Friday, November 30, 2018

Rural Criminal Justice Summit at SMU's Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center

Visual notetaking at Summit by Michael Lagocki (White Board No. 1)
We're winding down Day 2 of this pathbreaking summit at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law.  This event, organized by SMU's Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center, is turning a rural lens on criminal justice reform.  I going to take this opportunity to bullet point some of the issues we've discussed:
  • defining rurality and rurality as a continuum, from exurbia (e.g., Williamson County, Texas) to remote (where you can walk all day and not see another person, e.g., parts of California, Idaho, Montana)
  • county size--typically larger in the west, which can present additional challenges when the county is responsible for service provision; 
  • ditto state size, e.g., Montana is the fourth largest state in land area; Arizona is the sixth largest
  • pretrial detention and appearances, including whether represented by counsel 
    • Texas has three counties that provide representation at first appearance; soon they will have five 
    • Montana is interested in "tele-representation" of clients at first appearance, in part to deal with conflicts of interest 
  • lack of services, including social services, mental health services, drug treatment and many others.  (And, as I sat at the summit, a student emailed me this story about mental health services being provided at a Walmart in Carrollton, Texas, through a contract between Walmart and Boston-based Beacon Health Options, a behavioral health services company.  With a population of 131,000, Carrollton is hardly rural, and it is part of the Dallas-Forth Worth Metro area).
  • lack of justice system resources, including adequately resourced and staffed public defender offices and contract defenders.  (The study Beth Colgan and I did of Arizona's delivery of indigent defense is here).  
  • the challenge of material distance and lack of public transportation, a recurring theme
  • conflicts of interest, including lawyers "wearing multiple hats," e.g., part-time/contract public defenders who may be prosecutors in neighboring counties and judges in still others.  
  • multiplex relationships within the legal community and within the wider social community/environment, e..g, the prosecutor as basketball coach of the team on which the judge's daughter plays; the parent of the teen who has just been arrested for minor in possession as the high school classmate of the prosecuting attorney.   
  • rural homelessness and the rural housing shortage as just one barrier to successful re-entry.
  • the rural jail expansion boom (documented so well by the Vera Institute; see links below)  
  • the pros and cons of lack of anonymity and multi-plex relationships in rural communities, including the "usual suspects" phenomenon.  
I think I've talked about all of these issues at one time or another (typically multiple times) on this blog.  

Some startling data points that I've heard at this summit, not all related to rurality:
  • one in four jail admissions is a woman 
    • Oklahoma is the state with the highest rate of female incarceration, per capita
    • By sheer number, more women are incarcerated in Texas than in any other state, and 81% of the women in Texas prisons are mothers.  
  • USDA rural development grants are being used to build rural jails 
  • "tying the jail to community values" is in the playbook of architects who specialize in building jails; these architectural firms advise counties on how to secure funding for jail expansion or construction; such "values" can include community safety.  
  • building jails is pitched as creating "good, clean jobs"--to contrast them with extraction industry jobs that have disappeared in recent years, often devastating rural economies.  
Don't miss the Vera Institute's work on rural jails and other rural criminal justice issues.  A smattering of those are here.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Farm bankruptcies rise in upper midwest

Madisonburg, Pennsylvania (Centre County)  
Owen Daugherty reports for The Hill, "Farm Bankruptcies on the rise according to new Fed Report."  Here's the lede:
At least 84 farms filed for bankruptcy from June 2017 to June 2018 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, and North and South Dakota, according to analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. 
The report released earlier this month shows that over the same time period in 2014, 32 farms filed for bankruptcy.

The numbers have increased steadily since then, with 46 bankruptcies reported in 2015, 60 bankruptcies reported in 2016 and 67 reported in 2017.

In 2010, 70 bankruptcies were reported in the five states, but that was following the financial collapse of 2008–2009 and a brutal recession.
Here's the lede from the FedGazette's report.  
It’s no longer a news story that crop and livestock prices are depressed, given their current multiyear persistence. Feedback from farmers, agricultural lenders, suppliers, and other interests in the ag sector, gathered informally by the Minneapolis Fed over the past year or so in meetings and other venues, has suggested that farm balance sheets are increasingly stressed. 
And that nagging economic strain of low commodity prices on farmers and ranchers—compounded for some by recent tariffs—is starting to show up not just in bottom-line profitability, but in simple viability.
The related phenomenon of farmer mental health is here.  A related story about farmers' increasing financial plight is here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On election outcomes and population density (with a bit of attention to race)

Both the New York Times and National Public Radio are reporting today on the impact of suburban voters in recent elections.  In short, suburban voters are moving to the left, but their positions are often contradictory, and recent shifts are certainly no guarantee suburban voters will stay left.  The primary axis of analysis for these stories is population density, though the NYTimes pieces attends to race secondarily.

The New York Times Upshot feature leads with the big news out of Orange County in the 2018 mid-term elections:  no part of the county will be represented by a Republican congressperson in the coming session, and it's the first time that's happened since 1940.

The NYTimes quotes Lily Geismer, a historian at Claremont McKenna College in California:
There is this idea that if all these suburban areas are blue, that will mean they’re automatically more progressive.
Geismer suggests that phenomenon is "an indication of something more progressive, she said, but underneath are “still commitments to a lot of kinds of inequality.”  The story provides these specific examples: 
[F]urther down the ballot in Orange County, voters also considered several propositions meant to ease the state’s housing crisis. Orange County voters opposed a bond to fund housing assistance programs, which passed statewide. And they rejected a rent-control measure by a wider margin than the rest of the state (the measure failed).
Thus, the New York Times concludes, "Newly Democratic Orange County is not exactly on its way to becoming liberal San Francisco."
[Geismer's] research on suburban Democrats identified many who supported liberal agendas in Washington while opposing affordable housing or school desegregation in their own communities. That dissonance reflects the particular politics of many suburban communities — politics that have made them a national battleground.
This reminds me of Edsall's piece, "The Democrats' Gentrification Problem" and David Brooks' recent piece, "The Rich White Civil War.

The NPR story breaks things down region by region, focuses on suburban seats that flipped across the nation, including suburbs of Atlanta, Memphis, Denver, Oklahoma City, Minneapolis, Chicago, Rochester, Jacksonville, San Bernardino County, Austin and Houston, among others.  Both stories feature some cool maps/infographics, and those are well worth a look.  The New York Times infographic breaks the analysis into six categories of places (as designated by CityLab) based on population density:  rural, rural-suburban, sparse suburban, dense suburban, urban-suburban, and urban.  The Times observes:   
After this election, there are no truly urban congressional districts represented by Republicans in Congress. The last and only one to flip was New York’s 11th, covering Staten Island and part of southern Brooklyn. Florida’s 25th, west of Miami, is the densest Republican district left.
And rural areas, the Times concludes, are now reliably Republican.  As for me, I'm still not sure why that is so--is it stasis and tradition? economic threat?   The story says rural voters focus on "individualism and limited government," which is certainly the stereotype.

The New York Times story mentions race only a few times--specifically, whiteness:
... changing nature of the suburbs and the changing preferences of white college-educated voters there who are repelled by the president.
... many highly educated, white suburban voters disagree with the Republican Party than the economic issues on which they’re better aligned.
The last paragraph of the story mentions "rural communities and white working-class voters" as similar, if not synonymous.

The story references minorities--presumably racial/ethnic minorities--twice:
.... as long as Republicans continue to seem uninterested in courting minorities...
and observing that well-off suburban voters' economic interests
simply aren’t aligned with poorer, minority Democratic voters who want more affordable housing, integrated schools or services funded by higher taxes. 
A NYTimes story about the health (or lack thereof) of the Democratic party in the American Midwest is here.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.  

Monday, November 26, 2018

A thriving local newspaper in the acutely remote West

NPR ran a feature this morning on The Malheur Enterprise, a (now) highly successful local, weekly newspaper based in Malheur County, Oregon, right on the Idaho state line.  If the proper name "Malheur" rings a bell, it may be because that's also the name of the national wildlife refuge that the Bundy brothers and co. seized in January, 2016.  Read posts about that incident here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, and here.  One of those posts mentions Les Zaitz, a rancher from eastern Oregon who also wrote a column for the statewide paper, The Oregonian, and has twice been a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.  Turns out, it is Zaitz and his family who bought The Malheur Enterprise in 2015, and they have quickly revamped and revitalized what was a dying paper.   NPR's Tom Goldman describes the Enterprise in its prior incarnation as almost out of business, filed with press releases and doing a good job of covering only one subject:  local high school sports.  Zaitz explains:
It had not had an ad sales person in ten years. It took only what business came in the front door.  There was just no doubt in my mind that if we turned around the news product, and got a sales person in, we could make the thing profitable pretty quick.
In fact, Since Zaitz took over the paper, its circulation has "surged," and it has "won several national awards."  Goldman continues under the headline, "Revenue has tripled":
"Boomed" is a relative term when it comes to a rural weekly. Paid subscriptions are at about 2,000. But during a recent week, more than a third of Malheur County's roughly 30,000 residents read the paper's online edition. And advertising dollars, the lifeblood of a small newspaper, are way up.
Those 2,000 subscribers number about the same as the residents of the county seat, Vale, where the paper is based.  Goldman again quotes Zaitz: 
Our overall revenue is more than triple what it was three years ago.  Circulation is probably double. We're profitable and there are not a lot of papers in the United States that can say they're profitable.
Another cute aspect of the story is the focus on the 74-year-old woman who delivers it from her white pick up truck, logging more than a 100 miles each Wednesday as she traverses Oregon's second largest county. 

As it happens, I was on a small team of folks who tried to get Les Zaitz to Portland this past summer for a panel on the Malheur seizure at the Rural Sociological Society's Annual Meeting.  His email response said:
Your invitation is very kind but I won't be available those dates. Just so you know, my day office is about 350 miles from Portland these days.
I got a kick out of his focus on distance--as if we non Oregonians would have no clue as to just how big Oregon is and just how far his home in the southeastern reaches of the state is from the better known (and hipster) Portland. 

The story about the Malheur Enterprise reminds me of my earlier musings on the success of Iowa's Storm Lake Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing a few years ago.  That Pulitzer prize led to publisher Art Cullen's writing of his first book, Storm Lake, which I began reading a few weeks ago.  It's essentially a social, cultural and family history of northwest Iowa. 

I'm also reminded of David Leonhardt's column in the New York Times a few days ago urging everyone to subscribe to--and thereby support--a local newspaper.  Democracy cannot survive without it.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

On rural whites, in the context of Mississippi politics

The race to fill a U.S. Senate seat from Mississippi has been drawing lots of media attention, in part because it pits a white Republican woman, Cindy Hyde-Smith, against an African-American man, Mike Espy.  The other reason the race is attracting attention is that Cindy Hyde Smith has been--depending on your perspective--either dog-whistling or flat out race-baiting, as she has made comments about, for example, wanting a front-row seat if invited to a public hanging by one of her donors.  To that, Espy, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton, said the comment was "awful" and called it "tone deaf," though he did not square respond when questioned whether it was racist.  Both Walmart Corporation and Major League Baseball asked Hyde-Smith to return their campaign donations following that episode.  Hyde-Smith has also been recorded making comments about the desirability of suppressing the vote among liberal-leaning college students.  A few days ago, media outlets like USA Today began pointing out that Hyde-Smith attended high school at a "segregation academy," a private school set up to cater to wealthy whites (and even less wealthy ones) lest they be compelled to attend integrated public high schools.  Phil McCausland, reporting for NBC news, explains:
About 200,000 students moved to private schools between the 1960s and 1980s immediately after a series of Supreme Court decisions that began with that 1954 case. Two-thirds of those students came from six states: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, according to the Southern Education Foundation.
Personally, I blame Hyde-Smith much more for what she has said recently, as an adult, than for the decision her parents made to send her to a segregation academy.  The sins of the parents should not be visited on their children.  That said, her education in such a setting might explain her current views, and her lack of sensitization to issues regarding race and the ugly racial history of the South.   Further, a well-educated woman like Hyde-Smith should have caught up on a more accurate version of U.S. history by now.

The New York Times reported yesterday on this Mississippi race, and I thought some of the observations there were especially interesting regarding the views of "rural whites," a term that is sometimes a proxy for working-class whites.  The headline for Jonathan Martin's story is, "Across South, Democrats Who Speak Boldly Risk Alienating Rural White Voters" and here's part of the lede focusing on Espy's apparent effort not to alienate "rural white" voters:
When Mike Espy ... faced his opponent at a debate ahead of this Tuesday’s runoff election, he had to make a choice: confront Ms. Hyde-Smith over her comments about attending “a public hanging,” which evoked the state’s racist history, or take a milder approach to avoid alienating the conservative-leaning white voters who will most likely decide the election. 
He chose the latter. 
“The world knows what she said, the world knows that those comments were harmful and hurtful,” Mr. Espy said afterward, sounding not entirely convinced.
In a state where politics has long been cleaved by race, Mr. Espy was reckoning with a conundrum that Democrats face across the South — from Mississippi and Alabama, which have been hostile to the party for years, to states like Florida and Georgia that are more hospitable in cities but still challenging in many predominantly white areas. Even as they made gains in the 2018 elections in the suburbs that were once Republican pillars, Democrats are seeing their already weak standing in rural America erode even further.
Comparing Espy's situation to those of Stacy Abrams (Georgia), Andrew Gillum (Florida) and Beto O'Rourke,  Martin notes that "in rural county after rural county, this trio of next-generation Democrats performed worse than President Barack Obama did in 2012."  The Democrats also lost Senate seats and governor's race outside the South, in places like Iowa and Ohio "with more conventional candidates whose strength in cities and upper-income suburbs was not enough to overcome their deficits in less densely populated areas."

The story quotes Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic strategist, saying something I keep hearing in the wake of the mid-term elections:  Democrats don't have to "win" the white working class--they just need to lose them by a smaller margin than they did in 2016 and 2018:
There’s a baseline percent of the white vote you have to get to win and you can’t get to it just through young and progressive excitement. The path from 48 to 50 is like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.
How do you do that?  Some suggest you have to avoid making white people uncomfortable, and when there's too much focus on race and racism, "rural" whites are put off.  (What are the salient characteristics of "rural" here?  low-education?  traditional?  static?  insular?)   Is it guilt that causes them to be put off?  or "white fragility"?  Espy's avoidance of calling out Hyde-Smith's comments as "racist" seems consistent with this need to coddle whites--not to remind them of this nation's horrific racist past and the legacy of that history.  An anecdote illustrating that can be found here, from this Washington Post story about evangelical Christians in Alabama.  One feared "the racial divide" was getting worse. 
The evidence was all the black people protesting about the police, and all the talk about the legacy of slavery, which Sheila never believed was as bad as people said it was. “Slaves were valued,” she said. “They got housing. They got fed. They got medical care.”  [See related stories regarding how we teach slavery herehere and here]  
She was suspicious of what she saw as the constant agitation of blacks against whites, the taking down of Confederate memorials and the raising of others, such as the new memorial to the victims of lynching, just up the highway in Montgomery. 
“I think they are promoting violence,” Sheila said, thinking about the 800 weathered, steel monoliths hanging from a roof to evoke the lynchings, one for each American county where the violence was carried out, including Crenshaw County, where a man named Jesse Thornton was lynched in 1940 in downtown Luverne. 
“How do you think a young black man would feel looking at that?” Linda asked. “Wouldn’t you feel a sickness in your stomach?” 
“I think it would only make you have more violent feelings — feelings of revenge,” said Sheila. 
It reminded her of a time when she was a girl in Montgomery, when the now-famous civil rights march from Selma was heading to town and her parents, fearing violence, had sent her to the country to stay with relatives. 
“It’s almost like we’re going to live that Rosa Parks time again,” she said, referring to the civil rights activist. “It was just a scary time, having lived through it.”
This also reminds me of a topic I've been preoccupied with in recent years, especially since the election of 2016:  the divide between the chattering classes' understanding of racism (which is very broad) and the much narrower definition of racism associated with less educated folks.  I wrote about it some here.  How are we going to bridge this gap and get white people to be more comfortable with --or at least more willing--to see how they have been beneficiaries of a racist past and that they have a responsibility to denounce that history and take the nation clearly in a different direction.  Surely it's going to include better educating our students (I'm talking public primary and secondary education) about slavery and its aftermath, something our nation has not done effectively.  Read more here and here.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

More evidence that rural communities don't have the infrastructure to deal with natural disasters, including providing warnings

When the fires in Sonoma and Mendocino counties in California broke out last fall, media coverage eventually revealed that the warnings systems in the rural reaches of this region had not gotten notice of the fire to many residents.  The Los Angeles Times provided excellent coverage then, as in a story by Joe Mozingo, which was the focus of this blog post.  Now, the New York Times is offering similar revelations about the Camp Fire in Butte County.  Simon Romero, Tim Arango and Thomas Fuller report under the headline, "A Frantic Call, a Neighbor's Knock, but Few Official Alerts as Wildfire Closed In.
In the frenzied first hours of the Camp Fire, which reduced Paradise to ashes and is the deadliest wildfire in modern California history, only a fraction of people living near the fire received alerts or evacuation orders from local authorities.
* * * 
In the weeks and months ahead, officials across the state will grapple with the question of whether more people could have been alerted sooner, perhaps saving more lives.
Many of those who barely made it to safety already have their answer. 
“They totally dropped the ball on this,” [Matthew] White [who was awakened the morning of the fire by a friend's call to his cell phone] said, of the authorities. “Look, all these people dead, all these people missing. It’s like they decided to forget about us. Like we weren’t worth saving.” 
The decision to issue alerts and evacuation orders rests with local authorities, and as the Camp Fire began on Nov. 8, the Butte County Sheriff’s Department decided to use what experts say is an outdated system — called Code Red — to notify residents of danger with a phone call. 
But only residents who sign up for the service receive alerts — and only a fraction of them had. The decision not to issue an Amber Alert-style message, a federal government system that could reach all cellular phones in the area, was partly out of fear of causing panic and traffic jams on the one main roadway out of Paradise, according to Kory L. Honea, the Butte County sheriff.
Read more about the Camp Fire and its aftermath here and here.

Monday, November 19, 2018

On amazon's HQ2 and the coastal-flyover (aka rural-urban) divide (or, on Not Thinking Outside the Urban Box)

James Stewart wrote a few days ago in the New York Times under the headline, "Why Amazon Chose the Wrong Location for its HQ2."  The gist of his story is that Amazon, in choosing Crystal City, Virginia and Long Island City/Queens, New York to share its headquarters with Seattle, missed out on an opportunity to help bridge the rural-urban--or perhaps more precisely, the coastal-flyover divide.  Stewart writes:
For all the transformative potential of Amazon’s nationwide “HQ2” competition, neither New York City nor Washington (nor, to be precise, the Northern Virginia neighborhoods that are being rechristened National Landing) needed Amazon. They’re already thriving and bustling with affluent, well-educated millennials.
Stewart quotes Tom Stringer, head of site selection for the business consulting firm BDO, for the proposition that Amazon’s choice only reaffirms and cements the idea that we have two countries right now, the coasts and the interior.
There are smaller cities in this country that are incredible places to live. They’re great places to raise families, they’re affordable, and they’re fun.
Stewart continues:
In its initial request for proposals, Amazon emphasized many of those qualities, ranking costs second on its list of priorities. That led pundits to eliminate New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, all of them among the most expensive places to live or do business, according to KPMG’s annual Competitive Alternatives survey.
Indeed, among the cities on the finalist list were Nashville (which got a distribution center out of this bidding process), Indianapolis, and Columbus, Ohio.  Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland didn't even make the finals list.

Of course, Indianapolis, Columbus and Nashville are are major metropolitan areas--hardly rural.  But Stewart suggests they represent rural values--or at least heartland ones--more than NYC and northern Virginia/DC metro.

Stewart closes with this somewhat hopeful note about what creativity--iconoclasm--really means, suggesting that it is not just following the herd to where the current hipster human capital clusters are:
And who knows: The truly creative may want to break from the herd and do something original — like moving to St. Louis.
And that is nice segue to this NYTimes Upshot story today, which leads with a reference to Tulsa, OK, at least as a caption for its feature photo.  Here's a quick excerpt from Neil Irwin's Upshot piece, an excerpt that actually uses the word "rural" (something I think Stewart's piece did not do).
[W]e’re living in a world where a small number of superstar companies choose to locate in a handful of superstar cities where they have the best chance of recruiting superstar employees. 
But what’s the economic future for a Hartford or Akron or Tulsa or the countless smaller towns and rural areas that didn’t get so much as a serious look from Amazon?
Irwin then goes on to feature some of the strategies of smaller cities, like the offer by Tulsa's Kaiser Foundation to pay full-time telecommuters $10K to do so from Tulsa.

Irwin also talks to three Brookings Institute Scholars, Clara Hendrickson, Mark Muro and Bill Galston, who analyze what regions and places apart in the race for better economic opportunities.
Parts of rural America lack fast broadband internet, a big disadvantage that the authors want to see addressed. They urge heavy federal investment in 10 or so “growth pole” midsize cities that are close to struggling smaller towns and can serve as economic drivers. 
And finally, [Hendrickson, Muro and Galston] suggest more federal support for people who want to move to greater economic opportunity — a countermeasure for one of the more surprising trends of the last generation, a decline in Americans’ mobility in pursuit of better jobs.
Irwin then quotes Hendrickson: 
What’s increasingly clear after the 2016 election is that the forces that have been really good for the economy in the aggregate, like globalization and technological change, create local shocks that are extremely powerful.
Another piece on how Amazon's HQ2 decision overlooks middle America is here, from Molly G. Martin on New America.  She writes, having documented how many engineering grads are coming out of heartland universities like the University of Wisconsin, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, and Purdue University:
In a way, Amazon’s missed opportunity isn’t about Indianapolis, not really. This is a city that routinely, and often successfully, punches above its weight. And it can roll with the punches it doesn’t land. This missed opportunity, rather, is more about what it reveals about some of the most powerful and influential businesses: businesses that wring their hands over not being able to find the workers they need fast enough, that worry aloud about what to do about their lily-white, male-dominated workforces, that wonder curiously about “the real America and what on Earth is going on in that heartland of ours”—but then when given the chance to answer all these questions, instead go back to what they know.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Paradise fire provides tragic opportunity to blog about several aspects of contemporary rurality

A week ago, the Camp Fire roared through Paradise, California, a community of about 27,000 in Butte County, about 90 miles north of Sacramento (where I happen to live).  Events like these are so shocking--and almost unimaginably tragic--that I've been almost paralyzed, unable to write about the conflagration and its aftermath.  But that's the task I'll undertake today.  

I'll start with the most recent news first:  The number of persons missing from the fire has just shot into the 600s, after days of hovering in the 200s.  The various public agencies apparently began to check the lists and logs of calls and against one another, and the news was not good.  Read more here and here.  The death toll now stands at 63, greater than that from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, making it the deadliest natural disaster in history.  Other stunning data points about the Camp Fire from today's Sacramento Bee:
So far, the blaze has burned 142,000 acres — about 221 square miles — and is 45 percent contained.
More than 52,000 people have been evacuated and 12,256 structures destroyed, 9,700 of them homes.
Speaking of the nearly 10K homes lost in the fire, media are now starting to focus on the impossibility of an adequate response to the widespread human displacement because of California's already enormous housing shortage.   This is a housing shortage afflicting both rural and urban places, and those in between, like Butte County.  The New York Times headline is "California Fires Only Add To Acute Housing Shortage."  The data point it features includes both the Camp Fire and the Southern California fires, where 432 homes have been lost in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

Related to this is the tent city that has sprung up next to a Walmart parking lot in Chico California, one of the Butte County seats and just 20 minutes from Paradise.  The Sacramento Bee headline two days ago was "Refugee camps for fire survivors? Butte County on 'edge' of humanitarian crisis after Camp Fire."   The story quotes David Cuen, a survivor of the fire who is living out of his truck in the parking lot,
“People go right next to you, not respecting that we’re sleeping in our vehicles – not respecting that we don’t have nothing no more,” Cuen said of this haphazard community of survivors that has taken shape in recent days.
The lot has become a de facto refugee camp as those who have lost everything seek the most basic of necessities: a place to be. Exactly how long people will stay there is an unsettling and unanswered question in Butte County. In a region already plagued by a severe shortage of homes and apartments, the Camp Fire may usher a massive housing shortage, potentially leaving thousands of fire victims homeless for months or even years. 
The more than 50 tents, and the dozen or more RVs and occupied cars such as Cuen’s in the parking lot represent just a small fraction of the staggering number of families that have been left temporarily or permanently homeless...
Ed Mayer, executive director of the county's housing agency had this to say when asked if the county was facing a humanitarian crisis:
"We’re on the edge."
Local officials warned the destruction from the Camp Fire could set off a wave of refugee migration akin to a smaller version of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. 
“Big picture, we have 6,000, possibly 7,000 households who have been displaced and who realistically don’t stand a chance of finding housing again in Butte County,” Mayer said. “I don’t even know if these households can be absorbed in California.” 
The county has the capacity to place 800 to 1,000 households in permanent housing, Mayer said, but its short-term options are overwhelmed.
The New York Times story on the housing shortage, by Thomas Fuller, Kirk Johnson and Thomas Dougherty, includes this information:
Housing experts said wildfires have transformed a housing problem that was already vast and deep into something sharp and local. 
“We’ve had a huge increase in population and a huge increase in jobs, and we do not have anywhere close to the supply of housing to put people,” said Carol Galante, faculty director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at University of California Berkeley. “There is no margin when there is a disaster; there is no cushion at all.”
It later continues:
For disaster-prone California, the housing shortage creates instant refugees. 
The journalists quote Casey Hatcher, spokeswoman for Butte County: 
There is no way that the current housing stock can accommodate the people displaced by the fire.  We recognize that it’s going to be some time before people rebuild, and there is an extremely large housing need.
One possible solution, [Hatcher] said, would be for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to provide trailers that people could live in while their homes were being rebuilt.
While it is very difficult to find good, credible hard data -- as opposed to anecdote--those who work on rural issues in California have been well aware of the housing shortage facing rural residents for some time.

The Los Angeles Times "equivalent" headline on the same day that the Bee used the term "humanitarian crisis" was "'We have nothing':  Camp fire evacuees turn Chico vacant lot into a tent city."  A story by the local NPR affiliate yesterday commented that homeless people in Chico had made their way to where fire relief goods, including clothing and blankets, were being distributed.  The radio journalist interviewed one of the long-time homeless residents who was thankful for what he could get, and the journalist them commented on how much the fire evacuees and long-time homeless now suddenly have in common.  Homelessness in rural California is another big issue for rural advocates in the Golden State.

Speaking of humanitarian crises, a Norovirus outbreak has recently been confirmed at several Chico area shelters.

Another fascinating story out of the Los Angeles Times (which is continuing to provide excellent coverage of the Camp Fire, though it is very far from Los Angeles) regards the coverage of the fire by Chico's newspaper, the Enterprise-Record.  David Little, the paper's editor, took a photo with his iPhone from atop the paper's office building as the fire burned last Thursday morning.  That photo has now been seen around the world, appearing on the websites of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine.  I can't re-print the photo here without permission, but/and I do hope it is enriching  Mr. Brown and the Enterprise-Record.  You see, they are operating on a shoe-string budget, with a staff of 10 and 4 part-timers, down from 45 when he started running it two decades ago.  That's the story of rural and small-town newspapers these days.  As the Los Angeles Times story points out, Little and his team are doing a heroic job of covering the Camp Fire, well beyond that pervasive, eye-catching photo.

Little oversees not only the  Chico paper, but also one that serves Oroville (co-county seat of Butte County), as well as the Paradise Post.
The twice-weekly Paradise Post also falls under his supervision, and its staff of two has been in overdrive, he said. They work in the Chico office, and the paper is printed there as well — along with a dozen other dailies and six weekly and semiweekly papers from Monterey to Eureka. The challenge, though, has been where to deliver the Paradise Post.

“How do you distribute a newspaper to a town that’s not there?”
Moving on to the next topic, Donald Trump is coming for a visit tomorrow.  Governor-Elect Gavin Newson and Governor Jerry Brown have just announced they will accompany him.  Read more here.  I assume they'll visit both Butte County and the So. Cal fires.  We shall see.  

P.S.  Here is a powerful BBC story, really a series of human stories, about the Camp Fire and the loss of Paradise.

And here is information on how to get help if you have been displaced by the Camp Fire

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Big feature on (would-be) State of Jefferson in Sacramento's alternative newspaper

The Sacramento News and Review, my city's "alternative newspaper," recently published a big feature on the State of Jefferson secessionist movement.  Freelance journalist Steve Magagnini writes:
Almost anywhere you drive through Northern California, you’ll see green and gold signs, flags and banners heralding the arrival of the State of Jefferson, a separatist movement that nearly succeeded in 1941 and, more recently, has grown like a grass fire in the era of Trump. 
The signs feature “The Great Seal of the State of Jefferson,” a gold pan emblazoned with two X’s—Jeffersonians have long believed they’ve been double-crossed by big city politicians in Sacramento who take their money but ignore their concerns. 
Over the last two years, the signs have popped up on billboards, front yards, and haystacks, sometimes next to Confederate flags and anti-immigrant slogans. 
This blog has featured lots of posts about the State of Jefferson over the years, and a few of those posts (and other stories about the State of Jefferson) have speculated about the racist motives behind the Jefferson movement.   One thing I especially appreciated about Magagnini's story is that he calculates the racial/ethnic demography of the would-be State of Jefferson:
Here’s what Jefferson would look like based on census records from the 23 counties that have signed on and two others on the fence, either through referendum or a vote of their board of supervisors: 2.5 million people, 69 percent Caucasian, 21 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, about 3 percent multi-racial, 1.6 percent American Indian and 1.6 percent African-American. Nineteen counties voted for Trump, four (Mendocino, Lake, Nevada and Stanislaus) went for Clinton.
Magagnini also quotes me regarding the spread of Jefferson ideology--or at least the geographic spread of its marketing effort:
Lisa Pruitt, a UC Davis law professor specializing in rural and urban differences, said she has seen Jefferson signs in El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras Counties. 
“I saw a Jefferson decal on a Prius in Fair Oaks, and on I-80 near Davis,” she said. “It’s all over rural California and creeping into urban California. I’ve seen their stickers on cars in Target parking lots.” 
The further north you go, the bigger the signs, Pruitt said. 
“There’s a lot of agitation on the part of rural Californians who feel their interests are not being heard or taken seriously in Sacramento,” Pruitt said. “The example is the state gas tax: people in rural areas who drive long distance don’t feel they get anything for their buck.” 
Mark Baird argues that there’s a historic precedent for Jefferson: Vermont left New York and New Hampshire in 1791, Kentucky left Virginia in 1792, Maine bolted from Massachusetts in 1820 and West Virginia—which argued that Virginia committed sedition by breaking away from the union to join the confederacy—got its independence in 1863.
Pruitt, however, disagrees. 
“It’s not a winning analogy,” she said, adding that West Virginia’s split happened more than 150 years ago. 
“People are intrigued by it, but peeling themselves into a separate state would not solve their economic woes, and might make them worse,” she said. “I’m not convinced they would be in a better situation if they got more representatives, rural interests would still be greatly outnumbered by urban interests in Jefferson. Legislators represent people, not cows and trees.”
That last bit of the quote is a reference to Reynolds v. Sims, a 1964 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.  As for the part about rural interests still being outnumbered by urban interests "in Jefferson," I think he misquoted me.  I don't think we know how the rural-urban split would shake out within what would be Jefferson, but I do note that the largest city on the California side of the line is Redding, at about 90,000.  To say it's not a very urbanized region is perhaps an understatement.  (Of course, on the Oregon side of would-be Jefferson are the mid-sized cities of Medford, Roseburg and Klamath Falls).

As for those decals and signs around the region, I'm including some photos below.  (Sadly, I failed to capture, before it was removed, a photo of the Jefferson decal on the guardrail by the I-80 exit at UC Davis)

Birdcage Shopping Center, Citrus Heights, California, 2018
I'm guessing this Prius I photographed in the Birdcage Shopping Center in Citrus Heights California (suburban Sacramento) may belong to one of the women Magagnini interviewed for his story, Jean Colgrove, 64, of Citrus Heights.  He describes her as a libertarian who "confessed she lives in Sacramento County, behind enemy lines."  Colgrove says she sees support for Jefferson growing in her suburb and in neighboring Folsom and Orangevale. 

Birdcage Shopping Ctr. Citrus Heights,
Sacramento County,
California, 2018 

Pleasant Valley Road, El Dorado County, California, July 2018
Magagnini mentions Mark Baird, a rancher and reserve deputy sheriff for Siskiyou County who leads the State of Jefferson movement from his ranch in Scott Valley.  I happened to travel through Scott Valley this summer as I drove from Weaverville (Trinity County) to Yreka.  (Read more here)  I passed through Callahan, just north of the Trinity County-Siskiyou County line, at the south end of the Scott Valley.  I've never seen as much State of Jefferson swag as was on sale at the Callahan Emporium, with complementary signs in the surrounding area, including in Etna and Fort Jones, where several businesses (like the Cemetery Memorials below) are branded "Jefferson."

Callahan Emporium, Scott Valley,
Siskiyou County, California, July 2018

California Hwy 3, between Coffee Creek and Callahan
Map of the Oregon Trail and depictions of historical structures, Callahan Emporium 
Callahan Emporium, Scott Valley,
Siskiyou County, California, July 2018
Jefferson Flag at Callahan Emporium

Jefferson swag on sale at the Callahan Emporium, Scott Valley, July 2018
Jefferson Memorials, Fort Jones,
California, July 2018
Signs at the entrance to Weaverville, Trinity County, July 2018

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Rural voters in the 2018 midterms

Analysis of Tuesday's midterms is reaching new levels of sophistication two days on, and that is resulting in more nuanced commentary than we saw on election night.

Here is a quote from the New York Times story this morning, "For Both Parties, a Political Realignment Along Cultural Lines,"
The midterm elections on Tuesday laid bare the growing chasm between urban and rural America, leaving Republicans deeply concerned about their declining fortunes in the metropolitan areas that extinguished their House majority and Democrats just as alarmed about their own struggles to win over voters in states that strengthened the G.O.P.’s grip on the Senate.
I think the focus on "cultural" issues rather than on race (which may effectively mean the same thing) is interesting.  That NYT story by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns then turns to Eric Cantor, former majority leader of the House who was ousted from his district by the more conservative newcomer Dave Brat in the 2014 midterms.  Cantor lamented the apparent "collapse of the longstanding political alliance between culturally conservative rural voters and high-income suburbanites who are focused on the economy and issues like education and child care."

This is interesting because I never perceived any real allegiance or meaningful coalition between suburbanites and rural folks regarding any issues, least of all those like child care.   That's mostly, I guess, because rural folks have little hope of ever having child care--or for better education funding for rural schools, which are costly because of inabilities to achieve economies of scale.  When it comes to education, I would assume that rural and suburban schools actually compete with each other for funds.

Here's another quote with rural overtones:
Democrats further retrenched from the agricultural and industrial communities where they once dominated.
Which leads me to this from Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa who was also agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, who "complained bitterly about his party's worsening struggles with rural voters."
“It’s so frustrating,” said Mr. Vilsack, who has been pleading with Democrats to aggressively court the Farm Belt. “You pick out the interest group that’s part of our base and we always have a message for all of those folks, but we don’t do the same thing for folks in rural places.”  
Note Vilsack's implicit rurality as identity point, a staple of this blog and some of my earlier writing.

Here's another story out today's NYT on the mid-terms, this one by Mitch Smith and Monica Davey, focused on the Midwest.

Similarly, I noticed some folks on Twitter lamenting the Democrats' problem with rural voters, the alienation of rural voters rom the Democratic Party.  Among these is Alec MacGillis of ProPublica, whose work I have cited extensively here.  Here he re-Tweets Matt Stoller, policy director of the Open Markets Institute.  

Here's a Tweet from Dave Weigel of the Washington Post, who writes about politics.  He comments on Missourian Claire McCaskill 's failed bid to keep her U.S. Senate seat.  Note the focus on lack of local news outlets and the nationalizing of media sources--especially the impact of Fox News.
And here is a salient Tweet from Jedediah Purdy of Duke Law School:

Meanwhile, Cheri Bustos, U.S. Congresswoman from rural western Illinois who helped formulate the Democrats' come-back strategy, was upbeat on National Public Radio the morning after.   She was focused on the infrastructure Dems could support rather than on the culture wars stuff, which she has previously advised the Democrats to avoid.     

Lastly, I'll link to this from 10 days before the election, on how Colorado effectively bridges the rural-urban divide, from Roger Cohen of the New York Times.  That, in turn, reminds me of this piece on the rural-urban divide in Colorado, this before the 2016 election. 

Post Script:  David Leonhardt of the New York Times titles his daily email on Friday, Nov. 9, "America's Small Town Crisis."  He cites Stoller and MacGillis--and quotes them, too. He also has this to say: 
I understand why talk of rural America often frustrates progressives: Rural America — which is, of course, overwhelmingly white — already has outsize political power in this country, thanks to the Senate, the Electoral College and the privileged role that Iowa and New Hampshire play in presidential elections. But life in rural areas and small cities hasn’t exactly been easy in recent years. In virtually every measurable way — incomes, wealth, education, health, longevity — large metropolitan areas have done better. 
Democrats should, by all means, continue fighting for the issues that matter to metropolitan America, like civil rights. But there is a clear moral case for devoting more attention to small-town America at the same time. There is also a self-interested political case for Democrats.
In other words, Dems don't have to choose between supporting metro areas and civil rights on the one hand and rural interests on the others.  As I have written before, that is a false choice.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wisconsin crime and its aftermath illustrates many issues arising in rural settings

This story out of Barron, Wisconsin has been in the news for weeks.  The New York Times headline sums up a lot:  "Mystery in a Small Town:  A Quiet Couple Shot Dead, their Daughter Missing." 
Cows and corn and silence stretch out on either side of Highway 8, beyond the Jennie-O turkey plant and 10 churches that serve this town of just over 3,400. So when James and Denise Closs, a quiet couple who had lived in town for decades, were found shot to death in their taupe house last month, residents were stunned. It was an agonizing loss of two lives, but also of a way of life. 
Front doors are being locked. F.B.I. agents have descended. Yet after three weeks, residents are left with a terrifying mystery that goes beyond the shocking deaths: Not only have the authorities publicly identified no suspect, no murder weapon and no motive, but the Closses’ 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, has been missing ever since.
The 78-member strong sheriff's department at one point ballooned to 200, including state and federal law enforcement officials, in the immediate aftermath of the crime.  The number of tips received exceeds 2100, but they have turned up nothing.  Barron's population is 3,423, and it is the county seat of Cumberland County in northwest Wisconsin. 

Another law-enforcement angle on the story that grabbed my attention was the quick work of the 911 dispatcher and the extraordinary response time to a home that appeared not to be in town: 
At just past 1 a.m. local time on Oct. 15, a 911 call came in to the sheriff’s office. No one spoke, but muffled shouting could be heard. The police traced the call to Denise Closs’s cellphone, and arrived at the house on Highway 8 four minutes later. They found the front door open and the couple dead.
Loss of innocence is another theme of the story, with families reporting investments in alarm systems and children sleeping together. 
In the past decade, there have been a total of four killings in Barron County, according to the sheriff. Barron is the kind of town where screen doors are left unlatched in summer; in winter, few lock their front doors. Those days are over, several residents said.
And then there is this regarding the sense of community, even in a place that's recently seen an influx of immigrants from Africa; 20% of town's residents are of Somali heritage:
Not long after the killings and Jayme’s disappearance, members of the Somali community delivered trays of East African food to the sheriff’s office; the food was part of a flood of meals donated by residents and businesses to the officials working on the case.
"When we see in the U.S.A. the same things that we had back in our home, you fear,” said Kaltuma Hassan, 44, who was born in Somalia.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

So much rural news, so little time to blog: health, local economic woes, tariffs

National Public Radio continues to cover the results of the rural survey/health poll it co-sponsored with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others.  

One headline is "Methamphetamine Roils Rural Towns Again Across the United States."  The lede is:
The sharp rise in opioid abuse and fatal overdoses has overshadowed another mounting drug problem: Methamphetamine use is rising across the United States. 
"Usage of methamphetamine nationally is at an all-time high," says Erik Smith, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Kansas City office. 
"It is back with a vengeance." he says. "And the reasons for that are twofold." The drug's now stronger, and cheaper, than it used to be. 
No longer chiefly made by "cooks" in makeshift labs in the U.S., methamphetamine is now the domain of Mexican drug cartels that are mass-producing high-quality quantities of the drug and pushing it into markets where it was previously unknown.
But even in rural communities ravaged by decades of experience with the drug, meth is on the upswing thanks to its relatively low price, availability and a shortage of treatment options. 
Frank Morris reports the story out of Quilin, Missouri, in the state's bootheel.  Other posts out of that down-and-out region are here and here.

Another story in that series on the poll/survey is headlined, "Rural Americans are OK with Outside Help to Beat Opioid Crisis and Boost the Economy."  Frank Morris is again reporting from Missouri, this time out of Belle, Missouri.  Here's an excerpt:
Small towns face big problems. In rural America, rugged individualism is still prized, but so is the pragmatism that has begun to trump traditional disdain for government. 
When NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health polled rural Americans this summer, 58 percent said they want outside help with community problems. 
"I think that's a surprise for a lot of people," says [Robert] Blendon, [Professor of Health Policy and political analysis at Harvard] "that there is a willingness — by most, not all — to reach out for outside help." 
Many rural communities are facing two big, persistent issues: drugs and economic stagnation. Take Belle, Mo., with its population of 1,500. 
"Money is a big problem," says Kathy Stanfield, who is in her late 60s and raised her children here. "You don't have the tax base anymore that you used to have." 
Stanfield says Belle has struggled since the shoe factory closed decades ago. It was once the town's biggest employer. 
Increasingly, the town relies on grants to pay for basic maintenance, like replacing crumbling sidewalks or fixing faulty water lines. And that money is getting harder to come by. 
Belle has a drug problem, too, and Roxie Murphy, a newspaper reporter who covers Belle for the Maries County Advocate, says drug-related crime is on a lot of people's minds.
"Even though we're rural, the idea that we're safe isn't really there anymore," says Murphy.
I wrote this post about a third story in the health poll series here.

Another recent NPR story with a rural angle is about the impact of Trump's tariffs on farmers.  The dateline is Randall, Iowa, and here's the lede for Amy Mayer's story:
As Branon Osmundson harvests soybeans in Randall, Iowa, the combine's blades cut the stems, pods are pulled apart and the hard yellow beans fill the hopper. Osmundson's cousin pulls a matching red Case I-H tractor up alongside, positioning the attached grain cart to catch the beans as they're augured out of the combine. 
Osmundson is relieved to be in the field on a windy, clear day because he waited through weeks of heavy rain before his crops were dry enough to harvest. Beyond the rain, stubbornly low crop prices have been exacerbated by the trade war that decimated the once-lucrative Chinese market for soybeans. China used to be the biggest buyer of U.S.-grown soybeans. But this year, in retaliation for similar U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, China imposed a 25 percent tariff on imports of U.S. soybeans, resulting in a dramatic drop in shipments. 
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still predicts a record soybean harvest, which only further complicates the situation. 
Osmundson says the price he will get is $2 per bushel lower than last year because of the uncertainty in the export market. That could end up costing him tens of thousands of dollars.
I'm excited to see so much recent media attention to rural America, and I can't help wonder if it'll taper off after the election--or be ramped up, depending on the rural vote.