Friday, 29 June 2018

Golden No Longer: Is California Doomed?

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From the print edition of The New American:

Beneath the surface of showy glitter, California is becoming a hollow shell, with rising poverty, crumbling infrastructure, sky-high taxes, and a fleeing middle class.

 

About a dozen years ago, on a return flight to California from the East Coast, this writer chanced to be seated next to two lovely elderly ladies. They were sisters, and like most Americans of my parents’ generation had been acquainted with hardship during the Great Depression years. That’s when their family had headed to California. After their father lost their family dairy farm in Minnesota, the chatty sisters explained, he decided their best option was to join the great migration to “the Golden State.” So, they piled all their belongings onto their old farm truck and it was “Westward Ho!”

“To us, California really was the golden state,” one of the sisters recounted, her face aglow at the memory. “We didn’t have much when we got there. We lived in a tent for quite a while, but we didn’t mind. Everything was so new, exciting and magical: palm trees, the ocean, citrus groves — and lots of warm sunshine, not like the blizzards and hard winters we left behind in Minnesota.” “Everybody called us ‘Okies,’” the other sister chimed in, “but we had never even been to Oklahoma; that’s just what they called all of us homeless folks back then.” The whole family worked, picking oranges and other produce, and doing whatever odd jobs they could. It was a challenging time, but still a very happy one, they recalled. Their affectionate reminiscences of California in the 1930s, albeit as seen through the eyes of young girls, and evoked fondly in memories softened by age, belie the relentlessly grim images we associate with the Grapes of Wrath era. Their father, utilizing his farm machinery-repair skills, eventually landed a steady job as a mechanic. Within a few years, he had his own prosperous auto-mechanic shop in Orange County, and the family soon bought a modest home in a nice middle-class neighborhood. And, said the ladies, most of the other folks they knew in like circumstances also pulled through in similar fashion. That was, indeed, a golden time, they said. In more recent years, however, that glow and shine has begun to fade, to the point where now, they opined, the state might be tarnished beyond repair and headed toward collapse.

Why did these 20th-century California “pioneers” hold such a bleak outlook toward the future of their adopted state? The catalog of ills the ladies rattled off was not surprising: out-of-control state government spending, high taxes, drugs, crime, gangs, failing schools, massive illegal immigration, decaying roads and infrastructure, rampant homosexuality and immorality, total erosion of manners and civility, increasing racial animosity, and more. In virtually all of these areas, conditions have worsened in the dozen years or so since that conversation. These afflictions are not unique to California, but the state does magnify and concentrate these ills to such a degree that millions of Americans, including millions of Californians (and ex-Californians), share this pessimistic assessment of the state’s future.

Are they wrong to hold such a dismal view of prospects for the once-golden state? Absolutely, says California’s Jerry Brown cheering section. Governor “Moonbeam” Brown, now finishing his second double term as the state’s executive, never misses an opportunity to denounce President Donald Trump, defy federal law, and flaunt California’s size and economic muscle. Over the past year, he has roamed the world stage as a United Nations “special envoy” on global warming and other environmental issues dear to the hearts of greenies. “The truth of the matter is that California, with its strong renewable energy, its very far-reaching greenhouse gas reduction set of policies — our economy grows faster than the national average,” Brown stated at a UN climate conference last November in Bonn, Germany. “So, I think that is very good proof that green energy, wind, solar, new electricity grid, battery storage, electric cars, hydrogen cars — all of these create new jobs, the jobs of the future.”

Brown and his fellow Democrats who run California regularly point out that their state is the world’s sixth-largest economy, surpassed only by the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a radical activist appointed by Governor Brown, told a press conference on March 11, 2018: “When President Trump comes to California, he’ll see a state that’s No.1 in manufacturing, agriculture, high-tech, in graduating young people from college.” The Brown PR squad makes things appear quite rosy on Planet California, right?

But let’s unpack some facts to see if the Democrat narrative is kosher.

As to the first claim — that California’s economy grows faster than the national average, largely because of California’s strict renewable energy mandates — the facts themselves almost cringe because they are being abused so badly.

First of all, there are some ugly facts about this legend of a “miracle” concerning California’s much-hyped booming economy that are conveniently spiked by the Brown gang and its media allies. Nevertheless, the truth seeps out.

California is suffering deleterious effects of debilitating taxes and regulations, which have been masked by the huge economic rebound of the tech industries and the stock market since the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. But California’s tech boom is mainly a one-trick pony that is not replicated in other industries in that state, and it’s a show pony that doesn’t provide the jobs and income for the masses to be well off.

 “The tech boom of the last decade has obscured the decline of California’s basic industries, such as energy and manufacturing,” notes Joel Kotkin in the City Journal. “California’s above-average job performance since 2010 is almost entirely a combination of high-income employment growth in the Bay Area and the swelling ranks of low-wage service workers who serve them.”

In fact, California’s rich-poor divide has been growing, creating a bifurcated society of plutocrats and serfs. A favorite theme of the Left is that under our capitalist system “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Their solution to the growing income inequality in our society is bigger government, more government programs, and more government spending. Yet it is in these deep-blue progressive havens where we see the rich-poor gap at its starkest. A 2016 report by the liberal-globalist Brookings Institution entitled “City and metropolitan inequality on the rise, driven by declining incomes” features San Francisco and Los Angeles among the top 10 metro areas in the nation with the highest household income inequality between the top five percent and the bottom 20 percent. All of the other regressing city metro areas included among the Brookings top 10 — New York, Boston, Bridgeport (Conn.), Houston, Miami, New Orleans, New Haven (Conn.), and McAllen (Texas) — are, with the exception of Miami, ruled by “progressive” Democrats. The economic “boom” in California has been a very uneven and unsustainable one, fueled by investments largely induced by political favoritism and cronyism, not by free-market capitalism. The boom has been very good for the top one to five percent, especially the Silicon Valley tech giants, but not so much for everybody else. As the liberal website Politifact noted, California has “the highest poverty rate in the nation” when comparing states and considering the cost of living.

Two of the big untold parts of the income inequality story as it relates to California concern the impacts of massive investments from China and the enormous influence of imported “coolie labor” in the form of H-1B visa employees, largely from India. Both of these factors have helped to boost the bottom lines of California-based corporations, as well as lift the statistics on “jobs created,” but they have not been particularly helpful to California’s American work force.

“Chinese investment in the US economy was negligible until 2010, when it skyrocketed to $5 billion. By 2016, annual flows reached more than $46 billion,” according to Chinese Direct Investment in California: 2017 Update, a report by the Asia Society and the Rhodium Group. “California became the number one recipient of Chinese FDI [foreign direct investment] in recent years, with more than $16 billion in 2016 alone,” the report continues. “Much of the investment has gone into two important areas — real estate and technology.”

“California leads nationally not only in cumulative Chinese investment dollars, but also in the number of Chinese-owned companies,” the Asia Society/Rhodium Group report states. “At the end of 2016, the Golden State was home to 585 Chinese-owned operations, triple the amount at the end of 2011…. California has more Chinese businesses than any other state and accounts for more than 18% of all Chinese-owned companies nationwide.”

California has also “benefited” from massive Chinese investments in the residential real estate market, if one considers driving the market to unaffordable heights a benefit. Chinese buyers spent $22 billion on California houses in the first quarter of 2014, according to a July 9, 2014 report in Bloomberg.

According to Breaking Ground: Chinese Investment in U.S. Real Estate, another report from the Asia Society, the average home price for Chinese buyers in 2015 was $831,800, up from $590,800 in 2014. It was also considerably more than the $499,600 average home price for all international buyers in 2015. Thirty-five percent of Chinese house purchases in the United States in 2015 were in California, followed by eight percent in Washington, and seven percent in New York.

As should be expected, this enormous infusion of cash has had inflationary consequences on real estate and housing. An average Chinese-buyer home price of $831,800? Puts a bit of pressure on prospective American home buyers competing for housing in the same market, no? This China cash invasion has made it difficult-to-impossible for working families even to rent, let alone buy, houses in many California communities.

Not to mention that there are additional troubling aspects of this story that are rarely heard, but which should be obvious. In China’s opaque economy, which is tightly controlled by the Communist Party, private businesses and private investors, as well as official State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), are under the thumb of the totalitarian state. As such, they are agents (or potential agents) of the communist state, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has multiple options for inducing them to operate in its interests and against the interests of the United States. This brings up many national security concerns, especially in the area of Beijing’s strategic investments in our high-tech industries.

Additionally, there are human-rights issues to which Governor Brown — “the Great Moralizer” — and his “social justice” activists appear to be oblivious. Like many other politicians — both Republican and Democrat — Brown has made the trek to Communist China, bowing and begging for more of the almighty Chinese yuan. Although he doesn’t hesitate to strike a pugilistic pose and hurl invective at President Trump and his “troglodyte” supporters, “Brown the Pugnacious” becomes “Brown the Obsequious” when he stands before dictator Xi Jinping. Suddenly he becomes Jerry Jello-legs: No mention of torture, political prisoners, religious persecution, executions, forced abortions, Internet surveillance, censorship, or slave labor. His message is: Just give us the money, we’ll look the other way.

As mentioned above, the H-1B foreign worker visa has also been a largely unreported factor that has allowed the oligarchs of Silicon Valley, Brown’s prime constituency, to flourish by gaming the immigration system — at the expense of American workers. Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at University of California at Davis, has been fighting for the past two decades to expose this threat to America’s technological leadership. He has been a relentless critic of Google, Oracle, Cisco, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and other tech giants that have been the chief lobbyists for flooding the American IT workforce with lower-wage H-1B employees, primarily from India and China. This not only drives down wages and salaries for qualified American workers in computer and technology sciences, but also discourages American students from pursuing careers in these fields that are vital to our viability as a nation. It also allows the foreign workers to be unfairly exploited. The Big Tech companies not only lobby for increases in H-1B visas (now set at 60,000 per year, plus an additional 20,000 for workers with a master’s degree or higher), but also sponsor the workers. This sponsorship, says Dr. Matloff, “renders the workers de facto indentured servants; though they have the right to move to another employer, they do not dare do so, as it would mean starting the lengthy green card process all over again.” They are trapped, and the corporate CEOs and politicians who support this process — including both “progressive” Democrats and “conservative” Republicans — have no problem with the hardship they cause to the workers involved, whether American or foreign.

Photo: franckreporter/GettyImagesPlus

This article appears in the July 9, 2018, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.

Government-pension Madness

Adding to California’s fiscal woes is the fact that it is being held hostage by militant public-employee unions that are demanding — and getting — ever-larger payouts in wages, benefits, and pensions from the state’s already-overburdened taxpayers. For more than a decade, critics of government pension programs have warned that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is a looming mega-disaster that will “eat” California. However, that is “old news,” we are told by liberal media commentators, who prove their commitments to recycling by regurgitating Governor Brown’s press releases on the “miracle” of California’s economy. But the claims that Brown and his Democrat-controlled state legislature have balanced the books are based on “fiscal fraud” and “budget legerdemain,” according to the editors of Investor’s Business Daily (IBD). “There is no economic miracle,” the IBD editorial charged, “Just a mirage.”

This confirmed what many had suspected: The massive pension gap has not been fixed, but is merely being covered up with accounting trickery. “Unfunded pension liabilities continue to represent a colossal fiscal burden for both the state government and local governments within California,” noted Stanford University’s Joshua D. Rauh in a January 25, 2018 article for the Hoover Institution entitled “Can California Save Itself From a Pension Disaster?” These unfunded liabilities are, says Rauh, “the reason that taxes are higher than ever, crowding out the services that the state and cities deliver. And it’s getting worse.”

CalPERS is California’s — and the nation’s — largest pension fund (managing nearly $350 billion), but it is not the only one in trouble. The California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), which manages $222.5 billion, reported on May 10 of this year that it faces an unfunded actuarial obligation of $107.3 billion. And that’s calculated upon an unrealistically high expectation of seven-percent return on investments, which is ridiculous, to put it mildly.

“Combining all the pension funds in California and recalculating their liabilities based on the principles of finance, as opposed to governmental accounting magic,” Rauh says, “I find that the collective debts that California taxpayers owe public pension funds is $769 billion — over $60,000 per California household.”

Dan Walters, often called the “dean of California journalists,” is no conservative and has frequently been an advocate of big government and more taxes. However, he has been pointing out the unsustainability of the public-employee pension system for years now. “From one end of California to the other,” he wrote in an article for CALmatters on February 7, 2018, “hundreds of cities are facing a tsunami of pension costs that officials say is forcing them to reduce vital services and could drive some — perhaps many — into functional insolvency or even bankruptcy. The system that manages pension plans for the state government and thousands of local governments lost a staggering $100 billion or so in the Great Recession a decade ago and has not recovered.”

The “C” word, “crisis,” is showing up more and more to describe the pending financial dilemma. Some of the more radical unionists actually welcome the reference. Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the 35,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), described the union’s militant vision in a speech to 800 activists at the UTLA Leadership Conference on July 29, 2016. “The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl declared. (Emphasis added.) “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education,” he said. UTLA is affiliated with the California Teachers Association (CTA), the National Education Association (NEA), and the American Federation of Teachers/AFL-CIO. While the teachers unions have become one of the most powerful forces in California politics (see our companion article on page 21), they receive much assistance in the push for ever bigger and more costly government from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the police and firefighters unions.

According to the government watchdog group Transparent California, almost 53,000 retired California government employees got annual pensions worth at least $100,000 in 2016. These unsustainable retirement benefits are in addition to enormous payouts of wages and salaries for “public servants.” A 2016 investigation by OpenTheBooks.com found that 218,667 government employees were taking home six-figure paychecks, costing California taxpayers $35 billion.

Crumbling Infrastructure

And California’s list of bad economic news isn’t over yet. Because it has overextended itself with payments to remediate its social-engineering schemes, such as unhindered immigration of poor and unskilled labor, it hasn’t been keeping up on necessary infrastructure work. In its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card on California, the American Society of Civil Engineers cataloged the daunting challenges that the state faces in trying to catch up on a huge backlog of neglected maintenance and service. Among its key findings:

• 1,388 (5.5 percent) of California’s 25,431 bridges are “structurally deficient”;

• 678 dams are rated as “high hazard”;

• Drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years will require an investment of $44.5 billion;

• Wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years amount to $26.2 billion;

• Of the state’s 195,834 miles of public roads, 50 percent are in “poor condition”;

• Driving on roads in need of repair in California costs each driver $844 per year;

• The state’s schools have an estimated capital expenditure gap of $3.2 billion.

While these and many other essential infrastructure projects — levees, the power grid, seaports, canals, and airports — languish, Governor Jerry Brown has been mono-maniacally fixated on his pet “Bullet Train” construction project that is years behind schedule and tens of billions of dollars over budget.

“The California High Speed Rail, dubbed by opponents as the ‘Train to Nowhere,’ has become notorious across the nation for the project’s wishful thinking and immense cost overruns,” says the California-based Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation. “What began as a $43 billion project meant to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco has skyrocketed to an overwhelming $77 billion and pushed back to 2033, and they’ve only just begun the first section of track … in rural Kern County.” Some of the cost estimates now reach $100 billion.  

In 2017, Governor Brown signed SB 1 into law, supposedly aimed at solving the infrastructure dilemma by adding a tax hike of 12 cents per gallon on gasoline and 20 cents per gallon on diesel, making California’s tax of 53.5 cents per gallon the second highest in the nation (lower only than Pennsylvania’s). California’s taxes on diesel now amount to 83.47 cents per gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In addition, vehicle registration fees have increased $25-$175 depending on the age of the automobile. Even electric-car owners will be hit with a $100 fee — but not until 2020. Brown promises that this time the fuel-tax funds will be spent on infrastructure, unlike in the past, when they were spent on a vast array of political buy-off programs. However, the fuel tax/registration fee hikes have caused Trump-sized anger among many state voters, inspiring recall efforts and a ballot proposal to repeal SB 1, which stands a good chance of being passed by voters in November.

Energy Madness

Quite to the contrary of Governor Brown’s claims, the state’s doubling and tripling down on so-called renewable energy is doing neither the state’s poorer residents, nor its environment, nor its bottom line any good. On May 9, 2018, California became the first state to mandate residential solar-energy systems. Beginning on January 1, 2020, all new homes built in the state must come with solar systems installed. The mandate’s proponents estimate this will add $10,000 to the cost of each newly constructed unit. Critics say the cost is likely to be (at least) double that, making California’s already-skyrocketing housing costs even more unaffordable. Not surprisingly, “subsidy entrepreneurs” such as First Solar Inc., Sunrun Inc., Tesla Inc., and other solar producers lined up in support of the government mandates, which will force consumers and taxpayers to buy their “green” products.

This new solar residential mandate is the latest move in the “clean power” campaign of Governor Brown and his fellow Earth saviors in the state legislature to “decarbonize.” In 2015, California’s Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB 350), authored by state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, codified Brown’s goals requiring 50 percent of the state’s electricity to be generated from “renewables” (mostly wind and solar) by 2030. De León and a coalition of enviro-extremists and subsidy-hunting “renewables” producers are now pushing for passage of SB 100, which would require that 100 percent of electricity in the state be produced from renewable resources by the end of 2045. This is hypocritical — and expensive — green virtue-signaling that will bring disastrous consequences. “California imports about 29 percent of its total electricity from out of state, getting it from the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Phoenix, coal-fired generators in the Four Corners area, and hydroelectric dams in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest,” notes Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “Another 50% of its electricity is generated using natural gas that is also brought in from sources outside California, while the state blockades its own enormous gas potential. Its gas is imported via pipelines from Canada, the Rockies and the American Southwest, to power its gas-fired turbines. Those turbines and out-of-state sources also back up its numerous unreliable, bird-killing wind turbines.”

However, rather than moving to decrease its dependency on imported energy, California is making war on its two most dependable clean-energy sources that don’t produce CO2: nuclear power and hydroelectric power.

Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress and co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, says a two-year investigation by Environmental Progress has concluded that “no American politician has killed more clean energy than Governor Jerry Brown — and in ways that often benefited his own family financially.” Shellenberger’s exposé, entitled “Jerry Brown’s Secret War on Clean Energy,” was published by Environmental Progress on January 11, 2018, which, he notes, was “on the day the Brown-controlled California Public Utilities Commission has voted to kill Diablo Canyon, California’s largest single source of clean energy, and the state’s last nuclear plant.”

The Diablo Canyon plant, which provides about nine percent of California’s total electricity, has performed well for 34 years and could be expected to provide safe, reliable power 24/7 for another 25 years. It was built in the 1970s with the blessings of the Sierra Club and many other conservation and environmental groups, before most of the greens turned sour on nuclear. Jerry Brown and his allies were also successful in killing the Rancho Seco plant near Sacramento and the San Onofre plant near San Diego, as well as nixing the plans for construction of the SunDesert nuclear plant near San Diego. Nuclear, the most concentrated source of energy, has a relatively minuscule footprint, requiring only 12.71 acres per megawatt produced, as a 2017 study, The Footprint of Energy, by Strata Policy pointed out. By comparison, solar requires 43.50 acres per megawatt, and wind requires 70.64 acres per megawatt. Attaining de León’s 100-percent “renewables” goal would mean covering the Golden State’s landscape (and viewscape) — already cluttered with solar and wind farms — with a huge additional footprint of windmills and solar panels, not exactly an eco-friendly proposition. (Of course, this assumes solar and wind power are feasible industrial power options — they’re not. Electricity is used at the moment it is created, and it is created in the amount that is needed — too much or too little could cause the electric grid to shut down. Since solar and wind are intermittent and fluctuating power sources, standard power plants always have to be running, ready to back up the “renewables” in case they slow down or stop — called “spinning reserves.” So, in essence, the power needed by Californians is being produced by two separate electrical-generating systems at the same time, but only one is used at a time to provide electricity — hardly environmentally advantageous or cost effective.)

Shellenberger, a leading pro-nuclear environmentalist, points out that Governor Brown and his family have financial incentives (in addition to whatever ideological proclivities may influence them) for their anti-nuclear bigotry. Brown’s father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, Sr., who served as California governor from 1959-1967, developed close ties with Indonesia’s military dictatorship and helped the Indonesian state-owned oil company Pertamina raise “an astonishing $13 billion ($100 billion in 2017 dollars) mostly from U.S. banks.” As a reward, notes Shellenberger, Pertamina “gave him exclusive and highly valuable rights to sell Indonesian oil in California,” as well as “half-ownership of its office in Hong Kong.” When Jerry Brown ran for governor in 1974, Pertamina executives gave him $70,000, the equivalent of $350,000 in 2017 dollars. As governor, Jerry Brown and his appointees not only favored imported Indonesian oil over nuclear power, but over American oil as well.

In 2016, Governor Brown signed an agreement cooked up by the Obama administration and its enviro-extremist allies to tear down four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, part of an ongoing campaign to remove all dams. This will not only heighten California’s energy dilemma, but also greatly aggravate the state’s perennial water woes. (And inadequate water will surely mean woes for many of the state’s farmers — though agriculture is another so-called bright spot that Democrats point to as a sign of their success.) Nuclear and hydro power sources have always been on hand to provide the power grid’s “spinning reserves” needed to cover for the energy spikes that are inherent with intermittent sources such as wind and solar. Democrats are ending that scenario. To make matters worse, on May 31, 2018, Governor Brown signed into law two water bills, Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668, that set statewide mandatory water rationing rules even during non-drought years. Among other things, the new laws set strict water budgets allowing for 55 gallons per person per day for indoor water use, dropping to 50 gallons by 2030. Cities, counties, and water districts that go over budget could face fines of $1,000-$10,000 per day.

Floundering Schools

Even as the Democrats damage California’s environment, raise the cost of living, and overspend on entitlements, they are also failing to provide a proper education for California’s kids, though the provision of public schooling has always been one of the activities that Democrats are most proud of. (And one that California’s radical leftist attorney general, Xavier Becerra, bragged about, saying California was number one in graduating young people from college.)

By virtually every significant assessment of academic achievement, California’s public schools are failing California’s children — and California’s taxpayers. California’s 6.2 million K-12 public-school students comprise nearly one-eighth of the United States’ public-school population. The latest bi-annual National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) — known as The Nation’s Report Card — which came out in 2017, is but one of many indicators that the state’s government schools are flunking out. True, much the same can be said about nearly our entire public-school system nationally. However, one area where California’s schools excel above others nationally is in intellectually crippling their charges, usually proving it by posting scores among the bottom 10 states. The NAEP assesses a relatively large sampling of fourth- and eighth-grade students every other year, and periodically assesses academic achievement of 12th graders as well. Among the many dismal findings of the 2017 Report Card was that nationally, a meager 37 percent of public-school fourth-grade students surveyed performed at or above the NAEP’s Proficient level in reading. California proved it could beat this by going lower still, with only 31 percent of its students reading proficiently. In fourth-grade mathematics, 40 percent of public-school students nationally were at or above Proficient, but California students were nine points lower, at 31 percent.

In eighth-grade mathematics, 33 percent of public-school students nationally were at or above Proficient, while only 29 percent of California’s eighth-graders were at or above the proficiency level. In eighth-grade reading, 35 percent of public-school students nationally were at or above Proficient; in California it was 32 percent. These abysmal trends continue through high school, with the result that, of those students who don’t drop out, the vast majority who graduate may have a diploma, but they don’t have the proficiency in requisite academic skills to take on college or a challenging, well-paying job. Thus, remedial education is a major affair at most colleges and universities.

According to Overview of Remedial Education at the State’s Public Higher Education Segments, a March 1, 2017 report to the California Senate Education Committee by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, three-quarters of first-time California Community College students (more than 150,000) are each fall term deemed unprepared. It also found that more than 40 percent of first-time California State University students (about 25,000 students) and 23 percent of first-time University of California students (about 8,000 students) are each fall term deemed unprepared.

Clearly, California’s schools are not teaching basic academic skills, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. That’s a big problem.  But there is an even bigger problem with what they are teaching. Many parents are up in arms over the new perversion propaganda invading the classrooms under the state-mandated sex-education provisions of the California Healthy Youth Act. Parents are being told that they have no recourse, that their children may not “opt out” of classroom discussions and lessons regarding “sex toys,” homosexual practices, transgender issues, and the like. In a March 29, 2018 memo citing the above-mentioned law, the legal counsel for the Orange County Department of Education stated that parents “may not excuse their children from this instruction.” “However,” the legal memo continues, “parents are free to advise their children that they disagree with some or all of the information presented in the instructional program and express their views on these subjects to their children.” How very decent of the state to give parents permission to disagree with the school program and to permit them to discuss this with their own children!

That is not the only area where parental rights and parental choice are under assault. On June 30, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 277, the nation’s most stringent mandatory vaccine regimen. All children attending public K-12 schools and public day care must be vaccinated, and all previous exemptions based on the religious, moral, or other personal beliefs of parents are overridden.

All of these factors have caused many families to flee the government school system for private schools and homeschooling options. However, those options are under constant assault also, with legislation regularly proposed to limit, harass, or curtail these parental choices in education.

State of the State: A Closer Look

Democrats claim that the nation should follow its lead both culturally and financially, but California is on life support — both financially as well as culturally — and it is becoming more and more apparent to anyone who really cares to look. And the blame surely goes to “progressive policies.”

Copying California in the hopes of improving America generally, either socially, environmentally, or economically, would be like hoping to improve one’s health by bathing in tuberculosis bacteria.

Many Californians offer a sobering view of on-the-ground reality over at that place critics refer to as the Left Coast. “California has one of the worst failing education systems in the country, the highest income taxes, highest gas tax, highest poverty in the nation, a billion dollar budget deficit, the state pension system is underfunded by $1 trillion, and violent crime is on the rise,” says Katie Grimes, a veteran investigative reporter, author, columnist — and native Californian. “But we now have transgender bathrooms, and a new law that allows knowingly transmitting HIV to a partner will no longer be a felony offense.”

On April 17, 2018, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation released its critique of the state’s finances, entitled Follow the Money. “For a state that is said to have one of the highest-ranked economies in the world, as well as some of the highest taxes in the nation, it seems as if California’s policymakers never have enough funding to provide adequate services to the state’s citizens,” the foundation report states. “Just this year,” it continues, “Governor Jerry Brown proposed a $190.3 billion spending plan, with a record-breaking $132 billion general fund budget.”

Follow the Money provides well-documented details to back up the sweeping condemnation of California’s spendthrift government in the report’s introduction. That condemnation charges:

Even with some of the highest taxes in the nation, and the highest state personal income tax by far, California seemingly never has enough money for what matters. California ranks last in quality of life, with outrageous housing prices and more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless population; our children are not receiving the education they need with one of the worst K-12 education systems in the country, ranking in the bottom ten; and our roads are ranked 49th out of 50, with the only roads judged worse than ours being Rhode Island’s. In a state that ranks as having the fourth highest taxes in the nation, how can it be that states without state income taxes rank higher in quality of life, public education and roads?

Yet despite its financial shortfalls, California’s Democrats still welcome with open arms all the illegal aliens who arrive there, even though they’re costly. According to the liberal Public Policy Institute of California, the state is home to between 2.35 and 2.6 million illegal aliens. By these figures, illegals account for more than six percent of the state’s population and nearly one-quarter of the entire illegal-alien population of the United States. However, the actual totals of illegal aliens — both in the state and the nation — are almost certainly much larger than the standard academic and official estimates. California’s liberal-left politicians court and exploit this population as an important political base to be mobilized for further expansion of government spending and government programs to redraw and transform society. This huge population is a major contributing factor to the growing poverty crisis in the state. A recent United Way study found that “1 in 3 households in California, over 3.2 million families — including those with income well above the Federal Poverty Level — struggle every month to meet basic needs.”

The so-called sanctuary city movement, which was until recently a rogue operation of a relatively few far-left mayors and city councils, received a huge boost in October 2017 when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation making California a “sanctuary state.” The state’s leading politicians have openly announced their defiance of federal law on immigration matters and basically support all efforts to break down our borders and allow open migration.

Since so many California residents (legal and illegal) cannot read or speak English, the state spends millions of dollars on translating signs, instruction manuals, election ballots, textbooks, classroom materials, and government documents into multiple languages. California announced in 2014 that eight new languages would be added to its online voter registration, noting that in addition to English and Spanish, Californians will now be able to choose between Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. The California Department of Motor Vehicles now provides driver tests in Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Persian/Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog/Filipino, Thai, Tongan, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Then there’s the crime. “The County and City of Los Angeles are the ‘gang capital’ of the nation,” according to the website of the Los Angeles Police Department. It goes on to note: “There are more than 450 active gangs in the City of Los Angeles. Many of these gangs have been in existence for over 50 years. These gangs have a combined membership of over 45,000 individuals.” That’s just in the greater Los Angeles area. Most other California cities, as well as even small rural towns, have gang violence and gang crime problems as well. The gang “culture” is one of the other major exports of California to the rest of the nation. The Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Mexican Mafia, Sureños, Norteños, Hells Angels, Devils Disciples, Nuestra Familia, and dozens of other violent gangs call California home — while extending their tentacles into virtually every other state, as well.

And don’t count on carrying a gun for self-protection. In July 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed five new laws severely restricting civilian ownership of firearms and ammunition. Second Amendment defenders referred to this all-out assault on the right to keep and bear arms in apocalyptic terms, calling it a “Gunmageddon.” Over the past several decades, California’s Democratic politicians, who control the legislature (and often the governorship as well), have steadily added new laws that make it increasingly difficult for Californians to legally defend themselves and even to own and operate firearms. This one issue alone has been responsible for a sizable exodus of Californians to other states more hospitable to gun rights.

Fight or Flight?

California is the cornerstone in the Left Coast’s “Blue Wall” — California, Oregon, and Washington — the wealthy, coastal metro areas controlled by “progressive” Democrats. From Los Angeles to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, to Portland and Seattle, America’s Pacific littoral is deep-blue occupied territory typified by one-party rule enforced by bureaucratic oppression, media beat-downs, and, increasingly, the mob violence of identity politics. The leftward agenda in this crucial region is driven by funding from both private and public sources. From the private side, politicians and their militant “community organizer” allies can rely on huge contributions from billionaire high-tech oligarchs, hedge-fund titans, and, of course, the Hollywood glitterati. On the public side, there are numerous spigots that spew grants and contracts (read: “activist cash”) to the ever-burgeoning welter of social-justice warriors who provide constant pressure for ever more government spending and control. Because of California’s horrific political policies, for years, many of California’s best and brightest have been exiting the state. Their reasons: economics, politics, social ills, family safety, and personal liberty. “Despite claims that people leaving California are old and poor,” writes Joel Kotkin, “the two most recent years’ data from the IRS shows larger net losses of people in the 35 to 54 age group. Losses were particularly marked among those making between $100,000 and $200,000 annually.” Thousands of businesses have also fled.

However, many are staying to fight what others see as a hopeless battle. The stay-and-fighters point to widespread dissatisfaction and anger with the craziness and oppression of the state’s current Democratic order, and the galvanizing impact that President Trump’s victory has had on formerly dispirited conservatives in the state. They point also to popular outcries over the state fuel tax, sanctuary cities, and other issues that cut across party lines. Then, too, there are the deep divisions and bitter in-fighting among the Left, far-Left, and far-far-Left factions over who will lead the Democratic Party into the future. All of these factors, and others beside, say the stay-and-fighters, mean that California is not a lost cause, that it can be saved from total collapse and destruction. All of America should hope and pray they are right, and give them every encouragement and assistance possible in their heroic effort.

Photo: franckreporter/GettyImagesPlus

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