Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Silo accidents claim young lives

The New York Times yesterday ran a front-page feature on silo accidents in the United States.  An excerpt from John M. Broder's story follows:
Even as the rate of serious injury and fatalities on American farms has fallen, the number of workers dying by entrapment in grain bins and silos has remained stubbornly steady. The annual number of such accidents rose throughout the past decade, reaching a peak of at least 26 deaths in 2010, before dropping somewhat since.
Silos teeming with corn, wheat or soybeans become death traps when grain cascades out of control, asphyxiating or crushing their victims.  (A visual depicting the process is here).  Broder notes that 80 farmworkers--14 of them teenage boys--have died in silo accidents since 2007.  About a fifth of silo accidents involve workers under the age of 20.

Experts say the vast majority of these deaths are preventable.  The accidents occur when grain in silos "cascades out of control" while workers are in the silos to dislodge grain from the sides.  When the grain cascades down, the worker may be trapped--and crushed and asphyxiated.

One cause of the rise deaths, Broder notes, is the rise in the volume of corn being produced and stored to meet global demands for food, animal feed, and even ethanol.  

The deaths also reveal "continuing flaws in the enforcement of worker safety laws and weaknesses in rules meant to protect" young farmworkers.   The Labor Department last year proposed regulations that would increase protections for these young workers, but even those regulations--which the Obama administration pulled back from--would not have protected child and teenage workers on family farms and small operations, which is where 70% of grain entrapment accidents occur.  

An earlier post about the U.S. Labor Department's proposal, which was subsequently withdrawn, is here.  A New York Times op-ed about them is here.   

Monday, October 29, 2012

Romney courts rural voters; geographical strategies appears increasingly critical in presidential contest

On Saturday, the New York Times ran a story titled "In Virginia, Romney Scours Coal Country for Edge over Obama," with the dateline, Appalachia, Virginia, population 1,839. But Michael Shear's story is about more than the Romney campaign's efforts in Virginia, amidst the mostly rural voters of the Ninth Congressional District. It is also about the candidates' efforts to attract working class voters and small business owners in various swing states. An excerpt follows:
The battle playing out in Virginia has echoes across the battleground states, where the final days of the presidential campaign have become a test of geographical strategies and an all-important focus on motivation, intensity and turnout. Republicans are pushing hard in suburban Denver and central Florida to appeal to Hispanic small business owners. Mr. Obama’s campaign is probing for white male voters around Toledo, where there are major auto plants that benefited from the auto bailout.
Speaking of geography, another NYT story this week-end focuses on the respective campaign's strategies, which often focus on the county level of the swing states.

Later, Shear turns his focus back to Virginia, explaining that Romney hopes his "appeal in sparsely populated coal country" can balance out the greater number of liberal votes in metropolitan northern Virginia.  Romney is playing up the perception that Obama declared a "war on coal," which you can read more about here and here.  Shear also writes colorfully of "self-described hillbillies" in southwest Virginia, few of whom, he reports, are undecided. 
And Shear quotes Dave Saunders, "a veteran Democratic strategist who lives in that region":
Three things are sacred in Southwest Virginia--the Holy Bible, moonshine and coal.  That's all I got to say.  [The Romney-Ryan ticket] will get big numbers in the Ninth.  No question at all. 
Recent polls assessing the vote across the rural-urban axis are available at the Daily Yonder, here and here.  The show Romney with a widening lead among likely voters from rural parts of swing states.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XCVIII): Assault, sex offenses adjudicated

The October 24, 2012 issue of the Newton County Times compiles criminal cases recently adjudicated in the county's Circuit Court.  These include:
  • Ira Gentry, age 36, was charged with aggravated assault, a class D felony, battery in the third degree, a class A misdemeanor and second degree assault on a family or household, a class B felony and as a habitual offender following a disturbance at a Western Grove residence in March 2011.  Gentry allegedly brandished a knife at his victims "after punching one of them in the jaw and forehead, [p]unching another person at the scene and then going to the residence next door and punching his girlfriend."  Gentry pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in the first degree, a class A misdemeanor.  Other charges were amended and dismissed.  The court sentenced Gentry to a year of probation and fined him $1000 in costs and fees.  He is required to attend an anger management program and an outpatient drug program. 
  • Lee Hankins, 41, was charged with sexual assault in the second degree, a class B felony, after he allegedly touched the breasts of an 11-year-old girl and placed her hand on his penis.  Hankins was reportedly a friend of the girl's family.  The prosecutor reduced the original charge to sexual assault in the fourth degree, a class A misdemeanor.  The sentence imposed was a year of probation and a fine of $1500.  He has been ordered to have no future contact with the victim or her family.
  • Joshua Barbee, 32, was charged with distributing, possession or viewing child pornography, a Class C felony.  In a plea agreement, Barbee agreed to plead no contest, and he was sentenced to four years of probation.  he was also ordered to pay the mandatory sex offender registration fee of $250 and other costs totaling $1325.  
  • Kerry Woods, 47, was charged with non-support for a period starting Oct. 22, 2006 and continuing through August 31, 2010.  He allegedly owed between $2500 and $19,000 for failing to support his son.  In a plea agreement, Woods was sentenced to six years probation and one year to be served in the Regional Correction Facility. He must pay restitution of $7,206.87, as well as other court costs and fees. He is also required to make one monthly payment of $200 which shall be used to satisfy fines and costs in both cases.  This is an interesting financial arrangement because the suggestion is that he will have to pay only $200, but perhaps the reporter meant to write $200/month.  
  • Laura Nadine Sickler, 54, was charged with residential burglary, a class B felony.  She pleaded guilty to criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, and was credited with 26 days served in jail and placed on a year of probation.  Sickler has agreed to testify against any co-defendants and to have no further contact with the victims of the case.  
In other news, two men were killed in an off-road accident on a Polaris RZR "side-by-side utility vehicle" on Forest Service Road No. 1310 in neighboring Pope County.  

Two hikers, University of Arkansas students, were located by a search party organized by the Sheriff's Office on Oct. 16 and 17.  The students "had been at a concert with friends in Fayetteville, but went to Newton County looking for waterfalls."  Their friends in Fayetteville reported them missing. They were found "tired, hungry, thirsty and a little scratched up," but otherwise "not hurt."  

Ozark Opportunities, Inc., distributed USDA donated foods via the Newton County Health Unit at 5-6 West Court Street.  The foods included UHT milk, mix fruit, potatoes, spaghetti sauce, kidney beans, and rotini pasta. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Manitoba town offers land for C$10/lot

NPR reported yesterday about Reston, Manitoba's offer. Reston is located 45 miles north of North Dakota.  The town hopes the offer will draw "new blood to the area." According to the story, "[i]nterest is rolling in from [both] sides of the border."  NPR hosts Melissa Block and Audie Cornish interviewed Tanis Chalmers, economic development officer for Pipestone, the municipality that oversees Reston.   Chalmers reports that she's received 800 inquiries so far regarding the 13 plots of land available.  

As for the town's amenities, Chalmers lists a grocery store, pharmacy, lumber yard, credit union, nine-hole golf course, an arena with curling surface, and the Reston Rockets, the local baseball team.

As for the $10 price, it's actually a bit more complicated than that.  A $1000 deposit is required, but if you build on the property within a year, you get $990 back.

The story doesn't indicate how Reston is advertising the offer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Montana's "castle" doctrine attracts controversy following a death in Flathead County

Dan Healy reports in today's New York Times about a September 22 death in Kalispell, Montana that has generated new controversy there regarding the trend to enhance self-defense rights further with what is sometimes called the "castle doctrine"--the long-held Anglo-American idea that a man's home is his castle.  The Flathead County Attorney is declining to press charges against the shooter  because the man he shot and killed was in the shooter's garage--albeit unarmed--at the time.  Here's an excerpt from Healy's front-page story that explains the legal backdrop:
In 2009, Montana joined more than 20 other states in passing broad self-defense measures backed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups. Under the law, a person can brandish a gun to ward off a threat. An individual does not have to flee or call the police before engaging in self-defense. 
For criminal trials in which a defendant claims self-defense, the legislation flips the burden of proof, putting the onus on prosecutors to discredit those claims. 
“It changed things here in Montana,” said Leo Gallagher, president of the Montana County Attorneys Association, which joined associations of sheriffs and police chiefs to oppose the law. “For any sort of personal affront, you’re permitted to threaten the person with a gun.”
The Flathead County Attorney recently explained his decision not to prosecute with a four-page letter that included this statement, which referred to the two men by their first names:
Given his reasonable belief that he was about to be assaulted, Brice's use of deadly force against Dan was justified.
Healy's story does not specify what facts the attorney cited to support the conclusion that the shooter's belief was reasonable, though we are told that the decedent had gone to the shooter's house looking for the decedent's wife, who was romantically involved with the shooter.  To me, that alone does not establish the shooter's reasonable belief that an unarmed man is a threat to him.  

The local newspaper, The Daily Inter-Lake, opined in a recent editorial that the "community has not been well-served by either the law or the legal process in this case."  It calls on Montana's legislature to re-consider the state's stand-your-ground law.  As for the reference to "legal process," it criticizes the County Attorney's delay in releasing its statement, and the need to better explain the law to a "curious public."  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Notable deaths in South Dakota

Two men from very different segments of South Dakota society died this week. Yet, different as their respective milieux were, both men were rebels of a sort.

Russell Means, a member of the Lakota and leader in the American Indian movement died yesterday, just a few days after the family of Senator George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for President in 1972, announced his death in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Read the NYT coverage of Means' death here, of McGovern's death here.

The New York Times headline for McGovern's obituary was "A Prairie Liberal, Trounced but Never Silenced." It recounts his life with frequent references to his roots in South Dakota, including this paragraph:
A slender, soft-spoken minister’s son newly elected to Congress — his father was a Republican — Mr. McGovern went to Washington as a 34-year-old former college history teacher and decorated bomber pilot in World War II. He thought of himself as a son of the prairie as well, with a fittingly flat, somewhat nasal voice and a brand of politics traceable to the Midwestern progressivism of the late 19th century.
Elsewhere the obituary, by David Rosenbaum, quotes extensively from a 2005 interview with McGovern:
I always thought of myself as a good old South Dakota boy who grew up here on the prairie. My dad was a Methodist minister. I went off to war. I have been married to the same woman forever. I’m what a normal, healthy, ideal American should be like.

But we probably didn’t work enough on cultivating that image. ... We were more interested in ending the war in Vietnam and getting people out of poverty and being fair to women and minorities and saving the environment.

It was an issue-oriented campaign, and we should have paid more attention to image.
I don’t think the American people had a clear picture of either Nixon or me. I think they thought that Nixon was a strong, decisive, tough-minded guy, and that I was an idealist and antiwar guy who might not attach enough significance to the security of the country.

The truth is, I was the guy with the war record, and my opposition to Vietnam was because I was interested in the nation’s well-being.
The story also discusses McGovern's early years, as well as his early leadership in South Dakota politics for the Democratic party. McGovern was born in Avon, South Dakota, now a town of about 600, in 1922. His family moved to Mitchell, South Dakota when McGovern was six years old. McGovern's father, a Methodist minister and Republican, was a strict disciplinarian who tried to prevent his four children from playing sports and going to the cinema.

After the war, McGovern earned graduate degrees in history from Northwestern University, eventually becoming a professor at Dakota Wesleyan, his alma mater. But he soon left that job to become executive secretary of the state's Democratic Party, "almost single-handedly reviv[ing] a moribund operation in a heavily Republican state."
Month after month, he drove across South Dakota in a beat-up sedan, making friends and setting up county organizations. In 1956, gaining the support of farmers who had become New Deal Democrats during the Depression, he was elected to Congress himself, defeating an overconfident incumbent Republican.
McGovern thus became the first Democratic congressman from South Dakota in more than 20 years. He remained a standard-bearer for liberal causes his entire life, with a particular focus on food assistance for the poor.

Russell Means was a South Dakota renegade of a different type. Here's the lede from the New York Times obituary of Means, who died at the age of 72 of esophageal cancer:
Russell C. Means, the charismatic Oglala Sioux who helped revive the warrior image of the American Indian in the 1970s with guerrilla-tactic protests that called attention to the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died on Monday at his ranch in Porcupine, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

* * *
He styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
An editorial in today's paper, The Seige of Wounded Knee, includes this paragraph about the significance of Russell Means' life and legacy:
The country is still good at ignoring Indians, but for a time Mr. Means and the American Indian Movement punctured that invisibility. By raising hell for 71 days in one of the most remote corners of the continent, on behalf of an abused and forgotten people, he and his allies captured the attention of the world. “It was pretty much all over three-and-a-half years after Alcatraz,” wrote Paul Chaat Smith, an American Indian writer and associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, “when exhausted, hungry rebels signed an agreement that ended the Wounded Knee occupation. There were other actions and protests, but none came close to capturing the imagination of the Indian world or challenging American power.”
Here's to the memories of two very courageous South Dakotans, even if Means might not have wanted to think of himself as such (a South Dakotan, that is).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Federal funds to provide water, sanitation infrastructure in rural Alaska

NPR reported a few days ago on a $29 million grant from the USDA which will be used to bring running water and flush toilets to sixteen remote Alaskan communities.  The places that will get the funding and new infrastructure are mostly native villages, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium will oversee the program.   Matt Dixon, who oversees that program, describes in great detail the remoteness of these communities:
You know, if you're not from Alaska, they're really hard to describe.  Alaskan villages are very, very remote.  There's no road access, and most are located either on the coast or on a river.  So during the summer months, you can get there via boat or barge if you want to move heavy equipment in.  But in general, you're going to fly to these communities.  Some of them as far as three to 400 miles form what most of us would consider a metropolitan area, and they vary in size, anywhere from about 100 people to about 1,200 folks.  
Dixon then goes on to describe--in equally great detail--how the residents of these places currently get water (melt it in the winter; carry it from a river or collect rain run-off from roof at other times) and how they dispose of their human waste (a so-called honey bucket that must be hand carried to a lagoon).  

The new sanitation infrastructure will include a water treatment facility and a waste treatment facility at each of these 16 locations.  Though the building season in Alaska is short, Dixon estimates the new facilities will be in place by late 2014.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Service on village councils proves deadly in rural Kashmir

This story in today's New York Times tells a tale of death in the Indian state of Kashmir.  For more than three decades, Jim Yardley reports, villages in this tinderbox region had no local government councils, or gram panchayats.  But last year, in the face of threats of violence, "rural Kashmiris turned out in huge numbers" to elect these local councils "in what became a victory for grass-roots democracy in a blood-soaked land." The newly elected councils set about to undertake "long-neglected development projects," such as basic sanitation infrastructure.  In recent weeks, however, several panchayat leaders have been killed, and posters urging council members to resign have appeared in some villages.  Many elected leaders have in fact resigned, and several of the panchayats have ceased to operate.  Yardley quotes a village leader, Mohammad Altaf Malik, speculating on who or what is behind the killings:
There are forces that don't want to see the panchayats succeed.  The panchayat elections created tremendous hope among the people.  Now that hope is slowly diminishing.  
Yardley's story provides this additional context:
Kashmir is the stubborn, unsolved riddle of South Asia, a mostly Muslim region of blue skies and snow-capped Himalayan peaks that once witnessed a bloody insurgency and is still claimed by both India and Pakistan, even as some Kashmiris aspire to outright independence.
Some Kashmiri militant groups sought a boycott of the elections last year, but about 80% of voters nevertheless participated, making this aspect of Kashmir look more like the rest of India--at least for a time.
Panchayats have long existed elsewhere in India, but the absence of the system in Kashmir has meant that political power and patronage remained with state legislators and block-level administrators.  The panchayats shook that political structure, especially when their elected leaders--known as sarpanches--began complaining that the established order was not devolving power.  
Yardley quotes Omar Abdullah, the state's chief minister, who explains the tensions between different levels of government:
Let's understand that you have not had a functioning panchayat system here for more than three decades.  So an entire generation of political and administrative leadership has grown up without having to work with this group of elected representatives.  Clearly, they would much rather than deal with them. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Small-town case" becomes "statewide cause"

That headline borrows from a quote in yesterday's New York Times coverage of the religion-and-education controversy brewing in Kountze, Texas, population 2,115.  Last month, school officials prohibited the cheerleaders from displaying banners quoting Bible verses at the beginning of football games.  A group of fifteen cheerleaders and their parents then sued the district, claiming that the ban violated their free speech rights.  A state judge granted a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the ban, thereby permitting the cheerleaders to continue to display the banners at games.      That restraining order expires today, when the judge will consider whether to grant a temporary injunction against enforcement of the ban.  Earlier coverage of the matter is here and here.

Here's an excerpt from yesterday's story, which highlights how state officials have become involved in the matter:
[Governor Rick] Perry was joined at the Capitol here on Wednesday by the attorney general, Greg Abbott, who said the [school] district's action against the students was improper.  He argued tha thte banners were protected by a state law that requires school districts to treat student expression of religious views in the same manner as secular views.  That law, signed by Mr. Perry in 2007, is called the Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act.  
The school district banned the signs, it says, based on a 2000 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, which held that student-led prayers at high school football games were unconstitutional.

The story quotes Perry:
We're a nation that's built on the concept of free expression of ideas.  ... We're also a culture built upon the concept that the original law is God's law, outlined in the Ten Commandments.  If you think about it, the Kountze cheerleaders simply wanted to call attention to their faith and to their Lord.
The story describes Perry and Abbott as appearing at a press conference in front of a banner that read, "If God is for us, who will be against us."  I believe that paraphrases a verse from the Bible.  Nevertheless, Perry assured reporters that he would be as supportive of the cheerleaders if they were quoting the Koran or Confucius.

Although Kountze is characterized as a "small town," and it is in fact "rural" as that term is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, it is part of the Beaumont Metropolitan Area.  Especially interesting in light of this current controversy is that, according to Wikipedia, the city elected the nation's first Muslim mayor, in 1991.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Last ditch effort to stop the Keystone XL in east Texas

Dan Frosh reported in the New York Times a few days ago on efforts to stop the southern part of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from proceeding through the northeast corner of Wood County Texas.  There, disgruntled landowners and outside activists such as actor Darryl Hannah have protested and sought to physically block the work of laying the pipeline.  A number of them are camped out in a web of tree houses.  The story's dateline is Winnsboro, Texas, population 3,584, and some excerpts from it follow:
Here among the woods and farmland, what might be one of the last pitched battles over the Keystone XL oil pipeline has been unfolding for weeks now, since construction of the controversial project's southern leg began in August.  
Frosh quotes Ron Siefert, a spokesman for the Tar Sands Blockade, environmental activists who are behind the resistance in Winnsboro and who assert that the oil sands crude to be carried in the pipeline is especially toxic.
Initially, a lot of the environmental movement on a national scale had kind of written this fight off. ...  But we awakened folks from that slumber.  I think now there's an understanding that people are not going to give this up.
One Wood County landowner, 62-year-old Susan Scott, regrets having granted TransCanada a right-of-way through her 60 acres.  She said she didn't know the type of oil that would be carried by the pipeline when she took $22,000 from TransCanada.  Scott has since buried the money in a fruit jar on her property, saying she doesn't care if it rots.  Scott also maintains that she granted the right-of-way because the feared a lawsuit if she held out.  Now, Scott fears she is "guilty of destroying [her] farm."

Another landowner, David Daniel, also granted an easement to TransCanada but then refused to recognize it.  TransCanada sued Daniel, and he has since settled with the company and asked the protestors to leave his property.  But, Siefert, the spokesman for Tar Sands Blockade, responds:
It's actually out of respect for David Daniel that we stay. ... I stand by the fact that protecting his forest is the best thing for him, the best thing for the community, the best thing for the Planet Earth.  
Earlier stories about the Keystone XL are here and here.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Indian march for land ends

Here's the update from the New York Times on the story I wrote this blog post about a few days ago:
A massive protest march involving tens of thousands of India' poorest people came to an abrupt halt Thursday, short of its New Delhi destination, after the central government agreed to introduce a national policy to give land to the landless. 
The Ministry of Rural Development has agreed to craft the policy with the help of the march's organizers, particularly non-profit group Ekta Parishad.  An agreement between the government and the march organizers includes promises by the Ministry to draft this policy in the next four to six months and to pressure states to protect land rights of lower classes and set up fast-track courts to deal with land issues.
The story goes on to note that "[t]ens of millions of farmers in India do not own the land on which they farm." But land issues loom large for many city dwellers, too.  About 200 million Indians live in illegal slums, where they face disruption and eviction.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CVII): Locals resist federal land management decision

The Newton County Times issue from Sept. 5, 2012, indicates that the Newton County Wildlife Association, best described as a local non-profit, has field an administrative appeal against the U.S. Forest Service plan to expand elk grazing on forest service land. The expansion, known as Bear Cat Hollow Phase II, would involve the clearing of land "primarily to feed a growing population of Western elk" which were re-introduced into the county about three decades ago. Read more about that here.

Bear Cat Hollow Phase I, which faced a similar challenge in 2007, is near completion. That means that some areas of Ozark National Forest in the Richland Creek area have been logged and bulldozed for "large wildlife openings" to help feed the elk.

The planning for both projects began in 2000 based on a request from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Initially both phases were to affect nearly 16,000 acres, but the project has since grown to cover 38,000 acres of the National Forest.

Opponents of the expansions complain of a lack of public involvement int he decision to expand the elk habitat, and they said that this violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act. They also complain about the lack of environmental impact assessments regarding the introduction of the elk into Ozark National Forest. Both the Newton County and Search County Quorum Courts have passed resolutions opposing the expansion.

In another matter reflecting federal-local tensions, work has begun to clear gravel and brush from the Little Buffalo River in Jasper, both above and below the Highway 7 bridge. Residents of Jasper have grown increasingly concerned about the build up of gravel and brush where the river passes through town because of the heightened possibility of flood damage from these obstructions of the stream channel. The onset of this work comes after an effort by county and city officials to get federal approval to do it. The story states that "governmental legislation" put an end to the long-time practice of "local people taking it on themselves to keep the river channel clear."

In particular, the story notes, "more agencies staked a claim to the stream" over the years, which complicated the county and city's ability to get the work done. As a result, local officials contacted the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers about the desire to clean up the channel. Ultimately, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers granted permission for the clean up in late August, so long as the material being cleared goes "directly from bucket to truck." Other means of clearance, such as "pushing up material in piles prior to removing it (temporary stockpiling), pushing unwanted material (oversize, etc) against stream banks or elsewhere in the channel, pushing up berms to separate the removal area from the flowing stream, and constructing access roads in the streambed" would require a permit, the Army Corp of Engineers told the county officials.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Month-long march for land in India

The New York Times headline is "A Massive March for Land, Years in the Planning," and in it Niharika Mandhana asserts:
Over the last decade, India has substantially expanded its net of welfare policies, aimed at lifting its millions from poverty.  A right-to-food bill, which guarantees subsidized food grains to the country's poor, is in the works, and a right-to-work program, called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, ensures 100 days of employment to the rural poor. 
 * * * 
India already has a rural housing program, called the Indira Awaas Yojana, which gives cash to those below the poverty line to build a house.  But, activists say, the program is too narrow to help a large number of people and doesn't solve the fundamental problem of landlessness.  
The march, organized to demand land rights for the poor, is designed to facilitate the participation of all, "the young, old, rural, urban, educated and uneducated."  The walkers will cover 15 kilometers a day.  "It uses the strengths of the poor," one of the organizers commented.  The walk was nearly averted by discussions with India's development minister, Jairam Ramesh, but when those talks failed, the walk--largely organized by Ekta Parishad, a non-profit group--went ahead.

Read here my own analysis of the human rights issues associated with deprivation of first-order needs to food, education, and health care in India.  My critical lens there is grounded in the rural-urban axis, and gross disparities in access to services along that axis.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Federal judge dismisses Oglala Sioux suit against beer sellers

Timothy Williams reports in the New York Times today that the Oglala Sioux are considering lifting their long-time ban on alcohol in light of a federal court's dismissal this week of a $500 million lawsuit against beer distributors and beer sellers in Whiteclay, Nebraska. Whiteclay is just across the state line from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and four stores in the small Nebraska town, which has a population of just 10, sell 13,000 cans of beer and malt liquor each day. It is a notorious fact that most of that alcohol winds up on the Pine Ridge reservation, consumed by the Oglala Sioux. Read earlier posts about the matter here, here and here.

Here is an excerpt from the Lincoln Journal Star's coverage of the suit and its dismissal:
A federal judge in Nebraska threw out the case this week, ruling that his court didn't have jurisdiction to address the allegations.
The beer companies had argued that none of the tribe's claims were allowed under federal law, but Tom White, the Omaha-based attorney for the tribe, said the plaintiffs filed the suit in federal court "because the claim raised a federal issue and most cases involving sovereign Indian country are handled at that level." White said that the tribe may re-file the suit in state court, a move the federal judge suggested. White said:
The federal court was very careful not to toss out any of the causes of action, even though that's what the defendants really wanted. ... That's very encouraging to us.
In his report for the NYT, Williams quotes Judge John M. Gerrard of the federal district court for Nebraska:
[There is] little question that alcohol sold in Whiteclay contributes significantly to tragic conditions on the reservation .... And it may well be that the defendants could or should, do more to try and improve those conditions of members of the tribe. But that is not the same as saying that a federal court has jurisdiction to order them to do so.
In other American Indian news, Williams also reported this week that the Sioux are desperately working to raise $9 million to buy nearly 2,000 acres of sacred Sioux land in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The land, which is known to the Lakota as Pe Sla, but otherwise as the Reynolds Prairie Ranch, was taken from the Sioux in 1876. The Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 had granted the land to the Sioux, but the U.S. back-pedalled on that commitment when gold was discovered there. The land was later homesteaded by the ancestors of the current owners, the Reynolds. When the Reynolds put the land up for sale earlier this year, the Sioux made the winning bid and a downpayment of $900,000. Now, however, the Sioux are struggling to complete the purchase by the Nov. 1 deadline.

Louis Wayne Boyd, treasurer of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, explained:
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to get some land back that is very, very dear to us. Most of the tribes want to do something, but it's very difficult for them to raise any money, especially of this magnitude.
In 1979, the U.S. Court of Claims wrote of the federal government's misdeeds against the Sioux that "a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealing will never, in all probability, be found in our history." The Supreme Court then ruled in 1980 that the Sioux had not been adequately compensated for the land, and it ordered the government to pay the Sioux. The Sioux never accepted that money, saying that to do so would be to sell their mountians. They have insisted on the return of the Black Hills to their tribal authority. Meanwhile, the payment the U.S. government offered then has been accumulating interest and is now valued at $800 million. Yet the Sioux will not agree to use those funds to buy the sacred land.

Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Lakota Tribe in South Dakota explained the resistance with an analogy:
It's like someone stealing my car and I have to pay to get it back.

Attachment to farming, to the land, to a way of life -- in the midst of a drought

The New York Times ran this story yesterday, "Drought Leaves Cracks in Way of Life," about the consequences of the drought on farmers throughout the mid-section of the country.  After listing some of the things farmers and their families are doing without these days, e.g., vacations, smartphones, the story goes like this:
An then there is the stress--sleepless night, grumpiness and, in one extreme case, seizures.   
Lost amid the withered crops, dehydrated cattle and depleted ponds that have come to symbolize the country's most widespread drought in decades has been the toll on families whose livelihoods depend on farming. 
Journalist John Eligon also writes of farmers selling land that has been in their family for generations, as well as selling off herds of sheep and cattle because feed is too costly.

The story paints a vivid portrait of the consequences of the drought for many farm families in the plains and midwest, but the part that most captivated me were the quotes Eligon featured from interviews "with nearly three dozen farmers in the middle of the country."  Here's a sampling:

Kent Woolfolk, 56, a cattle farmer in southwestern Kansas said:  
My granddad wasn't a worrier, my dad wasn't a worrier, I'm not either. ... You got to be concerned, but if you dwell on it, it's just going to eat you up. ... It will rain.  It always has.  
Eligon tells the story of Carl Bettels, 57, who has cattle and corn on 560 acres in western Missouri.  He had planned to work for a few more years off the farm, at Walmart, which he thought woudl give hii enough savings to permit him to focus on farming the rest of his life.  But the corporation laid him off last October, and because of the drop in farm income, he and his wife are having to draw on their retirement savings to help fund college expenses for their daughter.  Bettels is quoted:
I like this out here.  I've done it for so long, it's a part of me.
His wife, who works at the local school, commented:
If it's doing this [drought] for the next two years, I can't see us being able to keep going.
The Habeck family in South Dakota are dairy farmers who sold 90% of their 350 cows but are still struggling to feed the remaining 30 because feed prices have increased fivefold.  Eligon writes:
They plan to sell two-thirds of the land that has been not only their business but also their pleasure over the years--they have hiked, camped and ridden horses with their four daughters on their land.  
Dawn Habeck said:
We're starting over again.  Even though we worked seven days a week--15-20 hours a day some days--it feels like for nothing.
Eligon also features Jim Selman, an 80 year-old cattle rancher in Texas who sold his entire herd of 300 cattle last year, five years into a drought in that region.
Ranching's not just an income, it is a way of life. ... It's what gives me pleasure, and all of a sudden I don't have that pleasure anymore.  
Taken together, these quotes depict an enormous attachment not only to a way of life, but also to place--an attachment often based on multi-generational engagement in farming in a particular locale.

It is interesting that Eligon does not discuss or attempt to explain these farmers' relationship to agribusiness.  Why are they "on their own" economically--as they appear to be (crop insurance and such aside)--when corporate agriculture remains so profitable?  What could/should the federal government do to re-allcoate risks?

Photos from Durong, South Burnett, Queensland, Australia, August 2012, about two years after a five-year drought broke there.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Newton County Farmer of the Year (Part III): Intensive production ag

This year's Farm Family of the Year in Newton County represent something of an oddity in that context and are a sharp contrast with the other featured farmers about whom I have written here and here.  The family are Stacy and April Root and their sons aged 12 and 9.  They raise cattle and turkeys on 495 acres in far northwest Newton County, near the county line with Madison County.  What sets the Roots apart is the size of their operation.  They have about 100 cattle (including 59 cows, 30 calves and three bulls), but the bulk of the farm is devoted to turkeys, which they grow under contract with Cargill.  The roots have about 75,000 turkeys at any given time, and they sell between 250,000 and 300,000 birds to Cargill each year, after the birds reach a weight of 12-16 lbs/each.  The Roots say their goal is to make it possible for their sons to "carry on our farming experience."  Their operation is called Root & Sons Farm.

In addition to raising cows and turkeys, the Roots grow hay on 90 acres, with each acre yielding an average of 2.25 tons/year.  They use about 300 tons of turkey litter to fertilize their own 320 acres, as well as the additional land they lease.  They have several stacking sheds for drying and storing the litter.  They sell the excess hay and litter that they don't use in their own operation.

The Roots have been farming since 1998, and they have increased the amount of land they farm by 200 acres in those 14 years.  They said they chose to raise poultry because it was the best option "with limited land."  It also permits them to "spend time with their boys."   April Root commented that the family goal is "to continue to clear more land and acquire more cattle."

Both Roots were raised on farms, and both have worked off the farm.  April is currently owner and operator of the only licensed, voucher-accepting day care in nearby Kingston.  She opened the facility in 2009.

The Roots mention some weather related risks associated with farming, including the recent drought and the ice storm of 2009.  Roads were blocked and covered with ice, making it difficult "to get trucks to the farm to drop off and pick up turkeys and to get feed deliveries." The Roots were without electricity for 13 days.

Consuming the rural, as a matter of privilege

Rural and urban folks alike "consume" the rural.  One way in which both do so is as hikers, campers and hunters on public lands.  Two recent pieces in the New York Times discuss possible changes to the availability of these lands, especially in the West.

The first piece was Timothy Egan's, The Geography of Nope, in which he writes of current conservative/Republican efforts to "tear away at [the] inheritance" that is our nation's "great, unfenced public domain" which he calls "the envy of the rest of world."  Egan asserts that the Republican presidential ticket has endorsed a "radical plan to overhaul a century of sensible balance" regarding use of national parks, national forests, and other public lands, most of them located in the Western part of the United States.  Most colorfully, Egan writes:
Handing over millions of acres of public land has long been a dream borne on the vapors of single-malt Scotch sipped inside trophy homes in the 1 percent ZIP codes of the West.
While the idea of handing over these lands usually vanishes, Egan asserts, it has persisted this year, and he challenges the moderator of the Presidential debates to raise the issue in that setting, essentially to put Governor Romney on the spot.

Of course, Jim Lehrer did not put the candidates on the spot tonight, but Romney did mention the public-private divide among lands where oil exploration is taking place.  Here's a subsequent commentary on that issue.

The second piece was Jack Healy's story about a Koch brother's effort to join two segments of ranch he owns near Paonia, Colorado by gaining access to a chunk of land long held by the public.  The story is headlined, "Political and Class Issues Complicate a Colorado Land Dispute," and here's the lede:
This is a story of a quiet billionaire and a middle-class mountain town, of class divisions, small- town quarrels and competing visions of the future of the West.  
It goes on to describe the land that Koch wants as "the corridor" sheepherders used a century ago "to drive their flocks from valley floors to high grazing grounds without crossing private property."
For decades after, it was mostly forgotten by everyone but a few hunters and hikers--one of dozens of such access strips that stipple maps of the West like a shower of hyphens.   
But recently, Mr. Koch has made it perhaps the most contested ground for miles around, setting off  a debate about private property and public access, privilege and tradition in an era when boutique ranches and sprawling new Western manors are brushing up against working-class rural communities.
Healy reports that Koch offered the government a deal that would give him access to that corridor and some other public lands--a total of 1690 acres that would bridge the divide between the two parts of his 4500-acre ranch.  In exchange, Koch would give the government "two smaller but more valuable and often visited private parcels to the National Park Service."  One of those parcels is in Dinosaur National Monument, near the Utah-Colorado state line, while the other is "near a dazzling reservoir" some 70 miles from Paonia.  Koch has also proposed building "23 miles of trails and new access routes to the forest and wilderness" as part of the trade.

Healy colorfully expresses the response to this proposal in terms that highlight the class issues:
Opponents saw it as a land grab, one that brought the chasm between rich America and just-getting-by America right to their corner of the Rockies.  To the staunchest opponents, it was simple: a powerful out-of-town landowner wanted to close public lands in their backyard so he could have the run of his.
And so this conflict on Colorado's Western slope--like the proposal to which Egan refers--raises issues about who is entitled to consume rural America, at least as manifest in public lands.

And since I mentioned hunting (as did Egan at the outset of his piece), I can't resist the link to this story from the front page of the New York Times a few days ago, "New Breed of Hunter Shoots, Eats and Writes." Since I'm on the subject class here, I can resist this quote from journalist Dwight Garner's review of several new books by young hunters:
But I liked the way [author Georgia Pelligrini] pays attention to class issues, noting how expensive hunting has become and how much of the prime hunting land is available only to the wealthy. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The "nice" factor in North Dakota politics

Jonathan Weisman reports today in the New York Times on the U.S. Senate race in North Dakota, a race for the seat being vacated by Democrat Kent Conrad.  Vying for the seat are Republican Congressman Rick Berg and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who was state attorney general from 1992-2000.  Weisman's story is titled "'North Dakota Nice' Plays Well in Senate Race," and he suggests that Heitkamp could win even in this overwhelmingly Republican state.  One reason is that the seat is being vacated by a Democrat, and it if goes Republican, the state's entire congressional delegation will be Republican.  But the other reason is that people like Heitkamp, while Berg is less personable.  Here's an excerpt from the front-page story:
[W]ith shoe leather, calibrated attacks and likability--an intangible that goes far in North Dakota--Ms. Heitkamp has made this a real fight. 
The contest--the state's first competitive one since 1986 and probably its nastiest in modern history--features two very different politicians with very different styles:  the rumpled Democrat against the well-turned-out Republican, the longtime denizen of state government against the affluent businessman.  Ms. Heitkamp hugs her way through a room.  Mr. Berg approached a table of women in Fargo on Wednesday and then sheepishly backed off, saying:  'We won't bug you.  We'll just keep going.'
Later in the story, Weisman turns to some North Dakota issues to contrast the candidates' positions.   He summarizes Ms. Heitkamp's platform as one that would help North Dakota, including with issues such as "air service, veterans' health care, flood control, wind energy production and agricultural assistance."  In contrast, Mr. Berg sees North Dakota as able to help the nation because of its current success.  Weisman quotes Berg:
We've gone from a state that has kinda been in the bottom half of the country in terms of our economics and business to really the envy of the nation.  ... My passion is taking what we've done in North Dakota--if you will, the North Dakota way--and applying it nationally.  If we can do that, we can reignite America's economic engine.
What Berg's comment ignores is the oil and gas boom that the state has been experiencing for the past several years--a boom that not every state has the opportunity to experience because of the varying presence of such natural resources.

Interestingly, at least according to her wikipedia page, Heitkamp is a proponent of fracking, and she has accused critics of the process as buying into "junk science."  Indeed, she currently directs the Dakota Gasification Company, a plant that converts coal into natural gas.  Heitkamp is on the record as supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Some of her other positions are more conventionally Democratic.  She is for the Buffet Rule via the Paying a Fair Share Act, which would require anyone earning over $1 million to pay at least at 30% federal tax rate.

Both Heitkamp and Berg are married to physicians, but they take somewhat different positions on healthcare reform. She thinks it has "good and bad" features, but "it needs to be fixed."  She has criticized Berg for supporting repeal of the law, noting it guarantees coverage for those with preexisting conditions.  Heitkamp is a breast cancer survivor.  Indeed, her diagnosis came 12 years ago, during a campaign for governor.  Heitkamp lost that campaign, which she largely abandoned to seek treatment.

Weisman's story focuses on how Heitkamp is making the rounds (that's the "shoe leather" reference in the comment above), speaking personally to many folks and displaying her personal touch.  It may seem kind of silly elsewhere, but with North Dakota home to only about 685,000 residents, it may have a significant impact there.

I am reminded of this NPR story from a few weeks ago which noted that, while the Democratic Party is losing ground in the south and while Arkansas's congressional delegation is now nearly entirely Republican, Governor Mike Beebe is a Democrat who carried every county in the state during the last election.  His secret to success:  "being able to empathize with the voters."  The story closes:
If you can make that connection, Beebe said, you can win the South, regardless of whether there's an R or a D behind your name.
Maybe the same will be true in North Dakota come November, though this NPR story makes it sound as if the same is unlikely to happen in neighboring Montana.  There, too, the personal connection is somewhat expected, as suggested by Martin Kaste's report on the race between Democratic incumbent Jon Tester and Congressman Denny Rehberg:
Tester worked the crowd, shaking hands with the kind of small-town familiarity th Montanans expect from their elected officials.  ...A burly guy, [Tester] dresses like the farmer he is.  
In 2006, he campaigned on the merits of his famously cheap, flat-top haircut.  But this year, no amount of down-home charm can change the fact that he's a sitting Democratic senator, and that rubs a lot of people in this crowd the wrong way.  
Each of these stories by a national news outlet--out of North Dakota, Arkansas and Montana--make the point that Democratic politicians in these places are hurt by their association with President Obama, who is wildly unpopular in all all three.  Given that all three are "rural" states by some ecological measures and in the popular imagination--and therefore arguably culturally rural--I wonder what this Obama aversion tells us about culturally rural voters.