Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rural-CCD conflict part of The Villages' story

NPR featured this story on The Villages, Florida today. This age-segregated community in central Florida (each house must have a resident who is 55 or older and no one under the age of 19 is permitted to live in the community permanently) has grown phenomenally over the past decade, from about 8,300 in the 2000 Census to an estimated 80,000 now. This Community Development District (CCD) lies primarily in Sumter County, Florida, population 71,614, but it also includes parts of Lake and Marion counties, which are more densely populated than Sumter.

The NPR feature focused to a great extent on the artificiality of the community and on the fact that everything is owned by the developer, resulting in a blurring of public and private. But the story also noted the conflict between Sumter County's rural and agricultural interests and those of The Villages and its residents. That part of Robert Siegel's report is not featured in the brief excerpt of the story on NPR.org, but you can learn more about it by listening here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rurality and home-grown militias

I've often pondered the link between rurality and so-called home grown militias such as the one recently in the news following the arrests of nine of its members this week-end. Eight men and one woman involved in Hutaree, a "Christian" militia group that planned to kill a police officer and then use explosive devices along the funeral procession to kill more law enforcement officials. Ultimately, they hoped to spur a widespread uprising against the government. Read the New York Times initial coverage of the arrests and the plot here.

This morning's New York Times provides further details of Hutaree, which was apparently based in Lenawee County, Michigan, population 101,153. While Lenawee County is less than 100 miles from Detroit, Ann Arbor and Toledo, a photo of one of the Lenawee County homes related to this week-end's arrests looks pretty rural. It's in Clayton, population 326.

In addition to the David Stone and his wife, Tina Mae Stone, and their sons, who resided in Lenawee County (presumably at the Clayton home shown in the photo), others arrested resided in Blissfield, Michigan, population 3,223; Manchester, Michigan, population 2,160; Whiting, Indiana, population 5,137; Sandusky, Ohio, population 27,844; and Huron, Ohio, population 7,958.

Some of these places are clearly more rural (or remote or nonmetropolitan) than others. So, does rural locale have any significance with respect to these militia groups, either in suggesting the type of folks who are involved in groups like Hutaree--or in helping them go undetected? I recall, for example, that posse comitatus, another anti-federal militia group, tends to be associated with rural locales.

Here's an excerpt from today's NYTimes story by Nick Bunkley and Charlie Savage which mentions the rural locale of the apparent ringleader of Hutaree:
David B. Stone Sr. and his wife, Tina, made no secret about the fact that they were part of a militia, neighbors say. The couple frequently let visitors in military fatigues erect tents in front of their trailer home at the intersection of rural dirt roads, and the sound of gunfire was routine.

“In Michigan, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal to be in a militia,” said Tom McDormett, a neighbor. “They would practice shooting, but that’s not a big deal. People do that all the time out here.”

But last Saturday night, Mr. McDormett watched through binoculars as the police raided the Stones’ home, tearing off plywood from the base of their two connected single-wide trailers to search under the floors.
This anecdote indicates that Hutaree's rural locale provided insufficient spatial isolation or privacy to "protect" the Stones from detection--by either their neighbors or the FBI. So why do these groups tend to seek rural locales? I suppose they are less expensive places to live--and also tend to be places where people can own a piece of land large enough to store equipment and practice military drills. But the cover previously provided by rurality (and perhaps still provided, at least from neighbors, in less densely populated places in the West) may be diminished in this age of enhanced technology. Such technology no doubt facilitated law enforcement detection of Hutaree, even as it facilitated Hutaree's promotion of its goals and its members' contract with one another.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LI): Massive search underway--but for what?

The March 11 and March 18 issues of the Newton County Times arrived together a few days ago, and both report on a massive search of the Mt. Judea area property owned by Ricky Middleton, the topic of several recent posts, such as the ones here and here. The March 11 story features a rare color photo of the "command post" for the search, which is using 50 Army National Guard, DEA, state and local law enforcement officers. The sheriff is quoted as saying that authorities were "geared up for two weeks, but would be on site as long as it takes" to execute the warrants for stolen property. Another photo shows a helicopter associated with a "counter-drug unit of the Army National Guard." Also involved in the search were "military trucks and trailers loaded with earth moving equipment, other types of military vehicles, and men riding four wheelers. There was also a black painted SUV with a satellite dish mounted on its roof."

The sheriff is also quoted as saying that the search is not limited to the Middleton's property but will extend "wherever information leads them." On the first day of the search, officers recovered a log skidder that had been stolen from a property in the community of Lurton. The sheriff said that Ricky Middleton has been arrested on a bench warrant for theft by receiving and altering VIN numbers.

The March 18 paper follows up with more news of the search, along with a full complement of law and order stories. Regarding the search, the caption for a color photo of pick up trucks, bulldozers and four wheelers indicates that excavation equipment was being used in the search. A story right next to the photo suggests a link between the search and the disappearance of 20-year-old Josh Middleton about five years ago. The report indicates that law enforcement officers are also seeking from the search evidence to assist in investigating the man's disappearance. The sheriff is quoted as indicating that a great deal of property has been recovered in the search, but it is not clear how much of it has been stolen. Among items found that are known to be stolen are a buried vehicle. A trailer filled with tools and merchandise was also recovered.

The massive search has also been extended to property that had been owned by the late Robert Middleton, presumably a relative of Ricky and David Middleton. There, the law enforcement officers recovered some brush mowers that had reportedly been stolen from a neighboring city, and from Missouri. In addition, a truck and boat had been buried on that property.

Other front-page headlines include these:
  • Motion made to joinder Middleton cases
  • Criminal cases recently adjudicated in Newton County Circuit Court

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Slaughterhouse bottleneck slows Slow Food movement

This story in today's New York Times reports from East Montpelier, Vermont, population 2,578, on the challenge that small meat producers are facing in getting their products to burgeoning locavore markets. The bottleneck, it seems, is slaughterhouses. Here's an excerpt from Katie Zezima's story:
Erica Zimmerman and her husband spent months pasture-raising pigs on their farm here, but when the time came to take them to slaughter, an overbooked facility canceled their appointment.

With the herd in prime condition, and the couple lacking food and space to keep them, they frantically called slaughterhouses throughout the state. After several days they found an opening, but their experience highlights a growing problem for small farmers here and across the nation: too few slaughterhouses to meet the growing demand for locally raised meat.

In what could be a major setback for America’s local-food movement, championed by so-called locavores, independent farmers around the country say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities, adding to their costs and causing stress to livestock.

The consequence: these producers are scaling back on plans to expand their farm. Apparently, the shortage of slaughterhouses is particularly acute in the northeast. The number of slaughterhouses in Vermont currently is 7, down from 25 in the mid-1980s. One of the complications in ramping up slaughterhouse work is the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon. So what might the USDA do about this? Well, it is "financing some mobile units and helping to build a regional facility near the Quad Cities in Illinois and Iowa."

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack notes that helping small farmers helps "struggling rural economies." He added, “we recognize that the buy-local food movement is a significant economic driver in rural communities.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

New York public defender class action takes up issues in nonmetro counties, too

The New York Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a case in which the New York Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of the state's public defender system. Read more about the suit here and access court filings here.

This story in the New York Times a few days ago reports the tale of one of the named plaintiffs, Kimberly Hurell-Harring, a young woman from Rochester who was poorly served by the public defender appointed to represent her when she was arrested for trying to smuggle less than an ounce of marijuana to her husband, a prison inmate in the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Fort Edward, New York, population 5,892. Fort Edward is in upstate New York near the state line with Vermont, in Washington County, population 62,555.

Journalist William Glaberson describes the story as one of "a small-town lawyer and part-time public servant sinking in personal and professional quicksand that few people knew about when he showed up to represent" Hurell-Harring.

Elsewhere, Glaberson's report suggests ways in which small-town characteristics influenced events. These include lack of anonymity--that is, the public defender, Patrick E. Barber, was known among those in the Washington County jail for doing a crummy job.

Another has to do with rural economies and local government. Counties like Washington County apparently have populations so small that case loads do not merit full-time, institutional public defender offices. An economy of scale for delivering indigent defense services can apparently not be achieved, so the county hires one or more part-time public defenders. One of these was Barber. Counties typically do not supervise such lawyer/contractors, and in many instances their caseloads are crushing, especially when added to the private practice work they often also maintain. Here's an excerpt from the Times story about how Washington County came to engage Barber to do the indigent defense work.

There was not much in the way of vetting when [the lawyer] put in a cost-conscious bid to become Washington County’s chief public defender, a part-time position he added to his private practice of trial work, debt collections, wills and divorces. It was quickly settled. Beginning in 2006, he would get $50,000 a year and some rent for the office he had shared with a law partner who had recently died. “We have to have a good reason not to take the low bid,” said John A. Rymph, the chairman of the County Board of Supervisors.
Local government financing of indigent defense is a subject about which I (along with Beth Colgan of Columbia Legal Services) have an article forthcoming in the Arizona Law Review. It's called Justice Deserts: Spatial Inequality and Local Funding of Indigent Defense and can be downloaded here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

From rural California to rural New Zealand and back: It's all for the fish

Jesse McKinley reports in today's New York Times on efforts by the tiny Winnemem Wintu tribe to apologize to the fish, which are less plentiful than they once were in the McCloud River, near the tribe's ancestral home in Shasta County, in northern California. Sixty members of the tribe, which is not recognized by the federal government, have traveled to the Rakaia River in New Zealand to apologize to the Chinook salmon there.

Here's an excerpt that explains some of the history:
As the Winnemem see it, the tribe’s troubles began in early 1940s, with the completion of the Shasta Dam, which blocked the Sacramento River and cut off the lower McCloud River, obstructing seasonal salmon runs, and according to the tribe, breaking a covenant with the fish.
A tribal leader is quoted as saying they should have fought harder to prevent the dam, and now they must atone to the fish. So, how does New Zealand come into the picture? McKinley explains:
As luck would have it, the United States government once bred millions of Chinook eggs from the McCloud and shipped them around the world in hopes of creating new fisheries, including a batch that went to the South Island of New Zealand, where the fish thrived.
* * *
Once in New Zealand, the Winnemem plan to rendezvous with local Maori leaders and stage a four-day ceremony starting March 28 that will culminate with the rare “nur chonas winyupus,” or middle water salmon dance.
The Winnemem believe their fate is closely linked to the salmon; if they as a tribe are to make a come back, the salmon must, too.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nouveau riche in exurban India flying high

This very popular story in yesterday's New York Times 0ffers an at-times comical portrait of the largess displayed by some of India's newly rich--in this case farmers. It is also a reminder of India's rapid development, as cities sprawl outward, consuming what had been farm land.

The story's attention-getting angle is the tale of a 19-year-old groom whose father has hired a helicopter to transport him to his wife's village, 2 miles away, for their wedding. But other aspects of the wedding party aren't going so well, and these reflect the intersection of rural with urban, traditional with modern:
[The father of the groom's] rented Lexus got stuck behind a bullock cart. He has hired a truck to blast Hindi pop, but it is too big to maneuver through his village.
The groom's father is clearly hoping to make a statement about the family's wealth: he has just sold 3 acres of his ancestral land for $109,000--a windfall in the context of India's economy. The story notes that, "[o]ver the years, farmers and others have sold more than 50,000 acres of farmland as Noida has evolved into a suburb of 300,000 people with shopping malls and office parks."

A professor at an Indian university comments on the conspicuous consumption of these newly rich, calling it "bad financial planning by farmers who have little education or experience with the seductive heat of cold cash." He notes that, in addition to spending on weddings, they also buy Land Rovers and other expensive vehicles, televisions, and expensive vacations. As for the father of the groom, in addition to the $13,000 he spent on his son's wedding, he bought three additional acres of agricultural land, farther out.

More than 24 hours after it was first posted, this story by Jim Yardley is number 4 on nytimes.com's most emailed list.

Friday, March 19, 2010

States recognize link between animal abuse and violence against humans

Ian Urbina reports in yesterday's New York Times on the trend for states to impose stiffer penalties for animal abuse because the phenomenon is now being linked to violence against humans. The headline is "Animal Abuse as Clue to Additional Cruelties." Urbina reports that child abuse and animal abuse often go together--in 88% of the homes where child physical abuse occurred, pets were also mistreated:
A 2007 study found that women abused by their intimate partner were 10 times more likely to report that their partner had hurt or killed one or more of their pets than women who were not abused.
The story indicates that states are increasingly cross-reporting incidents of animal abuse to child protection agencies, and some states are establishing registries to track abusers. Another excerpt follows:

State lawmakers are paying especially close attention to animal hoarders — people who keep large numbers of pets without providing for their most basic needs — because these offenders are prone to recidivism and can cost counties huge sums for cleanup costs and the care of rescued animals.

At least 27 states now allow courts to bar convicted animal abusers from owning or coming into contact with pets, nearly double the number from a decade ago, and 3 other states are considering similar measures this year. Tennessee and California are considering bills to create online registries of animal abusers.

While animal abuse and hoarding clearly are not strictly a rural phenomenon, one of several illustrations that Urbina gives is from Perry County, Ohio, population 34,961, which is in the southeast quadrant of the state, in the Appalachian area. (See the photo of the trailer home accompanying the story). Indeed, Wikipedia calls it one of the poorest areas in the state. There, in 2007, animal control authorities impounded 50 dogs at one hoarder's rural home, where they also found the remains of 18 others.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reverse migration to rural Haiti

Deborah Sontag reports in today's New York Times under the headline, "After Quake, Rural Haiti Struggles to Absorb the Displaced." An excerpt follows:
Life has come full circle for many Haitians who originally migrated to escape the grinding poverty of the countryside. Since the early 1980s, rural Haitians have moved at a steady clip to Port-au-Prince in search of schools, jobs and government services. After the earthquake, more than 600,000 returned to the countryside, according to the government, putting a serious strain on desperately poor communities that have received little emergency assistance.
The founder of a leading "peasant cooperative" in one of the rural regions is quoted:
“But the misery of the countryside is compounding the effects of the disaster. I’ve heard people say it would be better to risk another earthquake in Port-au-Prince than to stay in this rural poverty without any help from the government.”
This strikes me as a powerful plea for more even development, great spatial equality in a developing world context. Indeed, the story provides more information about how Haiti desires the decentralization that would accompany reverse migration to the countryside.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rural counties still struggling to gain access to broadband.

NPR ran an interesting story on the topic of rural access to broadband this morning. Rural Americans are still struggling to gain access, and aren't getting much help from the government. In Trinity County, a rural county in Northern California, residents are wondering if their county will survive without it. With tourism and timber industries nearly dried up in Trinity County, the future may hinge on whether high-speed internet becomes available. Trinity County kids trying to do homework online using dial-up are dealing with staggeringly slow connections. According to one 13 year old, "It takes about an hour to load every page." According to the story, AT&T runs fiber through Trinity County to connect to larger cities, but has declined to extend the use of this fiber to Trinity County residents.

This topic has already been covered pretty extensively, but with the United States still lagging behind other industrialized nations in terms of access to broadband, I'm glad that at least the news media hasn't forgotten that this is still an important issue. Full text and audio for the story is available here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Who's raising all those urban chickens?

According to Peggy Orenstein's essay in yesterday's New York Times magazine, The Femivore's Dilemma, women--mostly stay-at-home moms--comprise the majority of folks who have become urban chicken keepers (at least in Berkeley, California, where Orenstein lives). Orenstein observes that the locavore movement has provided an alternative for well-educated women--an alternative, that is, to the standard "break the glass ceiling" or "accept the gilded cage." Here is how she sums up what she calls "femivorism."
Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly.
An interesting perspective--very idealized, I'd say. Maybe Orenstein is correct that this is a "good" option for women who have left paid work, but I am reminded of this earlier post regarding the added burdens that locavorism and the slow food movement have put on many women, including those working outside the home and already burdened by the second shift.

Indeed, at the end of her essay, Orenstein comes around to a similar point, concluding "if a woman is not careful, it seems, chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage." And that, I suppose, is the femivore's dilemma. Be sure to read the rest of the essay to see how Orenstein gets to that point.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rural addressing a "digital quilting bee"

I have been following the process of rural addressing in my home county, Newton County, Arkansas, as it is covered in the Newton County Times, and I found interesting a story from the Feb. 18, 2010 issue that described the process. Newton County is currently at the stage of assigning identifying numbers to county roads. The Arkansas Geographic Information Office (AGIO) is involved in the process, most recently in supplying maps of the county divided into nine areas "designated around the county's rural volunteer fire department service areas." Adrian Clark of AGIO is quoted as describing the project as a "digital quilting bee" with each county being a square in the statewide map, or "road files." The goal, he notes, is to be able to locate people, places and events by a physical address.

The role of the county's volunteer fire departments in this process is interesting--they are essentially the nodes at the center of each of the nine areas. Also, rural fire departments assisted in the process of locating and verifying roads on the state's master maps. Beginning in the northwest corner of the county with 1000, county roads will progress numerically around the county, to 9999 in the southwest corner. In each segment, the road numbers would begin closest to the main fire stations and radiate outward. Roads farther from the station would have higher numbers.

The story notes that "addressing is essential for modern services as home mail and parcel deliveries or enhanced emergency 911 telecommunications. Newton County is the last county in Arkansas to undergo the process." The county decided only last April to join this project, undertaken by AGIO.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The political trumps the personal in Arkansas politics

At least that is what Shaila Dewan would have us believe based on her depiction of U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln's race for re-election. Dewan writes in yesterday's New York Times of Lincoln's political middle ground as a "conservative Democrat," and how it has attracted challenges from both left and right. The state's Lt. Governor is running against her in the Democratic primary, and several candidates are also vying for the Republican nomination.

The dateline for Dewan's story is Helena, Arkansas, population 6,323, which is Lincoln's home town, in the Mississippi Delta region of the state. What I found most interesting about the story from a ruralist perspective were some of Dewan's characterizations of the tensions between voters' personal relationships with Lincoln and her parents on the one hand and their political positions on the other. The story's lede is illustrative:
When the subject of Senator Blanche Lincoln came up at a women’s luncheon last week at the historic Pillow-Thompson House in this Mississippi River town, there was an awkward pause in the chatter.

“We’ve known Blanche all her life, and we love her,” one woman explained delicately while Mrs. Lincoln’s mother, a town fixture beloved for her pimento cheese sandwiches and homemade cookies, ate at a nearby table. “We just don’t think she’s been making very good decisions lately.”

In a state where voters are known for valuing personal relationships over ideology, Mrs. Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, is in trouble even here in her own hometown, among those who attended high school with her or went hunting with her father.
I am not sure that Dewan is correct in her assertion that Arkansas voters are known for valuing personal relationships more than ideology. After all, even though it is a relatively small state in terms of population, a candidate for the U.S. Senate could not possibly be personally acquainted with that many of the state's voters and therefore personal relationships have relatively little potential impact. On the other hand, the fact that several voters who have long known Lincoln and her family are indicating that they will vote against her seems telling, especially if the political opinions they express are representative of those across the state.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Navajo hospital a model for births

Denise Grady reports in today's New York Times about the low rate of C-sections--and in particular the high rate of vaginal births after C-Section (VBAC), at the Navajo Nation hospital in Tuba City, Arizona.

The Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation is different. Its hospital, run by the Navajo Nation and financed partly by the Indian Health Service, prides itself on having a higher than average rate of vaginal births among women with a prior Caesarean, and a lower Caesarean rate over all.

As Washington debates health care, this small hospital in a dusty desert town on an Indian reservation, showing its age and struggling to make ends meet, somehow manages to outperform richer, more prestigious institutions when it comes to keeping Caesarean rates down, which saves money and is better for many mothers and infants.

Tuba City is the largest population center in the Navajo Nation, with 8,225 residents. Although it is a relatively rural area, some of the challenges of spatial isolation are ameliorated because the doctors, who are ensured by the federal government, live on the hospital grounds or very nearby. They can therefore be called in on very short notice.

Another characteristic of rural communities may also play a role in the success with vaginal births: lack of anonymity. The director of obstetrics and gynecology at Tuba City is quoted as praising the midwifes who deliver most babies not born by C-section: “I think the midwives tend to be patient. They know the patients well." As a related matter, nurse-midwife Michelle Cullison is quoted: “I’ve had 12 family members in the room. ... I’ve frankly never seen a place like this. Whoever that woman wants to be there is there. It’s something I would take out to the community.”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

(Marine) Woman to (rural Afghan) woman

The nytimes.com website's teaser about a story it just posted reads, "Women will accompany men on patrols in Afghanistan to try to win over rural Afghan women who are culturally off limits to outside men." The full story, by Elisabeth Bumiller, explains:
Next month [female Marines who are getting special training] will begin work as members of the first full-time “female engagement teams,” the military’s name for four- and five-member units that will accompany men on patrols in Helmand Province to try to win over the rural Afghan women who are culturally off limits to outside men. The teams, which are to meet with the Afghan women in their homes, assess their need for aid and gather intelligence, are part of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s campaign for Afghan hearts and minds. His officers say that you cannot gain the trust of the Afghan population if you only talk to half of it.
In response to the last comment, I can only say, "Indeed!"

I suppose that the need to use the "rural" modifier in describing where this plan will be executed--and indeed in having such a plan to begin with--is a reflection of (1) the greater intensity of patriarchy in rural places, something I have written about here and here; and (2) the importance of the battle for "hearts and minds" in rural places, where local/tribal/customary sources of authority are so powerful.

Protests over rest stop closures in Arizona

Read the New York Times coverage, by Jennifer Steinhauer, here. The headline is "Closing of Rest Stops Stirs Anger in Arizona," and the lede follows:
The people of Arizona kept their upper lips stiff when officials mortgaged off the state's executive office tower and a "Daily Show" crew rolled into town to chronicle the transaction in mocking tones. They remained calm as lawmakers pondered privatizing death row.

But then the state took away their toilets and residents began to revolt.

The story features one anecdote about how important the rest stops are to those traveling across state, like a comment from a resident of Pine, Arizona, population 1,931, in northern Gila County, that that there was only one rest stop along the two-and-a-half hour drive between Pine and Phoenix, and "we really needed it." As Steinhauer notes, this is a safety issue for drivers.

Still, the story does not much play up the physical vastness of Arizona as a way to illustrate the practial consequences of closing the rest stops. In terms of land area, Arizona is the sixth largest state in the nation which makes for hours and hours of driving to get from one end of the state to another.

The report does make one reference to the spatial isolation associated with the rest stops. An official from the state Transportation Department, in noting the costs of keeping the rest stops open and in good working order, observes that "Some of those places in the middle of nowhere are like their own little cities." While the analogy to cities seems a bit of a stretch, the "middle of nowhere" language is an appropriate reminder of the enhanced costs associated with maintaining facilities in remote locales.

Chinese Premier announces efforts to improve rural education

Here's an excerpt from the report in the New York Times.

The government will take new steps to recruit top-level educators to China, to improve teacher training and and to direct talented teachers to impoverished rural areas.
This comment follows a broader and not geographically specific statement about efforts to improve the lives of the poor, including through increased spending on "low-income housing, pensions, education, and health care." China is, of course, a rapidly developing country as evinced by some of the data Wen Jiabao provided in his announcement:
  • 800,000 aging homes renovated in 2009
  • 165,000 miles of power lines upgraded
  • 3,450 miles of new rail lines laid
  • 2,900 miles of new freeways opened
  • 35 airports built from scratch or renovated
The NYT story does not indicate whether the Prime Minister made any other mentions of rural needs and development in his 35-page speech.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Desperation for good jobs in rural Vermont

Read Katie Zezima's story in yesterday's New York Times about Vernon, Vermont, population 2,141, where many residents are upset at the state's decision to close Vermont Yankee, the state's only nuclear power plant. Indeed, they are upset and generally opposed to the closure in spite of a known leak of radioactive tritium from it. The primary reason for their upset: anticipated loss of the 650 jobs that accompany the power plant, including many skilled and high paying jobs. An excerpt from Zezima's story follows.
Vermont would lose the source of one-third of its electricity, but residents say the move would forever change Vernon, the small town on the Connecticut River that has been the reactor’s home for 38 years.

“It will ruin this town,” said Robert Miller, 49, who works in an auto body shop and serves on the Vernon Selectboard.

The reactor is the area’s largest source of high-paying jobs — the average worker makes $100,000 with benefits, according to the Entergy Corporation, the Louisiana-based owner — and the influx of employees has allowed the town to expand its elementary school and to build a library.

Another interesting angle on these events is the tension between working class Vernon and its swankier (gentrified?) neighbor, Brattleboro, population 12,005, which Zezima characterizes as "fiercely anti-nuclear."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Workers locked out at Inland Empire borax mine

Public Radio's Marketplace reported the story yesterday, with the dateline Boron, California, population 2,025. Here's an excerpt about the dispute between Rio Tinto, the mine's owner, and the workers, who comprise more than a quarter of Boron's population:
But Deal [of the mine's management team] says Rio Tinto needs labor flexibility to stay competitive. The company has lost 25 percent of its share in the global borax market, due in large part to competition from a government-owned mine in Turkey. Rio Tinto General Manager Dean Gehring says the company's proposed changes to the labor contract would actually benefit the local economy.

"The best way that we can preserve jobs here for the long term and make our business as successful as possible is to have this new contract, update our business, update our business practices. That's going to preserve more jobs and help the community more than continuing to operate under the old contract."
Meanwhile, the miners are reaching beyond Boron to the union's 42,000 members. A caravan of vehicles from Los Angeles, 100 miles to the southwest, is set to bring about $30,000 worth of food and supplies to the locked out workers.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From global to local: banking crisis trickles down to small-town banks

A story on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon reported on the high rate of bank failures in the state of Georgia. These failures of so-called community banks sometimes leave communities without local financial services. While the county on which the story focuses, Henry County, is a fast-growing exurb of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, the story also features anecdotes from a rural corner of that county, Locust Grove, population 2,322. An excerpt follows:

Among the shops here is Heather Bledsoe's store, Heather's Flowers, which stocks flowers and consignment wedding dresses.

Locust Grove got several hundred thousand dollars of federal stimulus money for streetlights, brick walkways and building facades. But, Bledsoe says, businesses here are not getting loans. She started her store with her own savings last spring, renting space downtown. When the building came up for sale, Bledsoe wanted to get a loan to buy it, but her bank had failed and others offered no help.

The story closes with these comments--predicting an unhappy future for community banks and their small-town customers.

Community banks are vital to small towns — they make the loans that create many new jobs. But given the current conditions, economic experts say it's likely two dozen more community banks will fail in Georgia this year.

Monday, March 1, 2010

German home-schoolers living in Tennessee granted asylum

Campbell Robertson reports in today's New York Times on a late January decision by a federal judge in Memphis to grant asylum to the Romeike family, who left Germany in 2008 and have lived in Tennessee for some time. The Romeikes sought asylum in the United States, claiming persecution in their home country because of their desire to home school their five children, aged 2 to 12. Robertson explains that Germany requires all children to attend a recognized school, and the Romeikes were fined about $11,000 when they took their children out of school several years ago to begin home schooling them in Germany. The German government also threatened that the Romeikes would lose their children, and police showed up one morning to take the children to school in a police van. Here's an excerpt from the story that expresses Germany's rationale for its law:
The reasoning behind the German law, cited by officials and in court cases, is to foster social integration, ensure exposure to people from different backgrounds and prevent what some call “parallel societies.”

“We have had this legal basis ever since the state was founded,” said Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sport in the Romeikes’ state, Baden-W├╝rttemberg. “This is broadly accepted among the general public.”

The federal judge in Memphis granted the family asylum on the basis that they reasonably feared persecution if they returned to Germany. Robertson summarizes:

Describing home-schoolers as a distinct group of people who have a “principled opposition to government policy,” he ruled that the Romeikes would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were “members of a particular social group,” two standards for granting asylum.

The Romeikes live in Morristown, Tennessee, population 28,002, in the Smoky Mountains. They apparently settled in Morristown because another German family who home-school their children also live there. Presumably, the decision regarding where to live was influenced by expectations regarding likely judicial receptivity to their claims. In this case, that gamble seems to have been a good one.