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Explaining California in 2022: Our 10 Most Important Explanatory Journalism Pieces of the Year

From immigration to crypto, 2022 was a year that took a lot of explaining and 'California Local' was there.

PUBLISHED DEC 30, 2022 9:33 A.M.
Explaining California is hard work! But at California Local, we were up for it throughout 2022.

Explaining California is hard work! But at California Local, we were up for it throughout 2022.   Ira Gorelick / Pixabay   Pixabay License

One of our primary missions at California Local, as we see it, is not only to report the important statewide and local news but to explain what’s going on in our state—and often by extension the country and world. Explanatory journalism attempts to provide context to the stories that shape our state, and to dig into the nuances that real-time reporting and instant-reaction punditry can easily overlook. The goal is to help readers better understand the issues that affect their lives every day, but which otherwise fly by in the daily torrent of information overload.

The year now wrapping up, 2022, is one that needed a lot of explaining. California Local was there to help readers navigate their way through this complicated and more than slightly crazy year. Here’s the countdown of our 10 most important explainers of 2022 (according to us, anyway).

NUMBER 10

California’s History of Immigration: How Immigrants Built the State, and How They Were Treated in Return

The debate over immigration policy continues to rank among the most important issues for American voters, particularly for those self-identifying as Republicans who placed it second only to inflation as their strongest concern heading into the 2022 midterm elections, according to an Ipsos poll. The immigration issue really hits home in California, where 27 percent of the state’s population, more than 10.5 million people, were born in countries that are not the United States, as we reported in our explainer (linked above). 

But California has not, throughout history, been an especially friendly place for immigrants—especially those coming from Asian countries, China in particular. As our explainer details, In 1882 the state successfully pushed Congress into passing a law called the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” As the title made painfully clear, the Act was a ban on immigration from China, making exceptions for only a few professions such as merchants, clergy, diplomats or teachers. 

Amazingly the law was not repealed until 1943—when it was then replaced with another highly restrictive law aimed at Chinese immigrants. Today, however, the largest number of immigrants in the state arrive from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

NUMBER 9

Murder Rates in Republican Counties: Is There a Link Between Homicide and Conservative Politics?

Crime is a perennial election issue, and the 2022 elections were no exception. A Pew Research poll showed more than six of every 10 voters saying that violent crime was a key voting issue for them. But which areas were the worst for violent crime? As we noted in our explanatory piece, in California—reflecting a trend throughout the U.S.—the worst violent crime rates, homicide rates especially, were found in “red” counties. That is, counties that traditionally or at least in recent elections have supported Republican candidates.

In fact, U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s home district led the way. The largest slice of McCarthy’s CA-23 congressional district lies in Kern County, which has led the state in murders per capita for five straight years. 

NUMBER 8

Abortion in California After SCOTUS Opinion: Newsom Vows State Will ‘Enshrine’ Right in Constitution

In June of 2022, 49 years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right of women to terminate pregnancies by choosing abortion, the current edition of SCOTUS did an about-face. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision effectively stripped women of the right to abortion, throwing the question back to individual states to decide. 

The decision, of course, affected women nationwide. But in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged to protect the right to abortion, and even to add protections for abortion rights to the state constitution. In the November elections, voters helped Newsom make good on that promise by voting two-to-one (67 percent to 33 percent) for Proposition One, a ballot measure that amended the constitution to prevent the state from interfering in abortion decisions made by women for themselves.

NUMBER 7

California’s Mental Health Crisis: How We Got Here

Mental health problems sadly play a significant role in two of the state’s most pressing problems: homelessness and crime. Newsom in 2022 proposed a new, controversial plan to channel people with mental illnesses into medical treatment before they commit crimes.

As California Local explained in our piece earlier this year, the mental health crisis in California dates back decades and has its roots in a process known as “deinstitutionalization.” The movement to let patients out of mental health institutions was partly a response to overcrowding and generally deplorable conditions in the state’s psychiatric hospitals but also to the advent of psychiatric drugs such as the “miracle” pill Thorazine.

Under Governors Edmund G. “Pat” Brown—who later regretted his role in promoting the policy—and Ronald Reagan, California led the country in emptying its psychiatric facilities, leading one expert to call the state the “canary in the coal mine of deinstitutionalization.” 

NUMBER 6

Crypto Crash 2022, Explained: What is Cryptocurrency and Why Has it Lost Most of its Value So Quickly?

This was the year that the cryptocurrency bubble burst. While a relatively few people have made a killing in the largely unregulated online currency field, in 2022 many more lost money—some seeing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars simply vanish into the ether.

At the same time, it’s fair to say, most people—certainly most Americans—don’t even understand what cryptocurrency is, or what it does. A YouGov survey taken in November of 2021 found that 98 percent of respondents “don’t understand basic crypto concepts.” When you’re talking about a currency with more than a trillion dollars in circulation, the possibility that close to 100 percent of people can’t even explain what it is should be a bit of a red flag. 

In our explanatory piece, California Local spelled out in, we hope, relatively simple terms what cryptocurrency is, where it came from, and why its value plunged in 2022 wiping out billions in personal wealth. In a sidebar to the main article, we also explored how cash became a digital commodity in the first place, with ATMs and online banking predating and paving the way for the crypto explosion—and subsequent implosion.

NUMBER 5

Billionaires Buy the Media: Elon Musk is Only the Latest to Purchase Control of Information

Elon Musk, who for at least the first several months of the year was the wealthiest man in the world with an estimated net worth in excess of $200 billion, abruptly shifted gears in 2022 from running the electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla—as well as a commercial space flight company and a tunnel-drilling firm—to shell out $44 billion (about half of it his own money) for the rarely-profitable social media platform Twitter.

Why?

In three separate explainers, all of them accessible from the linked title above, California Local set out to answer that question. Perhaps most importantly, we explained how to access some alternatives for obtaining important news and info without dealing with a billionaire-owned platform.  

NUMBER 4

Single-Payer Healthcare, Explained: Will California Finally Achieve Universal Coverage?

If there is one political issue that will, at some point, affect all of our lives and probably has already, that issue is health care. In the 2022 elections, voters ranked it as the fourth-most important issue, after rating it the second-highest priority in 2020 and two years before that, the highest voting priority.

The California state legislature kicked off the year 2022 by debating a bill, AB 1400, that would have instituted a single-payer healthcare system for the state. A single-payer plan, the policy’s advocates say, would offer solutions to both the problems of access to healthcare, and the cost of health insurance coverage. 

The bill was ultimately withdrawn before it got to a vote, but the issue is far from dead. In our January 2022 explainer, California Local dove into the details of single-payer healthcare and AB 1400 in particular, explaining both the benefits and potential drawbacks of the policy, the history of healthcare reform, and what single-payer could mean for the future of the state’s health care system.  

NUMBER 3

California Gun Control Laws: Mass Shootings Have Sparked New Legislation for Three Decades

Mass shootings, when one or more gun-wielding individuals shoot and kill multiple people, have become one of the most horrifying facts of life in America over the past half-century. As of Nov. 25, there were 611 recorded in 2022, making this year the second-worst for mass shootings since data started being compiled on the sickening phenomenon. The record was set just last year with 690.

A 2019 Harvard Business School study found that in states with Republican-controlled legislatures, policies that actually loosen gun restrictions tend to follow mass shootings. In Democratic legislatures, mass shootings most often produce no significant new gun laws, one way or the other.

Not so in California, which has some of the tightest gun restrictions in the country, with many tough gun laws coming as direct responses to mass shooting incidents. We spelled out how the state has responded to several high-profile and particularly tragic mass shooting incidents with new restrictions on gun use and ownership.

Also accessible from the link above is a second California Local explainer detailing how conservative Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the state’s first major restrictive gun law—but it was directed mainly at preventing Black people (including the Black Pathers) from carrying guns. In Reagan’s own words, the 1967 law was not designed to affect “honest citizens.”

NUMBER 2

Is California’s Housing Crisis Making Economic Inequality Worse?

Look at almost any social or political problem in California, and the United States, and you’ll find that they all inevitably lead to one issue: economic inequality. While the effects of economic inequality are often fiercely debated, most experts agree that wide disparities between society’s richest people and everybody else are at the root of such problems as crime; health issues including life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and mental illness; low educational performance; homelessness; and social conflict and division

In two explainers (so far), both accessible from the linked title of this section, we dig into the causes of inequality in California, and why the housing crisis as well as the state’s law strictly limiting property taxes, Proposition 13, are primary drivers of economic disparity. We also explain that while economic inequality is often reduced to just “income inequality,” a second type, “wealth inequality,” is even more important. 

NUMBER ONE

How Oil Dominates the World’s Energy Economy, and What We Can Do to Break its Grip

Coming in at the top of the chart, an issue we consider so important that it took a series of eight explanatory articles to even begin to cover it. That issue is energy. 

Not only do our energy sources allow us to live in the modern world, underlying every aspect of daily existence, they also affect our future to such an extent that they will either improve the world and make life on Earth sustainable for centuries to come—or destroy everything. 

All eight explainers can be accessed from the linked title, above. They cover California’s seven most important sources of energy: oil, natural gas, solar power, wind, hydroelectric power, nuclear and—both last and least in this state—coal. We also explain how fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, and coal—cause climate change, putting the state, country and planet at risk. 

So how do we break our dependence on fossil fuels? The answer lies in renewables, the other sources of energy in our explainer series. But wind, solar, nuclear and hydro all have their own problems. Do those drawbacks balance out their considerable benefits? That’s the central question of our whole energy series, and one California Local will dig into deeper in 2023.

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EXPLAINER

Long form articles which explain how something works, or provide context or background information about a current issue or topic.

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