Murder in Mendota

AP/Fresno County Sheriffs Office

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Things have gone from bad to worse in the beleagered town of Mendota in California’s Central Valley. Nicknamed the Canteloupe Capital of the World, it was once at the heart of the region’s booming agricultural economy. 

Mendota (which also happens to be the setting for much of Josh Harkinson’s piece about California’s ongoing water crisis) was thrust into the limelight in March of this year, when unemployment there peaked at 41 percent. A bitter feud over water rights pitted growers and farm workers—onetime enemies—against environmentalists and the federal government. Meanwhile, an area the size of the City of Los Angeles went fallow.  

Today, unemployment is still at 36 percent. In August alone, the community food bank distributed more than 2.5 million pounds of food to increasingly desperate workers, and the numbers keep getting worse. “It’s a tremendous volume,” said foodbank head Dana Wilkies. “Almost all these folks are impacted by the agricultural sector. They’re farm workers, they’re truckers or packers or people who run small businesses in those communities who were reliant on their customer base.” 

Even Governor Schwarzenegger’s long awaited water bills, signed into law this week,  won’t change anything for the 2010 season. And without torrential rain and heavy snowfalls in the Sierra, there’s little hope on the horizon. 

Then, two weeks ago, the tiny town of 9,000 and shrinking was rocked by the brutal slaying of four-year-old Alex Mercado, whose body was found stuffed into a clothes-dryer in the home of a 14-year-old neighbor thought to have sodomized him and drowned him in a bathtub.  He confessed and will be tried as an adult for the crime, which could carry up to a 47-year sentence. 

“I just screamed at what I saw,” said Elsa Castro, the suspect’s mother. “No one will ever understand how I feel about what happened.”

Yet another nightmare in the Cantaloupe Center of the World.  

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

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Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

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Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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