Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rural (and wild) Costa Rica

I write from the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, featured in this fourth most emailed story in the New York Times, "In Search of 'Wild' Costa Rica." As Amy Harmon notes in her story, Costa Rica is known for its ecotourism, and even though I have elsewhere on this blog associated ecotourism with rurality, I had not made that leap about Costa Rica until yesterday.  Amy Harmon's feature on the Osa Peninsula was partly the cause of the leap, but so was a brochure I picked up at the resort where we are staying.  The brochure is for a company called Osa Rural Tours, the "first cooperative of rural community tourism in the Osa Peninsula."  The cooperative bills itself as "a locally owned tour operator, that is working towards contributing to the development of communities in the Osa Peninsula, in the South Pacific of Costa Rica." The brochure continues:  
Osa Rural Tours is a gateway into the Osa Peninsula, a place of natural wonders; it has won over thousands of visitors.  A place of adventure where life and culture can be found on every path.
* * * 
Purchasing services from Osa Rural Tours will aid in preserving 2,256 acres of forest in the Osa Conservation Area! 
Our Rural Tours provides 10% of protection of the total forest already protected by Rural Community Tourism in Costa Rica.  Osa Rural Tours has directly and indirectly improved the local economy. 
Creating with fundings from the Costa Rica-United States Debt Swap Fund, Osa Rural Tours aims to assist in the conservation of forests within the Osa Conservation Area.   
Photos on the brochure show wildlife, a woman grinding corn, kayaking, horse-back riding, rappelling up a huge tree, and bike riding.

I note that the largest city on the Osa Peninsula, Puerto Jimenez, has a population of just 1,780… which sorta' makes the modifier "rural" redundant when it comes to the area.    Indeed, in this area dominated by the massive Corcovado National Park, so few people live--especially few who are not engaged in the ecotourism business--that I think of the place more as wilderness than as rural.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Racial diversity in Appalachia

Read more on NPR's Code Switch here.  Here's the lede for Kathy Baird's story:
When policymakers and news organizations need a snapshot of rural poverty in the United States, Appalachia—the area of land stretching from the mountains of Southern New York through Northern Alabama—is the default destination of choice. Poverty tours conducted by presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, almost every member of the Kennedy clan, and religious leaders like Jesse Jackson have all painted the portrait of Appalachia the same way: poor, backwards, and white.

While the economic despair and major health epidemics are an unsettling reality for the region, a glaring omission has been made from the "poverty porn" images fed to national audiences for generations: Appalachia's people of color. 
Baird quotes Dr. Aaron Thompson, executive vice president and chief academic officer for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education who grew up outside Manchester, Kentucky, which has the lowest per capita income in the state.  Thompson is an "outspoken role model[] for young people of color in his mountain home":  
When we tell the truth about Appalachia, it's only then that we tell the real story about who we are.
* * *  
There's no one story of Appalachia, no one voice. It's time for everyone to feel like they can speak up, like their story is important

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Voter turnout lower in rural Afghanistan

The headline in today's New York Times is, "Apathy and Fear of Taliban Combine to Keep Rural Voters Away from the Polls."  Here is an excerpt from Azam Ahmed's story:  
While polling centers across Kabul and other Afghan cities were celebrating record turnouts on Saturday, Tahir Khan, a tribal leader in rural Nangarhar Province, experienced a very different Election Day. 
“It was a dead zone,” he said, referring to the eastern province’s Shinwar district. “All the polling centers were closed, and people hardly left their homes.” 
The truth in Shinwar, and in some other rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the insurgency is strongest, is that the Taliban did not have to pick up their rifles to disrupt the vote on Saturday. 
* * * 
The divide between urban and rural Afghanistan has always been profound. While cities like Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif continue to blossom into populous and relatively secure places, rural Afghanistan — and in particular the ethnic Pashtun countryside, where the Taliban are strongest — has largely been left behind. 
Ahmed quotes Graeme Smith of the International Crisis Group:  
In any country caught in the jaws of a growing war, a democratic process is necessarily going to be a political contest inside pro-government enclaves and doesn’t include great swaths of the country where people are still sending messages to fight the government.  
The election celebration in Kabul creates an impression of what’s happening in the country, but we simply do not know what’s been happening in the districts today.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Literary Ruralism (Part VIII): Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland

This highly acclaimed novel begins with two brothers growing up in Calcutta in the 1950s and 1960s.  Given how often I hear the word "village" used to refer to any of a wide variety of places, especially in the developing world but also in places like New England, I found this passage of particular interest.  It is at the juncture at which Subhash, the eldest son, has gone off to university:
A few months later Subhash also traveled to a village: This was the word the Americans used. An old-fashioned word, designating an early settlement, a humble place. And yet the village had once contained a civilization: a church, a courthouse, a tavern, a jail. 
The university had begun as an agricultural school. A land grant college still surrounded by greenhouses, orchards, fields of corn. On the outskirts were the lush pastures of scientifically cultivated grass, routinely irrigated and fertilized and trimmed.
p. 34.  

Confronting Child Labor in Global Agricultural Supply Chains

That was the headline for an event at UC Davis School of Law today.  I moderated a panel of high-level representatives from four multi-stakeholder initiatives who are aiming, among other things, to end the "worst forms of child labor" in production of their commodities:  Bonsucro (sugarcane), Ethical Tea Partnership, International Cocoa Initiative, and Better Cotton Initiative.  Many common themes emerged from their presentations, but the two most striking to me as a scholar of law and rural livelihoods were these:  
(1) the difficulty of monitoring and regulating actions in rural places, where informal and local order dominate and 
(2) the need to alleviate rural poverty so that farmers and others in the agricultural production pipeline have more choices.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The latest on abortion access in rural America

The New York Times reports tonight that Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas will appeal a decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, handed down last week, which affirmed an earlier decision to uphold the constitutionality of S.B. 2.  I have written about it here and have forthcoming in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice an article prompted by the Abbott case and lots of laws similar to S.B. 2 that have been passed in other state houses in the last few years.   My article, co-authored with Marta Vanegas, is titled Urbanormativity, Judicial Blindspots, and the Undue Burden Standard and I hope to have a draft available for download soon.

Here is an excerpt from Erik Eckholm's report today:
The rule, part of a sweeping anti-abortion law passed last year, requires that all clinics providing abortions at any stage of pregnancy, including nonsurgical drug-induced abortions, meet the costly building standards of ambulatory surgery centers.  
Only six of the state’s 24 abortion clinics now meet that standard, which will take effect Sept. 1.
* * *
The new suit comes less than a week after a federal appeals court refused to overturn another provision of the 2013 law that has already forced several clinics to close, leaving the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas without abortion services. That provision required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges in nearby local hospitals, a rule that has proved impossible to meet in several smaller cities where clinics use visiting doctors. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, held that the requirement did not pose an undue burden on access to abortion since many other clinics continued to function. 
The effort to block the surgery center requirement may be more likely to prevail in the appeals court, legal experts said, if the clinics can show that it imposes still greater burdens on abortion rights, without commensurate benefits.
In other news of recent efforts to regulate abortion, John Schwartz reported earlier this week from Arizona on a federal judge's decision to block a state law that is one of the nation's most restrictive regarding the use of a particular abortion drug.  

And here is a story also from the past week on the West Virginia Governor's veto of a law that would have made it unconstitutional to perform an abortion in that state after 20 weeks of pregnancy.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spatial equality new "coin of the realm" in state voter laws

In "New G.O.P. Bid to Limit Voting in Swing States," Steven Yaccino and Lizette Alvarez report from Cincinnati, Ohio, on that state's recent efforts to regulate voting, presumably to deter those who vote Democratic.  In all, nine states, including North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Ohio have passed laws since the beginning of 2013.  Many are voter ID laws, which may require a passport to birth certificate to register as a voter.  I have written about the spatial burdens associated with these here.  Now, however, Republicans have a new strategy:  
In so doing, Republicans in these states shifted their strategy away from concerns over fraud, which have proved largely unfounded, to a new rationale that suggests fairness: uniformity. 
Republican lawmakers and election officials argue that to avoid voter confusion and litigation urban and rural counties should follow the same rules. 
In Ohio, the hodgepodge of rules raised concerns in both parties. Some urban counties had large enough budgets to send out absentee ballot applications and some smaller rural ones did not, election board directors said. Early voting hours also varied.
It is ironic that the challenges and limits rural voters face should be held up as the new and appropriate norm when, regarding most rights or services, rural residents are told "tough luck" when their access falls short of that enjoyed by their urban counterparts.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hog castration catches rural voters' attention

NPR reports today on an ad run by Joni Ernest--"Conservative Joni Ernst," that is--a candidate for the Republication nomination for the U.S. Senate seat from Iowa.  In he ad, Ernst discusses her past work in hog castration and suggests that this experience could be relevant if Iowa sends to her to Washington.  Needless to say, the ad is attention getting, and Brian Donahue, a strategist with Craft Media, explains that the "emotional reverberation" is what sends such ads viral:  
That causes what we call 'the Buzzfeed effect,' … It compels you to do more than just shape an opinion. It compels you to share it too. Which is why so many people are seeing an ad like this. 
It did something different and it was so unpredictable.  … We had a female candidate running for office and she's talking about castration and relates it to members of Congress, which is pretty unbelievable stuff. But beyond the race she's running, people are sharing it online and that's the effect you want to create. And that's what emotionally, cutting-edge media does. It takes on its own life.
Lori Raad of Something Else Strategies is the consultant behind the ad.  Raad says she knew the c-word was "going to get noticed."
Of course, our goal was for people to watch long enough to learn about Joni Ernst.  I wouldn't have guessed that people would've linked to it to this extent, although you always hope. 
* * *
That word coming out of my mouth? I might have made a funny face when I said that word.  It was very natural for her. She grew up doing that. It was not a hard sell.
Frank James, reporting for NPR, explains:  
The Ernst ad works, especially in Iowa, because the state leads the nation in hog production. Also, hog neutering is an authentic part of her biography, reflected by how matter-of-factly she delivers the line. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rural, in the Washington state landslide

I see rural themes running throughout the coverage of the catastrophic landslide north of Seattle, in Oso,  this week.  Those themes include community, lack of anonymity, and--today--a focus on the loggers who are working on the rescue and recovery effort as volunteers.  Here's an excerpt from a story by Ian Lovett just posted to the New York Times:  
Two days after a giant landslide engulfed the small community of Oso and rescue workers struggled to find either survivors or victims amid the sea of muck, a group of volunteers — many of them loggers — drove along back roads and trails on Monday to reach the site. They immediately began to dig, looking for their neighbors and, in some cases, friends and relatives.
Other stories tell of local volunteers going in, whether authorized or not.  This one, featuring the 27-year-old state trooper who was first on the scene and helped rescue a baby and his mother, is especially poignant.  He grew up in nearby Marysville and has often patrolled this area during his 7-year career as a trooper.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Are red (rural? poor?) states the makers or the takers?

Here's the latest analysis from Ben Hallman on the Huffington Post. The data comes from Wallet Hub, a consumer finance site that "crunched federal tax and spending data and then ranked states from most to least dependent on Uncle Sam."  The results are based on three metrics:  taxes pad as compared to federal spending per capita, the percentage of state revenues coming from federal funds, and the number of federal employees per capita, with the first two categories being weighted more heavily than the last.  Here's an excerpt from the story that highlights some elements of the cool color-coded map.
The "takingest" states, in a tie, are Mississippi and New Mexico, according to the analysis. Both states take about $3 in federal spending for every $1 contributed in taxes. Both states are highly dependent on federal funding as a percentage of state revenue. And New Mexico, especially, has lots of federal workers. 
The state with the lowest return on taxpayer investment is South Carolina. Its citizens pay $1 in taxes per capita for every $7.87 in federal funding received. 
The two states that come closest to breaking even are Washington and Georgia. These states get back $1.05 for every $1 in taxes paid.
Hallman observes the rough correspondence between "taking" states and high poverty levels, listing  Mississippi and Alabama as examples.  He also notes how the Tea Party is changing this, making some "taking-est" states less so of late.  By way of example, Hallman notes that 7 of the 10 states with the biggest "dependency gap" are not expanding Medicaid, as they could do with federal monies under the Affordable Care Acts.  Those seven are Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Smoking as a poor (and rural) people's problem

See Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff's story in today's New York Times.  The dateline is Manchester, Kentucky, population 1,255, and the headline is, "Smoking Proves Hard to Shake Among the Poor."  While the headlines leads with "poor," the story also gives quite a bit of attention to the geography angle on the smoking problem.  Here's an excerpt reporting on this new study available on Population Health Metrics:  
The new study, which evaluated federal survey data from 1996 to 2012 to produce smoking rates by county, offered a rare glimpse beneath the surface of state-level data. It found that affluent counties across the nation have experienced the biggest, and fastest, declines in smoking rates, while progress in the poorest ones has stagnated. The findings are particularly stark for women: About half of all high-income counties showed significant declines in the smoking rate for women, but only 4 percent of poor counties did, the analysis found. 
This growing gap in smoking rates between rich and poor is helping drive inequality in health outcomes, experts say, with, for example, white women on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder now living shorter lives. 
“Smoking is leaving these fancy places, these big urban areas,” said Ali H. Mokdad, a researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and an author of the study. “But it has remained in these poor and rural areas. They are getting left behind.”
The study found that among adults living in "deep poverty in the South and Midwest, the smoking rate has not changed" since 1977, even as it has fallen 27% on average for adults across the United States.

Manchester is the county seat of Clay County, Kentucky, where just 7% of residents have a college degree and the poverty rate is twice the national average.  Manchester banned smoking in restaurants, stores and bars in 2012.  The local hospital runs a smoking cessation program with free nicotine patches and so forth to low-income residents.