California still in danger zone as coronavirus deaths mount

Amid a growing clamor to further reopen a California economy devastated by the novel coronavirus, the state is facing one major obstacle that officials say has made swifter progress difficult.

The rate of COVID-19 deaths in California remains at a stubborn plateau. Mirroring a trend seen nationally, California has not seen a dramatic and sustained decline in deaths over the past month, a Los Angeles Times analysis has found. During the seven-day period that ended Sunday, 503 people in California died from the virus — the second-highest weekly death toll in the course of the pandemic and a 1.6% increase from the previous week’s toll.

The average of about 500 fatalities each week has continued over the past month. COVID-19 cases shot up to a weekly record last week, with more than 13,000 new infections reported. Increased testing may partly explain the increase. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Standing for Taxpayers and Direct Democracy

The powers of direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall — have been powerful tools to control slow-moving or corrupt politicians.

These powers are enshrined in the California constitution for reasons that are just as compelling in 2020 as they were in 1911 when Gov. Hiram Johnson, seeking to counterbalance the influence the railroads had over the state Capitol, pushed to give ordinary citizens equal footing with legislative bodies to enact or reject legislative proposals.

Direct democracy has, for more than 100 years, been used most frequently on matters of taxation and government spending.

Indeed the most iconic example of direct democracy in the Golden State is Proposition 13, approved by the voters in 1978.

It is no wonder then that taxpayer advocates have been the staunchest defenders of direct democracy.

That tradition carries on to this very day.

Last Tuesday, the California Supreme Court heard argument in a case that threatens one of these powers of direct democracy — the referendum power.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Elon Musk threatens to move Tesla out of California

Tesla will move its headquarters and maybe its factory out of California, CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday.

The company also filed a lawsuit in federal court against Alameda County, accusing it of overstepping federal and state coronavirus restrictions when it stopped Tesla from restarting production at its factory in Fremont.

“Frankly, this is the final straw,” Musk said in a combative tweet thread, and added: “If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen (sic) on how Tesla is treated in the future.”

Musk said the company will move its headquarters, which is in Palo Alto, “to Texas/Nevada immediately.” …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

Majority Of Voters Believe Mail-In Ballots Cause Election Fraud

New polling suggests nearly two-thirds of voters believe there is fraud in U.S. elections and that a majority of those respondents saw mail-in ballots as the cause of the fraud. Democrats in various states look to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sixty-two percent of voters believe there is fraud in U.S. elections, according to a new Republic National Committee (RNC) survey, conducted May 1-4 by Public Opinion Strategies.

Of those, 32% believe that fraud occurs often. An additional 30% of respondents believed fraud occurs “sometimes” during elections.

A reported 57% of voters say they are concerned for the integrity of elections because of ballots cast by mail, while 21% are worried about in-person ballots. In addition, safeguards to prevent potential fraud from mail-in ballots appear widely popular among voters.

According to the survey, 84% support requiring signatures on mailed ballots to match those on file, 80% agree with requiring some form of identification to ensure voter eligibility and 83% want an absolute deadline by election for all mail ballots.

Recently, the RNC launched ProtectTheVote to combat Democratic Party efforts to expand mail-in ballots as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase in the U.S. The RNC also doubled its initial legal budget from $10 million to $20 million to oppose Democratic lawsuits seeking to expanded mail voting, Fox News reports. …

Click here to read the full article from the Daily Caller.

Forget the rush to reopen

Most big California counties are not close to meeting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strict standards that would allow a wider reopening of the economy, including dine-in restaurants and shopping malls, a Times data analysis found.

Newsom announced Thursday a series of benchmarks each of California’s 58 counties would need to reach to significantly reopen faster than the statewide standard. Can the county show that people have stopped dying from the coronavirus? Have new cases fallen to a manageable level? Can officials adequately test people? Do they have enough detectives to track down newly infected people? And do they have enough medical supplies?

The Times conducted an analysis to see which counties could pass just the first two criteria — whether deaths have stopped in the past 14 days, and whether there is no more than one case per 10,000 residents in that same time period. Most of California failed that test. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.

Time to Flatten the Unemployment Curve

As Governor Gavin Newsom was offering guidelines that allows businesses to begin opening their doors, many business leaders sent the governor recommendations on how to quickly but safely get the California economy humming again. Some of the policy proposals are controversial and run headlong into positions held by labor unions but the recommendations are designed to avoid the mistakes that lead to a too-slow reviving of the economy after the Great Recession. 

The heads of twenty state, regional and local business organizations signed a cover letter and report urging the governor to adopt the “necessary policy reforms to help restart our economy… that will help get workers back into their jobs in the short term and help grow jobs in the long term.”

In essence, the business groups argued they have the professional expertise to get the economy up and running but need government to do its part by eliminating obstacles, with many barriers to a quick recovery in place because of current laws.

The business leaders pointed to the troubling numbers that California’s unemployment rate jumped from a record low of 3.2% to a projected high of almost 20% in just six weeks. While praising the governor for taking quick action to control the spread of the disease and flatten the curve of projected COVID-19 cases, the next step the report argued is to begin to achieve economic health for workers and businesses by flattening the unemployment curve.

In the report, business leaders warned against following the steps taken after the Great Recession. Jobs in California took 82 months to return to pre-recession levels because of government actions that increased regulations, taxes and fees. 

This time the report argued, strategies for recovery must be based on actions to get the state on its feet as soon as possible.

Among the recommendations the business groups thought important that are sure to stir the political pot in Sacramento are:

  •     Pause the minimum wage increase. The report argued that the $1 per hour increase scheduled for January would eliminate jobs when the goal is to bring more people back to work. “The issue is simple mathematics. Taking into account payroll taxes and benefits, an employer with 50 full-time minimum wage employees in December will only be able to cover 46 in January.” The decision to suspend the scheduled increase is set for July 28 based on certain requirements.
  •     Allow for flexibility in labor laws to accommodate at-home workers; freeze most regulations; and blunt the threat of Private Attorneys General Lawsuits. Work at home opportunities, which will expand in light of experiences during the lockdown, could be jeopardized under some current labor laws. Eight-hour workday mandates and meal and rest breaks are prime targets of Private Attorneys General Act lawsuits. Without reforms to these rules, and dealing with the threat of PAGA litigation in general, businesses concerned with legal action over minor paperwork mistakes will hesitate in building back businesses to meet the next normal.
  •     Repeal AB 5. Allow workers alternative opportunities to deal with the next normal and make a living.
  •     Set a timeline to sunset Executive Orders.
  •     Provide clear standards to limit misuse of COVID-19 as a “workplace injury.” The report particularly questioned how the workplace injury laws would apply to stay-at-home telecommuters.

The governor already has weighed into the workplace injury issue at odds with the business coalition’s position signing an Executive Order to put the burden of proof on employers to prove that COVID-19 infection was not part of the work experience, a burden the business community says will stunt the recovery.

However, on the issue of health guidelines to be in place after businesses open, the business recommendations and the governor’s positions seem to be aligned.

As the report notes, the economy won’t restart with a flip of the switch. It could take up to two weeks for a business to implement the health and safety procedures necessary to open, depending on an individual business’s size, type of business and other unique requirements. 

The report incorporated an optimistic note insisting that what happens next in the reopening of California will not be the “new normal” but the “next normal.” It will be just be the next stage in California working back to its full vitality.

But to get there quickly, the business coalition urged the governor to back its proposals. 

With the announcement that the budget will have a $54 billion deficit, business openings done promptly to help the state climb out of the budget hole is of the greatest urgency.

Signing onto the letter and report to the governor were: Associated General Contractors of California, Building Industry Association of Southern California, California Hotel & Lodging Association, California Building Industry Association, California Business Properties Association, California Business Roundtable, California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Manufacturers & Technology Association, California Retailers Association, Central Valley BizFed, Engineering Contractors’ Association, Fresno Chamber of Commerce, Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, Inland Empire Economic Partnership, Los Angeles County BizFed, Orange County Business Council, Personal Insurance Federation of California, Southern California Leadership Council, and Valley Industry & Commerce Association. 

Joel Fox is editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Mega Cities Require Mega Suburbs

Housing is unaffordable in California, and, increasingly, housing is becoming unaffordable in every other part of the United States where bad policies preside.

The shame of these policies is not only the misery they impose on growing proportions of Americans, but the pessimism they represent. Read beyond the initial recitation of mundane obstacles to share a positive vision of the future. The economics of affordable housing do not have to be complicated. Awesome housing for everyone can be realized merely by changing the conventional wisdom.

Here are four policy choices that have turned millions of Americans into slaves to their home mortgages, and pushed additional millions into cheap rentals that cost them most of their paycheck.

  1. Punitively high fees for building permits. These exorbitant sums are necessary to pay for infrastructure such as connector roads and utility conduits that cities used to pay for out of their operating budgets. But out-of-control expansion of government combined with overmarket pay negotiated by government unions has changed all that. Now local governments have to charge developer fees that can easily exceed $100,000 per home.
  2. Laws that require “inclusive zoning,” whereby low-income people are given subsidized homes and apartments in high-income neighborhoods. This pushes up the costs for housing that people have to actually pay for without relying on government handouts.
  3. Costly and unnecessary building codes, along with endless litigation by environmentalist attorneys bent on collecting settlements for themselves and their organizations, as well as environmental litigation used by labor unions as leverage to force developers to use union labor.
  4. The policies of “urban containment,” whereby for environmental reasons, vast expanses of land that could be used for new homes are off-limits to developers.

While the first three on this list are quite enough to push home prices up, it is the fourth that delivers the fatal blow to any hope of changing the equation and making homes affordable again. This one truism, that housing must be dense and packed within existing cities, is the conventional wisdom that has destroyed affordable housing and corrupted a generation of policymakers. It must be shattered.

Only when cities can build out as well as up can there be less expensive construction costs and lower land costs. And this policy, supposedly required to save the planetary environment, is based on two fundamentally flawed premises.

Urban Containment is 21st Century Green Apartheid

The first false premise is the density delusion, the idea that we are running out of land. In nearly every region on earth, this is false. In California, the urban footprint only consumes 8,200 square miles, barely 5 percent of the total land in the state. If you put ten million people into new homes on quarter acre lots, four per home, with an equivalent area set aside for new roads and new commercial and industrial use, you wouldn’t even consume an additional 2,000 square miles! California’s cattle ranches consume over 25,000 square miles. There’s plenty of room.

In the rest of the United States, the same surprising statistics apply. The lower 48 states in the U.S. are less than 4 percent urbanized. Even worldwide, there is plenty of available land. If you put ten billion people into new homes on quarter acre lots, four per home, with an equivalent area set aside for new roads and new commercial and industrial use, you would only consume 3.8 percent of all land excluding Antarctica. Most estimates of urbanization currently worldwide are around 2.7 percent. Allowing suburban dispersion of global population is very unlikely to require even 3.8 percent of available land. Not only will many people prefer to live in the high-density urban cores, but breakthroughs in indoor agriculture and aquaculture, along with ongoing improvements in crop yields, will likely allow global reserves of farmland to shrink at a faster rate than mega suburbs expand.

The other false premise used to justify urban containment is that more single-family homes means more “sprawl,” which will mean more “vehicle miles traveled,” which will contribute more “greenhouse gasses” to the atmosphere, leading to catastrophic “climate change.”

With apologies for the sarcasm quotes, and as Joe Biden would say, “but here’s the deal, folks:” You can believe that greenhouse gas is a planet killer all you like, but building entire new low-density cities will not cause an appreciable increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The studies that make this claim are biased, ignore crucial variables, and make no allowances for dazzling new technologies. Zero-emission vehicles are just the beginning.

What we can barely imagine today will become passe by the middle of this century. For starters, the advancing world of virtual workforces, which just took a quantum leap forward during the pandemic lockdown, will become the rule rather than the exception. And the jobs that require physical presence will increasingly be jobs that are by their nature dispersed to where the people are – schools, restaurants, services, trades.

By the late 21st century, and contrary to Malthusian fearmongering, magnificent megacities will be vital and evolving. Building materials will be more abundant than ever, with concrete harvested from desalinated ocean brine, and precious minerals arriving from mining the asteroid belt. With fusion power finally perfected, energy will cheap and inexhaustible. And connecting the megacities to the mega suburbs will be not only next-generation roads, but air lanes filled with passenger drones.

What motivates opponents of the single-family dwelling – apart from their misanthropy, greed, and blinkered fanaticism – is a poverty of the imagination. Many future suburbs will be disbursed in areas inaccessible by road, with only flying vehicles providing access. Modular homes with almost no footprint, custom-designed and mass-manufactured at affordable prices, will be airdropped into place, sparing most of the required on-site construction. Other suburbs, more contiguous with major cities, will have the required connector roads and residential streets, but these roads will be fewer and smaller, since many residents will telecommute, and others will travel by air.

Space Travel, Spin-off Technology

Back in the 1960s, when the U.S. was in a desperate rush to beat the Soviets to the moon, dissident Americans bemoaned the fact that we were spending billions to conquer space while there were still people living in poverty back down here on earth. Gil Scott-Heron, an artist of unimpeachable integrity, but more than a little bitterness, wrote the classic “Whitey On the Moon.”

With respect, Gil Scott-Heron was wrong. Everyone benefited from the moon landing. The American space program of the 1960s paved the way for everything from semiconductors to integrated circuits, dramatic advances in rocketry, breakthroughs in civil, electrical, aeronautical and engineering science, complex software, durable and lightweight composite materials, and, for a few specifics—everything from CT scanners to liquid-cooled garments to freeze-dried food.

Maybe an overt cold war with China can’t come soon enough. A new space race could channel some of this six trillion dollars of suddenly manufactured money into building a permanent base on the south pole of the moon, to use as a jumping-off point for asteroid mining. And it isn’t just abundant minerals that will result from the industrialization of the solar system. The spin-offs will be more sophisticated systems than ever to process and recycle air, water and waste, manage energy, and grow food. Imagine how these space technologies will translate into self-contained and inexpensive, low footprint modular homes that can offer residential comfort anywhere on earth.

We have no idea today how many transformative innovations will come from a revitalized space program, but if the legacy of the 1960s is any indication, they will be miraculous.

Any examination of how cities and suburbs will look or should look on this planet one-hundred years from now must take into account these promising trends. Global population is leveling off. Science and technology is advancing at an increasing rate, and every year it offers new breakthroughs, solutions and cures. An optimist would look at the last several decades and conclude, despite the challenges, humanity is on a relentless march towards a better quality of life for everyone. An article published by the BBC last year lists several reasons “why the world is improving,” including rising life expectancy, falling infant mortality, falling rates of fertility, ongoing GDP growth, less income inequality, the spread of democracy, and fewer armed conflicts.

This argument for what Wired once called the “Long Boom” is embodied in the philosophy of “New Optimism,” with its principal proponent the Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg. According to Lomborg, “air and water are getting cleaner, endangered species and forests are holding their own, and the risks associated with global warming are exaggerated.” He contends that “more people than ever before, living in all parts of the globe, are becoming healthier, richer, and better educated; that the human race is living longer and more peaceably; that we’re considerably freer to pursue our happiness.”

As we await permission to venture outside our dwellings once again – or, for that matter, as we defiantly venture outside before they issue the all-clear – we have an opportunity to reflect on the many types of confinement we must overcome. Confinement to our homes. Confinement within politically contrived barriers around our cities, Green Bantustans, where our lives are needlessly dangerous and expensive. Confinement on this world, when treasures await in the most mega of the mega suburbs, the Habitable Zone, all around the sun.

The worst possible move that human societies can make is to panic now, as our species stands on the cusp of more options, more enlightenment, more freedom and prosperity than ever before.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

SF gives methadone, alcohol, cannabis to some addicts and homeless isolating from coronavirus in hotels

San Francisco’s health department confirmed Wednesday that the city was administering alcohol, tobacco, medical cannabis and other substances in an effort to prevent a handful of people quarantined or isolating in city-leased hotels from going outside to get the substances themselves.

The hotel residents are also receiving medications such as methadone — delivered by methadone clinics — to tamp down heroin cravings. It’s all part of a widely used “harm reduction” approach to helping addicts stay inside and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus while coping with the loss or reduction of their core drugs.

News of the health department’s efforts was first reported by television station KTVU.

The city-rented hotels have been reserved for individuals who either have COVID-19 or are at heightened risk of catching it, and who have no space of their own to safely self-isolate or quarantine. And some of those individuals have substance-abuse issues or are already on a methadone regimen. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Universal Basic Income — Just Another Welfare Program That Will Fail

Earlier this year, a universal basic income bill was introduced in the California Assembly. Should it become law, every resident 18 and over would receive $1,000 a month from the public fisc. Now U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is talking about including a guaranteed minimum income in the next round of coronavirus aid legislation.

 What is it about California that spawns so many lousy public policy ideas?

 In a late April cable news interview, the San Francisco Democrat, clearly trying to exploit the pandemic crisis, mentioned that “others have suggested a minimum income, a guaranteed income for people” provided by the government.

 “Is that worthy of attention now?” she asked. “Perhaps so.”

 Early results of a basic income pilot program in Stockton, which sends $500 debit cards every month to 125 residents living in low-income neighborhoods, indicate otherwise.

 Called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, it is the first U.S. city to provide a guaranteed income. The 18-month trial is funded by a nonprofit organization rather than taxpayers. No one would be surprised, though, if at the end of the test period, city officials will insist SEED has worked so well that it will have to become a permanent program financed by taxpayers. It will then be, as Pacific Research Fellow Damon Dunn has said, a welfare program by another name.

 In the 1960s, we were told welfare programs were going to beat poverty in America. But after more than a half century, they’ve failed to make a difference.

 The federal poverty rate had been falling sharply in the years before President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964. Then came $22 trillion in spending on anti-poverty programs over the next 50 years. The steep decline in indigence that began in the early 1950s was halted and the poverty rate has remained virtually unchanged since.

 The experience has been much the same in California. Sacramento spent nearly $958 billion on public welfare programs from 1992 through 2015. Yet while the state’s 2018 standard poverty rate average was 12.5%, says the Census Bureau, the three-year average of the Supplemental Poverty Rate — which takes into “account of many of the government programs designed to assist low-income families and individuals that are not included in the current official poverty measure” — is 18.1%.

 That’s the second worst rate in the nation, just behind the District of Columbia’s 18.2%.

 Basic income schemes have fared no better than conventional welfare. Finland set up a pilot program in 2017, handing out about $685 a month to a “randomly selected group of 2,000 young unemployed and long-term unemployed Finns,” says the University of Helsinki.

 It was dropped in 2018. Preliminary results were “disappointing,” said the university, but only to those who entertained the fantasy. The reality, reported the New York Times, is that while recipients were “happier than they were on unemployment benefits,” the experiment did not “make them more likely to work” as “proponents had hoped.”

 Had Finland decided to expand the plan to the entire nation of 5.5 million rather than shut it down, a 30% tax hike would have been needed to finance the giveaways. That would wreck the economy in a nation where the personal income tax rate can exceed 50%.

 A three-year program in Toronto fared no better. It was dropped in 2018 after only 15 months, abandoned because it was incurring high costs. Provincial Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the effort was “quite expensive” and “was certainly not going to be sustainable.”

 Universal basic incomes, in which everyone receives a payout, not just a few participants in a lab project, have become a growing political topic. A UBI was even the centerpiece of Andrew Yang’s brief Democratic presidential campaign. But as with all big government ideas, outcomes fail to match expectations.

Stockton’s program, for instance, inspires zero confidence in the concept. Initial findings show that, of the program purchases which could be tracked, 38% of the dollars were spent on food, 24% on home goods and clothing, 11% on utilities, 9% on gas, and 18% on “other,” which includes “services, medical expenses, insurance, self-care and recreation, transportation, education and donations,” says the Associated Press.

However, only 60% of the program money can be accounted for. Forty percent was dumped into bank accounts or converted to cash, leaving no trail.

But even if it was known that the unaccounted-for “income” was also used for legitimate expenditures, the idea is still tragically flawed. Its costs will be staggering, the dependency it creates damaging. That’s the inevitable path of all government social programs. 

Kerry Jackson is a senior fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Masks will be mandatory at LAX and on city buses beginning Monday

Beginning Monday, anyone traveling through Los Angeles International Airport must wear a mask or face covering.

The new requirement announced Wednesday evening by Mayor Eric Garcetti came hours after L.A. County officials laid out the first steps toward easing stay-at-home orders imposed almost two months ago. Those restrictions have been credited with slowing the spread of the coronavirus throughout Los Angeles and the region.

Florists, car dealers and various types of bricks-and-mortar stores — including those that sell toys, music, books, clothing and sporting goods — will be allowed to open for curbside pickup only starting Friday. In-store shopping will not be permitted.

“This list is less about what products are sold and more about the ability to maintain social distancing,” county Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times.