MR. DRISCOLL: This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’re talking today with Heather Mac Donald, a contributing editor of City Journal magazine, and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She’s also one of several contributors, including PJ Media’s own Andrew Klavan and Victor Davis Hanson, to the new publication by City Journal magazine titled, The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It. And Heather, thanks for stopping by today.
MS. MAC DONALD: Thanks, Ed.
MR. DRISCOLL: Heather, perhaps the best place to start is with the most open-ended question. California — how did it all go so wrong?
MS. MAC DONALD: Well, Ed, there’s still much that’s right, of course. I mean, it is one — I think it is one — I think it’s the most beautiful state in the country; as a native, I’m obviously a little prejudiced, but I think it is a exemplar of identity politics, for one thing. There’s too many institutions that are convinced that the most important thing about its residents is their racial or ethnic national origin identity and — and increasingly, of course, gender and sexual identity. And we see that playing out in university admissions, in ideas about crime and policing and immigration policy, and I think that’s a betrayal of what California used to mean, which was a real meritocratic ideal, that anybody who came, through hard work could really move ahead and the — the state welcomed talent and achievement and did not worry about disparate impact or racial proportionality. Continue reading this article
So how is all that diversity hectoring in schools working out?
Not very well. In fact, it is having the reverse effect of what is said to be intended, according to recent research. Emphasizing human tribal differences apparently makes kids dwell on those characteristics to a degree that becomes negative for normal social interaction. Human nature is inherently tribal, so promoting themes of ethnic dissimilarity among young minds is a dicey undertaking.
Children who are given anti-racism lessons in school are more likely to be intolerant outside the classroom, a major study found yesterday.
It said accusing white pupils of racism causes animosity, and discussing sensitive ethnic concerns such as honour killings paints minority group children in a bad light.
The survey said children who live in mixed neighbourhoods are often free of hostility towards other racial groups.
But it found that ‘when more attention in class is being paid to the multicultural society, the liberalising effect of positive contact in class on youngsters’ xenophobic attitude decreases’.
The project carried out in the Netherlands comes at a time of controversy over the place of multiculturalism – which blames Britain for historic racism and demands the encouragement of minority cultures – in the national curriculum and teaching in British schools.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has been under fire from Left-wing academics over plans to stop teaching teenagers about topics such as ‘the wide cultural, social and ethnic diversity of Britain from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century and how this has helped shape Britain’s identity’.
Instead, in future pupils will be taught much more British history. The study, published in the European Sociological Review, was based on a survey of 1,444 pupils aged 14 and 15 in ten schools in the city of Nijmegen. Continue reading this article
For those of us who love California’s beautiful parks, the state’s abandonment of the system was a tragic portent of destruction to come. With no rangers nearby to keep an eye on the premises, theft and vandalism were sure to follow.
Victor Davis Hanson (a chronicler of California decline) noticed a local news report about vandalism in a Fresno County park and used the incident to reflect further upon the state’s rapid unravelling.
Last week, while reading about an insolvent California’s insistence on going ahead with the first leg of a proposed high-speed rail line (total cost of the system: an estimated $100-$300 billion), I heard the following story on a local ABC news affiliate about a nearby low-Sierra lake:
Monday, August 20, 2012
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Acts of vandalism have forced officials to shut down a popular campsite in Fresno County. The Pine Flat Campground located below the Pine Flat Dam on Trimmer Springs Road is closed indefinitely. Nearby Winton Park remains open but things aren’t looking much better there. Vandals tagged rocks, barbeques, and even trees with graffiti. “It was horrible. It didn’t look like nature. It looked like a nightmare,” said visitor Jose Zarate of Fresno.
Unfair to the Vandals You can read the rest of story at KFSN’s Website; additional news items detailed similar stories at other local lakes — a veritable Vandal assault on the vestiges of civilization (actually, that allusion is unfair to the Vandals): copper wire stripped out of power conduits, toilets and sinks ripped out of bathrooms, and, yes, more gang graffiti painted on trees.
I think the latter horror is what earned the local media attention. Destroying public property, assaulting other campers, closing down recreation sites are one thing — but graffiti on trees? That’s an insult that no liberal can stomach. In the grand struggle of environmental correctness versus multiculturalism, green wins every time. (Why do a few liberals oppose illegal immigration? Because of worries about environmental damage along the border.
The Tipping Point I have a hard time timing car trips to Los Angeles because a large section of the 99 state “freeway,” north of Kingsburg, is still (after a half-century) two lanes, potholed, and crammed with traffic. But the rub is that the traffic is of a strange sort, one characterized by an inordinate number of drivers with loose brush, tools, appliances — almost anything — not secured in flat-bed pickups or piled too high in pickups and trailers. The debris commonly flies out on the road, causes an accident, and shuts down California’s main interior north-south lateral for several hours.
What is the common theme here?
When the liberal mind cannot cope with the concrete ramifications of its own ideology, it seeks a sort of tokenism. Unable to ensure that trees are not defaced? An ancient highway is not upgraded? Presto, zoom ahead to space-age high-speed rail, as if the conditions that created sprayed trees and mattresses lying among the pot-holes will not easily migrate to high-speed rail. That is, within 10 years I have no doubt that the Fresno-Corcoran (“rail to nowhere”) link will be periodically closed due to stripped copper wire conduit, mattresses thrown over the fence onto the tracks, and the general inability of the state to service the system due to the sort of daily vandalism seen at our local campgrounds.
If one third of the nation’s welfare population resides in California, and if seven million of the last ten million Californians added to the state population are now on Medicaid, and if Californians, as it is estimated, send approximately $10 billion a year in remittances to Mexico and Latin America, then something has to give. And the remedy for that something that gives is either teaching youth not to spray paint pine trees, or hiring unemployed ex-gang-bangers to pressure wash the graffiti off pine trees — or moving to a kinder, gentler Santa Cruz or Newport, feeling good on the beach, watching the sunset each evening, and cursing those evil conservatives who want to poison the 3-inch delta smelt and keep foie gras legal in California. Continue reading this article
Victor Davis Hanson is back, continuing his analysis of the “Two Californias” — one based on traditional American values of law and order, the other a growing third-world cesspool of lawlessness and dysfunction.
Where’s Mel Gibson When You Need Him? George Miller’s 1981 post-apocalyptic film The Road Warrior envisioned an impoverished world of the future. Tribal groups fought over what remained of a destroyed Western world of law, technology, and mass production. Survival went to the fittest — or at least those who could best scrounge together the artifacts of a long gone society somewhat resembling the present West.
In the case of the Australian film, the culprit for the detribalization of the Outback was some sort of global war or perhaps nuclear holocaust that had destroyed the social fabric. Survivors were left with a memory of modern appetites but without the ability to reproduce the means to satisfy them: in short, a sort of Procopius’s description of Gothic Italy circa AD 540.
Sometimes, and in some places, in California I think we have nearly descended into Miller’s dark vision — especially the juxtaposition of occasional high technology with premodern notions of law and security. The state deficit is at $16 billion. Stockton went bankrupt; Fresno is rumored to be next. Unemployment stays over 10% and in the Central Valley is more like 15%. Seven out of the last eleven new Californians went on Medicaid, which is about broke. A third of the nation’s welfare recipients are in California. In many areas, 40% of Central Valley high school students do not graduate — and do not work, if the latest crisis in finding $10 an hour agricultural workers is any indication. And so on.
Our culprit out here was not the Bomb (and remember, Hiroshima looks a lot better today than does Detroit, despite the inverse in 1945). The condition is instead brought on by a perfect storm of events that have shred the veneer of sophisticated civilization. Add up the causes. One was the destruction of the California rural middle class. Manufacturing jobs, small family farms, and new businesses disappeared due to globalization, high taxes, and new regulations. A pyramidal society followed of a few absentee land barons and corporate grandees, and a mass of those on entitlements or working for government or employed at low-skilled service jobs. The guy with a viable 60 acres of almonds ceased to exist.
Illegal immigration did its share. No society can successfully absorb some 6-7 million illegal aliens, in less than two decades, the vast majority without English, legality, or education from the poorer provinces of Mexico, the arrivals subsidized by state entitlements while sending billions in remittances back to Mexico — all in a politicized climate where dissent is demonized as racism. This state of affairs is especially true when the host has given up on assimilation, integration, the melting pot, and basic requirements of lawful citizenship. Continue reading this article
Hanson’s latest thoughts concern what might be done, considering recent reports of the $16 billion hole in the budget. Gov Jerry Brown has been making a lot of noise that the terrible state finances mean that voters should pass his tax-raising initiative coming up in November. (Despite promises of reform, Brown has done nothing about bloated salaries and pensions of public employees and other objectionable spending, like taxpayer-subsidized college educations for illegal aliens.)
Sadly, California is now a one-party state, where far-left crazies run the government and the Republican party is deceased. It’s hard to imagine that Hanson’s sensible fix-it list will be considered by those in power, much less implemented.
Recently, I was driving down pot-holed, two-lane, non-freeway 101 near Monterey (unchanged since the 1960s) when the radio blared that on a recent science test administered to public schools, California scored 47th in the nation. As I looked at the congested traffic on the decrepit highway and digested the idea that our public schools are competitive only with Mississippi and Alabama, I wondered — is that what we get for a more than 10 percent income tax, 10 percent state and local sales taxes, and the highest gas taxes in the nation?
To sum up why California has yet another deficit — this time a $16 billion whopper — is pretty easy: The number of demonized one-percenters who pay over 10 percent in their salary to the state has been shrinking, as thousands flee with their ideas, energy, business, and capital to nearby no-tax states, and others make less money due to more and more costs and regulations — while the number of those receiving all sorts of state housing, food, medical, education, and legal support is soaring. (In crude parlance, California increasingly is seen by some as a very bad deal, in terms of the sort of schools, safety, transportation, and housing per taxes paid in comparison to Reno, Tahoe, or Austin, but by far more people as a very good deal in comparison to the costs versus benefits in, for example, Oaxaca or El Salvador.)
In the last two decades, the number added to the prison rolls (ca. 115,000) was not that much smaller than the number of new tax-filers (150,000). And of the last 10 million added to the state’s population, 7 million are on Medicaid.
But California being California, such reductionist thinking is taboo, and we are not allowed to make any suggestion that there is a connection between fleeing entrepreneurs, massive and illegal influxes of undocumented foreign nationals in recent years, and record public salaries and unfunded pensions.
So that said, are there any out-of-the-box things California might do to save or make a few billion dollars, other than the obvious measures of slashing spending and dismantling burdensome regulations?
1. Slap a user tax on the some $10–15 billion that is estimated to leave the state in remittances to foreign countries, or at least through executive action make foreign cash remittances grounds for disqualification from state public assistance.
2. Cancel high speed-rail asap.
3. Open up immediately the estimated now off-limits 35 billion barrels of oil off the central California coast, the vast majority of which can be safely and cleanly exploited by on-shore horizontal drilling.
4. Cap the amount one can receive from a California public pension, or multiple pensions at $100,000.
5. Eliminate three-quarters of the thousands of public California board members, who stymie commerce and are mostly costly and unproductive term-limited insider politicians.
6. Mandate one official language for state publications and office business.
7. Cut by 75 percent the number of administrators at the UC and CSU systems (their numbers from 1993 have grown by 212 percent), and pay them at the commensurate twelve-month faculty rate.
8. Clamp down on the vast underground and untaxed cash economy that has exploded to the point that one can buy tax-free almost anything needed, from a new lawn mower to a four-course meal, at roadside emporia and canteens.
9. Deport the 20,000 plus illegal-alien felons now in California state prisons to their countries of origin.
10. Have George Clooney do another $40,000 per head Hollywood fundraiser, but with Sacramento, not Barack Obama, as the beneficiary.
The only item with which I disagree is #9 the idea of deporting criminals to their home countries from American prison cells. There’s no reason to think that Mexico and other riff-raff nations would imprison their citizens at their cost for crimes committed in the United States. Some countries refuse to accept any of their deported criminals even after the bad guys have served their time in prison, so we see international responsibility is a rare commodity.
As a fifth-generation California farmer who is also a classicist and military historian, Victor Davis Hanson is one of the most astute observers of the state’s dystopic diversity. Last December he started biking around for a ground-level view of his farm-country environs and characterized what he saw as Two Californias.
Now he is back, fearing the place is on a “razor’s edge with disaster.”
We calibrate California’s decline by its myriad of paradoxes. The nation’s highest bundle of gas, sales, and income taxes cannot close the nation’s largest annual deficit at $25 billion. Test scores are at the country’s near bottom; teachers’ salaries at the very top. Scores of the affluent are leaving each week; scores of the indigent are arriving. The nation’s most richly endowed state is also the most regulated; the most liberal of our residents are also the most ready to practice apartheid in their Bel Air or Palo Alto enclaves.
We now see highway patrolmen and city police, in the manner of South American law enforcement, out in force. Everywhere they are monitoring, watching, ticketing — no warnings, no margins of error — desperate to earn traffic fines that might feed the state that feeds them. I could go on. But you get the picture that we are living on the fumes of a rich state that our forefathers brilliantly exploited, and now there is not much energy left in the fading exhaust to keep us going.
I see California in terms now of the razor’s edge with disaster not far in either direction. A postmodern affluent lifestyle hangs in the balance here without a margin of error. Let me give some examples.
I drive a lot on the 99 Freeway both northward and southward. (What follows would apply to the 101 as well, or, in fact, to most state “freeways.”) In vast stretches of the 99 it is unchanged from the two lanes when I first began driving in 1969, but now with worse pavement, larger potholes, and treacherous shoulders. Yet the state then had about 20, not 37 million people, and around 12 million licensed drivers, not well over 25 million (and who knows how many unlicensed drivers?). Nonetheless, our ancestors were brilliant sorts, and left us a well-engineered and planned grid that can still handle all sorts of the minor challenges. So on a day of perfect weather, with good drivers, at low traffic hours between 9 and 2, and without ongoing road maintenance or construction, I can make the 190 miles to either Sacramento or Los Angeles in three hours — just as I used to in far older, less reliable cars of 30 years past.
But that is rare these days. You see, there are too many proverbial ifs now. Tamper with just one variable — leave too early or return too late; have some rain or fog; have one of the two lanes shut down for anything from tree trimming to pothole filling; experience one idiot whose lawn-mower or paint sprayer fell out of his open flatbed truck — and the fragile system shuts completely down, creating paralysis for thousands of backed-up drivers. For our generation’s grid to work as it should, we would need three lanes, in good condition, perhaps four — and a pool of drivers who were all trained, licensed, registered, and insured. But you see, we had other priorities and values the last twenty years and so we took for granted the freeways we inherited. So we indulged and as the proverbially obese clogged our arteries. Continue reading this article
Columnist Victor Davis Hanson is a fifth-generation California farmer who is also a retired professor of classics. He grew up in Selma, a valley farming town, an experience he described in the excellent article The Civic Education America Needs, something I reread every few years.
He wrote the book Mexifornia, which Hanson recently remarked was seen as too harsh when it was published in 2003 but now seems quite tame as a critique of what has happened to the state under a sustained Mexican invasion.
The last three weeks I have traveled about, taking the pulse of the more forgotten areas of central California. I wanted to witness, even if superficially, what is happening to a state that has the highest sales and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the near-worst public schools (based on federal test scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in the nation, along with an overregulated private sector, a stagnant and shrinking manufacturing base, and an elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and productivity without curbing consumption.
During this unscientific experiment, three times a week I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip over various rural roads in southwestern Fresno County. I also drove my car over to the coast to work, on various routes through towns like San Joaquin, Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my home I have been driving, shopping, and touring by intent the rather segregated and impoverished areas of Caruthers, Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and Selma. My own farmhouse is now in an area of abject poverty and almost no ethnic diversity; the closest elementary school (my alma mater, two miles away) is 94 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white, and well below federal testing norms in math and English.
Below, scenic downtown Mendota, California.
Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has been a general depression in farming — to such an extent that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural California, for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.
On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.
Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.
It is almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate. Its public employees prefer to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the felonies in the downtrodden areas, which are becoming feral and beyond the ability of any inspector to do anything but feel irrelevant. But in the regulators’ defense, where would one get the money to redo an ad hoc trailer park with a spider web of illegal bare wires?
Many of the rented-out rural shacks and stationary Winnebagos are on former small farms — the vineyards overgrown with weeds, or torn out with the ground lying fallow. I pass on the cultural consequences to communities from the loss of thousands of small farming families. I don’t think I can remember another time when so many acres in the eastern part of the valley have gone out of production, even though farm prices have recently rebounded. Apparently it is simply not worth the gamble of investing $7,000 to $10,000 an acre in a new orchard or vineyard. What an anomaly — with suddenly soaring farm prices, still we have thousands of acres in the world’s richest agricultural belt, with available water on the east side of the valley and plentiful labor, gone idle or in disuse. Is credit frozen? Are there simply no more farmers? Are the schools so bad as to scare away potential agricultural entrepreneurs? Or are we all terrified by the national debt and uncertain future?
California coastal elites may worry about the oxygen content of water available to a three-inch smelt in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, but they seem to have no interest in the epidemic dumping of trash, furniture, and often toxic substances throughout California’s rural hinterland. Yesterday, for example, I rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants tossed seven plastic bags of raw refuse onto the side of the road. I rode up near their bumper and said in my broken Spanish not to throw garbage onto the public road. But there were three of them, and one of me. So I was lucky to be sworn at only. I note in passing that I would not drive into Mexico and, as a guest, dare to pull over and throw seven bags of trash into the environment of my host. Continue reading this article
Fair Use: This site contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues related to culture and mass immigration. We believe this constitutes a "fair use" of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information, see: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000107----000-.html. In order to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.