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Stateside: So Long, It's Been Good To Know Ya

If smirks wore boots, George W's was wearing steel caps with razor blades in the toes the day, last week, he was asked if the incoming administration would keep a federal order in place to help California weather the power crisis. California passed bad law, Bush said, so it was up to California to rectify the situation. Fair enough. That's what the Constitution was all about - giving maximum lawmaking powers to the individual states.

And you need look no further than your pay packet to see why Bush's line about reducing taxes raised the biggest cheer at his inauguration speech this morning. From a $100 bonus I was paid at the end of last year, $35.65 went to Washington - $28 in federal tax, $1.45 in Medicare, and $6.20 in compulsory retirement and disability insurance. California got $6.

Consider this: the California budget is humungously in the black; the federal budget in the red (if you don't use debts to create a 'surplus'), and despite all the talk about what the federal government is going to do about education only 9c in every education dollar comes from Washington. States find the rest from their own taxes, from bond measures in individual school districts, from charitable foundations, and from wherever else they can scarify it.

Frankly, I think its time for California to secede. Its star was only added to the flag in 1850. Pardon my incivility (in The Teaspoon's definition of the term - cynical instead of trusting) but wasn't that a year after gold was discovered here? Before that it was part of Mexico until some cowboys in Sonoma overpowered Gen. Vallejo's troops and declared a republic in 1846. About which, frankly, nobody back east gave a damn until they saw the chance to live off the golden state's bounty.

In very many ways California is a world away from Washington. As Bush said in this morning's speech: "Sometimes it seems we share a continent but not a country." The thing that most strikes the newcomer here is that America is 50 different countries. And it is a fact of state lawmakers' lives that they have to come up with ingenious and not very popular ways of protecting their own turf.

As a random example, a letter to the editor of the Winter 2000/01 "RV Journal" begins: "What right has the State of California, namely [Governor] Davis, got in making the ridiculous decision regarding over 40 foot motorhomes. Banishing them completely is a violation of our rights." I should explain that anyone with $144,000 to spare and an ordinary drivers licence can buy one of these diesel-powered Waikato farmhouses on wheels and drive away in it, even if they've never driven anything bigger than a Honda Civic before.

According to the magazine's editor, the reason Davis banned any recreational vehicles over 40 foot long is that, although he could make licensing a requirement for California owners, the state can't enforce the law with out of state drivers that come from areas not requiring a special addendum to their licence. Short of creating a border crossing on every road into the state to check on out-of-state licences there was really no other solution to the problem.

So, why not throw up the border posts? Is there any value to California belonging to the United States of America? From the US point of view there is - California is the engine that drives the American economy. But California's population consists of a majority of minorities, mostly from countries to the south and to the west. Perhaps they emigrated here to be US citizens rather than Californians, but I suspect very few of them would think the opportunities that a 49-state USA could offer would be better than the opportunites a Californian nation could.

Already the tone of the Democratic Party is beginning to change here in California because of Al Gore's loss. The people finding favour now are those who support becoming more mindful of the nation's 'bible belt'. For one pragmatic reason - to win back Washington. Why bother? The amount of money and energy that Californian Democrats spend on having power in Washington could be far better spent on building a nation of 40 million people. Or more - it might not just be California that secedes.

I recently found a poster made from a 1982 Horsey cartoon that was in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Entitled "The World According to Ronald Reagan", it shows Ronnie in his sheriff's outfit, hands poised above the missiles in his holsters about to have a shoot-out with his counterpart in "USSR (Godless communists, liars and spies)". The bloated USA consists of California, with a small enclave in the northwest called "Ecotopia (environmental freaks and quiche eaters)"; the north east, where there is an enclave of "Democrats and welfare bums"; and an area inhabited by "Republicans and other real Americans" which makes up the rest of the country and includes the White House.

The Middle East is labeled variously "Our oil" and "Muslim fanatics" with Israel extending all the way up to and including Lebanon. A "Palestinian homeland (proposed)" consists of a tiny island up in the Arctic Circle. Taiwan is "Our China" and the People's Republic is "Their China". Alaska and Canada are "unexplored wasteland" and oil rigs dot Alaska and the coastal waters of the western states.

Some 19 years later is the world according to George W. Bush any different? And does the new California want - or need - to be part of that world view any more?

Lea Barker
20 January, 2001

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