Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More metrocentric reporting on constitutional rights, this time voter ID laws

This headline in the Washington Post a few days ago got my back up for overlooking what, to me, is obvious:  rural voters are disadvantaged by voter ID laws because they typically have longer distances to travel to get the required voter ID, usually available only from a state office such as a bureau of motor vehicles.  The headline is "Getting a Photo ID So You Can Vote is Easy.  Unless You're Poor, Black, Latino, or Elderly."  Not only does the story not use either "rural" or "distance," it illustrates the hassles of getting a photo ID with an urban example, shared by a Houston lawyer:  
“I hear from people nearly weekly who can’t get an ID either because of poverty, transportation issues or because of the government’s incompetence,” said Chad W. Dunn, a lawyer with Brazil & Dunn in Houston, who has specialized in voting rights work for 15 years.

“Sometimes government officials don’t know what the law requires,” Dunn said. “People take a day off work to go down to get the so-called free birth certificates. People who are poor, with no car and no Internet access, get up, take the bus, transfer a couple of times, stand in line for an hour and then are told they don’t have the right documents or it will cost them money they don’t have.” 
“A lot of them just give up,” Dunn said.
About the only acknowledgement I've seen of the burden of distance in relation to the recent (in the last decade or so) proliferation of voter ID laws was by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in October, 2014.  In dissenting then from the Supreme Court's summary affirmation of the Fifth Circuit in Veasey v. Perry, she observed that some 400,000 eligible Texas voters “face round-trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest DPS office.”   Even the plaintiffs/voter rights groups don't seem to be talking about this issue in their briefs.   

It's not clear if the media are taking their cues from the courts, or vice versa, but I have complained in this forum previously about how the media are now talking about access to abortion in Texas--nearly three years after the passage of Texas H.B. 2.  They are talking principally about the challenges faced by urban women, as in this recent piece, which I wrote about here.  (Read more at the abortion label/tag)

I've taken to Tweeting about this oversight whenever I get a chance, and today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is helping litigation the constitutionality of Texas's voter ID law this week, re-Tweeted and "Liked" my Tweets on this subject.  Will it stick with those who make the decisions on how to litigate these cases?  I'll believe it when I see it.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fewer small businesses per capita in small towns

Read more here in the Washington Post:
Americans in small towns and rural communities are dramatically less likely to start new businesses than they have been in the past, an unprecedented trend that jeopardizes the economic future of vast swaths of the country.
After all, how many pictures have you seen of the downtowns of small towns, with lots/most shops boarded up?  Depressing stuff.  No wonder much of rural America is experiencing population loss.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Rural refugees of climate change: from Louisiana to India

The New York Times reported last week about "Resettling the First American Climate Refugees," and since those climate refugees are in rural, coastal Louisiana, I was planning to blog about them but hadn't got around to it when NPR ran this series this week on climate refugees in rural, coastal India, in an area called the Sundarbans.  I found striking the similarities between the two places and their residents, including the attachment to place that motivate many to stay, in spite of perils.

The Louisiana story, by Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson, dateline Isle de Jean Charles, describes Department of Housing and Urban Development grants worth $1 billion going to 13 states to help with climate change adaptation.  Some $48 million is going to Isle de Jean Charles to move the entire community to drier land--to a community that does not yet exist.  All funds must be spent by 2022.

Most of the 60 residents of Isle de Jean Charles are American Indian, and Davenport and Robertson describe their recent history, as impacted by climate change:
For over a century, the American Indians on the island fished, hunted, trapped and farmed among the lush banana and pecan trees that once spread out for acres. But since 1955, more than 90 percent of the island’s original land mass has washed away. Channels cut by loggers and oil companies eroded much of the island, and decades of flood control efforts have kept once free-flowing rivers from replenishing the wetlands’ sediments. Some of the island was swept away by hurricanes.
* * *
Attachment to the island runs deep. Parents and grandparents lived here; there is a cemetery on the island that no one wants to abandon. Old and well-earned distrust of the government hangs over all efforts, and a bitter dispute between the two Indian tribes with members on the island has thwarted efforts to unite behind a plan.
The chief of one tribe, Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw is quoted:
We’re going to lose all our heritage, all our culture. It’s all going to be history.
The caption to a photo of a man named Hilton Chaisson includes this quote from him:
I’ve lived my whole life here, and I’m going to die here.
Chaisson has raised 10 sons on the island and says he hopes his 26 grandchildren will also grow up there.
The Robertson/Davenport story is well worth a read in its entirety, along with this NPR story on the same events, elaborating on the American Indian distrust of the federal government.

And as for the NPR story, Ari Shapiro explains that humans (4 million of them) and Bengal tigers (numbering about 200) compete for the diminishing land area in this place, which means "beautiful forest," referring to the largest mangrove forest in the world.   There, too, long-time village residents talk about their attachment to place, even as they acknowledge the perils of village living--amidst tigers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On the bathroom wars ... Is this a "rural story," or not?

The New York Times Anemona Hartocolis reported yesterday from Chester, Vermont under the headline, "Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at Vermont High School."  I decided to pick up this news story here because the journalist suggests that the "rural" nature of the high school has something to do with how events there have played out.  Chester's population is 3,154.  Here is an excerpt from the story: 
The way A J Jackson tells it, he kept his head ducked down and pretended to fiddle with his cellphone as he walked into the boys’ bathroom and headed for a stall at Green Mountain Union High School here. 
But the way some of his classmates see it, A J was still Autumn Jackson, a girl in boys’ clothing, who had violated an intimate sanctum, while two boys were standing at a urinal, their private parts exposed. 
One 15-year-old male student was quoted:
It’s like me going into a girls’ bathroom wearing a wig.  It’s just weird.
Hartcolis describes Green Mountain Union High--with 300 students grades 7-12--"like much of the country ... with teenagers carrying out a proxy culture war for their parents."
More broadly, the issue here has pitted resident against resident, often along social and economic lines. This is a place where big-city transplants wearing Birkenstocks and artsy jewelry mingle with working-class people in dirt-encrusted boots who know how to handle a shotgun and proudly inhabit the homes of their ancestors. Despite Vermont’s image as a place of bucolic egalitarianism, home of the avowedly socialist candidate for president, tensions over privilege and tradition simmer just under the surface, and the bathroom wars have brought them to the fore.
Hartcolis quotes Deb Brown, a member of the Board of Green Mountain Union High School for a characteristic associate with rural places, "society does not change on a dime, especially small town society."  The journalist notes that Brown's daughter was previously on a girls' sports team with AJ, again highlighting the lack of anonymity and personal relationships that mark rural communities.

Are "rural" places--even in progressive New England--less tolerant of sexual minorities?  Or could the same story be written about a Vermont "city" (of which there are not many, of course).  Read more on the rural-urban divide in relation to LGBTQ rights here.

P.S.  Several days after this post, the New York Times ran this story about how transgender Americans' "personal battle became a national showdown."  In it, they describe the man who is spearheading the litigation against bathroom choice.
In rural north-central Florida, a retired veterinarian and cattle rancher named Harrell Phillips was alarmed one evening in March, when his 17-year-old son reported over dinner that he had encountered a transgender boy in the high school bathroom.

“I marched myself down to the principal,” said Dr. Phillips, who believes that “you are born into a sex that God chose you to be.”
Dr. Phillips, who has vowed to take his fight to the Supreme Court, lives in Morriston, Florida, population 164.  Morriston is in Levy County, population 40,801.    

This story, too, has me wondering about the correlation between "rural" and "bathroom panic," though until someone proves to the contrary, I'm going to assume that even if there's a correlation, there's no causation--flowing either way--between the two factors.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

Earnings bias against rural folks, even after they move to the city

A UK study that is garnering attention on social media today suggests that those who grow up in rural places continue to be burdened or otherwise stigmatized by that upbringing, even after they have moved to a town or city.  The study's author was Dr. Martin Culliney, of Sheffield Hallam University, who tracked the income of nearly 1600 people from 1991 'til 2009.  Those studied were between 15 and 24 years of age at the beginning of the study and up to age 42 at the end. Here's an excerpt describing the "pay penalty that exists into adulthood":  
People who grow up in rural areas earn less than their urban equivalents even after they move to towns and cities for work, research says.

* * *
[Culliney] found that in 2008/9, the net take-home pay for those living in rural areas was around £900 less a year than those living in towns and cities. 
Even when people who grew up in rural areas later began working in towns and cities, the net take-home pay for full-time workers stayed less than for those who had grown up in urban areas.
* * * 
In 2008/9 the best paid were those who had started off in a town or city and then moved to a rural area – their net take-home pay was around £23,400 a year for those working full-time. 
Those who stayed in rural areas or moved from rural to urban areas had the lowest net take-home pay, around £14,400 to £18,400 a year for full-time workers. 
"Young people who remain in rural locations earn less money than their urban peers," said Dr Culliney. There were fewer jobs and a limited range of careers in rural areas, he said. 
Those who were prepared to move to towns and cities earned more than those who stayed in rural areas, but less than those brought up in urban areas, he said. 
"Simply being of rural origin brought respondents less pay across the whole 18-year observation window." 
He said that the findings could be interpreted as "conveying a rather fatalistic message" that young people suffered a "pay penalty into adulthood" even if they relocated to towns and cities. However, this was reduced if they moved to urban areas to work.
This all reminds me of the anti-rural bias in college admissions that Ross Douthat reported a few years ago in the New York Times.  Read my analysis of it here and here.

I also recall coming across a 1996 report from Mississippi State University called "The Social Cost of Growing-Up in Rural America:  Rural Development and Social Change in the Twentieth Century."  The lead author is Frank M. Howell, with Yuk-Ying Tung and Cynthia Wade-Harper.  Here are a couple of lines from the abstract:
This report examines the extent and process by which rural origins may affect socioeconomic attainments in adulthood and how these "costs" have changed during this century.  Introductory sections review research and theories of rural differentiation and stratification and the history of major federal policy initiatives of rural development. 
* * * 
[E]ducation is a conduit by which rural origins influence occupational status.  However, family income continued to show rural-associated deficits, especially for rural non-farm residents.  The model suggests that reduced expectations of family and friends influence the educational planning and eventual status attainment of rural youth.  
Also of possible relevance is this Brookings Institute study which found that college degrees are less valuable for those who were raised poor.  This suggests the habits or folkways acquired by those raised in socioeconomically disadvantaged situations -- in a sense, poor culture--holds them back when they move into more upscale milieu.

Friday, May 13, 2016

An update on a story about rural development and immigration policy

More than three years ago, I wrote this post about a proposed ski resort in Vermont's "Northeast Kingdom," on the Canadian border.  The $865 million investment was funded in part by would-be immigrants who, by investing at least $500K in an American business (if the business is in a rural locale or one with high unemployment; otherwise it is $1 million), can gain permanent residency in the United States.

In any event, those held out as the heroic developers in the prior story, are depicted quite differently in this story, also by Katharine Q. Seelye.    She reports that the developers, William Stegner and Ariel Quiros, have been accused of the biggest fraud in both Vermont history and the history of the relevant immigration program:  EB-5.  The $350 million Stegner and Quiros raised from foreign investors (representing 74 different countries!)who got the EB-5 visas is said, according to the complaints by the SEC, to have "used a “Ponzi-like” scheme to divert $200 million intended for future projects into a dizzying swirl of fraudulent accounts set up to try to keep earlier projects afloat."

Not only have the two left the immigration status of their investors in doubt--and many of those investors are already in the United States...
they have left the promise of a revitalized Newport unfulfilled, having failed to rebuild the “renaissance” block on Main Street, the biotech firm and a hotel, marina and conference center.
Seelye also addresses the fact that Mr. Stenger was a local--and in a place as small as Newport, that suggests the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities:
The allegations against Mr. Stenger particularly stung people here because they had known him for decades as a friend and civic-minded neighbor. He was not accused of siphoning money for his personal use, but the S.E.C. said he “extremely recklessly ceded control of investor funds to Quiros” and “did almost nothing to manage investor money, even when confronted with red flags of Quiros’ misuse.”
 Stegner maintains that, in spite of the projects' failures, they have created--directly or indirectly--6500 of the promised 10,000 jobs for "rural Orleans County, the poorest in the state."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is access to justice a greater challenge in rural states?

This story from yesterday's National Law Journal suggests rural states may be doing a poorer job at providing access to justice for low-income residents.  The headline is, "Access to Justice Best in D.C., Massachusetts, worst in Mississippi and Wyoming."  Karen Sloan reports:
[The National Center for Access to Justice]'s Justice Index evaluates each state according to the number of civil legal aid attorneys for the poor, the availability of resources for people representing themselves in legal matters, and assistance for non-English speakers and the disabled.
* * *
In addition to Washington and Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maryland and Connecticut made up the index’s five top-ranked-states. Mississippi and Wyoming had the two lowest scores, followed by Nevada, South Dakota and Indiana. Mississippi had particularly low scores in language access and resources for people representing themselves.
The data appears to reflect a trend across the rural-urban axis, with the exception, perhaps, of Hawaii, which has large rural segments but good ATJ, and Indiana, which is not as "rural" as Mississippi, South Dakota or Wyoming.  Nevada, too, has a couple of significant metro areas.

The story does briefly mention the challenge of spatiality and low population density:
The District of Columbia’s top ranking is due primarily to a “considerably” higher ratio of civil legal aid attorneys than any other jurisdiction, the index notes. It has both the highest population density and the highest per-capita attorney population. “The extreme differences in density of people raise interesting questions about the distribution of civil legal aid services between urban and rural areas,” according to the index website.
My own work on access to justice challenges in rural locales can be found here and here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wildfire turns on "urban" Fort McMurray, in western Canada

The Canadian wildfire that began in the boreal forest, in the midst of the tar sands regions, has been raging for several days now, driving evacuation of all of Fort McMurray, population 80K.  One of the best stories I've read about the natural disaster was in the New York Times today, "Fort McMurray, a Canadian Oil Boom Town, Is Left in Ashes."   What I like about this story--as a ruralist--is that it puts the situation of Fort McMurray in economic context:
Fort McMurray, or Fort Make Money, as some Canadians nicknamed it during its recent boom years, was the kind of place where second chances and fat paychecks beckoned. 
Those who settled there were trained engineers, refugees from war-torn countries and strivers from across Canada and beyond, drawn to a dot on the map in northern Alberta, a city carved out of boreal forest in a region gushing with oil riches. 
Even after the price of crude began to collapse in late 2014, erasing thousands of jobs, many residents managed to hang on, tightening their belts while waiting for the good times to return. 
Reminds me of Williston, North Dakota, in terms of the energy boom and the demographic attracted.  read more here.

Read more about the fire herehere and here.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

New: Routledge International Handbook of Rural Criminology

The volume, edited by Joseph F. Donnermeyer, Professor Emeritus at Ohio State University, was published just this week.  Here's what the promotional blurb from Routledge has to say about it:  
49% of the world’s population lives in small towns, villages and farms, yet until recent years criminological scholarship has focused almost exclusively on urban crimes. The Routledge International Handbook of Rural Criminology is the first major publication to bring together this growing body of scholarship under a single cover. For many years rural criminology has remained marginalized and often excluded from the mainstream, with precedence given to urban criminology: this volume intends to address that imbalance. 
Pioneering in scope, this book brings together leading international scholars from fourteen different countries to offer an authoritative synthesis of theoretical and empirical literature. This handbook is divided in to seven parts, each addressing a different aspect of rural criminology:
  • Rurality and crime
  • Criminological dimensions of food and agriculture
  • Violence and rurality
  • Drug use, production and trafficking in the rural context
  • Intersections between rural and green criminology
  • Policing, justice and rurality
  • Teaching rural criminology
Edited by a world renowned scholar of rural criminology, this book explores rural crime issues in over thirty-five countries including Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Australia, Tanzania, the US, and the UK. This is the first Handbook dedicated to rural criminology and is an essential resource for criminologists, sociologists and social geographers engaged with rural studies and crime.
I, along with David G. Gomez, UC Davis Law School Class of 2015, contributed a chapter on Rural Adolescent Substance Use:  Community Causes and Cures.  You can read the abstract here.  

The full table of contents of the Handbook is here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

NPR explores land rights for Western ranchers as a political issue

David Greene reported this morning from central Montana under the headline, "In Big Sky Country, Land Rights Are a Major Issue for Montana Ranchers."  While the transcript is not available online (as far as I can tell), the podcast is and, in short, the segment does a good job of conveying the perspectives of western ranchers.  They explain, for example, that the U.S. government is paternalistic toward them, second guessing how they run their ranching operations.  I admit that I went into the story with some empathy for ranchers, and I felt even more after hearing the story.  After all, as I have wrote on Twitter and on this blog soon after the Bundy Bros. & Co. took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, it seems hypocritical for me to defend the BLM too rigorously when I don't have to negotiate with them to feed my family.

But emotions on these issues do run high on both sides, and so I should not be surprised by some of the comments on the story ... but I was, especially, I suppose, by the tone:
a bunch of Red State whiners asking for more free stuff? Some of them, yet sounds like more people worrying about earning a livelihood. 
But if a grocer in inner city Chicago whined linked this, what would the Red Staters say?? They wouldnt hear it for a second, rather they would say change jobs. Why isnt this advice sufficient for the Ranchers?? 
Or what if a small business owner with a business degree where to make environmental policy for Yellowstone National Park? Bad idea right, but the red staters think a businessman is all knowing, which is why they elected Bush, nominated Romney and Trump. 
These ranchers need to learn the ways of big business, get some lobbyists to help them. That is how it works. If you have bad policy, well then you have to grease the wheels of DC and get what you want.
Note the explicit rural-urban comparison.  Also, on the "change jobs" point, isn't it the case that if too many ranchers change jobs, we'll have more agricultural production in fewer hands than we already do? That doesn't seem like a great solution to me.  Plus, there's more hatefulness where this one came from.

But there is also this, siding with, offering an apologia for the ranchers:
You may want to listen more to what these ranchers have to say as opposed to assuming you have a full understanding of the issues at hand. Most of what they are talking about doesn't even relate to federal land -- it relates to government regulation on PRIVATE land as well. I guarantee that if anyone spent a few days with some of these ranchers and really understood a lot of the issues they were facing, their views would change dramatically. These aren't Cliven Bundy types who want to essentially steal from the public -- they are people trying to run their businesses and support great communities and face very real (often unnecessary) challenges ... and often those challenges are causes by people from far away who don't really understand the issues but for some reason assume they do.
So little empathy to go around, everything polarized in red v. blue terms.  Yuck!

This report is part of NPR's "The View from Here" series.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Is Sanders pandering to coal interests? or does he understand the need for a just transition?

Here's a quote from the New York Times coverage of Sanders' speech in West Virginia today (accompanied by a photo of him in Lexington, Kentucky yesterday):
While I strongly believe we need to combat climate change to make our planet habitable for our children and our grandchildren, let me be clear:  We cannot abandon communities that have been dependent on coal and other fossil fuels. ... In my view, we have got to invest $41 billion rebuilding coal mining communities and making sure that Americans in McDowell County and all over this country receive the job training they need for the clean energy jobs of the future.
To me, that sounds like he might be pandering to "coal country" and the voters there, but not to coal interests.  Sounds like he's talking the talk of a just transition from coal, and it makes me wonder what he would say about the need for a just transition for rural economies facing similar challenges when those economies are not extraction-based.

And here is an excerpt from a piece that ran on Slate a few days ago.  It is headlined, "Donald Trump Clearly Thinks Hillary Clinton is Vulnerable in This One Area.  She Is."  Journalist Jeremy Stahl explains that the "one area" is international trade, and the piece goes on to talk about coal miners in particular:
Trump mentioned how Hillary said in March that "we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." She apologized to a tearful, recently laid off coal miner on Monday for those remarks, but this is clearly still a weakness that Trump plans to exploit.

“I watched her three or four weeks ago when she was talking about the miners as if they were just numbers and she was talking about she wants the mines closed and she will never let them work again,” Trump said. “Let me tell you: the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which was so great to me last week and Ohio and all over, they're going to start to work again, believe me. You're going to be proud again to be miners.”

Ohio and Pennsylvania both went to Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and would prove critical to the GOP’s chances of success were the party to somehow make it a close general election contest.