Some bills are silly, and some are just dumb

Every session of the California Legislature generates some bills that can only be labeled as silly – that is, they defy common sense.

One example this year is a bill that would abolish paper receipts at retail businesses, thereby requiring customers to supply their email addresses so merchants can send them electronic records of their purchases.

The rationale for the legislation, Assembly Bill 161 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, is to reduce paper waste that may contain dangerous chemicals.

The supposed problem this bill purports to solve is minuscule, or more likely infinitesimal, but if it becomes law, it will build databases for merchants that can be used for marketing, and make it easier for hackers to steal consumers’ identities.

Another is Assembly Bill 1162, the brainchild of Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, which would prohibit hotels from supplying their patrons with tiny containers of shampoo and other personal care products, once again on the spurious notion that it would reduce the waste stream.

Kalra takes his cue from a local ordinance to that effect in Santa Cruz County. If the residents of that county want to engage in feel-good gestures, that’s their business. But why should their foolishness be foisted on the 40 million other Californians and the millions of people who visit California each year?

Both bills, as well as many others, reflect the current Legislature’s yen to regulate or eliminate every aspect of human behavior that doesn’t comport with current progressive dogma. But there’s a point at which silliness gives way to pure dumbness – and that brings us to Assembly Bill 857.

Carried by Assemblyman David Chiu, also a San Francisco Democrat, the measure would authorize local governments to create their own banks.

During an Assembly committee hearing on the measure last week, Chiu railed at “Wall Street bankers” that have mistreated consumers. He portrayed local government-owned banks as an antidote that would provide financing for progressive projects and services and shun loans to such politically incorrect activities as oil drilling and the manufacture of guns and cigarettes.

“The private banking system has unfortunately failed,” Chiu said, contending that local government-owned banks would “keep taxpayer dollars in local communities.”

While Chiu demonized big banks – who certainly have not been paragons of ethical operations – shifting local government funds into their own banks would have virtually no impact on the big guys.

Rather, as the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee was told by several witnesses, it would undermine the liquidity of local community banks, create unfair competition to those banks, and disrupt the pooled money investment accounts that county treasurers maintain for other local governments.

From that standpoint alone, AB 857 is very flawed. But that’s just the beginning of its dangerous aspects.

At the very least, local politicians would be under terrific pressure to provide funds from their banks for cockamamie schemes that can’t pass muster with regular banks.

Furthermore, under the legislation, any local government entity could create a bank – even the tiniest mosquito abatement or water district.

We’ve seen time after time how sharp operators gain political control of such obscure agencies and then devise ways to manipulate their powers, such as issuing bonds and awarding lucrative contracts, to loot their treasuries. It’s why the speaker of the state Assembly, Anthony Rendon, calls his Los Angeles County district a “corridor of corruption.”

Creating local government banks would be creating new conduits to such chicanery. And that makes AB 857, which won committee approval, a very dumb bill.

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Rising school pension costs cut programs and pay

Legislation in 2014 to keep CalSTRS from running out of money in 30 years put a big burden on school districts. State funding rebounding from recession cuts helped schools absorb higher pension costs, spread over seven years to avoid budget shocks and allow time to plan.

But now there is worry. Pension costs are scheduled to grow for two more years as funding levels off. Reserves needed for the next economic downturn are depleting. School funding has an alarming history of sharp drops when a slowdown turns into recession.

Many schools are losing enrollment and per-pupil funding. Costs are rising for health, special education, transportation, utilities, and other services. And teachers, hit by soaring housing costs in urban areas, are pushing for higher pay with several well-publicized strikes.

CalSTRS pension funding never recovered from a huge investment loss a decade ago, leaving it like schools ill-prepared for the next downturn. Two years ago, the latest calculation, CalSTRS only had 63 percent of the projected assets needed to pay future pensions.

The good news for CalSTRS is the 2014 funding plan remains on track to reach 100 percent around 2046, even if investments falter for a few years. The portfolio was valued at $228 billion at the end of last month. The debt or unfunded liability has been about $107 billion.

Critics say the current CalSTRS earnings forecast, 7 percent a year, is too optimistic. In a recent reply, CalSTRS said its earnings forecast is a little below the public pension plan average, 7.2 percent, and a little above the corporate pension plan average, 6.8 percent.

CalPERS also has a 7 percent earnings forecast. A Wilshire forecast two years ago, sometimes cited by critics, expected the current CalPERS portfolio to earn 6.2 percent during the next decade. This year Wilshire raised its forecast to 6.75 percent.

Unlike CalPERS and other public pension systems, CalSTRS gets part of its funding from the state and has lacked the power to raise employer rates, needing legislation instead. Despite years of pleading by CalSTRS, the Legislature waited until 2014 to raise rates.

A CalSTRS analysis found that if the 2014 funding plan had been enacted shortly after the huge investment loss in 2008, the current funding level would be not 63 percent but 70 percent, similar to the CalPERS funding level.

The funding plan more than doubled school district rates, pushing them from 8.25 percent of pay to 19.1 percent of pay over seven years. Rates for most teachers went from 8 percent of pay to 10.25 percent.

For the first time CalSTRS was given power to raise rates, tightly limited. After school district rates top out at 19.1 percent next year, the CalSTRS board can raise employer rates up to 1 percent a year, but no higher than 20.25 percent of pay.

Much more money can come from the new power to raise state rates, already up from a base of 4.5 percent of pay to 9.8 percent this fiscal year. The CalSTRS board can raise the state rate up to 0.5 percent of pay each year until the funding plan expires in 2046.

At a meeting in January, some CalSTRS board members were skeptical about reports of the impact of rising pension rates on school budgets. The staff was urged to think about giving the public a more balanced view of how the rate increase was planned and shared.

The CalSTRS board approved a proposal by the chair, Dana Dillon, for a staff report on the impact of the pension rate increases on school districts that is “more data driven than anecdotal.”

Chart from Pivot Learning report, ‘The Big Squeeze’

Pivot Learning, a nonprofit school consultant in Oakland, issued a report this month on rising school pension costs. It’s based on ten years of budget data for 98 school districts, a survey of school board presidents in 115 districts, and interviews and focus groups with others.

In a third of the districts, “The Big Squeeze” found rising pension costs increased class sizes and cut enrichment programs such as art, music and after-school activities. While pension costs rose, the share of school district budgets spent on teacher pay declined 5 percent.

After the recession average teacher salaries increased from $67,900 in 2011 to roughly $79,100 in 2017, up 17 percent. If not for the rapid rise in pension costs, said the report, the increase in teacher salaries likely would have been larger.

“California’s pension squeeze is exacerbating the inequity in public schools by forcing school districts to decrease services to our neediest students,” said the report.

To pay growing pension costs 23 percent of the districts are using Local Control Funding Formula supplemental and concentration grants that “are supposed to be used to increase and improve services for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.”

All respondents to the survey conducted with the California School Boards Association said their pension costs increased during the last three years, a time when 91 percent said health care costs also were increasing.

“A stunning 57 percent indicated that they expect these costs to result in deficit spending in fiscal 2018-19,” said the report.

A Legislative Analyst’s Office report last month said the annual school payment to CalSTRS in fiscal 2013-14, the year before the seven-year increase began, was 8.25 percent of pay or $2.3 billion.

When the last annual payment is made in fiscal 2020-21, the scheduled rate is 19.1 percent of pay and the analyst’s report estimated that the annual payment will be about $6.8 billion, nearly tripling over the seven-year period.

School payments to the California Public Employees Retirement System for non-teaching employees are smaller than the California State Teachers Retirement System payments, but also may roughly triple over the seven-year period.

The new school rate set by the CalPERS board this month (20.7 percent of pay) requires a $2.95 billion payment in the new fiscal year beginning July 1, up $480 million from the current year. The payment in fiscal 2013-14 was $1.17 billion.

No dollar amount was available from CalPERS last week for the payment expected in the fiscal year beginning July 1 next year. But the rate for fiscal 2020-21 is estimated to be 23.6 percent of pay, more than double the 11.4 percent rate in fiscal 2013-14.

Meanwhile, school funding from the Proposition 98 minimum guarantee has grown nearly $22 billion (37 percent) from fiscal 2013-14 through the current fiscal year, said the analyst’s report.

Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year has a 3.8 percent increase in school funding. Adjusted for inflation, said the analyst, per-pupil school funding is at an all-time high.

Responding to school pleas for rate relief, Newsom proposed spending $350 million in each of the next two fiscal years to lower the last two scheduled CalSTRS rate increases by 1 per cent, dropping to 17.1 percent of pay next fiscal year and 18.1 percent in 2020-21.

The Legislative Analyst’s report said the Legislature should consider setting aside the $700 million for school district rate relief to reduce the need for CalSTRS rate increases during a future downturn.

“Though districts view rising pension costs as difficult to manage today, these difficulties could become much more pronounced during a downturn,” said the analyst’s report.

If school funding gets even tighter in the future, the Legislature could look at the unique and never-analyzed CalSTRS inflation protection program, which has a $9.8 billion surplus and has only been spending around $165 million a year for three decades. (See details here.)

Newsom also proposed spending $2.3 billion to pay down the school district share of the CalSTRS debt over four years and a one-time $3 billion payment on the state share of the CalPERS debt. Each payment is expected to save more than $7 billion over three decades.

Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Give the FPPC the Power to Fight Illegal Spending

In recent years, taxpayers throughout California have registered numerous complaints about government entities using taxpayer dollars for political advocacy, a practice that is illegal under both state and federal law. Because progress in stopping these violations has been slow, taxpayers will be pleased to hear that the Fair Political Practices Commission sent a request to the California Legislature that it “consider legislation amending the Political Reform Act to authorize the Commission to bring administrative and civil actions against public agencies and public officials for spending public funds on campaign activity.”

Taking up that challenge is Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens — co-author of this column — who has introduced Assembly Bill 1306, which is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Taxpayers hope that this commonsense, non-partisan proposal becomes law.

Here’s the background. The free speech clauses of the federal and state constitutions prohibit the use of governmentally compelled monetary contributions (including taxes) to support or oppose political campaigns because, as noted in Smith v. UC Regents, “Such contributions are a form of speech, and compelled speech offends the First Amendment.”

Moreover, as determined in Stanson v. Mott, “use of the public treasury to mount an election campaign which attempts to influence the resolution of issues which our Constitution leaves to the ‘free election’ of the people … presents a serious threat to the integrity of the electoral process.”

While taxpayer organizations have been successful in several lawsuits challenging these illegal expenditures, they haven’t fully deterred lawbreaking by the state or local governments, for two separate reasons.

To read the entire column, please click here.

No Surprise in Poll Results on Tax Questions

Well, here’s a shocker revealed by the most recent Public Policy of Institute of California poll: Voters are more likely to raise taxes on someone else than they are to raise taxes on themselves to help fund public education. 

When asked if they were willing to raise property taxes on businesses—the so-called split roll because the property tax system would be “split” offering different tax formulas between business and residential properties—likely voters supported the idea by 54% to 45%. But when asked if the two-thirds vote rule to raise local property taxes in the form of per parcel taxes on all properties to fund schools should be altered to a more-likely-to-pass 55% standard, likely voters shouted “no,” by 39% to 60%.

Mind you, the split roll question came immediately after the question if voters thought that state funding for local schools was adequate. The question found that 59% of likely voters thought state funding was not adequate.

PPIC asked a question on the split roll in January and at the time 49% approved. Certainly, subsequent teacher strikes probably changed attitudes but another influence on the current result was that this poll was all about education and the split roll question came after a series of questions dealing with education funding.

While that circumstance may have affected the results, so would questions challenging the wisdom of a split roll which did not appear in the poll.

What is likely to alter the positive feeling about the split roll is a campaign that details potential repercussions if the business tax passes. Arguments made about possible loss of jobs, economic disruption and pass-through costs of consumer goods just might change a few minds. The PPIC pollsters did not challenge the voters to think about these consequences.

Raising taxes on someone else is a tried and true formula in California from the recent increases in tobacco taxes and high-end income tax payers to the current discussions about gas and oil severance taxes and corporate and estate taxes.

At some point the ripple effects of these tax increases will be understood by the voters who don’t like the idea of direct taxes on themselves.

(UPDATE: PPIC president Mark Baldassare points out there was a difference between the January and April split roll questions. The April question specifically noted that a portion of the revenue raised would be dedicated to education.)

Joel Fox is Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

DMV’s new test rules for driverless delivery vehicles

In December 2015, when the state Department of Motor Vehicles released draft regulations for the testing of driverless vehicles, California tech firms were stunned by their onerousness. Google immediately objected to a proposed requirement that drivers always had to be behind the wheel of autonomous test vehicles.

Soon after, a consortium including TechNet, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Bay Area Council, the Wireless Association, the Consumer Technology Association, the Information Technology Industry Council and the Auto Alliance issued a statement pleading with the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown to encourage, not discourage, the nascent driverless vehicle industry.

Instead, the DMV initially decided to allow each of the state’s 480-plus incorporated cities and 58 counties to set up their own rules for such testing – potentially creating an immense maze for driverless vehicle companies.

To the relief of executives with Google, Uber, Lyft, Volvo and 40-plus other companies interested in testing their vehicles in the Golden State, the state government reconsidered its position. Beginning in April 2018, new DMV rules allowed for autonomous vehicles to be tested without a human behind the wheel. So far, only one company has met DMV’s standards and obtained a permit for such tests – Mountain View’s Waymo. But far more could qualify in coming years.

Now, there is a fresh sign of the DMV’s willingness to embrace new vehicular technology. On April 12, the agency released draft regulations allowing for testing of autonomous delivery vehicles. Heavy-duty vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds are not allowed, but standard cars, trucks and vans can be tested. The DMV will only issue permits for fully autonomous testing to companies that have met the same safety standards that Waymo did. The rules are expected to be finalized by December.

Driverless deliveries may face less public anxiety

With polls showing millions of Americans are very nervous about riding in driverless vehicles, tech and marketing experts toldThe Verge website in January they were much more likely to gain initial acceptance for delivery purposes.

Robot deliveries with much smaller vehicles have already proven instant hits. San Francisco-based startup Starship Technologieshas enjoyed huge success since January, when its 25 robots began deliveries on the 800-acre campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Navigating campus paths and sidewalks at 4 miles per hour, the robots deliver small coolers capable of holding up to 20 pounds of groceries. Students use an app to direct the robots where to go and are sent access codes to open the coolers. Starship collects $1.99 per order.

A March 25 Washington Post story depicted university officials as initially unsure what sort of reception the robots would get. But on the first day of deliveries, “the machines were flooded by so many dinner orders that school officials had to pull the plug, shutting off orders so that robots weren’t operating late into the night, far behind schedule,” the Post reported.

Since then, they’ve become an accepted convenience of campus life at the university.

S.F. firm’s college delivery robots only the start

In late March, Starship announced that an even bigger order of food-delivery robots, 30-plus, had been shipped to a second U.S. college – Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Unlike George Mason, NAU leaders were so confident the robots would be a hit with students that the university issued a press release quoting NAU President Rita Cheng as welcoming them to campus.

But much bolder plans are in the works. The Verge’s report in January noted that Burlingame-based startup Udelv was partnering with Walmart on an autonomous grocery-delivery service that will use the sort of vehicles that the California DMV is now crafting rules for. Home-food delivery services could be a $100 billion annual industry by 2025, the tech website reported.

The Udelv report came shortly after Cruise – GM’s autonomous vehicle company – announced it was teaming with San Francisco-based DoorDash on the same sort of food-delivery venture.

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California Politicians Hiked Gas Tax, Now Demand Investigation Into State’s $4 Per Gallon Gas Prices

As lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom supported a 2017 bill increasing the state’s gas taxes. When running for governor in 2018, he opposed a ballot initiative that would have repealed that same increase. It’s 2019, and Newson, now the state’s governor, is demanding an investigation into why the state’s gas prices are so high.

On Tuesday, the governor sent a letter to the California Energy Commission (CEC) asking that the state agency investigate the Golden State’s roughly $4.03 per gallon gas prices, currently the highest in the country (and well above the national average of $2.86 per gallon).

“Independent analysis suggests that an unaccounted-for price differential exists in California’s gas prices and that this price differential may stem in part from inappropriate industry practices,” wrote Newsom in his letter to the CEC. “These are all important reasons for the Commission to help shed light on what’s going on in our gasoline market.”

Newsom is not alone in wanting answers to this difficult head-scratcher.

In January, 19 state legislators—17 of whom had voted in favor of that 2017 gas tax increase, while the other two had only entered office in 2018—sent a letter to State Attorney General Xavier Becerra demanding that the state’s Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate the “unexplained gasoline surcharge” that was estimated to cost Californian families $1,700 a year.

California currently imposes the second-highest gas taxes in the country. A state excise tax currently adds $.417 per gallon, a rate that will increase to $.473 come July. On top of that, the state imposes a 2.25 percent gasoline sales tax.

In addition, California has adopted a low-carbon fuel standard and a cap-and-trade scheme for carbon emissions which together increase the state’s gas prices by $.24 per gallon above the national average, according to a 2017 state government report.

That same report maintained that, even after all these state-imposed costs were tallied up, California’s gas prices remained above the national average, a finding that both those 19 state legislators and Newsom are using to justify their demands for an investigation.

Newsom, as mentioned, alleged there may be “inappropriate industry practices” at play.  State lawmakers, in their January letter, suggested the state’s retail gasoline market might lack “robust competition” leading motorists to pay more at the pump.

However, a lot of the higher, non-government-imposed prices Californians are paying currently could plausibly be chalked up to normal supply and demand.

Local media reports point to the twin effects of increasing demand and springtime maintenance at the state’s refineries as contributing to the price hikes.

The late March shutdown of a Valero refinery in the Bay Area added to the price hikes.  Something similar happened in 2015, when an explosion at the Torrance refinery in Los Angeles County caused the facility, then responsible for refining 10 percent of the state’s gas, to close for over a year.

Prior to that 2015 explosion, California’s “gasoline price premium tracked closely with our higher taxes and production costs,” wrote Severin Borenstein, a professor at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in a blog post.

After the Torrance explosion, prices spiked, and then slowly began coming down over the next year, although they to this day remain higher than they were prior to that incident.

Industry representatives maintain that any difference in the state’s gas prices can be explained by normal market forces, and of course all those taxes and regulations.

“The petroleum industry on the West Coast has been subject to dozens of independent investigations by government agencies, all of which concluded the dynamics of supply and demand are responsible for movements in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel,” said Kevin Slagle, a spokesperson for the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), in a statement, adding that “state programs, such as cap-and-trade and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, impact fluctuations in energy markets.”

It should be pointed out too that high levels of taxation and regulation and a lack of competition in the state’s fuel sector are not mutually exclusive explanations.  Government fees and red tape often have the effect of squeezing out marginal producers and retailers, giving remaining firms greater ability to raise prices.

And regardless of any “mystery surcharge” on California gas, the fact remains that state government polices are a huge component of the final price everyone is paying at the pump.

Indeed, in the case of the state’s cap-and-trade scheme—where the state caps the amount of allowable carbon emissions, and then auctions off emission credits—the explicit purpose is to raise the cost of emitting carbon, and thus burning gasoline.

Absent these policies, the state’s gas prices would be lower.

Clearly, for many of California’s politicians, the benefits of state policies aimed at producing cleaner air quality, mitigating climate change, and generating more revenue for road maintenance and light rail expansions surpass the costs of higher gas prices.

If that’s the case, however, Newsom and others should make that case to voters directly and explicitly instead of trying to appease motorists’ anger by pointing their fingers at industry.

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California restaurants may add climate change surcharge

Dining out may get more expensive in California.

As part of an initiative aimed at combating climate change, restaurants will have the option to adhere to the Restore California Renewable Restaurant program and add a one percent surcharge to diners’ bills. The extra money will go to support environmentally friendly farming practices.

Though the surcharge is voluntary for both restaurants and customers, Anthony Myint – owner of popular Mission Chinese restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district, and founder of the non-profit Perennial Farming Initiative responsible for the new program – has been adding a 3 percent carbon neutral surcharge for the past six months and raised nearly $20,000, according to local reports.

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Gov. Newsom’s death penalty moratorium is a disgrace

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s blanket moratorium on California’s death penalty is a slap in the face to crime victims and their families who have waited years for justice. With the stroke of his pen last month, Newsom single-handedly undermined our state’s democratic values and our criminal justice system.

Democracy embodies a government where the people hold the ruling power either directly or through elected representatives. In California, the people have exercised their power repeatedly in voting to keep the death penalty for the state’s most horrific killers. In fact, less than three years ago, California voters made this clear when they rejected an initiative, supported by Newsom, to abolish the death penalty and instead passed an initiative to ensure its fair and efficient implementation.

When Newsom campaigned for governor, he explicitly asserted that he would respect the will of the voters regarding the death penalty. So much for that promise. Instead, Newsom disregarded the voters in favor of his personal opinion and granted leniency to those facing the death penalty, including serial killers, cop killers, mass shooters, baby killers and sexual sadists. …

Click here to read the full article from CNN

The U.S. Environmental Movement is Bad for America and the World

The current United States environmental movement is dangerous for America and the world – because of how many times their predictions are wrong – which is normally 100% of the time. Patrick Moore and Michael Shellenberger are the notable exceptions; environmentalists who care about the environment, prosperity and people. But what we are currently living under is witnessing local areas and nations destroyed over ill-conceived environmental policy related to global warming/climate change (GWCC). Current, unabated flooding taking place seasonally in the U.S. is over green insanity in the Missouri River Basin, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. This began when “Congress in 2004 under pressure from environmental organizations approved a revision to the Master Water Control Manual (MWCM).”

This allowed the U.S. Corps of Engineers to have the authority via the U.S. Congress permission to flood eight states in the MWCM. The MWCM’s original mandate was flood control, but now the Corp “are utilizing dams in a way for which they were never designed – to attempt to mimic the natural cycles of the river through the season.” This environmental fragmentation of using emotion over reason has caused billions in damage and cost many lives and family destruction all in the name of “wild rivers” being returned to their natural habitat.

California suffered some of the worst wildfires in the State’s history in mid-2018. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is in bankruptcy over the damages where entire towns went up in flames over faulty electrical infrastructure and high winds, which led to devastating wildfire. But the real culprits causing this destruction were environmental regulations, green organizations and high-powered, faux environmentalists like Tom Steyer stopping excess brush and dead trees from being cleared throughout California cities, towns, forests and wilderness areas. However, top California state policymakers and political leadershave blamed:

“Climate change as an excuse for California’s recent wildfires and even criticized those addressing California’s poor forest management and community development policies as being a huge contributors to these wildfires.”

Rebuking state officials at all levels of California government a new February 22, 2019 California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) report doesn’t include climate change as a leading cause for devastating wildfires. The report specifically noted:

“An epidemic of dead and dying trees, and the proliferation of new homes in the wildland urban interface (WUI) magnify the threat and place substantially more people and property at risk than in preceding decades.”

Blaming climate change is a false canard that doesn’t look at the complete incompetence of elected officials, environmental regulations and organizations that stand to profit from the GWCC narrative. The Cal Fire report clearly laid out priorities, which are:

“Suspending onerous regulatory requirements to use prescribed fires to thin out dense brush areas, set specific priorities for removal of dead trees, excessive forest undergrowth to reduce fuel (fire) and restore forest health. 35 specific high priority fuel reduction areas in state that cover more than 90,000 acres of forest land need immediate action.”

The report also identified 25 million acres of California wild lands are pegged at very high or extreme fire heat risk – over half the state – and estimations in the report put 15 million acres of California forest in some need of restoration. Since California is a one-party state (the US Democratic Party) and have significant campaign contributions and voting bloc-power from the GWCC movement and organizations that back this line of thinking it is doubtful much will be done with Cal Fire’s recommendations.

Forget the GWCC adult crowd when for years now a 9-year old boy, yes a 9-year old, is the one who began the ban-plastic-straw movement to the detriment of the global plastics industry. We are repeatedly told the US is causing a tsunami of plastic straws littering our oceans, rivers and drinkable waterways. That is false. The World Economic Forum did analysis on the issue and found:

“That more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Most of the plastic washed into the oceans, 90% of it come from just 10 rivers in Asia.”

The US environmental movement has embraced letting a child destroy the plastics industry. That is the epitome of today’s global and US-based environmental movement. Facts take a backseat if it pushes the GWCC story forward.

What is easily understood are the people, environmental organizations and government leaders who tout their green credentials are not telling the truth. Are they knowingly lying to gain money and power, because that seems to be the point in the entire GWCC crusade? Truth is relative and facts or sound policy that benefits affected constituencies and citizens is never taken into consideration. Claiming the US, Europe or other westernized countries are environmental hellholes all in the name of smearing capitalism or trying to sway continents such as Africa to use unreliable, intermittent renewable energy is the worse form of environmental practice. These lies halt “mining, logging, fossil fuels extraction and environmentalists condemn communities to poverty.”

But environmentalists rail against America, Trump, Republicans, oil companies, capitalism – when the pathetic irony is – “it’s not really about pollution or reducing CO2 emissions or solving the energy needs of the most needy and making the world cleaner and healthier.” American companies many times are the only way developing countries have access to better lives or have the resources to clean up environmental deprivations. Environmentalists should praise America and understand it is India and China that should truly scare the entire world for the damage both countries are doing to their countries and collective global health. America is the solution:

“Since 2005, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 758 million metric tons. It’s the largest decline of any country in the world, while China’s and India’s CO2 emissions mushroomed by 3 billion and 1 billion metric tons respectively.”

French philosopher and political activist, Jean Paul Sartre said: “A victory described in detail is indistinguishable from defeat.”For the environmental movement who are the winners and losers when it comes to energy and electricity? The energy debate is now a zero-sum game. Someone wins and someone loses. Instead of looking at all energy and electrical options – then putting forth balanced, reasonable energy policy without thinking about the next election cycle.

Todd Royal is a geopolitical risk and energy consultant based in Los Angeles

Gov. Newsom Defers to Legislature on Wildfire Bills

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wildfire “strike force” surprised some with the vagueness of its most important recommendation: That it’s time to revise the “inverse condemnation” state law that holds energy utilities can be held fully responsible for fires that were caused by their equipment even if the equipment was properly maintained. The law appears to be an existential threat to Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January after being blamed for fires that resulted in $30 billion in damages.

Newsom’s pointed deference to state lawmakers – saying he hoped they could hash out a plan by mid-July – is an example of the “leading from behind” management gambit, which has a mixed history. Just as the Obama administration did with aspects of its foreign policy, the Newsom administration is expecting its allies to take the helm. The governor said he believes progress is more likely with him in the background.

“I’m purposely not including my personal opinions because I actually want to accomplish something. And I believe it’s incumbent upon me to create the conditions where we can actually get something done, versus to assert a political frame,” Newsom told Capitol reporters.

The governor may also perceive political risk if he puts out his own specific blueprint for how PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric can survive in a hot, dry era in which massive wildfires are common annual events.

Tactic seen as best for long-range causes

Leadership experts, however, think the “lead from behind” gambit works better for issues with low stakes or for long-term causes – for the most famous example, Nelson Mandela’s decades-long effort to end apartheid in South Africa – and isn’t necessarily right for addressing pressing problems.

Jack Dunigan, a longtime management consultant who runs The Practical Leader website, believes that “it works best in times and places of non-crisis. If a child is running into the street and into traffic, it is not the time to convene a focus group to discuss the threats of playing in the street. It is the time for action. Leading from behind, as [Harvard business professor Linda] Hill describes it, works best in non-threatening, non-urgent conditions.”

Given that PG&E emerged in 2004 after three years in bankruptcy and returned to regular operations, that may suggest that there is no urgent reason for Newsom to take a bolder approach. But the idea that the Legislature will be able to come up with a plan in three months or less is difficult to square with its recent history – and the intense dislike that many state lawmakers and Northern California residents have for scandal-scarred PG&E.

In January, after PG&E’s bankruptcy filing, state Sen. Bob Hertzberg told a Sacramento TV station, “Nobody in the Capitol wants to bail out PG&E, period, exclamation mark, end of story, full stop. They just don’t.”

While lawmakers don’t hold Southern California Edison and SDG&E in such contempt, any attempt to help them deal with wildfire liabilities that also protects PG&E would face tough sledding.

This background is why Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, got nowhere last year with his proposal to give state judges the flexibility to limit the amount of liability a utility has for wildfire damages based on circumstances – including consideration of the importance of a utility being able to continue to provide power to millions of customers.

Further complicating the prospects for relatively quick approval is that “inverse condemnation” is written into the California Constitution. Changing it would appear to require a vote of the public as well as two-thirds approval of both the state Assembly and Senate.

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