Thursday, May 29, 2014

Georgia tries to salvage rural hospitals as limited ERs

Susanna Capelouto reports from Folkston, Georgia, population 2,502, where the 25-bed Charlton Memorial Hospital closed last summer.  Indeed, four of Georgia's 65 rural hospitals have closed in the past two years, while many more have cut services due to shrinking budgets.  Capelouto describes the dynamic that led to Charlton's closure:  "a lack of high-tech specialty care, a big drop in local funding and populations that were getting older and poorer."

The hospital was the second largest employer in Folkston, but now it's down to a skeleton staff keeping track of medical records.  Indeed, the hospital director says they have 
maintained hope that we're going to open back up.  We've not sold any of our equipment. Everything is ready.
Now, the folks at Charlton Memorial may get the chance to re-open, on a limited basis.  Georgia is offering a new kind of license that would permit hospitals like Charlton to become "rural free-standing emergency departments" to handle "run-of-the-mill urgent care, such as broken bones."  In addition, these ERs would stabilize patients before they are transferred to larger, better equipped hospitals.  

Clyde Reese of the Georgia Department of Community Health explains:  
The intent here is to have some kind of health care infrastructure in a community, as opposed to nothing at all.
This is a first step of not just looking at hospitals but at health care in general in our rural areas. 
As far as Reese knows, Georgia is the first state to try this approach.  He doesn't know how the units would be funded except that Medicaid and Medicare could pay for some of the services, at reduced, non-hospital rates. Indeed, the politics of Medicaid expansion (or lack thereof, in Georgia) play into all of this, but you'll have to read the rest of the story for more details on that.

Folkston is the county seat of nonmetropolitan Charlton Countypopulation 13,255, in far southeastern Georgia. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Black, white and poor in rural Arkansas: the passing of Maya Angelou

This morning, the New York Times reported the death of Maya Angelou, at age 86.  The story includes this paragraph:  
As well known as she was for her memoirs, which eventually filled six volumes, Ms. Angelou (pronounced AHN-zhe-lo) very likely received her widest exposure on a chilly January day in 1993, when she delivered the inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the swearing-in of Bill Clinton, the nation’s 42nd president, who, like Ms. Angelou, had grown up poor in rural Arkansas.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The contemporary American West, in photos

See NPR's feature of Frontcountry, a new photo book by Lucas Foglia.  Chris Benderev describes the collection in his piece for NPR as "edited against" typical characterizations of the American West "in simple, iconic images: the cowboy, the miner, the farmer."  According to Foglia, "The pictures wander on purpose."
Foglia spent seven years with his camera, jumping from town to town, from New Mexico to Montana. He captures moments that distinguish the West from the rest of the country, as well as moments that could have happened anywhere in America. And then he mixes them all together.
The result is a collage of life and landscape — kids playing, a carved-out copper mine, a newborn calf, soccer practice, teens drinking in a snowbank.
But Wendy from Montana wrote in her comment on the story:
This doesn't look like it "wanders" very far. No college towns? No theatre events? No extreme skiing? No sushi in the park? No "March Against Monsanto"? No trivia night? Whitewater kayaking? No bike lanes? No no-profit worker on two phone lines at once, at her desk in front of two monitors? We are here. We are passionate, thinking people, engaged with the 21st century and we are the west also. -Wendy, from Montana (I do LOVE this picture of the woman running the hose over her head!)

Monday, May 26, 2014

A story about dogs, NYC, the South, and--would you believe it--rural poverty?

And the rural Southerners aren't even the bad guys … not really.  Indeed, this is a story of a rural-urban partnership that seems to be working for all involved.  There is even a positive role for law to play.

It's a wonder I clicked on the link to this story on the list of those emailed in today's New York Times, "Adopt a Dog with a Southern Drawl."  You see, I'm not really an animal lover, but the "Southern drawl" part caught my attention because I am, well, a Southerner.  I'm glad I checked out the piece  because it turns out the op-ed by J. Courtney Sullivan, which starts out with a depiction of the writer's overly pampered and uber-urban dog, is actually a story about rural poverty.  You see, Sullivan's dog, Landon, was adopted after he barely missed being euthanized at an animal control facility in Tennessee.  Sullivan explains that hundreds of thousands of dogs have been transported from "overcrowded facilities in the rural South" to the shelters in the north--like the one in Manhattan where Sullivan adopted her dog.  She explains that much of infrastructure for transferring the dogs is a product of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, when 250,000 pets were stranded.

Sullivan explains why there are so many dogs in shelters in the South, especially in rural places:
An estimated three to four million cats and dogs are euthanized in American shelters each year. People don’t love their pets any more or less because they live in one geographic region or another. But kill rates spike in high poverty areas with limited access to affordable veterinary services for spaying and neutering. In the rural South, unsterilized dogs are often allowed to roam outdoors. Many counties have weak or unenforced leash laws. Shelters in such areas are overrun, with kill rates ranging from 50 to 95 percent. Even where adoptions are encouraged, low population density makes them rare.
In the Northeast, in contrast, "low-cost spay and neuter services are the norm, kill rates are down, and there are exponentially more potential adopters."

North Share Animal League America, based on Long Island, last year placed 6,672 "Southern" dogs with new owners in the New York City area.  Five thousand of those dogs were puppies.  

But now legal issues are arising because those outside the non-profit/municipal shelter system transport sick, unvaccinated, or unsterilized pets that are placed privately, e.g., via the Internet.  This is leading some states and municipalities to crack down on animal importation laws.  Recently, the National Federation of Humane Societies has proposed guidelines.  Among other things, these recommend that shelters involved in pet transfers must be municipal or registered nonprofits.  They also require health records, including vaccination information of course, for the dogs being transferred.  Sullivan writes: 
P.E.T.S. regulations are another gold standard. They require dogs to be at least 10 weeks old and out of a kill shelter for two weeks — the length of time it takes common communicable diseases like parvo, distemper and Bordetella to present symptoms. They also require cages to be cleaned during travel, and for volunteers to meet drivers along the way and take the dogs for walks. Four states have adopted some of the regulations into law.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Finally, a mention of rural women regarding yet another abortion regulation

Louisiana yesterday passed a bill that would regulate the state's abortion providers in ways similar to laws in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama: by requiring providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.  The law passed by a vote of 88 to 5, and Governor Bobby Jindahl has indicated he will sign it into law.  The New York Times covered the story today under the headline, "With New Bill, Abortion Limits Spread in the South."  In their lede, Jeremy Alford and Erik Eckholm note that the law "rais[es] the possibility of drastically reduced access to abortion across a broad stretch of the South."  Indeed, the reason it is likely to have an impact across the region is that the similar laws in neighboring Texas and Mississippi have already closed clinics.  Indeed, the closure of the sole abortion provider in Mississippi is now at stake.  Enforcement of the Alabama law has been enjoined for now.

At oral arguments before the Fifth Circuit last month regarding the Mississippi law, that state's lawyer
said that although the law would force the state’s sole abortion clinic to close, abortion providers were available in neighboring states. One of the judges, Stephen A. Higginson, responded by bringing up a possibility that has since become reality. 
“Alabama has passed a law,” he said. “Louisiana is considering one. So then what?”
The New York Times story suggests that the Louisiana law is likely to close three or four of the state's five clinics.

While coverage of the Texas and Mississippi laws has rarely mentioned the impact that the laws will have on rural women--somewhat surprising since the clinics that have closed so far in Texas have been in the Rio Grande Valley--the NYT story does mention this group.  The journalists quote Herbert B. Dixon, a Democrat from Alexandria, who voted against the bill:
The problem I have with the bill is access, especially in the rural areas I represent. There will be none.
If the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi laws all take effect as their supporters hope, leading to the closure of many clinics, a woman in New Orleans would have to travel 300 miles to the nearest clinic.  
But supporters of the law call such distances acceptable. 
“What’s worse? Driving 300 miles to get an abortion from a clinic that meets a better standard of care, or going to a substandard one?” asked A. Eric Johnston, a Birmingham lawyer and strong opponent of abortion.
Other abortion foes have admitted that laws like that just passed in Louisiana are not aimed at protecting women's health.  The New York Times quotes a member of the board of Pro-Life Mississippi:
These incremental laws are part of a greater strategy to end abortion in our country.  It’s part of it, and one day, our country will be abortion free.
I have written about the abortion law's "undue burden" standard and rural women here.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Newcomer (woman!) rallies Nebraskans to oppose Keystone XL

I've written quite a lot about the Keystone XL pipeline in the past few years, and this story in today's New York Times Magazine invites me to write about it again. This story is "Jane Kleeb v. the Keystone Pipeline," and in it Saul Elbein reports on the efforts of Ms. Kleeb to rally fellow Nebraskans to prevent the now infamous pipeline from snaking through Nebraska, across 275 miles and through (well, below) 515 private properties.  Elbein gives Kleeb plenty of credit for stopping the pipeline--or at least getting its route changed--starting with her attendance at a U.S. State Department Hearing on the Keystone XL.  That was in 2010 in York, Nebraska.  Elbein summarizes:
But what has kept the pipeline out of the ground so far, more than anything, has been Kleeb’s ability to convince mostly­ conservative farmers and ranchers that they are the ones being asked to bear all the risk of Canada’s energy expansion. If something goes wrong, she says, they’re the ones who are going to suffer. Kleeb didn’t need to persuade all of the people in the room to be angry — many of the state’s landowners are plenty wary of what they see as the pipeline’s risks — but she has organized them to take on Trans­Canada and more or less their state’s entire political power structure. 
Kleeb describes her r├ęsponse to what she heard from farmers and ranchers at the York meeting (several of whom are quoted in Elbein's story):
All I could think about in that room was how they reminded me of [her husband] Scott’s family, the folks I fell in love with. Farmers and ranchers don’t think politically. I felt like I had to help. 
Earlier in his profile of Kleeb, Elbein had described how the Nebraska transplant, raised by Catholic, Republican parents in "exurban South Florida," had taken to life in rural Nebraska after marrying Scott Kleeb, a Democrat who has run unsuccessfully for both the U.S. Congress and Senate from the state.  Basically, she was taken by Nebraskans' "homesteader-like sense of collective responsibility."

Elbein quotes Kleeb:
It didn’t matter if it was 2 a.m. and driving snow.  If your neighbor called to say they had a cow out or a fence down, you went to help.
And so Kleeb came to the realization that the way to "sell" opposition to the pipeline was not with an environmental message, e.g., "Save the Sandhill Cranes."  Rather, the message should be "Save the Neighbors."  So far, it's working.

A prior post about Nebraskans protesting the Keystone XL pipeline is here.  It talks about a particular down-home way Nebraskans have of doing things, of influencing people, politely.  There's some of that in this story focused on Jane Kleeb, too, as where she talks about jack-o-lantern carving outside the Governor's Mansion and a barn raising, both by anti-pipeline activists.  She explains, though, that what is significant is less the specific activity than the collective effort:
You’re asking people to be involved. They love that — it’s part of our human nature. People want to be asked to do something bigger than themselves.
Meanwhile, Elbein explains the relevance of state law (as opposed to federal, U.S. Dept. of State approval) to the pipeline:
Pipelines carrying oil, unlike those for natural gas, are mostly regulated by the states. In all but Colorado, pipelines generally get the right of eminent domain — but most states can restrict that right, determining whether pipelines are in the public interest and what routes they can take. In 13 states, including Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma (and, until recently, Nebraska), there is no such approval process. If a company wants the land but the owner doesn’t want to make a deal, it can deposit its estimated fair value with a court and start building. If a landowner wants to challenge the company, he has to square off in court against a multibillion-dollar corporation.
One of Kleeb's disciples, if you will, is rancher Randy Thompson, of Merrick County, who had these comments about eminent domain and state law.  Referring to TransCanada's agents, Thompson said:
They came out here with this great sense of entitlement, and we were just supposed to get out of the road. They said all the neighbors had signed, and if we were smart, we’d sign now — or we’d get a lot less money. These guys just treat you like bugs they can squash.
Thompson wrote to the state's governor, Dave Heineman (Rep.), and in response he got back a pamphlet about the pipeline.  Thompson was advised by his lawyer that he had few options.  Thompson comments:  
I wasn’t going to let them roll over my parents like that.  
When Thompson heard about the meetings Kleeb was organizing, he attended one.  

So what is Kleeb's secret--other than engaging people in collective action like barn raising?  Kleeb explains that she doesn't talk about the environment or climate change, instead talking "about the land." Of big donors, like Tom Steyer of California, she says they 
crave a more authentic voice. … We have a connection to rural communities that many other progressive groups just don't have.
To this, I can only say, "duh."  But how do I feel about wealthy urbanites (even progressive ones) trading on rural livelihoods?  I'm not sure.  I'd feel better knowing that the Randy Thompsons of the world were going to be able to keep ranching in Nebraska.  And I'd feel better about the Randy Thompsons of the world keeping their ranches if I knew they treated their laborers fairly and supported their local communities.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"White kids from rural West Texas" among those who don't "get to graduate"

Paul Tough reported in the New York Times magazine this week-end on a program at the University of Texas to help socioeconomically disadvantaged and first-generation college students succeed.  The story is headlined, "Who Gets to Graduate?" and, in it, Tough details the struggles of certain groups of students who typically underperform at college and often drop out or transfer to a community college as  a consequence.  In short, these students have very high attrition rates, and those rates are higher at UT, where just 52% graduate, than at flagship campuses in other states, e.g., North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, where about 70% do.  The story is also about studies of what interventions work to help these students, including changing how they see themselves and how they respond to inevitable set-backs.

Tough describes the high risk students thusly:
The students who were failing were mostly from low-income families. Many of them fit into certain ethnic, racial and geographic profiles: They were white kids from rural West Texas, say, or Latinos from the Rio Grande Valley or African-Americans from Dallas or Houston. 
Tough explains the reason why these students, whose SAT scores are good but typically below those of their more affluent colleagues, are at flagship University of Texas at Austin: "the Top 10 percent law, which stipulated that students who ranked in the top tenth of their graduating classes in any high school in Texas would be automatically admitted to the campus of their choice in the U.T. system." The criterion for automatic admission has since tightened and is now down to the top 7% of each school.

I appreciate Tough's attention to the vulnerability of the rural students because implicit in it is an acknowledgement that these students' high school preparation is not as strong as those of students graduating from better resourced schools, as in "the wealthier suburbs of Dallas" where students are "mostly well off, mostly white" and tend to "rack up high SAT scores." Of course, Tough also attends to race. But most reports about the Texas 10% plan focus just on the racial diversity that the plan fosters at UT, with little attention to the fact that when the legislature passed the the 10% plan, they were also concerned to foster the inclusion of more rural students, who had similarly suffered under the prior admissions scheme.

Tough says that UT does value these at-risk students, regardless of their lower test scores. As he expresses it: 
Even if their high schools weren’t as well funded or as academically demanding as schools in other parts of the state, they managed to figure out how to learn, how to study and how to overcome adversity.
Indeed.  It's a pity we don't see more leaders in higher education who value strivers like these students, and we see even fewer institutions who are "putting their money where their mouth is" and actively experimenting with how best to support them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Can trends like slow food redeem rural livelihoods?

Stories like this one in the New York Times earlier this week give me hope regarding U.S. attitudes toward rural living.  The dateline is Hagerstown, Indiana, population 1,787, and the headline is "A Lesson in Farming, Classroom to Cafeteria."  Steve Yaccino reports:
Beyond a stack of hay bales, past the site of Indiana’s first soil-judging contest, high school students in this tiny eastern town stroll down a grassy slope to reach their newest classroom: a fenced-in field of cud-chewing cattle. 
Starting in the next academic year, the cattle, which arrived last month and have names like Ground Round and Honey Bear, will be fed by students enrolled in an agricultural science class. Then, when the animals are fat enough, they will be fed back to their caretakers — as beef patties on lunchroom trays.
Yaccino notes that Hagerstown is not alone among rural places as it faces fear that links to agriculture are being lost, along with the challenges of declining population and, with it, shrinking school funding.  Yaccino reports that other small schools across the country are turning to "hands-on agricultural classes that also supply cheaper, healthier food" to students.  He mentions student-raised chickens at Montague, Michigian, population 2,361, and "campus-bred pork" in Willits, California, population 4,888.
Pupils in other districts throughout the Midwest are growing crops or garden produce for a letter grade before eating the fruits of their labor when the lunch bell rings.
I am reminded of an academic article titled "Farming Made Her Stupid," by Lisa Heldke, published in Hypatia in 2006.  Perhaps crazes like "slow food" and "farm to fork" are redeeming rural livelihoods, and not only the urban ag craze, as I have written about here.

P.S.  Another farm-to-table story appeared in the Times a few days after this post.  Read Dan Barber's Opinion piece, "What Farm to Table Got Wrong," which focuses on the movement's failure to attend adequately to soil quality, crop rotation, etc.  In the end, Barber argues, we need more "middle men" to process crops that are not thought of as desirable, but which nurture the soil.

NPR reviews Barber's new book, The Third Plate:  Field Notes on the Future of Food here , and provides this summary of his message:  we should eat "a wider variety of foods that support natural agricultural practices."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

And now "A Tale of Two Billboards" from the Ozarks

Part II of his series for NPR on the Ozarks has Frank Morris in Harrison, Arkansas, reporting on recent efforts by city leaders to end racism--and to end the city's reputation for racism.  Indeed, Morris reports on that very billboard I mentioned in my last post.  

Morris explains that Harrison was known as a "sundown town" a century ago because "riots and murder drove more than 100 black residents" from there, "making it a "perilous place for African-Americans after dark."  Morris reports that the city is now trying to make itself attractive to businesses, but its long-standing reputation as a "hotbed of hate" has created challenges.  That's one reason the mayor of Harrison and a Community Task Force on Race Relations have been taking action.  The town recently ceremonially "buried racism and hatred," according to the mayor.  Morris reports:
[T]he town … did it in style — with a funeral march, a handmade casket and civil rights speeches. 
The ceremony, attended by regional civil rights leaders and local residents, was part of a sustained effort here to press an uncomfortable conversation about race.
The task force has also put up billboards that proclaim, "Love Your Neighbor.  Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that." The latter part is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  These billboards respond to another billboard that went up last fall--one that says "Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti-White."

You see, Harrison is dogged not only by its history, but by a couple of relative newcomers--both transplants from the West--who lead white supremacist organizations based there.  One is Thom Robb, who "runs" the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan through a post office box in Harrison. Robb himself lives in a neighboring community that Morris doesn't identify.  
Robb says he likes the name recognition the KKK label offers. He sells Klan shirts, hats and jewelry on his website. The three letters generate Web traffic for Robb, but headaches for the town. 
"Harrison isn't the only nice, white community in the country. There are many," [Robb]  says. "Harrison gets the attention because I happen to live here."
The other white supremacist featured is Mike Hallimore, director of Kingdom Identity Ministries, a group that believes "in the government of God on Earth--theocracy according to God's laws."
Those laws, he says, call for execution in cases of blasphemy, abortion or homosexuality. He preaches that Jews are descended from Satan and that only absolutely pure-blooded Caucasians enjoy what most would call a soul. 
The Southern Poverty Law Center says tens of thousands follow Hallimore's ministry online. Like most prominent white supremacists in the Ozarks, Hallimore is a transplant. He moved here from California.
Why Harrison?  Hallimore tells Morris:
I like rural living for one thing.  But of course I like that it's predominantly white.
Actually, Morris notes, Hallimore also lives outside Harrison.

A bit about Harrison.  Its population is 13,163, and it is the county seat of Boone County, population 37,396, which is 94.6% non-Hispanic White. (Contrast that with Carroll County to the west, which is 82.3% non-Hispanic white and includes a substantial Latino/a population, which I wrote about here).  Boone County's poverty rate is 15.8%, but it enjoys a nice vantage point as a hub among many ecotourism activities, including those associated with the Buffalo National River, and thriving Branson, Missouri, just about 40 miles to its north.

So, history aside (as if that were possible), is the problem with Harrison or with the hate-mongerers who have been drawn there, but whose following is not necessarily local?  Morris closes with this exchange, which seems to get at rural-urban difference:
"The United States of America is brimming with racial conflict," says [Leonard Zeskind, who researches hate crime groups]. "There are plenty of all-white neighborhoods in the suburbs of Northern cities." 
Racial conflict is one thing. But most of those cities don't have the intense concentration of hate groups, operating out of Ozark towns like Harrison.
On a related matter, I reported a few years ago on a federal conviction by a Harrison, Arkansas jury for the first conviction under the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  Read more here.

A happier national story mentioning Harrison is here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A tale of two (Ozarks) towns

NPR is airing today the first of a two-part series on stasis and change in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.  Frank Morris's story compares Marionville, Missouri, population 2,225, with Eureka Springs, Arkansas, population 2,073.  Marionville is the home of Glenn Miller, the man charged in gunning down three people last month in a hate-crime that targeted Jews in Kansas City.  Eureka Springs, on the other hand, is home to a thriving LGBT community.  (Indeed, Morris doesn't note this, but Eureka Springs was the site of the first gay marriage in Arkansas this past week-end, after a state judge in Little Rock struck down the state's ban on such unions on Friday.)

Here's the lede to Morris's report:
The neo-Nazi charged with killing three people at Jewish centers outside Kansas City last month drove there from his home in the Ozarks, a hilly, rural, largely conservative part of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas with a history of attracting white supremacists.
* * *
"I am not blind to the shortcomings of this area, and I will tell you, as a native, we are still mired in the past," says Nancy Allen, a professor and author in nearby Springfield, Mo. 
Allen says most black residents fled Springfield after three black men were lynched on the town square in 1906. That left it a largely white city in a very white region endowed with a fiercely independent and insular culture. Allen calls it the "code of the hills."
Morris reports that Marionville's residents are divided regarding Miller, as well as the recent forced resignation of the city's mayor following his anti-Semitic comments.  It's a painful portrait of a place and its people--a portrait the represents mostly stasis and bigotry, where some residents express loyalty to Miller despite his heinous crime.  For example, regarding Miller, Frank Morris quotes a man in a "big old pickup truck":  
Yes sir, I knew him, real nice guy. He'd help somebody. He helped me quite a few times. Real nice guy.
Morris contrasts Marionville with Eureka Springs, 60 miles to the South, a "town similar in heritage but culturally on different planet."  Morris interviews Michael Walsh, a longtime resident of the city who says gay culture is very evident here.
Because there are rainbow flags outside of lot of the gay-owned shops. A lot of us are movers and shakers in town.
Eureka Springs, which enjoys a vibrant tourist economy, also hosts three gay pride week-ends each year.  Here, Walsh says, "old ways and new culture coexist."

From this Morris concludes that some parts of the region are "coming to terms with modern American culture in ways that might shock earlier generations. But it's not happening quickly or evenly or without a fight."  Read a related post here.

Meanwhile, in relation to the racial history of the Ozarks, I recently came across a photo of a billboard that went up in in Harrison, Arkansas, last fall.  It said "Anti-Racist is a Code Word for Anti White."  Harrison, about 40 miles from Eureka Springs, is a town long associated with KKK.  How depressing.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The cost of taking democracy to remote India

Max Bearak reports from the Leh Valley in northern India today, in particular on the logistical challenges of facilitating voting in the remote villages there.  The story's headline, " Hikers Spread Democracy in India" is a bit misleading because those featured may "hike," but it is not the sort of leisure activity we typically associate with that word.  The "hikers" featured are a "polling team" sent to this isolated region to ensure free and fair voting during the recent national election period, which spanned six weeks.  It's the largest election in history, with 800 million registered voters casting ballots, including in these "hostile windswept barrens of India's craggy northern edge."

Among other things, Bearak highlights the cost of the voting in such remote locations:  $1665 per voter in the Leh District, probably the highest in the country.  Most of the funds went to "fuel and voting awareness campaigns in distant corners of the district," which spans 17,375 miles of alpine desert on the Tibetan Plateau.  Some of the Leh District locations where votes were cast  could be reached only by helicopter.  

Bearak explains the relevant election laws that require such outreach
In most of the rest of this crowded country, every 1,000 voters warrant a polling booth, but in Leh, only four of its 274 settlements would fit that bill. Instead, local officials hew more closely to the election commission’s rule that voters cannot be required to travel more than a mile and a quarter to their polling station.
As of the close of voting on Wednesday, 88% of voters--100 of 114 in Markha Village--had cast votes.  Interestingly, the voters  were plotting to "take advantage of multiparty democracy."  Bearak quotes Tsetan Dolkar, a resident of Markha who owns a guesthouse:    
We’ve tried in the past two elections to vote as a block for whoever will win, so that they will remember us and build us a road.  Both parties always make promises. Elections for us have always been about getting a road.
This reminds me of rural politicking in the United States, where rural voters are often also swayed by concerns about what elected officials can and will do about transportation infrastructure.

The story also reminds me of the increased cost of the state's presence, for all sorts of purposes, in rural locales, a topic I took up here.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXIII): Serious crimes reported in recent weeks

The Newton County Times has reported various significant crimes in my home town in recent weeks.  Most are the predictable drug-related crimes, but one is a rape and another is residential burglary.  Here are the details from the front page of the April 30, 2014 issue of the Times.
  • A 26-year-old man, Jeremy Ryan Freeman, was arrested in relation to charges of three counts of rape, a class Y felony, and false imprisonment, a class C felony.  Bond has been set at $1million.  Deputies also arrested a 23-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman for harboring Freeman.  They face charges of hindering apprehension or prosecution, a class B felony.
  • In other news, Dennis Waggoner, a 33-year-old man from Marble Falls, was arrested on suspicion of a residential burglary where a video game and a set of speakers were stolen, along with a receipt for purchase of the items from Wal-Mart.  Deputies were able to secure video evidence from Wal-Mart showing Waggoner's return of the times.
March 12, 2104:  A search warrant executed on March 8 at the home of Jerry Collins (46) , Carol Mathis (48) and Rocky Mathis (23) in Jasper turned up "more than four ounces and less than 25 pounds of suspected marijuana" along with "numerous firearms and cash."  Each of the three has been charged with simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, "possession of a schedule vi controlled substance with intent to deliver," and possession of drug paraphernalia.  Bond was set at $75,000 each.

April 9, 2014:  Caleb Campbell, 29, was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $1000 for charges arising from possession of a glass smoking device, "several small plastic bags containing apparent pills and other drugs" and two guns.
  • A 22-year-old man was fined $500 and ordered to pay other court costs and fees after he was found guilty of several charges related to possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia.  
  • A 46-year-old man was sentenced to five years probation on each of several felony drug counts and one year on each of several misdemeanor counts to which he pleaded guilty.  He was fined $750 plus costs and fees.  
  • A 51-year-old woman pleaded guilty to various drug paraphernalia possession charges and was sentenced to a year of probation.  She will have to pay $250 in court costs and fees.  
April 2, 2014:  A 34-year-old man and a 22-year-old man were arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine, associated paraphernalia, and numerous firearms.  Among other charges they face are those for simultaneous possession of the drugs and guns.

In other March and April news:
  • The Newton County Special Service Corporation announced the impending closure of its Early Head Start program at Deer, effective March 28.  Children will be transferred to programs at either Western Grove or Jasper.  The Corporation cited "maintaining compliance with strict federal regulations (enrollment), changing demographics, and high costs of utilities in the [Deer] building" as "primary factors" driving the closure.  
  • A public health preparedness coordinator with the Northwest Region was in Jasper to train health professionals, government officials, and others who would "spearhead the local response to any major emergency."  
  • The Newton County Election Commission has announced the need for four poll workers for the Plumlee Precinct at Compton.  
  • The driver of a pickup truck was rescued after he drove the truck into the rain swollen Little Buffalo River.  
  • Marble Falls' new waste water treatment system has been completed.  The work ended a leak of effluent into Mill Creek, which is a a tributary of the Buffalo National River.  The Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality had threatened a lawsuit over the lead.  Almost half of the total cost of $620,000 was paid by the Arkansas High Department which agreed to provide the funds as part of its expansion of the department's right of way for widening and improving a stretch of state Highway 7 in that area. The new system can handle about 30,000 customers (a figure which is about 4 times the entire population of the county!), and should last for two decades.  

Friday, May 9, 2014

Call for Participation: Poverty, Precarity and Work

ClassCrits VII will be at UC Davis November 14-15, 2014.  Below is an abbreviated Call for Participation.  
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty,” and the establishment of the first Neighborhood Legal Services Program pilot in Washington, D.C. Each of these initiatives attempted to address problems of structural economic inequality—problems that remain with us nationally and internationally . The seventh meeting of ClassCrits will focus on work, poverty, and resistance in an age of increasing economic insecurity. 
In law, it is generally easier to discuss “poverty” than to look deeply into its causes and incidents—including income and wealth inequality, the close interaction of class and race in America, and the connections between gender and economic hardship. It is also easier to discuss “poverty” than what some scholars call “precarity”—the increasing vulnerability of workers, even those above the official poverty line, to disaster. Precarity has both economic and political roots. Its economic sources include the casualization of labor, low wages, persistently high unemployment rates, inadequate social safety nets, and constant vulnerability to personal financial catastrophes. Its political sources include the success of neoliberal ideology, upward redistribution of wealth, increasing polarization and dysfunction in Congress, and the dependence of both political parties on a steady stream of big money. Precarity is also not limited to the United States, but is reshaping space around the globe. While the aftermath of the housing bubble and subsequent foreclosures drain home values across America and strip equity disproportionately from minority neighborhoods, in developing-country “megacities,” millions of slum-dwellers are displaced to make way for high-end residential and commercial real estate developments. 
Finally, this conference focuses on challenging structural forms of inequality from a place of compassion and creating possibilities for resilience. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” In this spirit, ClassCrits VII will explore the risks, uncertainty, and structural challenges of this period and discuss possibilities for shared goals and new forms of resistance.
The deadline for abstracts and proposals is May 23, 2014, and they can be emailed to classcrits@gmail.com.  More information is available here.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pondering the frontier mentality of the rural West, including the so-called castle doctrine

The New York Times reports in a front-page story today on the April 27, 2014 shooting death of a German high school exchange student in Missoula, Montana.  The 17-year-old was shot by a Missoula homeowner when the Diren Dede entered the man's garage to pilfer some beer.  Healy describes in detail the sequence of events:
Inside the house, motion sensors alerted Markus Kaarma, 29, to an intruder’s presence. Two recent burglaries had put Mr. Kaarma and his young family on edge, his lawyer said, and he grabbed a shotgun from the dining room and rushed outside. He aimed into the garage and, according to court documents, fired four blasts into the dark. Mr. Dede’s body crumpled to the floor. 
While Mr. Kaarma has been charged with deliberate homicide, Mr. Dede’s death has set off an outcry an ocean away in Germany, exposing the cultural gulf between a European nation that tightly restricts firearms and a gun-loving Western state. In his defense, Mr. Kaarma is expected to turn to laws enacted in Montana five years ago that allow residents more legal protections in using lethal force to defend their homes.
That last sentence of the quote refers to the state's "castle doctrine, which permits liberal defense of one's home.  On that matter, journalist Jack Healy quotes Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association as saying, “I think it’s working just fine.” Marbut rationalizes his answer by invoking the distance from law enforcement and other embodiments of the state that are often associated with rural living, and he also makes a rural-urban comparison: 
In times of emergency in Montana, Mr. Marbut said, the police are often an hour’s drive away. “Self-defense is a natural right. It is part of the nature of being a free person that your life has value and you can protect that life. It’s just not going to work to change Montana to a Chicago-style culture.”
This link between spatiality and self-reliance is a topic discussed in a new legal geographies collection, The Expanding Spaces of Law:  A Timely Legal Geography, which includes my chapter called "The Rural Lawscape:  Space Tames Law Tames Space."  That chapter theorizes the intersection of law and rural spatiality, including the link between the relative absence of legal actors and the "frontier" mentality of sparsely populated places like Montana.  The book will be published on May 28 by Stanford University Press.

Another post about Montana's castle law is here.  Another NYT story out of Montana about the "cultural security" represented by guns is here.

P.S.  A May 21, 2014 update on these events is here, from NPR's Martin Kaste.  Mr. Kaarma pleaded not guilty today.  The story includes this quote from State Rep. Krayton Kerns, the chief sponsor of the 2009 self-defense law:
Obviously, there's going to be moves to repeal it, but I think that's a reactionary thing.
Kerns opines, "[b]ased on news accounts … he does not think the law excuses the Diren Dede shooting."  Kaste further quotes Kerns: 
But repealing the castle doctrine, Kerns says, would give too much power back to prosecutors. "It removes the fundamental right of self-defense or the option of self-defense for the individual, and shifts it to government," Kerns says. "That's just not gonna work."
I don't think I quite understand the distinction Kerns is drawing since, under the invocation of the castle doctrine by Kaarma, a jury is going to have decide if Kaarma "reasonably believe[d] that force is necessary to prevent a forcible felony."  If the castle doctrine were not in place, a jury would still be called on to make a decision, most likely, about the reasonableness of Kaarma's belief.  That's how the law of self defense works, whether one is defending home or not.  

President Obama shows up in rural Arkansas--and is welcomed--post-tornado

Here is NPR's coverage of yesterday's presidential visit to Vilonia, Arkansas, population 3,815, and the site of an EF4 tornado that killed 16 in central Arkansas late last month.  Tamara Keith reports on the President's encounter with Daniel Smith and his young sons.  Smith didn't vote for Obama, but he seemed happy to have the President visit, accompanied by a bi-partisan group of state elected officials who also surveyed the damage and met with residents.  Keith reports this exchange:
[President Obama] walked up to Smith and his two sons, Gabriel and Garrison. "It's good to see you guys," the president said. 
"Man, it's wonderful to see you, sir," Smith replied. 
Smith shook the president's hand. Obama gave his two sons small boxes of White House M&Ms. 
"For someone of that stature to come out and want to see how you are and check on things means a lot," Smith says. 
Smith didn't vote for Obama. In 2012, the president lost Arkansas by more than 20 percentage points. And this was his first time in the state either as a candidate or as president. But some things just transcend politics. Smith says he's glad the president came to his cul-de-sac. 
"It makes you feel like he's in it with you, you know, it's the support," he says.
Keith quoted another resident, a woman who lost her stepson in the tornado:
"He owned it," [the woman] says. "It was nothing that he could say to comfort other than to let us know that a nation was grieving with us, and he didn't have to do that."
The New York Times also covered the Obama visit, and Michael Schmidt's story provides more political perspective than NPR, stating that the visit was laced with "political intrigue."  Schmidt explains that U.S. Senator from Arkansas, Mark Pryor (D), invited the President to Arkansas--having explained why that's so unusual:
Among those greeting Mr. Obama when he landed in Little Rock was the state’s Democratic senator, Mark Pryor, who is running for re-election against Representative Tom Cotton. The race has been expected to be tight, and Mr. Pryor has tried, until recently, to distance himself from Mr. Obama and other Democrats. The president is particularly unpopular in Arkansas — and this was his first visit to a state he lost by wide margins in both 2008 and 2012.
Among other comments, President Obama observed:
I could not be more impressed by the spirit of community that’s here. 
An earlier post about the late April tornadoes, which also touches on community, is here.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Transportation, work, and poverty in rural America

See this story on NPR today about the problems that keep poor people from breaking the cycle of poverty.   The headline is "One Family's Story Shows How the Cycle of Poverty is Hard to Break," and the dateline is Bath, New York, population 12,097, in nonmetropolitan (but micropolitan) Steuben County, population 98,650, in the western part of the state.  Pam Fessler's report paints a fairly detailed portrait of Desiree Metcalf, 24, a single mom to three young children.  Metcalf admits she's made some bad decisions, but she has also had some tough breaks--including an unstable childhood.   

Fessler reports that Metcalf recently trained as a nursing assistant but then lost her job because of lack of transportation.  It's not an uncommon issue for rural residents--especially rural women who are more economically precarious.  Fessler reports it this way:  
But she ran into a problem faced by many low-income workers: transportation. Her car was recently totaled by someone backing out of a driveway. 
"So now my vehicle is gone and [I] have no way to get back and forth to work reliably, and unfortunately, there's not much in this town as of work," she says. 
Mass transit is virtually nonexistent in this rural area.
I have written about lack of transportation for poor, rural residents here, here, here and here.   Fessler reported earlier this week from Painted Post, New York, population 1,782, under the headline, "The Changing Picture of Poverty:  Hard Work is 'Just Not Enough.'"  That story touched on the tough job market in the region in an era of rural restructuring, quoting Marsha Patrick, who runs the local HeadStart program:
Her program is trying to break the cycle [of poverty]. But Patrick says it's difficult, especially with factory jobs that used to support a middle class in this region disappearing in droves. 
"Unless we have those jobs to offer those folks, that they're going to feel good about and want to go to work for and do, the kids are going to be the ones who are suffering, and we're seeing it," she says.
The poverty rate in Steuben County is 15.1%.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Vermont moves toward school consolidation

I write frequently on this blog about the law and politics of school consolidation (the post here links to prior posts on the topic), and that is a topic taken up in today's New York Times in relation to Vermont, which is currently considering a spate of consolidation across the state.  As Jess Bidgood explains, Vermont's situation is somewhat unique because the school districts are already quite small.
Tucked into valleys and isolated by mountains and rural expanse, many of Vermont’s 273 school districts serve just a smattering of children. It is an old system, borne of the state’s agrarian history and knotty geography, and many Vermonters like it that way.
* * * 
Vermont has more school districts than cities and towns, and a valued tradition of small-scale democracy.
Shap Smith (D), speaker of the Vermont House expresses that tradition thusly:  
In a state as small as Vermont, the schools are the heart of most communities and the notion of local control is close to a religion here.  
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 72.3 percent of Vermont residents live in places with a population of 2,500 or fewer.  No population cluster in the state is larger than 50,000, which means 100% of the state is rural if you use that population threshold as the cutoff.   

The push for consolidation is driven by the loss of 20,000 students over the past two decades, a phenomenon that has necessarily driven up costs associated with small schools--and therefore taxes.  The last big overhaul in the state's school governance was more than a century ago.  

Bidgood quotes Governor Pete Shumlin (D):  
If you designed a system from scratch, you would not design what Vermont has right now.  We currently have more superintendents and administration than any state of our size. We need to think of a better way.
Reflecting the effort to find that better way, the state legislature last week passed a measure that would give districts a few years to find ways to consolidate with one another--to voluntarily choose their consolidation partners.

Many lawmakers voting on the bill were in a particularly difficult situation because consolidation is at stake in their own districts.  The law will require consolidation into districts with a minimum of 1000 students each by 2020.   (I note that this is very similar to the consolidation Arkansas undertook a decade ago, but there the minimum district size is 350).

To illustrate the challenge, Bidgood features Rochester, population 1,139, in the center of the state, with a district of just 150 pupils, K-12.  Some students come to Rochester from even smaller towns, and the district represents a familiar challenge in the school consolidation debate:  you can (or should) only bus students so far.  As a member of the Rochester school board expressed it, referring to physical geography,
This valley really needs a K-12 school.  
The option, as Bidgood expresses it, is to bus the children "to schools on the other side of the nearest mountain."  And that physical geography is what could keep schools like Rochester open, even as their administration changes.  As the school's principal stated:
Because it’s so isolated, I think people will really fight for it.
And that fight for rural schools inevitably leads to rural-urban comparisons, as reflected this quote from Paul Keane, a Hartford school board member and former teacher:
I know how decent and how joyful a school run by local residents is compared to the anonymous monstrosities that the rest of the country has.