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California’s Assorted Rocks and Hard Places

Thank God For Someone or Something Else

Fact four: we count on two things to save us. One, California is a beautiful natural paradise. Yesterday I drove from the high Sierra amid a blanket of alpine snow to the 70s in Palo Alto in a little over four hours, across one of the most productive and beautiful agrarian landscapes in the world. In sum, we think there will always be some of you who will fall in love with the aesthetics that we had nothing to do with, and thus might, like the proverbial fly landing on sticky paper, arrive and become enticed enough to let us tax you for a while in our P.T. Barnum-like con.

Two, someone in our past did not think like us, and so we inherited an infrastructure, universities, airports, and roads that we continue to milk but not refurbish or invest in. We, the less talented and industrious, but the far more critical and sarcastic, drive along I-5, and swim in beautiful Sierra manmade lakes, with the apparent belief that we are glad some anonymous fools did this for us. But we in our sophistication would never mar the landscape in the way they did. Think about blowing up Hetch Hetchy back to its natural beauty perhaps — then providing new drinking water for 85% of San Francisco, never.

The Unmentionable Topic

Fact five: we have no idea how many illegal aliens are in the state, and are left only with the paradox of being told 2-4 million reside here, but that the state also has about half of the nation’s 11-15 million illegal alien population. Add that up.

Nor are we told the greater social service costs of many second-generation Mexican-American citizens who, both at times tragically and heroically, must grow up so often in households in which their parents are here illegally, without English, and without a high school diploma. So Californians adopt an Orwellian persona: privately they assume that our near-rock bottom standing in nationwide public school math and English scores, record inmate population, out of control gangs, and assorted Medi-Cal and social service spending have something, or even a lot to do with the ripples from illegal immigration. But we also accept that even to suggest that is career suicide, given the changing political demography of the state. We prefer anecdote to statistic; one success story trumps five buried reports on failing schools, out of control public defender costs, or bankrupt emergency rooms. We have no idea how many Californians have fake IDs, or work for cash and untaxed wages, or work while on unemployment, or use public assistance money at casinos and palm readers (we call them "psychics") (our governor just banned the use of public assistance funds for both in anger), but I do know from bitter experience that to even wonder out loud about that will earn all sorts of hatred and invective.

So we sound utopian in our public rhetoric, but privately millions of all races and ethnic backgrounds, including millions of liberals and Hispanics, are terribly worried, and so make the necessary adjustments: they avoid public schools like many in San Jose and Fresno; they do not live in towns like Orange Cove, Mendota, Parlier, Selma (mine, which I still enjoy), Fowler, or large areas of San Jose or Los Angeles, and they are careful where they go in the evening. When we see high school students at Morgan Hill High School walk out in anger at the crime of a few students wearing the American flag on Cinco de Mayo Day, Californians know enough to politely pass over that in conversation and yet not get near that school district in fact.

Gut-check Time

So we do not have much wiggle room left, especially when we vote for more of the sources of the problem and you in the other 49 states do not like loaning us $40 million a day just for our quite generous unemployment insurance in a very high-unemployment state. There are only so many gimmicks left. Either our Governor-elect and veteran liberal Jerry Brown will have to do a Nixon to China, or the Republican House will have to let us go broke and cut off the cash. Either way, it should be an interesting ride — perhaps a panic of 1893, Great Depression, 1970s stagflation, and 1992 state meltdown all in one surreal experience.