California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Resigns for Labor Union Post

Gonzalez to become next leader of the California Labor Federation

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) announced her resignation from the Assembly on Monday to become the next leader of the California Labor Federation, one of the largest and most influential union groups in California, later this year.

Gonzalez, a graduate of Stanford University, Georgetown University, and UCLA, got her start in politics in the early 2000’s as a senior advisor to then-Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante. However, her background as a community activist and organizer won her influence among those in labor, as well as a failed run for San Diego City Council against future Mayor Kevin Faulconer in 2005, culminated with her becoming the CEO and Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO in 2008.

After five years as one of the most powerful labor leaders in the state, Gonzalez was elected to the Assembly in 2013, where she quickly became one of the top union and worker advocates in Sacramento. Among some of her more notable bills were AB 1522, a 2014 bill-turned-law that granted sick days to part-time employees, and AB 480, a 2017 passed bill that added child care product subsidies for parents entering the workforce while coming off of welfare.

However, by far her largest and most controversial legislation was AB 5, the 2019 law that drastically altered the contractor worker landscape in the state by having most contractor employees be reclassified as employees. While the aim was to have more workers provided labor protections and more benefits such as health coverage, the law instead hurt many independent contractors, caused many companies to hire fewer people because of the increased costs, and proved to be so inconsistent that the law has been consistently been altered – even before coming into law in 2020.

While AB 5 has been somewhat weakened since becoming law, with many industries such as rideshare companies and trucking groups fighting to remain exempt through legal action and voter propositions, it still stands in California as of January 2022 and remains a major victory for the labor movement in California.

Due to her labor background and work as an architect of several pro-labor pieces of legislation in the past, she had been touted s a replacement for longtime CLF Executive-Secretary Art Pulaski for some time. In November, the CLF was confident enough in Gonzalez that they voted to recommend her as their next leader.

The question of her acceding Pulaski was still open until late December when redistricting of Assembly districts pushed Gonzalez into the same district as Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego). Facing a potential polarizing primary election this June, as well as having to recover from a recent bout of cancer and the invitation of leading the CLF still open, Gonzalez agreed to the position on Monday.

Gonzalez out in the Assembly

Speaking from the opening of the January session on Monday, Gonzalez gave her farewell to the Assembly.

“An opportunity to serve in this capacity doesn’t come up but every few decades, and as I think you all know, serving working Californians is my singular priority,” said Gonzalez. “I’m very excited about this opportunity.”

“We expanded workplace rights for grocery workers, hotel workers, warehouse workers, janitors and home healthcare workers, paramedics, nail technicians, construction workers, clerical staff, delivery drivers, gig workers, garment workers, disabled workers and more. First in the nation’ described countless laws we wrote pertaining to worker rights and more. We did a lot. But the only way to truly change the lives of working Californians is to empower them at work. No law is ever as powerful as a union contract. So, now, I will simply continue my service by singularly focusing on strengthening the labor movement.

Pulaski, who has led the CLF since 1996, approved Gonzalez as his probable successor on Monday.

“I couldn’t think of a more qualified, passionate and committed leader to continue the critical advocacy of working people at the nation’s largest state federation of unions,” added Pulaski.  “Assemblymember Gonzalez lives and breathes union values every day.”

While Gonzalez received many other goodbye praises on Monday, others noted that her leaving would be positive for the Assembly.

“Labor just lost its strongest ally in the Assembly,” said “Dana,” a Capitol staffer to the Globe. “We’ve gotten a bunch of calls about this from worried union people. They’re happy she’ll be the head of the [CLF], but they are terrified as this could mean that AB 5 will be left more undefended and that other labor bills won’t have quite as big a supporter. Of course, many others like this and hope that her vacancy is otherwise filled with someone not as strong in labor.”

“Honestly, about as many are cheering her going out of the Assembly as being saddened by it. She’s still in a powerful position and can easily go back into politics from where she is at. But she’s out now.”

Gonzalez will have a as-of-yet unknown role within the CLF until July, when an election for union leadership is to be held after Pulaski’s stepping down. A special election is expected to take place sometime this year to fill her now vacant Assembly seat.

This article first appeared in its entirety in the California Globe

Omicron Surge Prompts Newport Beach To Close City Hall, Other Spots, To Public

Newport Beach’s City Hall, community centers and other spots will be mostly closed to the public beginning Monday, Jan. 3 amid the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 and the surge of infections expected following the holiday season, officials said this weekend.

Omicron’s rapid spread has affected businesses, air travel, sports, entertainment and other aspects of life around the nation. COVID-19 cases and potential exposures skyrocketing in Orange County have sent people scrambling to get tested.

In Newport Beach, non-city employees will not be allowed into certain facilities. But all city services will still be conducted either over the phone, online or through drop-off services. People who need to submit physical documents or payments can deposit those into bins placed outside of City Hall, a workaround which had been used in “previous COVID protocols,” officials said in an announcement on the city’s website.

“We anticipate these protocols will be in place for at least two weeks, through mid-January,” Newport Beach officials said in the announcement. “However, we are carefully monitoring the COVID Omicron outbreak in consultation with Hoag Hospital and County health officials, and will adjust as necessary.”

Libraries will remain open but no in-person meetings will be allowed. Recreational classes hosted at the city’s community centers will continue as scheduled, but face coverings will be mandatory indoors and no spectators will be allowed.

The return of coronavirus-related closures came as a surprise, even to some city officials, Newport Beach spokesman John Pope said. He added that early estimates regarding the duration of the precautionary measures may be “optimistic.”

The decision to implement the restrictions was based on concerning data from county officials regarding the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.  It was made by City Manager Grace Leung as a growing number of city staff reported recent exposure to coronavirus, Pope said.

City leaders intend to “amplify the message of health professionals,” he said. They are urging everyone to get vaccinated, and advise those who are to get their booster shots.

This is at least the third time the coronavirus has prompted officials to temporarily bar the public from entering City Hall, Pope said. It, as well as community centers, playgrounds, houses of worship and other facilities were shuttered in the Summer of 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19.

Those previous closures each lasted about a month, Pope said. They followed guidance outlined in the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom when lockdowns first went into place in 2020, more than a year before vaccines for the virus were approved for emergency use.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

‘Back to the Future’ California Recap and 2022 Political Predictions

‘Dr. Seuss prepared us for this year’

While political pundits predict a red wave across the country in the 2022 midterm elections, many even anticipate a wave of change in the Golden State. How big the California wave is, and what form it will take, will be anyone’s best educated guess.

California’s 2021 Year in Review is more of a scene from “Back to the Future” or “Groundhog Day.” We started a 2021 recap and felt it was exactly like last year’s, but with a failed Recall Election of the Governor.

Case in point: The state ramped up testing again with the COVID Omicron variant making its way to the United States, and is breathlessly screeching about “cases,” while hospitalizations remain low at only 4,747 total in the state of nearly 40 million residents, and 2 deaths on Dec. 29th. Doctors report most “cases” are merely cold symptoms, or are asymptomatic.

CDPH hospitalizations. (Photo: CDPH.ca.gov)
CDPH COVID Dashboard. (Photo: CDPH.ca.gov)

Regardless, the state just issued strict new isolation guidance for those with COVID, despite the most recent CDC recommendations reducing isolation and quarantine to 5 days, down from 10.

The state of California again decided to ignore that new guidance and impose stricter rules – for what purpose, we can only surmise.

California schools and universities have announced school children and college students will need to test for COVID before returning to school following the holiday and New Year break, but still must wear masks indoors.

Colleges and universities are demanding booster shots of the returning students. UCLA and sixother University of California undergraduate campuses announced Tuesday that classes will begin remotely at the start of the new term.

All UC students and UC staff will be required to show proof they received a COVID-19 booster shot.

Los Angeles schools are threatening to impose outdoor mask rules.

Is this 2020, 2021 or 2022?

Ugh. Recap over. Let’s move on to the future.

Democrats have clearly lost their grip on education as a party platform. As the Globe reported in October, only hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement of a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all schoolchildren in California, homeschooling and tutoring inquiries shot up dramatically, with some homeschooling sites even going down to the sheer volume of users searching for help.

California voters will get the chance to vote on two ballot initiatives in 2022 proposing Education Savings Accounts for California students, which follow the students’ choice of schools: private school or homeschool.

We asked some of California’s political junkies, the politically well-connected, legislative staffers, lobbyists, attorneys, candidates and others to weigh in with their political predictions for 2022. What a wide range of predictions and observations we received!

Not everyone was in a position to self-identify, so when you see “Anonymous,” know that we know the identity of the contributor to our 2022 predictions.

Anthony Watts of Chico, CA predictions for CA 2022:

1. The legislature will pass and Newsom will sign an “exit tax” to be levied on people leaving the state for a better life. They’ll do this by levying a tax on U-Haul, Ryder, moving companies like Bekins and United Van Lines, along with other independent moving companies for any out-of-state move. This will create a black market for clandestine movers, and drive the price of trailers sky-high. It will also create a reverse “Grapes of Wrath” effect with people simply loading up their vehicles and leaving the state to escape the “great depression” of California.2. State sanctioned theft of electricity becomes the new normal. On January 27th 2022, The CPUC will approve the new NEM3 system that will create the highest solar tax in the country and hugely reduce the bill credit solar customers get for selling electricity back to the grid. It will also impose new fees for the “privilege” of connecting to the grid. NEM3 will pay 25 cents on the dollar per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by home and small business solar owners, where under NEM2 it was 95 cents on the dollar. The result will be a huge drop in installed solar on existing homes, as well as creating a new market for electricians to remove solar panels from the grid and create schemes to drive the home electricity directly from the panels during the day. It will also create a rash of fires as some new homeowners, who are mandated to have solar on new homes, angry at this turn of events, will try to rewire their homes themselves.

3. Climate change will be blamed for items 1 and 2. Newsom and/or some idiot lawmaker will say “climate change” is the real reason people are leaving the state, and that “climate change” is the reason we have to steal electricity from your solar panels without fairly compensating homeowners.Mark Meuser, California Constitutional Attorney and U.S. Senate Candidate:

California will pick up 9 Republican Congressional seats minimum. If 2010 was the year of the Tea Party, 2022 is the year of the Parent Party. We saw this in 1993, when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton pushed social medicine. New Jersey and Virginia voted in Republican Governors, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republicans took majority control of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years after the 1994 elections. Then again in 2009 when President Barack Obama pushed Obamacare, and the Tea Party was formed to fight it. 2021 was an absolute attack on everything decent and normal. We saw Virginia flip to a Republican Governor, and even New Jersey had a huge Republican swing. 2022 is going to be a major swing.

I’ve been speaking to parent groups across the socio-economic spectrum in California, which literally grew out of nothing since September.

Lastly, the Hispanic swing: The Recall Election of Gov. Gavin Newsom showed 54% Hispanic support in that wanted the recall. We are seeing this in Texas, Florida and other parts of the U.S., where it’s clear, Hispanics want change over the same issues: crime, schools, and the madness of essential/non-essential businesses… they were hurt the most.

The demographic which votes the least is the 25-45 age group. But they are parents, they work, and they will vote now. This is the Parent Party.

Lance Christensen:

Dr. Seuss prepared us for this year — unfortunately, Sneetches will be a how-to guide for aspiring autocrats, rather than a warning. Everyone who thought 2021 was going to be an improvement upon 2020 will be really perplexed about 2022. Pick the issue, no matter what it is, 2022 will be the year of reactionary politics and dizzying, brazen political gamesmanship.

The midterm elections will bring divisive legislative races, less-than-stellar campaigns for statewide office and a number of high-profile ballot initiatives. Yet, the most consequential candidates in the state will not be applying for the diminished number of seats in the House of Representatives as a result of people fleeing to other states, or running for Governor against a special interest pawn; it will be thousands of mama bears taking school board races by storm. Education busybodies beware, school district boardrooms, gymnasiums and cafeterias are ground zero for parents as they wake up to the wokeness and forcefully reject the ever-present intimidation, indoctrination and inadequacies plaguing our public schools. And if parents are successful at reclaiming a majority of school boards, asserting rights over their children and refuse to comply with the Governor’s never-ending emergency orders, we’ll see the state legislature exert extraordinary financial pressure over these districts to assuage the teachers unions’ apoplectic rage. The effects will be compounded by a successful school choice initiative and recalls galore.

However, expect established, centralized media platforms to protect the status quo at all costs and accelerate memory-holing the propaganda of fear they’ve been echoing since March 2020. It will be independent thought leaders on a growing array of decentralized social media platforms who drive the debate for California to emerge from our government-induced-COVID-coma, inasmuch as they can avoid being canceled. If there is to be a saving grace in 2022, it will be every courageous red-pilled Californian who comes to a full realization that they are citizens, not subjects; that they don’t need stars upon thars to be happy and prosperous.

Anonymous in Los Angeles (snark alert):

Ironic: A bumbling and not-very-bright state henchman will be put in charge of the Dominion vote-counting machines for the 2022 California gubernatorial election and will accidentally switch the intended vote-rigging outcome, resulting in a landslide victory for Ric Grenell as California’s next Governor.

Anonymous in Sacramento:

I predict another year of grappling with the unhoused issue. No “solving,” just “grappling.”

Anonymous in Sacramento (snark alert):

Knowing what’s on the political horizon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will give Gov. Newsom a congressional Medal of Honor for women’s right’s  – ensuring the highest number of minority abortions (men and women per the official stats) in the country at tax payer expense.But it is Destined to be a failed attempt “to cut ‘em off at the pass.”  The governor cannot read the writing on the wall. Literally.Although he should win an Emmy for his performance in faking his need to cancel his climate summit trip due to family Halloween commitments, and NOT that his wife learned he was taking an assistant he has been allegedly involved with.So while he announces his exploratory committee for President, the tides turn.Because it is not his turn. It is still hillbilly Hillary’s turn to be president. No one makes Baby Hillary sit on the corner.So, six sexual harassment victims, all from Arkansas, will appear to claim the Joker grabbed their non-binary privates at the French Laundry, and the left will eat Gavin in public.Newsom will be Cuomo’d in ‘22.It will be Epoch Times.

Thus ends the predictions.

Meanwhile, lining streets throughout the state are ever-expanding and growing homeless encampments of ratty tents and corrugated boxes, battered old RVs, campers and trailers, vans, and passenger vehicles, which have become homes for the state’s vagrants, drug addicts and homeless street population.

2022 is indeed shaping up to be epoch times in California. Could this be the tipping point?

This article originally appeared on the California Globe

Gun Violence Hits 15-Year High In L.A., Taking Lives And Erasing Hard-Fought Gains

Sean Reynolds almost lost his life over a PlayStation.

The 17-year-old high school senior had arranged to sell his gaming console through the app OfferUp, and agreed to meet the buyer — another teenager — near a public housing complex in Watts. He intended to save the cash he earned for college expenses that fall.

Instead, one of two teens who met Reynolds at his car that hot day in May pulled out a gun and shot him, the bullet ricocheting off his hip and fragmenting through his abdomen. As he lay on the ground bleeding, he said, the second teen urged the first to fire again.

“Finish him off,” he heard the boy say

“I was in shock,” Reynolds, now 18, recalled in a recent interview with The Times. “It was a lot to process.”

Reynolds, who was badly wounded, is among more than 1,400 people who survived shootings in L.A. in 2021 — the second year in a row in which gun violence has increased in the city.

Had things gone differently — and they easily could have, given his extreme injuries — Reynolds would have been among the nearly 400 people killed in L.A. this year, whose deaths mark a more than 50% increase in homicides since 2019.

“We’ve seen all different types of surgeons,” said Qiuana Williams, Reynolds’ mother. “After reading his medical documents, they all look at him like he is a walking miracle.”

Amid a pandemic that has ravaged people’s financial and emotional reserves and undermined long-standing initiatives to stem violence, families like Reynolds’ are persevering through surgeries, physical therapy and the emotional labor of trying to pull their lives back together after being blindsided by bullets.

Other families — more than in any other year in L.A. since 2007 — were forced to plan funerals and process their first holiday season without sons, daughters, brothers and parents, whose lives were snatched away, mostly by gunmen.

Click here click to read the full article at the LA Times

Kamala Harris Struggles Through Question On Inflation During CBS Interview

Vice President Kamala Harris struggled to give a coherent answer when asked about the economy and inflation during a Sunday interview on CBS.

Harris appeared on “Face the Nation” when host Margaret Brennan asked her on the issues of inflation going into the “third year” of a pandemic.

The question referred to a previous statement pushed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki that insisted inflation was only “transitory” and should go down within the next year.

Since then economists have admitted inflation has only gotten worse as the year ends with many predicting the increased spending proposals from President Biden could make the problem worse. 

Harris did not provide a clear answer to the question of combating inflation. She appeared to stumble on describing the process before pivoting to support for Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which has been delayed because Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced his opposition to the legislation. 

“We have to address the fact that we have got to deal with the fact that folks are paying for gas, paying for groceries, and are — need solutions to it. So let’s talk about that,” Harris said. “Short-term solution includes what we need to do around the supply chain, right? So, we went to the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Savannah, Georgia, and said, ‘hey, guys, no more five days a week, eight hours a day; 24/7, let’s move the products because people need their product – they need what they need.’ We’re dealing with it in terms of the long term. And that’s about what we need to do to pass Build Back Better. It strengthens our economy.”

Click here to read the full article at FoxNews

Joy And Unease As Rose Parade Returns

The bloom is back,’ event organizers say, but surging cases are cause for concern.

New Year’s Day 2021 started with a pang of sadness for Aida Bueno.

Her beloved Rose Parade had been canceled for the first time since World War II. And for the first time in more than a decade, she didn’t get to spend a few joyous days decorating floats with volunteers from across the country, her “family from everywhere.”

“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” said Bueno, a nurse from Pico Rivera.

The Rose Parade will return Saturday. And this week, Bueno was back in her element: flitting around a Pasadena warehouse with other decorators, slicing leaves,gluing dried fruit and seeds, blasting Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from her phone and belting out the chorus.

“Coming back here every year is [about] trying to make people happy,” Bueno said. “To give people something to smile about. Especially nowadays, when there’s not a lot to smile about.”

For many, the return of the Rose Parade will be seen as a cheerful respite from two painful pandemic years. But the parade — and its enormous crowd from across the country — is coming at a fraught time. Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are soaring again because of the highly contagious Omicron variant. Disruptions abound.

Photo courtesy of Dave Proffer, flickr

Hundreds of flights have been canceled this week because of airline staffing shortages tied to the virus. The Holiday Bowl in San Diego was canceled five hours before kickoff on Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues with the UCLA Bruins. A performance of “Hamilton”at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre was scrapped on Christmas Eve — with the audience already seated — because of breakthrough infections backstage.

The famed New Year’s Eve celebration in New York City’s Times Square has been scaled back, with fewer revelers allowed. The New Year’s Eve event in Los Angeles’ Grand Park will be streamed, with no live audience.

But the Rose Parade will go on, with organizers expecting hundreds of thousands of spectators along Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard.

“All the planning that we have done has positioned us well to be able to host the Rose Parade in a safe and healthy way,” said David Eads, executive director of the Tournament of Roses.

“The overall sense of renewal and rebirth of the Rose Parade is forefront with everybody. We’ve come up with a couple of terms for it: ‘One parade, two years in the making,’ and ‘The bloom is back.’ ”

The Tournament of Roses is requiring the 6,000-plus parade participants, including people on floats, marching bands and equestrians, to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event.

As of Monday, just over 90% had given proof of vaccination, Eads said.

Parade spectators ages 12 and up in ticketed areas, like grandstands, will also have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours. Ticket holders ages 18 and up will have to provide photo identification, and all attendees ages 2 and up in those areas will be required to wear a mask.

Along the rest of the 5.5-mile route, where people can just walk up and watch, vaccination and negative test results will not be checked.

“What we’re asking is they take personal responsibility,” staying in family pods, social distancing as much as possible, wearing masks and being vaccinated and boosted, Eads said.

There is some comfort, Eads said, in both the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl game between the Utah Utes and Ohio State Buckeyes — which also will require vaccination or a negative test from attendees — being outdoor events, which health officials say are safer than indoor gatherings.

The parade comes as California is battling a significant new spike in infections and hospitalizations. California recorded 4,378 coronavirus-positive patients in hospitals Monday. The number of Californians hospitalized with COVID-19 has swelled by nearly 25% since Dec. 20, according to data compiled by The Times.

About 67% of all Californians are fully vaccinated. In Pasadena, which has its own health department, 89% of residents ages 5 and up are fully vaccinated.

Eads said the Tournament of Roses partnered with public health specialists at USC Keck School of Medicine this year and last year to conduct reports on the feasibility of hosting the parade.

This year, the report concluded that vaccinations would be “a game changer,” Eads said, but that planning should be flexible in case new variants emerged.

Last year, before vaccines were available, the parade was called off in July and replaced with a television special.

Click here to read the full article at LA Times

Lack Of Money Isn’t California’s Problem

California’s rate of education spending continues its rapid escalation but expected increases in performance remain lagging. While taxpayers are doing their job, politicians, education bureaucrats, and teacher unions aren’t doing theirs.

The 40-year-old myth that Proposition 13 gutted education spending was never true to begin with, despite the progressive narrative, but now it has been exposed as utter fantasy. According to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, in inflation-adjusted constant dollars, per-pupil spending in California for public elementary and secondary schools rose from $5,675 in 1969-70, to $7,377 in 1979-80, to $9,121 in 1989-90. For 2017-18, the most recent year for which statistics are available, per-pupil spending for K-12 public schools was $13,129, the highest ever.

As Reason Foundation’s Christian Barnard highlighted recently in these pages, “inflation-adjusted education spending in California grew by a massive 44.03% between 2013 and 2019 — the fastest growth among any state in the nation including the District of Columbia during that period.” That’s made us 17th in the nation in per-pupil K-12 spending.

So no, California’s schools aren’t hurting for cash as the foes of Prop. 13 would like you to believe. What California’s schools are hurting for is accountability. And as two recent news items show, it starts at the top.

One example is a story reported by POLITICO about the questionable hiring of Daniel Lee, California’s first superintendent of equity. The state job, which pays a salary of up to $179,832, originated as a foundation-funded position paid for by a $700,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In July 2020, following the protests over the death of George Floyd, Lee went on the state payroll as a deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education. The purpose of the hire was to ensure the success of children of color in California.

The only problem was that Lee lives and works in Pennsylvania. Politico reported that he “owns a Pennsylvania-based psychology firm and is president of the New Jersey Psychological Association’s executive board,” but his resume shows “no prior experience in California or relationships with school districts in the state.”

Click here to read the full article

America’s Divisions May Have Passed the Tipping Point

If we can’t learn to leave each other alone, the country may have a violent meltdown.

Have America’s much-discussed political tensions reached a point of no return? Political tribalists who sort their lives along partisan lines and despise opponents have become regular features of national life. But now researchers say polarization can reach a “tipping point” at which external threats, such as pandemics, no longer drive people together but instead become further sources of strife that spiral out of control. Their warning comes as Americans seem poised to further escalate disagreements into open violence.

“We see this very disturbing pattern in which a shock brings people a little bit closer initially, but if polarization is too extreme, eventually the effects of a shared fate are swamped by the existing divisions and people become divided even on the shock issue,” Boleslaw Szymanski of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute told Cornell University interviewers. Szymanski is a co-author of “Polarization and Tipping Points,” published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He added: “If we reach that point, we cannot unite even in the face of war, climate change, pandemics, or other challenges to the survival of our society.”

The authors of the paper wanted to know why the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than pushing Americans to cooperate on a common threat, instead became yet another reason for disagreement. They created a model to study the effects of party identity and political intolerance.

“We found that polarization increases incrementally only up to a point,” according to Cornell’s Michael Macy, who led the study. “Above this point, there is a sudden change in the very fabric of the institution, like the change from water to steam when the temperature exceeds the boiling point.”

The result, according to the study, is “a hard-to-predict critical point beyond which polarization becomes unlikely to reverse.”

Models aren’t real life, of course. But the researchers were inspired by real-life developments—developments so concerning that the issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which the paper was published was devoted to the dynamics of political polarization. After all, we live in a country in which people sort lifestyles, recreational preferences, and careers by partisan affiliation.

“Consider, also, the growing segregation in our places of work. The academy increasingly skews to the left, especially so in liberal arts departments and among staff. Cattle ranchers, loggers, dentists, and surgeons skew right,” points out the University of Michigan’s Scott Page in the same publication.

Such political sorting applies to the military, too, severely limiting its utility in the country’s domestic disputes, no matter that some officeholders think that B-52s are the solution to political disagreements. Just two weeks ago, three anti-Trump retired Army generals warned that Americans shouldn’t look to troops to suppress escalating political strife.

“The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur,” Paul Eaton, Antonio Taguba, and Steven Anderson wrote in the Washington Post. “Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war.”

“Civil war” sounds like an unlikely fate for an established democracy where the population’s image of the concept is tied up in images of field armies in blue and gray uniforms. But no country is any more stable than the moment allows, and internal conflicts can be far messier than even the war that marked the mid-19th century.

“We actually know now that the two best predictors of whether violence is likely to happen are, whether a country is an anocracy, and that’s a fancy term for a partial democracy, and whether ethnic entrepreneurs have emerged in a country that are using racial, religious, or ethnic divisions to try to gain political power,” Professor Barbara Walter of the University of California at San Diego told CNN last week. “And the amazing thing about the United States is that both of these factors currently exist, and they have emerged at a surprisingly fast rate.”

Walter serves on the CIA’s Political Instability Task Force, which assesses the health of countries around the world. The task force isn’t allowed to turn its gaze on its home country, but Walter did so on her own (she has a book on the topic coming out in January).

“The United States is pretty close to being at high risk of civil war,” she concluded.

That said, and on a more positive note, just as the stability of a country isn’t written in stone, neither is its descent into chaos. The authors of “Polarization and Tipping Points” emphasize that they “make no claims about the model’s predictive accuracy.” Likewise, retired generals Eaton, Taguba, and Anderson, as well as Walter can’t know what is to come, they can only point to warning signs that have them concerned. We don’t have to live up to the worst expectations.

While America’s dominant political factions seem determined, like two kids in the back of a car, to poke and prod each other until they come to blows, the solution, as in that road trip to hell, might be to separate the parties without allowing either one the upper hand. Both the thuggish nationalism of Republicans and the elitist presumption of Democrats are authoritarian prescriptions best reserved for true believers, with the rest of us left to run our own lives as we please.

The election of Joe Biden to the presidency on promises of normalcy after the Trump years, promises which were promptly broken, indicates that Americans have some appetite for a less extreme and intrusive brand of governance. Unfortunately, 2020 was a lost opportunity to separate the feuding factions, and instead we traded one brand of overreach for another. Pushback against progressive excess in 2021’s off-year elections looked like another attempt by the public to achieve a little balance, or at least to escape the ambitions of a faction that wants to transform society to suit its vision, other people’s preferences be damned. The question is whether that pushback will be enough to avert a collapse into conflict.

“The process resembles a meltdown in a nuclear reactor,” Cornell’s Macy said of his tipping point research. “If the temperature goes critical, there is a runaway reaction that cannot be stopped. Our study shows that something very similar can happen in a ‘political reactor.'”

If we’re smart, the U.S. won’t be the test case for that hypothesis. Assuming that Americans can learn to leave each other alone, we won’t have to discover what it means to pass a national point of no return.

This article was originally published on Reason.com

Time to Cut Gas Taxes?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced earlier this month that energy prices in the U.S. rose 33 percent for the 12 months ending November.  In many regions of California, prices rose even higher.

In the L.A.-Long Beach-Anaheim region, energy prices jumped 35 percent. In the Inland Empire, prices shot up 36 percent.  And in the San Francisco area, prices climbed 25 percent for the 12-months ending October (the latest available data).  Analysts attribute much of the increase to the price of gas.

Californians now pay $4.67 per gallon at the pump, compared to an average of $3.32 for the rest of America. But what most Californians don’t realize is that their dollars aren’t all going to local gas station owners or far-flung oil companies. A whopping 67 cents of every gallon goes to state taxes and 18 cents to Federal taxes.  This prompted one California lawmaker to title his op-ed: “I’m a Democrat and it’s time for our government to stop making gas more expensive.”

Congressman Josh Harder (CA-10) from the Central Valley reminded his colleagues in Sacramento that the massive infrastructure bill passed last month was already going toward fixing roads and bridges.  The “kicker,” Harder wrote, is that “our families are getting taxed twice at the pump for a service — rebuilding our infrastructure — they’re only getting back once.”

He pointed out that state governments, soon to receive billions in federal infrastructure money, “shouldn’t fleece drivers to pay for roads and bridges the federal government is already paying to fix, especially as businesses are recovering from the pandemic. Instead, state lawmakers across the country should freeze and lower these gas taxes to put money back in the pockets of working families.”

Refreshing the memories of Sacramento lawmakers, the gas tax, Harder wrote, was expected to raise $5 billion annually when it was implemented in 2017. But along came a $31 billion budget surplus for 2022 and another $30 billion in federal dollars from the new bipartisan infrastructure law.  Awash in cash, you would think that lawmakers could afford a little generosity and offer some much-needed tax relief to Californians.

Click here to read the full article at the Pacific Research Institute

Many Californians Will Likely Be Infected During Omicron Surge. How Bad Will It Get?

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is now spreading rapidly across California, fueling big upticks in infections across the state. 

At least three California health systems have reported that Omicron appears to account for 50% to 70% of new cases, state health officials said Thursday, and clinical and wastewater data suggest Omicron is now spreading in most parts of California.

However, the full scope of this latest wave remains to be seen. 

Cases are expected to spike, perhaps to unprecedented levels. Some hospitals are likely to again come under stress from a renewed influx of COVID-19 patients.

But for now, officials say they can contend with the surge by doubling down on common-sense safety practices and promoting vaccinations and booster shots, rather than resorting to new lockdown orders.

Los Angeles County provided a glimpse of what may be to come. A day after reporting 6,509 new coronavirus cases — which was more than twice the figure from the day before — county health officials reported an even higher infection total Thursday: 8,633.

“These numbers make it crystal clear that we’re headed into a very challenging time over the holiday,” county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “If our case numbers continue to increase at a rapid pace over this week and next, we could be looking at case numbers we have never seen before.”

What will the next few weeks look like?

As Omicron is still a relatively new arrival — its presence was first confirmed in California just three weeks ago — there are many unanswered questions as to what its impact will be. 

One thing that seems certain, though, is that the variant can spread rapidly. Already, Omicron now constitutes 73% of the nation’s coronavirus cases, up from 13% the week before, according to federal estimates.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say early forecasts suggest a large surge of infections could be reached by early January, and “the peak daily number of new infections could exceed previous peaks.”

“This rapid increase in the proportion of Omicron circulating around the country is similar to what we’ve seen around the world,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing. “Although this is a reminder of [the] continued threat of COVID-19 variants, this increase in Omicron proportion is what we anticipated and what we have been preparing for.”

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times