Monday, December 31, 2012

Linking rural development to immigration opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2012

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

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

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

(Rural) Moderation of Washington state's political scene

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Oil fields attract young laborers in eastern Montana

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2012

Patsy Cline as "white trash"

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Parsing the Indian electorate, including rural interest groups

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Re-thinking gun control, and acknowledging the rural link

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Federal retirements shaking up Alaska's public landscape

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

More on the obsolescence of the rural vote

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Recognizing the particular challenges of rural domestic violence

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

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hunting as classed? classless? classy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted to ClassCrits

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Never mind swing states, let's talk swing counties

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

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

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

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