Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Rural proofing in California? Not when it comes to transportation

This story from today's Sacramento Bee highlights the burden on rural folks imposed by California Governor Gavin Newsom's aspiration to move the state to all electric vehicles by 2035.  The principle of rural proofing, followed in Australia, New Zealand and some European countries, suggests that laws and regulations should be vetted for their impact on rural communities.  It's sort of like an environmental impact statement, but with the focus on rural people and places rather than on the environment.  The practice of rural proofing is a way of ensuring that laws are not disproportionately burdensome on rural people and places, a common phenomenon as our world becomes increasingly urban-centric.  Urban-centricity is certainly a concern in the Golden State, where just about 2% of the population live in rural areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  

Ryan Sabalow and Philip Reese report for the Bee from Modoc County, a sparsely populated county known for ranching and recreation, in the far northeast corner of the state:

It’s a long drive to just about anywhere Gary Wright needs to go. A rancher in the far northeastern corner of California, he sometimes has to drive nearly 100 miles, one-way, to get to where his cattle graze. It’s 36 miles to Klamath Falls, Ore., for a significant errand run.

There are only a few gas stations along the routes through the forests and high deserts in Modoc County — let alone electric vehicle charging stations. There are none near the rangeland where Wright’s cattle graze.

So he was baffled when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that California would require all new passenger cars and trucks to be electric or “zero-emission” by 2035 to combat climate change.

Prior posts featuring Modoc County are here and here.  And two prior posts about California that also implicate rural proofing or suggest the need for it are here and here

Cal ATJ Policy Paper: California's Attorney Deserts, Social Determinants of Health, and COVID-19

Here's an excerpt from the paper, which you can find in its entirety here.   

California faces a statewide access-to-justice crisis, with 85 percent of low-income Californians receiving inadequate or no legal assistance. Low-income Californians need legal services: 60 percent deal with at least one civil legal issue annually, while 23 percent navigate six or more. Yet, just one civil legal aid attorney is available to assist every 5,500 low-income Californians who qualify for their services.

Statewide access issues are compounded by geography. “Attorney deserts” are rural parts of the state and country where there are few or no lawyers. A little over three percent of California’s 200,000 lawyers have offices in rural areas. While the ratio of attorneys to residents in urban areas is 1:175, it decreases to 1:626 in rural areas.

Attorney deserts signal an inadequate supply of attorneys to help rural residents. Yet, these Californians need services: 59 percent of Californians at all income levels living in rural areas faced at least one civil legal issue in the survey year. These critical issues include housing, debt, employment, intimate partner violence, consumer protection, and public benefits. All of these civil justice issues are at the nexus of social and legal problems faced by low- and moderate-income rural Californians.

In the context of COVID-19, attorney deserts hinder people with legal claims stemming from the parallel economic and public health crises from getting legal help. For example, Imperial County has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the state and a poverty rate of nearly 20 percent, but just 164 lawyers. Attorney deserts present an entrenched problem for ensuring everyone can participate in the civil justice system to rectify legal wrongs, including those arising due to COVID-19.

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Often Implicate Civil Legal Issues
Access to housing, employment, and public benefits, and domestic violence are both civil legal issues and what public health scholars call “social determinants of health.” Social determinants of health are the “[c]onditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play” that “affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.” Public health scholars are beginning to recognize that rural attorney deserts are, in and of themselves, a social determinant of health for those living in them. By providing free legal services to help with these matters, lawyers assist clients in both providing redress for legal wrongs and creating more favorable SDOH in the midst of COVID-19 and beyond.
 * * * 
COVID-19, SDOH, and Legal Help
In the context of a legal system that is already inaccessible to many, COVID-19 has rendered access to justice more precarious still. COVID-19 has produced a massive public health crisis that is indelibly linked to an economic crisis. Lawyers play an important role in regard to both the public health and economic crises by ensuring a level playing field in enforcing rights and providing redress for legal wrongs. Many of the civil legal issues arising during the pandemic are interrelated with SDOH. Lawyers can keep people housed when facing unlawful evictions; ensure they have access to the unemployment benefits they are entitled to; and assist a survivor of domestic violence receive a restraining order. All of these outcomes interact as socio-legal determinants of health, specifically regarding the impacts of the pandemic.
* * * 
Conclusion
Attorney deserts are a fact of life for many rural residents. They are a barrier to addressing legal issues that implicate social determinants of health, including quality housing. The public health and economic crises resulting from the pandemic implicate a wide range of civil justice issues. Lawyers must be part of the solution to the legal issues resulting from the pandemic, including eviction defense. Supporting legal aid and pro bono efforts is a necessary aspect of a system that addresses the concurrent legal and social determinants of health arising from COVID-19. At the same time, justice system stakeholders must take steps to achieve long-term solutions to California’s rural attorney shortage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The rural vote in 2020 (Part VI): Didn't hear any mention of rural in tonight's presidential debate

But I saw this piece from Niskanen Center re-upped on Twitter, with a focus on population density as determinative of political leanings.  Here's the lede:  

In this new paper, I weave recent research in political science, economics, psychology and more into an account of political polarization and the rise of populist nationalism as a surprising and overlooked side-effect of urbanization.

I claim that we’ve failed to fully grasp that urbanization is a relentless, glacial social force that transforms entire societies and, in the process, generates cultural and political polarization by segregating populations along the lines of the traits that make individuals more or less responsive to the incentives that draw people to the city. I explore three such traits — ethnicity, ideology-correlated aspects of personality, and level of educational achievement — and their intricate web of relationships. The upshot is that, over the course of millions of moves over many decades, high density areas have become economically thriving multicultural havens while whiter, lower density places are facing stagnation and decline as their populations have become increasingly uniform in terms of socially conservative personality, aversion to diversity, and lower levels of education. This self-segregation of the population, I argue, created the polarized economic and cultural conditions that led to populist backlash.

Because the story of urbanization just is the story of a strengthening relationship between density, human capital and economic productivity, it’s also the story of relative small town and rural decline.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCII): Small-town Vermont isn't so small anymore--and that's good for the state's coffers and future

Ellen Barry reports on the front page of today's New York Times from Winhall, Vermont, population 769.  Here's an excerpt about how, this spring, "Vermont began to emerge as a model of virus control," which is causing the state's population to grow after years of decline:

As city dwellers scrambled to settle their families far away from hot spots, the state’s regular summer influx swelled by approximately 10,000, estimated Jeffrey B. Carr, an economist who advises Gov. Phil Scott.

State planners are crossing their fingers that many of them, now free to work remotely, will put down roots. The last time that happened in a big way was during the back-to-the-land movement in the 1960s and ’70s, when the state’s population grew by 35,000, among them such icons as Bernie Sanders and Ben and Jerry’s.

For years, Vermont’s population has been stuck at around 620,000, a plateau so threatening to the labor force and tax base that in 2018 the state began offering a cash incentive of up to $10,000 for remote workers who moved to Vermont.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Literary Ruralism (Part XXVIII): Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

This excerpt is from Bill Bryson's 2007 memoir of his 1950s childhood in Des Moines, Iowa--not exactly a rural place.  But this excerpt seemed a near perfect description of "white trash," a concept or category often invoked by my mom when I was growing up in rural Arkansas.  And it's interesting because, even though Des Moines is a city, the description of where the "white trash" lived in relation to the city of Des Moines, hints at the rural or, perhaps more precisely, the unruly, something akin to the wilderness adjacent to the city.  Also, the "white trash" hailed from either Arkansas or Alabama, southern places associated with such hoi polloi.  

The only real danger in life was the Butter Boys. The Butters were a family or large interbred, indeterminately numerous individuals who lived seasonally in a collection of shanty homes in an area of perpetual wooded gloom known as the Bottoms along the swampy margins of the Raccoon River. Nearly every spring the Bottoms would flood and the Butters would go back to Arkansas or Alabama or wherever it was they came from.

In between times they would menace us. Their specialty was to torment any children smaller than them, which was all children. The Butters were big to begin with but because they were held back year after year, they were much, much larger than any child in their class. By sixth grade some of them were too big to pass through doors. They were ugly, too, and real dumb. They ate squirrels.

Generally the best option was to have some small child that you could offer as a sacrifice. Lumpy Kowalski was ideal for this as he was indifferent to pain and fear, and would never tell on you because he couldn't, or possibly just didn't, speak. (It was never clear which.)Also, the Butters were certain to be grossed out by his dirty pants, so they would merely paw him for a bit and then withdraw with pained, confused faces.  
The worst outcome was to be caught on your own by one or more of the Butter boys. Once when I was about ten I was nabbed by Buddy Butter, who was in my grade but at least seven years older. He dragged me under a big pine tree and pinned me to the ground on my back and told me he was going to keep me there all night long.

I waited for what seemed a decent interval and then said, “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Because I can,” he answered, but pronounced it “kin.” Then he made a kind of glutinous, appreciative, snot-clearing noise, which was what passed in the Butter universe for laughter.

“But you'll have to stay here all night, too,” I pointed out. “It'll be just as boring for you.”

“Don't care,” he replied, sharp as anything, and was quiet a longtime before adding: “Besides I can do this.” And he treated me to the hanging-spit trick—the one where the person on top slowly suspends a gob of spit and lets it hang there by a thread, trembling gently, and either sucks it back in if the victim surrenders or lets it fall, some-times inadvertently. It wasn't even like spit—at least not like human spit. It was more like the sort of thing a giant insect would regurgitate onto its forelimbs and rub onto its antennae. It was a mossy green with little streaks of red blood in it and, unless my memory is playing tricks, two very small gray feathers protruding at the sides. It was so big and shiny that I could see my reflection in it, distorted, as in an M.C. Escher drawing. I knew that if any part of it touched my face, it would sizzle hotly and leave a disfiguring scar.

In fact, he sucked the gob back in and got off me. “Well, you let that be a lesson to you, you little skunk pussy, Poontang sissy,” he said.

‘Two days later the soaking spring rains came and put all the Butters on their tar-paper roofs, where they were rescued one by one by men in small boats. A thousand children stood on the banks above and cheered.

‘What they didn’t realize was that the storm clouds that carried all that refreshing rain had been guided across the skies by the powerful X-ray vision of the modest superhero of the prairies, the small but perfectly proportioned Thunderbolt Kid.

In case you didn't figure it out, Bryson referred to his childhood self as the Thunderbolt Kid. 

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Friday, September 25, 2020

Small towns in the West obliterated by fire (Part V): Growers hunkered down to protect pot farms in the Emerald Triangle

 The Los Angeles Times reports from Trinity County, population 13,786, one of three California counties with no incorporated cities.  Here's the lede for Anita Chabria's story:  

Nate Trujillo sat on a windy ridge and watched California’s largest wildfire, the August Complex, work its way toward the cannabis-growing enclave of Post Mountain-Trinity Pines, where many of the locals are refusing to evacuate.

Law enforcement officers went door to door warning of the danger a few days ago, but “we couldn’t force people to leave,” said Trujillo, a narcotics deputy in the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department. “It’s mainly growers. And a lot of them, they don’t want to leave because that is their livelihood.”

It is a critical time of year in the Emerald Triangle, a three-county corner of Northern California that by some estimates is the nation’s largest cannabis-producing region.

Trinity Pines alone is home to up to 40 legal farms, with more than 10 times that number of illegal grows hidden off its dirt roads, according to people familiar with this part of the Trinity Alps, inland from Humboldt.

Each farm has crops worth half a million dollars or more, and many are within days or weeks of harvest, making growers wary of leaving vulnerable to either flames or thieves. Among the holdouts are numerous Hmong families, originally from Laos and other Southeast Asian countries, who have moved to the area in recent years, along with Bulgarians and Russians and a smattering of neighbors drawn by the remote beauty of towering cedars and firs.

One estimate put the value of the legal crop alone at about $20 million.

Don't miss the rest of the story for some significant insights into the economics of the so-called Emerald Triangle (Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties)--and also insights into why I subscribe to the Los Angles Times, which provides terrific coverage of rural northern California, no matter its distance from the So Cal metroplex(es).  

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The rural vote in 2020 (Part V): Eduardo Porter's American Poison: How Racial Hostility Destroyed Our Promise

New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter first mentions rural people and places on page 7 of his 2020 book:  

[Trump] opened a new divide in American politics, a split between the mostly white homogeneous culture of small-town America in slow but steady decline and the messy mix of the nation's urban hubs.  

The urban-rural cleavage is just an old wound in a new place.  In 2016, rural whites voted in lockstep to preserve what privilege they could despite their demographic stagnation.  Their choice was an extension of whites' long-standing effort to preserve for themselves what America has to offer.

I don't know what he means by "old wound" or "new place."  Is the "old wound" racism"?  Is the "new place" rural America?  I'm not sure.  Also, it's a pity he does not acknowledge the racial and ethnic diversity in rural places, though at least he alls rural places "mostly white homogeneous," so there is some wiggle room there.  

The book's index tells me that "rural areas" are also discussed at pages 24, 67, 117-18, and 200.  I'll report back if and when I make it that far.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The rural vote in 2020 (Part IV): Pennsylvania

 The "Keystone State," Pennsylvania, has drawn more attention than perhaps any other as regards the "rural-urban" stakes in the upcoming election.  Here are some of the recent stories:

From NPR on Sept. 14, 2020, came this report from NPR's Don Gonyea, "Swing Voters In Northwestern Pennsylvania Weigh In On Fall Election," out of Erie County, population 269,728.  This story treats as significant the distinction between Erie County (rural and exurban) and its county seat, Erie, with a population of just over 100,000.  Here's some background and recent history on the region's voting patterns in presidential politics:  

Across the country, there were only a couple hundred counties that had voted for President Obama when he was on the ballot and then flipped and voted for Donald Trump. One of them is Erie County, Pa. We all know how close Pennsylvania was. Erie County was one of the keys to Trump's victory there. And let's run the numbers. Obama, in '08, won the state by 20 points. He won by almost as much again in 2012. 2016, Trump wins it by 1,957 votes - so, so close.

From the Washington Post, Jenna Johnson reports under the headline, "The latest battlefield in a heated presidential campaign: Front yards bearing Biden signs."  Here's the lede:   

Across Pennsylvania — especially in rural communities — tens of thousands of yard signs supporting Joe Biden have popped up as his fans try to replicate how President Trump showed his growing support in the state when he was campaigning in 2016. And, just as quickly, some of those signs have been vanishing.

It usually happens in the dark of night, local Democrats say, but sometimes in daylight. Sometimes entire streets or neighborhoods are cleared. Pro-Biden Facebook groups have devoted long threads to strategies for deterring sign snatchers — one suggestion involves clear hair gel and pesky glitter, another electrifying the metal frame with a car battery.

While sign thefts are a problem every election year for candidates of both parties — and are an ongoing source of headaches for campaign staffers and party officials — some Democrats in Pennsylvania and several other states insist it’s worse for them this year and illustrates the emotional intensity of the coming election. While there are examples of Trump signs also disappearing, there hasn’t been the same level of public outcry.

From Wilkes-Barre, population 41,000,  Noah Bierman reports for the Los Angeles Times, "Pennsylvania’s blue-collar voters see danger — and back Trump."  Here's an excerpt:  

“There’s always been racism. There’s always gonna be racism, but it’s not him that’s doing it,” Williams, a white, 53-year-old stay-at-home mom, said outside a Walmart. “It’s the Democrats and the media that are getting it out there and keeping it out there. And if the riots don’t get taken care of, it’s just making it worse.”

Williams said she did not vote in presidential elections before Trump came along in 2016. Now, she is an essential part of his 2020 coalition. She lives in Wilkes-Barre, in blue-collar Luzerne County, one of three Pennsylvania counties that flipped from blue to red in 2016 and helped give Trump the state — and a narrow electoral college victory.

About swing voters generally, don't miss The Daily podcast's episode on swing voters, particularly in relation to the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Small towns in the West obliterated by fire (Part IV): Berry Creek, California

Here's the lede for Maria La Ganga's story out of Berry Creek, whose population varies dramatically depending on the source:  

Berry Creek has been many things in its long history — a stagecoach stop, a lumber town, a vacation spot, a gold mining camp. It is home to retirees from crowded, expensive cities, marijuana growers and loners — lots of loners.

Now, Berry Creek has a new and terrible distinction. When the North Complex West Zone fire swept through this wooded enclave about two weeks ago, it killed more people and destroyed more homes here than anywhere else in its destructive path.

Fire Station 61 burned to the ground. Chief Reed Rankin, who heads the volunteer company, lost his home in the blaze. Only one of the seven current or former firefighters still has a house to go back to when evacuation orders are lifted.

See earlier posts about Berry Creek in this series.  

The rural vote in 2020 (Part III): Maine

The Los Angeles Times reports today from rural Maine, though the dateline is Bangor, population     .  The headline for Janet Hooks' story is "Trump and Biden wage a big battle over one electoral vote in rural Maine."  Here's an excerpt:    

Maine is getting an outsized share of Trump love these days.

The president visited a remote town of 1,500 in June. His son and daughter-in-law, Eric and Lara Trump, have stumped in the state. A lobsterman from tiny Swan’s Island spoke at the Republican National Convention in August.
And Joe Biden is paying attention to this corner of Maine, too. Why?
In a quirk of the presidential selection process, Maine is one of only two states — Nebraska is the other — that awards one of its electoral college votes to the winner of each congressional district, instead of handing them out winner-take-all statewide.
This year, Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, the vast rural region north of Augusta, is up for grabs. Trump won it in 2016 by 10 percentage points even as he lost the rest of the state by a wide margin.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

The rural vote in 2020 (Part II): Montana

 Here's a story from today's New York Times on the U.S. Senate race in Montana.  An excerpt from Nate Cohn's piece follows:  

A New York Times/Siena College poll of Montana shows a close race for Senate. But it has an important flaw: It named Green Party candidates who won’t be on the ballot this November.

In August, the Montana Supreme Court denied a Republican-backed effort to qualify those candidates on the ballot. An appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected while our survey was being conducted. (They should have been removed from the poll beforehand anyway; the mistake was mine.)

With the Green Party candidates officially off the ballot, the poll is a flawed test of the preferences of Montana voters. .

But it still contains useful information about the attitudes of Montana voters. After all, no survey can ever offer a truly definitive measure of a race. There are many possible sources of error in polling, whether from the inherent imprecision of random sampling; unpredictable turnout; or the potential biases of question wording or interviewer effects. In this case, the flawed ballot test undoubtedly added a source of error. In fact, it’s a reason we know it’s wrong. But the magnitude of the effect is well within the range that we ordinarily tolerate.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The impact of wildfires on our impulse to consume rurality in the West (and adjacent themes)

Capital Public Radio (Sacramento), my local NPR station, reported a few days ago on what the wildfires are doing to the state's (eco)tourist economy, especially piled on top of the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic.  Here's an excerpt from Julie Cart's story, based on a new report that concludes "California’s wildfires have deep and lasting effects on the health of the Sierra Nevada’s multi-billion-dollar tourism economy." 

The study, commissioned by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, an independent state agency, sought to understand who recreates at the region’s famous playgrounds, which draw nearly 23 million visitors a year: Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, renowned ski resorts in Lake Tahoe and Mammoth and nine national forests.

While the economic effects of previous wildfires endured for one to three weeks after the fires were out, the report warns of longer-lasting concerns.

The report concludes:  

Nearly one in four of all the summer/fall leisure trips to the Sierra Nevada by nonresidents over the last 5 years were influenced by wildfire considerations, and this is expected to continue in the future without mitigation.

Don't miss the entire story, especially if you're a Westerner and/or if you love consuming rurality (sometimes aka wilderness).  

More coverage of the western wildfires includes this Capital Public Radio story about abandonment of Native American practices of forest/land/fire management, and this Los Angeles Times story about the rescue of farm animals in the Oregon wildfires.  Richard Read reports from Colton, Oregon, in exurban Clackamas County.   

And here's a great August ProPublica story about what firefighters know but too few policymakers are hearing and paying attention to.  

This New York Times story focuses on the fires' decimation of the timber economy in Oregon.    

Also, here's an excerpt from Nicholas Kristof's piece out of his hometown, Yamhill, Oregon, population 1,024, south west of Portland:  

In the end the local fire was extinguished because of the heroic work of a local fire department made up mostly of volunteers. They were bolstered with a deluge of food, drinks and gratitude from the community.

This was the best of rural America, and it was followed on Thursday night by what seemed the best sound in the world: rain pattering on the roof. Still, the fires fill me with disquiet for three closely related reasons.

First is the fear that these fires and their accompanying smoke represent the new normal. Researchers estimate that air pollution in China causes 1.6 million deaths a year, and smoke from fires in the West may eventually cause respiratory diseases that claim more lives than the fires themselves.

Second is frustration at the federal government’s paralysis. Just a couple of months ago, President Trump rushed to send in unwanted federal agents to deal with protests and trash fires in downtown Portland, but he seems indifferent when millions of acres and thousands of homes burn across the West.

“It’ll start getting cooler,” he advised, and that seems to be his strategy for fires, just as “it’ll go away” was his strategy for managing the coronavirus.

Third is the reaction of so many ordinary citizens here in Oregon and around the country: Instead of seeing these mammoth forest fires as a wake-up call to the perils of a warming planet, they believe and spread wild conspiracy theories suggesting that these fires were the work of shadowy leftist arsonists.

Friday, September 18, 2020

On farming, climate change, and policy

Art Cullen's op-ed in today's Washington Post is headlined, "Climate change is killing the farm belt.  With a little help, farmers can fix it."  Here's an excerpt:  

Rural fortunes can be salvaged, along with the planet, if we pay farmers to sequester carbon by planting grass instead of corn, put their livestock back on pasture and out of unsustainable feedlots, and rotate crops with minimal tillage. Regenerative agriculture, as it is called, using old-fashioned crop-livestock rotations, can eliminate agriculture’s greenhouse-gas footprint and actually start drawing down carbon and planting it in the soil.

Cullen is the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of the Storm Lake Times.  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Small towns in the West obliterated by fire (Part III): Immigrants, small business, and population loss

"For sale" sign on a gas station in Sierra City, California 
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017

The Los Angeles Times ran this story yesterday about the Syrian immigrant whose store in Berry Creek, California was destroyed by the recent Bear Fire.  It's a powerful account by Ruben Vives, with some photos by Carin Dorghalli, the store-keeper's daughter, who works for the nearby Chico Enterprise-Record.  Here's the lede: 

The Bear fire was burning in the mountains of Butte County, devouring acres of land and belching out black smoke as it inched toward Berry Creek and other communities in the area.

More than 40 miles away in Chico, Carin Dorghalli had trouble sleeping. The 26-year-old journalist had been covering the fire for the Chico Enterprise-Record. While in the field, she managed to check up on the family business — the Village Market.

It was the only gas station and convenience store in the area. Her father had purchased it 2006 and marked his financial success as an immigrant from Syria. For residents, the store was a lifeline and a community gathering spot, especially after the 2018 fire disaster in nearby Paradise, when the Village Market was one of the few stores that stayed open.

But when Dorghalli arrived at the store in the early hours of Sept. 10, she found the store leveled and smoldering. The fire had swept through the area, consuming cars, homes and trees. Ash and embers fell from the sky as if it were snowing. Dorghalli said she couldn’t help but cry.

Other posts about the recent fire destruction in Berry Creek are here and here.  The LA Times story makes the point that rural communities in California increasingly struggle to access services to residents--both public (e.g., post office, school, courthouse) and private (grocery store).  That's why I have posted the accompanying photo.  When I drove through Sierra County, population 8000, in 2017, I noticed a number of businesses that accommodate locals and tourists up for sale, including the only gas station in Sierra City (above), and an inn in Downieville.  It looked like a trend.  

Another LA Times story about the Butte County fires is here, focusing on how you deliver services to wildfire victims in the context of a pandemic.  Thanks to Maria L. La Ganga for reporting.  

And don't miss the policy paper on legal issues that arise for rural Californians in the context of wildfires and other disasters, published by the California Commission on Access to Justice in 2019.    

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Greening the Desert: New publication from SMU's Deason Center for Criminal Justice Reform

Here's the link to this important compilation of information about the rural lawyer shortage (aka "the desert") and ideas for alleviating (aka "greening") it.  I was delighted to participate in a webinar today on the topic.  

Congrats to Pam Metzger and all at the Deason Center for this major accomplishment of research, presented in a helpful, visually interesting, policy frame.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

The rural vote in 2020 (Part I): Minnesota

Two national media stories this week appear to reach differing conclusions about rural Minnesota's role in the upcoming election.  

Here's a September 9 story from NPR out of Aitkin, Minnesota, population 2,165, which suggests that rural voters who traditionally supported Democratic Party candidates are shifting to Trump.  The headline is "Trump's Rural Support Puts Democratic Bulwark Minnesota In Play," and here's the lede from that story by Mark Zdechlik:

Democrats could find a growing problem for their party with a voter named Gretchen, sitting outside a brew pub in the rural northern Minnesota town of Aitkin.

Gretchen asked that her last name not be used, for fear it would hurt her family's business:  

I'm kind of disillusioned, and I'm really confused.  I'm a registered Democrat, but yet, I see all of this stuff that I kind of disagree with.

She doesn't like President Trump and voted for Hillary Clinton four years ago. But she's no longer happy with Democrats. She opposes the face mask mandate Minnesota's Democratic governor ordered, in addition to blaming Democrats for recent rioting that has accompanied some protests in Minneapolis-St. Paul and other urban areas.

And Astead Herndon reported this week for the New York Times out of Duluth, population 86,265.  Here is the headline:  "Minnesota Seemed Ripe for a Trump Breakout. It Has Not Arrived."  And the subhead speaks volumes:  "Minnesota was a near miss for Donald Trump in 2016. But new polling shows him well behind where he finished four years ago in a state he views as a prime pickup opportunity."  Here's the lede:

For a campaign event featuring Donald Trump Jr., the brash-talking, liberal-dunking namesake of the president, it was all rather mundane.

There was no large rally with thronging crowds, but a few hundred seats at a community center, each socially distanced. The signature Trump campaign playlist, usually blared at a volume that makes conversation impossible, was replaced by a selection of library-level soft rock.

“I like the crowds a little bit more packed and a little tighter, but we have to play by different rules, and that’s OK,” he told supporters.

It was not supposed to be this way. If any state is positioned to go from blue to red in 2020, to embrace the fullness of Trumpology and provide the president some much-needed Electoral College insurance, it is Minnesota.

And I'll close with this quote from the NPR story, actually from University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs:  

Democrats talk about fighting for rural Minnesota, but their policies and their voters have in effect written off rural Minnesota.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Small towns in the West obliterated by fire (Part II): New York Times cover story

I wrote a few days ago about three towns destroyed by wildfires in the West, one each in California, Oregon and Washington.  Of course, those three towns are just a few of several that have faced that fate in recent days, including five destroyed in Oregon alone.  Now, the New York Times has a cover story in today's print edition headlined "Western Towns Riven by Grief of Fire Deaths."  The digital headline is "As the West Coast Burns, Communities Unravel with Each Death," Both hint at the lack of anonymity that marks rural places and small town, as does this part of the story by Thomas Fuller and Guilia McDonnell Nieto del Rio.  Wyatt Tofte is a 13-year old who was killed in the Beachie Creek Fire near Salem, Oregon.  

In Scio, Ore., the logging and farming town in the Willamette Valley where Wyatt Tofte went to middle school, a teacher and school administrator went door to door to Wyatt’s classmates on Friday to check on them. The start of school, which will be held remotely, has been delayed by the fires.

In a community like Scio with a population of around 1,000 people and one blinking traffic signal, children grow up together and know one another well.

“Everybody is family in Scio,” Nancy Dickerman, a resident, said.

And the coronavirus pandemic has robbed fire-ravaged communities from being able to grieve as a group. When schools in Scio begin their fall term on Sept. 18, students will be logging in from home.

“The realization will hit the kids when they have to physically go back to school, and he’s not there anymore,” said Margot Cooper, whose daughter was Wyatt’s classmate.
The next part of the story focuses on another teenage fire victim, 16 year old, Josiah Williams, who was killed by the Bear Fire near Berry Creek, California, a Butte County community of about 500 (according to wikipedia, 1,200 according to the New York Times).  In my earlier post about this recent batch of fires, I display some photos I took in Berry Creek in December, 2012.  Here's the NYTimes depiction of the community dynamic: 
Neighbors have grown up knowing one another’s families for years, sometimes decades. When the fires destroyed hundreds of homes, residents in the area jumped in to assist one another.
That reminds me of another rural theme that surfaces in this NYT story:  attachment to place and land.  The Tofte family had lived in the same home for three generations.  

More on the Oregon and Washington fires and their impact on small towns is here.

And here's another New York Times story linking what is happening in public education in California during the pandemic to the wildfires that are also having a big impact on the state's schools and students.   The lede for Dan Levin and Kate Taylor's story follows:  
Ash fell from an apocalyptic orange sky as Jennifer Willin drove home last week from the only school in tiny Berry Creek, Calif., where she had picked up a pair of Wi-Fi hot spots for her daughters’ remote classes. Hours later, her cellphone erupted with an emergency alert: Evacuate immediately.

By the next morning, what one official described as a “massive wall of fire” had swept through the entire Northern California town of about 1,200 people, killing nine residents, including a 16-year-old boy, and destroying the school and almost every home and business.

Ms. Willin and her family escaped to a cramped hotel room 60 miles away. In her panic, she had forgotten to grab masks, but she had the hot spots, along with her daughters’ laptops and school books. On Monday, the two girls plan to meet with their teachers on Zoom, seeking some comfort amid the chaos.

“They’re still able to be in school,” Ms. Willin said, “even though the school burned to the ground.”

Interestingly, none of the Berry Creek teachers live in Berry Creek, so they were not evacuated and are ready to deliver instruction online.  

Thursday, September 10, 2020

How the US Postal Service put rural America on the map

Trinity Center, California 
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018

Hailey Branson-Potts reports in today's Los Angeles Times, from Peanut, California, in Trinity County.  The lede follows: 
The people who lived in the rugged Northern California mountain hamlet called Salt Creek wanted their very own U.S. post office.

It was the early 1900s, and getting the mail had become such a chore for this speck of a town deep in forest, about 100 miles south, as the crow flies, of the Oregon border. The journey to the nearest post office in Hayfork — a seven-mile horseback trail ride near the eponymous creek — could take several hours.

Besides, a bona fide post office would, quite literally, put the community on the map.

But Salt Creek’s application was rejected by the U.S. Postal Service, which asked for a single-word town name. An exasperated local school teacher explained the dilemma while visiting the postmaster in nearby Weaverville, who was snacking on a sack of goobers.

“The postmaster was gnawing on some peanuts, and he half-jokingly said, ‘Let’s name it Peanut,’” said Jim French, a board member for the Trinity County Historical Society.

The town got its post office, and thus was born Peanut, Calif.

Branson-Potts quotes Daniel Piazza, chief curator at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, who explains how the Board of Geographic Names, created by the federal government in 1890 to standardize place names.  Its standards were carried out by USPS: 

The folklore and legend of towns all over the U.S. is they blame their name on the post office. They say, "The post office didn’t like our name. They changed our name." It wasn’t really the post office; it was the Board on Geographic Names, but as an agency of the federal government, the post office was obligated to enact their order, and it was up to the locals to raise a stink and get their name changed.

I've written lots of posts about post offices over the years, featuring many photos of post offices past and present.  Just search "post office" in the search bar here on Legal Ruralism.   

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Small towns in the West obliterated by wildfire (Part I)


That's the sobering theme of several reports from the past few days, stories out of Washington, Oregon and California.  

Here's one from Whitman County, Washington, where the town of Malden, population 203, was destroyed on Monday.  

Here's another from Mill City, Oregon, population 1,855, which straddles Linn and Marion counties, both metropolitan.  This story includes video from Mill City and Gates.  Meanwhile, several towns and cities in southwest Oregon, including Ashland and Medford in metropolitan Jackson County, were evacuated last night.  Other stories about the Oregon fires are here and here.  Governor Kate Brown has told Oregonians to brace for the worst; she expects the highest death toll ever from wildfires in the state.

Finally, Berry Creek, (population unspecified on Wikipedia) in Butte County, California, was destroyed today.  Paradise and Concow, other Butte Co. communities decimated by the 2018 Camp Fire, are also threatened, as the county seat, Oroville.  Read more here.  All photos here are from the Berry Creek community (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2012. 


The Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties has decimated the community of Big Creek.  Read more here and here.  Other Central Valley and Sierra Nevada communities are also threatened, as well as those along the Central Coast.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Coronavirus strikes India's rural areas, too

Indeed, "rural" grabbed a front-page headline in the print edition of the New York Times that landed in my driveway this morning, "Lockdown and Despair Sow Death in Rural India."  The headline in the online edition is, "'The Lockdown Killed My Father’: Farmer Suicides Add to India’s Virus Misery."  The lede for Karan Deep Singh's story follows:  
Randhir Singh was already deeply in debt when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Looking out at his paltry cotton field by the side of a railway track, he walked in circles, hopeless. In early May, he killed himself by lying on the same track. 
“This is what we feared,” said Rashpal Singh, Mr. Singh’s 22-year-old son, choking back tears in his family home in Sirsiwala, a small village in the northern Indian state of Punjab. “The lockdown killed my father.” 
Months ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Singh’s livelihood came crashing down. His one-acre farm had barely produced enough cotton to cover the cost of growing it, and the lockdown even robbed him of his side job as a bus driver. 
India now leads the world in new daily reported coronavirus cases and has the second-highest number of cases globally, surpassing Brazil on Monday. In Punjab, where cases have surged, lockdowns have been imposed all over again. The measures, economists say, are forcing millions of households into poverty and contributing to a long-running tragedy: farmer suicides.
Earlier posts about farmer suicides, long before the pandemic, are here (2014, Andra Pradesh) and here (including Australia, China, and Iowa, USA). 

New Carsey brief: "Is Rural America Failing or Succeeding? Maybe Both"

Dan Lichter and Kenneth Johnson summarize their latest article, from Demography, in this Carsey Institute brief.  
Commentators often lament the decline of rural America by contrasting the substantial population gains in urban areas to the modest gains in rural areas and the diminishing share of the population that lives there.1 The nonmetropolitan (rural) population peaked in 1940, when 75 million people, or 57 percent of all Americans, lived in small towns, in the open countryside, or on farms. Today, only 46 million people reside in nonmetropolitan areas, a record low 14 percent of the population. Many assume that a constant tide of the rural population has been flowing into cities, but the shift is not so simple. The spatial boundaries that separate rural and urban America are highly fluid.

This brief summarizes our peer reviewed article in Demography that provides cautionary lessons regarding the commonplace narrative of widespread rural decline and urban growth. It highlights the demographic fact that many counties simply “grow up” to become metropolitan. Each decade, many of the most successful nonmetropolitan counties—those with the greatest population and economic gains—are redefined as metropolitan. Today, 71 million people reside in the 753 counties that were once nonmetropolitan but since 1970 have been reclassified as metropolitan. With so many growing nonmetropolitan counties shifting to metropolitan status each decade due to urbanization, it is little wonder that rural population gains lag behind those in urban areas.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCI): A timely Labor Day story out of California

 This is from National Public Radio, out of California's Salinas Valley, "Farm Workers Face Double Threat: Wildfire Smoke And COVID-19."  Erika Mahoney reports:  

With precision, farm workers swiftly harvest rows of strawberries at an organic field in Salinas, Calif. It's hard work, even without a global pandemic and wildfires burning in the background.

Four major wildfires erupted across the state's Central Coast in mid-August, one near Salinas. Smoke blanketed the region, the sun glowed orange and ash rained down.

"It hurt our sinuses," said Jesús Ahumada, an agricultural foreman, in Spanish. "The smoke was so thick."
* * * 
Dr. Caroline Kennedy, medical director of the Clinic Services Bureau at the Monterey County Health Department, says it's been one hardship after another for the people who harvest our food; first COVID-19, now wildfire. Kennedy directs nine clinics in a county where agriculture is a leading industry.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XC): Washington Post feature on St. Paul, Virginia

Laura Vozzella reports today for the Washington Post out of St. Paul, Virginia, population 970, the site of a coronavirus outbreak.   St. Paul is in southwestern part of the state, in Appalachia.  Here's an excerpt from Vozzella's story:
It took awhile for the global pandemic to wind its way through crooked mountain roads to the coalfields of far Southwest Virginia, but it’s spiking here now. The isolated region, which is trying to replace its dying coal economy with one based on outdoor tourism and higher education, is the only part of the state where case numbers have been climbing steadily all summer.

* * * 
“People are stubborn, and a lot of people buy into the, ‘Oh, this is going to go away after the election,’ and, ‘This is not real,’ ” said Pam Chambers, who works at the Food City supermarket in St. Paul, which straddles Wise and Russell counties — two of the 36 communities that state health officials include in their expansive definition of the Southwest, stretching from east of Lynchburg to the Cumberland Gap.
But attitudes toward pandemic precautions have begun to shift as the number of local cases has risen. Chambers started handing out masks to Food City shoppers just after Memorial Day, and so far, she said, only three have refused: a teenager with asthma and two elderly coal miners with black lung disease.
Vozzella quotes an unidentified Wise County resident who "wears a mask over his long gray beard and spoke to her on the condition of anonymity." 
I’m a Harley guy. I’m bearded. I don’t have a gun — I have an armory.  “Macho," to me, is a word. It will get you nowhere, except probably into trouble. So if there’s some way or some minute possibility of taking care of yourself, what’s the harm in doing it? I mean, I don’t want to be laying there in the hospital with both lungs clogged up with this crap saying, "I wish I’d done that.”
There's lots more local color in the story which, as of this evening, is the most read Washington Post story from the DC, Maryland, Virginia section. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

On remote learning in a pandemic, in rural Indonesia

Here's the New York Times story from Richard C. Paddock and Dera Menra Sijabat, under the headline, "When Learning Is Really Remote: Students Climb Trees and Travel Miles for a Cell Signal."
On school days, the three teenage students hop on a motorbike and ride to their personal study hall: a spot along a narrow road outside the Indonesian village of Kenalan where they can get a stable cellphone signal. 
Sitting on the shoulder of the road, they do their lessons on smartphones and a single laptop as cars and motorbikes zip by. The three students — two sisters and their 15-year-old aunt — have been studying this way on the island of Java since March, when Indonesia closed its schools and universities to contain the coronavirus. 
“When the school ordered us to study at home I was confused because we don’t have a signal at home,” said one of the girls, Siti Salma Putri Salsabila, 13.
The travails of these students, and others like them, have come to symbolize the hardships faced by millions of schoolchildren across the Indonesian archipelago. Officials have shuttered schools and implemented remote learning, but internet and cellphone service is limited and many students lack smartphones and computers.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part LXXXIX): "Meatpacking" in California's central valley

The Los Angeles Times reported today out of Livingston, California, population 13,058, about a coronavirus outbreak in a Foster Farms poultry processing plant in this small city in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  The headline for the story by Jie Jenny Zou, Andrea Castillo, and Erin B. Logan is "Meatpacking was already a dangerous job for California workers. The pandemic made it worse." 
Livingston is in Merced County, population 255,793, where the county seat is Merced, home of the University of California, Merced, the UC system's newest campus. 

I've posted often during the last six months about the meatpacking industry as a hotspot, but most of those stories were out of the Midwest or the South.  Here's an excerpt from this story out of central California which, like many others across the nation, features immigrant workers:
Since April, more than 53,000 food workers nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 200 have died, most of them in the meatpacking industry. In Los Angeles County, food processing accounts for the second highest number of infections by workplace, following nursing homes. 
Despite the escalating stakes, an examination by The Times found vast inconsistencies in workplace reporting. 
Some businesses have been slow to report cases to local officials or test employees. Others with well-publicized outbreaks haven’t filed reports of sick or dead workers to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA.
Understaffed and overwhelmed, the agency has struggled to manage the crisis with little direction from its federal counterpart, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration — which has been accused by worker advocates of abandoning its role to ensure safe workplaces. 
On Wednesday, the Foster Farms factory ...was shut down for deep cleaning after Merced County health officials learned that eight of its employees had died after contracting the virus and another 358 had tested positive. 
A Times review of Cal/OSHA data obtained through public records laws shows Foster Farms reported just one COVID-19 death from Jan. 1 through Aug. 13, the most recent data available. A corporate memo dated Aug. 24 said nine employees had died companywide.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Forbes magazine on strengthening rural America

From Joe Toscano, in Forbes magazine, today, the story features an organization called Emergent Campus, an Opportunity Zone initiative in Florence Colorado, population 3,881 in the south central region, and home of major high security federal prison:
 One of the biggest steps required to prove their concept is to develop the infrastructure needed to succeed. With help from Koehn’s company Second-61, one of Emergent Campus’ shining lights, the campus now has its own dedicated, enterprise-grade broadband fiber, which provides internet speeds well beyond those found in the average rural Colorado mountain town. Access to this quality of internet is good both for workers on campus and for schools teaching kids modern trade skills.
Toscano quotes Chris Koehn of Emergent Campus:
As fundamental as high-quality broadband may sound, a lack of broadband is often what makes so many rural towns uninhabitable to modern companies and their workers. “We are fortunate to work with the people of Fremont County.  These people have the heart, tenacity, and pioneering spirit to invent, change, and overcome. Every day we witness the next step toward the future of our American economy being reborn.