Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A melding of rural stereotypes in a tragic tale: toddler shoots mother at an Idaho Wal-Mart

This event weaves three staples of rurality--guns, the inter-mountain West, and Wal-Mart store--into a tragic tale.  

A 2-year-old shot and killed his 29-year-old mother yesterday at a Wal-Mart in Hayden, Idaho, population 13,294.  Read the story on NPR here and in the New York Times here (where it is one of the 10 most emailed stories this morning, no doubt a reflection of the fascination of the "interest public" with a world it cannot begin to understand).

The New York Times describes what happened:  
A 2-year-old toddler, sitting in a shopping cart in a Walmart, his mother’s purse unattended and within reach as she shopped. Three girls, all under age 11 — relatives of the boy and his mother, the police said — tagging along. … The clothing aisles near electronics, back of the store.
* * * 
[S]hortly before 10:20 a.m. on Tuesday, as the store video cameras recorded the scene, the little boy found a gun in his mother’s purse and it discharged once at near point-blank range from where she stood, less than arm’s length away ...
The NYT story by Bill Morlin and Kirk Johnson quotes Lt. Stu Miller, a spokesman for the Kootenai County sheriff’s office, who said he did not know if she had a permit to carry the concealed weapon.  (NPR reports that she did have a permit).  But he put the practice of carrying a loaded weapon into perspective by noting:    
It’s pretty common around here — a lot of people carry loaded guns.  
Stefan Chatwin, the city administrator, also commented on the area's "gun culture," noting that the city just last week amended its gun laws to be consistent with Idaho law, making clear that a gun owner is "justified in firing a weapon in defense of persons or property."  (See a related story out of Montana here).  

NPR quoted the victim's father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, who called her "a beautiful, young, loving mother."  He added:   
She was not the least bit irresponsible.  She was taken much too soon.
Another person interviewed for the New York Times story, self-employed artist and Kootenai County resident Judy Minter, was slightly more judgmental of the victim--judgmental about her parenting, not her gun ownership:  
There’s a lot of people who do carry guns in this area.  But for her to have it within reach of her child — that was not very smart.
Hayden is in the state's scenic panhandle, just 40 minutes from Spokane and near Coeur d'Alene, along I-95.  Ms. Rutledge's family lived in Blackfoot, Idahopopulation 11, 854, the state's potato capital, in the southeast corner of the state.

Another story about a child killing a relative with a loaded gun kept in easy reach is here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Common core and poor rural school districts

The debate over "Common Core" has not been presented by the media much (as far as I have seen) in relation to rural school districts which, of courses, face myriad challenges (see posts under the "education" label).  But this NPR story, partly out of rural Oklahoma, does just that.

Common Core has been mostly in the news with regard to states opting out of the federal program.  Oklahoma was one of the most vocal states in doing so, but this NPR story shows that the battle there was not one-sided.  Many, including Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, supported the standards.  Here's an excerpt from Cory Turner's story:
[S]upporters cheered the standards for raising expectations, while critics argued passionately that the federal government was trying to take over public schools. The fight pitted parents, teachers and politicians against each other and reached fever pitch last spring.
One of the educators featured in the story is Heather Samis, who teaches English in Hugo, Oklahoma, population 5,257, on the Texas state line.  Samis was in Oklahoma City helping to write Common Core teaching materials when she learned of Oklahoma's repeal in May, 2014:    
I was sick to my stomach. I cried.  
Turner explains:  
Samis gets emotional talking about the Core repeal because, she says, the standards were tougher than the state's old standards. And she worries that, with the SAT and ACT both aligning to the Common Core, her students will have a harder time getting into college and out of poverty.
Turner describes Hugo as "a remarkably poor corner of the state. Here, parts of town aren't just vacant, they're burned out, roofs collapsed. It's as if the poverty here is literally crushing the buildings."  Hugo is the county seat of Choctaw County, population 15,045.

Hugo's poverty rate is a whopping 42.1%.  That's a level of poverty rarely seen anywhere in the United States, and certainly not in places other than Indian reservations.   In fact, 17% of Choctaw County's population is American Indian, and 11% is African-American, making it remarkably diverse for a nonmetropolitan county in Oklahoma.  The poverty rate or the county is 27.1%

In that context, Samis's perspective is in some ways quite remarkable because she is not afraid of being seen to fail if she could not raise her students to the higher bar set by the Common Core.  Yet the challenge for teachers like Samis--and for her students--is surely much greater than that for affluent districts educating mostly affluent students--or at least those with parents who are more consistently educated and who value education.  That would, for example, seem to be the case in Stillwater, Oklahoma, also featured in Turner's story.  Stillwater is home to Oklahoma State University, even though its poverty rate is high at 32.7%.  There, school officials have refused to drop the Common Core.

This may help explain why Stillwater is among the districts which are simply refusing to drop the Core.  Gay Washington, assistant superintendent for educational services at Stillwater explains:
We can't go backwards.  Because, for three years, we had gone down a path [with implementing Common Core] that we saw was raising the bar, digging deeper.  
It is heartening to hear of these teachers who are so invested in their students' success--not just on state tests, but in future educational endeavors.   

Monday, December 29, 2014

Kansas town seeks return of a grocery store, partly with crowd-funding

The New York Times today features a story about the use of crowd funding, via, to support projects like a grocery store in Plains, Kansas, population 1,146.  That would-be grocery store is the focus of Mitch Smith's report, but the bigger idea is the use of crowd funding to support rural development.  Kanstarter's motto is "Strengthening Kansas communities--one project at a time."  

As for the specifics of Plains and its quest for a grocery store, the town lost its last store more than a decade ago.  The lede for Smith's story helps put into context what is happening in Plains, across the Great Plains and Midwest, and in some other rural places, too.   
Here in southwest Kansas, where small communities have struggled since the Dust Bowl to retain businesses and residents, a town’s viability is measured by what has not yet closed. Losing a post office is considered the kiss of death. Losing a school can be a terminal diagnosis.
(For more on closures of rural U.S. Post Offices, read here, here, and here.  For more on school closures, read here, here and here.  For more on rural grocery stores, read here).

Smith quotes Jeanne Roberts, who is leading the charge to buy land for and build a new store.  
A grocery store is the heart of the town.  In small towns, it’s the social gathering place. And when you don’t have that social gathering place and you’re going outside, then you don’t feel connected.
But the data provided in the story are a sobering reminder of how big a challenge Roberts and her group have taken on.  They must raise $450,000 just to buy the land where the store would be built, and they have $400K of that secured, with the help of grants, donations, fund raisers, and tax credits.  (No mention is made of why they would not adapt existing vacant properties).  Beyond that initial goal, however, the group would need another $1 million to equip, stock and staff the store.  

The story quotes a number of residents and experts (such as professors opining on the "Walmart effect") about the likely success of the store should it open.  Even back when Plains had two stores, may folks drove the 50 mile round trip to Liberal (population 20,525) for groceries, and it's not clear that Plains residents would change given a local option.   

Of, the woman behind it, Marci Penner of Newton, Kansas (population 19,132) states:
[Small Kansas communities] don’t have a paid city manager, they don’t have a paid chamber of commerce. No one is paid to figure out how to sustain the town. Volunteers are left to figure out how to sustain the town.
Perhaps Penner is too much the optimist, having visited every town in Kansas when she was writing a guidebook.  Penner has a distinct ability to appreciate that each town's story is unique, even as so many of these places struggle with the shared challenge of viability.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Rural lawyers get a much needed boost in South Dakota

The struggle to find professionals who are willing to enter the rural heartland is not one that is unbeknownst to anyone. There are consistent reports of lawyers lacking a presence in rural America. Federal grants have been available for decades to doctors, nurses and dentists who are willing to relocate to rural areas, however, lawyers have not been included in similar grant programs until know. South Dakota is launching a program similar to the grant programs that have been available to other professionals. The grant is believed to be one of the first of its kind and it will compensate lawyers who are willing to relocate and practice in rural areas. The program is funded by the state’s judicial system, the counties, and the South Dakota Bar Association. The program offers an annual subsidy of $12,000 to live and practice in rural communities.

Programs such as this are important for rural areas, as residents will occasionally have to travel 100 miles for legal advice. This program will hopefully serve as a huge boost to South Dakota's rural legal supply. Currently, South Dakota's urban cities are where most lawyers reside; 65% of the state's lawyers reside in four urban areas. Other states also struggle in their efforts to provide legal aid to their rural residents.  For example, in Nebraska 12 of the 93 counties have no practicing attorneys.

Subsidies to income, such as provided in South Dakota, serve to lure young lawyers into serving rural areas. Student loans and overall debt is a major factor in the rural recruiting challenge. Urban areas offer the big law firms that can pay higher salaries. In addition to the lure of big law prospects, urban areas offer access to entertainment and other young professionals.

Nebraska has also taken steps to lure young lawyers into serving the rural populace. Indeed, next year Nebraska will repay loans for law school graduates who commit to serving a minimum of three years in the underserved communities of the state.

I cannot speak for all law students, but this is a very attractive offer, especially as law school debt surpasses $100,000 and the loan forgiveness for public service employees does not occur until 10 years of service.

Are Southern Democrats on the endangered species list?

All’s quiet on the Southern front when it comes to the Democratic Party. A recent article from the New York Times reported on a recent loss of Democrat Mary Landrieu. Mary Landrieu, a Democratic senator from Louisiana, lost her re-election in a runoff election earlier this month. Senator Landrieu was a three-term senator. This is the first time that Louisiana will not have a Democratic statewide elected since 1876.

Beyond Louisiana, this loss was significant for Southern Democrats as it was the final foothold of the Democratic Party in the once loyal South. Republicans now control every Senate sear from the high plains of Texas, to the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas. Control doesn’t end there; Republicans also control every governor’s mansion and state legislative body.  According to the article, of the states that formed the Confederacy, Democrats will only control Senate seats or governors’ mansions only in Virginia and Florida.

Southern Democrats have become nearly extinct after half-a-century of political realignment based on racial and cultural lines. “Some of it is about Obama; most of it is about the longer-term realignment of white voter preferences,” said Guy Molyneux, a Democratic strategist.  

With regard to political realignment based on racial and culture lines, it would seem that the Democratic hold on the South seemed to weaken when the Democratic National Convention backed President Harry Truman’s position on civil rights. After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, Southern Democrats began slowly leaning more and more toward Southern Republican candidates.
Mr. Molyneux is correct; it would seem that Southern Republicans are brought to the polls by anti-partisanship more than anything else. Today’s Democratic Party is as unpopular in the South partially because the party has embraced a more secular agenda and that platform is not popular in the region. This position is supported in Time’s recent article. Pearson Cross, an associate professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said to Time:  “Early on I said that Cassidy couldn’t win unless he started to run a campaign that was more than people’s negative attitudes about Mary Landrieu . . . . But in fact, I was wrong. He has essentially won this campaign without bringing much to the table beyond people’s visceral dislike for Obama and Obamacare.”

This hatred and blind partisanship in the South is weighing down Democrats as a whole. This loss puts the party at a distinct disadvantage in Congress, especially within the House.

Curtis Wilkie, journalist and observer of Southern life, who lectures at the University of Mississippi, summed the Southern Democrats’ plight up well in his recent CNN commentary: "I can't remember it being any gloomier for Democrats in the South than it is today. The party has been demonized by Republicans. It's very bleak. I just don't see anything good for them on the horizon."

After signing the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson is rumored to have said that Democrats ‘have lost the South for a generation.’ It would seem that President Johnson’s premonitions have proved correct.

For additional sources, please see the linked New York Times article

Friday, December 19, 2014

So much rural news, so little time to blog: the energy boom and its impact on rural locales

While I've been giving final exams, grading papers, and preparing for the holidays, my bookmarks of online stories with rural angles have been piling up.  So I'm going to write this composite posts about some of the collected stories that share a common theme:  fracking and other types of energy exploration in relation to rural people and places.

One big headline is that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this week decided to ban fracking throughout that state.  Cuomo had earlier been poised to embrace fracking, and in 2012 his administration considered limiting the process to counties along the Pennsylvania border where communities expressed support for the technology.  Earlier posts about the issue are here and here.

Of Wednesday's announcement, the New York Times wrote:
the move to ban fracking left [Cuomo] acknowledging that, despite the intense focus he has given to solving deep economic troubles afflicting large areas upstate, the riddle remained largely unsolved. “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great,’ ” he said. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’ 
A story on NPR yesterday had some folks from neighboring Pennsylvania fairly gloating at New York's decision.   Pennsylvania is home to some 7,000 active wells.  The story quotes Stephanie Catarino Wissman, head of Pennsylvania's division of the American Petroleum Institute:
I mean, I would say to New Yorkers, 'Come to Pennsylvania and take advantage of these jobs that are available with this well-paying industry.'
Karen Moreau, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, is quoted in the New York Times:
Our citizens in the Southern Tier have had to watch their neighbors and friends across the border in Pennsylvania thriving economically.  It’s like they were a kid in a candy store window, looking through the window, and not able to touch that opportunity.
As for his motivation, Moreau asserted that Cuomo "wants to align himself with the left."

From the other side of the county, here's a fabulous photographic feature of the North Dakota oil boom, by Bryan Denton, a photojournalist who has spent most of his career in the Middle East.  A native Californian, he went looking for a subject that was different exotic and settled on the Bakken oil boom's impact on North Dakota, a phenomenon he had first heard about while embedded with the U.S. military in Afghanistan in 2009.  Here is an excerpt that touches on attachment to place and the tension between old-timers and newcomer from his Lens feature in the New York Times:
A problem with the area’s growth is that much of it comes from people who have no intention of setting down roots. 
“I’m used to working in places that are very family-oriented or tribal-oriented,” Mr. Denton said. “But here most people were transient without any friends, so it was a bit difficult to find people whose lives I could get into.” 
Another obstacle was that many of the longtime residents resented journalists, feeling most stories about the area were concerned with crime, drugs and prostitution. Mr. Denton had encountered a lot of distrust for similar reasons in the Middle East, and he was used to working with people who were skeptical of the presence of an outsider.
Meanwhile, Kai Schafft of Penn. State has been studying "bust amidst the boom" in relation to fracking in Pennsylvania.  He presented his preliminary findings at a Poverty and Place Conference at UC Davis  in November.

A recent post about the impact of falling gas prices on hydraulic fracturing in rural places is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another way in which rural places are lawless? the case of coal

Robert F. Kennedy's op-ed in today's New York Times is headlined, "Coal, An Outlaw Enterprise," and  it makes the case for that proposition by focusing on two recent events.
  • The November 13 federal indictment of Donald L. Blankenship, former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company, on charges of widespread safety violations and deceiving federal inspectors. Massey owned the Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, West Virginia when a 2010 explosion killed 29 miners there.  (Read more here and here).  In 2011, theMine Safety and Health Administration found that safety violations led to the explosion.  Yet, as Kennedy notes,  "[h]olding the head of a mining company responsible for such violations is an unprecedented move in the coal industry."  Blankenship faces up to 31 years' imprisonment if convicted.  Two of his subordinates, including the superintendent at Upper Big Branch, have already pleaded guilty.  Read more here.  And note that a federal district judge has put a gag order on the media in that case, an order that media outlets are challenging.  
  • The "scathing" Nov. 24 judgment by  Kentucky judge against a Frasure Creek Mining settlement involving over a thousand Clean Water Act violations and years of false data on pollution-disclosure reports.  The judge threw out what Kennedy calls a "sweetheart deal" between Frasure Creek and the Kentucky cabinet, writing "When one company so systematically subverts the requirements of law, it creates a regulatory climate in which the cabinet sends the message that cheating pays."  
Kennedy goes on to write:  
In nearly every stage of [coal's] production, many companies that profit from it routinely defy safety and environmental laws and standards designed to protect America’s public health, property and prosperity. In fact, Mr. Blankenship once conceded to me in a debate that mountaintop removal mining could probably not be conducted without committing violations. With a business model like that, one that essentially relies on defiance of the law, it is no wonder that some in the industry use their inordinate political and economic power to influence government officials and capture the regulating agencies.
On the regulatory capture point, read more here.  

This New York Times report on the Blankenship indictment notes that the event elicited "an usually sharp reaction" from Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia:  
As he goes to trial, he will be treated far fairer and with more dignity than he ever treated the miners he employed.  And, frankly, it’s more than he deserves.
Another NY Times story by Trip Gabriel includes these anecdotes about Blankenship, who is described "as a mine boss out of Dickens" based on the 43-page grand jury indictment against him:
He demanded a report every 30 minutes — including by fax to his home on nights and weekends — tallying up coal production in a section of Upper Big Branch that was one of the most profitable, producing $600,000 of coal a day.
* * * 
Mr. Blankenship overrode managers who sought to strengthen roofs to prevent cave-ins or install ventilation systems to prevent explosions, ordering them to ignore “construction jobs” and instead to “run coal.” 
After a passageway flooded four feet deep and a federal inspector shut it down, fearing miners might drown, Mr. Blankenship ordered mining to continue, scolding the mine’s president for “letting M.S.H.A. run” the mine, referring to the Mine Safety and Health Administration
Among comments Blankenship made to the Upper Big Branch mine president when it did not meet the executive's expectations:
You have a kid to feed. Do your job.
I could Khrushchev you. Do you understand?
Needless to say, Blankenship was feared and most in West Virginia thought he would never be indicted.  Many still expect that he will never spend a day in jail.

On a related note, this story reported on law's lack of "teeth" for enforcing fines.  This story suggests that the U.S. Attorney in West Virginia is on a mission to bring the Blankenships of that state to justice--including those at the helm of Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the poisoning of Charleston's water supply in early 2014.  The story quotes Ken Ward, Jr., of the Charleston Gazette:
[T]he U.S. attorney in southern West Virginia, Booth Goodwin, is actually going out and trying to find people that he believes are responsible for chemical leaks and for mine explosions and bringing charges against the individual officers of those companies and trying to send those people to jail. And that's really a remarkable turn of events here in the state where these industries have really run things for so long.
All of this has me thinking about coal as "outlaw" in relation to my work on the relative lawlessness of rural places--of law's struggle to effectively regulate the remote, the sparsely populated, that lacking a built environment.  Why is Big Coal lawless?  Is rural spatiality to blame, as I posited here in relation to other rural contexts?  or is government more the culprit by turning a blind eye, by effectively ceding rurality--and Appalachia, in particular--to private interests?  After all, space only "tames" law to the extent law/the state fails to allocate sufficient resources to govern and regulate that space/those spaces.  Does Appalachia matter to federal decision makers?  Do Appalachians matter?  

The impact of rural lack of anonymity on environmental (in)justice controversies

That was one of my takeaways from this NPR story about the Keystone XL Pipeline controversy in Nebraska.  Melissa Block describes and quotes several residents of York County, Nebraska, population      13,883, some pro-pipeline, some against.
[A]s loud as the Keystone debate has been in Washington, D.C., and in the courts, Jenni Harrington says it's talked about in hushed tones in Nebraska's blustery York County, about an hour from the capital, Lincoln.
Harrington has deep roots in York County, where the Keystone KL pipeline would cross her family's land.  Harrington lives on the farm her great-great grandfather homesteaded in the 1860s.  Block quotes Harrington, who runs a nursery. 
When somebody wants to talk about it when they come into the nursery, they come behind the counter and kind of whisper in my ear and say, 'What's going on with the pipeline?' 
* * *  
We've been taught that it's our job to take care of the land. If we don't take care of our natural resources, life on this planet is gonna be a short time.
Harrington's family built a small barn, the so-called energy barn, which sits by the side of road.  It's made of native ponderosa pine and topped with solar panels, a windmill spinning out front.  The point is to draw attention to clean energy as an alternative to the Tar Sands and the Keystone XL that would transport the crude.

Block's story also features Chuck and Miriam Peterson, who support the pipeline.  The Petersons, too, are long connected to the land; Chuck's great-great grandparents also came here in the late 1800s.  The proposed pipeline would not cross the Petersons' land, but it would run just about a mile away.  Though the are strongly pro-pipeline, Miriam says they try not to talk too much about it:
A small community, often you're a little careful because you don't want to break any relationships either over that.  …  I'm appreciative of people wanting to conserve things and be careful with the resources we have.  But as often happens with any kind of a controversy, there's so much misinformation on both sides, and they don't listen to each other.
That's small-town lack of anonymity for you.  

The last quote that I find especially interesting in this story is from Bill Dunavan.  Along with his wife Susan, he feels he has been bullied by TransCanada into granting a lease for the pipeline across their 80 acres.  But the Dunavans are part of a small, well organized minority of land owners who are resisting.  Here's  Bill Dunavan's depressing quote:  
It would emphasize the fact that we're probably not only flyover country, but we're 'burrow-under country,' with no regard to the people that live here.
It reminds me of this blog post from a student writer a few years ago, and this one by me in 2011 about the pipeline's path being through "places of low consequence."  I'm afraid there is more than a smidgen of truth to it.

But back to the issue of how local pipeline politics have played out, Block writes:
As divisive as the fight over the pipeline has been, it has also built community. For years, the Dunavans thought they were the only ones against the project. Now, they've found allies among their neighbors.
Susan Dunavan makes the point thusly:  
We all believe that our land is sacred, our water is sacred.  We don't want a quick monetary, economic ... 'fix.' Let's look at the big picture. The big picture is like, forever. I want to pass this on to the next generations.
It's a laudable sentiment, and one I hope the federal government will respect.

Monday, December 8, 2014

US D o J expresses commitment to Indian Child Welfare Act

NPR reported today that Attorney General Eric Holder last week "planted the Justice Department firmly on the side of tribes against states, as the tribes struggle to keep their families together."  Laura Sullivan reported that the federal department was "redoubling" its support for the Indian Child Welfare Act, which "attempts to keep Native children close to their relatives and tribes, even in cases where they may have to be removed from their parents."  Holder suggested that his department is hiring more attorneys to work on such matters, including "culling through the stat court cases looking to file briefs 'opposing the unnecessary and illegal removal of Indian children from their families and tribal communities."  He also acknowledged that removals are sometimes done "by those acting in bad faith."  According to Sullivan's story,
Those possible bad actors are state social service agencies and even judges who push for the removal of Indian children in cases where removal may not be warranted, or they fail to place Native children with their relatives, their tribes or Native American foster families when they are removed.
* * *
This summer the Justice Department intervened for the first time in its history in a federal district court case in South Dakota, concluding that the state has violated the rights of Native American parents. 
Two of the state's largest tribes argued that the state has removed children in hearings where parents were rarely allowed to speak and often lasted less than 60 seconds. The children were then placed indefinitely in largely white foster homes. 
Stephen Pevar, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit along with the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes, called the hearings "kangaroo courts." 
"There was nothing — nothing — that any of the parents did or could have done," Pevar said. "It was a predetermined outcome in every one of these cases."
A 2011 NPR investigation determined that American Indian children in South Dakota were being removed from their families at rates far higher than the national average.  NPR also found that most of those children were placed in non-Native homes or group homes, in contravention of the ICWA. 

Read more here (including an interesting discussion of the financial incentives states have for removing these children), along with an ombudsman's assessment of NPR's reporting on that matter here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

President Obama’s executive order fails H- 2A immigrant farmworkers

The United States agricultural sector depends on immigration policies that ensure farmers an adequate legal workforce to harvest the nation’s crops and process its food. Agricultural work is unattractive to United States citizens and immigrants have historically served as the backbone of our nation’s agricultural sector. Factors that make farm labor unappealing to citizens include low wages compared to other jobs, harsh weather conditions, backbreaking physical labor, and the often seasonal nature of such work.  The government estimates that more than 80% of America's crop workers are Hispanic and mostly Mexican. The Department of Labor reports that of the 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., over half are illegal immigrants. Currently, there is only one single immigration law that provides legal status to foreigners seeking work as seasonal agricultural labors. That visa is the H-2A agricultural guest worker visa.

The H-2A visa is an infamous program, fraught with allegations employer abuse. The definition of “seasonal worker”, coupled with the traditional rural location of farmlands makes it exceedingly difficult for H2A visa workers to unionize or even merely ban together to advocate for workers’ rights. First of all, the nature of the visa creates a migrant workforce that presumably disbands and relocates each harvesting season. Furthermore, the spatial isolation of many farms and fields where H2A visa holders work creates an opportunity for labor abuse to go unnoticed by authorities and the media. There are a number of articles detailing the abuse faced by H2A workers, including wage theft, human trafficking, and abhorrent working conditions.

In its coverage of Obama’s executive order announcement, The New York Times made it clear that the relief would not be able to protect immigrants under the H2A visa. “Farm workers, for example, will not be singled out for protections because of concerns that it was difficult to justify legally treating them differently from undocumented workers in other jobs, like hotel clerks, day laborers and construction workers.” Thus, any protection afforded to farmworkers in particular is incidental to the overall scope of the executive order. That scope does not apply extensively to illegal farmworkers and, moreover, the text of the order actually excludes current H2A visa holders.

A memorandum issued by the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines the exact parameters of the provided relief. Review of the memo expose inadequacies that will leave farmworkers vulnerable to abuse.

In order to qualify for relief under Obama’s new executive order, an applicant must not have lawful status as of November 20, 2014, the date of the memo. In other words, an individual must be illegal in order to qualify for relief. Agricultural workers currently holding an H2A visa are legally present in the United States and, therefore, unable to qualify for deferred action. It is true that, ostensibly, an immigrant with a visa does not need to resort to deferred deportation because the government will not deport them so long as they abide by the terms of the visa. However, the H2A visa has one particularly infamous term that the farmworker must follow: the migrant worker must remain with the same employer. This small detail allows farmers to have huge leverage over H2A visa holders; as soon as the farmworker criticizes working conditions or asserts the right to fair wages, the farmer can decline to sponsor the immigrant for the H2A visa. The consequence is that H2A immigrants are bound to their employer in order to remain in legal status.

The exclusion of current H2A visa holders from deferred action, therefore, leaves a vulnerable population subject to potential labor abuses. If the president’s deferred action program would have allowed for H2A visa holders to also apply for deferred action, it would have provided the agricultural workforce with a means by which to challenge abusive employers without running the risk of losing their visa and facing deportation. Inclusion of H2A visa holders would have stabilized the pool of legal workers available to harvest and process the United States’ food supply. Sadly, President Obama missed the opportunity. 

Why has rural become synonymous with Republican?

Beneath the recent battle for the Senate underlies a tension that subsumes partisanship and has been present for years: urban verse rural. This divide was alluded to by Mr. Dale Sterns of DowneyBrand in his recent lecture at King Hall. During his lecture, Mr. Sterns mentioned that the urban populations' vote has been trumping that of the sub-urban and rural residents in recent elections.

The difference in partisanship seems to be more and more correlated with how and where people live.
If you are rural, you likely live in spread-out, open, low-population, perhaps agrarian area. If you live in an urban area, you likely experience a high population density and diverse community.

This creates a divide: 'blue' city and 'red' countryside. According to a recent article and the Atlantic, the divide between the blue urban and red rural areas has been growing since 1984, “culminating in 2012, when 27 out of the nation's 30 most populous cities voted Democratic.” This is in contrast to everywhere else, which is much more red.

Most urban area voters have been voting Democratic. This trend in separation skews the national average of counties in presidential elections. There are more rural counties than urban, thus more counties seemingly vote Republican as when compared to the overall vote because there are more rural counties, but fewer rural voters.

This was evidenced in the recent midterm election. Across the nation, rural counties turned out in high numbers and helped turn their states red. For example, in Clark County, Nevada, (where more than two-thirds of the state’s population resides) overall voter turnout was only 41 percent. Whereas turnout in many rural counties topped 60 percent, hitting 83 percent in Lander and 80 percent Eureka Counties. This turnout played a key role in the Republican sweep of statewide offices on the ballot in Nevada. Thus, it is clear that the votes of rural and small-town Americans remain crucial in statewide and presidential elections.

But why the divide? Why has rural become synonymous with Republican?

The Atlantic asserts that the “Democrats did it to themselves.” The headline of the article reveals the contention, “Chuck Schumer is right: Prioritizing healthcare and civil rights over the party's traditional focus on helping working-class Americans move up was a noble but costly choice.” There are many reasons for this decline in support for Democrats among certain groups, but the Atlantic article asserts that it is an abandoning of the New Deal Democratic principles that have caused the rift between rural America and the Democratic Party. 

I think that the problem is much deeper. However, I do feel that rural America likely feels that the Republican party is more concerned with their interests, where this is truthful or mere propaganda.

The effects of rural poverty on education

In the past, television shows such as the “Andy Griffith Show” have portrayed rural life as wholesome and peaceful. However, more recently media attention has provided a glimpse into the combination of rampant unemployment, poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, high incarceration rates, and lack of educational opportunities that plagues places of concentrated rural poverty. Documentaries such as “Rich Hill” are a prime example.

Rich Hill” tracks a year in the lives of three boys in a small Missouri town and highlights the challenges that these boys face in achieving academic success. Only one of the three boys in the film lives with two parents, neither of whom has a steady job. Appachey lives with a single mother who has been working minimum-wage jobs, and Harley lives with his grandmother while his mother is in prison. From the documentary it seems that healthy food is scarce, and only one of the three homes seems to offer a quiet space conducive to studying. All three boys live in environments that affect their mental and emotional well-being, and their schools are ill-equipped to address these challenges.

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, a larger percentage of public schools in rural areas reported being underenrolled, reported a lack instructional computers with internet access, and a lack of counselors, social workers and special education teachers. Most rural schools face higher costs with lower revenues, and spend an average of 10 percent less per student than metropolitan communities. Teachers in rural communities often have less training, receive lower pay, and are overall less educated than teachers in non-rural communities

Past studies have also shown that when students do not experience quality individualized attention in the classroom, they are more likely to doubt their abilities and feel that no one cares about their performance. If students do not feel that school benefits them, school can begin to feel like a burden and often they will stop going. In “Rich Hill” we see that Harley is a chronic truant who does not seem to be school as beneficial or worth his time. Truancy among rural youth has been associated with decreased parent education and a less structured home environment. Truancy rates can be buffered by more educated parents, or parents who are more involved in a student‘s education, however; in many poor rural areas parents are forced to work long hours or more than one job. In such circumstances it is often impossible for a parent to spend much time with their children.

Participation in school sports or other after school activities can also be a way to prevent truancy among children, but rural communities provide far fewer opportunities for students. Isolated areas rarely have community centers or other safe places where children and teens can go and spend time or engage in extracurricular activities. But although after school programming is essential to the academic success of children, because many students have to travel long distances to and from school, it may not be possible to engage in such after school activities even if they were available.

Even more than poor urban areas, poor rural areas lack resources such as quality education, health care, nutrition education, physical activities, mental health resources, and social enrichment activities. A lack of resources can impede on academic opportunities and successes and eventually a child’s preparation for adulthood. However, because urban poverty has been the basis of the majority of these studies rural poverty and its effect on education often goes unnoticed.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Presidential action on immigration

On November 20th, in President Barack Obama's televised address to the nation, the President broadcasted his plan to reform U.S. immigration policy.

In his address, the President announced that he intends to take Presidential Action on immigration. President Obama noted this action was a direct ramification of the stalemate position that the House of Representatives had adopted on immigration reform. According to the White House, the President’s “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions” will help secure the border, hold “nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants accountable, and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules . . . These executive actions crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.”

The Presidential Actions taken November 20th are not amnesty, as some would claim. These Presidential Actions are a reform. What President Obama is doing, is using his executive power to restructure immigration enforcement policy and prioritize deportations.

Those who benefit from the President’s executive action are: parents of U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents; undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16; and spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents. It is worth noting that for most of these, the beneficiary must be able to pass a background check in order to apply for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and a work permit. The reform is an attempt on the administration to check the ongoing deportation of undocumented immigrants and stop the separation of families, such that, the undocumented parents of U.S.-born citizens get a temporary "deferred" status and thus can't be removed for three years. The actions are anticipated be in effect by May 20, 2015.Recent polling by the American Communities Project suggests that people living in urban areas are supportive of the president’s move, and that those in the exurbs and rural America are strongly opposed to the President’s actions.

However, rural America should actually favor the reform, if only for economic reasons, as it has been suggested that without a stable workforce America’s rural agricultural producers will crumble in the coming years. Further, reform will bring labor exploitation that provides an unfair advantage to those who refuse to observe the law to an end. 

In his speech, the President acknowledged that our immigration system is broken and the impact that it has on the economy and the American people. He said: 
Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America.
Fixing this system benefits everyone. Ideally, Obama will continue to try to work with Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that everyone in Washington will support. This would have more widespread, permanent effects.