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 ....