitude of "why try," Overall reports.

Such areas have lost a sense of community that once sustained them, says Lisa Pruitt, who grew up in rural Arkansas an hour from Stilwell, where she has family, and is a law professor at the University of California-Davis. She told Overall, "People have a misconception about rural poverty that it is somehow not as debilitating as urban poverty. We cling to the notions that small towns will still function as a community where people will rally around each other and help. So maybe you’re poor, but at least you’re living in this beautiful, pristine countryside and at least your neighbors will take care of you. It’s not like that at all.” (Read more)

FDA e-cigarette regulations go into effect today, banning sales to anyone under 18

New Food and Drug Administration regulations for electronic cigarettes, which ban tobacco sales to anyone under 18, went into effect today, Aamer Madhani reports for USA Today. E-cigarette use among teens has been on the rise, especially in rural areas. "E-cigarette groups have already launched a legal battle to stop the FDA and warned that the vapor industry would go up in smoke if the regulations are fully implemented." (Associated Press photo)

"FDA will have to approve all e-cigarette products that have been available since February 2007. That means nearly every e-cigarette product on the market must go through an application process to deem whether it can continue to be sold," Madhani writes. "Manufacturers will be able to keep selling their products for up to two years while they submit a new production application, plus an additional year while the FDA reviews it."

"Vape shops cannot give free samples to customers or sell to people younger than 18, under the new regulations," Madhani writes. "Merchants will be required to ask for identification from customers who appear to be under the age of 27. And vending machine sales of e-cigarettes are prohibited unless the machines are in adult-only facilities. Also covered are premium, hand-rolled cigars, as well as hookah and pipe tobacco. Before the new regulations, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars to minors, though almost all states already prohibit such sales." (Read more)