Monday, December 23, 2019

Two sobering stories out of far northern, coastal California

Tsunami Hazard Zone sign along Highway 1 in Sonoma County, California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
The first of the stories I want to highlight here is from today's Los Angeles Times by Hailey Branson-Potts, dateline Crescent City, California, population 7,643, county seat of Del Norte County, population 28,610.  The headline is "Tsunamis tourism: By marketing disaster, a struggling California town hopes to recover economically," and here's the lede:  
Three years into his job as a city councilman, [Alex] Fallman’s take on this Northern California harbor town was not that of a civic booster. His words unspooled like a dirge. 
“Cool, worldly things don’t happen here,” the 23-year-old said. 
Del Norte County Fairgrounds, July, 2019 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt
Crescent City is a land of wild beauty, where towering redwoods meet quiet, foggy beaches. It’s also a place of economic despair. As with many small California towns, its downtown is marked by empty storefronts. Homeless men shoot methamphetamine in the beachfront park.
To push back against these trends, some in the city are embracing tsunami tourism.  After all, 41 tsunamis have crashed into Crescent City since 1933, the most damaging of which killed 11 people and destroyed 29 city blocks in 1964.  As the story notes, these repeated disasters have stunted the city's growth, leaving many city blocks empty. 

Branson-Potts provides important socioeconomic context for Crescent City's seemingly odd approach to economic development, including the fact that nearly a third of Del Norte County residents live below the poverty line--about twice the state and national rates.  The median annual income is just over $27K, about half the state median.  The story also includes information about recent economic development investments in Del Norte County, including its designation as an opportunity zone and upgrades to the airport, which now features more flights to and from Oakland. 

Veterans Memorial Hall, Crescent City, July 2019
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
The last time I wrote about Crescent City/Del Norte County was here (and other posts mentioning it are here, herehere, and here). Another recent Los Angeles Times story about the area--specifically its majestic redwoods--is here.

This LA Times report on tsunami-oriented tourism reminded me of this October story out of neighboring Humboldt County (population 132,646), specifically the county seat, Eureka.  The story was reported in the Eureka Times-Standard by Sonia Waraich.  Here's the lede:  
Eureka has a self-esteem problem, according to the survey results of marketing firm Eddy Alexander. 
More than 3,425 city’s residents, workers, business owners and past residents out of 25,529 who were sent a survey completed the survey. The majority responded with a negative view of the city and are more likely to discourage visitors from coming to Eureka than they are to recommend it, said Jennifer Eddy, founder of the Virginia-based marketing firm. 
At the meeting revealing the results Tuesday night at the Wharfinger Building, Eddy also showed homeless, drug, dirty and crime were the words that people said first came to mind when they think of Eureka. 
“Lots and lots of cities are dealing with homelessness as a challenge,” Eddy said. “It is not unique to this community. It’s not even necessarily a detractor for tourists.” 
The respondents were most likely to be proud to be affiliated with Northern California, the redwood coast and Humboldt County, but weren’t as proud of the city and had less and less pride when it came to their specific neighborhood, Eddy said. About 10% responded “none of the above” to having pride in any of the area’s features and attractions.
As with the Del Norte County story, two themes of this Humboldt County story are homelessness and drug use.  A 2018 post on Eureka's drug and homelessness problem is here.  It's more than a little sad to see a region as beautiful as this section of far northern California have its natural beauty and amenities so eclipsed by man-made problems, though I note the negativity more associated with the city than the county and coast. 

Other somewhat more upbeat LA Times stories out of rural northern California are here and here, the first from January 2019 about a local newspaper in Sierra County (population 3,240), and the second about a "fraternal order," E Clampus Vitus, associated with the gold rush era. That latter story out of Plumas County (population 20,007), just north of Sierra County, is a few years old now but also by Branson-Potts, a talented feature writer.  Reading these stories once again leads me to appreciate the very good job the Los Angeles Times does of covering a region of the Golden State that is so very far away--in physical distance and culture--from the Los Angeles metroplex.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Poignant feature on rural aging and health care

Eli Saslow reports for the Washington Post from Broken Bow (population 3,559) and Cozad, Nebraska (population 3,997).  Broken Bow is the long-time home of Marlene and Earl Kennedy, octogenarians who raised their four children there, where Earl worked 47 years stocking shelves at the grocery store.  Now, however, Earl lives an hour away in Cozad, at the closest nursing home where Marlene could find a bed for Earl after the one in Broken Bow closed earlier this year.  There were limitations on finding a replacement nursing home because Earl relies on Medicare, and Nebraska reimbursement rates for those patients are $40 lower than the cost of care.  On the day Saslow describes, bad weather and dangerous roads had kept Marlene from driving the 50 miles to visit Earl for 10 days, and she was being driven by her 51-year old daughter.  Even the depiction of the drive through cornfields, on two-lane, icy roads is vivid.

The story features not only a poignant depiction aging in rural America, it provides several startling data points about the rural health care crisis, in particular as it impacts the elderly.
  • 260 rural nursing facilities across the country have closed for financial reasons over the past three years
  • In the past decade, rural America has lost 250 maternity wards, 115 hospitals, 3,500 primary care docs, and 2000 medical specialists.  
  • The Cozad nursing home receives $152 per day for each Medicaid resident, far short of the $200-per-day cost of providing care. To make up for that loss, nursing homes typically charged much higher rates for people paying with their own money, but this strategy wasn't working in a rural area where the percentage of people who pay for their own care is much lower, 20% compared to the typical urban percentage of 35%.  
I found it particularly interesting that the Kennedys had rarely traveled outside Nebraska and had never flown on an airplane, but they had "traveled together to Lincoln for a heart operation, Kearney for an ankle, Grand Island for a hip, Omaha for corneal transplants."  Earl Kennedy has Parkinson's disease.  He can no longer walk or eat solid food, and he has difficulty talking.  

Then there's this about the Kennedys' life before aging; Earl had retired from the grocery strore, where he'd started out making $60/week, at age 76:  
He’d raised four successful children, taught Sunday school, worked at the store six days each week, and come home most afternoons to eat lunch with Marlene. Their family had never earned more than $35,000 in a year, but somehow they had managed to send the children to college, stay out of debt, pay off their house, and even build up some savings — most of which had vanished in less than two years to pay for Earl’s nursing care in Broken Bow.
Other recent stories on rural health care are here (about the Mayo Clinic's closure of rural hospitals it owns in southern Minnesota) and here (also by Eli Saslow, out of Van Horn, Texas, in September).  And here's another by Saslow in November, about physicians remotely--as by video connection/conferencing--staffing emergency rooms. 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Rural jail boom surges back into the news

Two Bridges Regional Jail, near Wiscasset, Maine, May, 2019 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt
I've written previously about the nation's rural jail boom here and here (including many embedded links about the decade-long jail saga in my hometown, about which I write more at the end of this post).  Over the past few days, the issue has seen renewed interest from various quarters, including a NY Times feature, a USA Today op-ed, a local news report by WyoFile (a non profit reporting out of Wyoming), an op-ed by Vera Institute of Justice researchers, published in The Guardian, and another op-ed out of a small Kentucky city.  This surge in coverage of the rural jail boom appears to be primarily attributable to the release yesterday by the Vera Institute of Justice, of a new report on the increase in rural jail populations.  The data headlines from that report (as summarized by the New York Times):  Since 2013, jail populations in urban areas dropped 18%, but rural jail populations climbed 27% during that same period.

Two Bridges Regional Jail serves Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties in Maine's mid-coast region.
Let's begin with the most prominent piece among this cluster of stories and op-eds, the feature from the New York Times today, dateline Morristown, Tennessee, population 29,137.  Its headline is certainly provocative, "'A Cesspool of a Dungeon':  The Surging Population of Rural Jails."  The story links what is happening in east Tennessee to meth and opioid use in the region:
Like a lot of Appalachia, Morristown, Tenn., about an hour east of Knoxville, has been devastated by methamphetamine and opioid use. Residents who commit crimes to support their addiction pack the 255-bed jail, which had 439 inmates at the end of October, according to the latest state data.
The story quotes Jacob Kang-Brown, senior research associate for the Vera Institute and lead author of the new report, contrasting rural and urban:
In the big city, you get a ticket and a trip to the clinic.  But in a smaller area, you might get three months in jail.
According to the new Vera report, rural jails house a total of 184,000 inmates, while urban jails now hold 167,000.  More notable, perhaps, is that rural jails are now locking people up at a rate more than double that of urban areas.  Suburban jail populations have remained more stable, while small and mid-size cities have seen a 7% increase.  Also, the number of female inmates has risen sharply.  This story also references Tennessee's own jail summary report, dated October 2019. 

Morristown is the county seat of Hamblen County, population 62,544, in East Tennessee.  It is the topic of some earlier posts here and here.

The USA Today op-ed is by Professor Pamela Metzger of SMU's Dedman School of Law, and its dateline is Wood County, Wisconsin, from which Metzger highlights the suicide of 18-year-old Trequelle Vann-Marcouex, accused of robbery.  He repeatedly asked the judge for a lawyer, but after 11 days he still hadn't gotten one.  That's when he hanged himself in his cell.  Being a nonmetro county (population 74,749) probably influenced why the young man didn't get a lawyer in a timely fashion because there's an attorney shortage in many rural areas of the United States.   Here's an excerpt from the op-ed:
If Vann-Marcouex had been arrested in a big city — like Milwaukee or Chicago — things may have played out differently. Instead, Vann-Marcouex fell victim to our national criminal justice blind spot: rural communities where people can wait days, weeks or months for basic services — initial court appearances, attorneys — that city dwellers take for granted. 
And the problem isn’t just with defense attorneys. It pervades every aspect of rural justice systems.
I'm surprised that neither of these stories addresses the rural lawyer shortage in much detail, though Metzger's op-ed mentions it in passing as a key factor explaining the rural jail incarceration trends.  That is, one reason people are held in jails is because they have no lawyer to appear with them, before a judge, to negotiate their release.  I have written extensively about the rural lawyer shortage here, here, and here.

Another factor fueling the rural jail boom is the use of jails to house detained immigrants, and that's what's driving the next story, which is out of Wyoming.  The WyoFile piece, headlined "Evanston meets its would-be economic savior, CoreCivic," also references the economic realities behind rural jail growth:  local governments' need for revenue.  CoreCivic is proposing to build a massive jail in Uinta County, Wyoming, in the western part of the state, south of Grand Teton/Jackson Hole.  Evanston, population 12,359, is the Uinta County seat.  Here's the story's lede:
Wyoming’s first private jail could resemble a warehouse or big box store, according to drawings corporate giant CoreCivic presented at a charged public meeting in Uinta County last week.

If built, it will have nearly 150,000 square feet of housing to hold up to 1,000 immigrants detained by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement from Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Montana. There will be a 2,500-square-foot chapel, a 2,300-square-foot library and a 3,500-square-foot courthouse where federal immigration judges will determine who may stay in the U.S. and who will be deported.

Two 16-foot-high fences topped with razor wire will surround the facility.
The presentation to a room of more than 200 local residents came as the jail proposal appears to be picking up steam after a long lull. CoreCivic has submitted an environmental assessment to the Department of Homeland Security, officials said at the meeting, and is waiting now for the green light to submit a project proposal.
This jail would presumably also serve as a typical county jail, housing local inmates and not only those being held on behalf of the federal government. 

The Danville, Kentucky paper's editorial is titled "Rural Communities can Tackle Kentucky's Incarceration Epidemic" and it is based on and links to a Vera Institute Policy Brief that shows Kentucky first (worst!) among seven states in the region when it comes to incarceration rates.  Here's an excerpt:
Who are we locking up? More and more, it’s people who haven’t been convicted of a crime. While the the population in Kentucky’s prisons (where sentenced individuals serve their time) has risen by 168% since 1983, it’s actually remained fairly flat more recently—it’s up by just 13% since 2000, according to the report. 
Where Kentucky is seeing the lion’s share of increases is in county jails, where many inmates are being held pre-trial, meaning they have been charged but not convicted of a crime. Of the approximately 21,000 population of jails in 2015, around 9,100 (about 43%) of inmates were being held pre-trial. That represents a huge chunk of jail population growth since 1970 and amounts to almost three-fourths of the state’s entire prison population of 12,437, according to the report. 
Kentucky is disproportionately locking up black individuals, and the increase in the number of women incarcerated is truly staggering.
Danville is in central Kentucky, and its population is 16,128.

The Guardian op-ed is authored by two Vera Institute researchers, Jasmine Heiss and Jack Norton.  The headline is "The hidden scandal of US criminal justice?  Rural incarceration has boomed."
An excerpt that puts the rural jail boom in economic context follows:
Rising incarceration rates must be understood in the context of declining industry, and dwindling state dollars sent to counties. Take Monroe county, Ohio, which recently invested $15.1m in a new jail. Monroe county has one of the highest unemployment rates in Ohio and has suffered the closure of two major aluminum plants. Meanwhile state aid to localities declined nearly 20% in Ohio between 2008 and 2016. In Monroe county and across the country, decades of disinvestment have created a vacuum that jails now fill. 
In many communities, the only institutions that have seen increased or sustained investment are the local police force and the county jail.
Finally, I note that my own hometown paper, the Newton County Times, also has a story about its jail in the latest, December 11 issue.  The headline is "Future of old jail questioned."  Here's the lede:
The over century-old Newton county Jail sits just off the Jasper square.  It was closed in 2009 and the new jail was opened next door in 2012.  It was used briefly as a community food pantry, but now it sits unused and is falling into disrepair.  May Jan Larson approached the quorum court Monday night, December 2, and inquired about the historic building's future. 
A lot of people think the jail is owned by the city, Larson said, but it continues to be under county ownership.  There are some glass panes missing from some windows and there are reports of mold on the inside.  She said the city is working on a long range economic development study and the town's historic business district is an important asset.  Except for the jail which if allowed to decline could become a liability for both the city and county.   
The problem is that neither the city nor the county has the money to operate and maintain the building. 
Newton County Jail, Jasper Arkansas, October 2019 (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 
Meanwhile, under another front-page headline, "JPs accept sheriff's budget," the paper reports a 2020 sheriff's budget of $776,765.50, of which $615,265 is for "personal services," and $92,400 is for supplies.  The remainder, $69,100, is for "other services."  Nothing explains what "personal services" and "other services" are, but the story does list the compensation amounts for sheriff's deputies and jailers.  The beginning salary for a sheriff's deputy is $23,400, and the starting salary for a full-time jailer is $20,800.  The sheriff's office and jail employ a total of 29 people.

I have written extensively about the Newton County jail, particularly during the years when the century-old county jail was condemned and county leaders were seeking funding to build a new one.  You can find those posts collected here.  Interestingly, Vera data show that incarceration in my county has held roughly even between 2005 and 2015.  I guess that was inevitable because the new jail's capacity is hardly bigger than the one it replaced.  Older photos of the "new" jail, pictured above in 2019, when it was someone's home and as it evolved to look like it does now, are here and here.  The latter post also includes a photo of the old, condemned jail, after it was closed and while in use as a community food bank.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Outsourcing policing to cameras and lay folk, in rural southern Oregon

I've written in the past about the challenges of rural policing (read more here from 2013), and I've also written about the fiscal challenges facing rural southern Oregon--timber country (read more here (with embedded links) and here).  This Washington Post report brings the two themes together under the headline, "A small town can’t afford cops at night. So it’s turning to cameras watched by citizen patrols."  Antonia Noori Farzan writes:
For the residents of Cave Junction, a community of nearly 2,000 people near the rainy, forested California border, that means no law enforcement officers patrol the streets at night. The city doesn’t have its own police force, and deputies from the understaffed Josephine County Sheriff’s Office only patrol the area during daytime hours on weekdays, according to the Oregonian. Placing a call to 911 at night can mean waiting 45 minutes or more for someone to show up, and the area has experienced robberies and thefts tied to the local legal marijuana-growing industry.

So, last month, members of the Cave Junction City Council voted unanimously to try a new experiment in policing: Installing security cameras that will be monitored by a volunteer citizen patrol.
Needless to say, this raises some constitutional concerns, which are made fairly clear in the piece.  Here's a quote from the Cave Junction city recorder, Rebecca Patton, who said "hardcore criminals" can be identified easily just by looking.
They can identify them by the way that they dress, because they have a certain apparel that they wear all the time, or the way they walk. Sometimes they carry things all the time, it could be something as simple as a skateboard. They have learned how to identify these people very, very quickly, then they know how to respond.
Patton indicated that the volunteers have not received formal training though she said they may undergo background checks before they get access to the security camera footage.  The Oregon Justice Resource Center wrote on Twitter, “Civil rights violation incoming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …".  I'm reminded of the lack of checks and balances often characteristic of local governments with few resources. As Patton comments elsewhere in the story, “Until we start paying a little bit more for our services, we’re going to get what we pay for."

I visited Cave Junction in 2018 en route to Oregon Caves National Monument, and you can see some photos from that trip here (the ones of the town, including marijuana dispensaries, are at the end of the post).  I have also written about the lack of policing outside daytime hours in my own hometown, and consequent crime, herehere and here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

On college fairs in rural America (where they are rare, special, valued, and highly valuable)

I loved this piece from Eric Hoover in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week.  It's set in northern Arizona, with the college fair actually taking place in Flagstaff and the featured student from Holbrook, population 5,053, county seat of Navajo County, population 107,449.  

The only blurb you get for free from the Chronicle is this:
This regional gathering attracts teenagers from small-town high schools that few admissions officers ever visit. Here’s how it changed one student’s perspective on college.
But here's a bit more from the story:
Someone had to get everything ready for tomorrow night’s big college fair, hosted by Flagstaff High School. Each fall, the event attracts about 100 institutions of all kinds. Teenagers from far-flung towns — towns that few, if any, admissions officers ever visit — travel many miles to grab some brochures, shake some hands, and, if they’re lucky, learn something that helps them reach the right campus. Or any campus at all.

A college fair might seem superfluous in places where colleges abound. But in this mostly rural swath of the Southwest, where many families don’t live close to a single four-year campus, the Northern Arizona Region College Night spans the distance between higher education and a realm it often overlooks. For some lucky students, applying to college is routine; in outposts such as Lake Havasu City, Prescott, and Winslow, it can feel like tackling a riddle in a foreign tongue.

* * *
Whether you live amid Northern Arizona’s pine-rich forests, or in its sprawling deserts, or at the far corner of one of its many Indian reservations, you’re welcome to come join the bustling pre-college spectacle.

But first you have to find a ride.
That featured student, Jade Knight, who barely overcame transport obstacles to make it to the fair, learned there that she could study biomedical engineering at the University of New Mexico and pay less there than she would in Arizona.  It was truly a win-win--and one that she seemingly would not have learned about had she been left to rely on resources in Navajo County, where she lives in a community called Woodruff, population 191.  Just reading the Holbrook students' banter about the Flagstaff school's swimming pool is interesting because it illustrates the difference between schools the size of Holbrook and that in a regional center like Flagstaff, which has no doubt experienced rural gentrification in recent years, thanks to migration to Grand Canyon ecotourism and such.  Yet urban folks have no idea about such distinctions, seeing all of "rural" northern Arizona as homogeneous and--sadly--also somewhat boring.

As someone who went to a public school so small that we had no counselor and did not attract college recruiters, this story really spoke to me.  As an adult--and especially because I move (which is really to say I subsist) in elite academic circles--I have found many folks who just can't understand why I didn't go to a "good college."  What they don't understand is that I went to the best--and best value for money--college in my region/for me.  And as one of two students in my high school class who went to college right away and earned a four-year degree, I'm darn proud of what I did. Indeed,  I was valedictorian of the entire University of Arkansas as a graduating B.A. student in 1986.  It's depressing to be viewed by folks in my current world as a failure for making lemonade from lemons, all while asking why I didn't instead make a princess torte.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

From The Atlantic, on the rural mental health crisis

See James Burns' short documentary here, out of Cochise County, Arizona, population 131,346 and covering an area the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

And here's more coverage of the rural health care crisis--in particular the closure of rural hospitals.  This is out of Appalachian Virginia, from In These Times.  The November, 2019, issue of that publication was dedicated to the "High Cost of Living Rural."  Of course, this blog features many posts over the years on rural health care issues, which you'll find under the "mental health" and "health care" tags.

Friday, December 6, 2019

More on Dollar General's expansion (which is putting rural grocery stores out of business)

A shuttered grocery store in Smith River, California (Del Norte County). 
A Dollar General Store is in business a few hundred yards away
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
This story from CNN reports that Dollar General is going to open 1000 stores in 2020.  Here's a quote from the story, which notes Dollar General's focus on rural and suburban markets, in particular those where the customers are low-to-middle income or, as the company's CEO expresses it, a "little stretched."
Dollar General's core customers make around $40,000 a year. 
"We see her about where we have the last couple of quarters," Dollar General chief executive Todd Vasos said on a call with analysts Thursday. "She still has a little bit of extra money in her pocket, continues to be employed at a pretty high rate. But, always remember, our core customer is always a little stretched."

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The difference broadband makes in one Appalachian town

Don't miss The New Yorker's story out of McKee, Kentucky, population 800, on the impact of superior broadband on one rural community's job opportunities.  You gotta' love the headline for Sue Halperin's feature, "The One-Traffic Light Town with Some of the Fastest Internet in the U.S."   Other themes include substance abuse and those indicated by selected tabs/labels.

McKee is the county seat of Jackson County, population 13,494, in eastern Kentucky, historically the most economically depressed part of the state. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Two big features on how small rural farms are no longer financially viable

One is from Alana Semuels in this week's Time Magazine, and the other is from the New York Times Sunday paper, compliments of journalist Corey Kilgannon.  Semuels' headline is, "'They're Trying to Wipe Us Off the Map':  Small American Farmers are Nearing Extinction," and Kilgannon's is "After 240 Years and 7 Generations, Forced to Sell the Family Farm."  I'm providing a short excerpt from each here, starting with the Time piece, which features Mary and John Rieckmann, aged 79 and 80 respectively, who farm 45 dairy cattle in central Wisconsin:
The Rieckmanns are about $300,000 in debt, and bill collectors are hounding them about the feed bill and a repayment for a used tractor they bought to keep the farm going. But it’s harder than ever to make any money, much less pay the debt, Mary Rieckmann says, in the yellow-wallpapered kitchen of the sagging farmhouse where she lives with her husband, John, and two of their seven children. The Rieckmanns receive about $16 for every 100 pounds of milk they sell, a 40 percent decrease from six years back. There are weeks where the entire milk check goes towards the $2,100 monthly mortgage payment. Two bill collectors have taken out liens against the farm. “What do you do when you you’re up against the wall and you just don’t know which way to turn?” Rieckmann says, as her ancient fridge begins to hum.
A compelling data point:
John recently brought two calves to the stock market and got $20 for one and $30 for another—two years ago, those calves would have brought in $300 to $400 each.
Semuels also takes up the issue of farmer suicide, which is the topic of this recent story and some prior posts here on Legal Ruralism (with parallels to Australia).

Here's the lede from the New York Times feature, dateline Durham, New York, population, 2,725:
Farmer Frank hobbled into the house, cane in hand. 
“Sow got out of her pen, had to chase her down,” said Farmer Frank — Frank Hull, 71 — whose body, ravaged from decades of heavy manual work, is no longer built for chasing sows. 
For half a century, he and his wife, Sherry, 67, have run their 260-acre farm here in the upper Catskills, some two hours north of New York City. 
Known as Hull-O Farms, it has been in Mr. Hull’s family since his forebear, John Hull, founded it some 240 years and seven generations ago. 
It is one of the oldest farms in the country continuously owned and run by the same family. But that lineage is about to end.
Both stories are chock full of interesting and compelling data points about the trends, including the sale of farm land for housing developments and so forth.  The New York Times story also talks about the Hulls' engagement in agri-tourism.

And coastal elites wonder why rural folks are angry enough to support the likes of Trump. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Literary Ruralism (Part XVIII): Country Music (with a focus on forgotten rural folks)

I like this passage from Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan's book, Country Music, where they write of "Fiddlin' John" Carson playing at "the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention in Atlanta's Municipal Auditorium in the early 1920s  
Each year several thousand people came to hear fifty or more fiddlers--and a music that reminded them of simpler times and the rural homes of their past.  "Going to a Dance was like going back home to Mama's or Grandma's for Thanksgiving,"  said music historian Bill Malone.  "Country music is full of songs about little old log cabins that people never lived in, the old country church that people have never attended.  But it spoke for a lot of people who were being forgotten, or felt they were being forgotten.  Country music's staple, above all, is nostalgia--just a harkening back to the older way of life, either real or imagined."  (emphasis added)
The nostalgia theme is very interesting of course, and I'm going to try to return with more about that in another post because I noted it is a theme unpacked in the podcast, Dolly Parton's America.

As for the "forgotten" theme, it is is even more prominent today regarding rural folks, as I have written about most recently here.   I'm pasting below an excerpt from the salient section of the article (with citations omitted; you can get them by clicking on the link at the end of the last sentence and downloading article, free of charge, from
Rural people and places have been (and largely remain) awfully easy to overlook as we rush pell-mell through the second decade of a highly urban-centric 21st century. Ditto the white working class, who are sometimes referred to as the white “middle class” and who seem to draw media attention primarily during election season. The chattering classes’ widespread obliviousness to rural America is referred to in book and article titles like Hidden America and The Forgotten Fifth.

The media have increasingly recognized this neglect. The Washington Post, for example, reported in late 2016 on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s “lonely fight for a ‘forgotten’ rural America,” and a January 2018 story in that paper queried what should be done for “America’s forgotten towns.” National Public Radio recently referred to rural places (in relation to the physician shortage there) as “Forgotten America.” One journalist has even referred to the rural Ohio River Valley region in Southern Illinois as “forsaken.” At least she didn’t say “God forsaken.”

Fifty years ago, the President’s National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty published The People Left Behind. In 2018, Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton sociologist published The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America. In other words, we’re still leaving them behind—and some of them are angry about it.

These uses of “forgotten” and “hidden” call to mind the occasional emails I get from law students, professors across the disciplines with students who grew up rural, or just rural residents who have come across my Legal Ruralism Blog (10 years old in 2017). Here’s a typical one, received a few years ago from a law student at the University of Missouri: 
Your work interests me so much because of your focus on rural communities—because you care. Even though you are a professor at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, you still care about, and I hate this term, “fly over country.” Thank you so much for your passion and dedication to rural America.
Emails like this one speak to the sense many rural folks have of knowing that they are rarely seen, that their experiences are not well understood. Even when they are seen, their concerns may not be taken seriously and are rarely prioritized.

Certainly, this has been my experience as a self-proclaimed (nearly full-time) ruralist in the legal academy. In spite of my voluminous writings about rural women, no feminist legal theory text book has included an excerpt of my work. I have published three articles dedicated to the topic of rural abortion access and other works that discuss the issue more peripherally, yet neither of two recent germinal legal texts on the topic of reproductive rights says a word about rural women. Indeed, these tomes mention only in passing distance and/or travel, a defining aspect of rural women’s “undue burden” in the abortion context. I do not take these omissions personally. Two of the three authors have told me over the years that they have read and admire my work about rural women. The issue, then, must be rurality itself. Rural women just don’t make the cut in a comprehensive account of a contemporary issue that so fundamentally shapes their lives. 
This is sadly consistent with what the Fifth Circuit decided in Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey: 900,000 Texas women—those who were situated more than 150 miles from an abortion provider after the state’s new abortion regulations shut down half of the state’s abortion providers—were constitutionally irrelevant. Thankfully, that decision was subsequently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in an opinion that did expressly note the burden of travel on rural women, a first for a majority of the Court in an abortion case.

In a similar vein, the manuscript for the latest poverty law textbook, Poverty Law: Policy and Practice made no mention whatsoever of rural poverty until shortly before it went to press. 
* * *  
Lest I be seen as suggesting that I am above reproach on the inclusivity front, let me acknowledge at least one of my oversights. While urban America forgets rural America, my equivalent lapse as a ruralist involves American Indians. They are my “guilty footnote,” if you will. I have occasionally given “meta” talks about rural populations and law’s neglect of them only to have American Indian scholars approach me afterwards to tell (or remind) me that I was also talking about American Indian/Native American populations, although I had not explicitly acknowledged them.

I could provide more illustrations of how we overlook rural people and places in legal scholarship, as well as how I have overlooked the American Indian experience. I’m sure this extends to our teaching, too. After all, could we realistically expect those teaching poverty law, reproductive rights, feminist legal theory and/or family law—just to name a few—to cover rural difference when their textbooks do not?

I do not wish to make my career a referendum on rural America or to treat my career as the canary in the coal mine that is rural America (sometimes literally as well figuratively). Sometimes, however, it feels that way. I do not see personal failure in my anemic citation count as a ruralist, though I have often joked that I am writing my way into the very obscurity that marks rural America. I guess I can now say something slightly more optimistic: as interest in rural America goes, so goes my career. Recently, that’s resulted in a serious uptick in invitations and calls from journalists.
Speaking of forgotten, I'm reminded of this October Washington Post story out of rural Alabama headlined "I don't think they know we exist."  In that headline, Stephanie McCrummen quotes the mayor of Lisman, Alabama, population 539.  in Choctaw County, population, 13,859.  Here's an excerpt:
At a moment when American politics has become a raw and racially polarized struggle for power, Lisman is one of the most powerless places of all. It is small. It is rural. It is mostly poor and mostly African American, and it exists in Alabama, where those characteristics remain the very things that still make people forgotten.

Elsewhere in the South, political momentum has been heading in a different direction. In Georgia, an African American woman had almost been elected governor. North Carolina is a swing state. In Texas and even Mississippi, politics has been shifting toward the interests of a more racially and ideologically diverse electorate.

But that is not the case in Alabama, where the state’s Democratic Party — the traditional means to power for black voters — has become so dysfunctional that the only Democrat elected statewide, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, recently said the party was being “destroyed from within.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Rural-urban tussle over gun rights in Virginia

The Washington Post reports today over a looming conflict between rural county sheriffs and newly elected state legislators, who are expected to implement gun control laws when they take office as the first majority Democratic state legislature in several decades.  Gregory Schneider reports from Amelia Courthouse, population 1,099, the county seat of Amelia County, population 12,690, and part of exurban Richmond.  There, Sheriff Ricky Walker supports declaring the county a second amendment sanctuary, saying his job is to uphold the U.S. Constitution and that he would not follow a judge's order to seize a gun pursuant to a law he viewed as unconstitutional.  “That’s what I hang my hat on,” Walker said.

Here's the lede for Schneider's story:
Families, church groups, hunt clubs and neighbors began arriving two hours early, with hundreds spilling out of the little courthouse and down the hill to the street in the chilly night air. 
They were here to demand that the Board of Supervisors declare Amelia County a “Second Amendment sanctuary” where officials will refuse to enforce any new restrictions on gun ownership. 
A resistance movement is boiling up in Virginia, where Democrats rode a platform on gun control to historic victories in state elections earlier this month. The uprising is fueled by a deep cultural gulf between rural red areas that had long wielded power in Virginia and the urban and suburban communities that now dominate. Guns are the focus. Behind that, there is a sense that a way of life is being cast aside.
So far, these counties have all approved resolutions that dare the state government to come for their guns: Charlotte, Campbell, Carroll, Appomattox, Patrick, Dinwiddie, Pittsylvania, Lee and Giles.

As Schneider points out, these Virginia actions mirror a trend in other states, a trend which started in the West, where 25 of 33 counties declared themselves second amendment sanctuaries.  In Illinois, a similar percentage of counties have done so.  

Monday, November 18, 2019

A thoroughly rural judge

I have spilled quite a bit of ink over the years (as here and here) about what I call urbancentric and metronormative (or metrocentric and urbanormative) judges, so I'm happy to report here on a counter-example:  a recently confirmed federal district judge in North Dakota--in fact, the new chief justice for the district of North Dakota--who is also an active farmer.  The Grand Forks Herald reported yesterday on Judge Peter Welte: 
While he has been farming for most of his life, this fall Welte, 54, made a second lifetime commitment: He was confirmed as a federal judge.

* * *

Welte has been an attorney since 1997, when he graduated from UND Law School. After law school he worked in private practice and in the public sector before his nomination to the federal judgeship.

Throughout the past 22 years since his graduation from law school, and during the 13 post-high school years before that, Welte also has farmed, growing grain and row crops on family land near Northwood, N.D. He made clear when he was nominated that he would be committed to being a federal judge, but that agriculture would remain an important part of his life, Welte said.
Welte draws a parallel between the two endeavors: 
There’s a natural allure to the idea that farming is something that begins in the spring and ends in the fall... There’s a tangible beginning and end.

* * *

A case has a lifespan. I think that’s the parallel – farming has a set beginning and end.
Ann Bailey, the journalist responsible for this story, reports that Welte is able to continue farming by using vacation time to work on the farm during critical periods--like during the recent soybean harvest.  Northwood, population 945,  is in the same county as Grand Forks, where the judge's chambers are, so at least it's convenient as he keeps up his dual vocations.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Will Democratic wins in Kentucky, Virginia, and Louisiana further isolate rural voters?

I hope not, but that's what coverage of these successful Democratic campaigns suggests by focusing on heavy turnout by suburban and urban voters, who leaned left.  Here's an excerpt from New York Times coverage of the Louisiana governor's race
What was different in Louisiana [with Governor Edwards, who proved distinct from other "well-credentialed and well-liked candidates who have fallen prey to forbidding political demographics of their states or districts"] was that Mr. Edwards enjoyed a huge spike between the all-party primary last month and the Saturday runoff among the voters who Mr. Trump most alienates: While turnout grew modestly in many of the rural areas, it jumped by 29 percent in New Orleans and 25 percent in the parish that includes Shreveport, and it was nearly as high in Baton Rouge and in the largest New Orleans suburbs.

In that context, Mr. Trump’s two appearances in the state between the primary and runoff had the effect of motivating the Democratic base as much as it did the conservative one.
The New York Times coverage of Democratic wins in Kentucky and Virginia nearly two weeks ago struck a similar note, emphasizing the role of the suburban vote turned more progressive: 
Democrats won complete control of the Virginia government for the first time in a generation on Tuesday and claimed a narrow victory in the Kentucky governor’s race, as Republicans struggled in suburbs where President Trump is increasingly unpopular.
* * *  
Coming one year before the presidential election, the races reflected the country’s increasingly contentious politics and the widening rural-urban divide. 
Nowhere was that more apparent than in Kentucky, where Mr. Beshear ran far better than national Democrats in the state’s lightly-populated counties but built his advantage thanks in large part to his overwhelming strength in the state’s cities and suburbs.
From the same story is this paragraph about shifts in suburban voters outside Philadelphia (with no rural comparator since these are local elections): 
But the news was more ominous for Republicans in Pennsylvania, a critical state for Mr. Trump’s re-election, where Democrats were poised to gain control of local government in a handful of suburban Philadelphia counties that have long been Republican strongholds.
To be clear, I'm delighted at these Democratic victories--and the fact that suburban voters are seeing the light and moving away from Trump.  Suburban is often code for middle-class and affluent white, so it's interesting and positive, too, that Trump is losing that support.  But if rural folks are still sticking with Trump, that's discouraging because it's going to leave them more isolated--and even more reviled by the left than they already are. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fox News comes to the defense of rural America--in spinning elite disdain for the heartland

I wrote this blog post last week about the anti-rural Tweet by a guy named Jackson Kernion, a PhD student at UC Berkeley.  As I noted there, I didn't know what the the Tweet said in its entirety because he deleted it before I captured all of it.  Now, however,  Fox News has picked up the controversy and run three stories about it--all coming to the defense of rural America, even as they also supply us with the full text of Kernion's Tweet.

First, then, here's the text as presented by Fox News:
"I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans," Kernion wrote in a now-deleted tweet. "They, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions...and we should shame people who aren't pro-city." 
Kernion started going after rural citizens, saying they should have higher health care, pay more in taxes and be forced to live an "uncomfortable" life for rejecting "efficient" city life, Campus Reform reported.
An Epoch Times piece gives an even more complete account of the original Tweet storm by Kernion:
“I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans. they, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions,” Kernion wrote. “Some, I assume, are good people. But this nostalgia for some imagined pastoral way of life is stupid, and we should shame people who aren’t pro-city.” 
Before turning to critique the rural American lifestyle, Kernion wrote in another post about affordable healthcare for rural Americans. He said he believed it would mean they have to be subsidized by “those who choose a more efficient way of life.” 
“Rural healthcare should be expensive!” he wrote. “And that expense should be borne by those who choose rural America!”

“It should be uncomfortable to live in rural America. It should be uncomfortable to not move,” he added.
The Fox News item goes on to quote Brad Blakeman, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, who called the comments "nuts."  Blakeman added, 
cities need to take care of their own [because] rural America is doing just great.
Doug Shoen, a Fox News contributor, is also quoted:  
We started as a rural country. We remain at our heart linked to rural communities. Thank goodness for small towns, farms, and traditional values.
And that's just one of the Fox News story about the Kernion Tweet.   Another is on Fox Business, with commentary by Stuart Varney.  Note on the following how the UC Berkeley brand--a very liberal one--is played up:
FOX Business’ Stuart Varney said UC Berkeley's philosophy instructor and Hillary Clinton have revealed the "new American divide" during his latest “My Take” and argued that it will help Donald Trump get re-elected. 
Forty years ago, Republicans were the party of the rich country club types, now that’s been “turned on its head,” Varney argued. 
UC Berkeley instructor Jackson Kernion said rural Americans are “bad people” and that people who are not “pro-city” should be shamed, Varney said. 
Kernion, according to Varney, argued rural America should be forced to pay more in taxes and live an “uncomfortable” life because of their rejection of “efficient” city life in a tweet that has since been deleted.
I wrote some about rurality's greater carbon footprint here, which is probably what Kernion was referring to when he said cities are more efficient.

In any event, I think the most striking thing about this Fox News coverage is that it so deftly spins a Berkeley-ite's disdain for rural people and places.  The first Fox News piece, for example, notes that Kernion has taught 11 courses at UC Berkeley--suggesting he is the sort of coastal elite who is spreading his contempt for rural people and places to the youngsters being educated at the University of California's flagship campus.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

LA Times photo feature on "Grapes of Wrath" town

Don't miss these 11 photos of Weedpatch Camp, California, South of Bakersfield.  The camp, now closed, apparently inspired John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

Monday, November 11, 2019

Tara Westover in The Atlantic, on rural-urban divide

Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor in Chief of The Atlanticinterviews Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated, for the magazine's December issue.  The headline is "The Places Where the Recession Never Ended," and the subtitle is "A conversation with Tara Westover on the rural-urban divide."

Before I jump into what Westover says in the interview, let me link to my thoughts about Educated here on Legal Ruralism.   I also used Westover's memoir to make a point here about how varied Idaho is--for many purposes, not least affirmative action at Harvard.

Truth be told, Educated moved me profoundly.  I grew up in a remote and mountainous area of Arkansas, with a mentally ill father and an abusive brother, so I felt I had a lot in common with Westover.  Also like Westover, access to higher education transformed my life.

Westover's is the rare book that moved not only my mother and my sister (who, like me, grew up working class in rural Arkansas), but also my poshly-raised and poshly-educated husband.  That said, I noted that it moved each of us for somewhat different reasons, in somewhat different ways.

In any event, I'm surprised I never wrote about the book in my Literary Ruralism series.  Put that on the "to do" list.

For now, though, I'll just excerpt some short passages from the conversation between Goldberg and Westover, with a focus on politics, the rural-urban divide, and a failure of empathy:
Goldberg: Do people in Idaho and people in New York City have more in common than they think? Or are we really becoming two countries? 
Westover: We have a shared history and shared interests as Americans, that’s true, but it’s also true that Democrats and Republicans increasingly live and work in different places. We have different experiences. As a general rule, I think we focus far too much on Donald Trump. We act like he’s the problem, but he’s not. He’s just a symptom—a sign of poor political hygiene. 
Goldberg: Poor political hygiene? 
Westover: Social media has flooded our consciousness with caricatures of each other. Human beings are reduced to data, and data nearly always underrepresent reality. The result is this great flattening of human life and human complexity. We think that because we know someone is pro-choice or pro-life, or that they drive a truck or a Prius, we know everything we need to know about them. Human detail gets lost in the algorithm. Thus humanity gives way to ideology. 
Goldberg: So good political hygiene includes a respect for human complexity? 
Westover: Our political system requires us to have a basic level of respect for each other, of empathy for each other. That loss of empathy is what I call a breaking of charity.
When asked if Idaho is parochial, Westover responded:
I used to think of Idaho as parochial, and I used to think of cities as sophisticated. And in many ways, I was right. You can get a better education in a city; you can learn more technical skills, and more about certain types of culture. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that there are many ways a person can be parochial. Now I define parochial as only knowing people who are just like you—who have the same education that you have, the same political views, the same income. And by that definition, New York City is just about the most parochial place I’ve ever lived. I have become more parochial since I came here.
On her migration from rural to urban, Westover concedes she's "more urbanite now than hayseed."
At some point, you have to acknowledge that you can’t embody your origins forever. At some point, you have to surrender your card.
I appreciate her honesty in this regard.  Westover's decision is in contrast to Sarah Smarsh, who chose to return to Kansas, albeit to a different slice of life there, so she could write more authentically about it.  I think I'm somewhere between Westover and Smarsh in my relationship to my rural roots and my home state. 

Read the Westover interview in its entirety here.  And if you haven't already done so, read Educated, too.  It's an extraordinary story of an extraordinary life.  And if you're the type who takes your education for granted, it might counter that impulse. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Revisiting Paradise Lost, a year on

The Camp Fire destroyed the Butte County city of Paradise, along with a few smaller communities, a year ago today.  Thus, many radio programs and newspapers are running commemorative features.  I'm linking to just a few of them below.  Legal Ruralism's earlier coverage of the Camp Fire disaster is here, here, and here.   And here you'll find the CalATJ's policy brief on rural disasters, which was published this summer. 

From Northstate Public Radio

From National Public Radio--predictably about sports (another exemplar of that is here)

From the New York Times.

From the Sacramento Bee. 

From the Los Angeles Times

From the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hatin' on rural people

A Tweet by a guy named Jackson Kernion came across my Twitter feed yesterday.  Indeed, since I write about rural stuff, it popped up several times over the course of a few hours.  Here's what it said:
I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans.  they, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions.  Some, I assume, are good people, but this is nostalgia for some ... 
I'm pasting below the screen shot I took.  When I went to reTweet my friend Chris Chavis's Tweet, I saw that Kernion's Tweet had been removed.  

Then I came across this on Kernion's Twitter feed: 
Pretty sure I did a bad tweet here.  Gonna delete it.
I'll want to reflect on it more later, but my tone is way crasser and meaner than I like to think I am.

Wish I knew what the rest of Kernion's initial Tweet said.  My Twitter reply to his retraction:  "thanks for hitting the pause button on this." 

Kernion, I see, is a candidate for a PhD in Philosophy at UC Berkeley, focusing on philosophy of the mind, philosophy of science and epistemology.  The description of his dissertation research, on his personal home page, looks appropriately cerebral.  Nothing there hints at why he might harbor such animus to rural folks.  His Twitter profile shows his location as Palo Alto, California--so maybe living among the super rich and uber urban has done it to him.     

Kernion's Tweet reminds me of the comments of former FCC chair Michael Katz a decade ago: 
Other people don’t like to say bad things about rural areas . . . [s]o I will. . . . The notion that we should be helping people who live in rural areas avoid the costs that they impose on society . . . is misguided . . . from an efficiency point of view and an equity one.” Katz called rural places “environmentally hostile, energy inefficient and even weak in innovation, simply because rural people are spread out across the landscape.
That's as quoted in my 2011 article, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars, which surveyed anti-rural rhetoric in the 2008 presidential race, mostly rhetoric in mainstream, left-leaning media.  It wasn't pretty but little of it was as blunt or harsh as Katz's.  To my knowledge, he never withdrew his comments, or apologized for them.

Here's another item, this one from the Washington Post opinion pages in June, that reflects animus toward rural folks, "When we think of America, we shouldn't think rural." 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Yet another post about the demise of rural grocery stores

Several folks called my attention to Jack Healy's story in the New York Times today--this one about the loss of rural grocery stores.  The headline is poignant, "Farm Country Feeds America.  But Just Try Buying Groceries There."  The dateline is Winchester, Illinois, population 1,650.   Here's the lede:
The only grocery store in his 1,500-person hometown in central Illinois had shut its doors, and [John Paul]  Coonrod, a local lawyer, was racing to get a community-run market off the ground. He had found space in an old shoe store, raised $85,000 from neighbors and even secured a liquor license to sell craft beer. 
Healy also provides anecdotes regarding grocery stores in Kansas, Florida and New Mexico.  And he talks about politics and terminology.  Here are two fascinating excerpts: 
Many of the places losing their grocery stores are conservative towns that value industrial agriculture and low taxes. About 75 percent of the people in the county containing Winchester voted for President Trump. But people in these communities have also approved public money to kick-start local markets, and they are supporting co-ops whose cloth-bag values and hand-stuffed packs of arugula can feel more Berkeley than Mayberry.
And on the marketing or terminology note: 
“Communities tell me: We don’t want to use the term co-op,” said Sean Park, a program manager for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. He has helped guide rural towns through setting up their own markets. “It’s ironic because it was farmers who pioneered co-ops. They’re O.K. with ‘community store.’ They’re the same thing, but you’ve got to speak the language.” 
It's a terrific story, but as I read it, I experienced "deja vu all over again" because I've read so many stories and written so many posts over the dozen-year life of Legal Ruralism about rural communities losing their grocery stores.  Indeed, when I searched legal ruralism for "grocery store," dozens of posts came up.  It also reminded me of this op-ed in thew New York Times a few years ago, "Vermont Town Seeks a Heart, Soul (Also Milk and  Eggs)."  I'd intended to write a post about it, in relation to this post about a Colorado grocery store during that same period, but I never got around to it.  Here's an excerpt from the piece about the Vermont store in danger of closing, in Ripton, population 588.
If towns could write personal ads, this one would be taking pen in hand for the first time in 42 years — making a pitch for companionship, a pitch aimed at finding someone who might be willing to take a chance on something a little out of the Twittery Trumpy twitchy mainstream.
* * * 

[W]e’re about to lose the heart and soul of our community, the husband and wife who have run our general store since 1976.
Dick and Sue Collitt are retiring, and we need someone to buy them out and take their place. Because if you don’t have a store, you can’t really have a town. True, we live in an age when stores seem like relics.
These stories all grapple with the consequences of a town losing its grocery store.  Can you have a town without one?  is it more or less critical than the post office?  or the school?  to sustaining a place?

Monday, November 4, 2019

Literary Ruralism (Part XVII) Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

A year after it was published in fall, 2018, I recently started reading Sarah Smarsh's Heartland:  A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.  Smarsh is writing--in memoir format, with some political commentary--about many of the same phenomena I've been writing about for more than a dozen years--including the white working class, rural America, and institutional and government neglect of both.  She's also writing about rural women, one of my first rural topics, starting with Toward a Feminist Theory of the Rural (2007).  I'm going to excerpt here just a few things Smarsh said about rural women in her memoir, and I'll come back to some of our other overlapping interests in future posts.
I was fortunate to have a kind father in a place where women's bodies were vulnerable for being rural, for being poor, for being women.  I grew up listening to Betty (maternal grandmother) console my cousins, aunts, and family friends as they sat at the kitchen table after a beating.  They might have a black eye from a fist or sticky hospital-tape residue on their forearms from an emergency room visit after being knocked unconscious with a baseball bat.  On my mom's side of the family, that sort of terror was a tradition. (p. 78, emphasis/bold mine)
Smarsh goes on to document in some detail several generations of dysfunction, including domestic violence against her grandmother Betty and her great-grandmother Dorothy.  Her own mother was Jeannie, the daughter of Betty and ne'er do well Ray, who was only occasionally in the picture physically, but who nevertheless left a psychological mark.
Betty, too, would grow up to marry abusive men, and that chaos would shape Jeanie's early life.  But when it was Jeanie's turn to become a wife and mother, she somehow managed to pick a man who respected her.  The violence was in her.  I felt it every day in words or slaps.  But mostly she kept her distance.  And, crucially, she didn't choose men who would physically torment her or her children.  
Thus, for all the perils I remember about being little, within the context of my family I had relative safety in my own house.  Not just that, but a gentle father who loved me deeply.  That may well be the difference between Jeannie's life and mine, what allowed me to escape other family cycles she wouldn't--addiction, teen pregnancy, lack of a college degree.  (p. 81)
Related to all of this I will simply refer to my articles on rural women regarding a number of topics that Smarsh takes up head on or alludes to:  abortion access (here and here), domestic violence, and termination of parental rights.  This piece also speaks to the vulnerability associated with living remote from law enforcement, and this is a more theoretical treatment of the vulnerability of rural women.  Oh, and perhaps more salient is this from 2018:  The Women Feminism Forgot:  Rural and Working Class White Women in the Era of Trump.

Speaking of politics, something Smarsh reveals in the book is that her mother voted for Carter in 1980 (the year Sarah was born), for Reagan in 1984 (because the consensus was that he was a "good president").  As for Smarsh, she admits to having voted for Bush in 2000, the first presidential election in which she was eligible to vote.  In this regard, I appreciate some things Smarsh said in a podcast I heard:  she is the same person she was growing up, but as a journalist with a masters from Columbia University, she simply has access to different information than she had back then.  Based on what I've read, I gather she's a Bernie Sanders fan these days.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Palm Beach as "rural"?

That's what Eugene Scott of the Washington Post suggests in this column yesterday, which is headlined, "Trump’s exit from New York for Florida highlights America’s growing urban-rural divide."  Here are the most salient paragraphs:
[Trump's] recent decision to leave his penthouse on Fifth Avenue for residency in the state of Florida, where he has long vacationed, reminds us that Trump’s status as a leader of the culture wars — particularly the urban-rural divide — may be more defining than anything else.
* * *
Among the various culture wars dividing the country, one that has become increasingly visible under the Trump presidency is the urban-rural divide. Perhaps no election in recent history has shed more light than the 2016 race on how differently people in America’s more remote areas see issues from residents of metropolitan areas. And despite having been born and raised in arguably America’s most iconic city, the president’s worldview is most often associated with those far from the urban core. That is in part why Trump remains popular in rural America despite having low approval ratings in major cities — including his native New York, which he lost in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, who grew up in Chicago but lived in Arkansas before entering national politics.
One of the really odd things about Scott's column is that he never addresses the fact that there's nothing rural about Palm Beach, population 8,348.  It is located in metropolitan Palm Beach County, population 1.5 million.  The only way in which it could be considered rural is as a, well, kinda' foil to uber urban New York City. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

On the rural lawyer shortage in Illinois

This piece, "The Disappearing Rural Lawyer" appeared in 2Civility back in August, but it only recently came to my attention.  Attorney Mark Palmer writes, with a focus on Illinois data.  Here's an excerpt: 
The lack of rural lawyers in Illinois is becoming more pronounced by the year, according to the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice. As the rural lawyer population throughout much of the state declines, locating legal aid is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens in need. 
Shrinking Numbers Across America
The figure below in blue shows the distribution of the state’s 65,000 resident attorneys (30,000 registered Illinois attorneys live outside the state). When it comes to new attorneys (in pink), 52 counties admitted fewer than five new attorneys in the last five years. Sixteen counties admitted none.
The story also features some terrific color-coded maps which are also worth a look.  Further, as we know is true in California, the data tend to overstate the availability of attorneys.  Here's how Palmer explains it:
The number of available private practitioners is fewer once you take into account non-public facing attorneys. These include government jobs in the state’s attorney’s office, public defender officers and the judiciary, as well as those working non-legal jobs or in-house positions, and those otherwise not available to serve the public’s legal needs.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Vatican may make exception to allow married priests--in the remote Amazon

This idea has been in the works for well over a year, but news broke yesterday that Catholic Bishops are backing the ordination of married priests in the Amazon.  Here's an excerpt from Jason Horowitz's story for the New York Times:
It is the first time a grouping of bishops convened by a pope has endorsed such a historic change to the tradition of a celibate priesthood. The proposal is limited to remote areas of South America where there is a scarcity of priests but could set a precedent for easing the restriction on married priests throughout the world. 
If Francis, who has already signaled an openness on the issue, accepts the bishops’ recommendation, he will turn the remote areas of the Amazon region into a laboratory for a Catholic Church looking to the global south for its future, with married priests and indigenous rites mixing with traditional liturgy.
* * * 
Liberal supporters said the change would address the unmet needs of a far-flung community and they expressed hope it would lead to similar changes elsewhere.
I've written a lot on these pages about the challenges of service delivery in remote locales, so this is an interesting development on that front--to change the rules regarding who can serve when so desperate for personnel. 

On the other hand, the bishops were not desperate enough to let women serve in the region: 
Francis said in remarks to the bishops after Saturday evening’s vote that the Vatican would continue to study the role of women in the early years of the church.

“We still haven’t grasped the significance of women in the Church,” he said. “Their role must go well beyond questions of function.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

On California's wildfires and blackouts, and their impact on rural folks

As we enter the second major round of blackouts in California, I thought I'd collect here some coverage of the last round, earlier this month, and also some breaking news of the impact on rural Californians up and down the state.

During the mid-October blackouts, the Wall Street Journal ran this story with the dateline Eureka, California, population 27,191, and county seat of Humboldt County, population 132,646.   The story features the North Coast Co-op, which had to throw out spoiled food after power was cut off.

Anita Chaba and Taryn Luna filed this story for the Los Angeles Times on October 11, headlined "PG&E power outages bring darkness, stress and debt to California’s poor and elderly."  The dateline is Clearlake, California, population 15,000, and its focus is the personal toll on residents living with the power outages, including the frail and elderly.  Here's an excerpt:
Few understood what the challenges would be until they were in the dark: a mom who couldn’t refill her son’s medication for bipolar disorder; a man with schizophrenia who couldn’t quiet the voices in his head without the television on; the people on dialysis who had to travel to another town. In El Dorado County, just northeast of Sacramento, an elderly man died minutes after apparently losing power to his CPAP machine, according to a report from the local fire agency, though an autopsy listed severe coronary artery atherosclerosis as the cause of death. 
Even little things became hard. Ice and charcoal were scarce, making it difficult to keep food cold or cook a meal. Freezing showers were too intimidating for elderly nursing home residents as fall arrives with 45-degree nights here. 
“You don’t know until it happens how it’s really going to affect you,” said Tara Drolma, 72, who was watching the power fade on her emergency battery, and wondering if she would have to choose between charging her electric wheelchair or her heart monitor.
In November last year, following the eruption of the Camp Fire which destroyed Paradise, California, the Los Angeles Times ran this story about possible long-term solutions to the state's fire danger.  Its headline is, "Deadly California fires prompt bold thinking about prevention: Shelters, strict zoning, buyouts."  It quotes Bruce Cain of Stanford's Bill Lane Center for the American West:
We have to really start to think about new measures and new approaches that have to be more drastic.  ...  [Among them is] “a strategic retreat from communities that are never going to be safe.
And here's perhaps the most ominous headline, from the New York Times this week, "A Forecast for a Warming World:  Learning How to Live with Wildfire."

As I prepare to post this, the Sonoma County communities of Healdsburg (population 11,254) and Windsor (population 26,801) are under evacuation orders because of the Kincaide Fire, which required the evacuation of smaller Geyserville (population 862) earlier this week.  Hundreds of thousands of customers are expected to be without power in both rural and urban parts of California this weekend.