When we moved from Washington, D.C. to Eureka, a small city and county seat (pop. 30,000) on the northwest coast of California, we often heard the phrase, "That's life behind the Redwood Curtain." This referred to the widespread feeling of isolation felt in this corner of the state, above and among the thick forests of redwood trees that are the region's symbol.
This feeling does not stem from some psychological malfunction; it is based partly on history; partly on modern reality. From the Gold Rush until the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, it was not easy to get to this land of timber, lumber, ranching and commercial fishing. In the late 19th and early 20th century most travelers came from San Francisco by small steamship. So did commerce until a railroad was built.
Today, there is no railroad. An avalanche in 1998 did it in. There is almost no sea-borne commerce in and out of Eureka Harbor, despite the fact it is on a sheltered bay. Highway 101 is the lifeline to the world "down below," as the locals put it. In winter it may be closed several times by landslides at a place called Confusion Hill. The highway will move away from there, but the project won't be completed until early 2009.
Another form of transportation follows Highway 101 all the way from the San Francisco Bay Area. It is the fiber optic cable that brings the Internet to the approximately 140,000 people who live in this region. There is but one cable for all of their computer traffic. There is no back-up cable, despite much local clamoring for one. The other day, a highway crew accidentally severed it at noontime. Thus, for the rest of the day, banks could not move transactions; retail stores could not complete debit and credit card transactions without using cumbersome manual alternatives. Individuals and families could not conduct their personal business. No telling how much money was lost to the local economy, which was scarcely growing anyway.
This is the second break in the fiber optic cable in six months. It comes on the heels of the state's Transportation Commission allocating to large population centers money slated to bypass Willits, a small bottleneck town through which all Highway 101 traffic now moves. Heavy lobbying by San Francisco and Los Angeles area legislators won the day.
Much of this might-makes-right shunting aside of rural needs stems from one-man-one-vote court decisions several decades ago. Many states originally modeled their legislatures after Congress: the upper house giving equal representation to all counties; the lower being organized by population. Now that both houses are assigned by population, the voice of rural communities is regularly drowned out.
That is a harbinger of what could happen if the left's movement to bypass the Electoral College were to succeed. The College, by assigning all of a state's electoral votes to the winner of that state in a presidential election, insures balance between high- and low-population states. If that process were eliminated and the winner declared on the basis of cumulative national vote, rural interests would see the president elected, in effect, by the residents of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and handful of other large cities. The nation could end up with many more "Redwood Curtains."
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