Archive for June, 2005

Idaho Democrats

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

In an effort to capitalizing on the rising trend of Democrats in rural western states, the Idaho Democratic Party is running radio ads in their state (listen here). I’m not sure how large the ad buy is, but this is coming from a state party that did not even field a candidate last year for the U.S. Senate race.

Matt Singer over at Left in the West sees a populist U.S. Senator in Idaho’s future.

Rural (Social Security) Rebellion

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

From Western Democrat

Another rural rebellion against the GOP

More than 20 rural groups, including the American Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union, are united against Bush’s social security agenda. What’s the matter with Kansas, indeed.

“Following his stunning victory last fall among rural voters, it is difficult to understand first, his suggested devastating and draconian cuts in agriculture support and now in the area of Social Security benefits. These were never issues during the campaign. Rural America did not vote for agriculture and Social Security cuts last November. The President should understand this and we hope to assist him in understanding this.”

Hit the previous post here to see how rural areas are more heavily dependent on Social Security than urban areas. Then head over to Western Democrat for the rest and some discussion.

Bad Rural Development

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

For several months I have been working on my own writing project (a mater’s thesis). As a result I’ve fallen behind on reading other people’s writing, but now that I am wrapping up my project I have been turning to my growing pile of books.

Last night I was able to start reading Jared Diamond’s new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond is also the author of the bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Diamond begins his new book in Montana, a region that he sees as an exemplar case of how societies can go wrong. Diamond’s writing about one county in the Bitterroot Mountain Range exemplifies what might be a paradigm case of bad rural development.

A symbolic landmark in the Bitterroot Valley’s recent economic transformation took place in 1996, when a 2,600 acre farm called the Bitterroot Stock Farm […] was acquired by the wealthy brokerage house owner Charles Schwab. He began to develop [the] estate for very rich out-of-staters who wanted a second (or even third or fourth) home in the valley to visit for fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and golfing a couple of times a year.

The Stock Farm includes an 18-hole championship gold course and about 125 sites for what are called either houses or cabins, “cabin” being a euphemism for a structure of up to six bedrooms and 6,000 square feet selling for $800,000 or more. Buyers of Stock Farm lots must be able to prove that they meet high standards of net worth and income, the least of which is the ability to afford a club membership initiation fee of $125,000, which is more than seven times the average annual income of Ravalli County Residents.

The whole Stock Farm is fenced, and the entrance gate bares a sign, MEMBERS AND GUESTS ONLY. Many of the owners arrive by private jet and rarely shop or set foot in Hamilton, but prefer to eat at the Stock Farm club or else have their groceries picked up from Hamilton by club employees.

Ironically, Ravalli County remains one of the poorest in Montana, which in turn is one of the poorest in the nation.

The book has not been without detractors, but nonetheless as long as you keep Diamond’s idiosyncrasies in mind as you read I think that the book will offer a rich narrative on an important topic.

If you don’t want to buy the book, you can read the much much briefer NY Times op-ed by Diamond that accompanied the release of the book.

Good Rural Development

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Much of the federal money spent on farm and rural programs is directed toward activities that do little to encourage meaningful development at the local level.

That’s a large part of the reason why this is so encouraging.

Woodbury County to consider tax breaks to organic farmers

SIOUX CITY, IA - Woodbury County may provide tax incentives to farmers who switch from conventional production to organic.

Rob Marqusee, the county’s rural economic development director, is scheduled to present the Board of Supervisors with a proposal Tuesday to offer farmers property tax rebates if they go organic.

Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif., said Woodbury County may be the first local government to offer such incentives to farmers.

Marqusee said the goal of the program would be to build on local agriculture to spark economic development. The program would help build a thriving organic farming industry that would attract organic food processors and other businesses to the area, he said.

At a time when demand for organic foods is soaring this is a tax break that has a real chance of paying off in increased economic activity generated by tapping into the booming organic trend.

Generally speaking, we need to look toward local and regional governments for direction on farm and rural policy more often.

School Bus Stock Truck

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

School officials and rural activists in New Zealand get it.

Schools on Tuesday stepped up their campaign against planned funding cuts for bus services in rural areas.

High school students in Canterbury boarded a stock truck as a protest against changes they say will halve government subsidies in some regions.

“We’re very concerned that if we have to try and run buses at this sort of loss then we’re going to end up putting kids in cattle truck situations,” says Mike Wilson from the Canterbury Rural Schools Transport group.

Paging the Napa Valley Unified School District.

Some Children Left Behind

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Add school bus service to that list of things that rural communities need to provide if they want to arrest population decline.

School buses may not reach rural stops

Fewer kids who live on rural roads will be able to take the school bus next year, but their parents can get mileage reimbursement for the hassle.

Trustees of Napa Valley Unified School District on Thursday canceled 10 bus routes to rural parts of Napa, a move that could save more than $275,000 a year. Four dozen students will feel the effects.

“It would be cheaper to hire a taxi cab to pick them up,” said Don Evans, director of general services and maintenance for NVUSD.

No one said they had to run full size buses on these routes. Students from far-flung areas of the district where I went to school were transported in minivans. While part of the problem seems to be a lack of imaginative answers, not nearly all of the blame belongs to the district.

The district — facing the third year of reduced state funding — has been looking for more ways to pinch pennies.

I’m not certain about the school funding system in California, but in many states school funding is tied to local sales and property taxes. This has created controversy in some states in recent years. Most recently a consortium of rural schools in Georgia has filed suit in that state. They are arguing that by shifting the burden of school funding to local taxes the state is failing to meet its requirements to students in rural areas.

The Napa Valley School District should consider the same. Leaving children waiting at the end of their driveway is unacceptable.

Mad Cow Case Confirmed

Friday, June 24th, 2005

As you have probably heard

Tests Confirm 2nd Case of Mad Cow Disease in U.S.

The Agriculture Department said today that tests conducted on an animal that died in November, suspected of having mad cow disease, had turned out positive, confirming the second case of the disease to be found in the United States in the last two years.

As long as the FDA, USDA and beef industry continue to drag their feet on the implementation of new safety standards this will continue to happen.

A Firehouse with no Firefighters

Friday, June 24th, 2005

Earlier this week I wrote about rural fire departments getting free equipment from military surplus. I lamented at the end of the post that there were likely more efficient ways to assist rural fire departments. This story sheds light on what rural fire departments might need, other than free equipment.

LAWRENCE, Kan. - When a call comes to respond to a fire or traffic accident, they go.

It doesn’t matter what they are doing at home or at work. It doesn’t matter if they have to drive a 30-year-old fire truck to get there. And it doesn’t matter that they don’t get paid.

But volunteer firefighters in Douglas County are becoming harder to find.

Nobody knows that better than LeRoy Boucher, longtime chief of the Lecompton Fire & Rescue Department. He has seen his department in recent years drop from an average of 20 or more volunteer firefighters to about a dozen.

As more and more young people move away from rural areas there are fewer volunteers to fight the blazes. Young people that remain are facing longer commutes, and more family pressures then before.

And it’s not only fires these volunteers fight. In many rural communities the same volunteers are trained as emergency medical technicians and first responders.

This is just one of a host of problems faced by an aging rural population.

“If I could get somebody to take over the chief’s job, I’d be willing to step out of this,” he said. “I’m going to be 67 pretty quick, and that’s too old for this.”

The rural United States needs much more than free firefighting equipment. This is the type of problem that won’t go away on its own, and if ignored it will further exasperate itself. No one wants to move their young family to a community that lacks such basic resources.

The good news is that by redirecting resources to rural development this trend should be easily reversed. People do want to live in these communities (more on that later today). They just need to be assured that they will have jobs, schools, and fire departments.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

This story from last week just came to my attention.

USDA plants its own pro-CAFTA news

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has churned out three dozen radio and television news segments since the first of the year that promote a controversial trade agreement with Central America opposed by labor unions, the sugar industry and many members of Congress, including some Republicans.

Amid an intense debate over government-funded efforts to influence news coverage, the pre-packaged reports have been widely distributed to broadcast outlets across the country for easy insertion into newscasts.

Readers will recall that this is not the first time this administration has drawn attention for muddling in news reporting. A number of these reports incorporate sound bites from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and other top officials at the USDA.

In one radio segment, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said that passing CAFTA should be an easy decision for members of Congress.

“I can’t imagine how any senator or House member from ag country could stand up and vote against CAFTA,” Johanns said. “It makes no sense to me. It’s voting against our producers.”

In another radio segment promoting CAFTA, Allen Johnson, a top U.S. trade official, dismissed the sugar industry’s “dire forecasts” about CAFTA’s impact as “a Chicken Little sort of thing that isn’t real.”

These “news” releases come complete with a recorded disclaimer at the end of the tape, conveniently placed for cutting.

“These releases, which are produced and distributed with taxpayer dollars, are provided to 675 rural radio stations and numerous televisions stations where they are run, without disclosure of their source, as news reports,” the senators wrote. “We are concerned that many listeners in rural America may believe these releases are objective news reports […]

[…] USDA spokesman Ed Loyd defended the practice, noting that the reports are all clearly identified as coming from the USDA.

“They are reports about what the secretary of agriculture has said,” Loyd said. “We clearly state that we are the source. We’re not disguising that we are the source.”

But the taglines disclosing the USDA’s role generally are at the ends of the reports, and Akaka and Landrieu said some news stations drop those taglines.

One radio producer says

“I use a lot of their stuff verbatim,” he said. “Everything I’ve been able to use has been pretty well-balanced as far as I can tell.”

On more controversial issues such as CAFTA, Molino said he normally follows up the USDA report with a comment from a Louisiana member of Congress who opposes the trade deal.

Bush needs all of the help he can get to bolster CAFTA. Like other administration proposals, Bush has struggled to get support for the trade agreement since its proposal last year. For years Washington policy makers have been advising farmers that more trade is the answer to our agricultural surplus. The tactic hasn’t really worked yet, and more and more farmers are becoming wary of additional trade agreements as a way to raise commodity prices.

If anyone has ever heard/seen one of these things that included the disclaimer leave a note in the comment section.

Late Update: You can listen to some of the USDA’s “news” releases on their website. The so-called disclaimer reads as follows, “In Washington, I’m [reporter’s name] reporting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” It’s a quick little bit that could easily be missed by all but the most discerning ear. Even if you catch it, the significance may remain unclear.

Nebraska Ahead of the Curve

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

In Nebraska more rural residents are online than in other rural areas. Nearly 70% of rural Nebraskans are online—about the same as the national average for urban and rural, and well above other rural areas. What are they doing different?

Social Security

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

A new study by the Institute for America’s Future shows that rural areas are move heavily dependent on Social Security than urban areas.

In Ohio

Social Security benefits account for 7 percent of rural Ohio’s income, compared with 5.6 percent in urban areas.

Older women in rural Ohio, who make up 7.2 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people, collect Social Security benefits, compared with 6.3 percent of their non-rural counterparts across the country.

Rural Ohio relies more on Social Security benefits because of the dangers of farming, with disability beneficiaries accounting for 2.7 percent in rural areas, compared to 2.4 percent in nonrural areas.

Follow the link to the study if you want to see the report for your state.

Rural Fire Departments

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Some rural fire departments are running on empty just fine with the help of a military surplus program.

Mayor Rodger Sill pulls his lanky frame up into the truck’s cab and slowly drives the rumbling red diesel out of the fire department garage. […]

Stanley’s annual fire department budget is barely $12,000, but sitting in the garage is about $3 million worth of supplies acquired for free through a national military surplus program.

Congress established the Federal Excess Personal Property program more than 50 years ago. It allows rural fire departments to claim government equipment no longer in use.

So far so good, but then we learn more.

The firetruck Sill demonstrated was formerly a military dump truck. When an air guard unit based in St. Paul, Minn., acquired another, it sent the vehicle to surplus with slightly more than 20,000 miles on it. Besides filing paperwork, the city just needed to drive it home.

Why is the military sending dump trucks that only have 20,000 miles on them to surplus?

The mayor even snagged a never-assembled hoop building — $40,000 worth of steel beams and sheet metal — sitting at a Navy surplus site in Chicago. Once built, the 3,600-square-foot structure will serve as the city’s new fire station.

I’m glad we’re helping out rural fire departments, but I can think of more efficient ways to do it. If we cut back on record high military spending we could spend more on direct support for rural development. With unassembled hoop buildings going to surplus it is safe to say that such cuts would not endanger anyone’s security.

People don’t think enough about the trade-offs that we face as a result of our overgrown military budget. Money for farm and rural programs is just one of many areas that could be more than adequately funded with relatively small percentage cuts in our military spending.

Cell Phones

Monday, June 20th, 2005

Another recent study suggests that there might be a link between cell phone use and brain tumors, especially in rural areas.

June 20, 2005 — Using a mobile phone in rural areas increases the risk of a brain tumors, according to new Swedish research published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Those living in the countryside and using a mobile digital phone for more than three years were more than three times as likely to suffer a brain tumor as those living in urban areas. […]

The team said that for malignant brain tumors - as opposed to benign - the risk in rural areas was eight times that in urban areas.

But they cautioned that the numbers on which the research was based was small.

Others remain skeptical .

At issue is the radiation associated with cellular phones. In rural areas where towers are farther apart more radiation is required to boost the signal. Purchasing an ear piece that keeps the phone away from your head reduced the radiation level by 90%.

Rural Communities Pay the Price

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

Coming off of a week that saw 25 U.S. deaths in Iraq it bears repeating that between 30 and 40% of those killed in Iraq come from rural communities and small towns.

Mad Cow

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

Never mind the most recent case.

Instead think back to last year after the first (documented) case of mad cow disease in the U.S. Remember the sweeping new rules announced by the USDA and FDA that were supposed to further restrict the use of animal byproducts in cattle feed? Well it appears that those rules are passing quietly into the night.

This story appeared on page 29A of my paper today.

American cattle are eating chicken litter, cattle blood and restaurant leftovers that could help transmit mad cow disease — a gap in the U.S. defense that the Bush administration promised to close nearly 18 months ago.

“Once the cameras were turned off and the media coverage dissipated, then it’s been business as usual, no real reform, just keep feeding slaughterhouse waste,” said John Stauber.

Chicken litter is significant because cattle remains are used in poultry feed, feed that inevitably ends up in the litter.

And what does the FDA have to say for itself?

Today, the FDA still has not done what it promised to do. The agency declined interviews, saying in a statement only that there is no timeline for new restrictions.

There are some short term winners here. Cattle feedlots like their cheap feed supplies, and the slaughter industry garners additional profits from selling rendering for use in other feed products. I don’t think anyone wins long term though.

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