Monday, November 30, 2020

Rural Legal Scholarship: A Low-ball Defense

Maybell Romero of Northern Illinois University College of Law is work-shopping this paper, about privatization of indigent defense, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, on Zoom, sponsored by the SMU Deason Center for Criminal Justice Reform.  You can register here.  The abstract follows: 

Scholars and policymakers have begun to focus on the deleterious effects of the privatization of different functions in both the criminal adjudicative system and criminal legal system on the whole. Much of this attention lately has been directed to privatized police forces, privatized prisons, and even privatized prosecutors. As important as the examination of privatization and outsourcing in these arenas is, the role of the privatized public defender—particularly, the rural public defender—gets lost in the shuffle. This Article highlights such public defenders, especially in the rural context, and the specific ethical conundrums that arise when local governments such as counties and cities decide to privatize their public defense services through the use of competitive bidding. It conducts a case study from a small jurisdiction in Northern Utah to throw these difficulties into stark relief. The Article then discusses the specific perverse incentives that rural public defenders face and the burden under which their services are procured by way of competitive bid, not with the intention of arguing that such services should never be bid out but rather that any jurisdiction using such a system should be fully cognizant of the risks they incur when choosing to do so. The Article then suggests potential interventions that may be employed to mitigate or even eliminate some of the troubling aspects of using competitive bidding to procure rural indigent defense services.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

David Brooks takes up the rural-urban divide in Election 2020

In today's New York Times, David Brooks takes up the influence of the rural-urban divide on the 2020 election.  The headline is "The Rotting of the Republican Mind," and the part highlighting geography's role is here: 

While these cities have been prospering, places where fewer people have college degrees have been spiraling down: flatter incomes, decimated families, dissolved communities. In 1972, people without college degrees were nearly as happy as those with college degrees. Now those without a degree are far more unhappy about their lives.

People need a secure order to feel safe. Deprived of that, people legitimately feel cynicism and distrust, alienation and anomie. This precarity has created, in nation after nation, intense populist backlashes against the highly educated folks who have migrated to the cities and accrued significant economic, cultural and political power. Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center calls this the “Density Divide.” It is a bitter cultural and political cold war.

And speaking of Wilkinson, he has the second most read piece on the New York Times website right now, "Why Did So Many Americans Vote for Trump?"  Wilkinson's commentary centers mostly on the pandemic and contrasting responses by Democrats and Republicans, and it mentions geography only in passing, the "density" concept not at all.  

The president’s mendacious push to hastily reopen everything was less compelling to college-educated suburbanites, who tend to trust experts and can work from home, watch their kids and spare a laptop for online kindergarten. Mr. Trump lost the election mainly because he lost enough of these voters, including some moderate Republicans who otherwise voted straight Republican tickets.
He contrasts those suburbanites who (presmptively) have white collar jobs with "working-class breadwinners who can’t bus tables, process chickens, sell smoothies or clean hotel rooms over Zoom."

Wilkinson, who's pretty far left, adds: 
Democrats need to rethink the idea that these voters would have put Democratic House and Senate candidates over the top if only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were less radiantly socialist. They need to accept that they took hits on the economy by failing to escape the trap Republicans set by doggedly refusing to do anything about the uncontained contagion destroying it.

Other ideas on how the rural-urban divide is influencing our nation's political landscape can be found in two podcasts I've listened to in the past few days, from the Trillbilly Workers Party and Densely Speaking.   Among other interesting matters, the former mentions Bill Bishop's The Big Sort as gospel, while the latter suggests that trend is reversing.  

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pitting food security against rural America?

That pitting is what this New York Times story by Jonathan Martin appears to do in relation to who will be Biden's Secretary of Agriculture: 

An unlikely fight is breaking out over President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s choice for agriculture secretary, pitting a powerful Black lawmaker who wants to refocus the Agriculture Department on hunger against traditionalists who believe the department should be a voice for rural America.

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking Black member of Congress and perhaps Mr. Biden’s most important supporter in the Democratic primary, is making an all-out case for Representative Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, an African-American Democrat from Ohio.
* * *
“It’s time for Democrats to treat the Department of Agriculture as the kind of department it purports to be,” he added, noting that much of the budget “deals with consumer issues and nutrition and things that affect people’s day-to-day lives.”

But there are complications. Two of Mr. Biden’s farm-state allies are also being discussed for the job: Heidi Heitkamp, a former senator from North Dakota, and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as agriculture secretary for President Barack Obama.

* * *  

And nowhere did Mr. Biden fare worse than in rural America, particularly the most heavily white parts of the farm belt.
Martin quotes Heitkamp:  
This is a choice that only Joe Biden can make, and he will make it understanding the unique challenges of rural America and what needs to happen in rural America moving forward.

My question is perhaps naive, but I rally don't understand why this agency cannot and should not play both of these important roles.  And I say that as someone who benefited from "commodities" (free food via USDA programs) as a child and who grew up to advocate for more federal investment in rural America.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

An update on Oceano Dunes, on California's Central Coast

I posted this about 16 months ago regarding the use of a part of California's Central Coast for off-roading.  Now, CalMatters has published a piece picked up by the High Country News, about the conflict between those recreational off-roaders and environmentalists.  The High Country News piece is headlined, "The dust-up over California's off-road beach," and Julie Cart reports.  When published in Cal Matters it was headlined, "A 40-year conflict over a state park: Has it finally reached a breaking point?"  Here's an excerpt: 

The park south of San Luis Obispo is the last state beach where visitors can legally race their 4X4s, dirt bikes and monster trucks. At night, thousands of visitors fire up RV generators or pitch tents, creating bustling mini-cities on the sand.

But these same 1,500 acres of dunes and six miles of beachfront are also home to two federally protected birds that build their nests in the sand, making them extraordinarily vulnerable. Every year at Oceano, some of the rare birds are inadvertently squashed under the wheels of off-road vehicles racing across the dunes.

Oceano Dunes is arguably the most contested stretch of sand in California, an unlikely stage for 40 years of broken agreements and laws, governmental infighting, serial lawsuits and charges that the state has prioritized motorized recreation and imperiled endangered species and other beachgoers.

The push and pull of allowing for the enjoyment of nature while ensuring its preservation is an age-old dilemma in California, but nowhere is it more fraught than at Oceano.

Now the decades-long debate over the future of these dunes has reached a climax: The California Coastal Commission has issued an unprecedented cease and desist order to its sister agency, the state Department of Parks and Recreation, signaling that the commission has moved the conflict into uncharted legal territory.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part C): Miscellaneous

Here are a coupla' recent stories touching on geography--including rurality--and the coronavirus pandemic.  

From the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16, 2020, "Covid-19 is resurging, and this time it's everywhere."  Betsy McKay and Erin Ailworth report.  

From the New York Times on November 12, 2020 (updated Nov. 20. 2020), "What Places Are Hardest Hit by the Coronavirus? It Depends on the Measure."  The story is by Mitch Smith, Amy Harmon, Lucy Tompkins and Thomas Fuller, and its subhead is "By different metrics, all sorts of locations in the United States are deeply troubling, from Minot, N.D., to New York City."  Among the places featured that are rural by some measure, in addition to Minot, North Dakota, is Avenal State Prison in California's San Joaquin Valley.  

Monday, November 23, 2020

On a wastewater crisis in the rural south--and a MacArthur genius grant to a woman trying to solve it

Two stories today reported on the rural South's wastewater crisis today.  The first is from NPR, and it prominently features one of this year's MacArthur genius grant recipients, Catherine Coleman Flowers.  An excerpt from the story follows: 

Hookworm is an intestinal parasite often associated with poor sewage treatment and the developing world. It was long thought to have been eradicated from the United States — until a 2017 study revealed otherwise.

According to the study, more than one in three people in Alabama's Lowndes County tested positive for hookworm infection.

Hookworm spreads when people walk or play in soil contaminated with feces and the larvae of the worms penetrate their skin.

"This is not something that we test for in the U.S. because people don't anticipate that we have it," says activist and author Catherine Coleman Flowers.

It was Flowers' activism that spurred scientists to conduct the hookworm study. For 20 years, she's worked with advocacy organizations, philanthropists, business leaders and elected officials to shed light on the gaps in access to basic sanitation in rural America.

The other story is in the New Yorker, and it features Flowers far less prominently.  Here, the sanitation issue takes center stage.  Alexis Okeowo reports, with this quote from relatively deep in the story:

In Alabama, not having a functioning septic system is a criminal misdemeanor. Residents can be fined as much as five hundred dollars per citation, evicted, and even arrested. Rush’s sister Viola was once arrested for a sewage violation. But installing a new system can cost as much as twenty thousand dollars, which is more than the average person in Lowndes County makes in a year. Instead, Rush, like her neighbors, used a pipe to empty waste into the grass outside—a practice, called straight-piping, that is not uncommon in much of rural America. (At least one in five homes in the U.S. is not on a municipal sewer line.) Floods carry sewage across people’s lawns and into their living areas, bringing with it the risk of viruses, bacteria, and parasites that thrive in feces. Studies have found E. coli and fecal coliform throughout the Black Belt, in wells and in public waters. A United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty, visiting in 2017, said that the sewage problem was unlike anything else he had encountered in the developed world. “This is not a sight that one normally sees,” he said.

Rush’s situation got so bad that, in 2017, her sister Barbara sent a Facebook message to an environmental activist named Catherine Coleman Flowers. For two decades, Flowers has helped people struggling with sewage problems in Alabama. (She was recently named a MacArthur Fellow.) A petite woman of sixty-two, with a gentle drawl and a no-nonsense demeanor, Flowers is a reassuring presence; she grew up in Lowndes County and is distantly related to Rush, as she is to many people in the area. Still, she was shocked when she saw the trailer. “She showed me how they were living, and I cried,” Flowers told me.

I think (hope!) we'll be hearing more about these events and the attention that needs to brought to bear on this developing world problem in the (U.S.) American south.

Finally, here is the New York Times review of Coleman Flowers bookWaste:  One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret. Anna Smith writes under the headline, "How the Problem of 'Waste' Affects the Rural Poor."  Here's an excerpt: 

In Lowndes County, a swath of rural land between Selma and Montgomery, as many as 90 percent of households have failing or inadequate systems for managing wastewater. This is structural poverty, Flowers writes, and it’s hardly a localized problem. From rural Appalachia to the suburbs of St. Louis to Allensworth, the California town that was the state’s first to be founded by African-Americans, “Waste” follows Flowers as she discovers that the failure to invest in infrastructure is pervasive nationwide. The consequences are life-threatening, but often invisible to those who live and work in communities with more political clout. 

* * * 

On top of all that, it’s not uncommon for people to face eviction and even arrest because of this scarcity of resources. Not having a septic system puts [poor rural folks] at risk.

It can also cause them to face criminal charges.  

The title “Waste,” then, has a double meaning. It signifies both the literal fact of waste and the loss of so much time, energy, money and even lives. What potential might be unleashed in a world where people have their needs met?

And that seems to be the $6 million question everywhere I look these days.  In any event, Waste sounds like a powerful read.  

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCIX): Urban and rural places compete for hospital beds

That's the gist of this NPR story today out of Kansas City, Missouri, reported by Alex Smith.  Here's the salient excerpt:    

Dr. Marc Larsen leads COVID-19 treatment at Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, where a recent count showed a quarter of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients came from outside of the metro.

MARC LARSEN: Not only are we seeing an uptick in the patients in our hospital from the rural community, they're sicker when they - when we get them because they're able to handle, you know, the less-sick patients.

SMITH: Larsen says that two-thirds of patients coming from rural areas need intensive care and stay in the hospital for an average of two weeks.

LARSEN: And we get the sickest of the sick.

SMITH: Dr. Rex Archer is the head of Kansas City's Health Department. He warns that the city's 33 hospitals are put at risk by the influx of rural patients.

REX ARCHER: We've had this huge swing that's occurred because they're not wearing masks. And, yes, that's putting pressure on our hospitals, which is, you know, unfair to our residents that might be denied an ICU bed.

Here's another story by Smith for the Kansas City NPR affiliate, this one from three weeks ago.   

Friday, November 20, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCVIII): The news out of rural places gets worse

NPR featured this story by South Dakota journalist Seth Tupper this morning.  It contrasts the South Dakota response to the virus (nil) with the Vermont response (robust), noting that both states are by some measure rural AND governed by Republican executives.  

Also, I recommend this very powerful podcast from The Daily (New York Times), about the situation in rural Wisconsin, where a Democratic state legislator in a very red/Republican area has been hyper-prepared for the pandemic since March, when she rented a refrigerated van in case it was needed if funeral homes could not accommodate all of the bodies.  

Among other stories I heard or read today that had a rural angle:  hospitals in Kansas City turning down requests for ICU transfers from places "as far away as Arkansas."  (Do reporters realize that Arkansas is contiguous with Missouri?).  Also, the news out of Arkansas, my home state, is frightful:  The governor only yesterday put in place the state's first mandatory precaution:  bars and restaurants that serve alcohol must close by 11 pm.  Seems a day late, a dollar short.  And/or, as my more crass relatives might say, half ass and piss poor. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Small town government runs amok (Part VIII): New Mexico county literally loses (as in, misplaces) a fire truck

The Albuquerque Journal reported today out of Mora County, New Mexico, population 4500.
Fake invoices, stolen records, a firetruck gone missing and thousands of public dollars paid to family members for little to no work.

Those are just some of the findings against the Mora County Volunteer Fire Department issued by the state Auditor’s Office on Wednesday. The 86-page report details years of alleged fiscal misappropriations by county officials, which could eventually result in future arrests.

In total, investigators found an estimated $335,000 in unsubstantiated purchases and numerous violations committed by employees of the county, including potential embezzlement and fraud.

Here are quotes from the State Auditor, Brian Colon, and his report:

It appears a particular family and group of friends dishonestly benefited from the county’s taxpayers’ public funds.  

At the end of the day, it all just adds up to a complete breakdown in the system.  People who were placed in supervisory positions failed to do their job.

A fire truck valued at $81,000 is among the assets missing.  

The story also quotes county County Attorney Michael Aragon, who initially brought the issues to the attention of the state after his office completed an initial investigation in 2019. 

It’s even more offensive because these funds were specifically allocated to provide public safety and protection. It’s just heartbreaking.

My own theory on this is well known to those who read the blog:  too little human capital in such locales and therefore too few checks and balances on those with power.  You can find a few other posts about volunteer fire departments here on Legal Ruralism, too.  

Fox News highlights Obama "Bittergate" comments from new memoir

Bradford Betz reports under the headline, "Obama says controversy over infamous ‘bitter’ comments about small-town Americans still ‘nags at me’":  

Former President Barack Obama says the controversy sparked by his infamous comments about white working-class voters being “bitter” and clinging “to guns or religion” still nags him because it misconstrued his genuine sympathy for the same people who perceived him to be out of touch.

Obama made the comments in a passage from his new book, “A Promised Land,” the first volume of his presidential memoirs, released Tuesday.

The former commander in chief addressed controversial comments he made on April 6, 2008, while on the campaign trail. During a fundraising event in San Francisco that evening, Obama was recorded making off-the-cuff remarks about white working-class voters in small towns.

Obama made the comments in a passage from his new book, “A Promised Land,” the first volume of his presidential memoirs, released Tuesday.

The former commander in chief addressed controversial comments he made on April 6, 2008, while on the campaign trail. During a fundraising event in San Francisco that evening, Obama was recorded making off-the-cuff remarks about white working-class voters in small towns.
* * * 
In his memoir, Obama said he wished he could take his comments back and offered an amended version: “It’s not surprising then that they get frustrated … and they look to the traditions and way of life that have been constants in their lives, whether it’s their faith, or hunting, or blue-collar work, or more traditional notions of family and community. And when Republicans tell them we Democrats despite these things — or when we give these folks reason to believe that we do — then the best policies in the world don’t matter to them.”
I wrote nearly a whole law review article about these comments, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars, published in 2011.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCVII): Distributing a vaccine to remote locales

Pro Publica reported a few days ago on the challenge of distributing the coronavirus vaccine to remote locales, like those in Indian Country. The headline is "Most States Aren’t Ready to Distribute the Leading COVID-19 Vaccine," and Isaac Arnsdorf, Ryan Gabrielson and Caroline Chen report:  

As the first coronavirus vaccine takes a major stride toward approval, state governments’ distribution plans show many are not ready to deliver the shots.

The challenge is especially steep in rural areas, many of which are contending with a surge of infections, meaning that access to the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines may be limited by geography.

* * * 

The Pfizer vaccine is unusually difficult to ship and store: It is administered in two doses given 21 days apart, has to be stored at temperatures of about minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit and will be delivered in dry ice-packed boxes holding 1,000 to 5,000 doses. These cartons can stay cold enough to keep the doses viable for up to 10 days, according to details provided by the company. The ice can be replenished up to three times. Once opened, the packages can keep the vaccine for five days but can’t be opened more than twice a day. The vaccine can also survive in a refrigerator for five days but can’t be refrozen if unused.
Health officials haven’t figured out how to get the ultracold doses to critical populations living far from cities, according to a ProPublica review of distribution plans obtained through open records laws in every state. Needing to use 1,000 doses within a few days may be fine for large hospital systems or mass vaccination centers. But it could rule out sending the vaccine to providers who don’t treat that many people, even doctors’ offices in cities. It’s especially challenging in smaller towns, rural areas and Native communities on reservations that are likely to struggle to administer that many doses quickly or to maintain them at ultracold temperatures. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

How higher ed helped flip five states (and other socioeconomic and geographic spins) on the 2020 election

Here's today's story from the Chronicle of Higher Education, by Audrey Williams June and Jaquelyn Elias: 

Higher education has increasingly become a marker of partisan identification. Among white voters especially, a college degree has come to be seen as predictive of voting patterns. And counties with flagship institutions in them have increasingly swung toward Democrats in presidential elections.

What did the presence of a college in a county say about how that county voted in 2020?

To answer that question, we zeroed in on Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — the five states that moved from Donald J. Trump in 2016 to Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020, and looked at what happened in the counties that had colleges in them. Here’s what we found.

Trump won most of these counties. 

In those five states, 136 counties include four-year public or private nonprofit colleges that have at least 100 students and, in normal years, in-person classes. Trump carried 87 of them, while Biden took 49, according to unofficial results.

This is but one bit of class-based analysis I've seen so far on the 2020 election.   

Here's a story by Benjamin Fearnow for Newsweek, "Trump Counties Make Up Just 29 Percent of U.S. Economic Output, 2020 Election Study Shows."  This story, too, focuses on the link between class and political affiliation.  Here's an excerpt: 

Counties won by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden make up 70 percent of all U.S. economic output—or gross domestic product (GDP)—a new post-election study finds.

Biden has repeated the phrase "there are no blue states or red states, just the United States" in several appeals to President Donald Trump's voters since being named President-elect Saturday. But the more than 75.6 million votes Biden won in the 2020 election led him to victory in nearly all of the country's top 100 most powerful local economies. Meanwhile, Trump voter counties make up less than one-third of the country's economic output, a Brookings Institution study said. The president's unsuccessful re-election bid hinged on his touting of the pre-pandemic economy. But his railing against urban areas as "crime infested" rather than centers of American wealth only allowed him to amass more rural county voters.

"Trump's losing base of 2,497 counties represents just 29% of the economy," the post-election analysis co-authors found.

Finally, here's a piece from the New York Times Upshot, "Election Showed a Wider Red-Blue Economic Divide."  Jed Kolko reports, with this lede:  

Local voting patterns in the presidential election showed a narrowing of several traditional divides. Preliminary vote totals indicate that the partisan gap of urban versus suburban places shrank, along with the traditional Democratic advantage in heavily Hispanic counties. Whites and nonwhites are now in somewhat greater alignment in how they vote.

That makes the resilience of the economic divide all the more striking. In fact, the gap between red and blue counties in their education levels, household incomes and projected long-term job growth did not just persist; it widened.  

And here's a paragraph that hints more at the salience of both education and geography, in particular the exurbs--or certain types of them. 

More educated places, which leaned strongly blue to begin with, voted even more Democratic in 2020 than they did in 2016. Highly educated Republican-leaning counties, like Williamson County near Nashville and Forsyth County near Atlanta, have become rarer with each recent election.

Read the full story for more.   

The Washington Post ran this shortly after the election, "How independents, Latino voters and Catholics shifted from 2016 and swung states for Biden and Trump."  The story is by Chris AlcantaraLeslie ShapiroEmily GuskinScott Clement and Brittany Renee Mayes.   I was intrigued by this graphic in particular, because it sums up so much about the incomes of voters for the respective candidates, and how those of differing income levels moved in some different directions in 2020, compared to 2016.  In particular, it shows that people with incomes over $100,000 moved into Trump's camp by 7 points and those with incomes between $50K and $99K, the income group that supported Trump by the widest margin in 2016, moved to Biden by 11 points: 

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that "Counties that experienced more job losses during the first wave of the pandemic voted for Biden."  Here's an excerpt:

The counties won by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. experienced worse job losses, on average, during the initial wave of pandemic layoffs than the counties where President Trump was strongest in his bid for re-election.

After the worst of the downturn in April, many of the most affected red counties recovered far more swiftly than blue counties did. By September, as unemployment fell nearly everywhere, blue counties were more likely to have higher unemployment rates.

Cross posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCVI): The impacts at both ends of the age spectrum, from nursing homes to schools

Here's a piece on rural nursing homes from the Wall Street Journal.  Tom McGinty and Anna Wilde Mathews report today:

Covid-19 deaths among vulnerable nursing-home residents are surging again, with the virus increasingly spreading to rural facilities that are struggling with staff shortages and other challenges.

Nursing homes reported more than 1,900 resident deaths from Covid-19 in the last week of October, as well as more than 32,000 confirmed and suspected cases among staff and residents, according to newly released federal data analyzed by The Wall Street Journal. Those nationwide totals at the facilities were the highest since early August, when states including Texas and Florida were seeing increases.
And here's one on rural schools, by Dan Levin in the New York Times.  In particular, it highlights the problem of rural broadband "dead zones," which has schools delivering lessons on a flash drive.  The dateline is Robeson County, North Carolina, population 134,000, and here's an excerpt focused on the digital divide:
The technology gap has prompted teachers to upload lessons on flash drives and send them home to dozens of students every other week. Some children spend school nights crashing at more-connected relatives’ homes so they can get online for classes the next day.

* * *

Millions of American students are grappling with the same challenges, learning remotely without adequate home internet service. Even as school districts like the one in Robeson County have scrambled to provide students with laptops, many who live in low-income and rural communities continue to have difficulty logging on.

About 15 million K-12 students lived in households without adequate online connectivity in 2018, according to a study of federal data by Common Sense Media, an education nonprofit group that tracks children’s media use.

Before the coronavirus, that was mainly an obstacle for students doing homework, and it was an issue that state and federal officials struggled to address. But the pandemic turned the lack of internet connectivity into a nationwide emergency: Suddenly, millions of schoolchildren were cut off from digital learning, unable to maintain virtual “attendance” and marooned socially from their classmates.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCV): North Dakota finally makes masks mandatory (albeit overnight, under cover of darkness)

 Here's an excerpt from the story, provided by Inforum (news in the Fargo/Moorhead area):

BISMARCK — North Dakota has put in place a statewide mask mandate, occupancy limits on public-facing businesses and the suspension of most high school winter sports as the state’s worst-in-the-nation COVID-19 outbreak continues to spiral out of control.

The mask order, announced in a news release late Friday night, Nov. 13, means residents of the state must wear face coverings in businesses, indoor public places and outdoor public settings where social distancing cannot be maintained. The order includes exemptions for children under five years of age, people attending religious services and those with disabilities that make mask-wearing unreasonable.

The order from interim State Health Officer Dirk Wilke goes into effect on Saturday, Nov. 14, and will remain on the books through Dec. 14.

Violators of the mask order can be cited for an infraction, which could come with a fine up to $1,000 for a first offense. However, Gov. Doug Burgum urged law enforcement to prioritize education and reserve penalties for the most egregious infringements.

North Dakota will join 34 other states, including Minnesota, that have already mandated mask-wearing. 

The statewide order comes after most of North Dakota’s largest cities, including Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck, implemented mandates of their own in recent weeks. A handful of counties and at least four of the five American Indian reservations in the state also passed mask requirements, though most of the local mandates had no penalties.

North Dakota's COVID-19 crisis has been very much in the national news in recent days, as the per capita rate of infection has exceeded most states, including at the spiring and summer peaks of the pandemic.  

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCIV): speeding up poultry processing production lines

Hard to know whether to classify this under "coronavirus" posts-- or to "file" elsewhere, but the Bloomberg headline from yesterday is "Trump Makes Last Push to Speed Up Chicken Lines Despite Pandemic."  Mike Dorning and Michael Hirtzer report for Bloomberg News.    Here are the first few paragraphs:

Coronavirus cases are rising, but the Trump administration is making its last push to allow chicken slaughterhouses to speed up production lines, potentially threatening social distancing that’s crucial to keeping workers safe.

Three days after President Donald Trump lost his re-election bid, the U.S. Department of Agriculture submitted a proposal to raise the maximum line speed by 25% to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. That’s typically the last step before a proposed regulation is published.

The move risks bringing back a wave of coronavirus infections that shut several meat plants earlier this year just as the winter kicks in and cases surge across the U.S. Critics also say it’s a lame-duck payoff to poultry producers that have been long-time supporters of Trump, who is fighting to keep office. It’s unclear if a final rule could be issued before President-elect Joe Biden takes over.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Coronavirus in rural America (Part XCIII): The aftermath of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

The rally is a major annual event in the western South Dakota town of Sturgis, population 6,627, each August. When the announcement was made that it was going ahead this year in spite of the pandemic, I also heard lots of folks express concern that it  could spread the virus.  A few months later, evidence emerged that it had, in fact, done just that.  

Here's a Washington Post story from October 17, "How the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have spread coronavirus across the Upper Midwest."  The subhead is, "Within weeks of the gathering that drew nearly half a million bikers, the Dakotas, along with Wyoming, Minnesota and Montana, were leading the nation in new coronavirus infections per capita."

Here's a New York Times story from just this week, "A Motorcycle Rally in a Pandemic? ‘We Kind of Knew What Was Going to Happen.’"  Mark Walker and Jack Healy report, with the subhead "Infectious-disease experts warned about the risk of cramming revelers into the Black Hills of South Dakota. But it was the annual Sturgis rally, and bikers were coming no matter what."  

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Carsey School of Public Policy: Biden’s Victory Due to Increased Support Along the Entire Rural-Urban Continuum

Here's the executive summary for the policy brief by Ken Johnson and Dante Scala:

To become the forty-sixth president of the United States, Joe Biden excelled at the margins. In swing state after swing state, he won small majorities that were just slightly larger than Trump’s winning percentages four years earlier, and he performed just a bit better than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, particularly in large metropolitan areas where he received his strongest support. President Donald Trump’s greatest success occurred in the remote parts of rural America, though in 2020 his majority here was smaller than in 2016. 
 
Voting Along the Rural–Urban Continuum

As political observers expected, Biden did best in the core counties of large metropolitan areas of 1 million or more (referred to here as “large core” metropolitan counties; see Box 1), where he received 64.5 percent of the vote (Figure 1).2 Democrats have consistently been most successful in these large urban core counties.3 Further along the continuum are the suburbs of these large metropolitan areas, then the smaller metropolitan areas of less than a million residents. Biden’s support was more modest in these places, but he still received a majority of votes (51.3 percent) in the suburban counties of large metropolitan areas and a near majority (49.1 percent) in the core counties of smaller metropolitan areas. Together, these three groups of counties produced 119 million (79.7 percent) of the 150 million votes cast so far. Biden received 55.3 percent of these votes, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 52.4 percent in 2016 and Barack Obama’s 54.3 percent in 2012.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

A teensy bit more (for now) on Election 2020

Here's an excerpt from a Hailey Branson-Potts story in the Los Angeles Times this week, under the headline, "In Trump-loving Newport Beach, the faithful make no apologies."

For all the talk about Trump’s rural base and the disaffected, working-class white voters who sent him to the White House, the president has long counted on a foundational support among very rich people, even in urban, coastal California, the heart of the so-called liberal resistance and a time-honored bogeyman for the right.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A new, one-sided era in Montana politics?

 Republicans won every state-wide election in Montana in 2020, and here are a few stories that shed light on what might be considered a trend.  First, High Country News published this piece in late October,  "Bullock, Daines and Montana's Growing Pains." The subhead for Abe Streep's story is, "In a critical Senate race, the two Steves lay claim to the “Montana way of life.”  Here's an excerpt in the author's voice, describing his visit to Cascade, Montana, 30 minutes from Great Falls, where Steve Daines had visited to tout improved broadband.  

I had come to gauge their reaction to this year’s battle for the state's open Senate seat: Daines, the Republican incumbent, versus Steve Bullock, the sitting Democratic governor. As one of the few races that could tip the balance of power in Washington, D.C., it has become increasingly nationalized, vicious and expensive. In such an atmosphere, any news can be sharpened into an advantage or a weapon. Montanans’ social media feeds are full of targeted micro-ads.

The outcome could threaten the state’s legacy of independent politics, where idea-based voters proudly split their tickets. Montana has not voted for a Democratic president since 1992; it has not voted for a Republican governor since 2000. This year, though, the races for governor, senator and Montana’s lone congressional seat could all go Republican, fundamentally shifting the state’s dynamic. The most closely watched contest, the Senate race, is too close to call.

Well, now we know the outcome of that election--that Daines won and he did so rather handily, though Bullock has been a popular governor and one I see as a great communicator with a common touch.

 Indeed, no Democrat won any state-wide race in Montana, making Greg Gianforte, the state's only U.S. Congressperson, the new Governor, after 8 years when Steve Bullock was the chief executive.  E. Tammy Kim published this in the New York Times, where she is a contributing opinion writer, the day after the election.  She writes from Missoula, home of the University of Montana.  The headline is "Montana’s New Governor Could Remake the State," and the subhead is "Greg Gianforte’s victory is another step in the Republicans’ ideological conquest of the American West."  That headline sums up her argument:  

This state is now red. Not the light red it used to be; not a red-and-blue checkerboard coaxing the eyes to see purple. Just a deep red.

Every statewide race in Montana went Republican this week, with record voter turnout: president, Senate, House, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor. And both houses of the state Legislature retained a Republican majority. Come 2021, for just the fourth time since 1921, Republicans will hold Montana’s house, senate and governorship.

Kim quotes Mike Dennison, chief political reporter for Montana Television Network, comparing Montana to the Dakotas and Idaho, "where Republicans rule everything and there’s no question about who’s going to be in power. ... Republicans have been increasing their strength for the last 30 to 40 years."  

Kim continues:  

The election of Greg Gianforte as governor will have the most immediate effect on Montanans. A wealthy software entrepreneur who spent $7.5 million of his own money to defeat his opponent, Mr. Gianforte is a politician in President Trump’s image. He has played down the risks of the coronavirus, derided unions and the public sector and based his policymaking on the Bible. He has also brutalized the media: In 2017, he body-slammed a reporter for The Guardian and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.

In his politics and personality, Mr. Gianforte would seem out of sync with most Montanans. He’s a deeply partisan Republican in a place that values ideological independence; he’s a brawler in a place that values niceness; and he’s an urban newcomer, a transplant from the East Coast, in a place that values rural, multigenerational roots. Montana politics was once known for producing centrist Democrats, like Senators Mike Mansfield and Max Baucus, and pragmatic Republicans like Marc Racicot, a governor who dealt plainly with Democratic legislators and recently said he would vote for Joe Biden.

As it happens, I've just finished reading Jon Tester's Grounded (2020), and I learned a lot about Montana's political history (among other topics).  I'd often heard Bullock speak, as a campaign for President and then for the Senate, about how Montana had banned dark money.  Tester describes that battle in detail in his book.  It's one that goes back more than 100 years, to a time when mining magnates--"copper kings"--sought to buy the state's Senate seats.  It's a fascinating tale.  

What I don't understand is why Montanans, who take such pride in their roots, would migrate to a newcomer --a Californian, no less--like Gianforte.  Also, I find it regrettable that so many of the newcomers have brought with them Republican politics rather than the Democratic leanings associated with the coastal elites who have been buying up the state.  

Two things about Election 2020

Twitter Screenshot from October 7, 2020, of rural Nebraska.  
Jane Fleming Kleeb is the Char of the Nebraska Democratic Party

Tonight, I heard President--elect Biden reference "rural" folks, along with urban and suburban ones, in his very inclusive speech. (Speaking of inclusivity, I'm also hearing folks note that he specifically listed people with disabilities).

I also heard NPR report today that more rural folks supported Biden than had supported Hillary Rodham Clinton for years ago. 

I consider both of those good things.   Good night.  

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Parsing the rural-urban vote/axis in 2020, with special attention to American Indians

I'm hearing/seeing various mentions of the rural-urban axis in election reporting the last few days.  Just going to highlight this out of Arizona, from NPR, today, reported by Kirk Siegler, who is said to be on the "rural-urban" beat. 

And not long before I posted this, a critical story came in about how the Navajo Nation has influenced the outcome of Arizona's vote.  Important and good news for progressives.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Among all states, the highest percentage of residents who supported Trump were in Wyoming

That is, compared to any other state. West Virginia was a close second. North Dakota and Oklahoma ran  third at about 65% each.  See more here.  Of course, all of these states have significant rural populations.  

How I spent Election Day: Ballot curing in rural-ish northern Nevada

Headed toward Kingsbury Grade between
Hwy 395/Eastern Sierra and Stateline, Nevada on Lake Tahoe

I made a commitment 18 months ago that, come Election Day, I'd be in a place where I could make a difference in the election outcome.  I made that commitment to my law school roommate, now a US Dept. of Justice lawyer, who made the same commitment.  My roomie had grown up in Philadelphia and lives in DC, so her habit was to go back to Philly each election day to drive voters to the polls.  Since California was sure to "go blue," I'd assumed I'd either fly to a place I could make difference, say Georgia or Texas, or drive to Nevada.  Reno, the County Seat of Washoe County, northern Nevada's population center, is just about two hours from greater Sacramento, where I live.  

South of Carson City, Nevada, November 3, 2020,
the most rural locale where we worked at ballot curing

But coronavirus struck and flying to a "swing state" was no longer an option. So, on Monday afternoon I drove to Reno, where the Nevada Democratic Party has an office and was dispatching poll workers and volunteers to "cure ballots."  This was a new concept for me.  It means going to voters whose absentee/mail in votes have been rejected--typically because of signature mismatch--and helping them "cure" their ballot.  This can be done over the phone in some counties (Clark/Las Vegas; Washoe/Reno; and Carson City), but otherwise requires the PIN the voting official has sent the voter, in which case the vote can be cured by text or affidavit mailed or delivered to a voting official.  

At Washoe County Democratic Party headquarters,
picking up ballot cure literature

My friend/fellow volunteer and I were assigned territory (a/k/a "turf") in "South Carson City" and Douglas County, which was code for Stateline, Nevada and Zephyr Point, Nevada, both on Lake Tahoe.  Most of our "South Carson City" turf was in older housing developments along Hwy 395, places that might be considered exurban because that far from Carson City proper.  Our "Douglas County" turf was over the Kingsbury Grade at the summit above Lake Tahoe and along the lake, an area that represents rural gentrification if it is rural at all.  (Keep in mind that rich folks in northern California sometimes move to Nevada for tax avoidance purposes, including to Douglas County).  See below for more photos of the day.  

Office of the Nevada Secretary of State, Carson City

As I finalize this post on Wednesday night, Nov. 4, Nevada is still in play, but leaning toward Biden with its six electoral votes.  Here's to the Silver State, whose motto is "Battle Born."  Appreciate your hospitality and an opportunity to make a difference in a race which, in states like Nevada, was very close.  Overall, it was a positive, empowering experience.   A New York Times story about the rise of the Nevada Democratic Party's organization is here.


Housing Development south of Carson City, NV 

Mexican Dam, Sierra View Road, south of Carson City




Monday, November 2, 2020

Superior Court Judge in rural California decides Governor Newsom violated state constitution with vote-by-mail mandate

Two California legislators representing rural districts--well, one represents a largely nonmetro district, the other a suburban/exurban district--sued Governor Gavin Newsom for allegedly exceeding his authority when, in June, he issued an executive order "specifying how counties should carry out a mostly vote-by-mail election."  Here is an excerpt from the coverage by the Sacramento Bee:  

Judge Sarah Heckman [of Sutter County Superior Court] wrote Newsom exceeded his authority and violated the separation of powers between the three branches of government when he issued Executive Order N-67-20 directing county election officials to take certain steps leading up to the general election. Newsom’s order cited the coronavirus outbreak as an emergency that warranted additional election protocol.

His order specified how many polling places and ballot drop boxes counties must have. An earlier executive order, N-64-20, required counties to send mail ballots to all registered voters.

Shortly after he issued the election orders, the Legislature passed two bills that effectively put his directives into law.

The population of Sutter County is 94,737.  The assembly member for Sutter County, James Gallagher, who was one of the plaintiffs, also represents Butte County, home to several recent disastrous wildfires.  The Chico Enterprise-Record's coverage (shared with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat) can be found here.  

In short, this appears to be grandstanding by two conservative assembly members looking to give the governor a black eye.  As the Bee reports, "The ruling will not affect the 2020 election, although it invalidates the election process executive order."  Further, the Newsom administration can appeal this ruling, as they successfully did an earlier injunction that had relied on similar arguments.  

Seen in the foothills (Part III): Local politicians again invoking the rural way of life

 

The top photo was taken at the intersection of Grizzly Flat Road and Mt. Aukum Road, in southwestern El Dorado county.  The "Better Roads and Safer Streets" might be seen as at odds with "Keeping it Rural," which is consistent with roads but not really streets--depending on your interpretation of "street." 

The bottom photo was taken at the intersection of Pleasant Valley Road and Buck's Bar Road--just about five miles (as the crow flies) from the first location.  It refers to a ballot proposition that would raise taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million.  That would apparently include many farms and ranches, as suggested by the second sign.  


Deep dive into Christian community in far northern California

Hailey Branson-Potts and Anita Chabria report for the Los Angeles Times on Bethel Church in Redding, California, county seat of Shasta County.  The story, headlined, "God, masks and Trump: What a coronavirus outbreak at a California church says about the election," leads with this powerful depiction, which is consistent with what my Redding friends have told me about Bethel in recent years: 

The influence of Bethel Church can be felt all over this economically stressed Northern California city.

In the Redding police officers whose positions the megachurch funded. The once-dying civic auditorium it keeps afloat. The church elder on the Redding City Council.

Bethel can be felt in the trendy new coffee shops and restaurants where young, well-dressed people huddle at tables with open Bibles and nary a mask in sight. It can be felt in parking lots and on sidewalks where believers approach strangers, asking to pray for and heal them.

In downtown Redding on a recent afternoon, Chevon Gilzene, a 25-year-old student at the church’s Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, declared: “We want to love the city well.”

It is a proclamation that is as disputed as it is acclaimed across Redding, a city of 92,000 where more than 10% of the population attends the nondenominational Christian megachurch. 

But anger toward Bethel Church intensified after members and students fueled such a major spike in coronavirus cases that Shasta County briefly fell backward to the most restrictive tier on California’s reopening plan.
In recent weeks, more than 300 COVID-19 cases have been reported by the church and its Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (or BSSM), an unaccredited schoolfocused on prophecy and miracles. It has been the largest cluster of cases in Shasta County.

Another story about Bethel, this from the hometown Record-Searchlight on October 13, is here.   David Benda also reports on the church's role in spreading the coronavirus in the Redding area.  

Redding is still officially the largest California city north of Sacramento, though Chico has probably actually surpassed it in size after recent Butte County fires have driven folks into that town.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

An interesting and tragic spin on the rural/farmer vote, out of Nebraska

Here is Dionne Searcey's New York Times story out of Henderson, Nebraska, population 991.  The story, headlined "He Already Saw the Election as Good vs. Evil. Then His Tractor Burned," features Jonathan Rempel, a fourth generation farmer.  The sub-head reflects a recurring theme from Trump's voters, that of the forgotten and un-appreciated:

In Nebraska, President Trump’s supporters hope he wins a second term, and that they get four more years of feeling like the country’s leader understands and defends them.

Here's an excerpt: 

[A] sense of Trumpian kinship permeates rural areas like Henderson ... with its two-block downtown, fiery red oak trees, silver grain elevators and artwork on the side of a building off Main Street that reads “some bigger, none better.”

It’s what made the phone call Mr. Rempel received about two weeks ago from fire officials as he and his wife were readying their children for school all the more shocking. His farm equipment was in flames. The combine, a tractor and two semitrailer trucks parked in a corn field south of town apparently had been set on fire.

“I said, ‘No, that’s not possible,’” Mr. Rempel, a fourth-generation farmer, recalled, describing his disbelief that his equipment had been destroyed and his corn harvest put in jeopardy.

I admit, I'm not sure this rural Trumpian kinship exists--indeed, if it did, would Mr. Rempel's equipment have been burned?   Well, to endorse the concept of a Trumpian kinship in rural America means one must place blame for the fire on outsiders.  The story continues:  

For his part, Mr. Rempel refuses to speculate about a motive, but here in Henderson, a certain fear is being whispered: The fire-starters are aligned with antifa, coming from the cities to attack their way of life.

“Whenever you see something on fire that was lit on purpose, or whenever you see a business destroyed, whenever you see somebody making a point through violence, it’s evil,” Mr. Rempel said. “And evil destroys.”

What a tragic representation of the stark divide in our nation at this moment.  

Here's a late August story by the Washington Post about Biden-Harris signs being stolen from homes in rural Pennsylvania.