Sunday, June 29, 2014

Courting the rural vote in Senate races, from Alaska to Arkansas

Jeremy Peters reports in the New York Times today from Napaskiak, Alaska, population 405, where Mark Begich, the U.S. Senator from Alaska was recently campaigning for votes among Alaska Natives.  The headline is "Past Road's End, Democrats Dig for Native Votes," and Peters reports that Democrats have never been able to rely on the Native vote in Alaska, where for years that vote went to long-serving Republican Senator Ted Stevens.  Indeed, the lede is
No roads go this deep into the tundra, especially not for Democrats.
* * *
Native populations are one of the most important but least understood constituencies for the Democratic Party, and as Alaska has shown, they do not predictably break for one party or the other.
Nevertheless, Begich won the rural vote by five percentage points in 2008, and Alaska Native turnout is expected to be higher this year because an Alaska Native, Byron Mallott, is the Democratic nominee for governor.

Peters explains the increased significance of the rural and Alaska Native vote this year--not only in Alaska, but for the nation:
Unlikely as it may seem, Democrats consider tiny tribal villages like this one — about 60 miles upriver from the Bering Sea, with a population a little over 400 — so vital to their tenuous majority in the United States Senate that they are building a vast outreach operation here and across rural Alaska. 
Speaking of people--and places--that are not understood by outsiders, I like Peters's effort to describe the socio-spatial milieu, as with this quote from local Vivan Korthuis:
It’s really hard to describe to people how we live here; we don’t even have cement [because the freezing and thawing would shatter it].  When I went to school on the East Coast, it was like describing living on the moon.
But Peters's story doesn't end with the importance of the Native vote in Alaska, where Natives are one fifth of the population.  Peters also touches on the significance of the American Indian vote in recent Senatorial races in North Dakota and in Montana (where American Indians are 6.5% of the voting age population), and he explains what Democrats are doing to shore up this vote in the current election cycle:
The effort [in Alaska], like a similar one aimed at Native Americans in Montana, will involve 130 workers in five new field offices spread out across a land mass roughly twice the size of Texas — from here in the state’s southwest to north of the Arctic Circle. 
Working with local chiefs and community leaders, they will undertake the kind of face-to-face campaigning that is so critical in remote areas, where votes are won not with attack ads or automated phone calls but the old-fashioned way: by visiting people at their homes, registering those who have never voted and persuading as many of them as possible to mail ballots in early.
Peters notes that Obama recently visited Indian country in North Dakota, the first President to do so since Bill Clinton in 1999.

This attention to the American Indian and Alaska Native vote has necessarily required more federal attention to issues of concern to these populations, and though Peters doesn't mention it specifically, that necessarily includes rural development.

As for what is happening outside Alaska and the West, Peters mentions rural constituencies in Arkansas and North Carolina.  In the former state, Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor is using a "network of field offices and volunteers who will fan out in less-populated, heavily African-American areas" in the southern and eastern parts of the state.  Kay Hagan of North Carolina is targeting farmers in that state's rural northeast.

As for the overall significance of the rural vote to control of the Senate, Peters writes:
The field work needed to win in the rural states that hold the key to control of the Senate next year inverts the election model Democrats so often rely on to win. Especially in Alaska, Arkansas and Montana, the party’s base is not conveniently concentrated in cities surrounded by a sea of more Republican-leaning areas.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rural lack of anonymity not at play with border enforcement

The New York Times reported yesterday from Arivaca, Arizona, population 909, just a few miles north of the Mexican border.  The headline is "Border Patrol Scrutiny Stirs Anger in Arizona Town," and Fernanda Santos reports that residents of Arivaca--old and new alike--are fed up with the frequent stops they must endure at Border Patrol checkpoints.  Here's the lede:
Every time Jack Driscoll drives the 32 miles from this remote outpost in southeastern Arizona to the closest supermarket, or to doctor’s appointments, or to a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, he must stop at a Border Patrol checkpoint and answer the same question: “Are you a U.S. citizen?” 
Sometimes, Border Patrol agents ask where he is going or coming from, the type of car he is driving, what is in that bag on the back seat or what brings him to these parts, even though he has lived here for more than a year.
But this experience is not linked to Driscoll's status as a relative newcomer.  Others who have lived in the area much longer than Driscoll are also stopped.  You see, the lack of anonymity that would normally serve as buffer between residents and law enforcement--which would mean that law enforcement would learn over time who is a U.S. citizen and who is not--doesn't work in this context because, as Santos explains:
Because the border agents who staff them are on duty for only a few weeks, their relationship to the community has never evolved beyond an adversarial one.
Indeed, Santos explains, even school buses full of children and "the minibus that takes older residents on weekly shopping trips also get stopped" at the checkpoint on Arivaca Road, which apparently lies between the community of Arivaca and more populous parts of Pima County--where most services are.

Santos describes the checkpoint experience as similar to "going through airport security (albeit more briefly, and not everyone gets searched)."
Some of those checkpoints, like the ones that ring Arivaca, operate under canopy tents set up on the side of country roads flanked by wilderness and pasture, a cramped air-conditioned trailer offering the agents’ only respite from the oppressive desert heat. Others stretch along all lanes of major highways that lead from Mexico into the United States, visible from many miles away and, for drivers, virtually impossible to avoid.
Santos goes onto describe a citizens group of volunteers in Arivaca who have been monitoring the checkpoint.  They track the length of the stops and such.  So far, they report seeing no one arrested and no drugs seized.

Is rural America the "real" America?

That is what is suggested by one of the folks interviewed during Damien Cave and Todd Heisler's journey up I-35 from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minnesota.  That series of stories, vignettes, biographies has appeared in the New York Times over recent weeks.  Here's the quote from Ben Bodom, age 57, who lives in Minneapolis and works for General Mills as an information technology specialist.  Bodom came to Wisconsin from Ghana as a high school exchange student and apparently stayed.  Here's the quote:
When you go to the rural areas, that’s when you understand what America is. The fact of the matter is that for them, everybody counts.
Interesting.  I doubt that many native born citizens of the United States would agree that everyone counts--indeed, those who surely count least are those are in rural areas.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Persistent (rural) poverty featured in the NY Times Magazine

Annie Lowery's report in this week-end's Magazine is headlined "What's the Matter with Eastern Kentucky?" In it Lowery fingers Clay County, Kentucky as "dead last"…"statistically speaking" among all counties in the United States.  As Lowery expresses it, Clay County "might as well be a different country."  Here's the lede:
There are many tough places in this country: the ghost cities of Detroit, Camden and Gary, the sunbaked misery of inland California and the isolated reservations where Native American communities were left to struggle. But in its persistent poverty, Eastern Kentucky — land of storybook hills and drawls ­ — just might be the hardest place to live in the United States. 
Clay County, population 21,634, only slightly edges out five other Eastern Kentucky counties for last place.  Those other counties are Breathitt (population 13,545), Jackson (population 13,427), Lee (population 7,260), Leslie (population 11,019) and Magoffin (population 12,950).

Here are some of the sobering metrics about Clay County:
  • Median household income:  $22,296, which is just above the poverty line and just over half the nationwide median. 
  • Percentage of population with a bachelor's degree or higher:  7.4% 
  • Disability rate:  11.7%, compared to a national figure of 1.3%
  • Life expectancy:  six years shorter than the national average
  • Obesity rate:  nearly half
Lowery doesn't mention that the county's poverty rate is 34.5%.  Nor does she note that the county's population is 92.7% non-Hispanic white and just 4.4% African American.  In other words, this story is a different spin not only on place and poverty, but also--at least implicitly--on race and poverty. (I have occasionally complained on these pages about media failure to depict white poverty and to collapse the poverty problem into the racism problem.  See also this post on The Root making a similar point).

I do appreciate Lowery calling attention to rural poverty which, as she notes, is so often overlooked.  
The public debate about the haves and the have-nots tends to focus on the 1 percent, especially on the astonishing, breakaway wealth in cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington and the great disparities contained therein. But what has happened in the smudge of the country between New Orleans and Pittsburgh — the Deep South and Appalachia — is in many ways as remarkable as what has happened in affluent cities. In some places, decades of growth have failed to raise incomes, and of late, poverty has become more concentrated not in urban areas but in rural ones.
Lowery's story is very much about rural restructuring and how it has left places like Eastern Kentucky worse off in many ways than 50 years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson went there to declare his "War on Poverty." But beyond the rural restructuring backdrop--which in Appalachia is largely about the decline of coal (read more here, here and here)--Lowery also queries what should be done about, in, and for places like Clay County:  
[R]ural poverty is largely shunted aside in the conversation about inequality, much in the way rural areas have been left behind by broader shifts in the economy. The sheer intractability of rural poverty raises uncomfortable questions about how to fix it, or to what extent it is even fixable.
And, she gives material spatiality its due:
In many cases, a primary problem in poor rural areas is the very fact that they’re rural — remote, miles from major highways and plagued by substandard infrastructure. Think about the advantages of urban areas, described by thinkers going back to Jane Jacobs and beyond. Density means more workers to choose from, more potential customers, more spillover knowledge from nearby companies. As such, cities punch above their weight, economically speaking. 
In light of that, Lowery queries whether it makes sense to focus on investments in people rather than in places?  Lowery suggests that it does, acknowledging that one challenge is the immobility of the poor.  (That was an issue in this blog post from earlier in the month…) Then, too, there's the tricky politics of promoting and facilitating out-migration.
Imagine Senator Mitch McConnell running for re-election on the campaign slogan: “I’ll get you out of this moribund area and up to the wilderness of North Dakota!”
And that, at least implicitly, acknowledges rural attachment to place … which brings us to Lowery's quote from Jeff Whitehead, who helps retrain laid-off coal miners through the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.
There’s just very limited opportunity for the people who were working in the region. …[Moving away is] a really hard pill to swallow. People are really connected to place here. For a lot of people, it’s the last thing they’re doing. They’re holding off until they have no other choice.
Whitehead says he has helped 220 families move away from the region in recent years.

A story related to Lowery's report is "Where are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?" from the New York Times Upshot.  There, Alan Flippen lists the four other counties rounding out the nation's "bottom ten."
I have included the demographic information from the U.S. Census Bureau showing that each of these counties--in contrast with those in Eastern Kentucky--is predominantly African-American.

Flippen's story also features a cool interactive, county-level map. Like Lowery, Flippen provides some explicit rural-urban contrast by comparing Clay County with Wayne County, Michigan, home of Detroit: 
Not a single major urban county ranks in the bottom 20 percent or so on this scale [of six metrics], and when you do get to one — Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit — there are some significant differences. While Wayne County’s unemployment rate (11.7 percent) is almost as high as Clay County’s, and its life expectancy (75.1 years) and obesity rate (41.3 percent) are also similar, almost three times as many residents (20.8 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median household income ($41,504) is almost twice as high.
But Flippen also does a rural-rural comparison--or more precisely a nonmetrolitan-to-nonmetrpolitan one--between Clay County and Los Alamos County, New Mexico, the top county based on the combination of metrics.  Los Alamos County is home of Los Alamos National Laboratory and just 18,000 residents, and its poverty rate is just 4.9%:
Only 7.4 percent of Clay County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 63.2 percent do in Los Alamos. The median household income in Los Alamos County is $106,426, almost five times what the median Clay County household earns. In Clay County, 12.7 percent of residents are unemployed, and 11.7 percent are on disability; the corresponding figures in Los Alamos County are 3.5 percent and 0.3 percent. Los Alamos County’s obesity rate is 22.8 percent, while Clay County’s is 45.5 percent. And Los Alamos County residents live 11 years longer, on average — 82.4 years vs. 71.4 years in Clay County.
It's an interesting contrast between two types of rural places--one reflecting a sort of gentrification (Los Alamos County is contiguous to upscale Santa Fe and Sandoval counties …but also not that far from Rio Arriba (19.3% poverty rate), San Juan (20.4% poverty), and McKinley (33.5% poverty) counties, for which the metrics are not very favorable) and the other reflecting old-fashioned rural poverty in a resource/extraction dependent county where the jobs have moved on.  Ironically, though, both counties are highly dependent on the federal government--Los Alamos County for jobs (1 in 5 residents are employed at the national lab) and Clay County for disability, Medicaid, and other federal and state benefits.  Indeed, the USDA ERS classifies the economies of both as "federal-state government dependent."  Hmmm.  In one, the government provides good jobs, and people with good educations move to the place for those jobs.  In the other, the government provides something of a handout, even as it fails to address structural deficits or invest in rural economic development.  Clearly, the latter is not a strategy that's working for Clay County.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Save the Date: Poverty and Place Conference, UC Davis, 13-14 November 2014

The Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis will host a conference on Poverty and Place on 13-14 November, 2014.  Here are the basics:

The conference will bring together scholars from across many disciplines—sociology, economics, law, education, social work, geography, planning—to present and discuss their work on the ways in which space and place inflect various dimensions of poverty.

Among other topics, scholars will address the ways in which place can aggravate poverty, as in persistent poverty counties and regions, but also how place-specific interventions can effectively ameliorate poverty. Papers addressing different aspects of urban, suburban and rural poverty will be part of the conference agenda.

Confirmed presenters include:
• Scott Allard, Social Work, University of Chicago
• Evelyn Blumenberg, Planning, School of Public Affairs, UCLA
• Tracey Farrigan, Geographer, USDA Economic Research Service
• Victoria Lawson and Sarah Elwood, Geography, University of Washington
• Bertrall Ross, Law, UC Berkeley
• Kai Schafft, Sociologist in Dept. of Education, Penn State University
• Jennifer Sherman, Sociology, Washington State University
• Margaret Weir, Sociology, UC Berkeley

The conference will be back to back with ClassCrits VII, hosted by the UC Davis School of Law on November 14-15, 2014.  Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut, moving to the University of California, Irvine, School of Law this summer, will give a key note lecture to bridge the two conferences.  Gustafson's recent book is Cheating Welfare.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Virginia town divided over planned presence of young immigrants

NPR reports today from Lawrenceville, Virginia, about the federal government's plan to house unaccompanied immigrant youth in a facility there that was formerly a private college.  Here's an excerpt from Jennifer Ludden's story:
The first busload was expected as early as Thursday, but a local backlash has put the plan on hold. 
Word spread this week that the detention center was a done deal, and it didn't go over well that most in this town of 1,400 had heard nothing of plans for the shelter.
Ludden quotes Brian Roberts, sheriff of Brunswick County, population 17,434.  He says his main worry is public safety:  
That's my job … and so 500 kids unaccounted for — illegal alien children in my little sleepy town — I just don't think it's the right fit for this community.
Roberts is also also upset about being left out of the loop:
I was just shocked.  The way this process has been handled puts more fear in our eyes, because it's been shoved down our throat.  
Others in the community are more open to the plan, in part because of its economic benefits for the area.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rurality Here and There, Then and Now (Part X): A defunct hillbilly amusement park and its (perhaps) urban namesake

Grounds of what was formerly Dogpatch U.S.A.
2012 Lisa R. Pruitt 
I can't believe I have been living in northern California, just 80 miles from San Francisco, for 15 years, and I just learned that there is a neighborhood in San Francisco called "Dogpatch."  I came across this fact quite by accident a few days ago while looking up a business in the city.  The little map that popped up with it indicated that the area is called Dogpatch.  Wikipedia described the competing theories for how the place got its name, and one of them is that "it was named after Dogpatch, the fictional middle-of-nowhere setting of cartoonist Al Capp's classic comic strip, Li'l Abner (1934–1977). A colloquialism of the time which described an underdeveloped backwater, Dogpatch was a primitive community "nestled in a bleak valley, between two cheap and uninteresting hills somewhere."

And that brings me to another Dogpatch, one from my childhood and youth.  Dogpatch U.S.A. operated for many years as an amusement park just about 10 miles from my home in northwest Arkansas.  I worked there for six summers as I was growing up, through my second year of college, if I recall correctly.  An earlier post about the park is here, indicating that it has been defunct for a number of years.   Another interesting coincidence about Dogpatch U.S.A.:  last month, Slate featured it in the Atlas Obscura, calling it a "hillbilly theme park that lies in ruins."  The excerpt on Slate starts with this back-handed, tongue in cheek compliment:
Though long abandoned, Dogpatch USA was arguably the country's most successful hillbilly-themed amusement park centered on a trout farm.
Sign marking what was formerly Dogpatch U.S.A.,
photo from 2012, by Lisa R. Pruitt
The park's predecessor was "the Raney family trout farm in Marble Falls, Arkansas," an attraction that remained even after Recreation Enterprises bought it and turned it into "a rustic theme park."  Visitors to Dogpatch could catch as much fish as they liked and pay just $1/pound to have it cleaned and packed on ice.

The hick motif was none-too-subtle: attractions included Barney Barnsmell's Skunk-Works, Rotten Ralphie's Rick-O-Shay Rifle Range, and a roller coaster called Earthquake McGoon's Brain Rattler. Instead of garbage cans, the park had "trash eaters"—mechanical pigs, goats, and wild hogs that would suck refuse from the hands of whoever fed them. ("Please feed the trash eaters," read the signs, "they gits hongry, too.")

* * * 

Despite all these delights, by the mid-1970s, the park was beginning to flounder. Rising interest rates, a national energy crisis, and the fading of hillbillies from pop culture all contributed to Dogpatch's financial troubles. 
* * * 
After being sold to new owners in 1981, and again in 1987, Dogpatch USA struggled on until 1993, when it closed for good. The park has since been left to ruin. A 2002 attempt to sell it on eBay for a million-dollar minimum bid drew no buyers.
Both of these finds have been, for me, a blast from the past.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A plan to train more lawyers in Alaska, perhaps even some for the state's rural and remote areas

Seattle University last week announced a plan to permit students to complete their last year of law school in Anchorage, Alaska, at a satellite campus.  The program has yet to be approved by the American Bar Association, but if it is approved, beginning in 2015, Seattle University students will be able to attend their third year of classes at Alaska Pacific University, and also spend summers there.

Both the Chief Justice of Alaska, Dana Fabe, and Alaska Bar Association executive director Deborah O'Regan, endorse the program.  A recent story in the Anchorage Daily News quotes O'Regan:
There's Alaskans that would have gone to law school but it's not practical to go Outside for three years.  
* * * 
It may make the choice to start a legal career easier for some Alaskans. 

Seattle University's announcement quotes Justice Fabe as saying she expects the satellite campus to "open doors to legal and judicial careers" to Alaskans and to increase the diversity of lawyers practicing in Alaska.

The Anchorage Daily News further explains:
The proposed satellite campus program would combine internships with law firms, nonprofits and state agencies with traditional classroom instruction. Local attorneys and judges will likely be tapped to help teach. 
Seattle Univeristy has operated a summer program in Alaska for a dozen years, according to Stephanie Nichols, its director.  The program brings law students from across the nation "to Anchorage for Alaska-specific courses and internships."  Nichols reports that, among the 170 students who have been through the program over the years, 60% have returned to Alaska to work.  Nichols is quoted:  
We have been planning to do this long before law schools started looking for other ways to branch out.  This has been in the works for years and years.
She states that scholarships are available for Alaska students, to defray the $41,000/year tuition, and she indicates that students from any law school could avail themselves of the program if they secure permission to spend their third year away from their home institution.  

Another partnership, this one between Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon and the University of Alaska, Anchorage, was announced in May.  This one would permit students who have three years of credits from UAA to start law school at Willamette.
According to O'Regan, the Alaska Bar Association has 2,456 active members, the majority of whom practice in Southcentral Alaska.  
Very few lawyers are located in remote areas of the state: According to state bar statistics, only 31 attorneys practice in the Second Judicial District, which includes Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome and Unalakleet. 
Nichols, of Seattle University, notes that the new program might "sow seeds for Alaska-raised attorneys to practice in their hometowns in under-served areas of the state."

I'm sure Justice Dana Fabe would appreciate that.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A poet laureate with rural roots

Charles Wright was named poet laureate yesterday, and I noted that both NPR and the New York Times picked up on aspects of his rural upbringing in coverage of the announcement.

The New York Times wrote:
Mr. Wright, who was born in Pickwick Dam, Tenn., not far from the Civil War battlefield at Shiloh, succeeds another Southerner, Natasha Trethewey. But Mr. Wright’s work — oblique meditations on “language, landscape and the idea of God,” as he once summed up his themes — could not be more different from Ms. Trethewey’s evocations of the forgotten African-American lives, or from the Whitmanesque poems about working-class Detroit by the previous laureate, Philip Levine.
Pickwick Dam is not even a Census Designated Place.  It is in southwest Tennessee, on the Tennessee River and the Mississippi state line, and is part of Hardin County, population 26,026.  

Jennifer Schuessler's report for the NYT continues:  
Explaining his choice, James Billington, the librarian of Congress, said that as he read through the work of a dozen or so finalists, he kept coming back to Mr. Wright’s haunting poems, many of them gathered in a Dante-esque cycle of three trilogies known informally as “The Appalachian Book of the Dead.” 
His “combination of literary elegance and genuine humility — it’s just the rare alchemy of a great poet,” Dr. Billington said. Mr. Wright’s work, he added, offers “an infinite array of beautiful words reflected with constant freshness.”
Melissa Block intereviewed Wright for NPR.  When asked about whether his sources of inspiration have changes over the decades, he said:
Not really. It's always been the idea of landscape that's around me, that I look at; the idea of the music of language; and then the idea of God, or of that spiritual mystery that we doggedly follow, some of us, all of our days, and which we won't find the answer to until it's too late — or maybe it's not too late. Maybe it's just the start, I don't know.

In any case, that's what I've always written about, and those three things are the meanings of my poems. The content changes — you know, what it's about, this, that and the other — but the meaning has always been the same, the same thing I've been after. Ever since I was a tongue-tied altar boy in the Episcopal Church.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The rural angle in Eric Cantor's loss? (and David Brat's win)

From Gail Collins' column in today's New York Times:
The website for Brat’s candidacy noted that he served on Virginia’s Joint Advisory Board of Economists under two governors and claimed that everyone in the state comes to him for budgetary insight “knowing that he tested his rural values against the intellectual elite while at Princeton.” Actually, he went to Princeton Theological Seminary, which is an entirely different place. But at the moment, people are more fascinated by the fact that his entire election budget was $200,000, which is only slightly more than what Cantor’s campaign spent on steak dinners.
David Brat is, of course, the economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, just north of Richmond, Virginia, who on Tuesday defeated house majority leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary for Virginia's 7th District.

I wonder what "rural values" Brat refers to.  Would be nice to have some specifics here.

Meanwhile, the New York Times describes Brat's new opponent, a fellow Randolph-Macon professor who is the Democratic Party candidate for the 7th District, in a way that also nods to the rural:
Jack Trammell is an associate professor of sociology, a romance novelist, a descendant of Appalachian farmers and the father of seven children in what he calls a blended family.
Apparently part of this description comes from the candidate's website.  Randolph-Macon College is in Ashland, Virginia, population 7,225, and the only incorporated town in Hanover County, population 99,863. It is part of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area, and is just 15 miles north of Richmond on I-95.

Feds back off attempt to manage Missoula prosector in relation to sexual assault cases

Martin Kaste reported a few days ago on NPR under the headline, "In a Standoff with Montana Officials, the Justice Department Blinks."  Here's the lede:
The Justice Department announced Tuesday it has resolved a two-year-old standoff with the county attorney in Missoula, Mont., in what was originally a dispute over accusations that local prosecutors weren't doing enough to prosecute rape cases. 
Over time, however, the issue turned into something else: a test of the Feds' power to impose reform on local prosecutors. And on that, it looks like the Missoula county attorney has prevailed –- on a technicality.
According to Kaste, County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg defied the Justice Department, which was threatening a lawsuit.  Apparently, that's rarely a local official's response.  Van Valkenberg "accused the Feds of "overreaching" and exaggerating the problems. He challenged their right to pressure an elected prosecutor in such a fashion and sued them in federal court."
Similarly, Van Valkenberg demanded that Justice support its case that his prosecutors didn't take rape cases seriously enough. He asserted that the DOJ acted imperiously toward him, and defamed his staff of prosecutors, many of whom are women.
Kaste quotes Van Valkenberg from his news conference on Tuesday:  
They never once reached out – never once in two years – reached out to work cooperatively with me in this matter.
In the agreement signed between the county and the U.S. D o J, the county agrees that it must, among other things, develop new policies for handling sexual assault cases.  But those reforms will be managed by the Montana attorney general, not the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the memorandum of understanding, the county attorney and the state reaffirm their belief that the DOJ has no authority over elected county attorneys.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fracking in the news, from Colorado to California (Part II)

That was the headline for this blog post in February, 2013.  The same headline now again seems appropriate based on what I'm reading in the NY Times and hearing on NPR.

A few days ago, Jack Healy of the New York Times reported under the headline, "Battle over Fracking Poses Threat to Colorado Democrats."  An excerpt follows:
An impassioned national debate over the oil-production technique known as fracking is edging toward the ballot box in Colorado, opening an election-year rift between moderate, energy-friendly Democrats and environmentalists who want to rein in drilling or give local communities the power to outlaw it altogether.
* * *
But in a bellwether state like Colorado, where views on drilling vary as much as the geography, the measures could ignite an all-out battle involving oil companies, business groups and conservationists that pulls in millions in outside money, sets off a rush of campaign ads and spawns lawsuits for years to come. That is why Gov. John W. Hickenlooper and other Democratic leaders are working feverishly on a compromise that would give communities more control of energy development in their backyards while keeping the fracking issue off the ballot.
Three Colorado cities approved bans or moratoriums on fracking last fall.

As for the California part, Norimitsu Onishi reported last month from Oroville, California, population 15,506, under the headline, "California's Thirst Shapes Debate Over Fracking."  Here's the lede:
Enemies of fracking have a new argument: drought. 
* * * 
The drought, combined with a recent set of powerful earthquakes, has provided the momentum for about a dozen local governments across California, the third-largest oil producing state, to vote to restrict or prohibit fracking in their jurisdictions, as concerns over environmental effects and water usage have grown. 
At the same time, a bill that would declare a statewide moratorium on fracking has been gathering support in the State Senate, a year after a similar effort failed.
Oroville is the county seat of Butte County, population 220,000, where the board of supervisors voted last month to ban fracking.  Onishi writes, "The speed of the decision surprised the activists who had pressed for more modest regulation — especially since there is no fracking going on here."  Onishi suggests that the local politicians were sensitive to the issue because Lake Oroville, the state's second largest reservoir, is at just two-thirds of capacity.

According to the Western States Petroleum Association, fracking just a single California well consumed 87% of the water (127,127 gallons to be precise) consumed in a year by a family of four.  The industry group seems to hold that out as a "good thing" but it seems like a whole lot to me.   Especially where there are so many other competing uses--like agriculture.  This story from the summer of 2013 highlighted the rift between oil interests and ag interests in California.  

Rand Paul standing up for poor folks in Kentucky?

Yes, it's pretty incredible, but the comment from the U.S. Senator from Kentucky came only in the name of slamming Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Here's what happened, as reported in the New York Times
Senator Rand Paul dismissed comments from Hillary Rodham Clinton that she and her husband were struggling to make ends meet after they left the White House, saying they were “disconnected.” 
The comment from Clinton came in an interview with Diane Sawyer in the context of explaining why she had taken speaking engagements that paid six figure fees.  Mrs. Clinton said she and her husband were “dead broke” when his term ended in 2000 and that he had worked hard after leaving the White House.

Paul is among Republicans who have suggest that Mrs. Clinton is "tone deaf" and "out of touch" in her new book, Hard Choices.  He commented:  
I frankly think she needs to come down to Kentucky.  Look at the despair in the faces of people who are losing their jobs because of the president’s policies, and let them know that her hardship was that she only got eight million bucks for her book.
This seems a bit disingenuous given that Paul's policy positions and votes hardly evince concern for his state's poor and working class, let alone those of other states.

Mobile courts take justice to remote areas--in Congo, no less

NPR reported yesterday on a conference in London about rape as war crime and what can be done to stop it.  This is a very important event, as this issue is near and dear to my own heart.  Indeed, just a few hours before I heard the story, I was interviewed by Film at 11 about some work I did in 1996 for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, investigating sexual assaults that occurred as part of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  The feminist in me is very excited about this conference.

But the story also intrigued and pleased the ruralist in me where Ari Shapiro reports:
Karen Naimer, who directs the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones with Physicians for Human Rights, recently saw how the attitudes toward this issue have changed. She was in Congo, at a mobile court that brings justice to remote villages. 
"We were in this small town of Kahele, and 19 female survivors came. And they were waiting for their day in court," says Naimer. 
Two militia members were on trial, accused of holding 400 women in the bush as sex slaves for a year. Women showed up with babies they had borne in captivity. Naimer sat with the victims as they waited to testify. 
"And what was so striking to me as I spoke with them quietly was their deep desire to face their perpetrators and to demand justice," says Naimer. "That cathartic process comes at such a cost for them. The kind of community, rejection, stigma they face, they were willing to endure that because this moment in time is so necessary for their personal healing."
I have written some about the issue of access to justice for rural people (and have a piece on that topic forthcoming in the South Dakota Law Review), and sometimes the struggle is for literal, physical access to a court.  It is about getting to the courthouse.  So I am intrigued by this idea of a mobile court.  I guess one could liken it to the judges who still "ride circuit" in a number of rural areas in the United States, going from courthouse to courthouse over a region or district to hear motions and conduct trials.  But I guess I didn't expect something this novel and innovative to come out of the Congo.  I'm impressed.

Cross Posted to Feminist Legal Theory.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Urbanormativity, Judicial Blind Spots and Abortion Law

That is the title of my new article, forthcoming in the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law and Justice (2015), co-authored with Marta R. Vanegas.  I recently posted it on, and you can download it here.  The abstract follows:

State laws regulating abortion have proliferated dramatically in recent years. Twenty-two states adopted 70 different restrictions in 2013 alone. Between 2011 and 2013, state legislatures passed 205 abortion restrictions, exceeding the 189 enacted during the entire prior decade. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently upheld as constitutional several such restrictions, parts of Texas H.B. 2 (2013), in Planned Parenthood of Texas v. Abbott. That court is currently considering the constitutionality of a similar Mississippi law. These and other recent cases raise issues likely to be heard soon by the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the regulations at stake in Texas H.B. 2 was a requirement that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. The Texas law also limits the use of medication-induced abortions.

Rarely acknowledged in academic literature or media coverage of these laws and constitutional litigation arising from them is the fact that the greatest impact of these regulations—like that of many other state abortion laws enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—is on those who live farthest from major metropolitan areas, where abortion providers tend to be located. Indeed, these laws exact the greatest toll on women who are both rural and poor. We argue that, contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Abbott, these laws place undue burdens on the abortion rights of a significant number of women and that they should be declared unconstitutional.

In addition to these doctrinal arguments, we draw on three complementary critical frames—legal geography, the concept of privilege, and rural studies concept of urbanormativity—to articulate new ways of thinking about the recent spate of so-called incremental abortion regulations and federal courts’ adjudication of the constitutionality of these laws. First, legal geography provides a frame for theorizing the relationship between the abortion regulations and rurality, revealing how law’s impact is variegated and variable, dictating different outcomes from place to place because of spatial differences. Second, we deploy the concept of privilege in arguing that many federal judges are spatially privileged but blind to that privilege. In our increasingly metro-centric nation, where rural populations are dwindling and marginalized literally and symbolically, most federal appellate judges appear to have little experience with or understanding of typical socio-spatial features of rurality: transport challenges, a dearth of services, lack of anonymity, and frequently extreme socioeconomic disadvantage. Yet those same spatially privileged judges are applying the undue burden standard to laws that require women to travel hundreds of miles, sometimes on multiple occasions, to access abortion services. Those judges are also typically upholding laws that burden women’s access to medication-induced abortions, which have the potential to ameliorate rural women’s spatial burdens. This spatial privilege and judges’ obliviousness to it are most evident among U.S. Courts of Appeal judges and Supreme Court justices construing the “undue burden” standard, as evinced most recently in Abbott but also on display in Casey v. Planned Parenthood and in many U.S. Courts of Appeals decisions in Casey’s wake. The spatial privilege phenomenon is closely linked to the third frame: critical rural studies’ concept of urbanormativity. By treating urban life as a benchmark for what is normal and, in Abbott, dismissing as constitutionally insignificant some ten percent of Texas women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider, federal appellate judges are increasingly articulating an urbanormative jurisprudence.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The economic geography of poverty and the ACA

Annie Lowery reports today for the New York Times under the headline, "In Texarkana, Uninsured and on the Wrong Side of a State Line."  Like 25 other states and the District of Columbia, Arkansas accepted the Medicaid expansion for which the federal government bears 90% of the cost.  Texas, on the other hand, did not, meaning many low-income folks can get free healthcare in Arkansas, but not across the state line inTexas.

With a combined population (both Texas and Arkansas) of about 66,000, the twin cities of Texarkana are not "rural," though the place is hardly a major metropolis either.  (The Texarkana MSA, including all of Bowie County, Texas and Miller County, Arkansas, has a population of 150,000).  I feature the story here for what it says about the geography of poverty and public benefits.  I am also interested in what it says about the immobility of the poor, something that policy-makers often overlook.  It's an issue that arose in relation to the spotty expansion of Medicaid, which some speculated would lead people to cross state lines to receive benefits.  Here's an excerpt:  
But none of the low-income Texarkana residents interviewed realized that moving to the other side of town might mean a Medicaid card. In fact, health researchers and those who work with the poor expect very few Americans to move between states to take advantage of the law. 
“It’s impossible to understand what it is to move when you have nothing,” said Jennifer Laurent, the executive director of Randy Sams’ Outreach Shelter, where Ms. Marks is staying until she puts together enough savings from her two low-wage jobs to find her own place. “To risk everything — losing your bed, your sense of community — for an uncertain benefit? There’s no way you want to risk that.” 
Research on other expansions of government benefits has borne that out: A study in the journal Health Affairs looked at the “welfare magnet hypothesis” and found no evidence that it exists.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nostalgia for small-town America (Appalachia, no less!) in the confirmation of Sylvia Mathews Burwell

I have often written on this blog about how rural places and small towns are denigrated in the news media and popular culture.  Read more here.  So imagine my delight (through an admittedly skeptical lens) when I read yesterday the New York Times feature on Sylvia Mathews Burwell, confirmed this week at the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.   Even the double-barreled headline is a doozie:  "Newest Cabinet Member is Never Far from Her Roots:  Sylvia Mathews Burwell Builds Relationships from West Virginia to Washington."  Jackie Calmes leads her story with his anecdote:
When President Bill Clinton had thrashed out his first difficult budget with advisers, he turned to one of his younger aides for the final word, a seal of approval. “Sylvia, are the folks in Hinton going to think we’ve done right by them?” he said. 
To the man from Hope, Ark., the town of Hinton, W.Va., was likewise a defining, all-American touchstone.
As you will have gathered if you didn't already know, Hinton, W. Virginia, population 2,676, is the hometown of Sylvia Mathews Burwell.  

Calmes continues:
Rhapsodizing about the traditional values of America’s struggling small towns is a timeworn exercise among politicians, and Ms. Burwell’s well-known association with Hinton — years after she left there first for Washington, followed by more than a decade as an executive at the charitable foundations of Bill and Melinda Gates, in Seattle, and then at Walmart in Bentonville, Ark. — explains much about her bipartisan reception in the otherwise polarized Capitol.
One manifestation of that bipartisan rhapsodizing is this quote from Republican Senator Tom Coburn, offered at Burwell's Senate hearing last month:
Because she’s from West Virginia — Hinton, a town of about 3,000 people — she comes to Washington with a lot of common sense.  
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat from West Virginia, attributed her collaborative style and political savvy to her small-town upbringing--and her Greek ethnicity:
We are a product of our environment, all of us. The social skills that you learn in those small towns for survival — particularly if you’re an ethnic in a state that’s the least diverse state in the nation — well, you learn to adjust, you learn to work within, you learn to bring people together.
The story is chock full of anecdotes about Burwell's persistent links to Hinton, including the gifts (from her international travels) and flowers she still sends to friends there, and the fact that her husband proposed in a Hinton park because he knew how dear it was to her.  The Burwells' children's godmothers are both childhood friends of Ms. Burwell.  Perhaps most telling is how the Burwells seem to trying to foster their children's attachment to Hinton.  Both were baptized in the same Episcopal church there where Sylvia and her older sister Stephanie were baptized, but that isn't all:
The Burwells’ children stay each summer with their godmothers, Ms. Giles and Kristi Scott, another childhood friend, to enjoy the same idylls their mother did — swimming at Pipestem Resort State Park, eating on the river at Kirk’s or Dairy Queen, watching movies at the restored Ritz.
Beyond all the waxing poetic about this sliver of Americana in Appalachia, Calmes also addresses the changes that Hinton has faced in the three decades since Sylvia Mathews Burwell left.   Calmes writes of the "impact of the economic dislocation, brain drain and drug use that have ravaged so many towns. Like elsewhere, some locals blame Walmart’s arrival in nearby Beckley for the demise of downtown Hinton."  Another issue is the dwindling, aging population, though that population--including Ms. Burwell's parents--have been working to restore the community with what Calmes characterizes as "quaint results."  Ms. Burwell's mother, Cleo Mathews, was the mayor of Hinton for nearly a decade ending in 2009, but she has since lost two bids for reelection because of reported "resistance to her relentless push for changes to make Hinton a tourism and technology destination."

This quote from one of Ms. Burwell's childhood friends, Terri Giles, is especially poignant regarding how Hinton has changed.  Giles lived away from Hinton before returning to care for her aging mother:
The Hinton you see is not the Hinton that’s in our hearts.  The Hinton that’s in our hearts and our minds is the bustling downtown, but more importantly to us, the people. They’re like the steel thread that runs through our lives and knitted together to make us very strong, very self-confident.
Now that is a very powerful statement of what it is that a rural upbringing once meant to young people--how it prepared them/us for the bigger world, making them/us self-confident enough to face challenges they never imagined.  I just wonder if many rural communities still work that way--if they still have that critical mass of engaged citizens, of an old fashioned type of human capital--that permits them to endow their young people with such confidence.

As for Sylvia Burwell and her generation, one thing is clear:  Ms. Burwell is going to need that strength and confidence because, as Calmes notes, the workforce of HHS is 30 times that of little ol' Hinton.

An earlier story about Burwell's nomination to succeed Kathleen Sibelius at HHS is here, and an earlier story about her nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget is here.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What Bowe Bergdahl's family and home town say about rural America: more complicated than you think

With Bowe Bergdahl's release this week, following five years of captivity by the Taliban in Afghanistan, we're hearing a lot about his hometown Hailey, Idaho, population 7960.  I'm collecting some of the depictions here just to ruminate on what they suggest about the mountain West.  In this story from the day of Bergdahl's release, the New York Times depicted Bergdahl's upbringing as a "close-to-nature existence that fed Sergeant Bergdahl's wanderlust."

A 2012 New York Times story had described Bowe's upbringing this way:
Off a gravel road in a horse pasture in the crystalline air of the Northern Rockies, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl grew up skiing, fencing and dancing the role of the Nutcracker in the nearby Sun Valley Ballet School — on the surface, at least, an unlikely recruit for the United States Army.
The Bergdahls were transplants from California in the early 1980s, attracted to central Idaho by construction jobs in booming Ketchum and Sun Valley:
By 1986, the year Bowe was born, [Robert Bergdahl] was driving for U.P.S. and had bought 40 acres for $50,000 on a remote road outside Hailey, a town of some 6,000 people, many of them self-described “worker bees” for the resorts [Sun Valley and Ketchum] to the north. 
He built a simple cabin that eventually housed about 5,000 books, but for years had no phone. 
* * *
Still, the surroundings were breathtaking and, by the accounts of family and friends, Sergeant’s Bergdahl’s childhood was idyllic. Jani Bergdahl home-schooled Bowe and his sister, made sure they went to church every Sunday and let them loose to explore.
The first story in the New York Times following Bergdahl's capture in 2009 is here, headlined "Hailey Journal:  A Capture in Afghanistan, and Home Town Closes Ranks."  It noted that neither the Bergdahl family nor Hailey "appear to have a strong connection to the military," contrasting Hailey with the types of rural towns that often channel their young people into military service because of a dearth of other opportunities:  
 There are craft breweries and bike shops on Main Street, not the empty storefronts and Army recruitment centers found in some other rural towns. The most visible military presence is a small armory for the Idaho National Guard that is not open on a daily basis. 
* * *  
Unlike in some other, less affluent small towns, where young people often join the military as a route to employment and a broader world, children who grow up in Hailey and its neighboring towns … are more likely to attend college, [Blaine County] Sheriff Femling said.
That story also touched on the unusual circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance and how locals were responding on a personal level.   One resident back in 2009 said that the Bergdahl situation "seemed to have transcended [political] division" regarding the military and what then-Private Bergdahl might or might not have done:
We all want to support the family. How stressful can you imagine that would be? You don’t know if something you say could be picked up and used against him. We’re playing it pretty close to the vest.
Today, the Los Angeles Times is among media outlets reporting that Hailey has canceled a celebration of Bowe's homecoming, which had been scheduled for later this month.  One reason:  the town doesn't have the capacity to handle the number of visitors, including media and Bergdahl detractors, who would likely show up.  Here's an excerpt from that story:
Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle told the Los Angeles Times that the town had been deluged with calls and letters of complaint that it was honoring a deserter. The event had been intended as a private celebration, he said, but the organizers decided it was too provocative considering the bitter national dialogue.
NPR also reports on the cancellation:
"I received one call today from a (veterans group in California) that wanted to bring up 2,000 protesters," Police Chief Jeff Gunter told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday. "They were asking about lawful assembly and how we handle it." 
Gunter and the rally's organizers, who had been planning the event for months, said their town of 8,000 doesn't have the infrastructure to cope with the large and potentially aggressive crowds that seemed likely to materialize. 
Hailey Chamber of Commerce President Jane Drussel tells the AP that her group has been getting hate mail and phone calls from people criticizing the town and calling Bergdahl a traitor. 
"The joy has all of a sudden become not so joyful," she says.
These depictions reflect various rural stereotypes--some of them contradictory of each other.  Hailey seems like a "typical" patriotic small town, advocating for and celebrating Bowe as a "typical" POW.  But the Bergdahls are not what most would consider typical ruralites, though they are arguably typical of a certain faction of the rural gentrification populace:  the workers who support the wealthy.  Several stories, including one noted above, mention the Bergdahls church going, though the family doesn't look or otherwise "sound" like typical rural religious folks, who we often assume to be conservative and intolerant--and the types to join the military.  Some of these contradictions are implicit in something Robert Bergdahl said in the 2012 NYT story,
This is not your stereotypical American military family whose son went to war.
Indeed, one story that ran this past weekend about Bergdahl's release under the headline, "Lesson for P.O.W's Father:  Sometimes Men Do Come Back."  It features something Bob Bergdahl told his son in December, 2008, just before Bowe deployed and six months before he found himself in the hands of the Taliban:
Men don’t come back from this, you know.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Democrats in Kentucky, West Virginia hurt by Obama's stance on coal

Don't miss Trip Gabriel's story in the New York Times, "Democrats in Coal Country Run from E.P.A." Mostly he focuses on Natalie Tennant's race for U.S. Senator from West Virginia, and Alison Lundergan Grimes's run for Mitch McConnell's seat in Kentucky. Here's the story's lede:
It took little time for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, in the most high-profile Senate race this year, to distance herself from the Obama administration’s proposal for sharp cuts to emissions from power plants. 
Even as the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its proposed regulation on Monday, Ms. Grimes pledged to “fiercely oppose the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my No. 1 priority.” 
The reaction came hard and fast here in Kentucky, where coal is woven as deeply into the state’s psyche as basketball and bourbon, and where more than 90 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal.
Later, the story also mentions Mark Udall's fight to hold his U.S. Senate seat from Colorado.   And it notes the vulnerability of senate Democrats in Montana, Iowa and Arkansas.  Back in West Virginia, Gabriel refers to the situation of Nick J. Rahall II, "one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress" who "took to the floor last week to preemptively denounce the E.P.A.:
The only real question is where on a scale from devastating to a death blow the new rule will fall.  
Interestingly, the story also quotes a Kentucky Democrat who supports McConnell and a Kentucky Republican who sees that the days of coal are numbered.  I'll share the latter, which seems more visionary:
I’m sorry about the coal, their jobs, their welfare.  Somebody should give them other work or training, because coal is going to run out one of these days.

Monday, June 2, 2014

New USDA initiative with National Center for Lesbian Rights

I am pasting below the press release, dated May 7, 2014:
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) announced the launch of the Rural Pride campaign to elevate and address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people living in rural communities across the country. 
The goal of the campaign is to challenge the stereotype that LGBT people live only in metropolitan areas by elevating the voices and stories of LGBT people living in rural America. The campaign will also raise awareness of the particular issues faced by LGBT rural communities including increased rates of economic insecurity, lack of family protections, lack of nondiscrimination protections, and the heightened challenges facing rural LGBT youth and rural LGBT people of color. 
The centerpiece of the campaign is a series of day-long summits hosted by USDA, NCLR, and local partners based in rural communities across the country. These summits will focus on the unique needs of the rural LGBT community, highlight the efforts the Obama administration has undertaken to protect this community, and identify next steps to ensure all rural communities have access to the resources they need to thrive. 
The kick-off summit will take place on June 6th in Greensboro, North Carolina and will be co-hosted by USDA, NCLR, and the LGBTQ Law Center. The event will take place at North Carolina A&T State University. The keynote address and luncheon will be sponsored by the True Colors Fund. 
Said USDA Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Dr. Joe Leonard: “The Rural Pride campaign will allow us to focus on the particular needs of the LGBT people who make their homes and their lives in the communities that USDA is proud to serve. We could not be more proud to partner with NCLR on this campaign. It is an opportunity to showcase the diversity of rural America and highlight one of USDA’s fundamental values: We represent and are here to serve all people.” 
Added NCLR Policy Director Maya Rupert: “We are incredibly excited about this chance to highlight the needs of LGBT people in rural America. Too often, these issues have been ignored and, as a result, rural LGBT people too often are marginalized both in the LGBT community and in the rural communities where they live. We are grateful for USDA’s leadership in targeting and addressing the needs of this community.”
This is exciting!  I have earlier on this blog touted recent legal scholarship about the LGBT experience in rural America.  Read Luke Boso's work here and here, and Bud Jerke's work here.