David Mas Masumoto: Out with the dragon (2012) and in with the snake (2013)

By DAVID MAS MASUMOTOJanuary 4, 2013 

Whew, what a year. And what's to come? We are ending the Year of the Dragon and 2013 will be the Year of the Snake.

First, let's look back at the past year, a wild 12 months of passion, ambition and big things.

Politics, divisive, ugly and mean spirited, overshadowed 2012. The intensity and winning at any cost of a dragon personality characterized the elections. Nationally, the presidential race began in early January in Iowa as Republicans began their brutal primaries and the weekly front runner sprint. We followed daily polls, consumed by swing states and debates. And Ohio. It ended with the re-election of President Barack Obama, which surprised many because it wasn't close.

State and local elections were driven by huge amounts of money (the Munger family itself contributed more than $54 million) and the rise of outsider interests who sought to buy an election. But the political dragon emerging from the November election may be the new supermajority Democrats now hold in both the California Assembly and Senate. Will they work with the fearless and conceited nature of a dragon, believing their will should prevail?

The dragon year was marked by a huge event: the Supreme Court upholding of Obamacare. This legislation permeates the lives of all Californians, and the valley may feel the greatest impact as we move forward with thousands of uninsured and low income residents who had few health care choices. We won't know the impact for years, but it may become the cornerstone of Obama's legacy.

Egos were behind local stories in 2012, from the battle to keep the basketball Kings in Sacramento to the ongoing debate over salmon restoration in the San Joaquin river. We witnessed the sick temperaments of killings, from the April conviction of the killer of a Placerville school principal to the Fresno meatpacking plant murders in November. Valley Sikhs were stunned by the Wisconsin temple shootings in August.

Perhaps not slain but at least temporarily averted was a dismal future of school budgets, if not for the passage of Proposition 30.

The economy lost any momentum and hope of a powerful recovery. All signs point to a painfully slow process, much to the chagrin of a dragon personality. Housing does show signs of life as well as the growth of a potentially new source of tax revenue: the legalization of pot. Or could this simply be a dragon blowing smoke?

2013 is the year of the snake. Snakes are wise creatures, and we hope sage decisions will greet us in the new year. Charming and cunning are two descriptors that lend themselves to a year of mediation. Local decisions loom: state budgets, University of California and California State University tuition hikes, cities and their own versions of fiscal cliffs, union battles and calls for no new taxes.

The valley has a character that often resists change. We're comfortable in a atmosphere of stability, reinforcing the status quo. Then perhaps inevitably linked will be a snakelike quality of deception, which may be the only way to find compromise, as politicians plot and scheme a solution. We may be repulsed by such sinister tactics, but they may be our only hope of real action. Am I calling for more policy-making snakes? Yes. It may be what politicians do best.

I hope we rise to the challenge, face danger fearlessly as we confront challenges with decisive strikes and deadly blows. Snakes hate to fail and their deeds will be viewed as acts of supremacy. But this will be the year of less talk; actions speak the loudest.

Agriculture will continue to be the shining star of economic recovery for our valley. Locally, survival will be based on finding the best deals; we will never spend money as freely as dragons.

Our rural cultural sensibility will prevail: anchored in self-reliance, guarded caution against quick fixes, suspicion of outsiders. We remain deep thinkers and socially engaged. Those requiring our help will have to turn to the private sector with declining public support. But a work ethic will prevail: the strongest will survive. Brace yourself for a world founded on meritocracy and ever expanding inequality, but the poor will remain invisible.

2013 will be a year of turning inward with private, contemplative thought mixed with a strong sense of responsibility. Don't look for great communicators; snakes are not outwardly emotional, and they conceal things. But that's how things may get done in the coming year.

A headstrong strategy may best ensure future success. A new normal of stubbornness. It's how we have always survived in our valley.

Masumoto of Del Rey, an award-winning author and organic farmer, writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Email: masmasumoto@gmail.com.

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