Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Colorado gun control law prompts efforts to recall two who supported it

The New York Times reported yesterday on the upcoming recall election aimed at removing from office the President of the Colorado State Senate, John Morse who represents a Colorado Springs-area district, and Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo.  Both are Democrats and both supported new gun limits that were passed earlier this year--the first such limits in Colorado in  more than a decade.   Jack Healy reports:
Supporters of the new gun laws — including Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat — said they were tailored for Colorado. Lawmakers increased the proposed limits on clip size to 15 rounds from 10, and added provisions to allow parents to pass down guns to their children without a background check. Supporters released opinion polls showing they had the support of solid majorities of Colorado residents.
While the pro-gun movement has been widely associated with rural America, I note that Colorado Springs and Pueblo are both metropolitan, though Pueblo is a bit smaller, with a population of 106,000 in a county with a population of 159,000.  Healy's story notes that failed recall efforts were mounted against two other state legislators, but he does not indicate where those legislators were from.  Indeed, the story doesn't mention rurality, but it does implicitly refer to the rural-urban axis--or more precisely, the rural-urban continuum:
The recall effort is seen nationally as a test of whether politicians, largely Democrats, outside big cities and deep-blue coastal states can survive the political fallout of supporting stricter gun laws.
P.S.  Another story about the geography of gun control is here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXVIII): Drug cases again dominate court docket

The July 24, 2013, issue of the Newton County Times features a front-page headline, "Six years for battery conviction," which reports on the 72-month sentence given to Timothy Len Shatwell for battering an intimate partner, threatening that partner's 8-year-old daughter, and engaging in other destructive behavior.  In fact, having read the full details of his crimes, I am surprised that his sentence is not longer.  The man was initially charged with theft of property, a Class D felony; possession of firearms by certain person, a Class D felony, feeling, a Class C misdemeanor and criminal mischief in the first degree, a Class A misdemeanor.  Those charges stemmed from a February 2 incident in which the defendant drove through a fence and onto another man's property where he hid in a shop building.  When a deputy sheriff followed him there, a short chase ensued.  The defendant, who had previously been convicted of a felony, also had taken his father's gun with the man's permission, resulting in the firearm charge.   Remarkably, all of these charges were "dismissed" on July 9, when the man pleaded no contest or guilty in another case.  That other case involved the man's March 4, 2013 battery against a 35-year-old woman whom ho he took to his residence where he struck her in the head and face and dragged her by the hair along the floor, causing a fracture to her eye socket and loss of full vision in that eye.  He threatened both the woman and her daughter.  He prevented the woman from leaving his residence the following day and kept her phone from her.  After pleading guilty/no contest to second degree battery, a Class C felony and other charges, he was sentenced to 72 months in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections, with credit for 126 days of jail time already served.

In other adjudicated cases, a 26-year-old woman pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor. She was sentenced to 38 days in jail with credit for time served and given 327 days of probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine, along with court costs and other fees.

26-year-old Brett Nelson entered a plea agreement  and was sentenced to six years in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections after he allegedly broke a padlock on a gate and entered the property of another individual where he broke out a window to gain entrance to a home.  Nelson then took a Ruger 10-22 semi-automatic with a scope, valued at $350. He then entered a cabin on the same property where he took a Hopkins and Allen 16-guage shotgun valued at $100. He allegedly also entered a cellar, took three boxes of ammunition, two digital cameras, a jewelry box containing several rings and knives all valued at $400.  The six year sentence will be suspended if the defendant successfully completes the Boone County Drug Court Program.  He was also fined $1000 and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,143.23.

Jesse Wayne Brock, age 31, pleaded guilty to various drug charges and was sentenced to 24 mounts in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections, with a 72-month suspended sentence following it.  He also fined $1000.  The charges stemmed from Brock's methamphetamine use and the fact he had a drug lab in Newton County.  Brock was arrested in neighboring Madison County, and his sentence in Newton County runs concurrent with the Madison County case.

Ninon Wood Brannon, a 54-year-old woman was placed on 12 months probation and fined $1000 plus court costs and fees after she was found in possession of components for a clandestine meth lab.  She was also accused of being in possession of psilocybin mushroom growing materials, including mushroom sprouts, and 19 marijuana plants.

In the Sheriff's report for the week, three of the six persons persons booked into the jail were charged with drug crimes.  Among the others, one was charged with fishing without a license, one (a woman) with domestic battery, and the last with driving while license suspended.

In other news, Arkansas's 100th rabies case was reported, a cat in neighboring Boone County.

Also, the Newton County Farm family of the year, Senior Farmer of the Year, Junior Farmers of the Year, and Woman Farmer of the Year have all been featured in recent issues of the Times.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A bifurcated nation

It's not a really new point that Charles Blow makes in his column today, "Carving up the Country," but I'll give it some space here nonetheless.  Here's a quote from the piece, which lists voting rights and abortion as just two issues that illustrate the great divide of our nation:
In fact, we seem to be increasingly becoming two countries under one flag: Liberal Land — coastal, urban and multicultural — separated by Conservative Country — Southern and Western, rural and racially homogeneous. (Other parts of the country are a bit of a mixed bag.)
I get what Blow's saying, of course, but I tend to resist the oversimplification--the alignment of rural with racially homogeneous, though at least he didn't say rural and white, which would overlooked the realities of the Rio Grande Valley, Indian Country, the Mississippi Delta and black belt, and Appalachia and the Ozark Highlands.  (These are the persistent poverty counties, folks, and most of the counties are dominated by a single racial/ethnic group).  As for rurality's alignment with conservative, I have written about that extensively here. In reality, the situation is far more nuanced than that.

I do, however, acknowledge Blow's point that most of the recent wacky abortion restrictions have come out of legislatures in the "flyover" states, statehouses controlled by Republicans (like the ones I noted in this post earlier in the week).

Friday, July 26, 2013

An achingly sad description of a rural place

In April, 2012, the New York Times ran a feature on Carroll Academy, a high school for troubled kids in west Tennessee's Carroll County.  Today, the Times revisits Carroll County with this story, "That's as Bad as it Gets."  There is much I could say about John Branch's moving depiction of several of the young women who are at Carroll Academy, a creature of the county's juvenile court, but I'll stop with sharing this poignant description of the place:
It is a rural place, quietly troubled by the hollowing plagues of small-town America — unemployment, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy among them. The problems lurk in the shadows between landscaped brick homes and the bucolic countryside. 
West Tennessee may be merely a proxy for anywhere. There might be a thousand Carroll Counties around the country, proud and simple places, fading almost imperceptibly with the slow passing of another time, where old-timers wish for a future more like the past, and the young people have little imagination for anything other than the present.
The story features quite a bit of information not only about Carroll County's economic milieu, but also about the details of its drug problem, which seems to be getting passed from one generation to the next. Marijuana, meth and prescription drug abuse are all mentioned.  

Carroll County's population is 28,390, its poverty rate 18.5%.  The county seat is Huntingdon, population 4,109.  

Here is my blog post about the 2012 story.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sequestration cuts especially hard on Indian Country

The New York Times editorial board published an editorial called "Abandoned in Indian Country" yesterday.  In it, the editors call attention to the effect the sequestration is having in Indian Country.  Here's an excerpt:
[Republicans] are willfully averting their eyes from Indian reservations, where the cuts are real, specific, broad and brutal. The victims are among the poorest, sickest and most isolated Americans. 
The sequester in a nutshell? “More people sick; fewer people educated; fewer people getting general assistance; more domestic violence; more alcoholism,” Richard Zephier, executive director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, recently told Annie Lowrey of The Times.
The piece goes into great detail about the consequences of the sequester for the already under-funded Indian Health Services and for tribal education in places like the Pine Ridge Reservation where the Oglala Sioux live (South Dakota), and the Indian Rock school district in the Navajo Nation (Arizona and New Mexico).  It also details the devastating cuts to public safety programs, both those run by the tribe and those run by the federal government.    

The editorial references a recent op-ed, Broken Promises, by former North Dakota Senator (and before that, U.S. Representative) Byron Dorgan.  In that piece, Dorgan calls for Congress to "hold hearings to examine its broken treaty promises and develop a plan for restitution."  Dorgan calls for Indian country to be exempted from sequestration and the NY Times editors agree with him.  When it comes to Indians, the editors write, "[W]here the deficit zealots see virtue, we see moral failure."  Moral failure, indeed.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Upward mobility in nonmetropolitan America?

The New York Times featured this story and interactive map yesterday about the role of geography in upward mobility.  The story, by David Leonhardt, is based on the work of several Harvard professors at the Equality of Opportunity project.

Leonhardt focused his reporting on metropolitan areas, highlighting those with the greatest upward mobility, as well as those with the least.  Atlanta and Charlotte are bad.  Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle are good.  What Leonhardt didn't attend to--though the interactive map necessarily does--is upward mobility in nonmetropolitan areas.  And there are some real surprises.  Who would have thought that the chances of going from the bottom quintile in income to the top quintile in income are greater in places like western Kansas, Nebraska and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles than, say, Vermont and New Hampshire.  I did not expect mobility n the Elko and Winnemucca, Nevada areas to be greater than in Reno and Las Vegas.  

In fact, that is one of the most surprising things about this study's findings:  the fact that mobility is greater in so many rural places compared to urban ones.  Here's another case in point:  tiny Harlowton, Montana, population 997 and the county seat of high poverty Wheatland County, enjoys a 19% mobility index, while that for well-educated university town Missoula is only 11.5%.  (This was of special interest to me because I studied Wheatland County extensively in this project).  

Notoriously poor Hazard Kentucky--often thought of as the hub of Appalachia--enjoys greater upward mobility than most of that region.  All of the counties in the Rio Grande Valley feature greater upward mobility than basically the entire state of Ohio--in spite of the fact that most counties in the Rio Grande Valley are persistent poverty counties.  Minnesotans living outside the Twin Cities and Duluth fare better on this mobility index than their urban counterparts.

On the other hand, some findings were predictable.  Upward mobility is very low in many counties dominated by Indian Country, including Apache and Navajo counties in Arizona, and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  On the other hand, upward mobility is high in places like western North Dakota and eastern Montana, whose young people are no doubt seeing the economic benefits of the oil boom--even absent investments in higher education.

As reflected in the findings about poor upward mobility in Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis, the rural black belt and Mississippi Delta were the parts of the country faring worst as a region.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Judge blocks enforcement of ND abortion law

Federal district judge Daniel L. Hovland of North Dakota yesterday blocked enforcement of the state's highly restrictive abortion law, declaring it "invalid and unconstitutional" in his grant of a temporary injunction to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic, the state's only abortion clinic.  Read more here.  The law, which would have imposed the most stringent limits on abortions in the nation, was set to take effect on August 1.  It would have banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about 6 weeks into pregnancy, with very few exceptions.

The law runs afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedents, including Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which permit abortions up to the point of fetal viability, typically at about 24 weeks. Viability is determined by a physician.  Proponents of the North Dakota law had asserted that the presence of a heartbeat could be seen as a sign or form of viability.  Governor Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, said he considered the law "a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."  Hovland obviously disagreed, saying the law was "in direct contradiction to a litany of United States Supreme Court cases addressing restraints on abortion." He wrote:
The State has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women.  
North Dakota’s law is the most aggressive among many recently passed abortion laws.  Earlier this year, Arkansas passed a law that would ban abortions at 12 weeks, but a federal district judge in Little Rock blocked that law in May.  

But the Red River Clinic in Fargo now faces a new challenge.  The new North Dakota law would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a requirement that medical groups call unnecessary.  Because the Fargo facility relies on a doctor who flies in each week, it will be unable to operate if the law on admitting privileges takes effect.  A legal challenge to that law is pending.  Read about a similar case in Mississippi here and here.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Curtis Harnack, writer with "cleareyed perspective" on the rural, dies at 86

Curtis Harnack, a writer whose name I'd never heard until I saw his obituary this week-end, died a few weeks ago.  His obit in the New York Times caught my eye because of several references to rurality, including this paragraph, which followed a mention of Harnick's upbringing on a farm in Iowa:
In a country nostalgic for its rural past, critics often praised Mr. Harnack for having a cleareyed perspective. 
By way of illustration, Katha Pollitt wrote in a 1979 review of Harnick's novel, Limits of the Land:
The lives he recounts are bleak in the extreme, and run their course in an isolation that reveals our image of close-knit, neighborly rural life as the wishful thinking that it is.  
Nonetheless, Mr. Harnack clearly loves the prairie he depicts so unsparingly, and conveys even to the most citified reader a vision of its enduring power to hold men and women to itself.
The obituary author, William Yardley, observes:
Mr. Harnack’s most admired memoir was titled “We Have All Gone Away,” and he did relocate as a young man and eventually move to a city. But he produced a substantial amount of work from a different rural setting, Yaddo, a haven for writers, artists and composers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.  
Harnack was president of the retreat from 1971 'til 1987.   

I found this final paragraph of the obituary, a quote from Harnick about attending his Uncle Jack's funeral in 1982, especially moving and evocative of rural community, with its lack of anonymity and attachment to place:
Many of us fled relatives and hometowns because life couldn’t be accepted in a pre-decided manner but had to be discovered.  However, a time such as this may come when one is suddenly thrown back to origins, with witnesses all around saying: We know who you are, and you know who we are; let us examine, accept, and even embrace this moment before it too passes.
Harnick's uncle Jack helped raise Harnick and his two brothers after the boys' father died. The farm on which the uncle "raised corn and soybeans remains in the family, including 80 acres that Mr. Harnack preserved."  Harnick's mother died at the age of 50, but she figured prominently in his work.  Interestingly, she had encouraged her sons to leave the farm and make their lives in the city.

Oh, and just let me say I felt a little less bad about not having heard of him after I went to borrow one of his books from the Sacramento Public Library.  It doesn't have any of them!  

Teach for America alums get hooked on the Mississippi Delta

Well, at least some of them do.  That's the gist of Bret Schulte's story for today's New York Times, "Down in the Delta, Outsiders who Arrived to Teach Now Find a Home." Schulte's story is about Teach for America corps members who came to the Mississippi Delta--mostly to towns and schools in Arkansas and Mississippi--to teach for a couple of years--but then stayed (or left to pursue other careers and then returned).

Among them is Doug Friedlander, now the director of the Phillips County Chamber of Commerce, who came here in 2004 to teach science at Central High School in Helena.  Freidlander grew up on Long Island and has a degree in physics from Duke.  He left his job with a software company in the Raleigh-Durham area and took a two-thirds pay cut to relocate to Helena-West Helena, population 15,012. He explains he did it to "make a bigger difference" and says he is thrilled to be here, calling it "the most fertile soil on earth."
If I were in New York, I would be a leaf at the end of a brach at the end of a tree--in a forest.
Other TFA alums similarly wax poetic, not only about what they are doing, but about the Delta. Among them are Michelle Johansen, 37, who arrived in 1997 as a University of Michigan graduate.  Since then she has managed the farmers’ market in Cleveland, Miss. She also works part time for Habitat for Humanity and is an adjunct instructor at Delta State University.  Like Mr. Friedlander, Ms. Johansen is now raising her family in the Delta.  She says, "The work I've been able to do in the Delta is fulfilling."

Another is Matty Bengloff, 28, who grew up in an apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side.  Now he is a homeowner in Cleveland, where he and his fiancĂ©e, Suzette Matthews, have opened a yogurt shop.  He talks about the opportunities to be entrepreneurial in a place like the Delta:
The barriers here are low. You can be really entrepreneurial. Everyone is eager to help.
Both Johansen and Bengloff say "the quirks and complexity of the Delta" are appealing.
Schulte describes the socio-economic landscape of the Delta:
The mechanization of agriculture, lost manufacturing and a legacy of poverty and racism have taken their toll on the Delta.   
* * *  
Here, in towns like Helena, a former agricultural hub and river port, they find some of the most devastating poverty in the country: shacks on cinder blocks, schools with nearly all students on subsidized lunch programs.
What Schulte doesn't mention in painting this picture is that most counties in the Delta are persistent poverty counties, meaning that poverty rates there have been high (more than 20%) in each of the last four decennial censuses.  These are places marked by entrenched, inter-generational poverty.  

The story is chock full of anecdotes and phrases that reflect the culture clash between the mostly citi-fied TFA corp members from the north and the mostly rural (and, of course, Southern) places they have settled.  Don't miss Bengloff's discussion of his "church family," for example, and how he now uses "ma'am." I also especially like this quote from a "local," Helena lawyer Chuck Roscopf:  
It’s good having highly educated folks coming back. My kids, my friends’ kids — they’re all gone. They’re in Dallas or just about anywhere else, but they won’t come back.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Heroin addiction takes hold in New England

A few weeks ago, the problem of prescription drug addiction and the rising death rate from it were all over the news following a Centers for Disease Control report highlighting the problem among white women in particular. I wrote this blog post about the phenomenon and its apparently greater impact in nonmetropolitan communities. Now, Katharine Q. Seelye of the New York Times reports on the burgeoning problem of heroin addiction in New England, with something of a focus on small towns and how "spotty" law enforcement there--along with users willing to pay higher prices, especially in northern New England--have led New York City drug dealers to take their wares north. The headline is "Heroin in New England, More Abundant and Deadly; Overdoses Soar as Addicts Confront Limits on Painkillers."

As that subheading suggests, the surge in heroin use is seen as related to crackdowns on the availability and ease of use of drugs like Oxycontin and other prescription pain killers.  As Dr. Mark Publicker, the President of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine is quoted, "We had a bad epidemic, and now we have a worse epidemic." Publicker explains that some doctors were "overprescribing painkillers, which can be gateway drugs to heroin." Many of those users have now shifted to heroin, which is considerably cheaper and easier to get.

Here's the story's lede:
Heroin, which has long flourished in the nation’s big urban centers, has been making an alarming comeback in the smaller cities and towns of New England. 
From quaint fishing villages on the Maine coast to the interior of the Great North Woods extending across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, officials report a sharp rise in the availability of the crystalline powder and in overdoses and deaths attributed to it. 
But it is not only limited law enforcement that creates an opportunity for drug peddlers up north.  It is also the law of supply and demand. Seelye writes: 
Distributors in New York see a wide-open market in northern New England, where law enforcement can be spotty and users are willing to pay premium prices. A $6 bag of heroin in New York City fetches $10 in southern New England but up to $30 or $40 in northern New England, law enforcement officials said.
Seelye doesn't explain why these New Englanders are willing to pay more, but she does note that heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world.  One-quarter of those who try it will become addicted.  Yet Maine is the first state to limit access to medications such as buprenorphine and methadone, which are effective at treating addiction.  The state took that step in order to save money, but it may be in fact be raises costs as the demand on first responder and other services has risen with the steep rise in overdoses.  Twenty-one people in Maine died of heroin overdoses in 2012, a three-fold increase over the prior year.  Heroin deaths in New Hampshire are up more than five times the rate a decade ago, with 40 deaths recorded last year.  The Health Department in Vermont reported 914 people treated for heroin abuse in 2012, an increase of nearly 40% over 2011.  

I'll close with another quote from Dr. Publicker, which refers to another, very different, rural challenge:  
It’s easier to get heroin in some of these places than it is to get a UPS delivery. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXVII): Dismissed principal wins lawsuit

The July 17, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times reports on several significant bits of school news.  First, the former Oark High School principal, Anita Cooper, has won the first round of her lawsuit against the Jasper Board of Education, which dismissed her in the fall of 2011.  At the time, she was under a one-year contract with the school board for the 2011-2012 school year, at a salary of $74,000.  She filed a grievance in late August of that year saying she had been denied the right to create the master schedule for the Oark campus and was "written up" by then assistant superintendent Wanda Mann.  A few weeks later, Superintendent Kerry Saylors removed Cooper from her duties as principal and assigned her to another campus, Kingston, to be principal of "in school suspension."  At that time, Cooper was notified that she was being suspended with pay and that she was being recommended for termination of her contract.  

At that point, the news story goes into Superintendent Saylors report to the board about the litigation.
Sometimes school boards and superintendents are placed in situations where they must make difficult elisions.  It's even more unfortunate when these incidents continue to drag on.  The case filed by Ms. Cooper against the district, myself, and Ms. Mann was heard in Johnson County Circuit Court last spring.  It idd not go very well from the start.   
Sanctions were filed by the judge against our attorney and the evidence that was attained from the (Arkansas Board of Education) ethics case against Ms. Cooper was ruled non-admissible.  The judge issued his ruling about a month after the case was heard, and he found in favor of Ms. Cooper and awarded Ms. Cooper around $43,000 plus her lawyer fees of around $32,000. 
Ms. Cooper's attorney then filed a request to the judge for those amounts to be increased, Saylors said, and the judge came back and awarded Ms. Cooper an additional $21,000 which brought the amount she would receive to about $64,000.
Our district does have insurance that covers this claim. It also covers our legal defense.
I visited with board members last month and recommended to them we not appeal the judge's ruling and request the insurance company to settle this matter so it would not distract from what our true goal is--to educate children.  
The story goes on to report that Saylors passed that recommendation on to the insurance company, ACE, "based in Chicago, Illinois."  Saylor continues:
ACE recently replied to me that our request has been denied and they have directed our attorney to appeal the judge's ruling to the sate Supreme Court.  I then contacted different individuals at ACE to voice my displeasure with this decision. 
I looked into the matter some more and and found that we do not have a say in this decision.  Our legal counsel has informed me that in his opinion we will be lucky if this is resolved within one year.  The insurance company has informed that their policy does cover the judge's previous ruling and it will cover any additional expenses that may come up.  
Saylor also informed the school board that if the case is appealed, "no school district employee should be called to testify.  The trial would be based on records from the previous trial."

The trial court's ruling also reinstated Ms. Cooper to her position at Principal of Oark Schools through June 30, 2012, for purposes of her retirement benefits.

Related to the matter, apparently, are "Board of Education's Filings" which are also reported in this news story.  It shows that on July 8, 2013, the Arkansas State Board of Education accepted the recommendation of the Professional Licensure Standards Board Ethics Subcommittee for disciplinary action against the teaching license of Ms. Anita Cooper.  The findings included
that Cooper was issued a standard-five teaching license on Jan. 1, 2012 valid until Dec. 31, 2016; the  ethics subcommittee received an allegation  that Cooper violated three standards: 
  • Maintains a professional relationship with each student, both in and outside the classroom; 
  • Maintains competence regarding skills, knowledge and dispositions relating to his/her organizational position, subject matter and/or pedagogical practice and  
  • Honestly fulfills reporting obligations associated with professional practices.  
After considering the investigator's report and evidence on May 10, 2013, the subcommittee unanimously found that reasonable belief existed to substantiate the violations and recommended that the state board place Cooper's license on suspension for a year and assess a fine of $100.  
Gee, I wish the reporter on this story had done a bit more to stitch the different bits together.   It seems to be suggesting, based on the "Board of Education's Filings," that Ms. Cooper has done something untoward.  But did she do this during the time relevant to her dismissal by the Jasper School District?  Are these "filings" the reason that the insurance company is so confident in its appeal?  And if so, why is the superintendent so keen to stop the appeal and have the lawsuit go away?  

In other rural school news, the Jasper district is fighting--with the assistance of some state legislators and Arkansas Department of Education officials--the impending end of isolated school funding.  (Read more about that funding here and here).  With campuses at both Oark and Kingston, the Jasper district is the most far-flung in the state, spread over parts of three counties.  Indeed, a headline in the paper calls it "isolated schools 'poster child.'" Currently, the school receives $665,000 a year in isolated school funding.  Between now and 2025, when isolated funding is set to be phased out entirely in Arkansas, the district will receive a total of nearly $5 million in isolated funding.  That is less than it would have received had the formula for calculating the aid not been changed by a new law passed this spring.  However, the original version of that law would have eliminated all isolated school funding in just two years, so the slower reduction over a decade is certainly more palatable to rural schools than that.  The story explains that a state representative for the district that includes the Oark school, Betty Overbey, and Tony Wood, a Deputy Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, "were instrumental" in getting amended that proposed law to entirely eliminate state funding.  The story reports that the Jasper Board of Education continues "to build a coalition of legislative and state education leaders supporting the retention of isolated school funding for Jasper and other districts."  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Is disdain for the rural driving China's urbanizing push?

Today, Ian Johnson filed Part II of his New York Times series on China's massive plan to accelerate the nation's urbanization.  The headline is "Pitfalls Abound in China's Push from Farm to City."  Read Part I here, and my post about it here.  As the headline suggests, this installment focuses on what isn't going well with China's effort to move 21 million people a year into cities, many of those cities built from scratch (or atop tiny villages) on former farmland.  An excerpt follows:
The effort is run by officials like Mr. Li in Xi’an, who speaks emotionally about wanting to help push China’s 700 million rural residents into the 21st century. Heirs to imperial China’s Mandarin officials, modern-day Communist Party officials like Mr. Li speak knowingly of what is best for China’s 1.3 billion people, where they should live and how they should earn a living. 
Johnson quotes Mr. Li:
An objective rule in the process of modernization is we have to complete the process of urbanization and industrialization.
While the "party line" is that the process is voluntary--that farmers and other villagers are willingly moving to cities--Johnson's interviews with some of those who have been resettled revealed some discontent.  One big issue is that those moving to new apartments in the city are struggling to pay for those apartments (which cost about $19,000) and the electricity it costs to keep them warm and to run new appliances like washing machines and televisions.  Whereas electricity bills in villages might have run to the Chinese equivalent of $1.60/family, they are as high as $110/month in the new cities.

Another big issue is lack of jobs.  Those who previously lived off what their farms produced, sometimes supplemented by stints of work in cities, now do not have even what they grow to fall back on.  Yet unemployment in the new cities is high.  Industrial parks are built, but they are largely empty according to Johnson's report.

And many are unhappy about leaving behind a way of life they cherish.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee issued a report earlier this month confirming the view that urbanization "is the only path to modernization," but acknowledging that it must be better planned.

But by far the most interesting part of the story from my perspective is Johnson's speculation about what--other than economics--is motivating the Chinese government to push urbanization:  disdain for rural life dnd a certain backlash against the Cultural Revolution, when so many of this generation of leaders were sent to the countryside and denied higher education.  Johnson suggests that a "distaste among city dwellers for rural life" may be driving the government's migration push.  Johnson writes:
 Mr. Li said the time [in the countryside, during the Cultural Revolution] helped him understand the plight of peasants, but like many elites in China he also speaks dismissively of rural life. 
“They need to shower more often, but how can they shower on a dirt floor?” Mr. Li said of the farmers and their old adobe homes in the mountains. “If you don’t shower a lot, that’s no good. Put simply, we want to teach ordinary Chinese people to bid farewell to several backward ways of living.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

DOI rescinds White River designation as "Blueway"

I wrote here last week about the designation of the White River (Missouri and Arkansas) as a National Blueway, but I see now that this designation has now been rescinded by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.  That's according to a story in the July 10, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times.  Most members of the U.S. Congressional delegation are touting the rescission as appropriate in light of the lack of input "from local leaders nor sufficient details as to the private property implications" of the designation.  Read about the withdrawal of the designation here, here and here.  I am unable to find anything about this rescission on the Dept of the Interior website.  However, I did get a kick out Max Brantley's column, "Crackpots prevail:  Feds rescind White River Blueway designation" in the Arkansas Times.  Selected excerpts follow:
Conspiracy theorists led by the paranoid Secure Arkansas group of Jeannie Burlsworth had stirred local opposition on the theory — unsupported by evidence — that the program brought regulation (it brought none) and land seizure (it didn't.)
The consolation is that, according to Brantley, the possible impact of the designation--had it stuck--was de minimis at best.
So it's done. No blueway will darken the doors of Arkansas or Missouri. The best criticism of this program is in the fact that we probably haven't lost much as a result. The head of the Missouri-based Ozark Water Watch, one of the supporters that turned tail and ran in the face of the shrieks from Burlsworth and Co., likened the program to a "gold star" — something that might, MIGHT, get the area higher consideration on federal grants. Can't have any of that either.
In other local government news, the Newton County Quorum Court endorsed the work of the Newton County Resource Council in applying for an Arkansas Highway Dept. grant for $60,000.  The grant would be used to complete repairs and improvements to Round Top park, which was damaged by mudslides in the spring of 2010.  By supporting the grant, the county agrees to be the public entity wth long-term responsibility for operating the park, in the event of the Resource Council's demise.  The park is 140 acres and features six miles of trails.  The story notes that one of the engines of a B-25 that crashed on Round Top Mountain in February, 1948, had been on display at the historic site until it was put in storage after the 2010 landslides.  Sadly, once it was replaced following the trail restoration, the engine was stolen.

At its July meeting, the Quorum Court also passed a resolution supporting a grant application related to  adding technologies, e.g., hardware, software, computer training, to the circuit clerk's office.  The county is eligible for a grant from the Automated Records System Fund managed by the Association of Arkansas Counties and administered by the Automated Records Systems Fund (ARSF) Committee.  The ARSF is designed to assist Class 1 through Class 5 counties (whatever that means) to apply, with the approval of the Quorum Court.

Lastly, Newton County Emergency Management Officer Patty Mills reported to the quorum court at its regular monthly meeting that its grant request had been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Dept. of Homeland Security to help purchase and implement a digital radio system for the county's rural fire departments.  The total cost of the approved project is nearly $400K, with the federal share being about 95% of that.  The grantee's share is just under $20K.  The quorum court passed a resolution that supports all Newton County Rural Fire Departments in their endeavor to secure matching funds for the system.

I note that the Newton County Justices of the Peace, who make up the Quorum Court (the Arkansas version of a Board of Supervisors) are doing a lot of grant-endorsing and grant-applying these days (see another post here).  Beyond that and passing resolutions aimed at expressing their autonomy (see another here), they don't seem to have a lot to do.  Federal-local wrangles, too, seem to be  recurring theme, as discussed here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Carpetbagging into rural (?) New York

This story in today's New York Times discusses the likely bid of Sean Eldridge for the 19th Congressional District in New York.  Raymond Hernandez reports from Shokan, New York, (population 1,183) that Eldridge and his husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, initially bought a $5 million estate in Garrison, New York, east of the Hudson and about 50 miles from New York City.  But when the congressional seat associated with that home appeared unattainable, they crossed the river and came north a bit to buy a $2 million home here, from whence Eldridge has a better shot of getting elected to Congress, from the state's new 19th Congressional district.  Hernandez writes:  
Word of Mr. Eldridge’s political plans has delighted the friends who make up his social circle: Donors to his exploratory committee include George Soros, the billionaire financier, and Sean Parker, the tech entrepreneur behind Napster and Spotify. 
But his ambitions have puzzled some residents among the farmers, mill workers and small-business owners who populate this district, which rises through the Catskills and rolls north through cornfields and apple orchards to the Vermont border. 
Amy Shields, a mother of three children who lives a few miles from Mr. Eldridge, cannot get over the fact that he has just moved into town and is already planning a run for Congress.
Hernandez quotes Shields:  
It’s a little bit presumptuous.  In a community like this you like to know who your neighbors are. Having ties to your neighbors is important. How can he expect to represent people he doesn’t know?
Well stated, I say.  And this is a theme that incumbent Chris Gibson hints at in his comments about a possible race against Eldridge.
There are some things money can't buy.
Hernandez describes 49-year-old Gibson a "well-liked Republican and veteran of the Iraq war who lives in a modest home around the corner from where he grew up."

Hernandez takes up the rural-urban issue more explicitly near the end of the story, noting that while the congressional district has "vast stretches of rural, conservative communities, it is also home to more Democratic-leaning places, like New Paltz and Monticello."  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

County opposes "Blueway" designation for White River

The Newton County Quorum Court voted unanimously on July 1 to oppose the designation of the White River and its watershed--including the Buffalo National River--as the "Second National Blueway."  The local governing body noted "especial Opposition to a 'Blueway' Memorandum of Understanding being entered into by federal and state bureaucrats pertaining to lands and waters due to lack of proper notification or invitation, and due to failure to seek approval, involvement or input of any kind from Newton Count." Newton County thus became the 18th Arkansas county to pass the resolution opposing the designation, which was announced January 9, 2013, by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.

A representative of Secure Arkansas presented the resolution to the Newton County officials.  Secure Arkansas is a "grassroots organization working to ensure state sovereignty and adherence to the Constitution while promoting responsible government practices, fiscal accountability and the protection of personal property rights and civil liberties of all Arkansans."

Several other stories in the July 3, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times report different perspectives on the Blueway designation.  One provides mostly the federal government perspective, including lots of information about the designation.  Here's the lede to that story:
Officials say the National Blueway designation for the White River Watershed doesn't come with enhanced federal regulations, but Boone County Judge James Norton (chief county administrator--not a judge as in a court of law) said Wednesday afternoon that testimony before a joint legislative committee earlier in Little Rock showed some supporters have withdrawn support because of public outcry featuring future regulations.  
The story continues:
The order establishing the National Blueways System sets up "a program to recognize river systems conserved through diverse stakeholder partnerships that use a comprehensive watershed approach to resource stewardship. 
National Blueways will be nationally and regionally significant rivers and their watersheds that are highly valued, recreational, social, economic, cultural, and ecological assets for the communities that depend on them.
The main goals for the White River will be to:
  • Improve water quality through integrated land and water management
  • Support an abundance of fish and wildlife
  • Provide land protection and restoration
  • Support high quality recreation and access
  • Provide for efficient agriculture
A disclaimer in the establishing order reads:
Nothing in this Order is intended to be the basis for the exercise of any new regulatory authority, nor shall this initiative or any designation pursuant to this Order affect or interfere with any Federal, state, local, and tribal government jurisdiction or applicable law including interstate compacts related to water or the laws of any state or tribe relating to control, appropriation, use or distribution of water or water rights. 
Nevertheless, there are skeptics.  One of the other stories in the July 3  issue of the paper reported on skeptics among state lawmakers.  The story, "State Officials Reverse Blueway Support," reports on hearings conducted by the Arkansas Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.  That story quotes an Arkansas legislator who sits on that Committee, Missy Irvin of Mountain View:
It puts elected officials in a difficult position when they don't receive any notice about federal executive decisions that are thrust on the public in such a top-down manner.  It is important for all officials to make informed decisions, but that is impossible when it comes in the form of an executive order without our input.  It is even more important to ensure state and local authority is obtained on matters that affect the areas they represent. 
One foe of the designation, Jack Abrahamson of Mountain View, is quoted as stating that many words in the Memorandum don't carry the same meaning that the general public public typically understands.
River restoration, as an example, doesn't mean cleaning up the river.  Uh-uh.  what they want to do is restore it back to where it was before man so that the fish can go up and down the river without restriction.  This would involve height restrictions on dams that produce hydroelectric power.  
Abrahamson said three dams at Batesville would be affected.

A local woman who attended the Newton County Quorum Court meeting, Lydia Cassilly of Mount Sherman, addressed the local governing body:
What I read I found frightening for our county.  None of the partners named are our local neighbors.  All of them are national government organizations.  They are all government federally funded or they are national conservation, and they don't have any interest in us as living, breathing community. 
Certainly as close as we are to the Little Buffalo River our entire town is part of a flood plain and also would be subject to the regulations they are proposing.  
On the other hand, a story headlined "Conservation groups support the designation" reports that the Arkansas Canoe Club, Arkansas Public Policy Panel and other groups "are urging legislator and county officials to support the new designation."  The story includes this information:
The Blueway Designation provides for partnerships between federal and local governments and groups and individuals within the White River Watershed for voluntary conservation efforts aimed at keeping the land and water within the area safe for recreational and personal use including drinking, swimming, and fishing.  
The designation will also foster economic development of the area by providing funding for fish hatchery, erosion prevention efforts, and additional resources.  
The Blueway designation would affect 17 million acres in Arkansas and Missouri.  Most members of the U.S. Congressional delegations of the two states have written to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell asking a series of questions about the matter, including whether states can opt out of the program.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Who should pay for fire control at the WUI?

That's "wildland-urban interface," and the acronym is pronounced woo-ee.  I had never heard the term until I read Andrew Revkin's dot.earth post several days ago:  "19 Firefighters Fall on the 'Wildland-Urban Interface'."  Revkin was, of course, referring to the devastating loss last Sunday of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona.  Those lost, apparently due to a sudden shift in winds, were 19 of 20 Granite Mountain Hot Shots, an elite firefighting crew based in nearby Prescott.  Read more here and here.  That tragic loss has once again brought attention to the phenomenon of folks building homes in what might have been thought of as rural places (and I'll come back to that definition issue below), but  which are now apparently called WUI because they abut or are even embedded in wildlands--typically forest.  Revkin's post starts with a focus on the costs--monetary and human:
There’s an enormous financial cost attending the expansion of America’s “wildland-urban interface” — the term for areas where communities have sprouted in forested areas — in parts of the country prone to wildfires.
Then, Felicity Barringer filed this report on Western home-building phenomenon for the New York Times on Friday.  Her headline says it all--or at least a great deal:  "Homes Keep Rising in West Despite Growing Wildfire Threat."  Here's part of her lede:
Every summer, smoke fills the big skies yet people continue to build in the places that burn most. More people live in these areas, and many balk at controls on how and where to build. 
* * * 
Just as many Easterners resist stepping back from their increasingly flooded coast, Westerners build where they want to build.

Barringer quotes Don Elliott, a senior consultant at Clarion Associates, a land-use consulting firm.
There’s a self-selection factor in there — people who don’t want the government to do things tend to move to places where the government isn’t around to do things.  
Barringer also quantifies the phenomenon, referencing a report released last fall by CoreLogic, a business analytics company, which estimated that 740,000 homes in 13 Western states were at high or very high risk of burning up. The total value of those homes is $136 billion, which equates to nearly $1.9 million per home.  Researchers in Wisconsin and Oregon found that, as of 2010, 43.7 million homes house 98.5 million people at the wildland-urban interface.  That all represents development of an estimated 16% of the WUI, according to sources Barringer cites.  I have to admit that I can't imagine how you calculate that.  That is, the "surface" of that interface is presumably not only constantly shifting, but also expanding and contracting with new construction.  

Barringer next uses Ravalli County, Montana, population 40,617, to illustrate the home-building phenomenon.  Ravalli County, sometimes referred to as the Bitterroot Valley, is contiguous to and south of Missoula County.  In spite of devastating fires that destroyed 70 homes in the Valley in 2000, home building there has accelerated.  Yet the county has consistently chosen not to regulate it, even though more than three-quarters of the county's 19,000 homes are build where fires are likely, and the same percentage of the county's residents live "in the WUI."  (Note an earlier post featuring Ravalli County here, and what the county was considering regulating:  birth control access!)

This brings me back to my earlier query about the use of the term "urban" in "wildland-urban interface."  How can Ravalli County have so much WUI when there is arguably noting in the county that is urban?  Even the county seat, Hamilton, has a population of just about 4,500. 

In addition, Ravalli County's politics certainly fit rural stereotypes.  Barringer reports that Ravalli County voters "decisively rejected a proposal to initiate local zoning," and the ethos seems to be a libertarian one, reflecting "the fervent belief that government should stay out of people's lives."  Consistent with that belief, the Board of Commissioners has "refused to adopt new maps of this interface, in the face of objections from homeowners and real estate agents that it would depress property values, increase insurance rates and lead to regulation."  County commissioner Greg Chilcott stated:
Regulatory intrusion is a concern. We have somewhat adopted the philosophy, in my mind, that informing citizens of the risk of their choices as to where they build their homes is what our job is — rather than regulating them out of their homes or away from their lands.
Chilcott noted that many folks moving to Ravalli County from urban areas don't fully appreciate what they were getting into.
Their romantic vision of the house or cabin in the woods was great — especially when they drive up the gravel road in April and May.  Then rolls in July and August when the gravel road turns to dust and the smoke and flames are threatening their dream home. They didn’t understand the seasons in the Rocky Mountain Northwest.
(Here's a post with a similar theme).  Some accept the risks, Chilcott said, but that others “will demand to be made whole by someone else,” often the federal government, whose forest management practices they may blame when fire threatens or destroys homes.  

Finally, Barringer's very balanced story also incorporates the views of the insurance industry, as well as Bitterroot Valley homeowners.  

All of this reminds me of California's controversial rural fire tax/fee, which was the subject of this post and which raises similar issues about who's responsible for these costs associated with rural living.  Meanwhile, I noted when I was in Canada a few days ago that the The Vancouver Sun newspaper costs more in "in outlying areas" than in other places--the default presumably being metropolitan.  Specifically, the cost is "$1.43 plus GST" except that it is apparently higher in some places, "$2.14 minimum in outlying areas."  This struck me as unfair.  Why shouldn't the cost of the newspaper remain constant wherever it is bought--at least within British Columbia?  Why put the added cost of transport and delivery of the paper onto rural residents?  And that, I guess is related to the question about who should pay for fire damage in rural areas?  Should that burden be on rural dwellers, or should it be shared?  Does federal money that responds to natural disasters across the county, rural or urban, provide the appropriate model?  I note that Barringer does start her story by analogizing the West's home-building practices to those of the Easterners, drawn ever closer to a coast where water levels are rising and storms are intensifying.    

P.S.  This appeared after I wrote this post, and I offer it here because it highlights the fact that the high-risk home building/keeping phenomenon is not just rural and not just the West.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Frontier justice thrives in Oregon, in the face of law enforcement budget cuts

Micropolitan Josephine County, Oregon, population 82,713, is experiencing a fiscal crisis that has devastated, among other things, the county's law enforcement and jail budgets.  NPR reported on the matter a few months ago here, leading to this blog post.  Now, Kirk Johnson reports for the New York Times today from Josephine County under the headline, "In Oregon, A Demand for Safety, but Not on Their Dime."

Johnson's report starts in the county seat, Grants Pass, population 34,800, where burglaries up last year nearly 70%, theft cases up about 80%.   Many attribute the crime surge to the "awareness by criminals that their actions are increasingly without consequences in [the] cash-starved Josephine County, where the jail the city depends on is mostly closed for lack of money."  Johnson quotes Sgt. Todd Moran of the Grants Pass Police, "It's just broken," referring to the need for more money for the county's criminal justice infrastructure, including prosecutors.

Then Johnson goes an hour south of Grants Pass, to a more rural part of the county, where a group of volunteers who call themselves Citizens Against Crime have been patrolling "the back roads of the county," since last summer, when the sheriff's office budget and staff were gutted.  For the fiscal year that started July 1, the Josephine County Sheriff's Office is down to one deputy to respond to general calls from the rest of the county.  Just a few years ago, the Office employed 22 deputies.  Meanwhile, applications to carry a concealed weapon were up 49% last year.

Among those carrying weapons are Sam Nichols and Glenn Woodbury who are among the volunteers with Citizens Against Crime, believe the county's "financial troubles are in fact strengthening the community and that citizen crime patrols like theirs are proving that money — meaning higher taxes — is not the solution." They say that with local residents on watch, crime rates have fallen to near zero.  

This particular line from Johnson's story suggests the rural or quasi-rural nature of the area where Nichols and Woodbury patrol: "... Woodbury in the passenger seat shining a spotlight into the woods and winding dark driveways."  

Referencing the ongoing national debate over crime, taxes, and--more recently--how the Trayvon Martin case causes us to inquire about the taking of law into the hands of private citizens, Johnson observes that the debate in places like Josephine County "goes much deeper, to the question of what government is for and how community is to be defined."  That's Johnson's segue into the economic disaster that is Josephine County and just how great the struggle is for many folks:  
At grocery stores in Grants Pass, stopping and citing shoplifters — sometimes with whole carts of beer or food in tow — have become part of the daily law enforcement routine. 
“I hold my breath, every day, for everything,” said Sheriff Gil Gilbertson.

Johnson then goes into a detailed history of why Josephine County is in this fiscal pickle, which implicates the federal government, federally held lands, and whether and how much timber revenue feds share with local governments. Oh, and it also implicates residents' willingness or lack thereof to tax themselves.  County residents have voted multiple times, most recently in May, against raising their property taxes to help reduce the county's shortfall.  Johnson quotes rural economist Bruce Weber of Oregon State, who calls what is happening in Josephine County "a slow-motion disaster."  The full story is well worth a read for its balanced depiction and lucid and compassionate explanation.

Here's a related post from a few years ago, and a related story out of Coos County, which is contiguous to Josephine County.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Prescription drug abuse takes greatest toll on women, white, working class--rural

The Centers for Disease Control released a report yesterday indicating that "more women now die of overdoses from pain pills like OxyContin than from cervical cancer or homicide" and that women's deaths from such pain killers has quintupled since 1999.  While more men than women are still dying from these drug overdoses, women are "catching up," and the problem is hitting white women more than black women, older women harder than younger ones.  And there's another demographic headline here:  the impact is greater in rural areas than in urban ones.  

Sabrina Tavernise reported on the CDC analysis in the New York Times today, dateline Portsmouth, Ohio, population 20,226, on the "edge of Appalachia."  Here's a quote that suggests the rural angle:
For years, drug overdose deaths in the United States were seen as mostly an urban problem that hit blacks hardest. But opioid abuse, which exploded in the 1990s and 2000s and included drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, has been worst among whites, often in rural places. 
The CDC found that the overdose death rate for blacks in 2010 was less than half that for whites, with the lowest rates associated with Asians and Hispanics.  

And here's a paragraph from Tavernise's story on the gendered angle:
In this Ohio River town on the edge of Appalachia, women blamed the changing nature of American society. The rise of the single-parent household has thrust immense responsibility on women, who are not only mothers, but also, in many cases, primary breadwinners. Some who described feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities said they craved the numbness that drugs bring. Others said highs made them feel pretty, strong and productive, a welcome respite from the chaos of their lives.
In 2010, the number of women who died from overdoses of opiods was 6,631, while 10,020 men succumbed to this class of drugs.

NPR also reported on the CDC study.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Clout of agriculture, like that of the rural, wanes in Congress

In the wake of the House of Representatives' defeat of the farm bill a few days ago, Ron Nixon reports for the New York Times under the headline, "Farm Bill Defeat Shows Agriculture's Waning Power."  But it is the story not only of the decline (or at least a hiccup with) the farm lobby, it is also a(nother) story of the declining political power of rural America.  Here's an excerpt:
For much of American history, the agriculture sectors wielded tremendous political power. Farm groups were able to get key farm legislation passed by rallying millions of farmers in nearly every Congressional district. 
* * *
But as Americans have moved to the cities and suburbs, farmers and lawmakers representing districts largely dependent on agriculture have seen their political muscle steadily decline.
Farm state legislators no longer held the power they once did.  Nixon quotes Vincent H. Smith, a professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University:
There are a small number of Congressional districts where farming continues to carry much sway.  Especially in the House, the farm lobby has been substantially weakened.
Smith also cited Congressional response to last year's drought as evidence of agriculture's diminished status on the national political stage.  Research by Smith in 2006 showed that only 40 lawmakers represented largely farming districts, a number that has probably since declined.    

Agriculture currently accounts for just about 1% of gross national product, whereas in 1950 it was 9%.  Only 2.5% of the U.S. work force--about 2.2 million people--currently work in farming in U.S.