When people hear Charlie Sheen’s verbal madness, they need to remember the man has lived most of his life in California. Because of his success, it’s easy to forget that he is a second-generation actor and has been around entertainment people almost his whole life. He has the same strike against him as Lindsay Lohan (achieving success at an early age), but added to it the strike of a movie-star father. And Martin Sheen wasn’t always that nice liberal establishment President in the West Wing himself. The father who endorsed Jesse Jackson for President in 1984 and opposes fluoridated water is not so far removed politically from the son who endorsed the 9/11 Truther movement.
Then there’s that California thing, the third strike. Like Charlie Sheen, California’s mouth keeps writing checks its body and talent can no longer cash. A state that once represented all the greatness of America–but a youthful and hip greatness, not a blue-collar, industrial greatness, like Detroit–a place where the knowing relatives of newly rich hillbillies advised them they ought to be, this state now instead loses its population. Or at least it would if not for the ongoing flood of illegal immigrants from drug-war-wracked Mexico.
Mexico: also known as California South, California Mañana.
To legal Americans, California has become more an absurdist hell to escape than the promised land featured in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. To continue to live on the southern Left Coast, it helps to believe–as Sheen says of himself–one has a tiger in one’s blood and the DNA of an Adonis. Even if only a chemical dependency can prop up that belief.
After almost eight years of being governed by a seven-time Mr. Olympia and egotistical blowhard (courtesy of the previous governor’s 24 percent approval rating and subsequent recall), the best the besieged state could come up with in 2010 was woeful Meg Whitman and seventies retread Jerry Brown, the latter winning easily. And what a prize he has won: the privilege of tackling a $25 billion deficit.
Monday, a portion of Brown’s plan for addressing the deficit was rebuffed, when law enforcement and municipalities objected to his proposal to shift prisoners to local jails and put those officials, rather than the state, in charge of managing parolees. The prison guard union in California is notoriously influential ever since helping elect Gray Davis and receiving a $5 billion pay-off afterward. In California prison guards make more than college professors–which doesn’t much help the argument that California students need to stay in school and get a college education.
The state is unserious…and almost everyone knows that now, not just conservatives. As much as Charlie Sheen provides late-night comedians with material, so does California. Both targets are laugh-worthy as much from their ability to elicit Schadenfreude as actual mirth.
In the 33 years since California reinstated capital punishment, it has executed only 13 criminals. In the same period, 53 condemned inmates died of natural causes. At that rate, California currently has a 350-year supply of people on death row. No wonder more than 80 percent will escape their adjudicated punishments and live out their full lifespan.
Take the case of current death-row resident Albert Greenwood Brown, Jr., who in 1975…
…moved to Riverside, California to live with his divorced mother and was soon charged with molesting an 11-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation. [Less than a year later] on an early morning in 1976, Brown broke into a home in Riverside and hid in a closet until all of the residents had left. When a 14-year-old girl returned from a paper route to go to school, he choked her unconscious and raped her in her mother’s room. Brown pleaded guilty to charges of rape with force on May 4, 1978 and was sentenced to state prison. He was paroled on June 14, 1980 and found work cleaning and preparing new cars for sale at Rubidoux Motors in Riverside County….
On the morning of October 28, 1980 [four months after his parole], Brown abducted 15-year-old Susan Louise Jordan while she was on her way to Arlington High School in Riverside. He had been posing as a jogger on the route. After dragging her to an orange grove, Brown raped her and strangled her to death with her own shoelace and took her identification cards and school books….After finding the family’s number in a phone book, Brown called Angelina Jordan from a payphone at around 7:30 p.m. to tell her where he left her daughter’s body. According to court documents, he said: “Hello, Mrs. Jordan, Susie isn’t home from school yet, is she? You will never see your daughter again. You can find her body on the corner of Victoria and Gibson.”
Almost 20 years after his death sentence, Brown still occupies a cell, avoiding execution once because of legal wrangling over whether he should be able to choose which drug to die from, avoiding it again because California’s supply of the injection expired before it could be used.
In the meantime, California’s cities worry about banning Happy Meal toys and incandescent bulbs and solving the problems caused by forcing low-flow toilets onto those citizens who actually try to obey the law. In San Francisco–the unfortunate crown jewel of California’s obscene excess:
Skimping on toilet water has resulted in more sludge backing up inside the sewer pipes, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission. That has created a rotten-egg stench near AT&T Park and elsewhere, especially during the dry summer months.
The city has already spent $100 million over the past five years to upgrade its sewer system and sewage plants, in part to combat the odor problem.
Now officials are stocking up on a $14 million, three-year supply of highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite – better known as bleach – to act as an odor eater and to disinfect the city’s treated water before it’s dumped into the bay. It will also be used to sanitize drinking water.
The toilet measure supposedly saves 20 million gallons of water annually, so that’s about $1.23 in government spending for every gallon saved. Utilities charge less than a cent per gallon in San Francisco for water. If you want to cut down on water consumption, how about putting a small tax on it sufficient to drive usage down the same 20 million gallons (i.e., less than four tenths of one percent of total annual San Francisco water use)? That tax might go a little way toward the state’s budget shortfall, rather than creating indirect and hidden government costs. It would accomplish the same conservation benefit and avoid having to pump everyone’s drinking water full of bleach, just so the stench is no longer nauseating and the water is sanitary enough to be potable.
Last year, even crazy San Francisco decided against banning pet sales, but now Irvine wants to top its nutty neighbor to the north. Given there is only one pet shop in Irvine’s jurisdiction, the law is basically a gesture more than anything of substance–although it would ban circuses from coming to town as well. California has plenty of clowns and other circus acts walking the halls of government and clearly doesn’t need the competition.
The careful observer must note a foolish consistency in California’s madness: Regardless of what sort of animal is in the cage, the Golden State’s politicians are going to preserve its rights and look after its welfare. Those not behind bars, however, are liable to have every detail of their lives managed, from the food they put in their mouths, to the light they eat it by and the commode they use to carry what’s left of it away.
Because like Charlie Sheen, California is still not ready to admit it has a problem. Rather than enter rehab, California wants to delude itself that those who point out the state’s political derangement and unsustainable fiscal addiction are to blame.