Thursday, October 31, 2013

Subsistence farming as doorway to church

That's one of the takeaways from this story "Some Find Path to Navajo Roots through Mormon Church," by Fernanda Santos.  The dateline for the story is Tuba City, Arizona, population 8,611, in the midst of Navajo and Hopi lands in north central Arizona.  Santos reports that membership in the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Tuba City Stake, covering 150 miles of Navajo and Hopi lands, is up 25% since 2008, while other churches, including the Catholic diocese, are struggling.

In Tuba City, Santos focuses on the role of a white man, Larry Justice, for growing the the Tuba City Stake in recent years.  Justice is the president of the Stake who initiated a gardening program to teach subsistence farming--a  program that has proved very attractive to the Navajo, growing from 25 gardens in 2009 to 1,800 as of September.  Within the next year, 500 more will be created in the vast area covered by the Stake.  Justice and his volunteers distribute seeds, and they teach how to fertilize soil, build fences, and what and when to harvest.  Santos quotes Justice:  
Their grandparents knew how to farm. Their parents forgot it. We’re working to make sure the young people learn it.  It’s important to teach our people to be self-reliant.
She also includes some interesting quotes from Navajo members of the Tuba City Stake, some of which explain how their newly adopted Mormon beliefs are consistent with --or at least complimentary to--their Mormon faith:
As converts here on the reservation tell it, becoming a Mormon has brought them closer to the fundamental Navajo values of charity, camaraderie and respect for the land. There is a feeling of “reconnecting to our traditions,” as one of them, Nora Kaibetoney, explained in Navajo through a translator — even though Mormonism often compels them to leave behind rituals that have long defined their identity, like a medicine man’s healing ceremonies or the cleansing in sweat lodges. 
“In Navajo culture, the most important things we have are life and our family,” said Ms. Smith, 64, the daughter of a Navajo code talker and hand trembler, a type of diagnostician. She was baptized as a Mormon in high school. 
Converting, she said, “wasn’t about turning away and embracing an entirely different tradition; it was about reconnecting.”
The Mormon Church now plans to use the Tuba City gardening program in its worldwide missions and ministry to "indigenous peoples, using lessons in subsistence farming as a doorway into the church." 

Santos explains the long and complex history of the relationship between the LDS church and American Indians in the southwest, where Mormons migrated when fleeing persecution 150 years ago.  

She also explains that LDS theology differs from other Christian religions in its stance toward American Indians, whom it considers descendants of the Old Testament Lamanites, "rebellious nonbelievers whose conversion could help the Mormons build God’s kingdom on earth." Santos quotes Peter J. Thuesen, chair of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis:
There’s this paradoxical sense in which the Lamanites are both a rebellious and wicked people, but they’re also key to the consummation of history and they’re central actors in the Mormon scriptural drama.  No other form of Christianity gives the native people such a unique place in their story.
Pictures in the Mormon church in Tuba City depict Jesus ministering to American Indians.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Competing visions for Montana's Hi-Line

The American Prairie Reserve, a conservation group attempting to create a prairie grassland reserve for 10,000 bison to roam free, is coming to loggerheads with ranchers in northeastern Montana--a segment of the Montana Hi-Line--according to a story in yesterday's New York Times.  Jack Healy reports from Malta, Montana, population 1,997, under the headline, "Vision of Prairie Paradise Troubles Some Montana Ranchers."  Healy quotes George Matelich, who chairs the conservation group, calling the reserve "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," and “a project for America.”  But in a story of conflict between agriculture (and rural culture) and environmentalists (and/or developers)--a story now familiar across the rural West--locals don't share that vision:
They say they know the transformative power of real estate out West: Western mining towns become ski havens, high mesas become ranch retreats for business moguls, and cultures inevitably change.
The reserve already has acquired 274,000 acres in private ranches and public lands, leaving some ranchers feeling boxed in, but insisting they will not sell.   Healy interviews several ranchers in that camp.  One is Leo Barthelmess, 57, who runs sheep and cattle on 25,000 acres.  
We don’t intend to sell.  We have children coming back. We’re working on a succession plan. We want this landscape to carry on to the next generation.
Barthelmess, whose family settled here half a century ago, is among ranchers who say they have "already saved this landscape" by rebuilding "the prairie, season by season, since the destruction wrought by the Dust Bowl. They work with conservation groups, rotate their herds to encourage a healthy mix of prairie grass and set aside ample room for sage grouse, plovers and herons. They are trying to till less ground, which can destroy an underground ecosystem. Some even allow small colonies of prairie dogs, which many farmers exterminate as pests."

Others talk not only about farming, but about other aspects of rural culture and identity, as well as rural economics. 
Two years ago, people here railed against the whiff of a federal proposal to create a new national monument along the Canadian border. A billboard along the gravel roads informs visitors that the county can produce enough cattle to feed more than two million people.
Healy quotes Perri Jacobs, a female ranchers whose ranch has been in her husband's family nearly a century:  
These are our livelihoods, these are our businesses.  This is an agriculturally based economy. That’s about being able to fund our schools and our government and being able to support our businesses on Main Street.
I am reminded of the analysis I did here on local government funding in Montana, with its often heavy reliance on Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), funds the federal government pays to local governments to offset local government inability to collect critical tax dollars on public lands.  It is not clear how schools and other services would be funded if the reserve is established--how that land would be taxed, as agricultural or otherwise.  Sadly, the American Prairie Reserve probably doesn't care.  

Malta is the county seat of Phillips County, population 4,128, already down 125 residents since the 2010 Census. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rural and urban consequences of medical marijuana's legalization in California

Mendocino, California
Both are touched on in the lede of this story, "Few Problems with Cannabis for California," in today's New York Times.  Adam Nagourney and Rick Lyman write:
In the heart of Northern California’s marijuana growing region, the sheriff’s office is inundated each fall with complaints about the stench of marijuana plots or the latest expropriation of public land by growers. Its tranquil communities have been altered by the emergence of a wealthy class of marijuana entrepreneurs, while nearly 500 miles away in Los Angeles, officials have struggled to regulate an explosion of medical marijuana shops.
In a caption accompanying a photo in the slide show, they write:
Fears of massive civil disorder and increased drug abuse have failed to materialize, but more prosaic concerns have been raised. 
Marijuana dispensary in Mendocino,
California, Nov. 2013
photos by Lisa R. Pruitt 
Among those more prosaic issues is misuse of water supply and excessive cultivation, as in the case of this Mendocino County farm. The limit for any grower is five rows of five plants, which law enforcement officers see in many backyards, as they view the area from Google Earth.  Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman reports that his department spends about 30% of its resources on medical marijuana issues during the April-to-October growing season.  Meanwhile, the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana generate both tax revenue and tourism dollars, the latter as people travel to California to sample and buy marijuana, the way wine lovers would go to Napa Valley.  Scot Candel, a San Rafael lawyer who has many medical marijuana clients, is quoted:  
A lot of cottage industries have popped up that service the marijuana industry. Labs that do testing, hydroponic stores that provide growing equipment, software developers, insurance companies that specialize in dispensaries.
When California legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago, it was the first state to do so.  Recently, both Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana, and California is expected to do so, the journalists write, in the near future.  However, California voted against recreational use as recently as 2010.  A timeline of milestones in U.S. marijuana law, with many photos of activists and officials involved in the debate, is here.

Earlier posts about marijuana and rural California are here, here, and here.  The latter post features links to additional prior posts.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Oil spill detection more lax in rural places

This recent story about a pipeline rupture in North Dakota highlights something I have known since I started researching rural-urban difference in relation to the law back in 2004:  rural places are less regulated than urban ones on many fronts, in many ways.  Further, this doesn't just happen as a de factor matter (which was my focus here), the distinction is often de jure, as laws or regulations set different standards for rural places than for urban ones.  One example of this is noted in my 2006 article, Rural Rhetoric, where I wrote that in 1976, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld application of a standard-setting code that required greater safety when laying pipeline in urban areas than in rural ones. The court said that the plaintiffs had failed to show that pipelines which met the rural standard denied them equal protection.  The law at stake there was USAS Standard B31.8 Code for Pressure Piping, and the case was Barnes v. Transok Pipeline Co., 549 P.2d 819, 821 (Okla. 1976).

Now, as Dan Frosch reports on a recent spill in Tioga, North Dakota, population 1,230, the issue of more lax regulation in rural areas, comes to the fore more publicly.  Frosch quotes Kris Roberts, an environmental geologist with the North Dakota Department of Health:
This section of the pipeline was not required to have leak monitoring or pressure sensors.  And it didn’t.
The story does not specify the relevant law, but it may be the same one that was litigated in Barnes in Oklahoma nearly four decades ago.  Frosch does note that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration mandates that companies have some means of detecting leaks on their pipelines but offers little other guidance.
The regulations emphasize the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and population centers, leaving more isolated sections of pipeline monitored less stringently.
* * * 
Tesoro officials said the company had monitored the pipeline’s pressure remotely but acknowledged that was not enough.
Frosch quotes Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust:
Even though people have been calling for better leak detection, it is usually a landowner who finds the spills.  It runs counter to what the industry tells us, that they can detect and shut off these spills in a minutes, when they actually go on for days.
The Tioga spill was discovered by farmer Steven Jensen.  It spread across seven acres of his farm.  At 865,000 gallons, it is one of the largest inland oil spills in the U.S.  Frosch paraphrases state officials, who were slow to disclose the Tioga spill:  
Fortunately, they said, the accident occurred in a remote area, away from water and homes. 
Something tells me that Mr. Jensen probably doesn't see it that way.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

ACA does little to manage health insurance costs in rural America

Here's an excerpt from today's front-page NYTimes story, "Health Law Fails to Keep Prices Low in Rural Areas," by Reed Abelson, Katie Thomas and Jo Craven McGinty:
Of the roughly 2,500 counties served by the federal exchanges, more than half, or 58 percent, have plans offered by just one or two insurance carriers, according to an analysis by The Times of county-level data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. In about 530 counties, only a single insurer is participating. 
The analysis suggests that the ambitions of the Affordable Care Act to increase competition have unfolded unevenly, at least in the early going, and have not addressed many of the factors that contribute to high prices. Insurance companies are reluctant to enter challenging new markets, experts say, because medical costs are high, dominant insurers are difficult to unseat, and powerful hospital systems resist efforts to lower rates.
They quote John Holahan of the Urban Institute:
There’s nothing in the structure of the Affordable Care Act which really deals with that problem.  I think that all else being equal, premiums will clearly be higher when there’s not that competition.
The authors use Montana and Wyoming to illustrate the fact that a third competitor can make a huge difference in a given marketplace.  Montana has three companies competing to insure residents, and prices are much lower there than in Wyoming, where only two carriers are vying for customers.   

Don't miss the accompanying map.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Regulating small-town land use

Rural places are associated with a lack of regulation, including regarding land use.  That's one reason you're more likely to see scenes like those in the accompanying photos in rural places rather than urban ones.  But an Alabama town of just 1,770  is in the New York Times today for its regulation of a woman's burial.  When Patsy Davis died in 2009, her husband James buried her in the front yard of their home, just as she'd requested but against the direction of the City Council of Stevenson.  Campbell Robertson reports from Stevenson, Alabama.  Here's an excerpt:
But ever since Mr. Davis granted his dying wife’s wish by laying her to rest just off his front porch, he and the City of Stevenson have been at odds. From City Hall to the courts, the government of this little railroad town in southern Appalachia has tried to convince Mr. Davis that a person who lives in a town cannot just set up a cemetery anywhere he likes. On Oct. 11, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a judge’s decision saying as much.
* * * 
Alabama, like most states, has no state law against burying someone on private property, and family graves are not all that rare in the country.
* * * 
While private burials are permitted in rural areas, cities and towns often have ordinances governing the burials, to which the state defers.
One thing I find interesting about this story is that the distinction between a small town and "the country" is so highly significant.  In so many other contexts--especially from an urban perspective--"rural" is synonymous with "small town," and most urbanites would see Stevenson as rural.

P.S.  This story was on the most emailed list in the New York Times for a day or so after it appeared.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Vignette of a rural Missouri library

Jennifer Davidson reports from Myrtle, Missouri, population 300 (give or take a few), near the Arkansas line in Oregon County.  Davidson's story features Rachel Reynolds Luster, the new librarian there, under the headline:  "Turning a Page Inside a Rural One-Room Library."  Here's an excerpt that's about Luster, yes, but also about rural libraries generally and their import to rural communities:
While the Myrtle library receives taxpayer money, it only gets $200 a month for books and supplies. So Luster has used social media to garner donations from people around the state. She's already secured about 1,000 new books. 
She's one of thousands of rural librarians trying to bring a sense of community, learning and connectedness to their isolated areas. The Institute of Museum and Library Services estimates that nearly half of America's public libraries are rural, and many of those are staffed by only one or two people. 
"Often, the library is the only place in a small community that people can go to access technology, to fill out job applications, to continue their learning," says Tena Hanson of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. 
She says libraries in remote places are lifelines for rural communities, because the Internet doesn't always reach towns with rugged terrain.
Luster calls herself a curator, not just a librarian, and Davidson's story suggests Luster is trying to crank up the culture quotient in Myrtle.  Oregon County is a persistent poverty and low-employment county in the Ozarks.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rural-to-urban migration raises social challenges for India's young women

Here's the gist of Ellen Barry's story, dateline Rohtak, Haryana, India:
As young Indian women leave rural homes to finish their education in cities, often the first women in their families to do so, they act like college students everywhere, feeling out the limits of their independence. But here in the farming region of Haryana State, where medieval moral codes are policed by a network of male neighbors and relatives, the experience is a little different. There is always the danger that someone is quietly gathering information. 
The old and new are continually rushing at each other in India, most starkly in places like Haryana, a largely rural, conservative state abutting New Delhi whose residents can commute 20 miles to work in nightclubs and office buildings. But their home villages are sleepy places, whose main streets are patrolled by glossy, lumbering black water buffalo.
One leader of an un-elected all-male village council, a khap panchayat, explains why he supports the practice of monitoring the women:
The mobile plays a main role. You will be surprised how this happens. A girl sits on a bus, she calls a male friend, asks him to put money on her mobile. Is he going to put money on her mobile for free? No. He will meet her at a certain place, with five of his friends, and they will call it rape.
The story also features the perspective of 20-year-old Mena, a former village girl, who advises other young women on how to avoid the prying eye of village agents.  Barry's report is well worth a read in its entirety.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Even small towns can't hide from the Internet

As evinced by the story of Daisy Coleman of Maryville, Missouri, which has been featured in recent days on both NPR and in the New York Times.   The headline in the latter is "High School Sexual Assault Case is Revisited, Haunting Missouri Town."  Daisy Coleman was just 14 when she accused a 17-year-old high school athlete, Matt Barnett, of raping her.  Ms. Coleman and her mother Melinda Coleman claim that charges against Barnett were ultimately dropped because of his political connections, but prosecutor Richard Rice has cited a lack of evidence.  NPR quotes Nodaway County Sheriff, Darren White, from a July interview:
Did a crime occur?  Hell yes, it occurred. Was it a horrible crime? Yes, it was a horrible crime. Did these boys need to be punished for it? Absolutely.
But White agrees with Rice's assertion that the elder Ms. Coleman's lack of cooperation led to the dismissal of the charges, though he blames the victim, too.  White says:
We have victims that are harpooning the case.  At least the suspects were smart enough to keep their mouths shut after it all happened.
The Colemans moved 40 miles away to escape the "toxic mix of small-town gossip and social media," but they continued to try to attract attention to the case.  

Enter Anonymous, the hacktivist group credited with influencing events in Stubenville, Ohio, where two men were convicted last year of raping a young woman who passed out a football party.  Last week the Kansas City Star ran an article suggesting the matter should be revisited, and prosecutor Rice has since requested that a judge appoint a special prosecutor to take a new look at the case.  According to NPR:  
This week, Anonymous called for a "Twitterstorm" to spread word of the case, and other social media users planned a protest for Maryville next week.
Some are calling next week's protest a candlelight vigil for justice.  Meanwhile, local officials and local residents, along with the alleged perpetrator, say they are being harrassed.  According to John Eligon in the New York Times:  
“‘May you never sleep at night again, and may your soul burn eternally in hell’ — that’s commonplace now,” said the mayor, Jim Fall, recalling one of the hundreds of messages that flooded his in-box last week. 
Local officials (even some, like Mr. Fall, who have nothing to do with the case), families and students say they have received threats. Businesses say customers have stayed away to avoid the reporters from around the globe. The Sheriff’s Department has taken down its Web site because of hacking threats.
Eligon quotes assistant superintendent for the Maryville School District, Steve Klotz:
Doesn’t matter how you view the situation happened. We’re all now in a position where we have an uneasy feeling about what does this mean for our town.
Maryville, population 11,972, is the county seat of Nodaway County in the northwest part of the state.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Anxiety over the collateral consequences of oil exploration in North Dakota

John Eligon reported for the NY Times yesterday from Ross, North Dakota, population 97, a story that highlights the tension between agriculture and the extractive industries--both historically 'rural' pursuits, in the booming northwest quadrant of that state.  The headline is "In North Dakota, New Concerns Over Mixing Oil and Wheat," and the story features the conundrum of the Sorensen family.  While they own their land and are able to farm full time thanks in part to five years Mr. Sorensen worked in Montana's oil fields, they are anxious about a proposed landfill to be sited across the road from their farm in Montrail County, just east of Williams County, home to the increasingly high-profile oil-exploration hub that is Williston.  That landfill would dispose of solid drilling waste, but Kim Sorensen expresses concern not about whether a spill will occur, but when that will happen.  Here's an excerpt from the story:
But more oil means more drilling, resulting in tons of waste that is putting cropland at risk and raising doubt among farmers that these two cash crops can continue to coexist. 
A private company is trying to install a landfill to dispose of solid drilling waste on a golden 160-acre wheat field across the road from Mike and Kim Sorenson’s farmhouse. Although the engineers and regulators behind the project insist that it is safe for the environment, the Sorensons have voiced concern that salt from the drilling waste could seep onto their land, which would render the soil infertile and could contaminate their water, causing their property value to drop.
Dave Hyneck, a commissioner of Montrail County, is quoted:
I wouldn’t say that production agriculture is being forgotten because everyone understands that it always has been and always will be the backbone of the economy of North Dakota.  However, the tremendous amount of money coming into the state coffers from the oil industry at the present time has overshadowed that.
According to the N.D. Health Department's Division of Waste Management, the volume of drilling waste disposed of in North Dakota last year was 15 times that disposed of just 6 years earlier, in 2006.

Mike Sorensen is the third generation in his family to farm this land.  A photo that accompanies the story pictures him with his wife and five children.

Here is another recent story about oil field perils in North Dakota, this one suggesting delays in discovery and reporting of a massive oil spill in Tioga, population 1,230, where a Tesoro pipeline was leaking.  The spill was initially estimated at less than 1000 barrels, but that figure was later revised upward to more than 20K barrels, making it one of the largest spills in state history.  Tioga is in Williams County.  Interestingly, it was a farmer who discovered the leak, but both state and Tesoro officials are implicated in not making the leak public until 11 days after the farmer's report.  The farmer says he smelled oil for several days before he saw it coating the wheels of his tractor during his harvest.  Read more here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

South Dakota Ranchers devastated by storm, woes aggravated by federal shutdown

Steven Yaccino reports in yesterday's New York Times from Union Center, South Dakota, a Census Designated Place in the Black Hills region of the state.  The headline is "South Dakota Ranchers Face Storm's Toll, but U.S.' Helping Hands are Tied."  What is most attention getting about the story is the photo of dead cows featured with it--carcasses piled three deep in a muddy trench.  The story is about the impact of the powerful early season snow storm that struck the area last week, killing perhaps 20,000 cattle shortly before many were to be taken to market and while many were still grazing in summer pastures. Agriculture is South Dakota's biggest economic driver, a $24 million/year business carried out on 16,000 ranches.  The cows are worth about $2,000 each, and they outnumber people in the state by a ratio of 5-to-1.

Yaccino quotes Gary Cammack, a rancher and state representative who lost more than 100 cows and calves, about a quarter of his herd:
At this point in time, it’s important to step over the dead ones and take care of the living.
* * *  
If this event had happened to one rancher, if he had lost everything that he owned, you would not hear one word from us. We would pull together and make him whole. But how do you do that when you’re all in the same boat?
Cammack wants to begin the work of cleaning up the carcasses, and state ate and county agencies, have done their part, clearing roadsides and providing burial pits.

But the federal government shutdown has complicated things, as Yaccino explains:
Ranchers looking for guidance on how to document their losses with the federal Farm Service Agency, whose workers have been furloughed, are, as some here say, “plumb out of luck.” And the stalling of a farm bill in Congress has left many families skeptical about whether disaster relief will ever come.
The storm, which left up to five feet of snow on the ground just 36 hours after a week of 80-degree temperatures, was the fourth largest snow fall in the state's history.  It came at a time when the cattle did not yet have their winter coats and were still grazing in summer pastures. 

Yaccino quotes another rancher, Matt Kammerer, regarding what's happening in Washington while he and other ranches face devastating losses:
They’re acting like a bunch of kids fighting over a toy.  They’re getting paid; they ain’t feeling any hardship. 
[Some ranchers] might not ever recoup. You take $80,000 worth of debt at the bank, and there’s nothing left for them to pay that off. I mean, there’s nothing.
Kammerer,who lost about 40 of his 200 cows, said he brought a county commissioner out to verify the losses.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Art of the Rural is back!

Art of the Rural re-launches today after a short hiatus while it changed platforms.  Here's an excerpt from the re-launch message:
After those formative blog-years, our goal is to match the concepts, practices and metaphors we’ve discussed online with events, publications, and consortium-building on the ground. As we discuss in our mission statement, we aim to merge digital and analog activities — and to learn from the points of confluence (and also dissonance) that will emerge through this process. To learn more of our plans, please check out our programs and the work of our Project Stewards
We are also grateful to the many forms of support and encouragement we’ve received over the last few years from the Center for Rural Strategies and The National Rural Assembly. In many ways, the need for a more versatile web presence emerged through our co-convening of the Rural Arts and Culture Working Group within the Rural Assembly and through the lessons learned in initiating theAtlas of Rural Arts and Culture project. We seek to create a space where rural artists and cultural workers can meet with their colleagues across the country and across various disciplines, and we believe that this movement can contribute to the local and national discussion on the future of rural America. 
We believe that lasting change, and deeper, more productive narratives, are created through collaboration across fields.
And this personal statement is from Art of the Rural's maestro, Matthew Fluharty:
For much of my life, I had experienced that psychological bind that characterizes the rural diaspora: that quality of feeling deeply, inextricably linked to my land and culture, yet, by virtue of seeking education and employment elsewhere, also feeling equally disconnected and powerless to help the place and people I care the most about. The difficult process of standing before those folks and reflecting on my grandmother’s life clarified an imperative, one first expressed across the faces of those in the room, and later in their own words as they shared their stories: I needed, in whatever form possible, to shape an element of my own work after my grandmother’s sense of determination, responsibility, and improvisation. 
A few hours later, I sat in the woods on our farm with my brother. In that space, I shared the basic idea of Art of the Rural, a concept I had been thinking about for months but had lacked the courage (or some might have said the foolishness) to execute: what if there was a website that connects the dots between the various forms of art and cultural work taking place in rural America? My dissertation focused on rural arts in the age of modernism, and I was hungry, and at times desperate, to understand how that lineage of creative work was connected to contemporary practice in rural communities. About a week later, the Art of the Rural blog humbly began.
As always, the visuals over at AOTR are gorgeous, and it features so much original content.  Well done Matthew and team! 

Arkansas and edamame (in the same headline)

Here it is on NPR's SALT blog, "Arkansas Aims to Make Edamame as American as Apple Pie."  The dateline is Mulberry, Arkansas, population 1,627, in the Arkansas River valley, where a Texas-based Asian foods exporter, American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame Inc., is working with "plenty of local farmers ... willing to grow the non-genetically modified vegetable soybeans."  The company built an edamame processing plant here last summer and is already supplying Costco, Sam's Club and Whole Foods.

Raymond Chung, CFO of American Vegetable Soybean , says:
We are turning Arkansas into the edamame capital of the U.S. and eventually the capital of the world.
Arkansas ranks tenth nationally for conventional soybeans and is the first to develop an edamame variety licensed for commercial production.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the Russia left behind

The New York Times today presents journalist Ellen Barry's journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, largely along the M10 motorway.  The headline is "The Russia Left Behind: a journey through the heartland on the slow road to ruin."  This excerpt focuses on a rural area, a village called Pochinok, a few miles west of the M10 between Valdai and Torzhok:
Beyond Valdai, where collective farms once extended for miles in all directions, heading off the highway for more than a few miles is like leaving the known world.
* * * 
Between the great cities are hundreds of disappearing settlements: towns becoming villages, villages becoming forest. The Soviets cut off support for them during efficiency drives in the 1960s and ’70s, which categorized villages as “promising” or “unpromising.” 
But the death of a village is a slow process. A geographer, Tatiana Nefyodova, calls them “black holes,” and estimates that they make up 70 to 80 percent of Russia’s northwest, where Moscow and St. Petersburg act as giant vacuum cleaners, sucking people and capital from the rest of the country.
Barry interviews 42-year-old Nina Kolesnikova who lives with her husband and two young sons in Pochinok.  Kolesnikova says that at times they live as if on an island because the road connecting them to the M10 is not maintained year round.  When asked why she does not leave, Barry writes: 
she gave an answer that would resonate with any Russian: The air is clean. They gather berries and mushrooms in the summer. They produce their own cottage cheese and sour cream. “Everything is ours,” she said.
Barry's description of her visit to Torzhok touches on the way in which responsibility for the deterioration of small-town Russia gets attributed to the failings of local government, thereby letting the national government off the hook for the decline.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Shutdown toll is dramatic among American Indians

This story in today's New York Times documents the devastating consequences of the federal government shutdown for American Indians, from northern California (the Yurok tribe) to northern Michigan (Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians).  Here's the lede to Dan Frosch's story, highlighting just one family's distress on the Crow reservation in Montana:
Worlds away from Washington, Audrey Costa wondered aloud about keeping her family warm. A mother of three, she relies on lease payments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on land owned by her family, which can run up to a few hundred dollars a year, to pay for food and electricity. But since the partial shutdown of the federal government began on Oct. 1, Ms. Costa, 41, has not received a check.
A third of the Crow tribe's workforce have been furloughed by the federal budget cut.  Frosch highlights just a few of the specific consequences:
A bus service, the only way some Crow are able to travel across their 2.3-million-acre reservation, has been shuttered. A home health care program for sick tribal members has been suspended. 
Though the tribe has enough money to keep a skeleton government operating for now, it is running out.
Frosch's headline is "Pulling Aid Away, Shutdown Deepens Indians' Distress," and the story is mostly a series of vignettes--from across Indian country, many of them in persistent poverty counties in the West.

Frosch quotes Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians.
You’re already looking at a good number of tribes who are considered the poorest of our nation’s people. When you are dealing with cutting off food supply programs and even nominal payments to tribal members, it creates a dangerous impact immediately.
Talk about playing with fire.  Of course, we already know that the government shut down has hurt many other poor and struggling communities, but as Susan Masten of the Yurok tribe in northern California points out:
The saddest thing about this is that the federal government has an obligation to the tribes.  In times like this, where it’s already extremely difficult, any further damage to our budget would be devastating.
Frosch also quotes Dave Conner, a tribal official with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in Minnesota:
This is a poor, rural, isolated reservation. A lot of people rely on our services, so there’s a lot of fear right now.
Frosh's entire story is well worth a read.

India's urban middle class losing patience with (rural) corruption

At least that is what Ellen Barry's story, dateline Daltenganj, India, suggests.  The headline is "In India's Politics, Jail Time is a Badge of Honor," but the story implies that this is increasingly the case only outside the "urban middle class."  Here's an excerpt:
In Delhi, crowds driven by Internet campaigns have rallied around an anticorruption platform, holding brooms to symbolize the coming cleansing. The Supreme Court, sensing the public mood, ruled in July that it was illegal for politicians who had been convicted of crimes to continue holding office by simply filing an appeal against their convictions. 
* * *  
The effort will meet its greatest challenge in another India — the old one, where voting is still largely driven by caste. In the tribal region that Mr. Baitha represents, the vast majority of elected officials face criminal charges, most related to corruption, but many for violent crimes. Voters typically dismiss such charges as trumped-up, one more attempt by elites to crush the champions of the poor.
But while Barry uses the word "urban" several times to describe one faction, she never uses the word "rural," referring instead to regional and tribal leaders, as in this excerpt.  In short, it is the (apparently) rural who are corrupt, the urban middle class who are the reformers losing tolerance for the former.  That dynamic is also suggested by this quote from journalist and political commentator Neerja Chowdhury, who calls corruption:
more of an urban middle-class issue rather than for groups who are in ascendance. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An abortion law that might actually help rural women?!?

That is one way the new California bill Governor Jerry Brown signed into law this week was presented in the news--as making abortion more accessible to rural women.  The law, discussed here in the Sacramento Bee and here in the New York Times, expanded access to abortion in California by "allow[ing] nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to perform a common type of the procedure, an aspiration abortion, during the first trimester."

While neither the Bee nor the NYTimes notes the impact of this law on rural populations, a radio report I heard on the Sacramento NPR affiliate noted that this law will make it easier for rural women to get abortions and even suggested that this was one motivation for the law. The law has this effect, of course, because rural California (like every other rural area in the nation nation as far as I know) is underserved by health professionals--physicians in particular, never mind physicians who actually perform abortions.  (I note, as a related matter, recent wrangling in California over the extent to which nurse practitioners might be permitted to practice in California when not under a physician's supervision, an initiative I understand to be stalled by the lobbying efforts of the California Medical Association.)

What the Bee story does refer to is the obstacle of physical distance, an issue I wrote a great deal about here in relation to abortion access and the U.S. Supreme Court's jurisprudence on what constitutes an "undue burden" on the right to abortion:
Proponents of the bill, including Democrats in the state Legislature, said it will address a shortage of abortion providers and the need for women to travel long distances for the procedure.

Read more here:
As the New York Times notes, with this law California is swimming against the political tide on abortion--that tide being the one sweeping many state houses in the past few years to put added regulations on abortion provision and generally make abortions harder to get.  In 2013 alone, state legislatures have passed 68 laws limiting abortion.  Lawmakers from Ohio to Mississippi, North Dakota to Arkansas have all passed laws--many of them of questionable constitutionality--that shorten the time during which a woman can get an abortion (to as little as 6 weeks); make it harder for out-of-state physicians to provide abortions (read more here); require women to view an ultrasound and/or listen to a fetal heartbeat.  Federal judges have issued rulings barring enforcement of many of these laws until their constitutionality can be fully adjudicatd.

In Iowa, the state medical board rather than the state legislature recently voted to disallow remote prescription of abortion inducing medications.  This restriction has a particular impact on rural women--the very population the California law is said to help.  The Iowa change will become effective as early as November 6 according to this August 30 AP story by Catherine Lucey.

Lucey reports that Planned Parenthood of the Heartland pioneered the video-conferencing system to facilitate telemedicine abortions, the first such program in the United States. In August, however, the Iowa Medical Board voted 8-2 to disallow this practice, which has permitted patients at 15 remote clinics to confer with a Planned Parenthood physician in Des Moines before that physician authorizes distribution of the abortion-inducing pills to the patient.

The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think-tank, reports that 16 states have enacted laws barring telemedicine abortions.  Among those laws--all passed since 2011--some are no longer in effect.   Guttmacher reports that Iowa is the only state in which opponents were using the medical board to bar  this system, as opposed to using the legislative process.  In that regard:
Planned Parenthood says the program benefits women in rural locations and that it's received no complaints from patients. But board members said they had concerns about the process and the care women were receiving; they said the goal wasn't to restrict abortion access.
In Iowa, proponents of the Board's actions--including Iowa Governor Terry Branstad--praised the decision.  Branstad's spokesman, Tim Albrecht said:
Women deserve high quality medical care, and a standard of care designed to protect their health regardless of the procedure at issue.  The board made this decision based on the standard of health care that women deserve.
Branstad replaced all the members of the Medical Board following his election.  The Board's chairman, Dr. Greg Hoversten, had this to say about the vote:
How can any of us possibly find that a medical abortion performed over the Internet is as safe as one provided by a physician in person?
Needless to say, reproductive rights advocates are skeptical that abortion foes are really concerned about women's health.  Regarding women's safety in relation to the California law, lawmakers noted a University of California, San Francisco pilot program/study under which non-doctors such as nurse practitioners and certified midwives performed some 8,000 aspiration abortions beginning in 2007.  The study, directed by Dr. Tracy Weitz, found similar complication rates for doctors and non-doctors, at just 2%.  The New York Times story about the California law quotes Dr. Weitz: 
This is a very safe procedure, and we now have a very large study to show that this does not compromise safety. Most people saying it compromises safety actually have an agenda to make abortion illegal, which we know from decades of experience actually makes abortion unsafe. 
Hopefully this will give women more options early in their first trimesters, when we know abortion is safest.  And the second trimester, when it is more complicated, will remain in the domain of physicians.
It's interesting that Iowa, with a significant rural population, would be less attuned to the challenges facing rural women than would be California, with a smallish share of its population living in rural places.  But then, of course, decisions like that in Iowa are much less about the ability to understand and empathize with the transportation and health challenges facing rural women than they are about reproductive right politics.  And on that front, California is (thankfully) an outlier.

This prior  post discusses the link between abortion restrictions and the extent to which a state's population is rural.  Here's a story about abortion regulations in Ohio, not a place I think of as highly rural, though of course it has rural reaches.  

Meanwhile, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the UC Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice,  and the UC Berkeley Center on  Reproductive Rights and Justice held a symposium on October  4 called "Speech, Symbols and Substantial Obstacles:  The Doing and Undue-ing of Abortion Law Since Casey."  The event featured what looks like an all-star line-up of of legal and other academics talking about different aspects of abortion law.  Sadly, though, I don't see listed any speakers whose work focuses on rural women, even though a very interesting strand of the U.S. Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the "undue burden" standard regards that group in particular.  Further, a search using just the word "rural" on the Center for Reproductive Rights website brings up more than 600 responses, most related to advocacy that the Center is doing in relation to rural women both domestically and internationally.  If the Center for Reproductive Rights is switched on to the needs of rural women (as its website suggests) but those needs were not addressed at the Berkeley symposium, that omission may signal that the rural population doesn't look particularly interesting to academics.  And that's a real pity.  For while academics' influence is limited, certainly, it is hard to imagine better outcomes for rural women seeking reproductive choices if the scholarly community is not involved in advocating for them.     

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Some National Parks re-open, as states pay for the privilege

NPR reports today, including details of what it will cost each state to open each park and for what period of time.
The Statue of Liberty - $369,300 for six days from Oct. 12-17 (New York)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial - $152,000 for 10 days from Oct. 14-23 (South Dakota)

Grand Canyon - $651,000 for seven days from Oct. 12-18 (Arizona)

Rocky Mountain National Park - $362,700 for 10 days from Oct. 11-20 (Colorado)
I note that the per day cost of the openings seems related not only to the size of the park, but perhaps also its locale?

Turns out Utah, whose civil disobedience I featured earlier in the week, is opening eight parks not at the expense not of state taxpayers but thanks to a $1.67 million donation (source not indicated).

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called the deal a "godsend," commenting further:  
Utah's national parks are the backbone of many rural economies, and hardworking Utahans are paying a heavy price for this shutdown.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Literary Ruralism (Part VI): Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Here's the lede from yesterday's New York Times story announcing her prize:
Alice Munro, the renowned Canadian short-story writer whose visceral work explores the tangled relationships between men and women, small-town existence and the fallibility of memory, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.
Like most everything I have read or heard about Munro's work since the prize was announced, this piece notes that she frequently set her work in small towns.  For example, a fuller feature on Munro in today's New York Times includes this description:
Set largely in small-town and rural Canada and often focused on the lives of girls and women, her tales have the swoop and density of big, intimate novels, mapping the crevices of characters’ hearts with cleareyed Chekhovian empathy and wisdom.
Great to see a source like the New York Times recognizing that you can have swoop and density in small-town and rural places.  The media--and popular culture--so often present these places and their denizens as simple, cardboard cut-outs.

Munro lives in Clinton, Ontario, population 3,082.  She had earlier this year announced her retirement.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Europeans skeptical on fracking

The New York Times ran this story today, headlined "As Drilling Practice Takes Off in the U.S., Europe Proves Hesitant."  Here's an excerpt from Steven Erlanger's story:
France and Bulgaria have already banned it, and in Britain the government’s attempts to promote it have led to heated demonstrations in the countryside. It is complicating Germany’s attempts to wean itself from fossil fuels and forcing Russia to recalibrate the energy-export strategy that sustains its economy.
* * *
Now the temptation to follow the United States in extracting shale gas from rock on a large scale is presenting Europe with contentious trade-offs that could affect the Continent’s economic competitiveness, test its commitment to curbing climate change and determine its place in a 21st-century version of the Great Game. 
The early signs are that densely populated Europe, with citizens generally more sensitive to environmental concerns and more willing to tolerate high energy costs, is unlikely to embrace the technique as the Americans have.
The story features a photo of British designer Vivienne Westwood holding a sign that says, "Lock the Gate, 82% Say No," near a drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, England.  Details of France's ban on fracking are in this story.

The Times also reported today on a vote by European Union lawmakers to tighten rules on fracking.  While the details of the rules have not been finalized, they would "to force energy companies to carry out in-depth environmental audits" before they are permitted to use fracking to recover natural gas from shale rock.

Other stories covering the fracking controversy in Britain include this August column by Roger Cohen. He notes that British prime minister David Cameron is a but supporter, but many big-name Brits are opposed:
Bianca Jagger has joined the battle against the dash for gas. A Green M. P. has been arrested. So has Natalie Hynde, daughter of the rockers Ray Davies of the Kinks and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. 
Here is "With Controls, Britain Allows Hydraulic Fracturing to Explore for Gas from Dec., 13, 2012.  It features a photo of a drilling site near Blackpool, Lancashire.  

An act of civil disobedience in southern Utah: Re-opening national parks by force?

See NPR's coverage here of the decision by nonmetropolitan San Juan County, in far southeastern Utah (one of the four corners of the "four corners" attraction), to storm the national parks and monuments there in order to open them to tourists.  The parks have been closed for 10 days now due to the federal government shut down, and it is starving local businesses.  I had heard a report earlier yesterday about four counties in southern Utah lobbying the government to permit them to operate the parks, but this news of the planned "civil disobedience" in San Juan County was late breaking after the county's commissioners held an emergency meeting on Wednesday.  Here are some excerpts from Howard Berkes's story.
[T]he San Juan County Commission has also decided to storm National Park Service barricades, take control of some parks, and reopen them to the public.
* * * 
The commissioners had decided to take down the barricades at Natural Bridges National Monument as early as Thursday morning but put off that move to give Utah Governor Gary Herbert time to discuss the issue with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
San Juan County is also home to "Hovenweep and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments, the Island in the Sky and Needles Districts of Canyonlands National Park and the Hite Marina inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area."

Berkes quotes Phil Lyman, a county commissioner from Monticello, Utah, the county seat:
This is civil disobedience.  What's happening to us is wrong.  ...  The decision has been made.  But decisions change.
That last comment seems to suggest that the commissioners hope they won't have to take this action.  If they do, Berkes notes, it would involve some 60 county employees, including Sheriff's deputies, search and rescue volunteers, firefighters, EMT's", and it would also involve "portable toilets, garbage trucks and three mobile command centers."

San Juan County, Berkes notes, is the size of Connecticut and Delaware combined. Its population is 14,476, and I could tell you its population density, poverty rate, and a whole lot more were it not for the government shutdown, which means no access to Census Bureau data.  Here's an earlier post (with photos!) from Bluff, Utah, a small town in San Juan County that seemed highly dependent on tourism when I was there five years ago this month.

P.S. San Juan County had a not insignificant population of American Indians, as I recall, and it is just over the Arizona state line from Monument Valley. This NPR story, on Oct. 11, highlights how Indian tribes are attracting more tourists to sites they own amidst the federal closure of national parks.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women considers rural women

The Committee dedicated half a day to discussing rural women on Monday, as part of its two-week long meeting in Geneva.  The webpage dedicated to the event is here, but on it I cannot find links to the materials I received in a summarizing email.  Here are some highlights:
The aim of the half-day general discussion was to commence the Committee’s process of elaborating a "General Recommendation on rural women". The purpose of the general recommendation is to provide appropriate and authoritative guidance to States Parties on the measures to be adopted to ensure full compliance with their obligations to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of rural women.
* * *
In an opening statement Elisabeth Rasmusson, Assistant Executive Director of Partnerships and Governance, World Food Programme, speaking on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, United Nations Women and the World Food Programme, said of the 1.4 billion extremely poor people in the world 70 per cent lived in rural areas. Rural women carried most of the unpaid work burden due to the lack of infrastructure and services. Over 150 million people would be lifted out of hunger if women had equal access to land, education, tools, technologies, credit markets and participation.
* * * 
Mayra Gomez, Co-Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, focused on secure rights to land for rural women which was a critical issue and could itself be a prism through which structural patterns of gender inequality could be revealed. Women produced 50 per cent of food globally, and up to 80 per cent in the developing world, but globally it was estimated that only one per cent of women owned land.

Catarina De Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said in the 12 county missions she had undertaken since taking on her mandate she had found that rural women suffered more than rural men, or urban women, of lack of access to water and sanitation. Lack of access to sanitation affected human dignity and undermined the enjoyment of women and girls’ human rights.
Several country's reports were noted:  
Australia said one third of all Australian women lived in regional communities, and while the number of women living in rural communities was low, the vastness of Australia and the isolation of rural communities presented particular challenges. Australia was working to improve women’s access to key services, including education and training, which led directly to better employment opportunities and enabled women to become drivers of economic growth. Access to information and communications technologies was also an enabling factor. Globally Australia’s aid programme supported the GSMA Women Programme which aimed to expand mobile telephone access to poor women.

Spain said it was a huge paradox that the territorial area where women’s input was most important was where they were least recognized. Gender disaggregated data and statistics collection had to be improved. All public policies must devote a specific chapter to the needs of rural women. Women must be seen as a key element in the economic participation of the rural world. The skills of educated rural women must be better used, for example in Spain, the percentage of rural women with university degrees, was twice that of men (20 per cent compared to 10 per cent).

Cuba said it had been working for a long time on the issue and as a result had identified challenges and problems faced by rural women in Cuba. Some rural communities, particularly in mountainous areas, often did not have jobs for women. When women did work their work was not recognized, as it was often not full-time hours. In 2012 Cuba started a new development phase that included actions to improve the provision of recreational land to women, resulting in over 17,000 women now holding over 10 per cent of the land.

Brazil said in rural areas women accounted for a significant proportion of the agricultural labour force, played an essential role in food production and performed most of the unpaid work. Yet rural women and girls were more vulnerable to poverty, lack of education and violence. The Government of Brazil had taken several initiatives since 2003 to ensure that rural women could participate in and benefit from rural development, and to combat gender-based violence. Rural women’s empowerment was key.

Venezuela said no measure to help rural women could be successful if not accompanied by a policy of measures of equality. The Venezuelan Government had launched several policies, particularly in the granting of loans, equipment, infrastructure, training and technical assistance to rural communities and particularly to women. In its seventh National Agricultural Census Venezuela had included a gender aspect in order to disaggregate data by gender in future.

Syria said the Syrian Government had always considered women to be a driving force in economic development. Rural people, including women, were the hardest hit by violence stemming from the horrors of terrorism currently afflicting Syria; the result of armed terrorist groups supported and financed by the parties known to all, who were guilty of crimes against the Syrian people. Rural areas of Syria and rural women were the first to bear the brunt of sanctions which prevented them from enjoying their right to development and other rights. The speaker also spoke about the suffering of rural women in the Israeli-occupied Golan territory. 
Thailand said as a developing country with a large population of rural women, today’s discussion was timely. A holistic approach was needed to address the issues, especially to enhance women’s political participation, and help rural women access jobs and services. The allocation of resources to support rural women and the prioritization of female-headed households were crucial. The speaker outlined a number of actions taken by the Thai Government to empower rural women and girls.
A February 2012 UN event focusing on rural women was the subject of blog posts here and here.  A November 2012 meeting is discussed here.  My work on Article 14 of CEDAW, which addresses the rights of rural women, can be downloaded herehere, and here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On the origins of "boondocks"--and its (intra- or inter-) racial implications

NPR filed this report yesterday as part of its CodeSwitch series.  Lakshmi Gandhi writes:
For more than half a century, Americans have used the phrase "the boondocks" or "the boonies" to indicate that a place was in the middle of nowhere. However, few people realize that the phrase is a relic of American military occupation in the Philippines, and that it was later brought to mainstream attention because of a now largely forgotten, fatal training accident on Parris Island[, South Carolina].
She goes onto to explain that the Tagalog word "bundok" means mountain.
Veterans of the Philippines conflict brought the term "the boondocks" back to the U.S. with them, and the term began to be used by military personnel both stateside and in the Philippines. By 1944, the phrase was firmly entrenched in the lingo of the armed forces, and the phrase "out in the boondocks" appeared in that year's Marine Corps Reader.
Gandhi then explains that the phrase caught on in common parlance only after it became associated with a Marine training accident in the United States.  A staff-seargeant awakened his charges during the night and told them they were going into the boondocks.  He ordered them to march into Ribbon Creek, on Parris Island, with him, but six of them drowned, creating "a media firestorm and a national conversation about how Marines are trained."  Gandhi writes:        
Several newspapers and magazines covered every detail of [staff-sergeant] McKeon's subsequent court-martial and trial. ... The word "boondocks" was frequently used in the coverage of the incident, with newspapers noting that McKeon led his platoon "out into the boondocks and eventually into tragedy."
As Gandhi notes, it is interesting that the term so soon lost such a tragic association.  It is, of course, now more associated with all things rural and "country," as manifest in songs like "Down in the Boondocks," Little Big Town's 2006 hit "Boondocks," and Aaron McGruder's comic strip by the same name.  Gandhi explains that in that strip, "two young boys ... leave the South Side of Chicago to live with their grandfather in a sleepy and predominantly white suburb in Maryland."  Suburban Maryland?  doesn't sound very boondocky to me.  Maybe what Gandhi is suggesting is that "boondocks" has come to connote something about race (and racial homogeneity--white homogeneity), and not only about remoteness or rurality.  If that is the case, it would explain why this story made its way into "Codeswitch," which is a collection of contributions, interventions, musings about race and ethnicity.  I was hoping the story's inclusion on Codeswitch might signal recognition that white people have race, too, and sub-groups like those associated with the boondocks aren't quite as white as other whites (to play on the title of Matt Wray's 2006 book, Not Quite White:  White Trash and the Limits of Whiteness).  That would be the intra-racial observation, as opposed to the inter-racial observation that Gandhi appears to be making. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some Coloradans want to secede, but is their gripe primarily cultural or economic?

Jack Healy's front-page story in today's New York Times touches on both issues as driving the disgruntlement that has led 11 counties in northern and eastern Colorado to decide to engage in a "quixotic vote" next month on secession from the state.  The headline is "Fed Up on the Prairie, and Voting on Seceding from Colorado," and the story touches on both cultural issues (guns and family) and economic issues (poor funding of schools, roads and hospitals).  I love the lede:
The Old West has decided it is fed up with the New West.
The story features many references to "rural" and rural-urban differences.  And Healy certainly found some, well, extreme views in Cheyenne Wells, his dateline for the story, in the far eastern part of the state. Take those of Cheyenne Wells convenience store owner Lyle Miller: 
I would’ve never believed the state of Colorado would become this liberal.  I’m afraid for my grandchildren. I want them to have the same heritage I had.
Jeffrey Hare, who leads the the 51st State Initiative that supports secession and the formation of what might be called New Colorado, has this to say:
People think this is a radical idea.  It’s really not. What we’re attempting to do is restore liberty.
Gun rights are a theme throughout the story, with the suggestion that this movement really took hold after Colorado passed gun control laws earlier this year, laws that led to the recall of two state senators last month, as discussed here and here.  In relation to the gun issue in particular, Healy features Rod Pelton, a Cheyenne County commissioner whose ancestors moved here during the Dust Bowl era:
The alert tone on his cellphone is a gun loading and firing, and he believes in the possibility of New Colorado, no matter how long it takes. “There’s going to be a revolution of some kind,” he said. “This is the peaceful way to go about it.”
The new state people like Miller and Hare envision would, as the prior quote suggests,
cherish the farm towns and conservative ideals that people here say have been lost in Denver’s glassy downtown lofts or Aspen’s million-dollar ski condos. It would be called New Colorado, or maybe North Colorado — a prairie bulwark against the demographic changes and urbanization that are reshaping politics and life across this and other Western states.
But some residents and politicians--even conservative ones--do not favor secession.  They have practical questions about highways and parks and water rights.  Some Healy interviews suggest that secession is virtually a part of the American dream:
Beyond the logistics, they say, the urge to break free and scratch out a more perfect union runs as deep as an aquifer in American life, and has often been more complex than a breach between liberals and conservatives.
In this vein, the story notes other secession battles, past and present.  You can read the recent Calfiornia history on this, past and present, here and here.  A secession movement involving Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota is mentioned here.

The dateline for Healy's story, Cheyenne Wells, has a population of just 846, and is the county seat of Cheyenne County, population 1,836.  It seems that Healy may have selected the least populous and least dense of the 11 counties to feature (though that is not easily confirmed amidst the government shut down, which means Census data is not available).  Healy notes that the population density in the county is 1 person per square mile and that the county has suffered extreme population loss over the past several decades.  

Don't miss the accompanying slide show with several photos of Mr. Pelton and Cheyenne Wells.   

As odd as some of the quotes in this story seem, I appreciate that the New York Times made an effort at a balanced report, letting Cheyenne Wells residents express themselves in their own words and noting issues such as state funding for schools, roads and hospitals.   Indeed, even Colorado Governor John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado says he is taking the movement seriously:    
There are enough people that feel their views and their opinions aren’t being considered that I think that’s a serious problem, and I take it very seriously.  
An earlier post about the loss of rural clout in state legislatures is here.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

More "everyman" opinions on the government shutdown, this time from "rural" Georgia

Today's story by Trip Gabriel is dateline Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, population 9,623, and it features a photo of middle-ageish man in front of a large gun display on the wall behind him.  Turns out the man, Jeff Epperson, sells Civil War memorabilia, and his shop is just down the road from the historic Chickamauga battlefield.  The closure of that site due to the government shut down is hurting Mr. Epperson's business, but he doesn't mind, Gabriel reports, because Epperson supports his Republican congressman's strong stance linking government funding to Obamacare.  That congressman, Tom Graves, is the author of the Defund Obamacare Act.  Gabriel describes Graves district, the 14th, as  "newly created by Georgia's Republican-controlled Legislature." Graves enjoys strong support in his district, having won 73% of the vote in November. The district is 85% white and has a 16.6% college graduation rate, about half the national average.  Obama lost the district by 49 points last fall.

Gabriel reports that Mr. Epperson is among many staunch supporters of Graves.  Epperson "said the only thing that would weaken his support for Mr. Graves would be if the congressman caved in now. In that case, he might vote for a more conservative choice in the next Republican primary."  Epperson says:
If he backs off, then I would say absolutely I’d be inclined to look for someone else. 
Other quotes are pretty extreme, too, and for me hard to stomach.  They include this one from an 82-year-old antiques store owner from Dallas, in Paulding County.
Obama should not be so dogmatic.  He wants his way and no other.
Peggy Newsome, 73, said of Obama:
Everything he’s put his hands on, he’s screwed up.
Interestingly, Gabriel describes Newsome offering this opinion as she picked up bags of groceries at the Paulding County Helping Hands food bank.

But that isn't the only irony or contradiction in the comments of Mr. Graves's constituents.  Read the full story for more. And here's yet another contradiction:  Graves was sued in 2011 for defaulting on a $2.2 million business loan.

Fort Oglethorpe is in nonmetropolitan Catoosa County, population 63,942.  Paulding County, population 142,342, is metropolitan, and it appears to be an exurban part of the greater Atlanta Metro area.  (The county grew from a population of just 81,678, in 2000).  The county seat of Paulding County, Dallas, has a population of just 11,544, which tells me that Paulding County probably has a rural core--or perhaps I should say, retains its rural heart, rural culture.  The county's largest population cluster is Powder Springs, population 13,940, and it is also home to fast-growing exurb New Hope.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rural water system not looking so great as rates rise across region

Ever since I wrote this post last month about the new Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority, I have been reading about water rates rising for consumers of that new water system.  A headline in the Sept. 25, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times featured this lede:
Officials with some water associations buying water from the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority report that their water systems are showing record loss of water and some say they aren't using as much water as their minimum use contracts charge.  
Before the $72 million in federal and state funding was agreed for the project, officials with each rural water association had to sign a minimum use contract.  The story discusses what is happening with the Diamond City and Valley Springs water associations, which are not using their minimum and are finding more leakage in their system than was previously there.  Some water associations have contacted the Arkansas Natural Resource Conservation SErvice (NRCS) about this issue, but state director Randy Young said the project is unlikely to garner additional state or federal funds to defray the added costs being borne by the local associations.  He indicated the issue might be revisited after a year of use.

The details in this story seem to mirror what is happening in Jasper, which is featured in a separate story headlined, "Jasper to adjust water rates."

A recent report by the Arkansas Rural Water Association shows that the City of Jasper's water system experienced a 54 percent loss in August.  To put that in perspective, anything above 15% is considered excessive.  Mayor (and water superintendent) Shane Kilgore said the city will begin the process of locating leaks by using observation meters that will be placed in key areas of the city's water system.   He noted that the regional water authority is permitting members to flush out their water lines free of charge, but only one time.  The story reports:
The city will have to increase water rates for the new water supply.  Calculations are being made, Mayor Kilgore told the council.  He said the city has 270 water meters and the rate of water use on average is about 3.2 million gallons a month.  The city's cost of producing its own water from its wells was about $9,962 per month.
Alderman Michael Thomas opined that the city should raise water rates now, and that the rates could then be lowered if the leak repairs lead to significant savings "and the city no longer treats and pumps its own water."

The board subsequently voted at is Sept. 25 meeting to raise some water rates.  The rate for the first 1000 gallons a consumer uses will be $8, with the price going up by $3.25 to $4.46 for the next 1000.  These fees "will about break even with the costs the city had in producing its own water, about $9,807/month." Alderman Thomas noted that this is first rate hike since 1993, and Alderman Eugene Davis noted Jasper still has the lowest water rates in Newton County.

In other water news, the Oct. 2, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times includes an editorial headlined, "Water:  be glad we have it at any cost."  In it, the editor notes the growing water supply problem nationally and asserts that the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority  came at a good time for the county.  All of this reminds me a headline about six weeks ago about the Wayton Water system lifting a boil order.  Those headlines have been very common in the past few years, so I'd say the county is indeed lucky to have this water supply at these reasonable costs.  

In other news generally, the Oct. 2 issue of the paper notes that the Buffalo National River is curtailing some services due to the federal government shutdown.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Rural" attitudes toward the government shutdown

James Stewart for the the New York Times reports in today's business section under the headline, "In Rural Iowa, Spending, Not Shutdown, Raises Worry."  Stewart tells of time spent this week talking to voters in Iowa's Fourth Congressional District, which he describes as "a sprawling, mostly agricultural region that runs from Sioux City [population 82,684], on the Nebraska border, to Mason City, close to Minnesota."  It is an apparently notoriously conservative district, as evidenced by the fact its congressman is Steve King, a staunch critic of Obama and the Affordable Care Act.  Here's an excerpt from Stewart's story that helps explain why so many Iowans aren't troubled by the government shutdown: 
Iowa has been enjoying unusual prosperity in recent years, with low unemployment, high commodity prices and strong exports of agricultural products and machinery. “When your stomach is full and things are going well, it’s easy to say we have to get these guys under control,” said Stan Speer, president of American State Bank in Sioux Center [population 7,048]. “If we had another agricultural crisis like we had in the 1980s, it would be a whole different story.” He said that loan demand had been strong at his bank, but a continued shutdown would begin to affect construction projects that depend on federal programs. “With winter coming, any delay could have a big impact,” he said. “Then, people may start feeling differently.”
On the other hand, Stewart also reports on the effects for some who are feeling the effects of the government shutdown, and they happen to be in the more rural reaches of the state:
Even in rural Charles City [population 7,652], far from the paralysis in Washington, some people are feeling the effects. Timothy Fox, executive director of the Charles City Development Corporation, said he was troubled that his son’s trip to Effigy Mounds National Monument had been canceled. Government, he said, is “like electricity — you don’t notice it until you don’t have it.”
The NYTimes ran this story about 10 days ago, in the run up to the shutdown, featuring voter attitudes in Northwest Arkansas, which is also quite conservative.  (They have elected a Republican to Congress for some five decades, even as most of Arkansas has voted Democratic until recent elections).  Manny Fernandez's  story, "In Corner of Arkansas, Frustration but No Panic Over Possible Shutdown," dateline Bentonville, Arkansas, population 38,284, features mostly urban/metropolitan voters in the city best known as home to Wal-Mart's "home office."  Although the area is still popularly thought of as hillbilly territory (read more here and here), it is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States.  Also in Benton County, however, are areas like Decatur, Gravette, and Siloam Springs, populations 1,699, 2,325, and 15,039 respectively. Here's a quote from Gravette resident, Johnny Alfrey, age 67, about the looming shutdown:
Wolf’s been called so much. I don’t think they’ll shut it down. But they won’t get anything solved, that’s what I think.
Later in the story comes this from and about Mr. Alfey and his friend, Robert Walker, 66: 
“People’s too worried about putting food on their table and gas in their tank,” Mr. Walker said of why people had not been concerned about a possible shutdown. Both men worked at the same factory before retiring. Mr. Alfrey considers himself a Republican and Mr. Walker an independent. 
“I was a die-hard Republican up to about 12 years ago, and now I’m for neither one of them,” said Mr. Walker, who lives in Siloam Springs. “Neither one of them agree on anything. It’s not Republicans against Democrats. It’s the government against the people.”
There you have it:  a little home-spun wisdom from rural (but metropolitan) Arkansas.

Meanwhile, this story tells of a few states' requests to the Dept. of the Interior to use state funding to keep national parks open--including Arizona's request regarding the Grand Canyon National Park and South Dakota's request regarding Mount Rushmore National Monument.  These national parks are symbols of their respective states and attract vast sums of tourism revenue, including to the states' rural reaches.  The DoI rebuffed both states' requests.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The rural-urban dynamic in Colombia's 50-year war

Thomas Mortensen reports for The Independent under the headline, "Colombia's 50 year-war:  An end in Sight?"  Here are some excerpts that highlight rural-urban angles in that long-standing conflict.
At the heart of the conflict is land. Five decades of fighting have left 5.7 million people displaced, the highest number in the world. Those who fled left behind six million hectares of land, much of which is now held by armed groups and their allies, or has been bought by big business concerns.

Efforts to return it to its original owners, as is already being seen in some areas, is likely to meet entrenched resistance, including recourse to the courts, and on occasion, recourse to violence.  
* * * 
[T]he peace talks some months ago agreed the first item on the agenda - the “new Colombian countryside”. 
With rural poverty one of the root causes of the conflict, initial agreement was reached that there would be better access to land and services such as health, education and housing, as well as access to credit.

All very promising, but implementation, of course, hinges on the rest of the agenda being agreed. It also begs the question of whether, after ignoring rural needs for so many years, the government really has the political will to change its priorities. 
Recent protests that partially paralysed the country show how urgently rural people want reform.
Mortensen notes that political participation is another issue that must be addressed, with the "poor and vulnerable excluded from a political system dominated by a traditional elite." 

This story reminds me of a number of conflicts around the world in which the rural-urban divide is a significant factor.  See a related post here regarding protests in Turkey this year, with embedded links to other posts.