Thursday, September 30, 2010

One more example of our focus on the urban ...

to the exclusion of the rural.

"Waiting for Superman" has been getting lots of media attention. Here's an excerpt from Gail Collins' column:
So kudos to the new documentary “Waiting for Superman” for ratcheting up the interest level. It follows the fortunes of five achingly adorable children and their hopeful, dedicated, worried parents in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., as they try to gain entrance to high-performing charter schools. Not everybody gets in, and by the time you leave the theater you are so sad and angry you just want to find something to burn down.
Did you get that? Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC? nary a nonmetropolitan place in the lot. Indeed, these are all places that are a 1 on the Rural-Urban Continuum that runs from 1 to 9. That's because, at least as far as I know, rural students have no options. It's the local school or the highway--well, or home schooling. Rural students don't have the option of even a miserable lottery if their local schools are performing poorly on all the "metrics."

And here is a link to an NPR story last week. There are others on NPR, where Guggenheim's film has gotten a lot of attention. See more here and here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hunting as heritage

The vitality of hunting culture has occasionally been a topic on this blog in the past (see here, here and here), and it's on my mind again today because of this story by Erik Eckholm in the New York Times. Eckholm reports from Hamburg, Pennsylvania, population 4,114, and home to a Cabela's--an outdoor superstore. The story's headline, "Working to Keep a Heritage Relevant," suggests that hunting is part of our nation's heritage--and that it's struggling to survive. Eckholm reports that a 2006 survey found that 12.5 million Americans hunt, down from 17 million in 1975. He attributes this in part to our nation's increasing urbanization--and to teens turning to other activities. Here's an excerpt from the report:
The decline in hunters is a concern for state fish and game agencies, which are financed through licenses and excise taxes on sporting goods, as well as for pro-hunting conservation groups and advocates like the National Rifle Association.

“We’re concerned that in the future we aren’t going to have adequate dollars to manage our wildlife resources,” said John E. Frampton, director of South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “We also want to preserve an important part of our heritage.”

Mr. Frampton serves on a new federal advisory board intended “to help promote and preserve America’s hunting heritage for future generations,” in part by drawing in more youths and women.

Eckholm reports that four states--Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee--will vote this fall on proposals to amend their state constitutions to add a right to hunt and fish. The constitutions of ten states already include this right.

Kirk Johnson's related story, "For Many Youths, Hunting Loses the Battle for Attention," dateline Grand Junction, Colorado, is here. Malcolm Gay contributes this from the Apple Creek Conservation Area, Missouri, "Like Great-Great-Great-(Etc.)-Grandpa Did It." Lee's Summit, Missouri is the dateline for this final piece in the quartet of stories, this one by A.G. Sulzberger.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rural solo practitioner's tale

See this Legal Rebels story about Bruce Cameron, who practices in Mazeppa, Minnesota, population 778. His firm's website is here.

The story echoes a few themes of rural lives. Among them are lack of anonymity, attachment to place, and stasis.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXIX): Impersonation of an officer an especially bad idea in a rural community

The most recent issues of the Newton County Times report relatively little law and order news, save for this front page headline in the Sept. 15, 2010 edition, "Two arrested for impersonating police." It reports that two men from the neighboring city of Harrison were arrested on Sept. 9 for "criminal impersonation of a police officer." The two men, both in their early 20s, stopped an off-duty wildlife officer and his family, who were driving in the officer's personal vehicle. One of the men identified himself as a Newton County deputy, using the deputy's name. The off-duty wildlife officer knew that this man was not the deputy and reported the incident to the Newton County Sheriff. The two Harrison men were soon arrested. One was also charged with public intoxication, the other with DWI.

In other news, a vacancy was declared on the Quorum Court after Justice of the Peace Terry Middleton missed a fourth consecutive regular meeting. The governor has authority to appoint a replacement to the seat. The missing JP was defeated in the May Republican primary to retain his seat.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Conflict in the Rogue River Valley over gold prospectors--and this is 2010

Felicity Barringer reported a few weeks ago in the New York Times under the headline, "Where Dams Once Stood, Prospectors Spur Anger." The dateline is Gold Hill, Oregon, population 1073. Here's the lede:
When four dams on the Rogue River here were scheduled for removal, environmentalists predicted many benefits: more salmon and steelhead swimming upriver to spawn; more gravel carried downriver to replenish the riverbed; more rafters bobbing along 57 miles of newly opened water.

What they did not bargain for was the arrival this summer of a clutch of people, eager to sift through the tons of gravel for flakes of gold once hidden behind the dams.

* * *

Resentment now flows as freely as the river. Environmentalists and some riverside homeowners see the gold dredgers as noisy invaders rearranging the riverbed without care for the insects, fish and people who live in and along the Rogue.

The prospectors use loud suction dredges, and the nuisance they create is amplified because they tend to cluster in an area just downstream from where the dams once stood.

While Gold Hill is tiny, it is in metropolitan Jackson County, population 198,881. Jackson County is in Southern Oregon and includes Medford and Ashland, the home of the Shakespeare festival.

The great egg recall of 2010

See a post from Software Advice here about distribution issues implicated by the recent egg recall. The author invites readers to join in a discussion of the question whether the government should require farmers to trace their produce.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The economic downturn in a one-company town

Public Radio's Marketplace reported earlier this week from Kingsport, Tennessee, population 47,356, as part of its series about "Searching for Hope in the Recession." One aspect of the story is the fact that Eastman chemical company is such a dominant employer in the small city. To illustrate the effects of the economic downturn on Kingsport, Jeremy Hobson's story featured interviews with several townsfolk, from a hairdresser to a minister to a paper mill worker.

The comments by the paper mill worker, Wayne McConnell, were strikingly colorful. Hobson asked McConnell who he "blames for the hurt here, and he starts with Washington":

Wayne McConnell: I'm about to the point that in my book, they need to load all of them in Washington up on a big plane, take 'em over and turn 'em loose in Afghanistan, and leave 'em over there.

But McConnell saves his real anger for Wall Street bankers.

McConnell: Well in my book, they ought to hang 'em. I mean, when you take bailout money and then you pay 'em $2 or $3 million bonus, something ain't right there on that. We're not used to that high-paying job down here though, I don't think.

Mr. McConnell's drawl and colloquialisms are much more striking when listening to the excerpt rather than merely reading a transcript of it. You can listen here. Indeed, McConnell fairly screams "hillbilly." I grew up as a hillbilly among people like Mr. McConnell, and I found myself cringing as I listened to his comments, in part because I knew how other listeners would completely discredit him--not only for the content, but because of his style. This made me wonder about journalist Hobson's decision to use the quote--what he thought he was achieving--since he, too, must have realized that many (most?) listeners would find McConnell offputting, thereby giving them a reason to discount the needs and interests of the entire community.

Indeed, one Marketplace listener who commented on the story identified himself as a native of Kingsport and wrote of McConnell:

It unfortunate that Jeremy had to give airtime to that facepalm-worthy loudmouth at the end.

If a former local feels that way, I wonder what other listeners thought. Or is it possible that class migrants like myself and the former local who commented are harder on the McConnells of the world than complete outsiders?

In any event, McConnell also notes that many working at the paper mill from which he retired are in their 70s, but they are afraid to retire for fear of not being able to get by. I suppose that like many laborers--perhaps especially in the South--they are without pensions or retirement savings, hoping to live off their Social Security. See a recent story here about some challenges associated late retirement for laborers.

Hobson concluded the segment by noting that the per capita income in Kingsport is only about $20,000 a year. (More demographic and economic information is available here). That is, indeed, a far cry not only from what Wall Street bankers make, but also from what more typical members of the professional/managerial class in this country earn. The national per capita income in the U.S. is $27,466, putting Kingsport's at about 73% of the national figure. The contrast between median family income for Kingsport and the nation is $50,076 to $63,211, or 79%.

Kingsport straddles Sullivan and Hawkins counties and is part of the Kingsport TN-Bristol, VA Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cattle rustling in Oregon

Public Radio's Marketplace report, "On the lookout for cattle rustlers," complete with a slideshow, is here. The focus is on Jordan Valley, Oregon, population 239, in the state's southeastern high desert. An excerpt follows:
Across the American West, there are "Wanted" posters tacked up, offering rewards -- up to $60,000. The offense? Cattle rustling in the high desert range. It is a very costly crime that's very old and very much alive. And to fight it, law enforcement is teaming up across the state lines from Washington to Nevada.

* * *

The rangeland here is vast. No fences, just expanses of purple sage.

It's easier than you might think to steal cattle. Herds range for months at a time, over thousands of miles.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXVIII): Retrospective on a cult murder-suicide

A recent edition of the Newton County Times featured a so-called "Blast from the Past," which recounted the story of a bizarre murder-suicide in the county in July, 1982. As it happens, I witnessed part of the scene, which involved two followers of a Newton County cult leader, Emory Lamb, who called himself FOU, hijacking a Continental Trailways Bus and ordering the driver to park it across the Highway 7 bridge in Jasper. The couple who were in their mid-20s, Keith and Kate Haigler, demanded media coverage of their cult and its leader. They also demanded to be killed by police so that they could rise from the dead three days later, thereby proving that their religious leader was the Messiah told of in the Bible's New Testament book of Revelation.

Here's part of the newspaper's excerpt from under the headline, "FOU Followers Hijack Bus, Die in Shooting on Jasper Bridge." The subhead is "FOU Disciples Demand Death to Fulfill Revelations Prophecy."
The first of Haigler's demands was fulfilled about midafternoon when newsman Jim Caldwell of KYTV, channel 3, Springfield, MO., arrived via helicopter to begin negotiations.

Sheriff Ray Watkins who had already been to the door of the bus talking with Haigler, returned with the television newsmen, and upon request of Caldwell, seven hostages were released before the interview began.
Following an interview on the bus, the remaining hostages were released just before 3 pm, more than 2 hours after the bus was first parked on the bridge. Several area residents who knew the Haiglers approached the bus to talk to them, asking them to give up, but none were successful. Haigler then asked to visit with the local press, which he did. The Haiglers "said they were angry at news organizations for not telling their story." The newspaper then reports in great detail what the Haiglers said regarding their mission to die; it also details how they died.
We are the spiritual son and daughter of the long-awaited Messiah who lives within us all. We are going to be back in three and a half days. It has been predicted that we will be killed by the beast of the bottomless pit. We have enough faith to know what we are doing.
The couple repeatedly referred to Chapter 11 of the Book of Revelation, saying, "we are both going to die. There is nothing impossible with this father."
More than once pleas were sounded over loudspeaker for the couple to lay down their guns. But soon after they left the bus, they knelt and began walking on their knees.

They faced each other, kissed, and began moving on their knees toward the officers.

It was a matter of seconds when the Haiglers raised their guns--and the sharpshooters who had orders to fire at the right shoulders of the two, opened fire.

Both fell on their backs when hit and flinched and rolled momentarily. Mrs. Haigler had fired at least twice toward the officers while a third bullet went astray as she fell. She then raised and fired at her husband, missing as a bullet mark and was later found on the side of the bridge. However, a second shot his his body (not his head or face as some reported) and then she turned the gun on herself to fire the last bullet into her right chest.

Mrs. Haigler was pronounced dead later at the Boone County Hospital, while Mr. Haigler died at the scene.

Although the two hoped to be killed by police sharpshooters, they ultimately both died from bullets fired by Kate Haigler.
As these events transpired, the Sheriff's Department contacted Emory Lamb, "Father FOU," but Lamb refused to come to the bridge, "less than two miles from his home." Lamb was quoted in a later interview with the AP as saying "I thought for a minute and I thought I'd rather not go, because it is a police situation and I thought they would be better able to handle it." He said he knew the Haiglers well and didn't think he "could have changed the situation." In the run up to these events, the Haiglers had been living in and around Jasper for about four years, at the Emory Lamb home.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Missouri public defender system in crisis

Monica Davey reports in today's New York Times, dateline Ozark, Missouri, population 9,665, "Budget Woes Hit Defense Lawyers for the Indigent." Davey points out, public defenders in various jurisdictions have sued their state and local governments over the size of caseloads, sometimes refusing to take new cases. Her focus, however, is on Missouri, and the case of Jared Blacksher. She writes"

Last week, Jared Blacksher found his case sent to the Missouri Supreme Court — not over the accusations that he had stolen prescription pain pills and a blank check, but over the issue of whether the state’s public defender system is in such dismal shape that it ought not be forced to represent him.
The Christian County judge presiding over the case rejected the public defender's request not to be assigned the case, stating: “It flies in the face of our Constitution ... .It flies in the face of our culture. It flies in the face of the reason we came over here 300 and some-odd years ago to get out of debtors’ prison.” But the Missouri Supreme Court disagreed last week, temporarily rescinding the assignment of public defenders to Mr. Blacksher’s case until the state high court can consider legal briefs on the matter.

Ozark is in Christian County, population 72,707, which is part of the Springfield, Missouri Metropolitan area. While Christian County is a smallish, micropolitan county, the crisis there does not appear to be directly related to the place's rurality because Missouri is one of 28 states that funds it public defender system entirely at the state level, rather than at the county level. (For a discussion of the particular problems that rural counties face when they must fund this service at the county level, click here). Nevertheless, the fact that Christian County is part of a three-county district, one of just two districts in the state that began to refuse new indigent clients this summer, could suggest that the state's allocation of resources does not serve less populous counties very well. Now, nine other districts' public defenders are turning away new cases, but Davey reports nothing about the character of these districts or how the state may be allocated resources among districts.

Meanwhile, the prosecuting attorney for Christian County suggests that the public defenders simply aren't working hard enough, and that they should think about working longer hours. The state auditor has announced that she will examine the public defender system to determine if it is, in fact, overburdened.

Rural practice as the answer to legal job woes?

Debra Cassens Weiss reports in today's ABA Journal online under the headline, "Why New Lawyers Should Consider Rural Practice." An excerpt from her story follows:

New lawyers having trouble with their job search may want to consider practice in rural America, where they are more likely to see the inside of a courtroom and less likely to be saddled with a big mortgage payment.

She quotes from a post to the Lawyerist blog by Eric Cooperstein, a Minneapolis lawyer, whose conversation with a practitioner a few hours outside the Twin Cities got him thinking about the upsides of rural practice. That practitioner mentions the difficulty firms have finding lawyers willing to live and work in rural places, and she predicted that "about half the lawyers in her quarter of the state were likely to retire in the next 10 years." Cooperstein lists other benefits to small-town practice.

First off, there is plenty of work to do ... . All those farms you pass as you drive that two-lane road into the country? That farmland is worth several thousand dollars an acre in many areas. Those farm families need estate plans, contracts, and business advice ... The folk in small towns sometimes get divorced, commit the occasional DWI, and get in car accidents. They need local lawyers.

Here's a related podcast about lawyers who are fresh out of law school starting solo practices.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Century farms featured on NPR

Noah Adams reported on NPR yesterday under the headline "Century Farms: A Slice of History Threatened." Adams interviewed several families who own so-called Century Farms, those that have been in the same family for 100 years or more. Many of the folks he interviewed are in east Tennessee. In that state, a farm that has been in the same family for 200 years or more is designated a Pioneer Farm.

Some of the families Adams features are in Sullivan County, Tennessee, population 153,210., which is home to Johnson City, population 57,697, and Kingsport, population 47,356. Several farming families talk of their farms in relation to encroaching development, and most also talk of their creative approaches to keeping their farms viable, e.g., going organic, engaging in agritourism.

One of the featured families is headed by Jay and Ann Birdwell of Still Hollow Farm, who turned their farm into an agritourism attraction several years ago. An excerpt from that interview follows:

"We was in the Grade A dairy business just about all my life and I quit milking in '01 and was gonna raise tobacco on a few years and then the tobacco market kindly went to dwindling away, which leaves us with a whole lot of nothing," Jay Birdwell says. "And this was her dream of doing something like this and it's worked right well."

"I saw an article on agri-tourism and that's what spurred it on, but you have to realize my background is costuming and redoing," Ann says. "So I just said this is it; this is what we're going to do."

Ann Birdwell left her college theater department job and started dressing up her farm for weddings, reunions, and kids at $6 each, who come by the busload. The old granary, which dates to 1860, is now an antique store and a gift shop.

The Birdwells have three sons, only one of whom lives nearby. But all their sons have discussed what they'll ultimately do with the farm. The eldest says, "Can't sell it ... I'm sort of like, 'Mom, I'd rather cut off a left arm before I'd sell an ounce of dirt.'"

The matriarch says, "We told our boys, 'You don't inherit something when someone dies as much as you're born to it when you're born.' They inherited this land the minute they were born. They grow that inheritance. But they will have a treasure. Hopefully."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Further declines in rural health care access in northern California

A front-page story in yesterday's Sacramento Bee told of the closure of several rural health clinics in northern California. Here's an excerpt:

DOYLE – Just before the turnoff into this tiny community, near the shuttered Burger Barn, a sign announcing Doyle's existence also hints at its fade toward oblivion. Underneath the name of the local clinic, Doyle Family Practice, someone has added the words: "Temporarily closed."

Last summer, state budget cuts forced the Doyle clinic – along with five other rural health or dental clinics in far Northern California – to close. Since then, the isolated stretch of highway connecting this high desert community in Lassen County to Susanville, 42 miles northwest, and Reno, 46 miles southeast, has become a major obstacle for people in need of health care.

Many of Doyle's residents are elderly or poor, often unable to find a ride to either city and too broke to afford gas to drive themselves.

Doyle is not even a Census Designated Place. Another town featured in the story, Westwood,California, has a population of 1,998. Both communities are in Lassen County, population 33,828.

Another story also published yesterday appeared under the headline, "A few rural clinics are resolved to stay open." It features the Anderson Valley Health Clinic in Mendocino County.

Two of three rural Australian "kingmakers" cast lot with Labor Party

Julia Gillard's Labor Party will be able to form a new government in Australia, as two independent lawmakers have said they will support her, giving her a coalition of 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Read Meraiah Foley's report in the New York Times here. An excerpt from the story follows:

In a dramatic piece of political theater earlier in the day, lawmakers Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor told a room packed with reporters that they would support Ms. Gillard’s government ... .

The announcements by Mr. Windsor and Mr. Oakeshott came after a third independent legislator, Bob Katter, earlier in the day threw his support behind the opposition conservative leader, Tony Abbott.

“This is not a mandate for either party,” Mr. Oakeshott said, saying Ms. Gillard’s center-left coalition will need to work with independent legislators from rural Australia to win passage on proposals.

To achieve this coalition, Gillard promised that the next round of spending on education, health and infrastructure would include $9 billion for rural parts of Australia, and she offered Oakeshott a cabinet seat to "drive spending to rural areas."

Read additional coverage of related events here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part VII): Ecotourism (partially) remakes a remote place

In May of this year, I traveled to the place where I grew up, Newton County, Arkansas, population 8,608 with a goal somewhat different than my usual plan when I visit there, just to see my mom. I wanted to be a tourist in Newton County, to visit some places about which I've heard and read over the years since I left Arkansas in 1989. Where, for example, I wondered, was this place called Hawksbill Crag (formerly Whitaker Point, the name locals still prefer), touted as one of the most photographed places in Arkansas and probably the most photographed in Newton County? I wanted to see this vista about which I had never heard as a kid, but which had since become a tourist attraction. I assumed it was in a part of the county I had never been near--how else could I have missed it growing up?

Turns out that I had driven within a mile or so of Hawksbill Crag many times in my life. Although it is far off any paved road or otherwise "beaten path," the trail head to it begins on Cave Mountain Road not far from the childhood home of one of my long-time school friends. I visited her home on Cave Mountain a few times a year for sleepovers when we were growing up, but I didn't know then that I was passing in close proximity to a scenic wonder. My friend's parents had deep roots on Cave Mountain, but I don't recall them mentioning this beauty spot, about which they surely knew. Of course, as a child, I hardly appreciated the scenic places around me so I likely would not have gone out of my way to visit Hawksbill Crag, had I known of its existence so close by.

So, on Mother's Day 2010, we met my mom at Boxley Church (read more here and here) and set out toward Cave Mountain Road. I knew its intersection was close to where Boxley church sits back from Highway 21, but I didn't recall exactly where. We looked for a sign directing us toward Hawksbill Crag or labeling Cave Mountain Road, sure we'd find one since this is the way to such an important natural attraction--a big ecotourism draw for the county. But the road wasn't marked, and as we drove farther and farther south and southwest on Highway 21 in search of it, we ultimately found ourselves so far southwest in Newton County that we'd crossed into Madison County. We decided to make our way to the other end of Cave Mountain Road and on to Hawksbill Crag from there.

As we passed signs along Hwy. 21 that marked the communities of Pettigrew, Mossville, Fallsville, Swain, Red Star, and others (a map showing some of these communities is here), we looked for a sign marking the other end of Cave Mountain Road. About where we expected to find it, near Red Star, we saw a building that looked like a school. Having driven through what appeared to be Red Star--marked by no commercial establishments, but merely a slightly denser collection of homes alongside the road, we circled back to the apparent school building, which featured solar panels (pictured above). How hip, I thought. The building was labeled "Headwaters," so we realized it was a school about which I had been hearing for years--a "hippie" school run by the community of families who use it.

It was at the Headwaters School (named for its proximity to the headwaters of the Buffalo National River) that we found the "back door" of Cave Mountain Road--a rough clay and gravel affair--and made our way towards Hawksbill Crag. Along the way, we passed what--based on the paper map we were using--must have been the community of Ryker. Like many of the communities through which we passed that day, our GPS unit did not identify it. The only thing comprising Ryker, as far as we could tell, was acres of junk surrounding a little farm house where two men smoked on the front porch. Cows grazed among the junk. I commented that it was about the most unsightly, sprawling collection of junk I'd ever seen, but my mom said it reflected "industry" and reminded me that a number of people in Newton County eke out a living, in part, as junk dealers.

Farther on, we passed a few tidy houses, a few falling down ones, and the childhood homes of my friend, where I'd spent many a night in the 1970s. Farther along still, we came to the trailhead for Hawksbill Crag--really barely a wide spot in the road that accommodated half a dozen cars. A few other vehicles were pulled over alongside the road.

We made the couple miles round trip hike down to the Crag and took the photo shown above. We saw the area that local nature photographer Tim Ernst calls Cloudcroft, and we met a family who recently moved to Cave Mountain. Their son planned to attend Headwaters School which, they explained, meets two days a week. They said it supplements the education that home schoolers provide their kids, while also providing a social outlet. The family told us that the school is left open all the time--that we could have gone in and looked around.

After our hike, we descended Cave Mountain to Boxley Valley--the road's intersection with Hwy 21 finally revealed to us! Along the way, we passed a few more well-kept farm houses and the Cave Mountain Church and Cemetery. We could see the amazing physical geography of the place: acres of virgin forest, beautiful mountain top pastures, and steep drop offs from both sides of the ridge. I was also reminded of my many childhood trips up and down the mountain, in the beat-up old station wagon of my school friend's mother. The school district paid her to transport the Cave Mountain kids up and down the mountain each day, meeting the school bus below in Boxley Valley. I remembered the great adventure of just getting up and down the mountain when rains turned its clay roads treacherously slippery, even as my friend's mother drove them fearlessly.

And so it was that I saw Cave Mountain from an entirely different vantage point--that of a tourist seeking Hawksbill Crag--more than three decades since my last visit as a child.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXVII): Middleton sentenced for role in plot to kidnap sheriff's son

The August 25 and Sept. 1 issues of the Newton County Times offer relatively little law and order news, beyond a front-page story about the sentencing of David Middleton, 54, to 60 years in prison. Middleton pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his role in "an apparent plot to kidnap" the Sheriff's son. Middleton was sentenced to this time in state prison "in conjunction with the federal time he is now serving in drug cases." Read earlier related posts here and here.

The August 25 paper also reports on other criminal cases recently adjudicated. These include one against a 53-year-old man for possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, a Class Y felony, and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a Class B felony. The state has now dropped charges against the man because charges against the man for the same offense is proceeding in federal court.

In another matter, a 25-year-old man was charged with manufacturing marijuana and intent to deliver it. In July, he entered a guilty plea to these charges, which stemmed from an incident in Oct. 2009.

A 53-year-old man was given a suspended sentence on drug charges pending completion of the district court's drug program. He allegedly violated various drug court rules.

Christopher Waits, the 31-year-old son in law of David Middleton, was charged in July 2009 with criminal attempt to manufacture methamphetamine. These charges arose from a May 2009 incident when a search warrant was served at the David Middleton home, where Waits was present. Following a guilty plea, Waits was sentenced to three years in state prison. He was credited with 287 days fail time already served and sentenced $500 and ordered to pay court costs and fees.

Finally, a 52-year-old man who was charged in May 2009 with aggravated assault and resisting arrest when he "got a Browning .22 caliber rifle and held it in a ready position with his hand next to the trigger behind the front door" when law enforcement officers were serving him with a warrant for failure to appear. The man pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six years in the Arkansas Dept. of Corrections, which is being served concurrently with sentenced handed down in neighboring Madison County. He was credited with 442 days of jail time.

In other news:
  • Western Grove classrooms near completion. Western Grove is one of four schools in the county
  • Newton County under ban burn. This is due to a high danger of wildfire because of hot and dry weather conditions.
  • Area soldier killed in Afghanistan. This the second soldier from neighboring Boone County to be killed in service in the past six months.
  • Mt. Judea school offers welding certification.
  • $124,000 loan for Jasper sewer plant. The loan, from the USDA, will be used to rehabilitate the Jasper waste water treatment plant.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor contractors charged with trafficking Thai farm workers

A federal grand jury in Hawaii has indicted six labor contractors in what Justice Department officials are calling the federal government's biggest human trafficking case. The matter involves 400 Thai agricultural workers. Here's an excerpt from the New York Times story:

The charges, prepared by Justice Department civil rights lawyers, were brought against the president, three executives and two Thai labor contractors from Global Horizons Manpower, which recruits foreign farm workers for the federal agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A.

The indictment, which was unsealed Thursday in Hawaii, accuses Global Horizons executives of working to “obtain cheap, compliant labor” from guest workers who had been forced into debt in Thailand to pay fees to local recruiters. The company, according to the indictment, sought to “to compel the workers’ labor and service through threats to have them arrested, deported or sent back to Thailand, knowing the workers could not pay off their debts if sent home.”

According to the story, Global Horizons charged each worker as much as $21,000 to obtain the H-2A work visa, although these workers earned as little as $1000/year as farmers in their native Thailand. The indictment alleges that once the workers were in the United State--working in pineapple plantations in Hawaii or in orchards in Washington--their passports were confiscated by the contractors, who paid wages lower than the workers had been promised and kept housed the workers in shoddy conditions.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sex abuse case in Missouri Amish community

A New York Times story, dateline Curryville, Missouri, population 251, appeared yesterday under the headline, "A Crisis in Amish Country." It reports that Chester Mast, a 26-year-old Amish man who is married and the father of two children, is accused in two sexual assault cases. Investigators also believe he sexually abused other girls ranging in age between 5 and 15. The Amish community have excommunicated Mast (most recently, this year, for the third time), and they have also now turned the matter over to local authorities. An excerpt from Malcolm Gay's story follows:
The criminal charges, a rarity for a religious congregation that often resolves its disputes internally, offer an unusual glimpse into an Amish community in crisis. They have also laid bare the fault lines that divide this insular society that resides some 95 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Sgt. Sean Flynn of the Pike County Sheriff's Department is quoted:

There is no gray area — people are either 100 percent for Chester, or they are 100 percent against him. ... Some people are holding it against some of the victims and their families for what they’ve done to Chester; some people think it should have happened a lot sooner. There’s really no middle ground. ... There is still the thought that there are other victims out there.

Pike County's population is 18,351.

One interesting legal aspect of the matter is the conflict between Mast's court-appointed public defender and the Amish community, who wish to be in contact with him, even as he is being held in jail on a $100,000 bond and awaiting a December trial. Mast's lawyer, Lisa Morrow, banned the elders from visiting her client after she learned they were "sharing important information about the case." Morrow is quoted: “The legal system doesn’t care about your religious beliefs. When it comes to time in prison, I have to look out for my client.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New blogs about rural education

The Rural School and Community Trust recently highlighted this new blog in their newsletter. It is one of Education Week's blogs. Recent posts include:
  • Alaska Targets Truancy to Boost Rural School Performance
  • ED Rural Official Touts Local Talent, Partnerships
  • Researcher: Rural Schools Lose Race to the Top
  • Broadband Money Flows to Connect Rural Schools
It' s quite an active blog with nearly daily, high-quality posts.

Also, don't miss the Rural School and Community Trust's Formula Fairness Campaign blog here.