Rural America

Tuesday, Jan 23, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Nick Siebrasse

Cattle Rancher to Cliven Bundy: You Steal from All of Us and Shouldn’t Be Welcomed in Montana

Cliven Bundy at a speaking engagement in 2014.   (Image: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

The fringe element that wants to steal our shared national heritage—the lands and waters and fish and wildlife owned by us, the American people—is coming to Montana.

On Saturday, January 20, public lands abuser Cliven Bundy spoke at an anti-public lands gathering in Paradise, Mont. A group with ties to the region, The Coalition of Western Property Owners, promoted the event, which they called “Freedom and Property.” Neither is applicable to Mr. Bundy: He wants to divest us of the freedom represented by our public lands, and he’s already been stealing our property by illegally grazing his cattle.

Following the recent dismissal of federal charges, due to a major bungle by the government, Bundy and his followers walked free. (Not to be confused with other armed standoffs spearheaded by the Bundy clan, this round of litigation was in response to the 2014 confrontation on the Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., in which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seized some of Bundy’s cattle following his years of refusal to pay federal grazing fees.) Bundy has made no secret of his plans to continue undermining our American system of public lands and ultimately stealing them from you and me. His appearance in Sanders County is an attempt to advance his agenda.

Bundy shared the billing with Montana State Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R), who is also the CEO of a pro-public lands transfer organization called the American Lands Council. Fielder represents Sanders County, where Paradise is located. That an elected Montana lawmaker and head of a group that advocates for the “orderly” transfer of public lands is willing to align herself with a well-known scofflaw like Bundy should concern all of us who care about our public lands—not to mention the numerous benefits, including hunting, fishing and hiking, plus mining, logging and grazing, that these lands provide.

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Monday, Jan 22, 2018, 12:00 pm  ·  By Violet Snow

A Century Later, New York Activists Honor the Descendants of Those Displaced by Ashokan Reservoir

Polly Howells of Radical Joy for Hard Times presents a book of photos to Florence Giuliano and Sheldon Boice, descendants of two of the families which lost their land and homes when the Catskills reservoirs were constructed.   (Image: @catskillswater / Instagram)

On an October weekend in 1917, New York City scheduled an event to celebrate the arrival of drinking water to all five boroughs from the Ashokan Reservoir—15,000 schoolchildren lined up in Central Park to watch a pageant dubbed “The Good Gift of Water.” The program honored “Chief Ashokan,” although we don’t know if there was such a person. On the day of the pageant, the skies opened up, and pouring rain caused the cancellation of the event.

“They honored Native Americans in a sentimental way,” says environmental activist Polly Howells. “But they had no intention of honoring the people who lost their homes when their land was flooded to form the reservoir. We’re trying to undo that legacy.”

As officials were contemplating a celebration of the reservoir’s 100th anniversary, Howells helped organize “Raise a Glass to the Catskills,” in which New York City residents were photographed raising a glass of city water in gratitude to the upstate communities, where the trauma of displacement is still felt. On Oct. 14, 2017 at the Ashokan Reservoir, Howells presented a book of the photographs to Sheldon Boice and Florence Giuliano, two descendants of families who had to move to make way for the reservoir.

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Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

Democrats Have Gone off the Rails in Rural America. Can a New Report Get Them Back on Track?

An electoral map showing Donald Trump taking the lead over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.   (Image: politicalmaps.org)

Democrats know their brand is in trouble—they have a belligerent, 239-pound daily reminder tweeting from the Oval Office—but if the party is counting on partisan outrage to win future elections, it’s only in for more pain. 

Reclaiming victory from the jaws of defeat isn’t rocket science: The party needs to win back the rural, working-class voters that its been hemorrhaging since the 1990s. Unfortunately, however, the root causes of this mass-defection—a non-existent economic message for people living paycheck-to-paycheck, condescending coastal elitism, a pervasive intolerance of rural culture etc.—have not abated. Or, if these problems are being addressed by Democrats, news of that progress is failing to reach the rural people (i.e. voters) who need to hear it.

It was with this in mind that Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who represents the 17th Congressional District in central, northwestern and northern Illinois, commissioned and co-authored a unique report. Aiming to reunite her party with the blue-collar Americans it used to champion, Hope From the Heartland: How Democrats Can Better Serve the Midwest by Bringing Rural, Working Class Wisdom to Washington compiles interviews with 72 current or former Democratic officials who, in recent years, won over their rural constituents despite the national popularity of the Republican opposition. According to the report, these were candidates who “bucked the trend and succeeded in the rural Midwest, now dominated by Republicans.”

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Friday, Jan 12, 2018, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

This Is Why Carrots Cost More Than Twinkies

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In a recent article, Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel took author and journalist Michael Pollan to task for blaming the farm bill for the sizable price difference between junk food and fresh vegetables. She wrote:

“…Pollan, whose work I’m a fan of, held up a package of Twinkies (which cost 99 cents) and a bunch of carrots ($2.99). The Twinkies are a complex food with 39 ingredients, and the carrots are ‘a very simple bunch of roots,’ he said. So why do the carrots cost so much more?”

Haspel added: “The idea that wholesome foods are expensive and junk foods are cheap because of the system of subsidies in the farm bill pervades the conversation about food policy. But that idea has one very big problem. It’s false.”

She points out that vegetables would cost more to produce than the corn and soy in junk foods, regardless of the federal subsidies determined by the farm bill. According to one of the economists with whom Haspel spoke, those subsidies account for only “a penny and a half” of the cost of the Twinkies and three cents worth of the cost of the carrots.

This point is worth examining—and it points to a much larger, more complex set of facts about our food system. As Pollan and other farm policy reform advocates routinely point out, the impacts of government farm programs reach far beyond those that can be easily translated into quantities and prices. 

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Thursday, Jan 11, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Jim Goodman

Dairy Farmer to Donald Trump: “Replace NAFTA, It’s Not Good For Farmers Anywhere”

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a lot of angst in the U.S. corporate world. They are quite concerned that the renegotiation talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico (the three participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA) may not deliver a new agreement that is as lucrative as the old NAFTA.

NAFTA has been in place since 1994. It is one of those classic neoliberal trade deals that essayist George Scialabba describes as “investor rights agreements masquerading as ‘free trade’ and constraining the rights of governments to protect their own workers, environments, and currencies.” As such, it has served corporate interests well.

U.S. corporations counted on NAFTA and other trade agreements to keep wages low by the threat of, or actual movement of, manufacturing jobs to wherever it was easiest to exploit workers and the environment.

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Monday, Jan 8, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Can Hunters and Activists Team Up to Phase Out Lead Bullets?

The spent remains of a copper jacket and fragmented lead core of a lead-based bullet (left) compared with a copper (lead-free) expanding bullet that remained intact.   (Image: Institute for Wildlife Services)

For centuries, hunters have relied on lead ammunition to quickly and humanely kill game, but with each shot they release a potentially lethal poison into the environment, threatening vulnerable animal populations.

While harmless to humans, the gut piles and carcasses hunters regularly leave behind often contain lead fragments, which can be deadly for scavengers who eat them, particularly raptors like bald and golden eagles, California condors and turkey vultures.

Consequently, a seemingly unlikely alliance between sportspeople and environmental activists has formed to tackle the issue by advocating for copper and other non-lead options and promoting hunters as environmental stewards. 

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Friday, Jan 5, 2018, 4:00 pm  ·  By Dan Flynn

Ag-Gag Update: Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Idaho’s Ban on Private Surveillance

A still shot of video footage taken on a dairy farm.   (Image: YouTube)

An appellate court Thursday restored specific provisions of Idaho’s 2012 Ag-Gag law but said audio, visual recordings of animal agricultural facilities could not be prohibited by the Gem State under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It may be a landmark decision for being the first time a federal circuit court has found there is a constitutional right to take pictures or audio-visual recordings on private property.

The 2-to-1 ruling by the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gives both Idaho Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden and the collection of animal activists something to crow about.

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Wednesday, Jan 3, 2018, 7:37 am  ·  By Scott L. Montgomery

The ANWR Drilling Conflict: Why “No Stable Compromise Exists”

Polar Bear cubs wrestle inside Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.   (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

After decades of bitter struggle, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) seems on the verge of being opened to the oil industry. The consensus tax bill Republicans are trying to pass retains this measure, which was added to gain the key vote of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R). 

This bill, however, stands no chance of being the final word. ANWR has been called America’s Serengeti and the last petroleum frontier, terms I’ve seen used over more than a decade studying this area and the politics around it. But even these titles merely hint at the multifold conflict ANWR represents—spanning politics, economics, culture and philosophy.

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Friday, Dec 29, 2017, 6:00 am  ·  By Thomas Linzey

Can the Community Rights Movement Fix Capitalism?

(Image: bioneers.org)

Editor’s Note: The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is a nonprofit public interest law firm that works to advance democratic, economic, social and environmental rights over those of corporations. In its own words, the organization “assists communities across the United States to challenge the unjust and harmful economic system we live under.” Thomas Linzey, a frequent Rural America In These Times contributor, is CELDF’s co-founder and executive director. In the following essay he discusses strategy—what works and what doesn’t when it comes to accelerating systemic change.

While I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when someone at a conference asks why CELDF’s community organizing doesn’t take on capitalism directly, the question still startles me. The intimation is that our work nibbles around the edges, rather than being focused on directly changing the underlying economic system that rewards community-destroying behavior. Therefore, the question suggests, CELDF’s work is destined to fail.

Not only does the question reflect a misunderstanding of our work, it also buys into the myth of how systems change.

For decades now, liberal academics and activists have decried the way our economic system works. They’ve picked our system apart piece by piece, while doing various post-mortems on the ways that capitalism has responded to everything from the Great Depression to environmentalism. They’ve written enough books to fill a library, given enough speeches for everyone to have grown tired of hearing them, and taken up enough of the public space so that the contours of the elephant in the room have now been fully dissected ad nauseum.

From one vantage point, they’ve done yeoman’s work: Fashioning a comprehensive critique of capitalism has not been an easy task. This is particularly true in the face of the rabid “free market” functionaries who march in lockstep across every television and newspaper. But from another vantage point, that critique has birthed a litmus test for activism that is impossible to achieve. It says that unless you’re proposing a wholly packaged system of replacement, and the means for that wholesale replacement, then the work you’re doing doesn’t have a prayer of changing anything.

Is wholesale replacement necessary? Perhaps, but the economic models drawn up in lecture halls likely aren’t the substitutes. Those are generally mired in the “old left” way of thinking—placing trust in government rather than in private market actors. One could argue, however, that both systems have equally tortured Earth on the rack, the only difference being whether private corporations or governments are at the wheel.

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Friday, Dec 22, 2017, 5:00 pm  ·  By Emeline Posner

Drain the Metaphor: Why the Media Needs to Rethink the Way It Talks About Swamps

(Image: drherd.com)

“Drain the swamp,” Trump’s anti-corruption rallying cry on the campaign trail, has itself been drained of any strength it once carried. Its deflation began even before the inauguration, when the president-elect began assembling a cabinet that consisted of the very figures he'd promised to oust: lobbyists, bankers, businessmen and career politicians. The media, however, continues to sustain the empty metaphor.

Political inaccuracies aside, the language perpetuates a dangerous and deep-seated misperception that wetlands are impediments to development and progress.

Trump was not the first politician to invoke swampland as a stand-in for an undesirable feature of American politics. Socialist Rep. Victor Berger (S. Wisc.), used “swamp” as a surrogate for the capitalist system in 1907, writing in an essay: “We should have to drain the swamp — change the capitalist system — if we want to get rid of those mosquitos [capitalist speculators].” Ronald Reagan revived the metaphor in the 1980s to critique Big Government and, in 2006, Nancy Pelosi used it to criticize lobbyist influence in the GOP-dominated House.

But as Republicans renew their efforts to roll back both state and federal protections for wetlands, the most recent resurgence of swampland metaphor in our national discourse has grown increasingly troubling.

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