Friday, December 31, 2010

Rural Queensland inundated by flood waters

U.S. news reports over the past few days are increasingly attending to the massive floods in Queensland, Australia. Here's a story from today's New York Times, which reports that 200,000 are stranded and that "[r]esidents were stocking up on food or evacuating their homes as rising rivers inundated or isolated 22 towns in the state of Queensland."

Providing a sense of the scale, as well as of how sparsely populated this part of Australia is, is this excerpt from the NYT story:
Officials say half of Queensland's 715,305 square miles (1,852,642 square kilometers) is affected by the relentless flooding, which began last week after days of pounding rain caused swollen rivers to overflow. The flood zone covers an area larger than France and Germany combined and bigger than the state of Texas.
It's not clear that just 200,000 people live in an area bigger than the state of Texas, but if that's the entire population of half of Queensland, that is sparse indeed.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured the area today, announcing relief payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child. She also pledged $1 million in federal aid to match a relief fund set up by the State of Queensland.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

UN's 10-year report on rural poverty

The full report, Rural Poverty Report 2011, is here. Read coverage in the Daily Yonder here. A summarizing excerpt follows:
Since the last Rural Poverty Report was published by IFAD in 2001, more than 350 million rural people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty. But the new report notes that global poverty remains a massive and predominantly rural phenomenon – with 70 per cent of the developing world’s 1.4 billion extremely poor people living in rural areas. Key areas of concern are Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Small-town kid is big state's sports hero

Read the story about Jake Locker, University of Washington quarterback, here. He's the state's college sports hero, even as the Huskies go into the Holiday Bowl with only a 6-6 record. Jake hails from Ferndale, Washington, in Whatcom County. Here's an excerpt that touches on Jake's rural (but metropolitan) roots:
By the time he became the quarterback for the University of Washington, he was cast here as nothing less than a savior, a rural kid summoned to the digital city from a place few of his new fans could find on a map, Ferndale, Wash., population 11,000. His father taped drywall for a living. His grandfather worked in a pulp mill for 37 years. Neither of them graduated from college, but Jake would stir the rescue fantasies of an ambitious university and what the Census Bureau has called the nation’s best-educated city.
The story hints that Locker's loyalty to the Huskies--he was recruited for the NFL as a junior but declined and is finishing his senior year at Washington--is related to his small-town values and humility.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Clash of rural economies, lifestyles in southwestern Colorado

This story on the front page of yesterday's New York Times caught my eye, not least because over the past few years I've visited several times one of the towns mentioned: Telluride, Colorado, population 2,771 (up from 2,221 in 2000). The headline is, "A Battle Over Uranium Bodes Ill for U.S. Debate," and the other town featured is Naturita, Colorado, population 387 (down from 635 in 2000). Naturita, you see, is sorta' like a working class, punk sibling of posh Telluride. While it's a little sibling size-wise, Naturita's mining history is just as rich as that of Telluride, a silver-mining-town-turned-upscale ski resort that has grown exponentially (well, as quickly as its rich residents would permit) over the years. Now, it seems, residents of Telluride are opposing the proposed revival of uranium mining and its processing in Naturita, an hour's drive away, in neighboring Montrose County. Here's the lede to Kirk Johnson's story:
The future of nuclear power in America is back on the table, with all its vast implications, as global warming revives the search for energy sources that produce less greenhouse gas.

But in this depressed corner of western Colorado — one of the first places in the world that uranium, nuclear energy’s primary fuel, was ever dug from the ground in industrial scale — the debate is both simpler and more complicated. A proposal for a new mill to process uranium ore, which would lead to the opening of long-shuttered mines in Colorado and Utah, has brought global and local concerns into collision — jobs, health, class-consciousness and historical memory among them — in ways that suggest, if the pattern here holds, a bitter national debate to come.
The activism of Telluride residents led one in Naturita to query, "how big is Telluride's back yard?"-- a reference to the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) phenomenon. The comment of another Naturita resident, a school janitor, implicitly referenced the class division between the two towns:
People from Telluride don’t have any business around here. ... Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms.
Colorado regulators will decide in January whether to approve Pinion Ridge, the new uranium processing facility near Naturita.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Where are the 2010 Census headlines about the rural-urban divide?

I was surprised that none of the mainline (New York Times and NPR) news stories last week about the 2010 Census mentioned the percentage of the nation's population that is rural. The 2000 Census found about 17% of the population to be nonmetropolitan and about 21% to be rural (in population centers of less than 2,500 or in open country). Read more here re: definitions and 2000 counts. My hunch is that percentages of both rural and nonmetropolitan populations declined this decade.

Yet the analysis this past week of the 2010 Census results has discussed principally which states and regions have lost population and which states have gained it--and thus which states will gain an lose members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Among the states gaining seats will be Nevada, Washington, Arizona, Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida (two) and Texas (a whopping four). While Nevada is sparsely populated as a state, I suspect that most of the population growth has been urban and exurban. In any event, it is the state that gained the most population as a percentage. Presumably, Utah's big gains have come in the Salt Lake City metropolis, but other parts of the state may also have experienced development and growth. States losing representatives include New York, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. The least populous state is Wyoming, with under 600,000 residents.

Links to two NPR stories about the Census are here and here, and here's one to a New York Times story. Here's a link to a Census Bureau press release. Finally, here's a link to a Carsey Institute report, dated Winter 2010, which explains why rural populations tend to be under-counted. In it, author William O'Hare notes a "sharp racial overlay" in the hard-to-count areas.

"Winter's Bone" and class warfare

A. O. Scott writes in yesterday's Sunday New York Times of Hollywood's Class Warfare, citing the film "Winter's Bone" as one of many examples of movies in which protagonists are trying to transcend class boundaries--to get in or get out of a particular class. He writes of the "Winter's Bone" protagonist:
Ree Dolly, the Missouri teenager in “Winter’s Bone” — wants out, just as surely as Zuckerberg [portrayed in "The Social Network"] wants in. What they want into and out of are the closed systems defined by custom and kinship that demarcate the ends of the social spectrum.
Scott acknowledges the "special status" of the privileged classes, "defined not only by wealth, but also by a vestigial mystique of aristocracy," yet he also recognizes the "countervailing mystique [that] clings to ... the hollows of Appalachia and the Ozarks."

Citing Ree Dolly's desire to join the Army as a path of escape, Scott writes:
Family ties and longstanding traditions, which in the modern world of “Winter’s Bone” and “The Town” have come to include methamphetamine production and bank robbing, are what complicate and sometimes doom any effort to escape.
Calling Dolly and other film characters of 2011 "consistently exotic, always other," Scott concludes:
What they all really want is entrée into the middle class, which is why these movies can set them up as objects of audience sympathy and identification.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A reminder to see "Winter's Bone"

It tops critic David Edelstein's list for the year. The full Fresh Air story is here. The part about "Winter's Bone" follows:
A "harshly beautiful" adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's Ozark noir novel tops Edelstein's list. "This is a film that could so easily be this dreary, depressing, regional-realistic kind of movie," he says. "But [Debra] Granik pushes it to the point where it achieves a mythical intensity. I think it's a gorgeous, beautiful movie. There are a lot of people who say 'Oh, it's so depressing.' I think it's absolutely exhilarating movie, managing to be so hopeful in the midst of such horror."
See my earlier posts about the film here, here and here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The new "moonshine"

The headline in the New York Times a few days ago was, "Just Don't Call it Moonshine," and the dateline was Columbia County, New York, population 62,217 (making it micropolitan). One of the featured distillers is Derek Grout, who describes his return to his family's farm, after college at Cornell and nearly a decade as a graphic designer in Boston:

His return runs a similar arc to that of many Northeast distillers. “This is my way to maximize my family’s agricultural heritage,” he said. “From the farmer’s perspective, the only way to increase the value of an apple is to make it into spirit and put that in oak.”

Stills once thrived in the Northeast, with rum in colonial Massachusetts, applejack that made Jersey Lightning an everyday term and Monongahela ryes from Pennsylvania and Delaware that were a staple before bourbon existed. Now distilling is proliferating again, not just with farmers like Mr. Grout adding value to their crops, but with disgruntled professionals abandoning desk duty to make gin and whiskey, craft brewers and small winemakers branching out into spirits, and young urbanites setting up stills the way their peers have set up apiaries and charcuteries.

Grout's Harvest Distillers is based in Valatie, New York, population 1,887.

I can see why the headline for the story was as it was--distancing this chic, upscale phenomenon from the other hard liquor--often illicit--associated with rural places.

A striking disparity between rural and urban property tax rates

This New York Times feature on "Great Homes and Destinations" caught my eye this morning because it feature a property in rural Arkansas. Indeed, as is typical of the series, it features three homes in the same price range; today's it's $545,000. Two of the properties are one-bedroom apartments in major cities--Boston and Washington, DC, and the third is a four-bedroom house in Botkingburg, in north central Arkansas. The description of the latter reads, in part:
This house is at the end of a four-mile-long gravel road in a rural part of the Ozarks in north-central Arkansas. The surroundings are wooded and remote. The town of Clinton, which has the nearest grocery store, hospital and library, is about 25 minutes away.
Botkinburg is not even a Census Designated Place, but Clinton's population is 2,362, and it is the county seat of Van Buren County is 16,411.

Interesting. I am thinking the market for houses like this must be very limited, and the asking price seems awfully high for an 1,800 square foot house with just 1.5 baths.

But what really struck me about this real estate feature was the whopping disparity in property taxes levied on these three homes, all in the same price range. While taxes on the Boston Back Bay one-bedroom, 665-square foot apartment are $5,400.65 a year, taxes on the more spacious (1278 square foot) DC loft are slightly lower at $4,669.31 a year. (Homeowners dues on both properties exceed are in the $200-$300/month range). Compare that with a shockingly low $315 annual property tax bill on the five acres in Arkansas with the four bedroom house!

Of course, residents of Boston and Washington, DC, presumably get many more services for the property taxes they pay, but this stunning disparity in property tax bills on properties of the same value points up a couple of things--one being how few services county governments like the one in Arkansas can afford to deliver because of the paltry property taxes they levy. With just about 16,000 residents and property tax rates this low, it is amazing that county raises enough revenue even to pay the salaries of the constitutionally mandated county officials.

I have written about some of the legal consequences created by such poorly funded county governments here and here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Compelling reasons to care about rural livelihoods

I recently came across this piece by Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year in 2007. Flannery, a mammalogist, paleontologist and global warming activist, published this piece in July, 2010, in The Age, the Melbourne newspaper. It appeared under two different headlines, "Saving the Bush," and "Should Australia Give Up on the Bush?" and was published in the run up to Australia's national elections in August, as suggested by the first few paragraphs:
As the 2010 election looms, the fate of rural Australia seems all but politically irrelevant. It has been decades since the bush had a strong political voice, and neither major party really understands it, nor is committed to it. 
If push comes to shove, they will always act on behalf of their urban base. That urban base is more alienated from regional Australia than ever before, its understanding going no deeper than the stories of drought, fire and farmer suicide that pepper our media.
Flannery refers to the cycle of boom and bust long associated with Australian farming, "with each cycle [leaving] the inland more degraded." He says the once productive countryside was a "moonscape" by the 1980s, lamenting the loss of biodiversity caused by farming. Then, however, the piece turns more hopeful. Flannery describes a number of agricultural innovations that hold the promise of rejuvenating the land, enhancing biodiversity and reversing climate change. Here's one of them:
Traditionally, livestock is kept in paddocks for weeks or months. They nibble away at the most nutritious plants, giving the noxious weeds an advantage, destroying biodiversity and profitability.

A new approach, holistic management, reverses this. The herds are moved from one small cell to another, as often as every day. The livestock eat everything in a cell, but over the following months the pasture is rested and the grass grows back luxuriant and sweet. Cattle are better fed, less worried by parasites (because the moving disrupts the parasite cycle), calmer and seemingly happier (perhaps because the animals live in a more natural herd structure). Farmers are happier, too, because their workload is more evenly spread and their businesses are more profitable.

In times past, ploughing was a declaration of war on biodiversity. Everything was killed, leaving a bare surface into which the crop was sown. Chemical fertilisers were then applied, and pesticides and herbicides sprayed to keep other species out. That destroyed not only plants, but soil fungi and bacteria that are essential to healthy soils. If the rains didn't come, the soil could end up in Sydney or across the Tasman. 
Traditional ploughing is being replaced by kinder methods such as "zero kill". Michael Inwood, a farmer near Bathurst, showed me how it works. You can't see where the plough has been in his fields because the native grassland remains thick and green, and his crops spring healthy from among the tussocks. You might think the wheat or oats would suffer from competition with the grass, but instead they benefit from the extra soil moisture and soil carbon. 
Inwood has gone a step further. He has done away with fossil fuels, dragging his modified plough behind an electric ute, which is powered by solar panels. His entire property runs on energy from the sun, and it remains as profitable as ever. But life is a lot richer than before because the environment is now home to fantastic biodiversity, including hawks that accompany him as he shifts his sheep from one grazing cell to another, and the lizards and other wildlife that benefit from the luxuriant native grasses.
Thus, Flannery asserts, the paddock and plough need no longer be "weapons of mass destruction." He also discusses wildlife conservation efforts and the "endless energy resources" of the interior, including geothermal, wind and solar.

Some of the innovations Flannery discusses may be similar to what USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager has been advocating in the United States. Here's an excerpt from a November, 2010, story in the Omaha World-Herald, quoting Tonsager:
Agriculture is at the forefront of changes that could transform the nation, he said, such as agricultural production increases that could help close the international trade gap, adoption of biofuels and other alternative energy sources, even new food supply structures that emphasize locally grown products. 
“Rural America has a shot at leading us out of the recession if we stand up and address the challenges,” said Tonsager, a former South Dakota farmer. The challenges include husbanding resources such as fertilizer and water, as well as developing scientific advances necessary to supply food and fuel.
Tonsager's thinking seems rather less sophisticated and visionary than Flannery's--and also more oriented to economics. But the quotes from Tonsager are also less detailed. Perhaps Tonsager's reference to "husbanding resources such as fertilizer and water," includes the sort of innovative practices Flannery touts. I hope so, because Flannery also makes the point that government support for these path-breaking and earth-saving initiatives is critical.

Indeed, to return to politics for a moment, I was heartened by Flannery's closing call for an appreciation of both rural and urban, as well as of the interconnectedness of the two.

[W]e need a new kind of politics reflecting the reality our nation, both city and country, needs to work together. Nation-building initiatives such as an east-west electricity interconnector are important not just for the opportunities they create, but for the message they bring: we're a nation united and by working together, we can bring opportunity to all.
If political powers in both the United States and Australia can see that rural and urban are interdependent, the current path of metrocentric and urbanormative law- and policy-making might be moderated to take into account rural livelihoods.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Urban life, opportunities disappoint provincial Chinese graduates

Read Andrew Jacobs' recent story in the New York Times, "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs." While it is not apparent from the headline, the tale is largely one of rural-to-urban migration--at least if you define "rural" broadly. Jacobs reports that many college graduates--as many as 100,000 in Beijing--are unemployed, having moved from the provinces to larger cities.
Their undergraduate degrees, many from the growing crop of third-tier provincial schools, earn them little respect in the big city. And as the children of peasants or factory workers, they lack the essential social lubricant known as guanxi, or personal connections, that greases the way for the offspring of China’s nouveau riche and the politically connected.
One unemployed female graduate is quoted:
Compared with Beijing, my hometown in Shanxi feels like it’s stuck in the 1950s ... If I stayed there, my life would be empty and depressing.
That woman's father is a vegetable peddler. The father of another female graduate featured in the story is a coal miner. With such poor prospects for white-collar employment in Beijing, however, many of the graduates are giving up and moving home.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A tale of winter solitude in the Rockies

The dateline for Kirk Johnson's story is Creede, Colorado, population 412 and elevation 8,852. The headline is "From Delta to Winter's Deep Blues." Here's the lede:
Mary Jean Wallace has a stockpile of wood and a caulking gun to patch the drafty walls in the barely winterized cabin that she will be living in through her first winter in the Rocky Mountains. The wardrobe of her old life in Louisiana was tossed aside this fall — linen giving way to flannel, flip-flops to fleece.
Here's a description of the town:
If it is after 5:30 p.m. and you want to buy as much as a stick of gum, you are out of luck, and the nearest town, not much bigger, is 20 miles down a treacherous canyon road.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another tale of small town (in)justice?

Read A.G. Sulzburger's story in today's New York Times, dateline Skidmore, Missouri, population 310. The provocative headline is "A Town Goes Mute about a Bully's Killing." In fact, the town of Skidmore has been mute for some 30 years about the shooting death of Ken Rex McElrory. Now, the prosecutor who sought McElroy's killer has been turned out of office, and it appears the killer will never be charged. Here's the story's lede:
The murder of Ken Rex McElroy took place in plain view of dozens of residents of this small farm town, under the glare of the morning sun. But in a dramatic act of solidarity with the gunman, every witness, save the dead man’s wife, denied seeing who had pulled the trigger.

The killing was a shocking end for a notoriously brutal man who had terrorized the area for years with seeming impunity from the law until he was struck down in a moment of vigilante justice.
The story speculates about what constitutes "justice," especially in light of the fact that, when McElory was murdered, he was out on bail pending appeal following his conviction for second-degree assault in the shooting of a grocer. Indeed, at the time of the shooting, McElroy had more recently been released after arrest for coming into town bearing a rifle, despite his status with the criminal justice system.

Sulzberger offers this assessment of small-town criminal justice system.
[T]he memory of the nightmare surrounding Mr. McElroy — during his years of troublemaking and after a killing that many here feel was forced by an impotent criminal-justice system — continues to loom large.
The number of townsfolk who recalled for the story the day McElroy was shot--as well as their memories of his notoriety--say something about the lack of anonymity associated with rural communities. Of course, so does the fact that as many as 60 people saw him shot, but none except McElroy's wife ever testified as to the identity of the gunman. Over the years, her testimony was never sufficiently corroborated to justify a prosecution.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Corruption and crime in rural Russia

This story from the Sunday New York Times tells of a massacre in southern Russia. The headline is "A Massacre Shows Power of Gangs in Rural Russia," and the dateline is Kushchevskaya, where twelve people were murdered at a holiday gathering in November. Michael Schwirtz describes Kushchevskaya as a "small farm town," with a population of about 35,000.

Here's the part of the story that suggests the link between the size of the place and the nature of the corruption.
The community’s distress at the brutality was compounded when investigators said that the suspects in the killings were members of a local gang that had sown terror here, unchecked, for years and, worse, had forged close relationships with the local government. Some of the suspects were even current or former elected officials.

As a result of the killings, Kushchevskaya has become a symbol of the epidemic of lawlessness in provincial Russia, a problem rooted in the collusion of bandits and corrupt bureaucrats.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev is quoted as warning "local law enforcement officials not 'to hide in offices and observe as criminals grow and become insolent on their territories. Unfortunately, there have been a series of tragic events in which our citizens have died or were killed ... The reasons for this include laxity in the activities of law enforcement and other government agencies and, frequently, their direct merger with criminals.”

This story has me wondering if there is a common denominator among "small"/rural places that fosters corruption--perhaps a lack of checks and balances that permits and thus encourages this sort of behavior.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Provisioning or political posturing: Two views of hunting

Two news items about hunting last week sent entirely different messages about the past time, so I decided to juxtapose them here to make a couple of points: (1) many people--especially rural folk--do hunt not only for pleasure but also to feed their families and (2) some in media are apparently skeptical of this, or just find hunting yet another basis for ridiculing rural folks and their ways.

The first was this NPR story about girls and hunting. It features 15-year-old Magan Hebert of Waynesboro, Mississippi, population 5,197. She has been hunting since she was in fourth grade and just shot her first buck. Her father, we are told, "hunts every spare minute he can get." We are also told--and this is my focus for purposes of this post--that "[t]he family gets almost all the red meat it needs for a whole year during hunting season."

The second is this column by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, "Pass the Caribou Stew." In it, Dowd--in her haste to find something new to say about Sarah Palin--shows her ignorance of hunting, the people who do it, and the fact that the past time really does help hunters to feed their families. Dowd describes a recent episode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," which is apparently a television program featuring Palin engaged in various outdoor activities. After describing a hunting outing by Palin and her father in which the former vice presidential candidate kills a caribou, Dowd writes, initially quoting Palin from the television show:
“My dad has taught me that if you want to have wild, organic, healthy food,” [Palin] pontificated, “you’re gonna go out there and hunt yourself and fish yourself and you’re gonna fill up your freezer.” 

Does Palin really think the average housewife in Ohio who can’t pay her bills is going to load up on ammo, board two different planes, camp out for two nights with a film crew and shoot a caribou so she can feed her family organic food?
I suppose Dowd doesn't realize that people living in the fly-over states--or on the coasts for that matter--don't have to fly to Alaska to hunt and kill wildlife that will help them feed their families. Most of them can just head out to some nearby deer woods. And yes, people really do engage in these past times or sports to feed their families--even if the Sarah Palin television scenario was a bit contrived.
Read a recent Daily Yonder post about the culinary delights associated with deer hunting here. Read an earlier post about "Hunting as heritage" here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wal-Mart's rural stranglehold

That provocative phrase is part of the title of a new report released by United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The Daily Yonder discusses the report here, noting that the Departments of Justice and Agriculture held hearings this week on competition in agriculture, including discussions of the growing margins that retail grocers are able to take--in part because of retail consolidation in behemoths--most powerfully Wal-Mart. An excerpt from the executive summary of the UFCW Report follows:
The Department of Justice/Department of Agriculture workshops investigating corporate consolidation in agricultural markets represent an enormous opportunity to rebuild and revitalize rural America by ensuring justice and fairness for working men and women across the food industry. Without a doubt, consolidation and concentration in the agricultural economy has caused decreasing incomes for farmers, ranchers, workers and the rural communities that depend on agriculture.

Our rural communities, our food supply and the fate of a major portion of the American economy depend on us fixing this problem. However, we can’t solve this dilemma unless we are willing to look at the whole picture of the American food chain—from the farm to the grocery store shelf.

Without an adequate investigation into the critical role that consolidation at the retail grocery level—led by the world’s largest retailer, Walmart—we can’t get an accurate or adequate assessment on how to fix our broken agricultural economy. This report provides strong evidence that Walmart exerts unprecedented influence over the meatpacking industry and other agricultural and food sectors. It also shows that Walmart’s relentless quest for lower costs has unfairly squeezed income from meatpacking workers, farmers and ranchers resulting in Walmart receiving a grossly disproportionate share of the retail food dollar at the expense of other stakeholders in the food supply chain.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Grocery stores as rural community hubs

The Center for Rural Affairs highlights the importance of local grocery stores to rural communities in a recent report. The report, written by Jon M. Bailey, provides this grocery story closure data from the Midwest and Great Plains:
  • An Iowa State University study found that in Iowa the number of grocery stores with employees dropped by almost half from 1995 to 2005, from about 1,400 stores in 1995 to slightly over 700 just 10 years later. Meanwhile, “supercenter” grocery stores (Wal-Mart and Target, for example) increased by 175 percent in the 10-year period.
  • In rural Iowa, 43 percent of grocery stores in towns with populations less than 1,000 have closed.
  • According to Kansas State University, 82 grocery stores in communities of fewer than 2,500 people in Kansas have closed since 2007, and nearly one in five rural grocery stores have gone out of business since 2006. In total, 38 percent of the grocery stores in Kansas towns of less than 2,500 closed between 2006 and 2009.
A second CFRA report suggests how rural communities might respond to the prospective loss of grocery stores.

Interestingly, I recently read this story in relation to my November visit to Australia. It tells of how one Mallee (northwestern Victoria) town, Woomelang, saved its grocery store (a/k/a "shop"). An excerpt from Darren Gray's story follows:
[W]hen the town's only grocery store closed with about three hours' notice in May, residents decided they wanted to shop locally, rather than drive 109 kilometres to Swan Hill or 30 kilometres to other small towns in the region.

So people from the town, which has a population of 200, and the surrounding farming district, chipped in to raise enough money to create a community-owned grocery store. They converted an old farm machinery shop — which the town's development association bought two years ago — into a grocery store, advertised for a tenant, and late last month celebrated the shop's grand opening.

To get the shop up and running, the community raised $85,000, most of which was spent on renovating and fitting out the building. Donations, ranging from $10 to $10,000, came from individuals and families.

Sounds a bit like a cooperative, one of the models discussed in the CFRA Report.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Park rangers more threatened by humans than animals

Kirk Johnson reported in yesterday's New York Times, dateline Golden, Colorado (just west of Denver), on the increasing threats that criminals pose to state and national park rangers. Some of the threats arise from the sorts of offenses associated with the great outdoors, e.g., hunting infractions such as using a spotlight with deer, but others are more generic crimes carried out in or overflowing to public parks. The part of the story that was most powerful for me was one Colorado ranger's description of the difference that place makes--in particular as regards spatial isolation. The man quoted is Ty Petersburg, Division of Wildlife Manager of a heavily used district west of Denver:

A couple of years ago, Mr. Petersburg began following a suspicious-looking vehicle on Interstate 70 — a pursuit that led all the way into the suburbs of Denver, where the driver leaped from his car to attack. Minutes later, perhaps 30 local and county police officers arrived in a siren-screaming swirl of backup that Mr. Petersburg, 31, had summoned by radio. It was a familiar scene: the police helping out their own.

More often, he said, it is the opposite case, where help is willing in spirit, but impossible in practice. Earlier this fall, for example, Mr. Petersburg was in a mountain region in the middle of nowhere and came upon a vehicle driven by a man with outstanding arrest warrants on his name and lots of cocaine in his car. He again called for backup.

“ ‘We’d like to come help you,’ ” he quoted the nearest big urban county sheriff’s office as saying, “ ‘But we don’t have a clue where you’re at.’ ”

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXIV): Woman sentenced to 10 years on drug charges

The Dec. 1, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times reports that 31-year-old Tracy Waits has been sentenced to 10 years following guilty pleas to six charges of possessing drug paraphernalia. A recommendation was made that she serve that time in "a boot camp program." She was also sentenced to 20 years' probation.

Waits, the daughter of David Middleton, has not pleaded guilty to charges she conspired to kidnap the son of the Newton County Sheriff or to assist in a plan for her father to escape from custody. Details of those other charges are here. Indeed, while the story is not entirely clear, it appears that Waits agreed to testify against her uncle, Ricky Middleton--also part of the alleged conspiracy--in exchange for conspiracy charges not being prosecuted against Waits. Waits was ordered to pay $11,130 for the time she was held in the Boone County Jail, since Jan. 14, awaiting trial. While her plea stipulated that she not associate with convicted felons, an exception allows her to spend time with some family members who fall into that category.

Waits requested a bond so that she could be released from custody long enough to secure child care for her children while she was incarcerated. The judge set a $10,000 bond for that purpose.

In other news:
  • Jasper Police Officer Cody Middleton successfully completed a 13-week Basic Police Training course at Black River Technical College Law Enforcement Academy in Pocahontas, Arkansas.
  • The 20th Annual Newton County Christmas Parade was set for Dec. 2.
  • A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute found Newton County the fifth healthiest of 75 Arkansas counties. Among the factors considered were physical environment (environmental quality and built environment), social and economic factors (community safety, income, family and social support), clinical care (access to care and quality of care), and health behaviors (tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol use, unsafe sex). The full report is available here.

Assange invokes his rural upbringing as inspiration for WikiLeaks

Here's part of what Julian Assange said in defense of WikiLeaks, as presented in a New York Times story:
Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, referred to his upbringing in a small Australian country town, where people "spoke their minds bluntly" and distrusted big government. "WikiLeaks was created around these core values," he wrote.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nebraska town marks its spot

Dan Barry reports from Hooper, Nebraska, population 827. Barry's excuse for the story is the fact that Hooper decided to erect a sign--or as Barry writes, a "SIGN"--after a new road bypassed the town. He writes of the consequences of the bypass:

No longer did travelers have to pass the Hooper ice cream parlor, or the Hooper grain elevator, or the ancient railroad cars sitting on discontinued tracks, or the decades-old neon marquee, long past glowing, that welcomed travelers to a downtown from the late 19th century.

* * *

The small green sign planted beside the new highway barely whispered their town’s name. And in the flat terrain of rural Nebraska, the eye can see far into the distance, yet miss so much.
The SIGN is "a tapered, 24-foot tower"that spells “'Hooper' in 18-inch-high letters down two of its three sides." It rises, Barry observes, above the "fertile flatness," proclaiming the presence of Hooper.

But Barry's real reason for writing about Hooper, I think, is not so much the sign as it is what is hinted at in that first sentence quoted above. Barry writes a little rural vignette, a glimpse of a town as it once was, as it now is, struggling with population loss, guided by civic leaders. The story is well worth a read for the little sentimental journey it provides--at least for those of who remain sentimental about small-town America.

But back to the SIGN: As much as I have written about lack of anonymity as a feature of rural communities, I find it interesting that, Hooper--like its residents--refused to be anonymous. It refused to be just another town, overlooked.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Grassroots audits of government programs benefit rural poor in India

Lydia Polgreen reports in today's New York Times on a program in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh that permits beneficiaries of government programs to audit them. Indeed, the law was written to require the "social audits," under which "villagers scour the records and look for fraud." Polgreen calls this "an experiment in grassroots democracy in rural India aimed at ensuring that the benefits of government programs for the poor actually go to the poor." Her story makes several other references to India's rural poor, including this one:
With the Indian government planning to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars to help the rural poor over the next five years, such audits will be crucial to reducing waste and fraud.
Much of that cash will go to a program created in 2005 to provide people in the countryside with 100 days of work at minimum wage on small-scale village infrastructure projects. This year, the government has budgeted $9 billion for the program, potentially ripe pickings for corrupt businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rural-to-urban migration strains India's cities

A story in the New York Times a few days ago reported on the challenge that rapid rural-to-urban migration presents for India. One of the challenges is a lack of urban housing to accommodate the millions who arrive in Indian cities each year. One reason that housing is not being developed quickly enough, according to Lydia Polgreen's report, is that for many years, "Indian governments tried to discourage migration to cities by making city life unaffordable and unbearable for new arrivals. These policies were driven at least in part by a Gandhian belief that India should be a rural nation, and more broadly by a centrally planned, socialist approach to development." But, Polgreen observes, Indians have voted against such ideas "with their feet." One estimate indicates that, in every minute for the next four decades, 31 rural Indians will arrive in an Indian city. That's 700 million migrants over the course of 43 years.

Clearly, Indians migrate to cities because of lack of opportunity and hardship in the rural reaches of the country--what some have referred to as "hunger and desperation" in the countryside. Thus, India's response should include both rural development (to stem the flow) and urban planning (to accommodate it). In a forthcoming article about the challenges arising from rural-to-urban migration in the Indian context, Human Rights and Development for India's Rural Remnant: A Capabilities-Based Assessment (UC Davis Law Review 2011), I call for an end to the separation of "urban planning" from "rural development." I advocate instead joint government attention to development and planning along the rural-urban continuum in response to--and, I hope, in mitigation of--India's urban juggernaut.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The rural vote in Australia: A story of population and service loss

On my recent trip "down under," a front page story in the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, caught my eye. The headline for the Nov. 16, 2010 story was "Fields of Discontent." In the run up to the state parliamentary elections, it discussed the situation in a farming area called the Mallee, in the far northwestern part of the state of Victoria. The sub head on the front page was telling: "There might be only 50 people in Werrimull, but they do vote." A further subhead stated: "Unlike their city cousins, Werrimull locals such as Ron Hards, don't have to fret about the quality of the local hospital, or the punctuality of the trains. These services are long gone."

The story unfolds as the headline and subheads suggest: a rural place with an agricultural base suffering population loss and an attendant loss of services. The story focuses not only on Werrimull, but on the wider district in which it sits within the Mallee region, which is the Millewa. Werrimull has just one school, the P12, but the story discusses the town's kindergarten as the institution most at risk. With just 14 children, classes have been cut back to just one day a week, whereas it met twice a week just three years ago. This kinder is the only on in the Millewa, and one family travels 100 km round trip to reach it. To be open for two days now, journalist Darren Gray reports, each resident of Werrimull would have to donate $1000--on top of funding from the state. An organizer of the local kindergarten comments:
Our kids deserve the same opportunities that the children in town get and they deserve an education. ... They need to change the way they fund kinders. And instead of funding per child, fund for a teacher ... And at least have a look t the way they fund rural areas.
Gray observes, however, that "Politicians don't venture into the Millewa too often, and when they do, they don't bring a funding solution for the local kinder with them." He also lists other issues likely to influence how residents vote:
[T]he state of "The Millewa" road running east-west through the district and its lack of bitumen shoulder, the controversial $692 million north-south pipeline built to suck water from the Goulburn River but now sitting idle, the government's response to the expected locust plague and the lack of local health services.
Gray and those he quotes suggest that the current labor government in Victoria is unlikely to fare well with Millewa voters, in light of these issues.

Finally, the story touches on other rural themes, including attachment to place and population loss. About a century ago, the Millewa was part of a "closer resettlement scheme" which "carved up enormous pieces of land to lure settles to the bush." Early on, Werrimull had a population of 1000, and a "bush nursing hospital, three churches, government offices, a doctor, police station, local town hall and a bank." Now, many of those who remain are descendants of those who came to The Millewa nearly a hundred years ago--including Jess Hards, the woman quoted regarding the local kinder. She is the daughter in law of Ron Hards, the farmer featured in the story, whose family were among the region's pioneers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rural/Regional Law and Justice in Australia

I've not been blogging much for the past few weeks because I was in Australia to give a couple of lectures regarding my work on law and rural livelihoods. One of my talks was in Warrnambool, western Victoria, for the Rural/Regional Law and Justice Conference hosted by Deakin University, 19-21 November. I was a key note speaker, along with Professor Daniela Stehlik, Director of the Northern Institute of Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory, and Alex Ward, President of the Law Council of Australia. The organizer of the event was Richard Coverdale, a lecturer in law at Deakin (which has campuses in Geelong, Melbourne, and Warrnambool). He has written a very interesting paper called Postcode Justice (about variations in access to justice from place to place and particularly along the rural-urban continuum), which he presented at the event. The conference included several dozen papers categorized according to three threads: Legal Practice, Social Justice, and Legal Service Systems.

I'll be writing more over the next few weeks about what I learned regarding law and justice in rural Australia and, more particularly, academic and policy attention to these issues in the Australian context. For now, here is a link to a press release issued by Deakin University in the wake of the event.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXIII): Woman charged with assault, allowing abuse of her children

The November 17, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times reports that a 51-year-old woman has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of permitting abuse of a minor and a single count of battery int he second degree. All are class De felonies. A hearing was set for October, but the female defendant failed to appear. The woman's 14-year-old son allegedly told her that he had engaged in sexual contact with his younger sisters, aged 13 and 11 and that he continued to have contact with the elder sister. The complaint alleged that the mother "recklessly failed to take action to protect" the female children "from further exposure." In addition, the 11-year-old also sent a letter to the defendant, detailing the brother's abuse of the girl. The defendant allegedly responded by "hitting the girl in the face, knocking out a tooth," which led to the battery charge. The aggravated assault charges stem from incidents when (1) the defendant sat on the 13-year-old child, holding her hands behind her back and striking her legs and buttocks with a board and (2) the defendant stuffed socks into the same child's mouth, then hit and punched her. The children's father also reportedly abused them--by shaking them.

The Department of Human Services has removed all four children from the home.

Other news regarding criminal charges involves failure to pay child support, possession of controlled substances (methamphetamine) with intent to deliver, and making and uttering hot checks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arguably, the common denominator is class

The premise of this story in the New York Times is that Barack Obama and John Boehner have nothing in common. What it fails to see is that both are from unprivileged economic backgrounds--which I see as significant common ground. To use the term coined by Joan Williams, they are both "class migrants."

If you read, Dreams from my Father, you get a good sense of President Obama's upbringing. The formative influences were not "upper class," although his parents were well educated, and his mother eventually earned a PhD. But Obama's maternal grandparents were solidly working class, and he spent many of his earliest years living under their roof and their supervision in Hawaii. They had a profound influence on him. (Some have suggested that if Obama got back in touch with this narrative and played it up, he would be a much more successful politician right now). The New York Times earlier told us more about John Boehner's upbringing than, perhaps, we ever wanted to know: Boehner grew up working in his father's bar in a suburb of Cincinnati and graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati. He's a working class kid made good, while a couple of his 11 siblings are reportedly unemployed, and most are in blue-collar jobs.

The key difference between these two men, both from relatively unprivileged backgrounds, is that one ascended to power largely through elite education while the other did so by being a baron of commerce, by playing (and winning) the free-market game.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXII): "New" jail now likely to be in "old" nursing home

The front page of the Nov. 3 issue of the Newton County Times is chock full of law and order news. First, it reports the arrests of four men for various thefts and burglaries. Three of the arrests were made by the Boone County Sheriff's Department action in cooperation with Newton County authorities. These three arrests involved residential and commercial burglaries in neighboring Boone County, and one suspect was also facing drug-related charges in Newton County.

The other arrest was of a 24-year-old Newton County resident, Shane Middleton. He allegedly broke into the Dollar General Store and the Jasper Farm Supply, both in Jasper. Middleton is charged with commercial burglary and theft of property and is being held without bond.

In other news, it appears that the county will move ahead with turning its old nursing home (currently an annex to the county courthouse) into the county jail. This is because the bids to build a new jail have come in substantially higher than earlier anticipated, primarily because the soil on proposed site of the new jail has proved unsuitable for a septic tank, and the site is too far from the city water system to feasibly link to it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Parsing the rural mid-term vote

See this New York Times graphic showing how various demographic groups voted in the recent mid-term election. Most demographic groups, e.g., women, men, all voters aged 30 and over, Catholics, Protestants, Midwesterners and Southerners supported Republicans. Rural voters also supported Republicans--by a margin of 28%. This compares to suburban voters, who voted Republican by a 12% margin and those living in places with populations between 10,000 and 50,000, who voted Republican by a 14% margin. On the other hand, those living in urban clusters of 500,000 or more supported Democrats by a 32% margin, followed by those living in urban clusters between 50,000 and 500,000, who supported Democrats by a 6% margin.

A related NYT article is here. Another graphic, this one showing movement of various Demographic groups to the right or left (mostly to the right, in varying degrees) in the mid-term election, is here (click no. 10)

For more analysis of the rural vote, see the Daily Yonder's excellent coverage here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Local, in Alaska

William Yardley's report on Lisa Murkowski's apparent success as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate seat she currently holds makes several references to Alaska's peculiarities--and to the local. Here's an excerpt:

For all the populist anger and legal wrangling in Alaska over federal oversight of its natural resources and protected species, from offshore oil to polar bears, many Alaskans long ago made a pragmatic peace with the arrangement, and they worry what will happen if things change significantly. A third of the state economy depends on federal spending. Many rural villages lack basic plumbing. Only a fraction of Alaska is reachable by road.
Murkowski reportedly said to crowds, “To hell with politics. Let’s do what’s right for Alaska.” She tapped what Yardley characterizes as "provincial pride" to shift the focus away from national concerns--and a Tea Party orientation--back to Alaska.