The Magazine

Paradise Lost

California is not too big to fail.

Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By K.E. GRUBBS JR. and SHAWN STEEL
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The grim conversations begin and end with public safety, but every conceivable policy issue​—​the economy, education, the environment​—​has made its way into the crucible, testing whether a state can survive with a prosperous, enlightened populace under the political left’s expensive, freedom-killing programs. Our Burkean libertarianism tells us that California’s current travails will prove it cannot.

Take Ka Pasasouk (please). Now charged with orchestrating four homicides, the Laotian had stuck his thumb in the eye of California’s criminal justice and immigration bureaucracies for more than five years. Charged with felonies ranging from auto theft and assault to illegal drug possession, Pasasouk, against probation department recommendations, last September was moved from jail to a drug diversion program by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Upon his release from state prison in 2008, authorities sought to deport him but failed to file requisite paperwork, the Southeast Asian thus becoming emblematic of government failure to serve and protect the public.

With California already under a U.S. Supreme Court mandate to relieve inmate overcrowding by multiple thousands, the Pasasouk case pricked the anxieties of a public already alarmed by what violent crimes may await them. At the end of the year the Sacramento Bee reported that gun sales had jumped dramatically​—​600,000 last year alone, up from 350,000 in 2002. Giving credence to the argument that more guns equal fewer crimes, gun injuries and deaths also plummeted over a corresponding period, the latter by 11 percent, though the Bee, not without an ideologically satisfactory explanation, attributes the improved numbers to “a well-documented, nationwide drop in violent crime.” Sure.

More recently, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland police last year arrested 44 percent fewer suspects on violent and other charges than in 2008​—​not because of shrinking crime rates but because of a triage policy adopted in the face of lower budgets. Notoriously, Oakland maintains the state’s highest crime rate. Last year saw “a 23 percent spike in murders, muggings and other major offenses.”

The political left may chortle that gun purchasers are panicking, but the reality is that more municipalities are likely to fall into bankruptcy (Moody’s warns of 30 more, joining Stockton and San Bernardino), severely cutting police, court, and jail budgets. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a man of the left, in December commissioned an economist and a research group to create a “default probability model” for city bonds.

Stirred into the state’s social instability are the swelling legions of school-aged youths now taking to the streets. Oakland-based Children Now’s research director Jessica Mindnich reports that, over the past dozen years, the number of young people neither in schoolrooms nor in workplaces has grown by 200,000, or 35 percent, disquieting to those who assumed that future generations, if cradled in good intentions, would surpass the achievements of their elders.

In a recent Google search of “prisoner release,” before we could finish typing the second, perfectly appropriate word, the screen suggested instead “prisoner realignment,” which is the Democrats’ euphemism for their response to the Damoclean order by the Supreme Court from May 2011. The idea was to shift “non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders” from the state’s prisons into already over-burdened county jails or alternatives such as home detention.

Some 9,000 prisoners were released under the program, with projections of more than three times that number to be freed. Over the nine months before the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 was enacted, according to law enforcement officials, property crimes had dropped 2.4 percent. In the nine months following its passage in early April of that year, property crimes rose 4.5 percent. Naturally, scholars are available to tutor the public on the difference between correlation and causation. The public​—​not to mention the law enforcement community​—​is not reassured.

Which brings us to the governor, 74-year-old Jerry Brown. Before defeating Republican Meg Whitman in 2010, Brown put in time as state attorney general and mayor of the aforementioned Oakland, not to mention two antic terms as governor back in the 1970s and ’80s​—​when many who voted for him this time around were not yet born. They might have heard about him as a colorful, iconoclastic, “Zen” chief executive who slept on the floor and dated a rock star, and who at least was not the dread millionaire Meg Whitman. But they knew little else and took the leap. 


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