Weekend Roundup: Nation of Homesteaders

150th anniversary of the Homestead Act this Sunday • Wamart profits are up • Postal Service moves ahead with plans to close processing centers

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Chris Clayton reminds us that this is the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act, signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862.  Here’s a little of a longer article that you should read:

The law was a culmination of decades of government initiatives for westward expansion to continue to fuel economic growth and agricultural production. The federal government had created land offices as far back as 1812 to sell or give away land, as well as assure rightful claims.

Homesteaders were given a claim for 160 acres, which conformed to Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a nation of small farmers. The country’s third president had argued that 160 acres, a quarter section, was the ideal acreage for a small farmer….

A bill in 1860 that would have given away federal lands made it to President James Buchanan’s desk. He vetoed it, fearing it would upset Southerners who were already on their way to leaving the Union.

Lincoln would sign the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. The official bill was four pages long.

Allegedly, Daniel Freeman was at a party with some local officials on New Year’s Eve 1862 in Brownville, Neb. By midnight, Freeman had gotten them to open the land office, and he signed his claim on Jan. 1, 1863, the date the law went into effect.

Daniel Freeman’s claim was the first  of nearly four million families who became “homesteaders.” Many, Chris points out, were immigrants. Here is a National Park Service site on the history of the Homestead Act.  

• Some 15 percent of Texas ranchers surveyed last summer said they were going to close their operations. Another estimate went as high as 25 percent.

Prices for cattle are up, but the average age of a Texas rancher was 59 in 2007. And, there aren’t enough Daniel Bowleses.

Here’s a good story about a young cattleman who is just starting up and intends to stay. 

Walmart reported a 10.1 percent increase in first quarter profits. 

• The U.S. Postal Service is moving ahead with plans to close nearly 250 mail processing centers. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says the system’s mail processing network is too big (with first class mail volume declining).

So, the agency says it will close 48 processing centers this summer. It will close another 92 this coming February and another 89 in 2014. The consolidation, which affects about half the Postal Service’s total number of centers, is intended to save $1.2 billion a year. A total of 28,000 jobs will be eliminated by 2014.

In the last two quarters, the Postal Service lost more than $6 billion.

How will these closures affect service? The Washington Post reports:

Under the new plan, about 80 percent of the U.S. areas that currently enjoy overnight first-class mail delivery will continue to do so through the end of next year. After that, barring congressional action, the Postal Service will proceed with additional steps that could slow first-class mail and reduce overnight delivery more significantly, said Megan Brennan, chief operating officer of the Postal Service.

Yes, this means rural areas will get the poorer service. The Post continues:

In many sprawling rural areas like Hope, Alaska, residents say they would have to drive nearly 100 miles for mail services in Anchorage if their local post office couldn’t stay open long enough. Timely delivery from mail processing centers is also particularly valued in the winter months, when hazardous road conditions can make travel to a store or pharmacy difficult if not impossible.

“My wife’s medical plan is basically that prescription drugs are mailed to her,” said Doug Pope, a semi-retired lawyer who lives near Hope, an old gold rush town where the post office faces reduced hours. “There’s a lot of people who will be here for months without going to Anchorage.”

Pope says he’s willing to accept moderate postal cuts, explaining that he’s not sure what else can be done and whether politicians in Washington will do anything about it.

“I do think it’s a sign of a larger, more worrisome trend to me that instead of trying to focus on our larger issues in our society, what we’re trying to do is nickel and dime people on sort of the downstream end of everything,” he said. “But that’s a political issue.”

• The National Journal reports that mental illness is the leading cause of hospitalization for active-duty troops. 

The Defense Department and Veterans Affairs have spent $2 billion since 2001 to treat mental problems and post-traumatic stress disorder. A new study finds that the agencies face an epidemic of mental illness. 

In 2011, there were 1,890,111 outpatient visits for mental-health disorders — more visits than the 1.4 million men and women on active duty last year.

There is evidence, also, that drugs being given troops could actually make these illnesses worse, the National Journal reports.

• If you haven’t looked yet, check out the calendar on the right side of this page. AND, note that you can add events!

For instance, just a minute ago I added the First Flush celebration in Lucas, Kansas. The good people of Lucas have spent $100,000 and four years building a public restroom. It is now taking bids on e-Bay for the right to take the first flush. The event is set for June 2.

(If you’ve never been to Lucas, you should go. You’ll see the incredible concrete sculpture constructed by S. P. Dinsmoor, his “Garden of Eden,” which attracts tourists and, in turn, creates the need for the public restroom.)

Read about the town’s 14-foot-tall toilet mosaic here

• Farmland values in the Midwest continue to surge, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

In the heart of the corn belt, values were up 19 percent over the first quarter of 2011.

 

 

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