Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Two tales of rural enrollment in the ACA: Kentucky and Iowa

A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a story haling Kentucky's success at enrolling rural residents in the state's Medicaid expansion at part of the Affordable Care Act.  Of the 640,000 uninsured Kentucky residents, 56,422 have signed up for health insurance as of 22 November.  Among those, more than 80% have enrolled in Medicaid, while the remainder now subscribe to private plans.

Stephanie McCrummen's story features a navigator (one paid to assist with enrollment) named Courtney Lively, working patiently with residents of Breathitt County, population 13,878, poverty rate 30%.  An excerpt follows:
But in a state where the rollout has gone smoothly, and in a county that is one of the poorest and unhealthiest in the country, Courtney Lively has been busy signing people up: cashiers from the IGA grocery, clerks from the dollar store, workers from the lock factory, call-center agents, laid-off coal miners, KFC cooks, Chinese green-card holders in town to teach Appalachian students.
McCrummen's story recounts Lively's interactions with several residents who represent different family and employment profiles--in short, all profiles of need. Most of those profiled have lived what most of us would characterize as unhealthy lifestyles, including smoking and abuse of substances.  Several are concerned about whether dental benefits will cover their need to have teeth extracted.  Most have not seen a physician in the last decade or more.  A few have never had health insurance.  For educated folks living in metropolitan areas, it's a pretty startling lineup.  Here's how Lively explains the options the ACA provides to 60-year-old Woodrow Wilson Noble, who has never had health insurance.
If you go to the doctor, all you’re going to pay is $1.  If you’re in the hospital for an extended period, you should only be billed $5. . . . If you get medicine, generics are $1 and brand is $4. . . . You can go to the dentist once a month — exams, X-rays and cleanings are covered. . . . Now for your teeth, the plan does take care of having them pulled and does take care of fillings, but not bridges, because that’s considered cosmetic.
As McCrummen observes, this is the law working as its proponents envisioned.  Indeed, Abby Goodenough for the New York Times also recently reported on Kentucky's success, with a similarly glowing profile of a busy navigator.  That story was oriented to a Louisville navigator who was also serving the surrounding area, including LaGrange, Kentucky, population 8,082.  Here is the link to an accompanying slide show.

Contrast those reports of the Kentucky experience with this NPR story out of rural Iowa today, where the report is not so optimistic.  The dateline is Des Moines, Iowa, where Broadlawns Medical Center, a public hospital, is also helping those from surrounding small towns and rural areas sign up for coverage under the ACA.  But a key difference between Iowa and Kentucky is that the former has not invested as much in navigators as the latter.  The story by Sarah McCammon suggests that Iowa is spending only the $600K it received from the federal government to finance navigators.  (The stories out of Kentucky do not indicate whether the state is paying part of the cost of the navigators there).  McCammon quotes Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart who comments on the limits of what that sum can accomplish:
You have to hire staff, train staff, hold events.  I mean, that's expensive.
* * *
When you think that some of the navigators are going to be working in 60-plus counties, that's a heavy lift for just a few people, quite frankly.   
As a consequence, Iowa currently has only a dozen navigators working full-time, plus a few working part-time.  McCammon notes that no navigators are working in 27 Iowa counties, which represent more than a quarter of the state's 99 counties.
In those areas, people with questions have some options. They can turn to insurance agents or certified application counselors like Joe Heitritter. 
Heitritter, director of outreach at Greater Sioux Community Health Center, which serves four rural counties in northwest Iowa, has been visiting local Head Start programs, churches and food banks, looking for people who need help. And he's getting some really basic questions. 
"There are a lot of people we're seeing who've been uninsured for a lot of years," he says. "Just understanding what health insurance is, what premiums and deductibles are are, may be new to some people." 
Heitritter says he and his colleagues have helped several clients narrow down their options, but he doesn't know of any who've finished the sign-up process yet.
Wow!  Perhaps no one has finished the registration process in four counties in rural Iowa.  That's pretty discouraging.  Is the difference between Iowa and Kentucky down to the difference in the number of navigators working on the task?  

Here's a chart showing the state of enrollment in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1 October and 2 November.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quality of life issues drive reverse migration, rural gentrification in China

Edward Wong reports from Dali, Yunnan Province, China for the New York Times today, in a front page story headlined, "Urbanites Flee China's Smog for Blue Skies."  What is not specified in the headline but becomes clear from the story is that those migrating are well-heeled urban professionals--in short, those with abundant social capital--and money.  Wong refers to them as Chinese bobos--or bourgeois bohemians--who seek freedom from the urban focus on "what you're wearing, where yo're eating, comparing yourselves with others." The story features several couples, some with young children, all waxing poetic about the improved quality of life in Dali, as compared to China's massive cities, mostly on the coast.  Wong refers to the "growing number of urbanites who have decamped to rural China," whom one Dali resident calls "environmental refugees" or "environmental immigrants."

Here's an excerpt from Wong's story:
At a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese, many poor farmers, are leaving their country homesteads to find work and tap into the energy of China’s dynamic cities, a small number of urban dwellers have decided to make a reverse migration. Their change in lifestyle speaks volumes about anxieties over pollution, traffic, living costs, property values and the general stress found in China’s biggest coastal metropolises.
* * * 
The urban refugees come from all walks of life — businesspeople and artists, teachers and chefs — though there is no reliable estimate of their numbers. 
Wong notes that many of the migrants to this part of rural China are ethnic Han, and that many are renting properties owned by ethnic Bai, who are native to this region of southwest China.  

This story--while about migration between rural and urban--is very different in tone and substance to those in Ian Johnson's series for the Times this year about China's forced and planned urbanization.  Read posts about that series here, here, here and here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Insanity of our Food Policy"

Don't miss Joseph Stiglitz's piece under that headline in The New York Times Opinionator section this week.  Here's a paragraph that sums up his complaints about proposed changes to the farm bill and how they would deepen inequality in our nation.  It also happens to be one of the best explanations of "rent seeking" that I have ever read:
The proposal is a perfect example of how growing inequality has been fed by what economists call rent-seeking. As small numbers of Americans have grown extremely wealthy, their political power has also ballooned to a disproportionate size. Small, powerful interests — in this case, wealthy commercial farmers — help create market-skewing public policies that benefit only themselves, appropriating a larger slice of the nation’s economic pie. Their larger slice means everyone else gets a smaller one — the pie doesn’t get any bigger — though the rent-seekers are usually adept at taking little enough from individual Americans that they are hardly aware of the loss. While the money that they’ve picked from each individual American’s pocket is small, the aggregate is huge for the rent-seeker. And this in turn deepens inequality.
Meanwhile, as Stiglitz points out, House Republicans who would continue to line the pockets of agribusiness with subsidies on crop insurance premiums, would cut the food stamp program, which currently provides most recipients only about $4/day.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Deeds family tragedy and the shortage of mental health care in rural America

The apparent suicide of Austin "Gus" Deeds on Tuesday--following his attack with a knife on his father, former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds--has cast attention on the shortage of beds in psychiatric wards, especially in rural areas.  Gus lived with his father and stepmother in Millboro, Virginia, an unincorporated community in rural western Virginia's Bath County, population 4,731.  The New York Times reports
On Monday, state mental health officials unsuccessfully sought to find a bed in a hospital psychiatric ward for Gus Deeds, who had undergone an evaluation, according to Mary Ann Bergeron, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. 
None could be found and he returned home, even though a magistrate had issued an order of involuntary commitment. “In that particular rural area of the state, it is not unusual to have contacted anywhere from seven to 15 hospitals” looking for an available bed, Ms. Bergeron said.
Dennis A. Cropper, executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services, said Gus Deeds was evaluated at Bath Community Hospital, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Mr. Cropper issued a statement late Tuesday declining to elaborate, citing the family’s wish for privacy.
On the issue of psychiatric bed availability, including in rural areas, NPR reports:  
Starting in the 1960s, many psychiatric hospitals were closed because treatment in the community was considered a more humane and less costly alternative. But outpatient treatment can be difficult to find, especially in rural areas. And inpatient care is still needed, especially for people considered at risk of harming themselves or others.
Creigh Deeds has represented the 25th District in Virginia since 2001, and he was in the Virginia House of Delegates for nine years before that.  Deeds narrowly lost a race for Virginia Attorney General to Bob McDonnell in 2005. Deeds was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009 but lost by 17 points to Bob McDonnell. 

100,000 visitors later ... reflections on 1,845 posts and 6 1/4 years of blogging

My sitemeter tells me I am about to hit the 100,000 hit mark here on Legal Ruralism--probably in the next day or two.  I know that number isn't very accurate because I didn't set up site meter until I was perhaps a year into this enterprise, and Google tells me Legal Ruralism has had many more hits than that--some 190,000 since the blog's exception.  Nevertheless, it seems that nice round 100K number is inviting me to reflect on the six and quarter years since I established Legal Ruralism:  A Little (Legal) Realism about the Rural.  

First, I will say that, while time-consuming, the blog has proved very helpful in terms of cataloging themes and trends I see regarding rural America--what is happening there, but also how what happens there is depicted in the mainstream, national, and mostly liberal elite media.  Regular readers will know that the three media outlets I draw on most frequently are the New York Times, NPR, and my hometown weekly, The Newton County Times.  In the context of the New York Times, coverage of rural people and places is the exception, less so with NPR.  In sharp contrast, rurality is the unspoken, taken-for-granted context for the Newton Count Times.

Second, I enjoy visiting the sitemeter occasionally to see who is visiting--by that I mean the city, state, and or country.  Lately, I've been getting lots of visitors from Turkey.  Before that, visitors from China were outpacing those in other nations, and visitors from the former Eastern bloc are relatively common, too, as are those in Australia.

The blog has just 19 "followers," but I am happy to say that it has attracted attention among a wide array of folks who occasionally write with invitations.  Most rewarding have been the periods during which I get to blog with my students.  They add so much variety and valuable new perspectives to the enterprise.

Here's to another 6 and a quarter years--at least.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A poignant vignette of rural healthcare

This piece by Dr. Regina Harrell appears on the NPR "Shots" blog, with the sub-head, "policy-ish."  The headline is "Why a Patient's Story Matters More than a Computer Check-List," and in it Dr. Harrell, an assistant professor at the College of Community Health Services, University of Alabama, recounts a visit to an elderly patient in rural Alabama to make the point that her patients' experiences don't always fit neatly into the boxes to be checked on the interfaces of new fangled electronic health records (EHRs).  Here's an excerpt from the piece, which provides not only a critique of EHRs, but also a vignette into rural lives and healthcare delivery:
We chat a moment, then we move on to Mr. Edgars' arthritis. Early on in his dementia he wandered the woods. His wife was afraid he would get lost and die, although the family agreed that this was how he would want it. 
Now his knee arthritis has worsened enough that it has curtailed his wanderings. I suspect that Mrs. Edgars is cutting back on his pain medicine to decrease the chance he'll wander off again. 
We talk about how anxious he grows whenever she's out of his sight, and how one of his children comes to sit with him so that she can run errands. I leave carrying her parting gift, a jar of homegrown pickled okra. 
Back at the office, I turn on the computer to write a note in the electronic health record, or EHR. In addition to recording the details of our visit, I must meet the new federal criteria for "meaningful use" that have been adopted by my office, with threats that I won't get paid for my work if I don't. 
Under history, I enter "knee pain." Up pops a check-box menu: injury-related (surely the chronic wear on Mr. Edgars' knees as a farmer is an injury, but I don't think that's what the programmer had in mind); worsening factors (none apply, as he couldn't give his own history); relieving factors (there's no check box for a sleep-deprived wife who's purposely keeping the dose of acetaminophen low); and so on. Nothing fits, so I exit and type in "follow-up". It cedes a blank screen.
 * * * 
Next is the physical exam. The check boxes ask if the person is oriented to person, place and time. Mr. Edgars is oriented to person and place; he knows his wife and home, and he is happy nowhere else. He no longer cares what year it is. There isn't a check box for that. 
At day's end, I review my meaningful use. I spent more time checking boxes than talking to patients and their families.
There aren't enough physicians to see all the homebound patients in my area, so I try to visit as many as I can safely care for. I could see twice as many patients if I could write their notes at the bedside while visiting with them. I would happily do this using paper or an EHR that took the same amount of time, but these are not options.

SNAP usage, state-by-state

See this map and accompanying story by Maria Goody on NPR's The SALT.  The map, by Stateline,  shows the percentage of residents in each state who receive SNAP--also known as food stamps.  Goody observes:
While Republicans have led the call to slash the SNAP program in the House, many of the states whose residents are most reliant on food stamps are reliably Republican and located in the GOP's Southern heartland. About 20 percent of the population in Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and South Carolina, for instance, receive benefits from the federal food assistance program.
Other states with very high food stamp usage are Oregon and New Mexico at 21% each.

Body to be exhumed from front yard in Stevenson, Alabama

I wrote here last month about the legal dispute over Patsy Davis's burial by her husband in the front yard of their home in Stevenson, Alabama, population 1,770.  Now the Associated Press reports that the husband, James Davis, has agreed to comply with the City of Stevenson's regulations regarding burial in the city.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Emeryville, California a "small town"? You've got to be kidding me

But there it is in the NPR headline today, "How a Free Bus Shuttle Helped Make a Small Town Take Off." The population of Emeryville is 10,080, but it is in the midst of the huge San Francisco Bay area conurbation.  More precisely, it is in Alameda County, in the East Bay, surrounded by Oakland and Berkeley.  Alameda County's population is 1.5 million, and that of the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont Metro area is 7.15 million.     

Of course, technically, 10,000 people is not rural (by the U.S. Census Bureau definition).  But it's also hard for me to think of this municipality--which is a city with a smallish population-- as a "small town"--at least as that term is used in common parlance--when it's smack dab in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Urban bias in closure of ROTC programs (but wasn't the military supposed to be a rural stronghold?)

The New York Times reported a few days ago that the U.S. Army is reversing a decision announced a few weeks ago to close 15 ROTC programs in 2015.  Most of the programs slated for closure were in "rural" states or, more precisely, in nonmetropolitan areas, and most were also in the South.  Those programs, including the one at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro, population 67,263, and Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, population 30,435, have been placed on "probationary status," the meaning of which is unclear.  The Army reported selecting these programs for closure because they commission fewer than 15 officers a year and because it needs to respond to "the nation's new demographic landscape" and focus on 56 other markets like New York and Chicago.

Journalist Alan Blinder reports that the response from the universities--and politicians--was swift:
But many of the universities, often backed by their congressional delegations and influential alumni, waged spirited campaigns to keep their programs and contended that the Army’s plan would eliminate academic and career opportunities for students from rural areas. Frustrated by what he said was a lack of transparency by the Army about the decisions, Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, blocked a nomination for a senior Pentagon job.
The story quotes Dr. Tim Hudson, chancellor of Arkansas State University, which was threatened with loss of its 77-year-old ROTC program:
We appreciate the fact that the Army was willing to review the decision it had made.  We intend to work hard. We intend to improve what we’re doing. 
Dr. Hudson also commented on ASU's efforts to forge a stronger relationship with the military “that will allow us to understand better their expectations.”

The change at ASU and elsewhere would have forced some cadets to alter their plans for higher education and military service.  They would have been the first programs closed since 1998.  

What is surprising about the proposed closures is the fact that a disproportionate number of military recruits come from rural areas.  Maybe the move signals a military inclination to take enlisted men and women, but not officers, from nonmetropolitan places.  Read more about that here and here.

Oh, and Happy Veteran's Day.  The Center for Rural Strategies sent an email with this message today re honoring rural veterans:
Nearly half the men and women in military service have rural roots. Too often rural veterans don't get the attention, resources and respect they deserve. 
Please honor them by joining 10,000 Friends of Rural America. If you have already become a Friend, encourage your family, friends and neighbors to join.
The email included a link to this site re: appreciating and supporting rural communities more generally.

Here is a recent USDA ERS report on the 4 million veterans who live in rural America.  Those veterans comprise more than a tenth of all rural adults.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Poverty and place--and lack of purpose in nouveau urban China

Read the fourth installment of Ian Johnson's "Leaving the Land" series in the New York Times here.  It is headlined, "New China Cities:  Shoddy Homes, Broken Hopes."  This installment focuses on the city of Huaming, built over just 16 months to be a model for how China would transition from a nation of farms to a nation of cities.  It was constructed hurriedly starting in 2006 in order to be on display for the World Expo in 2010.

But Huaming has disappointed many of its residents, mostly displaced from their farms, and suicide is all too common.  The government often failed to deliver on promises to provide displaced farmers an apartment as large as their farm house, and other problems have arisen.  Johnson writes:
But the new homes have cracked walls, leaking windows and elevators with rusted out floors. For farmers who were asked to surrender their ancestral lands for an apartment, the deterioration adds to a sense of having been cheated.
He quotes Wei Ying, a 35-year-old unemployed woman whose parents live in a poorly built unit:  
That was their land.  You have to understand how they feel in their heart.
Another resident who moved to Huaming five years ago against her will, 40-year-old former farmer Feng Aiju says she has spent $1500 on anti-depressants:
I have anxiety attacks because we have no income, no job, nothing. We never had a chance to speak; we were never asked anything. I want to go home.
Feng Aiju says she has spent some $1500 on anti-depressants.  

Perhaps most interesting is the unfavorable comparison between these new cities and the makeshift housing where migrants to more established cities live:  
Many of those [migrant camps] are created by farmers who chose to leave their land for jobs in the city. Although cramped and messy, they are full of vitality and upward mobility, said Biao Xiang, a social anthropologist at Oxford University who has studied migrant communities.
These migrant neighborhoods in big cities are often called slums, but it’s the new resettlement communities that will be harder to revive, partly because they are not related to any productive economic activity.  And the population tend to be homogeneous, disadvantaged communities.
Part of what drove the government push to urbanize Huaming was the official view of the place as it was--16 villages spread over about three square miles that a government publication called "dirty, messy and substandard." The document stated:
The naturally formed villages had undergone disorderly developments resulting in low building density, in disarrayed industrial space and layout.
But by 2008, the Chinese government was unhappy with the pace of the project--in particular, progress in buying out farmers.
The local government used intense pressure to force farmers out of their villages. It tore up roads and cut electricity and water. Even so, thousands stayed on. As a final measure, the schoolhouses — one in each village — were demolished. With no utilities and no way to educate their children, most farmers capitulated and moved to town.
Now those farmers are mostly unemployed, unable to compete for jobs in nearby cities because they lack the necessary education.  Johnson quotes one farmer:
We know how to farm, but not how to work in an office.
Previous installments in this series on China's push to urbanize are here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

11 American nations, how many of them predominantly or culturally rural?

Reid Wilson reported yesterday for the Washington Post on map recently produced by Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books.  Woodward opines that "North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government."   See the map here.  Woodward writes in the Fall 2013 issue of the Tufts Alumni Magazine:
The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps — including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history.  Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities.
Woodard's piece for the Tufts Magazine is based on his new book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
Of particular interest to ruralists like me are the descriptions of these regions, some of which might be thought to be dominated by a certain rural culture:
  • The Midlands: Stretching from Quaker territory west through Iowa and into more populated areas of the Midwest, the Midlands are “pluralistic and organized around the middle class.” Government intrusion is unwelcome, and ethnic and ideological purity isn’t a priority.
  • Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.
  • Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”
  • Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.
  • El Norte: Southwest Texas and the border region is the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas. Hard work and self-sufficiency are prized values.
  • The Far West: The Great Plains and the Mountain West were built by industry, made necessary by harsh, sometimes inhospitable climates. Far Westerners are intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government.
Other regions include the Left Coast, New France, New Netherland, and Yankeedom.  Oh and don't forget the 300,000 folks left in what Woodard calls "First Nation." 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Litter is peril for Swiss cows

Here's the story from the New York Times a few days ago under the headline "With Cows in Mind, Swiss Farmers Wage Litter Battle." (The mini-head is Solothurn Journal, Solothurn being a canton in the northwest of Switzerland, with a population of 260,000).  Here's an excerpt:
Hard as it might be to believe, the orderly Swiss have a litter problem. Oddly, though, it is not in their towns and cities, where you might sooner stumble over a meteorite than a flattened Coke can or empty cigarette pack. 
Out in the countryside here southwest of Basel, it is another story. So much litter is tossed out of cars that Swiss farmers have begun a campaign to fight it. They complain not just about the mess but about the danger the refuse poses to livestock.
Journalist John Tagliabue goes on to explain how litter can be fatal to ruminants.  He reports that a number of cows have had to be slaughtered, presumably after ingesting litter that gets shredded and baled into hay.  Interestingly, the Swiss have identified themselves--not tourists or immigrants--as the source of the litter, and they are working to educate their countrymen about the perils of litter to cows and the wider environment.

It seems this phenomenon may support the argument I have made elsewhere that rural areas tend to be more lawless, perhaps because it is more difficult to police dispersed populations, among whom space creates expectations of privacy.  That privacy may give rise to unlawful acts because people assume they will not be found out.

As for the Swiss campaign to educate against litter, opinions on its effectiveness are mixed.  One farmer opines that the "results are about equal to zero," but an official with the Swiss Farmers Union insisted, "The Swiss sense of order remains strong." 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Organized crime responsible for nut heist (walnuts and almonds, that is)?

That's the suggestion in Scott Neuman's NPR story about a $400,000 walnut theft in California's Central Valley.  The report notes that this is at least the sixth major theft of walnuts and almonds in recent months.  The details of the most recent theft are described by Rich Paloma, a former law enforcement officer who is now a journalist with the Oakdale Leader:
The walnuts were in three double-trailer sets ... apparently the suspect or suspects hooked up their own tractor to [it] and then drove it off through the fence and then onto the nearby highway.
Paloma further opines on who might be behind the thefts, using the phrase "nut mafia."
From my research, I'm gathering that the person who does this is going to be well-organized and have some connections.  In fact, some of the sources I've contacted indicate that there's an organized crime aspect to this. If you look at how they're taken out, how they are planned, the equipment that is being used, it's going to require some investment.
The price of walnuts has more than tripled in recent years, from $0.60/pound to $2.00/pound.

A 2011 post about pecan thefts in Georgia is here.

Sexual assault of farm workers

NPR ran a two-part series on this phenomenon, yesterday and today.  The first story is "Silenced by Status:  Farm Workers Face Rape, Sexual Abuse," and it features the story of Maricruz Ladino, who was raped by a farm supervisor in 2006.  Against the odds, Ladino courageously filed a civil suit against the grower. That suit ended in a confidential settlement in 2010.  The story quotes Bill Tamayo, an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  the federal agency tasked with protecting workers from gender-based discrimination.  The EEOC has been using radio ads to reach out to farm workers about sexual harassment.  Tamayo emphasizes just h how much power farm supervisors wield.
"He determines who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets fired. And if you're a sexual predator, that's the ideal position to be in because you can determine whether her family eats or not," he says. 
* * *
Over the last 15 years, Tamayo estimates his agency has won tens of millions of dollars in back wages and damages for farm worker victims across the country. The companies involved are rarely made public unless a lawsuit is filed. And the agency doesn't have the power to bring a criminal case — that's the job of local prosecutors. In fact, a review of EEOC's federal lawsuits shows none of the perpetrators accused in those cases have been tried in criminal court.
The second story in the series is "Despite Barriers, Farm Worker Breaks Silence about Rape Case," and it too features a Latina farmworker who is also a rape survivor and, like Ladino, had the courage to report her assailant.  The woman featured in this story is Guadalupe Chavez, who eventually pressed criminal charges against the farm supervisor who raped her in 2006.  Yet with no physical evidence--Khokha notes that many of the farmworkers survive rape don't get a medical exam, which is also true among other demographics--the case came down to Chavez's word versus that of her assailant.  A jury acquitted the defendant, believing his assertion that the encounter was consensual.  Khokha writes:
Even so, Chavez says she got some justice because the man she accused of raping her had to face her in court, and she says, now supervisors like him may think twice about how they treat women in the fields.
This story notes the important role played by organizations such as rural legal aid providers and social service agencies such as Westside Family Preservation Services, in Huron, California.

This two-part series was produced in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting and UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting program.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Six of 11 Colorado counties favor secession

Read the Denver Post coverage here.  Here is the story's lede:
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said the 51st state movement is halted — at least in his county — but there were positive benefits from the secession campaign. 
"Weld County voters said this is an option we shouldn't pursue and we won't pursue it," Conway said Tuesday night. "But we will continue to look at the problems of the urban and rural divide in this state." 
Weld County voters Tuesday soundly rejected the 51st State Initiative 58 percent to 42 percent. 
But in six of the 11 counties where the secession question appeared on the ballot, the measure passed by strong margins.
The counties voting in favor of secession were Kit Carson, Phillips, Sedgwick, Yuma, Washington, and Cheyenne.  This Denver Post story has the details of the vote in each of those counties, and it features this summary of the issue:
Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton said Tuesday night that secession probably would not succeed. But he said the publicity would shed light on rural Colorado's grievances. 
"We not only want to be at the table," he said, "but we want a voice at the table as well."
Proponents say they have become alienated from the more urbanized Front Range and are unhappy with laws passed during this year's legislative session, including stricter gun laws and new renewable-energy standards. 
"The heart of the 51st State Initiative is simple: We just want to be left alone to live our lives without heavy-handed restrictions from the state Capitol," said 51st state advocate Jeffrey Hare.
Both Governor John Hickenlooper and his Republican opponent offered comments on the issue in coverage of yesterday's vote, and both seem somewhat conciliatory in relation to the secession movement's desire that rural Coloradans not be so marginalized.

New York Times coverage of other Colorado election issues does not mention the secession vote.  Commentary from the Daily Beast is here, and coverage from Fox News is here.  Here is a story on 11 areas/places that want to secede.

Read an earlier post about the Colorado secession vote here.  Read an earlier post about some California counties' dalliance with secession here.

Poetic ruralism

NPR featured this review today of poet Harryette Mullen's Urban Tumbleweed:  Notes from a Tanka Diary.  (A tanka is a 31-syllable Japanese poetry form typically featuring "a refined awareness of seasonal changes and a classical repertoire of fleeting impressions.")  Reviewer Carmen Gimenez Smith calls the collection, published yesterday, "a gorgeous book that should establish Mullen as a poet with wide appeal."   

Urban Tumbleweed's 366 tankas describe 
a year of living in Los Angeles and traveling to places like Texas, Ohio and Sweden while taking careful note of the natural world around her. The book is dense with jacaranda, rainstorms, bedbugs, epazote, and neighborhood watches, while faithfully evoking both the form and ancient spirit of the tanka.
I especially like this description of the work as at the intersection of pastoral/natural/rural with the built environment, the urban:  
a quiet argument about living in two worlds: the insistent, natural world, as well as the civilization that sometimes complements nature and other times complicates it.
I am reminded of this New York Times Magazine cover story, "Jungleland" from spring, 2012, about the tension between the natural--even "wilderness"--and the built environment in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward several years after Hurricane Katrina.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Immigrants to Australia "banished" temporarily to rural reaches

That is one of my takeaways from this story about a Pakastani comic who recently immigrated to Australia.  Matt Siegel, in his Saturday Profile of Sami Shah in the New York Times, writes that he and his wife and child were able to immigrate on a "skill migrant visa" because his wife, a psychologist, studied in Australia and has relatives there:  
There was, however, a catch. 
To provide services to rural communities, Australia sometimes requires migrants with certain skills to live in small towns for the first two years, after which they are free to move anywhere. 
“I’m on a visa that says I can live in Australia for two years, but I have to spend those two years in regional Western Australia,” he told the audience. “Which lets me live in Australia for two years, but makes me feel like I never left a third-world country in the first place.”
I found interesting how Shah makes rural Australia the butt of a joke, and Seigel's story goes on to describe Northam, the city of about 6,500 in Western Australia where Shah lives, in a way that sounds like a similarly sized population cluster in the middle of America:
Northam’s social life revolves around the pub or the high school parking lot, where residents gather next to their pickup trucks for beer-fueled weekend afternoons watching the local Australian-rules football team.
Northam is in the state's wheat belt, about 60 miles northeast of Perth, where Shah occasionally performs.  Northam is also home to a detention center that houses 600 asylum seekers.  Shah and his family plan to move to Melbourne after their two years of banishment to rural Australia are done.

Also of interest is Australia's policy of using skilled immigrant labor to serve its under-served rural and regional populations.  It may not be different to what happens as a practical matter to many highly skilled immigrants into the United States--South Asian physicians, for example, going to practice in nonmetropolitan locales.

This joke from Mr. Shah is also interesting for what it says not only about Australian attitudes toward immigrants, but also shifting perceptions of the merits of white workers (read more about the latter here, here, and here in the U.S. context).  Shah's joke goes like this:
“They’re illegal immigrants. They’re taking our jobs. I hear that one a lot,” he told the audience, interjecting the odd expletive for emphasis. “What do we do?” Try being better at your job, he counseled. 
“If a guy who’s spent the last two weeks on a boat, can’t speak the language, lost half his family on the trip over, then spent two years in Nauru can take your job away from you,” he told his listeners, then they should lift their game by upgrading their LinkedIn profiles. “That’s all I’m saying.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Finally, some law and rural sociology/ag scholarship

For the six years I've attended the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting, I've been pressing for the production of more scholarship at the intersection of law and rural livelihoods--and specifically for more attention among rural sociologists to the role of law in the phenomena they study.  So, imagine my delight when I learned at the RSS meeting in August, 2013, of an article forthcoming in Rural Sociology titled, "Where's the Farmer?  Limiting Liability in Midwestern Industrial Hog Production."
Scholars largely assume that hog production is following the same industrialization process as the integrated poultry industry. Since the collapse of hog farming in the 1990s, academics have anticipated that producers will eventually become trapped in contracts that leave the integrator with full control over the production process. Embedded in this prediction is an assumption that hog farmers respond to these productive pressures individually. Our analysis of the Carthage Management System suggests a different path for the hog commodity chain. The Carthage Management System is a conglomeration of business management firms that bring finishing hog farmers together to form limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the breed-to-wean stage of hog production. We use a sociology of agrifood framework to suggest that the nuances of hog production encourage the use of what we call folding corporations to limit liability in ways that profoundly transform the family farm. Corporations and individual hog farmers alike employ this creative LLC structure to deflect responsibility for the risks of hog production. We identify how folding corporations externalize the costs of production onto rural communities. Additional research is needed to better understand unfolding farmer identities, legal protections for farmers, how widespread organizational structures like Carthage Management System are, and their consequences for rural communities and the industrialization process.
The paper's authors are Loka Ashwood, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin in the Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, and Danielle Diamond and Kendall Thu, both of the anthropology department at Northern Illinois University.  I was fortunate enough at RSS 2013 to moderate a panel on which Ashwood presented her paper on "The Moral Economy of Land Loss," and I'm excited by the prospect of future work from a rural sociologist expanding the discipline in exciting cross-disciplinary ways, including by engaging law and legal processes.

Cross-posted to Agricultural Law.