The New York Times writes today that the federal government is spending money on rural development, but “critics say the administration has little to show for its efforts…They say the money has gone to areas where it is not needed, to promote broadband where it already exists and for industrial parks designed to attract business and jobs that may never materialize.”
Who is among this multitude of “critics”? The Times’ Ron Nixon names exactly two. One is from the conservative Cato Institute, which is philosophically opposed to most government spending and one isn’t so much a critic as an analyst.
According to Nixon, the Agriculture Department has spent $6.2 billion on rural development since 2009. The money has gone for broadband and for standard-issue development strategies.
Nixon doesn’t really get into details. He mentions one project, the construction of an industrial park in Lowndes County, Mississippi. We would agree that industrial parks are probably not the best way to spend development money in either rural or urban settings. (And we would bet that many more industrial parks have been built in cities than in the countryside.)
Any other examples? Nope, not a one.
Next, Nixon questions whether broadband can save rural America. Nixon quotes his second “critic” here — Shane Greenstein, a broadband researcher who has helped with reports published previously in the Daily Yonder.
Nixon finds that broadband is not sufficient to pull every rural community out of poverty — which is hardly a surprise. Here, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is right that “broadband is essential to rural areas just as rural electrification was in the 1930s.”
Or, listen to Lionel (Bo) Beaulieu at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University: “The truth is, we don’t know how much worse it would have been if not for this funding.”
In other words, this is a weak, weak story. But you should read it for yourself.
• Today is the 100th anniversary of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music.
National Public Radio had a wonderful story about Monroe, who came out of Western Kentucky to lead one of the most influential bands in the history of American music, the Blue Grass Boys. The story begins with a wonderful interview musician Alice Gerrard taped with Monroe in 1969.
“I was brought up the best way that I could be brought up with what we had to do with,” Monroe said. “I could have had a better education, and I could have had better clothes to wear to school. I could have had a better chance, you know. But if I’d had the best education in the world, I might have not played music.”
Listen to the story. It’s a treat.
• The press keeps reporting that a vote today in Nevada will take place in a House district that is “rural.” It isn’t.
Republican Mark Amodei and Democrat Kate Marshall are on the ballot in a special election in Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District. In that district, 22.6 percent of the people live in rural communities, according to the Census. It is the 186th most rural district in the country, out of 435.
• The University of Texas and Shell Oil Co. have signed a contract to conduct research on producing natural gas from shale. Shell will fund $7.5 million in research conducted by University of Texas professors in the “Shell-UT Program on Unconventional Resources.”
Drillers typically use hydraulic fracturing techniques — fracking — to extract gas from these “tight” geologic formations. A chemical mixture is forced into the sale to push the gas out.
Landowners from around the country say fracking has damaged groundwater supplies.
A panel of U.T. and Shell oil officials will determine which projects the joint venture undertakes.
• The federal government will require meat to be tested for six additional strains of E. coli bacteria. The requirement will go into effect March 5.
• College graduates are the fastest-growing group of Americans filing bankruptcy, according to one report. The percentage of debtors with at least a B.A. rose from 11.2 percent in 2006 to 13.6 percent in 2010.
• “We’re not winning the battle,” said one Delta cotton farmer. he was referring to the growth of so-called “superweeds” that are resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, Business Week reports.
• Sen. Max Baucus (the Montana Democrat) says his Senate Appropriations Committee is preparing a bill that would resume funding for the USDA to inspect horse slaughter houses.
“We’ve seen some pretty shocking cases across Montana of horse abandonment and neglect as owners face tough economic times. This ban is a part of the problem and has resulted in the inhumane treatment of injured and sick horses along with hurting the economy. We have an opportunity here to do the right thing for our farmers and ranchers while improving the welfare of horses,” Baucus said in a statement.
• An Idaho man has been charged by the U.S. Justice Department for killing a grizzly bear that was 40 yards from his back door. Jeremy Hill is facing up to a year in jail and a $50,000 fine.
The case has set off quite a controversy in Idaho, as you can imagine. Locals are outraged, since Hill did what most people would do. In fact, at the annual 4-H auction, jasmine Hill’s pig sold (and resold) for a total of $19,588, money that Jeremy can use for his defense.