Monday, September 22, 2014

Rural music: a sharp change of tune


For the larger portion of my life, I have been a loving devotee of American folk music. As an adolescent, I started out listening to American and British rock artists from the 60s and 70s (e.g. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skyndyrd, Aerosmith, AC/DC etc.). That phase of my life compelled me to dig deeper, so to speak, and investigate the musical influences of my classic rock heroes. This is how I became acquainted with authentically American music.

The artists I admired in my pre-teen years were tremendous enthusiasts of blues, folk, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, and r & b. Through my study of classic rock’s musical progenitors, I not only became a fan of American folk music in its own right, but also I was able to construct a mental timeline of American folk music’s development over the past century. (Before I begin my analysis, I would like to make clear that I utilize the term “folk music” very loosely. In the sense I utilize it, it is not confined simply to folk music as such, but rather it encapsulates the entirety of music that originates from the American “heartland.”)

Because of my study of American folk music’s history, I have made certain observations concerning folk music particularly designated as necessarily “rural.” I have noticed a tremendous shift in the narratives of rural songs.

I went back and read an article in the New Yorker, Folk Hero: A New Biography of Woody Guthrie, written by David Hadju. In it, Hadju makes clear that Guthrie, perhaps the most renowned American folk sing-songwriter, the man who wrote the socialist refrain “This Land is Your Land,” was an unwavering exponent of his own brand of folksy radical leftism. This reminded me of a concept that has been floating in my head for some time: rural music’s narrative has experienced a drastic paradigm shift from organic protest to one of engineered conservatism. Why is this the case? What accounts for this stark switch?

I can recall listening to songs like Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and just feeling (and loving) her unabashed rural, working class pride and a degree of class-consciousness. In the song Lynn describes her upbringing, “We were poor but we had love that's the one thing that daddy made sure of/ He shoveled coal to make a poor man's dollar.” Attached to this endearing, purely descriptive account of her impoverished background there is no explicit political message. It is simply a tender and nostalgic (and perhaps romanticized) recollection of her working class past.

Now, contrast this with a more contemporary country song I heard while listening to the radio.  Charlie Daniels’ “Simple Man” plays on the same theme of unashamed rural, working class pride, but it is attached with a direct reactionary political message. He sings:

I ain't nothin' but a simple man. They call me a redneck. I reckon that I am, but there's things going on that make me mad down to the core. I have to work like a dog to make ends meet,
there's crooked politicians and crime in the street, and I'm madder'n hell and I ain't gonna take it no more.

The lyrics at this point express a degree of discontent with the political and social status quo, however Daniels’ prescription is what is really problematic. He sings, in discontent with what he considers to be a criminal-lenient judicial system: “If I had my way with people sellin' dope/ I'd take a big tall tree and a short piece of rope/ I'd hang 'em up high and let 'em swing 'til the sun goes down.”

The coded language is quite stark, and quite unsettling. In effect, Daniels sings that if it were up to him, he would lynch those who sell drugs. He believes the judges and politicians are too soft on the petty criminals that peddle narcotics, thus he would like to bypass trial and simply lynch. Shamefully, lynching has been quite the common phenomenon in rural American history, particularly the lynching of (often times innocent) people of color (see lynching of Jesse Washington).

Daniels’ proposed solution to the illicit drug trade appears racially neutral at first glance. But, if one dwells on the notion for more than a cursory moment, and if one has a nominal degree of knowledge concerning the demographics of those accused of drug crimes, one will be able to see that Daniels indirectly proposes the return to the lynching of black folks.

To emphasize, even more so, the paradigm shift in the rural music narrative, it is important to note that in the early 70s Daniels had a significant hit with the song “Long Haired Country Boy.” In that song he describes himself as a sort of unapologetic country contrarian. He places himself in opposition to the conservative mores of the time, which dictated that men maintain their hair at respectably short lengths, by reveling in his status as a long-haired, dope-smoking, preacher-scoffing, rock ‘n’ roller.

There are other conservative themes prevalent in contemporary rural music, which were certainly not in the fore in decades past. For instance, it is quite common nowadays to hear a country music artist lament the ubiquity of foreign cars in bigger cities, the influx of city slickers in rural areas, and the alleged concerted effort to corrode country life.

I believe these themes all point to the underlying cause of this shift. Rural music went from Johnny Cash to Hank Williams, Jr.—from the poetic beauty of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” or “For the Good Times” to “Kiss My Country Ass,” “Country Boys Can Survive,” or “Redneck Paradise—because of the rapidly changing economic and social state of affairs in this nation.

For one, the United States is increasingly transforming its demographic characteristics. White-Americans are gradually becoming more of a numerical minority than a majority. Thus, the credence of socially constructed mythology like white supremacy is being shaken up a bit. For fear of its complete destruction, naturally white folk singers have responded defensively, to say the least.

Moreover, the United States’ unrivaled economic primacy has been facing steep decline for the past few decades, thus putting in a tremulous situation other social mythology like the so-called American way of life, or the American Dream. Country, or rural, life at its core represents and epitomizes this Americanism. As the material basis for Americanism dissipates, it follows that the most American of institutions, rurality, is placed in a precarious situation.

Add to this the fact that the livelihoods of rural working class Americans have been put in jeopardy because of this nation’s overall economic decline. And add to this a conscious effort on the part of ultra-reactionary, bourgeois ideologues to scapegoat “big government,” immigrants, and people of color, and naturally the most reactionary elements of Middle America will come out in song.

Moreover, the much of the twentieth century was colored with the omnipresence of progressive social upheaval and radical leftism, consequently much of popular music of the time was a direct reflection of this zeitgeist, and rural music was no exception. That sort of general turmoil is nonexistent today in the United States.


But, as time goes on, and international economic conditions worsen, the spirit of the times is orienting toward a return of popular uprising. So too, American folk music will reorient itself in that path. It’s fitting to end on this note: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHbTWJ9tjnw.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Expanding Obamacare in rural America

Nearly one year has passed since many of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have come into effect, including: guaranteed issue, which prevents insurers from denying individuals coverage based on a pre-existing condition; the individual mandate, a fee charged to those who fail to obtain health coverage; and the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to include families and persons whose incomes fall within 133% of the federal poverty level, regardless of whether they have children, in states that have opted into the expansion.

Though the number of uninsured persons in the United States is at its lowest since the 1990s, millions of Americans, many of whom live in rural communities, still do not have health coverage. This is due, in part, to the fact that rural Americans face significant obstacles to obtaining healthcare. Perhaps the most significant barrier is the failure of many states to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Among the states that have failed to implement the Medicaid expansion are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Many of these states have large populations of rural persons who would otherwise be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the new expansion criteria.

Another barrier to healthcare facing rural populations is that of distance. Although there are "navigators" hired to educate and assist consumers in choosing healthcare plans and navigating the enrollment process, they are often located at a great distance from rural communities. Those living in rural areas are thus discouraged from enrolling in healthcare plans because they must travel longer distances, often at great financial cost, to obtain in-person assistance. Moreover, although individuals may enroll in healthcare plans online, rural areas are less likely to have dependable internet access

Furthermore, states and nonprofit groups must work to alleviate challenges for rural individuals and families who have successfully obtained health coverage. For example, although guaranteed issue under the ACA prevents insurers from charging higher premiums or refusing coverage based on a pre-existing condition, the ACA allows for insurers to take geographical factors into account when setting premiums. Although healthcare costs have always been more expensive in rural areas as a result of the general shortage of doctors and medical facilities, the ACA has exacerbated the "rural-urban cost divide" in healthcare, as many insurers hike up premiums for individuals living in certain rural areas.

Although the ACA has enabled millions of Americans to obtain coverage for healthcare, multitudes of rural Americans continue to face obstacles in accessing health coverage. These obstacles include distance from services designed to educate and assist rural Americans in enrolling in healthcare plans, and the refusal of several states with significant rural populations to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Moreover, as a result of the ACA, many rural residents who have successfully obtained health coverage face higher premiums based on where they live. Going forward, states and nonprofit groups should focus on (1) making enrollment assistance more accessible in rural areas, (2) garnering support for Medicaid expansion in states that have not yet implemented it, and (3) narrowing the rural-urban cost divide for populations that have successfully obtained health coverage.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Are rural areas really "safer" than urban areas?

Watching Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary, “Brother’s Keeper”, brought to mind the two conflicting stereotypes of crime in rural America. On one hand is the stereotype of a quiet, pastoral countryside where crime is so rare people can afford to leave the house without even locking the door. Growing up this is the stereotype I was exposed to with the re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show in the sleepy, practically crime free town of Mayberry. On the other side of the coin is the image lawlessness and of “rednecks” or “white trash” committing daily acts of crime. However, it is difficult to really determine which, if either, of these perceptions is true. Are rural areas really inherently safer than urban areas, or are they really not as different as our stereotypes might lead us to believe?
The belief that crime is less frequent in rural areas is supported by Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), created by the FBI, that presents crime by type and population group. According to this FBI database, violent crime is significantly higher in urban areas than it is in nonurban areas as is property crime such as burglary. Depending on how the FBI is classifying metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas this may simply be a result of a higher concentration of people leading to higher crime rates. But this still doesn’t exactly tell us whether rural areas are safer than urban areas.
Even though cities have higher rates of crime and murder, a new study has found that overall, urban areas are safer than the rural areas. This study by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, is the first to look at overall death rates for all sorts of injuries (crashes, gunshots, drownings, falls, poisonings, even animal attacks) across the nation, rather than for selected areas or specific injuries. This study also separated intentional injuries/deaths from accidental ones. Although the study conceded that rates of homicide and crimes such as robbery are indeed higher in urban areas, it challenged the common stereotype that urban areas are inherently more dangerous than rural areas. The most rural counties had the highest rate of fatal injuries -- 74 deaths per 100,000 residents -- compared with 50 deaths per 100,000 in the most urbanized counties. This study also suggested that rural counties may be deadlier than their urban counterparts due to the lack and inadequacy of trauma care and health care in rural America.
The study done by UPenn and the Children’s Hospital provided an interesting and important juxtaposition to the common perception of rural areas as “safer” than urban areas. However, “safety” encompasses much more than just the typical ideas of crime. Simply looking at rates of crime doesn’t tell us much about relative safety in an area, particularly in today’s more technologically advanced world. In a study done by the National Institute of Justice it was indicated that patterns of rural crime indicate both the exporting of urban problems to rural areas as well as unique problems. Much of this probably has to do with the shrinking gap between urban and rural areas due to modern communication, transportation and other technological advancements.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Dynasty of Household Register is Dying Away

When I was a little girl, I learned a fact about the Adults: They are always busy. But there was only one exception. That was my neighbor---Dahua. He was different. When I went to the kindergarten with his daughter he stood outside his house, talking to himself and sometimes laughing. When we backed, he was still there. He seemed not busy at all. Once a time, I saw his father locked him in that small room, I can hear him shouting and crying. But I think he is one of the luckiest psychiatric patients in this world, because he has a wonderful wife---Caiying and two lovely children. I was always curious about why Caiying, who is beautiful and diligent would like married him.

The answer is in this picture:




The red book is the household register (known as Hukou) in China. A Hukou is a record in the system of household registration required by law in the People's Republic of China. Actually similar system was in existence in China as early as the Xia Dynasty (2100 BC - 1600 BC). In the centuries which followed, the family register developed into an organization of families and clans for purposes of taxation, conscription and social control.

So how did the household register influence Caiying's marriage?

In 1958, the Chinese government officially promulgated the family register system to control the movement of people between urban and rural areas. Individuals were broadly categorized as a "rural" or "urban".

She was born in 1960s, Just after the Great Chinese Famine(1958-1961) during which period there were 36 million deaths due to starvation, while another 40 million others failed to be born. She was born with a household register classified as rural,with that background she knew clearly about the meaning of poverty.

At that time ,there was planned economy in china. People used food stamps to buy food within the area where their household register belong. The government distribute food stamps to urban people by the population on their household register. But to rural people, the food decided by the crop yield of their local group this year. Food stamps supply system was the basic national food security system for urban residents. Food stamps has become a symbol of identity and rights. Received amounts of food stamps monthly would mean the identity of urban residents who can enjoy a range of priority treatment. So lots of rural teenagers wanted to change their category of household register into urban ones. Caiying was one of them . She didn't get educated, apparently she couldn't  get a job in the town. So marrying  a urban person was the only way to reach her urban dream that can keep her away from starvation. They got married at the beginning of 1980s. And then Caiying became a urban person officially. But only a few years after, the China Economic Reform began, there was no food supply system for urban citizens anymore at the end of 1980s. Caiying never thought that she would lost the safeguard so quickly. And she couldn't back to village again cause as a urban person she has lost the use rights of the farmland.

Although women would not married for food stamps any more after that period, but this household registration still entitles people to receive social services like healthcare, housing, employment and free public education in their specific registered area, and it is an obstacle to market economy. Finally, this year China moves to ease home-registration rules in urbanization push .The Dynasty of household register is dying away.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Will sustainable metropolitan growth patterns aid rural economies?

With growing concerns of climate change and heightened awareness of human impact on the environment, municipal and county metropolitan governments have begun formulating more sustainable regional growth and transportation patterns. At the same time, rural areas continue to see lower income rates, higher poverty rates, and a lag in employment growth, compared to their urban counterparts.[1] The issue I will examine below is whether there is an intersection between the shift in metropolitan development patterns and the various economic plights of rural communities. I will, also, speculate on the potential affect the shift in metropolitan growth patterns will have on outlying rural areas.

In northern California, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (“SACOG”), a governmental body of elected officials from the six counties and 22 cities in the Sacramento area,[2] has developed a sustainable metropolitan growth and transportation plan. In effort to curve the environmental harm of Sacramento Area residents, SACOG’s sustainable strategy seeks to create regional job centers (verses one, large, central job center), improve the efficiency of rural-urban public transportation, and move some manufacturing and other industry outside of urban cores.[3]

Recognizing that more than half of commuters to Sacramento’s urban core are coming from adjacent areas, SACOG has included in its plan a way to ensure that an increased percentage of new jobs, in adjacent areas, are filled by residents of those areas.[4] For example, in neighboring Rancho Cordova, CA, 43% of new jobs are expected to be filled by residents of Rancho Cordova.[5] This aspect of SACOG'a plan is focused on increasing the number of regional job centers to decrease the amount of regional commuting and increase the amount of job creation within close proximity to existing housing.

SACOG’s plan, also, includes improving public transportation by—among other things—increasing the number of rapid transit bus lines to areas outside of the urban core. [6]  Additionally, the growth strategy encourages moving manufacturing, processing plants, suppliers, distributors, and other industry further outside of the urban core to minimize inefficient shipping travel.[7]

Despite the fact that the counties surrounding the urban core of Sacramento are technically “metropolitan” and not “rural”, by the US Census standard, this encouraged trend of multiple regional job centers, improved rural-urban pubic transit, and movement of industry outside of urban cores could still, potentially, benefit even those areas officially dubbed “rural.” I say this because if sustainable growth—like the growth SACOG promulgates—increases, then more regional job centers will spread outward from urban cores, across the county. Thus, more and more rural communities will be closer to some semblance of an economic hub that is well connected to transit. There is, also, the potential that industry may move away from these less-metropolitan regional job centers and into US Census classified, rural communities.

There may be a loose crossroads between the development of transit-efficient regional job centers and the economic improvement of rural communities. However, I am, merely, predicting that as sustainable growth encourage regional job centers, improved transit, and the voyage of bits of industry away from urban cores, rural areas will have increased access to nearby jobs and transportation resources; thus, rural economies might very well improve.   



[1] US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Rural America at a Glance, 2013 Edition. November 2013 report. Retrieved 10 September 2014 from US Department of Agriculture website: <http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1216457/eb-24_single-pages.pdf>.
[2] Sacramento Area Council of Governments. "About SACOG." Sacramento Area Council of Governments. 10 September 2014. Web. <http://www.sacog.org/about/>.
[3] Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Sacramento Area Council of Governments Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy. April 19, 2012. 10 September 2014. Sacramento Area Council of Governments website: <http://www.sacog.org/2035/mtpscs/>.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.

The pony express rides again


Among other things, rural areas are primarily defined by their size, space and location. Rural towns are small, remote, and typically surrounded by wilderness. Another characteristic of rural areas is its relationship (or lack thereof) with the law. Rural communities have a different relationship with the law and how it functions in their communities because of their defining characteristics. Law cannot be everywhere at once because state and local legal actors cannot be everywhere at once.[1]

Later this month, a group of concerned citizens from a rural Nevada county will send a message to Washington D.C. the old-fashioned way: via horseback. The ride is organized by Elko County Commissioner, Grant Gerber.  The group has a website, http://www.grassmarchcowboyexpress.com.  The website features profiles of the riders, their mission, and a link where donations can be made to support the ride. They also have a Facebook page which has garnered 559 likes.

On September 26, the cowboy express riders will embark on their journey from Pt. Reyes, CA and ride some 2800 miles to the nation’s capital carrying petitions from their community. The journey should take about 20 days. Gerber says “we’ll be riding from 13 to 24 hours (a day) depending on the moon and such.”

What are the cowboy express riders concerned about? They are concerned the federal government is too far away and does not know what is best for the local area. Their motto is “regulation without representation is tyranny.” The petitions are pleas about endangered species, water, wildfire, wetlands, wilderness, and other mismanagement failures of the federal government. This rural community is reaching out to the agents of the law that affect them directly. The community may be small and isolated, but they do not wish to remain silent on how their land is managed. Their cause is reminiscent, but unrelated to another Nevada rancher’s struggle with the Bureau of Land Management. (link to Cliven Bundy)   

What I find most interesting about the riders and their mission is that it is really a battle between local and federal government actors. Included among the petitions to be delivered is one written by the Elko County Board of Commissioners.  In particular, the Board of Commissioners has a problem with decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to close grazing areas in and around Elko County.  Their petition also includes grievances with the BLM’s handling of wildlife pursuant to the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.



[1] The Rural Lawscape: Space Tames Law Tames Space, in The Expanding Spaces of Law: A Timely Legal Geography (Nicholas Blomley, Irus Braverman, David Delaney, and Sandy Kedar, eds., forthcoming Stanford University Press 2014) page 197.
[2] 43 C.F.R § 4700.

A field of honor forever

On the surface, Shanksville, Pennsylvania is like most other rural towns.  It has a population of 237.  93% of the population is white.  The town has a general store, a couple churches, a post office, and a volunteer fire station.  A short “drive” on Google Street View shows American flags proudly waving from flagpoles.  But thirteen years ago today, an open field just outside Shanksville became the site of utter devastation and tragedy. 

We remember. 

I remember.  On that Tuesday morning, I woke up for school and went to the kitchen. My father was there, staring at the television.  I was eleven years old at that time.  I had mixed emotions of confusion, fear, and sadness.

United Airlines Flight 93 was one of four civilian airplanes that were hijacked by terrorists that day.  Flight 93 had departed Newark, New Jersey and was supposed to arrive in San Francisco hours later.  Instead, it crashed in a coal strip mine that was located less than ten miles from Shanksville. 

Some speculate that the hijackers were planning on striking the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  But their plans failed.   

Their plans failed because of the heroic actions of the passengers who stood up against the terrorists.  Passengers fought back against the hijackers and tried to regain control of the airplane.  As a result, Flight 93 crashed right outside Shanksville, rather than the White House or the Capitol Building.   

Volunteer firefighters from Shanksville immediately arrived at the scene to aid any survivors.  A retired New York firefighter says,
They’re Smalltown USA, but they have the biggest hearts.
After the September 11 attacks, people from across the nation arrive in Shanksville to pay their respects to the passengers and crew of Flight 93.  On the day that Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, at least 675 visitors had come to the site. 

Earlier today, people again gathered at the crash site to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.  Bells were sounded forty times in honor of those passengers and crew. Currently, the visitor center is under construction, but there is a stone wall engraved with the names of all the passengers and crew of Flight 93. 

Yesterday, the United States Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal upon each person who was killed by the terrorist attacks.  For those who died on board Flight 93, there is a distinct gold medal.  This medal “features an image of the sandstone boulder that marks the area of the impact site, and the hemlock trees at the edge of the field.”  The medal also describes the crash site as, “A common field one day, a field of honor forever.”

On the reverse side, forty stars representing the forty passengers and crew encircle the U.S. Capitol Building, perhaps to symbolize that the passengers and crew protected the Capitol Building.  Placed between the stars and the Capitol Building, the following is inscribed:
We honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93 who perished in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.  Their courageous action will be remembered forever.
Here are my questions to you.  What do you remember from that day?  Do you remember much media coverage over the crash in Shanksville?  Or was most media coverage concerned about the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.? 

Stuck between the FCC and Congress: can Tribal libraries receive federal subsidies on telecommunications services?

I am Kate Hanley, and I am a third year law student at the University of California, Davis, and I am also a librarian. For the next few months, I will be guest-blogging for Legal Ruralism. This blog is hosted by UC Davis Professor Lisa R. Pruitt, and she kindly shares this space with her students. For my introductory post, I wanted to highlight something near and dear to me: the state of Internet access in Indian country, and how Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler's comments from a June 2014 panel discussion seem divorced from the reality that many Tribal libraries face when they want to provide Internet access to their communities.

The U.S. estimates that 65% of Americans have wired broadband internet at home. That estimate drops to 50% when looking at Americans who live in rural places. But it is estimated that 10% or fewer Native Americans who live on Tribal lands have wired broadband connectivity at home. Even CNN published an article back in August that describes the state of Internet access in Indian country.

On June 30th, 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler publicly noted that 10% estimate to a crowd in Albuquerque, NM, who attended a panel discussion entitled Nuestras Voces/Our Voices: A Youth Dialogue with FCC Chairman Wheeler. Wheeler also acknowledged the expenses that Tribal libraries may pay in order to provide Internet access to its communities. Acoma Pueblo's library, for instance, spends $1,700 for Internet access each month. The library keeps its Internet access running all night so students may access it from outside the library. In 43% of Tribal communities surveyed by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM), it was found that libraries like Acoma Pueblo's are the only source of free public computer and internet access.[2] ATALM also found that many Tribal libraries offered poor quality connection speeds and services.

From news reports, it appears that Wheeler’s response to Acoma Pueblo’s expense was to encourage schools and libraries to apply for federal subsidies for Internet access. (This program is known as E-rate.) This suggestion makes sense from a distance. The U.S. subsidizes telecommunications and Internet access for schools and libraries as part of its commitment to give everyone in the U.S. access to advanced telecommunications services at reasonable rates regardless of their location. It is generally understood that Tribal schools and libraries are expected to be eligible for E-rate support. And ATALM's studies find that half of Tribal libraries have never heard of E-rate. Considering these facts, advertising and encouraging Tribal libraries to apply for E-rate support makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, knowledge of E-rate is not the only issue that Tribal libraries have to contend with. Many Tribes cannot receive E-rate support because of the way the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is phrased. To be eligible for E-rate support, a library must be eligible for funding from a State Library Administrative Agency (SLAA) (47 U.S.C. § 254(h)(4)). These state library programs are intermediaries of a sort; the federal government appropriates money to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), IMLS parcels out funds to programs (such as state library agencies), and these state agencies provide funding to individual libraries. The majority of U.S. libraries are funded through state library agencies, as IMLS does not directly fund most U.S. libraries. Saying a library must be eligible for funding from a SLAA to receive E-rate support is practically short-hand for “we want this library to meet federal standards”. But the legislators missed one little detail: Tribal libraries often get direct funding from IMLS and, due to specific state statutes and Tribal sovereignty, Tribal libraries that meet IMLS's requirements for funding do not necessarily qualify for funding from a state library agency. In this way, the Telecommunications Act does not appear to apply to a number of Tribal libraries that are eligible for federal funding.

The bottom line is that Tribal libraries will not necessarily get E-rate support if they apply for it, even though people like Wheeler understand that Tribal libraries are supposed to be eligible for the support.

This loophole has been recognized in the federal executive branch for at least the last eight years, but nothing is likely to change until Congress decides to change the Telecommunications Act's wording for E-rate eligibility. It's depressing. There is a lot of movement right now in E-rate as the FCC looks to expand broadband connectivity and implement Wi-Fi in schools and libraries, and legislative red tape is keeping Tribal libraries from participating in the program. I applaud Wheeler to spreading the word about E-rate, as it needs to be done. But considering this state of affairs, I can't help feeling that Wheeler told Indian country that it should eat cake when he was told they don't have access to bread.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mental health in rural America and the need for more progressive solutions


Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Trago’s 2014 documentary, Rich Hill, focuses on the lives of three young individuals and their families living in Rich Hill, Missouri. Rich Hill is a small town with a population of approximately 1,341, a median income just under $30,000, and a poverty rate of about 27% according to the Census Reporter. The film's audience will quickly observe the many struggles that come with living in this poor, rural area, including struggles with mental health issues. In fact, two of the three boys featured in the film are medicated for illnesses including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and anger problems. Watching this film made me wonder, how prevalent is mental illness in rural areas, and what is access to mental health services like?

Mental illness is a common issue that affects approximately 25 percent of adults and 20 percent of youths in the United States. However, studies have found major depression rates in rural areas are higher than those in urban areas. Additionally, there is a higher suicide rate in rural areas. Some articles have explained that this is due to the commonness of guns and social isolation in rural areas. Whatever the explanation, it is clear that there is a need for mental health services in rural areas.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers to mental health services in rural areas. One major barrier is availability. For example, 85 percent of 1,669 federal designated mental health professional shortage areas are rural areas. With a shortage of professionals, this may mean that individuals simply do not get the help they need, or they have to travel far distances to seek help. Another factor is a lack of affordable health insurance coverage.

Suzanne Robinson of Montana was forced to deal with both these challenges when seeking help for her schizophrenic son. Suzanne reported, “If you have schizophrenia in Montana you either need good private insurance or you need a lot of money. We had neither.” At the time, there were only three Medicaid psychiatrists in the state and two were for children. She had to drive at least 85 miles to seek help for her son.

So, what can be done to improve access to mental health services in rural America? Government support is a good starting point. Last year, the USDA announced their goal of investing $50 million to increase access to mental health care in rural areas over the next three years. The funding is to be used for construction and improving of rural mental health facilities. Because a limited amount of money can only go so far, and there is a large number of people suffering from mental illnesses, more innovative ideas may be necessary.

This is where progressive ideas, such as telemedicine, should come into play. University of New Mexico’s project, Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), is a form of telemedicine where medical specialists hold weekly virtual training sessions to discuss their current patients and determine appropriate treatments. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and General Electric are sponsoring a mental health clinic in New Mexico based on Project ECHO in order to help primary care doctors in rural areas in New Mexico become better educated in mental health care. This way, doctors in rural areas can provide proper mental health services, and people residing in rural areas will therefore have better access to the care they need.

Mental health is a serious problem in rural America and monetary support can only go so far. Hopefully, more private institutions take notice of the mental health crisis affecting so many people, and they are willing to take the leap and undertake projects similar to Project ECHO.