Friday, January 30, 2015

01/29/2015 at 6:53am

Illustration by Stephanie Untz Scully and Mulder investigate the underbelly of small town America.

An anonymous source obtained the following document through unknown means and forwarded it to the Daily Yonder.  We reprint it here without comment.  Despite repeated attempts, we have not been able to verify this document’s authenticity.

TO: Fellow Extraterrestrials
FROM:   Mitchel, Your Leader

In preparation for our imminent invasion of planet Earth, we have compiled the following primer to help gain an understanding of rural life on the land mass known as America.

As outlined in previous correspondence, urban America will be relatively easy to colonize because of the dense populations, their reliability on easily dismantled and astoundingly fragile infrastructure, and their limited mobility due to “skinny jeans.“  Our greatest challenge lies in the vast rural regions, where natural resources are abundant, the population is more dispersed, and they seem to be able to fix or do without damn-near anything we’ll be able blow up.

Our information about rural America has been gleaned exclusively from the Fox television series The X-Files. The show, which was originally broadcast in the 1990s, has become popular again via video streaming (a technology humans consider cutting edge – ha).  This new craze of “binge-watching” is one reason we are moving up our invasion date (please check the group calendar for more details).

Below are the five key lessons we have learned about rural America by watching The X-Files.

Lesson 1: Rural Americans Are Distrustful of and Disconnected from Urban America

From The X-Files, we learn that the rural and urban sectors of the United States rarely interact.  In Home (Season 4, Episode 2), Sherriff Andy Taylor of the fictional town of Home, Pennsylvania, describes how some of the town’s inhabitants (later revealed to be “feeble” in-breeders) raise their own food, aiding their ability to stay disconnected from the outside world. This same sheriff expresses his desire to remain isolated from urban society.  He says, “I knew that we couldn’t stay hidden forever, that one day the modern world would find us, and my home town would change forever.“  We remain eager to confirm his prediction.

In another episode, Theef (S7, E14), an uneducated Appalachian man uses “backwoods voo-doo” to murder the family of a doctor he wrongly believes is responsible for the death of his daughter. 

Sheriff Andy Taylor, mistruster of outsiders, talks to outsiders Scully and Mulder.

Lest we worry that urban citizens will flee to the county during our invasion, The X-Files shows we have little to fear in this regard. Agents Mulder and Scully seem to have so little understanding of rural terrain that they regularly find themselves impeded by sartorial hindrances and the inability to navigate rural roads.

01/28/2015 at 7:00am

From the movie Warrior's Way The American people seem to be ready to take off the blindfold and see where our meat is coming from.

Your family is hungry.

They rely on you to feed them.

And you want to provide them with healthy, safe, good-quality food that is free of contamination.

Now, picture a room full of doors. Behind each door, you’re told, is food from all over the world. It could be from anywhere – Brazil, Mexico, Canada, China. But the doors are blank – no labels. Finally, even though you’re not sure what you’re getting into, you choose a door, looking for that safe, nutritious food to feed your family. But before you can step over the threshold, the people in charge make you put on a blindfold.

That adds a whole new dimension to picking door number 3, doesn’t it?

For years, opponents of your right to know where your food comes from have been trying to convince Congress and the American people to keep the blindfold on. The less you know about food, they say, the better it is for everyone.

They’re saying we might be blinded by the light.

Now, most Americans don’t feel this way. That’s why Congress passed a law in 2008 requiring Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL. It requires food sellers to put some labels on those doors so we can know more about what’s in there. And COOL is supposed to prevent anyone from putting a blindfold over consumers’ eyes.

But some food producers and foreign governments have been fighting the law for years. One claim is that labeling meat with its country of origin violates trade agreements we have with countries like Canada and Mexico.

As evidence of this economic harm, COOL opponents have pointed to a study that purported to show that COOL cost the Canadian cattle industry $1 billion.

But a new study by C. Robert Taylor, Ph.D., of Auburn University disproves some of this decidedly one-sided, behind-closed-door claims by foreign governments and big business.

01/27/2015 at 12:39pm

Photo by Daniel James Utility lines in Texas.

Telephone giant Verizon has agreed to a $5 million settlement with the Federal Communications Commission over issues related to the phone company’s service to customers trying to call landlines in rural areas.

The settlement over rural calling is the largest the FCC has made with a phone company since 2013, when the regulatory agency started scrutinizing the problem of “rural call completion” in response to phone company and consumer advocate complaints.

Verizon will pay a $2 million fine and spend another $3 million on a three-year plan to improve long-distance service to rural areas.

“All Americans, no matter where they are located, have a right to make and receive phone calls,” said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau in a release.  “Phone companies are on notice that the FCC will hold them accountable for failures to investigate and ensure that calls go through to the rural heartland of the country.”

The FCC said that Verizon failed to investigate complaints that its customers were having trouble placing long-distance calls to rural landlines.

Three other phone companies have settled with the FCC over their long-distance service to customers who are placing calls to rural areas. Those are Matrix Telecom (an $875,000 settlement), Windstream ($2.5 million) and Level 3 (nearly $ 1million).

 In 2013 the FCC approved a rule that will require phone companies to track their rates of dropped long-distance calls to rural areas.  (For a more complete description of the “rural call completion” problem, see Harold Feld’s Daily Yonder article from 2013.)

01/27/2015 at 7:16am

Democrats won less than one in five counties in the November election of all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representative.

And Democrats did best in the most densely populated counties. (Density is measured as people per square mile.) Even in large metro areas, Democrats generally won the counties where people lived close together and lost the counties with lower levels of density.

The House vote in November showed an American electorate divided geographically and clustered into places that were overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican. Here are some highlights of a Daily Yonder analysis of the House vote:

  • Democrats won only 18 percent of the nation’s counties.
  • Democrats got most of their votes in urban areas, but even in the metropolitan regions, the party won only 29.5 percent of the counties.
  • In the counties Democrats won, people lived close together. Democratic counties nationally averaged 856 people per square mile. Republican counties had 127 people per square mile. Democratic counties were 7 times more densely populated than Republican counties.
  • A whopping two-thirds of all Democratic and Republican voters live in a county where one party or another won the House vote by more than 20 percentage points — 60 percent to 40 percent or better. (In the last presidential election, 53 percent of voters lived in a county won in a landslide by one or the other party.)

In an earlier Daily Yonder article, we saw how in the recent House race Democrats gained a majority only in the nation’s largest metro areas, made up of a million or more people. What we see in this set of numbers is how Democrats and Republicans live in two different worlds based on population density.

This is true even in the counties located in the nation’s largest urban centers, those with a million people or more. In big-city counties won by Democrats, the population density was 3,369 people per square mile. In the major metropolitan counties that voted Republican, density was 449 people per square mile.

01/26/2015 at 6:55am

Darker colors represent areas where manufactured housing is a greater percentage of the housing stock. The Southeast has a higher percentage than the rest of the nation. (Click map for an interactive version.)  

While the health of the U.S. housing market is still in flux, one particular segment appears to be improving -- at least on the surface. For the third consecutive year, the number of new manufactured homes sold in the United States grew. According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of new manufactured homes “placed” (an equivalent to new sales) in 2014 will increase to an estimated[i] 58,000 homes -- up from 56,300 in 2013. 

The tepid rebound comes after a long and sustained downturn for the manufactured housing industry. Distress in the manufactured housing market actually predated the recent national housing crisis. After experiencing dramatic growth throughout much of the 1990s, sales and shipments of manufactured housing spiraled downward into a sustained slump for more than a decade. An overextension of credit and risky financing backfired after record-high foreclosure rates produced a glut of manufactured units, depressing the market. In the latter 2000s, placements of new manufactured housing units declined to their lowest levels in decades, and many large manufacturers and retailers exited the market or declared bankruptcy.[ii]

Manufactured housing sales (green line) started dropping before the drop in conventional housing sales (blue line). (The sales figures are charted on different scales to make them easier to compare.)

Manufactured homes – commonly referred to as mobile homes or trailers, are an often overlooked and maligned component of our nation’s housing stock.  But manufactured homes are an important source of housing for millions of Americans, especially those with low incomes and in rural areas. There are approximately 6.8 million occupied manufactured homes in the U.S., comprising about 6 percent of the nation’s housing stock. More than half of all manufactured homes are located in rural areas around the country. Also, roughly half of manufactured homes are located in Southeastern states.

An Affordable (Yet High Cost) Housing Option

Affordability and convenience make manufactured homes a popular housing option. The average sales price of a new manufactured home in 2013 was $64,000 (excluding land costs) compared to an average of $269,000 for a newly constructed single family home.[iii] [iv] While the purchase price of manufactured homes can be relatively affordable, financing them is not. The majority of manufactured homes are still financed with personal property, or “chattel,” loans.[v] With shorter terms and higher interest rates, personal property loans are generally less beneficial for the consumer than conventional mortgage financing. Roughly 60 percent of manufactured home loans in 2013 were classified as “high cost” (having a substantially high interest rate) which is more than eight times the level of high cost lending for newly constructed single family structures.[vi]  Manufactured homes are typically sold at retail sales centers where salespersons or “dealers” receive commissions, often exacerbating these finance issues. In some cases, dealers resort to high-pressure sales tactics, trapping consumers into unaffordable loans.[vii]

01/24/2015 at 1:31pm

Courtesy National Congress of American Indians National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby giving the State of Indian Nations address from the Newseum in Washington.

It’s time for State of the Unions. There is President Barack Obama's speech to Congress, of course. Then, a variety of state reports across the country. And, last Thursday, Indian country’s national version, the State of Indian Nations. National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby spent about an hour talking about some of the challenges facing the more than 500 tribal governments.

“Today, I bring a simple message from the tribes of the 21st century: We must tear down barriers to growth, simplify regulations that are limiting opportunities, and acknowledge that tribes have the capability as governments to oversee our own affairs,” Cladoosby said. “Congress and the administration need to find ways to help bring federal agencies out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. We need them to be partners for growth and not barriers to growth.”

President Cladoosby’s talk covered much ground — a lot of material critical to tribal governments, such as rethinking the federal-trust relationship, an invitation for leaders of Congress to visit Indian country, and for Washington’s NFL franchise to finally, finally, change its name.

I’d like to expand on two themes from the State of the Indian Nations speech — youth and technology.

The most common age in America today is 22 years old. This year, 2015, the Millennial Generation will pass the Baby Boomers as the largest-age group in the country. Indian country is even younger than the rest of the nation. The American Indian/Alaska Native population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total Native American population (compared to about a third for country as a whole.)

We are at a moment in history where we really ought to be investing more resources in young people. Yet, instead, as President Obama said in his State of the Union, we’re loading up this generation with student debt — a total that now exceeds a trillion dollars. This is the logic behind the president’s call to make community college free. A proposal that will benefit Indian country, including tribal colleges and universities.

But this is also about technology. We need a structure to prepare people for jobs that don’t yet exist.

01/23/2015 at 7:37am

Source text here Swiss photographer Bruno Augsburger’s new book, Out There, documents the time he’s spent over the last decade-and-a-half trekking alone in Canada’s Yukon Territory.Around 1,200 barrels, or 37,800 gallons, of crude oil leaked into the Yellowstone River last weekend. The 42,000 barrels of oil per day operation, owned Bridger Pipeline LLC, was shut down after the breach. The spill happened nine miles upstream from Glendive, Montana (population about 5,000).

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Study Conducted for NFU Finds COOL Doesn't Hurt Canadian Meat Market in U.S.

A new study by an Auburn University agricultural economist refutes claims from Canadian cattlemen that county-of-origin-labeling has hurt Canadian meat producers in the U.S. market.

“The United States Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) regime has not impaired cattle export market access to the United States,” writes C. Robert Taylor in a research report prepared for the National Farmers Union, which supports country-of-origin labeling for meat, or COOL, as it’s known in shorthand. Taylor is Alfa eminent scholar and professor at Auburn.

COOL was enacted in 2008 and requires meat packers who sell in the U.S. to include a label that tells consumers where the meat was produced.

Canada has contested the law with the World Trade Organization, saying it’s an unfair trade restriction that has impeded the sale of Canadian meat in the U.S. 

Taylor said his study refutes that claim.

“The study shows that the price basis actually narrowed somewhat after COOL was enacted, it did not widen,” Taylor said in a conference call Thursday sponsored by the National Farmers Union. “This indicates that Canadians are getting the same price in the U.S. for like animals as American producers.”

An earlier report by other U.S. researchers conducted for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said COOL had resulted in the loss of $1.4 billion in U.S. sales. Taylor said his research was based on publicly available data, while the report made to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association was not.

“This study uses more robust data sources to assess the impact of COOL on market access and found that COOL has not had a significant negative effect on the price paid for imported slaughter cattle relative to comparable domestic cattle,” Taylor wrote. The study reached the same conclusion for feeder cattle or cattle that were slaughtered immediately.

--Tim Marema

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Mississippi hunters who bag more deer than they can eat themselves would be allowed to donate venison to jails, under a bill being considered by the state Legislature.

The Venison Harvesting Program for Inmate Consumption bill “would allow prisons and jails to set up their own deer processing operations, where hunters could donate their kills,” reports the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “[The bill’s author] said liberal deer bag limits, aimed at reducing overpopulation, result in many hunters having more deer meat than they can store, so they can donate it to feed inmates.”

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The USDA has ordered Tyson Hog Markets Inc. to cease and desist from the falsifying scale tickets, giving buyers invoices that reflect these false weights, and issuing false accounting to livestock seller, reports MikeCallicrate.com.

“We take pride in being fair to livestock producers and our customers,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said in a statement emailed to Meatingplace. “We addressed these concerns three years ago when they were first brought to our attention and promptly and cooperatively resolved more recent follow-up questions from the agency.”

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Speaking of the USDA, the New York Times has a story about the agency’s U. S. Meat Animal Research Center, a mad-scientist-sounding program aimed at helping meat producers (read: corporate farms) make more money, doing some things that should repulse even the most unapologetic meat eaters (like me). I’m just going to give you a couple paragraphs from the story to set the scene.

At a remote research center on the Nebraska plains, scientists are using surgery and breeding techniques to re-engineer the farm animal to fit the needs of the 21st-century meat industry. The potential benefits are huge: animals that produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise.

There are, however, some complications.

Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.

Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.

Dude. Yuck.