Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Emerging medicinal marijuana economy in Illinois

The topic of legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use has been a recurring theme in the media over the last few years.  It has also been a popular topic here on Legal Ruralism (you can read some earlier posts here, here, here, and here).  Currently 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medicinal marijuana.  Of those, 4 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.  See here for additional info on state laws.  Even though the number of states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational use has continued to grow, it is still illegal in the majority of states and under federal law.  With the assistance of groups such as NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project, many citizens are pushing for marijuana reform at both the state and federal levels. 

Many proponents of legalizing marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use focus on the revenues that can be earned from taxing the sale of marijuana as their main argument for legalization.  Some point to the failure of the "War on Drugs," the persistence of cartels, and the destruction of our national forests by illegal growers as a reason to legalize the plant (see post here).  The theory is that legalizing marijuana will reduce the monetary incentive to grow illegally or to transport marijuana across our borders.  Since all grows would be regulated and legal supplies would increase, the profits for black market marijuana would decrease, thus reducing the number of illegal grows.  Legalizing marijuana could also allow some of the money spent on fighting the marijuana trade to be focused on illegal grows on public land and on other drugs such as meth, heroin, and cocaine.  Others assert that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, and therefore, because alcohol is legal, marijuana should be legal.  Others spotlight the medicinal uses and health benefits of the drug.  However, there is another reason why legalizing marijuana should be considered - jobs.

A recent article by an Associated Press journalist described what is happening with the first legal cultivation center in Illinois.  Although there are now a handful of cultivation centers in the state that have been approved to grow medicinal marijuana, Ataxia was the first to "run the ga[u]ntlet of state requirements" and grow its first crop.  Ataxia is based in Albion, a conservative town with a population of 1,975 in the southeast corner of the state (for more info on the town, see here).  People in the town seem hopeful that the cultivation center will bring revenue and jobs to their town.  At this point, however, there are only seven employees, not including managers, that work at the center.  The company does plan to expand once it acquires more medical marijuana patients though.  Ataxia plans to hire 50 to 60 additional employees as they expand their business.

The article mentions a former high school agriculture teacher that currently works at the cultivation center who goes home every day smelling of what the author describes as "the fragrance of money and jobs."  While this may be true for the teacher, with such a small number of employees, it is hard to imagine Ataxia having a significant effect on the town as a whole.  However, if Ataxia is able to hire 50-60 new employees, that could go a long way to help the town reduce its unemployment (Albion unemployment is 7.3%, state average is 7.1%) as well as increase revenue to other local businesses. 

Many rural towns are much worse off than Albion and could really use a boost to their economies.  In fact, many rural towns are trying to find ways to bring jobs to their towns through industries such as mining (as seen in the movie Uranium Drive-In and here) and prisons (see here, here, and here).  Unlike mining, marijuana can be grown year-round anywhere there is access to electricity (as long as it is grown indoors).  Further, if done properly, there is less of an environmental risk to growing marijuana than there is with mining.  It also needs less structure to operate compared to what prisons require.  If done properly, legalizing marijuana (at least for medicinal uses) could bring much needed jobs to these struggling rural areas without the hurdles and risks of bringing mining, nuclear waste, or prisons into the communities.

In Illinois, only companies that have access to money and legal resources to navigate the various permitting processes can grow marijuana for medicinal use.  Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law and medicinal marijuana is still new to Illinois, the desire the state has to make sure the growing and selling is done specifically to their regulations is understandable.  If anything goes wrong, the state could be blamed for the way they regulate and manage the growers.  However, under this type of system, the majority of the profit goes to the select few companies that have the resources to overcome the barrier of entry in the medicinal marijuana industry.

There is a way to place more of the profits in the hands of rural communities, however.  The state could allow individuals to grow marijuana and sell the plants directly to dispensaries or to form co-ops (see here for post about loss of revenues to Mendocino Sheriff's Department after ban on marijuana collectives).  The inspection of the small grows could be done by the licensed dispensaries themselves or by a government agent.  Larger companies would still have a leg up on the competition, but allowing individuals to grow plants in their back yards or in a spare bedrooms would allow people to enhance their income or even become self-employed.  For a discussion about the economic benefits and challenges of growing legal marijuana in rural northern California, see here.

States that are legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana are on the cutting edge of marijuana policy.  These states have the opportunity to experiment with how they manage the crops, the growers, and the customers.  Because marijuana can be grown anywhere, rural communities should seriously consider what marijuana could do for their towns.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Glamping: ecotourism or fetishizing rural life?

In recent years people have become more interested in rural life, from the idealized blue skies, natural weather, and the air free of pollutants. This has led to a rise in rural gentrification as urban dwellers move into the rural wilderness, with the negative effects of forcing lower income residents out. This interest has also encouraged ecotourism and with it, glamorous camping, or "glamping."

Glamping is defined as the pairing of luxury travel and the intimacy of camping. Glampers will make travel arrangements and expect to have some idealized camping experience with all the creature comforts of home. In the link cited above a mother bemoans the notion of body heat warming a tent at night, while praising the intimacy of sitting around a campfire with her child. The ecotourism effort begins to sound more like a sideshow and less appreciation of the outdoors, while spreading waste and rubbish in the outdoors, bringing in the urbanization to the wilderness. is one such place where one can arrange their very own glamping excursion. The site promises game drives in Africa, Mongolian yurts in Mongolia, or beachside lodgings in Australia. The traveller will of course be safely ensconced in luxury throughout their trip. 

Glamping is a reflection of the overarching trend of gentrifying rural areas and fetishizing the rural life. Glampers buy from REI, Columbia Sportswear, and other companies that proclaim themselves to be outdoor ready and fashionable. God forbid one walk a mountain trail without keeping in the best of duds. In one article it's pitched as ideal for Baby Boomers who are going soft and no longer want to put up with the pains that come with camping. 

In New York City some hotels have introduced outdoor suites. These suites bring out tents, marshmellows, and promises the wonders of camping, while snuggled in the safety of a five star hotel in the middle of New York City. This reflects the fetish that rurality has become, a fantasy that can be played out in the middle of the city. 

From a land use and ecotourist perspective glamping has the potential to help rural communities by supplying an influx of money. The issue is that this doesn't help train the rural community and there is very little indication that glamping is run by locals and not big city companies. In a study on Costa Rica and their ecotourism program we can see that ecotourism and the activity that comes with it generates more income for those engaged in the tourist industry. 

In the instance of Costa Rica researchers looked through the data that had been generated and found that ecotourism may generate jobs, access to better education, and possibly reduce economic disparities. Virtually everything in the Osa Peninsula is dependent on ecotourism. The direct and indirect economic activity generated by ecotourism is critical, for instance, for local shop owners, farmers, fishermen, and road workers. As one interviewee put it, “without tourism, no one would have money to spend in my store”. (P. 14)

So what then is the purpose of glamping? A Google search unveils hundreds of glamping opportunities across the world. Name a state or a country and there is an opportunity to glamp. Many websites promise tourists will discover the outdoors. There is profit to be made from the tourists which can benefit the ones who put together the glamping packages. But as mentioned above there is primarily an increase in service jobs, not a reduction in poverty or lack of education. The tourists come, see the sights, and leave. But the benefits, as seen with Costa Rica is that all participants, local and tourist, favor protecting ecological resources, preventing hunting and deforestation to protect biodiversity. 

In the end glamorous camping may highlight the good parts of rural areas, with its majestic views and unique experiences for middle class and wealthy tourists. It may reinforce tourists' believing in preserving national and state parks. But there is no indication that tourists become aware of the harsh realities that rural residents deal with on a day to day basis, such as crushing poverty, lack of clean water, sewage, or good roads. In that sense glamping may very well continue the tradition of rural gentrification, where impoverished residents are minimized.

Related blog articles on gentrifictation and ecotourism can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Who's stopping new coal mines in rural Queensland?

After more research, I will be breaking up the environmental portion of my posts on rural Australia into several distinct pieces, based on subject matter.  The first will focus on coal, the second on other mineral mining, and the third on agriculture.

Coal & Queensland

Queensland is home to one of the most controversial proposed coal mines in Australia.  Queensland is also an incredibly rural state.  The population density averages 2.7 people per sq. kilometer.  The majority of the population is concentrated along the coast and the population centers of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns, Townsville, and Toowoomba.

The disparity between coastal and inland populations is one that is prevalent in Australia, and often means that the needs of the cities far outweigh the concerns of rural, inland populations.  One of the major concerns is, of course, energy.  Australia is also a very mineral rich continent, particularly in coal production.  Between the need to generate its own electricity and the desire for corporations to export significant amounts of coal to the burgeoning and energy hungry economies in India and China, Australia produces a lot of coal.  In Queensland alone, there are 54 operating coal mines, producing 228.9 metric tons of coal; of which 208.6 metric tons of coal are exported.  The entirety of this coal production takes place in the interior of Queensland, well away from major population centers.    And as the thirst for greater coal production increases, corporations are expanding further west, into more rural locations.

The Carmichael Mine

The Carmichael coal mine is a proposed mine, whose future is in serious question.  The mine is located in the rural and remote interior of Queensland.  It is located approximately 160 km from the nearest locality of note, Clermont. Clermont is a town of under 3,000 people that relies almost entirely on agricultural and coal interests for its survival.

The Carmichael mine was proposed by mining conglomerate Adani, who has encountered other issues (including financing) in getting the mine going.  A year ago, in July 2014, Environmental Minister Greg Hunt approved the mine.  The mine was supposed to be Australia's biggest. 200 sq. km.  60 million tons of coal produced per year.  And to ship it all to markets in India and China, the Australian government was going to create a shipping channel through the Great Barrier Reef.

Green groups opposed the approval, and filed an action in Federal court.  In August of this year, Hunt's approval of the mine was rejected as not giving sufficient consideration to the impacts of the mine on two threatened species.

The groups who brought these challenges were a mixture of green advocacy groups, based almost entirely in urban, coastal Queensland.  The co-ordinating group, Mackay Conservation Group is based in a coastal city of 120,000 people, and relies on agriculture (mainly sugar), mining, and tourism for its economy.

The Tension Between the Urban Conservationist & the Rural Economies

While the goals of the conservationist groups are laudable, I am struck by the stark division between the impacts of the coal mine, and those who are opposed by it.  I feel like this is an issue that plays itself out throughout coal country--from Appalachia to Colorado and Gujarat to Queensland.  Urban interests mine the coal, in the hopes of selling it for massive profits to developing countries (which, in itself, raises an interesting question of shifting rural impacts of coal use to rural populations in developing economies).  Urban interests oppose mineral mining in an effort to protect biodiversity and ecological treasures.

Two urban groups fight over whether to mine coal, but the direct impacts of the coal mining are felt in the vast rural communities.  In the United States, when things go wrong (coal ash, polluted water, and other assorted human health risks that always seem to make the news from West Virginia), there are tangible impacts on rural populations.  But is the Australian coal industry more akin to oil in Alaska? Are the only interests in rural Queensland simply there because of coal?   If that's the case, of course they won't oppose additional work.

Climate Change & Coal

Adding to this rich tapestry is the question of energy policy.  The majority of the coal produced in Queensland is exported; but Australia still uses a portion of it for home-grown energy production.  Yet, Queensland is in Australia's wet tropics, and can be significantly impacted by cyclones.  And, with a warmer planet, those cyclones are likely to get worse.

Australia's economic boom of the past 15 years has been based in mineral extraction and export, with coal playing no small part.  As commodity prices have collapsed, and Australia's budget has shrunk, it seems that rural areas are hit hardest.  Not only are rural services cut (which I will explore in the coming weeks), but the foundation of rural economies is shaken.  Without coal in Queensland, would there even be a rural economy?  Or are the two so intimately linked, that if coal collapses, so will numerous rural communities.

So urban observers may suggest the development of renewable energy in these vast rural areas--solar, wind, etc.  Well away from the urban and still making use of natural resources--but in a less destructive way.  But, I don't think solar farms are the answer.  Most of the economic wealth comes from energy export; and renewable sources cannot be exported like coal.

So, the urban exploits the rural, and the urban tries to save the rural landscape, at the expense of the rural economy.  What is left for a viable rural livelihood?  Is it agriculture?  Stay tuned for my next post, where I examine the impact of rural agriculture, water policy, and a fallout policy from the Carmichael mine debacle.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hunting with hipsters

Hunting has long been considered a part of American heritage and has been the focus of several blogs on Legal Ruralism (See here and here).  Hunting brings a considerable amount of revenue to "small, rural businesses in the form of gas, supplies, food, and lodging."   In addition, many rural people rely on hunting to provide a substantial portion of their meat for the year.  Revenue from license sales and hunting equipment help to fund state and federal agencies that manage the wildlife that so many hunters and non-hunters hold dear.  

Several years ago there was a significant concern that this way of life was disappearing due to lack of participation (see post here).  In fact, there was a decrease of approximately 1.6 million hunters between 1991 and 2006.  According to the United States Census Bureau and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 14.1 million people ages 16 and older hunted in 1991.  In 1996 the number was down to 14.0 million and in 2001 it was 13.0 million.  In 2006, the number of active hunters reached its lowest point since 1991 with 12.5 million hunters.   In 2011, the number of active hunters grew by 1.2 million to a total of 13.7 active hunters.  What could be causing this increase in hunters?

A previous blog post explored women's role in hunting.  The number of female hunters has grown consistently since 1991.  In the 2011 census, there were a total of 1.5 million female hunters (up from 1.1 million in 1991).  This explains a portion of the total increase in hunters, but not all of them. 
Part of the increase could be due to immigrant populations.  A 2010 post describes hunter education courses directly aimed at the Hmong community in northern California.  The post describes the Hmong as somewhat distrustful of government authorities.  It is possible that more Hmong are buying licenses due to this directed effort.  I have hunted in California since I was a young and I have also seen an increase in Mexican hunters.  Maybe these populations are contributing to the increasing number of hunters in the US, but that is not the entire story.  
What if I said that part of the increase was due to hipsters?  Yes, hipsters.  I know, it seems almost humorous at first.  I recently came across two articles talking about the increased interest in self-reliance in America.  A New York Times article entitled “Blessed Be My Freshly Slaughtered Dinner” describes a relatively new eat-what-you-kill movement in America.  People are turning to backyard gardens and chicken coops to fill their refrigerators and pantries with vegetables, eggs, and meat.  Some who have larger properties and live outside of the city have the ability to raise larger animals such as goats, sheep, and pigs to provide their meat.  A famous example of this self-reliance movement is when, in 2011,  Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook declared that for one year he was only going to eat meat that he killed.  He killed farm raised chickens, pigs, and goats but left the butchering to others.  Although Zuckerberg didn't butcher his animals, many do.  Some "hipster locavores" organize slaughter days where people show up to, well, slaughter and butcher animals for their meat.  Others decide to take a different approach and take up guns and bows to kill their own meat in the wild.  

A 2012 Slate article entitled "Hipsters Who Hunt" describes the progression from hipster to hipster hunter as:

2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.
2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.
2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.
2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.
2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.
2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “how hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar.”
This article did more than just describe what is happening in the hipster community.  The article encouraged urban liberals to throw away their preconceived notions of hunters, and rural people generally, as "jerky guys with big trucks and a fondness for the country music and Republican candidates."  I agree that these tired notions of what a hunter is, and more specifically what a rural person is needs to be done away with if there is to be any understanding between urban and rural people.

Part of the article addressed problems with wildlife-human conflicts in suburban areas (especially those areas in the eastern US that are overpopulated with wild animals).  At the end of the article, the author proposed that changing urban perceptions of hunting and encouraging more urban liberals to hunt would solve the problem by reducing the numbers of animals in the ecosystem.  This seems like a fairly rational solution to the problem of overpopulation.

The author had another solution, however, that showed a fundamental lack of understanding about rural people and hunters.  She proposed that we change policies and provide incentives to move rural people and people that live in the urban sprawl into cities.  The thought behind this idea is that it would "leave the woods for the deer and turkey, except when we visit to admire them and/or shoot them for dinner."  The notion that the wilderness belongs only to the animals belittles the rural population.  The author thinks that she, as an urbanite, knows what is best for rural populations.  Further, it seems as if she views rural people as less than human because they don't live in the cities where she feels humans belong.  

Of course, this author doesn't speak for all hipsters joining the hunting community, but this view is almost surely shared among others in the hipster hunter community.  Are we willing to alter how we view our hunting culture to incorporate these newcomers?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is Afghan rape of boys a rural phenomenon?

The Afghan practice or "tradition" of raping boys has been very much in the news the past few days. This line in a New York Times story on the topic caught my attention because of its mention of rurality:
[Raping boys] is rampant among the pro-government commanders who dominate many rural areas of northern Afghanistan and run militias that at times team with American-led forces.
The suggestion here is that this practice is a rural one and, I think by implication, that rurality is place that lacks the civilizing influence of the city.  Does this mean that boys are not raped in this way in Kabul?  or that they are raped there only when the rural, pro-government commanders come to town?  In any event, I wonder about the work that the word "rural" does in this sentence and in this story.  I can't help think of the famous male-on-male rape in the movie "Deliverance."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

In the rural world, no one can hear victims scream

Some people seek out the rural life to hide from the sight of society. One of the great allures of the rural landscape is that society cannot look over the a person's shoulder and cast judgment on them. In the same vein however is the fact that many seek out the rural life to escape the vision of authority figures, namely prosecutors and the police. This is particularly true of the polygamist communities that occasionally dot the rural landscape, secluded and distant communes that seek to have little contact with the outside world. In this private world preachers can coerce and threaten young girls into arranged marriages, abuse and drive off young boys, and brainwash the community as a whole to think that this is God's will. There are an estimated 30,000 to 75,000 polygamists in Utah, around 1% of the state's population.

Even with a short amount of research a multitude of issues and contradictions occur with the polygamist communities. There are allegations that the communities, who pride themselves on self-sufficiency, practice the act of so-called, "bleeding the beast." The beast is the government, state or federal and bleeding it references taking tax payer money, to weaken the government and take advantage of it. The communities drive away young boys, often as young as fourteen, partially because of the issue that where sect leaders have taken multiple wives, there aren't enough women for the young men. As a result the leadership will drive the boys away, creating, "lost boys."

Finally is the greater issue of the systemic use of the rural to force women to remain in the communities and be subjected to ongoing brainwashing. Women who attempt to contact the authorities need the police to escort them out and there are often costly legal battles for mothers to retain control of their children, particularly their daughters. Women are less persons in these fundamentalist sects, more chattel, to be sold and bartered.

Consider the case of Lu Ann Kingston, who was married off to a cousin at the age of fifteen. This was considered a common practice, to the point that her community was training twelve year-old children on how to be parents. However the attorney who represented the fundamentalist Mormon sect that practiced this child abuse claimed that marriages before the age of fifteen were rare. While ignoring that he had effectively agreed that it was common for children fifteen and old to be married off. Within the community young girls are told that unmarried women at seventeen years of age are old.

In the infamous incident in Texas, a FLDS compound was dramatically raided by Texas officials. Hundreds of women and children were removed from the compound, which featured medical facilities and an eighty foot tall temple. One woman who had fled the sec years prior stated that there was no leaving, once a woman went into the compound, she never left. Of interest was the leader of the group, Warren Jeffs, had moved the group from Utah and Arizona to a very rural part of Texas, as other parts of his sect were being scrutinized by state and federal authorities. This was a blatant attempt to use the isolation of the rural life to evade inspection. What was extremely striking is that while in Utah, which is 70% Mormon, had largely overlooked the activities of polygamists, Texas state authorities struck hard when it was suspected that compound members were engaged in underage sexual relations.

Bleeding the beast is the method communities use to further the polygamy activities at the cost of the taxpayers. In 2003, 80% of Colorado City received welfare funding. The community as a whole paid $72,000 in taxes, while receiving roughly 8 million dollars. This has been reported by assorted media outlets and one of the more fascinating bits of information to emerge was that the group under Warren Jeffs had approximately $110 million dollars in various accounts. According to the state attorney general for Utah in 2006, the communities hate the government and deliberately commit tax evasion and fraud, to better the community and harm the state.

It is controversial that many of the raids conducted on communities involves removing children from their mothers. In the case of Texas, the boys taken from their mothers would likely have entered the foster system, which has massive issues with children entering the criminal system and having lifelong problems. Experts complain that taking children away is abusive and will mentally impair the children. There are other factors to consider.

Despite the attacks on the FLDS leadership polygamy has continued. In the trial of Warren Jeffs, now convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, jurors listened to a recording of Jeffs' conducting a marriage of a child to an adult, followed by the marriage being consummated on an altar bed, in the temple, with Jeffs and several adult wives present and observing. When asked, the child assured Jeffs she was ok, while her new husband raped her on the bed. Adult women were present to hold the girl down if she fought. While experts may claim, rightfully, that separating children from their parents is wrong, it is apparent that the adult women in the communities accept this way of life and may promote or continue the lifestyle.

The communities are often far from metropolitan areas. St. George, Utah, considered a sinful place by fundamentalists, serves as the place for sect members to get supplies. It is two hours from Hilldale, Utah, one of the largest sects in the Warren Jeffs empire. As local economies have grown polygamists have begun to get involved with St. George employers. However, the communities are located at least an hour away, in secluded areas designed to discourage casual tourism.

One such secluded place is Short Creek, which pulled in federal money for street building and general township maintenance. While there, Jeffs would exile men, sometimes dozens at a time, in order to give the wives to other men. Miles away from any other form of civilization there was no recourse but to leave. Those that stay could be subjected to "God's Squad," a group of fundamentalist enforcers who act as law enforcers for the community. Former sect members who stay in their homes will be subjected to being driven off the road, mutilated animals thrown into living rooms, and arrested on trumped up charges.

In closing. It seems that polygamists, in their quest for the ideal living situation for their personal and religious beliefs, have embraced the rural environment for its secluded nature. This has played a part in creating the problems outlined in part above. The systemic abuses however have made the 1979 quote from Alien extremely relevant, "In space no one can hear you scream."

Other posts relating to polygamy can be found: here, here, and here.

Call for Papers: Life and Law in Rural America: Cows, Cars and Criminals

The American Studies Program at Princeton University is calling for papers for a Spring (March 25-26, 2016) Conference on Life and Law in Rural America:  Cows, Cars and Criminals:

Rural America has become an increasingly productive space for critical inquiry and exploration for scholars in many disciplines. From school reform to policing, from healthcare to popular television shows, and everything in between, the rural United States is continually being explored from new vantage points. Current research suggests that rural communities share many of the same kinds of challenges in education, policing, poverty, and healthcare found in urban and suburban communities, disrupting long-standing assumptions about rural America. At the same time, academics and non-academics alike recognize that rural spaces and experiences are distinct.

This conference, sponsored by the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, will explore rural spaces, people, and the law throughout American history and the present. With this conference, we seek to bring together an interdisciplinary group of graduate student researchers and faculty respondents to ask interdisciplinary questions of the social, cultural, legal, religious, and intellectual experiences of rural life. What is “rural”, and how does law constitute a distinctly rural experience for those who live there? How do law, lived experience, and geography interact in distinct ways in rural places?

Alongside keynote speakers Angela Garcia and Lisa Pruitt, we expect participants may explore more specific questions such as, how has rural America changed over time and developed into what we know as rural today? How is policing understood socially by rural residents? What does employment mean when opportunities are dramatically limited because of geography? What is the place of religious commitment in the rural U.S.? In what ways are rural spaces “urban”? How is civic engagement—such as protests and boycotts—changed when anonymity is not possible?

We invite graduate students working in the fields of American Studies, Anthropology, History, Law, English, Political Science, Musicology, Geography, Sociology, Art History, and related fields to submit papers on topics including but not limited to law and:
  • Policing in rural communities
  • Economic opportunity
  • Religious commitment
  • Regional rural identity
  • Gender in rural spaces
  • Race in rural America—both within, and outside of, the South
  • Class and poverty in rural places
  • Local government law and rural politics
  • Federal policies impacting rural America
  • Farming and farm laborers
  • Hinterlands & Rural-Urban Relationships
  • Activism & Civic Engagement
  • Cultural stereotypes of rural America
  • Environmental studies
  • Rural research methods
  • Socio-legal studies
Please submit an abstract of no more than 400 words, a short biographical description, and your contact information by November 15, 2015. Proposals and questions should be sent to conference organizers Heath Pearson and Emily Prifogle at

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

There is a new leader in Australia. Will there be a shift in policies on climate, domestic violence, and indigenous affairs?

Full disclosure: I think Australia is absolutely captivating.

For those who do not keep a close eye on Australian politics, there has been a sea change in the Australian government from Monday.  The Liberal (the Liberal Party is the right wing of Australia politics, Labour is the left wing) Party won the General Election in 2013 under the leadership of conservative Catholic Tony Abbott.  In recent months, Abbott's poll numbers have plummeted over his handling of critical issues, including asylum seekers and offshore detention, reducing climate change policies, cutting spending to indigenous communities, and gay marriage.  Basically, all of the things you expect a conservative politician to do.

On Monday, there was a coup in the Liberal Party, and after a vote of 54-44, Abbott was booted out of the premiership and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.  Malcolm Turnbull is something of a meteor in Australian politics, and definitely on the left of the centre-right Liberals.  You can read all about his career here (its fascinating, but not particularly pertinent).  

There are, however, a series of policy issues affecting the rural Australian community that I will tackle over the next several weeks as Turnbull's premiership gets its feet.  In this post, I would like the lay the stage for the three major policy issues affecting rural Australians. 

Climate & Environmental Laws

Climate policy is a global issue and it has acute impacts on rural communities.  Rural Australians face similar issues to rural Californians: water shortages and single-industry communities.  In Australia, one massive industry driving many rural economies is mining.  The Carmichael coal mine in Queensland has come under enormous challenges lately. A federal court recently overturned the environmental minister (and one of the few Abbott ministers keeping the same brief) Greg Hunt's approval of the mine went against internal ministry advice on impacts to two threatened species.  As a response to these challenges, the Federal government has proposed changes to environmental laws that prevent "'environmental saboteurs' using courts to delay big projects...."  Caught up in these changes is the other stalwart industry of rural Australia: agriculture.  

The tensions between mining and farming in rural Australian are pronounced.  Throw traditional green advocacy groups into the mix, and there is a contentious  as well as the combined tensions between industry groups and traditional green interests.  I will focus on this tension and the challenges and impacts of coal mines and water buyback legislation in my future post on environmental concerns in rural Australia.

For a past post on the broader food v. energy debate in Australia, read this. For more about agriculture in rural Australia, read this or this.

In the meantime, Turnbull will put together a new cabinet and shift the Liberal Party's policies (hopefully) away from the far-right tack taken by Abbott government.  Climate & environmental policies will likely be a bellwether for the government's direction--of shifting towards the center or remaining on the far-right path set by Abbott. 

Domestic Violence

Australia is tackling an epidemic of domestic violence.  A report released in February 2015 detailed recommendations to the Queensland government on how to curb domestic violence.  That report was commissioned after Queensland reported more than 64,000 domestic violence incidents and more than 13,000 breaches of domestic violence orders.  Though not limited to rural areas, policies undertaken by the Abbott government severely impacted the availability of aid to women and children facing domestic violence.  The Abbott government cut federal aid to community legal aid clinics by 30%.  In terms of other federal government expenditures, the amount spent on legal aid is less than Member of Parliament (MP) office retrofits and amounts to 5% of what the Australian federal governments spends on lawyers employed directly by the federal government in a year.

It remains to be seen of the Turnbull government will work to restore funding for the local clinics or what others steps the reinvigorated Liberals will take to tackle domestic violence. My future post will focus on the efforts being instituted across Queensland to address increasing instances of domestic violence in remote communities. 

Indigenous Communities

Australia's indigenous communities have been marginalized since Europeans arrived two centirues ago.  Under the Abbott government, federal spending was drastically cut.  These cuts included significant reductions to aboriginal health and domestic violence programs.  As the Turnbull government re-evaluates policy, indigenous advocacy groups are urging restored funding to reduce the gap between white Australia and indigenous populations, with an increased focus on indigenous women's health. 

My future post will focus on this gap and efforts by the Australian government to tackle indigenous health and community violence issues. 

What Comes Next For Australia

Turnbull has said he will not call a snap election after deposing Abbott, despite hopes from the Labour Party.  This gives the Liberal party at least 10 months to reverse the Abbott agenda, or at least curtail Abbott's dramatic policies that damage Australia's rural communities.  Future posts in this series will go into much greater depth on three of the issues facing these communities: changes to environmental laws and further mineral development, efforts to curb domestic violence, and the sorry state of indigenous services.    

Joyce Carol Oates's rural upbringing

NPR ran a story yesterday about Joyce Carol Oates's new memoir, The Lost Landscape:  A Writer's Coming of Age.  Turns out that Oates grew up in rural western New York, and in the NPR interview she comments on how her farm upbringing has influenced her writing.  Here's an interesting excerpt from the NPR story about some other features of her rural life and the imprint they left on the large body of literature she has produced:
Domestic violence, rape, suicide — these are themes Oates returns to again and again in her work. In the working class world of upstate New York she says this was as much a part of the landscape as apple orchards. When she was a kid she didn't think much about the violence that occurred on the edges of her world. That changed as she grew up.
And here is a quote from Oates about the nature of life on a farm:
I think probably it was an unusual upbringing because we did work all the time and if I have nothing to do I am very unhappy. I think on a farm basically one is always working. I am not sure that work is always the right word because you are always so absorbed in what you are doing.
 And here is a blurb from the book's back cover:
The Lost Landscape is an arresting account of the ways in which Oates's life (and her life as a writer) was shaped by early childhood and how her later work was influenced by a hardscrabble rural upbringing.
It doesn't sound like typical nostalgic rural blather.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Finding new rural lawyers

Imagine living in a place where there is not one practicing attorney within 100 miles of your home. This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke about lawyers, but the reality of the situation is less than humorous. Unfortunately, not having any local attorneys can have some very negative consequences for residents in rural America.

The majority of today’s population now lives in urban settings. More and more people are leaving small rural towns for larger cities. In 2000, 21.0% of the total US population lived in rural areas. In 2010, this was down to 19.3%. Even though there is a trend towards urban living, approximately 1/5 of the population still resides in rural areas. According to the New York Times, only 2 percent of small law practices are in these rural areas.

With such a disproportionate number of rural residents to attorneys practicing in those areas, several issues can arise with respect to access to legal services. The most obvious problem is that the people cannot access legal assistance easily. For many people in rural areas, the cost of driving to the city to meet with an attorney is too great. Some people cannot afford the cost of gas to drive to the city (if they have transportation) or missing a day’s work on top of any legal expenses they might incur once they obtain an attorney.

When people do not have access to attorneys, some may choose to not seek legal remedies or they will try to represent themselves. When people without a legal education try to represent themselves, the results are rarely in their favor. In addition, having people represent themselves can slow down the court system.

The budgets of rural counties and small communities are also strained from not having any local attorneys. Already stressed local governments have to foot the bill for judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to travel to the community to handle local cases.

The problem with the lack of rural attorneys does not stem from a shortage of attorneys in the US. In fact, there is an abundance of new attorneys that are not in positions where bar passage is required. In 2014, approximately 10 months after graduation, only 59.9% were employed in full time bar required positions, with 9.8% unemployed. The question is how to attract some of the roughly 40% of new graduates that are not employed full time in bar required position to move to rural areas to practice law.

In 2013, South Dakota became the first state to pass a law to attract new attorneys to rural areas. To be eligible for the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program, attorneys would have to make a five year commitment to practice in a county with a population of less than 10,000. In return, they would receive an annual subsidy of $12,000, which is equivalent to 90% of the cost of a year at the University of South Dakota School of Law. Part of this plan is to pair new attorneys with mentors and to help spouses obtain employment as well.

Partially inspired by the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program, the Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Nebraska State Bar Association (Rural Practice Initiative) have grants that are aimed at alleviating the lack of rural attorneys in their respective states. In other parts of the country, small towns and counties are paying for office space and business expenses for young lawyers that agree to move to their area.

These programs are a good way to get the ball rolling on this issue, but are far from a perfect solution. South Dakota's Rural Attorney Recruitment Plan addresses the issue of debt, but not of income. After working five years in a rural community and having most of their debt paid off, what is to keep the lawyer in the community? Surely some would stay because of family or maybe a sense of community will keep them there, but it seems almost inevitable that some would leave and work for a firm in the city where they could make more money. The experience they gained through the recruitment program would make them more attractive as candidates for associate positions than they might have been fresh out of law school. Therefore, some would use this program as a way to further their careers and pay off debt instead of using it as a tool to help them start their own rural practice.

As the population trends have shown, more people are moving to urban areas. Much of what attracts new law school graduates to urban areas is the lifestyle which it provides. Urban areas provide entertainment and the arts, dating opportunities for single people, job opportunities for spouses of recent graduates, and a higher income for those that find jobs. Instead of focusing on recruiting recent graduates for the rural programs, more focus should be spent on incentivizing people who want to live in rural areas to attend law school.

Because most law school graduates are in their 20s, urban life may seem more appealing to them and it may be harder to incentivize that group to settle into rural life. In addition to the programs for young attorneys, some effort should be made to attract older and more experienced attorneys to rural areas. Attorneys with families that want a better life/work balance or a desire to raise their children away from the city or older attorneys that are tired of working for bigger firms might just need a little nudge to make the move. Loan repayment might be helpful for some, while some sort of tax break might be the right incentive for an older attorney to set up a practice in a rural area. We should strive to not only attract young attorneys, but to attract experienced attorneys to rural areas to ensure that the rural population has access to experienced attorneys for the short and the long term.