America’s Agricultural Angst

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

In this high-tech information age few look to the most basic industries as sources of national economic power. Yet no sector in America is better positioned for the future than agriculture–if we allow it to reach its potential.

Like manufacturers and homebuilders before them, farmers have found themselves in the crosshairs of urban aesthetes and green activists who hope to impose their own Utopian vision of agriculture. This vision includes shutting down large-scale scientifically run farms and replacing them with small organic homesteads and urban gardens.

Troublingly, the assault on mainstream farmers is moving into the policy arena. Read more

Boomer Economy Stunting Growth in Northern California

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The road north across the Golden Gate leads to some of the prettiest counties in North America. Yet behind the lovely rolling hills, wineries, ranches and picturesque once-rural towns lies a demographic time bomb that neither political party is ready to address.

Paradise is having a problem with the evolving economy. A generational conflict is brewing, pitting the interests and predilections of well-heeled boomers against a growing, predominately Latino working class. And neither the emerging “progressive” politics nor laissez-faire conservatism is offering much in the way of a solution.

These northern California counties–which include Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Marin–have become beacons for middle- and upper-class residents from the Bay Area. These generally liberal people came in part to enjoy the lifestyle of this mild, bucolic region, and many have little interest in changing it.

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Purple Politics: Is California Moving to the Center?

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

You don’t have to be a genius, or a conservative, to recognize that California’s experiment with ultra-progressive politics has gone terribly wrong. Although much of the country has suffered during the recession, California’s decline has been particularly precipitous–and may have important political consequences.

Outside Michigan, California now suffers the highest rate of unemployment of all the major states, with a post-World War II record of 12.2%. This statistic does not really touch the depth of the pain being felt, particularly among the middle and working classes, many of whom have become discouraged and are no longer counted in the job market.

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California’s Golden Age

Appearing in:

Truthdig.com

California may yet be a civilization that is too young to have produced its Thucydides or Edward Gibbon, but if it has, the leading candidate would be Kevin Starr. His eight-part “Dream” series on the evolution of the Golden State stands alone as the basic comprehensive work on California. Nothing else comes remotely close.

His most recent volume, “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963,” covers what might be seen as the state’s true Golden Age. To be sure, there is some intriguing history before—the evolution of Hollywood in the 1920s, the reaction to the Depression and the fevered buildup during the Second World War—but this was California’s great moment, its Periclean peak or Augustan age. Read more

Hard Times In The High Desert

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The High Desert region north and east of Los Angeles sits 3,000 feet above sea level. A rough, often starkly beautiful region of scrubby trees, wide vistas and brooding brown mountains, the region seems like a perfect setting for an old Western shoot ’em up.

Today, it’s the stage for a different kind of battle, one that involves a struggle over preserving the American dream. For years, the towns of the High Desert–places like Victorville, Adelanto, Hesperia, Barstow and Apple Valley–have lured thousands of working- and middle-class Californians looking for affordable homes.

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Salinas Dispatch: A Silver Lining in the Golden State

Appearing in:

Forbes

From a distance, a crisis often takes on ideological colorings. This is true in California, where the ongoing fiscal meltdown has devolved into a struggle between anti-tax conservatives and free-spending green leftist liberals.

Yet more nuances surface when you approach a crisis from the context of a specific place. Over the past two years my North Dakota-based consulting partner, Delore Zimmerman, and I have been working in Salinas, a farm community of 150,000, 10 miles inland from the Monterey coast and an hour’s drive south of San Jose.
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Who Killed California’s Economy?

Appearing in:

Forbes

Right now California’s economy is moribund, and the prospects for a quick turnaround are not good. Unable to pay its bills, the state is issuing IOUs; its once strong credit rating has collapsed. The state that once boasted the seventh-largest gross domestic product in the world is looking less like a celebrated global innovator and more like a fiscal basket case along the lines of Argentina or Latvia.

It took some amazing incompetence to toss this best-endowed of places down into the dustbin of history. Yet conventional wisdom views the crisis largely as a legacy of Proposition 13, which in effect capped only taxes.

This lets too many malefactors off the hook. I covered the Proposition 13 campaign for the Washington Post and examined its aftermath up close. It passed because California was running huge surpluses at the time, even as soaring property taxes were driving people from their homes.

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Can California Make A Comeback?

Appearing in:

Forbes

These are times that thrill some easterners’ souls. However bad things might be on Wall Street or Beacon Hill, there’s nothing more pleasing to Atlantic America than the whiff of devastation on the other coast.

And to be sure, you can make a strong case that the California dream is all but dead. The state is effectively bankrupt, its political leadership discredited and the economy, with some exceptions, doing considerably worse than most anyplace outside Michigan. By next year, suggests forecaster Bill Watkins, unemployment could nudge up towards an almost Depression-like 15%.

Despite all this, I am not ready to write off the Golden State. For one thing, I’ve seen this movie before. The first time was in the mid 1970s. The end of the Vietnam War devastated the state’s then powerful defense industry, leaving large swaths of unemployment and generating the first talk about the state’s long-term decline.

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