Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rural race to the bottom? Competing energy sources and the consequences for the communities where they are extracted

The adverse environmental (and other) consequences of fracking have been much in the news in recent months (read more herehere, and here), and those of coal mining are well documented.  Now, however, it seems that communities which are economically reliant on coal mining are struggling for their livelihoods in this age of fracking's ascendancy.  Eric Lipton reported this week in a front-page story in the New York Times from Louisa, Kentucky, in the heart of coal country, on efforts there to the keep the Big Sandy power plant burning coal.  American Electric Power, which operates Big Sandy, has been considering switching the plant to burn natural gas, which has been declining in price in this age of fracking.  The following excerpt from Lipton's story focuses on the local economic consequences of coal's fall from dominance.
The anger toward Washington is palpable in this impoverished corner of Eastern Kentucky ...  
It is hard to find anyone here who does not feel affected by the fate of Big Sandy.  Just as the smokestack at the plan towers over the countryside, Big Sandy dominates much of life here. 
Danny Sartin, 61, a barrel-chested heavy equipment operator at the plant, said his father, grandfathers and uncles all worked in the mines that feed Big Sandy.  "Coal and the coal mining industry, it's all we have ever known," Mr. Sartin said.   
Chirs Lacy, 41, an executive at Licking River Resources, Inc. [about 50 miles South of Big Sandy and a supplier to the power plant], said layoffs among his 350 miners--in Magoffin County, where unemployment is already 17.5 percent--are inevitable if the coal furnaces at Big Sandy go cold.  Even the garden supply company that Mr. Lacy's father-in-law owns and where his two sons work indirectly relies on Big Sandy because mines are required to plant grass over the scarred earth they leave behind.  "It is the ripple effect that comes right through us," Mr. Lacy said.  
Louisa is the county seat of Lawrence County, Kentucky, which has a population of 15,860 and a poverty rate of 24.4%.  Magoffin County's population is 13,333, and its poverty rate is 29.8%.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Justice scarce for Native American and Alaska Native women

The New York Times reported a few days ago on the particular challenges facing American Indian and Alaska Native victims and survivors of sexual assault.  The headline for Timothy William's story is "For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice," and the dateline is Emmonak Alaska, population 831.  The rate of sexual assault among American Indian and Alaska Native women is more than twice the national average; about a third of these indigenous women will be victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes.  Yet the issue of assaults against these women has become a "major source of discord in the current debate between the White House and the House of Representatives over the latest reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994. A Senate version, passed with broad bipartisan support, would grant new powers to tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spoues or domestic partners."

The story focuses not only on the politics of jurisdiction over cases against those accused of rape and sexual assault against indigenous women, but also on the practical obstacles that rural and remote geography permit.  Williams writes:
No place, women's advocates say, is more dangerous than Alaska's isolated villages, where there are no roads in or out, and where people are further cut off by undependable telephone, electrical and Internet service. 
According to the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in villages like Emmonak is "as much as 12 times the national rate."  Anecdotally, women in places like Emmonak indicate they don't know anyone who has not been raped or the target of attempted rape.

My related law review article, "Place Matters:  Domestic Violence and Rural Difference," is available for download here; the part starting at page 405 is especially relevant.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Using small-town clergy to serve rural veterans' mental health needs

NPR ran this story today, dateline Somerset, Kentucky.  Here's the promotional blurb:
Veterans dealing with the trauma of war will often turn to a priest or pastor of their church for guidance before going to a mental health professional.  Experts say that type of support can be especially important in rural areas that aren't near a VA medical center. 
The story goes on to tell of a program by which the Veteran's Administration is training clergy to respond more effectively to the mental health needs of veterans in their congregations and communities.

UC Davis School of Law's first Justice Bus® trip

Early Friday morning, March 30, 2012, seven UC Davis law students and I jumped into two cars and headed to Calistoga, California. Calistoga is a town of approximately 5,000 people located at the far north end of the Napa Valley. But this was not going to be a typical outing to Napa Valley with wine tasting, delicate food, and bicycle rides through the vineyards. Instead, we traveled to Calistoga to provide legal assistance to some of California's most vulnerable residents- rural, low-income seniors.

It can be difficult to believe there are low-income populations in locations as luxurious as the Napa Valley. Yet, removed from the touristy vineyards and spas in Calistoga were two mobile home parks where seniors often fall victim to profit-hungry landlords. These mobile home parks are tucked away from the public's view, so as not to undermine Napa Valley's posh and idyllic image. We eight UC Davis law students split our day between these two mobile home parks and assisted seniors with their estate planning needs.

Our trip was made possible by OneJustice, a legal services nonprofit committed to ensuring California's low-income populations receive access to legal services. OneJustice organizes the Justice Bus Project, a program that seeks to connect law students with rural communities in need. In conjunction with Legal Aid of Napa Valley, OneJustice organized free estate planning clinics for seniors at the mobile home parks in Calistoga. In addition, the Humanitarian Aid Legal Organization (HALO) at UC Davis School of Law helped to recruit law student volunteers for the trip.

We started the day with a substantive training on the documents we were going to be working with: advanced health care directives and powers of attorney. These documents give someone (usually a family member) the power to make health care and financial decisions on behalf of another person who due to illness or injury becomes incapable of making those decisions. The documents clarify the person's health care and financial wishes before he or she can no longer express them. Family members save time and emotional upset when they know the wishes of their loved ones. After the substantive training, we had interviewing skills training. Then we split off in pairs and began to assist seniors with their estate plans.

Any time we encountered a question or needed to give a client legal advice, we first discussed the issue with the supervising attorney from Legal Aid of Napa Valley, Kristi Lesnewich. Then we returned to the client and gave him or her the legal advice Kristi had directed us to give. Through our consultations we learned a great deal about the lives of our clients and shared laughs and smiles throughout the process. Our clients were very kind and appreciative of our service. They were also surprised that we had driven an hour and a half in the rain to assist them.

Some of the clients brought their wills for us to review. While many of the seniors we met had little in terms of possessions, they still wanted to make sure whatever was left was disposed according to their wishes. It was empowering to be able to help numerous seniors with their wills and you could see the relief on their faces when they learned that their current will was fine or that a legal aid attorney would edit it at no charge.

We assisted about 20 low-income seniors on that day in Calistoga. Because it is a small city, Calistoga has no legal aid office. A legal aid attorney from Legal Aid of Napa Valley travels to Calistoga once a month to help low-income seniors, but beyond that little is otherwise available in terms of legal services for low-income individuals. Some of the people we met were no longer able to drive or otherwise travel to the City of Napa for legal services. What we saw and learned on our day in Calistoga made it clear  that we were filling a gap in legal services.

Overall, our group had a wonderful Justice Bus experience. Candace, the Justice Bus coordinator with OneJustice, did a great job organizing the trip. The clinic was well-run, efficient, and effective. As law students we were given support by very competent and easy-to-approach attorneys. Most importantly, we felt as though we had really made a difference in the lives of many low-income seniors who otherwise may not have had proper documents in place when difficult decisions needed to be made or when they passed on.

The hectic life of a law student filled with classes, job-hunting, and extracurricular activities can make it easy to forget why we came to law school. The Justice Bus trip gave us a reminder we all needed:   Many of us came to law school to help those in need. We don't have to wait until we pass the bar to lend a helping hand. Through the Justice Bus and similar programs we can provide necessary legal services while in law school. The Justice Bus also made us more aware of the justice gap between rural and urban communities. Providing legal services in a rural community, where the need is great, was educational and inspirational. I hope UC Davis students will again have the opportunity to serve rural communities through the Justice Bus program.

An earlier post about the Justice Bus is here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Literary Ruralism (Part III): Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow

I'm in the midst of reading my first Wendell Berry novel, Jayber Crow (The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William membership, as Written by Himself).  Port William is the fictitious setting of many of Berry's novels, and it is widely held to be based on Berry's home town, Port Royal, Kentucky, population 64.  The vast majority of the novel is a depiction of rural America, its residents and its ways, and I have been frequently struck in reading it of the similarities between Port William and my home community, not least in the uses of language, the lack of anonymity and other characteristics of the community, the move away from subsistence agriculture.  I anticipate that I will feature various excerpts of the novel in this column in the coming months.

For now, I've just finished reading the part where Jayber describes the decision to close the the Port William School and bus the kids to the county seat 10 miles away.  Jayber (although one really has the sense it is Berry himself talking to the reader) also elaborates on the consequences of that decision.
In 1964, acting on the certified best advice, the official forces of education closed the Port William School.  It was a good, sound building, with swings and see saws and other playthings on the grounds around it, and they just locked the doors and sent the children in buses down to Hargrave.  It was the school board's version of efficiency, economy of scale, and volume.  If you can milk forty cows just as efficiently as twenty, why can't you teach forty children just as efficiently as twenty?  Or for that matter, a hundred or two hundred?   
Having no children of my own, I may have no right to an opinion, but I know that closing that school just knocked the breath out of the community.  It did worse that that.  It gave the community a never-healing wound. 
It was a great personal loss to me, for I had loved seeing the children gathered and let loose, as if the schoolhouse breathed them in and out.  I liked hearing children's voices suddenly set free at the end of the school day.  Some of the teachers, of course, had been bad and some good.  But how good or bad they were Port William knew, and knew without delay.  Whether the parents interfered for good or ill, the school was right there in sight and they at least could interfere.  The school was in the town and it was in the town's talk.   
When the school closed, the town turned more of its attention away from itself.  If people are driving down to Hargrave on school business or for school events, they might as well shop at Hargrave, or get their hair cut there.  Port William lost business.  I did.  I don't want to sound mercenary, but of course a community, to be a community, has to do a certain amount of business within itself.  Did someone think it could be different?   
pp 279-280.

Lawyer and wife win $13.8 million defamation award in non metro Texas

Last month, a jury awarded a Texas lawyer and his wife $13.78 million in damages arising from defamatory statements that defendants made about the plaintiffs, Mark and Rhonda Lesher, on the Topix forum.  Read more here.  At the time the defamatory posts were made, the plaintiffs were living and working in Clarksville, Texas, population 3,883, the county seat of Red River County, population 12,860.  Rhonda Lesher ran a spa there.  The plaintiffs alleged that, following the scurrilous allegations made about the plaintiffs, accusing them of sexual deviance and drug dealing, the plaintiffs businesses and professional reputations suffered so much that they eventually moved to neighboring Bowie County, Texas.

This all makes me wonder about the extent to which the small town milieu in Clarksville contributed to the damage done; there's little doubt that most people in Clarksville knew the Leshers before the offending statements were made and even less that they were unknown to any other residents following the statements.  On the other hand, moving to a contiguous county probably does little to launder their reputations--but maybe the $13.78 million jury vindication does that.

Read an earlier post about Topix in the context of small towns here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Vanishing Valley

Don't miss this photo feature from yesterday's New York Times Sunday Review:  "The Vanishing Valley."  The related article, about California's Great Central Valley, is here.  The underlying work by Ken and Melanie Light is called "Valley of Shadows and Dreams."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CI): Former coach pleads guilty to drug charges

A former basketball coach at Deer High School, Jake Thompson, pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver (hydrocodone) in Johnson County Circuit Court in late March.  He will serve 36 months probation.  Thompson was "post adjudicated" to the drug court treatment program and will pay a fee of $600, in addition to having his driver's license suspended for six months.  He was arrested in October, 2011, by the 5th Judicial Drug Task Force and the Clarksville Police Department and tendered his resignation to the Deer/Mt. Judea Board of Education shortly after the arrest.   Read an earlier post about the matter here.

The manager of the Arkansas Sex Offender Registry (SOR), Paula Stitz, visited the county at the invitation of Sheriff Keith Slape and presented a program to explain to the public how the SOR works and its responsibilities.  April, when Stitz visited, was National Sexual Assault Awareness month.  Sex offenders are required to register in Arkansas under the Sex Offender Registration Act of 1997.  Under this law,  law enforcement agencies release to the public information on the names and locations of registered sex offenders.  Information about victims is never released.

In other news:
  • A three-day spay and neuter clinic at the Newton County fairgrounds by Newton County Animal Services, a non-profit organization that provides low-cost clinics several times a year, highlighted the need for a building in which to conduct the clinics.  Joanna McManus, DVM from Arkansans for Animals in Mabelvale, conducted the surgeries in a mobile operating suite set up next to one of the fairground's exhibit buildings, with that building doubling as a recovery room.   The animals were also vaccinated for rabies, as necessary. 
  • The Deer/Mt Judea Board of Education considered a rise in its property tax rate, with the matter being put to voters in the fall, 2012 election.  The Superintendent, Richard Denniston, is proposing 3.8 new debt mills, which would put the district's tax rate on par with the Jasper School District.  Certified personnel are hoping for a $2,000 annual raise.  Regarding possible consolidation, Denniston stated, "I think everybody knows it's inevitable that if the legislators don't  make some kind of legislative adjustment that it's inevitable there is one place for us to go and that place will be Jasper.  What I [look to do] is bring our millage to the same identical millage rate as Jasper's because if we do go with Jasper is inevitable that the people from Deer/Mt. Judea will end up being identical to Jasper.  There's no way around that." Construction has begun on a multipurpose building on the campus, construction financed by the last millage increase.  Some recent posts about the possible consolidation of the Deer/Mt. Judea School are here, here and here.  
  • One Mt. Judea school patron suggested the Board of Education consider implementing a 4-day week for students.  she said she researched the plan and spoke to a superintendent of a school district in South Dakota where the plan is apparently working  She said the cost savings for that district had been 2-4%
  • The Mt. Sherman Historical Community Board received a $16,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Rural Services; the funds will be sued to provide water to the building and to install heating equipment.    
  • May 5-13 was proclaimed Travel and Tourism Week in Newton County.  "Travel is a catalyst that moves the Newton County economy forward and contributes greatly to the excellent quality of life enjoyed but he county's residents," according to the proclamation signed by the Jasper Mayor and the Newton County Judge.  
  • The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program shows Newton County ranked 16th among Arkansas's 75 counties in health outcomes.  This favorable ranking is in spite of the county falling in the middle or lower clusters on such metrics as clinical environment, physical environment and health behaviors.  In the state rankings, Newton County ranked 15th in mortality (length of life); 10th in morbidity (quality of life); 46th in health behaviors; 46th in clinical care; 40th in overall health factors; 32d in physical environment and 22d in social and economic factors.   

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fracking concerns in rural (but metropolitan) Texas

This NPR story focused on the perceived health implications of fracking in tiny Dish, Texas.  Many Dish residents believe the fracking has caused negative health outcomes there, everything from deaths associated with cancer to nose bleeds.  But the sort of evidence that would convince the scientific community of a causal relation between the health events and fracking is slim.

Other fracking-intensive communities around the U.S. are having similar experiences, but in Dish in particular, one challenge to proving that fracking is causing the problems is another culprit for the poor air quality:  pollution from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  Dish is in Denton County, just 15 miles from Denton, and 35 miles north of Forth Worth.  Prevailing winds in the area mean that Dish gets more than its fair share of metroplex traffic emissions, and the combination of these with the chemical cocktail associated with fracking may be the culprit.  But the scientists concede that they just cannot know yet how serious--or not--the problem may be in Dish; they are "quick to caution that the problems with evidence from Dish do not show that gas drilling is safe for people who live near it."

This story is part of a series on NPR this week about the health other environmental consequences of fracking.  Two other stories are out of Pennsylvania.  One story involves a new state law that permits physicians to know what chemicals are used in natural gas fracking in order to inform how they treat patients who may be suffering medical consequences of exposure to such chemicals.  However, because details of the chemical cocktail used in fracking are protected by trade secret laws, the physicians may not tell anyone else, not even other physicians.  The other Pennsylvania story is about a study of medical records in northern Pennsylvania that may help answer questions about whether exposure to fracking is making people sick.  A fourth story, this one out of Colorado, is about a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist, Gaby Petron, who is studying the amount of pollution produced by natural gas drilling.

Don't miss Matthew Fluharty's provocative post over at Art of the Rural, "What if All the Natural Gas in the United States was in Urban America?"

My Rural Travelogue (Part XVI): Louisville to Lexington on the backroads

I visited the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky at the end of March, where I gave talks to the law faculties at both.  Between the two, I traveled between the two cities, but I chose to do so along the so-called Shelbyville Road, Highway 60, rather than along Interstate 64, which connects the two cities more expeditiously.  After navigating the greater Louisville (and Jefferson County) sprawl through suburbs with names like Middletown and Jeffersontown, I emerged into a more bucolic, more truly rural area, but one marked by exurban development like the one with the brick gatehouse entry, pictured below.  Interestingly, the posh housing development pictured was right across Highway 60 from the little country church pictured below, along with the home-made sign advertising property for sale.  The country store pictured above was just a few hundred yards down the road.

As I moved into neighboring Shelby County, the scenes became more consistently rural, with large farms--and mostly very affluent-looking ones featuring large, often modern homes set well back from the road.  The bottom photo is typical of the clusters of farm buildings along that road.  Not too many miles on, I passed into Simpsonville, where I took the photo of a sausage plant sign on the propane tank out front.  That's Purnell's Old Folks Whole Hog Country Sausage, in case you can't quite make out the brand from the photo.  The next stop was the county seat Shelbyville, but I'll dedicate an additional post to my stop there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fighting "dollar stores" in Vermont, and losing

Vermont towns' battles against big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are generally well-known, and have been the subject of earlier blog posts like this one.  Now the New York Times is reporting on a new retail scourge, chain dollar stores like those under the brands Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar.   The dateline is Chester, Vermont, and Abby Goodnough reports here that the historic town known for its stone buildings is about to get its very own Dollar General, just down the street from the town common.  Because these stores tend to have much smaller footprints--the one in Chester will be 9,100 square feet--than big box stores, they are much less likely to run afoul of local zoning regulations.  The town's Development Review Board imposed 35 conditions on the Dollar General, including the requirement that the store have clapboard siding and that shopping carts be kept inside.  Here's an excerpt from the story:
[O]pponents [of the store] say that the Dollar General, which has opened 15 stores in Vermont in recent years, including one in Springfield, less than eight miles away, will be the beginning of the end for what might best be described as Chester's Vermontiness.  They theorize that second-home owners will abandon the town rather than abide a discount chain store, tourists in search of a bucolic escape will avoid it and Lisai's Market, the beloved local grocery store, will be forced out of business.   
"People come here and stay at the inns and eat at the restaurants not because we have Disney World but because we have Chester," said Claudio Veliz, an architect who moved here from New York.  "That is the hull of our boat, and Dollar General wants to put a fist through the hull."  
The population of Chester (a Census Designated Place) is 1,005 according to the Census Bureau's State and County Quick Facts, but wikipedia lists Chester's population as 3,044, and State and County Quick Facts lists the town's population as 3,154.  It is in nonmetropolitan Windsor County, which has a population of 56,670.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Let's visit: A dispatch from the Rural Futures Conference

I am still at the Rural Futures Conference at the University of Nebraska, and one of the little things that has delighted me about being here is the use of language by these folks in the Great Plains area.  In particular, I have twice heard someone use the verb "visit" to mean "chat" or "talk."  I use the word "visit" this way a lot--or at least I used to--until I found that people in California didn't understand what it meant.  Indeed, this usage sometimes elicits chuckles in California, where people seem to think "visiting" requires getting up and going somewhere--like visiting another state or another country.  That folks at this event use it in the way I grew up using it makes me wonder if the usage is a rural thing, as opposed to being a Southern thing, which I had previously assumed.

Also heard at the Rural Futures Conference:
  • asset quilting 
  • economic gardening
  • place making 
  • scholarship in action 
  • rural sourcing (the next generation of off-shoring)
  • grey nomads (from an Australian; in the U.S., we see references to grey gold)
  • regional envy:  one community wanting an amenity, e.g, a swimming pool, a hospital, because another community has it; failure to think more regionally.
As you might have noted, several of these phrases and terms are not unique to rural contexts, but many do refer to economic development strategies.  I hope that the Rural Futures Institute will, ultimately, be about more than rural economic development, in part because I am not convinced that "a rising tide lifts all ships."  I didn't hear anyone talking about rural poverty and other social problems (except me, in small group settings) over the three-day event. 

One of the most surprising comments I heard on the last day, when focus groups met and reported back their impressions on the event, was the assertion that Big Ag had been excluded.  Having heard relatively frequent comments from pork, corn and cattle industry representatives during open mic opportunities, I did not share this concern. 

A false choice: child safety versus family farms

Marjorie Elizabeth Wood's op-ed in the New York Times, "Pitting Child Safety Against the Family Farm" discusses the Obama administration's recent move "to prevent children under age 16 from working in dangerous farm jobs."  Such dangerous jobs include "handl[ing] pesticide, operat[ing] heavy machinery, cut[ting] timber and perform[ing] other agricultural tasks identified as hazardous to children by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health."

Republicans quickly "re-framed" the effort to invoke the time-worn myth of the family farm as a precinct--like the home itself--that should be beyond the reach of government:
[I]f the federal government can regulate the kind of relationship between parents and their children on their own family's farm, there is almost nothing off-limits in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.  
In the face of such rhetoric, the Obama administration backed off the new Labor Dept. initiatives.  But Wood points out that the law would not have applied to children working on their own family's farm.  Rather, the new rules were to  protect child labor--much of it migrant and seasonal--from the abuses of "Big Ag."
According to Human Rights Watch, child farm workers are at a greater risk of pesticide poisoning, serious injury, heat illness, and death than any other youth workers in America.  
And the failure to use the law to protect those children--like the failure to protect any child--is a travesty indeed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Literary Ruralism (Part II): Willa Cather's O Pioneers!

I am in Nebraska for the Rural Futures Conference, and so it seems fitting to highlight the work of Willa Cather, a literary (quasi-)native daughter.  I read O Pioneers! a few months ago, and it blew me away.  It blew me away that a hundred years ago Cather wrote a female character like Alexandra Bergson.  But Cather's use of language also knocked me back on my heels, as did her apparent passion for the land, her understanding of the pioneers' commitment to it.

Here's a passage--enormously evocative for me--that reflects Alexandra's love for the land.  At this point in the story, Alexandra has been running the family farm for several years, following her father's death.  Alexander and her youngest (and favorite) brother, Emil, have been to the visit "river farms" of the sort that her two other brothers wish her to purchase.  They want Alexandra to abandon the family homestead on the Nebraska Divide where they have suffered under several years' drought.  Alexandra speaks to Emil of her impressions of the river farms:
"There's nothing in it for us down there, Emil.  There are a few fine farms, but they are owned by the rich men in town, and couldn't be bought.  Most of the land is rough and hilly.  They can always scrape along there, but they can never do anything big.  Down there they have little certainty, but up with us there is a big chance.  We must have faith in the high land, Emil.  I want to hold on harder than ever, and when you're a man you'll thank me."  She urged Brigham forward. 
When the road began to climb the first long swells of the Divide, Alexandra hummed an old Swedish hymn, and Emil wondered why his sister looked so happy.  Her face was radiant that he felt shy about asking her.  For the first time, perhaps, since that land merged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning.  It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious.  Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her.  Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before.  The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.  
Cather returns to this link between human (woman), land and "country" in the final sentence of the novel:
Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

TransCanada's legal shenanigans highlighted

Don't miss this story in today's New York Times, dateline Sumner, Texas.  TransCanada used eminent domain to seek and obtain a right of way for its Keystone XL pipeline over the 600-acre farm owned by Julia Trigg Crawford and her family, who had initially refused to bargain with the company.  Now Crawford is fighting to overturn the court's decision to condemn her land for this purpose.  Saul Elbein reports for the Times:
The Crawfords' condemnation hearing happened in front of a  district judge.  They were not invited to that hearing--landowners in Texas do not get to go to the actual condemnation hearing.  They are invited only to the next step, after the condemnation, when a three-person panel of county landowners decides on a value for the property being condemned.  
Crawford is concerned about contamination of Bois D'Arc Creek, to which she and her family own water rights. Her farm insurance agent won't sell her insurance against spills, and she notes that Keystone 1, the first TransCanada pipeline, experienced numerous spills during its first year of operation.

Sumner is on the Texas-Oklahoma state line in nonmetropolitan Lamar County, Texas, which has a population of just under 50,000.

Read other posts about the Keystone XL here and here, along with this story about how TransCanada has negotiated the regulatory terrain in Washington DC.  Here's a link to a conservative blog post about TransCanada's tactics regarding eminent domain.

My Rural Travelogue (Part XV): Western Sonoma County

My family travels to Bodega Bay every other spring or so for a biennial meeting my husband has there, and this year we were there over St. Patrick's Day week-end, during a particularly wet spell here in Northern California.  Driving between Petaluma and Bodega Bay on the Friday afternoon, we discovered that a stretch of Highway 1 was flooded, and so we looked for a detour with the help of our GPS.  That segment of Highway 1 is quite scenic in a farming sorta way, heavy on pasture and lambs and barns and such.  But once we headed slightly east toward Sebastapol, we found even more pasture, more lambs, more flooded roads, and signs protesting a quarry.  The next day, I continued to explore the area, including roads leading to Sebastapol, which takes you through Bodega and past some famous buildings where Hitchcock filmed "The Birds."  Our last day in the area, I drove the Bohemian Highway, past Occidental and up to the Russian River, over to the coast at Jenner and back down to Bodega Bay.  This part of the county has a strong identity as "west county" or "West Sonoma County," presumably to distinguish it from the more commercial wine country slightly farther inland.  Here are some photos.  From top to bottom, advertising a fundraiser for the Bodega Volunteer Fire Department; one of several signs opposing a quarry on Robler Road (read more here and here); a mural in Occidental, California; the Catholic Church in Bodega, California, which appeared in "The Birds"; the U.S. Post Office in Camp Meeker, California (is this one on the chopping block?); another anti-quarry sign; farm along Highway 1.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Kristof weighs in on Oglala Sioux vs. Anheuser-Busch

Read Nicholas Kristof's column, "A Battle with the Brewers, in today's New York Times.  He takes the side of the Sioux in the matter I've discussed previously here and here.  Specifically, Kristof calls for a nationwide boycott of Budweiser to "wake the company up."  Kristof also mentions a possible solution that's been floated, about which I'd not previously heard:
One nifty solution, proposed by former Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota, would be for the Obama administration to extend Pine Ridge Reservations lines to include Whiteclay.  No land titles would change hands, but reservation laws would apply and liquor sales would become illegal.
It's an interesting idea, but it might ultimately only "kick the can down the road," literally as well as figuratively, if liquor stores are then opened at the edge of the new jurisdictional boundary, once again just beyond the reach of the tribe.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Overlooking (even seemingly high profile) rural crimes

Americans are often said to have a love-hate relationship with rural America.  On the one hand, many wax nostalgic about the good old days, simpler times, the bond of "rural community" that many of our grandparents once lived, even if most of "us" grew up in the city.  Plus, most everyone enjoys a bit of time spent in "nature," and some even realize--the urban ag craze aside--that most of our food is grown "in the country."  On the other hand, urbanites often hold rural people in disdain, mocking them for their attachment to place, their regressive politics and culture and, yes, even for their nostalgia.

One particular aspect of the "love" (more precisely, nostalgia) with which we may regard rural America is the tendency to think that bad things associated with cities--most notably crime--are largely absent in smaller towns, in nonmetropolitan areas.  That's hardly accurate, as I've discussed here and here.  I wonder, though, if these rural myths are the reason that even more shocking crimes--crimes involving, for example, racial or ethnic animus--don't get national attention.  For crimes like these, I would think that urban Americans might be anxious to publicize the crimes, to hold these acts up as justification for the "hate" (that is, disdain, contempt) part of the relationship.

I was reminded of all this last week when the New York Times ran a story headlined, "Black Man's Killing in Georgia Eludes Spotlight," dateline Lyons, Georgia, population 4,169.  Kim Severson's story tells of a white man, Norman Neesmith, killing a black man, Justin Patterson, in Lyons last year "on a rural farm road, here in onion country."  Neesmith was arrested and charged with seven crimes, but he is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, for which he might be sentenced to just a year in "special detention," which means no jail time.  Severson goes on to to compare the rural Georgia case to that of Trayvon Martin, which has attracted national and international attention:
In both cases, an unarmed young black man died at the hands of someone of a different race.  
And [Justin Patterson's parents] began to wonder why no one was marching for their son, why people like Rev. Al Sharpton had not booked a ticket to Toombs County.  The local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P has not gotten involved, although Mr. Patterson's farther approached them. 
* * *  
Why some cases with perceived racial implications catch the national consciousness and others do not is as much about the combined power of social and traditional media as it is about happenstance, said Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic who writes about racial issues.  
Several events coalesced to push the Martin case forward:  an apparently incomplete police investigation, no immediate arrest and Florida's expansive self-defense law.  
The New York Times' highlighting the overlooked Patterson case reminded me of another pair of cases last year that received grossly disparate media attention.

I learned quite by accident last summer of a federal conviction based on a 2010 hate crime in Carroll County, Arkansas.  It was especially odd to learn of the conviction by coincidence (from a UC Davis colleague whose distant relative in Arkansas sat on the jury!) because this was the first ever conviction ever under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law passed in 2009.  Here's what happened:  After encountering each other at a gas station in Alpena, Arkansas  (population 371) in the early morning hours in June 2010, three white men allegedly hurled racial epithets at five Latinos and then chased the Latinos in their car, while the white driver of the truck chased them, waving a tire wrench out his vehicle's window.  The truck driven by the white men eventually ran the Latinos' car off the road, where it rolled over and burst into flames.  All of the Latinos were injured, one very seriously, but all survived.  Less than a year later, a jury in a federal courthouse in Harrison, Arkansas--(population 12,943, about 20 miles from the events, and with a reputation as a long-time bastion of KKK activity) took less than an hour (!) to convict the driver of the truck, 20-year-old Frankie Maybee, of "five counts of committing a federal hate crime and one count of conspiring to commit a federal hate crime."  One of his companions, 19-year-old Sean Popejoy, had already pleaded guilty to a single hate crime and a conspiracy count; he turned state's witness.  The third man was not charged, apparently because of a lack of evidence that he was part of the conspiracy.  (In an effort to learn more about Carroll County matter last summer, I interviewed the Arkansas State Trooper who had helped investigate it, as well as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette journalist who reported on it.  They provided some back story, which I'll take up in a subsequent post.)

Several months after the convictions in this case, it had not yet been discussed anywhere except in local media.  The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran about half a dozen stories, starting in April, 2011, when the men were indicted, running through the trial itself, and ending with Maybee's sentencing to 11 years in prison, in September, 2011.  Television stations in nearby Springfield, Missouri covered only the sentencing, and Reuters, too, had finally found the story by then.  In that way, the Arkansas case is similar to another Shepard/Byrd Act indictment that preceded the Arkansas conviction, this one in Farmington, New Mexico involving the torture of a developmentally disabled Native American by white men.  That case resulted in a guilty plea and was mentioned, along with other Shepard/Byrd cases, in this NPR story a few days ago.  (Other NPR coverage of the Shepard/Byrd law, which also mentions the New Mexico case post-guilty plea, is here and here).

Contrast that with the Shepard/Byrd charges against the three young white men who recently pleaded guilty in the death of James C. Anderson, a black man in Jackson, Mississippi.  New York Times coverage of that crime is hereherehere and here.  The Mississippi story is, of course, a huge one and deserves all the attention it got.  But the Carroll County story seems like a pretty big one, too (did I mention that it was the first Shepard/Byrd conviction!?!), as does the case out of Farmington, New Mexico.  

What explains the disparate and decidedly after-the-fact media attention to these cases?  Perhaps coincidence.  Perhaps differences in the Department of Justice's efforts to publicize the charges?  Perhaps the fact that the Mississippi crime resulted in death whereas the Arkansas and New Mexico crimes did not.  But as a ruralist, I can help wonder if the rural-ish settings of these crimes also obscured them from the national media?

Carroll County has a population of just 27,446, of which 12.7% are of Latino or Hispanic origin.  I know the area quite well because I grew up in a contiguous county, and I wrote a lot about Carroll County's three-decade history of Latina/o migration in my 2009 article, Latina/os, Locality and Law in the Rural South.  In 2003, MALDEF entered into a settlement with the Rogers, Arkansas Police Department, in neighboring Benton County, to prevent racial profiling.    

Farmington, New Mexico has a population of just over 45,000, but surrounding San Juan county is technically metropolitan, with a population of just over 130,000.   Indian reservations comprise more than 60% of San Juan County's land area, and 36.6% of its populace are Native American.  Farmington has been the subject of major civil rights investigations over the course of four decades.

Like the relations between blacks and whites in Mississippi, then, both Carroll County, Arkansas and San Juan County, New Mexico have histories of racial and ethnic tensions.   I would think the racial/ethnic contexts of these two incidents would make them interesting to a national audience--as would they way the illustrate widely held perceptions of the "best" and "worst" of rural America.  The "worst" is that the hate crimes occurred--which confirms the image of rural folks as small-minded and bigoted.  The "best"--at least in the Arkansas case--is that a local jury of the defendants' peers convicted the small-minded bigot--and they did so in no time flat.

Cross posted to UC Davis Faculty Blog and SALTLaw Blog.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Literary Ruralism (Part I): Jonathan Franzen's Freedom

I've decided to start a new series here on Legal Ruralism, a series I'll call Literary Ruralism.  The idea is to showcase literary depictions of rural people and places.  I certainly don't intend to compete with The Art of the Rural--indeed, I do not have the skills to do so.  But as I come across depictions of rurality even in books that are not essentially set in or focused on rural places, I often find myself contemplating the detail of those depictions, considering whether I perceive them to be accurate or not.  So, this is just a collection of those depictions as I come across them.

This first is from Jonathan Franzen's widely acclaimed 2010 novel, Freedom.  Here he describes a place in rural West Virginia that a conservation organization is seeking to purchase for purposes of mountaintop removal, but ultimately to be part of a bird sanctuary.  Thus the land will be exploited, but ultimately "preserved" for wildlife conservation.  Coyle Mathis is the patriarch of the family that owns much of the desired land that the conservation trust is seeking to purchase.
Coyle Mathis embodied the pure negative spirit of backcountry West Virginia.  He was consistent in disliking absolutely everybody.  Being the enemy of Mathis's enemy only made you another of his enemies.  Big Coal, the United Mine Workers, environmentalists, all forms of government, black people, meddling white Yankees:  he hated all equally.  His philosophy of life was Back the fuck off or live to regret it.  Six generations of surly Mathises had been buried on the steep creek-side hill that would be among the first sites blasted when the coal companies came in. 
* * *  
He was willing to give the Mathises and their neighbors as much as $1,200 an acre, plus free land in a reasonably nice hollow on the southern margin of the preserve, plus relocation costs, plus state-of-the art exhumation and reburial of all Mathis bones.  But Coyle Mathis didn't even wait to hear the details.  He said, "No, N-O," and added that he intended to be buried in the family cemetery and no man was going to stop him.   
* * *  
That the Appalachian hardwood forest was along the world's most biodiverse temperate ecosystems, home to a variety of tree species and orchids and freshwater invertebrates whose bounty the high plains and sandy coasts could only envy, wasn't readily apparent from the roads they were traveling.  The land here had betrayed itself, its gnarly topography and wealth of extractable resources discouraging the egalitarianism of Jefferson's yeoman farmers, fostering instead the concentration of surface and mineral rights in the hands of the out-of-state wealthy, and consigning the poor natives and imported workers to the margins:  to logging, to working the mines, to scraping out pre- and then, later, post-industrial existences on scraps of leftover land which, stirred by the same urge to couple ... they'd overfilled with tightly spaced generations of too-large families.  West Virginia was the nation's own banana republic, its Congo, its Guyana, its Honduras.  The roads were reasonably picturesque in summer, but now, with the leaves still down, you could see all the scabby rock-littered pastures, the spindly canopies of young second growth, the gouged hillsides and mining-damaged streams, the spavined barns and painless houses, the trailer homes hip-deep in plastic and metallic trash, the torn-up dirt tracks leading nowhere.   
Deeper in the country, the scenes were less discouraging.  Remoteness brought the relief of no people:  no people meant more everything else.  (p. 358, paperback version)
I didn't say this series was going to be pretty--at least not all the time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rural Chinese children left behind by migrating parents

This story on NPR today highlights the consequences of China's hukou system, which denies benefits to Chinese who migrate from one place to another.  That is, only by staying in their home area are the Chinese permitted to access government benefits.  Children often bear the most devastating consequences of the policy because it creates incentives for parents who migrate from rural to urban areas for work to leave behind their children, where the children will have a right to education and other benefits.  This can have devastating consequences for the parent-child relationship.  This excerpt from the story by Sushma Subramanian and Deborah Jian Lee explains the hukou system and the dilemma it creates for rural Chinese families:  
Rural children lose their rights to subsidized education, health care, and other basic services the moment they step into the city. 
The hukou system, designed to control migration and fuel economic success, provides a steady trickle of cheap labor to cities rather than a surge, which Chinese officials fear could lead to unrest and urban discontent. Enacted in the 1950s, the system made it difficult for peasants to move to the cities and granted urban citizens a wealth of social benefits that their rural counterparts weren't eligible to receive. Two decades later, as industrial hubs discovered their growing need for low-cost laborers, officials opened the floodgates. But there was a catch: Officials denied rural migrants the social benefits that longstanding residents enjoyed in these cities.  
If parents move their children to the city to live with them, they must pay school fees in the range of $160 to $320/semester.  Fees at rural schools--which are admittedly inferior--cost $63 to $95 a semester.  Yet life in the villages is spartan if parents do not move to the city to earn income, which they then send home to support their children and parents.  Kam Wing Chan, a University of Washington geographer, has studied the hukou and observes:
[T]echnology and migrant life have improved village conditions, but have also forged a sort of "keeping up with the Wu's' mentality."  When parents decide to stay in the village, they deny their family the financial security and comforts that other villagers enjoy.  
The last paragraph of the story takes a tone somewhat different to what precedes it.  Like the rest of the feature, it uses the story of Huang Dongyan to illustrate the dilemma facing rural families.  In the end, Huang and her husband decide to bring their young child, Yi,  to the city to live with them, regretful that having left their daughter, Juanzi, to be raised by her grandmother, they lost a precious bond with her.  Huang returns to her home village of Silong to collect Yi.  Juanzi, now grown and working as a kindergarten assistant in a town near her parents in Shenzhen.  Subramanian and Lee paint this poignant picture of the journey, which reflects--if not an attachment to place--the familiarity of home:
After a grueling, day-long, 500-mile drive from Shenzhen, the van drops [Huang and Juanzi] off at 4 a.m. near their farmhouse.  The tiny mountain village is silent.  Juanzi runs ahead, disappearing into a hilly forest, calling her brother's name.  Through the darkness, Huang lets her feet guide her up the familiar curves on the road back home. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part C): Rabies cases reported in county

Each of the last several issues of the Newton County Times has reported on the number of rabies cases in the county.  As of the most recent issue, Newton County is up to nine cases, all involving skunks.  Neighboring Boone County reports 12 cases, 10 skunks, one bull and one bat. Meanwhile a special rabies clinic is being offered at Western Grove, in the area of the county where many of the confirmed cases have been found.  Anyone can bring their animal to the clinic to have it vaccinated for just $10.  The Newton and Searcy County 4-H programs will receive a portion of the proceeds.

In other headlines:
  • "Communities seek to keep identities" reports on the efforts by some residents of eastern Newton County to "strengthen and sustain our community."  They are seeking "ideas of economic development, education opportunities, or celebrating the area's heritage."  The effort includes the communities of Bass, Cave Creek, Mt. Judea, Piercetown and Vendor.  I last reported on these communities' efforts to save their post offices here.  
  • The Newton County Resource Council has seven new members:  Patricia McInnis, Bobby Keeton, Ron Ferguson, Regina Tkachuk, Betty Stivers, Chad Watkins, and Garland Matlock.  Three alternates were also elected.  Currently, the Resource Council's programs include Roundtop Park and assisting the Newton County Food Room with FEMA funding.  Areas of concern are:  youth activities, a community center, transportation, road improvements, an animal shelter, healthy lifestyles, education, and tourism development including trails, music and ecotours.   Linda Chappell of the Newton County Extension Service Office and Mary Olson volunteered to investigate reinitiating a summer youth program.  The NCRC, which was founded more than 20 years ago and  is also responsible for Bradley Park, local internet service, self-help housing and low income housing in Western Grove.  
  • The Christian Food Room have received a used trailer that they can use to "bring much needed food from distant depots and pantries to Jasper."  The trailer was a gift from a group of local Civil War reenters who ha previously used the trailer to store their equipment.  Most of the Food  Room's inventory comes from distributors such as the Arkansas Rice Depot in Little Rock and a regional pantry located several counties away in Norfork.  The Food Room is serving a growing number of families, presumably because of the ongoing economic downturn.  The Food Room has recently received a $2800 grant from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The Newton County Resource Center administers the grant.    
  • Newton County Special Services celebrated its 40th anniversary.
  • A new state law passed in March, 2011, requires all water systems serving more than 5,000 people to fluoridate their water.  This will add "hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of water and raise customers' water bills," according to local water officials.  Officials from various water districts met with state lawmakers to discuss the issue.  The Mockingbird Hill Water Association is on record as opposing the fluoridation.  The president of that water association's board wrote in a letter to the Newton County Times:  "Besides the environmental consequences of introducing a deadly chemical into our drinking water, we object strongly to the potential cost."  (Jan. 25, 2012 issue) 
  • Oark School patrons have asked the Jasper School Board not to tear down the school's old gym, which was build during the Works Project Administration era.  It has been used for classroom space since 1987, when the new gymnasium was built.  The building still has its original hardwood floor, with the hornet mascot painted at center court.  The Jasper School Board, which governs the Oark campus, is considering tearing down the gymnasium once a new six-classroom facility is built.  
  • Newton County's Solid Waste Department received a $3800 grant from the State General Improvement Fund for its recycling program.  

More on rural post offices: progress vs. community?

An editorial in yesterday's Denver Post urges the U.S. House of Representatives to reject the Senate plan for dealing with the U.S. Postal Service's economic crisis.  As discussed here, that Senate plan would delay post office closures for a year.  Editors at the Post write:    
It's a sad day when politicians won't allow a bureaucracy to downsize as it sees fit in order to be more efficient.
The editorial continues:
The agency should be allowed to hew more closely to its plan, and we're disappointed that Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, both Democrats, supported the Senate plan, particularly the piece that delays rural post office closures.   
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, also has taken issue with closing rural post offices.  To his credit, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, is on board with closures, as well as other reforms.   
Certainly, closing under-utilized post offices is a serious issue for areas where such entities are seen as the 'heart' of the community.  But the closures also are an important piece of what should be a broad strategy to make the USPS more lean and efficient. 
Ultimately, its future will depend upon whether it can calibrate and adapt to changing ways of delivering information.  Congress wouldn't be doing the Postal Service any favors by delaying that transformation.  
The way in which the editorial pits progress and technology against sentimentality or nostalgia reminds me of the contrary position taken by Wendell Berry in his recent Jefferson lecture.  (Read more here and here).  Specifically, I recalled this part of the lecture, in which Berry writes, tongue in cheek, of "mobility," the role of technologies, and the downsides of both:
[T]he most conscientiously up-to-date people can easily do without local workshops and stores, local journalism, a local newspaper, a local post office, all of which supposedly have been replaced by technologies.  But what technology can replace personal privacy or the coherence of a family or a community?  What technology can undo the collateral damages of an inhuman rate of technological change?