Appealing to rural America


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In this Feb. 10, 2019, file photo Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., talks with Deanna Miller Berry in Denmark, S.C. Several Democratic presidential candidates are trying to make a play for rural voters. Booker has traveled to small towns in South Carolina and New Hampshire and told voters that he hears some of the same concerns from them that he hears in his hometown of Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Barrow

In this Feb. 10, 2019, file photo Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., talks with Deanna Miller Berry in Denmark, S.C. Several Democratic presidential candidates are trying to make a play for rural voters. Booker has traveled to small towns in South Carolina and New Hampshire and told voters that he hears some of the same concerns from them that he hears in his hometown of Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Barrow


2020 Democrats aim to make inroads in rural America

By BILL BARROW

Associated Press

Monday, March 11

DENMARK, S.C. (AP) — Deanna Miller Berry doesn’t often see presidential candidates. So when New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker recently came to Bamberg County, South Carolina, she was primed to unload about a contaminated water system.

“What is your plan to fix it?” Berry asked, her eyes narrowed.

Booker, former mayor of Newark, the largest city in the most densely populated state, assured Berry he cares about the 3,000 residents of Denmark, South Carolina. “This is a time in America where too many people are feeling left out, left behind, not included,” he said, promising “a massive infrastructure investment” targeting “forgotten” places.

The exchange highlights the effort by Democratic presidential candidates to make inroads in rural America. With the first contests unfolding next year in South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, small-town voters will play a critical role in choosing the next Democratic nominee. And the early attention could help the eventual nominee be more conversant on rural issues and compete for votes in places that gave President Donald Trump his most intense support in 2016.

“Organizing in every precinct is the key to winning both the caucus and the general election in Iowa,” Iowa Democratic Chairman Troy Price said.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders lamented rural decline during an Iowa swing this weekend.

“All over America, we have tragically seen more and more young people leave the small towns they grew up in, the small towns they love, because there are no decent-paying jobs in those towns — we intend to change that,” Sanders said, drawing cheers at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

At the same time, California Sen. Kamala Harris was in small-town South Carolina advocating more spending on telemedicine, broadband internet and infrastructure. Booker used his two-day rural swing last month to talk health care, housing, infrastructure and criminal justice, among other issues. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the first candidate who ventured to rural northern New Hampshire. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has already visited a tiny town in Wisconsin, which will be a general election battleground.

Several candidates plan to attend a March 30 rural issues forum at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa — population 10,600.

The approach matters most immediately because the delegates necessary to become the nominee are awarded in part from primary and caucus results in individual congressional districts, even the most rural and Republican-leaning. But investing there also could narrow Republicans’ general election margins, by increasing turnout among Democratic-friendly constituencies like rural black and Latino voters or peeling off white voters or both.

That could flip states like Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina — even Florida — that propelled Trump to an Electoral College majority. Besides helping win the presidency, rural gains would be necessary for Democrats to have the muscle on Capitol Hill to enact the kinds of sweeping policy changes they are advocating on many fronts.

“So much of this is about the margins,” Iowa’s Price said.

Beyond the politics, candidates say rural outreach is required of anyone who wants to govern a diverse nation.

“Folks want to be seen,” Harris said. “They want their issues to be heard. … They could care less about half the stuff that gets covered on cable news networks.”

In Wisconsin, Klobuchar said, it’s “about knowing the issues that matter to people whether they’re Democrats, Republicans and independents — and in rural areas it’s not just about the farm bill.”

The 2018 midterms demonstrated Democrats’ tough realities beyond metro areas, but still offered some bright spots.

AP VoteCast, a national survey of more than 115,000 voters, found rural and small-town residents cast 35 percent of midterm ballots; 56 percent of those voted for Republican House candidates, compared to 41 percent for Democrats. The advantage was wider among small-town and rural whites: 30 percent of the electorate, tilting 63-35 for Republicans. Correspondingly, Democrats’ net 40-seat gain in the House was driven mostly by previously GOP-leaning suburban districts, while Democratic nominees fell short in more rural areas.

There’s no consensus on whether rural success for Democrats is about policy or personality or some combination. Some winners establish a personal brand at odds with the national party — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin defending the coal industry, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown opposing much of U.S. trade policy, Montana Sen. Jon Tester playing up his rancher credentials.

But that won’t necessarily work for a presidential candidate looking to become the face of a party with a decidedly liberal base. None of the declared candidates deviates from Democratic orthodoxy supporting abortion rights and LGBTQ civil rights and opposing Trump’s hard line on immigration — all positions that run afoul of rural and small-town voters who collectively are more culturally conservative than urban dwellers.

Sanders struggled with that balance in 2016 when Hillary Clinton hammered him for some Senate votes against gun measures that most Democrats backed. Sanders noted that many Vermonters, as in the rest of rural America, view guns differently than most big-city residents, but Clinton successfully used the issue against Sanders, particularly with black women.

Would-be Democratic presidents are left to mix economic arguments with biography.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee grew up in Seattle, but he often mentions that he spent his early adult years in central Washington. He touts his signature issue — combating climate change — as a boon for the “heartland” economy by growing the clean-energy industry.

Klobuchar, a Twin Cities-area native, points to her work on the Senate Agriculture Committee and notes she’s won every congressional district in Minnesota during her Senate career. Sanders, who still speaks with his native Brooklyn inflection, drew roars in Iowa when mentioned using antitrust law to limit corporate power.

Harris notes that California — caricatured in Middle America as a bastion of coastal liberalism — has the nation’s biggest agricultural output. And in South Carolina, she said she heard a lot about jobs and state Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid insurance.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren notes that long before her Harvard law career, she was a child in Norman, Oklahoma, where her family’s working-class struggles shaped her liberal approach to consumer, labor and finance law.

After hearing Booker, Kenneth Belton, a 63-year-old resident of struggling Fairfield County, South Carolina, said a president doesn’t have to come from his walk of life. Belton just wants the person in the Oval Office to understand him — and then to help.

“It just feels like they’ve been ignoring us,” he said.

Berry, the clean water activist, agreed, crediting Booker and others for what she describes as first steps.

“I’ve heard enough to be inspired,” she said, pausing before adding, “enough to want to hear more.”

Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Chicago, Alexandra Jaffe in Des Moines, Iowa, Meg Kinnard in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP.

In defense of being maladjusted

by Tom H. Hastings

OPINION

“I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic inequalities of an economic system which takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating method of physical violence. I call upon you to be maladjusted.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

As we fumble along into the second half of a disastrous regime here in America, are we supposed to adjust to being gas lighted on a daily basis by a leader so corrupt he will say something in a speech that is recorded and then deny ever having said it?

Just last evening I was arguing in defense of some students at my university and an administration official made a misstatement. I corrected him. He then denied ever saying it. I instantly got a mental twinge, “Trump Effect Alert!”

That administrator may have practiced decent social norms pre-Trump, I’m not certain. But he tried a buck naked gaslight on me and I still wonder if the Trump Effect—the normalization of blatant lying—is working its way into layers of our culture, our society, our daily lives.

We all know there is a background rate of lying and cheating in our world, but we also think of some countries as corrupt. The Mexican bribe economy, the Afghanistan payoff scandals, etc. Since 1995, Transparency International has been actually ranking 180 of the nations around the world according to indices of corruption. They also correlate to democracy.

Freedom House launched in 1941 and has ranked the countries of the world by metrics of democracy every year since the 1950s.

When democracy is stronger, corruption declines. In the US, corruption is increasing and democracy is declining. Thanks to the Trump Effect, the US has fallen out of the top 20 in least corruption—“We’re 22!”—and has lost nearly 10 points in levels of democracy, sliding to 53rd place in the world, not even in the top quarter of the nations on Earth. “We’re 53! We’re 53!” Yeah, Make America Great Again. Everyone proud?

Are we adjusting to this? I hope not.

The truly sad larger picture is that the world at large is becoming more corrupt and less free, from the nationalistic parties growing in the European Union countries like Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, to the slide to the right in Japan, the Philippines, and other Asian countries.

Probably the most profound irony is that the most free countries on Earth are democratic socialist and the right wingers from Trump to La Pen (France) to Wilder (Netherlands) tend to conflate the bad old socialism (brought to nations by the gun in the Soviet Union and China) (or even more twisted National Socialism of Nazi Germany) with the democratic socialism brought in by the ballot in Denmark, Norway, Finland, etc., countries high on the freedom scale and low on the corruption scale.

So please stop allowing Trump and his gas lighters to say that AOC and other young (or old) politicians who call themselves democratic socialists are driving the US toward the basket case Venezuela model. No. They envision a US much more like the Norwegian or Danish model—more freedom and less corruption than we currently have.

I could adjust to that.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

The Conversation

#MeToo has skipped Indonesia — here’s why

March 8, 2019

Author: Dyah Ayu Kartika, Researcher, Pusat Studi Agama dan Demokrasi (PUSAD) Paramadina

Disclosure statement: Dyah Ayu Kartika is a fellow correspondent on gender issue for New Mandala, a site for analysis on Southeast Asia hosted by Australia National University.

“I won’t give up, I’ll keep my fire up.”

That’s what rape survivor Agni said last year after administrators at Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University, one of Indonesia’s top schools, ignored her report that she had been sexually assaulted by a friend during a residential community service program in a remote area of the archipelagic country.

According to Agni (not her real name), the university seemed more interested in protecting its good image than in pursuing justice.

But after the student newspaper, Balairung, exposed Agni’s plight, the campus rape case became national news. A hashtag went viral on social media: #SaveAgni.

Many Indonesians hoped that this controversy would kickstart their #MeToo moment. Starting in the United States, the movement to expose and punish sexual assault has spread internationally over the last 18 months, but it has not yet reached the world’s largest Muslim population.

Indonesia’s weak #MeToo movement

Agni’s case is one of many unresolved sexual violence cases in Indonesia exposed during the #MeToo era.

While women in other countries are bringing down the powerful men who assaulted and harassed them, in Indonesia assault victims are still struggling to find justice.

Indonesian feminist Tunggal Pawestri coined #SayaJuga – a direct translation of #MeToo – to encourage more public discussion of sexual assault. Still, in Indonesia, #MeToo remains limited to the social media savvy and middle-upper class women.

The latest Indonesian National Women’s Life Experience Survey shows that one in three Indonesian women has suffered physical and/or sexual violence, which is similar to the global average, according to the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

I study gender issues in Indonesia, where I was once a researcher for the National Commission on Violence against Women.

In my assessment, a combination of a deep-rooted patriarchal culture, conservative religious values and gender-insensitive law enforcement practices are to blame why #MeToo is not happening in Indonesia.

Patriarchal culture

One shared feature of countries that have developed their own powerful #MeToo movement – such as China, South Korea, and India – is the strong support of the government, legal system and public to take action against sexual violence.

In Indonesia, these institutions have the opposite effect.

The country’s strong patriarchal culture – reinforced by the government and religious leaders – has prevented women from speaking up about sex, let alone sexual violence.

Under the 32-year authoritarian rule of New Order regime, which ended in 1998, women were barred from entering politics. Their roles were mainly limited to being mothers and wives.

Hence, discussions of women’s issues have for decades revolved around domestic duties. Gender equality and protection from sexual violence simply weren’t part of Indonesia’s public debate.

Any effort to create more gender-balanced policies gets a powerful pushback from Indonesia’s conservative Muslim leaders, who believe women should be pious, obedient, and able to uphold their morality. That includes wearing modest fashion and a veil to avoid arousing men.

Of course, women in hijab also experience sexual assault. Rape is about power, not attraction.

Still, in Indonesia this conservative Muslim narrative has helped perpetuate rape culture, a culture in which sexual violence is pervasive, normalised, and excused. A 2014 study shows that Indonesian men assume violence against women rarely happen. And if it does happen, they say, she deserved it.

The media advances Indonesia’s victim-blaming culture, too. Stories about sexual harassment often portray women as responsible for stoking male desire.

Bad regulations and poor law enforcement

This strong patriarchal culture has contributed to legal protections so weak that women may even be criminalised for reporting rape.

That’s what happened to Baiq Nuril, a teacher in Lombok, in the West Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. Last year, she reported her boss for harassment and she was jailed for defamation under Indonesia’s controversial Electronic and Information System Law.

Activists are fighting for the approval of a comprehensive anti-sexual violence bill currently undergoing legislative debate. If passed, the law would broaden the definition of sexual violence to include rape, sexual harassment, and harmful customary practices like female genital mutilation.

The bill would also require that schools teach their students about sexual violence, ensure that women receive mental health assistance after experiencing sexual trauma, and provide safe facilities for women in public places.

The legalisation of the anti-sexual violence bill could be a light in the Indonesian darkness, protecting Agni and other victims. But conservative Islamic groups have challenged the bill, arguing that it promotes free sex and deviant sexual behaviour.

Indonesian women may also feel discouraged from reporting rape to law enforcement.

Although Indonesian police protocols encourage officers to gain victims’ trust – including by assigning more female police officers and psychologists to sexual violence cases – these guidelines have not eliminated a strong victim-blaming culture in law enforcement.

Police often interrogate victims, asking victims to provide eyewitnesses to their sexual assault and share extremely detailed accounts of their rape.

In November 2017, Indonesia’s National Police Chief, Gen. Tito Karnavian, said investigators should ask a woman who reports sexual violence whether “she was comfortable during the rape.”

The shocking statement left victims feeling hopeless. If Indonesia’s police chief, the embodiment of legal protection, thinks rape can be gentle – that a woman can be “comfortable” – how can survivors ever believe that the police are on their side?

What’s next?

The global #MeToo movement has roused more people worldwide to speak up about sexual assault and raised public sympathy – just not in Indonesia.

Most Indonesian women are silent, or silenced, within a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture intertwined with and reinforced by religious conservatism. This puts the one in three women who’ve experience sexual violence here in an extremely difficult position, in an environment permeated by victim-blaming.

Many women, bound within a system that prevents them from fighting back or speaking up, pass these attitudes on to younger generations.

Despite these systematic problems, one Indonesian sexual assault victim refuses to give up. Agni has promised to continue her fight for justice at Gadjah Mada University.

Hopefully, there will be a time when other Indonesians can speak #MeToo out loud, without fear or doubt.

Comment

Christopher Anderson, logged in via Google: Majority of the leaders are… Muslim. And women are automatically 2nd class citizens.

The Conversation

Student loans and ‘risk-sharing’ – the problem with penalizing colleges when graduates can’t pay

March 19, 2019

Author: Kate Padgett Walsh, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Iowa State University

Disclosure statement: Kate Padgett Walsh does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Iowa State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

When a student borrows money from the government to go to college and then has serious trouble paying it back, should the college be on the hook to help pay back the government? That question lies at the heart of a proposed idea known as “risk-sharing.”

The idea is currently being considered by President Donald Trump. It has been championed by politicians at both ends of the political spectrum – from retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful.

Risk-sharing has the potential to improve the outcomes of students from schools, typically for-profit institutions, that fail to help students graduate and find viable careers. However, as a researcher who studies the ethics of debt, I also see significant limitations. One question is whether the money that colleges pay will be used to reduce the debt burden of the struggling borrowers, or whether borrowers will still have to pay the full amount. Another is how it will affect overall debt and its impact on the economy.

What could risk-sharing achieve?

Risk-sharing can take a variety of forms, but common to them all is the idea that colleges and universities should be required to shoulder some of the costs that the federal government now bears when students default on their student loans. Institutions of higher education should, the thought goes, be held partially responsible when borrowers cannot repay.

In the simplest versions, all colleges and universities would be required to pay a penalty when former students default in order to help offset the cost of that default to the government. More complex versions would require that such penalties only be paid after a college’s graduation rate falls below a certain level, or if the student loan repayment rate among former students falls below a certain threshold. There could be a sliding scale, so that lower graduation and repayment rates trigger higher penalties. Some versions would even give bonuses to schools for enrolling needy students and improving completion rates.

If implemented well, risk-sharing could prompt poor-performing schools to work harder to increase graduation and repayment rates. Many colleges and universities have already had great success helping students complete their degrees and find well-paying careers. However, some schools, typically for-profit institutions, have low completion rates, high default rates and low employment rates for former students. These are the schools most likely to be impacted by risk-sharing.

Careful approach needed

In order for risk-sharing to have a positive effect on student outcomes, it must be carefully targeted to those institutions that fail to take steps to help students graduate and develop viable career paths.

This is essential because completion and default rates vary based on several different factors, such as race, socio-economic status and even gender.

Community colleges and historically black colleges and universities, where the completion rates tend to be lower, might be penalized if risk-sharing fails to include adjustments, such as bonuses to schools that enroll more low-income students.

A simplistic version of risk-sharing might even have the perverse effect of raising tuition because some colleges and universities would likely try to make up the cost of penalties by charging higher tuition. They might also try to avoid enrolling students whom the data suggest are less likely to graduate and repay their loans.

Limitations

While risk-sharing would shift some of the costs of providing student loans from the government onto colleges and universities, it’s not known whether and how much risk-sharing would lower overall debt levels – or individual debts of borrowers who default – and ultimately lessen the negative impacts of that debt upon borrowers and the economy.

Some economists have suggested that the revenue from risk-sharing be used to give bonuses to institutions that do a good job of serving low-income students. On the other hand, a student advocacy group has recommended that a portion of the revenue be used to provide “much needed and justified borrower relief.” “Students already face the most risk in higher education, so a real ‘risk-sharing’ program should provide students a portion of the benefit created to mitigate that risk,” the group, the Young Invincibles, has argued.

Some estimates predict modest increases in completion rates and modest reductions in debt for students at the worst-performing schools. These gains would be concentrated within the approximately 10 percent of students enrolled at for-profit institutions.

Because risk-sharing targets poor-performing schools, it is unlikely to significantly affect the outcomes of students at schools that already have strong completion and repayment rates relative to the students they serve. But even if some student outcomes at those schools do improve, tuition is also likely to go up.

Total student debt has tripled since 2006 and now stands in excess of US $1.5 trillion. A record 69 percent of 2018 graduates took out student loans to pay for their education, and now owe an average of $29,800.

This debt is a drag on the economy. Young adults are becoming less able to afford cars and homes, marry and start families, and save for retirement. Their parents and grandparents, many of whom also took out loans to pay for their child’s education, are increasingly indebted and drawing down their own savings to help out.

Risk-sharing will have only a modest impact on total student debt because it is aimed at poor-performing schools. Eighty-three percent of student debt is taken out by students at schools that already perform well.

This debt is not only bad for the economy but also for young people struggling to begin their adult lives. A college degree does usually confer financial benefits over one’s lifetime, but the debt that finances those benefits is burdensome in other ways. For example, debt is generally correlated with poor mental and physical health. For young adults specifically, every $1,000 of student debt raises by 4 percent the odds of psychological distress.

Seventy-four percent of millennials with student loans experience elevated anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and other symptoms linked to the persistent stress of carrying high levels of student debt specifically. And the weight of student debt is preventing more young adults from taking risks and pursuing dreams, for example by starting new businesses. Student debt even contributes to the problem of rural “brain drain,” because many recent graduates find that they must move far away from their preferred communities in order to find jobs that pay enough to enable them to pay off the debt.

These harms, to individual borrowers and ultimately the economy, are not addressed by risk-sharing proposals. Those proposals focus on transferring the government’s lending costs onto institutions. Doing so might improve outcomes for students at poor-performing schools and relieve taxpayers of the burden of subsidizing underperforming institutions, but it leaves unfinished the work of addressing the broader costs of student debt today.

Comment

Gavin Moodie, Adjunct professor, RMIT University: Thanx for this contribution.

Risk sharing would encourage colleges to divert their attention from education to their former students’ employment and careers. If they responded rationally to this economic incentive they would turn into employment agencies.

Risk sharing would also encourage colleges to stope enrolling students who are a bigger risk of defaulting: older students, equity students, and students in regions with lower employment.

In this Feb. 10, 2019, file photo Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., talks with Deanna Miller Berry in Denmark, S.C. Several Democratic presidential candidates are trying to make a play for rural voters. Booker has traveled to small towns in South Carolina and New Hampshire and told voters that he hears some of the same concerns from them that he hears in his hometown of Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Barrow
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122476207-bba123671a0149398ceac8b7329bb18f.jpgIn this Feb. 10, 2019, file photo Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., talks with Deanna Miller Berry in Denmark, S.C. Several Democratic presidential candidates are trying to make a play for rural voters. Booker has traveled to small towns in South Carolina and New Hampshire and told voters that he hears some of the same concerns from them that he hears in his hometown of Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Barrow
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