Wednesday, May 31, 2023

More Elon Musk havoc in rural (well, exurban) Texas

I earlier blogged about the disruption caused by Elon Musk's SpaceX activities in Boca Chica, Texas, on the coast.  Now, the Washington Post is reporting on how residents of exurban Austin--Bastrop County, population 97,216 (so barely nonmetro)--are tiring of the consequences of Musk's undertakings there.  Jeanne Whalen writes under the headline, "Texas welcomed Elon Musk. Now his rural neighbors aren’t so sure":  
Chap Ambrose has always been a fan of Elon Musk. He spent $100 to join the waiting list for Tesla’s first pickup in 2019 and bought internet service from Musk’s satellite provider.

But then the billionaire’s companies moved in next door to the computer programmer, who works from his rural, hilltop home.

Two years later, massive construction sites and large white warehouses have taken over the green pastures where cattle used to graze. Semis barrel up and down the narrow country roads. And the companies — rocket manufacturer SpaceX and tunneling company Boring — are seeking state permission to dump treated wastewater into the nearby Colorado River.

“I just have no faith that the leadership there values the environment and these shared resources,” said Ambrose, who leads a group of local residents pushing Musk’s companies to slow down and address concerns about the environmental risks of the development. “I would say, I’m still a fan [of Elon], but I want him to do better here and be a good neighbor.”

The backlash in Bastrop, a largely rural county 30 minutes east of Austin, shows the dust Musk is kicking up as he builds a new empire in Texas. His companies are spending billions of dollars on campuses across the state, from SpaceX’s rocket launchpad on the Gulf of Mexico to a giant Tesla factory in Austin producing 5,000 Model Ys a week.

* * *

Signs of Musk’s move-fast ethos have mounted in Bastrop County. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has hit the Musk building sites with several violations over poor erosion controls and other matters. Texas’s transportation department reprimanded Boring for building an unpermitted driveway that it said posed traffic-safety concerns, and Bastrop County issued a violation over unauthorized wastewater holding tanks.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Reaching farmworkers with reporting that reveals realities of their lives

Charles Ornstein of the non-profit news organization Pro Publica wrote last week under the headline, "How We Reached Workers While Reporting on Dairy Farm Conditions."  Here's an excerpt:   

Spanish-speaking dairy farm workers in Wisconsin, many of them undocumented immigrants, are not regular readers of our website. Most have never heard of ProPublica, let alone formed a trusting relationship with us. Some have low levels of literacy and poor internet connections because the farms they work on are remote. Connecting with them, both to conduct our reporting and to share our findings, is a challenge.

For months, Melissa Sanchez and Maryam Jameel have been reporting on conditions at these farms. But one of their earliest missions was crucial. They needed to find out how the workers got their news and make sure ProPublica’s reporting reached them and their communities. The reporters’ process underscores one of our central beliefs at ProPublica: Publishing a story about injustice isn’t enough if we don’t reach the people who are directly affected.

Back in February, when we released the tragic story of a child’s death on a Wisconsin dairy farm, we knew we had to do more than translate it into Spanish.

Sanchez and Jameel are both fluent Spanish speakers; they are both the daughters of immigrants and grew up speaking the language. ... Early on in their reporting, they learned that dairy farm workers regularly use TikTok, sometimes making humorous videos of themselves dancing in dairy milking parlors. So the reporters, too, became active on the platform, chronicling their reporting trips to Wisconsin and documenting what they saw

* * * 

The team also identified businesses in these rural communities that serve Spanish-speaking customers — the spots where immigrants wire money to their families, buy groceries or do their laundry. They visited more than 60 businesses across the state and hung up flyers seeking sources. At one business, a small store a few miles from where Jefferson [the boy] died, Sanchez and Jameel connected with community members and learned how the official version of the child’s death did not match the account the community knew to be true.

The story we published after months of reporting showed how the sheriff’s deputy who responded to the scene mistranslated a key phrase and blamed Jefferson’s father for running him over with a piece of farm equipment rather than understanding that another worker had been driving the machine. Their search for the truth prompted local and state officials to call for police to use more effective translation practices when responding to scenes at which people only spoke a language other than English.

The story appeared on our website and on the front pages of nearly a dozen Gannett-owned newspapers in Wisconsin. We translated the story into Spanish and developed relationships with several Spanish-language publishing partners in Wisconsin and Central America, where many of the immigrant workers are from. These outlets included Mi Wisconsin and El Faro. We also commissioned an audio version of the story in Spanish. Jefferson’s father, who has a first-grade education, said he listened to the audio version several times. Hearing our story, he told the reporters, helped him finally understand how his son died, and how law enforcement so completely failed to understand what happened.

* * * 

In Sparta, near the Mississippi River, the team spent about an hour at the Supermercado Guerrero. They watched a young Nicaraguan woman take a booklet and tuck it into her purse. They asked her if she’d heard of the story, and she said she had read it in Mi Wisconsin, one of the websites that republished the article. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Ammon Bundy accused of hiding assets

Boise State Public Radio reported recently under the headline, "Documents allege Ammon Bundy hiding his assets amid civil lawsuit." James Dawson and Ashley Dutton write:
New court documents accuse anti-government activist Ammon Bundy of hiding his assets in a new sequence of shell companies as a civil lawsuit against him continues.

In a video recording from April 19, Bundy said he sold his home and doesn’t have much for St. Luke’s Health System to recover in the case.

“I have a few cars that I own,” Bundy said, in addition to some tools and about $50,000 in cash.

St. Luke’s sued him, a close friend, Diego Rodriguez, and organizations tied to both men nearly a year ago after Bundy encouraged his followers to protest at the hospital. The grandson of Rodriguez was being evaluated at St. Luke’s over health concerns.

The protests last March sparked a lockdown at the hospital’s downtown Boise campus and forced ambulances to be rerouted.

The five-acre property in Emmett is now owned by White Barn Enterprises, an LLC registered by a company in Post Falls, and is estimated to be worth $1.2 million, according to court documents. The Gem County Assessor’s office said the property was worth $998,452 in its 2022 tax evaluation.

White Barn Enterprises is subsequently owned by a Wyoming corporation, Farmhouse Holdings LLC.
Just a handful of states, including Wyoming, allow owners of LLCs to remain anonymous.

Documents from the IRS filed by lawyers on behalf of St. Luke’s show both companies are owned by Aaron K. Welling, Bundy’s one-time treasurer for his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign.

The filings also include an email exchange between Welling and Donovan LaCour, an advisor with Wyoming-based incorporation company Prime Corporate Services from Dec. 13, 2022.

Prior posts about Bundy are here (2017), here (2021), here (2016), here (2018), here (2022), here (2020) and here (2016).   

Friday, May 26, 2023

Recent empirical work on "New Rural Lawyers' Perceptions of Learning the Rural Practice of Law"

Ashli R. Tomisich of the University of Wyoming has just successfully defended her dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration.  It is titled "New Lawyers’ Perceptions of Learning the Rural Practice of Law," and the abstract follows:
This study explores how law schools can better educate students about the possibilities and opportunities presented by rural practice and prepare them with the skills to succeed in practice. This is accomplished through a qualitative case study exploring the efficacy of legal training in developing new lawyers for practice in a rural setting. An aging population and dwindling availability of jobs has increased the growing need for practitioners in rural areas, further accelerated after the COVID-19 pandemic (Davis, 2020; Fry, 2021; Peasley, 2022). While new graduates maybe willing to pursue a rural law practice, employers and graduates frequently note that graduates are not prepared for the skill-based practice of law (Gasson & Waters, 2018; Horne, 2022; Kidder, 2022). Many students reflect that law school remains too theoretical to be pragmatically helpful in their first jobs, particularly given a rural law practice's unique nuance and challenges (Herrera, 2019; Horne, 2022; Lune, 2015). Recent graduates report that practical skills training had the strongest positive impact in preparing them for the practice of law (Gasson & Waters, 2018; Lambert, 2019). Growing beyond the old law school model of “thinking like a lawyer” is crucial in creating learning opportunities for law students to cultivate necessary practice skills and develop professional identities. Grappling with complex and novel situations while demonstrating creative thinking is critical to success in rural practice (Kidder, 2022; Wandler, 2016). This study examines the utility of more practical training in law school, specifically for rural practitioners.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Literary Ruralism (Part XXXVI): More of Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperhead

Since the last time I blogged about Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  That win for Kingsolver's latest novel surprised me, in part. because the book is not very woke.  In the prior passage that I highlighted, Kingsolver compares being called a "hillbilly" to being called the "n-word" in the sense that the maligned group has appropriated or reclaimed the term.  But any comparison between, say, "white trash" or other not-quite-white folks on the one hand and Black folks on the other is not permitted in my uber-woke world.  

Well, I finished reading Demon Copperhead this week and, in doing so, came across some similar comparisons.  Here's one such passage where the comparison is not only to African Americans, but also to Native Americans, here the Cherokee.  Demon, an adolescent Melungeon growing up in Lee County, Virginia, is writing about Tommy, a peer he met when they were both in foster care.  Tommy and Demon had previously been partners in producing a cartoon that ran in the local newspaper where Tommy worked, as well as a few others in the region. Tommy has since moved to Pennsylvania to marry.  Demon, in this passage, is recently out of addiction recovery and Tommy is prodding him to use his talents to produce a graphic novel about Appalachia.  

What changed everything was Tommy calling me up, out of the blue. The History of our People thing, he hadn’t let go. Maybe homesick. Or having trouble explaining us rednecks to his new family, as you do. Anyway, so excited on the phone he doesn’t start with hello. Demon! I know why we’re the dogshit of America, it’s a war, and it’s been going on the whole time, and nobody gets it, not even us. You have to do a graphic novel about it. This, at three motherfucking o’clock in the goddamn morning. I said I couldn’t wait to hear all about it tomorrow.

Oh, I did. He claimed he was on the right track as far as the two kinds of economy people, land versus money. But not city people against us personally. It’s the ones in charge, like government or what have you. They were always on the side of the money-earning people, and down on the land people, due to various factors Tommy mentioned, monetize this, international banking that. The main one I could understand was that money-earning ones pay taxes. Whereas you can’t collect shit on what people grow and eat on the spot, or the work they swap with their neighbors. That’s like a percent of blood from a turnip. So, the ones in charge started cooking it into everybody’s brains to look down on the land people, saying we are an earlier stage of human, like junior varsity or cavemen. Weird-shaped heads.

Tommy was watching TV these days, and seeing finally how this shit is everywhere you look. Dissing the country bumpkins, trying to bring us up to par, the long-termed war of trying to shame the land people into joining America. Meaning their version, city. TV being the slam book of all times, maybe everybody in the city was just going along with it, not really noticing the rudeness factors. Possibly to the extent of not getting why we are so fucking mad out here. It took a lot of emails of Tommy telling me how far back it went, this offensive to wedge people off their own holy ground and turn them into wage labor. Before the redneck miner wars, the coal land grabs, the timber land grabs. Whiskey Rebellion: an actual war. George Washington marched the US Army on our people for refusing to pay tax on corn liquor. Which they weren’t even selling for money, mainly just making for neighborly entertainment. How do you get tax money out of moonshine? Answer: You and what army. It goes a ways to explaining people’s feelings about taxes and guns.

Tommy said the world was waiting for a graphic novel about the history of these wars. I told him the world could hold its horses then, because I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to do that. Then went to bed, woke up, and started drawing it. He fed me story lines like kindling on a fire. I wanted to call it Hillbilly Wars, but he said no, people would think the usual cornball nonsense, hill folk shooting each other. Plus he pointed out there were other land-type people in the boat with us. The Cherokees that got kicked off their land. All the other tribes, same. Black people after they were freed up, wanting their own farms but getting no end of grief for it, till they gave up and went to the city.

(pp. 522-23)  

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Highway expansion in California's eastern Sierra unearths Native human remains

Louis Sahagun writes for the Los Angeles Times this week about the discovery of Native American human remains as Caltrans proceeds with work to expand a segment of Highway 395, which runs north/south in eastern California.  The headline is "Indigenous tribes warned of a buried kingdom in Owens Valley. Now, Caltrans bulldozers are unearthing bones."  The dateline is Cartago, population 92. An excerpt follows, focusing on the conflict this discovery has surfaced between Paiute Indians and the State of California.  

It didn’t take long for a team of highway archaeologists to mark their first find while searching for buried human remains on an aging stretch of U.S. Highway 395 that cuts along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada range.

That alone was enough to concern local tribal leaders, but they went on to hit more bones missed by earlier archaeological surveys required to start construction of a $69.7-million Caltrans project to convert 12.6 miles of 395 from a two-lane road to a safer four-lane expressway.

State and federal laws prohibit public disclosure of information related to the locations of Native American cultural places to reduce their vulnerability to various types of theft, including grave robbing. But as of last week, tribal leaders say, more than 30 tangled human skeletons had been unearthed at the site near the Inyo County community of Cartago, many of them adorned with artifacts: glass beads, abalone shells and arrowheads.

Now, as nearby bulldozers lumber over huge mounds of excavated earth, tribal historic preservation officers are demanding that the California Department of Transportation halt construction and realign the project to avoid the gravesites.

“We’re saying, ‘Stop!’ Your gigantic highway project is disrupting the peace of untold numbers of ancestors in a place that had gone undisturbed for thousands of years,” said Sean Scruggs, tribal historic officer for the Fort Independence Indian Community of Paiute Indians.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Covering the distance to mentor teachers in rural Alaska

Cory Turner reported for NPR a few days ago from rural western Alaska where a septuagenarian teacher is mentoring a young colleague, though it requires him to take three flights to reach Chevak, population 938.
Outside Chevak School, in western Alaska, the lake is ice, and the snowy tundra unfurls to the Bering Sea. But that doesn't stop new, first-grade teacher Amelia Tulim from trying to lighten the mood with an outdoor egg hunt. Inside the colorful plastic eggs: small, animal-shaped erasers.

Tulim grew up in Chevak, an Alaska Native community and home to the Cup'ik people. It's here, in the same school where she now works, that her third-grade teacher first inspired her to become an educator.

"She made learning fun," Tulim says, smiling. "I remember sitting in my desk and looking right at her and telling myself, 'One day, that's going to be you. You're going to make learning fun.' "

And she is. But being a new teacher is also hard, she admits.

The long hours of grading and lesson-prep can be exhausting. Poverty is also a challenge in Chevak, as it is in so many districts across the U.S., and often requires that teachers do far more than teach. There's also the long, snowy winters, though Tulim's used to those.

"We only have three cars here," she says, "the rest are ATVs and snowmobiles."

For many Alaska teachers, this math adds up to burnout. The state's rural communities are hit hard by teacher shortages, losing roughly one in four teachers every year. 

* * * 

Research shows teachers who were trained in Alaska, as Tulim was, are less likely to leave the classroom than outsiders, a trend that's also been seen in other communities, and that's fueled an explosion in grow-your-own teacher training programs across the U.S.

She also has Ed Sotelo.

The 70-year-old veteran teacher pops into her classroom, greeting the children as they return from their egg hunt – as if he'd simply walked across the hall.   

* * * 

Sotelo is one of fifteen retired teachers who now work as mentors for the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project (ASMP). The program began 20 years ago, through the University of Alaska, and later survived being gutted by statewide budget cuts; seeing the impact the mentors were having on their teachers, school districts themselves stepped in to keep the project funded.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

NEA on likely consequence of school choice, voucher programs for rural schools

Tim Walker writes for NEA News (National Education Association) under the headline "‘Lose Your School, You Lose Your Town’: Educators in Rural States Mobilize Against School Vouchers."  The subhead is: "As they gain a foothold in more states, school vouchers will drain resources from public schools in rural America and the communities they serve."  An Iowa-focused excerpt follows: 

Public schools everywhere have an important and unique place in their communities, but for rural areas, that role is even more consequential. Schools are more than academic institutions; they provide critical services to students who need them the most. Rural schools are also hubs for community engagement through concerts, theatrical productions, and sports. Often, they are a town’s largest employer.

“At our school, we offer a lot, because our community expects a lot,” says Steve Peterson, a teacher in Decorah, a town in northeastern Iowa. “They want good programs—academic, but also extra-curricular opportunities.”

Peterson, his colleagues, and many parents, however, are looking ahead to the next school year and beyond with unease and trepidation.

In January, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law one of the broadest school voucher programs in the nation. Beginning in 2023-24, the state will begin shifting hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding to religious and private schools. Voucher legislation has been passed or is being considered in more than a dozen states this year.

The strength and standing of rural schools will be tested. How will they prevent a drop in enrollments? How can they continue to provide the breadth of services to every student? How will an exodus of educators be stemmed?

“The impact is not clear yet, but I fear the short answer,” says Peterson, “is you don’t.”

In previous years, educators and their unions in Iowa helped defeat voucher proposals, thanks in part to steadfast opposition from enough rural lawmakers who understood the devastating impact these schemes would have on area public schools.

The political terrain has since shifted quite dramatically, says Samuel E. Abrams, director of the ‌National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Abrams explains:   

Vouchers so far have had little impact in rural areas of the country.  But there’s no question about their new momentum—and the impact on rural schools and their communities could be grim. As the mayor of Woodbine, Iowa, told me several years ago, "If you lose your school, you lose your town.”

* * * 

Even before the recent surge of voucher legislation, the amount of public taxpayer dollars being redirected to private school tuition has been running at alarming levels.

Abrams and Steven Koutzvalis, a classroom teacher and education policy researcher, analyzed voucher programs’ fiscal impact in a 2023 report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Education Law Center.

In each of the seven states highlighted in the report— Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—expenditures of public funds on voucher programs increased dramatically from 2008 to 2019. Furthermore, the portion of state gross domestic product allocated to K-12 public education decreased, even though public school enrollment grew over the same period.
The story also includes data about who uses vouchers (wealthy families) and how the concept has been re-branded in recent years to include concepts like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

A recent related post about the school choice movement in Texas is here, and this post about a Missouri politician also touches on the issue.  The impact of school voucher programs loomed large in the Oklahoma gubernatorial race in 2022, and new school choice laws advocated by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders are likely to have big impacts in rural Arkansas. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Specialized K-12 schools for high-needs students closing in rural Colorado

The Colorado Sun collaborated with Chalkbeat for a series on Colorado's "facility schools."  One story in the series, by Rae Ellen Bichell and Helen Santoro's story, is titled "Students in rural Colorado are left without options as specialized facility schools close." An excerpt follows:  

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law this spring that provides funds to prop up facility schools and strengthen services for students with severe needs in rural districts. But the sparse population and vast distances of the Western Slope and eastern plains mean serving these vulnerable students will likely remain a challenge.

“There are no services there. And so you get one student with autism that comes into this little tiny district, what’s going to happen? That child is not going to get what he or she needs, and they’re too far away from the Front Range,” said Barb Taylor, an educator turned consultant who serves as special education director for several Colorado facility schools.

According to a report submitted to lawmakers, among the main reasons students could not be placed at a facility school were lack of openings and, in rural areas, “prohibitive geographic location.”

A few rural patches of the state have figured out alternatives to serve students closer to home. For example, the Santa Fe Trail Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, started the Southeast Alternative Learning Academy in La Junta for students in the eastern plains with emotional and behavioral problems.

* * * 

[A]cross much of rural Colorado, “we have people that are trying to work with these kids that are not qualified or that are not trained, that don’t have the skills that they need to be able to do that in the district,” said Sandy Malouff, executive director and special education director of the Santa Fe Trail [Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES].

This is, of course, a familiar tale, partly because of the challenge of achieving  economies of scale to deliver services--especially specialized services--in sparsely populated places.  

Monday, May 15, 2023

New insights into the rural vote?

Christian Paz reported last week in Vox under the headline, "Democrats have a huge opportunity to win back rural voters."  Here's an excerpt: 
[A]s the 2024 campaign map begins to take shape, Democratic candidates, the state and national parties, and their outside partners will have to make a choice about how seriously to invest in outreach and persuasion operations in these communities. Democrats have long struggled in rural communities, but their decline in support has only accelerated in recent years, cementing the idea for many that the party caters to highly educated and primarily urban voters. That narrative has only entrenched itself since the ’90s, when former President Bill Clinton essentially split rural voters with his Republican opponents in his two presidential campaigns and won over 1,100 rural counties in 1996. Since then, Democratic presidential candidates have endured dramatic losses in rural areas: in 2008, Barack Obama won 455 rural counties; in 2020, Joe Biden won only 194.

That crumbling of rural support has led some in the party to write off this section of voters entirely. Biden’s 2020 victory is illustrative of this dynamic: He won the presidency despite winning just 33 percent of rural voters. (Trump won 65 percent, up from the 59 percent he won in 2016.)

But the 2022 midterms reversed that slide.

If Democrats decide to take these communities more seriously this cycle, activists, strategists, and former candidates say the party stands to shore up its margins in battleground states and make up for any possible loss in support from the suburbs. If candidates and their campaigns show up and work with the right local partners, they might have a better chance of replicating some of the rural progress they made in 2022. 
* * *
The brightest spots for Democrats came in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Gov. Josh Shapiro, respectively, improved on Biden’s performance in rural counties by 10 and 15 percentage points. Candidates like Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) improved by more than 6 points — and even candidates who lost, like former Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio’s Senate race, still improved on Biden’s numbers (winning 4 percent more support from these counties).

* * * 

Until 2022, it seemed to many rural Democrats and progressive activists that the Democratic Party leadership was content to abandon these communities to Republican dominance. Especially after Trump’s rural dominance in 2020, the narrative that Democrats had given up competing beyond the suburbs had solidified among many in the party. Rural Democratic politicians, like [former Montana governor Steve] Bullock, who lost a Senate election in 2020, were beginning to sound the alarm ahead of the midterms.

Now, however, Bullock is more optimistic:  

We have a long way to go as a party, but I think that certainly we saw through the midterms that you can’t cede any parts of the country.

Don't miss the rest of this interesting feature from Paz.  

Friday, May 12, 2023

Colorado’s gray wolf reintroduction and the challenge for rural ranchers

Colorado Proposition 114 (or the Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative) passed narrowly in the 2020 election (by just 1.82%), causing a significant impact on rural communities. The Gray Wolf Reintroduction Initiative aimed to reintroduce gray wolves into western regions of Colorado. The proposition raised concerns about potential conflicts and disruptions to rural ways of life in the region.

Supporters of Proposition 114 emphasized the ecological benefits of reintroducing gray wolves, such as restoring natural predator-prey dynamics and promoting biodiversity. Organizations such as The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project raised over $2 million in support of Proposition 114. Their efforts were successful, but only in more urban areas. On the county level, 51 of Colorado’s 64 counties voted “no.” Notably, major opponents were the rural counties where the wolf reintroduction would happen.

Opponents of the proposition within rural communities raised valid concerns about the impacts of wolf reintroduction. They stressed the wolves’ threat to livestock, which would cause economic hardships for ranching families. Livestock depredation was seen as a significant risk that could result in financial losses, negatively impacting the rural economy.

Rural residents, particularly those engaged in hunting, were also concerned about the potential effects of gray wolves on big game populations. Hunting is not only a recreational activity of cultural significance, it is also an important economic driver in many rural areas. Decreased hunting opportunities due to wolf predation could have negative consequences for local businesses, outfitters, and the broader hunting community.

As it turns out, rural residents were justified in their concerns about the reintroduction of the gray wolves. Since wolves were protected under state law and the 2022 update to the federal Endangered Species Act, ranchers have been left with virtually no option to protect their livestock.

A rancher in Jackson County (population 1,363) is quoted in this 2022 report about the significant impact the reintroduction is having on his life. He cites a lack of sleep, loss of cattle, and fear for his personal safety as “wolves have lost their fear of humans.” This story is becoming all too common with article after article about livestock ranches being attacked and destroyed by wolf packs. In some cases, even family pets are getting killed. More stories can also be found in this earlier post.

As these wolf attacks continue to incite fear and devastation in these rural Colorado communities, rancher attempts to work with Proposition 114 supporters have started to decline. Originally, ranchers did their best to comply with no-kill laws. They even supported additional bills, such as SB23-255 (Wolf Depredation Compensation Fund) and SB23-256 (Management of Gray Wolves Reintroduction), and accepted government assistance to help mitigate their struggles. Although these bills would allow ranchers to receive (below market value) compensation for livestock lost and would require the reintroduction plan to be approved federally, ranchers are finding this assistance inadequate. As such, while attacks begin to increase, chances of a working partnership between ranchers and Gray Wolf Reintroduction supporters have diminished.

We look now to see if legislators will work with impacted stakeholders to solve this problem, as more wolf packs are set to be reintroduced this year. For now, the battle over this bill rages on.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Rural school closures accelerate in South Korea

Max Kim reported in yesterday's Los Angeles Times under the headline, "In South Korea, a struggle to fill classroom seats."  An excerpt follows: 

In the last 10 years, the number of elementary school-age students in the county has fallen from 2,687 to 1,832. Nearly every one of the 16 elementary schools in the county has lost students over this period, some by the hundreds.
* * *
The decline of rural schools in South Korea began with the country’s rapid industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s, when farming and fishing villages saw a mass exodus of young workers to Seoul and other big cities.
The story focuses on what is happening in Cherowon County, on the border with North Korea:
Cheorwon County has one of the highest rates of population flight, as young people leave in search of jobs, better education opportunities or greater access to services such as medical care and public transportation. Officials recently classified it as an “extinction risk.”

Due to its proximity to the Korean demilitarized zone, the county is heavily fortified, and military personnel and their families make up around 60% of the population. In recent years, however, even the military has been moving out.

Since 2018, when the total population was around 47,000, the county has lost about 1,000 people a year.

At a senior center across from Dochang Elementary, a group of grandmothers whose children and grandchildren have all long since left said they worried that closing the school would drain the community of what little vitality remained.

“When else would we see children?” said Ha Su-ja, 79. “I like to listen to the sounds of them playing when the school holds sports day.”

Nationwide, the number of elementary schools in rural areas has dropped from around 5,200 in 1982 to roughly 4,000 today.

Schools, along with hospitals and other public institutions, have overwhelmingly amassed in cities, seeding the very demographic emergency the country now faces. More than half the population lives in the Seoul metropolitan area, where the high cost of living — including education — has discouraged people from having children.

As a result, South Korean women now give birth to just 0.78 children on average, far below the 2.1 needed to maintain the current population.

The story closes with this quote from Lee Eun-Sook, principal of the tiny Dochang Elementary school:  

I want the children to be proud that they are from Cheorwon, no matter how small it is. I want the fact that they graduated from Dochang to give them that one extra spoonful of confidence.

As a rural kid myself, I appreciate that sentiment.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Young chair of North Carolina Democrats, in New York Times feature, calls on outreach to rural

The feature on Anderson Clayton, recently elected chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, appeared in the New York Times Sunday print edition under the headline, "The Youngest State Party Leader in the U.S. Has a Blue-Collar Blueprint."  Andrew Trunsky writes: 
Ms. Clayton ... is aiming to motivate younger voters, but she also campaigned with broader goals, arguing that Democrats need to invest in rural communities if they hope to erode Republicans’ grip on state and local power.

She thinks a key is being candid about her party’s flaws and missteps. “People with me all the time are like, ‘I wish you’d stop saying we’ve left Democrats behind,’” she said. “I’m like: ‘We have. We’ve left people behind.’”

In North Carolina’s elections last year, Democrats ceded 44 state legislative seats, uncontested, to Republicans. Many encompassed blue-collar, rural towns that had voted reliably Democratic decades ago but by then had no official footprint from the party, much less a candidate to support.

* * * 

[Clayton] said that many Democratic officials viewed rural voters as out of reach. When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, her senior staff scoffed when Bill Clinton fretted that Democrats were losing touch with rural voters. Why view them as valuable when they had the Obama coalition? But as it turned out, only Barack Obama could summon the Obama coalition.
Trunsky quotes David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama:
The Democratic Party has become too much of a metropolitan, cosmopolitan party. There is a sense in the party that we’re the party of working people, but if you don’t communicate respect, and only say, "Let me tell you what we’re doing for you," then you’re not very persuasive. And there were a lot of working people who felt betrayed.

Clayton acknowledges that the Democrats "don't have a good brand" and says she is eager to "address Democrats' rural struggles."   Her pitch to become chair of the state Democratic Party was "personal."

She grew up in Roxboro surrounded by the farms, forests and rolling hills blanketing rural Person County. It was counties like Person that had raced to the right in the years prior, and whose residents, Ms. Clayton said, had been robbed of a seat at the table. Her father, she said, disavowed the Democratic Party after he lost his manufacturing job in the onset of the Great Recession.

Don't miss the entire profile of the exuberant Clayton.  I've previously written about her on Legal Ruralism here and here.   She's been a refreshing pop of energy on Twitter for several years, sharing photos of her Person County organizing exploits, as well as those of her cats.  

And here's a profile the Washington Post did on Clayton in late March, featuring photos in her father's work/utility truck.  

Postscript:  Here's a late May story about Clayton in Teen Vogue.  A key quote:  "I want to show people that young people are so capable."  

And here is a June, 2023 story in Britain's The Independent newspaper. 

Monday, May 8, 2023

Colorado passes nation's first right-to-repair law

Lucas Brady Woods of KUNC reported for NPR a few days ago from Peetz, Colorado, population 213.  An excerpt follows: 

Farmers and ranchers across the country can't fix their equipment because manufacturers don't give them access to the specialized tools and technical manuals to do so. Even simple repairs can't be done. But Colorado's new law guarantees the right to repair one's own agricultural equipment. It requires manufacturers to hand over parts, software instructions and other necessary tools. State Representative Brianna Titone helped write Colorado's law.

BRIANNA TITONE: This puts them in that category of being able to have the latest, greatest equipment and be able to stay on top of their repairs and keep moving and keep the production going and producing more stuff to grow and feed our communities. That's a good thing.

[Journalist] WOODS: Other states have tried and failed to pass similar legislation. The head of the National Farmers Union, Rob Larew says that's mostly because lawmakers don't understand the problem. To him, it's an individual rights issue.

ROB LAREW: If we think about it as our car or our phone or something like that, we have this idea that, you know, this is our property, right? Farmers are very independent. They feel the exact same way about their equipment that they've made an incredible investment in.

WOODS: Manufacturing trade groups have fought bills that allow user repairs. Joani Woelfel is the president of the Far West Equipment Dealers Association, which represents agricultural equipment dealers across the western U.S. She says the industry has put a lot of time and money into training technicians.

JOANI WOELFEL: They want to take everything that the industry has done, all the investment that they've made in their employees, and they want you to hand it over to them. And that's what that law tries to do.

WOODS: Woelfel says farmers and ranchers often have to wait days for a technician to show up because there aren't enough to go around. Danny Wood, back in northeast Colorado, says the new state law will help take some pressure off the technicians.

[Farmer Danny] WOOD: They're going to have plenty of service. And when it takes five days for him to come look at your combine and three days for him to come back and look at your tractor, they're overbooked anyway, so they need some other help.

WOODS: He just wants farmers, like himself, to be able to fix what they can when they need to so they can successfully plant and harvest their crops.

Prior posts mentioning the right-to-repair issue (mostly in relation to advocates like Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez and Senate Jon Tester) and its import in rural places are here

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Reba McEntire, along with the Choctaw nation, comes to the rescue of her Oklahoma home town

The New York Times reported in March from Atoka, Oklahoma, population 3,107, on the investment one of its natives is making in the town's economic development.  Here's an excerpt: 
Reba McEntire, the country-music star, grew up in Atoka County, and in January, she made good on a pivotal investment here. In a once-dilapidated former Masonic temple, she opened a restaurant, Reba’s Place — a 50-50 partnership with the Choctaw Nation, whose reservation includes Atoka. 

Since it opened in January, half a million guests have stopped in, many of them already passing through on busy Highway 75, which runs through this part of southeastern, Oklahoma, from Texas to Canada. 

In coming years, if all goes according to plan, Atoka will get an airport, a small water park, an amphitheater and boutique hotels. Several manufacturing and green energy companies are already setting up headquarters here.
* * * 
Call it a convenient convergence: a music superstar, a well-resourced tribal nation, a heavily trafficked highway and an ambitious local government. “I put my money in on them,” Ms. McEntire said, “and they made things happen that I never thought could have happened.”

* * *

At Reba’s Place, about half of the 134 employees are members of a federally recognized tribe. The restaurant also serves beef raised and slaughtered on the Choctaw Nation, and its gift shop will soon sell items made by tribal members.

The other hero in the story is Carol Ervin, Atoka's economic development director who was one of the original visionaries.  She's quoted:

A city is a living, breathing entity.  It is either growing or it is dying. And [before Reba's investment], we were dying.

Don't miss the entire story, which even gets down the nitty gritty on the wages being paid to restaurant staff and the cost of the food at Reba's Place ($27 for an entree). 

Friday, May 5, 2023

The epistemology of progressive politics: why we shouldn’t be surprised when rural immigrants vote conservative, and why we shouldn’t assume that assimilation is the underlying reason

How did Donald Trump (Mr. Build-a-wall-and-make-Mexico-pay-for-it) garner a substantial share of the Latino vote in 2016 followed by an increase in share in 2020?

How did Myra Flores flip a longtime Democratic congressional district as a Mexican-born Republican candidate for Congress in 2022?

I’ve heard some folks suggest that it’s no wonder that many Latino Americans, particularly those in rural areas, vote for conservative politicians because by living in rural areas, they imbibe an “American” worldview. This removes them from the “immigrant experience,” which then alienates them from their cultural roots.

The implication is that assimilation into American society and culture is more closely associated with conservative politics than it is with progressive politics.

Such a notion is supported by the oft-vocalized sentiment at UC Davis Law that non-white Americans who subscribe to, or even sympathize with, political or philosophical conservatism are betraying their “non-whiteness” by adopting the mentality of the “oppressors” (a bizarre proposition that requires its own critical analysis). Non-white conservatives are thus derided as mere sycophants.

Based upon this conception, Latino Americans ought to be naturally aligned with progressive politics, largely because they are “non-white,” but, admittedly, also because of progressive immigration and economic policies that ostensibly benefit Latino communities.

I question why this should be the case. In fact, I find this perspective to be problematic because it is in contradiction with the epistemology of progressive politics. Furthermore, this perspective is also ironic because it runs afoul some of the core tenets of Critical Race Theory, which undergirds the progressive philosophy of race.

Mari Matsuda has long argued that Critical Race Theory must “look to the bottom” to utilize the “intellectual tradition[s] of people of color in America” as a “new epistemological source for critical scholars.” (Matsuda 325). By doing so, she argues, Critical scholars can tap into an invaluable resource that had been previously overlooked by legal philosophers. (Matsuda 325-26).

Thus, to assess whether an essential synergy exists between non-white Americans and progressive politics, we must consider the epistemological foundations of progressive politics and compare it to the “intellectual traditions of people of color in America.”

This is precisely where the irony lies: progressive political philosophy, rooted in a liberal moral matrix, is a uniquely Western philosophical framework. (See Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 21-66 (2020)). By Western, here, I mean that the moral philosophy underpinning progressive politics exclusively arises from and within the intellectual milieu of Western Europe by Western European philosophers. This includes both progressive and libertarian bents of liberalism (e.g., Mill, Rousseau, and Rawls) as well as radical leftist movements (e.g., Marx, Engels, Marcuse, and Gramsci). Even Critical Race Theory itself is an offshoot of such Western thought (See Pluckrose & Lindsay, 111-134).

Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion that the liberal moral paradigm is a unique anomaly found almost exclusively within “WEIRD” civilizations (western educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic). The liberal moral paradigm is one that emphasizes care/harm, liberty/oppression, and to some extent fairness/cheating, to the neglect of loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. On the contrary, Haidt found that the social-conservative moral matrix equally values each one of these moral concerns.

Returning to the example of rural immigrants in America, how then should we view the Latino American rural vote? If we take Matsuda’s approach, we must consider the “intellectual traditions” of Latino Americans. Isn’t one of the most important intellectual traditions of most Latinos that of the Church? Can’t the same be said about the majority of African Americans too? Doesn’t this shed light on why many folks within such groups may be inclined to vote along the social conservative moral paradigm?

The upshot is that being “progressive” in American politics is to be truly “westernized” and assimilated into the intellectual tradition of the Western world. It is the European Enlightenment that “liberated” us from the blind intoxication of religion. German Marxism “freed” us from the chains of private enterprise. Western European postmodernism relativized morality and allowed us to deconstruct all societal structures. All of this paved the way for Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory, Decolonial Studies, and the likes, to center identity politics as the core mechanism for identifying evil in the world.

Hence, radical progressivism, from an epistemological perspective, is as Western as it gets.

The most notable alternative framework to progressive liberalism is philosophical conservativism, which is rooted in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. This tradition simply cannot be reduced to the Western intellectual tradition; rather, it is eclectic

Thus, I find it comical that non-white rural immigrants can be criticized for "assimilating" into American culture when they profess social-conservative beliefs.

Nonetheless, the broader purpose of this post is to encourage us to properly analyze why non-white rural Americans may be attracted to conservative politics rather than writing off such folks with designations such as “pick-me,” “Uncle Tom,”Tio Taco,” or “Uncle Bobby”.

NPR lays off war correspondent with a rural perspective

Aymann Ismail for Slate reported a few days ago on journalist Tim Mak's recently having been laid off by National Public Radio.  The rural angle on the story is this from the Ismail interview with Mak: 
I really do believe NPR has a powerful place in American society and has a really important role to play, especially in rural communities. I was in the West Virginia National Guard for years as part of my Army service. And I’d be driving out in rural West Virginia, and the only news you can hear out there is West Virginia Public Radio. I love the mission of NPR and everything they do. I suspect that will not make for great copy, but that is my genuine view.

This is interesting to me not least because growing up in rural Arkansas I did not have access to NPR.  I was back in Arkansas last week and found that, in my home county, I had decent access to NPR in places, but not consistently.  

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Rural(ish) folks, from New York to California, resist letting go of Native American names and symbols

Two recent stories, one from New York and the other from California, tell of rural-ish communities who are resisting letting go of Native American names and symbols in the face of state-wide mandates that such names and symbols be relinquished.  

The first story was this one by Jesse McKinley reporting from upstate New York for the New York Times under the headline, "Native American Mascots Are on Their Way Out. Some Schools Aren’t Happy."  This excerpt regards Salamanca, population 5,529, which lies within the Seneca nation in the western part of the state: 

Mark Beehler, the superintendent, said that school officials and the Senecas were in discussions to keep their mascot — also the Warriors. He noted that the school had both a link to tribal traditions and a large number of Native children enrolled.

Indeed, Dr. Beehler said that an informal survey of the student body had found that “the preponderance of students” wanted to keep the logo and mascot. He said that some Native parents and students had suggested that getting rid of the Warriors was an act of eliminating Native American symbols and Native American heritage.

Here's a direct quote from Beehler:

They clearly articulated at one point that, ‘We’ve been pushed off our land, our history has been changed, and now we’re faced with having even symbols and identity pushed out of the school that we send our children to.’”

This could very well be one of those baby-with-the-bath-water-type circumstances.

Beehler added, "that while he understands the Education Department’s position, he understood sentiment inside his school, too." He continues, 

If our district decides that we want to continue to keep the logo and the Seneca Nation agrees and is comfortable with that then we wholeheartedly believe that we should have that option.

On the other hand, Rickey Armstrong, Sr., President of the Seneca Nation "hailed the [New York Education] department's letter in November, calling it 'a positive step whose time has long since come.'"

The second story, from Fresno Bee, is about the efforts of some in the community formerly known as Squaw Valley, in Fresno County, to reverse its recent renaming as Yokuts Valley.  Melissa Montalvo reports: 

[T]he Fresno County Board of Supervisors has filed a lawsuit against California as part of their latest effort to preserve the name of a foothill community now called Yokuts Valley.

In the lawsuit, Fresno County alleges that a new state law violates the community’s right to free speech. Some Fresno County and Yokuts Valley residents criticized as “frivolous.”

At the heart of the conflict is a new state law that removes the term “squaw” from over 100 geographic features and place names in the state because it’s widely considered a racist and sexist slur. The community, which had been called Squaw Valley for over 150 years, had its name formally changed to Yokuts Valley by the federal government in January. In 2021, the U.S. Department of the Interior declared the term as derogatory.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Fresno County Superior Court, also alleges the state has no authority to order the name change.

In an interview with The Bee/Fresnoland last month, Supervisor Nathan Magsig, who represents the foothill community, said the board decided to sue the state, rather than the federal government, due to the specific requirements the state law places on counties. The law requires local agencies and governing bodies to ensure that map updates and sign replacements use the new name.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Those interned in WWII Japanese camp and their descendants resist Idaho wind farm proposed on the site

Dino Grandoni reports for the Washington Post today from Jerome County, Idaho (population 22,374) where wind farm developers and Biden's push for renewable energy have run into opposition from a group seeking to preserve the Minidoka Historic Site, where Japanese-Americans were incarcerated during World War II. 

Across the country, wind developers are generating a new wave of not-in-my-backyard opposition that threatens to stall those climate goals: from homeowners concerned about ruined views; lobstermen worried about fishing among titanic turbines; nature lovers alarmed about impacts on whales and birds and even U.S. military planners fretting about naval operations.

“The constraint isn’t the resource itself,” said John Hensley, vice president of research and analytics for the American Clean Power Association, a wind and solar industry group. “It’s the ability to site projects in different parts of the country and then to interconnect those projects with the rest of the grid.”

For many Japanese Americans, the proposed wind farm threatens to scour memories of deep suffering for the benefit of commercial interests.
Grandoni quotes Robyn Achilles, executive director of Friends of Minidoka, a nonprofit that supports the Minidoka Historic Site which lies within the former incarceration camp:  
You wouldn’t build a huge wind project over another concentration camp, or Gettysburg, or the Washington Monument... It really is a somber location.

He also quotes Janet Matsuoka Keegan, a descendant of incarcerees who opposes the project. 

I understand the climate crisis [but Biden's renewable energy push is] not well thought-out.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Some farmers (and other folks) opting for old, small, cheap Japanese trucks

The Economist reports here.  An excerpt follows:  
A couple of years ago Jake Morgan, a farmer who lives just outside Raleigh, in North Carolina, realised he needed a new vehicle to get around his property. At first he was looking at “side-by-sides”—a sort of off-road utility vehicle. But watching a review on YouTube of one that costs around $30,000 made by John Deere, he saw a comment that said something like “Why don’t you just get a minitruck instead?” That is, a tiny four-wheel drive pickup truck, sometimes known as a “Kei” truck, mostly made in Japan to take advantage of laws there which tax smaller vehicles less.

Intrigued, Mr Morgan started researching. Within a few months, he drove to Newport, Virginia to pick up a 1997 Honda Acty, having spent a total of just $2,000 on importing it. He was delighted. ... The Acty is less than five feet wide, and so can get into tight spaces a normal pickup cannot, like Mr Morgan’s barn.  And unlike a side-by-side, it can also be driven legally on local roads. 

The story quotes Todd Gatto, an owner of hvny Imports of Goshen, New York, which has sold more than 300 of these to local businesses in the recent past.  

We bought five of them to start, and we sold them all within seven days.

Another benefit of the Kei trucks:  They don't have onboard computers and proprietary parts that make repairs more expensive and complicated, an issue that has attracted attention recently from lawmakers like Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez of southwest Washington state.  

I like how this flies in the face of the image of the farmer as loving gas-guzzling, massive pick up trucks.