Arnie on Parole
-- Licking the third rail
Reprinted with permission by Bryan Zepp
Nobody can say that life under Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been dull.
It's only been ten weeks since he took
office, and he's been busy giving the state a real roller-coaster
ride. He's managed to elate nearly everyone at one point or another,
and he's managed to piss everyone
off at one point or another. He made the budget situation worse by
keeping his promise to rescind the sunset clause on the car registration
fees, and then whipped around and in a spectacular winner-take-all
move, cajoled the assembly into putting Arnie's solution a
$15 billion bond to cover the deficit in front of the voters
in the form of a ballot initiative in the March primary.
He followed that up by declaring an emergency
and making unilateral cuts in services. He veered wildly on policy,
making several embarrassing missteps such as proposing cuts in the
disabilities funding, and slashing city funding to the bone, and then
having to back down from that amid cat-calls from some of his most
devoted followers. He suspended all new regulations on the environment,
but then staunchly upheld the state's right to have air quality laws
that exceed federal mandates.
Of course, if that bond measure doesn't
pass, he's finished, and California is in deep trouble. His ONLY option
if it fails is a big tax increase. I've no doubt he would propose
such if forced by the vote to do so, and that could lead to one of
the biggest and gaudiest political battles this state has ever seen.
On top of that, there's the persistent
abuse and harassment charges against him, a suit for slander, and
a broken promise to investigate himself for misconduct. He
hasn't been playing it safe, and given that playing it safe all the
time was what caused his predecessor to lose his job, that's smart
But now he's come up with a truly spectacular
proposal that will dwarf all the other controversies. This one will
cause roars across the political spectrum that really will bring to
mind that hoary cliche, "feeding time at the zoo."
Arnie proposed yesterday to reduce prison
costs by over a billion dollars a year by paroling one third of the
inmates in the state prison system.
Well. That should light the wowsers up.
"Tough on crime" is the third
rail of California politics, and Arnie didn't just touch it; he got
down and he LICKED it.
It isn't true that the state bird of California
is Bernard Goetz, but it may as well be. This is pretty much the birthplace
of media-driven mass fear leading to the blind, insatiable desire
to punish and punish and punish, in the hopes that the bogeymen will
all go away. This is the state that decided that the courts couldn't
trusted to mete out justice, and so made officers of the court (including
the judges) elected offices, imposed mandatory sentencing minimums
on judges, and introduced the world to the Kafkaesque "three
strikes" law by which anyone with two felonies gets twenty-five
to life for any third crime committed. Only in the rank steaming hypocrisy
of the Deep South are people more willing to strip convicts, and even
just those accused of crimes, of even the most basic of rights.
This is, after all, the state of spectacular
crimes, and between a disgraceful media always looking to hype the
ratings and opportunistic politicians wanting to look tough on crime,
people run around the place convinced that behind every bush lurks
another Charlie Manson or OJ Simpson or Kenneth Lay. As a result,
the public, like a fretful child, strikes out blindly, and supports
an ever harsher system of retribution to make the bad feelings go
As a result, the California prison system
is vast (the inmate population would be California's sixth-biggest
city), corrupt (the guards are, all too often, thugs no better than
the people they guard) and very expensive $5.3 billion a year.
One of the most self-damaging moves Grey Davis did was give the prison
guards a big fat raise even as the budget deficit approached $10 billion.
Even the tough on crime crowd thought that was uncalled for.
The parole system, which costs the state
about $1 billion a year, is a colossal and expensive scam, corrupt
and hugely inefficient, and with a proven track record of failure.
Arnie has put some thought into this.
He would start out by eliminating parole for non-violent offenders
who had done their time. Then he would start a program of reducing
or eliminating remaining prison time for non-violent offenders who
had behaved well in prison. His aides implied that he might push for
legislation scrapping "three strikes" for non-violent offenses,
and even eliminating jail for most non-violent offenses in the first
The wowsers are going to go nuts, of course.
Next to them, Bob Dornan is going to look like a placid moderate.
If Grey Davis had made such a proposal,
they would have lynched him, politically for certain and possibly
literally. You would have seen horrific ads on TV showing released
inmates raping, pillaging, and willfully violating CC&R codes.
Fruitloops would be appearing on the O'Reilly show to claim that Democrats
were genetically disposed toward crime, and that Davis should be executed
before he did any further harm to the state.
And the fruitloops and wowsers will be
saying similar things about Arnie.
But it won't have the same impact. You
see, talk radio and Regnery Press and Faux News and all the other
voices of the right wing shadow media are so ideologically bound to
the GOP that it's nearly impossible for them to attack one of their
own, no matter how grievous their offense. And Arnie does have that
"R" after his name.
Don't believe me? Reflect on the fact
that the right wing, which spent the nineties decrying budget deficits
(even pushing for a balanced budget amendment in the Constitution),
interventionalism, and who sneered at "criminals in the white
house," have had to sit tight and take Putsch's trillions of
dollars in new debt, two police actions far away that have killed
hundreds of Americans and they brought this on themselves by
electing a ticket with at least five convictions between the two of
The shadow media will give Arnie a free
pass, and that will make the yammerheads of the far right ineffectual
as they always were before the free press in America got Murdoched.
So Arnie might just be able to pull this
off, and I certainly hope he does. Our prison system is a disgrace,
and if Dostoevski is right, and the truest measure of a society's
moral worth is in how it treats its prisoners, then America is in
deep, deep trouble.
But it's impossible to say how this will
play out. Even with the whores in the press silenced by Arnie's party
affiliation, enough conservative "get tough" voters might
be angry enough to send his bond issue to defeat in March, forcing
him into the one unforgivable heresy that will bring the shadow media,
like the furies, down around his ears: a big fat tax increase.
It's still impossible to tell if Arnie
will be a glittering success, or the biggest disaster in the state's
history. But it's
unlikely that he'll come in anywhere between those two extremes. Under
Arnie, life is certainly not boring.
"...too many whites are getting away with drug use." --
Rush Limbaugh, on his short lived TV show
October 5, 1995
Not dead, in jail, or a slave? Thank a
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"I came to this office to solve problems and not pass them on
to future presidents and future generations."
-- Putsch, whose trillion dollar deficits
apparently slipped his mind.