Friday, March 01, 2024

Different views on a new book, White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy, attracting national attention

 Penguin Random House

A new book, White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy, is getting a lot attention nationally -- both positive and negative. In his opinion essay for the New York Times, Paul Krugman writes positively about the book and explores how technology and connection grew cities while rural Americans lost jobs, dignity and their place in the national dialogue.

When progress benefits one region and destroys another, anger and resentment are natural outcomes. Krugman writes, "It can be devastating economically and socially for those who find themselves on the destruction side of the equation. This is especially true when technological change undermines not just individual workers but whole communities. . . .This isn't a hypothetical proposition. It's a big part of what has happened to rural America."

The continuum of white rage is "laid out in devastating, terrifying and baffling detail" in the book, Krugman adds. 

The technology Schaller and Waldman point out isn't limited to the Internet, cell phones and global competition. It's the advances in farming technology and worldwide shifts in energy production. "American farms produce more than five times as much as they did 75 years ago, but the agricultural workforce declined by about two-thirds over the same period," Krugman writes. "[Due to] technologies like mountaintop removal, coal mining as a way of life largely disappeared long ago, with the number of miners falling 80 percent even as production roughly doubled."

Schaller and Waldman's book discusses
Jason Aldean's controversial song and video.

Jeffery H. Bloodworth takes a much different view of the book's main points and conclusions. In his opinion piece in The Daily Yonder, Bloodworth writes: "Rather than listen and understand complicated, three-dimensional rural Americans, they stereotype. Their analysis is an amalgam of our collective ills. Unwilling to reach across the divide, Schaller and Waldman gorge themselves on the negative and nihilistic. Then they regurgitate every rural, red America stereotype imaginable."

Bloodworth writes that many concerns of rural voters do involve economic issues, but reaches a very different conclusion that the book's authors. He writes: "Kirkus Reviews neatly summarizes their argument, “A view of rural America as a font of white privilege—and of resentment that the privileges aren’t greater.”

Bloodworth responds that the problems are grounded more in the huge declines in social interactions among people, a concern addressed more than two decades ago in Robert Putnam's book, Bowling Alone, and made much worse by smartphones and social media. Bloodworth writes: "Mr. Schaller and Waldman, rural whites aren’t a threat to American democracy. A rural-urban economic divide, cable news, doom scrolling, and 'bowling alone' endanger it."

For more on the topic, the 2017 story "For the rural right, the key's what 'feels true'," by Christina Pazzanese of The Harvard Gazette offers another exploration.

To read an excerpt of Schaller and Waldman's book, click here. For Waldman's recent column on the topic, go here. UPDATE: For a rip-snorting riposte from Pulitzer Prize-winning Editor Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times Pilot in northeast Iowa, click here.

Researchers find urban communities have about 150% greater access to legal services than rural residents

Farm Progress map, from Data Axle, 2022

In urban and metro American cities, lawyers and legal help are relatively easy to find, but for rural communities, legal representation is becoming so sparse some counties don't have access to legal advice. "Rural communities often lack the necessary infrastructure to provide essential legal support. This gap can leave individuals without the means to address crucial legal issues, ranging from family matters to property disputes," report K. Aleks Schaefer and Andrew J. Van Leuven for Farm Progress. "A 'rural legal desert' refers to areas where residents face significant challenges in accessing legal services and representation."

Researchers Schaefer and Van Leuven "collected firm-level data from 2014-2021 from more than 350,000 law offices together with socio-demographic data for 3,108 counties in the continental U.S. to statistically quantify the scope of the rural legal desert problem and shed light on potential solutions," they write. "We found that— when evaluated on the basis of legal employees per capita — urban communities have approximately 150% greater access to legal services than those in rural areas."

Legal resources vary among rural communities, and those with greater per capita incomes provide better legal access, Schaefer and Van Leuven explain.

With knowledge of the stark differences in legal access and protections for rural residents, Schaefer and Van Leuven advise advocating for policy changes and creative solutions. They write, "Our findings highlight the need for targeted policy interventions and innovative solutions to address the rural lawyer shortage. One policy intervention that appears to have been successful is Project Rural Practice established by the South Dakota Legislature in 2013. The PRP program provides incentive payments to attorneys who commit to serving five continuous years of practice in an eligible rural county."

Prenatal drug exposure is found in thousands of babies each year; rural babies are more likely to have problems

More research is needed on prenatal drug exposure.
(Photo by Jill Sauve, Unsplash)
Amid rural hospitals and clinics ending prenatal care and closing labor and delivery units, unborn children face a quieter threat -- exposure to drugs that limit their in-utero development, can cause lower birth weights and contribute to post-birth disabilities, writes Amna Umer for The Conversation, a journalistic platform for academics. Umer is an associate professor of pediatric epidemiology at West Virginia University. 

Umer writes: "Nearly 1 in 12 newborns in the United States in 2020 – or about 300,000 infants – were exposed to alcohol, opioids, marijuana or cocaine before they were born. . . . These substances can have direct and indirect consequences on fetal development."

When it comes to drug exposure, rural unborn babies are particularly vulnerable. "This includes West Virginia, where I live, a rural Appalachian state struggling with extraordinary rates of substance use and an opioid crisis," Umer explains. "As an epidemiologist, I study the relationship between substance use during pregnancy and infant health outcomes. Our research work showed that between 2020 and 2022, prenatal substance exposure in West Virginia was nearly 50% higher, at 124 per 1,000 births, than the national rate of 80 per 1,000 births."

Poverty and ongoing regional economic stress are part of West Virginia's drug crisis, which extends to pregnant mothers, but there are other factors at play. Umer writes, "Nearly half the population lives in rural areas with limited hospitals and clinics. The geographic isolation limits access to health care and substance use treatment services. Finally, stigma and judgment within close-knit rural communities may discourage these mothers from seeking help."

The body of research on prenatal drug exposure is still growing, and depending on the substance babies were exposed to in the womb, the outcomes vary from low birth weights to withdrawal to developmental delays. Some exposure has a lasting impact on children. Umer explains, "Limited studies have shown an association between neonatal abstinence syndrome and long-term neurodevelopmental consequences that may develop as early as six months old and persist into adolescence. These include delays in learning and language skills, physical growth and motor skills, and difficulty regulating behavior and emotions."

More women veterinarians are needed to fill gaps in rural care, but they face issues with sexism and gender pay gaps

Dr. Bailey Lammers courtesy photo
Like many rural workforces that were once male dominated, female veterinarians face sexism and salary discrepancies even though they are now filling many of the shortages in veterinary care. Dr. Bailey Lammers "started her veterinary career nearly a decade ago in her home state of Nebraska where she joined a minority of women practicing in rural areas. At first, Lammers said clients were hesitant about her ability to care for their livestock," reports Lilley Halloran of Harvest Public Media. Lammers told Halloran, "There would be times where they would call in and be like, 'I don't want the female.'"

"Being part of a traditional family and a veteran of the Air Force, Lammers said she hardened herself to criticism from men and eventually built a list of supportive clients," Halloran reports. "Lammers' experience as a veterinarian reflects a national trend. In 2009, the number of women practicing veterinary medicine grew to outnumber men and has only risen since. . . . But experts say rural veterinary spaces are still largely dominated by men."

Clint Neill, a veterinary economist at Applied Economics Consulting, said, "Farming and ranching is a male-dominated field, and as a result, women veterinarians are unlikely to locate in rural practices and even less likely to own them," Halloran adds. "Neill also pointed out a pay gap among veterinarians who own their practices, with male owners making up to $100,000 more than their female counterparts."

Dr. Tamara Hancock, an assistant teaching professor at the University of Missouri School of Veterinary Medicine, believes that "discrimination based on gender is the only explanation for the lingering gap in wages," Halloran reports. "Experts warn more veterinarians are needed across the board. . . . Lammers anticipates even rural industries are bound to be dominated by women soon, given the high number of women entering veterinary schools."

Lammers told Halloran, "Whether the older generation likes it or not, we're going to need everybody to help, you know, raise animals and keep them healthy and keep our food supply healthy."

Florida lawmakers work to ban local governments from implementing temperature protections for outdoor workers

Summer temps in Florida are regularly in the 90s.
(Photo by Xavier Coiffic, Unsplash)
Some Florida lawmakers are working to pass a bill that removes temperature protection regulations for employees. That same bill also would ban local "living wage" ordinances, which create higher minimum wage standards than the state requirement. "A measure that will ban local governments from passing heat-protection ordinances inspired strong emotions from the public . . . ," reports Mitch Perry for the Florida Phoenix. "The bill also eliminates living wage ordinances that require companies that receive government contracts to pay their employees more than the state's minimum wage (currently $12 an hour)."

This past fall, the Miami-Dade County Commission had planned a vote on a local ordinance that "would protect outdoor workers in the agriculture and construction industries, which, if passed, would be the first law of its kind in the South," Perry adds. "That proposal was introduced after at least two farmworkers died from excessive heat in South Florida earlier last year."

The Florida chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors pushed back against the local heat protection ordinance, saying regulation "inconsistencies" could cause more accidents. Meanwhile, local businesses "lined up behind the provision that would prohibit cities and counties from creating 'livable wage' ordinances for their contractors and subcontractors," Perry explains. "[These] ordinances are now in effect in 11 local governments in the state to combat higher living costs."

North Miami-Dade County Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph "blasted the proposal, saying that her GOP colleagues were being negligent in taking away Miami-Dade's or any other local government's ability to protect outdoor workers," Perry reports. Joseph told reporters, "When local governments try to do something about it so that it doesn't happen again, here we show up at the state level and say, 'no, we don't mind a couple of more people dying.' That's basically what we're saying, functionally. So we're okay with workers dying."

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Opinion: Decreasing the junk food U.S. kids eat might be as simple as bold warning labels on front of packaging

Photo by Markus Spiske, Unsplash
Want American children to eat less unhealthy food? Put big warning labels on it. "The U.S. can learn from Chile, another high-income country that grapples with nutrition and health problems. In 2016, as part of a comprehensive law to prevent further increases in childhood obesity, Chile became the first country to implement warning labels on foods high in nutrients of concern, including most ultra-processed products," writes Lindsey Smith Taillie in her opinion for The Wall Street Journal. The front of the package warning label is shaped like a stop-sign and includes "text cautioning consumers that the product is high in sugar, sodium, saturated fat or calories."

Once put on store shelves, the bold black and white labels produced striking results. "Calories consumed from consumer purchases of products with warning labels dropped by 24%, with similar results for sugar and other ingredients," Taillie writes. "The law also spurred the food and beverage industry to reduce the amount of sugar and sodium in many of their products, leading to a healthier food supply."

Other South American countries have adopted similar labeling regulations. In addition, countries such as Chile and Peru "restrict the use of cartoons, characters, or other techniques that appeal to kids on any product carrying a warning label," Taillie explains. 

The U.S. food industry has rejected labeling as redundant, expensive and bad for business, but Chile's results do not support those claims. "A team of researchers found the laws had little to no effect on wages, employment, or profits in the food and beverage industry sector," Taillie writes. "Importantly, researchers found the law also had no effect on food prices, even for products that were reformulated."

Norman Lear's success removed rural America from mainstream TV; 'All in the Family' marked the end of an era

Photo via The Daily Yonder
Rural American life once played center stage for network TV shows, but as the 1960s drew to a close, a new type of comedy -- built around cities and more urban characters -- took rural TV's place at the top, reports Jeffery H. Bloodworth of The Daily Yonder. "Fifty-three years ago, Norman Lear's breakout hit, "All in the Family," aired on CBS. It touched an immediate nerve. An instant hit, the program became the nation's most-watched television show of its era. But Lear's legacy is more complicated for rural Americans. His 1971 rise signaled the demise of rural America on network television."

Lear's "All in the Family" used more topical humor that poked fun at the country's post-1960s culture wars. Lear followed up his 1971 success with shows like "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," and "Sanford and Son," all of which "were defined by their urban settings, realism, and topical humor," Bloodworth writes. Rural-themed shows such as "Hee Haw" and "Green Acres" were canceled in the" 'rural purge'. . . . Norman Lear marked the end of an era."

In the 1960s, U.S. cities grew exponentially, as did the popularity of rural TV comedy. Explaining why country humor was so popular, Sara K. Eskridge, a historian who authored Rube Tube: CBS and Rural Comedy in the Sixties, told Bloodworth, "I think they provided a sense of soothing. They were set in contemporary times. But they were focused on friendships. You don't see conflict. . . . Nostalgia works great for this. The future was in the city, and when people think 'rural,' they think of the past."

Despite efforts to end it, daylight saving time begins in most states on March 10; having an adjustment plan helps

Photo by Lukas Blazek, Unsplash
U.S. states are still trying to decide if daylight saving time is a needed ritual, reports Claire Moses of The New York Times. "Oregon's state senate failed to advance a bill that would have abolished daylight saving time in most of the state. . . . In Idaho this week, a bill was introduced to get rid of daylight saving time, and there is a similar bill in front of California's Assembly."

Although manyAmericans feel daylight saving time is a nuisance or even harmful, the practice has been hard to uproot. "According to polls over the years, most Americans don't like changing the clocks twice a year, and the days after the switch can be a turbulent time for public health," Moses writes. "Daylight saving time still has some supporters, especially among business advocates who argue it helps bolster the economy."

Debates aside, most states still observe daylight savings time, with 2024's spring switch on Sunday, March 10. Studies show the days following the spring bump forward an hour are riddled with short-term increased risks of heart attacks, stroke, traffic accidents, emergency room visits, and mood disturbances," reports Eric Suni for the Sleep Foundation. "A lack of sleep caused by the time change can affect thinking, decision-making, and productivity."

Preparation can help mitigate some of the risks and health struggles caused by moving our clocks an hour ahead. "These problems arise because the switch to and from daylight saving time alters your normal pattern of daylight exposure," Suni explains. "This change can throw off your body's circadian rhythm, the internal clock that helps control sleep and many other biological processes. Developing a plan to cope with the time change can reduce its impact on your sleep and overall wellness."

Suni's coping plan suggestions are outlined below.
  • During the week of the time change (next week), move your wake-up time a bit earlier, inching toward your new "wake-up" hour. Move exercise and meal time as you gradually change your schedule.
  • Get the best and the most sleep you can in the days before March 10. Meditation and relaxation techniques may help you go to bed earlier and still sleep well.
  • Before heading to bed on March 9, move your watches and clocks ahead an hour. That way, you'll wake up at the correct time, which can prevent morning frustrations like showing up to brunch an hour late.
  • Once you've "sprung" forward, do your best to get the most sunlight possible. More sunlight will help your internal clock reset to the new time.
  • Should you need help to adjust to the change, don't pack your schedule on the week following March 10. Avoid long drives, and consider sneaking in a nap. Eat a healthy diet and avoid caffeine products in the evening.

Farming quick hits: Native Americans are regaining access to land; the best wire cutters; two sisters run this sawmill image
Alongside American colonial expansion during the 1800s came the decimation of many Native Americans' lands and food sources. "Native peoples fought off settler and military encroachment of their hunting, fishing, and gathering territories. Their lifeways — and foodways — were hugely altered and restricted," reports Kate Nelson of Civil Eats. "The Land Back movement is helping communities regain access to both food and land. . . . In Montana, for example, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes now oversee 18,000 acres where bison roam once again. In Nebraska, the Ponca people have been growing their sacred corn on farmland signed back to them in 2018."
Farmer Mahoney liked the strong
cuts and comfy grips.

Doug Mahoney raises sheep, cows and pigs and spends a lot of time fixing fences. "This can mean days at a time of snip, snip, snip," Mahoney writes. "I tested 13 pairs of wire cutters for Wirecutter. . . . I used them to make hundreds upon hundreds of cuts through wire, hardware cloth, and even nails. At the time, I chose the Channellock E337CB Diagonal Cutting Pliers as the best. . . .Since then, they have become one of the most important tools I own."

Meatpacking industry concentration increased during the 1980s and 1990s as producers shifted to larger plant operations. The industry's consolidation "raised questions about competition, particularly as it related to prices paid for cattle and hogs," writes James M. MacDonald in his essay for Amber Waves. "With fewer firms competing with one another, would packers be able to reduce the prices they paid to farmers and ranchers compared with a world with more (and smaller) competing firms? On the other hand, those fewer firms also had lower processing costs, which they could pass on to beef and pork consumers."

Sisters Mary Haag, left, and Nancy Kieffer took over
the sawmill 28 years ago. (Photo by Jacob Moyer, LF)
Sisters Mary Haag and Nancy Kieffer have been operating Moyer's Sawmill in Bernville, Pennsylvania, for 28 years. "The pair took it over from their father, Ray Moyer, whose father and uncle started the business around 1903," reports Dan Sullivan of Lancaster Farming. "The sisters set about running the place, eventually with help from their spouses, initially doing their own logging and cutting everything from 1-by-4s to large custom pieces — up to 34 feet (though they don't necessarily like to advertise that) — for timber-frame homes, barn restorations and the like." 

Known as twilight farmers, some agricultural operators lack an heir, leaving them wondering who will manage their land, equipment and animals once they're gone. But farmers can work to settle out agreements before they pass, reports Lisa Foust Prater for Successful Farming. Forming a corporation and a select type of trust is one answer, but planning is the biggest key to keeping the farm operating.

UNMC CS-Cash photo via Farm Progress
ATVs, UTVs and even golf carts can be farmland workhorses. But like all farming machinery, driving vehicles on a busy farm requires extra care around buildings, animals and workers. "In 2023, there were 291 ATV and 27 UTV fatalities in the U.S., with many of these related to work in agriculture," Ellen Duysen of Farm Progress reports. "In 2019, ATV incidents resulted in an estimated 95,000 emergency room visits." To reduce the risk of injury, death and possible liability, read her guidelines here.