Sunday, June 30, 2013

What do the gay marriage decisions portend for the conservative "rural heartland"? An analysis from Wyoming

Jack Healy reports for the New York Times today on the impact the Supreme Court's recent decisions on gay marriage might have in the "conservative heartland," and the story features the state of Wyoming, where state representative Cathy Connolly, an openly gay legislator, introduced a bill a few months ago to create domestic partnerships.  It advanced "further than anything like it in the history of this deep red state--sailing through committee and onto the floor of the full house."  Ultimately, however, the bill failed.  Like 36 other states, Wyoming limits marriage to a man and woman.

Healy's story features a gay couple who live in Caspar, Carl Oleson and Rob Johnston.  They have been together for 16 years but their relationship enjoys no protections.  He quotes Oleson,

You have to balance between so many things here.  I still have to be a little discreet.

Healy writes:
Being gay in Wyoming, known as the Equality State, has never been simple, and last week’s Supreme Court rulings, hailed as a victory for same-sex marriage, did little to change that. While many gay couples here cheered the decisions, they also said they woke up the next morning not feeling much more equal than they had the day before. 
* * *  
Wyoming has never been easy to pigeonhole when it comes to gay rights. Republicans dominate state and local politics, and support for gun rights, low taxes and small government runs as deep as groundwater. But so does a cowboy libertarian streak, residents say, rooted in ranches, homesteads and a notion of “You live your life, and I’ll live mine.”
Healy notes that Wyoming repealed its sodomy law in 1977, many years before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws as unconstitutional.  Also, within the last decade, Casper had a 27-year-old gay mayor.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXVI): Traffic stop ends in arrests

The June 26, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times features that front-page headline:  "Traffic stop ends in arrests."  The story's lede follows:
Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape said that three people were arrested on June 2 from a traffic stop on a reported stolen vehicle resulting in the discovery of controlled substance and firearms.

Slape stated suspected methamphetamine and suspected marijuana along with two handguns and drug paraphernalia were found in the vehicle.  Arrested were Abraham Campbell 29, of Hasty, Caleb Campbell 28, of Hasty and Ryan Lewis, 21, of Jasper.  Each was charged with a variety of offenses, some of which included with Simultaneous Possession of Drugs and Firearms, Possession of Methamphetamines with Purpose to Deliver, Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.  The others were charged with similar offenses.  Bond was set at $25,000 each.  
In other news:
  • "Buffalo River Elk Festival this weekend"
  • Health Unit Observes 100th Anniversary:  This story reports on an open house to celebrate the 100 years of public service of the Newton County Health Unit.  The unit provides a number of services, including this shockingly comprehensive list, and I quote:  
Infectious Disease Prevention & Control; Immunizations; Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control; WIC (Women, Infants & Children) Program and Women's Reproductive Health.  It also provides environmental health services, including Safe Drinking Water, On-site Wastewater Program and Food & Milk Programs, Heating, Ventilation, air Conditioning and Refrigeration and Plumbing Program.  In the area of Home Services, the unit oversees home care, personal care, ElderChoices, hospice, Maternal and Infant Services and community based case management for the elderly.  It also has access to the Public Health Laboratory in Little Rock.  The health unit sets the stage for community services such as Hometown Health Unit Improvement which brings together a wide range of people and organizations to identify community health problems and plan ways to solve them and the Office of Rural Health & Primary Care that provides technical assistance to organizations and communities to expand access to primary care for Arkansas by recruiting health care professionals in rural areas and providing technical assistance to Arkansas' 28 Critical Access Hospitals.
  • In related news, the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, in neighboring Boone County, announces the addition of a new Psychiatric Medical Director, Lara Huffman. Among her roots to the area are her college experience at Rhodes College in Memphis and medical school at the University of Tennessee. She did her three-year psychiatry residency at the University of Arkansas. She is married to an attorney licensed to practice in Arkansas and Tennessee and has three children been the ages of 4 and 9. We're told that her hobbies are "gardening, taking care of her flock of chickens, and writing books for children."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rural voters more complicated than we tend to think

See this report on a poll from the Center for Rural Affairs.  The poll was released Tuesday and Steven Yaccino reported on it for the New York Times.  Here's the lede:
Voters in some of the nation’s most rural areas, long considered a mainstay of small-government sentiments, have mixed views about the role federal policies should play in their lives, according to polling released Tuesday by the Center for Rural Affairs. 
Surveying more than 800 small-town and countryside residents across the Midwest, the Great Plains and the South, the rural advocacy group found that people were evenly divided about whether Washington should make more effort to strengthen rural communities or whether such involvement “will do more harm than good.” 
The polling, released just days after a farm bill failed to pass the House of Representatives, paints a nuanced portrait of rural America, one with a strong belief in reducing government spending and regulations, but increasingly in want of more effective policies that promote job training, infrastructure investment and education programs for low-income children outside of cities.
The story quotes Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center, who says rural voters are "not slaves to any ideology." 

Among those surveyed, 42% identified as Republicans, and equal numbers--25% each--identified as Democrats and Independents.  The poll also revealed a more diverse rural economy than is popularly perceived, with 80% of respondents not relying on agriculture for any significant portion of income.  Six in ten opined that too much federal aid goes to the largest farms.  

Eight in ten also supported job training, Medicaid, and tax refunds for low-income Americans.  Fifty-nine percent said the federal government "had at least some responsibility to help the 'working poor advance economically.'"  

A bipartisan team conducted the telephone poll in late May and early June.   The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Obama neglects a bunch of Americans ... most of them rural

That is the gist of John Harwood's story in the New York Times today.   The piece, titled "Dissent Festers in States Obama Forgot," starts with North Dakota as an example of those states, calling it the antithesis of Obama's political base and goes onto list other similarly neglected (and mostly rural) states:  Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, Wyoming, and Utah.  An excerpt from Harwood's report follows:
Mr. Obama’s near-complete absence from more than 25 percent of the states, from which he is politically estranged, is no surprise, in that it reflects routine cost-benefit calculations of the modern presidency. But in a country splintered by partisanship and race, it may also have consequences. 
America’s 21st-century politics, as underscored by the immigration debate now embroiling Congress, increasingly pits the preferences of a dwindling, Republican-leaning white majority against those of expanding, Democratic-leaning Hispanic and black minorities. Even some sympathetic observers fault Mr. Obama for not doing all he could to pull disparate elements of society closer.
By way of "sympathetic observors," Harwood quotes Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist who worked with Clinton and Gore:
Every president should make an attempt to bridge the divide.  It’s a tall order. I wouldn’t give him high marks.
The story notes that Brazile is an African-American.  And speaking of race, Harwood notes:  
The sense of disappointment some feel extends beyond inattention to staunch opponents. Mr. Obama has not, for instance, traveled as president to the overwhelmingly poor, black Mississippi Delta, either.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

China's rural-to-urban migration accelerates, with a significant government push

The New York Times kicks off a series today titled, "China's Great Uprooting:  Moving 250 Million into Cities ."  One subhead is "Leaving the Land," and one promotional blurb follows:
Articles in this series look at how China's government-driven effort to push the population to towns and cities is reshaping a nation that for millenniums has been defined by its rural life.
And here's the lede:
China is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years — a transformative event that could set off a new wave of growth or saddle the country with problems for generations to come. 
The government, often by fiat, is replacing small rural homes with high-rises, paving over vast swaths of farmland and drastically altering the lives of rural dwellers.
Ian Johnson reports that the goal is to have 70% of the China's population--900 million people--living  in cities by 2025; currently, 50% live in cities.  The scale of the plan is so great that the number of new city dwellers in China will approach the total urban population of the United States.  Johnson articulates the fear that rural China is once again the site of social engineering, writing:
Across China, bulldozers are leveling villages that date to long-ago dynasties. Towers now sprout skyward from dusty plains and verdant hillsides.
Johnson quotes Tian Wei, a 43-year-old former wheat farmer in Hebei province.  Wei now works at a factory, as a night watchman:
It’s a new world for us in the city.  All my life I’ve worked with my hands in the fields; do I have the educational level to keep us with the city people?
The story features a number of other rich quotes from former farmers, whose pensions the Chinese government is financing as part of this shift.  

Johnson also puts this phenomenon in historical perspective, noting the sharp turn in Communist Party policy, which for decades insisted that "most peasants, even those working in cities, remain tied to their tiny plots of land to ensure political and economic stability." He notes that in the past several decades, the Party has "flip-flopped on peasants’ rights to use land: giving small plots to farm during 1950s land reform, collectivizing a few years later, restoring rights at the start of the reform era and now trying to obliterate small landholders."

Indeed, one of the fascinating things about this story is that recent stories out of China indicate that the government has continued to persecute those who make unauthorized rural-to-urban migrations.   Read more here.   Posts here and here highlight the problems associated with rural poverty in China.  Here's a post about unrest in rural China, and here's one from a few years ago about the challenges of urbanizing China.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Maine hermit who burgled neighbors' homes draws sympathy from some

Katharine Q. Seelye reported for the NYT from North Pond, Maine, on the public response to the arrest a few months ago of Christopher Knight, 47, who had been living in self-imposed exile in Maine Woods for 27 years. Knight has confessed to committing more than 1000 burglaries from the homes of area residents during that time.  He was caught red-handed this spring stealing bacon, coffee and marshmallows from a camp for the disabled.  Seelye reports:
[Neighbors] were unnerved that a local legend of a hermit-burglar had turned out to be true, that someone really had been lurking in the woods all this time watching them and studying their habits: when they would be home, when they would stock their freezers. 
But to some, he was a figure of sympathy, like Boo Radley, the recluse in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Like Boo, Mr. Knight was initially feared but came to be seen not as someone who was dangerous but as someone who needed to be protected.
* * *

He had lived in someone else’s woods, undetected under camouflage-colored tarps and completely off the grid; he paid no taxes, had no address and never used a cellphone.
North Pond is in in the Belgrade Lakes area of central Maine, part of Kennebec County, which includes Augusta.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

More on immigration and rural America

This time the story is out of Wyoming and it involves sheepherders.  Here's an excerpt from NPR's report, "Immigration Bill May Keep Wage Exemption for Foreign Herders," by Sara Hossaini.
Peruvian shepherds on guest worker visas tend thousands of sheep in Wyoming, but they only make about half of what agricultural workers elsewhere are paid. 
Under the U.S. Senate's newest immigration proposal, these guest workers would receive a special exemption from minimum wage rules. The proposal has stirred disagreements between ranch owners and workers' rights advocates.
The story notes that the farmers featured, the O'Tooles on the Colorado-Wyoming border, pay about $750/month to their foreign ranch hands, who are on H-2A guest worker visas.  The ranch hands' living and working conditions sound abysmal, even abusive.

Once again, we have a story noting that local folks in rural areas don't want these jobs:
"There's not a lot of inquiry from the local community," says [Heather Ondo, a former ranch inspector in Wyoming]. "Most people don't want to go to work seven days a week, for 24 hours a day, for $750 a month."
Other stories reporting this phenomenon are here and here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Another story of rural development versus... well... nature

Here it is from NPR.  The dateline is San Antonio (not obviously rural), and the "nature "at issue are bats.  The lede follows:
The Bracken Bat Cave, just north of San Antonio, is as rural as it gets. You have to drive down a long, 2-mile rocky road to reach it. There's nothing nearby — no lights, no running water. The only thing you hear are the katydids.
The cave houses a massive bat colony, as it has for an estimated 10,000 years. Bat Conservation International, the group that oversees the Bracken Cave Reserve, wants it to stay secluded, but the area's rural nature could change if a local developer's plan moves forward.
How can you be "just north of San Antonio" and "as rural as it gets"?  Maybe you have to be there to understand.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Man who managed California orchards of Japanese Americans during WWII dies

The New York Times recently reported the May 23 death of Bob Fletcher, age 101.  Fletcher was an agriculture inspector for the state of California when several Japanese families forced into internment camps asked him to manage their fruit farms.  Here's an excerpt from William Yardley's story:
Near Sacramento, many of the Japanese who were relocated were farmers who had worked land around the town of Florin since at least the 1890s. Mr. Fletcher, who was single and in his early 30s at the time, knew many of them through his work inspecting fruit for the government. The farmers regarded him as honest, and he respected their operations.  
While Florin was a "town" then, it is now part of the Sacramento conurbation.  

My favorite line in the story is at the tail end.  It is from a 2010 interview, when the town of Florin was preparing to honor him.  Fletcher offered this self-deprecating perspective on what he had done during the war:
I don’t know about courage. It took a devil of a lot of work.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rural Arkansas tells urban Arkansas to mind its own business

That's the gist of a resolution passed by a unanimous vote of the Newton County Quorum Court (equivalent to a Board of Supervisors) at its June 3, 2013 meeting. The Newton County resolution responded to resolution by the Fayetteville City Council, passed April 15, which "oppose[s] the permitting and operation of the concentrated hog farm along a major tributary of the Buffalo National River." The City Council indicated that its reason for weighing in was that the hog farm would hurt tourism in Fayetteville, as well as in Newton County.  Apparently, a protest demonstration and rally opposing the hog farm have occurred in Fayetteville.

The dueling resolutions, of course, refer to a controversial factory hog farm that just began operating in Mount Judea, Arkansas, which I have written about here, herehere and here.  That hog farm is in the watershed of the Buffalo National River, just a few miles upstream from the river which is a major draw for tourists to the Ozarks.  The Newton County resolution was proposed and pushed by farmer Tim Slape of Compton, who is quoted:
 What I'd like to ask the quorum court to do is consider drawing up a resolution that states we're against Bikes, Blues and Barbecue [an annual event in Fayetteville].  The reason is that the increase in motorcycle traffic that passes through Newton County puts an added stress on the county's law enforcement and first responders.   
We're going to have to fight back against these people.  If these boys lose that hog farm you can kiss your county good-bye. 
It's in your boys' hands.  We have to fight back.  These people need to know people live here.  
The resolution passed by the quorum court reads in part:
Whereas Newton County is dedicated to its environment, economics, and historical culture; and 
Whereas Newton County has historically depended on the timber industry and its family owned farms; and 
Whereas, a large multi-family owned hog farm having met or exceeded all state and federal regulations has been built providing much needed jobs and increasing the tax base for the county and schools, therefore helping to protect our environment, economic and historical culture. 
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Quorum Court of Newton County, Arkansas; that
The Quorum Court of Newton County, Arkansas, adamantly opposes the interference in the livelihoods of these families by the City of Fayetteville and other entities.
Let me put these competing resolutions in spatial and economic perspective.  Fayetteville lies about 70 miles to the west of Newton County, both in the northwest Arkansas quadrant.  Both feature lovely rolling Boston Mountains, but that is pretty much where the similarities end.  Fayetteville is the county seat of metropolitan Washington County, Arkansas, part of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers conurbation that is Arkansas's second of two SMSAs.  Fayetteville is also the home of the University of Arkansas, the land grant university.  It is fair to say that Fayetteville is pocket of liberalism in an otherwise quite conservative state.  It is also relatively affluent, though not quite as affluent as neighboring Benton County, home of Wal-Mart.  Washington County's median household income is $35,900, but that for Washington County is higher, at nearly $42,000.  This probably reflects the fact that Fayetteville has a large student population, which means its poverty rate is also higher than that of the surrounding county.  The median value of a home in Washington County is $153,700.

Newton County, on the other hand, is the state's least densely populated county, and it's entire population barely exceeds 8000. Its median household income is under $30,000, and the median home value is $76,400--just half of the Washington County figure.  Newton County is a persistent poverty county that relies greatly on ecotourism--but even more so on government employment.  It has 90 nonfarm establishments, and it issued one building permit in 2012.  The county has 636 farms with an average per farm market value of products sold (in 2007) at just below $30,000.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A poet of and with rural sensibilities

Tim Hennen's collection of poetry, Darkness Sticks to Everything, is reviewed in the New York Times today by Dana Jennings, who describes the new book, Hennen's sixth, as "an essential survey of his career."  Noting that it is the first of Hennen's book to be distributed nationally, Jennings compares the book to "a fine fishing hole only the locals knew."  Jennings quotes from Jim Harrison's introduction to the volume, which calls Hennen "a genius of the common touch."

Here's an excerpt from his poem, "Summer Night Air."
Night doesn’t fall
It rises
Out of low spots
Tree trunks
And the back
Of the old cow
I’m bringing home to milk.
The titles of and quotes from other poems in the collection (e.g., "Clouds Rise Like Fish," "The Heron with No Business Sense," "Cold in the Trees," "Sunlight after the Pig Yard Flood") suggest Hennen's rural origins, on a family farm in Morris, Minnesota. Born in 1942, Hennen spent his working life with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota.  Those experiences clearly inform his poetic perspective.

Calling Hennen an "American master" and a "word-farmer," Jennings writes of how Hennen sees rural America, what it has been and has become, beyond the nostalgia so often associated with it:
His poems often reflect who Americans still think they are — family farms, amber waves of grain and all that — although he knows, for the most part, they aren’t anymore. 
He knows that his heron with no business sense vanishes because “the swamp has become a supermarket overnight,” that “The hungry man from the woods/Feeds on loose change/Like a parking meter.”

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Now, two versions of a compassionate eye on poor, rural Southerners

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee's "literary description of abject poverty in the South, accompanied by starkly haunting Walker Evans photographs" was published in 1941.  Now, we have an opportunity to read what was essentially an early draft of the book. You see, Fortune Magazine had sent Agee to Alabama in 1936 to chronicle the life of sharecroppers, but the story he wrote about that investigation was never published because "Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families."  Indeed, early in Famous Men, Agee "wrote that it was obscene for a commercial enterprise to 'pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appalling damaged group of human beings.'" That magazine manuscript, never published by Fortune, was published yesterday as a book, "Cotton Tenants: Three Families."

Christine Haughney's story about Cotton Tenants appears in the New York Times this week under the headline, "A Paean to Forbearance (the Rough Draft)."  I like that headline's play on Agee's title (was "famous men" meant to convey irony?)--and his attitude toward his subject.  "Paean" means a song of triumph or praise, and "forbearance" means refraining from enforcement, patience or leniency.  Certainly, Agee counseled patience and leniency--as well as compassion and assistance-- toward those many would have seen simply as redeemable "white trash."  John Summers, who edited Cotton Farmers for publication, characterized the tone of the work as "a kind of romantic moral outrage at what he is seeing."

Agee's comments about the impropriety of a commercial enterprise prying into the lives of this defenseless milieu makes me wonder about the substance of the disagreement between Agee and Fortune.  What exactly had Fortune proposed to do with or to the story?

Haughney's NYT report does not use the word "rural," but both versions of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men were very much about rural America. Moundville, Alabama, the place Agee and Walker documented, straddles Hale and Tuscaloosa counties.  Moundville's current population is about 1,800.  Hale County has a population of just 15,388, but it is part of the Tuscaloosa Metropolitan area--which was no doubt not metropolitan when Agee and Walker were working there.  

Another interesting aspect of Haughney's story is her discussion of the reactions of the descendants of the three sharecropper families whose lives Agee documented.  Haughney reports, quoting Mort Jordan, a former journalist and filmmaker who produced a 1980s documentary about the families, "using their names sparingly":
The original subjects of “Famous Men,” Jordan said, “were embarrassed because it showed them living in squalor.” With time, he added, “what may have been embarrassment or a quandary had turned into a source of pride with some of them.” 
Irvin Fields, whose grandfather Bud Fields was featured in the book, said he didn’t mind that the names were now being published. 
“It makes me appreciate my relatives for bearing up under those circumstances and making me appreciate what I’ve got today,” Mr. Fields said in a telephone interview.
Jordan added, "there was not much protest because 'everybody knows who they are anyway.'"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rural-urban tensions among those fueling unrest in Turkey

The unrest in Turkey that started late last week is attracting lots of international attention, and a story over the week-end in the New York Times caught my eye for its nod to the role that tensions between rural and urban play in the current situation.  Tim Arango reports not only tensions between secular and religious, and among different classes, but also of how these divisions sometimes align with with the rural-urban divide.  The secular elite, are put off by many of the grand building projects the Erdogan administration has undertaken "on the grounds of bad taste, a view imbued with a sense of social elitism."  
For many, it has also created a sense of resentment and loss — for longtime residents, urban intellectuals and many members of the underclasses who are being pushed from their homes so that upscale housing complexes and shopping malls can be built.
Arango quotes a professor of international relations at Sabanci University, Ersin Kalaycioglu.
I was born and raised here, and there is nothing from my youth that I can connect to anymore in this city.  Istanbul is seen as a place where you earn a living, where you get rich. It is a gold rush.
Kalaycioglu further complained that the city had “been invaded by Anatolian peasants” who were “uncultured.”

Other passages from Arango's story that highlight the role of rural-urban tensions follow:
The swiftly changing physical landscape of Istanbul symbolizes the competing themes that undergird modern Turkey — Islam versus secularism, rural versus urban. 
* * * 
[Erdogan's] rule has also nurtured a pious capitalist class, whose members have moved in large numbers from rural Anatolia to cities like Istanbul, deepening class divisions.
While rural-urban tensions have featured in unrest (growing pains?) in various countries in recent years (read more here, here, here, here and here), one difference with the Turkish situation seems to be that the rural-to-urban migrants are getting rich.  In China and Thailand, this does not seem to be the case; in those countries, the newcomers to urban areas leave their rural homes just hoping to survive and perhaps put their children on a more secure economic footing, to get them access to better educational opportunities.  The migrants seem barely to survive, in part because they don't enjoy all of the privileges of established urbanites.  It is their struggle to survive that ignites the controversy, not, as in Turkey, that the newcomers are too prosperous and are seen as having too much influence.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Have rural workers gone soft?

This story in the Chicago Tribune, about the dairy industry's need for immigration reform, suggests they have.  Here's the lede for "Immigration Bill Pins Big Hopes on Dairy Cows" reported by Richard Cowan for Reuters:
From the technology and tourism industries to the fruit growers of California, there is something for almost everyone in the sprawling immigration legislation that the U.S. Senate will start debating this month. 
But for supporters of this controversial bill who are searching for a solid bloc of votes in the Senate, there might be no better way than through a provision embedded in the law that gives dairy farmers better access to foreign labor.
Dairy farmers, which have needs for year-round labor, have typically not seen much benefit from visa programs that cater to other ag producers' needs for seasonal labor.  The immigration bill recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, would authorize three-year visas, renewable for another three years.  Some think the bill might pass simply because Republican senators from big dairy states--from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania to Idaho--are likely support it due to dairy's importance to their state and local economies.  According to an industry survey, 62% of the U.S. milk supply came from farms using immigrant labor--most of it from Mexico--as of 2009.  

And here's a somewhat provocative quote that suggests rural folks are not as hard working as they once were (at least reputed to be) and therefore cannot be relied on to provide the needed labor:
For those staying in rural areas, fewer Americans now want to work on dairy farms "with their arms past the elbow in a heifer when she's giving birth at 3 a.m.," said Craig Regelbrugge, co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, a farm industry group.
I am reminded of this story from a few weeks ago, which similarly pitted harder working immigrant laborers against native, local labor, which was associated with greater expectations of fair wages, breaks and such.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Both sides of hog farm dispute vie for public and legislative support

I have been writing for several months about the controversy surrounding an industrial hog farm that just began operation in Mt. Judea, Arkansas, in the Buffalo National River watershed.  (Read my most recent installment here).  That locale, along with the shoddy notice process followed by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, is what created the controversy.  Now, both sides--agribusiness (e.g., Cargill and the Farm Bureau) on the one hand and environmentalists and activists (growing up in Newton County, we called them hippies, but now they are joined by liberal elites)--are trying to sway public opinion, along with the thinking and actions of lawmakers.  

The May 29, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times reports under the headlines, "Lawmakers learn about Buffalo" and "Demonstrators show for law makers' visit." A third front-page headline is "Law makers get facts on hog farm."  Coverage of the same events by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is somewhat more detailed and, shall we say, differently illuminating.  One headline, picked up from a column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is "Grassy Greeting at Jasper Protest."  Here's the gist of the news that both papers cover:

The Arkansas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development convened in the Marshall High School Gymnasium on May 21 for "two-day hearing on the controversial C & H Hog Farm."  State Representatives David Branscum (R-Marshall) and Kelley Linck (R-Yellville) hosted the event.  About 100 attended the hearings, including members of groups opposed to hog farm because they believe it will have an adverse impact on the Buffalo River watershed.  Among those who spoke at the hearing were Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River Superintendent, and Richard Davies, director of Arkansas Parks and Tourism.  The lawmakers even took a short float trip on the Buffalo, from the U.S. 65 Bridge to Gilbert.  The Newton County Times writes: "The evening meal was provided by Cargill, the company the hog farm is contracted to produce pigs, Branscum reported."  The Times also states that, for the lawmakers, "The main attraction was to float the river as many had never been to this area of the state."

The lawmakers also visited C & H Farm, where protocol required all to "take a shower upon entering and exiting the barns to prevent exposing the pigs inside from contamination or disease." That must have been interesting.

After the tour of the farm, the "law makers were invited to drive to the Ozark Cafe in Jasper for lunch courtesy of Arkansas Farm Bureau."  The paper further reports:

The law makers who accepted the offer were greeted by a throng of demonstrators lined up on the courthouse lawn along state Highway 7 many waving placards and chanting, "Save Our River," and "Hogwash!"  Law enforcement officers stood on guard on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

Deborah Ferguson, a Democrat who is state representative from the other side of the state, West Memphis, is quoted:
It is important that tourism and agriculture find ways to co-exisst and she believes that can happen here. She said she was impressed with the technology being employed at the hog farm that is designed to protect the environment.
Another representative, Dr. Steven Magie, Democrat of Conway, noted that "some inter-studies" should be made of the farm before the next legislative session.
One remedy that needs to be made is the public notification process so that local public input can be made before permits are issued.
Interestingly, Magie is both a physician and a hog farmer.  Specifically, he is a supplier of gilts (young female domestic pigs that are used on gestation and farrowing farms to replace non-produtive sows), including some to C & H Farm.

Coverage of the protest in the Newton County Times, a secondary story on the front page, indicates that the protesters came at the invitation of Don Nelms, an artist whose frequent subject is the Buffalo. Nelms apparently entered the Ozark Cafe while lawmakers dined there, but uniformed sheriff's deputies and Jasper Police officers (what, are there two of them?) prevented the protestors from entering, "at the request of the proprietor."  Nelms's wife estimated that about 50 people came to protest the hog farm.  Some protestors were locals, but others came from Fayetteville and elsewhere in the state.  "This is a concern all over the state," she said.

Mike Masterson wrote of the event for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the headline, "Grassy Greeting:  Weeding out dissent."  His quote from a female protestor, described as a member of a "prominent Newton County family," helps explain that headline:
“I was part of the protest in Jasper in front of the Ozark Cafe while Cargill fed the state’s House and Senate Agriculture Committee members. We surely needed to let Cargill and others see some of the concern for the Buffalo National River. Many came early … and held very creative signs,” she said.  
“At one point I believe there were over 70. It felt good to get to be among others and chant … as [Cargill’s] guests filed into the cafe. We stood directly across the street in front of the Newton County Courthouse. 
“At 12 o’clock sharp, mowing and weed-eating was going on all around us. [My husband] went inside the courthouse to speak to the County Judge [Warren Campbell] about postponing yard work until later and expected to get to do so by phone, but the woman he talked with seemed to just disappear. The yard workers insisted their mowing needed to be done at this time! 
“One informed us he was a county employee and we could be guilty of obstructing their work,” she continued. “There was some risk for the bystanders who cooperated by moving. The mowers were old and didn’t have protective shrouds. No one was injured, though my son did feel something hit the side of his face from the weed-eater. 
“The worker who was weed-eating explained how they had to mow at that time because it was for the holiday [six days later] for the veterans and the flag and also it was shady on that side of the courthouse. Then he wanted to explain how safe CAFOs are and how Mount Judea is fine. He explained how he prefers to eat a CAFO pig instead of an outside pig who wallers about in everything. Those swine are just not clean in his opinion. He thinks the real problem is that some bathrooms are closed at the national park.”
Here is a video of the protestors on YouTube.  Here is the Democrat-Gazette news coverage of the law makers' visit and the protest in response.  All of this reminds me that I could file this post under my "Small-town Government Run Amok" series ....