Saturday, December 31, 2016

More on deaths of despair, this time from Chillicothe, Ohio

Here is the Washington Post story by Joel Achenbach about addiction in Chillicothe, Ohio, population 21,727, where the poverty rate of 24.3%.  Achenbach further sets the stage:
Chillicothe is a historic town in a transitional landscape. To the north and west are fields of corn and soybeans, a classic, flat Midwestern terrain. To the south and east are the foothills of Appalachia, with winding country roads that, when crossing a stream, narrow to a single lane.
The story introduces a number of women living in a halfway house recovering from addiction, and then this summary of what is happening:
These women are trying to survive an epidemic of self-destruction in small-town and rural America. Death rates have risen sharply among whites, particularly women, particularly those with a high school education or less — the white working class that played a key role in the November election. Last year, overall life expectancy in the United States fell for the first time since 1993, when HIV was rampant. 
Today there is no emergent virus running amok. Instead, Americans are dying from a rash of pathologies, sicknesses and addictions that experts call “diseases of despair.”
This is the most recent of a Washington Post series of stories about these deaths of despair, most of them focusing on white women.  One of the prior stories, out of Las Animas County, Colorado, is here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Small-town Oklahoma newspaper still paying a price for Clinton endorsement

Manny Fernandez reports for the New York Times today from Enid, Oklahoma regarding the backlash that The Enid News and Eagle newspaper has suffered for endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton for President.  The headline speaks volumes, "An Oklahoma Newspaper Endorsed Clinton.  It Hasn't Been Forgiven."  As Fernandez writes, the paper is a "red newspaper in a red county in what is arguably the reddest of states."  (See my prior commentary on Oklahoma voting here).  Here's what the paper did to cause such a fuss: 
The editorial board, in a gray-shaded column on Page A4 on Oct. 9, wrote that Donald J. Trump lacked “the skills, experience or temperament to hold office.” The headline and subhead read: “For U.S. president: Hillary Clinton is our choice for commander in chief.” 
Among the paper's 10,000 subscribers, 162 canceled their subscriptions, a far higher rate of retaliatory cancellation than those suffered by papers like The Dallas Morning News and The Arizona Republic, which also deviated from their long, Republican-leaning track records when they, too, endorsed Clinton.  Fernandez's report suggests that the response in Enid has been rather personal, as one might expect in a small-ish town, with its high density of acquaintanceship.  The executive editor, Rob Collins, explains that he has "talked a lot of people off the ledge," when they have called to cancel their subscriptions.  This quote from Collins provides a vignette of small-town relationships in this municipality of about 50,000, in nonmetropolitan Garfield County:
People knew my dad or know my mom and know my family here. A lot of people who were angry called expecting me to argue right back with them. Really, the only time I would raise my voice is when I would get cursed at or yelled at, which I don’t really like.  
I hope people can respect that we’re entitled to our opinion, too, and that that can be different from news.
In addition to the cancelled subscriptions, The News & Eagle has suffered other consequences:  
Eleven advertisers pulled their ads, including a funeral home that had a sizable account. Someone stuck a “Crooked Hillary” bumper sticker on the glass doors of the paper’s downtown office. A man left a late-night message on the publisher’s voice mail, expressing his hope that readers would deliver, to put it delicately, a burning sack of steaming excrement to the paper.
Fernandez notes the the paper did add one subscriber as a result of the Clinton endorsement.

The News and Eagle is owned by Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., whose holdings include newspapers and websites in 23 states.  The editorial endorsement, however, was drafted locally, by Enid reporters and editors.

I like this quote from Terry Clark, Professor of Journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.
There used to be a saying that the editorial page was the soul of a newspaper, and if that’s the case, we’ve got a lot of weak-souled newspapers in the country because they’re afraid to offend anybody.  This is an excellent example of the way American journalism ought to be — standing for something — and, man, it takes guts to do that in Enid, Okla.
This story is just one more reminder to me of how strongly so many folks opposed Hillary Clinton.  And that, I can't help believe, implicates attitudes about gender as much as anything else.   

NPR on mobile home "parks": the good, the bad, and the ugly in rural Idaho and suburban Minneapolis

Don't miss this two-part NPR series by Daniel Zwerdling here.  Part one features a mobile home park in Syringa, Idaho, on the outskirts of Moscow, home of the University of Idaho.  This manufactured home community has a remote landlord, which leads to problems for its residents, who typically own their homes but not the land on which those homes sit.  The residents pay rent to the landlord, in this case a man named Magar Magar, who lives hundreds of miles away in Vancouver, Washington.  A brief excerpt from the story follows:  
Since the 1980s, this community of roughly 100 houses has been plagued repeatedly by drinking water problems — including periods with contaminated water or no water at all. Rivers of raw sewage have occasionally gushed out of the ground and formed stinky ponds around homes. One resident has filled a cardboard box with videocassettes that he shot to document some of the incidents. Conditions in the neighborhood have become so bad that some people have abandoned their houses and moved out.
But some of these residents, who bought their homes for as little as $10,000, have no place to go except a homeless shelter if they are forced out of their trailers.  

As Zwerdling explains, state regulators have little leverage over these private landowners, and letters of demand from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to Magar went unanswered.  
But state officials lost their patience almost three years ago and took Magar to court. The Idaho Conservation League also sued Magar for allegedly letting Syringa's sewage system pollute a nearby river. And a legal aid clinic at the University of Idaho law school filed a class action lawsuit against Magar, on behalf of Syringa's residents. That suit asks the court to order Magar not only to fix the problems at Syringa, but to award financial damages to its residents.
A few days before the class action was to go to trial, however, Magar declared bankruptcy, thereby protecting himself, at least temporarily, from the suit.  

Part Two of Zwerdling's series is here, "When Residents Take Ownership, a Mobile Home Community Thrives."  The dateline for this one is Fridley, Minnesota, and it is a much more uplifting story, that of Park Place Mobile Home Park and its residents.  Zwerdling reports:
Five years ago, the residents banded together, formed a nonprofit co-op and bought their entire neighborhood from the company that owned it. Today, these residents exert democratic control over almost 9 acres of prime suburbs, with 80 manufactured houses sited on them.
Most of us don't think much about mobile homes--or when we do, our associations are entirely negative.  That makes me especially grateful for Zwerdling's reporting on what he explains are "an important source of affordable housing."  Two rural sociologists, Sonya Salamon (emeritus, University of Illinois), Katherine MacTavish of Oregon State University, and Michele Ely of North Carolina A & T have written a great deal about mobile home parks over the years, including this and this. I understand that Salamon and MacTavish are working on a book on the subject.

Monday, December 26, 2016

On Appalachia (Part II): Post-mortem on Election 2016, with reference to pre-election coverage

I'm looking back at some of the more interesting pieces on the Appalachian vote--pieces written before the election which might have given us a heads up on the outcome except that we saw the voices included in them too marginal.  I suppose we thought these were just Appalachian voices and didn't realize the extent to which they represented more than that--in particular, the extent to which they represented dis-gruntled white working class voters in other places, too, e.g., Michigan and Wisconsin.

Here's one by Roger Cohen, NY Times columnist, published a full two months before the election, "We Need 'Somebody Spectacular':  Views from Trump Country."  In one of the most expansive and thoughtful pieces I have read pre- or (now again) post-election, Cohen reports from two different regions of Kentucky, Paris in "horse country," and Hazard, in coal country.  These are regions with largely differing economic faces and fates, but Cohen finds a small business woman in the more middle-class Paris area (just half an hour from Lexington) who is struggling--and who plans to vote for Trump.  He gets his "something spectacular" quote from her, along with this:
This is the most fired-up I’ve ever been for a candidate. ... Sure, he’s kind of a loose cannon, but he tells it the way it is and, if elected, people will be there to calm him down a bit, tweak a word or two in his speeches. And I just don’t trust Hillary Clinton.
She says she voted for Obama but that we now need Trump to "clean up this mess Obama has left us."  Interesting in light of that quote is the fact that she and her husband have also struggled to keep healthcare.  (And for a full treatment of that paradox, a terrific post-election story about Kentuckians and Obamacare is here, by Sarah Kliff on Vox).

From more impoverished coal country, Hazard (in Perry County), Cohen quotes Paul Bush:
Trump’s going to get us killed, probably! But I’ll vote for him anyway over Hillary. If you vote for Hillary you vote for Obama, and he’s made it impossible to ship coal. This place is about dried up. A job at Wendy’s is the only thing left. We may have to move.
Note the "we may have to move," comment, regarding the lack of jobs.  And think about it in relation to rural folks' attachment to place.  In other words, to many rural residents, the thought of leaving their home town is a big deal.  Bush continues:
Yeah, another year without change and they’ll be shutting Hazard down.
Obama’s probably never known hardship. He and Hillary don’t get it. At least Trump don’t hold nothing back: If he don’t like something, he tells you about it.
Another fascinating quote is from Philip Clemons, who owns both a restaurant and a mining company in Hazard.  Clemons is quick to play the "race card," albeit in an unusual way--or perhaps one not so unusual for white folks in racially homogeneous areas, who are particularly likely to view themselves as colorblind and not to have been exposed to ideas such as structural racism and implicit bias:
I don’t dislike people because of their color. I liked Herman Cain a lot. I can tell you the only black person who’s ever been mean to me is Barack Obama.
Cohen also interviewed academics for his story, like Al Cross, a University of Kentucky Professor.  Cross explains Trump's appeal--beyond the issue of coal--in the Bluegrass State:
Trump’s appeal is nationalistic, the authoritarian shepherd of the flock. That’s why evangelical Christians are willing to vote for this twice-divorced man who brags about the size of his penis. There’s a strong belief here still in America as special and exceptional, and Obama is seen as having played that down.
Note the nostalgia associated with this idea of American exceptionalism.  Cohen quotes political scientist Norman Ornstein for a similar proposition:
“Somebody is taking everything you are used to and you had”—your steady middle-class existence, your values, your security. 
(Some new and salient analysis re the psychology of the Trump voter is here). As Cohen observes, "Now Kentuckians are clambering aboard the Trump train — and to heck with its destination."

This reminds me of an email I got after I appeared on OnPoint Radio in mid November to talk about the working class white vote.  One listener, an avocado farmer in California, emailed me with this:
The status quo won't cut it. My margins are thinning, some because of normal supply and demand in nature, others are the increasing demands of government through rules and regulations that may be all well and good, but who cares if you see your financial situation collapse.  I'm under no illusion as to what may or may not be accomplished under Trumps tenure, but I'm one of the "burn it down" voters.
Another interesting quote in the Cohen piece that goes more to the matter of identity politics--albeit not entirely distinct from economic distress--is this one from Jim Webb, the former U.S. Senator from Virginia and author of Born Fighting about the history of the Scots-Irish.  The Democratic Party, Webb says,
"has now built its constituency based on ethnic groups other than white working people.” The frustration of these people, whether they are in Kentucky, or Texas, or throughout the Midwest, is acute. They are looking for “someone who will articulate the truth of their disenfranchisement,” as Webb put it. Trump, for all his bullying petulance, has come closest to being that politician, which is why millions of Americans support him.
This October story from the Washington Post also spoke to Trump's overwhelming appeal in Appalachia, with the focus here on John Boehner's old district in the Cincinnati area.  Journalist James Hohmann quotes a man who cleans benzene pots at the AK Steel plant in Middletown, Ohio--in other words, a working class grunt:
I don’t understand how [Hillary Clinton's] doing anything in the polls. I see Hillary for prison, but there’s no Hillary for president signs anywhere. It’s just impossible for me to believe that they’re neck and neck.
Funny, I remember reading this and, from my perch in metropolitan California, thinking just the opposite: Who's going to vote for Trump?  Very few folks around me, at least based on the paucity of Trump Pence yard signs.  In any event, Hohmann's story discusses the politics of the region in relation to J.D. Vance's best selling Hillbilly Elegy (2016), which is discussed at the periphery of this post and more critically here in the Daily Yonder and here in the New Republic).

And here's a Sheryl Gay Stolberg piece that appeared in the New York Times several weeks after the election, "Trump's Promises Will be Hard to Keep, But Coal Country has Faith."  As the headline suggests, this piece queries--as have a number of stories since Trump's electoral success--whether he will be able to keep many of the campaign promises he made (at rallies during his victory tour in recent weeks, he has admitted he doesn't plan to "lock up Hillary"--that it was a theme that sounded better before the election. Stolberg's story, which is relatively heavy on religion, features Bo Copley, a 39-year-old mine maintenance planner who asked Hillary Clinton a question when she visited West Virginia in May, 2016:  How could she "come in here and tell us you're going to be our friend?," having dismissed coal's future. Copley says he
was “very uncomfortable” with Donald J. Trump then, he said. But over time, in a paradox of the Bible Belt, Mr. Copley, a deeply religious father of three, put his faith in a trash-talking, thrice-married Manhattan real estate mogul as a savior for coal country — and America. 
“God has used unjust people to do his will,” Mr. Copley said, explaining his vote.
An earlier pre-election post about Trump's popularity among rural voters was based on a U.S. News and World Report story headlined "Penthouse Populist." Finally, this by Alec MacGillis, post-election, is also very telling re: Ohio (though not necessarily the Appalachian part).

See also, as a post script, this from Greg Sargent of the Washington Post on Dec. 27, 2016, referencing this CNN piece re: the uptick in black lung disease and the Trump threat to Obamacare.

You know it's a slow news day when the rural lawyer shortage makes national news

And that's what happened this morning, as NPR's morning edition picked up a story by Grant Gerlock of Harvest Public Media regarding the rural lawyer shortage and Nebraska's new effort to respond to it.  I wrote a post about this new Nebraska effort just a few weeks ago.  Gerlock's story, which ran on Nebraska Public Radio back in November, quotes me and references my work on the rural lawyer shortage.  I was surprised to hear the story on national radio this morning, in a somewhat shortened form.  Of course, the day after Christmas must be a slow news day, so perhaps not a lot of competition for content.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Suicide rates highest for farmers, among all occupations

The Grand Island Independent reported last week on the high rate of suicides among farmers--the highest, in fact, among all occupational groups.  Brandi Janssen of the University of Iowa Department of Public Health wrote the story, which is based on data released by the Centers for Disease Control.   Here's an excerpt from the story:  
[S]uicide rates for workers in the agricultural, fishing and forestry industry are the highest of any other occupational group, exceeding rates in other high-risk populations, including veterans.

Suicide is not typically thought of as an occupational fatality, but the CDC report sheds some light on how occupations might be one contributor to suicide.

The phenomenon is not new in agriculture, and those of us who lived on farms during the 1980s certainly remember how the crashing agricultural economy affected rural communities. High profile acts of violence were often linked to farm foreclosures and financial stress.
Janssen notes that the National Farm Medicine Center, based in Marshfield, Wisconsin, tracked farm suicides in the Upper Midwest, the area most affected by the farm crisis, back in the 1980s.
They found that 913 male farmers in the region committed suicide during that decade, with rates peaking in 1982 at 58 suicides for every 100,000 male farmers and ranchers.
Rates among the general population were around 31 suicides per 100,000 white males over the age of 20 during that same time period. 
Compare that with this year’s CDC report, which found that current national suicide rates for people working in agriculture are 84.5 per 100,000 overall, and 90.5 per 100,000 among males.
Janssen points out the obvious from this comparison:  suicide rates among male farmers are now more than 50% higher than they were in 1982, when the farm crisis peaked.

Janssen notes the availability of several resources, namely the Iowa Concern Hotline and the Nebraska Farm Crisis Hotline.

Sadly, I have not seen any major news organization pick up this story, even as so-called "deaths of despair"--which include suicides--continue to garner considerable national attention.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

On Appalachia (Part I): Disasters, man-made and otherwise

So much news and commentary about Appalachia has appeared in the news in recent months that I thought I would just make the region--not a particular phenomenon within the region--the topic of a series of blog posts, the first on man-made and natural disasters, specifically water contamination and wildfire.

  In mid-November, Ron Rash wrote "Appalachia's Sacrifice," an op-ed lamenting the lack of media attention to widespread water contamination in southeastern Kentucky--"contamination from mining runoff, industrial waste, worn-out pipes, a whole confluence of causes."  Rash, who teaches Appalachian studies at Western Caroline University, notes that, though this problem as endured for at least a decade, it has not drawn the attention that the Flint, Michigan water contamination problem has.

In other sobering news out of Appalachia, a massive wildfire blazed through Gatlinburg, Tennessee at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in late November. Fourteen people died in the fire, and some 1000 structures were destroyed in and around the town, which is heavily dependent on tourism.  Nearby Pigeon Forge suffered no fire damage, but its tourism-reliant economy is also at risk as a consequence of the fire if visitors are deterred from coming to the region.  Two teenagers have been charged with arson.

Amidst coverage of the fire, Jason Howard, who teaches writing and Appalachian studies at Berea College in Kentucky, published an op-ed titled "Appalachia Burning." In it, he makes several points, most prominently one similar to that made by Rash: if this tragedy were unfolding (or had long ago unfolded, in the case of the water contamination) in a place other than a "flyover" state, it would be getting much more prominent media coverage.  (I made a similar point in this blog post in 2015 about wildfires in northern California).  Howard writes:
Unfortunately, this lack of attention is all too familiar to the residents of Appalachia, who have historically been ignored or misrepresented in the national consciousness. News coverage has focused on economic poverty rather than cultural riches, a handful of feuds rather than strong family ties.
He acknowledges, too, the hateful stereotypes of Appalachians that are drawn to the surface by events like the Gatlinburg fire:  
That the moonshine stills of the poor, ignorant hillbillies have accidentally set the mountains ablaze, or that Tennesseans, who largely voted for Mr. Trump, are getting their just deserts.
But Howard's post is about more than the fire, it's about an issue that our nation is increasingly interested in if only because it seems to be slipping away:  the American dream
For my parents and countless others who had grown up poor in the hills and hollows of Appalachia, a visit to Gatlinburg was a treat — a place to enjoy the natural wonder of the Smoky Mountains, to splurge on a meal at the Howard Johnson, or to visit Goldrush Junction, a small-scale attraction that was renamed Silver Dollar City and ultimately transformed into Dollywood. A trip to Gatlinburg meant that things were looking up, that they themselves were on their way up — that a place at the table of the American middle class was within their grasp.
And this brings me back to Rash's piece.  He, too, situates his comments about how we overlook Appalachia in broader themes of the moment:  
Appalachia has always given more to America than it has received, especially its natural resources and, in times of war, its sons and daughters. A recent example of this inequity is the Chapter 11 filings of several major coal companies, legal maneuverings that may allow them to evade the millions needed to clean up the devastation they’ve left behind.
As my friend and fellow Appalachian writer Jeff Biggers once told an audience, when you turn on a light switch, think about the people who have risked their lives in mines to make that electricity possible. ... It is hard to argue with Daile Boulis, a resident of Loudendale, W.Va., who lamented, in an interview with Blue Ridge Outdoors, that “the rest of the country treats us like we’re the cost of doing business in America.”
But Rash does leave us on a hopeful note--one about racial conciliation.  After noting that southeastern Kentucky is mostly white and Flint is mostly black and that both are united in misery, he concludes:
Perhaps safe drinking water can be one of the first issues around which we can begin to reunify our fragmented nation.
Under Trump, sadly, I have less hope than ever.  He cares for the wellbeing of neither blacks nor whites, and has loaded his cabinet with folks of similar disposition.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

So much rural political analysis, so little time to write (Part II): Domestic

So much has been written about the rural vote since my last post about the 2016 election that I'm just going to pull some excerpts from a couple of stories in this post.  I will focus on the U.S. situation--in particular, Nebraska and Washington State--whereas my prior post focused on Europe. The story out of Nebraska is perhaps more optimistic generally--and certainly more optimistic about the prospect of change.  The story out of Washington suggests not rural or white working class backlash, but rather a place that has long been Republican.  Another recurring rural theme: folks are fiercely independent and don't want a "handout"--and they resent those they believe do.

Jane Fleming Kleeb, who just assumed the presidency of the Nebraska Democratic Party wrote last week on Medium, under the headline, "Let's Get Rural:  Middle America Wants Less Establishment, More Populism."  Kleeb calls "rural America, a place that Democrats have largely ignored or forgotten," even as she reminds us that Nebraska was the birthplace of the modern Democratic Party.  Kleeb continues:
While the middle of the country looks very red on all the electoral maps, we are fighters here on the prairie. We look to our neighbors to help get cattle back when a fence breaks or pick up our kids at daycare if we are running late. Our sense of community runs deep. We hate Big Corporations. Water is cherished. Families have a tradition of hunting. And while cliché for some at this point, reality is many rural voters simply do not trust Democrats will protect Second Amendment rights and yearn for stiffer backbones when standing up against the establishment.
She also shares the story of Randy Thompson, a cattle auctioneer and pipeline opponent whom she got to know as executive director of Bold Nebraska, which helped to fend off the Keystone XL pipeline.  Randy is quoted at length in the story, as representing what many rural Nebraskans are thinking and saying:
People are scared to death that Democrats want to take away their guns, and personally I thought Hillary did a very poor job of laying out her position on the 2nd Amendment, in fact I have always thought most Democrats have failed to make a clear and precise case on guns and gun control. People were absolutely convinced that Obama was going to take their guns and many people I talked to thought Hillary would do the same.
Kleeb observes that "what establishment types don't get is in rural America, we deeply believe when you stand up and fight, you win." I love that depiction of rural America as optimistic, though I don't know that it is entirely consistent with my experience.

Out of Eastern Washington--also a very red blob on the election map,--comes this story from David Kroman, published in late November.  The dateline for Kroman's story (he writes for is Ritzville, county seat of Adams County, one of the poorest in Washington State.  Trump carried 25 of the state's 26 least prosperous counties.  (The one he lost was Pullman, home of a Washington State University campus).  In Ritzville, Trump won 77% of the vote, while his victory in Adams County was tempered by Othello, about 50 miles to the south, which has a large Latino population.  Kroman describes the place:
Beyond where the land flattens out and the trees disappear, past the wind turbines along the Columbia River Gorge, the town is one of a relative few in the sagebrush desert and wheat. 
* * * 
Drive in this country at the right hour and the radio turns to talk of Hillary Clinton’s emails, Benghazi, even the baseless fear of a “Christian genocide.” One host parrots a claim made by Trump himself — that had he tried, he could have won the popular vote, too.
Ritzville proper is something of a time capsule from the ’50s. Even the names of the throwback storefronts hint at this — Memories Diner, the Ritzville Pastime Bar and Grill. It’s also got a Starbucks closer to the highway and the people of Ritzville are proud to tell you it’s are among the most successful in the state — thanks to truck drivers and travelers making one last stop before the final push to Seattle.
* * * 
 This, supposedly, is the place government has forgotten — the home of the poor, rural, white masses that flipped the national electoral map for Trump. While cities flourish, the story goes, agrarian backwaters like Ritzville have fallen off of the map for public officials. Frustrated, residents of towns like this turned to Trump, casting a vote for change, even if it came from a man further from these parts of the world than any candidate in history.
* * *  
But the people I spoke to in Ritzville and nearby Lind don’t go right to economic hardship when asked why they voted for our new President-elect. They meander toward other things like refugees and Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border and, yes, the “rioters” in Seattle before arriving at economic anxiety, if they ever get there at all. Many out here are doing just fine.
This is an interesting characterization--that last line--not least because it arguably contradicts the poverty data he reports elsewhere in the piece. On the other hand, as suggested below in relation to farm subsidies, it may instead just be a commentary on income inequality--even within this community.

Among many others, Kroman interviewed the woman who has been the city clerk-treasurer since 2009, Kris Robbins, a woman raised Republican, but/and who Kroman describes as "nuanced, wonky and empathetic."  She acknowledges that a lot of the town's business comes from those passing through, and that the downtown merchants are suffering.

Plenty of folks Kroman interviews criticize folks west of the Cascades--including communities of color--for expecting handouts, whereas Ritzville residents see themselves as fiercely independent and self-sufficient.  One woman who owns a small business comments, "“You can’t throw a paycheck at someone every time they screw up.” Interestingly, several Ritzville residents interviewed by Kroman simply laugh nervously when the topics of farm subsidies and crop insurance are raised.  One comments that it's good for her business because it means farmers always have spending money.

Another theme that Kroman takes up is how local government coffers in places like Adams County are suffering--in part because of a lack of economic diversification and in part because state and federal governments impose regulations that are especially onerous for governing units with such small staffs.  (I note that this is also a major complaint in far northern California, where the State of Jefferson secession movement is something of a force).

The lack of economic diversity in rural places is also a major theme of this recent story out of rural West Virginia, and the struggle of rural county and town governments is discussed here.

Kroman doesn't steer clear of issues of religious and racial bias, either, and he observes--similar to a reviewer of Arlie Hochschild 's latest book, Strangers in Their Own Land, that sometimes what these rural folks say isn't perfectly rational.  Kroman also observes that the president of the United States does not necessarily have the power to fix what ails them, though their antipathy to outsiders may be ameliorated by a less interventionist EPA.

I commend Kroman on his excellent, nuanced reporting, and Kleeb on her energy and enthusiasm, but this post has gotten too long already, so I'll have to return to some other rural vote stories in a subsequent entry to the blog.  Meanwhile, here is a link to a recent story about the University of Wisconsin's Professor Kathy Kramer.  She is the political science professor whose work got so much attention after Wisconsin--including rural Wisconsin--voted for Trump.   And here is one to a report out of West Virginia.  Finally, here's a piece on Trump's (apparently brief) dalliance with appointing Heidi Heitkamp, the Senator from North Dakota, to be Secretary of Agriculture.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Deaths of despair" linked to support for Trump in 2016 election

Yesterday, NPR interviewed Penn State rural sociologist and demographer Shannon Monnat about her work on "deaths of despair"and their link to voting trends in the 2016 presidential election. Here's an excerpt summarizing Monnat's findings:
Trump outperformed the previous Republican candidate Mitt Romney the most in counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates.
Monnat's recent policy brief, which provides a great deal more detail on this issue, is available here.  She further explained in the NPR segment: 
[I]n many of the counties where he did the best, economic distress has really been building, and social and family networks have been breaking down for several decades. And so I think these findings reflect larger economic and social problems that sort of go beyond drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. It's really about downward mobility and the dismantling of the American dream at a larger community level. And Trump really has sort of capitalized on and exploited the feelings of the people in these communities. In a lot of these places, good-paying jobs and the dignity that goes along with those good-paying jobs has been replaced by suffering and hopelessness and the belief that people in power don't really care about them or their communities.
I especially appreciated some of Monnat's policy prescriptions, not least because they call attention to rural difference and are focused on the community as much as on the individual:
The policies really need to reflect the economic and health challenges of rural and small city America in the same ways that they've tried to target large urban cities. And that includes good-paying stable jobs, especially for those without a college degree. That needs to be the staple of any economic policy. What people really want is to be able to support themselves and their families.
I have written about rural substance abuse here and here.    

Friday, December 16, 2016

On the rural crime of ... something related to fish bait

The headline out of the Grand Forks Herald yesterday was, "'It's a witch hunt': Federal agents raid Minn. bait shop, seize thousands of baitfish."  Having read the entire story, I'm not at all clear what the possible crime is, though it appears to be linked to the provenance of the bait.  Here's the lede:  
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents raided the Great Outdoors Bait Shop in Ely on Dec. 1, seizing more than 6,000 ciscoes along with the shop's computer files, tax records and banking records, said Jim Maki, the shop's owner.

Ciscoes, a baitfish popular with winter anglers, are typically netted each fall near Prairie Portage on Basswood Lake, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the U.S.-Canadian border east of Ely. 
Maki said that eight to 10 special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered his shop that day, asking him repeated questions about whether the ciscoes he sells came from the U.S. or Canadian side of the international border.
Maki, who has run the bait shop for 34 years, is quoted responsible for the "It's a witch hunt" quote.  He explained that the ciscoes are used to fish for northern pike and lake trout, and sell for $9/dozen.
That's the big-money thing for the winter.  I'm shot now for the winter if I don't get the ciscoes back.
That said, Maki explained that he might buy smelt if he can't get his ciscoes back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nebraska program seeks to make attorneys of rural young people, then send them home to practice

The University of Nebraska College of Law initiated a program this fall to help bolster the attorney populations in rural parts of the state that are experiencing  lawyer shortfalls.  Taking a different tack than neighboring South Dakota, which pays lawyers who make a five-year commitment to work in an underserved county, the Rural Law Opportunity Program (RLOP) supports students who seem like good prospects to become lawyers and then return to rural Nebraska to practice.  Modeled on a similar program that supports would-be doctors from rural area, the initiative is a collaboration of the UN College of Law and three "rural" colleges and universities:  University of Nebraska, Kearney, Chadron State College, and Wayne State College.  Here are some basics on the program, from the RLOP website:
RLOP students will receive scholarships to fund their undergraduate education and will begin to develop their relationship with Nebraska Law as early as their freshman year in college. Participants will be required to maintain a 3.5 cumulative GPA at their undergraduate institution to remain in the program. RLOP students who satisfy this GPA requirement, obtain a minimum LSAT score and meet other minor law school application criteria will be automatically accepted to the University of Nebraska College of Law.
As RLOP participants, students will visit Nebraska Law for guest lectures, special court proceedings, observation of classes and networking activities. Nebraska Law administrators and admissions representatives will also visit the campuses of participating schools at least once an academic year to meet with students one on one. Between their junior and senior years, RLOP students will have the opportunity to participate in rural Nebraska internships.
Here's a recent news item about the program, from High Plains Public Radio. Journalist Angie Haflich quotes Lyle Koenig of West Point, Nebraska, who is co-chair of the Rural Practice Initiative of the Nebraska State Bar.
“Ten counties in Nebraska have no lawyers at all." 
Another 19 counties have three attorneys or fewer, according to an analysis by the Nebraska Bar. That, Koenig says, sets up a legal gap between rural and urban residents. 
“You don’t have access to justice because you don’t have access to lawyers,” Koenig says.
Of the effort to target rural young people as presumably the best prospects to become the next generation of rural lawyers, Koenig says:
If you start with kids that come from the country in the first place, there is a very good chance they will come back to the country to practice law.
The story also makes reference to my academic work on the rural lawyer shortage, including my survey of law students and lawyers in Arkansas regarding their attitudes toward rural practice.  Read more here, too.

Monday, December 12, 2016

So much rural political analysis, so little time to write (Part I): Europe

I've made little time to write for the blog this month; meanwhile, further analysis of the rural vote is pilling up.  I'm going to try to plow through some of it in a few posts, though the result is unlikely to be artful.

Let's start in Europe, where Rick Lyman filed this excellent story for the New York Times a few weeks ago, "Like Trump, Europe's Populists Win Big with Rural Voters."  The dateline is a Polish village, Kulesze Koscielne, and the story's lede goes like this:
The red-tiled roofs of this tiny village cluster around the soaring steeples of St. Bartholomew Church like medieval cottages at the base of a castle, alienated from the cosmopolitan life of cities such as Warsaw by a chasm that is economic, cultural and political.
Lyman reports that 83% of those in this village--but only a third of Warsaw residents--voted for Poland's populist party in the last election.

Some of the tension is cultural, Lyman writes, but also wrapped up in demographic differences between rural and urban populations.   
In the countryside, residents, on average, are older, poorer, less educated and more receptive to the populist message that they are the true protectors of their nation’s culture and heritage. 
The "true protectors of their nation's cultural heritage" reminds me of some of the talk we are seeing in the United States post-election regarding "real Americans."  It also reminds me of Sarah Palin's rhetoric in the 2008 election cycle.  Lyman continues:
And voting against the big-city elites who they think belittle them can be doubly satisfying, analysts say. Rural residents say they are often mocked and marginalized as backward for choosing the traditional, slow-paced life their grandparents lived, and also derided as bigots for their reluctance to embrace the more ethnically diverse, sexually open worldview of the cities.
Lyman quotes Pawel Spiewak, a University of Warsaw sociologist, whose focus is on the cultural divide:
We are living the same lives, of course.  We have the same cars. But we are listening to different music. We are using different words. We are even eating completely different things.
Lyman notes that this rural-urban divide, as reflected in politics, is apparent not only in the recent Brexit vote (read more in this earlier post), but also in Lithuania, Italy, France, and Austria.  In the latter, Lyman reports that Alexander Van der Bellen's recent victory over far-right leader Norbert Hofer has been partly attributed to Van der Bellen's concerted effort to "woo rural voters...visit[ing] dozens of rural settings, pos[ing] repeatedly in front of the Austrian flag."  Perhaps as a consequence, Van der Bellen won an additional 200 communities and an additional 300,000 votes in the second round of voting, compared to the first, in May.

I am reminded of Hillary Clinton's failure to campaign in rural communities, particularly in some key states like Iowa and Wisconsin.  Sadly, she didn't even show up, let alone appear in front of an American flag.

Lyman also makes the point that many of the far right leaders in Europe are--like Trump--billionaires.  Ironically, they are made more popular with rural voters as a consequence of the disdain that urban elites--the intelligentsia and the technocrats--heap on them.  Lyman quotes Jaroslaw Fils, a sociologist at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, regarding Poland's right-wing politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski:
On paper, he is hardly a hero for the underprivileged, but, again, he is so despised by the Polish elites that he has become someone the people in the country can identify with.
This reflects a bizarre alignment between the super rich "populists" and rural folks who feel similarly snubbed by the intelligentsia.  See an earlier commentary here.

Of course, this political phenomenon does not fall neatly along the rural-urban divide.  That is, working class folks in cities are also objects of elite disdain, but that disdain is often expressed as a function of geography, at least in the United States, where you hear references to flyover states and such.  (I wrote about this following the 2008 Presidential election here).  Regarding the Polish situation, Fils commented:
Residents of rural areas are perhaps the only social groups that we can still openly ridicule.  It’s not politically correct to laugh at gay people, ethnic minorities, obese people. But hardly anyone will tell you off for laughing at peasants.
Read more scholarly commentary on this phenomenon here.

While an appeal to nostalgia is something many of these European populist movements share with the Trump phenomenon, there are limits to the comparison.  Lyman explores the post-WWII communist history as an aspect of this European trend:
In the formerly Communist nations of Eastern Europe, populists on the left and the right woo rural voters by playing off nostalgia for lost greatness, and the old era of authoritarian leaders and governments that provided for people. 
Lyman quotes Marian Lesko, a Slovakian political analyst;
Where the countryside was mobilized, victory belonged to coalitions that weren’t the biggest fans of liberal democracy and democratic values.
More on the rural vote in the U.S. in subsequent posts in this series.  Read more about Eastern European views regarding Trump here (Baltics) and here (Poland).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

On the Dakota Access Pipeline

This is one of the best pieces I have read about the Dakota Access Pipeline, in the Washington Post.  It's by Kevin Sullivan, and the headline is "'This Pipeline Represents Something Deeper':  Voices from Standing Rock.'" Here's the lede:
From across the country, they have come to this place called Cannon Ball. 
Thousands of them. 
Native Americans and military veterans. Environmentalists. Police from nine states. Movie stars. Cattle ranchers and lumberjacks, college students and nurses, landscapers, investment bankers and a waitress from a Florida restaurant called Smokey Bones. 
All have been drawn by a 30-inch steel pipe that, in the unlikely setting of a desolate North Dakota prairie, has become a powerful symbol of heritage and history, progress and oppression, indigenous rights and corporate might.
* * *
To its opponents, the pipeline represents the latest chapter in the nation’s long history of disrespect and abuse of Native Americans. It runs within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and tribal leaders argue that it threatens the drinking water for thousands of Native Americans and has caused the destruction of sacred artifacts and burial sites.
The report features videos of a number of folks, including tribal leaders.  Five hundred and sixty people have been arrested since the beginning of the protests.

And now we wait to see what President-Elect Trump will do ....

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Defying rural Southern stereotypes in satirizing them

NPR reported a few days ago on a new genre of stand-up comedians:  progressive rednecks.  These are men (and perhaps some women, though none are noted in the story) who play on the stereotypes of rural Southerners by ridiculing them.  Referring to Trae Crowder, one of the more famous among this lot, Will Huntsberry explains:  
He's doing something almost entirely unheard of in mainstream comedy: making a big deal out of his "Southern-ness" and his progressive values. 
"Yeah, I'm a white trash, trailer baby from the deep South," Crowder said. "But I'm also educated, agnostic, well-read, cultured. I'm [all] of those things at the same time and if you can't reconcile those things in your head, that's your problem."
Huntsberry explains the specific genre these comedians have carved out:
Embracing this paradox, of loving the South, while also being horrified by it, is exactly what makes these comedians so different than the ones that have come before them.
Huntsberry notes how these men are different even from comedians like Jeff Foxworthy, who embraces southern stereotypes to get a laugh.

One thing I find especially interesting about this piece is Crowder's analysis of how he came to be confident enough to shrug off the culture of his upbringing.  He and fellow "liberal redneck" Drew Morgan were valedictorians of their respective small-town Tennessee high schools.  
Crowder said he was "seriously treated like Good Will Hunting, like a prodigy or something. And so I left thinking that's the way I was. We both had to come to terms with a lot of s***." 
Even though Crowder eventually realized he wasn't as smart as he thought he was, he says, his perception that he was a prodigy back then influences the way he rails against Southern conservatism today. 
"This is gonna sound really terrible," said Crowder. "But because that's the way it was from a very young age, I never really concerned myself with the opinions of other people. Like I knew they might not agree with me, but in my head I was like, 'well I'm Good Will Hunting and they're not. ... They're just wrong.'"
Crowder recently left his job negotiating federal contracts to do stand-up full time.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The travails of rural female teens

A couple of newspaper stories and a documentary about rural teenage women have crossed my line of vision in recent weeks, so I decided to bring them together in a blog post, though they hit on a range of issues--from the election to healthcare to the justice system.  

The first was this pre-election story about teenage girls in Oregon, a feature that made an explicit rural-urban (or, perhaps more precise, metro-nonmetro) comparison regarding views of Trump, particularly in the wake of the video in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia.  The piece, by Claire Cain Miller, appeared on the NYTimes Upshot the Friday before the election, and it reports on a poll of 332 girls, with data analysis by David Rothschild and Tobias Konitzer of PredictWise.  Miller describes these girls as being of the generation "raised to believe that women can do anything men can do yet aware that they have not yet."  Among them, 44% said they would definitely or most likely vote for Hillary Clinton--were they old enough to vote--while 15% said they would vote for Trump. 

Here's the part with the explicit rural-urban comparison:  
At Grant High School in Portland, Ore., girls tended to be reluctant Clinton supporters, having originally been fans of Senator Bernie Sanders. At Sherman County High School, in rural Moro, Ore., east of the Cascade Range where blue Oregon turns red, the girls were divided between the candidates.
When questioned about who has power, the teens differed rather sharply, with the nonmetropolitan teens more likely to reference people they actually knew, the urban teens more likely to list celebrities.
The girls pay close attention to women in power. Asked who had power, Grant High girls offered mostly celebrities, including Beyoncé, the Kardashian sisters, Miley Cyrus, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson and J. K. Rowling. In Moro, they talked about their mothers and grandmothers, and a principal they had had when they were in first grade.
The story showed photos of seven teenage girls and featured quotes from each, in addition to quotes in the text of the article from other teens.  Of those quoted and pictured, just two of the seven were from rural teens.  What one says tends to reinforce what social science tells us about rural families very urban ones--that the former remain more traditional:
I never thought there would be a woman president because the way I grew up, men were always in charge and the women provided for the families.
That quote is from 14-year-old Alyssa Hill.  Another young woman, Jordan Barrett, is more optimistic.
There’s a lot of misogynist people who think she’s a woman so she can’t do this, she’s not smart enough, she’s not powerful enough. I think if you want to do it, you can still try, but it’s harder.
The story also features this from a Moro, Oregon adolescent, Morgan Lesh, age 15.
That hits me hard when people like Trump say people who are skinnier than I am are too big.  It makes me feel extremely insecure about myself.
Jordan agrees with her friend Morgan:
Especially for girls in high school, rating girls on a scale of 1 to 10 does not help because it really does get into your head that they think I’m ugly or I don’t look good. 
The two disagree, however, on which candidate to support, though Miller doesn't reveal which is the Trump supporter and which the Clinton supporter.  

The second story is this more recent piece in the Los Angeles Times about the difference in teen pregnancy rates between metro and non metro young women.  Caren Kaplan reports under the headline, "There's Another Type of Rural-Urban Divide in America:  Teens Having Babies."  The lede follows:
The teen birth rate in America’s small towns is 63% higher than in its biggest cities, a new government report reveals. 
In 2015, there were 18.9 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 living in counties with large urban areas, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares with 30.9 births per 1,000 women in the same age group who lived in rural counties, the report said.
In between were counties with small- and medium-sized cities and suburbs. There, the birth rate was 24.3 babies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. 
The new data “underscore that community can be one of the strongest predictors of pregnancy risk for teens,” said Nikki Mayes, a spokeswoman for the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health in Atlanta.
Whatever the size of population cluster, all places experienced a decline in teen birth rates between 2007 and 2015.

I wonder if this difference in the incidence of teenage mothers is related to lesser availability of abortion in rural places, a matter I've written about here and here.  I suspect it is also is a function of the lesser availability of health care, generally, and contraception in particular.  Indeed, the story also quotes Mayes in this regard:
Rural women experience poorer health outcomes and have less access to health care than urban women, in part due to limited numbers of health care providers, especially women’s health providers.   As a result, women in rural areas are less likely than urban women to receive contraceptive services.
Mayes notes that Arkansas is among the states exploring using telemedicine to deliver such reproductive health services.

Finally, I want to mention the documentary, "Audrie and Daisy," which I viewed last week.  The film is about two teenage girls in small town Maryville, Missouri, who are raped by older boys from the town.   Here's the description on the film's website:

"Audrie and Daisy" is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), "Audrie and Daisy"— which made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival — takes a hard look at American’s teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control.
Having just viewed the documentary, I would say that the film is less about the video (which apparently is never recovered by law enforcement, but only rumored) and the power of social media and more about the sexual assaults themselves.  It is also, critically, about how local, nonmetropolitan law enforcement and prosecutors (mis) handle the case.  Among the apparent reasons for that mishandling:  Not just patriarchy in a raw rural form, but the different social status of the victims' families compared to that of the accused young men, who are also athletes.  The film also depicts the intervention of Anonymous, which seeks to compel local prosecutors to pursue the case more vigorously.

I'm not sure what conclusions we can fairly draw from these three stories except that rural places seem to be less hospitable than urban ones--at least by some measures--for teenage girls.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The rural vote in the 2016 US Presidential election

Diamond Springs (El Dorado Co.), California, exurban Sacramento Nov. 2016
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt
After a seven-week hiatus from the blog, I'm depressed to be returning with this topic:  How rural America veered even more sharply Republican in 2016 than in recent past presidential elections.  Indeed, to be more blunt, I'm writing about how much of rural "white" America helped make Donald Trump president-elect.  It's been nearly a week since the election, and here's what the pundits and analysts are telling us about the rural vote.

Let me start with the Daily Yonder, which by Thursday had posted this.  The take away from Bill Bishop and Tim Marema's piece:
Donald Trump won the presidency with a surge of votes from rural counties, small towns, and medium sized cities. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s vote outside the nation’s largest metropolitan areas dropped precipitously from Democratic returns in 2012.
The data graphs accompanying the story indicate that Obama got 37.7% of rural voters in 2012, while Clinton got just 29.4% in 2016.  As for micropolitan areas (small cities), Obama got 40.5% to Hillary's 33%.
Democrats saw big declines in their percentage of the vote outside the cities. (See chart.) Republican Trump, meanwhile, had a nearly 7.3 million vote deficit in metropolitan areas almost erased by totals in rural counties and counties with towns under 50,000 people.
The Yonder story quotes Prof. James Gimpel, a political scientist at the University of Maryland:
From a geographic standpoint, the Trump-Clinton contest was more polarizing than Romney-Obama, with bigger gaps separating the most urban from the most rural locations.  
Interestingly, some of the earliest analysis of the rural vote and its import for the 2016 presidential race came out of Australia.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Catherine Hanrahan focused on three Rust Belt states where Trump garnered relatively narrow victories:  Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Hillary Clinton's losses there--by a total of just about 110,000 votes--were fatal to her bid for the presidency.  The story was similar in all three states.  Clinton won the big cities, and Trump carried small cities and rural areas.  Here's what Hanrahan wrote about Pennsylvania, which mirrors what she wrote about the other states; only the numbers were different.
Once again, Mrs Clinton easily outpolled Mr Trump in the cities, by more than 215,000 votes. 
But in the regional towns and cities away from the metropolitan areas, Mr Trump polled around 270,000 more votes than his opponent, enough to secure victory. 
The extra 3,000 votes he polled from country voters only extended his lead in the State.
One widely-read story about the "why" of all this is the Jeff Guo (Washington Post) interview with University of Wisconsin political scientist, Kathy Cramer, who earlier this year published The Politics of Resentment:  Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.  Cramer explains that rural voters are alienated from urban populations.  A particular aspect of this resentment is against highly educated elites, perceived by rural voters as know-it-alls who want to dictate to rural folks how to live.  Here are some of the key observations:  
[Cramer] shows how politics have increasingly become a matter of personal identity. Just about all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved.
Cramer argues that this “rural consciousness” is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects. For instance, she says, most rural Wisconsinites supported the tea party's quest to shrink government not out of any belief in the virtues of small government but because they did not trust the government to help “people like them.”
She continues:
Listening in on these conversations, it is hard to conclude that the people I studied believe what they do because they have been hoodwinked. Their views are rooted in identities and values, as well as in economic perceptions; and these things are all intertwined.
The New York Times Upshot also focused on the Midwest, noting that counties that swing most dramatically toward Donald Trump--by 15 points or more between 2012 and 2016--were in that region.  Emily Badger, Quoctrung Bui, and Adam Pearce write:
That abrupt shift was probably driven by numerous factors that are hard to untangle: weak economic prospects; Mrs. Clinton’s lack of attention to those places on the campaign trail; Mr. Trump’s xenophobic message to voters anxious about change.
But the widening political divergence between cities and small-town America also reflects a growing alienation between the two groups, and a sense — perhaps accurate — that their fates are not connected.
As the authors of the Upshot piece note, most of the change occurred outside major metropolitan areas, with more than 1800 counties moving at least 15 points away from Clinton, while only 15 counties "tilted by more than five percentage points" in her favor, compared to 2012.

The Economist got in on the analysis action with this short piece, "A Country Divided by Counties".   It concludes with this sober thought:
American politics appear to be realigning along a cleavage between inward-looking countryfolk and urban globalists. Mr Trump hails from the latter group, but his message resounded with the former. A uniquely divisive candidate, he is both perhaps the least likely politician in the country to build bridges across that gap and also the only one who has the capacity to do so.
Just thinking of the British perspective on the election is a reminder of Brexit and the rural-urban divide on that vote.  Read more here.

The New York Review of Books did a lengthy post-mortem on the election over the week-end, and it included some rural-urban analysis.  In particular, the piece by Elizabeth Drew includes references to David Wasserman's Cracker Barrel index.  That is, Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, uses counties that have a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (n=493) as a proxy for the rural vote and those with Whole Food stores (n=184) as proxies for the urban vote.
 In 2012 Obama carried 75 percent of the counties that had a Whole Foods and 29 percent of the counties with a Cracker Barrel. But that spread was exceeded this year—in the other direction—with Trump winning 76 percent of counties with Cracker Barrel stores and just 22 percent of counties with Whole Foods.
Drew also quotes J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy and a widely quoted pundit on the white working class during this election season.  Vance weighs in on the cultural issues, some of which align along the rural-urban axis:
People who are drawn to Trump are drawn to him because he’s a little outrageous, he’s a little relatable, and fundamentally he is angry and spiteful and critical of the things that people feel anger and spite toward. ... It’s people who are perceived to be powerful. It’s the Hillary Clintons of the world, the Barack Obamas of the world, the Wall Street executives of the world. There just isn’t anyone out there who will talk about the system like it’s completely rigged like Donald Trump does. It’s certainly not something you’re going to hear from Hillary Clinton.
Note the similarities to Cramer's thesis.  Anger is central.  Differences in education matter--as does the perceived elitism--the disdain for rural and working class folk--of the narrating classes.  (I wrote about these issues, too, in my 2011 post-mortem on the 2008 election, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars). There I documented media depictions of rural people and places in the 2008 election cycle.  I also suggested that rurality has become a feature of identity for rural dwellers--a notion Kathy Cramer's work also confirms.

Of course, the rural-urban divide was played up explicitly and dramatically in the 2008 election cycle because Sarah Palin took up the mantle of Main Street and foisted that of Wall Street onto uber urban Obama.  The rural-urban divide wasn't so prominent in the 2016 election cycle rhetoric, but clearly the undercurrent of difference--and rural discontent--is alive and well.

One of the best pieces I read on the rural-urban divide in the United States before last week's vote was this one, by Colorado Public Radio, which I blogged about here.  It compared rural Rocky Ford with metropolitan Denver.

Meanwhile, back in California, I note that while Hillary Clinton carried the state handily, she lost in a number of nonmetropolitan counties, including those associated with the State of Jefferson in the far northern reaches.  (Read earlier blog posts about the State of Jefferson here and here).  The only coastal county that Trump carried was Del Norte, on the Oregon border, but he also prevailed by large margins in Siskiyou, Trinity, Modoc, Shasta, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Amador, Calaveras, Tehama, Yuba, Glenn, Colusa, Sutter, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Kings and Inyo counties.  Trump also carried several largish metropolitan counties:  El Dorado, Placer, Kern, Stanislaus, and Butte. Defying the clustering, Mono and Alpine counties--with their tiny Sierra-Nevada populations--went for Hillary Clinton.

Shifting away from the self-declared focus on rural and low-income folks for a moment, it is also telling that Trump carried Placer County--an affluent urban/exurban county north and northeast of Sacramento.  Levels of education and income are high in the Roseville and Rocklin areas.  So, much as a great deal of news analysis is of the enigmatic rural and working class voters, exit polls (usual caveats apply) indicate that the income bracket from which Trump drew the greatest level of support was $50K-$99K.  For those in income brackets above $99K, Trump beat Hillary in every income bracket with far greater margins than he enjoyed from those in income brackets below $50K.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rural women in India pursuing urban dreams

Ellen Barry reported yesterday in the New York Times on a specific type of rural-to-urban migration in India--that of young women moving to mega cities for jobs in manufacturing.  In doing so, they move away from village life, which is very protective of young women and girls.

Here's an excerpt from this beautifully written feature, which begins with the girls entering a factory floor where garments are being sewn for Marks & Spencer:
The new girls smell of the village. ... The tailors glance up for only a moment, long enough to take in an experiment. The new workers — teenagers, most of them — have been recruited from remote villages to help factories like this one meet the global demand for cheap garments. But there is also social engineering going on.
Barry goes on to explain the motivation behind that social engineering:  India's gross domestic product would increase 27% if female employment were on par with male employment.  According to a 2012 survey, 205 million Indian women aged 15-16 "attend[] to domestic work."   Economists say that will have to change if India is to realize its potential.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Penthouse Populist" in U.S. News & World Report re Trump's appeal to the rural poor

Joe Williams reports this week in U.S. News & World Report under the headline, "Penthouse Populist:  Why the rural poor love Donald Trump."  Williams explores and tries to explain why the rural poor are attracted to Trump--or, just as tellingly or saliently--why they do not care for Hillary Clinton:
Drive an hour or two outside of any major U.S. city, however – Washington, D.C., for example – and campaign signs for Trump dominate the countryside: nestled in soybean fields and thick woods; beside two-lane highways and shotgun houses.

Support for Clinton is hard to find, if it exists at all.

"I guess I want to say it's not terribly surprising," says Lisa Pruitt, a faculty member at the Center for Poverty Research at the University California-Davis. "I would say it's not terribly unusual."

That's because, despite a strong grasp on rural poverty issues and more than a decade in the Ozarks, Clinton is an intellectual Democratic politician – anathema to God-fearing, gun-loving people in places like the Central Plains or down-east Maine. Voters in the American hinterlands don't much like where her party stands on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, civil rights and abortion, and believe she's among the political elites who constantly look down on them.
Interestingly, just as Williams is pondering this question for U.S. News, I see that Arlie Hochschild has just published a book called Strangers in Their Own Land:  Anger and Mourning on the American Right.   This title is telling because it suggests--perhaps accurately--that the conservative Tea Party types Hochschild went to Louisiana to interview--and whose lives and opinions are the core of the book--have become the "strangers" in the United States, that they are no longer the default norm they were once seen as being.   More on Hochschild's book another day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

More agricultural crime, this time in the pot biz

Two recent stories, one a feature and one breaking news, have highlighted the problem of human trafficking, sexual assault, and other ways workers in California's pot industry are abused.  The first is  Shoshana Walter's piece in Reveal, "In Secretive Marijuana Industry, Whispers of Abuse and Trafficking."  Walter writes from the Emerald Triangle of northern California, which generally refers to chunks of Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake and Trinity counties--a region where the pot industry has flourished, even before partial legalization (for medial purposes) in California.  (My students have written about the Emerald Triangle and the pot biz in No. Cal. on this blog here and here, and I wrote about it here.)  Here's a taste of Walter's story, which is nothing short of harrowing:
[T]he ancient forests here have provided cover for the nation’s largest marijuana-growing industry, shielding pot farmers from convention, outsiders and law enforcement. 
But the forests also hide secrets, among them young women with stories of sexual abuse and exploitation. Some have spoken out; a handful have pressed charges. Most have confided only in private. 
Students from the nearest college, Humboldt State University, return from a summer of trimming marijuana buds with tales of being forced to give their boss a blow job to get paid. Other “trimmigrants,” who typically work during the June-to-November harvest, recount offers of higher wages to trim topless.
During one harvest season, two growers began having sex with their teenage trimmer. When they feared she would run away, they locked her inside an oversized toolbox with breathing holes. 
Contact with law enforcement is rare and, female trimmigrants say, rarely satisfying.
As you can see, the story includes a good dose of how rural socio-spatiality conceals crime (among other things) and impedes law enforcement, which was the topic of my scholarly offering here.  Interestingly, in writing that piece, I got a great deal of push back about, well, how wrong I was.  Two arguments were common.  The first was, essentially, that everyone knows rural people are more law abiding than urban people, so why am I talking about rural crime and law enforcement.  The second--more apropos here--was that technological advancements will ultimately overcome rurality's spatial barriers, diminishing any rural-urban difference in this regard.  Reading stories like this one makes me want to say, "told you so"--though let me be clear that the consequences of these failures of law and law enforcement are not just fodder for academic debate.  These failures have devastating consequences for these especially vulnerable victims.

Just as I was fully digesting this feature, the Sacramento Bee and Capital Public Radio covered a story out of Calaveras County yesterday--breaking news about the arrest of two women who had kidnapped and abused four men in their pot operation.   Interesting that the gender tables were turned in this case (though the women reportedly worked with armed male guards to keep the victims captive). Again, the term "human trafficking" is being used in relation to these events.  The Bee's coverage is here, and Capital Public Radio's is here.

Finally, here is another recent story, this one from upstate New York, that illustrates well how rural spatiality can conceal crime and those on the lam, thus disabling the ordering force of law and undermining the rule of law.  I wrote about these events previously here.

And then there is this one out of central Minnesota.  Rural spatiality (and rural law enforcement) may have played a role here, too, just thinking about the ditch the boys were thrown into and the pit where Jacob Wetterling was attacked and initially buried.

Monday, September 19, 2016

How rural America fared economically in 2015

A few days ago, media were abuzz with the good news of the 2015 economic data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13.  In short, the United States saw one of the steepest ever one-year drops in the U.S. poverty rates. The new data indicated that more low- and middle-income folks were seeing wage rises.  Read more here.

Yet initial reports indicated that the recovery was uneven:  while incomes in metropolitan areas grew 6%, those in nonmetro areas fell 2%.

One follow-up story that illustrated this unevenness, was by Binyamin Appelbaum, Patricia Cohen and Jack Healy in the NY Times under the headline "A Rebounding Economy Remains Fragile for Many."  Among others, they quote Ralph Kingan, mayor of Wright, Wyoming, in the state's coal-rich Powder River Basin:
We ain’t feeling too much of all that economic growth that I heard was going on, patting themselves on the back. It ain’t out in the West.
Coal mines there have laid off many workers in the wake of bankruptcies.  The story features rich vignettes and quotes out of Kentucky, too, linking the economic conditions these places to the current presidential campaign.

Shortly after these reports, however, the New York Times Upshot ran this headline on September 16, "Actually, Income in Rural America is Growing, Too."  In it, Quoctrung Bui explains that a change in the definition of "rural" accounts for the initial confusion over how folks in the hinterlands fared.  I would include an excerpt, but the explanation is not amenable to brevity, so you'll have to read Bui's story for yourself.  Bottom line:  "Median household incomes in rural America actually grew 3.4 percent in 2015."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On organized crime as agricultural crime in Italy

NPR ran this story yesterday by Christopher Livesay, headlined, "'Tough Guy' Farmers Stand Up to Italian Mafia--and Win."  The story features GOEL Bio, a consortium of organic farmers who work together to respond to agricultural crime by the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta.  GOEL Bio does so by pitching in to help the victim.  Livesay features recent "victim" Daniele Pacicca, a farmer of organic olives in Stilo.
[Pacicca's] 1,200 trees are his livelihood. One morning this summer, he was shocked to find 13 of them had been hacked to the ground. 
"It was like a kick in the stomach," he says. "Look at them. I don't think it was an accident that they chose the most visible ones, closest to the road. Maybe someone was trying to teach me a lesson." 
Pacicca is pretty sure who that was: the 'Ndrangheta, the region's organized crime group. Typically when they attack a farmer, they'll do it again and again, until the farmer pays protection money and vows loyalty. 
But that's not what Pacicca did. 
"We cried out: Enough! This can't go on any longer with this mafia system," he says. "That's the idea behind GOEL."
* * *  
"They chopped down 13 trees, so we planted twice as many, 26," says Vincenzo Linarello, the founder of GOEL Bio. "The idea is to send a message right away that they can't stop us. And we'll get up stronger every time they strike. They work by sending signals. So we need to send a signal."
Another Italian agriculture story, this one in the New York Times about saving heirloom fruit trees, is here.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

On being a public defender in rural Louisiana

Here's a story in The Guardian today, about the sole public defender, Rhonda Covington, who serves  East and West Feliciana parishes in rural Louisiana.  Eli Hager reports:
At any given moment, she could be investigating cases, calling witnesses, scouring through evidence, taking photos at crime scenes (with her own camera), meeting with her clients’ families, writing motions, typing up pleadings, making appointments, answering the phones, answering the door, getting the mail at the post office, filling in timesheets, filing monthly reports, doing the accounting, paying the rent and utilities, cleaning the bathroom, dusting the furniture, sweeping and mopping the floors, taking out the trash, trimming the bushes, unclogging the plumbing, buying the toilet paper, or meeting with everyone arrested in a thousand-square-mile area just north of Baton Rouge, within 72 hours of their arrest.
East Feliciana Parish, population 20,267, with a poverty rate 20.4%, is 44% black.  West Feliciana Parish, population 15,625 with a poverty rate of 24%, is 45% black.  Both border the State of Mississippi and are part of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Statistical Area.

This story is well worth a read in its entirety.  My analysis of spatial inequality with regard to delivery of indigent defense, with a focus on nonmetropolitan places, is here.