Real populism in North Dakota • Georgia rural hospital woes • A Wendell Berry conference, celebrating The Unsettling of America
Katherine Bagley reports that drought conditions “in more than half of the United States have slipped into a pattern that climatologists say is uncomfortably similar to the most severe droughts in recent U.S. history, including the 1930s Dust Bowl and the widespread 1950s drought.”
The InsideClimate News reporter writes that 2013 is already off to a drier start than either 2012 or 2011. This has scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration saying that there is a good chance, based on historical records, that the entire year will be drier than last.
The federals scientists are saying there is less than a 20 percent chance that the drought will end in the next six months.
“There were certainly pockets of drought as we went into spring last year, but overall, the situation was much better than it is now,” said Tom Karl, a climatologist and director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “We are going to have to watch really closely … Last year was bad enough.”
Real Populism — Amy Rapoport reminds us what real American Populism is all about with a story that tells the story of the Bank of North Dakota.
The bank was founded in 1919, pushed by farmers who felt they were getting the short end of exchanges with big public banks. So they convinced the legislature to create a state bank and, Rapoport reports, “During times of economic crisis, from the Great Depression to the Great Recession, the state bank has been essential to cushioning the blow for North Dakotans.”
The success of the bank hasn’t gone unnoticed. She writes that since 2009, lawmakers in more than 20 states have filed legislation aimed at creating state-owned financial institutions.
Hospital Closings — Andy Miller, with Georgia Health News, reports on a spate of rural hospital closings in that state.
Hospitals report an increase in charity care and Medicaid reimbursement rates that don’t cover expenses.
Wendell Berry Conference — People “no longer know the earth we come from,” Wendell Berry wrote in his 1977 book The Unsettling of America. “… The people responsible for strip-mining, clear-cutting of forests, and other ruinations do not live where their senses will be offended or their homes or livelihoods or lives immediately threatened by the consequences.”
This coming weekend, there will be a conference in Louisville, Kentucky, to celebrate the influence of Berry’s book. Berry, 78, will be there. So will be a who’s who of the environmental/ organic farm movement, including writer Bill McKibben and Wes Jackson of the Land Institute. And, we should add, farm writer and Daily Yonder contributor Alan Guebert!
The Courier-Journal’s Peter Smith talked with Berry ahead of the conference. Berry continues to say that factory farming is causing a myriad of ills: soil erosion, the depopulation of rural communities and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Smith writes:
When people travel in rural areas, “you don’t see young people outside their houses anymore,” he said. Children “used to have all the outdoors to play in, to hunt in, to fish in, to work in. Someday they’re going to realize the free education young people got roaming the countryside has all been traded for staring at a screen. I just think they’re missing a lot of fun, a lot of essential learning.”
Land Price Warnings — Purdue University economists warned last week that people should be increasingly cautious about the skyrocketing market for farmland.
DTN’s Marcia Zarley Taylor reports that economists are finding that “farmland prices are disconnected from the fundamentals.” She says the economists are warning that operators shouldn’t count on continuing prices to cover up an overpriced purchase.
Or, as we have long heard, pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered.
“The only question is whether it will be a crash or a soft landing. If it lasts too long, the adjustment will be much worse,” said economist Mike Boehlje. “I wish we could just call a time out and stop appreciation in the next year, to let things settle down.”
Friends and Neighbors Politics — The grand American political scientist V. O. Key described the elections in Southern states as “friends and neighbors” politics. You voted for people because you knew them.
The National Journal reports that Democrats hope to hold Southern Senate seats by supporting members of families that have long held office. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Sen. Mark Pryor are prime examples. Both have long family ties in their states.
Others Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. They are all sons, wives, sisters or daughters other successful Democratic politicians in otherwise very red states.
“If anyone is suited to swim against the tide, it’s these multigenerational politicians in states where knowing people matters,” said Democratic strategist Craig Varoga.