Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rural imagery in Meg Whitman's campaign

This Meg Whitman ad frequently crops up on the Internet, and I've been struck by the rural imagery (barn in photo behind her and open meadow in her logo), especially as used by Whitman, former CEO of eBay, who appears not to be not a particular friend of the environment. As far as I know, Whitman has no rural roots nor any rural interest, so what's up with the barn painted like an American flag? Does rural still sell in politics? that is, does it sell if the candidate is, in fact, not rural?

Federal regulation of communications technology and the rural arts

Read Matthew Fluharty's post on the Art of the Rural about local programming at WPAQ, Mt. Airy, North Carolina's radio station. The post it titled "Standing Up for Local Art and Local Culture," and in it, Fluharty points out the impact of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which ended regulatory protections for local broadcasting outlets. WPAQ's local programming, such as the featured show, "Merry-Go-Round," is available to everyone, though, via the internet, and Fluharty touts the Net Neutrality that makes this possible.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXVI): Fair time

The August 18, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times features mostly news of the county fair and nothing about law and order issues except a press release from the Arkansas Highway Safety Office about a state-wide "booze and belts" enforcement campaign.

In addition to pictures of Miss Newton County and the fair parade, and a feature on Newton County's Farm Woman of the Year, a front-page story reports on a Jasper restaurant, the Boardwalk Cafe, which has "gone solar" after being topped with 13 state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels that produce 3000 watts of sun power. The story indicates that the cafe is believed to be the first solar-powered restaurant in Arkansas.

In another front-page story, the two candidates for Jasper mayor are featured. One has been on the Jasper City Council since 1994 and is chief of the city's volunteer fire department. The other has also been a volunteer fire fighter. The story says he has been employed by the city for 10 years, but it does not indicate in what capacity.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The crowded places v. the empty places

That is the dichotomy Gail Collins floats--actually she calls it a "rift"--in her exchange with David Brooks in the New York Times a few days ago, "This Just in from Montana." In it, Brooks describes his recent vacation in Montana, including various encounters with Montanans who are skeptical of Washington, noting that the "disgust was stronger than usual this year." Brooks mentions that he usually spends a summer vacation in the Rockies. Collins writes:
The folks who live in the empty parts of the country feel as if they’re taking care of themselves, and that Washington is a faraway place whose interference is always unwelcome. I get where they’re coming from, although I do need to point out that Montana gets $1.47 back for every dollar it sends to Washington, and that the folks in Montana who feel they’re so powerless, each have 36 times the representation in the U.S. Senate as a resident of California.
Recognizing that the culture wars have gotten aligned along the rural-urban axis, Collins calls the "everybody's-a-crook-in-Washington" attitude "just as much an expression of presumed cultural superiority as city dwellers being snotty about life on the farm." Of course, she also gets in a dig about the federal money Western states get from Washington. Never mind that the reason for this is that the federal government owns huge parts of these states--we call them "public lands." They are thus lands that the state and local governments cannot tax; so, perhaps it is appropriate that the feds actually provide some compensation.

Brooks then responds that, this year, he didn't even try to talk the Montanans into believing that many politicians are in Washington for the right reasons. He writes, "The gap between the meritocratic masters of the universe and the rest of the country is just too wide."

I guess he means the culture gap, but this line still puzzles me. Even if many politicians are in Washington for the right reason--and I tend to agree with him on that point--it doesn't make the political enterprise particularly meritocratic any more than the individual politicians themselves are. Further, are these politicians themselves a product of a meritocracy--or are the products of class privilege? I actually don't know the answer to that question. I'm just asking.

Also, isn't it interesting that Brooks chooses to vacation in places like Montana, if he finds the locals so scary?

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Winter's Bone" and the Limits of White Privilege (Part II)

In a recent post, I commented on what the film “Winter’s Bone” might reveal about white privilege. There I discussed Ree Dolly, the film’s heroine, in the overwhelmingly white context of Taney County, Missouri, where the median household income is about 75% of the national median. (In neighboring persistent poverty Ozark County, which seems more reflective of Ree’s milieu as depicted in the film, the median household income is about 65% of the national figure). Now I want to discuss Ree’s whiteness and socioeconomic disadvantage in a broader context.

What if Ree goes off to Southwest Missouri State in nearby Springfield, Missouri? or even the University of Missouri? First, should she be the beneficiary of affirmative action in getting there? In my opinion, absolutely. (Read a recent discussion regarding the lack of white, lower class and rural privilege in college admissions here and here). She would bring diversity of life experience to the student body, and she represents extreme socioeconomic disadvantage.

Second, would she enjoy white privilege in a more racially and ethnically diverse university setting? Yes, and it would presumably be more apparent there. I daresay, however, that her peers’ and professors’ responses to her—whether and to what extent she experienced discrimination or benefit in a range of settings—would be greatly influenced by how effectively she practiced class passing. Can and does she "clean up well" in appearance and accent? And let’s not forget that class passing requires money—for clothes and other accoutrement.

In her new book, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter (2010), Joan Williams quotes from memoirs of “class migrants,” those “born and raised working class, who join the upper-middle class through access to elite education.” One said, “It is striking to me and many other working-class academics that faculty who would never utter a racial slur will casually refer to ‘trailer trash’ or ‘white trash.’” Observing that “academia barely acknowledges working-class existence,” another wrote: “Where I live and work, white Southern working-class culture is known only as a caricature.” Yet another reported condescension from his professors, who resented having to teach the likes of him at lower-status institutions, where the relatively few working-class students who get to college typically wind up.

All of this is to say that people of color may over-estimate the ease with which working-class whites assimilate and are supported at colleges and universities as they attempt to transcend class boundaries. In my own observation, no one is more judgmental of lower class whites than more privileged whites.

Bearing in mind the recent reminder that “anyone who even tries to talk about race risks public outrage and humiliation,” I want to suggest that we lose something by being (too) oppositional when it comes to race and ethnicity. If we see disadvantage and hardship as being so thoroughly grounded in color, we build walls instead of bridges between the wide range of folks who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or otherwise “lower class.” I am reminded of Angela Harris’ comment regarding racial differences among feminists: “wholeness and commonality are acts of will and creativity, not passive discovery.” It takes such acts to build bridges, and this is true in the context of class, too. To do so, we may have to look past the differences between “us” and a poor, rural white population who are—Ree Dolly and her exceptional, noble ilk aside—generally unsympathetic, a population whose politics often seem contrary to their own interests, as well as to ours. (Read more here and here).

I am also reminded of this point from Barack Obama's famous race speech of March 18, 2008:

Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience—as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives.

This perception among whites—partial as it is—is shared by the poorest, most disadvantaged whites. They are not feeling the privilege because their lives are so lacking the trappings associated it. Imagine someone telling Ree: “You’re white, you’ll be alright.” What a slap in the face—which might be what Ree would literally give back to the speaker. White privilege isn’t feeding the kids.

I don’t see progressive law professors writing or talking much about socioeconomic or geographic disadvantage except when it is linked to racial/ethnic disadvantage. This leaves poor whites out of the conversation, and beyond apparent consideration. Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres are notable exceptions, doing in The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power and Transforming Democracy just what Harris urges. They identify commonalities between rural whites and racial/ethnic minorities in relation to educational disadvantage. More scholars should follow their lead.

In his New York Times column about the Shirley Sherrod debacle, Bob Herbert similarly calls us to seek commonalities across race lines, writing:

The point that Ms. Sherrod was making as she talked in her speech about the white farmer who had come to her for help was that we are all being sold a tragic bill of goods by the powerful forces that insist on pitting blacks, whites and other ethnic groups against one another.

Ms. Sherrod came to the realization, as she witnessed the plight of poverty-stricken white farmers in the South more than two decades ago, that the essential issue in this country 'is really about those who have versus those who don’t.'

She explained how the wealthier classes have benefited from whites and blacks constantly being at each other’s throats, and how rampant racism has insidiously kept so many struggling whites from recognizing those many things they and their families have in common with economically struggling blacks, Hispanics and so on.

To write about poor white people—especially the nearly invisible ones in rural places—is not to say that racism is not a problem in this country (or, for that matter, “in the country”). It is not to ignore white privilege. But while whiteness has value in many settings, it's not a magic bullet.

I'm sad to report that there's more than enough social injustice and socioeconomic disadvantage to go around. Plenty of groups—even poor white folks, a lot of them rural—are getting a piece of that bitter pie. Ree Dolly reminds us of this.

Film critics have touted Ree as brilliant, a feminist heroine, a modern-day Antigone. Like many film goers to whom I have spoken, they look past her trappings and her kin, and they see her value. This is progress—but then, Ree’s character and courageous acts are exceptional.

Last year's winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Drama, “Precious,” also featured a resilient and courageous female lead. Both Precious and Ree represent opportunities for us to see profound disadvantage in the context of communities with which few of us have first-hand experience. Thinking about what these young women share, and not only how their experiences diverge, should remind us to see beyond color—to shared vulnerability and humanity.

Cross-posted to UC Davis Faculty Blog and SALTLaw Blog.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rural Australian lawmakers in the driver's seat to form new government

Meraiah Foley reports in today's New York Times under the headline, "Rural Lawmakers Hold Key in Australian Election." Here's the lede:
On the main streets and byways of Bob Katter’s outback Queensland electorate, everyone knows the man in the 10-gallon cowboy hat. But in the rest of Australia, the lawmaker who could cast a deciding vote in Australia’s cliffhanger election is virtually unknown.

With the country still waiting for the final results of the Saturday vote, reporters in the capital, Canberra, got a dose Wednesday of the self-described “force from the north” and the other independent legislators who could hold the balance of power in Australia’s first deadlocked Parliament in 70 years.

Katter is quoted describing Australian rural challenges that sound similar to those in rural America.

If you live in a country town in Australia, every year you own a business, you know it’s going to get worse and worse. ... Every year, you know your kids are going to leave because there are no jobs for them. Maybe a high school closes this year, maybe you lose your dentist next year.

The people of rural Australia have put some of us here. They expect a return for having done that. As far as I’m concerned, they will get a return.

Katter has indicated that he intends to demand a "fairer go" for rural Australians. This excerpt from the story expands on a long-standing rural-urban conflict in the nation's politics:

All three independents hail from sparsely populated rural areas, where voters have long been at odds with the mainstream parties in Australia’s urban-focused political debate. Access to education, hospitals, jobs and telecommunications are key issues for voters in “the bush,” the vast stretches of scrubby grasslands that are home to about a quarter of Australia’s 22 million people.

The divide between urban and rural voters has long been a feature of Australian politics. The country’s vast expanses and relatively small population and tax base make it difficult for the government to provide basic services to many remote areas. But many country dwellers feel that their concerns are ignored by politicians scrambling for the bulk of votes in Australia’s heavily populated cities.

"Winter's Bone" and the Limits of White Privilege (Part I)

Progressive law professors talk a lot about privilege, including white privilege. If we're white (like I am), we try to be aware of it and not re-create it. Law professors of color remind us that we benefit from it.

Writing about rural people in relation to the law, which I have been doing for a few years now, has put me in an awkward position in relation to white privilege. A lot of my work is about rural disadvantage and class, and I've been told my work is "very white." The presumption about whiteness in my work is probably because rural places are popularly associated with stasis and homogeneity—and with white people in particular. But I’ve written a lot about the sort of entrenched, inter-generational poverty that defines what the U.S. government labels persistent poverty, and the reality is that most persistent poverty counties are dominated by a cluster of a single racial/ethnic group: Latina/o (Rio Grande Valley), African American (the Mississippi Delta and Black belt), American Indian (the Great Plains and Southwest) and, yes, white (Appalachia, the Ozarks plateau, the Texas panhandle). A few of my articles have discussed racial and ethnic minorities in rural and/or persistent poverty contexts; examples are here, here and here.

I have also written about impoverished rural white communities, and I do admit to being concerned about them, too. Which brings me to Ree Dolly, 17-year-old heroine of “Winter's Bone,” the critically acclaimed indie film that won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance this year. The film is set in the Missouri Ozarks, about 50 miles from where I grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks, so when it began to garner media attention in the run up to its national release, I found myself holding my breath. Who and what would it show—and how authentic would the depiction be? Was “Winter’s Bone” going to be the 21st century “Deliverance”? In fact, “Winter’s Bone” is pretty ugly, a very difficult film to watch. It is also, I must admit, quite authentic in its depiction of a certain milieu.

Indeed, one of the very interesting things about reading NYT readers' responses to "Winter's Bone" and its review is the extent to which those from major metro areas — say New York and Toronto--criticized the film maker for the lack of reality and the way she maligned the place by showing junk cars and dogs in people's yards. Film goers and readers from the Ozarks, however, generally agreed that the film was quite authentic in its depiction of people and place, though several of them pointed out that it showed only a particular stratum of that society. These differing views make me wonder if urbanites want to believe that rural life couldn’t be that bad? If they are clinging nostalgically to bucolic rural myths?

I could offer many other observations about "Winter's Bone," but I want to focus here on how little benefit Ree experiences by virtue of her whiteness. White privilege looks pretty anemic for this young woman trying to save her family home after her meth-cooking father does a runner from the law, having put the house up for security with the bail bondsman. Ree’s mother checked out long ago, so Ree is responsible for her young siblings. They sometimes go hungry, and they live in what most would consider squalor. They survive off $20 a relative hands to Ree here or there, occasional help from a neighbor, and the squirrels they hunt. There is no sign of a government safety net. At one point, Ree considers joining the military because it is her only apparent option for saving the family homestead—thanks to the $40K bonus she could get for enlisting. That plan is dashed when the recruiter tells her she can't take her siblings with her. College is nowhere on Ree's horizon—if, that is, she is able to finish high school given the weight of her many responsibilities.

White privilege is, of course, notoriously invisible, but maybe it is especially difficult to discern in Ree's world because everyone around her is white — and those in her circle of family and friends are all poor. Ree attends Forsyth High School (by far the most salubrious locale depicted in the film) in Forsyth, Missouri, population 1,686. Forsyth is the county seat of Taney County (embarrassingly named for Justice Roger Taney, author of Dred Scott!), population 39,703. Forsyth is 98.6% white, while Taney County is 96.2% white. Taney County is not a persistent poverty county, although neighboring Ozark County is. (These stats are from the 2000 Census; the 2006-2008 ACS estimates show greater racial diversity and considerable population growth for Taney County; its largest city is Branson, the popular tourist destination).

In this setting, class is the primary axis of disadvantage/privilege. And I'm not talking about the difference between upper middle class and lower middle class. I'm talking about the range that runs from lower middle class to poor to dirt poor—down to what some call “white trash,” those Matt Wray has labeled “not quite white.” If the sheriff is going to harass someone, for example, it’s going to be on the basis of class and who the “usual suspects” are. Racial profiling isn't the issue in homogeneous rural communities, where law enforcement officers are socially integrated with those whom they police; far more influential factors are who you and your kin are.

So what can we take away from Winter’s Bone regarding white privilege? I see Ree’s life as a reminder that when you get “down” to a certain socioeconomic stratum, there is precious little privilege or material benefit associated with being white. (I’m thinking the film “Monster” also illustrates this point). Another way of stating this is that disadvantages associated with class (e.g., bias against “white trash”) and geography (e.g., scarcity of jobs and opportunities) seriously undermine the white privilege that Ree might enjoy in other settings.

When the relevant universe of people are all white (Ree Dolly in the context of Forsyth, Missouri—and I acknowledge that it’s difficult to truly isolate the “local” for these purposes), whiteness presumably takes a backseat to class (and I’m actually talking here about more than just money), which looms much larger. Unfortunately, “Winter's Bone” fails to depict class difference in Forsyth in any explicit way. For all we know from the film, everyone in Forsyth lives like Ree and the Dolly clan. (Oh, and according to the film, the sun literally never shines in an Ozarks winter—overkill on the part of the filmmaker if you ask me; further, absolutely nothing in the film has the moderately pleasant glow of the image in the movie's poster, but I digress).

In my next installment about Winter's Bone, I will discuss how Ree might fare outside Forsyth and Taney County, in a more diverse setting, such as a college or university.

Cross-posted to UC Davis Faculty Blog and SALTLaw Blog.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stimulus funding and "rural" states--with a focus on Alaska

A front-page story in the New York Times a few days ago was headlined "Leery of Washington, Alaska Feasts on Its Dollars." In it, Michael Powell includes some recent statistics on Alaskan pork--a phenomenon with which the state's residents seem to have a love-hate relationship. Alaska's share of federal spending is 71% higher than the national average, up from 38% above the national average in 1996. Powell acknowledges that "[s]ome of this owes to the expense of serving Alaska’s rural reaches." He continues, however, that "much is bred in the bone. The federal government carved this young state out of the northern wilderness, and officials here learn to manipulate federal budget levers at a tender age." Tony Knowles, a Democrat who became governor of the state in 1994, is depicted as "understand[ing] the frustration that comes with bumping into federal officials at each turn. But the trade-off is not so terrible, he notes, such as having the feds pay to put broadband in Alaskan villages."

Prof. Scott Goldsmith of the University of Alaska picks up on another rural theme: the extraction based economy. He is quoted:

Californians wait for a new entrepreneurial wave to lift them. For us, the traditional extraction economy still rules. ... [H]istorically, we take whatever largess comes our way. A federal dollar is a good dollar.
The story also includes a chart showing which states are benefiting most, on a per capita basis, from stimulus spending. In light of the challenge sparsely populated states experience in achieving economies of scale to provide services, it isn't all that surprising that many at the top of the list are rural: South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, North Dakota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho ... But that is per capita spending. Keep in mind that, in sheer dollars, what these states get in comparison to their more metropolitan counterparts is the proverbial drop in the bucket.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More on rural whites and elite college admissions

Last month, I blogged here about Ross Douthat's column, "The Roots of White Anxiety," in which he reported on what he saw as bias in elite college admissions against those from Republican/red states, as well as rural kids who may or may not be from those states. Wanting to know more about the Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford book upon which Douthat based his column, I ordered No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admissions and Campus Life. Before it arrived, however, this response from Thomas Espenshade appeared in the New York Times. Espenshade responds to Douthat's assertion that rural, Republican and/or red state applicants are disadvantaged when they apply to elite colleges. He explains:
We find that applicants who demonstrate a strong commitment to career-oriented extracurricular activities while in high school have a slightly lower chance of being admitted to a top school. This outcome affects only students who have won awards or assumed leadership positions in these activities, not those known for their extensive involvement. These extracurriculars might include 4-H clubs or Future Fa[r]mers of America, as Douthat mentions, but they could also include junior ROTC, co-op work programs, and many other types of career-oriented endeavors. Participating in these activities does not necessarily mean that applicants come from rural backgrounds. The weak negative association with admission chances could just as well suggest that these students are somewhat ambivalent about their academic futures.
So Espenshade disputes that rural kids are disadvantaged, attributing any bias to an apparent career-orientation among those who participate in activities like FFA and junior ROTC.

What Espenshade and elite college admissions officers appear not to know is that many rural schools don't have extracurricular activities other than FFA, 4-H, junior ROTC and similar activities that they characterize as "career oriented." At least this was the case at my high school in rural Arkansas. Well, we also had chapters of Future Homemakers of America and Future Business Leaders of America, but leadership in the former certainly doesn't sound academic, and the latter involved learning to type and take short-hand--not invest a stock portfolio--so I don't think that would do the trick either. This leaves me wondering--if being a leader and winning awards in these organizations makes students seem less desirable rather than more so, what are rural students with only these opportunities supposed to do if they aspire to attend such a college?

Similarly depressing is the fact that working part-time was off putting to elite college admissions officers. Yet again, this is just the sort of thing that rural and/or working-class students are likely to do. Their families may not have the luxury to encourage them to focus on academic pursuits such as advanced placement classes--which may not be available at their schools in any event.

Espenshade goes on to assert that "Red state" applicants are arguably at an advantage in the application process, noting that students from Utah are 45 times more likely to be admitted to an elite college than similarly situated applicants from California; applicants from Montana or West Virginia are 25 times more likely to be admitted and those from Alabama 10 times more likely. He continues: "On the other hand, coming from such “Blue” states as Virginia or Colorado lowers the odds of admission." Funny, I thought Virginia and Colorado were swing/purple states, but never mind.

To this, Douthat responds:
There are upscale Bobo enclaves even in states that we think of as rural and “red,” and it’s perfectly possible for an elite school to boost its geographic diversity by admitting Alabamans who attended Indian Springs School or Kansans who went to Pembroke Hill (both of which showed up on Worth Magazine’s list of the top 100 feeder schools for elite university), without actually gaining anything much in the way of socioeconomic diversity along the way.
I agree with Douthat that admitting students from Alabama and Kansas--and even Montana and West Virginia and Utah--is not tantamount to admitting rural students, and it guarantees neither socioeconomic diversity nor true geographic diversity. While these states are perceived as rural in our popular consciousness--and while rural culture may persist to some degree even in urban parts of these states--those being admitted from these states are likely economically privileged and from metropolitan areas, especially if they are white. (One of the overall headlines from the Espenshade-Radford study is that elite colleges tend to opt for a two-for-one model to achieve diversity. That is, to the extent they seek socioeconomic diversity, they do so with students of color who are seen as bringing diversity on two fronts; socioeconomically disadvantaged white students tend to be lose out in this process).

All this makes it seem that elite college admissions offices don't see and value rural students--especially rural white students--for who they are, the diversity they represent, and the leadership and promise they have exhibited.

Wind versus coal in West Virginia

Tom Zeller, Jr., reported in the New York Times last week-end from Rock Creek, West Virginia, on a struggle there between Massey Energy Company, which wants to engage in mountain top removal mining, and a group of residents and clean energy advocates who want to establish a wind farm atop the mountain. Here's an excerpt:
[Coal River] mountain, which is privately owned and leased to coal interests, is also one of the last intact mountaintops in a region whose contours have otherwise been irreversibly altered by extreme surface-mining techniques. Preserving its peaks for a wind farm, plan advocates say, could provide needed job diversification for impoverished towns that otherwise live or die by the fortunes of coal.

* * *

While the odds remain slim that wind power will replace coal mining here, proponents say that changes in state and federal mining regulations could tilt things in their favor.
The story features a great deal of data about the significance of coal to the West Virginia economy, particularly in southwestern part of the state. Rock Creek is in western Raleigh County, population 79,024.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Telemedicine gets a boost in California

The new UC Davis telemedecine program launched yesterday has been all over the national and California media for the past few days. Here's the lede from NPR's story of August 17, 2010:
Millions of Americans who live in rural areas travel long distances to get health care. Or they may go without it. But high-speed Internet connections now make it possible to bring a doctor's expertise to patients in far-off places, if those places are connected.

As part of its National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission has pledged $400 milliion a year to connect nearly 12,000 rural health care providers.
Links to other stories about the program are here and here. The UC Davis Telehealth webpage is here.

Read other posts about telemedicine and rural broadband here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A hint of change in factory farming

Read Erik Eckholm's report "Farmers Lean to Truce on Animals' Close Quarters" in the New York Times here. The dateline is West Mansfield, Ohio, population 700. An excerpt follows:

A recent agreement between farmers and animal rights activists here is a rare compromise in the bitter and growing debate over large-scale, intensive methods of producing eggs and meat, and may well push farmers in other states to give ground, experts say. The rising consumer preference for more “natural” and local products and concerns about pollution and antibiotic use in giant livestock operations are also driving change.

The surprise truce in Ohio follows stronger limits imposed by California voters in 2008; there, extreme caging methods will be banned altogether by 2015.
Eckholm's report notes that California passed a law this year to ban the import of eggs produced in crowded cages. Michigan, Florida and Arizona have passed less sweeping restrictions on such eggs.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXV): The law limits what you can do with an old jail

The August 4, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times tells of a quandary for the county judge, the county's chief administrator. He had decided to put that century-old, historic jail (read more here) up for sale with a local real estate company with an asking price of $90,000. The judge then decided to check in with the state's legal authorities, who informed him that because it is a public building, it will have to be sold by auction. Further, the county must accept the highest bid or three-fourths of the property's appraised value. Because the building has been appraised at just $30,000, the county judge and quorum court decided not to put building out for bids. They are unwilling to accept just $22,500 for the property. Meanwhile, another professional appraisal would cost about $3,000. The Justices of the Peace--members of the elected quorum court--agreed: "Let it sit there. It's still an asset."

Other news involves mostly outdoor thrills and spills associated with the county's status as an ecotourism destination. These include news of a man injured in a fall from a bluff and another who drowned in the Buffalo National River in neighboring Searcy County. A third reports the opening of a zip line near the Buffalo National River at Ponca.

Monday, August 9, 2010

More or different food assistance for India's rural poor?

The front-page headline in today's New York Times is, "India Asks, Should Food Be a Right?" William Yardley reports from Jhabua, India, with devastating tales of child malnutrition. The political story is that India's Congress Party--known for keeping an eye on and responding to the woes of the rural poor--is considering changing how it delivers food aid, in part because so much of it now leaks to the less poor. Yardley reports, "[s]tudies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion [food aid] budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs." Yardley puts the political situation in context: "Sonia Gandhi, is pushing to create a constitutional right to food and expand the existing entitlement so that every Indian family would qualify for a monthly 77-pound bag of grain, sugar and kerosene. Such entitlements have helped the Congress Party win votes, especially in rural areas."

Increasingly, it seems, poor is synonymous with "rural" In India--at least as reflected in New York Times reporting. Read earlier posts here and here. And, the Congress Party does seem to be paying attention to them. I thought this comment by Yardley was especially interesting regarding the rural-urban gap in India:
India’s ability, or inability, in coming decades to improve the lives of the poor will very likely determine if it becomes a global economic power, and a regional rival to China, or if it continues to be compared with Africa in poverty surveys.

Friday, August 6, 2010

(Still) Seeking more pervasive broadband

Read this editorial in today's New York Times, "The Broadband Gap." Although the Federal Communications Commission concluded two years ago that 99% of American households have access to broadband, a report released by the Commission last month indicates that between 5 and 8% of Americans are still without broadband in their homes. The report further suggests that the market is "unlikely to serve these relatively unprofitable households," which are mostly in "poorer rural areas."

The FCC's planned response is to change "rules to redeploy the Universal Service Fund, created to bring telephone to hard-to-reach places. And it proposes to reallocate telecommunications spectrum from broadcast TV to mobile broadband service."

The NYT thus calls on the House and Senate to "pass without delay bills that would allow the F.C.C. to auction spectrum to telecommunications carriers and use the proceeds to compensate broadcasters."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXIV): Restaurant owner pleads guilty to illegal immigrant charges

A front-page story in the July 28, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times features that headline and reports that a Mountain Home man, Sen Chen, 46, pleased guilty to "harboring/concealing aliens" in U.S. District Court in Harrison. The story indicates that the guilty plea stems from Chen's "employment, housing and transportation of illegal aliens as a source of labor for Chen's Gardens Restaurant." The plea was based on the arrest of ten "illegal aliens, eight of whom were Chinese nationals, and two Mexican nationals, traveling to and from work in a van owned by Chen." The aliens were "hired through an employment agency based in Chicago." In connection with the plea, Chen also "pleaded guilty to a criminal forfeiture action agreeing to the forfeiture of property to the United States valued at approximately $100,000, a residence valued at approximately $115,000, and a 2007 Ford passenger van. ... The properties were used in the commission of concealing or harboring illegal aliens." That seems like a steep forfeiture given that Chen's maximum possible punishment is 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The really unusual thing about this story is that it appears in the Newton County Times at all. After all, the events occurred in Baxter County, population 38,386, which is two counties away. Typically, only the most truly local (Newton County) of news makes it into the weekly Times, which is typically just eight pages long. I expect that the paper's editors could hardly resist running a story that is so sensational, at least by Newton County standards.

In other news:
  • The Jasper City Hall is getting $15,000 in the form of a USDA Rural Development Grant to help install new windows and doors at the City Hall Building and convert a storage garage used by the fire department into a conference room.
  • Heat illness struck two Youth Conservation Corp Workers in the Buffalo National River area.
  • Local resident Ewell Henderson turns 100!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More wind farm woes, this time in rural Oregon

William Yardley reports in Sunday's New York Times under the headline, Turbines Too Loud? Here, Take $5,000. The story reports just what the headline suggests: energy companies paying hush money to residents living near wind farms in order to get their agreement not to complain--even when the wind farms violate the state ordinance regarding noise. That ordinance "allows for noise to exceed what is considered an area’s ambient noise level by only a certain amount." Not surprisingly, such ambient noise levels are a bit hard to pin down.

The dateline for the story is Ione, population 321, in the state's high desert and amidst one of the nation's fastest growing wind-power regions. Here's an excerpt from Yardley's story that sets the stage:
Even out here — where the recession has steepened the steady decline of the rural economy, where people have long supported the massive dams that harness the Columbia River for hydroelectric power, where Oregon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives to cultivate alternative energy — pockets of resistance are rising with the windmills on the river banks.

Residents in small towns are fighting proposed projects, raising concerns about threats to birds and big game, as well as about the way the giant towers and their blinking lights spoil some of the West’s most alluring views.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rural California county faces loss of hospital

The California Report ran this terrific feature last week about the looming closure of the the county hospital in Modoc County, population 9,449, in the northeastern corner of the state. Like many local governments, the county is broke and can no longer subsidize the hospital in Alturas, population 2,892. But in spite of their conservative, pioneer roots, many residents are favoring a parcel tax to raise funds in support of the hospital. If it closes, residents of this sparsely populated county (2.4 persons per square mile) on the Oregon state line will have to travel even farther to get medical care.