Monday, August 31, 2009

State of Emergency

The Terminator returned from the East Coast to declare California in a state of emergency, due to the tremendous fires in the L.A. area. Apart from the immense damage, the loss of life (2 firemen so far) and the cost of trying to fight them (with no success so far) these fires threaten the Mount Wilson Observatory, and have caused the evacuation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which means among other things that the Mars rovers have stopped in their tracks.

That the effects of the CA fires extend to Mars is just one of the operative metaphors for this state's plight. Schools are reopening, and starting to cope with budget cuts, and no one involved in them--students, teachers, administrators apart from the highest ones--is being affected. Mandatory furloughs and across the board pay cuts are just the beginning.

The spiral downward is accelerating due to these cuts. The CA economy, particularly hard-hit because of high participation in the housing market bubble, started to falter, and to send less in taxes to Sacramento. Refusing to raise revenues, the Terminator terminated or disemboweled programs mostly for the poor, old and sick. Very heroic. Already the CA economy appears resistant to the improvements seen elsewhere--the official unemployment rate rose to nearly 12%, the highest in more than 60 years. Despite the federal recovery act, construction jobs fell, as did tourist related jobs, the combination hitting the Latino community hardest. But that was even before the decline in pay for state workers, and the loss of jobs because of cut programs. Those effects are now rippling through the economy as well as the society.

Since the Terminator gave in so bravely to the quaint but unaffordable anti-gubment hysteria, the state is helpless when it is clear that government is going to be needed more than ever--and these fires are Exhibit One.

First of all, look at them. These are very powerful fires. And as this eloquent diary attests, this is not even yet fire season. These fires aren't supposed to happen in August, not in southern California. But the entire southwest is parched, in the midst of a multiple year drought. The Climate Crisis is coming to get them, and it's not going away.

Just as these fires threaten the air, the water, the business and public resources of the region and beyond, California's economic tailspin will affect the rest of America and the world economy. But the Terminator plus the perfect storm of a helpless state government and a total leadership vacuum in the state, together forestall much hope that California can fix itself any time soon.

No comments: