When I was in high school, the most popular girl in my class, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen, was also the prettiest girl in the school, and everybody liked her. Except me. I didn't like her. Somebody had to set an example.
This girl had long blond hair, came from money, she had more clothes than Barbie, they went on summer vacations to places like Hawaii, and all the boys were madly in love with her.
When I got out of high school, I never gave her a second thought. Until decades later, when it turns out she was going to be at an afternoon Bar-B-Que that I was also going to attend. Nobody in that backyard could have been more surprised than me to see this nondescript short, leather-skinned, bleached-blond portly little female who was certainly pleasant, but nobody would have mistaken for a beauty queen.
My sister told me later that high school cheerleaders don't age well. I think it was one of the first really important lessons of my adult life.
I was thinking about her, the cheerleader, when I read an article in the L.A. Times last week about the once-great-state of California which for a long time represented the state of eternal youth in our nation. Except for that stuff about earthquakes and Charlie Manson, most kids from everywhere in the country at some point in their life wanted to go to California. Way back in the 1940s, Lana Turner was discovered in a soda fountain in Hollywood (or so they say, and I do not want anyone to tell me otherwise), and went on to become a big movie star.
Leave the snow and the tedious back-breaking factory jobs to states like New Jersey and Michigan. In California everyone has good-paying easy jobs with casual hours and terrific benefits. Forget about the row houses and tenements, because in California everybody lives in a Craftsman bungalow, or a ranch house, with a big back-yard and brand new schools for the kids. There is sunshine year round, you can pick an orange off a low-hanging branch while driving down the freeway in your convertible, you don't even need heat in your house because it's never cold, the beaches are fabulous and everyone is incredibly fit and surfs quite well. Or so we believed.
But now, appropriately much like Gloria Swanson's final scene in Sunset Boulevard, the State of California is being exposed to the daylight, no filters, no makeup, just the old, tired, wrinkled, exhausted state that has been used up by the residents, all the money gone. Like a big party, but the next day when the hangover hits and the mess is disclosed.
What happened to California? First and foremost, the Republicans have wanted to destroy California for years because it is a source of funding for Democrats. So the ever-charming Terminator smiled at the folks with big white caps and got his hands on the controls. He was and is incompetent, of course, but did his part to ruin everything.
Uncontrolled growth is responsible for much of the deterioration. Time to go home, somebody needs to say. Go to Iowa or Indiana. Go somewhere else. How many new homes have been built in the past decade, sold to people who could not afford them, empty now, people unemployed and unable to pay a mortgage. The local authorities responsible for controlling growth did nothing to stop what was a very foreseeable disaster. Now so many of the people who worked in the building trades and related fields are unemployed, and will have no work for many years. What's next for them?
The hospitals have often been bankrupted by thousands of uninsured poor people who use the ERs instead of clinics because the ER is free -- if they can't find you, or can't catch you, anyway, it's free. The schools have turned into a warzone between the credentialed, five-years-of-college teachers with Mexican-American backgrounds who decided, for bizarre reasons, that it was "oppressive" to teach children in English, and lobbied to force schools to create classrooms in which students are taught only in Spanish, and often by non-credentialed teachers. The parents of the students, as an aside, often fight the district and the teachers trying to get their kids into classrooms where they will be instructed in English. Some "Hispanic pride" nonsense being used to deny kids an education.
There has been an open-border policy under 8 years of Bush, anyway, which has allowed millions of Mexicans to come to California to work illegally, for very bad wages, which brings down everyone else's wages. And those same open borders are the preferred drug-trafficking avenues, so gang-bangers have flourished, taking over entire cities throughout the state, terrorizing the residents and turning nice neighborhoods into intolerable zones of violence and drugs. Or, in other words, exactly what the Republicans wanted.
Where's the leadership? There is none. Not from either of the two major parties.
There are entire communities now full of new, vacant homes. Don't believe the bull about an economic recovery being on the way. It's going to take a long time to sell all those homes, a long time before there will be jobs in construction, brokers, trades. The glory days based on this real estate balloon are over, and all the people who came to California to get rich will more likely lose everything. Aerospace manufacturing: gone. Most of the manufacturing from the state which provided work for the citizens has now gone to third world countries and has not been replaced. The living wage is gone. Retail, minimum wage jobs are the best available, and most people cannot pay their bills on such low wages. Nor can they pay for health insurance or save for retirement.
The government of California, both parties, has been wringing their hands: what to do, what to do. But you know what? They do nothing. Just like at the federal government level, they do nothing. What should they do? Tax the rich people, just to start. Tax the rich people, raise taxes on incomes above $150,000. Start there. Then tell the foreclosing lenders to either re-sell their houses or tear them down. The state would be better off if the population was cut in half. No need to leave those empty houses sitting there. Nobody lives there, and nobody can afford to buy them.
What else? Pass laws making lawns illegal. Isn't this the Southwest, in an arid zone, permanent drought? Get rid of lawns altogether and make water rationing permanent. Encourage people to leave. Maybe hire buses, and take people to Wyoming, or one of those states that doesn't have too many people. How about Utah? Idaho. There are too many people.
Then throw every single person out of the elected position in the state government and start over. What a bunch of incompetent losers. Hope you enjoyed the party, boys, but the state is now in ruins.
(From the L.A. Times, 8/22/09, by Alana Semuels):
Unemployment in California hits post-World War II high
"The state's rate jumps to 11.9% in July as the U.S. rate declines to 9.4%. Job losses have an outsize effect on Latinos in the state as work in the construction and hospitality sectors vanishes."
"California's jobless rate reached a fresh post-World War II high in July, climbing to 11.9%, a sobering reminder that though the nation's deep downturn may be nearing its end, the state's employment woes are far from over. Golden State employers cut their payrolls by 35,800 jobs in July, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. That's a significant improvement over monthly losses that averaged 76,000 over the first half of the year. Still, July's numbers were worse than some analysts had expected, rising from 11.6% in June and led by declines in trade, construction and manufacturing."...
"[S]ome regions of the country are expected to suffer fallout from the bursting of the housing bubble for years to come. That includes California, which is now tied with Oregon for the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, behind Michigan, Rhode Island and Nevada. .... California's battered construction and housing industries, long pillars of the state economy, remain troubling sources of weakness. Over the last year, the state has lost 760,200 jobs, nearly 1 in 5 of them in construction. White-collar workers have likewise suffered from the housing crash as thousands of jobs in banking, mortgage processing and real estate sales have vanished."
"In July, California's Latino unemployment rate hit 12.7%, dwarfing the white jobless rate of 9.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black unemployment remains the highest in the state at 14.2%."
[NOTE: These figures are questionable, because they do not include the people who have lost jobs but did not qualify for unemployment compensation, which includes many of the illegal immigrants who work off the books; it may not include people whose unemployment compensation benefits have run out even though they do not have a new job; they do not include people who lost full-time work and now have part-time, but don't warn enough to pay their bills. So overall, the unemployment numbers in this article appear to be lower than they likely are].