Go Pete Caroll!

Seahawk’s coach Pete Caroll is one win away from making football history!  If the Seahawks win the Superbowl, he will be the only football coach in history to have won two Superbowls and two collegiate football national championships.  And those college championships were as head coach of our state’s University of Southern California Trojans.

There is indeed a California connection to Pete Caroll, and Trojan fans fondly remember him for bringing vitality and strength back into the USC football program after several years of misfires.  Sadly, some of Pete’s achievement at USC was marred by recruiting violations.  But that doesn’t change the fact of the football wins, any more than the “deflategate” scandal has disqualified the New England Patriots from their chance to battle the Seahawks in football’s biggest game.  Regardless, we wish both Pete Caroll and Bill Belichick and their teams good luck in the Super Bowl on Sunday, and Trojan fans especially superbowl01-300x238will know who they are rooting for!

ABAG claims $1.3 million embezzled

The “Association of Bay Area Governments” or “ABAG” is a nonprofit lobbying group that many Bay Area local governments pay big annual dues to, in order to coordinate their efforts to get more funding from Sacramento and Washington, D.C.  ABAG, based in San Francisco, is not exactly a government agency, rather, it is like a “trade association”, and therefore its operations are far more opaque than those of a real government agency subject to all the public scrutiny laws.  Sometimes the government agency members of ABAG try to lay-off responsibility for some of their functions on this “trade association” for government.  A secret benefit of doing so it that sometimes the activity can occur below the public’s radar screen and more-than-a-little outside the more ready enforcement mechanisms of the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act against ABAG’s members, which are the state’s key public integrity laws.  One such situation occurred when San Francisco politicians and bureaucrats decided to deposit public bond monies meant for parks and other public improvements for ABAG to manage regarding the so-called “South of Market” fund, which also collects payments from developers pursuant to development agreements, in order to use the funds to enhance public facilities in a general effort to offset negative public impacts of a new development.

But the San Francisco Chronicle has reported trouble at ABAG, big trouble.  News reports and a statement by ABAG itself, indicate that Clarke Howatt, who resigned late last week as Director of Financial Services for the nonprofit government advocacy agency, “executed a sophisticated scheme to defraud” ABAG of $1,300,00 of public funds entrusted to the agency for park improvements.  The funds were found missing as a result of an audit of the South of Market Stabilization Fund, which is a pool of public bond funds and developer funds.  Howatt, who is under criminal investigation, has issued a statement that he “will make every attempt to get the funds restored.”  But no one seems to be able to account for them at the moment.  The $1,300,000 million was wired out of a bank account at Howatt’s orders to a different bank account setup in San Diego county to the attention of a person who does not exist.

Thank God for audits!  Let us hope they can find the money!

Reactions to the million dollar government embezzlement have been muted in California.  While the Chronicle has reported the story, other news media outlets have ignored it.  That is a shame, because the story is an example of how government agencies have mismanaged a public bond fund, by pushing authority for the bond funds outside the exclusive responsibility of a responsible and more accountable government agency.  While our Sacramento politicians love to pass laws that make things like serving duck liver and shark fin soup in our state’s restaurants illegal, they really ought to better be spending their time on considering laws about things that are really serious problems, like improving the public’s confidence in how the billions of dollars in public bond funds are managed in the state, and making sure rogue employees in groups like ABAG, let alone ABAG itself, can’t and budget don’t steal our public’s bonds.

Government fails to earn respect of Californians

Nine out of 10 Californians believe state government wastes their tax dollars. Two-thirds believe state government is run for the benefit of a few special interests and state officials cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

Those results from a Public Policy Institute of California survey are similar to the dissatisfaction with and distrust of state government that Californians expressed 10 years ago. The reason for that disaffection and what should be done about it was the focus of the Jan. 22 meeting of the state watchdog agency the Little Hoover Commission.

The findings in the survey of 1,704 adults conducted from Nov. 10-17 (with a sampling error of 3.7 percent):

  • “Do you think the people in state government waste a lot of the money we pay in taxes, waste some of it, or don’t waste very much of it?” 54 percent – waste a lot, 35 percent – waste some of it, 8 percent – don’t waste very much of it. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 46 percent of Democrats believe state government wastes a lot.
  • “Would you say the state government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, or that it is run for the benefit of all of the people?” 67 percent – run by a few big interests, 28 percent – run for the benefit of all of the people.
  • “How much of the time do you think you can trust the state government in Sacramento to do what is right?” 61 percent – only some of the time, 25 percent – most of the time, 7 percent – just about always, 5 percent – none of the time.

The results were similar for all three questions across regional and demographic groups and similar to a survey conducted a decade ago. But they are slightly better than an even worse skepticism of state government in an October 2010 survey.

Federal and state governments

State officials can take minor consolation that Californians are even more skeptical about the federal government. On the other hand, Californians are less distrustful of local government, particularly in the area of wasting tax dollars, according to a May 2011 PPIC survey.

“In summary, negative perceptions about the effectiveness, responsiveness and efficiency of state government are pretty consistent over time and widely held in the public today,” PPIC President/CEO Mark Baldassare told the commission. He listed four implications of the results:

  • “Californians will continue to value the citizens’ initiative process as they seek to have a say in the major decisions made by their state government.
  • “Many Californians will be skeptical about the need for higher taxes and more state revenues, given their feelings about waste.
  • “Proposals to move authority and control to the local level from the state level are the kinds of proposals that will resonate with Californians today.
  • “Last but not least, civic disengagement will continue to be a problem. The kind of civic disengagement that we saw in the record low turnout in last year’s election. And we may not have seen the lowest of low turnouts yet, given the disengagement Californians feel from state government today.”

Only 30.9 percent of California adults voted in the Nov. 2014 general election and just 18.4 percent in the June primary, according to Baldassare, who said in his blog: “Millions of Californians who could register to vote did not, and millions of Californians who could vote opted out. These numbers clearly point to a California public that is disconnected from their state government today.”

Hopeful

But Baldassare, perhaps anticipating the PPIC survey released this week showing increased optimism that the state is heading in the right direction, closed his remarks on a more hopeful note.

“In the wake of a growing improvement in our economy and fiscal situation, which has led to higher approval ratings of the governor and Legislature than we’ve seen for several years, and also at a time when we’ve just gone through a series of major legislative and fiscal reforms that the voters have approved in recent elections, the public is signaling their support for those reforms as well as efforts to move some activities from the state to the local level through both the local control of school funding and our corrections realignment,” he said.

Asked to explain the reasons for residents’ disconnection with government, Baldassare said part of it is a general skepticism of all institutions, particularly by independent voters. He added it’s also due to Californians’ unsatisfactory experiences dealing with state government. “They do have real experiences which confirm these broadly held beliefs,” he said. “That’s where you have control.”

The question of what the state can do to win the confidence of residents became the focus of the rest of the 2½-hour hearing.

“We should focus on the things which state government can directly affect,” said Commissioner David Beier. “To me that’s the building of trust through the delivery of governmental services. One of my business school colleagues said, ‘Building trust is a question of two things: intention and competence.’ I don’t think anybody has any question about the intention of state officials to deliver high quality services and positive outcomes.

“The question is one of competence. And it’s not a question of the qualification to deliver high quality goods and services. There are better, smarter ways to deliver service. And if we can identify the top agencies and the frequency of interaction with citizens, I think we can affect at least that component of government trust.”

DangerfieldNo respect

A big part of the problem is that the message Californians receive from state government, whether via the Internet or waiting in line at the DMV, is that state officials don’t respect them, according to Cyd Harrell, a user experience expert with Code for America, which specializes in government technology.

“Design sounds like icing on the cake or making things pretty,” she said. “But at the core, design is creating an effect on purpose. People compare the best the private sector has to offer in the same space, the five-inch screen, where it gets Facebook, Amazon or an online game. When the government experience doesn’t live up to the level of experience of the other institutions they interact with, there’s an assumption that the effect is being created on purpose.

“That’s part of where that distrust in government comes from. There’s an assumption that if I have difficulty reading it or difficulty filling out a form or it doesn’t speak in a language that I easily understand, then that’s an effect the government intends, or at least is comfortable creating as part of the design.

“In the private sector, we have companies competing to offer people the best experience for their money. Government is different, naturally. If I don’t like the experience of interacting with the government when registering my car or seeing if I’m eligible for benefits, I can’t exactly take my business elsewhere. So in some ways that can be seen as a free pass [for government officials]: ‘Don’t worry about it, where else can they go?’

“But I truly think there’s a moral imperative. Government needs to serve all of the people. It needs to offer them experiences that respect their time and dignity and their abilities, whatever those may be.”

Currently, few government agencies practice what Harrell calls human-centered design. But she said it’s not that expensive to implement. It just takes commitment from top government officials to want to do it. “So the critical thing, in my opinion, is a mind shift,” she said.

Worst enemy

Other experts at the meeting agreed that government is often its own worst enemy when it comes to working smarter and better. Bob Stone, a performance adviser for the city of Los Angeles, provided an example of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s procedure for providing two replacement pieces of uniform for each firefighter annually.

“If you were to be awarded two pieces of clothing, most people would go to the Internet, Amazon or Wal-Mart and they would buy it,” said Stone. “What the city does: the firefighter fills out a form, gets a supervisor to approve it, gets a station chief to endorse it. It’s sent to the battalion chief across town, he endorses it, sends it to the procurement office. They gather up all these things and put in an order with the supplier. A big box of supplies comes into the central yard. We pay somebody to unpack the boxes, and these go to Van Nuys and these to San Pedro, send these to West Los Angeles. That’s the way we do things.

“It’s crazy. It was a sensible way to do things in the 1950s. What they are doing, and they are going to start hopefully in the next month, they are going to give the supplier a list of fire department members who have this entitlement. And they are going to tell each of these people, ‘You’re entitled to two pieces of clothing that we’ll pay for. Go to the supplier’s website, they know who you are, identify yourself and order what you want. If you want more than two, you can buy whatever you want, you just have to pay for it. We’ll pay for the first two.’

“And this happened because we told the people that were working there, ‘Don’t do anything crazy on purpose. We do enough things crazy by accident. If you’re doing something dumb, stop it and do something smart.’ So they did this. And I’m hopeful that there are going to be thousands of examples like this.”

The Little Hoover Commission plans to submit its recommendations to the state in a report, probably later this year.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Gas Tax vs. Fee on Miles Driven

Seeking a creative and long-term solution for financing highway and road construction and upkeep, a new commission kicked off its investigation of a “Road User Charge” as a possible replacement for the well-traveled gasoline tax.

Created by 2014 legislation and given the nod by Governor Brown, the ponderously-named Road User Charge Pilot Program Technical Advisory Committee kicked off its deliberations last week. I am privileged to have been appointed one of of the committee’s 15 members, representing business and economic interests.

A confluence of forces continues to reduce the effectiveness of the gasoline tax as a stable revenue source for highways. Pegged to the amount of gasoline purchased, the tax could keep pace neither with inflation in construction costs or increased efficiency in automobile performance. CalTrans has estimated that inflation and improved vehicle efficiency has eroded more than 60 percent of the value of the gasoline tax since 1994. 

And this is before the ambitious roll-out of electric, plug-in hybrid and fuels cell vehicles in the state – which use little or no gasoline and therefore are the quintessential “free riders.”

In his inaugural address, Gov. Brown spoke of the “importance in having the roads, highways and bridges in good enough shape to get people and commerce to where they need to go,” estimating that the state has deferred maintenance and upkeep needs of $59 billion. In calling for a bipartisan solution for transportation finance, the Governor did not single out a mileage fee, but this option is certainly deeply in the mix.

The Advisory Committee has an ambitious agenda: within one year it must recommend how the state’s Transportation Agency can launch a pilot program testing a Road User Charge in real world circumstances. The committee will examine technical feasibility, reliability, implication for privacy rights, data security, motorist compliance, and overhead costs.

California will probably not break new policy ground on this project. The states of Oregon and Washington are already examining mileage fee alternatives, with Oregon on the verge of implementing a pilot project with 5,000 volunteer motorists. Findings from these other West Coast states will be invaluable for California’s consideration.

For more information on this effort and on the Technical Advisory Committee, visit this website at the California Transportation Commission.

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Origami Condom Inventor Has to Pay Back Taxpayer Funds–$2.4 Million

This has to be the sickest use of $2.4 million of your tax dollars. That much was spent to develop origami condoms. What is origami? From Wikipedia, “Origami (折り紙?, from ori meaning “folding”, and kami meaning “paper” (kami changes to gami due to rendaku) is the art of paper folding, which is often associated with Japanese culture. In modern usage, the word “origami” is used as an inclusive term for all folding practices, regardless of their culture of origin.”

The Feds spent $2.4 million dollars to create “beautiful’ folded objects from condoms. There are no words to express the outrage we should all have for this expenditure. At what point do those involved get fired? Why hasn’t the head of the agency been fired, publicly, for this gross mismanagement? On April 15 when you are paying your taxes, think of a pretty origami condom on your fireplace mantle.

“In emails obtained by the Free Beacon, Resnic, who received more than $2.4 million to develop the so-called origami condoms, states that he is in the process of working on a repayment plan for at least some of the grant funding he received.”

budget

Origami Condom Inventor Has to Pay Back Taxpayer Funds

BY: Elizabeth Harrington, Washington Free Beacon, 1/29/15

“Origami condom” inventor Daniel Resnic has said that he must pay back taxpayer funds to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

In emails obtained by the Free Beacon, Resnic, who received more than $2.4 million to develop the so-called origami condoms, states that he is in the process of working on a repayment plan for at least some of the grant funding he received.

Resnic also recently lost in court, as a lawsuit he filed against a former employee was thrown out last week. Two lawyers had dropped Resnic, and the second of the two attorneys, Martin J. Kaufman, cited an “irreparable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship,” asserting that Resnic refused to pay or cooperate.

The idea of the origami condom—a non-rolled, silicone-based condom designed to “increase pleasure”—was approved by the NIH, and Resnic received grants to create his condoms in male, female, and anal versions.

While Resnic claims that the male condom will hit the market this year, a former employee is accusing him of massive fraud.

The employee alleged that Resnic misspent millions of taxpayer dollars on trips to Costa Rica, lavish parties at the Playboy mansion, full-body plastic surgery, a condo in Provincetown, Mass., and patents for numerous “get-rich-quick” schemes.

The employee also accused Resnic of sexual harassment and said he asked friends to try out his origami condoms and report back. The condoms were also tested on rabbits, which were “sacrificed by lethal injection” after having pieces of condoms vaginally inserted for five days.

The employee, who requested anonymity, supplied hundreds of documents to the Free Beacon supporting his claims.

However, Resnic blamed the employee for misusing grant funds, and filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles. That lawsuit was dismissed on Jan. 21 after Resnic failed to appear in court or answer the employee’s cross-complaint.

“In this case, Plaintiff appears to have abandoned his action,” read a motion to dismiss the case, filed by the employee’s attorney on Dec. 23.

The day after the Free Beacon published a story on Resnic’s legal troubles, the origami condom inventor sent an email to the employee’s lawyer, in which he claimed that he had been ordered to pay back funds to the NIH.

“First, I would suggest that you and your client discontinue your reprehensible and relentless media campaigns that have continued in Washington or we will seek a gag order from the judge on Nov 17th,” Resnic wrote on Nov. 5.

Resnic then said he would be willing to drop his ill-fated lawsuit against his employee only if the employee agreed to pay back the grant money. He offered a payment plan that would last almost 10,000 years.

“Second, I would be open to mutually dropping the claims and counterclaims and moving on with my work if your client agrees to the following:

“Make restitution to my company of the stolen monies ($487,377.32) at one dollar ($1.oo) /week, by personal check, sent by U.S. mail, until the funds are recovered,” Resnic wrote. “(Yes, that’s 487,377 weeks or 9,372 yrs. of payments).”

“Nonetheless, he has put me on the hook with the National Institutes of Health for the stolen monies that I am required by law to repay,” Resnic continued. “I need to produce a settlement agreement (whatever the terms) to the NIH that a recovery plan has been agreed to.”

In an email the following day, Resnic demanded that the Free Beacon retract its previous stories, which detailed the NIH funding and accusations of fraud.

“One additional item came up to add to the list,” Resnic wrote on Nov. 6. “[The former employee] must also request a retraction from the publication that wrote the stories, the Washington Free Beacon, and they must print a retraction.”

“While you and your client deliberate the matter I will consider adding items to the list. Best, Danny Resnic.”

The Free Beacon has reached out to Resnic for comment on previous stories. When the Free Beacon asked Resnic in November about his lawyer’s statement that he “refused to pay legal fees,” Resnic asked to never be contacted again.

“Kindly do not contact me or the staff again regarding any stories. Best, Dan Resnic,” the email read.

Resnic was not pleased when the Free Beacon asked for his comment regarding his repayment of NIH funds.

“In a previous email you were directed not to contact me or my office again,” he wrote. “What part of ‘do not contact’ are you misunderstanding. Additional contact will be considered harassment.”

Fifteen minutes later, after no response from the Free Beacon, Resnic said, “You’ve been moved to SPAM.”

The NIH told the Free Beacon that they do not comment on potential or pending litigation.

 

GMO Foods are Safe and Useful, in Spite of Arguments to the Contrary

A couple of years ago I was at a meeting where a lady cried that she and her son were being killed by GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). She was convinced that government and food manufacturers were in a cabal to make money, pay off people and assure the poor were harmed by bad food. When told that GMO products showed no problem, cost less, allow grater harvests—hence profits, she said all of that is a lie put out by the manufacturers paid off government officials. Nothing would convince her. You could not reason her out of a position she was not reasoned into.

“I think the most dramatic assertion in last week’s discussion was the statement that feeding GMO food to rats results in cancers. The piece included an ugly photograph of rats with giant tumorous lumps in their sides. One problem with last week’s discussion was that it made assertion after assertion without providing scientific references or even internet links. I will therefore supply the back story to this particular assertion.

A French research lab led by Gilles-Eric Seralini published a paper in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. It involved some 200 rats that were ostensibly fed either food containing genetically modified corn, or food with little or no GMO corn. Seralini is the founder and director of an organization dedicated to opposing GMO foods, but that is neither here nor there. He has the right to attempt to do science, and to submit his results for publication.”

Daniellle Brown

GMO Foods are Safe and Useful, in Spite of Arguments to the Contrary

Written by Bob Gelfand, City Watch LA, 1/30/15

GELFAND’S WORLD-There was something that bothered me about the opinion piece published here in CityWatch last week opposing genetically modified organisms.  It was a little too perfect. It contained every anti-GMO argument known to science or politics, laid out in logical order. If you can believe the assertions made in that discussion, then there is something to worry about.

I must admit that there was a lot more that bothered me, because I am on the other side of this particular argument. I am therefore making use of the kind invitation by CityWatch to reply. My answer involves two main disagreements. The first is over the scientific facts themselves. The second is over the very obvious differences in world views held by the opposing sides.

I think the most dramatic assertion in last week’s discussion was the statement that feeding GMO food to rats results in cancers. The piece included an ugly photograph of rats with giant tumorous lumps in their sides. One problem with last week’s discussion was that it made assertion after assertion without providing scientific references or even internet links. I will therefore supply the back story to this particular assertion.

A French research lab led by Gilles-Eric Seralini published a paper in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. It involved some 200 rats that were ostensibly fed either food containing genetically modified corn, or food with little or no GMO corn. Seralini is the founder and director of an organization dedicated to opposing GMO foods, but that is neither here nor there. He has the right to attempt to do science, and to submit his results for publication.

The problem with the Seralini study is that it didn’t really show what Seralini claims it did. In fact, there was a worldwide outcry by professional scientists when the paper appeared. The most common criticism was that given the inadequate numbers of rats in the various test groups (and there were a lot of test groups divided up among a smallish number of rats), it could not be concluded that there was any real difference between rats fed GMO food and the control group. The Seralini paper also goes against the record of many studies that have not found such differences, either from short term or long term exposure.

One of the issues was that this particular strain of rats has a strong tendency to develop cancer all by itself. In fact, given the two years that these rats were maintained in the lab, somewhere between three-quarters and four-fifths of all the rats will develop some kind of tumor just by living. It is a well known characteristic of this strain. When you have that high a level of naturally occurring tumors, there will be a lot of statistical variation, and when the subgroups in the experiment have only 10 animals per group, a random variation of a couple of animals invalidates the study. Criticism of this study was a little more technically dense, but basically ran along these lines.

There were other weaknesses, including a legitimate question as to whether there were other differences in the diets of control vs. test animals, or even whether the control group actually got a GMO-free diet. But these concerns pale in comparison to the point, well understood by careful readers, that Seralini failed to do proper statistics, and that if he had done so, his argumentative assertions would have lost any factual backing.

The paper was so bad, and the complaints by legitimate scientists so telling, that the journal retracted the paper. Let me explain what that means. For a journal or a scientist to retract a publication is pretty much the ultimate embarrassment. It’s somewhat akin to the public apologies made by celebrities after they are caught driving drunk, except that a scientific retraction doesn’t necessarily mean that you were drunk, just incompetent. If you want to refer to this particular work in a discussion of public policy, there is an obligation to state that the publication was not only horribly controversial, but also was retracted by the journal.

You can read a more in depth analysis of the Seralini paper by going to the discussion written by scientist and author Steven Novella.

Since I am bound by scientific and journalistic ethics, I must point out that the Seralini paper was actually resubmitted to another journal and has now been republished. This is creating a bit of a firestorm of its own for the same reasons as before — it’s a lousy paper based on an inadequate study, and it makes assertions not in keeping with its own data.

I’ve gone on at some length to dispose of this story because it would be the most pertinent to all of us, were there any merit to it.

 

Suit filed in effort to stop Bakken oil trains to Bakersfield

Kern County now has a deficit that is over $10 million and growing. The cause is the lowered revenues due to the price of oil going down and the increased cost of pensions (50% increase by CalPERS). The State is trying to control fracking, siting of pipelines means long lawsuits. Now lawsuits are being filed to stop trains from North Dakota coming into the county, which will end jobs and lower tax revenues. It will also guarantee that gas prices in California go up—due to lack of needed crude.

“Crude by rail transport is particularly risky in California because California crude transport routes include travel through some of the state’s most densely populated areas, as well as some of the most sensitive ecological areas and because there are significant gaps in local emergency response capabilities,” the lawsuit says.

The Air District says the project would have only minimal impact on air quality and it disputes the allegations that it acted in secret.”

American jobs are at stake and the Left prefers high costs, lost jobs and a society based on government, not freedom.

fracking oil gas

Suit filed in effort to stop Bakken oil trains to Bakersfield

Central Valley Business Times, 1/30/15

 

•  Groups say permitting was illegal

•  “Crude by rail transport is particularly risky in California”
Community and environmental groups are suing over the expansion of a crude oil operation in Kern County that they say could lead to a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of crude imported by rail into California each year.

The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft has the capacity to receive two 100-car unit trains a day of crude oil from the Bakken shale formation as well as heavier tar sands. Untreated oil from the Bakken formation is more volatile that other types of crude and has been associated with several spectacular train wrecks including on in July 2013 in Quebec that killed 43 townspeople.

The lawsuit against the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District asks the Kern County Superior Court for an order to void the District’s approval of the plant and keep the facility from operating until it undergoes environmental review.

“Crude by rail transport is particularly risky in California because California crude transport routes include travel through some of the state’s most densely populated areas, as well as some of the most sensitive ecological areas and because there are significant gaps in local emergency response capabilities,” the lawsuit says.

The Air District says the project would have only minimal impact on air quality and it disputes the allegations that it acted in secret.

Earthjustice is representing Association of Irritated Residents (AIR), ForestEthics, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, and joins Communities for a Better Environment’s staff attorneys in the lawsuit.

It says that a public records request revealed Air District officials acquiescing to requests from the project manager for the Bakersfield Crude Terminal to keep the project out of public scrutiny. In one instance, the project manager asked the Air District to “rerun your numbers” on the facility’s emissions to keep it under the threshold for triggering Clean Air Act review, and the Air District permit officer responded by offering advice for how the project can “avoid public noticing” and pollution controls, the lawsuit says.

In another instance, after the Bakersfield Crude Terminal pulled a permit application following public scrutiny that highlighted the impacts the project would have on air quality and safety, the Air District later approved a slightly modified application, suddenly deeming its approval of the permit “ministerial” and therefore exempt from public notice and pollution controls, the lawsuit contends.

“Ministerial permits are for minor home additions or wedding licenses, not massive crude oil projects that exponentially increase the risk of catastrophe along the railways and jeopardizes communities who live in the paths of these dangerous trains,” says Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “The Air District’s role is to protect the residents of the San Joaquin Valley from air pollution, not to help companies avoid public scrutiny and environmental review so they can get up and running as quickly as possible.”

“This behind the scenes approval is beyond egregious, given the fact that these trains are known to be unsafe, as well as because of the region’s already imperiled air quality,” says Sierra Club’s Kern Kaweah Chapter Vice Chairman Gordon Nipp. “We have to wonder what will happen to our communities in the event of a spill or explosion like the ones we’ve seen in other parts of the country.”

Vera Pardee, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, says the Bakersfield Crude Terminal “evaded both state and federal environmental review and was permitted largely in secret.”

 

Kaiser: Healthcare Union Put Patients at Risk During Strike

Millions of Californians depend on Kaiser-Permanente for their health care. My wife and I are among them. We know that we can easily make appointments, staff will be very capable, prepared and at work when we arrive for appointments.   Kaiser has been found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of unfair labor practices, by promoting one union over another in an election. Yet, while the unions own the management and have lots of control over procedures, they want more.

In the past weeks a series of unions have walked out for a day, two days, up to a week. The losers are the patients. Unions want power, they are not in the health care field, and they are in the power and control industry instead.

““Crude by rail transport is particularly risky in California because California crude transport routes include travel through some of the state’s most densely populated areas, as well as some of the most sensitive ecological areas and because there are significant gaps in local emergency response capabilities,” the lawsuit says.

The Air District says the project would have only minimal impact on air quality and it disputes the allegations that it acted in secret.”

NHS-nurse-hospital_2519626b

Kaiser: Healthcare Union Put Patients at Risk During Strike

Walkout comes amid claims company has failed to hire enough mental health workers

BY: Bill McMorris, Washington Free Beacon, 1/29/15
A “militant” healthcare union put patients at risk during a weeklong walkout at one of America’s largest healthcare providers, according to company officials.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) has staged a series of strikes at Kaiser Permanente’s west coast facilities, accusing the company of failing to address mental health needs adequately. Thousands of healthcare workers in California and Hawaii participated in a strike from Jan. 12 to Jan. 19. Kaiser officials say that NUHW is putting its bargaining interests ahead of the health of patients.

“Union tactics designed to put our patients at risk are not productive,” John Nelson, Kaiser’s vice president of government relations, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

The union, which did not respond to requests for comment, contests that Kaiser has failed to hire enough personnel in the mental health division leading to increased waiting times for patients. The company was forced to pay a $4 million fine after running afoul of stringent California mental health regulations in 2013. Kaiser officials have said that NUHW is using the strike to boost its membership.

“NUHW has spent the last several years publicly attacking our mental health services, while at the same time resisting important steps we are taking to enhance mental health care for our patients,” Nelson said in a Jan. 10 release. “Although NUHW has been using intimidation and obstructionism to try to achieve its goals, we will not let that stop us from continuing to make progress on addressing the national challenge facing all mental health care providers.”

NUHW has a combative history. It was formed in 2009 by “militant” labor organizers that broke away from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against NUWH after discovering that the fledgling union stole information from SEIU.

NUHW has spent the last several years trying to poach members from SEIU with mixed results. It lost two NLRB elections in 2011 and 2013 that would have converted 45,000 Kaiser Permanente workers from SEIU to NUHW.

Kaiser has extensive experience working with labor unions. About 70 percent of its 175,000 workforce are union members, and the company bargains with nearly 30 separate unions. NUHW is the only group that has failed to secure a contract for its 5,000 members, despite years of negotiation. The strike began after the union abandoned federal mediation, a decision Kaiser called “entirely unnecessary and counterproductive.”

Kaiser was able to sign contracts with two separate labor unions during the seven-day walkout, including an agreement with the California Nurses Association—a union with which the NUHW is affiliated.

“While these agreements need to be ratified by the unions’ membership, the very fact that we achieved these agreements demonstrates Kaiser Permanente’s unparalleled and successful 70-year history of engaging constructively with the labor unions that represent our employees,” Nelson said in a Jan. 19 release. “These two agreements are also a clear and timely reminder to NUHW that differences are best resolved at the bargaining table, not on a picket line.”

Nelson said that if the NUHW is truly interested in brokering a deal for its members and improving mental healthcare, it should negotiate in good faith with Kaiser, as other labor outfits do.

“We have decades of experience successfully resolving issues at the bargaining table, to the benefit of all involved,” Nelson said. “That’s what should have happened here.”

Obama: My Budget Will be as Big as I Want

We know that the Constitution means nothing to Barack Obama. Rules and regulations are merely guidelines, Congressional action is just an exercise and the safety of our people is secondary to the apologies and tolerance for terrorists. Now we find that the budget regulations are documents he does not care to read or follow.

“President Obama will seek to reverse the spending caps created by sequestration in his fiscal 2016 budget, according to a White House official, proposing to spend roughly $74 billion more than the current statutory limits.

Overall, Obama will propose raising spending levels about 7 percent higher than those spelled out in the 2011 Budget Control Act. About half of the increase would go toward Defense spending, while the other half would boost funding for non-Defense federal agencies.”

When you look at the $1,000,000,000 he wants to fund his importation of illegal aliens from Central America, you understand why he can’t abide by the law—these folks are here and straining local schools, housing and health care facilities. My suggestion is to give him what he wants, in reverse. He wants a 7% increase, he should get a 7% decrease—let the money saved go to paying off the debt.

Obama budget

Obama’s Budget Will Soar Way Above Sequestration Spending Caps

By Eric Katz, GovExec.com 1/30/15

Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget did not ask federal employees to contribute more toward their retirement, but it did propose 136 program cuts and consolidations. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

President Obama will seek to reverse the spending caps created by sequestration in his fiscal 2016 budget, according to a White House official, proposing to spend roughly $74 billion more than the current statutory limits.

Overall, Obama will propose raising spending levels about 7 percent higher than those spelled out in the 2011 Budget Control Act. About half of the increase would go toward Defense spending, while the other half would boost funding for non-Defense federal agencies.

The White House will formally release Obama’s budget Monday, but he will outline his intentions to “reverse harmful sequestration cuts” Thursday night in a speech to the House Democratic Caucus in Philadelphia, the official said.

“As we make these investments in our future, the president will propose to end the across-the-board sequester cuts that threaten our economy and our military,” the official added. “The president’s budget will fully reverse those cuts for domestic priorities, and match those investments dollar-for-dollar with the resources our troops need to keep America safe.”

Cutting spending to its lowest level since 2007 has forced “arbitrary budget cuts,” the official said, adding Obama wants to “end the era of manufactured crises and mindless austerity.”

Congress provided for a partial reprieve from sequestration in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 with the passage of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, but the full effect of the Budget Control Act is set to kick back in for fiscal 2016. If Congress declines to lift those caps, non-defense discretionary funding would be cut off at $493 billion, while Defense spending would not exceed $523 billion. Under Obama’s proposal, those figures would jump to about $530 billion and $561 billion, respectively.

A dramatic funding increase would come as welcome news for federal agencies that have been dealing with reduced spending levels since 2013. Obama’s proposals, however, are likely to run into significant resistance from Republicans, who now control both chambers of Congress and are still concerned about the size of the federal debt.

“‎The past will catch up to us no matter how fast we run from it,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, earlier this week. “The Congressional Budget Office’s new figures show our failure to root out wasteful spending and live within our means. This has left us with an endless supply of debt that grows larger by the day.”

The inevitable spending fight will put agencies in the difficult position of contingency planning for two vastly different budget scenarios. Should Congress fail to pass a budget blueprint that offsets sequestration cuts, spending levels will automatically reset back to the BCA caps. Agencies would be left scrambling to determine where and how to cut, much like in 2013 when the White House directed agencies not to plan for sequestration cuts it assumed Congress would stave off. Unlike in 2013, however, Congress now has more flexibility in implementing the cuts and agencies should — theoretically — have more time to prepare.

Obama’s budget blueprint would likely allow agencies to resume more regular hiring and training, both of which have been cut back significantly over the last several years. While the White House has, for the most part, not disclosed the specifics of the forthcoming budget plan, the funding boost also makes proposals for deficit reduction on the backs of federal employees less likely.

Obama has previously used his budget to suggest federal employees contribute more toward their retirement benefits and to recommend a less generous formula to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees. Those proposals were absent from his fiscal 2015 budget, though he did put forward 136 different cuts and consolidations — including workforce reductions at several agencies — and $2 billion in savings from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program through modernization and efficiency efforts.

Agencies would not be fully shielded from cutbacks under Obama’s fiscal 2016 plan; the president said in a Huffington Post op-ed Thursday his funding boost would be paid for mostly through closing tax loopholes, but also by “cutting inefficient spending.”

That rhetoric, however, is unlikely to assuage the concerns of Obama’s Republican opposition. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said at a hearing this week revenue is not the issue.

“It’s a spending problem,” Price said, “and for all that has been said about the recent decrease in annual deficits, we have not solved our nation’s fiscal challenges.”

 

McClintock pushes water storage, public lands access –Opposite of Guv Brown

Recently Guv Brown announced the first allocations of the $7.5 billion water bond, he allocated over $500 million. Most went to wetlands, conservation and ground water cleanup. No a dime went to dams, which is why Californians voted for this boondoggle to pay off the special interests and unions. Congressman McClintock has a better understanding of California needs. While Guv Brown is NOT building new roads, not building new dams, not building new infrastructure, this is just a continuation of his policies from previous terms.

McClintock noted, “In the interview, he summarized, “Generally, droughts are nature’s fault, but water shortages are our fault. We haven’t built a major water storage facility in California since 1979. So we’re not going to solve our water shortage until we build more dams. And we’re not going to build more dams until we overhaul the radical environmental  laws that have made their construction impossible.”

We all know that the moment a site is mentioned for a dam, a twenty year lawsuit will be started to make sure it is never built. The Luddites are making sure we all become Cowboy fans.

RB Drought

McClintock pushes water storage, public lands access
By John Seiler, Calwatchdog, 1/29/15 

“I think there’s going to be a concerted effort in the next few weeks to move both short-term and long-term water relief bills for California,” Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., told CalWatchdog.com. As this site reported in November, promising bipartisan efforts by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to pass a water bill last year fell apart in the end.

The new makeup of the U.S. Congress might break the log-jam for drought legislation. In addition to Republicans taking over the U.S. Senate and increasing their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, McClintock just was appointed chairman of the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands of the Natural Resources Committee.

Before being elected to the House in 2008, in his two decades in the California Legislature he continually warned of the need for more water storage.

McClintock said the Feinstein bill only addressed the current drought and didn’t provide long-term relief. Now, he said, “The longer-term measures may take on a more West-wide perspective. So, stay tuned.”

The former chairman of his subcommittee, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, now chairs the full Natural Resources Committee and is a McClintock ally focused on the water situation in the entire Western United States.

Bipartisan

McClintock pointed out that any bill still must be bipartisan. In the Senate, 60 votes are needed to prevent a filibuster, but Republicans now hold only 54 seats. And 67 votes would be needed to override a potential veto by President Obama.

If a bipartisan bill lands on the president’s desk, McClintock said, “At that point, it’s his prerogative to either sign that legislation into law, or explain to the American people why he is standing in the way of desperately needed water measures.”

As to the GOP takeover of the Senate, McClintock said the president has gotten off to a bad start by “getting Lisa Murkowski mad a him.” From Alaska, she is the new Republican chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Reported CNN, “On Sunday, President Barack Obama announced plans for the Interior Department to designate 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including its coastal plains, for conservation. The possibility of such a move has been the cause of a lengthy battle between environmentalists and the energy industry for some time.”

Murkowski branded the move a “stunning attack” on Alaska’s economy. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” she said. The plan must be approved by Congress.

Bonds and dams

Last November, California voters passed Proposition 1. McClintock supported it, writing at the time, “This is a long way from a perfect measure, but it’s as good as it gets in California these days: a $7.5 billion water bond that spends $2.7 billion for new water storage.  If that sounds breathtakingly underwhelming, remember that’s $2.7 billion more than the multi-billions of dollars of water bonds that we’ve spent in recent years.”

In the interview, he said he’s been having discussions about how Prop. 1 will interface with federal actions. He’s waiting to see exactly what will be funded by the state measure before working on federal programs.

“Speaking for myself,” he said, “I would like to see streamlined, one-stop permitting for new dam construction. And a prohibition against these massive, pulse-flow releases of water from our dams to adjust the water temperature for the fish, at a time when we’re at a record drought.”

In an article in the Wall Street Journal last March, McClintock described the problem as he saw it:

“Government officials who are entrusted with the careful management of our water squandered it in less than three weeks to nudge baby salmon toward the Pacific Ocean (to which they swim anyway) and to keep the river at just the right temperature for the fish by flushing the colder water stored in the reservoirs.

“These water releases are so enormous they are called ‘pulse flows.’ They generate such swift currents that local officials issue safety advisories to exercise extreme caution when on or near the rivers. While some of the water can be recaptured downstream, most is lost to the ocean.”

In the interview, he summarized, “Generally, droughts are nature’s fault, but water shortages are our fault. We haven’t built a major water storage facility in California since 1979. So we’re not going to solve our water shortage until we build more dams. And we’re not going to build more dams until we overhaul the radical environmental  laws that have made their construction impossible.”

Public lands

McClintock also is concerned about what he called maintaining “public access to public lands.” Specifically, he opposes President Obama’s recent unilateral designation of national monuments in California areas formerly more open to the public.

As CalWatchdog.com reported last October, the president came to our state to designate “half of the Angeles National Forest a national monument at the behest of Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park. … Young people and families use the forest for a cheap recreation place instead driving down to the beach. But environmentalists want forest access limited.  The forest attracts 32 million visitors each year, more than Yosemite or Yellowstone national parks.”

McClintock said he takes his philosophy of public lands from Gifford Pinchot, the founder of the National Forest Service. He cited Pinchot’s maxim, “The greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”

“I think that that maxim is going to apply in the subcommittee to all matters pertaining to public lands. We need to preserve them for future generations. But that doesn’t mean closing them to the current generation,” McClintock said.

This is setting up a clash with the president and some of the more ardent environmentalists. McClintock said the president is claiming his authority to designate national monuments from the Antiquities Act of 1906.

This is confirmed by the White House website, which claimed, “First exercised by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the authority of the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents since 1906 to protect unique natural and historic features in America, such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients.”

But according to McClintock, the 1906 act was “an emergency power to protect small archaeological sites from looting. It’s been used over the years to the point that this president is attempting to use it to place millions of acres off limits for virtually any human activity.”

The actual wording of the act, 16 USC 431-433, reads:

“That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

“Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”

Jobs

McClintock also is concerned about the jobs of the Californians who work in or near the areas that could be restricted. Despite an improving jobs picture, California’s unemployment rate remains higher than the national average. He pointed to the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to its area being designated a national monument, something sought by environmentalist groups.

The chamber itself explained on its website:

“At its regular monthly meeting on January 12, 2015, the Board of Directors of the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce voted to oppose the creation of a so-called Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (BSMNM). The Board’s primary concern was the potential negative impact of the designation on Lake Berryessa and its business and residential communities.”

McClintock maintained that environmental concerns and public access to public lands both can be met. “So the people are speaking very loudly and clearly,” he said. “Their president, unfortunately, at the moment isn’t listening. Congress, however, is.”