Sunday, October 8, 2017

The feel good rural story of the day comes to us from Alexandria, Minnesota

I read with horror last month about the kidnapping and later recovery of a 15-year-old girl who had disappeared on August 8.  Three men held the young woman for 29 days in one of their homes; two of the three men have been charged not only with kidnapping, but also with sexual assault.  The teenager ultimately escaped, only to have to swim across a lake in search of someone to help her.  Finally, a farmer saw her running across his field in rural Grant County, Minnesota (population 6,018).  The farmer, Earl Melchart, immediately recognized the young woman from the missing person posters and television coverage of her disappearance.  He called the police.  Read more here, here and here.  One of my initial responses to the story was that it validated my theory that rural spatiality conceals--and crime is among the "things" it conceals.   Another illustration is here.

Now, today, we get this follow up story from the New York Times and many other outlets reporting that Melchart has donated to the girl and her family the reward he got for helping to rescue her.  Here's an excerpt from the Times report:
On Friday, the Alexandria Police Department presented Mr. Melchert with a $7,000 reward that had been offered for information leading to Ms. Block’s return; $2,000 had come from Ms. Block’s family and $5,000 from an anonymous donor. 
Mr. Melchert said he knew exactly what to do with the check: He gave it to Ms. Block.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Mr. Melchert, who went to dinner with Ms. Block, her mother, her two sisters and her aunts after the presentation on Friday. 
The story quotes Melchart, who retired last week: 
The family needs the money.  To me, yeah, that’s a lot of money, but they need it way worse than I do. ... What a retirement present, to hand over some money to people that really need it.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Part V of the Washington Post's series on disability and rurality: a focus on the informal economy

The latest in Terrence McCoy's series in the Washington Post about disability as a rural phenomenon appeared yesterday.  Here's one of the most salient excerpts from a story about Donna Jean Dempsey and her brother Bobby, in Mallory, West Virginia (population 1,654), in Logan County:
And where [Donna Jean and Bobby] were going was deep into the underground American economy, where researchers know some people receiving disability benefits are forced to work illegally after the checks are spent — because they can’t hold a regular job, because no one will hire them, because disability payments on average amount to less than minimum wage, sometimes much less, and because it’s hard to live on so little.
The underground economy has long been a part of rural America, but it has become vital in counties such as this one, deprived of the once-dominant coal industry and redefined by a decades-long swell in the nation’s disability rolls that, in its aftermath, has left more than 1 in 5 working-age residents in Logan County on Social Security Disability Insurance, which serves disabled workers, or Supplemental Security Income for the disabled poor.
Here's another excerpt that provides context for the Dempseys' "place" in that community:
Five miles below, in the hollow of Mallory, is a thin road lined with junk cars and mobile homes, several of which belong to Dempsey family members, who have lived here longer than nearly anyone, through everything that has happened. Seven of the 13 children died. The family house burned down. And Donna Jean, the eighth child, underwent one misfortune after another: rape survivor at 12, mother and illiterate dropout at 13, and, after years in special education, disability beneficiary at 22, the exact reason for which she can’t recall but summarizes as, “I’m not that smart, buddy. Kids made fun of me.”
The "everything that has happened" presumably refers, at least in part, to a 1972 coal slurry dam break here.  It is often referred to as the Buffalo Creek Flood, and it killed 125.

Separately, I see, on his Twitter feed, McCoy writes that Logan County is like no other place he has ever visited.

I see that Logan County, West Virginia's 15th largest county in population, is a persistent child poverty county, though not a persistent (general) poverty county.

The entire story is well worth a read, along with others in McCoy's series (the most recent, set in Roanoke, Alabama, is here).  I blogged about another story in this disability series here, and another here

Friday, October 6, 2017

Small States, Political Power, and Economic Recovery

A recent story on NPR's "All Things Considered" prompted me to conclude my long-neglected series on small states' outsized political power. I'll let NPR set the stage: 
It's more than a three-hour drive now to the nearest airport. But Mayhew doesn't miss the traffic in cities and the crime, she says. People here don't lock their doors, and everyone knows everyone else.

Now, what's going on in Valentine - while it's way too early to call it a trend - does get at this broader cultural thing I'm noticing in parts of rural America. Young people who grew up in small towns and have been seeing them struggle feel this sort of calling to move home. Even Valentine's own mayor, 35-year-old Kyle Arganbright, moved back a few years ago.
The report describes a nascent hip(ster?) culture in Valentine, Nebraska (population 2,800) built on craft brewing, outdoor recreation, and a halt–however slight–in the reversal of the country's century-long trend toward urbanism. Time may weather this snapshot, but if fluke becomes fad this trend has potential to reshape American politics.

Consider the U.S. Senate, where Republicans currently command a 52-48 majority. In 2016, GOP Senators Crapo (ID), Hoeven (ND), and Thune (SD) were reelected by an average of 48 points. But the total margin of votes for these three seats was just over 630,000. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the districts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and San Francisco by some 1.3 million votes; if just half of those pro-Clinton urbanites had followed beer and backpacking to Boise, Grand Forks, and Rapid City, the Democrats would control the Senate.
2016 Presidential Election results by county with
result (darkness of red/blue) and population (height of column).
Another way to visualize this is the map above; places that are "deep blue" are much, much more populous than those that are "deep red." Urban Democrats frustrated by persistent under-representation in Congress could vote with their feet, and the effects would be decisive. Not only would such a partisan exodus be effective, it might be the only way to reverse the growing counter-majoritarian trend.

Over 50 years ago, the Supreme Court opined, "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres." (This likely disappoints friend-of-the-blog Brian Dahle, who advocates regional representation in California's state senate.) The people-not-trees view may be a natural dictionary reading, and it may reflect superior policy judgment, and for half a century it has been the law of the land in most cases. But a key piece of the federal policymaking machinerythe Senatebelies this majoritarian notion. Indeed, the Senate defies "one person, one vote" by design.

My purpose in this analysis is not to urge left-leaning urbanites to descend upon rural places and overwhelm their politics. (Although, if they do, they should coordinate so they can permanently disenfranchise their captive states by amending the machinery of the Senate, something that can only be done with affected states' consent.) Instead, I project that the country will become only more urban and the strength of rural America will be even greater. My hope is that rural America's needs are not subordinated to its outlook.

This blog is a living catalog of the perils of rural life. Domestic abuse, gun violence, opioid addiction: forces of death and injury that cry out for a little more regulation, a little more Big Brother in rural lives. As at the outset of this series, I am reluctant to fling myself any further into the thorny debates over these and other issues, but nonetheless it seems that a shortage of government resources and oversightnot an excessdrives many of the social and quality-of-life problems affecting rural America 

As I have alluded to throughout, the economic case is stronger still. While environmental regulations to save the spotted owl and prevent mercury inhalation dealt immediate blows to the timber and coal industries, these sectors were likely doomed in the long run due to trade liberalization and alternative materials. Even if the days of extraction are bygone, rural communities can still exploit nature in 2017 and beyond. Like the eco-tourism that has stabilized vulnerable ecosystems in the global south, many rural places have re-engineered their economies for tourism, recreation, and hospitality. The healthcare industry also sits at the intersection of private-sector growth and economy-shaping policy. As the "Silver Tsunami" crests, healthcare continues to lead job growth. By corollary, reversing the intrusions the Affordable Care Act made into the healthcare system threatens to wrack rural hospitals with job losses and reduced access to care.

While public-sector jobs are anathema to a small-government outlook, the reality is that the federal civil service employs over 1.3 million people. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) experienced significant growth in the post-9/11 period, including new service centers for processing immigration benefits. As DHS moved toward more centralized processing of applications, it could have opened more offices in rural places and created stable jobs with upward opportunities. Surely the Vermont Service Center, located in St. Albans (population 6,000) was not sited for its proximity to a critical mass of noncitizens.  The agency could even re-locate its massive California and Texas service centers to rural places with hollowed-out economies. The Internal Revenue Service could adopt a similar model, as could numerous other parts of the federal bureaucracy that review compliance documents, process surveillance data, and perform other tasks that are just as valuable when performed "remotely."
Critics of government employment might point to the map above: already twelve percent of USDA "nonmetro" counties are designated "federal/state government dependent." Siting government agencies in rural communities will only increase this dependence. But this is only problematic as a normative matter if government work is somehow less valuable than comparable private-sector work. Still, such critics might embrace less direct government support such as incentives to entice private companies to place call centers, data farms, and other investments in rural places. (Those who would reject both efforts might explain what government should do for rural communities. The riposte that government needs to "stay out of the way" are hard to reconcile with the narrative of "forgotten" rural communities.)

The leftist candidate in France's recent presidential election argued that workers should have a kind of "first option" to take over closing factories and run them as cooperatives. This is no Soviet daydream: amidst Argentina's fiscal convulsions in the early 2000s, workers seized facilities that they continue to operate today. The history of the Grange Movement reminds us that rural communities were not always sympathetic to free-market ideology.

If this is all too socialist to bear, consider the alternatives. As California confronts climate change and air pollution, neither laissez-faire nor the market-driven approach of emissions credits have spared the Central Valley from the worst air quality in the country. A greater role for regulation seems necessary to keep these rural areas fertile for people and production alike. Signs of the same dynamic elsewhere include the fights over fracking and oil pipeline construction. 

Kansas has pioneered a number of perverse forms of government intervention in the economy. One was its recent and disastrous test of the Laffer curve hypothesis:  cutting taxes at the top super-charges growth and boosts total revenue.  But for its repeated empirical failures, this approach would hold promise as a way to improve rural fortunes. Another Kansas export is the Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue (STAR) bond, which allows private companies to pocket their sales tax receipts over a period of years to service their own construction debt.  This and other species of corporate welfarelike the legal protections and $3 billion Wisconsin has pledged to electronics maker Foxconn to build a mega-factoryare doubly damaging. First, they violate the free-market notions that we ascribe to rural denizens. Second, and more importantly, they embrace a "race to the bottom" where small states often give away more than they gain while shouldering the risk of shiny new investment "baubles." 

As a final act of mercy, I will summarize the argument that I have unpacked over so many posts and months. The U.S. Senate inflates the political might of small states more than the Framers likely intended. (Other aspects of federal politics amplify this.) This tends to strengthen advocates of reducing the reach of government into the economy. Despite these quirks, the Senate is unlikely to change. Thus, rural voices are pronounced in national policymaking and are likely to grow louder over time.  This may be a feature rather than a bug: one aim of this blog is to highlight the urban-normativity of modern life.  Yet the marriage of rurality and anti-government ideology is unlikely to yield domestic bliss.  My observation is no doubt a cliché:  the urbanite certain that he knows what is best for rural folks. But my thoughts are not un-examined or uncritical.  For rural America, Uncle Sam's hand may offer more help than the invisible one.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Lancet article on distance to abortion providers spawns some urbancentric headlines

The Lancet Public Health, the prestigious medical journal, published an article yesterday about the distances women in the U.S. have to travel for abortion care, and lots of mainstream media outlets picked up the story.  What initially struck me about several stories was the focus on this fact:  1 in 5 U.S. women must travel more than 43 miles to get to an abortion provider.  This is a factoid that would have the average rural woman thinking, "no big deal," because rural residents travel distances like that for everyday activities--like getting to work.  What burdens many rural women, you see, are much greater distances.

An opening line of the Guttmacher Institute's press release about the article does acknowledge some other key data points:
Nationally, half of all women of reproductive age lived within 11 miles of the nearest abortion clinic in 2014.  However, a substantial minority of women, particularly those in rural areas, lived significantly farther away.  (emphasis added)
The article was written by three Guttmacher Institute researchers, including lead author Jonathan Bearak.  The map accompanying the article shows a big swath running north to south through the middle of America as the most vast abortion desert.

NPR's coverage did a better job of highlighting what I would say is the more salient fact regarding rural women.  Their headline was "For Many Women, the Nearest Abortion Provider is Hundreds of Miles Away." Sarah McCammon's story features a woman in Sioux Falls, South Dakota who elected to drive four hours to Minneapolis for an abortion because the State of Minnesota does not impose a 72-hour waiting period like South Dakota does.

Here's another excerpt from Guttmacher's press release, which quotes Bearak:
Women and abortion clinics are both concentrated in urban areas, so it is not surprising that most women live relatively close to an abortion clinic.  However, distance may be a significant barrier to accessing abortion care for the substantial minority who live farther away, and especially for economically disadvantaged women, who make up the majority of abortion patients.
The title of The Lancet article is "Disparities and Change Over Time in Distance Needed to Travel to Access an Abortion in the U.S.:  A Spatial Analysis."  One of the "over time" findings is that between 2011 and 2014, distances to clinics remained the same in 34 states, while they increased in 7.  Needless to say, the states where the distances have increased include Wisconsin, Texas, and Alabama, all of which have passed so-called TRAP laws, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, the constitutionality of which have been litigated in recent years.

CNN's coverage of the article featured a more appropriate headline that pleased me for its focus on the extreme distances facing some women.  The headline is "Some US women travel hundreds of miles for abortions, analysis finds."  That story included this additional information, the first line of which states what should be obvious:
"How far a woman has to travel for an abortion is a key measure of access," Bearak said. Other measures include restrictive laws and financial constraints.

To analyze how far women travel to terminate a pregnancy across the nation, the researchers began with data on the location of abortion providers and women. The information on women was based on census block groups, Bearak said: "That is the smallest publicly available geographic unit." Within states are counties, within counties are census tracts, and within tracts are block groups.
This analysis sounds very similar to what researchers did to quantify abortion availability in Texas following the different stages of implementation of House Bill 2, which was ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. 

My extensive writing about distance, travel, and abortion access is here, here, and here, along with many posts under the "abortion" label on the Legal Ruralism blog.

Cross-posted to Feminist Legal Theory.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

In These Times October cover story: About Keystone XL pipeline resistance

The lede follows: 
OFFICIALLY, THE FATE OF ONE OF THE MOST HIGH-PROFILE CORPORATE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS IN A GENERATION now rests with an obscure regulatory body in one of this country’s most sparsely populated states: Nebraska’s Public Service Commission. Unofficially, the homegrown movement that blocked the Keystone XL pipeline once before is ready to stop it again—even if commissioners give it a green light. 
A ruling isn’t expected until November, but after the commission’s latest hearings adjourned August 10, Jane Kleeb, one of the pipeline’s highest-profile opponents and now the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party—flanked by landowners who live along its proposed route—made an unconditional pledge: “Standing Rock was a dress rehearsal compared to what this will be. We are not going to let an inch of foreign steel touch Nebraska soil.” 
A gauntlet had been thrown.
Oh, and the headline, the headline is "The Unlikely Alliance That Could Stop Keystone and Transform the Democratic Party" and the subhead is "Natives and ranchers are teaming up to save their water and land from corporate takeover."  Kate Aronoff reports.   She quotes Kleeb, who has worked hard for several years to organize farmer and rancher opposition to the pipeline.  Of those she's brought into Bold Nebraska to oppose the pipeline, Aronoff quotes Kleeb: 
Generally, they hate big.  That’s big government, but that’s also big corporations that want to take their land through eminent domain, or big agriculture.

Appalachian Justice Symposium at West Virginia University: Deadline for abstracts approaching

This notice says the deadline for abstracts is October 8, a week from today, but one of the organizers has told me that it will, in fact, be October 17.  Here's an excerpt from the Call:
The West Virginia Law Review invites proposals for papers and panels for its upcoming “Appalachian Justice Symposium.” The Symposium will take place on February 23 & 24, 2018, at the West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown, West Virginia. Law Review editors will select essays for publication in a special symposium issue of the West Virginia Law Review entitled “Essays on Appalachia.” The purpose of the conference is to bring together people from various disciplines to have a serious conversation about the legal and public policy issues faced by Appalachia and to collaborate to develop innovative solutions to those challenges in keeping with what Jeff Biggers describes as “Appalachia’s best-kept secret.”
I have committed to deliver the keynote address at this event and hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Small-town government run amok (Part V): Douglas County, Oregon can't afford a single library site but spends federal dollars to lobby for timber interests

story in today's Oregonian newspaper is headlined:  "Struggling Oregon county spent safety net money on pro-timber video, animal trapping."  The story is about Douglas County, Oregon, the fiscal travails of which I the New York Times wrote about here.  (I've written about the economic travails of rural Oregon here, here, here, and here, and wrote a travelogue that passed through Douglas County here).  The consequences of fiscal trauma in Douglas County include, most recently, the closure of all of the county's library branches.  Now, the Oregonian reveals, the Douglas County Commissioners have spent $250,000 in federal "Secure Rural Schools" money (meant to compensate counties for the loss of revenue from timber harvesting) over the past two years to make pro-timber industry videos, and they've spent an addition $240,000 to support the organization that made the videos, the opaquely named "Communities for Healthy Forests."  Here's an excerpt from the story by Rob Davis.
The Douglas County commission's spending raises questions about a federal program called Secure Rural Schools, which has suffered from a lack of oversight since it was co-authored in 2000 by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. 
The program gives counties part of what they once earned from logging on federal land before endangered species listings curtailed the harvest. Oregon has received $3 billion, more than any other state. 
Most of the federal money goes to roads and schools. But counties have wider leeway over a portion known as Title III, which was funded at $14.3 million nationally in 2015.
Don't miss the full story, which also includes this nugget.
[Douglas County] gave $71,000 to Wildlife Services, a federal animal trapping agency, for work that included killing bears and porcupines on public and private timber land. The animals eat the inner bark of Douglas fir, damaging timber crops.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On life's little culinary joys in remote Alaska

The New York Times ran this story in the "Food" section about 10 days ago, "In Alaska's Far-Flung Villages, Happiness Is a Cake Mix."  Here's an excerpt that highlights the gist of the story:  the importance of simple--or perhaps not so simple--pleasures in a place with few amenities, culinary or otherwise. 
Elsewhere, the American appetite for packaged baking mixes is waning, according to the market research firm Mintel, as consumers move away from packaged foods with artificial ingredients and buy more from in-store bakeries and specialty pastry shops. Yet in the small, mostly indigenous communities that dot rural Alaska, box cake is a stalwart staple, the star of every community dessert table and a potent fund-raising tool.
The story quotes Cynthia Erickson who owns the sole grocery story in Tanana, an Athabascan village of 300 in central Alaska. 
Cake mixes are the center of our little universe.  I have four damn shelves full.
Journalist Julia O'Malley describes another remote Alaskan locale, Gambell, population 681, thusly:
Traveling out here, where huge bones from bowhead whales litter the beach, takes a 90-minute jet ride north from Anchorage and another hour by small plane over the Bering Sea. In this vast, wild part of America, accessible only by water or air, there may not be plumbing or potable water, the local store may not carry perishables and people may have to rely on caribou or salmon or bearded seal meat to stay fed.
And the story includes lots of rich detail about how local folks--all women--become the local "cake lady." One of the concotions described was a lemon-blueberry cake, that appeared to be decorated with chocolate chips.

Another woman, this one in Unalakleet, described a white sheet cake dressed up thusly:
I mixed orange Jell-O with two cups of bright orange salmonberries. I poured it on top of that cake and I threw it in the fridge.  People were just like, "Wow, can you make that again for me?”
O'Malley also describes cake walks, which are often used for fundraisers, as when people die and money must be raised to help pay for burial expenses.  She also tells a really interesting tale of how at least one of the remote bakers games, buying cake mixes at a bargain price (compared to what they sell for locally).  When delivery of the cake mixes is delayed--as they often are--she gets refunds on her Amazon Prime account, thus helping finance her cottage industry, tricking out mixes.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

What the heck is Mark Zuckerburg doing in West Virginia talking rural health?

The Charleston Gazette is reporting this morning that Facebook founder, CEO, gazillionaire and would-be presidential candidate visited tiny Dawes, West Virginia on Sunday, in particular stopping in at a rural health care center in Cabin Creek. (By the way, all of these places are in metropolitan Kanawha County, home of Charleston, the state's capital; they are rural by the U.S. Census Bureau definition, but embedded in a metropolitan area and so not remote).  An excerpt from the story, which quotes heavily Amber Crist, director of CabinCreek Health Systems, follows: 
Cabin Creek Health Systems, Valley Health Systems, West Virginia Primary Care Association and the New River Health Association participated in the roundtable discussion. Zuckerberg also brought a “team” of people, which included communications staff, according to Crist.

“I think he just had an interest in learning more,” she said. “He was a great listener. He had really great questions. I think it’s something that he wasn’t that familiar with and wanted to educate himself.” 
Participants discussed rural health, including “provider shortages, the opioid epidemic, difficulty with transportation, mental health, and complex chronic conditions,” Crist said by phone Monday evening. They also discussed the work of communities across the state to organize locally-controlled community health centers, using community health centers to expand the availability of outpatient medication assisted treatment, community health centers’ work with diabetic patients, the threat of Affordable Care Act repeal to community health centers, hepatitis C, limited Internet access and lack of economic diversification, Crist said. 
“We were asked not to invite the media,” she said. “I think he wants to keep it private and informal and not create a lot of hubbub.”
The story also provides details of the restaurant where Zuckerberg and his entourage ate (the Bluegrass Kitchen) and of stops he made in neighboring states, including Hazard, Kentucky.  Crist said Zuckerberg had been looking for places to visit that were near airports.  He was referred to Cabin Creek Health by a health care provider he had visited several weeks ago in Dayton, Ohio.   

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On global warming's impact in the rural West

I was surprised to hear this story on NPR about a new climate change report out of...drumroll... Montana.  Montana? I thought  They have a Democractic governor (Steve Bullock), I know, but it's not the sort of state you would expect to be on the vanguard of climate research.  Turns out the report, the Montana Climate Assessment, was the product of several grants and sponsors and isn't a political document at all, but rather a scientific one.  The report's sponsors include the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Track 1 RII grant, Montana State University, the University of Montana, the Montana EPSCoR Office, and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.  The lead scientist is Cathy Whitlock of Montana State University, who says the report is intended to help Montanans “plan, make wise decisions and become more resilient.”

Here's a summary of some of the report's findings, as reported by the Bozeman Chronicle.  
Montana’s average temperatures are increasing, mountain snowpacks are declining, large wildfires are more frequent, and all that is expected to continue in the coming decades.   
The assessment says temperatures across the state increased by about 3 degrees on average between 1950 and 2015. That increase outpaced the national average, which the study attributes to Montana’s geographic location, and the authors expect warming here will continue to outpace “most parts of the country, particularly when compared to states in coastal regions.” 
“Key to the concern is that coming temperature changes will be larger in magnitude and occur more rapidly than any time since our 1889 declaration of statehood,” the study says.

The report predicts that temperatures could warm as much as 6 degrees by 2050, and as much as 9.8 degrees by 2100. 
* * * 
Agricultural growing seasons are longer than they were in 1950, with 12 more frost-free days each year, according to the report. Even fewer days of frost are expected in the future, but the report also predicts there will be more days that surpass 90 degrees, which creates challenges for farmers and ranchers as water demand from crops and livestock increases.
Read more here.  And here is a related story from NPR today about Montana's epic (and tragic) wildfire season, which I wrote a bit about here.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Small Towns Now Bear the Brunt" of Harvey

That's part of a headline from today's New York Times, which includes this line (see bold, which reflects my emphasis), which sums up so much about rural America and service delivery:
But as Houston, the urban behemoth that has so far been the focal point in the unfolding drama of Hurricane Harvey, began gingerly to assess the devastation, the storm marched on to conquer a vast new swath speckled with small towns that are home to millions of people who were shocked anew by Harvey’s tenaciously destructive power. Officials faced a population in dire need, but far more difficult to reach.
The story quotes a FEMA official as saying,
There are a lot of places that are not accessible by car or truck or boat, and we need to get to the survivors to get them critical aid.  
The story, dateline Newton, Texas (population 2,478 and therefore barely rural by the U.S. Census Bureau definition), reports several anecdotes from different "small towns," including from Batson, Moss Hill, Bon Weir, Aransas Pass, Port Aransas, Ingleside and Rockport. Of course, it treats towns like Port Arthur, population 55,000, as "small," which would not necessarily meet my definition, but you get the idea. In fact, the story mentions that the 50 counties affected by the flood include more than 300 towns and "small cities."
Here's a quote from a resident of Moss Hill:
Ms. Price said she knew how widespread the storm’s toll was, and she knew that in the past rural areas like this one did not always get the most immediate aid. 
“We’re not forgotten,” she said. “It just takes them a little longer to get to us.” 
Rural residents insisted that they were used to being far from outside help and that self-reliance and an ethos of neighbors helping neighbors came with the territory.
This story from earlier in the storm centered on hard-hit Rockport, population 8,766, in Aransas County.  It featured this lede, which in turn featured a very colorful 16-year-old character:
In the days since Hurricane Harvey slammed into his hometown, Colin McBurney has become his own first-responder – a 16-year-old in a backward baseball cap with bare feet, a pistol and a truck. He drove to the houses of his neighbors all weekend, checking on the people no one had heard from. 
One friend made the kind of request people make in this bay town of nearly 11,000 whose spirit is equal parts fishing village, millionaire’s retreat and working-class country – please get the horse.
This story yesterday was more about events (rescues, to be precise) in Houston and its burbs, but it included this line that struck me as reminiscent of rural as much as of working class (again, see bold for my emphasis):
The volunteer rescue boat and many others like it are a sign of how the response to one of the worst disasters in decades in Texas has been, in many ways, improvised. Recreational vehicles — airboats, Jet Skis, motorized fishing boats — have rushed to the aid of people trapped in their homes, steered by welders, roofers, mechanics and fishermen wearing shorts, headlamps and ponchos. The working class, in large part, is being saved by the working class.
Indeed, the little crew of men Manny Fernandez featured in this story had driven to Houston from Lufkin, Texas, population 35,000, once they saw the need.  Lufkin is 120 miles northeast of Houston, in "deep East" Texas.        

Monday, August 28, 2017

California's most rural Assembly member becomes minority leader

Brian Dahle, the assemblyman represented California's most rural district, Assembly District No. 1, became the chamber's minority leader last week.  Dahle is a third-term Republican from tiny Bieber, population 312, in the northern reaches of Lassen County.  Prior to his election to the California State Assembly in 2012, Dahle served for 16 years on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors. 

I know a bit about Dahle--or feel like I do--because he was generous enough to come speak to my Law and Rural Livelihoods class this past spring.  I found him to be a straight talker, middle-of-the road, Republican.  He has strong feelings about issues you would expect:  how public lands/forests are managed by the federal government, mostly in relation to fire (Smokey Bear is a culprit) and rural broadband.  He also talked quite the Republican talk on job creation, suggesting that public sector jobs don't count.  Dahle's bias is toward private sector jobs, not least because he and his wife own a small business--they have a seed farm.  As for those public lands and forestry management, Dahle said that as Lassen County Supervisor, he had more experience lobbying in Washington than in Sacramento because of the presence of so much public land in far northern California. 

One striking fact I learned about the district, which spans all or part of nine counties (all of Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, and Siskiyou counties, and portions of Butte and Placer) is that it takes eight hours to drive from one end of it to the other.  The southern most reaches are on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, and it stretches through the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Cascades and all the way to the Oregon state line.  It's got to be hard to keep up with constituents under those spatial circumstances. 

Dahle's district includes the bulk of what would be the State of Jefferson (read some earlier posts on the topic here, here and here).  When our Law and Rural Livelihoods class asked Dahle about the State of Jefferson issue, he said that he was happy to talk about it but that it would "never happen."  That is, the State of Jefferson will never secede from California--and if it tried, it would not be permitted to do so.   He also suggested that many who support the State of Jefferson movement are economically disaffected, perhaps because they own a home and/or land in the district, but struggle to make a living there. 

The leadership position for the Republican Caucus came open when Chad Mayes was forced out of the role over his support of the gasoline tax that passed this summer.  Interestingly, Mayes also represents a rural-ish area, Yucca Valley, in southern San Bernardino County.  According to the Los Angeles Times, Dahle is also considered more conservative than Mayes, though he came across as quite centrist when he visited my class.  Here's a quote from the Los Angeles Times story about the leadership transition:
Other Republicans said Dahle has the leadership and bridge-building skills to heal the rift in the party, and a willingness to sit at the table with the majority party without surrendering on conservative principles.

“He’s a gifted leader,” said Shawn Steel, a Mayes critic and one of California’s two representatives to the Republican National Committee. “He’s an effective unifier of the caucus, and we really needed that. I’m so glad the drama is over. Chad was just not the right leader at the right time.” 
Mayes also praised his successor. 
“I’m actually very excited about Brian taking over as Republican leader,” Mayes said, standing next to Dahle in a state Capitol hallway. “He has proven himself to be a very strong leader, somebody who is of great character, who has a heart for California and a heart for the people of his district.”
As for me, I'm interested to see if Dahle's leadership position permits him to get more rural issues on the Assembly agenda--and to get those issues, e.g., rural broadband, acted on in a way that benefits rural communities and residents.  Prioritizing--or even equalizing--rural is a tough sell in a state where just 6-7% of the population live in rural places. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

On the total eclipse and rural gentrification

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, August 21, 2017
I've spent the last week or so in the rural West, between Bozeman, Montana and Jackson, Wyoming.  I've become what they call a shadow chaser, I guess, having been drawn here for the total eclipse of the sun.  Right now, I'm in Moose, Wyoming, in the midst of Grand Teton National Park.  (Moose is populated primarily by families with "inholdings," wikipedia tells us).  Moose is about a dozen miles north of posh Jackson Hole, which I've long considered a prime example of rural gentrification.  (Some prior posts mentioning Jackson Hole are here and here).  I'm ready for today's total eclipse, ensconced in the Dornan's complex (where I'm staying in a cabin), which has security posted to keep out the hoi polloi--those who have not bought a "ticket" to be here, one such ticket being a $60 lunch.    Another "ticket" is being a passenger on one of the two busses who've apparently purchased the right to be here.  Dornan's has closed all of their businesses until after 1 pm, about the time of the fourth contact (a/k/a the end of the eclipse).

Dornan's complex, Moose, Wyoming, looking toward the Grand Teton Mountains
Anyway, the New York Times posted this story last night, showing a location very near where I am.  The headline is "Before a Solar Eclipse Crosses 14 States, a Great American Road Trip."  We pulled into Jackson from Yellowstone on Saturday afternoon, and the traffic wasn't too bad about 40 hours before the eclipse (though plenty of slow, thoughtless RV drivers failed to use the turnouts, which did slow us down).   However, as we plotted a trip into Jackson for dinner on Saturday night, the traffic entering town put us off, and we returned to the Dornan's complex for a mediocre pasta meal.

What has been remarkable to me is the air traffic coming into Jackson Hole.  Our cabin is in the flight path, and I cannot imagine that as many commercial, scheduled planes come into Jackson Hole as we are hearing and seeing--even in high season, which we are in--on a typical summer day.  Some folks I met here said their friends are coming in on a private jet from Seattle, and they had been told that there was no flexibility to change their flight window because the airport will be so busy today.  I just checked this morning's flight arrivals in Jackson Hole, and the last four planes to land have been private:
Flight log into Jackson Hole Airport, morning of August 21, 2017. 

In an earlier post about the eclipse, I wrote about the plight over very small towns--including Glendo, Wyoming, that were likely to be overwhelmed by eclipse visitors.  Glendo had set up a "Go Fund Me" account to help defray the costs of porta potties and post-eclipse clean-up.  One had the feeling that Glendo would just as soon not be in the path of totality.  Not so with Jackson Hole.  The town has street banners touting the eclipse, and lots of eclipse paraphernalia and T-shirts for sale, including one that says "The Hole Eclipse" (which I'm hoping gets marked down before I leave town!).   The Jackson Hole Police had a pop-up tent "booth" on the town square and several officers on horseback. Needless to say, a different group of folks are flying into Jackson than are driving into Glendo, and that's a reflection of the places' respective economic fates and geographic features.  In short, it's a reflection of rural gentrification vs. plain old rural (or even rural decline, rural population loss).

Horse-back riding police officer in Jackson Hole, August 20
Yesterday, we rode bikes to South Jenny Lake, inside Grand Teton National Park.  Along the way we saw lots of porta potties stationed along the road.  We also saw signs touting places for eclipse viewing in the park--apparently the efforts of the National Park Service to channel visitors (in one case, into a large open plain).  Many RVs were parked along the roads in the park, perhaps intending to be there for the duration.  Certainly, I wouldn't want to be moving anywhere in a vehicle at this point on August 21, 2017.

As a ruralist, I'm thinking it might have been more interesting--if more stressful--to have visited Glendo for the eclipse.  But I'll have a ready opportunity to visit a low-population and high-poverty rural locale for the 2024 eclipse.  My hometown, Jasper, Arkansas, will be barely in the zone of totality for that one, and I plan to witness it there.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wildfire in the rural West, from Montana to California

A few weeks ago I heard a short news story on NPR on a Sunday evening about the residents of  Missoula, Montana lining up along the roads by which the vehicle carrying the body of a fallen firefighter would travel.  The body of Brent Witham, who had died when a falling tree hit him as he fought the Lolo Peak fire, was being returned to his southern home, via air transport from Missoula.  The corresponding story from The Missoulian newspaper reads in part:
The body of California Hotshot Brent Witham will be transported to the Missoula Airport Monday morning in a procession that begins at 9 a.m. in Missoula.

The route will start at Garden City Funeral Home, 1705 West Broadway St., and head west along Broadway to the Aerial Fire Depot.

The Forest Service organizers are asking people to line Broadway between the funeral home and the Reserve Street overpass by 8:30 a.m. For safety reasons, the public is asked not to line or park on Broadway west of the overpass.
I thought when I heard the NPR story:  what a "rural thing to do."  Maybe, in particular, it is a western rural thing to do--honoring a fallen firefighter who was doing a very risky job to protect people he didn't even know.  Montanans understand that risk and sacrifice, as do so many other rural folks.

Witham was with the Vista Grande Hotshot crew based in Riverside County, California, part of the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest.  When his body returned to California, he was not similarly honored by the people in his community.  Instead, fire vehicles driven by firefighting professionals joined a vehicular procession to remember and honor him.

I wonder what to make of this difference between Montana (where Missoula is actually "urban") and California, especially given the rural base of the Vista Grande Hotshots, near Idyllwild.  

I'm in Montana now, the southwestern part, en route to Yellowstone National Park.  A cover story in  yesterday's Bozeman Daily Chronicle was about a recent small fire north of Three Forks, a bit west of Bozeman.   Two youth were being charged with setting the fire, which burned about 250 acres.  A heading on the Chronicle's website is "Fire Line," and another story there is "Western Montana Full of Fire Activity."  Folks in the lovely shops on Main Street yesterday mentioned that the air in Bozeman had only just cleared, thanks to rain, from the smoke of a nearby fire.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Poignant tale of a return to Mexico, from rural Iowa

This is from Jack Healy's NY Times piece, dateline Hampton, Iowa, titled "Stay, Hide or Leave?  Hard Choices for Immigrants in the Heartland." 
Now, at this tense juncture for immigrants and their adoptive hometowns across the conservative swaths of rural America, Ms. Rivera planned to sever one last tie. She was returning to Mexico — and to her husband — with Steven, 13 years old and American-born. 
Some politicians call it “self-deportation.” She called it her family’s only hope of being together. 
Edith Rivera's husband was deported in 2015.
The heartland is freckled with Hamptons and Ediths. In small agricultural towns that supported President Trump by 20-point margins, residents are now seeing an immigration crackdown ripple through the families that have helped revive their downtown squares and transform their economies.
The story also features the role of the local Franklin County sheriff, Linn Larson, who was elected on promises to crack down on undocumented immigrants.  Previously, the county was on national lists of immigrant safe havens.  Franklin County's population is just over 10,000, and it is northwest of Cedar Rapids.

While the paragraph above refers to "conservative swaths of rural America," it also depicts Edith Rivera's strong connections to the community, including to non-Hispanic whites.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On "barefoot lawyers" (a/k/a paralegals) serving rural India

The New York Times ran this fascinating little piece last week about Namati, an organization that trains paralegals in rural communities in India, (villages, I suppose they would say) to help fight for rights, including clean air and other environmental rights.   Tina Rosenberg's story, part of the Fixes series, describes an environmental injustice in Bogribail, a village in India, where IRB Infrastructure Developers is the culprit.  But the reason to read this story is to learn about India's "barefoot lawyers," paralegals who are also community organizers who teach residents to press administrative agencies for relief.   Here's an excerpt about what happens next in Bogribailt, after, that is, villagers asked the government for compensation were denied:
 Villagers did not ask IRB or the government to stop or diminish the pollution, because they didn’t know that the factory’s practices violated numerous regulations. 
Then Maruti Gouda took the case. 
He’s the opposite of a superlawyer.  He is 29 and not a lawyer at all, actually — he attended college but didn’t graduate. Like his father and most of the people in his nearby village, he’s a clam harvester. 
Gouda is employed by Namati, a nonprofit organization that works in a number of countries in Asia and Africa, as well as in the United States, "to democratize law."  Vivek Maru, an American lawyer, founded the group in 2011.  Here's a quote from Namati's home page:
More than four billion people around the world live outside the protection of the law. They are driven from their land, denied basic services, and intimidated by violence.

We advance justice by helping people to understand, use, and shape the laws that affect them.
The Namati website also has this description of these paralegals:
they are trained in basic law and in skills like mediation, organizing, education, and advocacy. They form a dynamic, creative frontline that can engage formal and traditional institutions alike.
The term "barefoot lawyers" is a play on "barefoot doctors," the term sometimes used for Chinese rural peasants who were trained to dispense health advice and health care during the cultural revolution.

The absolute best line of the NYT story is from Maruti Gouda's boss about the role of Gouda and his "paralegal"colleagues' key roles on their home turf:
We can always teach them the law.  We can’t teach them to be from here.
I can't help wonder about the ways in which this model might work in the United States to empower rural residents who are afflicted with environmental and other injustices.  A little cultural competency from locals, who will also be able to cultivate trust from community members, seems critical.  Unfortunately, I could not find any examples of Namati's work in the United States on the organization's website, though a search for "United States" on the website did bring up a number of institutional connections, including, for example, to the Environmental Law Institute and to studies of access-to-justice issues in the domestic context.

On Sears Roebuck and its demise

The New York Times has a big feature today on Sears, "The Incredible Shrinking Sears."  Of course, the entity used to be Sears Roebuck and Company, and it was associated with the massive catalog that showed up one a year in your mailbox, in late summer, with a smaller follow-up for the Christmas season.  The focus of Julie Creswell's story is how a "financial wizard took over" Sears and "presided over its epic decline."  But I want to take a moment to be sentimental about what Sears used to mean in rural America.  Here's a salient except:
At the turn of the 20th century, as Americans established roots across the nation, they turned to Sears. Through its robust mail-order business — some catalogs were more than 500 pages — Sears shipped groceries, rifles, corsets, cream separators, davenports, stoves and entire prefab houses to some of the most remote regions of the country.
As Americans moved from rural communities to larger cities, many no longer needed to shop by thumbing through the catalog; they preferred to visit dazzling department stores. Sears began opening hundreds of stand-alone retail stores, some with soda fountains, dentist’s offices and pet shops alongside tombstones and farm tractors.
The comparison to is inevitable, of course.  Sears was the amazon of its day.  The rest of the story is, quite frankly, too depressing to describe--read for yourself what Edward S. Lampert, that Wall Street wiz kid, has done to Sears Holding Company, all while essentially telecommuting from his home in Miami, rarely setting foot in a Sears store.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Eclipse visitors expected to overwhelm pockets of rural America

Eclipse craze has hit the nation, and in the West, where I live, I'm starting to hear a lot about the impact that eclipse tourism is going to have on rural communities.  One data point I heard is that the population of Wyoming is expected to double on August 21, eclipse day.  Of course, that's not saying a lot, one might say, given that the state's population is only about 585,000, and it's a big state (the 10th largest in land area) with lots of eclipse territory, so it won't take a lot for visitors to overwhelm residents.  

This piece on The Outline is datelined Glendo, Wyoming, population 205, a town that has run a crowdfunding campaign to help defray expenses (e.g., portable toilets, extra trash cans) associated with the anticipated tourism overload.  Here's an excerpt that highlights the rural angle on the eclipse.
The total solar eclipse, the first visible in the U.S. since 1918, has been named the “Great American Eclipse” and could shape up to be the country’s biggest temporary mass migration to see a natural event ever. And it is bringing rare economic opportunity and attention to small towns along the eclipse’s path of totality, or the area where the full eclipse will be viewable. 
Along with the potential to rake in significant tourist dollars comes the fear that small, rural communities do not have the infrastructure to accommodate an influx of visitors. At least one town, Glendo, Wyoming, is looking to crowdfunding for help. The town is home to 202 people and takes up less than half a square mile of land. But thanks to its prime solar eclipse viewing location, it is expecting 70,000 to 100,000 visitors. Town clerk Brenda Hagen has launched a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of Glendo to raise $20,000 to pay for sanitation expenses like portable toilets and trash cans. 
Like other rural eclipse hotspots Driggs, Idaho; Madras, Oregon; and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, Glendo residents have the opportunity to earn good money renting rooms, homes, and temporary campgrounds the night of the eclipse. What’s less sure for Glendo and communities like it is what the cleanup will look like and how many strangers will be willing to help. As of this writing, the town’s campaign has raised just over $3,000.
I've also seen/heard a few stories featuring Carhenge, in rural Alliance, Nebraska, population 8,491.   Here's a story in the Denver Post, and here's one from NPR.  This is from the Denver Post:
Townspeople here in western Nebraska’s sandhills have been toiling for three years to get ready — right down to the logistics of diesel backup power and baking cookies for foreigners. 
They’re bracing for a potentially chaotic rush of people converging on the eclipse’s 67 mile-wide “path of totality,” which runs from Oregon beaches to South Carolina, spanning Wyoming and Nebraska. This ranks among the most accessible total eclipses ever, with an estimated 47 million Americans living within an hour of the shadow. Suddenly humans, whose ancestors feared eclipses as harbingers of disruption, are flocking like crazy to be in them. 
But no matter how much planning towns and cities do, the unexpected and irrational loom.
* * *
But for residents of Alliance, with its brick streets and 1880s buildings, the eclipse is emerging as a tangible and overwhelming reality requiring wide preparations. And, in an isolated rural town, mobilizing for a deluge of unknown guests is done with a sense of duty. 
The crowd will include visitors who think nothing of paying as much as $10 for a hamburger, Solar Eclipse Task Force co-chairperson Becci Thomas told residents last week at a final prep session. But merchants must not gouge, she said, repeating a civic warning leaders have been repeating for months. 
“This is your chance to shine,” she said. “You’re having company. Be as nice as you can.”
As for the piece on NPR, it said some of the same things, but particularly encouraged tourists to take advantage of the spreads of food that the churches in Alliance would no doubt have on offer.   Kevin Howard of the town's visitors bureau is quoted:
Howard says the town is planning concerts, a 30-team softball tournament, a Native American powwow, plus all the churches will put out their best spreads. "There's nothing better than a meal at the church," he says. "Those ladies put out the good stuff."
Like the Post reporter said, the folks in Alliance realize it's best to hope you can entice visitors back again, not to treat them as one-time prey.

Space, time and maternal mortality in rural America

That is the subject of the Wall Street Journal's latest installment in its series, "One Nation, Divisible."  The story by Betsy McKay and Paul Overberg is titled, "Rural America's Childbirth Crisis:  The Fight to Save Whitney Brown."  An excerpt follows, with a focus on time, distance and--implicitly--how distance is time.  Certainly that was the case for Whitney Brown, the woman whose death in childbirth was featured to illustrate the perils.
Since the start of the century, it has become more dangerous to have a baby in rural America. Pregnancy-related complications are rising across the U.S., and many require specialized care. For some women, the time and distance from hospitals with the resources and specialists to handle an obstetric emergency can be fatal. 
In 2015, women in rural areas died from pregnancy-related complications at a rate 64% higher than the rate in large cities, a reversal from 2000, when cities suffered a higher rate of such maternal deaths.
The reasons reflect shrinking resources, worsening health and social ills. Most rural hospitals don’t have high-risk pregnancy specialists who can treat sudden complications. Many don’t have cardiologists or anesthesiologists on staff. Making matters worse, rates of obesity, a major risk factor for pregnancy complications, are higher in rural than urban areas. 
Many rural hospitals have eliminated labor and delivery services, creating maternity deserts where women must travel, sometimes hours, for prenatal care and to give birth.
Over the decade between 2004 and 2014, the number of rural hospitals offering such services declined by 15%, compared to a 5% decline among suburban and urban facilities.  Among the reasons for the decline:  the closure of hospitals, a decline in birthrates, and challenges securing malpractice insurance.  The story notes that some women in rural Tennessee get no pre-natal care whatsoever.

The personal face of this story is Whitney Brown, a young woman who died after giving birth by emergency C-section.  She died, at least in part, because she could not be transported quickly enough from the rural hospital in McMinnville, Tennessee, population 13,605, to Chattanooga for specialist care.  One reason:  only two of Warren County's five ambulances were allowed out of the county at any given time, leading to a 3-hour delay in the transfer of Brown, whose heart stopped shortly before she reached Chattanooga.

Incidentally, The Economist has a story this week about the high U.S. maternal mortality rate, compared to other developed countries.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

John Ikerd on "Economic Colonialism" in rural America

John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri, delivered a stirring key note address at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in Columbus Ohio on July 29.  That lecture has now been reprinted in Rural America In These Times.  Here's an excerpt:
I think “a growing sense of impotence and dread” accurately describes the prevailing mood of people in rural America. Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished scholar at the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, has observed that the “predominant attitude toward rural communities is that they have no future. In fact, this attitude seems to prevail even within rural communities.”

He quoted from a 1991 survey conducted in several Midwestern rural communities indicating that people in most rural towns harbored one of two visions for their communities. “One vision sees their town’s death as inevitable due to economic decline.” The other vision is also of “a dying town” with only a fading hope that “they can keep the town alive by attracting industry.” The widening rural-urban divide since the early 1990s seems to confirm a transition in rural attitudes from impotence and dread to desperation and anger.
That was Ikerd's first point in agreement with Margaret Wheatley.  Read the whole piece to learn more about the other two points with which he agrees with her:
1) “A growing sense of impotence and dread about the state of the nation,”
2) “The realization that information doesn’t change minds anymore.”
3) “The clarity that the world changes through local communities taking action—that there is no power for change greater than a community taking its future into its own hands.”
Number three, as you might imagine, is the most hopeful.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Trump's trade policies hard on farmers (or at least on agribusiness)

While some political commentary suggested that many rural Americans were drawn to Donald Trump's candidacy because of his tough stance on trade, it turns out that some rural areas--or more precisely, some types of farmers--may be badly hurt by the ditching of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade pact negotiated by the Obama administration.  Politico Magazine ran this big feature a few days ago, "Trump's Trade Pullout Roils Rural America."  The dateline is Eagle Grove, Iowa, where a massive new meat processing plant is being built.  But the story illustrates the risks from the current trade environment to rural America and/or to farmers by reference to an agribusiness enterprise--the one building the Iowa facility, but which is based in North Carolina.  There's actually not much emphasis on individual producers.  Here's an excerpt:  
The gleaming new factory is both the great hope of Wright County, [Iowa] which voted by a 2-1 margin for Donald Trump, and the victim of one of Trump’s first policy moves, his decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

For much of industrial America, the TPP was a suspect deal, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which some argue led to a massive offshoring of U.S. jobs to Mexico. But for the already struggling agricultural sector, the sprawling 12-nation TPP, covering 40 percent of the world’s economy, was a lifeline. It was a chance to erase punishing tariffs that restricted the United States—the onetime “breadbasket of the world”—from selling its meats, grains and dairy products to massive importers of foodstuffs such as Japan and Vietnam.

The decision to pull out of the trade deal has become a double hit on places like Eagle Grove. The promised bump of $10 billion in agricultural output over 15 years, based on estimates by the U.S. International Trade Commission, won’t materialize. But Trump’s decision to withdraw from the pact also cleared the way for rival exporters such as Australia, New Zealand and the European Union to negotiate even lower tariffs with importing nations, creating potentially greater competitive advantages over U.S. exports.

A POLITICO analysis found that the 11 other TPP countries are now involved in a whopping 27 separate trade negotiations with each other, other major trading powers in the region like China and massive blocs like the EU. Those efforts range from exploratory conversations to deals already signed and awaiting ratification. Seven of the most significant deals for U.S. farmers were either launched or concluded in the five months since the United States withdrew from the TPP.
Here's a piece on Trump and NAFTA from the AgLaw Blog back in March, 2017.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rural Virginia as sanctuary from the city, and from fame

This is a major theme in a piece that ran this weekend in the New York Times about Jeanette Walls, former NYC gossip columnist at New York Magazine made rich and (more) famous about a decade ago from the sale of her memoir. The Glass Castle, which spent seven years on the NYT Bestseller List.  Now that a film based on the book will be released this week (starring Brie Larson as Walls and Woody Harrelson as her father), Walls is getting renewed attention, including this piece by Ruth La Ferla.  Here's a nice summary of the book and movie, which also serve to foreshadow Walls' rural retreat from NYC to Orange, Virginia, population 4,721.  
Hasty retreats are a theme in the film, as they are in Ms. Walls’s 2005 bookof the same title. It is an alternately wrenching and exhilarating yarn of a childhood spent shuttling with her willfully shiftless parents from one parched Southwestern locale to another, and finally, when the family’s resources dry out, settling in Welch, the dilapidated West Virginia mining town that was her father’s childhood home.
La Ferla also writes of Walls' parallel adult decision to retreat from the city after her book became a bestseller:
She had few qualms about abandoning the cocktail-fueled chatter and red-carpet extravaganzas for the verdant seclusion of a 205-acre horse farm in Virginia.
And then she quotes Walls at some length, too, about what the move to rural Virginia means to her:
I know I’ll be O.K. here.  In New York, I’m not so sure. A lot of those gossip columnists, they lose their platform. Walter Winchell spent the last part of his life hanging out on street corners and handing out mimeographed columns. That was just an eye-opener for me. 
I wanted a place where I could go broke and still grow vegetables, bail water out of the creek and shoot deer.  If worse comes to worst, I’ll survive.
As for the city she left behind, Walls explains:
The city is like an old boyfriend with whom I amicably split.  
I read The Glass Castle back when it was released and seemed to have a love-hate relationship with it.  It was powerful indeed, though also uncomfortable  at many turns.  For me, it was a real tear-jerker, some of the characters a bit to close to the bone, too close to some folks from my own childhood.

This feature about Walls reminds me of this piece about Robert Duvall's Virginia retreat, from the Wall Street Journal a few months ago.  The Duvall story focused more on seclusion than survival, but also evoked the rural idyll.  Duvall calls Byrnley Farms, his property, "choice land."
The air is clean, which he appreciates. Mostly what he likes about it, though, is that it’s not the city. “The great Texas playwright Horton Foote once said a lot of people in New York don’t know what goes on beyond the south Jersey Shore, which is true,” Mr. Duvall says. “I mean, New York is a wonderful place. But it’s not the beginning and end of America. Nor is L.A.” 
The Duvall farm, is in The Plains, Virginia (population 217), in Fauquier County (population 65,203), but part of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.  It is one of the fastest growing and highest income counties in the United States.  Orange, Walls' home, is in the more central part of the state, not far from Charlottesville.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Rural Travelogue (Part XVII): The Lost Sierra

Sierraville, California, July 16, 2017
A few weeks ago I had occasion to re-visit the Sierra Valley, a massive valley that straddles Sierra and Plumas counties in California.  Head up Hwy 89 from Truckee, and about 25 miles ahead you'll descend into it, an area some have called the lost Sierras because it's relatively little known.  As you pull into Sierraville at the southern edge of the Valley (coming from Truckee), one of the first things you'll see is this sign, Eat Beef.  Sierra and Plumas County Cattle Women.  When I first drove through the valley about four years ago, on a business trip to Plumas County, I was too rushed to stop and take a photo, a mistake I did not repeat this time around.  In fact, running ahead of schedule to drop my son off at a camp in Graeagle--another 21 miles north--I stopped at Sierraville Service and Country Store, a well stocked establishment (with immaculate public toilets...but no Perrier or other fizzy water for sale, at least that I could find).  As is often the case on scenic northern California's highways, lots of motorcyclists were hanging around, taking advantage of the facilities, the store, and the opportunity for a break from the winding roads.  A "pop-up" display of rocks and geodes and such were for sale next to the store's picnic area (you can see just the edge of a table to the right of the sign in the photo), which was beautifully accented with blooming plants and a rickety old wooden wagon.
Sierraville Elementary School, July 16, 2017
Out behind the grocery/service station I spotted the "Report Agricultural Crime" sign offering a reward of up to $2,500 for anonymous information.  It was the first like this I had ever seen, even as I have traversed some of the state's most rural reaches.  Of course it resembles other signs encouraging people to report crime, signs you often see in metropolitan areas, but I note that this one specifies "agricultural" crime and that the hat the silhouette image of the "bad guy" is wearing appears to be a cowboy hat--as opposed to the fedora one sees on the standard sign.
Behind Sierraville Service and Country Store,
July 16, 2017

Sierraville boasts Sierra County's only stoplight--according to wikipedia.  At that stop sign, Highway 89 joins Hwy 49 to head north and east to Loyalton or north and west to Graeagle.  Not far from Sierraville Service and Country Store--and right across from the post office--is the elementary school shown above.  I wonder if there was ever  high school in Sierraville and where high school age students are bussed?  Probably Loyalton's Sierra Pass High School, which I see has a total of 109 students, 9-12 grades.

Before you leave Sierra County along the latter road you hit Sattley, population 49, and the memorable Sattley Cash Store pictured below (does "cash" mean they don't grant credit?).  Some beautiful old homes--not all still inhabited--punctuate the valley's sprawling pastures.  

Sierra County's population is just 3,240, the second least populous in the state.  I'm going to return with another post soon about the rest of my drive through the county.  On the return journey from Graeagle, I descended down Highway 49 (south), from near Sierraville, over the Yuba Pass, into Sierra City, Downieville (the county seat), North San Juan, Nevada City and down to Auburn where 49 meets Interstate 80.
Sattley Cash Store, July 22, 2017