Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Rural garners several mentions in first night of Dem debate, none in second night

Here are the mentions of "rural" in the July 30 debate, first night of two in the second round of Democratic candidates debating (emphasis added to the "rural" mention each time):

First, from former congressman Michael Delaney of Maryland, regarding the viability of Medicare for all, specifically Medicare reimbursement rates:
DELANEY: Listen, his math is wrong. That's all I'm saying -- that his math is wrong, it's been well-documented that if all the bills were paid at Medicare rate, which is specifically -- I think it's in section 1,200 of their bill, then many hospitals in this country would close. 
I've been going around rural America, and I ask rural hospital administrators one question, "If all your bills were paid at the Medicare rate last year, what would happen?"
And they all look at me and say, "We would close." 
But the question is, why do we have to be so extreme? Why can't we just give everyone health care as a right, and allow them to have choice?
(Here's a resource I just came across on rural hospital closures).

Second, there was Bernie Sanders when challenged about gun control wore the fact he's from rural Vermont as a defense:
SANDERS: I think we have got to do -- I think what I meant is what President Obama said, in that nobody up here is going to tell you that we have a magical solution to the crisis.
Now, I come from one of the most rural states in America. I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA. And as president I suspect it will be an F record. What I believe we have got to do is have the guts to finally take on the NRA.
Third, Beto O'Rourke talked rural and urban, red and blue, when asked how he could beat Donald Trump:
O'ROURKE: Bernie was talking about some of the battleground states in which we compete -- there is a new battleground state, Texas and it has 38 electoral college votes. And the way that we put it in play was by going to each one of those 254 counties. No matter how red or rural, we did not write you off. No matter how blue, or urban -- we did not take you for granted. 
And we didn't trim our sails, either. We had the courage of our convictions, talking about universal health care, comprehensive immigration reform, and confronting the challenge of climate before it is too late. We brought everyone in...
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota came next, when asked who on the stage was making promises they could not keep:
KLOBUCHAR: Everyone wants to get elected. But my point is this: I think when we have a guy in the White House that has now told over 10,000 lies, that we'd better be very straightforward with the American people. 
And, no, do I think that we are going to end up voting for a plan that kicks half of America off of their current insurance in four years? No, I don't think we're going to do that. I think there is a better way to get what we all want to see, which is lower costs for health care. 
Do I think that we're going to vote to give free college to the wealthiest kids? No, I don't think we're going to do that. So that's what I'm talking about. 
But what I don't like about this argument right now, what I don't like about it at all, is that we are more worried about winning an argument than winning an election. 
(APPLAUSE) 
And I think how we win an election is to bring everyone with us. And, yes, I have won in a state every single time statewide. I have won those congressional districts that Donald Trump won by over 20 points. He just targeted Minnesota last week. And I have done it by getting out there and talking to people, by knowing rural issues and farm issues...
I noticed that Klobuchar touted her midwesternness, presumably as related to her electability, several times.

The fifth mention was back to Senator Bernie Sanders, responding to Montana governor Steve Bullock:
SANDERS: Look, Steve, there ain't nobody in the Congress who's more strongly pro-worker than I am. So when I talk about taking on the fossil fuel industry, what I am also talking about is a just transition. All right. We can create what the Green New Deal is about. It's a bold idea. We can create millions of good-paying jobs. We can rebuild communities in rural America that have been devastated. So we are not anti-worker. We are going to provide and make sure that those workers have a transition, new jobs, healthcare and education.
And the sixth mention brings us back to Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was talking rural infrastructure:
I think the Governor here in Michigan smartly ran on the slogan, “fix the damn roads,” and it is an issue for union jobs. And so I think what we need to do is not have a president that’s promised he was going to do that on election night, if anyone remembers. And then he hasn’t followed through -- he has done nothing, he blew up a meeting at the White House. 
I would put $1 trillion in to this, and I would pay for it by first of all changing the capital gains rate by doing something when it comes to that regressive tax bill that left everyone behind, but really made his Mar-a-Lago friends richer as he promised. 
And I would take that money and put it in to rural broadband and green infrastructure so you won't have what you just saw in Detroit with the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, the African neighborhood -- that was African-American neighborhood that was most-hit when you had those recent rainstorms. 
And I truly believe that if we're going to move on infrastructure --
Klobuchar also mentioned rural --as in rural and urban--when talking about the need for economic development:
The second thing I would say is that economic opportunity means economic opportunity for everyone in this country. I know that because I have lived it. And that means when we put out there better childcare and better education, and we pay teachers more, and we make sure there's a decent retirement system in place, yes, we help the African-American community and we must, because they have been the ones that have been most hurt by what we've seen in the last decades, but we help everyone. 
So what I say to the people in my rural parts of my state, just like I say to them in the city and bring them together, is that economic opportunity must be there for everyone.
I just finished watching the second night of the second debate, and I didn't hear any mentions of "rural."  I'll be checking the transcript, however, to be sure because perhaps I missed some.   

Krugman conflates working-class whiteness and rurality (or, a return to The Geography of the Class Culture Wars)

Paul Krugman asserts in his New York Times column, "A Racist Stuck in the Past," that Trump is stuck not in the antebellum period, Reconstruction or even Jim Crow--but in 1989, a mere 30 years ago.  It's an interesting rhetorical strategy--to talk about the relatively recent past as "the past."  Krugman's point is that Trump conflates the urban with blackness and black dysfunction, and he dates this back at least to Trump's response to the brutal 1989 beating of the so-called Central Park Jogger:  Trump called for the death penalty for the so-called Central Park Five, the five men arrested for the crime.  The five were later exonerated, in 2002, but Trump has never admitted he was wrong about the men.

Krugman uses those events as a jumping off point to talk about how urban black dysfunction has evolved into rural white dysfunction in a short three decades, a trend he says Trump is in denial about:
[Trump's] vision of “American carnage” is one of a nation whose principal social problem is inner-city violence, perpetrated by nonwhites. That’s a comfortable vision if you’re a racist who considers nonwhites inferior. But it’s completely wrong as a picture of America today. 
For one thing, violent crime has fallen drastically since the early 1990s, especially in big cities. Our cities certainly aren’t perfectly safe, and some cities — like Baltimore — haven’t shared in the progress. But the social state of urban America is vastly better than it was. 
On the other hand, the social state of rural America — white rural America — is deteriorating. To the extent that there really is such a thing as American carnage — and we are in fact seeing rising age-adjusted mortality and declining life expectancy — it’s concentrated among less-educated whites, especially in rural areas, who are suffering from a surge in “deaths of despair” from opioids, suicide and alcohol that has pushed their mortality rates above those of African-Americans. 
And indicators of social collapse, like the percentage of prime-age men not working, have also surged in the small town and rural areas of the “eastern heartland,” with its mostly white population.
Note that Krugman's definition of rural is quite broad--seemingly any place not the inner city.  

Krugman goes on to explain how these events confirm what William Julius Wilson wrote decades ago: the problem of three or four decades ago was not "some peculiar problem with black culture."  Rather, the catalyst for the decline of African Americans was poor job opportunities and the attendant decline of the traditional family.  Krugman asks how one might test Wilson's hypothesis:   
Well, you could destroy job opportunities for a number of white people, and see if they experienced a decline in propensity to work, stopped forming stable families, and so on. And sure enough, that’s exactly what has happened to parts of nonmetropolitan America effectively stranded by a changing economy.
Krugman concludes:
What the changing face of American social problems shows is that people are pretty much the same, whatever the color of their skin. Give them reasonable opportunities for economic and personal advancement, and they will thrive; deprive them of those opportunities, and they won’t.
The colorblindness aspect of the first part of conclusion will annoy many, but I generally like Krugman's argument.  What I'm less comfortable with is his conflation of rurality with whiteness and white dysfunction.  Indeed, his column seems to me a terrific illustration of what I called, in my 2010 article, "The Geography of the Class Culture Wars," a progressive tendency to project what's wrong with America onto rural people and places, who are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) raced white.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Solving outmigration from rural America is anything but simple

When we think about the future economic vitality of rural spaces, what often comes to mind? We think about the shortage of skilled labor, of course, plumbers, electricians, and the like. Do we often think about the need for doctors, lawyers, social workers, and teachers? This answer is going to depend upon who you ask and what they have been exposed to. The Bangor Daily News recently featured an article by a seasonal Maine resident that posited that rural Maine needs more tradesmen in order to secure its future vitality.

The article starts off by noting a demographic trend that has become all too common, the local high school experiencing a decline in enrollment. My own high school experienced a similar fate and was recently closed as a result. The author thinks however that students are being pushed too heavily into the college prep curriculum, which he says leads to students leaving because those jobs are often not found in rural Maine. He instead says that students should be pushed into vocational studies because there is a pressing need for tradesmen in rural Maine, an idea that he says that "too few are discussing."

I respectfully disagree with this viewpoint.

As anyone who reads my writing knows, there is a pressing lawyer shortage in rural Maine. I wrote about the numbers behind this shortage in a recent Maine Law Review article (link forthcoming). The University of Maine has even launched a rural lawyer initiative to help solve this shortage. Others have written about Maine's doctor shortage, a professor at the University of New England even wrote about the possibility that physician assistants, which UNE trains, can help to alleviate this shortage. There is also nursing shortage in rural Maine, which the University of Maine has pledged to work to solve by increasing its enrollment of nurses over the coming years. School districts in rural Maine are having difficulty filling teaching positions, often in subjects such as math, science, and special education. The social worker shortage in rural Maine has also been a topic of conversation for years. There is a dire need for people to fill positions in rural Maine that require at least a bachelor's degree.

In my opinion, the author is trying to falsely equate correlation to causation. The causes behind outmigration are multifaceted. For example, many high achievers are pushed to leave. A 2016 study of the phenomena zeroed in on Aroostook County, Maine and found that students often do not return home because of societal attitudes towards doing so. The book Hollowing Out the Middle, written by sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas in 2010, did a great job of describing how high achievers in rural spaces are often driven away by adults who feel that they can "do better." Working to change people's attitudes about home would go a long way towards helping to solve this problem. Increasing the number of students that are pushed into a vocational curriculum would do little. Students need to be pushed into the college prep curriculum because these communities need college educated professionals to fill critical health care, legal, and social needs.

The author of this piece draws an overly simplistic false dichotomy to describe how to solve the problem of outmigration. This problem is anything but simple and shuffling kids into vocational programs won't stop the bleeding.

Oregon climate legislation torpedoed by rural interests

High Country News reported a few weeks ago on the failure of state legislation that would have curbed carbon emissions.  The story is headlined, "Rural anxieties derailed Oregon's climate plans."  The proposed legislation sent Republican legislators fleeing the state--to Idaho, just across the state line for many in the state's most conservative eastern reaches--to avoid the vote.

These excerpts sum up the rural politics (and some other aspects) of the matter:
After the climate legislation was shelved, lawmakers passed more than 100 bills in a frenzied weekend before the legislative session ended on June 30. But the battle over the carbon emissions legislation revealed a deepening political chasm between Oregon’s conservative rural areas and liberal population centers. Republicans held firm to their base, aligning with legacy industries and the rural jobs they support, rather than engaging in restructuring the economy to address carbon pollution. While the potential costs of the climate legislation took center stage, a deeper economic truth went unspoken — that the issues that hamper the fiscal well-being of rural Oregon have less to do with environmental regulations than with broader market forces, from international policy to demographics.
* * * 
at least initially, the climate bill would have cost rural Oregonians more. According to an analysis by The Oregonian, fuel taxes would hit wallets harder outside urban centers, where people drive longer distances in less fuel-efficient vehicles and lack access to public transportation. Higher energy costs also raised concerns about milling and manufacturing jobs leaving the state for friendlier economic conditions.

Still, Oregon’s rural communities face larger forces than the proposed carbon pricing system. For nearly three decades, the state’s less-populated counties have fallen behind urban centers in wages and employment.
I have written elsewhere about the higher cost of transportation in rural areas--in part for the reasons mentioned here.  Yes, some rural people could get by with smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.  Many others could not because of the nature of the work they do.

I appreciate the tone of Carl Segerstrom's reporting in this piece--and also that High Country News typically takes the perspectives of rural folks--including their economic concerns--seriously.  I don't recall ever seeing this publication ridicule "rural people as rural people," because their rurality was accompanied by an implicit (let alone explicit) presumption of incompetence or idiocy. 

Massive California oil spill leaves locals unbothered

I've been hearing coverage of this major spill for a few weeks now, including of Gavin Newsom's visit to McKittrick, population 115, the town closest to it on the western edge of Kern County.  Here's the Los Angeles Times latest:  "California's biggest oil spill in decades brings more defiance than anger from locals."  Here's an excerpt from Louis Sahagun's story, specifically excerpts from interviews with several folks at Mike and Annie's Penny Bar:
“Environmentalists have it all wrong,” argued Troy Smith, 46, an oil field worker who grew up in the area. “Compared with the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and BP’s deep-sea spill in the Gulf of Mexico, our little outbreak is nothing. Yet, they’re using it as an excuse to shut down California’s oil industry and wipe us out. 
“What more do they want?” he asked no one in particular. “We already work under the strictest standards imaginable, and adhere to them tooth and nail.” 
Smith, like many others in McKittrick, was more worried about how the largest California spill in nearly three decades would affect election campaigns and new oil industry legislation in Congress and the state Legislature.
Interesting California fact:  5.5 million people live within a mile of an oil well in the Golden State.  Of course, given California's 40 million residents, that's a relatively low percentage. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Are rural and working class white women re-thinking their support of Trump?

Recent focus groups conducted by Stanley Greenberg (the Democratic pollster) and colleagues in Bangor Maine and perhaps some other places (on this point, the sources are not absolutely clear to me) suggest that working class white women may not be as loyal to Trump as working class white men.  In particular, white working-class women are put off by Trump's crassness and bombast, while their male counterparts tend not to be.  Ronald Brownstein summarized in The Atlantic a few days ago, under the headline "Will Trump's Racist Attacks Help Him?  Ask Blue-Collar White Women":
And a new set of focus groups in small-town and rural communities offers fresh evidence that the gender gap over Trump within this bloc is hardening.

In the Rust Belt states that tipped the 2016 election to Trump—Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—few things may matter more than whether Democrats can fan doubts about Trump that have surfaced among blue-collar white women or whether the president can rebuild his margins among them with his polarizing racial and ideological attacks. 
“The white working-class men look like they are approaching the 2016 margins for Trump, but not the women,” says the veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, in a judgment supported by public polling. “Clearly the women are in a different place.” Greenberg conducted the focus groups, whose findings were released today, for the American Federation of Teachers.
The Intelligencer also ran a story on the focus groups, quoting liberally from the Brownstein story.  Here's a link to the Greenberg survey/focus group docs.

And here is my own 2018 law review article about rural and working class white women in the era of Trump.  I speculated that most working class white women see their economic well being (if one could fairly use the word "well" to express what I'm thinking about) as so connected to the jobs of their husbands and boyfriends that they are not troubled by Trump's bad behavior, including his crass language.  In other words, to quote James Carville, "It's the economy stupid."  I sure hope I'm wrong.  Interestingly, the Brownstein story above includes the following, which suggests that people are not voting based solely on their pocketbooks--that Trump's "exclusionary racist and cultural messages" are off-putting to them:
In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll released earlier this week, fully one-third of adults who said the economy is working for them personally still said they disapprove of Trump’s job performance. An equal share of these voters said they now intend to vote against him for reelection. To offset that unusual defection among the economically content, Trump must maximize his margins—and turnout—among the groups that have been most receptive to his exclusionary racist and cultural messages: older, nonurban, evangelical-Christian, and non-college-educated white voters.
And speaking of blue-collar whites, here's a feature story from today's Des Moines Register out of Clinton County, Iowa (population 49,116), whose electorate twice backed Obama only to flip for Trump in 2016.  The headline is "Democrats' Hope for White House Success Run Through this Iowa County."  The story by Brianne Pfannenstiel features the chair of the county's Democratic Party, Bill Jacobs, who takes campaign organizers for the various presidential candidates on tours of his county:
When a new campaign organizer arrives in his corner of Iowa, he meets the person in the gravel parking lot outside the party’s headquarters, they climb into his gray Toyota minivan, and they set off for a drive. 
With the radio tuned to classic rock, Jacobs drives northeast along Liberty Avenue past the looming Archer Daniels Midland Co. plant, where a constant procession of grain trucks loops through to drop off corn for processing. 
He follows the curve of the Mississippi River where the city has invested in recreation and tourism. He points out the boarded-up retail shops on Main Avenue. 
"So much of the tour I give is talking about things that used to be here," Jacobs said. "We're really looking for the next big thing." 
He drives past the recently renovated lodge at Eagle Point Park, where the unions hold their annual Labor Day picnic.  (emphasis mine) 
Note the focus on what the county previously had and the need for economic revitalization.  The feature also touches on race--of course--and is well worth a read in its entirety.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

My Rural Travelogue (XXIII): A California summer on the road

Redwood Coast Transit Schedule, Smith River (Del Norte County), California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
Most of my travel this summer has been road-tripping through parts of the Golden State.  I'm on my third trip of the summer now, to Sonoma County.  The other two have taken me farther afield (meaning farther from my Sacramento County home), first to Del Norte County, the state's farthest northwest reaches and then to Los Angeles via the coast, back through the Central Valley.   All told, these journeys have added up to well over 2,000 miles, many of them on Highway 101.  For this post, I'm using photos of post offices and (meager) public transit systems to illustrate my journeys, though I have included in some earlier posts this summer (here) a wider array of photos from Del Norte County.

On these three trips, I have passed through 25 different counties--nearly half of the state's total.  Specifically, I have traversed some part of the following California counties (in order of my passage, and showing county seats and populations in parentheses): 
U.S. Post Office Smith River (Del Norte) County, California, July 2019
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
Trip 1:
Yolo County (population 200,849, Woodland)
Colusa County (21,419, Colusa)
Glenn County (28,122, Willows)
Redwood Coast Transit Bus, Del Norte County, California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 
Tehama County (63,463, Red Bluff)
Shasta County (177,223, Redding)
Trinity County (13,786, Weaverville)
Humboldt County (132,646, Eureka)
Del Norte County (28,610, Crescent City)
(then heading south again through Humboldt)
Mendocino County (87,841, Ukiah)
Lake County (64,655, Lakeport)
U.S. Post Office Cambria (San Luis Obispo County), California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

U.S. Post Office Big Sur (Monterey County), California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019


Trip 2:
San Joaquin County (685,306, Stockton)
Stanislaus County (514,453, Modesto)
Merced County (255,793, Merced)
San Benito County (55,269, Hollister)
Monterey County (415,057, Salinas)
San Luis Obispo County (269,637,  San Luis Obispo)
Santa Barbara County (423,895, Santa Barbara)
Ventura County (823,318, Oxnard
Los Angeles County (10 million give or take a few, Los Angeles)
(the heading north again through Ventura, SB, SLO...)
Kern County (839,631, Bakersfield), though I just nicked the corner on that one
Kings County (151,366 Hanford)
Fresno County (994,400 Fresno)
then back through Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties to Sacramento.

Trip 3:
Yolo County (see above)
Solano County (413.344, Fairfield
Napa County (136,484, Napa)
Sonoma County (483,878, Santa Rosa)

So, of the 25 counties through which I traveled, only 8 are classified as nonmetropolitan (population less than 100,000), and 7 of those 8 are in far northern California.  The 8th is San Benito, between Central and Salinas Valleys.

U.S. Post Office, Los Alamos (Santa Barbara County), California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
One striking thing about these journeys:  the incredible variety of terrain and climate across the Golden State, from mist-shrouded redwoods to parched rolling hills dotted by chaparral. 
U.S. Post Office Bodega (Sonoma Co)
California (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
Then of course, there's farmland from end to end:  orchards, cattle, and row crops including broccoli, strawberries and wine grapes.  (No doubt I've also driven past some cannabis, though I wasn't aware when I did.)


Sonoma Coast Transit Bus, near Bodega Bay, California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
Decades ago, the Republic of South Africa used the tourism slogan, "A World in One Country."  California could readily go with a similar slogan, "A World in one State."

Friday, July 26, 2019

Federal help for rural hospitals, including some in northern California

The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday out of Jackson, California, population 4,651, under the headline, "As rural hospitals and health care struggle, California hospitals are fighting back." Here's an excerpt:
For the past three decades, the number of hospitals in American rural areas has been declining at a steep pace. Among California’s 50 rural hospitals, four are at high risk of closing. Twenty have shut down since 1995, experts say. 
On Thursday, the federal Department of Health and Human Services attempted to stop the bleeding with a $20 million grant, distributed across 21 states. 
California hospitals received $1.5 million. Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley and Sutter Amador Hospital in Jackson each received $750,000 in Rural Residency Planning and Development Program grants to spend over a three-year period.
Journalist Caroline Ghisolfi quotes a press release from Alex Azar, the Secretary for Health and Human Services, who invokes Trump's commitment to (or at least popularity in) rural places:
Promoting the health of rural America is one of the Trump Administration’s healthcare priorities.  Supporting the training of healthcare providers in rural areas through grants like these is a key way to help expand rural access to care, and is part of an overall effort to support rural healthcare in sustainable, innovative, and flexible ways.
The Sutter Amador Hospital "will use the funds to expand its Family Medicine Residency Program to Jackson, making space for six additional physicians." 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Literary Ruralism (Part XV): Annie Proulx's comments on rural North America

This is from an interview Proulx did with the New Yorker in 1999 in which she commented on some of her literary influences.
Rural North America, regional cultures in critical economic flux, the images of an ideal and seemingly attainable world the characters cherish in their long views despite the rigid and difficult circumstances of their place and time.
This interview came two years after the magazine published Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain."  Here's the opening paragraph from that story:
They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of the state, Jack Twist in Lightning Flat, up on the Montana border, Ennis del Mar from around Sage, near the Utah line, both high-school drop-out country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life. Ennis, reared by his older brother and sister after their parents drove off the only curve on Dead Horse Road, leaving them twenty-four dollars in cash and a two-mortgage ranch, applied at age fourteen for a hardship license that let him make the hour-long trip from the ranch to the high school. The pickup was old, no heater, one windshield wiper, and bad tires; when the transmission went, there was no money to fix it. He had wanted to be a sophomore, felt the word carried a kind of distinction, but the truck broke down short of it, pitching him directly into ranch work.
Brokeback Mountain was, of course, made into a film released in 2005.

I'd say Proulx's 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Shipping News, also nicely lives up to her "difficult circumstances of place and time" description. 

According to amazon.com, Proulx lives in Wyoming and Newfoundland, the places these two stories are set. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rural So Cal epicenter of big California quakes

The two earthquakes that struck on 4 and 5 July, with Richter scale readings of 6.4 and 7.1 respectively, were centered in California's high desert, closest to the Kern County city of Ridgecrest, population  27,616.  The small city lies nearly at the point where San Bernardino County and Inyo County meet Kern County; another nearby population cluster is called Inyokern.  This is a sparsely populated area several hours east/northeast of Los Angeles, in the Mojave desert.

That the epicenter of the quakes occurred in such a sparsely populated area would seem to explain why the quakes caused relatively little damage, as this LA Times story speculated a few weeks ago.  The headline for Rong-Gong Lin II's story is "Ridgecrest earthquake mystery:  Why so little destruction from such huge tremblors?" Here's a key quote about the relative lack of damage and the reasons for it: 
Yes, mobile homes were torn off foundations, chimneys fell, gas lines leaked and some homes caught fire. But overall, most buildings did fine — and many businesses were up and running within a day or two of the biggest shock, a magnitude 7.1. 
“Ridgecrest, I’m just amazed,” California Earthquake Authority structural engineer Janiele Maffei said of the light damage.
As a result, Ridgecrest suffered far less damage than cities hit by less powerful quakes in recent years, including Napa and Paso Robles, where older buildings in the downtown areas crumbled amid the shaking.
Ken O'Dell, president of the Structural Engineers Assn. of Southern California, commented: 
You take a 7.1 and put it into the Hollywood fault or Newport-Inglewood fault in Long Beach — we’re going to see substantially different levels of damage.  Ridgecrest did a very good job surviving this particular 7.1.
But Keith Porter, a research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, said Ridgecrest’s result should not be seen as a “victory lap.”
We still have dangerous buildings, and we still have a building code that is not optimal and doesn’t protect society as well as it could.  Instead of a dozen collapsed manufactured homes, hundreds or thousands of collapsed manufactured homes. Instead of four or so building fires, hundreds of building fires.
Porter thus suggests that the relatively small population and limited built environment of Ridgecrest accounts in large part for the minimal damage.

Lin also compares the relative lack of damage from the Ridgecrest quake to the likely damage from quakes of similar intensity in most populated regions of the State.
A U.S. Geological Survey simulation said a plausible magnitude 7.1 earthquake on the Hayward fault in the Bay Area could kill 800 people, burn the equivalent of 52,000 single-family homes and displace 400,000 people, worsening the region’s housing crisis.

And a hypothetical magnitude 7.8 earthquake that would send violent shaking waves along a 186-mile section of the southern San Andreas fault could kill 1,800 people, leave 50,000 injured and cause lasting harm to Southern California’s economy.
Finally, here's a link to some cool satellite photos showing the actual shift in the earth/plates during the earthquake.

Another interesting story about the Ridgecrest earthquake regarded the town's newspaper, the Ridgecrest Independent, and the fabulous job it did covering the quake.  Here's the lede for the CNN story:
Saturday's edition of the Ridgecrest Daily Independent newspaper was just about to go to the printing press when the earth shook again Friday night
The front page headline -- "The Time Ridgecrest Rocked" -- was all about the prior day's 6.4 earthquake, which was centered near Ridgecrest. 
So the staff stripped a new banner at the very top of the page and explained that the 7.1 earthquake had caused further gas leaks and fires in the area. The Friday night timing of the quake made the paper's website and Facebook accounts the best way to get updates to readers. 
The Daily Independent is a true local paper -- with standalone stories on its home page about damage to a mobile home; the fairgrounds; and the community college.   

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A good example of living off the informal economy

It's fair season in much of the United States, and this means among other things that my home town newspaper, the Newton County Times, is running features on the county's honored farmers in different categories:  Farm Family of the Year, Junior Farmers and Senior Farmer.  One thing that caught my eye in the story about the Farm Woman of the Year is how the woman, Samantha, and her family earn a living--primarily through the informal economy and with seasonal work.  Indeed, even before they describe the woman's farming endeavors, they report this about her husband, Clayton:
Clayton finds employment in the landscaping and hardwood industries.  He also works for the National Park Service part time as a fire fighter, sometimes spending time away from home on short assignments in other states.  
As for the female farmer, the story reports in the next paragraph:
Samantha also works during the school year as a substitute teacher at the Deer School.  She has also served as the school cheer coach.
The farm includes a garden, but Samantha admits she isn't the one with the green thumb in the family.  That is mostly her husband's department.
In addition to goats on the farm,
There are some rabbits, donkeys, horses, two milking Jersey heifers, chickens, a pair of geese and hive or two of bees that Clayton said are important pollinators for the farm.  Most of the livestock was received in trades.
The end of the story appropriately includes this:
Samantha said her one priority is to teach her children that they can live with what they have and how to be self-sufficient.  You can do anything if you have ingenuity.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Imploring college grads to consider rural careers, lives

Samuel J. Abrams writes in an op-ed in the New York Times, headlined, "Hey College Graduates:  Don't Dismiss Rural America" (and sub-headed:  "You don’t have to live in a big city to succeed economically and socially"):
When I talk to undergraduate students about their postgraduate plans, they typically tell me about something that involves moving to a large city. They are often sure of the city even before they know what they want to do there. When I ask why they are moving to San Francisco — or Denver, or Nashville or New York — the answer inevitably reveals a common assumption: Big cities are where highly educated people must go to succeed economically and socially.
He analyzed data from a national survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, and part of his analysis follows:
Let’s start with the idea that urban areas are overwhelmingly progressive and rural areas overwhelmingly conservative. This is simply wrong. It is true that ideological differences by urbanization level exist, but they are smaller than you might think. In large cities, 39 percent of the population identifies as liberal in some form, 23 percent as conservative and 38 percent as moderate. The inverse is true for rural areas, where 20 percent of residents are liberal, compared with 42 percent conservative and 37 percent moderate.
Other data points Abrams highlights include these:
  • Twenty-one percent of educated urbanites reported that there were plenty of good jobs available in their communities, a figure that actually increased to 24 percent for rural areas.
  • Ninety-five percent of college graduate urban residents said they anticipated that their finances would be better or the same in a year.
Abrams is a political scientist who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Big feature in The Atlantic on rural criminal justice

The headline for Jessica Pishko's big feature in The Atlantic is, "The Shocking Lack of Lawyers in Rural America," and the dateline is one familiar to criminal justice advocates:   Jena, Louisiana, population 3,398, in LaSalle Parish.  (The reason for this familiarity is the Jena 6, a 2007 case involving six African American high school students).  An alternative headline for Pishko's piece is, "When the Legal System Leaves Rural Americans Behind."

Of course, rural justice systems and the rural lawyer shortage have been the topics of several of my recent publications, including here, here and here.  The Atlantic headlines (excepting the subhead) for Pishko's piece don't reveal that the story is really about criminal justice, but a subhead does:  While cities are trying to reform their criminal-justice systems, smaller, more far-flung locales are struggling to provide basic services."  

An excerpt follows:  
The state of rural criminal justice rarely gets reported. In these areas, prosecutors tend not to run on reform platforms. Activists demanding accountability, or asking for the release of people imprisoned for drug possession so they can get treatment in lieu of jail time, are fewer in number.
This reveals the heart of Pishko's story:  the impact of the rural lawyer shortage on rural criminal justice.  At this point, Pishko pivots to the work of the Vera Institute (read more here), which reveals that since 2008, "urban jail populations have shrunk dramatically, while rural ones continue to rise; the highest incarceration rates are now in rural counties."  She includes a quote from Christian Henrichson, research director for the Vera Institute’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections.
This dynamic has profound national implications because it means that people in an enormous swath of the country are being left behind.
One reason for the expansion of rural jails is that local governments (typically counties) contract with state prison systems and ICE to house their inmates.  Another is the rural lawyer shortage:
But many of these rural jails house a large number of local defendants who are awaiting trial.... According to Vera, while urban pretrial populations began to level off and then decline in the early 2000s, those populations kept growing in rural counties, eventually eclipsing urban ones. In 2013, rural counties had 265 pretrial detainees per 100,000 people, almost one-third higher than the urban rate.
As for the story Pishko tells about Jena and LaSalle Parish, here's a key excerpt:
Everyone charged with a crime was appointed a public defender by the judge, as promised by the Constitution. But only three public defenders served the entire parish, working for the 28th Judicial District Court, and they each had more than three times the state’s recommended caseload; all held second or even third jobs to make their own ends meet.
Not surprisingly, conflicts of interest were/are also part of the story of criminal defense representation.  (Here's a 2016 post that gives a flavor of state of public defense in rural Louisiana)

Pishko's entire piece is well worth a read.  And so is my 2010 article, co-authored with Beth Colgan, on local funding of indigent defense (strapped local government budgets are part of the problem with respect to indigent defense, as well as jail finance and operation).  I've also written quite a lot about rural jails here on Legal Ruralism.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A historical nugget: The ethical responsibilities of small town lawyers

On October 14, 1949, the Boston Globe ran a story that discussed lawyers in rural Wisconsin and the amount of clout that they had in the community. The article mentioned that lawyers were more highly regarded in the state than clergy. The source, of course, was hardly scientific. The article came about because of a comment from a lawyer at National Association of Legal Aid Organizations, which took place at the Hotel Somerset in Boston. The article is useful however because it gives us a glimpse into the attitude towards the legal profession in at least one rural space in the first half of the 20th century.

The article (a snippet of which is to the right) also talks about the role of small town citizens in regulating the conduct of lawyers. This is an important feature of small town practice and of small town life in general. A lawyer in a small town generally relies on his personal and professional reputation to grow his or her client base. If a lawyer were to misbehave or behave unethically, it wouldn't take very long for the community to learn about it.

I also share this to note the long recognition of the role of a lawyer in a rural community. A rural lawyer has historically not functioned as a 9-5 job where the person was done with their job when they clocked out. In a city, a lawyer can blend into a general population and can stop being a "lawyer." In a rural space, a lawyer is always the lawyer.

More on the opioid crisis, and how local governments are fighting back against big pharma

The opioid crisis was initially associated with Appalachia, as well as with small-town America more broadly.  Now, a new spate of reporting is renewing that association.  Here's a story from today's New York Times, dateline Port Richey, Florida, population 2,831 (a suburb of Greater Tampa).  Indeed, the headline suggests a small-town-ness (as opposed to a suburban-ness), "3,271 Pill Bottles, a Town of 2,831: Court Filings Say Corporations Fed Opioid Epidemic."  Jan Hoffman, Katie Thomas, and Danny Hakim tell of a Walgreen employee who noticed that mismatch and wrote in an email to a colleague in January, 2011:
I don’t know how they can even house this many bottles to be honest.
Nevertheless, the next month's order from that store was similarly oversized.
The email was among thousands of documents from corporations across the pharmaceutical and retail industries — internal memos, depositions, sales and shipping reports, experts’ analyses, and other confidential information — filed Friday in federal court in Cleveland by lawyers for cities, towns and counties devastated by addiction. They lay out a detailed case of how diverse corporate interests — far beyond the familiar players like Purdue Pharma — fed a deadly opioid epidemic that persisted for nearly two decades.
The plaintiffs claim that
defendants ignored and violated laws that required them to monitor and report suspicious orders. They also argue that defendants created a “public nuisance” — a continuing crisis that affects the far reaches of public health, including neonatal intensive care, foster care, emergency services, detox and rehabilitation programs and the criminal justice system.
The suit implicates not just big names like Purdue, but also smaller players who were manufacturing opioids as generics.  Here's an excerpt about that part of the market--and defendant class:
Between 2003 and 2011, lawyers for the plaintiffs said in one filing, Mallinckrodt, the Ireland-based manufacturer of generic and branded drugs, sold 53 million orders of opioids. Yet the company stopped and then reported to federal authorities at most 33 orders as suspicious, a ratio the lawyers described as defying credibility.
Brian Mann for NPR reports on the same lawsuit here.  The suit consolidates nearly 2000 cases brought by cities and counties.   This is a particularly interesting part of this phenomenon--the involvement of local governments.  Indeed, I wonder how many of these county governments are nonmetropolitan; I'm guessing not many, if only because less populous (and thus less wealthy) counties have too few resources to pursue such claims, though it is possible that State Attorney Generals have reached out to even "rural" towns and counties.

Another report about this public nuisance theory in relation to the distribution of opioids is out of Oklahoma, where the state Attorney General is wrapping up a bench trial in a case against Johnson & Johnson.  Jackie Fortier of NPR reports in this story, where she quotes AG Hunter:
What is truly unprecedented here is the conduct of these defendants on embarking on a cunning, cynical and deceitful scheme to create the need for opioids.
Oklahoma is seeking $17 billion over 30 years to abate the state's public health crisis.  The story also includes some place-specific data, this out of Cleveland County, Oklahoma (home to Norman and the flagship campus of the University of Oklahoma), as recited by one of the state's attorneys:
What we do have in Cleveland County is 135 prescription opioids for every adult.  Those didn't get here from drug cartels. They got here from one cartel: the pharmaceutical industry cartel. And the kingpin of it all is Johnson & Johnson.
Purdue Pharma and Jersualem-based Teva Pharmaceuticals have already settled with the state of Oklahoma, for $270 million and $85 million, respectively.  Neither admitted wrong-doing. 

As the suits by local governments proceed (those consolidated in the northern district of Ohio), it'll be interesting to see how damages awards are allocated to those entities.  It also makes me wonder what responsibility county governments (as distinct from state governments) have in different states for responding to public health crises such as the one associated with opioids.  Is it just making sure that local ambulances are supplied with naloxone?  Is it about policing costs via county sheriffs?  or does this crisis hit county government coffers in other ways? 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The rural housing shortage (and inhabitability crisis) as seen from rural far northern California

All photos Smith River, California, July 2019 ((c) Lisa R. Pruitt)
A few days ago, I wrote this post about rural homelessness, prompted by coverage of the phenomenon in local media in Del Norte County, California and Curry County, Oregon.  Now I want to circle back and write about a related problem:  the rural housing shortage, including the lack of safe, habitable and affordable housing.

As I noted in the prior post, I was in the area to assist with home repair and improvement through the work of Sierra Service Project.  In that capacity and because of my current research on the rural housing shortage, I found myself surveying the local housing stock, also with an eye on  habitability issues.  What I saw gave me cause for concern--especially on the habitability front.  I'm featuring a few photos of area housing here, all structures that were clearly occupied.







And here's a source I recently found that provides some data about how Californians--including rural Californians--are being priced out of local housing markets.  If you know of other good data on rural housing, in California or elsewhere, qualitative or quantitative, please let me know about it.  



My home town considers development of a comprehensive plan for city

The July 10, 2019 issue of the Newton County Times reports that Jasper, Arkansas (population 466) is considering adopting a comprehensive economic development plan.  "If they succeed," the report states, Jasper would become the first municipality in Arkansas to create such a plan.  This seems to me an interesting turn of events given the county's persistent poverty status and its deficits in developed human capital. 

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute, which is consulting with the city of Jasper, are looking at using the plan of Floyd, Virginia, population 425, as a model.  Floyd, the report notes, "is very similar to Jasper in the ways of population, geography, highway access, and distance from larger cities." 

The story also explains: 
A comprehensive plan is a living document that changes with growth and development of the community... Necessary for the plan's success is full public involvement, leadership and, most importantly, youth involvement to ensure that the work will be carried into the future.  ... Other [Arkansas] communities have developed much narrower plans that focus on a few high profile projects to benefit business, government or the community to improve the area's overall quality of life.  
Some officials, apparently from the state, have visited Jasper and had conversations with several stakeholders.  The July 10 story reports:
The conversation ... took many directions including the need for educating the public about the plan, changing negative attitudes about local sales taxes and changing the culture of leaving he community to buy goods and services to one of shopping local.  
The plan would include an introduction giving a history about the community; state the process sued in the plan's development including the results of the surveys, other supporting data and analysis used in the plan.   
This analysis would include land use maps, employment, labor, income data, and revenue trends; housing; transportation including parking, roads and trails, a parking inventory; a list of public programs and facilities, infrastructure, government services, such as fire and police departments, water department and public works; tourism assets and educational assets such as the school and library.  
 The story indicates that the Economic Development Committee will conduct a meeting at the Jasper City Hall on July 22.  "Subject to be discussed include working remotely from home, business incentives, zoning and attraction of needed business and services."
 

New Hampshire to stop charging inmates for cost of incarceration

Last week New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu signed legislation that repealed a 1996 law that allowed the state to attempt to recoup the cost of incarcerating an inmate. The repeal came in the shadows of a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the practice. It will take effect in September and will not be retroactive.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, almost every state has some form of "pay to stay" legislation. This allows states to recoup at least some of the cost of incarceration of inmates. The amount and the circumstances under which they will be recoup vastly depends on the state. In New Hampshire, the law covered all types of incarceration and provides for reimbursement of room and board and the cost of medical care. There is a slight nuance in how the state can seek reimbursement. While a person is incarcerated, the state can seek reimbursement for medical treatment but has to consider the person's ability to pay. However, if the state waits until the person leaves jail, they could seek reimbursement for medical treatment, with no limit as to how much they can seek, for up to six years after the person leaves custody. The lawsuit that prompted the change in the law was related to a person in the latter position.

How is this handled by other states? Seeking reimbursement for medical care is less common than room and board. Maine only seeks reimbursement for room and board when a person is sentenced to a county jail and the amount is capped at $80 per day. In Vermont, room and board is only deducted from an inmate's earnings when they are in a work release program but is otherwise not collected. In my native North Carolina, the policy is very similar to what is done in Vermont. A prisoner is only charged when they are on a work release program, with the caveat however that the sentence must be 30 days or longer. North Carolina, Vermont, and Maine do not seek reimbursement for medical expenses. In my current home state of Virginia, the sheriff is allowed to establish a reimbursement program for room and board but can't charge an inmate more than $3 per day. Some localities, such as Richmond, have opted to take advantage of the law. Like New Hampshire, Virginia is allowed to recoup the cost of medical treatment, with no statutory limit on how much can be collected.

In March, I wrote about attempts by New Hampshire and other states to recoup the costs of providing a public defender. Hidden fees and payments associated with defense and incarceration do a disservice to the community and creates lingering issues for people who interact with the criminal justice system. As I mentioned in March, even a person who is found not guilty could be liable for paying their public defender. In this case, a person who has served time can receive a huge bill that holds them back from starting a new life and putting their past behind them.

I'm happy to see New Hampshire taking a big step towards dismantling a system that only serves to disadvantage people who have served their sentences and are ready to move forward with their lives.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Small So. Cal town declares itself a second amendment "sanctuary"

That town is Needles, in the Mojave Desert area of the state's Inland Empire.  The Cal Matters report characterizes Needles as "550 miles and an entire political culture away from the state capital in Sacramento," and one theme of the story is the state's urbanormativity/metrocentricity.    The small city lies in the far eastern reaches of San Bernardino County, population 2 million (albeit with a very low population density given the 20K square miles the county covers), just across the state line from Mohave County, Arizona.  Here's an excerpt from the Cal Matters story, dateline July 15, 2019, by John Glionna:
Like many inland Californians, Needles residents say they’re held hostage by state legislators who are too liberal and want too much control over their lives. They gripe about strict gun laws they say trample their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

So [city councilman Tim] Terral fought back. He spearheaded a resolution, passed last week by the council, that declared Needles a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” a place where both California gun owners and those visiting from out-of-state can expect lenient enforcement on Golden State’s rules governing, for example, ammunition and concealed carry permits. 
Needles Mayor Jeff Williams, a former San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy, who himself carries a Glock 45 9 mm, is quoted:
When Sacramento passes a new law, they look to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They don’t come looking to small towns like us, and it’s time we made our opinions known. We realize changing state law is pretty far-fetched, but you’ve got to start somewhere, you’ve got to stand on principle.
I agree that urbanormativity pervades California politics, where just 2% of the population live in places that meet the US. Census Bureau's definition of rural.  Indeed, not even Needles, with a population of population 4,844, meets the Census Bureau's miserly threshold for rural. 

As for the Needles resolution,
Terral even chose wording to take a swipe at Democratic legislators in Sacramento, and in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, who have declared “sanctuary” policies limiting the involvement of state and local law enforcement in the pursuit of undocumented immigrants targeted by the Trump Administration.
The story quotes Terral: 
With the gun resolution, I purposely chose the word ‘sanctuary’ to take a stab at all the liberals.  It was a little jab in the eyes.
As for many Needles residents, they "want to make it easier for interstate travelers who pull off U.S. Interstate 40 for food and fuel to avoid a felony arrest if a traffic stop produces a loaded but legally-registered gun from outside California."  Needles has lost half of its population since the 1960s, and some believe "restrictive gun laws are driving visitors — and their money — away from town."

As for laws related to guns and ammo, the local government is not the only action.
Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, a Republican representing the largely-rural 33rd District that includes Needles, supports the town’s gun sanctuary declaration. He plans to introduce a bill in December to give more local control to rural gun owners and allow for interstate reciprocity with firearms laws.
Obernolte's chief of staff is the source of just one of the other quotes that makes this story so rich and interesting.  It's well worth a read in its entirety and I commend Glionna's reporting.

Another recent post about Needles--this one about marijuana legalization from late 2018--is here.   I guess the common philosophy of both actions in Needles is libertarianism, another explicit theme of the Cal Matters report.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Media coverage of rural homelessness, from California to Iowa

I spent the week of July 4 in Del Norte County, California, population 27,470,  working with Sierra Service Project, based out of Smith River, population 866.  Smith River is the home of the Tolowa Dee Ni' nation.

While in the area, I noted that the region's two local papers, the Del Norte Triplicate and Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon) had both recently run stories on homelessness in the region.  In the former, Tony Reed wrote a June 19 feature under the headline, "Police face tough issues with homelessness."  A subhead, "Court ruling allows camping, not bad behavior," refers to a recent 9th Circuit decision that permits homeless people to sleep in public spaces, in the absence of adequate alternatives.

Reed writes of recent ride-alongs with Del Norte County deputies and Crescent City (county seat) police.  Reed asked Sheriff's Commander Bill Steven what aspects of local homelessness were striking to him:
“The number of females is surprising to me, now that we have run into a pregnant female and possibly two,” he said. “If you had asked me a few years ago that we have pregnant women homeless in this county, I’d have said probably not.” 
Steven said that pretty much any area of land hidden in trees and thickets probably has or had homeless camps hidden in it. 
“We do see the problem but to be honest, homeless people don’t eat up a lot of our manpower,” Steven said. “Occasionally, physical fights will happen inside these camps, and a lot of fire department resources are used. They’ll get these burns going and they’ll burn wood and brush and trash. Generally, they just tell them to put them out or the fire department puts them out, and that eats up resources.” 
Steven said larger stores complain about shopping carts being taken, estimating that we had personally seen 40 to 50 carts in the camps that day. 
“I think they’ve been removed on occasion, so those aren’t the ones that have been there since the dawn of time,” he said. “They’ve been hauled out and they just keep coming back.” 
“As we saw today, there’s both public lands being impacted, there’s private property being impacted without permission,” he said, “but they’re not a big problem with committing crime. But that’s not to say they don’t eat up resources and time.” 
Asked if there was anything he’d like the community to know, Steven brought up the perception that officers are essentially evicting people who have nowhere else to go.
“We’re not the bad guy here,” Steven said of law enforcement personnel. “We have to go to both public and private property by request to have people moved on, but we’re not the bad guys. We’d like to think we’re part of the solution.”
Reed also quoted Crescent City police chief Ivan Minsal:
“I say 99 percent of the time, we look at the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law,” he said, noting that often the person who called police just wants people to clean up after themselves.
A K9 Officer explained his reason for not citing homeless people.
“They’re homeless,” he said. “It’s not like they have money to pay for a citation, which is an administrative cite for the city. They start out at like $50 and go up each time they get a citation. They’re not going to pay that. Sure, it could eventually go to civil court, but then, does the city want to spend all that extra money to fight a civil case when these people are never going to pay?” 
Passing Beachfront Park, [the officer] pointed out some people had set up a sort-of dwelling under the gazebo near the restrooms. 
“So far, since I have been on day shift, I’ve not received any calls there,” he said, noting he was unsure if the space is available for the public to use or if it could be reserved or rented. 
However, officers responded to the same location April 23 and arrested one man after an argument left another man with a stab wound to the arm. 
Noting that tents are often erected at Beachfront Park, [the officer] added people often move on when conditions turn to wind and rain.
* * *  
“Really, we treat them the same way we do any other time we contact them,” he said of campers at the park, “The court said they can be there, so we’re not going to say ‘move along.’”
The Oregon paper's headline from June 18 is "Council discusses Mill Beach homelessness."  Journalist Boyd C. Allen writes:
June Podesta began the Brookings City Council meeting June 10 by detailing problems with homeless camps on Mill Beach. She said new problems were arising with the improving weather such as increased garbage and fires. 
New camps had formed underbrush below South Coast Lumber property and the city’s wastewater treatment plant, according to Podesta. She said the transients, unlike residents and families, place their fires back in brush and risk starting wildfires. 
She asked the city to create an ordinance forbidding camping at the beach or limiting fires and said signs posted at the access stating the rules would help as well. 
“Watch ‘Seattle is Dying,’” she said. “That is what is happening at Mill Beach.”
“Seattle is Dying” is a news show shot in Seattle by KOMO TV. 
* * *  
Park rangers from Harris Beach cannot keep up with the trash at Mill Beach, according to Podesta. She said there are so many homeless moving in “there is no way to keep up.” 
Mayor Jake Pieper called the situation “an ongoing saga,” and said it was a shame because Mill Beach is a community gem. He noted the city has closed the parking area at night, but he noted the beach itself is state property.
According to the report, the city council meeting then moved on to a discussion of building department fees.

Meanwhile, I see that the Des Moines Register has a big Sunday feature story on rural homelessness today, "Rural homeless safety net sparse in places, getting stronger."  An alternative headline also running with the digital version of the story is a bit more positive, "In rural Iowa, homelessness is often an invisible issue.  Here's how Iowans are working to solve it."  Here's an excerpt featuring 34-year-old Katie Bennett of Belle Plaine, population 2,534:
Many must choose between staying in their communities, where their support networks of friends and family live, or moving to an urban center, where there are more jobs, housing options and assistance.

Bennett chose the latter. She stuffed a backpack with some clothes and caught a ride to the Shelter House in Iowa City, nearly 55 miles away. She stayed there for 45 days until she got a job, found a place of her own, and enrolled in massage therapy courses.

But the stability was short-lived.

Without a driver's license and unable to find a ride, she missed a court date back in Benton County. She was arrested and spent six months behind bars as court proceedings played out.
Among the themes in the story are attachment to place, transportation (or lack thereof), labor markets, and the criminal justice system.  It's worth a read in its entirety.

Another major newspaper's feature on rural homelessness was by the Arizona Republic about 18 months ago; I blogged about it here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Inaccurate and simplistic depictions of rural America are damaging

About a month ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post, in which I criticized a piece that they chose to publish. In that piece, the author argued that our culture unduly defines rural America as "America." In making her argument, she relied on a few, quite bizarre, troupes. As I outline in my piece, she diminishes the concerns of marginalized groups in rural spaces by noting that rural America is "less racially diverse" and that issues such as gun violence, clean water and air, and infrastructure are uniquely "urban concerns."  She also scapegoats rural America for the rightward shift in the political discourse by noting that politicians can simply call Rural America, "Real America," and ignore the country's problems.  In her article, she is attempting to paint Rural America as a politically, socially, and racially homogenous entity, which is quite far from the truth.

The landscape of Rural America is rich and diverse. From the predominantly African American communities in the Black Belt to the Hispanic communities along the Mexican border to the tribal communities that dot our landscape to the French speaking communities along the New England/Canadian border, there is a lot of variety in Rural America. These communities all share unique concerns and attempts to paint them all with a broad brush does a huge disservice to the people who live there and their struggles. However, if you read this piece, you might think that the struggles of Rural America aren't important. The author after all does a fantastic job of minimizing the struggles of Rural America, which is home of the some of the deepest and more persistent poverty in the country. After all, non-metro poverty is higher than metro poverty, a difference that is even more pronounced in communities of color. Poverty in Rural America is even multigenerational with 86% of persistent poverty counties, defined as counties with a poverty rate of 20% or more for the last three Censuses, having entirely rural populations.

Many of the "urban" concerns that she notes are also very much relevant to these communities. For example, gun violence plagues many rural communities. My home county, Robeson County, North Carolina, often tops the list for violent crime in North Carolina. For people where I grew up, gun violence is a very real concern. Infrastructure is also a major concern where I grew up, mainly broadband infrastructure. We live in an age where many in Rural America lack access to adequate broadband, a major impediment to economic growth. My home community also faces issues with more traditional infrastructure, mainly Interstate 95, and the need to widen it in order to accommodate the traffic that travels between the Northeast and Florida.

Many rural communities also face issues with clean water and air. In the Midwest and South, industrial farming has helped to lead to polluted waterways. In Appalachia, the legacy of coal mining has left a polluted landscape. In other communities, the spread of fracking and the growth of the natural gas industry has led to concerns about air and water quality. The spread of gas pipelines is also creating concern for water quality in rural communities, Dakota Access Pipeline protests in rural North Dakota from 2016 is a great example of the tension that this has created.

Perhaps most troubling is her belief that focused on an idealized Rural America is focusing on Rural America. She is correct that politicians like to espouse nostalgia for "small town America." She is incorrect in her belief that it is actually is an attempt to depict people who actually live in these communities. When a politician talks about "traditional" small town values, are they talking about the people who live in an impoverished farming community in Mississippi? Or are they talking about the Rural America that has been depicted in shows like "Green Acres," "The Andy Griffith Show," or countless other TV shows and movies that offer a simplistic depiction of rural America? The answer should be obvious. When a politician talks about "small town values," they are curating a false narrative for the predominantly urban and suburban voting base that they need to appeal to in order to win an election. The "small town values" that are espoused by politicians are a simplistic creation, one that serves to further obscure the problems being faced by the small towns whose values that they are extolling. Scapegoating Rural America for the rightward shift in the political discourse is quite disingenuous.

Finally, in framing her argument, she attempts to depict the Memorial Day celebration in Voorheesville, New York, a suburb of Albany, as representative of Rural America.  Perhaps the author would benefit from visiting a rural community and seeing what is out there for herself.