Friday, January 22, 2016

At the backdrop of the Bundy rebellion, an impoverished and demographically crumbling countryside

Another report from New York Times on the standoff in Oregon. I am linking it both because it provides a good background info and because it does coincide with the hope of many in the countryside with the beginning of the standoff that their grievances are now going to be heard and addressed. Lets say, the hearing has happened. But the addressing part is another matter altogether. It's on the addressing part that things can go very wrong. And this is why we watch them

By KIRK JOHNSON (NY Times, JAN 18, 2016) {

The pattern of poverty has shifted nationally as well. In the four decades since the late 1960s, poverty rates fell or remained stable across the Northeast, South and Midwest — but rose significantly across the West, a Pew Research Center study said in 2014.

“High incomes, great schools — it was a Norman Rockwell rural America,” said Timothy A. Duy, an economist and senior director of the Oregon Economics Forum at the University of Oregon, describing the arc of places like Burns. “It’s reasonable for people to say, ‘We’d like to turn back the clock,’ because it was for many people an ideal time.”

What happened was a steep downturn, especially in the timber industry, which has all but disappeared. Oregon lost about three-fourths of its timber mills between 1980 and 2010; Harney County lost all seven, including the one near Burns where Mr. Ward worked, which closed in the mid-1990s.

Changes in the wood industry were clearly also having an effect over those years, with more wood buyers shopping in Canada and more mills becoming automated, but many people here also said they thought the United States Forest Service did not fight back to save the mills and jobs.

People like the Wards said that when environmental groups filed lawsuits and applied pressure at the State Capitol in Salem or in Washington, D.C., to reduce logging, forest managers just surrendered. The residual anger of people caught in the economic undertow now affects how residents here think about the takeover at the refuge, and the arguments about what should happen next.

“You didn’t stand up for us then; why should we stand up for you now?” asked Ms. Ward, 51, referring to federal officials, as she sipped coffee in her kitchen on a recent morning.

[...]

The sense that government — not just federal but state as well — no longer hears the voice of places like this echoes through the community, even among those who wish Mr. Bundy and his supporters would go home.

“People feel powerless,” said State Representative Cliff Bentz, a Republican whose district covers much of eastern Oregon, including Harney County. “As the rural areas grow more and more poor and urban areas grow more and more wealthy, there’s a shift in power.”

Ms. Ward’s father, Al Albertson, 73, who also once worked at the lumber mill here, put it more bluntly. “People in western Oregon don’t even know where Burns is,” he said.

[...]

The armed protesters who took over the headquarters buildings of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge ... preach a vision of rural America on the rebound if only “government oppression” — in land use, ownership and management — could somehow be rolled back.

“Government controls the land and resources,” said the group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, at a news conference last week. And that, he added, “has put people in duress and put them in poverty.”

Source = Rural Oregon’s Lost Prosperity Gives Standoff a Distressed Backdrop }