Public-Employee Unions Trample Our Public Services

SACRAMENTO – In a short 1814 fable from Russian poet Ivan Krylov, the Inquisitive Man spends three hours at a natural history museum and tells his friend he “saw everything there was to see and examined it carefully” and found it “all so astonishing.” The friend then asks what he thought of the elephant. The man retorted: “(D)on’t tell anybody – but the fact is that I didn’t notice the elephant!”

That is the origin of the phrase, “the elephant in the room.” It means, as Cambridge Dictionary explains, “an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.” There are many reasons people ignore a 10,000-lb. creature blocking their way, but often it involves cowardice. It’s too hard – or controversial – to discuss how it got there and how to get rid of it.

This is an obvious allegory to California’s state government. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently proposed a new bond measure to fund programs to deal with the state’s homelessness crisis. California already spends several billion dollars a year on the problem. Localities such as Los Angeles spend as much as $1 million per unit on housing for homeless people, yet the problem keeps getting worse.

Last year, California spent approximately $136 billion on its public schools. The latest data shows dramatic drops in test scores, with only a third of the state’s students meeting math-proficiency standards. If you’re apt to solely blame the pandemic shutdowns, consider that a 2019 study found only 30 percent of students proficient in reading.

Throughout California, pension costs keep rising, grabbing a larger share of local budgets and crowding out public services. Despite a previous $97.5-billion budget surplus, California has been remarkably unable to fix its creaky transportation system, improve public-school performance, provide adequate water supplies during the recent drought, deal with misbehaving police officers, provide safe and user-friendly transit systems and, well, you name it.

Just try to name one California agency that’s known for its efficiency and high levels of service. (It’s a trick question.) Nevertheless, the Legislature and governor spend enormous time and resources trying to address these intractable problems through various tax-increase proposals, legislation, reforms, oversight commissions, inspector generals, auditors, lawsuits and bond measures. Yet the public never sees substantive improvement.

The reason is everyone is politely avoiding the giant pachyderm. I’m referring to the state’s public-sector unions, which – thanks to their enormous financial might and legions of members – control the Capitol. The California Teachers’ Association is the most-powerful voice in education. Police and fire unions are the best-funded and most muscular political players at the local level. The prison guards’ union has an inordinate influence in corrections policy.

Unions aren’t entirely to blame for California’s myriad problems and crises, but they provide a heckler’s veto to any reform idea that could realistically improve public services. Consider how vociferously teachers’ unions opposed school reopenings. Lawmakers rarely propose any idea that would antagonize any of the state’s easily antagonized unions. Imagine running a business where the employees could immediately quash any proposal that might help consumers or reduce operating costs.

“Through their extensive political activity, these government-workers’ unions help elect the very politicians who will act as ‘management’ in their contract negotiations – in effect handpicking those who will sit across the bargaining table from them,” noted Daniel DiSalvo in a 2010 article in National Affairs. No wonder California’s municipal firefighters earn on average more than $200,000 a year – even as the state complains about an inadequate number of firefighters.

Sadly, no one with power even mentions these obvious roadblocks as they seek to reform any aspect of any public service. The progressive Democrats who control Sacramento are attached at the waist to public-sector unions, so they sidestep the elephant even though it’s trampling (and pooping) on their favorite programs. They side with this well-heeled special interest – and with workers who earn unfathomable compensation packages – even though it hurts the poor.

Republicans will thankfully blast CTA and SEIU, but they take a “don’t see the elephant” approach when it comes to police unions – who protect abusive officers the same way that teachers’ unions coddle their incompetents. Like all unions, the police and prison-guard varieties actively lobby for higher taxes and derail even the most modest proposed changesin how their departments operate. Policing is a tough job, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve oversight and revamp procedures.

“Accountability is basically nonexistent in American government,” wrote Philip K. Howard in his new bookNOT Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions. “Performance doesn’t matter. … Police unions, teachers unions, and other public sector unions have built a fortress against supervisory decisions. Political observers rue union power but treat it as a state of nature.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

The COVID-19 Pandemic Permanently Damaged Property Rights

Officials used the crisis to impose policies they already supported but couldn’t get through the normal legislative process, like bans on evictions.

I don’t pay particular attention to health scares, so when talk of a spreading pandemic started dominating the news cycle I largely shrugged and went about my business. I was staying at a cheap motel in Calexico, taking photos of the New River and the Salton Sea for my book about California water policy, when my wife called from Sacramento and said, “You better get home. And I mean now.”

That was the weekend when the shutdowns began. I recall stopping at a grocery store near Modesto, when I noticed meandering lines and a run on toilet paper. The rest, as they say, is history. Like most people, I never could have predicted the coming shutdown of the economy, government orders to stay at home, an end to restaurant dining and public gatherings, and profligate “relief” payments.

As that (probably fake) George Washington quotation put it, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force.” Government officials aren’t wiser than the rest of us, so when they tried to deal with a serious public health problem, they did so in a forceful, ineloquent, and unreasonable manner. Unfortunately, many of its worst approaches leave permanent scars.

In my column last year summarizing lessons from COVID-19, I concluded that it left us as a “nation of rulers, not laws.” American governors—and California Gov. Gavin Newsom in particular—quickly and eagerly used their broad emergency powers to begin issuing edicts. Given the extent of the public-health threat, some of the more modest and temporary ones were understandable, but they bypassed the normal legislative process in cynical and expansive ways.

One Republican lawmaker published a 138-page document detailing the 400 laws that Newsom unilaterally imposed or changed—many of them that only tangentially had anything to do with protecting public health. In particular, officials used the crisis to impose policies they already supported but couldn’t get through the normal legislative process.

The worst example involved anti-eviction orders that have literally destroyed our property rights. Virtually all mom-and-pop landlords depend on the rental income. With one fell swoop, governors (and the federal Centers for Disease Control) declared that tenants no longer had to pay their full rent if they faced a pandemic-related hardship. Sure, landlords could potentially collect rent in the future in civil court, but good luck with that.

In making it virtually impossible to evict non-paying tenants, policymakers imposed the full cost of their public-health plans on individual property owners, who could no longer count on getting a return on their investment. Often, property owners have mortgages—and they always have tax and insurance bills. When a heating system or roof leaks, they’re still required (ethically and legally) to make repairs. But they no longer could count on receiving rent.

Someone posted my column detailing the plight of landlords on a liberal housing-related news group, and you can probably guess the ensuing negative responses. No landlord I know expects any sympathy given that it’s the type of investment they freely chose.

However, I thought that most people—even renters who have had less-than-stellar rental experiences—might understand that if the government deprives owners of their supposed state constitutional right to a fair return on their investment, fewer people will go into the business and even fewer will upgrade their properties. That helps no one.

The result is obvious: fewer available rentals and fewer rentals in tip-top condition. Investing in rental property has always been a prime means for middle-class people to build wealth. My grandfather was an immigrant paperhanger (remember wallpaper?) who invested in Philadelphia row houses decades ago. Now, I talk to many people who won’t dare buy a rental house out of the legitimate fear that the government can suspend rent payments at will.

Tenants often outnumber owners, especially in larger cities such as Los Angeles. We see groups of activists lobbying for rent controls in Costa Mesa (and previously in Santa Ana). By eliminating property rights and shifting decisions to city councils (and tenant-dominated rental boards), the government has made owners’ livelihoods dependent on the political system. As the saying goes, democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

Certainly, many cities (San Francisco, Santa Monica, New York) embraced strict rent control long before the pandemic was a thing. They largely destroyed their housing markets of course, as renters stayed put in under-market units while investors high-tailed it elsewhere. But COVID added a new level of uncertainty. Look at how Los Angeles continually extended its anti-eviction provisions.

Click here to read the full article at Reason

Psychedelic Drug Decriminalization Bill Passes Senate Public Safety Committee

Another new Assembly Bill with narrower focus quickly gains support

A bill to decriminalize plant-based psychedelic drugs was passed by the Senate Public Safety Committee this week completing the bill’s first major hurdle, while a new major challenge to the bill has quickly gained support in the Assembly.

First introduced in December of last year, Senate Bill 58 by Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) would decriminalize plant-based and other natural hallucinogens such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), dimethyltryptamine (psychedelic drug DMT), ibogaine (psychedelic substance), and mescaline (psychedelic hallucinogen). In addition, law enforcement would be unable to charge those holding the drugs with a criminal penalty while also still being completely illegal for minors.

SB 58 would also remove bans on having psilocybin or psilocyn spores that can produce mushrooms and on having drug paraphernalia associated with all decriminalized drugs.

The bill is a significantly pared down version of SB 519, first introduced in January 2021 by Weiner that would have not only legalized the psychedelics in SB 58, but also would have included synthetic hallucinogens such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ketamine (“dissociative anesthetic”), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy, molly). However, the bill was amended heavily in 2021 and 2022, removing ketamine and other troubling parts for legislators and oppositions groups, such as law enforcement agencies. Despite the changes, the bill was still gutted in August, removing everything but a single study on the use of the remaining drugs. SB 58 continued to water down the bill, removing peyote from the proposed decriminalization list and removing a provision to study future reforms.

The effort to make the decriminalization more palatable for lawmakers appeared to be working on Tuesday, with the Senate Public Safety Committee voting 3-1 to pass the bill.

Before the vote on Tuesday, Senator Wiener noted that “These are not addictive drugs. And these are drugs that have significant potential in helping people to navigate and to become healthy who are experiencing mental health, challenges substance use challenges.”

“We know that cities in California and elsewhere have passed resolutions to categorize enforcement of these particular criminal laws as the lowest law enforcement priority. This is an important step for California. This is about making sure that people have access to substances that they need that are not addictive.”

Rival bill in Assembly expected to challenge SB 58

However, while SB 58 did ultimately move this week, another bill on the horizon in the Assembly is now threatening to derail it. Assembly Bill 941, authored by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron (R-Valley Center), was introduced last month. According to AB 941, certain psychedelic drugs would be green-lighted for use, but only in psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions for combat veterans.

The bill, also known as the End Veteran Suicide Act, takes a more cautious approach and would authorize a licensed professional clinical counselor to administer controlled substances to combat veterans. Psychedelic-assisted therapy would be required to take place over a minimum of 30 sessions, with therapy sessions to be a minimum of 12 hours in duration. The bill would also require 2 or 3 licensed professional clinical counselors  present per patient at a psychedelic-assisted therapy session.

While the bill is currently awaiting to be heard in the Assembly, many law enforcement and medical professionals noted that AB 941 is preferable to SB 58 due to more of a controlled and monitored use, as well as the serving as more of a test to see if psychedelic treatments could then be expanded to more Californians in a safe and effective manner.

“Wiener’s bill is more one size fits all,” explained former police officer and current drug counselor Marty Ribera to the Globe on Thursday. “This other bill is a bit more tailored. Psychedelic treatment isn’t for everyone. And rather than just decriminalize willy-nilly, AB 941 can help bring along a pathway to use them for good, and more critically, to identify the people who can benefit from their treatment and making sure that using them would not bring on any negative side effects like depression, long-term psychosis, or in more of a social context, bad trips.”

“We need this to be on a case by case basis and  to have a small pool to test on to make sure his type of therapy can work like this.  Psychedelics can help treat major issues like PTSD. We have the research. But we also see psychedelics ruin peoples lives. I’ve always said, for every success story there are two others that tried it on their own and ruined their life. We need to be open to this as a treatment, but also very cautious about it.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

WATCH: Apparent Tornado Rips Roof off Building in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, California — A rare tornado formed above the city of Montebello, in east Los Angeles County, during a storm on Wednesday, and appeared to tear the roof off a nearby building.

The tornado was identified as a landspout. Landspouts form differently from tornadoes, in that they arise from winds near the ground.

Funnel clouds are not unknown in L.A. (this reporter witnessed one in in 2014), and one seemed to form above the landspout.

The National Weather Service (NWW) had warned in advance that conditions were ideal for the formation of landspouts. The NWS also confirmed that Tuesday, another landspout — identified in some reports as a waterspout — touched down further north in the seaside town of Carpenteria and damaged mobile homes.

Local news station KTLA reported that the NWS had confirmed that the Montebello twister was a tornado.

KTLA added:

The rare weather event was reported a few minutes before 11:30 a.m., according to the Verdugo Fire Communications Center. Aerial video from Sky5 showed the storm ripped-off parts of a roof and scattered debris in the area of South Vail Street and Washington Boulevard.

It tore through portions of roof tops, sent signs flying, downed trees and damaged several cars.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

One person was confirmed injured after the event. In addition, several news outlets reported that 11 buildings were red-tagged, meaning they were too dangerous to inhabit, and that an additional six buildings sustained damage due to the tornado. The National Weather Service said it was still completing its report on the damage.

Click here to read the full article at BreitbartCA

Potential 2024 Presidential Hopeful Implores GOP Not to Overlook California

With the 2024 presidential election on the horizon, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is contemplating a run for the White House, has a message for Republicans in Orange County: “Californians will have a voice.”

Hutchinson, 72, is swinging through Orange County this week as he develops his message about the country’s future and mulls a presidential bid. A decision on that, he said in an interview Tuesday, March 21, will come in April.

But in the meantime, Hutchinson is visiting a blue California, speaking to a Republican Party of Orange County gathering and a Laguna Niguel Republican Women group this week before he headlines an event at the Nixon Library on Wednesday. And while here, he is imploring the national Republican Party to pay attention to California ahead of 2024.

“California is important. We can’t simply be a party that appeals to middle America,” Hutchinson said, referring to what is typically seen as more conservative-leaning states not on either coast. “We have to be a party that can win on the West Coast.”

While he’s optimistic about the future of the Republican Party, Hutchinson said a winning formula for the GOP is having a “consistent conservative nominee” who can attract suburban and independent voters. The party shouldn’t be hinged, he said, on a candidate who is “always looking in the rearview mirror.” While not a specific reference to former President Donald Trump, who is in the midst of his third bid for the White House, Hutchinson has said the Jan. 6 insurrection “disqualifies” Trump from being at the top of the ticket again.

An attorney with a long political history in Arkansas, Hutchinson defined conservativism as “believing in a limited role of government, individual responsibility, valuing life and the life of the unborn and a strong America that can lead in terms of freedom.”

His priorities range from reining in federal spending to increasing border security to implementing a “more consistent and fulsome energy policy.”

On that latter note, Hutchinson believes there is a balance to be had between producing energy — more of which he says should be happening in the U.S. — and being good stewards of the environment.

“You’ve got to see fossil fuel energy sources as part of the mix, but let’s use technology to make it more friendly to the environment,” he said. “I think you can use sound practices to continue to produce, but in a way that recognizes the importance of the environment and protecting it.”

On border issues, too, Hutchinson, a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief, is hopeful. His solution? Speed up decisions on asylum cases, utilize technology for border patrol and designate cartels as a “foreign terrorist organization” to free up additional resources to combat the influx of fentanyl into the country.

Hutchinson, a former congressman and Department of Homeland Security undersecretary during the George W. Bush administration, has made recent trips to Iowa and South Carolina.

His visit to Southern California comes about two weeks after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a potential 2024 contender, made appearances at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley and at a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Orange County.

DeSantis’ popularity among registered California Republican voters appears to be growing: A recent Berkeley IGS survey found the former congressman, 44, leading a field of potential GOP candidates with Trump in second place. (Hutchinson was not included in the list.)

But while DeSantis castigated California policies on his visit, from education to COVID-19 to public safety, Hutchinson said he wants to take a different approach to his potential rival — one that is more about comparing and contrasting rather than critiquing the state.

“I’m telling people what I’ve done and how I’ve led in Arkansas and my vision for the country,” Hutchinson said. “And my vision for the country, as I’ve articulated, I think makes sense in California, too.”

Despite the deep blue political makeup of California, Southern California is still seen as an asset for Republican candidates — because of its cash and the timing of the March 5 presidential primary, an opportunity for a competitor to nab an extraordinary amount of delegates for the nominating process.

Republicans in Orange County, Hutchinson said, seem to have “a strong sense of optimism for the future,” and he sees the GOP base in the Golden State as critical to the party’s overall success.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Union-backed Bill Would Make It Harder for California Industries to Seek Voter Veto on New Laws

A bill backed by labor unions and environmental groups would make it harder for industries to subject recently passed legislation to voter approval.

The bill, AB 421 by Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, D-Culver City, would make it more difficult to qualify referendums or similar ballot measures that overturn parts of recently passed legislation by requiring some signature gatherers be unpaid volunteers and requiring that information about who is paying for the petitions be disclosed.

“In recent years, we’ve seen some of tools of our democracy subverted from their original intent,” Bryan, who chairs the Assembly Elections Committee, said at a news conference Monday announcing his bill. “Direct democracy is supposed to be the people’s check on corruption and bias in our government; but over the years we have seen increasing abuse of the referendum process.”

Joined by union and environmental leaders, Bryan said they were frustrated by industries that successfully qualified referendums on AB 257, passed to set minimum wage and work standards for the fast-food industry, and SB 1137, which would restrict oil and gas drilling near homes, schools and hospitals. Both of those laws are on hold pending the outcomes of the referendums placed on the November 5, 2024 ballot.

At their news conference, they showed what they said were videos of signature gatherers misrepresenting some the petitions they were asking voters to sign. Evelyn Barillas, a fast-food worker who helped campaign for higher wages and joined the conference in support of Bryan’s bill, said a signature gatherer almost tricked her into signing a petition for the fast food law referendum by telling her it would raise wages.

“I said no, this is a lie,” Barillas said. “I scratched off my name. Wealthy fast-food corporations tricked voters into putting AB 257 on hold.”

Business advocates Monday argued that it’s the unions, who wield great influence over state lawmakers, that are trying to silence the voters’ voice with this bill.

Jennifer Barrera, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, said that from 2010 to 2022, labor unions and their allies spent nearly $95 million on signature gathering alone. While thousands of bills have been signed into law over the past 10 years, she said, only seven referendums qualified for the ballot. Nearly 50 initiatives have qualified during that time, many sponsored by labor unions and their allies.

“While we agree with additional transparency measures for signature gathering to ensure voters are well informed, this proposal is clearly meant to limit the public’s voice in California’s system of direct democracy,” Barrera said. “The data simply does not support their claim that the process, which they have used and benefitted from for years, is being abused.”

Bryan said his bill would apply to referendums, and what he calls “referendum look-alikes,” ballot measures that repeal a part of approved legislation within two years of the initial law being introduced.

It would require at least 10% of signature gatherers be unpaid volunteers, which he said would ensure ballot measures have some grass-roots support and aren’t just being promoted by professional petitioners who get paid for signatures by large corporations and industries with money to spend.

“They are lying because there’s a huge profit motive to lie,” Bryan said. “When they truly believe in something, they don’t need to lie.”

Bryan said his bill also would require that the petitions list the proposed measure’s top three funders and that paid signature collectors would be assigned an ID number that would also appear on the petition as a record of who gathered the names.

Supporters include the Service Employees International Union of California and California Environmental Voters.

“Giant corporations shouldn’t be able to silence our voices by writing big checks to overturn laws driven by communities,” said Veronica Carrizales, vice president of policy and external affairs with California Calls, an alliance of progressive community-based organizations.

Shaun Bowler, dean of the graduate division in the University of California-Riverside political science department and an expert on ballot measures, questioned the need for such a measure, noting that voters prove pretty savvy even when bombarded with expensive campaign ads.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

After Court Ruling, California’s Gig Worker Battle Takes New Turn

The seemingly perpetual political and legal battle over whether gig workers for Uber, Lyft, Doordash and services are contractors or employees took another turn last week and may go full circle – back to the state Supreme Court and possibly a second trip through the Legislature.

state appellate court upheld all but one section of Proposition 22, a 2020 ballot measure sponsored by Uber and other companies to exempt its drivers from Assembly Bill 5, a 2019 law that declared which categories of workers could be contractors and which must be payroll employees.

The legislation was sought by labor unions to implement a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling that stemmed from a 2004 decision by Dynamex Operations West, a package delivery service, to convert its drivers from employees to contractors.

Two drivers sued, contending that the conversion violated state labor law. After preliminary skirmishing in lower courts, the issue wound up in the California Supreme Court. It declared that Dynamex’s drivers were improperly converted to contractors and established a three-factor test to determine whether a worker in any industry must be a payroll employee or could be a contractor.

It was a huge win for California’s labor unions, which view contractor status as a way for employers to avoid union organization of their workers or provide benefits such as health insurance and workers’ compensation. Unions quickly urged the Legislature to codify the ruling and narrowly specify categories of workers that could be contractors.

Lorena Gonzalez, a labor leader and former Democratic assemblymember, carried AB 5, which provided only a few exemptions from employee status, such as hairdressers and real estate agents. She now heads the California Labor Federation.

After Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 5, the affected companies launched an initiative to exempt their drivers and pledged tens of millions of dollars to qualify and pass it. Ultimately they spent more than $200 million on Proposition 22, contending that their contractor systems provided drivers with flexibility and they would receive some employee-like protections and benefits.

The labor movement, oddly, did not mount an equally strong campaign against the measure, spending less than $20 million, and voters approved it by a 3-2 margin. Its approval, however, merely shifted the issue back to the courts in a lawsuit that challenged Proposition 22’s constitutionality.

An Alameda County judge invalidated the measure but last week a three-member appellate court panel voted 2-1 to uphold all but one piece, which probably will mean a trip back to the state Supreme Court and possibly the Legislature.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the appellate ruling, the transportation services could continue classifying their drivers as contractors. However, the one section of Proposition 22 tossed out by the appellate judges, which was aimed at making it almost impossible for the Legislature to amend its provisions, would open the door to another legislative clash. It would allow the Legislature to decree that contract drivers could, if they wish, form unions to bargain with the companies.

It’s dead certain that unions will seek such legislation if the Supreme Court ratifies the appellate court ruling.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Column: Reparations Plans Move Ahead. Will the Money and Political Support Be There?

The price tag on recent proposals to compensate Black residents for the sin of slavery and its continuing impacts have heightened debate over reparations

The movement to morally and financially atone for slavery and its related impacts over generations is running into harsh fiscal and political realities.

The concept of reparations has come into sharper focus now that big dollar figures have been attached to it, particularly the proposal by a San Francisco committee that every eligible Black person in the city receive a $5 million payment.

A statewide panel is contemplating payments to a more defined group of Black residents that could total $640 billion, or $360,000 for each eligible person in California.

Such price tags would be controversial anytime, but more so now as California faces a $22.5 billion budget shortfall this year and cities are projecting deficits.

Even before such figures surfaced, polls found that paying reparations did not have broad political support.

But the evil of slavery and subsequent policies that have damaged African Americans both economically and physically have been such that that the question arises: Should politics and costs matter?

Some proponents of reparations have said when judges and juries determine victims must be compensated, the amount is based on an assessment of the harm done, not necessarily the financial wherewithal of who did it.

But the fiscal impact on states and cities and their populations will be an inescapable part of the equation. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University estimated the San Francisco proposal would cost the equivalent of $600,000 for each non-Black family in the city.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors embraced the city reparations panel’s report of more than 100 recommendations, which includes the $5 million payment, though some members expressed concern about the costs. The board did not take action on the specific proposals, which it plans to do later this year after further analysis.

The debate over reparations has been wide ranging.

Critics often say people who weren’t slave owners shouldn’t have to pay people who weren’t enslaved. In California, some opponents question why payments should be made in a state or city that didn’t enslave Black people.

Proponents of reparations point to a history that shows long after slavery was abolished in 1865, unfettered freedom for Blacks was hard to come by. Beyond Jim Crow laws in the South, government policies and practices led to imprisonment of Black people at higher rates, denial of home and business loans and restrictions on where they could live and work. That includes California.

Slavery was key to generating wealth in the United States.

“. . . by 1836 more than $600 million, almost half of the economic activity in the United States, derived directly or indirectly from the cotton produced by the million-odd slaves,” said Ta-Nehisi Coates, an author who has written about reparations, citing historian Edward Baptist before a congressional committee.

“By the time the enslaved were emancipated, they comprised the largest single asset in America: $3 billion in 1860 dollars, more than all the other assets in the country combined.”

San Francisco Supervisor Joel Engardio was among those who voiced concern about whether the city can afford the proposals, but supported some form of reparations. He said some of the city’s neighborhoods used to be hostile to potential homebuyers who were Black, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, including legendary Giants center fielder Willie Mays, who had been rejected when he attempted to buy a home in 1957.

“Generations of Black families were denied the transfer of wealth that White families benefit from as their homes increase in value,” Engardio said at Tuesday’s hearing. “Many people who inherit a west side home today could not afford it on their own, but they get to stay in San Francisco because their grandparents were allowed to buy homes when it was cheap.”

That story can be repeated across the United States.

Legislation seeking reparations for Black Americans has been introduced regularly in Congress since at least 1989, but has gone nowhere. Momentum in mostly liberal states picked up amid the Black Lives Matter movement that grew after a White Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, on May 25, 2020.

Later that year, then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber of San Diego, now California’s secretary of state, carried a successful bill to create the nation’s first statewide reparations panel. In 2021, Evanston, Ill., became the first U.S. city to commit to reparations — using tax money from recreational marijuana sales to pay $10 million over a decade with the distribution of $400,000 to eligible Black households.

Former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, spoke of the difficulty in enacting reparations nationwide on a podcast with Bruce Springsteen,”Renegades: Born in the U.S.A.,” in 2021.

“So, if you ask me theoretically: ‘Are reparations justified?’ The answer is yes,” he said. “There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, the power of this country, was built in significant part — not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it — but a large portion of it was built on the backs of slaves.

“What I saw during my presidency was the politics of White resistance and resentment, the talk of welfare queens and the talk of the undeserving poor and the backlash against affirmative action… all that made the prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent, meaningful reparations program… as, politically, not only a non-starter but potentially counterproductive.”

In 2021, a Pew Research Center survey found that only 3 in 10 U.S. adults said some form of payment should be made to descendants of enslaved people. The concept was opposed by all groups surveyed regardless of age, economic status, education or race — save one: Seventy-seven percent of Black respondents favored such reparations. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were split, 49 percent opposed and 48 percent in favor.

In a surprise, the NAACP San Francisco chapter on Tuesday opposed the proposed $5 million payment and many of the other panel recommendations. Instead, the organization suggested broad and lasting investments in housing, jobs, education and health care targeted to improve the lives of Black residents.

Click here to read the full article at the SD Diego Union Tribune

Twitter Files: The ‘Great Covid-19 Lie Machine’ Worked to Censor ‘True Stories’

In the latest Twitter Files report published on Friday, journalist and author Matt Taibbi revealed that Twitter partnered with the Virality Project, which warned the social media platform that “true stories that could fuel hesitancy,” complained that “anti-vaccine” accounts were retweeting the CDC, and ironically ran searches for the term “surveillance state” while looking for more information to censor.

“The release of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s spring 2020 emails via the Freedom of Information Act has been used to exacerbate distrust in Dr. Fauci,” the Virality Project lamented in June 2021.

The Virality Project is “a sweeping, cross-platform effort to monitor billons of social media posts by Stanford University, federal agencies, and a slew of (often state-funded) NGOs,” Taibbi noted.

Taibbi went on to say that Friday’s Twitter Files revealed “Reports of vaccinated individuals contracting Covid-19 anyway,” “natural immunity,” suggesting Covid-19 “leaked from a lab,” and even “worrisome jokes” were all characterized as “potential violations” or disinformation “events” by the Virality Project.

“We’ve since learned the Virality Project in 2021 worked with government to launch a pan-industry monitoring plan for Covid-related content,” Taibbi said. “At least six major Internet platforms were ‘onboarded’ to the same JIRA ticketing system, daily sending millions of items for review.”

The journalist added that the Virality Project had “knowingly targeted true material and legitimate political opinion, while often being factually wrong itself.”

“As Orwellian proof-of-concept, the Virality Project was a smash success,” he said. “Government, academia, and an oligopoly of would-be corporate competitors organized quickly behind a secret, unified effort to control political messaging.”

The Virality Project had also “accelerated the evolution of digital censorship, moving it from judging truth/untruth to a new, scarier model, openly focused on political narrative at the expense of fact,” Taibbi said.

The Twitter Files also revealed that on February 5, 2021, right after President Joe Biden took office, Stanford wrote to Twitter to discuss the Virality Project. Shortly after that, Twitter agreed to receive weekly reports on “anti-vax disinformation.”

The Virality Project also warned Twitter that “true stories that could fuel hesitancy,” including stories such as “celebrity deaths after vaccine,” as well as the closure of a central New York school due to reports of post-vaccine illness.

The organization suggested that stories like these be considered “Standard Vaccine Misinformation on Your Platform.”

In one email to Twitter, the Virality Project mentioned what it called the “vaccine passport narrative,” saying “concerns” over such programs “have driven a larger anti-vaccination narrative about the loss of rights and freedoms.”

The organization also framed this as a misinformation “event.”

The Virality Project routinely framed real testimonials about vaccine side effects as misinformation — from “true stories” of blood clots from AstraZeneca vaccines, to a New York Times story about vaccine recipients who contracted the blood disorder thrombocytopenia, Taibbi said.

The Virality Project also warned against people “just asking questions,” suggesting it was a tactic “commonly used by spreaders of misinformation.”

Twitter employees eventually mimicked Virality Project language, describing “campaigns against vaccine passports,” “fear of mandatory immunizations,” and “misuse of official reporting tools” as “potential violations.”

“While this account posts legitimate and accurate COVID-19 updates — it posts content that attacks Italian politicians, the EU, and the United States,” the Global Engagement Center complained to Twitter in an email.

The Twitter Files also reveal an email in which the Virality Project implored Twitter to “hone in” on an “increasingly popular narrative about natural immunity.”

But the organization was “repeatedly, extravagantly wrong,” Taibbi said, noting one example in April 2021, when the Virality Project mistakenly described “breakthrough” infections as “extremely rare events” that should not be inferred to mean “vaccines are ineffective.”

Later, after the CDC changed its methodology for counting cases of the Chinese coronavirus among vaccinated people to only include those resulting in hospitalization or death, the Virality Project complained that “anti-vaccine” accounts were retweeting the information.

Click here to read the full article in BreitbartCA

Newsom Plans to Transform San Quentin, Home to Death Row, Into Rehabilitation Center

The infamous state prison on San Francisco Bay that has been home to the largest death row population in the United States will be transformed into a lockup where less-dangerous prisoners will receive education, training and rehabilitation, California officials announced Thursday.

At a press conference on Friday, Newsome said he hopes to implement these new strategies by 2025.

The inmates serving death sentences at San Quentin State Prison will be moved elsewhere in the California penitentiary system, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced, and it will be renamed the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center. Most of California’s nearly 700 inmates facing such sentences are imprisoned at the facility, though some have already been moved.

“Today, we take the next step in our pursuit of true rehabilitation, justice, and safer communities through this evidenced-backed investment, creating a new model for safety and justice – the California Model – that will lead the nation,” Newsom said in a statement.

Victim’s right advocates were quick to react. “He seems to have completely forgotten the victims, I mean I think this is affront to the victims because we’re saying at least there is still an element of punishment and accountability that should happen in state prison before you get your chance to earn your way out,” Nina Salarno Besselman of Crime Victims United said.

The governor planned a visit Friday to San Quentin, which is also the California location where prisoners were once executed, though none have been put to death since 2006. Newsom announced a moratorium on executions in 2019 and dismantled the prison’s gas chamber, and in 2022 he announced plans to begin transferring inmates sentenced to death to other prisons.

Full details of the plan were not immediately made public, though officials said the facility would concentrate on “education, rehabilitation and breaking cycles of crime.” Newsom was expected to share more during his visit, the second stop on a four-day policy tour that he’s doing in lieu of a traditional State of the State address this year.

“When you’re there, the goal is to ensure you do not come back and right now, what we have is not working,” Jay Jordan of Alliance for Safety and Justice said.

Newsom’s office cited as a model Norway’s approach to incarceration, which focuses on preparing people to return to society, as inspiration for the program. Oregon and North Dakota have also taken inspiration from the Scandinavian country’s policies.

In maximum-security Norwegian prisons, cells often look more like dorm rooms with additional furniture such as chairs, desks, even TVs, and prisoners have kitchen access and activities like basketball. The nation has a low recidivism rate.

“This isn’t shortening sentences, this isn’t a get out of jail free card, this is ‘Hey what do you need to be successful?’ Let’s give you that so you can get out and do what you need to do,” Jordan said.

At the overhauled San Quentin, vocational training programs would set people up to land good-paying jobs as plumbers, electricians or truck drivers after they’re released, Newsom told the Los Angeles Times.

A group made up public safety experts, crime victims and formerly incarcerated people will advise the state on the transformation. Newsom is allocating $20 million to launch the plan.

Republican Assemblymember Tom Lackey expressed criticism of Newsom’s criminal justice priorities, saying the governor and state Democratic lawmakers should spend more time focusing their efforts on supporting the victims of crime.

“Communities win when we have rehabilitative efforts, but yet, how about victims?” Lackey said. “Have we rehabilitated them?”

Meanwhile Taina Vargas, executive director of Initiate Justice Action, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles, said she is pleased the state is moving toward rehabilitating incarcerated people but more drastic changes are needed to transform the criminal justice system that imprisons so many people.

“Over the long term, I think we want to prevent people from going to prison in the first place, which means that we want to offer more opportunities for high paying jobs in the community,” she said.

California voters upheld the death penalty in 2016 and voted to speed up executions. Newsom’s decision to halt them in one of his first major acts as governor drew swift pushback from critics including district attorneys who said he was ignoring the voters.

But Californians have also supported easing certain criminal penalties in an attempt to reduce mass incarceration as part of a more recent movement away from tough-on-crime policies that once dominated the state.

San Quentin is California’s oldest correctional institution, housing one maximum-security cell block, a medium-security dorm and a minimum-security firehouse.

Inmates on death row will not have their sentences changed, but they will be transferred to other facilities, according to Newsom’s office. Today there are 668 inmates serving death sentences in California, almost all of them men, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The prison has housed high-profile criminals such as cult leader Charles Manson, convicted murderers and serial killers, and was the site of violent uprisings in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the prison in upscale Marin County north of San Francisco has also been home to some of the most innovative inmate programs in the country, reflecting the politically liberal beliefs of the Bay Area.

Click here to read the full article at KABC7