Monday, December 31, 2012

Linking rural development to immigration opportunities

That link is highlighted in this story from today's New York  Times, "Lure of Green Cards Brings Big Investments for Remote Resort in Vermont."  The dateline is Jay Peak, Vermont, (population 426), and the lede for Katharine Q Seelye's story follows:
At this remote outpost by the Canadian border, Bill Stenger is overseeing what he says is the biggest economic development project that Vermont has ever seen. 
* * *  
But even more unusual than the size of the undertaking is the method by which Mr. Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, are financing it. They have tapped into a federal program that gives green cards, or permanent residency, to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in an American business — the reward for the investment is a chance at United States citizenship.
This huge $865 million development includes an expansion of the Jay Peak ski resort, a runway extension at the local airport, rehabilitation of nearby Newport, including rebuilding an entire block of downtown, a waterfront development, the city's first hotel and conference center, a massive indoor mountain-biking park, and a state-of-the art tennis facility.  Other Stenger enterprises in this corner of Vermont include building a biomedical research firm and a window manufacturing plant.  Stenger says that, together, these will directly or indirectly create 10,000 jobs.  

Beyond the use of the word "remote" in the headline and opening sentence, the early part of Seelye's story does not mention the rural location of this undertaking.  Rather, Seelye focuses on the types of folks who are investing in the mammoth development:  the 550 foreign investors who have put up a total of $275 million for the project's first phase.  As the excerpt above suggests, Stenger and Quiro have tapped into a immigration program that dates to 1990, but which was little used until a few years ago.  The U.S. government issued only 802 of the visas, called EB-5s, in 2006, but in 2012 it granted 7,818.  Seelye suggests that the the program is likely to reach its annual limit of 10,000 within the next few years.  One significant reason for this relatively recent revival of the program is the struggle for financing that developers face in the current economic climate.  

Halfway through the story, Seelye comes back to the "remote" mention in her headline, tying it to the immigration program:  
Investors must put up $1 million for a visa, but if they invest in a rural area or one with high unemployment, that is reduced to $500,000.
Jay and neighboring Newport, the seat of Orleans County, seem clearly to qualify as rural, though Seelye does not specify the statutory definition of "rural" for purposes of the immigration law.  Newport's population is 5,005, and that of Orleans County is about 27,000.  The poverty rate is 16%.  The county issued 105 building permits in 2011, no doubt reflecting the Stenger/Quiros enterprise.

Seelye explains that in this part of Vermont, often called the Northeast Kingdom, many long-time residents are concerned about the growth Stenger and Quiros are bringing--and the likelihood of rural gentrification.  The $500,000 from a single investor is more than the annual budget for the town of Newport, and some long-time, local businesses are being displaced by the development.  But, the publisher of a local newspaper notes that Stenger has been in the area many years and has a long-term commitment to the community.  Still many remain skeptical that even gezillions of dollars of (foreign) investment can overcome the drawback of the remote location and make the development sustainable.

The comments on Seelye's article take up many of the pros and cons of this program, in relation to other immigration law issues, socioeconomic status, and so forth.  As for me, I'm struck by the reminder that--at least back in 1990--the federal government cared enough about rural development to create (enhanced) incentives like this program to foster it.  I also agree with many of those who commented on the NYTimes article, though, that $500,000 is too little "skin in the game" to earn a green card.

NB  This article was the most emailed on for much of Dec. 31, the day on which it was published.  I suspect the wide-spread interest in the article has little to do with rural America and a lot to do with interest in immigration policy.

Charlotte Albright reported on this story for National Public Radio on January 2, 2013. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The latest travail of a small Southern town: No one wants to be mayor

Read Robbie Brown's NY Times story about Little Mountain, South Carolina, population 255, where no one wants to be mayor.  No one ran for election in November, and even the top write-in candidates have turned down the job.  The job pays just $100/month but carries responsibility for various state and federal grants and a $90K budget.  

Here's an excerpt from the story:
It is not unheard-of for offices to go unfilled in small electorates. In Mount Sterling, Iowa, after none of the 44 residents ran for City Council or mayor last year, the 105-year-old city disbanded. In Lynchburg, S.C., in 2010, a write-in candidate for mayor was reluctantly sworn in. 
But leaders of the Municipal Association of South Carolina could not recall when even write-in candidates had turned down the job.
The association's deputy executive director attributed the problem partly to rural brain drain:
It's the first time we've ever seen this.  A generation of politicians is retiring in many of these small towns.  Young people are going off to college and not coming back to take their place. 

(Rural) Moderation of Washington state's political scene

Kirk Johnson reports in the New York Times today on a new coalition of lawmakers in Washington state--a centrist coalition that includes both Democrats and Republicans.  Johnson writes:
From the governor-elect on down, through both chambers of the Legislature, a tincture of blue political monoculture drifts through Washington State politics like mist through the pines. 
Or is the Democrat-led consensus an illusion, a distortion of liberal Seattle, Washington’s urban center and the heartland of the Pacific Northwest left? Two Democrats in the State Senate, in bolting from the party’s ranks this month to join with Republicans in creating a new majority coalition, say yes. 
True representation of state residents — republican government with a small “r” — demanded a broader discussion and a larger voice, they said, for marginalized segments of the electorate.
Without expressly saying so, Johnson implies that those marginalized segments are in rural Washington.    He notes that Jay Inslee, a former Democratic congressman who will become governor next month, won majorities in just eight liberal counties, while losing the other 31.  The new coalition, which controls the legislature with 25 seats--including two who abandoned the previously 26-strong Democratic majority--aims to do a better job of representing them and moving away from what one of the coalition Democrats calls "Seattle-centric" lawmaking.  That Democrat is veteran lawmaker, Senator Tim Sheldon, from a district west of Olympia, who will be President pro-tem of the state Senate come January.   The other Democrat who has joined the coalition will become majority leader.  

Johnson otherwise sums up the forces that alienated the likes of Sheldon, and which presumably marginalize rural forces in Washington state politics:
[S]afe seats in Seattle, campaign money raised in safe seats but spread around, and a caucus that rewards and reinforces the safe-seat equation with powerful leadership posts.
That the Republicans have held onto power in this way reminds me of this post from about 18 months ago, about the persistent strength of rural lawmakers in state houses.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oil fields attract young laborers in eastern Montana

Jack Healy's story in today's New York Times suggests that a generation of young men in eastern Montana may be choosing work in the oil fields over college as the extraction/resource boom continues in the northern plains.  The dateline for the story is Sidney, Montana, population 5,191. Sidney is county seat of tiny Richland County, which has a population of just over 10,000, but up nearly 4% between April 2010 and April 2011.  The county's poverty rate is just 12.6%.

Healy writes:
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
Healy quotes several of the young men--and women--who are taking advantage of the resource boom while they can.  One is 19-year-old Tegan Sivertson, who works long days monitoring pipelines for a gas company.  He drives up to three hours each way to the remote rigs: 
I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could.  I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.
Healy also quotes a young woman, Katorina Pippenger, still in high school in Bainville, Montana, population 208.  Bainville is in Roosevelt County, just north of Richland County, and Pippenger drives across the state line to nearby Williston, North Dakota, where she earns $24/hour as a cashier.  (Read more about the boom in Williston and environs herehere, and here).  Pippenger's goal is to save enough money over the next few years to move to Denver.  "I just want to make money and get out," she said.  Though contiguous to booming Richland County, Roosevelt County has apparently not shared much of the wealth.  Its poverty rate is currently 24.4%, but the county's economic metrics are skewed by the fact that it has a majority American Indian population.  (An earlier post about Roosevelt County is here).

Indeed, Healy notes that this "trend" toward work over college is quite localized, not having spread to other regions of Montana.  However, employment opportunities in places like eastern Montana and North Dakota are attracting the labor of not only local, young Montanans, but also people from across the country.  Healy writes that" schools in places like Sidney are buckling, as enrollment rose about 20% (that is 140 students) in just three years.  As across the state line in North Dakota, Sidney's school district is struggling to hire teachers who can get by on an annual salary of just over $30K, even as apartments can rent for as much as $1500/month.  

Indeed, what Healy reports regarding young people eschewing education may not really qualify as a trend--even in booming Sidney and Richland County.  The percentage of those over the age of 25 with a bachelor's degree or higher was less than 16% for the period 2007-2011, well below the national average of about 30%.  This suggests that high school graduates from Sidney and Richland County have never been much focused on higher education.  Healy himself acknowledges that, even in Sidney, "a majority of graduates are still choosing universities and community colleges."  I would be surprised if, literally, more than half of Sydney's high school graduates pursue college of any sort.  Few places in rural America have ever had a culture that valued higher education, nor a local economy that really valued it. What we see in Sidney, then, is part of a boom and bust cycle in which--at least for a time--the local, blue-collar work on offer pays a living wage.  And that, of course, is increasingly rare anywhere in the United States. 

Here is another post about "good" blue collar jobs back in the rural northwest.  Here is a post about neighboring Dawson County, which the NYT labeled a "place of low consequence."  Here is a post about mining jobs elsewhere in Montana. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Patsy Cline as "white trash"

This story in today's New York Times tells of Winchester, Virginia's slow path to embracing a famous native daughter, Patsy Cline.   The headline for Dan Barry's story is "For Patsy Cline's Hometown, an Embrace that Took Decades."  (The alternate headline is "Years Later, Singer Patsy Cline Celebrated in Hometown").  Virginia Hensley, who became known as Patsy Cline, was born in 1932 in Winchester.  She was the first child of a 16-year-old woman, Hilda, and her 43-year-old blacksmith husband.  Cline's mother eventually moved her three children into a "converted log cabin" on Kent Street in Winchester, "keeping poverty at bay by sewing for the rich." Cline's childhood home--on the other side of the metaphorical tracks--has only recently become a tourist attraction, as folks in Winchester have slowly come to appreciate the tourism opportunity represented by Cline's association with the small city.  

Barry writes of Virginia Hensley's early years:
Young Ginny left school to help pay the rent, working, for example, as a waitress at the Greyhound bus station and as a soda jerk at Gaunt’s Drug Store. She also sang wherever and whenever she could, first in the big-band style of her idol, Jo Stafford, and then in country style, often wearing Western outfits sewn by her mother. 
As a dropout living with a single mother, she did not embody the Winchesterian elite’s ideal of young womanhood. She was considered to be nothing more than a Kent Street girl who did not know her proper place.
These sentiments persisted even after thousands descended on Winchester for Cline's funeral in 1963, just six years into a career that was launched with her 1957 performance of "Walkin After Midnight" on Arthur Godfrey's nationally televised talent show.  Papers outside Winchester gave Cline's death "more empathetic coverage" than the local paper, which had included only a two-sentence notice about her Carnegie Hall appearance.    

By way of explaining the ostracizing of Cline--and even her post-mortem rejection, Barry quotes Douglas Gomery, the author of Patsy Cline: The Making of an Icon
There were two kinds of people that the elites in Winchester didn’t mix with.  Poor white trash and African-Americans. And she was seen as poor white trash.
Winchester's slow embrace of Cline also speaks, it seems, to the lack of anonymity associated with small towns.  Though Winchester is the hub and largest city in the Winchester, VA-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area, Winchester's population is just about 25,000 and the population of Frederick County, for which it is county seat, is less than 80,000.   

For more on the culture of Winchester, Virginia and its class stratification, don't miss Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus, which I have written about here and here.  Like Cline, Bageant was a  native of Winchester.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Parsing the Indian electorate, including rural interest groups

Manu Joseph writes in a column in today's New York Times of the numerous political parties in India.  Joseph says they numbered 364 in the 2009 election, and suggests that new ones are cropping up all the time to represent the interests of quite small groups--groups that share demographic, occupational, and geographical commonalities.  While the rural-urban divide is India is oft acknowledged in Indian politics and economics, as discussed here and here (and it was the basis for my analysis in a law review article here), some of the interest groups of which Joseph writes seem far more niche, pulling together those whose common interests are at a much lower scale.  Joseph gives these examples:
Affluent farmers in the western state of Maharashtra also are represented. So are, even more specifically, sugar-cane farmers. Young people of Maharashtra who think migrants in the state capital, Mumbai, should be thrashed occasionally to keep them in their place have representation in a new political outfit. Their parents who agree vote for an older party.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Re-thinking gun control, and acknowledging the rural link

In the days since the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, our nation seems to have gotten more serious about gun control than I can recall at any other time in my life.

Paul Krugman wrote about the shift in attitudes over the week-end, and I posted this about his column.  In short, Krugman suggested that, just as Presidential candidates no longer need to cultivate the votes of rural whites to get elected, those favoring gun control no longer need let rural whites stand in their way.  There just aren't enough of them to control the outcome of this debate.

Nicholas Kristof also wrote about a new push for gun control, and he, too, referenced the "rural."  
I grew up in a gun culture of rural Oregon, but I just don’t understand why so many people are averse to stricter controls.
Both of these NYT columnists are liberals (Krugman's column is even called "Conscience of a Liberal") so perhaps their stances should not surprise us.  Perhaps their explicit references to the rural, suggesting the alignment of rural people with the NRA and gun rights, are also to be expected.  As I documented extensively here, working class and rural folks are often seen as one in the same, and guns are associated with both.  

A post on the Caucus blog yesterday highlighted U.S. Senator Joe Manchin III's apparent change of position in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.  Manchin, of West Virginia, is an avid hunter with the NRA's seal of approval (an "A" rating), but he indicated on Monday that he supports re-evaluating gun control laws in the coming months.  "Everything should be on the table," Manchin said.

Manchin commented:
I don’t know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. ... I don’t know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.
The Senator drew attention during his 2010 campaign with an ad that showed him firing a rifle at a piece of environmental legislation--and with his considerable efforts to distance himself from President Obama.

A story in today's New York Times features this lede:
Demonstrating rapidly shifting attitudes toward gun control in the aftermath of a massacre in a Connecticut school, many pro-gun Congressional Democrats — including Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader and a longstanding gun rights supporter — signaled an openness Monday to new restrictions on guns.  
It goes on to note Manchin's comments, but the story makes no explicit mention of the fact that that Manchin and Reid are both from states that are popularly thought of as rural.  Interestingly, though, West Virginia is much more rural as indicated by ecological definitions.  Using the U.S. Census Bureau's definition of rural (those living in population clusters of less than 2,500 and in open space), only 8.7% of Nevadans live in rural places while 69.9% of West Virginians do.  If you use 50,000 as the size of population cluster that differentiates between rural and urban, then 23.5% of Nevadans live in rural places, and an overwhelming 94.2% of West Virginians do.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Federal retirements shaking up Alaska's public landscape

Kirk Johnson reports in today's New York Times on the forced retirements of federal agency employees responsible for public lands in the West.  Johnson's focus is Alaska, where "hundreds of millions of acres" of public land--an area the size of Texas and Wyoming combined--are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Here is the lede to Johnson's story:
A quietly profound generational change is about to sweep through federal agencies here in the nation’s biggest and wildest state — but also by many measures, its most government-dependent.  
New rules in the federal retirement system are driving the departures, along with new opportunities for early retirement in the Fish and Wildlife Service.  The retirements mean that each of the three agencies will lose between 7 and 9 percent of its senior managers come Dec. 31.  For the Fish and Wildlife Service, that is some 55 "mostly senior managers, scientists and wildlife experts" out of a 600 strong work force.  Thirty-six of 500 employees of the National Park Service have said they will leave. 

But, explains Johnson, the impact is not just in the numbers; it is also in expertise and relationships. The Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, is losing more than 1000 years of cumulative experience, but its enforcement arm (dealing with illegal animal harvests and protection of endangered species) will see relatively few departures.  Still, protection is likely to be affected because it "comes down to education and personal relationships in villages in remote areas—and those conversations, because of new leadership at the refuges, will change."

Johnson's story also touches on issues like Alaska's history and new opportunities to use technology to manage the land and its flora and fauna.  He writes:
And many of these people were shaped by a perspective formed in a very different time in Alaska and the nation — mostly the 1970s, when the environmental movement was young and bursting with muscular and sometimes hippie-tinged enthusiasm. 
Alaska, back then, was a magnet for wildlife biologists and seekers of a life at the frontier. The bush was “back to the land” at its most extreme — a force fueled by what one retiring refuge supervisor, Mike Boylan, called “the John Denver effect." 
“Everybody coming out of college wanted to go to the woods, into the wild,” Mr. Boylan said. “Alaska was the big one, if you could get up here.” 
* * * 
Environmental groups and agency officials also say the retirement wave is momentous in what happens next: new blood coming in at a time when some elements of the old Alaska — doughty homesteaders, trappers and subsistence hunters — are fading.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

More on the obsolescence of the rural vote

Here's an excerpt from Paul Krugman's latest post on his "Conscience of a Liberal" Blog, "Whistling Past the Gun Lobby."  
Almost five years ago Thomas Schaller published an important book titled Whistling Past Dixie, which basically argued that it was time for Democrats to stop running scared of the views of Southern whites — they weren’t going to get those votes anyway, and demographic change had proceeded to the point where they could win national elections without the South. Indeed, so it has come to pass: while Obama did win Virginia, he did it by appealing to the new Virginia of the DC suburbs, not the rural whites, and otherwise he had a totally non-Dixie victory. 
So Nate Cohn argues that this same logic applies to gun control: the voters who care passionately about their semi-automatic weapons are rural whites who ain’t gonna vote Democratic in any case — and the new Democratic coalition doesn’t need them.
An earlier post about the diminishing importance of the rural vote, with evidence from the 2012 presidential election, is here.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CX): "Public defender comes calling"

That is part of the headline for the lead story in the Newton County Times' Dec 5 issue:  "Quorum Court:  Public defender comes calling."  The story's lede doesn't summarize the story well, but the caption under the photo does:
Tim Bunch, chief public defender for the 14th Judicial District that includes Baxter, Boone, Marion and Newton counties, visited the Newton County Quorum Court Monday night, Dec. 3, and asked the court to establish a public defender's account and refund the accrued surplus into that account.
The accompanying story explains that the state pays the fees of court-appointed attorneys who represent indigent defendants facing criminal charges.  The state raises funds for this purpose through bail bond fees, then forwards that "money to individual counties to budget for public defender services."  Newton County has received just more than $2,000/a year in such payments for each of the last seven fiscal years, from 2005-2006 to 2011-2012.  (Specifically,the county has received between $2,181.44 and $2,376.14 each year).  These funds are "earmarked for the public defender and appropriated ... into the county general operating budget."  

Remarkably, the story reports, "court cases in Newton County requiring the services of public defenders over the past seven years have not exceeded the approximately $16,000 the county received over that time and there should be a surplus of about $8500, according to Bunch."  Bunch therefore asked the Newton County Quorum Court to establish a public defender's account and refund the surplus into that account.  Bunch said that Newton County is the only county in the four-county district that does not have an account set up expressly for public defenders.  
[Bunch] explained the funding process and said the public defender's office needs to have access to that money to purchase new equipment and perhaps hire a part-time secretary.  
The story continues:  
It appears that any money for the public defender that remained in Newton County's general fund at the end of each year was reappropriated for other purposes.    
Money would have to be transferred out of other accounts to refund the surplus a public defender's account would have accrued.   
That would be hard to accomplish with money spread thin while officials are trying to come up with a balanced budget for 2013. 
Bunch said he came into this job about a year ago and discovered there was no instrument in place in Newton County to gain access to the surplus funds.  
He said he wanted the quorum court to be aware of the situation and take the steps to remedy the problem.   
Some JPs said they were not on the court seven years ago and were not made aware of the need to establish a fund for the public defender. 
The JPs legal counsel, deputy prosecutor Brad Brown, actually sided with Bunch agreeing that the money given to the county for public defenders belong entirely to the public defenders and if called upon, state officials would order the county to pay the money back in full.  

I guess these events reflects several issues about local governments in rural locales, especially those without professional leadership and without much knowledge passed down over the years.  It seems self evident that local officials  would not put funds earmarked for indigent defense into the county general fund--that these are special fund monies--but apparently not.  I have written about funding models for public defender services here, and the impact of those funding schemes on rural counties.  

What is most striking to me, however, about this news is its link to the fact that Newton County has just spent a lot of money on a new jail that it has no money to operate.  Read more here.  The county sheriff and county judge have said that the new jail is necessary because the volume of crime is so heavy in the county, and currently many outstanding warrants are not being served because the cost of housing the prisoners elsewhere is too high.  But if the volume of crime in the county is so high, how can it be that the county has spent less than $2K/year on indigent defense.  Bear in mind that this is a persistent poverty county with a poverty rate higher than 20% since as long as data has been kept.  Also bear in mind three high-profile murders that have occurred in the county during this time, each involving intimate partner murder.  Read more here, here and here.  While two of these three cases have ended with plea bargains, getting any murder case to even the plea bargain stage costs at least $2,000 in attorney fees, and none of those defendants seemed to have many assets.

Lawyers in rural Arkansas may work cheap, but they don't work that cheap.  This leads me to wonder if the county is scrimping on providing indigent defense to those for whom it is a constitutional right? 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Recognizing the particular challenges of rural domestic violence

This story by the NPR affiliate in Pittsburgh discusses the particular challenges facing rural victims of domestic violence:  lack of anonymity, lack of services, and spatial isolation that removes them from sources of assistance--both law enforcement or their neighbors.  The reporter, Larkin Page-Jacobs, focuses on micropolitan Indiana County, Pennsylvania, population 89,298, a bit east of Allegheny County and Pittsburgh.  Page-Jacobs uses the narrative of a domestic violence victim, "C," to illustrate these challenges.  
On average, a victim tries to leave her partner seven times. But it is when a victim attempts to separate from a batterer that she is most at risk. It was during one those attempts that C was ambushed by her estranged husband. She was in hiding, living in an apartment she had found with the help of a shelter. It took her husband a single day of walking the roads, one by one, to spot her car and where she was staying. With a gun in his waistband and his hand clamped around her wrist, he drove her to their home in a borough of a few hundred residents in Clearfield County.
* * * 
C said she knew law enforcement might not be able to stop him [from following through on his threats]. Response time can be excruciatingly slow in rural communities: State police are tasked with patrolling more than half of the state’s nearly 2,565 hundred municipalities – most of them in rural areas. With so many miles to cover, it can take emergency services 30 to 45 minutes to reach the scene of a crime. 
“There was no houses around us, and the houses that were in a three mile range were either his family members, or his family members’ friends,” she recalled.  
 * * *
“The night the assault occurred, that’s why he took me there. There’s no one. If you take off running you’ve got farm fields.”

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hunting as classed? classless? classy?

This story by Felicity Barringer in the New York Times last week-end was a revelation for me--a revelation about the complex linkages between class and hunting.

Barringer's story is ostensibly about how the state of Utah doles out hunting licenses and manages wildlife, so I figured I'd write a post for Legal Ruralism about those issues.  As I read the story, however, I was struck by the fact that hunting is not only a working class pursuit--as it has been popularly perceived in recent years.  Remember Bittergate during the 2008 presidential race?  If not, refresh your recollection here and here, and mull the title of Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus:  Dispatches from America's Class Wars.  Indeed, Barringer's story pits those one might think of as "regular Joe hunters" against rich hunters, which means people of all socio-economic strata hunt, albeit with some different motivations, trappings, and prey.  (I don't think those paying big bucks in the Utah auction are after the squirrels Ree shot in Winter's Bone to feed her younger siblings).

Barringer writes:
More than any state in the West, Utah has expanded hunting opportunities for the well-to-do and has begun to diminish them for those seeking permits directly from the state.  
Essentially, "those with means can buy public licenses through private outlets, paying thousands of dollars to move to the head of the line."  While Utah officials acknowledge this, they say their "increasingly free-market model" results in more revenue they can use for conservation.

The Utah system uses two market-oriented means to allocate hunting licenses, while apparently maintaining the standard lottery for inexpensive permits--though fewer of these are available than in the past.  One aspect of the Utah system essentially co-opts ranchers, who formerly complained "bitterly to state officials about elk and other game eating forage meant for cattle." Now, however, Utah entices "ranchers with an allotment of vouchers for lucrative hunting licenses that they can sell for thousands of dollars as part of a private hunt on their land."

Doling out these vouchers for hunting licenses, as Utah has done for the past decade, has created incentives for private land owners--the ranchers--to "nurture big game on their land and not get frustrated with ranching and sell their land to developers."

A smaller and even more controversial aspect of Utah's scheme "allows private nonprofit groups to auction off a few hundred licenses to the highest bidder or run their own drawing in exchange for supporting conservation projects."  Utah's wildlife officials say the schemes are resulting in "more wildlife for all."

Hence the schemes are good for the wildlife census but, as Barringer suggests, not necessarily for "social welfare," which I take to mean relations among the classes.  To illustrate her point, Barringer's story features Todd Huntington, a dentist from central Utah.  Where I come from (the working class, in rural Arkansas), dentists are fat cats--they are among the privileged.  But this dentist is complaining that he can't compete with the rich(er) for the opportunity to hunt.  Though he recently secured a $35 permit to shoot a male deer, he had failed to garner a license in the prior two years' random drawing.  Barringer quotes Huntington:
When I was a teenager, anybody could buy a tag down to the hardware store and away you went. Now you have to have a degree in wildlife-speak to work your way through all the regulations to be able even to apply.
And so I return to the class angle on all of this--specifically, class as both cultural and material.  Of course, I've long been aware of private game reserves and other upmarket and exclusive hunting opportunities for the super-rich in places like Africa and Alaska.  But it's interesting to me that even in places like Utah (whose game I, as a novice, may be under appreciating), hunting has become the province of the more affluent who are able--with the state's help--to price the "little guy" out of what some see as the market for free meat.  All of this is more complicated still, class-wise, when you consider the trend among the Mark Zuckerberg set to kill their own meat.  Read more here, here and here.  And the way Presidential candidates and other politicians have used hunting outings to bolster their street cred among the "everyman set"is yet another lens on who hunts and why.  Read more here and here.

So much for the Deer Hunting with Jesus-type depiction of hunters "having no class." Clearly, some hunters are "classy" (and rich!).

Now that I think about it some more, Barringer's story shouldn't have surprised me after all.  The great outdoors--including wildlife--have become just another place where urbanites' interests trump those of the rural (think the rural prison building boom and toxic waste dumps in rural locales) in ways that often also mean the interests of the wealthy trump the interests of those who have less money and power.  Wildlife now represents another "product" that urbanites and the wealthy (e.g., George W. Bush, John Kerry, Mark Zuckerberg) consume, leaving scraps for the rural and working class.    

Read earlier posts about hunting trends here, here and here.  Here's one called "Privatizing bison," which raises some of the same access and public-private issues as Barringer's Utah story, but in the context of Montana and Yellowstone National Park.

Cross-posted to ClassCrits

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Rural" in the movies a fiscal boon to a Georgia town

The headline for Robbie Brown's NYT story of a few days ago was "A Georgia Main Street Paved in Red Carpet," and the dateline is Senoia, Georgia, population 1738.

Brown writes of Senoia:
This is the quaint, small town that plays a quaint, small town on television and in the movies. Hollywood filmmakers come here when they need a Mayberry backdrop or a row of mom-and-pop storefronts. 
Senoia has been the site of movies such as "The Walking Dead" and "Drop Dead Diva" (which I admit to never having heard of!), "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Footloose."  It also provided the visual setting for Southern classics like "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Driving Miss Daisy," which means Hollywood found the place several decades ago.  Senoia is just 25 miles from Atlanta, but a century away in appearance.

This has been good for the town in many ways, "with film crews bringing in money and publicity," permitting the town to "avoid[ ] the empty downtowns and shrinking tax bases that plague many rural towns. ... Property tax revenues have risen even though the city has lowered its tax rate."  Scott Tigchelaar, the president of Raleigh Studios Atlanta, a division of an international production company, is quoted:
Its been like turning on a fire hose of cash.
I hope Tigchelaar means this cash has been a boon for the town, and not only for his production company.  Brown reports that revenue brought into Georgia through filming soared to $879 million, up from $260 million in 2008.  Senoia doesn't charge filmmakers to use the locale, but counts on raising revenue through increased sales when film crews are in town.

Brown reports that Senoia's population has nearly doubled since 2000. While the town had only seven stores on mainstreet in 2006, it now has 49. But a lot of the property is now owned by outsiders like Tigchelaar, and others with big bucks to invest, including country music star Zac Brown. Journalist Brown calls the result "a Normal Rockwell setting for the newly rich." And Senoia, whose motto is "The Perfect Setting. For Life.," is trying to attract "empty-nesters from Atlanta and its wealthy suburbs" who seek the "simplicity of small-town living, with a Hollywood twist."

These changes have not pleased all residents.  Wayne Peavey, who owns an antique store, calls Senoia's growth " a double-edged sword," continuing: 
It’s good for business. But it’s not the small town I moved to.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Never mind swing states, let's talk swing counties

The New York Times reports today with a focus on the 94 counties that were truly in play in the 2012 Presidential election.  These are the counties within the eight swing states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004 but went to Barack Obama in 2008.  Of these 94 counties, Obama won 48 in the Nov. 2012 Presidential election, while Romney won the remaining 46.

Romney's showing was insufficient for two reasons.  One is that Obama won many of these counties by significant margins in 2008, and Romney had to do much better than he did in 2012.  The other is that "many of the counties that the Republican nominee carried were smaller, often rural, outlets in Wisconsin and Iowa. Actually 80 percent of the swing counties that Romney won this time were in those two states and made only a small dent in Obama’s clear winning margin in both states."

So, I see two messages:  (1) Romney is more attractive than Obama to rural voters, which is hardly news at this point, and (2) rural voters--simply because they are less numerous--hardly make a dent in the swing states.  Even though some of those swing states are popularly though of as rural, e.g., Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, metropolitan voters still greatly outnumber nonmetropolitan voters in those states.

More detail from the author of the column, Albert Hunt, is here.  He writes of very populous swing counties in Virginia and Colorado that Obama won--sometimes by significant margins--in 2012:
Mr. Obama carried Prince William, the third most populous county in [Virginia], by 16 percent, or more than 28,000 votes. He won a narrower, but clear, victory in Loudoun [County], which before 2008 had not voted for a Democratic president since 1964 and where, 20 years earlier, George H.W. Bush won by a margin of more than two to one.
Both counties are fast growing, with the population of Prince William County having quadrupled over the past 40 years and that of Loudoun County having grown tenfold.  Loudoun is "affluent and diversifying with a mix of Latinos, blacks and Asians."  

The important swing counties in Colorado are Arapahoe County and Jefferson County, both part of the Denver Metropolitan Area.  Arapahoe, the states third most populous county, is east of Denver, and Jefferson County, west of Denver, casts more votes than any other in the state.  "Like their Virginia counterparts, these counties are fast-growing and comparatively well off," and they are hugely influential in elections.  Hunt characterizes Jefferson County as having a "range of voters from upper income to working class."  Hunt quotes Craig Hughes, a Democratic consultant, regarding Jefferson:  
It mirrors in every election, Colorado.  If you want to carry the state, you carry Jefferson.
Obama carried Jefferson County by nearly five points in the 2012 race, and Arapahoe by nearly 10 points.
And so, it seems, the impact rural voters once enjoyed (at least in theory) is now eclipsed in the context of state-wide and national races.  After all, only a couple of states, e.g., Montana, have more residents living in rural places (as defined by the 2,500 population cluster size) than in urban ones.  In the context of the electoral college, this means so-called rural states have extremely little power at all when it comes to electing the President.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Corruption and power struggles in South Africa, right down to the lowest level of government

This front-page story in today's New York Times tells of bribery and corruption in the Republic of South Africa, with a focus on lower levels of the government.  The dateline is Oshabeni, in KwaZulu-Natal, where a local African National Congress (ANC) leader, Dumisani Malunga, was murdered in early September this year.  Malunga was killed the night he was chosen as the ANC candidate for  a seat on the local council, and the man who murdered him was a rival for that local ANC endorsement.

Journalist Lydia Polgreen briefly describes the past two decades of South African history, including profound and worsening poverty, inequality and unemployment that have plagued the nation in recent years.  Accompanying the diminution of economic opportunity has been a rise in corruption, which has trickled down to rural communities like Oshabeni.  Polgreen writes:
In the ranks of public servants, the post of rural ward council member in a speck of a town like this one would seem no great prize. The job pays about $150 a month, and its occupant must digest a steady diet of complaints from residents about the most fundamental ailments afflicting South Africa: schools that do not teach, taps that do not deliver water, crime that the police seem helpless to stop, jobs that are impossible to find. 
But ward councilors are also a conduit for development projects in their areas, and they can influence the awarding of government contracts. The potential upside — earnings from bribes or surreptitious deals — is high.
Polgreen notes that since 2010 "nearly 40 politicians have been killed" in KwaZulu-Natal alone, "in battles over political posts."  That figure represents a three-fold increase over the prior three years, while  murders of political officials and candidates have also risen in Mpumalanga, North West, and Limpopo provinces.

Friday, November 30, 2012

University extension goes to town

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a few days ago (November 26, 2012) on Cooperative Extension Service's newfound focus on the "urban, urbane."  Scott Carlson, dateline Denver, writes of "a new and evolving role for the 98-year-old program, a prominent part of the nation's land-grant institutions, designed to bring research out to communities for practical use.  As Americans have moved off farms and into cities, the extension service has had to follow them there--both to fulfill a mission to serve the public and to remain relevant in the eyes of policy makers, who hold the purse strings."  This push for relevance, Carlson reports, has extension programs focusing "more on he needs of city folk--with, for example, programs in gang prevention, youth education, and economic development in lower-income communities."

Cooperative extension has long been funded by a combination of federal (USDA), state, and county monies.  In Colorado, a third of extension funding is through the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, while counties supply more than 40% of the program's funding.  Because Colorado's legislature is predominantly metropolitan, comments Louis Swanson of Colorado State,  Cooperative Extension must be "relevant to the metropolitan sector" or "increasingly be marginal in terms of state allocations."

So, while rural youth still raise animals through 4-H, a youth-development branch of cooperative extension,  urban youth might "build rockets or robots."  In response to urban challenges such as obesity, diabetes and crime, extension programs in a variety of states, from North Carolina to Michigan, have implemented nutrition education and anti-gang programs.

Carlson's story insists that "farming is not left out," but the farming on which he focuses is urban agriculture, with examples from Michigan and Colorado.  The mayor of Denver, Michael Hancock, has set the goal of having urban farms supplying 10% of Denver's food.  Blake Angelo, an extension agent working in Denver, notes evidence that "small city farms can beautify and strengthen urban communities" where "consumers and high-end restaurants ... clamor[] for unusual, local produce."

While a third of Americans were farmers at the turn of the 20th century, just one percent farm today.  Angelo asserts that urban farms are "a valuable test ground" for those who may become the next generation of farmers.  Angelo's comment helpfully links this urban farming craze with larger farms, which are typically only accommodated in more rural places.  The farmers "get their start in urban environments where they can test the realities of these difficult and risky busnesses, and they are able to scale up or out."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Protests of Keystone XL Pipeline persist in northeast Texas

The New York Times reports today, dateline Wells, Texas, population 769, that some of those protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline were pepper-sprayed earlier this week by Cherokee County Sheriff's Deputies.  Saul Elbein writes:
Since September, when construction began on the Keystone, the Tar Sands Blockade, a grass-roots coalition of East Texas landowners and environmental advocates from across the country, has been waging a nonviolent guerrilla campaign against the pipeline.
Blockade volunteers have locked themselves to construction equipment during most weeks since the construction began. Thus far, 43 protestors have been arrested. This week was no exception, but this week marked the first time pepper spray has been used on protestors who had not locked themselves to construction equipment.  Elbein's story suggests that use of pepper spray on protestors locked to equipment has become standard operating procedure.

Among those pepper-sprayed this week was 75-year-old Jeanette Singleton of Nacogdoches, who said she worried about the pipeline's impact on the nearby Angelina River.  She commented:
I don’t like how they’ve treated people ... If you don’t want to sign, they just take your land from you. It doesn’t seem right.
Elbein reports that "widespread landowner resentment has created a fertile ground for the blockade’s resistance to the pipeline. "  He notes that Monday's protests were supported by "the landowners whose property the easement crossed."

Elbein also quotes the Cherokee County Sheriff about the decision to pepper spray those blocking a cherry-picker that was to be used to remove tree-sitters.  He said that "pepper spray was used because the driver of the cherry picker was 'scared out of his wits' that protesters would pull him from his vehicle."

Earlier coverage of Texas protests about the Keystone XL Pipeline is here and here.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Contaminated California: Water and the Central Valley

Last week the NYTimes covered a story regarding contaminated tap water in the Central Valley of California.  Journalist Patricia Leigh Brown focuses in on a particular unincorporated community called Seville, with a population of 300.  Seville, in Tulare County, has been dealing with issues of contaminated water for decades -- the hard truth is that many communities in California lack access to safe drinking water, a basic human right.

Years of fertilizer and pesticide use cause chemicals such as nitrates to leak into groundwater -- a source of potable water for many in California.  Nitrate contamination and poisoning can lead to a plethora of health problems: blue baby syndrome and a wide range of cancers are but some of the alarming examples.  Advocates from organizations such as California Rural Legal Assistance and Community Water Center have been working on issues of access to safe drinking water for some time in the Central Valley, especially in high-poverty and unincorporated communities.

Hopefully the recent report released from UC Davis which confirms just how serious the issue of water contamination is in the Tulare Basin and Salinas Valley -- an estimated quarter million of people in these two regions are at risk of nitrate contamination in their drinking water -- will mobilize new efforts from the state and from advocates on the ground to take on these problems through community-based local solutions.  There seems to be some momentum gaining stateside with Governor Brown signing the historic Human Right to Water Bill this past September

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Town seeks to leverage Marcellus Shale boom

John Schwartz reports in today's New York Times from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, population 29,534 in the midst of the Marcellus Shale formation that has become a hub of hydro-fracturing activity in the last decade.  Williamsport is the county seat of Lycoming County, which is barely "metropolitan" with a population of 116,747."  In fact, Lycoming County/Williamsport was the seventh fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States in 2010.  Schwartz explains why and how:
The common economic criticism of the drilling industry is that it booms and then busts, generating few local jobs and leaving little lasting economic benefit.
* * *
[Lycoming] county and ... Williamsport, are working diligently to position themselves not just as a host to the arriving companies, but also as a source of local workers for the industry and a long-term beneficiary of its local and national expansion.
Depending on whose estimates you believe, the number of jobs created by the Marcellus Shale extractive activity is between 20,000 and 234,000, with the low-end figure representing less than half a percent of all the state's jobs.  Some of those jobs are high skill, others low, as Schwartz notes that hotels and restaurants have popped up to accommodate the industry's workers.  

But as in other locales where fracking has taken hold, many locals are concerned about the environmental impact of the practice.  Among those in the Williamsport area with such concerns are Anne and Eric Nordell, who have had a 90-acre organic farm about 25 miles from Williamsport, in Trout Run, since the 1980s.  From the high point on their property, drilling rigs and the deforestation that have made way for them, are visible.  Schwartz quotes Ms. Nordell:
We’re just praying that our water will be safe.  ... The first indication that we have any type of contamination, we will shut down.  I eat the food that I grow, and I will not sell anything that’s unsafe.
One part of the Schwartz article contrasts this part of Pennsylvania with the extraction industry boom in North Dakota, which I have written about here.  An earlier post about the Marcellus Shale is here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CIX): Tax measure to finance operation of jail fails

Voters in Newton County rejected the 0.75% sales and use tax that was on the November ballot, a tax that would have raised funds for the operation and maintenance of a new county jail.  Read more on the history of this issue hereherehere and here. The vote for the tax was 1,681, while 1,934 voters cast ballots against it.

And so the long-awaited new jail, finally completed in August this year with funds being raised by a sales tax passed by voters in 2010, will remain shuttered.  While I have remained unconvinced that building the new jail was a good idea, for reasons articulated here, it seems terribly wasteful--now that the jail is built--to have it sit unused.

I noted a quarter page ad in the Oct. 24, 2012 issue of the Newton County Times, paid for by "Committee for Newton County Jail."  It says:

Your Vote Counts
Vote Yes for 0.75% Sales & Use Tax For Operation & Maintenance of the Jail
This tax will equal 3/4 of a penny per dollar

  • Stop the flow of Newton County Taxpayers money to Boone County
  • Reduce costs to taxpayers for fuel and officers transporting
  • Create jobs in Newton County
  • Reduce backlog of hundreds of warrants we can't actively pursue due to housing cost
  • Keep Newton County inmates in Newton County
  • Easier for families to visit without having to go to Boone County
  • Provide work crews for projects throughout the county, i.e., roadside litter, cemeteries, community buildings and county owned properties
  • Stop alternative sentencing--incarcerate criminals that would otherwise receive no jail time
  • Deter crime because there will be consequences for their actions
  • The jail has been built with taxpayer money--Now we need to fund it.
* * * 
The ad is interesting that it appeals repeatedly to the economic interests of the county, e.g., jobs and law enforcement costs, while also pitting Newton County against Boone County.  Also interesting is the appeal to the families of prisoners, who now must travel to neighboring Boone County to visit their loved ones.  Of course, it also appeals to the "law and order" crowd by presenting the jail as an alternative to "alternative sentencing," and by touting the deterrent value of the jail.    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rural voter as conservative voter, and vice versa

That seems to me the gist of this story by Jack Healy in today's NYT.  Here's an excerpt from the story, titled "In Wyoming, Conservatives Feeling Left Behind."
By now, voters here are over the initial shock. The ranchers, businessmen and farmers across this deep-red state who knew, just knew that Americans would never re-elect a liberal tax-and-spender president have grudgingly accepted the reality that voters did just that. 
But since the election, a blanket of baffled worry has descended on conservatives here like early snow across the plains, deepening a sense that traditional, rural and overwhelmingly white states in the center of the country are losing touch with an increasingly diverse and urban American electorate. 
* * *  
Still, if diversity is the future of American politics, conservatives in places like Wyoming, the least populous state, where 86 percent of residents are white, fear they may be sliding into the past.
While Healy mentions that Wyoming has many rural voters, he does not specify that it is, in fact, one of the most "rural" of U.S. states--as that term is used by the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 37% of the population is rural if you use the population cluster of 2,500 as the threshold for urbanicity, but it is 58% rural is you use 10,000 as the population cluster measure, and nearly 90% rural is you use 50,000 as your population cluster cutoff.  Here's the relevant U.S. Census Bureau webpage with all this information, also regarding population density.

For full coverage of the rural vote in the 2012 Presidential election, head over to the Daily Yonder.

Friday, November 16, 2012

More on federal failures to police Indian country

Timothy Williams reported a few days ago in the New York Times on federal cut backs in funding for the policing of Indian lands.  As with several of his stories (here and here) back in February this year, Williams refers specifically to the situation on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  But he also provides data, anecdotes, and quotes from tribes across the West and Southwest.  He also makes frequent comparisons to law enforcement efforts in metropolitan areas.  The lede for Williams's story follows:
The federal government has cut the size of its police force in Indian country, reduced financing for law enforcement and begun fewer investigations of violent felony crime, even as rates of murder and rape there have increased to more than 20 times the national average, according to data. 
* * *
As one illustration of the profound increase in violence in recent years — despite generally declining crime in much of the rest of the nation — F.B.I. crime data reports that the number of reported rapes on the Navajo reservation in the Southwest in the last several years has eclipsed those in nine of America’s 20 largest cities, even though there are only 180,000 people on the reservation.
With 374 reported rapes on the Navajo Reservation in 2009, that territory outpaced even Detroit, with 335 rapes for the same year.  

Williams's article provides a great deal of data which illustrates the point that, while crime rates have risen in Indian country, federal investments in law enforcement there have fallen.  He also offers several comparisons with the investments that metropolitan police departments make in their police forces, even when those police forces are responsible for fewer citizens and much, much smaller land areas.  

While 1.6 million American Indians are spread over 56 million acres of Indian country, the federal government (through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Justice Department) contributed $322 million to tribal law enforcement programs in 2012.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia spent $552 million on a police budget to keep safe 1.5 million residents, and Phoenix spent $540 million to police 1.4 million residents.   

Failures to adequately fund public safety in Indian country extend to tribal prosecutors and courts, too, as Williams amply documents. 

Chronic failures of tribal law enforcement have led to underreporting of crime, with some estimates indicating that only 10% of crimes are reported.  Gyasi Ross, a lawyer and member of the Blackfoot tribe, explains:
I’m not going to have a bit of faith in the system unless you make it safe and the guy who did this to me is going to be behind bars for a very long time. ... I need some assurances because I’m taking my life in my hands.
In reading this devastating story, I was struck by how its theme is a central one of Louise Erdrich's most recent novel, The Round House, for which she was just awarded the National Book Award.   The New York Times describes the book as "a novel about a teenage boy’s effort to investigate an attack on his mother on a North Dakota reservation, and his struggle to come to terms with the violence in their culture."  Read Michiko Kakutani's book review here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Colorado town fooled by story of dying boy

The New York Times reports today on a hoax in Gypsum, Colorado, a hoax that united the town in support of a supposedly dying boy.  The hoax is that the boy, Alexander Jordan, never existed.  He was created by a 22-year-old Gypsum woman, who pulled the photo that she used to represent him from a cancer foundation website.  She created a tale about him, told to her work colleague who was the mother of one of the players on the Eagle Valley Devils High School football team.  As the story went, Alex was dying from leukemia and had asked to spend his last months in the mountains.

This quote from Jack Healy's story illustrates the extent which the city of Gypsum, population 6,477, rallied around the boy.
Walk into any lunch counter, church or small-town gas station, and you are likely to find donation jars and fliers describing similar stories of sick children, families displaced by fire and neighbors in need. And to many in this middle-class town a half-hour west of Vail’s ski condos and private jets, a story of a child at the end of a losing fight for his life had deep resonance.
The high school quarterback, Jordan Hudspeth, is quoted:
It brought us together.  We know somebody's hurt, and we want to help out.
The story reminded me of the myth of small-town solidarity, but also of the lack of anonymity associated with such places.  Healy writes of the gnashing of teeth of townsfolk in the wake of the discovery that Alex never existed.
The team was distraught. The newspaper published a long, apologetic account of the deception and the role it had played. School officials said they were trying to put the episode behind them. 
The football parent who had helped bring ... the story to the team hurried off the phone quickly, as though embarrassed.
The football coach, Mr. Ramunno, said he'd like to have back the signed football the team had donated to the boy, "to remind me I need to be a little bit more careful."

I wondered if folks in a larger or wealthier place would have rallied around a sick boy in the way this town did--and if they would have felt so burned, would have taken it so personally, when they learned that he had never existed.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rurality and class as identity, in the context of an elite(ist) institution

I have been following recent news out of Amherst College about sexual assaults some students have committed against others--and the allegations that Amherst administrators previously tried to hush up these incidents, discouraging victims from pressing charges.  Indeed, victims of the sexual assaults have alleged that administrators acted insensitively to their reports, saying things like, "are you SURE it was rape?"  and "why don't you take the semester off and get a job at Starbucks until he graduates."  Read more here, and don't miss this student website featuring student victims of sexual assault who have "come out" about what happened to them.

In the context of news coverage of these matters, Amherst's president since summer of 2011, Dr. Biddy Martin, has received mostly positive attention for her handling of the crisis.  Richard Perez-Pena, reporting for the New York Times, wrote in his Oct. 26, 2012 story:
Dr. Martin, who is known as Biddy, released a statement that had neither the defensiveness nor the bland wait-and-see that are common to institutional responses, declaring that things “must change, and change immediately.” She made more administrative changes, and said in an interview in her office on Thursday that she is inclined to make more still, like having experts — rather than shifting panels of professors and students — adjudicate complaints.
Now, in a second NYT story published yesterday, Perez-Pena reports further on Dr. Martin's unusual response to the rapes--unusually confrontational and frank, that is.  In doing so, he picks up on aspect of Dr. Martin's background--one might even say, her identity--and implies that it has relevance to her handling of these sensitive matters.  Perez-Pena writes that "no college leader in the country" is as well prepared to face this Amherst controversy, in part because her academic work is about gender and sexuality, in part because she has a "history of tackling ... thorny disputes," and in part because even before this issue came to the fore at Amherst, Martin had begun "overhauling" how the institution deals with sexual assaults.  

But Perez-Pena has more to say about why Dr. Martin has responded as she has.  What he suggests is that not only Martin's gender, but also rurality and perhaps class are salient aspects of her identity. 

Perez-Pena notes in the story's lede that the Amherst controversy "began with a first-person account of an elite college's callous treatment of a rape victim," a "woman from the rural South who said she had never felt fully accepted on campus."  Then Perez-Pena writes of Dr. Martin, who grew up in southern Virginia:  
And [Martin] is, herself, a woman from the rural South, who attended an elite college where she did not feel fully accepted. 
* * * 
Her parents, a school secretary and a salesman, “thought girls didn’t need to go to college, and they worried that I would be turned into a liberal lunatic,” she said. “Their greatest fear was that, as they put it, those eggheads would think they were better than we were, and when I went to William and Mary, I did encounter some prejudice.” 
As a scholar of German literature, and a lesbian, she did not always fit in back home, either — where, she said, “what mattered was high school football.”
Wow.  Kudos to Perez-Pena for picking up on this part of Dr. Martin's bio--for seeing the relevance of her class background and the marginalization of the rural in relation to it--especially in the elite(ist) milieu in which Martin now operates.  Dr. Martin, it seems, is both insider and outsider; she has experienced being both, along various axes of her identity:  gender, sexuality, class--and even geography.  And maybe Perez-Pena is right in speculating on the capacity this gives her to empathize with a female student from the rural South, a woman who didn't feel she accepted at Amherst, even before she was raped there.  

It reminds me of this sentence from Perez-Pena's first report about the Amherst rapes: 
Are sex crimes more surprising at a school thought of as elite and supportive of women's rights, or less surprising at the kind of place often labeled as having a culture entitlement?  
Cross-posted to Feminist Legal Theory and ClassCrits

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Everyone Eats There." Yes, but what do they eat?

This Mark Bittman story in the annual NYT Magazine food and drink issue appeared last month under several headlines:
  • Heavenly Food
  • California's Central Valley:  Land of a Million Vegetables
  • Everyone Eats There
It is this last headline that has stuck with me--and continued to agitate me.  This is because I find the headline misleading or--perhaps more precisely--because it tells only part of the story.  Bittman's piece is an homage, of sorts, to California's Central Valley, which produces more than a third of the produce grown in the United States.  Bittman writes:
The valley became widely known in the 1920s and 1930s, when farmers arrived from Virginia or Armenia or Italy or (like Tom Joad) Oklahoma and wrote home about the clean air, plentiful water and cheap land. ... Unlike the Midwest, which concentrates (devastatingly) on corn and soybeans, more than 230 crops are grown in the valley, including those indigenous to South Asia, Southeast Asia and Mexico, some of which have no names in English. At another large farm, I saw melons, lettuce, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, chard, collards, prickly pears, almonds, pistachios, grapes and more tomatoes than anyone could conceive of in one place. ... Whether you’re in Modesto or Montpelier, there’s a good chance that the produce you’re eating came from the valley.
Maybe my annoyance with this headline is one of those "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" (versus "Eats Shoots and Leaves) issues.  That is, what Bittman's headline writers probably intended to convey with "Everyone Eats There" is that, wherever you live in the United States, you eat food from California's Central Valley.  The Valley is the "there" and we all eat from its bounty.  As he writes above, whether you are in Vermont or in the valley itself, you probably eat produce grown in this part of California.  What Bittman's story overlooks is that many people in the valley don't get to eat the produce at all.

You see, the headline could also be read to mean something perhaps more accurately expressed as, "Everyone There Eats."  That is, it could be interpreted as meaning that everyone in the valley eats.  Technically, this is true.  But what that interpretation--which might be the "first glance" one for many readers--glosses over is what residents of the valley eat. You see, ironically, the Great Central Valley is home to many food deserts, places where good, nutritious food is hard to get and where people--many of them farm laborers--live in poverty on "liquor store diets." While Bittman waxes poetic about the wonderful array of food grown in the valley, he doesn't acknowledge that many in the valley--including those who grow the food and their children--don't benefit from that bounty.

Others do.  Edie Jessup of Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPPhas called the "poverty of the Central Valley of California and the abundance of the region's agriculture" a "conundrum." Or, as as Cesar Chavez said years ago:
It is ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your table with abundance, have nothing left for themselves.  
In a post a year ago on the California Institute for Rural Studies website, Jessup expanded on the issue:
Fresno County is iconic, and typical of all the Central Valley counties. It is the richest agricultural producing county in the nation and the poorest congressional district in the USA, with poverty and hunger at about 40% according to the California Health Inventory Survey. This paradox results in an abundance of food leaving the region, broken local produce distribution systems, rural corner stores that only sell cheap junk food and soda, fear of ‘la Migra’ (racism), compromised healthcare, and a lack of potable water and transportation access. In Fresno, 85% of school children qualify for free lunch, and 33% grow up in extreme poverty. One-third of children are obese, and 2/3 of adults are obese with a compendium of chronic diseases directly related to diet. Our food deserts are frequently food swamps, where there is ‘food’ available but it is often unhealthy and cheap. Fresno City and the surrounding metropolitan area have a population of over 500,000 and the outlying 14 incorporated cities and over 50 unincorporated areas total over 900,000 people. Significantly, Fresno County produces nearly $5.3 billion from agriculture; however with only one large urban area, most of the county is very rural, as is the entire Central Valley.
I recently wrote of one such area in Fresno County:  Mendota, sometimes referred to as the Appalachia of the West.  Jessup calls for remedies to this "entrenchment of food deserts and food swamps, sporadic emergency food distribution, multiple 'pilot' solutions to hunger, and a lack of connections between infrastructure make food access in the Central Valley a social justice issue."  More importantly, through CCROPP, Jessup is working to achieve those remedies.  It's a pity that work such as this--and the crisis to which it responds--do not get the sort of national attention that Mark Bittman commands.  It's also a pity that Bittman doesn't use his platform to talk about food issues like these.  

Cross-posted to Agricultural Law Blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rural women subject of recommendation at 30th anniversary meeting of CEDAW committee

The CEDAW Committee met in Istanbul last week, and one of the General Recommendations (GR) that came out of that meeting involves rural women in particular. It was introduced by Egypt's member on the Committee, Naela Gabr and is entitled "General Recommendation on Article 14 of CEDAW: Rural Women."

The following is quoted from the document:
For thirty years, the Committee had received initial and periodic reports from developing and developed countries, the experts had long discussions with the corresponding delegates about the implementation of Article 14. The concluding observations/remarks recommendations [COB's] are self explanatory ...many challenges do exist, problems need to be resolved, and in spite of some progress a lot has to be done. 
On October 2011, the Committee adopted a general statement on Rural Women stressing that "despite efforts undertaken to encourage overall empowerment of rural women, there are still many issues that need to be addressed as women, and in particular rural women, face discrimination in all spheres of life. [50th session of CEDAW]. 
At the same session, the Committee decided to establish a working group on rural women for the purpose of preparing a general recommendation on Article 14.
* * *
The working group had studied the main challenges facing rural women, it pointed out the additional information to be included in state reports under Article 14, suggested recommendations for future government action... This constitutes our plan while drafting the general recommendation. 
I- Main challenges facing rural women:

1- Access to key productive resources: only between 10 and 20% of all land holders are women.
2- Access to and control over land: Land property ownership rights and inheritance rights are de facto not recognized in many countries. Lands are registered only in male names as well as compensation payments.
3- Social rights and basic services:
  • In many parts of the world, sociopolitical and economic constraints limit girls and women access to education. These include restrictions in mobility, preferential schooling of boys over girls. 
  • Rural women exist principally outside official statistics relating to GDP and employment and have very often been ignored in development planning. 
  • Maternal mortality continues to be high in rural areas, mostly due to the absence of skilled birth attendants and medical personnel, malnutrition is prevailing as well as poor health services, the girl child is usually neglected because of traditional rural setting. 
  • Malnutrition as well as food insecurity affect livelihoods, lack of drinking water and long distance to collect water for daily family needs. 
  • Particular constraints to access to financial services (policies and legal barriers, cultural norms) as well as to their access to modern and new technologies. 
4- Political Participation: Inadequate expression in relevant community organizations, including legal decision making bodies... thereby reinforcing politically and in law the marginalization that rural women already experience by virtue of the physical geography that separates them from centers of power.

5- Girls from rural communities are at special risk of violence and sexual exploitation and trafficking when they leave the rural community to seek employment in towns.

6- Migration out of rural areas to urban areas and abroad is becoming an important livelihood strategy for women and men. In spite of migration of millions of rural residents to urban areas and the decline of rural populations in developed countries ... (high population growth in rural areas can increase pressure on land and other resources –migration).  
7- Access to justice: most of the women who stand to benefit from Article14 are likely not aware of these rights (legal illiteracy). The extent to which these women know about CEDAW in general, and Article 14 in particular, is very limited. Rural women in particular have fewer opportunities than their urban counterparts to enforce their rights because of the relative absence of law and legal actors in rural places.

 8- Rural women often bear the major burden in:
  • Armed conflict and p[o]st conflict situations. 
  • Economic and food crisis. 
  • Neo-liberal economic policy choices. 
II- Additional information to be included in State reports under Article 14: [related to
new challenges and problems]; specifically, measures taken on:

a) Enabling environment including necessary institutional set up and legal policy framework.
b) Impacts of macroeconomic policy measures on rural women.
c) Opportunities to access decent rural employment and livelihood diversification activities.
d) The impact of natural disasters and climate change on rural women.
e) Large scale land acquisitions and changes in land use.
f) Disadvantaged groups of women: disabled women, older women, indigenous ones.

III- Recommendations for government action. [Examples]

In addition to recommendations responding to each and every challenge and problem, the following are to be taken as a priority:

1- Implement a comprehensive national strategy to reduce the disproportionate number of rural women living in poverty and promote their well being.

2- Allocate adequate budgetary, humane and administrative resources to achieve rural women's substantive equality in national budgets.

3- Place a gender perspective at the center of all policies and programs affecting rural development.

4- Strengthen the mechanisms to claim rights,take measures to remove barriers to women's ability to claim those rights.

In conclusion:
The elaboration and adoption of this general recommendation will help raising the visibility of rural women's concerns on the checklist of matters about which state parties must pay particular attention when reporting to CEDAW, thus increasing the focus, among policy makers, on rural women's legitimate demands for equal rights and their aspirations for a decent life and a better future. Needless to say that the following step would be more attention given to complaint mechanism, mainly our optional protocol.
The GR also notes UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's recent comments on the occasion of the fourth International Day of Rural Women:
As we approach the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it is time to invest more in rural women, protect their rights and improve their status. On this international day, I call on all partners to support rural women, listen to their voices and ideas, and ensure that policies respond to their needs and demands. Let us do everything we can to enable them to reach their potential for the benefit of all.
My work on Article 14 is cited in the GR, and can be downloaded here, here, and here. My coverage of CSW 56, which focused on rural women, is here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gold mining resumes in the Sierra foothills

A few months ago, I wrote this post about the Sutter Gold Mine in Sutter Creek, California, population     2,501.

Now, today's Sacramento Bee offers this story and this photo feature on the undertaking, with a focus on the Lincoln mine in Sutter Creek, one of several being explored by Sutter Gold.  Here's an excerpt:
In the grassy slopes above these Amador County towns east of Sacramento, modern-day miners are blasting and mucking in pursuit of more than $1 billion in glistening deposits. 
That is the anticipated reward the Sutter Gold Mining Co. is banking on, based on current gold prices and projections that it can unearth up to 680,000 ounces of gold. It plans to reap its haul by boring new tunnels from an old mine and exploiting multiple layers of quartz veins, snaking south to the edge of Sutter Creek and, later, north toward Amador City.
In 1998, when the county approved the Sutter project, local residents were divided over mining's return. They argued over a since-abandoned plan to bury tailings on the opposite side of Highway 49 and trucks rumbling through quaint Gold Country towns.

Since then, the county has built a bypass route to Highway 49. And Sutter Gold says most traffic will be confined to the mining property, where tailings will be kept on site – most put back into the ground – "cleaner than when they came out," said general manager Ed McGoldrick.
Pat Carney, Sutter Gold's maintenance superintendent and an Ione resident who recently worked in clay and aggregate mining, hails the region's return to its gilded heritage. Sutter Gold is bringing in miners, mechanics, technicians, geologists and engineers to work the 3.5 miles of the historic Mother Lode Gold Belt under its control. 
But these days, the picturesque towns of Sutter Creek, home to 2,500 residents, and Amador City, population 150, celebrate the Gold Country heritage with wine and cheese and daffodil tours. 
So while Sutter Gold's new employees frequent Sutter Creek restaurants, enjoying leafy cranberry and walnut salads, the place hardly resembles a roaring mining camp.
Journalist Peter Hecht closes with a comment from the director of the Sutter Creek Visitors Bureau, a quote that sums up the tension between the area's two economic engines:
We tell people mining's back in town and they say, 'That's cool. What do we get to see?' It needs to be a tourist attraction.
Read more here: