Rural America

Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Collins

Democrats Have Gone off the Rails in Rural America. Can a New Report Get Them Back on Track?

An electoral map showing Donald Trump taking the lead over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.   (Image:

Democrats know their brand is in trouble—they have a belligerent, 239-pound daily reminder tweeting from the oval office—but if the party is counting on partisan outrage to win future elections, it’s only in for more pain. 

Reclaiming victory from the jaws of defeat isn’t rocket science: The party needs to win back the rural, working-class voters that its been hemorrhaging since the 1990s. Unfortunately, however, the root causes of this mass-defection—a non-existent economic message for people living paycheck-to-paycheck, condescending coastal elitism, a pervasive intolerance of rural culture etc.—have not abated. Or, if these problems are being addressed by Democrats, news of that progress is failing to reach the rural people (i.e. voters) who need to hear it.

It was with this in mind that Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who represents the 17th Congressional District in central, northwestern and northern Illinois, commissioned and co-authored a unique report. Aiming to reunite her party with the blue-collar Americans it used to champion, Hope From the Heartland: How Democrats Can Better Serve the Midwest by Bringing Rural, Working Class Wisdom to Washington compiles interviews with 72 current or former Democratic officials who, in recent years, won over their rural constituents despite the national popularity of the Republican opposition. According to the report, these were candidates who “bucked the trend and succeeded in the rural Midwest, now dominated by Republicans.”


Friday, Jan 12, 2018, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

This Is Why Carrots Cost More Than Twinkies

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In a recent article, Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel took author and journalist Michael Pollan to task for blaming the farm bill for the sizable price difference between junk food and fresh vegetables. She wrote:

“…Pollan, whose work I’m a fan of, held up a package of Twinkies (which cost 99 cents) and a bunch of carrots ($2.99). The Twinkies are a complex food with 39 ingredients, and the carrots are ‘a very simple bunch of roots,’ he said. So why do the carrots cost so much more?”

Haspel added: “The idea that wholesome foods are expensive and junk foods are cheap because of the system of subsidies in the farm bill pervades the conversation about food policy. But that idea has one very big problem. It’s false.”

She points out that vegetables would cost more to produce than the corn and soy in junk foods, regardless of the federal subsidies determined by the farm bill. According to one of the economists with whom Haspel spoke, those subsidies account for only “a penny and a half” of the cost of the Twinkies and three cents worth of the cost of the carrots.

This point is worth examining—and it points to a much larger, more complex set of facts about our food system. As Pollan and other farm policy reform advocates routinely point out, the impacts of government farm programs reach far beyond those that can be easily translated into quantities and prices. 


Thursday, Jan 11, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Jim Goodman

Dairy Farmer to Donald Trump: “Replace NAFTA, It’s Not Good For Farmers Anywhere”

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a lot of angst in the U.S. corporate world. They are quite concerned that the renegotiation talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico (the three participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA) may not deliver a new agreement that is as lucrative as the old NAFTA.

NAFTA has been in place since 1994. It is one of those classic neoliberal trade deals that essayist George Scialabba describes as “investor rights agreements masquerading as ‘free trade’ and constraining the rights of governments to protect their own workers, environments, and currencies.” As such, it has served corporate interests well.

U.S. corporations counted on NAFTA and other trade agreements to keep wages low by the threat of, or actual movement of, manufacturing jobs to wherever it was easiest to exploit workers and the environment.


Monday, Jan 8, 2018, 11:00 am  ·  By Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Can Hunters and Activists Team Up to Phase Out Lead Bullets?

The spent remains of a copper jacket and fragmented lead core of a lead-based bullet (left) compared with a copper (lead-free) expanding bullet that remained intact.   (Image: Institute for Wildlife Services)

For centuries, hunters have relied on lead ammunition to quickly and humanely kill game, but with each shot they release a potentially lethal poison into the environment, threatening vulnerable animal populations.

While harmless to humans, the gut piles and carcasses hunters regularly leave behind often contain lead fragments, which can be deadly for scavengers who eat them, particularly raptors like bald and golden eagles, California condors and turkey vultures.

Consequently, a seemingly unlikely alliance between sportspeople and environmental activists has formed to tackle the issue by advocating for copper and other non-lead options and promoting hunters as environmental stewards. 


Friday, Jan 5, 2018, 4:00 pm  ·  By Dan Flynn

Ag-Gag Update: Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Idaho’s Ban on Private Surveillance

A still shot of video footage taken on a dairy farm.   (Image: YouTube)

An appellate court Thursday restored specific provisions of Idaho’s 2012 Ag-Gag law but said audio, visual recordings of animal agricultural facilities could not be prohibited by the Gem State under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It may be a landmark decision for being the first time a federal circuit court has found there is a constitutional right to take pictures or audio-visual recordings on private property.

The 2-to-1 ruling by the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gives both Idaho Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden and the collection of animal activists something to crow about.


Wednesday, Jan 3, 2018, 7:37 am  ·  By Scott L. Montgomery

The ANWR Drilling Conflict: Why “No Stable Compromise Exists”

Polar Bear cubs wrestle inside Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.   (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

After decades of bitter struggle, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) seems on the verge of being opened to the oil industry. The consensus tax bill Republicans are trying to pass retains this measure, which was added to gain the key vote of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R). 

This bill, however, stands no chance of being the final word. ANWR has been called America’s Serengeti and the last petroleum frontier, terms I’ve seen used over more than a decade studying this area and the politics around it. But even these titles merely hint at the multifold conflict ANWR represents—spanning politics, economics, culture and philosophy.


Friday, Dec 29, 2017, 6:00 am  ·  By Thomas Linzey

Can the Community Rights Movement Fix Capitalism?


Editor’s Note: The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is a nonprofit public interest law firm that works to advance democratic, economic, social and environmental rights over those of corporations. In its own words, the organization “assists communities across the United States to challenge the unjust and harmful economic system we live under.” Thomas Linzey, a frequent Rural America In These Times contributor, is CELDF’s co-founder and executive director. In the following essay he discusses strategy—what works and what doesn’t when it comes to accelerating systemic change.

While I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when someone at a conference asks why CELDF’s community organizing doesn’t take on capitalism directly, the question still startles me. The intimation is that our work nibbles around the edges, rather than being focused on directly changing the underlying economic system that rewards community-destroying behavior. Therefore, the question suggests, CELDF’s work is destined to fail.

Not only does the question reflect a misunderstanding of our work, it also buys into the myth of how systems change.

For decades now, liberal academics and activists have decried the way our economic system works. They’ve picked our system apart piece by piece, while doing various post-mortems on the ways that capitalism has responded to everything from the Great Depression to environmentalism. They’ve written enough books to fill a library, given enough speeches for everyone to have grown tired of hearing them, and taken up enough of the public space so that the contours of the elephant in the room have now been fully dissected ad nauseum.

From one vantage point, they’ve done yeoman’s work: Fashioning a comprehensive critique of capitalism has not been an easy task. This is particularly true in the face of the rabid “free market” functionaries who march in lockstep across every television and newspaper. But from another vantage point, that critique has birthed a litmus test for activism that is impossible to achieve. It says that unless you’re proposing a wholly packaged system of replacement, and the means for that wholesale replacement, then the work you’re doing doesn’t have a prayer of changing anything.

Is wholesale replacement necessary? Perhaps, but the economic models drawn up in lecture halls likely aren’t the substitutes. Those are generally mired in the “old left” way of thinking—placing trust in government rather than in private market actors. One could argue, however, that both systems have equally tortured Earth on the rack, the only difference being whether private corporations or governments are at the wheel.


Friday, Dec 22, 2017, 5:00 pm  ·  By Emeline Posner

Drain the Metaphor: Why the Media Needs to Rethink the Way It Talks About Swamps


“Drain the swamp,” Trump’s anti-corruption rallying cry on the campaign trail, has itself been drained of any strength it once carried. Its deflation began even before the inauguration, when the president-elect began assembling a cabinet that consisted of the very figures he'd promised to oust: lobbyists, bankers, businessmen and career politicians. The media, however, continues to sustain the empty metaphor.

Political inaccuracies aside, the language perpetuates a dangerous and deep-seated misperception that wetlands are impediments to development and progress.

Trump was not the first politician to invoke swampland as a stand-in for an undesirable feature of American politics. Socialist Rep. Victor Berger (S. Wisc.), used “swamp” as a surrogate for the capitalist system in 1907, writing in an essay: “We should have to drain the swamp — change the capitalist system — if we want to get rid of those mosquitos [capitalist speculators].” Ronald Reagan revived the metaphor in the 1980s to critique Big Government and, in 2006, Nancy Pelosi used it to criticize lobbyist influence in the GOP-dominated House.

But as Republicans renew their efforts to roll back both state and federal protections for wetlands, the most recent resurgence of swampland metaphor in our national discourse has grown increasingly troubling.


Tuesday, Dec 19, 2017, 4:30 pm  ·  By Peter Funt

Dollar General: The Store for Rural America’s “Permanent Recession”

The Dollar General Corporation, an American chain of variety stores, is headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tenn.   (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

There are 14,321 Dollar General stores in America. It’s a chain that many shoppers have never heard of, yet it has more stores than Starbucks. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Dollar General company is worth $22 billion—far more than the nation’s largest grocery chain, Kroger, which has five times the revenue. 

Sadly, however, Dollar General is thriving because, as the Journal puts it, “rural America is struggling.” The chain builds stores where folks are down on their luck, where 20 percent of customers receive government assistance, and where even Walmart won’t bother doing business.

I phoned several Dollar General stores and learned that none sells fresh meat or produce; the grocery aisles feature mostly canned and frozen goods. Many products, such as soft drinks, come in mini-sizes to keep unit prices low. And few locations had newspapers for sale.

Maybe that’s just as well, because headlines these days report that the stock market is remarkably high and unemployment is surprisingly low. But for rural America, news like that doesn’t hit home.

Things are looking up in Donald Trump’s America, except, of course, where they are not.


Monday, Dec 18, 2017, 6:00 am  ·  By Joseph Bullington

Why Cutting Up Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a Bad Idea

A sketch of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as seen in the Bureau of Land Management's Approved Management Plan from 1999.   (Source:

Driving north through the Grand Staircase region of the Colorado Plateau is like travelling in a time machine. For more than 100 miles, as the Staircase climbs from south to north, from low elevation to high, it climbs also through time—245 million years captured in the layers of rock. The epochal steps of the Staircase are marked by altitude, by age and by color, with the oldest rock at the bottom and the youngest at the top:

                                                                                            the Pink Cliffs.  

                                                                          the White Cliffs,

                                                  the Vermilion Cliffs,

                           the Chocolate Cliffs,

The Grand Canyon,

Here, erosion has carved a life-sized cross section from the Earth’s crust and provided a chronological, color-coded display. More recent history, too, has left its mark in the rock: 6,000-year-old petroglyphs haunt these canyons like echoing voices. 

In my mind and on maps, however, the place stands out mostly for what it lacks: those preeminent purveyors of environmental destruction and fast food chains known as highways. Anyone who has made the drive will know what I mean. From the town of Page on Arizona’s northern border, Moab, Utah lies only 150 miles northeast as the crow flies.

As the car drives, however, it’s nearly twice as far: to the east, a 275-mile arc through the Navajo Nation; to the west, a 400-mile zag through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef. In the middle, the obstacle circumscribed by this noose of asphalt: 1.9 million acres of desert wilderness protected, until now at least, within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The last area in the continental United States to be mapped, the Grand Staircase remains one of the last and largest stretches of wild land in the 48 states.

President Trump’s Dec. 4 monument proclamation will change that.