Saturday, November 19, 2016

Data show a county's education was top predictor of vote for Trump; also, race, rurality and jobs

A statistical analysis of the presidential election by The Washington Post finds that "education was an especially strong predictor of the vote, with race and economic distress — particularly declines in manufacturing — playing important, yet somewhat less influential, roles," writes Loren Collingwood of the University of California-Riverside, who did the analysis by matching Donald Trump's vote with demographic factors from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey in a regression analysis, a statistical device for measuring the relationship between variables.

Collingwood's graph, adapted for clarity by The Rural Blog, shows the relationship between several variables and Trump’s county-level support. The steeper the line, the stronger the correlation between the measure and Trump’s vote share.

"The share of a county’s residents with a college education is the strongest predictor," Collingwood writes. "Counties with more college-educated residents gave Trump substantially fewer votes. This is in line with the exit polls, which revealed a fairly sharp cleavage on education."

Race mattered. "Size of the Latino population was an even stronger predictor in 2016 than in 2012. In 2016, the effect of moving from a prototypically low Hispanic county to a prototypically high Hispanic county was 14 points larger in the Democrats’ favor than in 2012," Collingwood reports. "I also found evidence consistent with the “racial threat” hypothesis. As shown by the orange dotted line in the graph, Trump’s vote was higher in counties where the number of Latinos has increased significantly since 2000. This suggests that some voters may have supported Trump as a way of expressing white identity in an increasingly diverse nation."

Collingwood told The Rural Blog that he didn't do a statistical analysis of rural and urban voting, because his exercise was based on county populations, but he said rurality was "significant, and large in favor of Trump," much like education and race. "Trump clearly tapped into sentiments felt and expressed by many rural voters."

Reflecting his emphasis on jobs and trade deals, "Trump also did better in counties experiencing a loss in manufacturing since 2000. (The downward slope of the red line means that Trump did better in counties with manufacturing losses, on the left, and worse in areas with manufacturing gains, on the right.) Indeed, economic struggles may well have been the factor that flipped some Midwestern counties in such places as Michigan and Wisconsin: The effect of the manufacturing variable is stronger in that part of the country than elsewhere," Collingwood writes. "In the end, these county-level results suggest that numerous factors contributed to Trump’s win. But the education gap was especially influential, with race and economic decline — particularly in parts of the Midwest — playing a supporting role."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pastor-columnist says Trump's a disaster for rural folk, but it came down to cookies, guns and jobs

Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party lost this month because they have long alienated, mocked and ignored the problems of "white working-class and even middle-class Americans [who] should be part of the Democratic base," pastor and faith-and-values columnist Paul Prather writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he was once the religion writer.

Read more here:

"What we got was not just a win for The Donald, but a clean sweep, and carte blanche, for Republicans in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, Kentucky state government and, soon, the U.S. Supreme Court," Prather writes. "Of course, this is fantastic news for billionaires and big corporations. It’s a society-shifting disaster for the rural, working-class and middle-class white Americans who handed Trump and Co. the keys to the kingdom."

Prather says the result "was not driven primarily by white racism, or sexism, or opposition to abortion, or opposition to gay marriage, and least of all by any intrinsic loyalty to the Republican Party. No doubt, all those sentiments played their supporting roles. But mainly this election was about cookie baking, deer hunting and horrible jobs."

Paul Prather
Prather traces the roots of Clinton's defeat to her 1992 remark defending her work as a lawyer: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was pursue my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."

Prather writes, "What she, and by extension her party, failed to understand was that millions of women — nearly all employed outside the home, some already earning more than their husbands — wistfully remembered their mothers baking cookies and longed to do the same for their kids. They worked at outside jobs because they couldn’t afford to stay home. They were stung by what they took as Hillary’s condescension."

As for guns, "When Democrats rail against guns generally and, as President Obama once did, sniff at rural people’s affinity for firearms, those good people hear their culture, their histories and their families being directly attacked," Prather writes. "It’s not a political thing; it’s not even rational, necessarily. It’s personal and visceral.

And jobs: "Many Americans without college degrees, including millions of rural white people, now find it almost impossible to earn a living. If they’re working at all, it’s in non-union factories or big-box stores in their county seats, making $11 an hour, with sorry benefits, sorrier working conditions and no job security. They can’t pay their car loans, can’t buy a home, can barely keep the electricity on, and have third-rate health care, if any. Their nephews and nieces are ravaged by heroin. They can’t imagine sending their kids to college.

"They hear Democrats promoting affirmative action, transgender rights, abortion rights, illegal immigrants’ rights — but nobody’s lobbying for them. And they need help. Terribly. I would argue that the Republican Party is the worst place for such Americans to be. Yet they voted for Republicans by the droves because the Republican Party has at least made the effort to recognize their values, speak their language and court them, even if it typically takes advantage of them.

"Trump, a New York City billionaire, of all things, spoke directly to them. He said, in effect, I understand how beat up you are. I care about you. I will fight for you. Democrats haven’t done anything approaching that. They’ve been too busy feeling sanctimonious. They’ve needlessly alienated people they could have won over." (Read more)

90% of rural counties increased Republican support in 2016; rural white females supported Trump

Rural voters have increased
support for Republicans
since 2004 (Post graphic)
The presidential election showed an increasing difference among rural Republican and urban Democratic counties, Lazaro Gamio reports for The Washington Post. Of the 1,508 small counties—those with 25,000 or fewer people—1,362 voted more Republican in 2016 than in 2004.

"In counties with fewer than 100,000 people—which make up 80 percent of counties in the country but contain only about 20 percent of the population—9 out of 10 voted more Republican than they did in 2004," Gamio writes.

Of the 137 urban counties with 500,000 or more residents, 112 counties voted more Democratic in 2016 than in 2004, Gamio writes. In medium-sized counties (25,000 to 100,000 people) 878 of the 1,012 counties leaned more Republican, and in large counties (100,000 to 500,000) 260 of the 453 voted more Republican. (Post graphic below: urban, large and medium-sized counties)
Exit polls also showed that Donald Trump's disparaging remarks about women did little to deter rural white female voters from casting ballots for him, Rich Morin reports for the Pew Research Center. An NBC News poll showed that 54 percent of all women voted for Hillary Clinton, but Trump won among white women, 53 to 43, and held a significant advantage among rural white women, 62 to 34. Among white men, Trump beat Clinton 63 to 31, and among rural white men, 72 to 24.

Rural Hispanics in poor counties, mostly near border, swung to Trump despite his insults

Donald Trump, who has made negative remarks about Mexican immigrants and wants to build a wall along the border, received big support from rural Hispanics, predominantly Mexicans living in impoverished counties in states along the border, Geraldo L. Cadava reports for The Washington Post(Post graphic: Donald Trump in 2016 did much better than Mitt Romney in 2012 among rural Hispanics in many counties in the Southwest)
"States like New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas remained blue or became less red," Cadava writes. "But if you look closely at many largely Hispanic rural areas in these states, you find that Trump did better—and Hillary Clinton did worse—than did Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Voting in these counties was much like that in similar counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin," states where large rural support helped Trump win. (Post graphic: Clinton did much worse in 2016 than President Obama did in 2012 among rural Hispanics in many Southwest counties)
In some counties where Hispanics make up half or most of the population, Clinton got 10 percent fewer votes than Obama did, Gadava writes. "In many more heavily Latino counties, her votes lagged behind Obama’s by 3 to 8 points." While Clinton received fewer Hispanic votes than Obama, Trump "received a greater share of the vote than Romney had in more than a dozen counties with large Hispanic populations."

A similar trend showed that the Hispanic communities that supported Trump "were some of the poorest in their states," Gadava writes. "They’ve suffered the same tough economic circumstances as did some of the Midwestern counties that handed Trump the election. They’re more similar to than different from other forgotten counties across the United States, where voters upended the predictions of pollsters and shouted against the status quo."

Trump's stance on NAFTA worries agribusiness

President-elect Donald Trump's plans for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he has called the worst trade deal ever signed by the U.S., has many in the agricultural sector on edge, reports Agri-Pulse.

Pulling the U.S. out NAFTA and reinstating tariffs on Mexican and Canadian goods could lead to high costs for U.S. exports, said Washington D.C.-based lawyer Edward Farrell. Farrell, who said Trump could reinstate the tariffs that were eliminated under NAFTA via proclamation, told Agri-Pulse, “He could raise the duties on day one. He doesn’t need to withdraw from NAFTA in order to raise the duties. Under U.S. law, he’s got the proclamation authority to do so.”

Canada has expressed a willingness to discuss renegotiating NAFTA, but Mexico has been less receptive to the idea, reports Agri-Pulse. "NAFTA, which was ratified by Congress in 1993 and fully implemented by 2008, has resulted in massive increases in trade between the countries, sharply boosting U.S. exports of corn, beef, pork, rice, high fructose corn syrup, dairy and other commodities. Most trade tariffs and other barriers were either lifted immediately or phased out over time."

"In 1994, at the start of NAFTA, the U.S. exported $4.6 billion worth of farm commodities just to Mexico, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data," reports Agri-Pulse. "That total had nearly quadrupled to $18 billion in 2015. The U.S. shipped roughly $341 million worth of corn to Mexico in 1994, but the figure had jumped to about $2.3 billion in 2015."

Farrell said, "as deep as the concern is over renegotiating the agreement, a complete withdrawal would be even more disruptive, possibly leading to a dangerous escalation," reports Agri-Pulse. He told Agri-Pulse, “Whenever you start a trade war, it’s not that the other guy doesn’t have guns too. Clearly the U.S. is the biggest economic power, but these are major trading partners.”

Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but can be viewed by clicking here.

Rural Mainstreet Index in agriculture-and-energy heartland up a bit, still negative

Last month the Rural Mainstreet Index was up slightly but still below 50 on a scale of 100 for the 15th straight month, indicating economic decline in the 10-state region that stretches from Illinois to Wyoming and is dependent on agriculture and energy. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss surveys bank CEOs in rural areas of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

The index in November was 36.6, up from October when it was 31.8, the lowest since 2009. It was at 49 in September 2015. Farmland prices declined for the 36th straight month and bankers expect 20.7 percent of livestock producer to experience 2016 cash expenses greater than cash revenues

Goss reported, "Farm commodity prices continue to slam Rural Mainstreet economies. Over the past 12 months, livestock commodity prices have tumbled by 27.2 percent and grain commodity prices have slumped by 16.6 percent. The economic fallout from this price weakness continues to push growth into negative territory for seven of 10 states in the region." (Creighton graphic: Rural Mainstreet Index)

Cost of Thanksgiving meal for 10 has declined in past year, Farm Bureau says

Average prices (AFBF graphic)
It should cost less to host Thanksgiving this year, according to a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The annual report shows that the average cost this year to feed 10 people will be $49.87, down from $50.11 in 2015. The average price of a 16 pound turkey this year is $22.74, about two cents per pound less than last year.

Dr. John Newton, AFBF director of market intelligence, said in a statement: "Consumers will pay less than $5 per person for a classic Thanksgiving dinner this year. We have seen farm prices for many foods, including turkeys, fall from the higher levels of recent years. This translates into lower retail prices for a number of items as we prepare for Thanksgiving and confirms that U.S. consumers benefit from an abundant, high-quality and affordable food supply."

The survey meal includes enough turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk to serve 10 people, with plenty of leftovers, states AFBH. (Read more)

Former coal miners in Central Appalachia who are trying to reinvent careers face hurdles

Former miners in struggling coal communities are being forced to reinvent their careers, Sophie Quinton reports from Eastern Kentucky for Stateline, "but reinvention isn’t for everyone. Some locals are too old, sick or poor to restart their lives somewhere else. And retraining isn’t a sure-fire way to get a new job in a place where so few employers are hiring." In many cases, starting a new career also means taking a pay cut for former miners.

While state data show that unemployment in Kentucky was 4.8 percent in September, rates were between 7.9 percent to 15.5 percent in nearly every Eastern Kentucky coal county. (Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet: unemployment rates in September)
Higher rates of unemployment in Eastern Kentucky, along with high rates of poverty, drug overdose deaths, cancer, diabetes and disability are leading some people to leave and others to retrain for jobs in fields such as electrical work and nursing, Quinton writes. But even those that leave don't go far. Analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that "most of the people who packed up their homes in one of the roughly 30 counties in Eastern Kentucky between 2011 and 2014 moved within the region." (Stateline map: Appalachian Kentucky has high poverty and unemployment rates. For an interactive version click here)
Overall, "employers are laying off more people than they are hiring," Quinton writes. "And getting job seekers to switch careers—let alone go back to college—isn’t easy." Another problem is a lack of experience applying for jobs. Jenni Hampton, a career adviser at an employment center in Pikeville, Ky., said that "many of the people who come in looking for help have never had to write a resume or prepare for a job interview before." (Read more)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

USDA's 'Rural America at a Glance' has data on employment, population, poverty and more

Unemployment in rural areas continues to decline, according to Rural America at a Glance, an annual report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that includes valuable information on trends in employment, population, median incomes and poverty.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: "At the depths of the Great Recession, rural counties were shedding 200,000 jobs per year, rural unemployment stood at nearly 10 percent and poverty rates reached heights unseen in decades. Many rural communities were ill-positioned to bounce back quickly. ... Rural America has begun a remarkable comeback."

Rural unemployment, which grew during the recession from 5.2 percent in 2007 to 9.9 percent in 2010, stood at 5.7 percent in 2015, the report states: "Although the number of people working has increased since 2010, declines in the unemployment rate have also reflected fewer people seeking work." The national unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.

The total population in rural counties was 46.2 million in July 2015, "representing 14 percent of U.S. residents in 72 percent of the nation’s land area," states the report. Rural population declined by 136,000—0.3 percent—from 2010-2014, before leveling off in 2015.
Poverty rates, which rose during the recession, "continued to rise until 2013 in rural areas," states the report. "Poverty has been slow to abate in the wake of other recessions since the 1980s. Poverty rates in both rural and urban areas fell slightly in 2014 and more markedly in 2015—by 0.9 percentage point in rural areas and 0.8 percentage point in urban areas—but remain well above pre-recession levels."

Rural N.M. county reinvented itself after oil bust through renewable energy, affordable housing

Hobbs, N.M. (Best Places map)
Towns facing an oil bust can look to the success of one New Mexico county, which reinvented itself when the industry crashed in the mid-1980s, taking with it nearly 10,000 jobs, Leah Todd reports for High Country News. Unemployment in Lea County, which has a population of 60,000, tripled when the market crashed, forcing many to flee for greener pastures. For those that stayed and endured, a new boom has come around, in the form of renewable energy and affordable housing.

Without borrowing a dime, the county's largest town, Hobbs, "invested in housing, doubled its police force and pooled resources with five other public and private entities to build a $63.5 million recreation center," Todd writes. "Over the past five years, the town has extended $7 million in incentives to developers building more than 1,500 housing units—affordable and market-rate apartments, even single-family homes—primarily through reimbursing developers for the cost of roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure. Hundreds more units are under construction."

"Oil and gas severance taxes still make up about 50 percent of local tax revenue and one in five local jobs is in mining" and the county lost 1,500 jobs from 2014 to 2015 when oil prices dropped, Todd writes. "But Lea County’s strategic and sustained approach seems to be slowly working. The county boasts above-average salaries and—unique for an oil town—low income volatility, at least compared to other communities its size. During the slow recovery after the 2008 recession, which most gravely afflicted rural areas, Lea County was one of only a handful of counties in New Mexico that actually added businesses."

The county now has four solar power plants and four more are under construction, Todd writes. "Together those operations will produce 288 megawatts—about 19 percent of the state’s solar energy. Wind is growing more slowly, with just one operational plant and another on the way. Lea County’s wind sector will produce about 57 megawatts—7 percent of the state’s wind energy."

State health department reports show rising opioid epidemic, especially deaths involving fentanyl

Opioid deaths have been on the rise in recent years, especially in rural areas. Reports from state health departments in Tennessee and Massachusetts show just how bad the epidemic has become and are examples of county-level data that should be available in every state to localize news stories.

In Tennessee 1,451 overdose deaths were reported in 2015, the most on record for one year, says a report from the Tennessee Department of Health. Of those deaths, 72 percent involved opioids and the vast majority were ruled unintentional. Fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin, contributed to 174 deaths in 2015, up from 69 in 2014. Heroin caused 205 deaths, up from 147 in 2014. The total death rate was 22 per every 100,000 people, up from 19.3 in 2014 and 16.6 in 2011.

Through the first three quarters of 2016 Massachusetts has seen 1,005 unintentional opioid overdose deaths, "with an estimated 392 to 470 suspected opioid-related deaths that may be added to that total," says a report released earlier this month by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Of those deaths 74 percent tested positive for fentanyl. The rate of heroin deaths is down this year. (Massachusetts DPH map: Unintentional opioid deaths,2013-15)

W.Va. Supreme Court says pipeline surveyors must have permission of landowners

Roanoke Times map
The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline "cannot survey land for the project without the permission of the landowners," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Justices upheld an August 2015 ruling by Monroe County Circuit Judge Robert A. Irons in favor of Bryan and Doris McCurdy, residents of the county who argued that allowing the pipeline company onto their property without their permission violates a basic right of all West Virginians."

The 300-mile pipeline would run from from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In August 2015 a Virginia circuit judge ruled against eight landowners in a similar case, finding "that a controversial law in that state allowing natural-gas companies to survey private property without an owner’s permission is not unconstitutional," Duncan Adams reported for The Roanoke Times.

In Tuesday's ruling, Justice Robin Jean Davis "said there was no proof that the MVP project would serve any 'public use,' a requirement under state law for developers to use eminent domain to force landowners to allow such surveys," Ward writes. Davis wrote, “Thus, this case represents exactly the type of private taking for private use that is prohibited."

Ousted Kansas Rep. Huelskamp first big name to show interest in being agriculture secretary

Rep. Tim Huelskamp
Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who lost the Republican primary this year when farm groups rallied around his challenger, has expressed interest in being agriculture secretary in the Donald Trump administration, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Huelskamp, one of the most conservative House GOP members, was outed as a possible candidate at a Capitol Hill forum Wednesday.

A reporter from Breitbart News, whose executive chairman, Stephen Bannon was CEO of the Trump's campaign and recently named to be his chief strategist in the White House, asked Huelskamp "to share with us any discussions you're had about becoming agriculture secretary," Brasher reports.

Huelskamp said he couldn't comment on the question, but later told Agri-Pulse, “People who are in the room have been talking to me. If you're looking to be an outsider I would be quite a pick to fit that. We need to drain the swamp. I certainly am not part of that.”

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Trump has given vice president-elect Mike Pence "the lead role in agriculture policy and would have a say on who is selected as secretary," Brasher writes. Conway told Brasher, “I have not heard who's handling Ag. My guess is that (selecting an agriculture secretary) is not the first priority.” (Read more)

More than 1 million signed up for insurance on Nov. 1-12

More than a million people have enrolled in plans on since Nov. 1 and more than 300,000 did after Donald Trump was elected president last week, the Obama administration said Wednesday. Of the 1,008,200 sign-ups, 246,000 are new to the federal marketplace. The overall total is 53,000 more than the first 12 days of open enrollment in 2015. While running for president Trump said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has since said he would keep certain popular features.

Andrew Slavitt, acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "said that since Nov. 9, the day after Republicans secured control of the White House and both houses of Congress, the federal marketplace has received 8,000 telephone calls from people wanting to know how the election would affect their insurance coverage," Robert Pear reports for The New York Times. Slavitt said the number of people enrolling “shows that health insurance is something people want and need.”

The Obama administration's comparisons with last year need a caveat. While 39 states use the health care website, Kentucky dismantled its state-based exchange, branded Kynect, forcing residents to only be able to enroll at More than 100,000 Kentuckians had signed up for health insurance on Kynect, reports Kentucky Health News, a sister publication of The Rural Blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Teen births down nationally, but more slowly in rural areas, where rates remain high

Teen birth rates, which are highest in rural areas, have declined nationally, but are falling more slowly in rural areas and remain higher in small towns than urban areas, says a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birth rates from 2007 to 2015 of teens 15 to 19 fell 37 percent in rural areas, from 49.1 births per 1,000 girls to 30.9 births. Rates dropped 50 percent in large urban counties to 18.9 and 44 percent in small and medium urban counties to 24.3. (CDC map: Percentage change in teen birth rates for rural counties from 2007 and 2015)
The study, based on data from the National Vital Statistics System, found that "the teen birth rate in America’s small towns is 63 percent higher than in its biggest cities," Karen Kaplan reports for the Los Angeles Times. Researchers said they "don’t know why the teen birth rate was lower—and falling faster—in large urban areas than in rural ones. They did not study abortion rates between 2007 and 2015, nor did they examine whether schools in some counties were more or less likely to promote the use of birth control, or abstinence."

States have county-by-county data on teen births. For example, here are Kentucky data.

Significant increase in rural vote and decline in Democratic turnout were keys to election

The combination of an increase in rural voters and a decrease in Democrats casting ballots, especially in urban areas, were the main reasons Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann report for NBC News. Rural areas accounted for 500,000 more votes than in 2012, while urban votes were down about 2.5 million.

Dante Chinni, of the American Communities Project, found that Trump scored big numbers in four types of rural counties: rural middle America, working-class communities, graying areas, and evangelical hubs. In all four areas, voter turnout was up from 2012 and Trump scored much larger victories than Mitt Romney did in 2012. (Click on chart for larger version) 
In "Graying America," areas with aging populations, 242,721 more people voted in 2016, increasing Trump's advantage in those areas by 10 points over what Romney did in 2012, Chinni writes. Votes were up by 163,349 in rural evangelical hubs, increasing Trump's winning margin by 12 points, votes were up 99,232 in rural working class communities, increasing Trump's victory by 17 points, and voters were up 16,252 in rural middle America, increasing Trump's victory by 17 points. At the same time, 796,725 fewer people in urban suburbs voted than in 2012 and 1,695,692 fewer people in big cities voted.

Presidential vote change among whites based on education levels was biggest since 1980

White college graduates backed Hillary Clinton by a 9-point margin, 52 percent to 43 percent, while white non-college graduates backed Donald Trump 52 to 44, "by far the widest gap in support among college graduates and non-college graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980," Alec Tyson and Shiva Maniam report for the Pew Research Center. In 2012 Obama beat Romney among college-educated whites 50 to 48 and non-college educated whites 51 to 47. Trump won the overall white vote. (Pew graphic: White votes compared to all votes, based on education levels)
"Racial and ethnocentric attitudes were deeply implicated in Donald Trump’s remarkable rise to the White House," Michael Tesler reports for The Washington Post. "Racial resentment, anti-Muslim attitudes, and white identity, were all much stronger predictors of support for Trump in the 2016 primaries than they were for prior Republican nominees."

"Donald Trump made racial attitudes more important in the general election, too," Tesler writes. "Racial resentment, unfavorable opinions of African-Americans and ethnocentrism were significantly stronger predictors of whites’ preferences for Trump or Clinton than they were in hypothetical match-ups between Clinton and Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Many of these same racial attitudes are also heavily influenced by education. College-educated whites and whites who live in highly educated areas of the country have long been much more racially tolerant than other white Americans."

Rural-urban political divide grows among rural families and their educated relatives in cities

A rural-urban political divide has grown, spurred by people who left working-class rural communities to get a college education and work in urban centers, Sabrina Tavernise and Katharine Seelye report for The New York Times. While their friends and family back home are conservatives who support Donald Trump, they are more liberal and turned their support to Hillary Clinton, with the testy election driving a wedge in family relationships.

One example is Misty Bastian, who grew up in rural Tennessee, has a Ph.D. and works at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "She said that she had sensed a 'parting of the political ways' from her family for a long time, but that her support for Hillary Clinton seemed to be 'the last nail in the coffin'," Tavernise and Seelye report.

Bastian said she has continued to visit home since joining the Air Force in the 1970s but has no desire to return to her rural roots. She told the Times, “I don’t want to be part of the grand narrative that the ‘liberal elite’ doesn’t get the working class. I am from the working class. I’m now pretty solidly middle class. But to my relatives, I’m elite, over-educated and too well-read: an alien.”

Colin Woodard, author of American Nations, a history and geography of cultural divides in the U.S. "says that 'we are seeing a profound disagreement about what kind of America we should be creating,'" Tavernise and Seelye write. "Some believe society should be organized with an emphasis on individual rights, he said, while others feel the focus should be on maintaining the common good, which requires checks on individuals. Many feel the multiculturalism so prized by liberals has made their communities harder to understand and identify with."

Dozens of wildfires in South threaten rural areas

Locations of wildfires (WSJ)
More than 3,700 firefighters have been sent to the Southeast to fight wildfires caused by drought and suspected arson, Cameron McWhirter reports in a video story for The Wall Street Journal. As of Tuesday, "37 fires comprising 100 acres or more each burned in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Alabama," according to the U.S. Forest Service. Overall, 107,599 acres have burned.

One problem in many of the mountainous areas is the inability to bring in heavy equipment to clear land around a blaze so it burns out, McWhirter writes. Unable to bring in heavy equipment Georgia "has sent in work crews made up of park rangers, prison inmates and others to the affected areas to create fire lines with shovels, axes and other tools."

Georgia in October had 944 wildfires, a 220 percent increase over the past five years, and in November has had 399 fires, an increase of 15 percent, McWhirter writes. The biggest damage, in Fannin County, has burned 28,000 acres.

Ken Arney, deputy regional forester for State and Private Forestry in the Forest Service’s Southern region, said one problem is that "the South has denser hardwood forests than many western areas, meaning more fuel for fires to burn, and the region generally has more houses in the forests as well," McWhirter writes. He told McWhirter, "We’re a long way from saying we are in good shape containing these fires." (WSJ video) 

Utah proposes raising more speed limits to 80; studies show increases lead to more fatalities

Utah Department of Transportation photo
The Utah Department of Transportation has proposed raising speed limits on more rural highways to 80 miles per hour, Lee Davidson reports for The Salt Lake Tribune. In other areas limits would be raised from 65 to 75 mph for all vehicles except large trucks.

Robert Miles, UDOT director of traffic and safety, said agency conducted studies in proposed areas "show that 85 percent of motorists often are traveling faster than the posted limit," Davidson writes. He said lower speed limits leads to safety concerns with faster cars trying to maneuver around slower cars, while higher speed limits will lead to more traffic traveling at similar speeds and increase safety.

Reports show that when Utah previously raised speed limits highway fatalities increased, Davidson writes. Miles said the increased deaths were not from highways, but "occurred on arterial roads and city streets," not freeways.

An April report by by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that nationally increasing speed limits led to 33,000 traffic deaths from 1993 to 2013, including 1,900 deaths in 2013. Utah has some of the nation's highest speed limits. In 2014 Utah has 222 fatal crashes leading to 256 deaths, 125 of them in rural areas, according to IIHS. (IIHS map: Highest speed limits, as of January 2013)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Obama says Democrats need to do a better job of reaching rural voters

Obama at press conference (Saul Loeb, Getty Images)
In his first news conference since the election, President Obama said Democratic candidates need to do a better job of campaigning in rural areas, Jessica Taylor reports for NPR. He didn't mention Hillary Clinton but said, "We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town."

Obama said that "when he was campaigning he went to many rural places in a very white, blue-collar state like Iowa and ended up winning twice," Taylor writes. In 2012 Obama beat Mitt Romney in Iowa 52 percent to 46 percent. Donald Trump beat Clinton this year 51.8 to 42.2.

A rural outpouring for Trump this year led to similar results in other states that Obama won in 2012, such as Michigan, Ohio Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Overall, Trump won big in rural areas, where he campaigned heavily, while Clinton spent far less time meeting rural voters or advertising in those areas.

Unhealthy rural communities in the heartland were some of Trump's biggest supporters

Brown County (Wikipedia map)
"Trump Country," the rural areas where Donald Trump scored some of his most decisive victories, includes some of the nation's most unhealthy communities, Dylan Scott reports for Stat, the national health-and-science website of The Boston Globe.

In Brown County, Ohio, Trump beat Hillary Clinton 73.2 percent to 21.9 percent. In Scott County, Indiana, about 130 miles to the west, he won 67 to 29.2.

In Georgetown, located in Brown County, "residents die younger than all but a few other counties in this important swing state," Scott wrote in October. "The suicide rate is well above the national average. Brown County saw a 50 percent increase in drug overdose deaths over two years."

Scott County
(Wikipedia map)
Austin, in Scott County, was the site of an HIV and hepatitis C epidemic blamed largely on shared needles. The town is not far from the office of Gov. Mike Pence, Trump's vice president-elect.

While Trump easily won both counties, in October even his "staunchest supporters don’t see him as a savior, the cure to their ailments," Scott wrote. "Almost nobody—neither health workers, nor people recovering from addiction, nor regular voters—seems to believe the presidential election will have much consequence for their health." Austin resident Ron Snowden told Scott last month, “Way I look at it, no matter who you get in there, the damage has already been done. Whoever gets in there, it’s going to take 30 years to fix what’s been done.”

Scott wrote, "Brown and Scott are classic examples of Trump’s America, communities in the heartland that are strongly pro-Trump and staggeringly unhealthy. They are also two of the unhealthiest counties in their respective states, according to rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute."

"In these counties, as in other places that have seen stagnating life expectancy among white Americans, drug and alcohol have claimed countless lives, along with conventional killers like cancer and heart disease," Scott writes. "Some political analyses have argued that Trump’s unexpected rise can just as easily be traced to poor health as economic hardship or racial anxiety, as voters flock to a candidate promising to revive their dying towns."

Maine approves 'instant runoff' voting via ranking of candidates, but legal hurdles remain

Voters in Maine last week approved ranked-choice voting, also called "instant runoff." Maine, which has the nation's largest percentage of rural population, is the first state to pass ranked-choice voting, but "significant hurdles" lie ahead, Michael Shepherd reports for the Bangor Daily News.

Here's how it would work: In races with more than two candidates, "instead of selecting a single candidate, each voter ranks all the candidates in order of preference," Marsha Mercer reports for Stateline. "If no candidate is the top choice of the majority of voters, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is scratched from every ballot, and there is a second count. This time, on every ballot where the last-place candidate was ranked first, the second-ranked candidate is counted as the voter’s top choice. The counts continue until one candidate is the top remaining choice of a majority of voters."

Proponents of ranked-choice voting "ran a $2 million campaign facing no organized opposition," Shepherd writes. "They pitched the new voting method as a cure for the kinds of plurality elections that have decided nine out of the last 11 gubernatorial races, including Republican Paul LePage’s wins in 2010 and 2014," where he received less than 50 percent of the vote. "It was the polarizing LePage who provided the petri dish" for the experiment. The Maine League of Women Voters endorsed the idea.

The remaining obstacles to ranked-choice voting are "based on concerns, including from Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, that it doesn’t pass constitutional muster." The state constitution specifically allows election by plurality, and says ballots must be received, sorted and counted by cities and towns. Ranked-choice voting would be handled by the secretary of state.

Second edition of '13 Ways To Kill Your Community' launched today

The second edition of 13 Ways To Kill Your Community was launched today. The book, by Canadian journalists Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer, is described as "a book for those concerned about the future of their community and are looking for answers on how to find success."

Griffiths recently visited Craig and Moffatt counties in northwest Colorado, "to speak about his book and host a workshop with the community," Patrick Kelly reports for the Craig Daily Press. Local leaders have traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, today as part of the book launch. Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe "said the trip will help continue the conversation of how to achieve economic diversification as the city and county try to determine a specific project that will stimulate the regional economy." He told Kelly, "Now, we need to pick the project that’s going to help diversify our economy and start creating primary jobs.”

Doug Griffiths speaking in June
in Moffat County, Colorado
(Craig Daily Press photo by Patrick Kelly)
The book focuses on 13 ways to kill a community: Don't Have Quality Water; Don't Attract Business; Ignore Your Youth; Deceive Yourself About Your Real Needs or Values; Shop Elsewhere; Don't Paint; Don't Cooperate; Live in the Past; Ignore Your Seniors; Reject Everything New; Ignore Outsiders; Become Complacent; and Don't Take Responsibility.

Nonprofit exec in W.Va. fired for racist Facebook post about Michelle Obama that mayor supported

Clay County (Wikipedia)
The director of a government-funded nonoprofit in rural West Virginia has been fired after referring to First Lady Michelle Obama as an "ape in heels" in a Facebook post, and the mayor has been criticized for posting support of the post, Ali Schmitz reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Pamela Ramsey Taylor, an employee of the Clay Development Corp. in Clay County, wrote the post last week and was fired Monday. County Mayor Beverly Whaling responded to the post by posting, "Just made my day Pam."

WCHS-TV reports Whaling apologized on Facebook and said, "My comment was not intended to be racist at all. I was referring to my day being made for the change in the White House! I am truly sorry for any hard feeling this may have caused! Those who know me, know that I am not in any way racist!"

Jason Hubbard, a councilman in the city of Clay, told Schmitz that the corporation is not affiliated with the city. He said the issue would be discussed tonight at a previously scheduled meeting. An online petition was started last weekend to have Whaling removed from office, but an official petition requires signatures from registered voters in the city.

The town of Clay has about 500 people and the county has about 9,000. Only 0.2 percent are African American, notes Lindsey Bever of The Washington Post. About 77 percent of county voters supported Donald Trump in last week's election, John Ra reports for The Associated Press. "In 2012, President Obama received 31 percent of the county vote when Republican Mitt Romney easily carried the state."

Farm Foundation Forum on Nov. 30 will look at various agendas for the next Farm Bill

The next Farm Foundation Forum, on Nov. 30, will focus on the next Farm Bill. Scheduled from 9-11 a.m. ET, the forum, "The Next Farm Bill: What are the Agendas?," will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It will be available via audiocast and archived on the Farm Foundation website.

Panel members will include Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group; and Daren Bakst, agricultural research policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Constance Cullman, president of Farm Foundation, will moderate.

There is no fee to participate, but registration is requested. Register here if you plan to attend in person; register here for the live audiocast.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump will change many energy and environment rules, but some will be harder to reverse

"President-elect Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to topple just about every major energy and environment policy enacted in the past eight years," Robin Bravender reports for Environment & Energy News. "But while massive change is expected, Trump will face limits on carrying out his plans."

Even with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, "Passing major energy legislation is time-consuming and politically daunting," Bravender writes. "Writing new regulations is a bureaucratic slog, and those are likely to face protracted legal battles. Trump might also face hurdles unraveling some Obama rules that are already on the books and trying to roll back some executive moves, such as designations of national monuments."

Trump "has big promises to keep ... from torpedoing the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and international climate deal to expanding oil and gas development and overhauling the regulatory system," Bravender writes. But experts on energy and environmental issues "warn that the Trump administration could overreach and spark a public opinion backlash if it doesn't tread carefully on its regulatory rollbacks."

The biggest and most likely reversals for the Trump administration will be the Environmental Protection Agency's redefinition of "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act, strongly opposed by farm interests, and the regulations to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, though the exact procedure for that is uncertain. The rules are designed to fight climate change; Trump said he would "cancel" the international climate-change agreement, but "direct withdrawal from the Paris deal is a four-year process," Bravender writes.

On coal specifically, "A Trump interior secretary is expected to quickly rescind the current moratorium on coal leasing, ending a program review about royalties and climate change," Bravender reports. "Changes at the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement . . . could also undermine the final stream-protection rule, overdue for publication. While a new rule would be required to strike new restrictions on coal mining near waterways, implementation would fall into unwelcoming hands."

West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley told Bravender that Republicans have a chance to create "a whole new regulatory regime for coal," but "I don't see any major jump in coal production in the near future, no matter what regulatory, legislative actions are taken by the new administration," due to competition from cheap natural gas.

Trump "will have limited leeway to scotch existing regulations aimed at improving air quality," Bravender reports. "There's probably no going back, for example, from EPA's rule to limit mercury from power plants, one of the most expensive rules ever issued by the agency. As of April, almost all coal-fired plants were in compliance, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Still, the new administration will have more latitude to drag out implementation of more recent regulations — and to simply avoid offering new ones. . . . Trump has more wiggle room to reverse Obama's policies when it comes to energy development on public lands."

Rural wages stagnate because of lack of quality jobs, not a lack of skilled workers

Eonomists say the lack of wage growth in jobs, especially in rural areas, "proves the U.S. has a demand problem—not enough good jobs—rather than a supply problem—not enough skilled workers," Sophie Quinton reports for Stateline. While many employers and politicians point to a need for more job training, other problems are low wages, undesirable shifts, qualifications being defined too narrowly, inadequate recruiting, and lack of transportation or childcare for prospective employees.

"The declining unemployment rate has made it more difficult for employers to find workers, but it’s still tougher than it should be given the current jobless rate. Since the recession ended, the number of job openings has increased faster than the number of new hires," Quinton writes from Le Sueur, Minn, pop. 4,000. "Employers across the country, from manufacturers in rural Minnesota to hospitals in New York City, are having trouble filling jobs. It now takes about 28 workdays to fill the average job vacancy, compared to about 24 days, on average, in 2007." (Stateline graphic: Job openings exceed new hires)
For example, "Minnesota manufacturers said two-thirds of all their openings were hard to fill, but that only 14 percent of positions remained open purely because applicants didn’t have the right education and training," Quinton writes. A survey by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services last year found that only 22 percent of employers named low wages as a hiring problem, but 68 percent of those employers were offering below average wages. A survey in Oregon found that half the jobs are difficult to fill because of "unfavorable working conditions or inconsistent work shifts." (Stateline graphic: It now takes longer to hire workers)
Many of the openings require no training beyond a high-school education, Quinton writes. "The idea that all we need to do is train workers is 'fundamentally an evasion of a profound social challenge,' former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said during a panel discussion last year." Summers told Stateline, “Training is very important and indeed necessary. But it is not sufficient to meet either the near-term challenge of assuring demand and preventing recession or the longer-term challenge of the structural loss of jobs for less-skilled workers.”

Low consumer demand for drones has industry turning more attention to agriculture market

Getty Images photo by Jean Pierre Muller
Low consumer demand for drones is crashing the industry and forcing manufacturers to turn their focus to businesses such as agriculture, Heather Somerville reports for Reuters. "While many drone-makers overestimated demand from hobbyists, they now see big opportunities selling to businesses under newly relaxed U.S. regulations."

The future of drones could be in agriculture, which already leads the market for commercial drone usage, says Lux Research, a Boston-based firm that concentrates on emerging technologies. Agriculture will generate $350 million in revenues in 2025, helping lead the commercial market for drones to $1.7 billion in 2025.

"Farmers can use unmanned aerial vehicles to check fields for areas of dryness or disease, spray fertilizer and pesticide, watch over livestock, and a number of other purposes," reports Futurism. "Drones are more easily serviceable and significantly cheaper than small piloted planes or satellites; ready-to-use agricultural drone systems, together with sensors and software, range in price from $1,500 to $25,000."

Rural newspapers weigh in on the election; send us editorials and columns worth sharing

One of the most unusual presidential elections in American history, and the unpredictability of the winner, is prompting editorial comment from rural newspapers that don't often weigh in on national issues. The Rural Blog is interested in seeing examples of editorials and columns like the one Editor-Publisher Sharon Burton of the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., in a strongly Republican part of a largely Republican state.

Burton writes that Trump wasn't among her top three choices for the GOP nomination, but "I do believe I understand at least part of the message Americans were sending when they elected Trump. If nothing else, I think I can clarify what many Americans were not saying," such as "It is okay to degrade people for any reason. . . . I believe Americans weighed Trump's flaws against Clinton's flaws."

Neither are Americans xenophobic, Burton writes: "I think Americans are saying that our nation is spending too much of its resources caring for others and not enough resources taking care of its own. We have approved trade agreements at the expense of jobs. . . . I think the majority of Americans are okay with immigrants coming into America . . . to be contributing members of society."

Burton concludes, "If nothing else, we need Trump to be teachable. . . . I hope we can survive Trump. I hope we can thrive with Trump. Mostly, I think our elected officials have been awakened to the frustration Americans feel toward their inability to address the nation's problems. Frankly, I think the Trump vote was a message to the political elite ... clean up your act, or 'You're fired.'"

Trump hoodwinked rural voters on trade, opines daily paper in coastal North Carolina

President-elect Donald Trump hoodwinked rural America, says an editorial by the Daily Advance in rural coastal Elizabeth City, N.C. (Best Places map). The paper says Trump played on fears that "that the country’s demographics and cultural norms are changing too quickly; that too many immigrants are here 'stealing' jobs from Americans; that formerly strict rules on who can get married are gone and need to be reinstated; and that too much of Washington’s attention is focused on the problems of other communities, many of them home to African-Americans, Hispanics and Muslims, and not enough on theirs."

Trump said that if he were elected, "He would renegotiate every U.S. trade deal ever signed to ensure Americans’ interests come first," the editorial notes. "It’s easy to see why rural voters bought this hokum. First of all, many either don’t understand or chose to ignore the fact that trade deals aren’t the culprit for the loss of jobs overseas. Increasing automation and globalization are why those jobs that were once the path to the middle class are gone—and why they’re not ever coming back."

"Secondly, rural voters are scared—and not just about their own economic future, but that of their kids and grandkids as well," says the editorial. "If someone who appears to be successful comes along and says, 'I can fix this thing that’s making your future so vulnerable,' you will probably believe him—particularly if you also agree with him about there being too many immigrants in the country and too much social and cultural change taking place. You are also likelier to overlook the serious character flaws in such a person—and vote to elect him president."

"Despite aggressively stumping in their communities and promising things he can’t deliver, the fate of small-town Americans is not among Trump’s top priorities," says the editorial. As evidence, it cites his vow to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, "a measure that’s been good for rural Americans because it’s allowed many of them, thanks to taxpayer-backed subsidies, to finally be able to purchase affordable health care insurance."

Author who chronicled rural Wisconsin voters' sense of resentment explains why Trump won

In 2015, Katherine Cramer, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin, published a book, The Politics of Resentment, that looked at how voters in 27 rural communities in Wisconsin felt about politics. She found that many feel a "deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved." That helped Donald Trump score big in rural areas and narrowly take battleground states such as Wisconsin.

"I had not intended to study a rural-urban divide when I sampled the 27 places I had been visiting," Cramer writes for The Washington Post. "But about a year into this project, one thing was inescapable: People in these small communities and rural places deeply resented the two main metropolitan areas of Madison, the state capital, and Milwaukee. I grew up on the northern edge of the Milwaukee metro region, but the depth and the intensity of this resentment surprised me."

"They resented that they were not getting respect," she writes. "They perceived that city folks called people like them ignorant racists who could not figure out their own interests. To them, urban types just did not get small-town life—what people in those places value, the way they live, and the challenges they face."

"Onto this terrain trod Trump," she writes. "And he found firm footing, just as Scott Walker did in his rise to the governorship. His message was basically this: ‘You are right. You are not getting your fair share. And you should be angry about it. You work hard, you are deserving, and yet you are not getting what you should. Instead, the people currently in charge are giving some people way more than they deserve. Elect me and I’ll make American great again. I’ll give you back what you deserve and a way of life you are sorely missing.’ For people who were feeling ignored, disrespected and overlooked by the urban elite, the Trump campaign had a strong appeal.”

Oregon group files, then withdraws, petition to secede from the U.S. in wake of election

A group in Oregon filed, then withdrew, a petition to secede from the U.S., Lizzy Acker reports for The Oregonian. On Thursday, two days after Donald Trump was elected president, a petition was filed for a 2018 ballot initiative called the Oregon Secession Act. Results of the election brought renewed interest in Cascadia (Oregonian map), a proposed country that includes southern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, parts of Idaho, Montana and Oregon as well as small parcels of northern California, Nevada and Utah.

On Friday organizers filed paperwork to withdraw the petition, Acker writes. They said it didn't get the type of response they had expected, citing death threats they had received and violence in the streets as a result of the election. Christian Trejbal, one of the petitioners, told Acker, "That's not the kind of conversation we were trying to have so we're pulling it." Democrat Hillary Clinton beat president-elect Donald Trump in Oregon, 52 percent to 41 percent.

Alaskans OK automatic voter registration with signup for checks from oil-wealth fund

Alaskans receiving ballots at a polling station
(Getty Images by John Moore) 
Alaskan voters last week passed a referendum that will automatically add to the state's voter rolls all residents who sign up to receive annual payouts from The Alaska Permanent Fund, the state's oil-wealth trust fund, Josh Eidelson reports for Bloomberg News. The proposal, which received more than 63 percent support from voters, makes Alaska the sixth state with automatic voter registration.

"Supporters say the law—which will give Alaskans the chance to opt out of being added to the rolls, rather than restrict voting to those who opt in by getting themselves registered—could create one of the most complete and accurate U.S. state voter registries of all time," Eidelson writes. "Not everyone gets a driver’s license, but in Alaska, almost nobody neglects to sign up each year to get their free dividend check."

Last year about 645,000 residents received more than $2,000 each from the fund, Rory Carroll reported for Reuters. "The annual payout from the fund is credited with keeping many low-income Alaskan families out of poverty."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leon Russell, who played classical, rock, country, blues, soul, gospel, jazz and more, dies at 74

UPDATE, March 19, 2023: A biography tells us a lot but not enough about this secretuve musical icon.

Leon Russell, a musical genre-blender who played sessions and then did concerts and records with musical greats and earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, died at his home in Nashville Saturday. He was 74.

"With a top hat on his head, hair well past his shoulders, a long beard, an Oklahoma drawl in his voice and his fingers splashing two-fisted barrelhouse piano chords, Mr. Russell cut a flamboyant figure in the early 1970s," Jon Pareles writes for The New York Times. He did "Wall of Sound" sessions with producer Phil Spector, started Shelter Records, led Joe Cocker's band, played at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh and concerts with Jerry Lee Lewis and the Rolling Stones, had hit records with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and by himself, wrote hits for others, played country music as Hank Wilson, did bluegrass with the New Grass Revival, explored jazz and blues, faded into obscurity and then resurfaced in a late-life collaboration with Elton John. The Tennessean of Nashville has a photo gallery of his career.

Russell was classically trained but a birth injury limited his timing and range of motion on keyboards. He told the Los Angeles Times in 1999, "I invented ways to play in a classical style that was not the real deal." Born Claude Russell Bridges in Lawton, Okla., in 1941, he adopted his stage name from a Los Angeles friend who loaned him an ID so he could play clubs when he was under 21. He had "a rich, hearty voice that drifted between country and soul," and his "Union" album with Elton John is "an elegant work that showcases each artist's prowess with the piano and Russell's flair for bridging pop and gospel," writes the LAT's Todd Martens. John called Russell "one of the greatest American treasures."

Russell told the LAT he was hard for radio program directors to figure out because "I was not a brand that they could always expect was going to be the same thing. I'm not as aware of categories in music as some people are. To me it's just music. I'm interested in all kinds of music." In 1978, he issued an album called "Americana" which helped define yet another genre that seemed to fit him best.

Democrats fault Clinton's lack of attention to rural areas, worry about farm-state Senate races in 2018

Democrats are second-guessing Hillary Clinton's "decision to largely surrender the rural vote" to Donald Trump, Helena Bottemiller Evich reports for Politico. "With their eyes turned anxiously to 2018, they’re urging a new strategy to reach out to rural voters to stave off another bloodbath when a slew of farm-state Democrats face tough reelection battles." Those include Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jon Tester of Montana.

"The billionaire New Yorker never issued any rural policy plans, but he galvanized long-simmering anger by railing against trade deals, the EPA and the "war on American farmers," Evich notes. The rural vote was also driven by "hollowed-out towns, economic hardship and a sustained exodus" from rural areas. That helped Trump win 65.9 percent of the rural vote, up from Mitt Romney's 60.4 percent in 2012. Clinton won 29.4 percent, well under President Obama's 37.7 percent in 2012, the Daily Yonder calculated.

"Numerous Democrats in agriculture circles buzzed with frustration over what they regarded as halfhearted efforts to engage rural voters," Evich reports. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had urged the campaign to shore up rural outreach, multiple sources said, beating the same drum he has for several cycles as Democrats have seen their rural support steadily erode. By all accounts, the Clinton campaign didn’t think it really needed rural voters, a shrinking population that’s reliably Republican. The campaign never named a rural council, as Obama did in 2012 and 2008."

In contrast to Clinton's efforts in upstate New York as a senator and her attention to rural issues in 2008, a source told Evich that her campaign had only one staffer dedicated to rural issues, and "the assignment came just weeks before the election." One young Democrat whom Evich granted anonymity told her, “It’s a tough slog. It’s hard to speak to rural America. It’s very regionally specific. It feels daunting. You have these wings of the party, progressives, and it’s hard to talk to those people and people in rural America, and not seem like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Dee Davis, director of the Center for Rural Strategies, told Evich that Clinton hurt herself with comments about "deplorables" and shutting coal mines, Trump's success had little to do with policy: “What Trump did in rural areas was try to appeal to folks culturally . . . A lot of us in rural areas, our ears are tuned to intonation. We think people are talking down to us. What ends up happening is that we don't focus on the policy — we focus on the tones, the references, the culture.”