Saturday, January 31, 2009

A rural angle on lesbian separatist communities

Sarah Kershaw's story in today's NYT about lesbian communities makes several mentions of rurality. Writing of lesbian pioneers who founded a community in St. Augustine, Florida in the 1970s, the story tells of 20 of these pioneer women who still choose "a separate lesbian world . . . hav[ing] built homes on 300 rural acres in northeast Alabama, where the founders of the Florida community, the Pagoda, relocated in 1997."

Kershaw continues:
Behind a locked gate whose security code is changed frequently, the women pursue quiet lives in a community they call Alapine, largely unnoticed by their Bible Belt neighbors — a lost tribe from the early ’70s era of communes and radical feminism.
The story notes that most such communities are in rural areas, which reminded me of the utility of rural places for those seeking privacy, for those with a separatist bent. (I've written about this before in relation to religious separatists, such as here and here).

The point of Kershaw's story is these communities' struggles to survive as mainstream society's acceptance of lesbians has increased, leaving less perceived need for these enclaves. She writes:
As the impulse to withdraw from heterosexual society has lost its appeal to younger lesbians, womyn’s lands face some of the same challenges as Catholic convents that struggle to attract women to cloistered lives.
For me, the story represented an opportunity to reflect on the tranquility of rural places and what that has meant and means for these women. Some rich quotes from the women at the Alabama community suggest their profound appreciation for the natural settings in which they live. I also liked contemplating these communities living in peace with -- if apart from--their rural neighbors, especially given the stereotypes of rural people as intolerant of LGBT folks (read here and here) . . . . until I noted that the women agreed to be interviewed by Kershaw only if she promised not to disclose the exact location of their homes because "they fear harassment from outsiders."

A laboratory for urban farms, among other things

This NYT story by David Streitfeld about Braddock, Pennsylvania explores a place that appears to have hit rock bottom-- even before the rest of the country. Braddock, population 2,912, is part of Allegheny County, the core of the greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan area. So, while Braddock might be close to being "rural" (under the U.S. Census Bureau's 2,500 population cap), it is certainly not nonmetropolitan. Nevertheless, Streitfeld's story reads a bit like an account of rural America's decline, including its population loss.

There's also a wee bit of rurality in the solution--or at least in the response. As Braddock's apparent demise has unfolded in recent years, Mayor John Fetterman, age 39 and a newcomer, has taken various innovative steps. Among them, he has "encouraged the development of urban farms on empty lots, which employ area youths and feed the community."

This story is well worth a read, not because it says something about rural America -- because it is really about a very urban place -- but for what it says about the possibility of renewal, including how that which is traditionally rural (agriculture) can play at least a small role in urban renewal.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XVI): Keeping the jail open?

The big criminal justice story in the past few issues of the Newton County Times is once again the county jail. The headline in the Jan. 8, 2009 issue is "Plea being made not to close jail," and the story recounts the situation with the more-than-a-century-old county jail, which the state Jail Standards committee is seeking to close in March.

In November, county residents approved a 1/2 cent sales tax to finance construction of a new jail, but voters did not approve a second 1/2 cent sales tax to maintain the facility. The county is considering a second vote on this latter tax, but officials including the county's attorney, appear not to be moving quickly to get the matter on the ballot. Also, while the county's attorney has indicated that he plans to seek "leniency by state officials" to keep the jail open, he had not yet contacted them in early January. The story notes that this will be a difficult time to sell construction bonds.

In other stories:
  • County officials were sworn in, including a new county judge who ran as an independent. All others are Republicans.
  • The Jasper Volunteer Fire Department has received a $3K grant from the Arkansas Rural Fire Protection Program, but it is short on firefighters and is recruiting so that it can improve its ISO rating and lower the fire insurance premiums of residents. This seems particularly timely since the paper has reported three residential fires in recent weeks.
  • A Dollar General store will open in Jasper, with 9100 square feet.
  • Two county schools are receiving USDA grants to provide fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students.
  • The University of Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service is offering a 12-week StrongWomen Program for middle aged and older women two mornings a week at the Carroll Electric community room. The fee is $12. (Too bad this is being offered at a time when so many women are at work).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Gillibrand appointment and rural-urban differences in NY State

Stories in the past few days editions of the New York Times suggest a wide gulf between urban and rural interests in the state of New York with, of course, the urban being dominant. (Only 17.4% of New York's population live in non-metropolitan areas, although 31% live in rural areas--those with fewer than 2,500 people). These stories have been written in the run up to Kirsten Gillibrand's swearing in on Tuesday as U.S. Senator, taking the seat recently vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. I have already written here about the NYT's early coverage of Gillibrand and her supposed rural ways and interests.

More recent stories such as this one by Kirk Semple suggest that urban New Yorkers--mostly those in NYC, of course--are opposed to the Gillibrand appointment because her positions on issues such as immigration and gun control are contrary to theirs. The suggestion is that her positions have been more appropriate in her mostly rural congressional district. Semple writes:
During her one term in the House of Representatives, from a largely rural, traditionally Republican district, Kirsten E. Gillibrand was on safe political ground adopting a tough stance against illegal immigration.
* * *
But since her appointment by Gov. David A. Paterson last week to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ms. Gillibrand has found herself besieged by immigrant advocates and Democratic colleagues who have cast her as out of step with a majority of the state, with its big cities and sprawling immigrant enclaves.
Another report, this one by Michael Powell, also uses the word "rural" to describe Gillibrand's former congressional district. He writes:
But the road from representing a rural and distinctly conservative district encircling Albany to taking responsibility for the entire state comes with sizable potholes.

Since Gov. David A. Paterson announced her appointment on Friday, she has been lashed for her positions on guns — very much in favor — and illegal immigration — very much against — with downstate Democrats rumbling about primary challenges.
* * *
Ms. Gillibrand faces an electoral gantlet more closely resembling that of the Congressional seat she abandoned than the more leisurely six-year terms of the Senate.
A third NYT story, this one by Jim Dwyer, suggests that Governor Paterson has gained ground with rural New Yorkers, where he historically had little support, by appointing Gillibrand.

All this has me a bit puzzled about the purported rural-urban divide in New York state since a look at the various state maps showing what is rural and what is urban, by different measures, all show Albany and environs to be clearly urban or metropolitan. The city of Albany had almost 100,000 residents in the 2000 Census and is therefore "urban" by any U.S. government measure. Albany County had almost 300,000 residents in the last Census.

Granted, some of the reaches of her former district to the west and north of Albany are less densely populated, and perhaps the region's economy is largely driven by farming. Nevertheless, for the most part Gillibrand represented an urban area. Further, she is herself hardly a country girl, despite the New York Times' earlier characterization of her "wide-eyed, from the farm belt style." Gillibrand grew up in Albany, attended Dartmouth College (admittedly a fairly bucolic setting), but then went to law school at UCLA.

So is the NYT really talking about a rural-urban divide, or would it be fairer just to characterize it as an upstate-downstate, Republican-Democrat, liberal-moderate divide? In any event, the media handling of this once again aligns the culture wars with the rural-urban divide.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dan Barry is back in the plains, this time to tell us about a small-town bank robbery

Read the story here. The dateline is Carleton, Nebraska, population 136.

Here's a highlight about what happened after the robbery, when someone called 911:
Within nine minutes the sheriff’s deputies arrived. Soon came the first of many calls of concern and support, a few of which, a smiling Mr. Van Cleef [the bank owner] remembers, went like this: “Hear you’ve been robbed. Can I bring you over a pie?”
The "pie" line says it all because this story, which is ostensibly about a bank robbery, is really just an excuse to share a rural vignette. Among the rural themes in this story are attachment to place and community. There's also good information here about the nature of small-town banking, agricultural lending, and rural economies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More on Obama as the first urban President

I have written about this topic here and here. Now a column by Nate Silver in Esquire magazine explores the issue. Here's a brief excerpt:
[Obama] is the only American president in recent history to seem unembarrassed about claiming a personal residence in a major American city. Instead, presidents have tended to hail from homes called ranches or groves or manors or plantations, in places called Kennebunkport or Santa Barbara or Oyster Bay or Northampton.
Silver notes that Obama's success was partly a response to Bush's failures, and since Bush was at least ostensibly rural, well . . . As Silver writes, Obama, in sharp contrast, "is unmistakably urban: pragmatic, superior, hip, stubborn, multicultural."

Silver goes on to document that the number of voters who self-identify as rural has fallen dramatically since Clinton was first elected President 16 years ago. As he notes, "if you are going to pit big cities against small towns, it is probably a mistake to end up on the rural side of the ledger."

The column is well worth a read.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A nod to New York's rural reaches in the Kirsten Gillibrand pick?

The New York Times story about Kirsten Gillibrand's selection to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate features several references to rurality and farms. This is not surprising, perhaps, since Ms. Gillibrand is the U.S. Representative for the 20th Congressional District that includes Albany, but also stretches west and north of that city.

Here is the lede from the story by Michael Powell and Raymond Hernandez (emphasis mine):
She would seem the longest of long shots, this young, centrist Democrat from rural upstate New York who was just re-elected to her second term in Congress and is now inheriting the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Powell and Hernandez note that one of her committee assignments is a "plum" position on the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, and that she has a 100% approval rating by the NRA.

The story suggests that her Gillibrand's local credentials and suitability for representing this mixed rural-urban upstate district were challenged when she initially ran for the seat in 2006. Gillibrand had worked as a lawyer in NYC in various capacities before that run, and Republicans attacked her as "more familiar with the price of dog-walkers in Manhattan than the price of a six-pack at Stewart's." But Gillibrand apparently adapted to her new upstate district. Powell and Hernandez report that she quickly "became a ubiquitous and studiously folksy presence at malls and county fairs," accumulating almost $5 million in donations.

Later in the story, Powell and Hernandez described her performance at yesterday's news conference, again with rural references (again, emphasis mine):
But she can project a wide-eyed, from-the-farm belt style, one much on display at the Friday’s news conference in Albany, where she alternated odes to motherhood with near-scholarly disquisitions on her opposition to the Wall Street bailout.
Many of the photos in the NYT slide show about Gillibrand have agriculture and/or rural themes. In short, Gillibrand looks like the kind of person who knows her way around a dairy farm, though she is the child of a lobbyist, not a farmer.

Also of interest is the apparent distrust that downstate (urban) Democrats feel for Ms. Gillibrand, though it seems that distrust is more about substance, issues and perhaps style than about geography -- though these categories are not mutually exclusive.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XVI): Second meth lab seized

I wrote a few weeks ago that a meth lab had been seized in Newton County, and now the latest issue of the Newton County Times reports that another has been seized. The headline in the January 15, 2009, issue of the paper reads, "Two in custody awaiting filing of drug and firearms charges." The story reports that two men were arrested near the residence of one of them in the community of Piercetown, where sheriff's officers found a methamphetamine lab and chemicals. The two will face not only drug charges, but also charges of simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms. The arrests reportedly stem from a joint investigation by several agencies in addition to the Sheriff's Office. These include the Arkansas State Police, the 14th Judicial District Drug Task Force, the Arkansas Dept of Community Corrections and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The second part of the same top story reports on the arrest of two men who are charged with "robbery, theft, residential burglary and third degree battery." The charges stem from 2008 events near the community of low gap where one of the defendants allegedly struck the victim with a piece of firewood and then took $500 from his residence.

A final story about crime on the front page shows a picture of a dead bull elk with the caption "Bull elk illegally killed." The caption further details the location where the "6 x 6 bull elk" was killed, noting it was the fourth to be killed in this particular field. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who killed the elk.

Other non-crime front page headlines include:
  • Free mammogram through Health Resource Center. Funding for this service is from Susan G. Komen for the Cure and is targeted at those without insurance to cover mammorgrams.
  • Jasper building project advances as does need. This story is about a new multi-purpose building being constructed as part of the Jasper school.
  • Contract let to repair flood damage on 7. This is about repair of a section of state highway 7, in the southern part of the county, which was damaged in spring 2008 storms. The state of this highway is of great concern to county residents because it is a road many of them travel on their job commutes to Pope County and because it is also a road over which many tourists travel into the county.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It was an amazing speech . . .

but I wish Obama had mentioned "soil" in relation to producing food, and not only in linking it to biofuels. What he said was, "We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories."

I was, however, taken by the quote from Thomas Paine (emphasis mine), which Obama said George Washington ordered read to his troops beside that icy river, when the outcome of the Revolutionary War was uncertain:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
I hope that Obama's agenda will draw the city and the country together for our common good, recognizing that these places are interdependent on one another and that both are worthy of our investment and attention.

Monday, January 19, 2009

NYT reports on political shift in Oklahoma, with no mention of the rural

Kirk Johnson reports in today's New York Times from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the buckle of the McCain belt in the 2008 Presidential election. The headline is, "In McCain Country, Acceptance of Obama Grows." The story is basically about how residents of the state, where Obama carried not a single county, are making peace with having Obama as President. It's not that residents of the state, where two of three voters supported McCain, have really had a conversion experience or that there would be a different outcome if the vote were today. The gist of the report is more that voters there accept the outcome of the democratic process. Chris Benge, speaker of the Oklahoma House, is quoted as saying, “Oklahomans understand and respect the elections process . . . . Once the president has been determined, the vast majority of people are willing to get behind him.”

Johnson reports that other Oklahomans have become more open minded about Obama because of his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at tomorrow's inauguration. Johnson quotes the minister of a Tulsa mega church, Billy Joe Daugherty: “What I’m sensing from Obama in making the choice he did — he’s saying to all groups, ‘Why don’t we come together?’ ”

Given NYT reporters' propensity to suggest that rural voters are racist (see posts about other NYT stories here, here, and here), I'm surprised that Johnson doesn't play that card in this report. Johnson does note that, in Tulsa, 15% of residents are African American and 7% are Hispanic, while 70% are white. Interestingly, he does not mention the history of racial tensions--even a 1921 riot--in this particular city.

What Johnson also does not report is that, looking at the entire state, 80% of residents are white, while only 8% are African American. Another 7.3% are American Indian. He also does not mention that, by some measures (in particular, population clusters with fewer than 50,000), 63% of the state's populace is rural. (By the U.S. Census Bureau definition, which defines rural as including population clusters with fewer than 2,500 and open space, 31% of Oklahomans live in rural places.) So, if Oklahoma is shifting--however subtly and for whatever reasons--it is, at least in part, a story about rural America.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vilsack's conformation hearing a virtual love fest

At least that is how it sounded from NPR's report yesterday. Listen here. On NPR's website, the headline for Howard Berkes' story, "Vilsack Hearing: More Coronation than Confirmation," reflects the tenor of the hearing before a committee composed of so-called farm state Senators. Of course, those senators bias toward production agriculture (note U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln's invocation of farm families in her comments) contrasts significantly with the views of the "food and evil" set (a phrase I borrow from Dean Jim Chen), who would like to see the USDA more in a very different direction.

Here's an excerpt from Andrew Martin's story in the New York Times story about the confirmation hearing:

If the members of the Senate agriculture committee were surprised or disappointed by Mr. Vilsack’s answers, they did not show it. Mr. Vilsack sailed through the confirmation hearing with nary a word of criticism, and Chairman Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said he expected Mr. Vilsack to be confirmed unanimously Tuesday.

If confirmed, Mr. Vilsack, who briefly ran for president in 2008, would inherit a huge bureaucracy that oversees not just farm programs but also nutrition initiatives like school lunch and food stamps, meat and poultry inspections and the forest service.

In his comments before the commitee in support of "renewable fuels," Vilsack mentioned rural communities, along with farmers and ranchers, as among the constituents that USDA serves.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Native American enthusiasm for Obama

That's the subject of Timothy Egan's column today in the New York Times. Egan says that Obama's ascent has led American Indians to "allow[] themselves to dream." Here's an excerpt from Egan's column reporting on Obama's response when asked in New Mexico about immigration.

Obama pointed to a handful of elderly natives in the front row of a high school gym.

“He said, ‘The only real native people in this country are sitting right in front of me,’ ” recalled Joe Garcia, who is president of the National Congress of American Indians. “You should have heard the applause.”

The Crow Nation in Montana has adopted Obama, giving him the name "Barack Black Eagle."

Diane Enos, President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa offers this poignant observation about one reason Indians are attracted to Obama: “Obama’s life has been a journey to find identity ***That’s the Indian stuggle. And it starts with children.”

American Indian support for Obama was the subject of this earlier post, and has also been covered by the Daily Yonder. One such story is here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Community action out of rural Amador County, California

Don't miss this NPR segment about this foothill community's grass roots response to the closure of a car dealership. About 100 residents of Amador County, population 35,100, lost their jobs when GMAC froze credit to Prospect Motors and "yanked its cars off the lot." Prospect Motors is in Jackson, population 3,989.

Ben Adler's report plays up the impact on this rural county, which depends on tax revenue from Prospect, one of its largest employers. The report also notes the particular consequences of the dealership's closure to residents, many of which relate to spatial isolation. Former employees of Prospect face a limited job market unless they drive more than an hour each way to Sacramento for work, and those needing their cars repaired also face long trips.

Amador County residents have rallied around the dealership, with about a thousand attending a recent rally, and many writing letters to GM and GMAC in support of Prospect Motors. Whether their grass roots effort will bear fruit remains to be seen.

Read an earlier post here about how the failure of car dealerships is having a significant impact on nonmetropolitan places.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Many Amish successfully transition from farmer to entrepreneur

Read Glenn Rifkin's story in the New York Times here. He reports that in the last decade and a half, the Amish population in the U.S. has doubled, to about 230,000. Most of these live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. This population growth there has forced many Amish young people, who typically have the equivalent of about an eighth-grade education, out of their dependence on agrarian living and into the marketplace. Rifkin writes:
The businesses, which favor such Amish skills as furniture-making, quilting, construction work and cooking, have been remarkably successful. Despite a lack of even a high school education (the Amish leave school after the eighth grade), hundreds of Amish entrepreneurs have built profitable businesses based on the Amish values of high quality, integrity and hard work.
Rifkin further reports that a 2004 study indicated that the failure rate of Amish businesses was under 5%, compared to a considerably higher national rate --about one-third in the first two years. The Amish often enter partnership with non-Amish businesses who market their wares.

Interestingly, while in the work place, the Amish are not foregoing the technology, e.g., cell phones, that they have famously shunned for generations. One study that Rifkin discusses estimates that small businesses are now the primary source of income for more than half of Amish households.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XV): Meth lab seized

After several crime-free weeks, the January 1, 2009, edition of the Newton County Times features this front page headline: Meth lab discovered; property is recovered.

The story tells of the seizure of a "meth lab that had recently been working" in a remote part of the county. Randy Brock, who lives near the Madison County line in a community called Elkhorn, was arrested on Dec. 23 during a disturbance at a Madison County bank. In the course of the arrest, he was found to be in possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. A search warrant of his home led to the discovery of the lab, as well as "suspected marijuana." The Newton County Sheriff indicated that he and law enforcement officers in neighboring counties are seeking other "persons of interest" in the matter.

The other part of the story details the recovery of stolen goods in Newton County, as well as the arrests of several persons suspected of theft by receiving. All of the goods were stolen from other parts of Arkansas and from Missouri, some as as long as two years ago. The stolen items includes trailers, tractors, truck parts, and four-wheelers. The stolen property was discovered after the Sheriff acted on a tip about its location.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson's op-ed on farm policy

The piece in today's New York Times is also (mostly by implication) about rural policy.

Berry and Jackson call for a 50-year farm bill, suggesting that this will help de-politicize farm policy. They specifically argue that federal agricultural policy should be "based upon ecological principles." .

Their focus is on soil degradation and what we can--indeed, must--do about it. They argue that, like oil, soil is non renewable, and we must have a policy that leads or compels those who produce our food to be better stewards of the land.

Sometimes explicitly but always by implication, Berry and Jackson are criticizing agri-business. As such, they are also implicitly promoting small farms, which often equates with support for rural communities. Here are the two sentences in which they use the word "rural."
  • We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.
  • We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities.

The well-being of rural America is also implicitly at stake where they argue that industrial agriculture has "largely destroyed cultures of husbandry" associated with "family farms and farming neighborhoods."

This piece serves as another reminder that for those concerned about salvaging rural communities, an important strategy is likely to be the link between rurality and sustainable agriculture. The former goal has not attracted much political attention, while the latter goal increasingly is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XIV): Newton County is still crime-free

Three issues of the Newton County Times piled up here over the holidays, and now that I've had a chance to peruse them I'm happy to report no crimes significant enough to merit coverage during early to mid-December.

Indeed, only a few stories in the entirety of these issues are about criminal justice or any other aspect of law. I guess the most momentous crime-related story also relates to the county's budget crisis. Here's the scoop: 267 warrants are outstanding, and the amount of money that would be collected from these is more than $220K! That's about 15% of the county budget for the year, which suggests that collecting the money should be a high priority. As I wrote in an earlier post, I have no idea what these warrants are, but their details are part of the sheriff's report, so they must be linked to law enforcement. Maybe the reason they aren't be pursued is reflected in the old (rural) adage: you can't get blood from a turnip. That is, those who would be served the warrants may have not ability to pay.

In any event, in the issue two weeks earlier, a story reports that the District Judge told the Quorum Court (county administrative body) during a discussion of the county budget that if his office's budget is cut, it will curtail collection of fines that are a source of revenue for the county. I wonder if these fines are linked to the outstanding warrants.

In other news, there's lots of elk hunting, including an additional season, as well as a new county judge. Alltel is proposing to put in a cell phone tower near the county seat, which should certainly improve service in the county. Looks like the annual Christmas parade was a big hit.

There's also news of the renovation of a historic homestead in Boxley Valley. A Kansas business man bought the place after he saw it when passing through the area a few years ago. The home, which sits on 316 acres, had its beginnings as a log cabin in 1873. The businessman says he is "rehabilitating the house," which he plans to use as a retreat for his family, including his five grandchildren. Could this be the beginning of rural gentrification in Newton County?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Nevada town thrives in spite of (and because of) the global economic slump

Read Steve Friess's New York Times story about Battle Mountain, Nevada, population 2,871, here. Gold is the reason Battle Mountain, the unincorporated community that is the county seat of Lander County (population 5,794), is thriving these days. Nevada is the fourth largest producer of gold in the world, and much of it comes from Lander County, about 200 miles east of Reno, 50 miles east of Winnemucca. Called the "armpit of America" by a Washington Post Magazine writer in 2001, Battle Mountain is looking pretty good right now.

Here's a short excerpt from Friess's story:

And when the broader economy declines and the value of the dollar fluctuates, people buy gold. At current prices — gold hit $892 an ounce on Monday, its highest price in three months and not that far off its record high of more than $1,000 an ounce in March — places like Battle Mountain hum with good-paying jobs and rising home values, making the financial woes of the rest of the country a distant concern.

“I don’t know of anybody who is getting foreclosed on; it’s just not something that’s an issue out here,” Charlotte Thompson, 56, said, shrugging as she seated diners on a frigid, wind-swept evening at the Owl Club Casino and Restaurant, the main attraction of Battle Mountain’s four-block main thoroughfare, Front Street.
As Friess explains, Battle Mountain's boom is highly localized. Neighboring counties without goldmines have unemployment rates about twice as high as Lander County's, and the state of Nevada still leads the nation in home foreclosures.

Friess's story is worth a read in its entirety for its colorful descriptions of the joys and challenges of rural living. Don't miss the multi-media feature here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Getting rural input on healthcare reform

I was heartened to read in the New York Times a few days ago that among the thousands of meetings being held around the country to discuss health care reform, some are being held in rural places. The NYT headline was "Little Town Beseeches Obama's Health Chief," and the dateline for Bob Driehaus' story Dublin, Indiana, population 697. The story reports that Tom Daschle, who is expected to become Secretary of Health and Human Services and who will direct the White House Office of Health Reform, attended the community meeting, where he was joined by local and regional health care professionals and administrators in listening to tales of residents' struggles with Medicare, as well as regarding the affordability of and denial of health insurance.

With so many indications (such as those discussed here and here) that Obama and his team are particularly oriented to urban people, places, and problems, I am relieved to see this solicitation of input from rural communities. Recent reports, like those here, here and here over at the Daily Yonder, indicate the rural Americans are more challenged than their urban counterparts when it comes to getting and keeping health insurance--and health care professionals. Indeed, a story on the front page of the Washington Post today reports on a shortage of general surgeons in rural America.

I see few signs from media coverage that the Obama administration is switched on to the issues facing rural America and how they may differ from the presumptive urban norm, but maybe health care will be an exception. And maybe, as I suggested hopefully back in November, Tom Daschle's rural roots are one of the reasons.