How a rural county became COVID-19 denialists, and now a pandemic hot spot:

I’m three months into pretty much isolation out here in Lyon County where 25,000 residents spread over 720 square miles pretty much make social distancing the default. While New York, Minneapolis, and other big cities were overrun by the pandemic back in March and April we waited for our first case and then the second, third, etc.. For the rare meeting we couldn’t do online we masked up, socially isolated, and got it over with ASAP. Noting the modeling that showed the viruses taking months to peak in rural counties like ours, I made another Costco run and stocked up for a couple more months.

I and my “liberal” friends followed the science and kept our virus guard up. But most of the populace followed conservative media, lost their masks, and partied in closed parks. The mayor of the county’s largest city appeared on social media opening up a new archery range with neither masks nor social distancing in use. The increase in COVID-19 cases went logarithmic, while the ad revenue driven local media buried the story while cheerleading “reopening”.

Bit over a week ago we passed 100 cases, then 200, and 258 today. That’s one percent of our county’s population that’s infected, suffering, and in 2 cases dead from the COVID-19 virus. Only 9 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have more than 1% of their population infected by the virus, and every one of those counties is rural. And unlike some of those other hotspot counties, Lyon county doesn’t have meat packing plants with thousands of workers under one roof to blame.

Yup, the conservative lily white good ol’ boys and girls of rural Lyon County deserve full credit for infecting a higher proportion of themselves with the COVID-19 virus than any county in the Minneapolis/St.Paul metro area. In that multicultural metro masks and social distancing is the norm, and the COVID-19 case counts have barely budged.

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Bare Fields and High Hopes: Farmfest and Democrats Rising!

DSCF3144Half the fields out here are usually corn and the other half soy beans, flipped each year in an attempt at crop rotation aided by hefty helpings of nitrogen. In this spring of wet fields and Trump inducted low bean prices mosta the corn got planted and maybe half the beans, Trump having made “prevented planting” insurance payments the more attractive option despite Trump’s last minute “trade adjustment” bribes.

So my 70 mile drive to Farmfest was in my 69 years the first in which it seemed a quarter of the fields were bare, too saturated by years of herbicides to grow even a decent cover of weeds in the absence of beans. Bare fields tend to be a sign of deep trouble in a nation, and not seen so nationwide since the depression. Farmfest is a mega farm show in rural western Minnesota, usually brimming with anything a farmer might need or want including politicians. But Farmfest was even barer than the fields, with empty acres on the showgrounds where tractors, combines, and farm trucks were last year displayed. Republican politicians were scarce too, though nobody missed them.

But Minnesota democrats were there in full force, starting with both Governor Tim Walz and LG Peggy Flanagan yesterday morning, followed by what looked to be every democratic department commissioner in an afternoon forum. Today western Minnesota democratic congress member Collin Peterson dragged Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue to a public forum also attended by fellow MN democratic congress members Angie Craig and Dean Phillips despite their districts being mostly suburban. Sonny got an earful, even breaking down and pretty much admitting to global warming when retired dairy farmer and democrat James Kanne asked him about paying farmers to grow crops that sequester carbon. Sonny is probably undergoing reprogramming by big oil as we speak, and if that fails he’ll probably soon be spit out of the Trump administration’s executive revolving door…

But that was just our warm up, after Farmfest closes for the day democrats from far and wide head off to Ted Suss and Janet Marti’s nearby farm for the corn feed that matches anything our neighboring Iowa democrats can produce, ‘cept they got the two score plus presidential candidates speechifying for a couple hours. We had most of the state Farmers Union leadership in attendance as well as democratic party leaders aplenty, while congress member Angie Craig, Secretary of State Steve Simon and State Auditor Julie Blaha fired us up with their oration. The huge crowd of democrats, probably a record for an off year, roared their approval!

The GOPs electoral high water mark in rural Minnesota was 2016, and we took a good chunk of those votes back in 2018. In 2020 we democrats are taking rural Minnesota and America back!

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I’m endorsing Elizabeth Warren!

I’m an old lefty, in my fourth decade of supporting progressive democratic issues and candidates. Though I’ve never lived in Iowa, I’ve been on the ground there following the presidential candidates in the caucuses since 1996 and campaigned for Howard Dean, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders… There’s always an Iowa road map in my car even though I don’t need it much by now, and one bank of presets on the radio is set to Iowa stations. I recently gave up my CD level party officer position so I could concentrate on writing my blog for rural progressives, Blue Out Here. I live in a town of 39 in rural southwest Minnesota, so my “beat” naturally includes rural and all too red northwest Iowa. Just about any time the presidential candidates appear north of Sioux City and west of Mason City I’m there, including the rural forum in Storm Lake a few months back where Elizabeth Warren was the only top tier candidate to appear.

Much of my passion is for electing down ballot democratic candidates, and I’ve seen how a strong top o’ the ballot candidate’s coattails can help elect democrats all up and down the ballot, and all too often I’ve seen how a weak top o’ the ballot candidate can lose us yet another election in rural districts. Political bloggers tent to be honestly partial to their favorite candidates, and with the DNC less than a year away it was time for me to pick a candidate.

My first criteria was that the candidate is a progressive, Elizabeth Warren clearly ticks that box. Second, the candidate had to have a strong rural platform supporting family farmers, here’s Elizabeth’s. Third, that platform has to be followed up with a proven commitment to rural issues… Only 20% of Iowa’s population lives in predominately rural areas, but Elizabeth has made over half her Iowa campaign appearances there, a higher proportion than any other top tier candidate. Finally, to win a candidate has to be authentic… As the crowds at her events exceeded the capacity of the venue, Elizabeth would go outside in the cold to speak to everyone, and take questions too. And instead of scurrying off after delivering a stump speech to private audiences with big donors and big media, Elizabeth stays to answer more questions and even pose for 100+ selfies with fans!

For these reasons I heartily endorse our best and strongest candidate for progressives and rural America, Elizabeth Warren!

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Rural democrats have only 2, maybe 3, presidential candidates…

I write this blog for rural democrats and it’s been a boring spring on the campaign trail in rural northwestern Iowa where Hillary bombed so badly that few democratic presidential candidates show their face here. Seems a year ago that I laid down my standards for supporting a candidate- Electability and the ability to help our whole democratic slate in rural America, rural experience, public policies that would preserve family farms and small towns, and just plain being authentic.

While I’d love to endorse the pride of Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, like most of the candidates she’s polling in the low single digits, and a couple other candidates come to mind that would be great on rural issues but haven’t a chance of winning Iowa, never mind the endorsement. Fact is, at this point a candidate needs to be polling consistently in double digits so we’ve got Bernie, Elizabeth, Joe, Kamala, and maybe Pete as viable candidates to choose from. I’ve been digging through the crosstabs of every poll that breaks out results by geography and Bernie and Joe do best in rural areas, after that the rest fall off a polling cliff to the point where they could lose the election… The Electoral College doesn’t give extra credit for winning California by a landslide, and many of the 10 or so swing states are rural.

Bernie wins on rural experience by a 4 minute mile, though in their defense almost every democratic candidate has wandered outside the SMSAs and voted for family farmers and small towns.

Of the viable candidates, up until today only Bernie had a detailed rural policy posted on his website for all to read, and it’s detailed enough to leave no big ag monopoly undisturbed. Joe finally popped out a rural policy today, it’s a lot more comprehensive than Hillary’s and unlike her’s it doesn’t read like the writing of a Big Ag lobbyist, but I doubt they’re worried. Should be interesting to see if it stays pinned on Joe’s website or is another disposable PR. Elizabeth has made some moves in the right direction with a stop at the big rural forum in Storm Lake a few months back and dropped a PR on rural issues ‘bout then too, but apparently rural issues aren’t important enough to merit a page on her website. Looking at the rest of our viable candidates, it’s been crickets from Kamala and Pete.

And finally authenticy, and there are lessons here from 2020… While rural voters turned on Hillary for her sense that the presidency was owed her, Bernie beat her even in many conservative rural districts because he was an upfront democratic socialist for decades and didn’t have to check the political wind direction before deciding where he stood on an issue. Bernie leads again for just plain being Bernie, Joe isn’t quite the debacle Hillary was but the campaign seems like deja vu, and Elizabeth is a cool grandma but a New England prof ain’t gonna have an easy time winning over rural America, though to her credit her campaign is organizing in little towns in northwestern Iowa that every other campaign has written off. And Kamala and Pete? Please get your rural act together just in case you win the endorsement, we don’t need another Hillary to drag the whole democratic slate down in rural America!

So rural democrats have two good candidates, Bernie and Joe, and maybe a third in Elizabeth…

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Poverty: Why rural folks vote GOP and do other stupid stuff…

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Rural poverty- Pictured is a dangerous attempt to load a bulldozer on a trailer pulled by a too small tractor. Every piece of equipment in the picture is at least 30 years old, the bulldozer is obsolete and bought at an estate auction for $7500 and the same buyer bought the trailer for around $600. The bulldozer is twice the weight of the tractor and the trailer hasn’t been licensed this millennium, and the tractor has no provision to activate the trailer brakes even if they worked. The bed tilt latch on the trailer was rusted up so they tried to load the bulldozer with ramps, which resulted in the predicament pictured- fortunately they were on the flat as not a single braked wheel made contact with the ground! After this they made another attempt to tilt the trailer bed and got the bulldozer loaded, but they didn’t make it even a hundred yards before giving up as besides flat tires the trailer’s bearings were rusted frozen!

Rural folks don’t buy junk like this and take these risks because they’re stupid, they do it because they are desperate. Desperate people do desperate and risky things, like voting for GOP candidates who will oppose their interests on mere promises like no tax increases and social conservatism. When you’re trying to get by on social security and keep a car running for the 15 mile round trip to the overpriced grocery store, the old days when the rural economy seemed to work are a time you want to go back to, and you reject anything that smacks of urbanism, investing in the future, and even science when it disagrees with you. Understanding the desperation and strange logic of rural poverty is one of the keys to winning elections in rural areas.

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Pride Overflowin’ on the Prairies= GOP Defeat in 2020!

For us queers of the great plains, pride used to be simple… Go to Minneapolis. Then came Sioux Falls, Fargo, Duluth, St.Cloud, Rochester, and Mankato prides. Times were so simple, now we got pride celebrations in Brookings, Yankton, Watertown, and even in Orange City this fall!

Now you’d think with all these competing prides that attendance at each would fall. Was planning on making Brooking’s first pride celebration friday night despite being tired from liberating and replacing the struts on a rust belt VW. Checked Facebook while eating supper and they’d already filled the venue to capacity. So saturday morn I arrive early at Sioux Falls Pride, and noted pride goers already parked a half mile away! Fortunately being a pro at this parking stuff and armed with the aforementioned newly resprung VW I managed a spot two blocks away without resorting to the handicapped parking permit or some obscure clause of the TIR international transportation treaty to justify quasilegal parking. The line for the womens room was already well out the door, and this being South Dakota where the GOP government still mandates strict gender discrimination even while taking a dump in private stalls, the women dared not utilize any surplus capacity in the mens room.

And I ain’t complainin’ a bit- When thousands of queer folks and friends get out and organized in a state with only a half million voters, the GOP has reason for worry. Especially since the GOP over the last few decades forgot all about building roads and their other traditional strengths and got all preoccupied with who slept with who in the privacy of their homes and which private toilet we should use. The GOP is safe in their wealthy enclaves of the Black Hills and tax havens like Dakota Dunes, but the thousands who attended pride will turn many a rural swing district blue in 2020- And the South Dakota Democratic Party, Pete for President campaigners, and a bunch of other activist groups were there to make it happen!

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Polling: Bernie does as well as Biden in rural areas…

And he’s way ahead of the rest of the democratic field!

As a rural democratic activist, I live in fear that a progressive candidate will drag our whole democratic slate down to defeat, and I’ve seen it before. I live in MN7, a R+12 political graveyard for democratic candidates with the exception of Collin Peterson, who hangs on by voting moderate enough to tick off more than a few progressives. So before I throw my support to a top o’ the ticket candidate, I want to be sure that they won’t drag the rest of our democratic team down.

So I dug into the crosstabs, those half buried detailed spreadsheets that total up who a queer senior like myself with an unused college degree in rural podunk will support. I dug through the democrat’s standard data dump, 538, and picked out every poll begun since May 1st, just after Biden announced. Then I dove into the crosstabs of every presidential general election poll that broke out results by geographic area.

Most recent is this Emerson College poll of North Carolina where Biden ran the strongest against Trump in the reddest regions of the state, but with Bernie trailing only a couple points behind and way ahead of the rest, except for Mayor Pete in a couple red regions.

In Michigan this poll found Bernie beating Trump by 2%, Biden tied Trump, and Buttigieg, Harris, and Warren lost by 5-6% margins.

This Rasmussen national poll found Biden loosing in rural areas to Trump by 12% and Bernie by 15% with every other democrat losing by low 20s%, not surprising given Rasmussen’s republican lean.

Despite the network’s bias, Fox is an A rated pollster and this nationwide poll has Biden losing in rural areas to Trump by only 3%, Bernie by 8%, Warren by 9%, with the rest in double digits.

In Florida this Florida Atlantic University poll has Biden losing to Trump by 2% in north Florida and Bernie by 3%. In south central Florida Biden loses by 13% and Bernie by 8%, and Biden loses south Florida by 5% and Bernie loses by 11%.

And finally in this Emerson College national poll almost every democrat beat Trump in the northeast, Biden beat Trump by 5% and Bernie beat Trump by 2% in the south, but in the midwest Bernie outperformed beating Trump by 10% versus Biden’s 5% margin, bested also by O’Rourke at 9% and Warren at 8%. In the west Bernie again outperformed Biden, beating Trump by 15% with Biden at 9%.

So in some polls Biden does a bit better than Bernie against Trump, and in some polls vice versa. In almost every poll the difference between Bernie and Biden’s performance is within the margin of error. So the polling tells us that we need not fear having a “democratic socialist” at the top of the ticket, as Bernie’s authenticy plays well with independents and rural voters. And as Hillary’s campaign forgot, this is really 50 individual state races and Bernie’s strength in the rural midwestern, western, and even southern states may make Bernie our most electable candidate.

So while I haven’t thrown my support to Bernie yet, I have no fear that Bernie will drag our whole democratic slate down like Hillary did.

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SRO at Collin’s Farm Meeting in Marshall!

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“Twas probably the biggest room in Marshall, Minnesota but it wasn’t big enough for this SRO crowd of farmers… And we had only one day notice of the meeting! I’m a regular at these meetings Minnesota 7th District Congress Member Collin Peterson holds, and usually it’s just 20 or so of us from the usual groups trying to bend the Congress Member’s ear. So what’s changed?

Farmers are facing a triple whammy of low prices, stupid Trump tariffs, and climate change. It started with bumper crops and overproduction that drove corn and beans prices below farmer’s cost of production. Ten thousand cow corporate mega “dairies” flooded the market for milk and drove family dairy farmers out of business, while less than a handful of major multinational meat packers used their monopoly power to steal the profits from livestock farmers.

Then came Trump and his stupid tariffs, which instead of opening markets for our farmers produced retaliatory tariffs that chased away our largest market for beans- China. That’s just the half of Trump’s tariff tragedy- Notice how most everything on a farm is made out of steel? Yup, Trump’s tariff tragedy jacked up the price of metals, and we’re paying 20 and 30 percent more for farm machinery than we did before.

Finally, climate change got real with months of flooded fields and farm to market roads, railroads, and rivers closed. My friend’s family farms in South Dakota, and they’re having trouble finding roads where their tractors won’t sink into the mud just so they can get to their flooded fields to hopefully plant a crop. Congress Member Peterson asked the farmers who had been able to plant to raise their hands, and not even half the hands in the room went up. Then he asked those who had completed planting to raise their hands… And in a room overflowing with hundreds of farmers, not a single hand went up!

So the farm crisis is now, and Congress Member Peterson, who all the democrats and even the smarter republicans pay attention to when he talks about farming, detailed how the Trump administration’s actions and reactions to their self inflicted crisis are just making matters worse. For example, while farmers have but a few days left to decide whether and what to plant, the Trump administration has yet to commit to what trade adjustment aid will be paid for what crops, and those numbers will probably change every time you cross a county line. This vagueness is vexing farmers- We heard from a new farmer who was underpaid because he had no previous year’s production records to base the amount of aid he received on, while a couple brothers from Brazil who own meat packer JBS managed to pass themselves of as “farmers” and collect millions in subsidies!

So the crisis is now, and everyone will be effected no matter where they live… International mega corporations are ready to swoop in and buy up farms, machinery, co-ops, and small town family businesses at bankruptcy sale prices then use their monopoly power to jack up the prices we pay for food, fuel, clothing, and even electricity. It’s time to put aside trifling differences and support our family farmers- The farmers we save today will feed us tomorrow!

 

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What if the Civil War were fought today?

On a holiday first created to remember the massive loss of lives in the Civil War, it’s a good time to put in perspective the enormity of those losses and the detrimental effects another civil war would have on our nation. Around 750,000 combatants died in the Civil War, the mortality being the highest on the Confederate side, taking the lives of one in five southern men aged 20-24. Even after the Union victory, the Civil War was a lost decade for the south, as besides the lives lost in the military, southerners, especially blacks, migrated away from the south resulting in a massive loss in human capital that hobbled the south for decades. In 1870 the white population of the south was 25% less than it would have been if the war had not occurred. There was an even larger black migration north, as the black population in Ohio doubled in the 1860s and tripled in Washington, D.C.. The south began the Civil War as an economic powerhouse fueled by slavery, was economically ruined for much of the century, and even today many of it’s states are still economic dependents.

Many have said that we are now on the verge of another Civil War, with guerrilla attacks by domestic terrorists already targeting religious and minority groups. Right wingers, nationalists, and fascists are already stockpiling weapons and rehearsing. So lets game out a second civil war and it’s long term effects on our nation…

The borders between the rebel forces and the union would not be clear, with the rebels clearly occupying much of the south and less clearly situated in rural America. The actual borders of the Union and Confederacy weren’t real clear either, despite the maps in the history books- Besides Virginia being permanently divided, many highland areas of the south never supported the confederacy, Missouri was split and had both a Union and rump Confederate state governments, and south Florida was under union control for most of the war. Military organization was lacking in the Civil War, fought largely by state militia units further divided by ethnic groups, resulting in rival units from the same town fighting with one another. That’s clearly the case today on the rebel side with dozens and hundreds of rival groups fighting for adherents and control. The “command and control” structure isn’t much more decisive on the Union side- Would the military obey Trump’s or the future democratic president’s orders? What of the state National Guards? Then there’s the twenty odd federal police forces (Even the EPA has one)- Will the Capitol Police enforce a subpoena of the Trump administration’s crooks, and would another federal police agency answer with an armed response? And which side will state and local police forces choose?

Then factor in corruption, and just plain disorganization and stupidity… My great great grandfather served in the 28th Wisconsin Infantry Company F which during three plus years of service saw but a couple weeks of combat between postings guarding something or other in Arkansas and occasional forays into Mississippi and Tennessee. Drunkenness was the order of the day and corruption was rampant, and he was one of the nine out of ten of his company’s casualties that lost his life to disease rather than in combat.

Compare the relative strengths of the army and rebel “army”- Even a divided or half MIA military and loyal police forces would ultimately defeat a disorganized “army” of 50+ white guys, who even with ARs and pickup trucks full of ammo aren’t exactly model physical specimens. But given that disorganization and extended “mopping up” operations and the death toll could rival the Civil War’s… With ten times the population we had at the time of the Civil War, another civil war could take seven our eight million lives. The long term economic losses would be even greater- We’re now a mature economy trying to survive and maintain our place in a world with dozens of tough competitors while during the 1800s we were a growing nation with plenty of immigrants to continue that growth after the Civil War. Today a civil war would leave us an uncompetitive and impoverished nation for decades. That’s the “upside” prognosis, we could end up a failed state at war with itself for decades…

So our nation was lucky to survive the Civil War, we might not be so lucky next time… So please,  tone down the rhetoric and hatred and work to unite instead of divide!

 

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Iowa Caucus: Leaders Emerging?

And is the race about to get tighter?

Last I head we have something like 23 announced democratic prez candidates, and I saw someone at a local dem meeting the other night with the number “24”. But at several candidate’s events in Iowa I’ve noted a lack of the usual “field” operation- Stuff like capturing attendees contact info, etc.. Now just about every candidate has raised dollars by the millions, so there’s no excuse to not have paid staff and at least one office in Iowa for them to work out of. They should also be developing a volunteer base… I get almost daily fundraising e-mails from one candidate, but have yet to be asked to volunteer. It says something that only about half the candidates have a place on their website for volunteers to sign up. And while the Obama campaign would tell volunteers what opportunities were near their zip code by this time in 2007, I found only five candidate’s websites offering that no longer advanced technology. Throw in the fact that a whole lot of the candidates are congresscritters or senators and in most cases they can legally transfer left over presidential campaign (slush) funds to future fed campaigns, and it’s pretty clear that probably half our near two dozen candidates aren’t real seriously running for president, at least this time around.

Of the dozen dem candidates clearly “in it to win it”, some are developing impressive field operations despite bumping along in the polls in the low single digits- The best example is Congress member Delaney who has opened 8 campaign offices and campaigned in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties before this critical campaign year even started! Averaging the polls, only 2 candidates, Biden and Sanders, have double digit support with Biden at 27% and Sanders at 18%. Buttigieg, Harris and Warren trail at 9% each with O’Rourke at 5%.

So what chances do this half dozen candidates who have found at least 5% support have of winning the nomination. As always, 538 has the answer and it won’t cost us a cent, here’s the link to their most excellent analysis. 538’s results are sobering- a candidate at 5% has about a 4% chance of winning the nomination, and even at 9% the chances only improve to about 7%… However, we do have 3 candidates at 9% and throw in Beto at 5% and there’s a 25% chance one of these 4 will be the breakout candidate that wins the nomination. 538’s analysis predicts that Bernie at 17% has about a 14% and Joe Biden at 27% has about a 32% chance of heading the dem ticket in 2020. And I know, that don’t all quite all add up to 100%…

So the race is probably narrowing to Bernie and Joe and probably just as tight as Bernie and Hillary’s fight last go-round, with at least 3 or 4 more great democratic candidates running serious campaigns too in case they should falter. And looking at the crosstabs, Bernie may very well catch Joe, and I’ll have a bunch more interesting finds from digging down in the crosstabs in a future post.

 

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