Readers of this blog will know that I am not fond of Bill Maher. I occasionally find him funny and he has an occasional insight. But for every good joke, there are ten awful ones and for every smart observation, there are a dozen idiocies. I’ve hit him twice before for issuing idiot screeds that make liberals cheer but are factually, intellectually and humorously challenged.
His latest is about the paradise they are building out in California. Most of us think California has serious problems. But according to Bill Maher, California is fucking Shangri-La.
New Rule: Conservatives who love to brag about American exceptionalism must come here to California, and see it in person. And then they should be afraid — very afraid. Because while the rest of the country is beset by stories of right-wing takeovers in places like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin,
Those are called elections, incidentally.
California is going in the opposite direction and creating the kind of modern, liberal nation the country as a whole can only dream about. And not only can’t the rest of the country stop us — we’re going to drag you along with us.
It wasn’t that long ago that pundits were calling California a failed state and saying it was ungovernable. But in 2010, when other states were busy electing whatever Tea Partier claimed to hate government the most, we elected a guy who actually liked it, Jerry Brown.
Since then, everything Republicans say can’t or won’t work — gun control, immigration reform, high-speed rail — California is making work. And everything conservatives claim will unravel the fabric of our society — universal healthcare, higher taxes on the rich, gay marriage, medical marijuana — has only made California stronger. And all we had to do to accomplish that was vote out every single Republican. Without a Republican governor and without a legislature being cock-blocked by Republicans, a $27 billion deficit was turned into a surplus, continuing the proud American tradition of Republicans blowing a huge hole in the budget and then Democrats coming in and cleaning it up.
So much to take on there. Let’s start with California’s light rail project, which Maher praises. This project, now slated to cost $68 billion — more than twice the original price tag — has secured less than a fifth of its funding and even that has recently been squashed by a judge for not complying with the law. And California’s expansion of Medicaid? They’re going to have to slash payments to doctors to make the math work. Good luck finding a doctor when Medicaid won’t pay him even $10 for a pelvic exam.
And California’s budget? It is technically balanced — partially because of spending cuts that Democrats previously opposed. But that balance is a projection and relies on a lot of assumptions about tax revenue that may not come to pass. Even if it does, the LA Times reminds us:
Sacramento is legally obligated to pay many billions of dollars withheld from schools, local governments and healthcare providers as lawmakers struggled repeatedly to balance the books. It owes Wall Street more per resident than almost every other state. And it has accumulated a crushing load of debt for retiree pensions and healthcare, now totaling more than taxpayers spend each year on all state programs combined.
The budget Brown proposed Thursday addresses only a small portion of the overall debt, which stems from the same types of bills that drove cities like Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino into bankruptcy. The state is likely to find its debt consuming an ever larger share of money meant for the basic needs of government.
That’s not to mention the unfunded liability in California’s enormous state pensions which Moody’s recently estimated at $329 billion.
You know who else balanced his state’s budget? Scott Walker. One of the ways was by breaking the union monopoly on health insurance policies which dramatically cut the state’s health insurance bill.
How was Governor Moonbeam able to do this? It’s amazing, really. We did something economists call cutting spending AND raising taxes. I know, it sounds like some crazy science fiction story, but you see, here in California, we’re not just gluten-free and soy-free and peanut-free, we’re Tea Party free! Virginia could do it, too, but they’re too busy forcing ultrasounds on women who want abortions. Texas could, but they don’t because they’re too busy putting Jesus in the science textbooks. Meanwhile their state is so broke they want to replace paved roads with gravel. I thought we had this road-paving thing licked in the 1930s, but not in Texas. But hey, in Dallas you can carry a rifle into a Chuck E. Cheese, cause that’s freedom. Which is great, but it wasn’t so great when that unregulated fertilizer plant in Waco blew up. In California, when things blow up, it’s because we’re making a Jason Statham movie.
The West Fertilizer Company was regulated actually. It was Saint Obama’s beloved EPA that failed to enforce those regulations properly. The road they are replacing with gravel is one road and it’s being replaced because it’s been torn apart by heavy traffic due to Texas’ oil boom. And the reason people can carry guns into restaurants in Texas is because of the Luby’s Massacre. A man drove into a Luby’s and murdered 23 people at least in part because guns were forbidden in Texas restaurants. Suzanne Hupp had a gun, but left in the car in compliance with the law. She later became a legislator and made sure that law was changed. But apparently, no one cares about crusading female Texas lawmakers unless they’re opposing abortion regulations.
California isn’t perfect, but it is in our nature from being on the new coast to be up for trying new things — and maybe that’s why the right wingers are always hoping we fail. On the campaign trail last year, Mitt Romney warned that if we didn’t follow his conservative path, “America is going to become like Greece, or… Spain, or Italy, or… California.” And that was a big laugh line with Mormons, because Greece, Spain and Italy have some art and poetry and theatre, but nothing like Salt Lake City. Yes, Mitt sure hates California, which is why he moved to San Diego. To the house with the car elevator.
Utah may not have Hollywood. But they have the 7th lowest poverty rate in the nation; California is 35th and LA County is one the poorest counties in America. They have the 7th lowest rate of unemployment; wonderful California is 47th. Utah is listed as the 3rd best place to do business; California as the 39th. Utah is first in Gini coefficient, meaning it is the most economically equal state in the nation. California? 44th.
Of course, I’m sure California’s economy doesn’t feel that bad to Bill Maher, who is rich and who is surrounded by people who are employed. California, as argued in this absolute must-read is an increasingly feudal state with a growing “liberal apartheid” between rich mostly white people and poor mostly latino serfs. In the parts of California where they don’t make TV shows and software, unemployment is in double digits, poverty is increasing and mobility is downward. Maybe this explains Maher’s enthusiasm for high-speed rail. Serf areas so depressing when you’re one of the lords. High speed rail will make those new ghettos zip by in a flash (note to Bill: window shades are cheaper).
Utah’s success is not necessary a result of their politics, of course. A large part of it is because of those kooky crazy Mormons who work hard, look after each other, tithe and stay away from drugs and alcohol. But if Bill wants to make California look good, he could hardly have a picked a worse group of people to compare to.
In lots of areas, California seems to have decided not to wait around for the knuckle-draggers and the selfish libertarian states to get on board. They can mock “European style democracies” all they want, we are building one here, and people like it — the same way when Americans come back from a vacation in Europe they all say the same thing: “Wow, you can see titties on the beach!” But they also remark on the clean air, the modern, first world infrastructure, the functioning social safety net, and bread that doesn’t taste like powdered glue. And they wonder, “Why can’t we get that here?” Unless they’re Republicans, in which case they wonder, “How can people live like that?”
Ha-ha! Because America doesn’t already have clean air and water. Oh, wait, the WHO’s assessment of our environmental burden of disease says we are one of the cleanest countries on Earth. The WEF ranks us 25th in infrastructure, which sounds bad until you remember that we are larger than any five countries in the top 25 combined (seriously, they rank Singapore as #2. The United States is literally 10,000 times the size of Singapore. You simply can not compare the two countries). And Europeans are so selfless and so full of love for their society, that they’re making sure that no future generations of Europeans are born into it with the lowest fertility rates in the world.
It’s so ironic — the two things conservatives love the most, the free market and states rights — are the two things that are going to bend this country into California’s image as a socialist fagtopia. Maybe our constipated Congress can’t pass gun control laws, but we just did. Lots of ‘em. Because we don’t give a shit about the NRA. Out here that stands for “Nuts, Racists, and Assholes.” So while the rest of America is debating whether it’s a good idea to allow guns in bars or a great idea to allow guns in bars, California is about to ban lead bullets. Which is a no-brainer, because bullets don’t need lead, and lead kills birds and gets into the food supply of people who hunt their own food. Which explains why Ted Nugent is such a raving lunatic.
California, incidentally, is ranked 30th in violent crime rate. Utah? 7th.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, our minimum wage is almost three dollars higher than the national rate, and in 10 years a third of our electricity will come from renewable energy and 15 percent of our cars will be electric.
Again, see that business environment thing. I’m sure all those unemployed people are happy knowing that if they could get a job, it would pay $3 an hour more.
This isn’t just trolling by Bill Maher. This is something much deeper. This is a complete and utter insensitivity to what is going on his state. Conservatives are accused of not caring about the poor and not understanding what it’s like to live in poverty. There may be some validity to that when it comes to the pundit class. But’s definitely not true of the bulk of conservatives, including the dreaded Tea Partiers. Conservatives donate more money and time to charity. But what is this but Bill Maher not caring about the poor and not understanding what it’s like to live on the edge? He’s locking himself in a limo and crowing that things look great to him. But if you look at the numbers, California is a shambles. If you’re not a high-powered Hollywood or tech person, it’s one of the worst states you could live in. And Maher thinks this is the vision for America?
Well, maybe it is. Because California is working fucking great. For Bill Maher.