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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.

$1.30

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

That’s the per capita tax revenue that is directed to public broadcasting services in the United States. Compare that to well over $100 per capita in European countries. That $1.30 is apparently too much for some Republicans in Congress.

They want to cut funding to less than $1.00 per person per year for next year, and eliminate it within two years. If enacted the cuts stand to hit rural stations the hardest. While many urbanly located stations now raise 90% or more of their funds from private and corporate donors, stations in rural areas still depend on federal funds for 30% or more of their budget.

Much of this hostility has been generated by the conservative charge of a liberal bias in public broadcasting. A myth that I believe is the result of Republicans distaste for the truth. When reporters report on the issue, rather that regurgitating partisan talking points they are accused of being liberal.

This isn’t the first time public broadcasting funds have been threatened, and I’m inclined to think that funding will be restored this time as well. While pubic broadcasting might see minor cuts next year, I doubt Republicans will follow through with their full threat.

But that’s not the point, and they never intended it to be. Instead, repeated threats of funding cuts are intended to keep public broadcasters walking on eggshells as they attempt to please partisan newsmakers.

All the while rural stations are caught in a more precarious situation than most.

Cotton Subsidies

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Last September (and again this March) the WTO ruled that U.S. cotton subsidies violated international trade agreements and ordered that they be lifted by July 1. As the deadline draws near the fervor around the issue is growing.

Yesterday Brazil threatened to retaliate if Washington doesn’t come forward with a plan.

BRASILIA, Brazil - 06/17/05 - Brazilian lawmakers have said that they are seriously considering removing protections on the intellectual property rights of US companies operating in the South American country if Washington fails to explain how it intends to move on plans to modify the existing US cotton subsidy mechanism.

Brazil isn’t the only country waiting to hear from Washington.

World cotton prices have dropped 30 percent in the past 18 months, increasing rural poverty in many African countries. Even in Egypt, for which cotton is not a crucial commodity, this shift has caused farmers to switch to growing rice, despite the fact that Egyptian long-staple cotton is considered to be one of the best in the world—whereas Egyptian rice has no particular competitive advantage. According to the British-based anti-poverty NGO Oxfam, “This system [of U.S. cotton subsidies] pits a typical Malian producer, farming two hectares of cotton, who is lucky to gross $400 a year, against US farms which receive a subsidy of $250 per hectare.”

“For the past three years, African cotton producers have not been able to make a decent living because of American subsidies,” said Sero Zorobouragui of the African Cotton Producers Organization.

U.S. cotton growers can be relatively assured that they will receive their check this fall, and it’s difficult to imagine that changing drastically in the near future. However, in 2003 the Bush Administration was forced to lift protective legislation aimed at the U.S. steel market after a similar ruling by the WTO.

Withdrawing from such free trade agreements seems to be one solution, though that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Shifting more subsidies to the unregulated “green box” category is another. The Conservation Security Program falls into the “green box,” but this program has seen little support in our current political climate.

Whatever happens in coming months the issue of agriculture subsidies will continue to be a growing issue. Any win-win solution will take significant work on the part of multiple players.

Update: The KickASS (Kick all Agricultural Subsidies) blog reports that Paul Wolfowitz, while in Africa, said that key to helping Africa’s poor cotton growers was to cut the subsidies paid to US and agriculture producers.

Golf Leaves Some Out

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

As the U.S. Open golf tournament gets underway in North Carolina today this story from last week deserves some attention.

MIDWAY, N.C. — If a hard rain falls on the North Carolina Sandhills this week, it could temporarily halt play at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst.

It also might wash away the dirt Randy Thomas has packed in the driveway of his home a couple of miles away, leaving his septic system to leak raw sewage into his front yard.

Midway is one of five predominantly black communities tucked amid the area’s well-manicured golf course communities, often to the extent that they appear as doughnut holes on maps. They exist in a governmental no-man’s land, without sewer lines, garbage service or sometimes even water lines.

The people that live in these forgotten enclaves provided much of the manual labor that built the areas multiple golf courses, but they have received little in return. Today the 500 residents of these communities live just minutes from upscale golf communities.

Follow the rutted roads to the east end of the neighborhood, take a sharp right up a sandy embankment and you’re onto a paved cul-de-sac with $500,000-plus vacation homes that surround a manmade lake and members-only Pinehurst Beach Club.

And this from the NY Times.

The 500 residents of these unincorporated enclaves are close enough to point out sewer lines that run past their properties en route to new developments, or to watch garbage trucks trundle past without stopping.

Activists are working this week to bring attention to this despicable situation.

School Consolidation

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

At the same time as rural residents are reiterating the importance of education, rural schools continue to consolidate.

The elementary school will not reopen in the fall because of declining enrollment and budget constraints in the Central Community School District. The story is the same for the Whiteside County river town of Albany, Ill., which lost its small Albany Grade School for the same reasons.

They join the list of 17 Quad-City region schools that have closed since 2000–seven this year alone.

Education officials in Illinois say 401 public schools have closed since 2000. In Iowa, about 90 public schools have closed since 2000, with rural communities hit the hardest because of declining population and enrollment, aging buildings, increasing costs and shrinking budgets.

While such moves might be necessary for districts faced with shrinking budgets, there is sufficient evidence that it does little to improve the quality of education, and may in fact do just the opposite.

I say the move only might be necessitated by district budget problems because I believe that there are other more creative solution.

The most obvious of these is to return to the funding source, in most cases the state governments, and demand adequate money. It’s a strategy that would likely pay off in the end for the state anyway. With higher graduation rates for rural schools, and the increased economic activity generated in rural communities that have schools, it is easy to imagine how a positive return on investing in rural schools might be generated.

Other options that school boards should consider before shuttering the doors include consolidating administrators and offering distance learning classes to high school students.

The rural school that I graduated from in northwest Iowa had its own share of poor teachers, but I don’t imagine it’s too much better in larger schools. I graduated with 31 classmates, quite small by most standards.

Farm Policy Talk

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

Bush was at the Pennsylvania State FFA (formally Future Farmers of America) Conference today to talk about Social Security reform. He also had a thing or two to say about his administration’s “successful” farm policy.

You see, we tried to reduce government interference in the agricultural market, and at the same time, create incentives for sound conservation practices.

I wonder if those “incentives for conservation” could be the new Conservation Security Program (CSP). The CSP was championed by family farm groups, and was considered a bright spot in an otherwise dim farm bill. To date the Bush Administration has prevented the program from being fully implemented. Current funding is capped at $202 million (total farm bill expenditures exceeded $11.5 billion in 2003). Properly funding the CSP would require at least $2-3 billion.

And speaking about tax relief, in order to make sure our farms stay within our farming families, we need to get rid of the death tax once and for all. […] For the sake of family farmers, Congress needs to get rid of the death tax forever. (Applause.)

Right. Except any farm large enough to be subject to the estate tax is quite likely anything but a family farm. In fact, the estate tax more than likely helps preserve family farms by leveling the playing field through taxes on the largest farm estates.

None of this should be a surprise from this administration. Instead, think of it as motivation to fight their poor ag and rural policy. Remember this was a speech to a captive group of young aspiring farmers. People who should be on our side.

The entire relevant excerpt of from the speech appears below the fold, including a bit about the upcoming vote in congress on CAFTA.

(more…)

Rural Broadband

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

The issue of broadband internet service in rural areas has been getting more attention lately. Most notably the broadband giants (Verizon, Comcast, Excite, SBC, etc) have been lobbying congress to pass legislation that would prohibit municipalities from getting into the internet business. These proposed regulations have been prompted primarily by plans to bring free WiFi to big cities.

If the regulations are approved they will also prevent rural municipalities from providing broadband in their communities. These rural communities often have no broadband available until the local government takes the initiative. The lack of high-speed internet in these communities compounds the difficulty of getting businesses to locate there.

There have been some victories at the state and local level. In Texas a grassroots group worked to defeat a bill in the state legislature that would have banned municipal broadband. And yesterday in a related case the Maine Supreme Court ruled that Verizon must offer competing providers bandwidth on their network, thus making it easier to extend broadband to rural areas of the state.

Other states have been friendlier to the big boys. Washington, Nevada, Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Pennsylvania (Phillidelphia has an exemption), Virginia, and South Carolina all passed some form of legislation that restricts municipal broadband. In other states legislation is pending, and a small handful of states recently defeated similar proposals.

In our continued effort to follow the money we see that cable TV’s political contribuions hover between 5 and 10 million per election cycle with a pretty even partisan divide. While the telephone industry contributes between 10 and 20 million per cycle with Republicans edging out Democrats.

This has also been discussed over at Kos here and here.

Better is Better than Bigger

Sunday, June 12th, 2005

Sometimes I just don’t know what to say. This story appeared in several papers today.

For decades, experts have insisted that new jobs, housing and highways were the keys to building prosperity among the nation’s 60 million rural Americans.

But a report scheduled for presentation today in Point Clear suggests that residents of the rural South are tired of the “more” mantra, and say that bigger isn’t always better. Instead, many want to enhance and preserve small-town character, not accumulate urban amenities as if they were Mardi Gras beads.

Such results were not what researchers had expected, according to Jim Clinton, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, which sponsored the “2005 Report on the Future of the South.”

“They don’t really like it when people or organizations try to tie the success of a community to whether it’s getting big or not,” Clinton said. “They want it to get better, not necessarily a lot larger. They don’t want it to get urban.”

The story goes on to report that residents told researchers that they wanted better schools, and improvements in water, sewer and health care.

“They told us over and over again how important education is to rural revitalization,” Clinton said.

But remember, ”Such results were not what research had expected.” I suppose they were too busy trying to figure out how to bring a Wal Mart to every community.

Not COOL

Saturday, June 11th, 2005

The U.S. House voted this week to postpone the implementation of mandatory County of Origin Labeling (COOL). Opponents claim that the cost of implementing COOL would harm U.S. producers.

The labels “would present a nightmare” of record-keeping and legal costs that consumers would have to bear, said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, who voted against the labeling.

The industry estimates it could cost as much as $4 billion in the first year.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, said the labels would do the opposite of what was intended, adding $10 per head of cattle to ranchers’ costs.

“It will make our producers less competitive with foreign meat producers, not more competitive,” said Goodlatte, R-Va.

Depending on who is doing the calculations, estimates for the beef and pork industries combined range from just $200 million to over $7 billion annually. Even the figure cited in the article is for first year expenses. One can assume that the price tag would be significantly less in subsequent years.

But none of this should be a surprise. Food processors and retailers, who oppose the legislation, have given tens of millions of dollars to candidates in recent years.

Update: better add the additional millions given by meat processors in recent years. Money given almost exclusively to Republicans.

Last Chance for Last Chance

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Nuclear waste—coming soon to a rural area near you.

Last Chance, Colorado (photo here) is an unincorporated town on the eastern plains of Colorado. Located in Washington County, population 5,000 (or a very low 1.95 people per square mile), Last Chance is so named because it was once the last chance to fuel up before a long drive across the barren plains of Colorado.

Yesterday Clean Harbors Environmental Services received clearance from the Rocky Mountain Low-Level Radioactive Waste Board to begin shipments of radioactive waste from a tri-state region to the Last Chance area. The site will begin by accepting waste from a Superfund site in the Denver area, but the company has expressed hope that they will ultimately be able to bring in waste from other areas and industries as well.

As I see it there are two ways that these sorts of waste dumps end up in rural areas.

In some cases these rural communities have suffered repeated economic setbacks. Out of desperation they court landfills, radio active waste, jails and other generally undesirable industries. This brings jobs to otherwise desolate communities and allows residents to pay the bills. The situation presents a double edged sward to say the least.

In other cases politicians from urban/affluent areas push these industries into low income and rural areas. Neither scenario is acceptable, but the latter seems worse.

This from the Associate Press.

Pam Whelden, a rancher who lives two miles north of the site and worries about water and soil contamination. She said residents were told when the dump opened in the 1980s that no radioactive waste would be stored there.

“It is a bogus and arrogant move by the Colorado Department of Health and Clean Harbors,” said Whelden, a member of Concerned Citizens of Eastern Colorado, which opposes the radioactive-waste permit.

She said state and Clean Harbors officials failed to take residents’ concerns into consideration.

“We have to become watchdogs in our area to keep us safe,” Whelden said. “They don’t listen.”

The site still has to receive approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but approval is expected.

There’s More

Sunday, June 5th, 2005

This time from Michigan.

Federal cuts pinch rural health care

Darren Seymour held Penny Dick’s arm as she walked cautiously across the living room, her breathing labored and an oxygen tube trailing behind.

Seymour, a physical therapist, visits Dick’s home in rural Gladwin County twice a week to helps the 59-year-old heart patient rebuild her strength. In about two months, Dick has gone from being barely able to walk 10 feet to pacing the length of her home three times.

It’s the kind of help that 20,000 of Michigan’s sick stand to lose in the wake of reductions in how much Medicare pays to treat people in rural areas, where homes are miles apart and the nearest hospital could be an hour away.

Until last month, agencies that provided home health services to rural areas received 5 percent more funding than urban systems because of the time and gas it takes to drive between homes.

Without the money, agencies nationwide are cutting back staff, eliminating programs and scrapping services to rural areas.

The health care crisis is mounting all across the nation, but moves like these exasperate the problem for rural areas already at a disadvantage.

Much of the problem with current rural health care is that rural health policy is by and large a by product of national health policy. A market/price competition based health policy doesn’t work terribly well anywhere, but it works even less well in rural areas where service providers are geographically dispersed if present at all.

Cutting the budget to Medicare support programs in rural areas and expecting them to make up the money somewhere else is less then realistic given the lack of health care professionals in rural areas and a deteriorating health care infrastructure that exists in rural areas.

To add to the problem cuts like this and the TennCare cuts come at a time when rural areas are becoming increasingly elderly.

Update: This story from Oregon tells of a program designed to train nurses for rural areas. Students train remotely from the communities that they will serve after they graduate. More of this sort of thing begins to get at the problem of a failure to distinguish rural health policy from urban health policy.

TennCare

Friday, June 3rd, 2005

Tennessee’s ongoing budget problem (the state levies virtually no income tax) has resulted in a plan to cut over 200,000 state residents from the Medicaid rolls.

These cuts are posed to hit some rural areas of Tennessee particularly hard.

In rural Fentress County nearly half of the county’s 17,000 people are on TennCare. This marks the highest percentage for any county in the state. Close to 3,000 people in the county could be dropped from TennCare’s rolls by the end of the summer.

Certainly other residents share the untenable position of Terry Sheilds

Terry Shields [is] a 36-year-old long-haul trucker who can no longer drive professionally because of a debilitating combination of chronic pain and shortness of breath, high blood pressure, allergies and diabetes.

Shields stares at the collection of pills and inhalers spread across the table in his home and worries about the future.

“There is no way I can pay for my medicines. No way,” he said. “If the cuts go through like they are being proposed, it’s pretty much like the governor is saying, ‘Which disease do you want to die from?’” said Shields, who faces drug bills far exceeding the $1,600 he receives in Social Security each month to support himself, his wife and two children.

TennCare is administered by the state and funded with both federal and state funds.

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