Monday, April 30, 2012

California's Slide Into the Fiscal Ocean

Warren Zevon was a talented singer / songwriter who didn’t flinch from the macabre or even the apocalypse.

Two years ago, I posted about “Prison Grove,” a song on the last album he released before dying of cancer.

Tonight, I’m thinking of “Desperadoes Under The Eaves,” from thirty years before that.

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will . . .

Zevon’s song was nominally talking about the consequences of not paying a bar bill, as his thirst extended to “all the salty margaritas in Los Angeles.”

Figuratively, however, I’m struck by how Zevon’s mid-70s song was written at a time when the affluent but overextended California of the postwar years was on the verge of buckling.

By the decade of the aughts, the fiscal slide into the ocean of insolvency was nearly complete.

The factors were many and various. Proposition 13 in 1978, which limited property taxes. The end of the Cold War, and the subsequent downsizing of aerospace jobs, such as the one Michael Douglas’s character once had in the film "Falling Down."

And then there was the fiscal drain of a gargantuan state corrections system. A system that expanded so grotesquely that federal courts had to take over control of the system.

The feds did not seek out this responsibility; it came about because California’s prison healthcare was so deficient that it killed people through medication errors and drove others crazy amid the constant claustrophobia of triple bunking.

Zevon is gone. But the bizarre story of the once-golden state’s prisons continues to unfold, as this Los Angeles Times article describes.


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