Saturday, October 31, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCII): NPR covers the pandemic's spatial inequality

Here are a few stories from just the past week or so, as the virus has ravaged rural America: 

Missouri Hospital CEO On Understaffed Rural Hospitals Overstressed By Pandemic, October 31, 2020, on All Things Considered. The dateline is Memphis, Missouri, population 1,822, in the far northern part of the state.  

Friday, October 30, 2020

Rural Wisconsin vote in the news as election approaches

I saw three stories this week out of rural Wisconsin, and all did justice to the complexities of voters there, in a state that went to Trump in something of a 2016 surprise:  
Here's the first from the Los Angeles Times, dateline Trempeauleau, population 1529.  The headline is "As COVID-19 ravages Wisconsin’s small towns, hostility toward Trump intensifies," and journalist Michael Finnegan introduces us to 81 year old Doris Deutsch, a retiree.  

The pandemic is rampaging through the small towns of this battleground state just as the presidential campaign draws to a close, a sign of trouble for President Trump. Deutsch is one of more than 1,000 people in her dairy-farm county who have been sickened by COVID-19, most of them since Labor Day.

A devout Catholic who displays a “Make America Kind Again!” sign on her front lawn, Deutsch had ample complaints about Trump even before the virus struck. Now, his chronic flouting of public health expertise is only heightening her determination to get him out of office.

“I don’t know if he could have stopped the whole thing, but what a difference if he had stepped up to the plate,” Deutsch, a Democrat who used to sell antique telephones, told a visitor to her small red house overlooking the river. She’s voting for Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump’s narrow win in Wisconsin was a key to his 2016 defeat of Hillary Clinton. To carry the state again, the Republican president will need to match, if not exceed, his lopsided victory margins in the state’s rural counties. But the intensity of his opposition makes that a tall order.

“The mobilization, that’s no joke. People who do not like Donald Trump have really gotten their act together in Wisconsin,” said Katherine Cramer, the author of “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.”

The next two stories are back to back by Reid Epstein of the New York Times.  The first is dateline Minocqua, Wisconson, population 4,859.  The headline there is "How Virus Politics Divided a Conservative Town in Wisconsin’s North," and it focuses on the race for a state assembly district.  The competitors are two men in the hospitality industry, both restaurant/pub owners.  Epstein compares the campaign strategy of each to the corresponding presidential candidate.  

The second is out of the area near Green Bay.  Again, Epstein reports, this time under the headline, "In Critical Wisconsin, the Fox Valley May Decide the State’s Winner."  The dateline is Little Chute, population 10,449, and here's an excerpt:  

Packed amid former paper mill towns, Little Chute sits at the heart of the Fox Valley, a three-county stretch from Green Bay to Oshkosh that is the most politically competitive region in one of America’s foremost battleground states.

Democrats tend to focus their Wisconsin campaigns on turning out voters in the liberal cities of Milwaukee and Madison, while Republicans concentrate on the conservative suburbs ringing Milwaukee. But it is often the Fox Valley where statewide elections are won or lost.

And this year, there is a new wild card, the coronavirus, which is rampaging through the Fox Valley, with new case counts averaging nearly 600 a day.

* * *  

The combination of old factory towns and rural voters who have migrated to the Republican Party, college towns and small cities becoming increasingly Democratic, and Catholic voters inclined to back Democrats as long as they aren’t too strident on abortion rights has made the region that includes the state’s third-, fifth- and sixth-largest counties the ultimate presidential battleground.

 Worth noting that Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican is from Oshkosh.  

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mysterious killings in rural Riverside County California linked to marijuana trade

Here's the Los Angeles Times story, dateline Anza, California, population 3,014.  Here's the headline for the story about events that took place eight weeks ago, by journalists Matthew Ormseth and Stephanie Lai, "Seven bodies, nothing stolen: Were killings at Riverside marijuana grow ‘a message’?"  

Half an hour after midnight on Sept. 7, Riverside sheriff’s deputies were called to the property, where they found a woman badly shot and in the last hours of her life. She would die at a local hospital. Elsewhere on the site, the deputies found the bodies of six people, all of them shot to death. 

* * * 

One month later, Riverside County’s worst mass killing in recent memory remains cloaked in mystery. The authorities have not said if they’ve turned up a motive or narrowed in on any suspects. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department has declined requests for interviews and placed security holds on the coroner’s reports, blocking their disclosure.

The victims — who, according to Chankhamany’s son, were mostly new immigrants from Laos — have little if any paper trail. No property records, court cases or other public documents that might offer insight into their lives or leads to relatives who could.

Yet what facts have emerged illustrate a brutal point: Violence haunts California’s illegal marijuana market, which, law enforcement authorities concede, dwarfs its fledgling, legal counterpart and comprises a sweeping array of players, from mom-and-pop grows to sophisticated drug trafficking organizations.
The murder scene in Aguanga [population 1128] was a large marijuana cultivation and processing site — a “major organized-crime type of an operation,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said. Everyone on the property — living and dead — was Laotian.

I am reminded of these eight killings in rural Ohio four years ago, also linked to illegal marijuana cultivation.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Oprah Magazine feature on rural voters of color

The Oct. 21, 2020 story is by Samantha Vincenty, and it is headlined, "Yes, Rural Voters of Color Exist—and Mónica Ramírez Is Helping Them Head to the Polls."  An excerpt follows:  
Mónica Ramírez knows that rural voters have been something of a media obsession since the 2016 presidential election. She's also well aware that news coverage leading up to November 2020 has continually centered on the concerns of white rural voters. That's due—at least in part—to the story exit poll data told four years ago, in which white rural voters overwhelmingly chose Donald Trump over Hillary Rodham Clinton, even in counties that previously leaned Democratic.

The four years since have brought an avalanche of takes on why that was: Residents felt ignored by the "liberal elite," or have a fundamentally different value system than urbanites, or they'd voted from a place of fear over immigration and race. Whatever the reason, it'd be easy for a casual news reader to conclude that "rural voter" is simply shorthand for "white rural voter"—which implies that any other type doesn't exist.

Ramírez is ready to change that story. As founder of Justice for Migrant Women, the attorney and activist is leading efforts to mobilize an overlooked segment of the 60 million people who live in rural America: A diverse population of women who are Latina, Indigenous and native, Black, and Asian. That includes American farm workers who've labored through a coronavirus pandemic and wildfires to keep planting, picking, and packaging the produce we all eat for dinner.

"I am a rural Latina. I was born, raised, and live in a rural community in Ohio, and I know what the perception is of rural America—that it's white, and male," Ramírez tells "The reality is that there are many people of color who live in communities like mine, across the country."

Don't buy the narrative that "rural voters" describes a static, homogenous group. "I think it's dangerous to paint a community of people all with the same brush, because our experiences, our world views, and our priorities really differ," she adds. "Try to put us all in one box, and we're going to miss out on understanding what people need and want."
Don't miss the entire story, which does a great job chipping away at some prevalent myths about rural folks and rural communities.   Here's my own publication about the LatinX population in rural America, outside the so-called gateway states.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Blockchain Chicken Farms" in rural China: a book review

Here's the link to the New York Times review, "The Untold Technological Revolution Sweeping Through Rural China," of a new book by Xiaowei Wang, Blockchain Chicken Farm.   An excerpt from Clive Thompson's review follows: 

Raising free-range chickens isn’t easy, a Chinese farmer named Jiang tells Xiaowei Wang in a fascinating new book, “Blockchain Chicken Farm.” Why? “Chickens aren’t very smart,” he notes; if you leave lights on, they’ll cluster around “and they overcrowd each other, killing each other. A kind of chicken stampede.” Even if you get the chickens safely grown in their sunny, free-range yards, you have a new problem: You have to convince your finicky customers, in far-off cities, that you’re telling the truth about how the chickens were raised.

So Jiang turned to high-tech chicken surveillance. He outfitted his chickens with wearable legbands that record their movements — “a chicken Fitbit of sorts” — and worked with a tech start-up to record the data on a blockchain. A blockchain is a type of software, most famously used to create Bitcoin, that can make nearly tamper-proof digital records. When customers buy the chicken, they don’t need to take Jiang’s word that his birds strolled around in the sunshine. They can trust the implacable math. Blockchain in this case is a clever tech solution that also happens to have a bleak libertarian philosophy behind it. As Wang notes, some blockchain coders are fond of citing Thomas Hobbes’s dismal view of human nature: Nobody can trust anyone else.

It’s a weird, delightful and unsettling tableau. In “Blockchain Chicken Farm,” Wang introduces us to dozens of such quixotic figures, hopscotching across the country on a mission: to document how technology is transforming the lives of China’s rural poor.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Vying to be the "most racist town in America"?

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program The Current features a story about Harrison, Arkansas, which it bills as "the most racist town in America."  An earlier post about Harrison (with embedded links) is here.  

But then there is this story from the Pulitzer Center about other towns which, like Harrison, are billed as Sundown Towns.  The dateline is Vienna, Illinois, and the lede for the AP/Pulitzer Center follows:  

Ask around this time-battered Midwestern town, with its empty storefronts, dusty antique shops and businesses that have migrated toward the interstate, and nearly everyone will tell you that Black and white residents get along really well.

“Race isn’t a big problem around here,” said Bill Stevens, a white retired prison guard with a gentle smile, drinking beer with friends on a summer afternoon. “Never has been, really.”

“We don’t have any trouble with racism,” said a twice-widowed woman, also white, with a meticulously-kept yard and a white picket fence.

But in Vienna, as in hundreds of mostly white towns with similar histories across America, much is left unspoken. Around here, almost no one talks openly about the violence that drove out Black residents nearly 70 years ago, or even whispers the name these places were given: “sundown towns.”

Unless they’re among the handful of Black residents.

“It’s real strange and weird out here sometimes,” said Nicholas Lewis, a stay-at-home father. “Every time I walk around, eyes are on me.”

Analysis of the "rural mortality penalty" (and related impacts on the electorate?)

This is from a brief by Shannon Monnat of Syracuse University's Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, under the headline, "The U.S. Rural Mortality Penalty is Wide and Growing": :  

After decades of lower or similar mortality rates in rural areas than in urban areas of the U.S., a rural mortality penalty emerged in the 1990s and has grown since the mid-2000s. Although the rural–urban mortality gap has widened across all major racial/ ethnic groups over the past 30 years, it has widened the most among working-age non-Hispanic (NH) whites. 
This brief summarizes the results from a study published in Population Research and Policy Review that examined rural urban differences in mortality rates overall and from 15 specific causes among working-age (age 25-64) NH whites1 from 1990 to 2018and identified the causes of death that have contributed most to the widening of the rural mortality penalty. 
Results show that the rural mortality penalty is wide and growing and is pronounced across multiple causes of death. Growth in the rural disadvantage is due to smaller rural declines in deaths from cancers and cardiovascular diseases and larger rural increases in deaths from metabolic, respiratory, alcohol related, and mental and behavioral diseases and suicides compared to urban areas. Mortality rate trends are particularly concerning for the younger working-age group (25-44) and for females overall. Ultimately, high and rising mortality rates across a variety of causes and rural places, some of which have been occurring since the 1990s and others that emerged more recently, suggest that there is not one underlying explanation. Instead, failures across a variety of institutions and policies have contributed to rural America’s troubling mortality trends. 

This New York Times story about how Trump's base is shrinking seems tragically related, in the sense that working-class/poorly educated whites are often associated with rural America. The lede follows:  

But in 2020, Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. face a drastically changed electorate. The cohort of non-college-educated white voters — who gave Mr. Trump just enough of a margin to win the election in 2016 — has been in a long-term decline, while both minority voters and white college-educated voters have steadily increased.

The decline, a demographic glacier driven largely by aging, has continued since 2016. The number of voting-age white Americans without college degrees has dropped by more than five million in the past four years, while the number of minority voters and college-educated white voters has collectively increased by more than 13 million in the same period. In key swing states, the changes far outstrip Mr. Trump’s narrow 2016 margins.

His campaign leaders are betting that a two-year grass-roots mobilization that has yielded significant voter registration gains will overcome the demographic disadvantage and the polls, again.

“As a clear show of support for the president’s policies, Americans are registering as Republican with a Republican president in office,” said Samantha Zager, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign. “And those significant voter registration gains prove President Trump is expanding his base and will win four more years in the White House as a result.”

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Radicalization in rural America

Brian Groh, a novelist, published this piece in the New York Times titled, "The Radicalization of a Small American Town."  The "small town" is Lawrenceburg, Indiana, population 5,042, in the southern part of the state, not far west of Cincinnati.  Here's an excerpt: 

Over the past four years, my hometown has become radicalized. This is a loaded word, but it’s the only way to describe it.

As recently as 2008, I saw Bill Clinton speak at our community center, where the crowd was so large that people had to listen to him from loudspeakers in a nearby firehouse. The mood was electric. “People are broke at the end of every month,” he said. “This has to change.” He promised that with Democratic leadership, it would. An aggressive new energy policy would bring jobs, with higher incomes.

And this promise was very welcome. At the time, the best job I could find was at a call center, selling home security systems. But I felt hopeful. I stuck an Obama sign in my yard and a campaign bumper sticker on my old Corolla. Like a lot of my neighbors, I believed that Democrats would, in fact, improve the town’s fortunes, and on election night, Barack Obama carried the state.

But things didn’t improve. Not really.

In other words, Obama didn't/couldn't follow through on his promise of change.   And that became fertile ground for others to move in and influence rural politics.  In that vein, it is a strategy of People's Action to fight that radicalization.  I first learned of founder George Goehl and his work in this regard in an episode of Chris Hayes' podcast, "Why Is This Happening," which provides a great overview of this organization that is working actively to counter the actual white supremacy and white nationalist organizing that is radicalizing many parts of the rural United States.  

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The rural bias in the U.S. Senate and the electoral college

This op-ed by political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, titled "End Minority Rule" just appeared in the New York Times.   Here's the excerpt most salient to the theme that rural folks are a minority of the U.S. population and yet wield disproportionate political power.      

Our Constitution was designed to favor small (or low-population) states. Small states were given representation equal to that of big states in the Senate and an advantage in the Electoral College. What began as a minor small-state advantage evolved, over time, into a vast overrepresentation of rural states. For most of our history, this rural bias did not tilt the partisan playing field much because both major parties maintained huge urban and rural wings.
Today, however, American parties are starkly divided along urban-rural lines: Democrats are concentrated in big metropolitan centers, whereas Republicans are increasingly based in sparsely populated territories. This gives the Republicans an advantage in the Electoral College, the Senate and — because the president selects Supreme Court nominees and the Senate approves them — the Supreme Court.

This theme is a common one since Trump's election, with coastal elites blaming rural folk generally for the current political moment--in particular Republicans holding power disproportionate to the votes they actually garner.  I am reminded of Loka Ashwood's work under the heading, "Tyranny of the Majority."  So who is dominating whom?  Ashwood suggests that the majority--the urban--hold power, and that they are using their power in a way that undermines rural livelihoods.  

So, one might ask,What good does the disproportionate political power of rural people do them these days, in material terms?  What bang are they getting for their political buck in terms of investments in rural communities and infrastructure?  Are they getting "pork" like they once did?  Or are they primarily getting support on "cultural" issues, e.g., traditional family values, abortion, etc.

As a post-script I want to also share this excerpt from the Levitsky and Ziblatt op-ed, which acknowledges that small-town and rural communities participated in and endorsed the Black Lives Matter resurgence during the summer of 2020:    

An estimated 15 million to 26 million Americans took to the streets, and protests extended into small-town and rural America. Three-quarters of Americans supported the protests in June, and large majorities — including 60 percent of whites — supported the Black Lives Matter movement.

See my posts from earlier this year about Black Lives Matter activity in the hinterlands.  

Friday, October 23, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCI): Big NYT headline about dire situation in rural America

The big rural NYTimes headline from yesterday is "The Worst Virus Outbreaks in the U.S. Are Now in Rural Areas."  The lede follows:  

The coronavirus was slow to come to Foster County, N.D., a community of just over 3,000 people in the eastern part of the state. When virus cases surged in the Northeast in the spring, the county recorded just one positive case. When national case counts peaked in mid-July, it had recorded just two more.

But by Tuesday, about one in every 20 residents had tested positive for the virus. More than half of those cases were reported in the past two weeks.

Most of the worst outbreaks in the United States right now are in rural places like Foster County. Where earlier peaks saw virus cases concentrated mainly in cities and suburbs, the current surge is the most geographically dispersed yet, and it is hitting hard remote counties that often lack a hospital or other critical health care resources.

Since late summer, per capita case and death rates in rural areas have outpaced those in metropolitan areas.

I'll just note that these dire outcomes were forecast for many months, in part because of under-resourced rural hospitals and health care systems.  Don't miss out on the maps and interactive features accompanying this story.  Don't miss prior posts about the Great Plains states generally and about the coronavirus outbreak there more specifically.  

Other coverage includes this New York Times story out of Hamilton, Montana, population 4,348, where the state-wide mask law has been openly flouted.  The story, which appeared in the business section, depicts Hamilton as a town experiencing rural gentrification, where one coffee shop enforces a mask requirement (and to the people lining up wear Lululemon tights) and a competitor does not (presumably serving long-timers).  Hamilton is the county seat of Ravalli County, population 40,212, on the Idaho state line.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Two big WaPo stories out of Montana: rural gentrification in (1) the coronavirus era and (2) in politics

Here's the rural gentrification story, which drew sharp criticism out of Montana when it was published yesterday.  The headline is, "New homes on the range: Weary city dwellers escape to Montana, creating a property gold rush," by Lisa Rein.  A lot of the complaining was based on the fact Ms. Rein didn't interview the folks being displaced by urbanites moving to Big Sky Country (also known as the last best place).  But other complaints were based on this statement, which overlooked the significant Black Lives Matter protests in Bozeman, which in many ways is the quintessential example of rural gentrification in the mountain west right now: 

"We are 98 percent Caucasian,” said Candace Carr Strauss, chief executive officer of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. “We haven’t, thankfully, seen a lot of the unrest other places have seen.”

Here is more great context, just before that quote in the story:

The mask police lay low. In a hyper-divided country, Montana’s politics are balanced. Its demographics less so, but that is part of the appeal for many who are coming here.

And on the nature of the latest round of gentrification sweeping the state, there's this:

The newest migrants are different. They’re escaping fear, of the pandemic and of the social justice marches they believe are bringing violence to their door. Montana can bring them back in time.

The other story is about the governor's race, in which Greg Gianforte, the Republican who slugged a reporter when Gianforte was running for U.S. Representative two years ago, is challenging a Democratic candidate with much deeper roots in "the Last Best Place."  In short, Gianforte, who made his money far from Montana, represents rural gentrification.  I can only imagine the politics in the state capital if he wins.  Kathleen McLaughlin reports: 

Cooney, 66, is a well-liked Democrat, a sitting lieutenant governor and grandson of a 1930s Montana governor, with decades of public service experience. His opponent is two-term Rep. Greg Gianforte, 59, a Trump-aligned Republican running largely on his credentials as a self-made multimillionaire tech businessman.

* * *  

In a state where voters routinely split the ticket and vote across party lines, retail politics and personal connections have long mattered. The 2020 gubernatorial contest has morphed into something different, led by ad spending and partisan identity centered on President Trump. It is a reflection of the polarization gripping the nation, which now threatens this traditionally bipartisan state.

Gianforte has put $8 million of his own money into the race, and it'll be interesting to see where that gets him.  Meanwhile, outgoing governor Steve Bullock (D) is trying to unseat first-term U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R).  Bullock has been a popular governor who has worked across the proverbial aisle, and it'll be interesting to see where that gets him in a race which, at this point, is very tight. 

And back to gentrification for a moment, don't miss this High Country News piece from a few years ago about Bozeman--and 10 reasons not to move there.

I first visited Montana in 2009 for a "rural law" symposium.  I wound up publishing this article on the challenges of delivering health and human services to rural folks.  I learned so much about Montana geography from that project, which focused on four counties that were rural to varying degrees (Wheatland, Gallatin (Bozeman), Sweetwater, and Big Horn), and one that was urban/metropolitan (Yellowstone County, home to Billings)  Two years later, I returned for my first Big Sky vacation, starting in Glacier National Park (Kalispell (Flathead County) and Browning (Glacier County)) and working my way down to Salmon, Idaho (via Missoula and Darby (Ravalli County)).   In 2016, I returned to Missoula for the Bill Lane Center's Echols Family's Rural West Conference.  Most recently, in 2017, I flew in to Bozeman and worked my way, via Livingston, to Gardiner, on the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park.  From there we made our way into Wyoming, to the Grand Tetons for the total eclipse.  I admit to having my own not so secret desire to move to Montana.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How the Trump administration has failed rural America

Here's a piece, now several weeks old, by Zoe Willingham, published by the Center for American Progress.  The lede follows:  

President Donald Trump has repeatedly stressed that his administration’s policies would benefit farmers and rural Americans, vowing in 2016, “We are going to end this war on the American farmer.”  His rhetoric, however, could not be further from reality. From the moment Trump took office, his administration has openly attacked rural communities by attempting to dismantle key programs and services on which they rely. The administration’s prioritization of corporate interests and profits over critical rural services and protections has only exacerbated the growing gap between rural and urban America. Since 2016, the difference in average household income between metro and nonmetro areas has increased by nearly 30 percent.
This issue brief outlines the multiple ways Trump’s policies are driving down rural opportunity and lays out pathways for restoring hope to rural America. Rural communities have been struggling for more than a decade, and they need a meaningful commitment to economic recovery from federal policymakers. With robust investment and lasting partnerships between the federal government and the diverse range of rural localities, rural America can have a bright future.

Among the items on the list: cuts to the U.S. Postal Service.   

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Voting and Attitudes Along the Red Rural–Blue Urban Continuum

That's the headline for a Carsey policy paper, by Kenneth Johnson and Dante Scala, for which the abstract follows:

In attempting to explain the unexpected results of the 2016 presidential election, political analysts have emphasized the differences in party affiliation and social attitudes between Republican (conservative) rural America and Democratic (liberal) urban America. Yet, our study of the 2018 congressional election demonstrates that voting patterns and political attitudes vary across the spectrum of urban and rural areas in the United States. Rural America is not a monolith, nor is urban America. The rural–urban gradient is better represented by a continuum than a dichotomy. At one pole of the continuum are large, densely settled urban cores, where Democrats have consistently been the most successful. At the other end are rural counties far from a metropolitan area, without large towns, where Republican candidates command their greatest support.

This study of the 2018 congressional midterms confirms our earlier analysis of the 2016 presidential election and demonstrates how voting patterns and political attitudes vary across the spectrum of urban and rural areas. Part of the explanation for these differential voting patterns may well rest in the substantial variation from one end of the continuum to the other in social and political attitudes. Just as we found a rural–urban continuum for voting, we also find here that voters at the furthest rural end of the continuum express social and political attitudes far different from their counterparts in the largest urban cores, with suburban residents and those in rural counties with large towns falling in between. A major point of discontinuity along the continuum is evident in the suburban counties of smaller metropolitan areas. Residents of these areas tend to vote more like their rural counterparts and share their social and political attitudes.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Racial unrest out of rural South Africa

Lynsey Chutel and Monica Mark report for the New York Times from the Republic of South Africa, the Orange Free State.  The headline is "Killing of White Farmer Becomes a Flash Point in South Africa."  An excerpt about the murder of a young, white farm manager who was found, "strangled and tied to a pole on a farm."  Police say the killers were part of a livestock theft ring, and that the motive was robbery, not racial animus.  It sounds like many white farmers are unconvinced:  

But the killing of the farm manager, Brendin Horner, has become the latest flash point for racial conflict in South Africa, where the segregationist apartheid regime fell almost 30 years ago. Tension is particularly high in rural farming areas where white people still own a vast majority of the farms and Black people still serve as their often impoverished laborers.

Groups representing white farmers accuse the South African government of deliberately failing to protect them. Some white activist groups say that what they call “farm murders” represent the beginning of a “white genocide” aimed at driving whites out of South Africa.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Black Lives Matter in rural America (Part VIII): Backlash

Here are two stories that appear to illustrate backlash against Black Lives Matter, backlash arising in relatively rural places.  The first, from CNN, is out of Marshalltown, Iowa, population 27,552, and the second, by CNN, is out of Price County, Wisconsin, population 14, 159.  

Here's the lede for the Washington Post story, by Hannah Knowles:

Signs set the tone at the Embrace help centers and shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence in rural Wisconsin. They declare a “safe space,” prohibit firearms and welcome people who are LGBTQ.

As of this summer, they also include “Black Lives Matter.”

In an overwhelmingly White and conservative stretch of the state, those signs of support for victims of color and their struggles with racism have triggered a firestorm — stoking tensions in towns a couple hours from Minneapolis, where George Floyd died in police custody, and north of Kenosha, where Jacob Blake was shot by officers.

Embrace executive director Katie Bement says she expected “tough conversations” but nothing like this: a parade of board resignations, the loss of $25,000 in funding, the end of valued partnerships with many police departments in the four counties where the nonprofit serves a population of about 90,000. Voters there in 2016 went decisively for President Trump, who has called the Black Lives Matter slogan a “symbol of hate.”

Migrant workers in crisis in the wake of California's wildfires

The Sonoma County Press-Democrat reports here under the headline "With no safety net, Sonoma County farmworkers struggle through pandemic and aftermath of wildfires."  Martin Espinoza writes of Lidia Chavez:  

Like so many undocumented immigrants, her ability to work is the essential yardstick by which Chavez measures her worth, her existence.

Today, however, she represents a crisis, as one of thousands of Sonoma County’s undocumented farmworkers struggling to pay rent and to stay healthy due to crushing blows from the lingering coronavirus pandemic and recent wildfires that decimated the annual wine grape harvest.

For the past month, Chavez only has been working a fraction of the 60 to 70 hours a week she’s accustomed to toiling during the busiest time of year for area vineyard workers, picking tons of grapes from August through October. Since wildfire smoke curtailed the harvest, she can no longer depend on her livelihood.

“There is no work,“ she said. ”I feel very anxious, like I’m not serving any purpose.“

She’s turned to house cleaning, logging 6 or 7 hours a day in between idle time worrying and longing to work amid the rows of grapes. She’s begged her boss, a local vineyard manager she holds in high regard, to put a shovel in her hand but his answer is always the same: sorry but no.

* * *

To be sure, public health emergency restrictions to stop the spread of the virus have taken a tremendous toll across the county, leaving many residents to rely on unemployment benefits and various forms of government assistance. But undocumented immigrants don’t have that safety net. They are ineligible for food stamps, Medicaid, state jobless pay, Social Security and health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

Chavez lives in Cloverdale, population 8,618, in the far northern part of Sonoma County.  

An August New York Times story about the impact of the pandemic, fires, and smoke on California farmworkers is here.  Somini Sengupta reports, dateline Stockton, California. An excerpt follows: 

Still, hundreds of thousands of men and women like Ms. Flores continue to pluck, weed, and pack produce for the nation here, as temperatures soar into the triple digits for days at a time and the air turns to a soup of dust and smoke, stirred with pollution from truck tailpipes and chemicals sprayed on the fields, not to mention pollution from the old oil wells that dot parts of the valley.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XC): The jail in Cascade County, Montana

The New York Times reports today from Great Falls, Montana, population 58,434.  The story by Lucy Tompkins, Maura Turcotte and Libby Seline is headlined "'I Just Kind of Lost It’: As Coronavirus Cases Soar, One Montana Town Reels."  Here's the lede: 

For months, the jail in central Montana’s Cascade County was free of the coronavirus, which seemed as distant a threat as it did in much of the nation’s rural Mountain West.

Then a few people who had the virus were arrested. By the time Paul Krogue, the jail’s medical director, realized there was a problem, nearly 50 inmates were infected in the jail, where some had been sleeping on mats on an overcrowded floor. After several weeks, Mr. Krogue got a call that infections were spreading to a side of the jail that had been virus-free.

He hung up the phone and put his head in his hands.

“I just kind of lost it, like, ‘My God, I don’t know how much longer I can do this,’” Mr. Krogue, a nurse practitioner, recalled. “I was just scared that I’m not going to be able to see it through, that I’m going to get sick — you just feel so exhausted and it’s just a lot.”

Montana, along with neighboring North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, and Wyoming, is suffering the highest infection rates in the country right now.   

Friday, October 16, 2020

More rural neglect in civil access to justice literature

 The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is just out with a new report on civil access to justice, "Civil Justice for All:  A Report and Recommendations from the Making Justice Accessible for All Initiative."  This is a 

The dean of my law faculty brought this report to our community's attention yesterday, on the heels of our chancellor having brought it to the dean's attention.  I had a quick look, of course, to see what it said about rural issues.  As you'll see if you have a look, the word "rural" appears eleven times.  Three of those times are in the context of showing spatial inclusivity, such as this on page 26: 

Civil justice must be fairer, more open, and more accessible, whether in a rural, urban, or suburban area, no matter which state.

A few talk about veterans issues in rural contexts, and one is a gesture to rural poverty--again as the contrast with urban poverty.   Here are the relevant excerpts:

Legal services organizations serving poor rural areas, whether in West Virginia, Montana, or Alaska, face special difficulties in attracting, hiring, and retaining lawyers. They also struggle to help people across a wide geographic area. (p. 13)

* * *  

Also in 2018, about one in four people in rural areas, where people tend to be poorer than other Americans, said that getting access to the Internet was a major problem; in urban areas the rate was about one in seven, and in the suburbs it was one in 11. (p. 23).

* * * 

People at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder will suffer the gravest consequences of this failure: family separations, poor health outcomes, substandard housing and evictions, homelessness, and veterans living on dangerous city streets and in downtrodden rural corners, feeling betrayed and abandoned by the nation they defended. (p. 29)

* * * 

The incidence of health-related problems varies by the type of poor and low-income household—from about 50 percent where people with a disability live; to about 40 percent in rural areas or in households where veterans live; to about 30 percent where seniors (that is, people 65 or older) live. (p. 32)

* * *

Some VA medical-legal partnerships use VA’s “telehealth” system to connect legal services providers by phone or videoconference with veterans in rural areas, who receive online healthcare consultations at community-based outpatient centers. This approach is valuable in all rural areas but especially in parts of states where limited broadband service means veterans are unable to access online civil justice resources from home. (p. 38).

The other uses of the word "rural" are in citations/footnotes.   Overall, I'm very disappointed that this high-profile report gave short shrift to rural access-to-justice issues--and to the scholars who have dedicated significant attention to exploring, analyzing and publicizing them.  I'll concede that this report's gesture to rural is better than no mention of rural at all--which has often been the norm--but the nod here is very superficial. 

Trump cancels rural Nevada rally, still heads to Vegas

Here's the story from the Elko, Nevada newspaper.  Guess Trump is taking the rural NV vote for granted and aiming for more bang for his buck in Las Vegas.  Elko's population is 18,297, which isn't technically rural but is the county seat of nonmetro Elko County, population 50K

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCIX): Democratic candidates raise the issue of rural hospitals

I noticed an ad about saving rural hospitals by Nicole Galloway, the Democratic candidate for governor of Missouri, a few days ago.  The ad takes to task Mike Parsons (R), the incumbent, for declining to take federal funding to expand Medicaid, which has resulted in the closure of rural hospitals in the Show-Me State.  I can't find that ad on her webpage, but it's still on her Twitter feed from just a few days ago.  

 Here's what Galloway's webpage does say about rural Missouri--yes, she has a tab for that!  Galloway was focused on rural hospitals' financial health even as state auditor, as reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  And here's a St. Louis Public Radio story from May 2018 about the implications of those rural hospital closures in southeast Missouri.  Lastly, here's a story from a few days ago in the Columbia Missourian about Galloway's tender years, career and campaign.  I'll just note that she grew up in suburban St. Louis but attended Missouri S & T in micropolitan Rolla, in the rural south central part of the state.  Interestingly, Rolla is Parson's city of birth.  

I also note that Steve Bullock (D), Governor of Montana who is running to be the state's junior U.S. Senator, has also been talking rural hospitals.  I'm pasting in a recent Tweet.   

Here is one of Bullock's ads, from this past summer, about saving rural hospitals.  

.S.  NPR ran this 4-minute piece on rural hospital closures on Oct. 17, 2020.  It's from Sarah Jane Tribble of Kaiser Health News.  She features the hospital closure in Fort Scott, Kansas, near where she grew up.  It's one of the more in-depth stories I've consumed about rural hospital closures, discussing both alternatives to rural hospitals and the consequences of these closures on a community's sense of itself.  Here are the last two paragraphs of what Tribble had to say: 

I talked with a lot of people in Fort Scott who have really significant health care needs, and they were scared when the hospital closed. But even if the hospital had not closed, not all of their health problems could've been taken care of at the hospital. Hospitals are not always the best place for people who need help managing their chronic illnesses, like emphysema and diabetes, not to mention addiction and mental health issues.

I saw people in Fort Scott gradually come to terms with this idea that a traditional hospital may not be what they really need. Often, just a good community health clinic can fill some of the gaps. And some rural places have tried a kind of hybrid hospital - just an emergency room with maybe a few overnight beds.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCVIII): Rural pressure on Oklahoma's urban hospitals

This is precisely what public health folks have been predicting for months.  The story comes from William Crum writing for The Oklahoman, based in Oklahoma City:

No ICU beds were available Tuesday morning in Oklahoma City as COVID-19 cases surge, a central Oklahoma regional health system executive told the city council.

The council got a pandemic update as it considered a mask ordinance extension, the second since the ordinance was adopted July 17.

The council agreed on a 7-1 vote to extend the mask mandate to Dec. 7.

Pressure on Oklahoma City's health system currently is due primarily to a nursing shortage as daily new COVID-19 cases increase, and hospitalizations continue trending upward.

The regional health executive said additional pressure was exerted by patient transfers in from rural areas where people wearing masks “are laughed at.”

Emphasis is mine. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCVII): The bleak state of Native populations in the context of the pandemic; bad news on Indigenous People's Day

I've been collecting stories/links for months (since my last post, back in May), about what is happening to Native Americans in the era of coronavirus.  So I'm finally presenting them here for Indigenous People's Day, though they draw attention to an ongoing crisis and are nothing to celebrate (except the one about an uptick in farming on the Navajo Nation).  

I'll start with one of the more devastating headlines, on June 13, 2020, from ProPublica: "A Hospital’s Secret Coronavirus Policy Separated Native American Mothers From Their Newborns"  The story is by Bryant Furlow of New Mexico In Depth, and here's the subtitle:  

Pregnant Native American women were singled out for COVID-19 testing based on their race and ZIP code, clinicians say. While awaiting results, some mothers were separated from their newborns, depriving them of the immediate contact doctors recommend.

More horrible news from relatively early in the pandemic (May 22) is delivered with this headline, "The Feds Gave a Former White House Official $3 Million to Supply Masks to Navajo Hospitals. Some May Not Work."  This story, too, is from a partnership with ProPublica, and the lede follows:  

A former White House aide won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience.

The IHS told ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use. An additional 130,400, worth about $422,000, are not the type specified in the procurement data, the agency said.

On a more positive note (which is a low bar, admittedly), Laurel Morales reported for NPR on July 28, also out of the Navajo Nation, "Navajo Nation Sees Farming Renaissance During Coronavirus Pandemic." Here's the lede: 
Historically Navajos have lived off the land. But decades of assimilation, forced relocation and dependence on federal food distribution programs changed that.

Navajo farmer Tyrone Thompson is on a mission to help people return to their roots. He's even taken to social media to teach traditional farming techniques.

* * *  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the Navajo Nation a food desert. People travel up to 40 miles to get their groceries. But Thompson says they don't have to.

"As we see the shelves emptying of food and toilet paper we kind of reconnect to our roots," Thompson says. "Some of the tools that were given by our elders and our ancestors — our planting stick and our steering sticks — those are our weapons against hunger and poverty and sickness."
Here's a Pulitzer Center story reporting on Choctaw COVID-19 deaths.  The devastating headline is "More Choctaws Have Died of COVID Than Those Who Died of the Disease in Hawaii. Or Alaska. Or Wyoming."  Here's the lede:
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the Mississippi Choctaw Band of Indians harder than any major city in the nation — and 10 times harder than the rest of Mississippi.

Of the 10,000 Choctaws served by the tribe, one in 10 — 1,092 — have tested positive for COVID-19.

“That’s worse than what we’re seeing in New York City or anywhere else in the U.S.,” said the 42-year-old Chief Cyrus Ben, who has battled the disease himself, suffering fever and chills.

By comparison, one in 34 residents in New York City has tested positive.

And it's back to the Navajo Nation for this Sept. 29, 2020 story from the New York Times.  Mark Walker reports:  "Pandemic Highlights Deep-Rooted Problems in Indian Health Service."  The dateline is Window Rock, Arizona, and the lede follows: 

Matalynn Lee Tsosie showed up at the Indian Health Service hospital in Gallup, N.M., one day in April feeling poorly and having trouble breathing. When her coronavirus test came back positive, the hospital gave her a prescription for an inhaler, an oxygen tank and orders to go home and rest.

Three days later Ms. Tsosie, a 40-year-old secretary for the local school system, was back at the hospital, this time in dire condition. But the hospital was ill-equipped to handle severe coronavirus cases. She was transferred to a hospital two hours away in Albuquerque, where she died alone after doctors tried to take her off a ventilator.

“My thought from the beginning was that it was a slow response,” said her sister, Kirsten Tsosie, fighting back tears. “I think a lot of lives could have been saved if we had a quick response to it.”

Long before the coronavirus, the Indian Health Service, the government program that provides health care to the 2.2 million members of the nation’s tribal communities, was plagued by shortages of funding and supplies, a lack of doctors and nurses, too few hospital beds and aging facilities.

Lastly, Kalen Goodluck reports from South Dakota for High Country News under the headline, "Tribes defend themselves against a pandemic and South Dakota’s state government."  Here's the lede:

As COVID-19 numbers soared across the country this spring, tribal nations began closing their reservation boundaries to non-residents. The Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux erected checkpoints on roads entering their reservations in order to protect their citizens, even as the state of South Dakota refused to require masks or mandate social distance. By early May, South Dakota Gov. Kirsti Noem, R, explicitly told the tribes to remove their checkpoints or face the consequences.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier declined, saying that doing so would “seriously undermine our ability to protect everyone on the reservation.” But Noem persisted. Throughout the pandemic, the governor has relied on voluntary measures, dismissed epidemiological studies and eschewed lockdowns in favor of business. Now, tribes say Noem has set herself against the safety of people on tribal lands by opposing their COVID-19 checkpoints.

* * *

Since May, Gov. Noem has continued to take a heavy-handed, anti-Indigenous position, threatening to pull essential COVID-19 relief aid and end law enforcement contracts — even asking President Donald Trump for federal intervention to end “these unlawful tribal checkpoints/blockades.”

Earlier posts about the pandemic's impact on indigenous populations are here and here.  

It's just more bad news (and peripheral to the pandemic), but here is a New York Times story by Eric Lipton about Trump's coal policy and the Navajo Nation. 

Understanding the Ground: Social Determinants of Health in Rural Populations

A free webinar from the Rural Health Research Gateway on Nov. 17, 2020.   

Jan Probst, PhD
Distinguished Professor Emerita, Researcher
Rural and Minority Health Research Center
Social determinants of health are defined by the World Health Organization as "the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age." For rural populations, many of these elements are less favorable than within urban areas. Building on work conducted by the Rural and Minority Health Research Center, this presentation will review some of the key elements associated with health across rural White and minority populations, such as education, income, and health facility availability.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

We used to say all politics is local. Is it now the case that all politics is national?

 Read Elaina Plott's story out of Montevalle, Alabama, population 6,323, in the central part of the state.  The headline is "In a Small Alabama Town, Suddenly All Politics Is National." Here's the lede: 

Perhaps no one was more surprised to learn that Joyce Jones wanted to defund the police than Joyce Jones herself.

On Aug. 11, Ms. Jones was in the final stretch of her campaign for mayor of Montevallo, a town of 6,674 people in central Alabama, when she appeared in a candidate forum alongside her opponent, Rusty Nix. The moderator asked both candidates how they would work with the town’s police department. Ms. Jones said she was grateful for the work of Montevallo’s law enforcement, and that as mayor she would consider adding social programs to help the town not just respond to crime (of which there is little in Montevallo) but prevent it, too.

She awoke the next morning to find her phone clogged with social-media notifications. “‘Defund the police,’” she remembered. “It was like a wildfire.” Citizens on one of the local Facebook groups accused Ms. Jones, who was running to be the town’s first Black mayor, of using the “same language” in her answer as the Black Lives Matter movement, implying that she had a hidden agenda. “Very few people will actually say ‘Defund the police,’” one man warned.

Montevallo’s elections are nonpartisan, and there was a time when they felt that way. Candidates would run on proposals like updating the sewage systems, beautifying Main Street and starting a townwide recycling program.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCVI): An update on how the pandemic is ravaging rural places where people aren't taking it seriously

And, well, the places where rural people aren't taking the virus seriously are far flung, but I'm going to focus on two regions--the state of North Dakota and rural parts of northern California.

First, the New York Times ran this story about the state of North Dakota yesterday,  with Lucy Tompkins reporting from Bismarck.  An excerpt follows, one that touches on other states in the region where the virus is surging:  

The rise in cases and deaths — September was by far the deadliest month for North Dakota since the start of the pandemic — reflects a new phase of the virus in the United States. From Wisconsin to Montana, states in the Midwest and Great Plains, many of which had avoided large outbreaks in earlier months when coastal cities were hard hit, are seeing the brunt. And in rural portions of the states now reeling, medical resources are quickly stretched thin for residents who can live hours from large hospitals.

Still, partly because these outbreaks were slow in coming, public health officials say they have struggled to convince the public that the situation is urgent or that limits like mask rules make sense. North Dakota is one of fewer than 20 states with no statewide mask mandate and many counties have resisted restrictions. But as the state reaches a boiling point, health officials say they hope people now will start to take the virus more seriously.

Second, I want to highlight what is happening in some rural parts of California, where the virus is also surging.  I focus primarily on Shasta County, where many are flouting the Governor's health and safety mandates.  Read stories here and here, including one touching on a seminary/religious compound where cases are spiking.  

Also suffering are agricultural areas elsewhere in California, like Watsonville, in central California, as reported here in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.   

Lastly, here's a Los Angeles Times story out of Placer County, California, which is exurban to Sacramento, from which Hailey Branson-Potts reports on attitudes toward Trump's diagnosis with coronavirus.  She depicts the area as much more conservative--or more uniformly conservative Trump-country--than is my impression.  (I live about 45 minutes away, also in suburban/exurban areas east of Sacramento). Don't forget rural gentrification and proximity to Sacramento and all that.

Marilynne Robinson in the New York Times: What does it mean to love a country?

This entire op-ed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Marilynne Robinson, is a must read.  Here, I'll just highlight what Robinson says about small-town and rural America, and how the current political moment pits rural and urban against each other.
If the small towns are dying out, encourage a hatred of the cities. In all cases, urge resentment of foreigners and immigrants. See the full force of our government deployed to terrorize a chicken factory.

* * * 

This is a president who holds grudges against our great cities.

Robinson's new novel Jack, is just out.  Unlike her prior novels (Gilead, Lila and Home) about the same cast of characters, Jack is not set in the fictitious small-town of Gilead, Iowa, where Jack grew up.   Instead, this latest novel is set in Memphis and St. Louis, where Jack met his common-law wife, Della, also the mother of his son.  Jack is white; Della is black.  To say they suffer discrimination because of this is a devastating understatement.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Small towns in the west obliterated by fire (Part VI): 4 million acres burned in California

Screenshot from Oct. 5, 2020, coverage
of August Complex fires in far northern California
The past week has brought us lots of coverage of northern California's latest wildfire surges, in far northern California (the August complex fires and the Zogg fire) and the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties (primarily the Glass Fire).  Just a few days ago, we got word that the state had hit a milestone--a devastating record:  4 million acres burned in a single fire season.  Another overview story is here.  This horrific news is even more striking when you consider that we're only halfway through the 2020 fire season.  And, of course, for purposes of this blog, it is salient to note that the vast majority of these acres burned are rural or, more precisely in most instances, wilderness.  

That said, many of the stories focus on our state's famed wine region, which isn't actually very rural, though some parts are more so than others.  As various journalists have observed, one reason these fires have been so devastating is that they raged through an area that is densely populated--relatively speaking.  In fact, we might think of the parts of St. Helena and Santa Rosa that burned as being examples of rural gentrification. Following are links to some of the stories about these latest wine country fires, including the Glass Fire that destroyed parts of St. Helena and Calistoga.  

This Reuters feature on the wine country fires includes some amazing maps and photography. 

Here's a story from the Sacramento Bee

Meanwhile, the August complex fires are also still burning in a much more rural and remote region of the state, in Trinity, Tehama, Mendocino, Lake, Shasta, and Humboldt counties.  This fire, originally a cluster of fires set by lightning strikes, has joined together to form the largest fire ever in the state, covering a million acres.  Here is a collection of stories out of that region. 

This Los Angeles Times story by Anita Chabria is headlined, "Wildfire ravaged this rancher’s cattle and maybe his family legacy. He blames politics."   Here's an excerpt from the piece out of Butte County about a rancher named Dave Daley: 

Three weeks ago, a windy night turned the Bear fire into another California catastrophe, pulling embers off the ground and into the air, across the river, through treetops and down these mountains to the towns of Feather Falls and Berry Creek, where at least 15 people died. Here, in dense woods, Daley’s 400 head of cows, many with calves in tow, ranged free in summer, as they had done for the six generations his family has ranched on this land.

In about 1882, Daley’s family started running cows up into this high country, back before there was a National Forest system, and their brand has grandfathered access — though some environmentalists believe cattle have no place on public lands.

Now, only a bitter smell and ravens circling overhead could signal where many of their burned carcasses lay, blending into a dismal palette of ash and charcoaled timber. Though Daley and his family search every day for survivors, only about 130 have turned up alive — some so badly injured, with udders, hooves and even legs seared off, that they have to be put down. An additional 100 have been found dead.

Consumed by guilt that he couldn’t save them, and fear that some may still be suffering, he’s scouring what’s left of trails and tracks with names such as Lava Top and Bear Wallow that he probably knows better than any person alive, having roamed them since he was a boy. Friday was Day 22.

“The live ones are live and the dead ones are dead,” he said with cowboy pragmatism. “But the injured ones are missing.”

Here's a general story from Oct. 5 in the Los Angeles Times noting the million acres now burned.  

I've seen two stories about the threat the August Complex Fire poses to marijuana growers in the so-called Emerald Triangle.  One story is from the Post-Democrat in Sonoma County, and the other, from the Los Angles Times, I featured in this prior post.     

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran this story out of Talent, Oregon, one of the southern Oregon towns obliterated by the September fires in that state.  The journalist is Isobel Whitcomb, and the focus is on the consequences of the fires for one LatinX family, in particular the impact on the children's education, now conducted remotely with a school-issued Chromebook as the family has taken shelter in a motel room. 

Also, some news coverage has attended to the issue of how Native Americans historically handled fire suppression.  Here's one from Capital Public Radio and one from the New York Times.

And CalMatters ran this story about the need to get more Californians signed up for emergency alerts, though I question the efficacy of these alerts in areas without cell service and/or broadband. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Washington Post cartoon contrasts rural-urban voting opportunities in Texas

 Here it is:

This cartoon focuses--not inappropriately--on relative population size to suggest it'll be easier for rural folks to vote in Texas than it will be for urban folks.  What this overlooks is another important aspect of what is happening in Texas.  Limiting each county to one ballot drop-off location is also bad for rural voters who live in counties that cover more land area (what I sometimes call "material distance").  That includes many in West Texas, as is visible from this map. And voters there are also less likely than metropolitan voters to have access to public transportation to get to that single drop-off location.

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCV): Big NPR feature on rural health deficits

Here's the story by Will Stone, with vignettes from Montana, New York, and Ohio, reporting on a survey conducted by NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public School and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The survey found that one in four rural households have been unable to get care for serious health issues. 

An excerpt from Stone's story follows:  

"The crisis is really widening the fractures that have already existed in rural communities," says Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association, based in Kansas.

New coronavirus infections in rural America are now at record levels, with 54% of rural counties in the "red zone," defined as places with an infection rate of 100 or more new cases per 100,000 residents.

Only 14% of the U.S. population lives in rural counties, but last week 20% of new cases and 23% of COVID-19-related deaths were in rural counties, according to an analysis by The Daily Yonder, an online newspaper that covers rural America.

Rural Americans contacted for the NPR poll — from Montana to Georgia to upstate New York — discussed problems getting treatment for many types of health problems, including the virus.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Rural Legal Scholarship: Policy Solutions for a Healthier Rural America

Five scholars have just published "Designing Policy Solutions to Build a Healthier Rural America" in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.  Here's the abstract:  

Disparities exist in the health, livelihood, and opportunities for the 46-60 million people living in America’s rural communities. Rural communities across the United States need a new energy and focus concentrated around health and health care that allows for the designing capturing, and spreading of existing and new innovations. This paper aims to provide a framework for policy solutions to build a healthier rural America describing both the current state of rural health policy and the policies and practices in states that could be used as a national model for positive change.
Congratulations to authors Sameer Vohra, Carolyn Pointer, Amanda Fogleman, Thomas Albers, Anish Patel, Elizabeth Weeks.   

Monday, October 5, 2020

Citizen science in rural Australia

 Here's a charming report out of remote South Australia by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:  

When rainfall strikes, the first question many people ask is 'how many millimetres did you get?'

And for thousands of volunteer rainfall recorders across the country, it is their job to measure and record the rainfall for their region and report it back to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The rainfall tally is not only used for up-to-date information, but it forms a record of Australian weather patterns.

Austen and Thelma Eatts are both 91 years old and live on a property in the farming district of Kelly, just down the road from Kimba, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

Their family has been recording rainfall for the bureau since 1918 — a total of 102 years.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCIV): A poignant tale from Nebraska and protecting food processing workers everywhere

BBC offers this deep dive into one young legislator's efforts to pass a law to protect Nebraska's meatpacking workers.  The legislator is a 35-year-old Latino whose father was still working as a machinist when he died of COVID-19 this spring at age 72.  Here's an excerpt: 

Vargas was attempting to persuade his colleagues to allow him to introduce a new bill to enact protections from Covid-19 in the meatpacking industry, an issue he'd been working on for months. It was an action which required special permission to "suspend" the rules of the senate - a Hail Mary in a legislative session that had only 10 days left in it. But after weeks of other attempts, he had run out of options.

"Over the last several months I've been working closely with workers at meatpacking plants across the state," he said. "What is happening in these plants - not only how workers are being treated, safety and health measures that need significant follow-through, and misinformation spread that everything is fine - is what brought us here today. Is what brought me here today."

He led with the data. Of the state's 25,000 Covid-19 cases, one in five of them was a meatpacking worker. Of those, 221 workers were hospitalised and 21 of them died. According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Nebraska ranks second in the nation in Covid-19 related deaths among meatpacking workers.

On top of that, 60% of the state's confirmed cases were in Hispanics, while they make up just 11% of the overall population. (Since August that percentage has dropped to 40%, but it may still be the worst racial disparity for Hispanics for Covid cases in the country.)

There's much more to this feature story, from personal narrative to politics, so its worth a read in its entirety.  

Here's a related story out of Maryland's Eastern shore, where the salient food industry is crabs and COVID has infected many who shell the product.    

P.S.  Here's a story out of rural Vermont, where a COVID outbreak has struck orchard workers.  

Friday, October 2, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCIII): The impact on abortion services

This story appeared in the Rapid City Journal (South Dakota) today under the headline "South Dakota abortions halted in March due to pandemic," with Arielle Zionts reporting.  The story explains the long-time struggle for abortion access in a state where it is highly regulated and where the state's sole provider travels periodically from neighboring Minnesota to provide the services. 

Here are some excerpts putting all of this in the context of renewed concerns that the right to abortion is under threat since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.  The latter excerpts focus on access in rural parts of a state that is popularly thought of as rural in it entirety.: 

Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, it won't change much for South Dakotans seeking an abortion who've had to travel out of state since March when the state’s sole abortion clinic stopped providing them due to the pandemic.

We “made the unfortunate decision to have to stop physician travel to South Dakota” out of concern for doctor and patient safety, said Emily Bisek, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. "We hope to begin abortion care in South Dakota again as soon as possible."

Abortions were previously offered about once a week by doctors from Minnesota who traveled to the Sioux Falls clinic, Bisek said. The clinic remains open for other health care needs.

The clinic has trouble finding South Dakota doctors to provide abortions because "there's a stigma in South Dakota, and the onerous restrictions on the care itself make the procedure more time-intensive and challenging to provide," she said.

* * *

[E]ven before the pandemic, many woman found it easier to take one trip to a clinic in another state rather than two trips to Sioux Falls, Bisek said. Other options include Billings, Fargo, Omaha, St. Paul, Fort Collins, Denver and Sioux City.
The story quotes Kim Floren of Sioux Falls, a board member of the Justice Empowerment Network (JEN): 
The need was already there and if Roe v. Wade goes away, it’s not going to be much different than it already is.

* * *  

Floren said abortion rights advocates believe telemedicine is a way to bring abortion to women who live in rural areas far from clinics. Bisek said South Dakota law doesn't allow women to be evaluated and prescribed pills for a medical abortion by an out-of-state doctor via telehealth.

My scholarly publications about rural women's access to abortion are here, here, and here.