Monica Potts

Monica Potts is an Arkansas-based writer, currently writing a book about the women of her rural hometown.

Recent Articles

Is the Grass Really Greener in Rural America?

Liberal urbanites complain that politicians pay too much attention to rural America, but the truth is we hardly do at all.

(Flickr/Scott Butner)
Fred Stokes is a former cattle rancher who now runs a small family farm, mostly for his own use, in Mississippi. Stokes' county, Kemper, has only about 10,000 people, and Stokes, who is 76, says his small town has been shrinking; all the farmers are aging, most of the agricultural land is owned by one company, and it's almost impossibly hard to make a living as a rural American. "I'm not one of those who wants to reconstruct the Little House on the Prairie and be overly romantic," he says. "Mainly, I see the landscape being restructured in a very negative way." I first came into contact with Stokes while I was reporting a piece on immigrant chicken farmers, and I thought about him when I read a series of posts by Prospect alum Ezra Klein a couple of weeks ago. First, in a post about how valuable cities are, Klein said in a brief aside: "But it would of course be political suicide for President Obama to say that part of winning the future is ending the raft of subsidies we devote to...

The Serfs of Arkansas

Immigrant farmers are flocking to the poultry industry -- only to become 21st-century sharecroppers for companies like Tyson.

(AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
Shane Tawr doesn't remember exactly why he first decided to try his hand at chicken farming. Tawr had a government job in Milwaukee but wanted relief from the city's bustle. He decided in 2004 to head down to the Ozarks, buy a chicken farm, and work for himself, just as many of his Hmong ancestors had done in Laos. The Hmong, who came to the United States in large numbers as political refugees after the Vietnam War, settled mostly in urban communities in California, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Some raised chickens and tended small vegetable gardens, but many worked jobs that kept them near the poverty line. In the early 2000s, chicken producers such as Tyson, which is based in northwest Arkansas, began courting the Hmong, and advertisements about chicken-farming opportunities appeared in Hmong-language newspapers. Roughly 500 Hmong now live in communities throughout Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma and raise breeder or broiler chickens for a handful of companies that operate in the...

Who Drives Innovation?

Republicans like to argue that private companies are responsible for technological breakthroughs, but that's not true.

Last month, many of us heard the story of Brett Hallman. Hallman's mother was early in her pregnancy when she learned her son would have spina bifida, a neurological disease that affects the spinal cord's development and, in the worst cases, makes children with the disorder unable to walk and have brain damage. But the Hallmans enrolled in a trial that allowed doctors to operate on Brett in utero. The procedure had already used on newly born babies, but doctors found that babies who had surgery before they were born had dramatically improved effects with no increased risk. When Brett was 17 months old, he took his first steps, and doesn't have any of the serious problems usually associated with spina bifida. The trial was funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the largest provider of public funding for medical research. Each year, the NIH issues millions of dollars in grants to universities, clinics and research outfits around the country, funding research that...

Q&A: Why the Deficit Doesn't Matter

TAP talks with James Galbraith about the deficit and what we really should be looking for in the president's budget.

House Minority Leader John Boehner wants to slash domestic spending. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
This week, President Barack Obama released a budget that, as promised, cuts discretionary domestic spending in key areas in the name of deficit reduction. But he left big entitlement programs mostly untouched, which fueled fire on Republican-led efforts in the House to slash even more. The cry from most progressives, and many economists, that deficits don't matter while unemployment hovers just under 10 percent has gone mostly unheard by the American people. But there's another cry: that the deficit doesn't matter at all, at any time. TAP talked with James K. Galbraith, the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. chair in government/business relations at the University of Texas at Austin, who might be the country's biggest deficit dove. Why doesn't the deficit matter right now? The deficit is an outcome; it's not a policy tool. The current deficit happened because of the weak state of the economy and because of the international value of the dollar. The notion that you're going to get rid of deficits by...

Clean Energy's Cat-and-Mouse Game

The president's new budget has a lot of proposals for green energy, but what if states fail to implement them?

(Flickr/Peter Grima)
A day after the State of the Union address -- in which Barack Obama outlined a massive public investment in clean-energy infrastructure -- the president went on a trip to Wisconsin. He visited a renewable-energy tech manufacturer, an aluminum manufacturer, and a wind-turbine plant: "It's here in Manitowoc that the race for the 21st century will be won," he said in one Wisconsin town. But just the month before, the state's newly elected Republican governor, Scott Walker, turned down federal money for a high-speed rail line that would have connected Milwaukee to Madison. The money was part of Obama's stimulus plan -- the last time Obama put big money behind programs designed to green the future. Walker said the rail project was an example of excessive government spending: "[It] brought a new cost that we could ill afford at the time; we're going to be crushed in our transportation budget." Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who also won in November, turned down federal transportation...

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