Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A human interest story out of rural South Korea

This story by Choe Sang-Hun in today's New York Times describes various aspects of rural society in the Republic of South Africa, where many foreign brides have migrated in recent years to wed farmers. The focus of the story, though, is 39-year-old Lee Si-Kap, described as a "shy farmer" whose hobby is collecting and erecting satellite dishes, which he uses to watch television broadcasts fom all over the world. The dateline for the story is Yeongju, which is described repeatedly as a "rural" area in central Korea. Here are some excerpts:
Since late last year, he and thousands of fellow satellite enthusiasts — including the husbands of foreign brides and a few dedicated souls searching for signals from extraterrestrial life forms — have started a campaign to install free satellite dishes for poor foreign brides living in rural South Korea, so they can receive broadcasts from their home countries.
* * *
In recent years, the South Korean countryside has had an influx of brides from poorer countries like Vietnam, China and the Philippines. Like Ms. Bui, they marry South Korean farmers who have difficulty finding a spouse because so many young Korean women have rejected rural life and migrated to cities.
* * *
In South Korea, which had once prided itself on being a homogeneous society, 4 out of 10 women who married in rural communities last year were foreign born.
In Yeongju, for example, the number of foreign brides increased by nearly 30% in the past 18 months. Half of the women are from Vietnam, and like those from other countries, they are happy for the opportunity to be connected to their homelands by watching television via the satellite dishes Mr. Lee helps to install.

The headline reminds me of an issue of import to the rural United States. It is "Rural South Koreans' Global Links Grow, Nourished by a Satellite Crop." If only the U.S. government were so interested in linking its rural communities to the rest of the world by subsidizing broadband service ... .

An illustration that urban places can be lawless, too

"Constant Fear and Mob Rule in South African Slum" is the headline of a story by Barry Bearak in today's New York Times. Here's an excerpt describing the urban slum of Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg, and what is happening there.

Crime in South Africa is commonly portrayed as an onslaught against the wealthy, but it is the poor who are most vulnerable: poor people conveniently accessible to poor criminals.

* * *

To spend time in Diepsloot over three weeks is to observe the unrelenting fear so common among the urban poor.

* * *

In Diepsloot, people usually bear their losses in silence, their misfortune unreported and their offenders unknown. If a suspect is identified, victims usually inform quasi-legal vigilante groups or hire their own thugs to recover their property.
Remarkably, while Diepsloot's population is estimated at 150,000, the nearest police station is 10 miles away. As in rural places, then, physical spatiality separates people from police protection, fueling the need to resort to self help. (Is this why the NRA is associated with rural America?)

I am reminded of a comment by Aravind Adiga in an NPR interview. Speaking about India--which like South Africa features a vast gulf between the impoverished rural and the sophisticated urban, with the latter also marked by slums--Adiga observed that vast differences in wealth are more common in cities than in rural areas. These differences are also more apparent in cites, which may be why crime rates are higher in places like Diepsloot than in the nation's pockets of rural poverty and squalor.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Westerners bristle at federal tracking of cattle

The headline in yesterday's New York Times was "Rebellion on the Range Over a Cattle ID Plan," and the dateline for Erik Eckholm's story was Horse Springs, New Mexico, an unincorporated community in Catron County, New Mexico, population 3,543 and population density of 1 person for every two square miles. (Horse Springs itself is not a Census Designated Place).

Eckholm's story features the 22,000-acre Platt Ranch where every hundred acres supports just one cow. There, third-generation proprietor Jay Platt is refusing to abide by a new federally mandated livestock identification and tracking plan. Here's an excerpt from Eckholm's story:
“This plan is expensive, it’s intrusive, and there’s no need for it,” Mr. Platt said.
* * *

“They can’t comprehend the vastness of a ranch like this,” he said of federal officials. “They don’t appreciate what is involved logistically.”

Ranchers like Mr. Platt have been joined by small-scale family farmers and other agrarian advocates to oppose the national animal identification system, a plan first broached five years ago by the Bush administration.
Eckholm notes that government officials underestimated the "visceral opposition" to the plan. I'm not sure why. The reaction seems rather predictable to me, especially in the region that gave us the sagebrush rebellion.

Banishing casinos to the Russian hinterlands

The headline in today's New York Times is "Exiled by Russia: Casinos and Jobs," and in it Clifford J. Levy reports that the Kremlin has ordered all casinos in the country closed on Wednesday, July 1. The rural angle comes in where they may reopen. Levy reports:
[T]he Kremlin has offered the gambling industry only one option for survival: relocate to four regions in remote areas of Russia, as many as 4,000 miles from the capital. The potential marketing slogans — Come to the Las Vegas of Siberia! Have a Ball near the North Korean Border! — may not sound inviting, but that is in part what the government envisions.

All the same, none of the four regions are prepared for the transfer, and no casino is expected to reopen for several years.
Levy does not explain why the Russian government has decided to re-locate casinos to four particular regions, all of which are spatially removed from Russia's major cities, and three of which are in some ways rural: the Altai region of Siberia; the coastal area of the Far East, near the border with North Korea and China; and the Azov Sea region in the south. The fourth, more populous region, is Kaliningrad, a pocket of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea. See a map here (note that the coastal area in Russia's Far East is so far away that it is not even shown on this map!) . Perhaps this reflects a rural development strategy by the Kremlin, but one half-baked and ill-conceived in terms of timing (and arguably in other ways, too).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another consequence of (relative) rural lawlessness?

Today's story in the New York Times is headlined, "New Border Fear: Violence by a Rogue Militia," and the dateline is Arivaca, Arizona. The story reports on the murder of a 29-year-old Latino and his 10-year-old daughter by a rogue militia called the Minuteman American Militia. The mother of the child survived; she pulled a gun and shot one of the intruders. Jesse McKinley and Malia Wollan report: "The authorities say that the three suspects were after money and drugs that they intended to use to finance vigilantism, and that members of the group may have been involved in at least one other home invasion, in California."

Arivaca's population is not available because it is not even a Census Designated Place, but it is in the far southern reaches of metropolitan Pima County, not far from the Mexican border. One thing that is striking, especially from the photo of the trailer home where the murders occurred, is the spatial isolation of the family whose home was invaded. These rogue militia are clearly picking on a population who are vulnerable in several ways, including spatially. Another excerpt of the story illustrates this point. A former associate of the Minuteman American Militia "said that in October, he took an excursion with [the group's leader] into the desert north of here, where, wearing camouflage and carrying handguns and rifles, they searched for illegal immigrants. 'It’s just like hunting,' Mr. Stonex said, describing the tracking skills the group used. 'If you’re going out hunting deer, you want to scout around and get an idea what their pattern is, what trails they use.'" This description, too, points up the spatial isolation that marks the places where this activity is occurring, which heightens the difficulty legitimate law enforcement face in policing and deterring this vigilantism.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXIX): Meth lab fugitive arrested

The lead story in the June 18, 2009 issue of the Newton County Times reports that David Middleton, 53, who had been sought for several weeks on charges of related to a methamphetamine lab, was arrested at his home on June 12, 2009. The report indicates that another man was also arrested at the time and was facing charges of hindering apprehension. The 14th Judicial Drug Task Force, Arkansas State Police, and neighboring Boone County Sheriff's Office assisted the Newton County Sheriff with the arrest.

In other news:
  • The mayor of Jasper, the county seat, has announced that the town will seek a grant from the USDA Rural Development grant to rehabilitate the sewer plan that serves the City of Jasper.
  • The 2009 Farm Family of the Year was named. The Cook-Campbells farm almost 1,400 acres near the community of Mt. Judea, where they raise hay and cattle.
  • A local high school student has been named to the Youth Leadership Initiative and Tobacco Control Youth Board.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rural school closures all too common in this economic climate

School districts everywhere are being pressed to find efficiencies and ways to economize, and rural schools are rarely seen as efficient or economical. (Some would argue, with good basis, that these small schools are quite efficient in the long run, in terms of educational results achieved, but that's another story).

Here is the story of a closure in Yolo County, California. The elementary school in tiny Knights Landing closed this week. Knights Landing is not even a Census Designated Place, though the story reports a population of 1,100. Here's an excerpt from Hudson Sangree's report:
The school's closure will take away one of the town's few bright spots and leave a vacant space at its center, supporters say.

"It's heartbreaking," said Roberto Barajas, school principal, who grew up in Knights Landing as a child of farmworkers. He attended Grafton and returned years later as an educator.

In February, officials with the Woodland Joint Unified School District decided to shut down Grafton to help close a $7 million budget gap.

About two-thirds of the students will be bused 16 miles to a school just outside of Woodland, the county seat, and the other third will attend a school just five miles away, but over the county line in Sutter County.

Just as sad as the prospect of young children being bused long distances are the consequences of school closures for the communities they serve. It's a cycle in which the local economy supports the school, which in turn supports the local economy. In places like Knights Landing, the cycle becomes a proverbial vicious one.

Leaving out the rural, again

A top story in tomorrow's Sacramento Bee discusses the growing problem of child poverty in Sacramento County. The problem is that the map accompanying it only shows the rate of children receiving free and reduced price lunches (a measure of child poverty) in schools in the city of Sacramento. The more rural parts of the county are not depicted. I'm not sure why. I'd like to know how they compare to the more urban schools.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Redefining "minority" in some rural places (and urban ones, too)

A story in USA Today last week reported on a demographic trend reflected in 2008 Census Bureau data. The headline is "Minority kids grow to majority in some counties," and here are an overview paragraph and the paragraph most relevant to rural places:
An analysis of the under-20 population shows that minority youths are the majority in 505 counties and that 60 counties have reached that milestone in this decade.
* * *
Black, Hispanic and Asian families are moving to suburbia. Some have come for jobs created by population growth. Others leave urban areas in search of more space, better schools and less crime. Most counties where the minority youth population surged past 50% from 2000 to 2008 are suburban or rural counties. Three are around Atlanta.
Looking at the map accompanying the story, I would guess that many of the rural counties where people of color are a majority of children are largely Native American counties, such as Big Horn, Glacier and Roosevelt counties in Montana. In Arizona and New Mexico, where the majority of virtually the entire states' child populations are children of color, both Latina/os and American Indians are part of the "minority" mix that has become the majority. In most of these counties, however, so-called minorities have long constituted a majority, so this is not really news. In other parts of the country, however, according to the USA Today report, Blacks and Asians--along with Latina/os, represent a more significant aspect of this demographic shift. My guess is that most of the 60 counties that have shifted in the past decade are outside the mountain West, the Great Plains, and the Southwest.

Tragedy in remote southeast Utah

Read the New York Times report here of a physician in Blanding Utah, population 3,162, who committed suicide last week, a day after he was one of 22 people named in a federal indictment for "stealing, selling and trading Indian artifacts."

The story drew my interest in part because I have driven through Blanding twice in the last five years, both times on vacations in the Southwest. Last fall, my family and I spent several days just south of there in Bluff, population 320, which served as a base for visiting Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Monument Valley, and Goosenecks State Park. All of San Juan County --which is truly vast--has only about 15,000 residents, and a population density of 1.8 per square mile. I blogged about my trip here. As William Yardley's report indicates, Blanding is indeed a place from whence Indian "ancestral lands ... stretch out ... in every direction."

Given that Dr. Redd is reported to have been so generous in providing his services to American Indians, passing judgment and calling the rights and wrongs of these events is difficult. One aspect of loss is clear: physicians serving remote rural communities are in short supply, and now there is one fewer in southeast Utah.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Springdale, Arkansas a "small community"? I don't think so

When I heard the promo into an NPR story this morning say that many Marshallese Islanders have settled in a "small community" in the Arkansas Ozarks, my ears perked up. I'm from the Arkansas Ozarks, and I waited with great anticipation so I could learn which small community it was. Turns out, what reporter Jacqueline Froelich calls a "small community" is Springdale, Arkansas, population 63,837, and part of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area. Maybe Froelich thought that any place in the Arkansas Ozarks must be a "small community" since it is hardly a place known for cities or cosmopolitanism.

Of course, "small" and "large" are relative. Similarly, "rural" and "urban" are not a dichotomy, but rather represent points on a continuum. Still, I think NPR can do better than this. The real story here regarding the Marshallese migration to Springdale is one about multi-ethnicity. Until a few decades ago, Springdale and environs were almost entirely non-Hispanic White. As with the Marshallese, many Latina/os have migrated to the Springdale area in recent years. Also like the Marshallese, many Latina/os have come to work in the thriving poultry processing industry, and they have spread out into service industries and attend local educational institutions. Of greater interest to me would be information about how the Marshallese and Latina/os have transformed a previously homogeneous (and dare I say, provincial) metropolitan area into a multi-ethnic one. To what extent have they truly integrated into the community? How have they transformed it?

See my article on a related topics, "Latina/os, Locality and Law in the Rural South" here. It is forthcoming in the Harvard Latino Law Review (2009). In it, I consider the difference that rurality (as reflected in nonmetropolitan places--those smaller than Springdale) makes to the integration of Latina/os into these previously ethnically homogeneous places.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXVIII): Sheriff's office clerk charged with theft

There's lots of law-related news in the June 11, 2009, issue of the Newton County Times. I'll start with the front-page crime news.
  • NC Sheriff's Office Clerk was arrested for theft
The story reports that a 43-year-old woman who has worked as an administrative assistant, collecting money when people paid fines for criminal convictions, has been arrested for stealing about $3,000. After irregularities were noted in a cyclical February audit, the Arkansas State Police conducted a further audit which revealed the missing funds and alterations to hide the deficit.

In other stories, the headlines are:

  • Three JPs hired to clean ice damage
  • Newton County agent receives 'Presidential Award'
  • Reappraisal completed: 36 percent increase on agriculture vacant parcels
  • Two weekend fatalities
The first of these stories is perhaps the most interesting, as a vignette into rural politics. It reports that among four contractors paid to clean up after January's ice storm, three were members of the five-member Newton County Quorum Court; the fourth was a local tree service. Being a member of the Quorum Court, or a Justice of the Peace, is like being a county supervisor (the CA label); these are elected officials. Three of them were paid between $18.8K and $12.4K for storm clean up, from state and federal funds. This left me wondering whether a competitive bidding process awarded this work, but the story doesn't say. However, the newly elected county judge (chief administrative officer for the county) defends the process, stating "they had exactly the right equipment when we started looking for people to hire." The story also indicates that the payments are based on FEMA guidelines. Looks like a windfall to the local "good ole' boys" if you ask me. (This reminds me: I don't recall a woman ever serving on the Newton County Quorum Court. What's up with that? Certainly, women have held other county offices)

From the second headline, the "agent" who received the award is the county extension agent, through the University of Arkansas Dept. of Agriculture, who has worked with smallholder livestock farmers in Borneo in connection with Winrock International's John Ogonowski Farmer-to-Farmer program. I'm delighted that the county has such a competent and worldly extension agent.

As for the third headline, this indicates that local property taxes on undeveloped land are rising, in line with state norms. The county assessor is quoted, "Newton County has seen a 36 percent increase on just agriculture vacant parcels which does not have any market value assessed." I am unsure what the lack of "market value assessed" means, but it might mean there is no way to measure the market value of much of the county's agricultural land because its value has never been assessed for purposes of sale. Worst case scenario, I suppose, it means that there is no market for the land. But that would surprise me. See my earlier post here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Are rural girls more interested in sports than their urban counterparts?

That is the implicit suggestion of a couple of articles in the New York Times earlier this week. The headlines are, "A City Team's Struggle Shows Disparity in Girls' Sports" and "Using Teamwork to Bring Girls into the Game." Both are by Katie Thomas.

As someone who thinks a lot about rurality and rural-urban difference, I was struck by the fact that this two-part series was explicitly labeled "urban" and "city" at different points, including in one of the headlines. While one might argue that this evinces an urban bias in reporting (i.e., more urban news, features are published than those about rural places), at least there is a certain fairness in labeling in the sense that the story doesn't purport to be universal, while actually being urban focused. It is what it says it is--a series about the struggle to engage girls in sports in urban settings. As such, it may also use these modifiers to differentiate the places featured not only from the rural, but also from the suburban.

Here's a representative excerpt about the story:
MetroLacrosse, which serves 600 children, is one of several Boston sports groups that are aggressively trying to increase girls’ participation. The city is at the vanguard of a movement to close the gender gap in urban areas by rethinking traditional activities and looking for new ways to encourage girls to play.
Whether the "urban" modifier is intended to differentiate from rural, suburban or both, this two-part series got me to thinking some more about my own rural upbringing and the role of sports for girls in that setting. I've often whined that, as a not very athletic girl (and indeed, a rather bookish one), I was sorta' second class in my rural junior high and high school. Even though I went on to be a cheerleader (my feminist legal theory students are gasping, I hope, at this revelation), all the cheerleaders knew we occupied a lower rung on the social ladder than the female athletes. In the tiny school from which I graduated, those athletes were all basketball players--the only inter-school sport for grades 7-12 at that time.

So, in my experience, rural "girls" were quite interested in sports--much more, apparently, than the urban girls in the northeast who are the focus of Thomas' reports. Why might that be? Is it that being raised in the country--sometimes on a farm, doing farm chores--makes girls more comfortable with physical activity? Many rural and small-town schools are characterized by a dearth of extracurricular and after-school programs in rural places, as well as long school bus rides home. Maybe it is because there is so little else for rural teens to do--whether in or out of school-- that sports are a more attractive diversion for girls as well as boys.

Of course, just because rural girls are interested in sports doesn't mean they attract as much attention as boys for participating, or even excelling. Townsfolk in my community always followed boys teams more closely than girls teams. Indeed, only in about 1980 did girls basketball teams go from playing 3-on-3 half court to playing full-court 5-on-5. And that took litigation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

EPA declares health emergency in Libby, Montana; federal aid will go to asbestos clean up and health care costs

Read Cornelia Dean's report in today's New York Times. Rural Libby, with a population of just 2,626, is the county seat of Lincoln County, on the Canadian border and the Idaho state line. Here's the lede from from Dean's story:

The Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency on Wednesday in and near Libby, Mont., where over the course of decades asbestos contamination in a vermiculite mine has left hundreds of people dead or sickened from lung diseases.

It was the first health emergency ever declared under the Superfund law, the 1980 statute that governs sites contaminated or threatened by hazardous substances. The Libby site has been designated a Superfund priority since 2002.

One aspect of the federal government's response is $6 million that will flow from the Dept. of Health and Human Services to the Lincoln County Health Clinic for treatment of those with asbestos-related ilness. More than 200 Libby-area residents have already died from asbestos-related diseases.

W. R. Grace & Co. operated the vermiculite mine from 1963 to 1983. Grace has paid the U.S. government $250 million for clean up efforts related to the site. Last month, former Grace executives were acquitted of federal charges that they had conspired to cover up the dangers associated with the mine. Read a post about that here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Urban farming--that's the subject of the second most popular story on the NYT website right now

Read the report by Marian Burros here. Interestingly, this very popular story appears in the Dining and Wine Section (which I, for one, seldom reach with my own hard copy of the Times).

An excerpt follows:
Aeries are cropping up on America’s skylines, filled with the promise of juicy tomatoes, tiny Alpine strawberries and the heady perfume of basil and lavender. High above the noise and grime of urban streets, gardeners are raising fruits and vegetables. Some are simply finding the joys of backyard gardens several stories up, others are doing it for the environment and some because they know local food sells well.
Other stories on the topic of urban farming have also been popular. See earlier posts here, here and here.

Twenty-four hours later, the story is still in the top 10 most emailed stories on NYT.com.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A political consequence of connecting rural places with, well, everywhere else

In this case, the rural place is in China. Here's the lede from Michael Wines' story, under the headline, "Civic-Minded Chinese Find a Voice Online":
There was a time when the story of the 21-year-old waitress who fatally stabbed a Communist Party official as he tried to force himself on her would have never left the rural byways of Hubei Province where it took place.

Instead, her arrest last month on suspicion of voluntary manslaughter erupted into an online furor that turned her into a national hero and reverberated all the way to China’s capital, where censors ordered incendiary comments banned. Local Hubei officials even restricted television coverage and tried to block travel to the small town where the assault occurred.

On Tuesday, a Hubei court granted the woman, Deng Yujiao, an unexpectedly swift victory, ruling that she had acted in self-defense and freeing her without criminal penalties.
Note the rural angle: Technology is connecting rural China to the rest of the country--and the world--with social and political consequences.

I heard a news report today about Britain's plan for universal broadband in that nation by 2012. These stories leave me wondering why broadband in rural areas is not a higher priority in the United States. See an earlier post on the topic here.

An old West (and maybe rural) way to settle a dispute

Read Randal C. Archibold's New York Times story about how Cave Creek, Arizona, population 3,728, settled a tie in the race for a city council seat--by shuffling a deck of cards. While Cave Creek is small, it is in metropolitan (and sprawling) Maricopa County, the 4th most populous county in the nation, whose county seat is Phoenix.

Interestingly, the young man who prevailed in the card draw, 25-year-old law student Adam Trenk, is described as having "moved to Cave Creek last year from Scottsdale, an upscale suburb to the south, to keep a horse in his backyard and live the Western life he believes is threatened by unchecked development. He cast himself during the campaign as a preservationist."

Reporting that overlooks rurality

This New York Times story about programs (part government subsidy, part private sector initiative) to provide cell phones to the poor is just one recent news item that left me wondering: what about the rural? Like so many stories, the people and places featured here are urban (Bronx, NY and Greensboro, NC), and I wondered if rural residents are also benefiting from programs like this one. Perhaps similarly needy residents of rural places unable to benefit because of lack of cell phone service in their locales? Or perhaps the men featured in this story just happen to live in cities. I'd like to know.

In contrast, thanks to Barbara Ehrenreich who, in her Sunday Op-Ed in the Times, "Too Poor to Make the News," used a rural example--along with urban ones--to illustrate her point that, for the working poor, the recession is just "same old." As Ehrenreich expresses it, they "are no more gripped by the recession than by 'American Idol.'" The hardships they continue to endure are no news at all.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A lack of geographic diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court? What difference do "rural judges" make?

Douglas Burns offers this opinion on the Daily Yonder, arguing that the Supreme Court needs someone with rural roots/background/experience in order to be more representative of our nation. He notes that Justice Souter arguably provided that until now, and he also acknowledges Justice Thomas' early rural upbringing.

I haven't considered in any systematic way how attuned Supreme Court justices are to rural difference, but I looked at numerous judicial constructions of rurality in writing Rural Rhetoric (2006). And I examined judicial sensitivity to rural context in relation to three legal issues with particular import to women in Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural (2007). I could also offer a few other random (and as yet unpublished) observations about judges and how they view rurality. For example, rural difference often gets mentioned in dissent, even when judges writing for the majority in the same case choose not to acknowledge the rural context at all. In addition, I've identified a few judges who seem to pick up on rural difference across a range of substantive issues, commenting for example on a decision's impact on rural populations, sometimes as a matter of policy.

In any event, my extensive survey of judicial decisions that use the word "rural" has led me to conclude that some judges are clearly more sensitive to rural realities than others, and this sensitivity influences their decision making. Whether this sensitivity is due to those judges' rural upbringings or some other rural exposure, I cannot say. But rural difference from what has become an implicit urban norm in law is often legally relevant--as I've often argued in my scholarship. I have no doubt that we need judges (including Supreme Court Justices!) who have a capacity to recognize that. Just as we need judges of color, women judges, and LGBT judges who are cognizant of the lived realities of these populations, we need judges who know something about rural realities or who, at a minimum, are open to learning about them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

NPR on health insurance woes in rural America

Listen to Howard Berkes' report here. An excerpt outlining the problem follows:
Half of all jobs in rural places are tied to small businesses, a rate 13 percent higher than in cities and suburbs. And people who work for small businesses are twice as likely to be uninsured, according to Jon Bailey of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb.

"The two biggest determinants of un-insurance in this country are the owner of a small business or employee of a small business," reported Bailey, who co-authored an April 2009 study describing the rates of uninsured and underinsured rural Americans. "And that's more common in rural areas."

Friday, June 12, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXVII): Two fugitives on the lam, one caught

After very little crime news (but lots of local, human interest reporting) in the May 21 and May 28, 2009 issues of the Newton County Times, the June 4 issue is chock full of interesting crime drama.

A front page story in this most recent issue reports that a local man, David Middleton, is a fugitive on drug charges after a drug task force searched his home and found items consistent with a meth lab. Middleton was not home at the time of the search, but his wife was taken into custody on related charges, including prescription drug fraud. The county sheriff is quoted as saying he believes Middleton is "well aware that we want him," and that the search came after several years' investigation. The story goes on to note that Middleton's son was killed two years ago outside the Middleton house, and a county resident is serving 24 years in prison for that crime. The sheriff says that any connection between the murder and the meth lab would be solely the "criminal activities among the group," which sounds like a reasonably close connection to me. Later in a plea for information that might lead to Middleton's arrest, the sheriff urges "public support" because information "is crucial in reducing drug problems in Newton County."

A page-three story in ths issue of the paper also involves a fugitive and is even more interesting. It reports on the arrest of a 67-year-old Newton County man, Ronald Wrisinger, in the death of his wife and daughter 23 years ago in Missouri. The story does not indicate how the cold case got revived, but it does indicate that the double murder charges stem from an investigation by the Ray County, Missouri Sheriff's Department, the Missouri Highway Patrol, and the Rural Major Case Squad. The population of Ray County, Missouri is 23,537, which may explain the involvement of that squad. Of course, Newton County would also seem to be a great place to hide out, though the story indicates that Wrisinger moved there only several years after the women's disappearance.

Another page-three story reports on a former pastor's sentencing to five years in prison for incest. The 35-year-old pastor of a small church in Western Grove, population 407, pleaded guilty to incest after he was accused of having sexual intercourse with his 17-year-old adopted daughter.

In other news, the county's Quorum Court (local governing body) recently voted to approve a $.70/hour pay rise to bring the minimum wage paid to sixteen county employees into line with the federal and state minimum of $7.25/hour. The story reports that the county will be able to pay this wage, in spite of budget troubles, by appropriating more than $60,000 in federal Title III money into the general operating budget. Those funds compensate the county for "providing emergency services on federal land," including the Ozark National Forest which covers the county's Southern half.

Another front page headline is "Local officers recognized for bravery," and it tells of U.S. Dept of the Interior commendations to Buffalo National River Park Rangers and Newton County Sheriff's Office deputies who attempted to rescue a youth from a canoeing accident last year on the river.

A back-page story in the May 28 issue shows a 2003 Crown Victoria Squad car that the Madison County Sheriffs Dept. donated to the Newton County Sheriffs Dept. Madison County, population 14,243, is immediately to the west of Newton County. The circumstances surrounding the gift are not explained.

One-man solution to small town's woes fails

Read William Yardley's New York Times story about Shaniko, Oregon, population 26, on the state's central high desert. It is about a wealthy newcomer's efforts to revive the tiny town, perhaps eventually to stage re-enactments of pioneer days. Ultimately, the story features two themes familiar in rural places: (1) tension between newcomers and oldtimers and (2) conflicts over water.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

So what's your point, Mr. de Leon? that government should treat rural people differently for purposes of health care?

From today's Sacramento Bee, page A3:
I'm not from a rural area, I don't represent a rural area, I don't often go into rural areas.
Spoken by California Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, in debating whether to cut Medi-Cal payments to rural hospitals.

No story accompanied this quote, under the heading "Worth Repeating." I can only assume he favors the cuts to these places from which he seems at great pains to distance himself ... So would he also favor cuts to urban hospitals?

De Leon's repeated use of "rural place" as literally (and perhaps also metaphorically) removed certainly suggests rural as other.

Monday, June 8, 2009

U.S.S.Ct. rules in case about W. Virginia Justice's conflict of interest

The United States Supreme Court today announced its holding that "the Constitution can require an elected judge to step aside in a particular case based on campaign spending in state judicial races." This is not an issue that arises only in rural states, though the case that brought the issue to the Court was out of West Virginia, which has recently looked like one big small town in terms of the state's movers and shakers (see posts here and here).

In the West Virginia Supreme Court, energy giant Massey Coal Compnay had prevailed over several smaller mining concerns. Yet Massey had been a major contributor to the campaign of Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin, who had twice joined the majority in 3-to-2 decisions to throw out the $50 million jury verdict against Massey. In a series of decisions rejecting disqualification motions, Justice Benjamin had maintained that "no objective reason" suggested his inability to rule fairly in the case.

Writing for the majority in Monday's decision, Justice Kennedy disagreed, noting “a serious, objective risk of actual bias. Still, the majority did "not question his subjective findings of impartiality and propriety" nor "determine whether there was actual bias.”

I've written earlier posts about the case here and here. Adam Liptak's report about the Supreme Court decision is here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXVI): Fines to help defray jail expenses

The condemned (yet still in use) county jail is in the headlines again in the May 7, 2009, issue of the Newton County Times. The story reports that the Newton County Quorum Court is taking advantage of new state legislation that permits counties to levy an additional $20 fine from each convicted defendant. (The story implies that this is a one-time fine, not a per day fine). The funds raised will be used to defray the expense of incarcerating prisoners.

I see a couple of problems with this scheme. One is that I don't like the idea of trying to "get blood from a turnip" (to invoke a great Southern expression), particularly the impoverished types (turnips!) who are usually convicted of crimes in Newton County. (I am similarly offended by similar fines and court costs levied on convicted criminals elsewhere, fees that make it difficult for them to recover financially once they are no longer incarcerated). The second problem I see is that it's hard to imagine that this fine is going to raise very much money since only a handful of persons are convicted of crime each month in Newton County.

In other front-page news:
  • "Commercial historic district proposed" in Jasper, the county seat. It would encompass a 7-8 block area including the county courthouse and county jail (see above!), which are already on the state's registry of historic buildings.
  • "Swine flu shuns state, county"
  • "4-H Rabies Clinic to make rounds"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another type of rural retirement

I usually think of those who retire in rural places as choosing the amenity-rich variety of rural locale (as in the inter-mountain West), but a story on NPR today reports on would-be retirees who invested in their farms and are moving toward retirement with their farmland as their major investment. Turns out, it's proving a good investment for many.