California schools rate among the nation’s lowest in math and English, but our shrinking numbers of teachers are among the country’s highest paid. One-third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in California, and 8 out of the last 11 million people added to the California population are enrolled in Medicaid, but we are also the most generous state in sending remittances to foreign countries — we contribute a third to a half of the estimated $50 billion that leaves the U.S. each year for Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. It is puzzling in the small towns of the San Joaquin Valley to see both federal and state medical centers and nearby offices that specialize in cash transfers to Mexico. But no one seems to see any disconnect between the public need for free health care and the private desire to send money to Mexico.
California has built the nation’s largest prison system, but there is no room left in either state or county facilities for an increasing number of dangerous felons. The same day last week that I emptied my wallet for gas, my 15-hp ag irrigation pump simply quit during the night. Nocturnal copper-wire thieves had come into the vineyard and yanked out the electrical conduit. That’s the third theft of pump wire I’ve had this year — and it costs $1,500 each time to repair the damage. I’m told that Mexican national gangs go down to Los Angeles with their stolen copper to sell it to mobile recyclers. No one calls the sheriff any more. Instead, we swap stories about protective wire cages, spikes, cameras, lights, and booby traps. Barack Obama once thundered, “Rich people are all for nonviolence. . . . They don’t want people taking their stuff.” I plead guilty to his writ, at least for a while longer. But I don’t agree that copper conduit is mere “stuff” or that stealing it counts as social protest or that the thieves are necessarily poor.
The criminals have a sophisticated modus operandi, with lookouts who drive around and report by cell phone when the coast is clear — green-lighting comrade thieves who in a matter of minutes ride into the farm alleyways on bicycles, cut and pull the wire, and pedal out with little noise and no headlights. Two nights ago, when I returned to my farmhouse, an odd couple was sitting in a car — each one on a cell phone — next to my mailbox. They claimed they did not speak English, but after some harsh words they left — surprised and angry that I had dared to ask them to leave my property.
It’s a veritable war these days in rural central California — as copper-wire thieves, gangs, drug lords, and fencers run amuck in a bankrupt state that can no longer afford to keep its felons incarcerated. President Obama soars with talk of amnesty and the DREAM Act. But if we are going to waive federal statutes for each illegal alien who we feel may some day become a neurosurgeon or an experimental chemist, can’t we at least enforce the law against those not in school and up to no good in the here and now, like the two sitting in my driveway phoning directions for local thieves to yank out copper wire?
Open borders, redistributionist socialism, therapeutic and politicized public schools, and public-employee unions finally are proving a match even for Apple, Google, Facebook, the Napa Valley wine industry, Central Valley agribusiness, Hollywood, Cal Tech, Stanford, and Berkeley. In California, it is a day-by-day war between what nature and past generations have so generously bequeathed and what our bunch has so voraciously consumed.
On any given day, beautiful weather, the Pacific Coast, and the majestic Sierra Nevada are trumped by released felons, $5-a-gallon gas, and a 1970 infrastructure crumbling beneath a crowded 2012 state.
There are many lessons from California. One is that the vision of the present administration is already here — and it simply does not work.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.