Monday, May 31, 2010

State park closures deal blows to rural economies

Don't miss William Yardley's story in today's New York Times, "Padlocking the Gates to the Great Outdoors." Here's the lede:
In these hard economic times, when much of the country could use a walk in the woods or a night in the mountains or a wade in the river or a picnic by the lake, states across the country seem to be creating obstacles to the great outdoors.

Seeking to streamline their budgets, states have made their parks easy targets. Campgrounds are closing, fees are increasing, employees have been laid off.

Yardley's story links to four others about specific park closures--or near closures that have been averted--from around the country: Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona, population 10,192; Bonny Lake State Park in Idalia, Colorado (not even a Census Designated Place); Niagara Springs State Park, Wendell, Idaho, population 2,338; and John Boyd Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, New York, population 2, 705. Few of the stories mention the rural communities neighboring these park, but William Yardley's story about the Idaho park does. He reports that members of the Brother Speed Motorcycle Club, who have an annual party at the park, have volunteered to mow the grass there in order to help keep the park open. This effort has been lauded by the mayor of nearby Wendell, who recognizes the event's economic importance to his town:

On Saturday, the bikers were the guests of honor at a picnic hosted by Mayor Brad Christopherson in Wendell, a tiny farming town next to Niagara Springs that has come to count on their patronage.

“I grew up here,” said Mr. Christopherson, 47, who was elected last fall, “and it was always quite exciting as a kid to see this big group of 200 to 300 bikers come to town.”

Yardley observes, however, that law enforcement officers are less keen. They note that seven members of Brother Speed are in prison or on parole, mostly for drug charges. These tough economic times do make strange bedfellows, I guess.

In the story out of Voorheesville, New York, though, the person who volunteered to mow the grass is a state assemblyman.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LVII): 1949 murder recalled

The two most recent issues of the Newton County Times (May 12 and May 26) report no current crime or criminal justice news, but an insert in the May 26 paper headlined "Blast from the Past" reprints some crime news from June 5, 1949. The headline is "Jasper Scene of Another Fatal Shooting," and here's the story:
Another man was killed by gunfire in this Newton County seat tonight. He was the third victim of shootings here within six days.

Tonight's victim was Floyd Kilgore, 44 timber worker who lived two miles from Jasper.

Sheriff Russell Burdine named Carl Springer, 45, service station operator, as the slayer. Springer was taken to the country jail at Harrison for safe-keeping.

"I lost no time in leaving with him," said Sheriff Burdine, "for I didn't know what else might happen."

J.W. Moore, 62, banker, was slain as he stood on the courthouse lawn by Albert H. Mayer in a gun battle after the slayer had barricaded himself in the courthouse.

Cause of tonight's shooting did not develop immediately.

Sheriff Burdine said he was told Kilgore, driving a truck and accompanied by I.J. Kendricks, had driven by Springer's service station, three blocks south of the courthouse on Highway 7 a half dozen times with a .22 caliber rifle across his lap.

"Mr. Springer surrendered to Sheriff Burdine. He had used a .30-.30 rifle.

The sheriff said he did not arrest Kendricks immediately. he said he would confer with Prosecuting Attorney Eugene W. Moore.

Sheriff Burdine said he believed there had been trouble between the two men, but he had not determined its nature. He said Springer, a World War II Veteran is the father or four or five children.

Sgt. "Bill" Walker in charge of State Police district headquarters at Harrison was in route to Jasper last night to assist the sheriff.

City Marshall Jimmy Criner had disarmed Kilgore only a few minutes before the shooting, Sheriff Burdine said, but for some reason had returned the rifle and permitted him to go.
Another headline, drawn from Sept. 1, 1956, reports on the scheduled dedication of "No. 7 Highway" with Governor Orval E. Faubus expected to be in attendance.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The oil spill's impact on rural Louisiana

Amy Harmon reports in today's New York Times on the impact of the Gulf oil spill on Grand Isle, Louisiana, population 1,541. The headline is "Island's Trout Rodeo is Victim of Spill, and That's Not the Least of It." In the story, Harmon reports on the damper the spill has put on this annual festival, which locals explained is not about riding the trout, but about catching them. The event proceeded this week-end, even without the fish and--perhaps more importantly--without the crowds. It's a reminder of the spill's impact on rural communities and economies along the coast, many of the reliant on summer tourism.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One-size-fits all banking regulation? What consequences for community banks?

Listen to this story from American Public Media's Marketplace program. The dateline is Hampton, Iowa, population 4,218, and the report queries whether the same banking regulations should apply to community banks (like the one in Hampton) as apply to the "too big to fail" ones. Iowa Public Radio reporter Sarah McCammon holds out Hampton State Bank as an example of a community bank that would struggle under the greater regulation of mortgages and credit cards that are now being debated in Congress. She reports on a low-interest loan program the bank put together to lure back to Hampton young professionals and others who grew up there but had moved away, and she holds this laudable program out as an example of the sort of thing community banks might not have "time" to do if faced with greater regulation. The story is replete with idyllic images of small-town America and family values, invoking them to argue against regulation. But the story didn't make clear to me how more regulation will prevent the bank from offering programs such as the low-interest loans to help sustain its community population and human capital. On the other hand, I am not convinced that community banks are need of the same types of regulation as Wall Street institutions.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LVI): Break-ins reported

A front-page story in the May 19 issue of the Newton County Times reports several commercial break-ins and burglaries around the county over the past week. these include one at the Coffman Funeral Home in Jasper, where cash was taken from an office after the thief entered through a maintenance room door and then crawled above the ceiling to reach the office. In addition, the someone broke into the Western Grove IGA and drilled into an ATM there to take about $400. Finally, someone broke in to the Eagle Rock Cafe in Mt. Judea and took about $500 plus several cases of food items. The sheriff is quoted as opining that the crimes do not appear to be related.

The same story reports charges against a man for possession of items used to make methamphetamine. The man was arrested in Jasper on a Harrison Police Dept. warrant, and the contraband was found during an inventory of his vehicle.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Privatizing bison

Both state and federal governments have done a lot of privatizing in recent years, but who knew it would extend to wildlife? Yet in a sense, it is has. A front-page story in yesterday's New York Times discusses the controversy around the State of Montana's decision to permit bison who migrate naturally from Yellowstone National Park onto neighboring land owned by Ted Turner. Here's the lede of Kirk Johnson's story:
When dozens of wild American bison wandered out of Yellowstone National Park in search of greener grass and wound up five years later sheltered on a giant ranch owned by Ted Turner, media mogul and bison meat kingpin, the species reached what many believe could be a turning point.

Mr. Turner, under an unusual custodial contract with the state of Montana, offered to shepherd the animals for the next five years as part of an experimental program. It will grant him a sizable portion of their offspring in exchange, much to the chagrin of environmentalists who sued the state, saying the bison belong to the public.

State wildlife managers hope that the bison on Turner's ranch, a genetic variety known as Yellowstone 87, will prove brucellosis-free after five years so that they can provide the basis for establishing additional free-roaming populations elsewhere in the West. This variety currently not only roam free in Yellowstone, they are also raised for meat on private ranches. Indeed, one reason environmentalists are up in arms over the state's decision to work with Turner is that he can, under the terms of the agreement, breed the bison commercially and supply their meat to his chain of restaurants, Ted's Montana Grill. Indeed, the story reports that Turner is the nation's biggest purveyor of bison meat. In their suit, the coalition of environmentalists argue that the bison are a public good, like water or air, and that the state's action violates the duty to manage them for the public good.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Parsing the rural vote in the Arkansas Senate race

Blanche Lincoln, incumbent U.S. Senator from Arkansas, is in a June 8 run-off with Democratic opponent Bill Halter, who enjoyed heavy financial support (about $7 million by some estimates) from unions and other out-of-state interests. Of course, Lincoln's substantial war chest was also not entirely "local," and clearly reflects her position as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Read the New York Times Election Day coverage here, as well as earlier reporting on the race here and here.

This analysis by Shaila Dewan of the NY Times appeared the day after the primary. Dewan notes that, when early returns showed Lincoln doing well in metropolitan Pulaski County--home to Little Rock--it was seen as a good sign for Lincoln's campaign. Conventional wisdom held that because she has proved to be a rather conservative Democrat, Lincoln would do best in Arkansas's more rural reaches, while more metropolitan voters in the central and northwest areas of the state would likely favor Halter. As it turns out, that didn't happen. Here's an excerpt from Dewan's story, which highlights the rural-urban axis, as well as the black-white divide:

Mrs. Lincoln won in urban areas like Little Rock and Fayetteville. While some analysts predicted that she was in trouble with black voters, she won in seven of nine Arkansas counties that are more than 40 percent black, perhaps aided by radio advertisements by Mr. Obama that were in heavy rotation on black-oriented stations.

But she lost 20 of 26 largely white, rural counties that stretch diagonally across the state.
Why rural white voters' disaffection with Lincoln? It seems primarily to be about the anti-incumbent mood in the nation, as reflected by several quotes from voters in Dewan's story.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Spatial challenges to accessing USDA summer food programs for kids

The Carsey Institute has just published a policy brief "Challenges in Serving Rural American Children Through the Summer Food Service Program." In it, Barbara Wauchope and Nena Stracuzzi note that, while USDA-funded school lunch and breakfast programs serve 31 million students a year, food security decreases in the summer, when children are not attending school. USDA's Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) seeks to fill the void by contracting with schools, local non-profits, and similar organizations to provide the meals, often in connection with summer camps and activities. Yet, as Wauchope and Stracuzzi note, rural delivery sites are relatively rare because of the difficulty in achieving economies of scale. Further, even where there are delivery sites, children often cannot reach them because of lack of transportation. Thus rural children remain under-served by this USDA program, even as the needs of many rural children is great. (Read the last few paragraphs of this recent post, noting that in Newton County, Arkansas, a persistent poverty county that is at the most rural end of the Rural-Urban Continuum, more then 35% of children are living in poverty, and nearly half of the county's residents live more than a mile from a grocery store).

The Carsey Report also reminded me of a story I read about 10 days ago in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the SFSP program. In it, Senator Blanche Lincoln (who happens to be chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee) was touting the experimental extension of the program for Arkansas and Mississippi through an initiative called "Extending Length of Operation Incentive." A press release from Lincoln's office explains the experimental incentive program and its possible impact in Arkansas:
There are more than 300 summer meal sites in Arkansas, but only one-third of those operate for 30 days or more during the summer. This project will provide an additional 50 cents per lunch increase in the reimbursement rate for Summer Food Service Program meals for sites that agree to stay in operation for 40 or more days throughout the summer. All of Arkansas’s Summer Food Service Program sites will be eligible to participate in the demonstration project.
But I had just driven through very rural reaches of Newton County and Madison County, Arkansas, and been reminded of the great distances (25 miles or more, some on dirt roads) that many children travel to get to school. I had seen many school buses parked overnight at the homes of their drivers, far from school. (Read a related story here and a related post here). This had left me wondering: how do those kids get to service centers during the summer? The short answer: many don't--when, that is, there are service centers in their school district's range.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (LVI): Another meth lab bust

The top story for the May 5 issue of the Newton County Times is about a meth lab bust near Jasper, the county seat. The headline reports that four young adults were arrested after the Sheriff's department followed up on an anonymous tip. All four of the suspects are young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 29, and two of them live in Harrison, the county seat of neighboring Boone County. All have been charged with manufacturing methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. Bond has been set at $100,000 for two of the defendants, and at just $10,000 and $5,000 for the other two.

In other news, the Newton County Quorum Court voted last month to put its condemned jail up for sale to the highest bidder. While a recent appraisal valued it at $30,000, one prospective buyer has reportedly already offered $40,000. Read a recent post here.

In another front-page story, the county's Justices of the Peace (JPs) are reported as making light of the report of the community health coordinator of the North Arkansas Partnership for Health Education (NAPHE). The coordinator, Cindy Miller, presented a fact sheet compiling body mass index studies conducted at the county's public schools. It indicated that 41.54% of Jasper school children are overweight or at risk of being overweight, while the figure for Mt. Judea school is 35.11%. She also presented data (apparently national, not local) showing that obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years and that obesity rates are higher among low income families because unhealthy food typically costs less. Other data that Miller presented showed that 35.8% of Newton County children live in poverty and that 46.3% of county residents live more than a mile from a grocery store, while 7.7% of the county's households are more than a mile from a grocery store and do not have a vehicle. When Miller noted that Newton County has the advantage over neighboring Boone County of not having drive-through fast food restaurants, one of the JPs quipped that he liked those drive-through restaurants. He also complained that soda machines at the local school sell only diet soda and that you "can't get a good pop" there. Both comments drew laughter from his fellow JPs.

Needless to say, I am not amused. The reporter wrote in his lede for the story: "JPs had some laughs at their Monday night meeting, May 3, but agreed the subject was not a laughing matter." I guess I missed the part where they acknowledged the seriousness of this subject.

NAPHE is funded in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blanche in the middle

U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln has been much in the national news in recent months (read more here and here), and she is no less so today, the day before the Democratic primary in Arkansas in which she faces serious opposition, most notably from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Lincoln's part of a front-page story in USA Today ("Key primaries a barometer of voters' frustration") and also features in a piece in the New York Times. Here's an excerpt from the latter, which reports from the World Champion Steak Cook-Off in Magnolia, population 10,858:
It may be a measure of the electorate’s angry mood that the Democratic Senate candidate who got the biggest cheer from the steak lovers assembled amid a charcoal haze to worship charred red meat was D. C. Morrison, a former cotton farmer who wants to repeal the new health care law, seal the southern border and abolish income taxes in favor of a consumption tax.

As for Lincoln, she "cited her success in persuading the government to increase timber sales in the state and put more lumberjacks to work. Mrs. Lincoln has also often reminded voters that she has achieved an influential post as the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee in a state where farms drive a quarter of the economy." Striking, but not surprising in the context of Arkansas, is the rural character of the economic interests she touts: farms and forestry.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LV): Middleton sentenced to 10 years for drug crimes

During my recent visit to Northwest Arkansas, I had the opportunity to read some coverage of the criminal justice system's handling of the charges against Ricky and David Middleton, a topic I have written about here. To be more precise, I had the opportunity to read some coverage from a source other than the Newton County Times, and the story I read in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was very informative in that it went above and beyond what I have read (several times over) in the former newspaper. The headline is "Escapee sentenced to 10 years for drugs," and Adam Wallworth reports on David Middleton's sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Jimm Hendren to the "high end of the recommended term." I assume the reference here is to the federal sentencing guidelines. Hendren sentenced Middleton to two 10-year terms, to run concurrently. He also ordered Middleton to pay a $15,000 fine and be supervised for five years following completion of his sentence. The judge commented to Middleton regarding his escape attempt, "I think it's a good thing you weren't shot."

Middleton's lawyer, Chad Atwell, used an interesting strategy at the sentencing. He "described his client as a methampheatmine addict with a second-grade education. He said Middleton should get a lighter sentence for his guilty plea and shouldn't be given a stricter sentence for his actions after his arrest." Atwell is quoted as saying that "[a]nything at the top end is essentially a a life sentence to him."

The U.S. Attorney's office argued, on the other hand, that Middleton has engaged in a pattern of obstructing justice, including a number of escape attempts. An incident reported here that had not been earlier reported in the Newton County Times was Middleton's sharpening of a toothbrush, apparently to turn into to a "shank" or weapon, while he was held in the Benton County jail.

$1 million gift to rural Arkansas high school

I visited Northwest Arkansas last week, and I was struck by a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on May 12, 2010. The headline is "$1 million gift thrills Huntsville educators," and the story tells of a "local boy" made good (he is now an elderly, wealthy entrepreneur) who recently donated $1 million worth of stock in Tyson Foods, Inc., to his public school alma mater, the Huntsville School District. The population of Huntsville, Arkansas is 1,931, but the story indicates that the district's enrollment is 2,400, which presumably because many students who are bussed from outside Huntsville. Huntsville is in Madison County, which has a population of 14,243.

The donor is A.T. Smith, owner of A.T. Smith Fertilizer Lime and Seed and A.T. Smith Mercantile in Hindsville, which has a population of just 75 (none of whom, incidentally, is under the age of 18--talk about the greying of rural America!). The only conditions on the donation are that the money be spent on 'something permanent' and that the donation be made" in the names of A.T. Smith and his wife, Georgia Mae Smith.

Smith's story sounds like one of rags-to-riches--assuming, that is, that no one from Hindsville, Arkansas started out life with very much money. While the median household income of Hindsville is just about $22,500, Smith made his fortune in the fertilizer business, starting in the 1960s. His company operates a blending plant and spreads fertilizer for clients who span a three-state area. Smith was also Hindsville's postmaster.

"I just wanted to do something to give back," Smith said. I went to school in Huntsville and graduated up there, and I figured they needed it just as bad as anyone." He has left it to the district to come up with suggestions on how to spend the money.

The gift represents 5% of the district's annual budget of $20 million. The district superintendent is quoted as saying, "We'll certainly use it to the benefit of students. ... We'll have to sit on this, digest this, believe that it is real and then go to work."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More on lack of geographic diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court

Read the New York Times report here about the fact that, if Elena Kagan is confirmed, she will become the fourth U.S. Supreme Court justice to hail from New York City. Kagan grew up in Manhattan. Read more on the lack of geographic diversity on the Court here and here.

Does rural-urban difference explain different attitudes toward immigration?

Randal Archibold reported in the New York Times a few days ago on the differing approaches of New Mexico and Arizona to the issue of immigration. The article is headlined, "Side by Side, but Divided over Immigration," and in it Archibold discusses a number of possible reasons why Arizona's policies are so hostile to immigrants, while New Mexico seeks to integrate (and tax) them. One of those reasons happens to relate to the degree of development along the states' respective borders with Mexico. Here's the relevant excerpt:
The flow of drugs and illegal immigrants over the sparsely populated, remote border here [in New Mexico], moreover, pales compared with that in Arizona, whose border, dotted with towns and roads facilitating trafficking, registers the highest number of drug seizures and arrests of illegal crossers of any
* * *
But New Mexico’s patience could be tested, and some fear that the Arizona law will push more illegal immigrants into the state, though they typically go where the most jobs are found. 

Steve Wilmeth, a cattle rancher near Las Cruces, 30 miles north of the border, said he had grown frustrated with finding illegal immigrants crossing his property and recalled a harrowing confrontation a couple of years ago with a group of 20 near a watering tank.
* * *
Violence on the Mexican side of the border — one of the bloodiest cities, Ciudad Ju├írez, is an hour’s drive from Las Cruces — has heightened anxiety.
As a related matter, I wrote recently about the death of an Arizona rancher, presumably at the hands of an immigrant.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LIV): Illegal dumps under surveillance

Rural folks are often the butt of jokes about keeping trash in their yards and generally being unconcerned about aesthetics and environmental well-being. A story in the April 22, 1010 issue of the Newton County Times indicates that Newton County is doing something about this problem. The dateline is Western Grove, and the story's lede follows:
Illegal dumping in Newton County has become an increasing problem and many of the unsightly and hazardous trash heaps are now being monitored in an attempt to find the individual responsible.

Efforts "literally" picked up on Saturday, April 17, when a handful of volunteers showed up to help county employees remove a dumping site on County Road 50, just west of Western Grove.
The accompanying front-page photo shows county judge John Griffith throwing "an old tire into a trailer" at the clean-up. Other photos of the clean up efforts show a "before" photograph of the dump, which I found shocking. We're not just talking tires and old TVs, we're talking every day trash, clothing, etc.

Clearly, efforts such as these are more important than ever for Newton County, as tourist season is upon them, and the county increasingly relies upon its reputation as an ecotourist destination to support the economy.

In other headlines, both the April 22 and April 29 issues of the paper report on the death of a 26-year-old Kansas man who fell while hiking a trail leading to Hawksbill Crag in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area.

"Waits needs new lawyer" reports on the withdrawal of Mark Mobley as attorney for Tracy Waits, who faces charges in relation to the conspiracy to kidnap the county sheriff's son and to assist her father, David Middleton, to escape from custody. (Read more here). Mobley has withdrawn from representing Waits because he has a conflict of interest; that is, Mobley is also representing David Middleton and his brother, Ricky Middleton. The story goes into enormous detail of the evidence against Waits and the Middleton men, some of it redundant of earlier reports.

Finally, the April 29 edition of the paper gives us Reason No. 44 of the "52 reasons we love Newton County": "Many heck of a days spent at Dogpatch USA." The story gives a great deal of history of the amusement park, which closed in 1993. Al Capp--creator of the Lil Abner comic strip on which the park was based, was a partner in the initial enterprise and spoke at the park's groundbreaking on Oct. 3, 1967. The cost of the park's construction was $1.3 million. In 1968, the first year of operation, the park had 300,000 visitors; the cost of admission--just $1.50 for adults and half that for children. The story notes that "many residents ... who were in high school during the time the park was in operation recall happy summers working at the park." I admit that I am among those with memories of happy summers at Dogpatch USA (even if we teenage workers were paid well below minimum wage).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Westerner on short-list for Supreme Court

Judge Sydney Thomas of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals interviewed with President Obama yesterday in Washington, DC. Read John Schwartz's report in today's New York Times. While the word "rural" is not used in the story, Judge Thomas's Montana roots suggest he is a lot more in touch with rural realities than anyone else on the court. Actually, Thomas grew up in Bozeman, which currently has a population of 35,538 and is home to Montana State University. It is the county seat of Gallatin County, which had a 2008 population of 87,416 and seems likely to be designated a metropolitan county in the 2010 Census. Though Bozeman and Gallatin County are now examples of rural gentrification (read more here), as a child, Judge Thomas surely knew them when they were not. He knows a more, shall we say, traditional or authentic rurality than that now reflected in many parts of the Big Sky state.

Schwartz does make the point that Thomas would bring diversity to the Court in several ways: he's protestant; he's from the West; and he is a graduate of non-elite educational institutions--Montana State University and the University of Montana School of Law. He also practiced law for 17 years, with bankruptcy an apparent specialty.

Judge Thomas was appointed to the Ninth Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1995.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"The Big House in a Small Town"

That's part of the title of a paper recently posted on The rest is "Prisons, Communities, and Economics in Rural America," and the author is Eric Williams of Sonoma State University. Here's the abstract:
This prison building boom in the 1980’s and 1990’s has given birth to an interesting phenomenon; whereas towns used to fight against having a prison located in their community, they are now fighting to land one. Considered foremost on the list of NIMBY’s (not in my backyard) or LULU’s (local unwanted land use) just fifteen years ago, towns are now lobbying to have states, private corporations and the federal government put new correctional institutions in their communities. Rural communities look at prisons as a sound economic development strategy; a stable recession-proof industry that promises secure jobs and a new economic base. Because of this, States can now be more discriminating in deciding where they will locate the prison, leading to bidding wars between towns who offer substantial incentive packages for the privilege of becoming home to society’s outcasts.

But the effect of prisons on a community is broad, effecting governmental and social relations in addition to economic ones. Erving Goffman has called prisons a “total institution,” meaning that in sociological terms, they function as a world onto their own (Goffman 1961). They may be total, but they do not exist in a vacuum. They are on land within a municipality and how these two seemingly independent entities work-or don’t work- together has large repercussions for the people who work in the facility as well as the overall community. In gauging the effects of a prison on a community, one can look at hard economic or survey data, but I have chosen to use a more qualitative method, that of the ethnography.

In 1991 The Humboldt Journal of Social Relations dedicated an entire year to the problems involved with community opposition to prison siting and in 1992, Crime and Delinquency devoted an entire issue to the same problem. But now, all of that has changed and the NIMBY model is no longer dominant as towns now go to extraordinary lengths to land a prison. After the end of the oil boom left their economy in shambles, Hinton, Oklahoma actually borrowed $19 million from American Express to build a prison and then hired a private prison firm to run it. In Tamms, Illinois, the staunchly democratic town has a billboard thanking Republican Governor Ryan for putting the states newest supermax prison there. In Stone Gap, Virginia the town paid the local community college to start a guard-training program and sent 500 people to Richmond for the committee hearings on the siting to help them land one of the states two new supermaxes.

Places as disparate as Lovelock, Nevada, a former ranching town, and Corcoran California, a former agricultural stronghold, have turned to prisons as the solution to their economic woes. From the town’s standpoint, it’s a growth industry that is recession proof and will give them a number of decent paying jobs as well as some ancillary industrial growth. The town’s may or may not realize actual growth, but there is much more to the story. Understanding what actually happens during and after the siting is at the core of this paper.

This paper focuses on two towns, Beeville, Texas and Florence Colorado. Both are small rural communities who began the lobbying process in the late 1980’s. Beeville had fallen on hard economic times with the decline of the Texas oil boom and Florence, though never an economic hot spot, lost a significant number of jobs and residents with the decline of the mining industry. Both communities lobbied hard land a facility, Beeville from the Texas Department of Corrections and Florence from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and both have since become the site of multiple facilities. They are both good examples of the new rural prison towns that have cropped up in the past 25 years.
These latter two towns that Williams mentions have populations of 13,129 (Beeville, Texas) and 3,653 (Florence, Colorado).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

David Brooks on the influence of culture, ethnicity, and region

Columnist David Brooks writes in today's New York Times about "The Limits of Policy." He argues that ethnicity, culture, psychology and "a dozen other factors" are far more powerful forces than government policy in terms influencing well-being and longevity. Here's a quote that doesn't refer explicitly to rurality, but which suggests it--and aligns it with negative outcomes.
The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.
Of course, states like Arkansas and West Virginia are popularly thought of as culturally rural; they also have significant rural populations. While outcomes in these places are poor by several measures, I--unlike Brooks--am not willing to give up on policy as a way to alter that. I don't think the answer is to simply let the negative feedback loops just continue to loop.

The most emailed story in the NYT right now: about Roundup resistant weeds

Read the story by William Neuman and Andrew Pollack here. Why are so many Times readers interested in this topic? because they are wannabe farmers? because they are locavores or oganic eaters or others interested in food systems? because they are interested in biotechnology and genetically modified foods?

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LIII): Old jail valued at just $30K

The April 8 issue of the Newton County Times reports that the county's old jail, closed last summer after it was condemned, has been valued at just $30,000. The county has been considering selling the property in order to raise funds to help pay for its new jail. Read more here.

The story reports:
[Justices of the Peace] and County Judge John Griffith were dismayed that the building, located just off the square in the county seat, would be appraised so low.

[The county assessor] said the building is in bad shape and there are historical restrictions on what can be done to the exterior of the building. It was difficult to appraise because there is nothing similar to compare it to, the assessor explained.

In January, the judge told the court that a local group of artists inquired about using the old vacated jail as a museum and art gallery. Griffith was concerned about liability issues, the cost of carrying insurance on the building and continuing up-keep costs.
In other news, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln visited the county. The headline notes that she is the "first Arkansan to chair the Agri Committee." During her visit, Lincoln touted her efforts to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Bill, which would have expired in Sept., 2009. She noted that schools now have access to program such as "the fresh fruits and vegetables program and the farm to school programs so that you can get local foods into your schools. That helps local farmers as well as makes sure you get good nutritional foods locally grown into your schools." While that is an accurate description of the program, I would very much like to know if that is happening in Newton County--probably not, I suspect.

The text of the story about Lincoln's visit engages in some typically pro-Republican editorializing. At the end of a paragraph in which Lincoln said she would like to see some changes to No Child Left Behind, the reporter wrote, "She also claimed to support law enforcement." No other information about law enforcement or Lincoln's stance on specific issues related to it was noted in the story.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A new gold rush in rural Montana?

Read Kirk Johnson's report, "As a Near Ghost Town in Montana Watches, a Gold Mine is Reborn." The dateline is Marysville, not even a Census Designated Place, though it isn't far from Helena, which is also in Lewis & Clark County, one of the state's few metropolitan counties. Canadian investors bought up the old Drumlummon mine in Marysville a few years ago, and now they have discovered a vein of gold they say may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Oldtimers and newcomers alike have mixed feelings about this turn of events. The following excerpts sum up some of their thoughts and provides a vignette of this town of about 70 residents, where the streets were never paved, though its population was about 5,000 during its late 1800s gold rush:
To many people in the new West, especially environmentalists, hard-rock metal mines — abandoned by the tens of thousands and in many cases leaking water laced with heavy metals leached from the rock — have become symbols not of gold-rush nostalgia but rapacious disregard for the land.

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Marysville does get a tourist trade in summer — mostly ghost-town lovers, snapping photos of the sagging, derelict past. But on a spring afternoon, a moving vehicle is a rare sight, and the wooded hills hug in tight and green and fragrant with pine, compounding the sense of a place removed from the ordinary flow of time.