CA Lawmakers Look to Pull Plug on NSA Snooping

Big Brother might have to close his eyes.

A new bipartisan bill would prohibit California’s cooperation with warrantless snooping by the National Security Agency.

Senate Bill 828 is by state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach. Invoking the Bill of Rights’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, SB828 would affect the state, its employees, its governmental subdivisions and even corporations providing services for the state.

According to the language of the bill, all those affected are barred from “materially supporting or assisting” any “federal agency or federal agent in collecting electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.”

That broad wording would extend legal protections against surveillance to non-citizens and citizens alike. Snooping with a warrant still would be allowed.

Additionally, SB828 bans the use of electronic data and metadata obtained without a warrant in state and local criminal investigations or prosecutions.

Dubbed the “Fourth Amendment Protection Act,” the bill would put California on a collision course with a major federal policy for the second time in recent years. Last October, the lawmakers passed the Trust Act. It introduced sweeping measures to shelter illegal immigrants from federal action.

Over strenuous objections of those favoring tighter immigration laws, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Trust Act with a suite of other bills that activists estimated would keep some 20,000 undocumented people out of federal detention every year.

Anti-surveillance momentum

Nationally, California legislators stuck their necks out with the Trust Act.

But with SB828, they wouldn’t be alone. One of the bill’s two co-sponsors, State Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, invoked similar measures passed by state legislatures in Arizona, Maryland, Tennessee, Utah and Washington.

Anderson explained the bill “would stop NSA access to DMV records, Covered California records, state records, even voting records that might otherwise be confiscated at will.” Although “unequivocally dedicated to stopping terrorism,” Anderson insisted that Americans “must be ever vigilant that our desire for safety does not come at the expense of the freedoms and liberty our enemies seek to destroy.”

A press release describing the impact of the bill was also issued by Lieu. “State-funded public resources should not be going toward aiding the NSA or any other federal agency,” he said, in “indiscriminate spying on its own citizens” that “violates the Fourth Amendment.”

Last year, the release noted, Lieu successfully spearheaded a bipartisan resolution “urging Congress to reconsider its vote for the NSA to stop its unconstitutional practices.” That resolution, SR16, also called on President Obama to end “the NSA’s blanket, unreasonable, and unconstitutional collection of all Americans’ telephone records,” singling out overbroad uses of the PATRIOT Act for reform.

Earlier this year, Anderson and Lieu teamed up to push Sacramento to cut off the NSA from access to basic utilities and services in California. Then as now, Lieu explicitly compared NSA surveillance to the federal government’s wholesale detention of Japanese-Americans during World War Two, warning that the “last time the federal government massively violated the U.S. Constitution, over 100,000 innocent Americans were rounded up and interned.”

California leadership

As the debate continues in Congress over the scope and force of federal law surrounding America’s surveillance regime, elected officials in California face an opportunity to take a notable lead on the issue.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was recently at the center of an unusually fierce dispute with the CIA over detention and interrogation. The controversy came to a head when Feinstein discovered that the CIA had secretly spied on Senate staffers working on a committee report critical of the agency’s practices.

Previously, Feinstein herself had been criticized for a lax attitude toward surveillance issues. The last time the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court turned down a government request to conduct electronic surveillance was in 2009.

Events will unfold quickly in California once legislators determine whether or not to support the bill. If passed, SB828 would go into immediate effect as an “urgency statute.”

(James Poulos is a contributor to CalWatchdog. Originally published on CalWatchdog.)

Obama and Benghazi

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Oil Production Presents a Huge Dilemma

From The Sacramento Bee:

California is an auto-dependent society, with 25 million licensed drivers – two-thirds of our population – and 30 million motor vehicles consuming 16 billion gallons of fuel each year to rack up 329 billion miles of travel on 172,000 miles of roads, streets and highways.

That evolution was fueled, as it were, by an abundance of cheap oil. California was one of the nation’s earliest oil producers and still is its third most productive state, but after peaking at nearly 400 million barrels a year in 1985, in-state production has slowly declined to half that level now.

Therefore as the state’s population expanded, as vehicular travel increased – doubling in the last 30 years – and as demand for petroleum increased, our supply has increasingly come from elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of Lyndi&Jason, flickr

Photo courtesy of Lyndi&Jason, flickr

Americans Give Up Looking For Work

From The Daily Caller:

More than 800,000 Americans gave up hope and stopped looking for work in April 2014, five years after President Barack Obama was inaugurated.

The startling change in the workforce was accompanied by good news show that 288,000 new jobs were added to the economy. That’s roughly three times the normal monthly growth of the working-age population, including roughly 50,000 extra immigrants.

The combination of fewer people looking for work, plus the increased number of employed, dropped the formal employment rate from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Read Full Article)

hope unemployment jobs obama

Nation’s Highest Tax Rate Plagues State’s Small Businesses

From The Riverside Press-Enterprise:

California is a tough place to do business. Small businesses in particular suffer from taxes and regulations higher than in most states. On April 22, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a think tank, released its latest Small Business Tax Index. It ranked California dead last, with the highest tax burden of the 50 states.

The index fingered California for imposing the most punitive income and capital gains tax rates. In addition, almost any small business must pay an $800 state franchise tax just for doing business – even if it never makes a profit.

Small businesses also will be hurt by the state minimum-wage hike in July to $9 an hour from $8; and to $10 in 2016.

(Read Full Article)


White House Told Susan Rice To Lie About Benghazi

From The Daily Caller:

And to our good friends on the left: No, the story is not going away.

Catherine Herridge, Fox News:

Newly released emails on the Benghazi terror attack suggest a senior White House aide played a central role in preparing former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice for her controversial Sunday show appearances — where she wrongly blamed protests over an Internet video.

More than 100 pages of documents were released to the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Among them was a Sept. 14, 2012, email from Ben Rhodes, an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications…

(Read Full Article)


Fight over Sriracha Factory Heating Up

From U-T San Diego:

A spicy drama has been heating up since the popular hot sauce Sriracha was declared a public nuisance by the Los Angeles suburb of Irwindale, where it’s made. For now, Irwindale’s City Council has tabled a resolution that forces Huy Fong Foods, Sriracha’s maker, to stop odor emissions.

The City Council should vote down this resolution, because it’s most likely illegal. If not, Irwindale will have a Sriracha hangover, from ordering too many unlawful choices and becoming the emblem of California as anti-business. When this Sriracha-apocalypse began in October, enthusiasts feared the end of sauce production. Now the conflict fuels rivalries between states, exchanging anti- and pro-business fighting words over who keeps the sauce.

(Read Full Article)

Hot Sauce Lawsuit

The Heavy Hand of the IRS

From U-T San Diego:

Earnest moralists lament Americans’ distrust of government. What really is regrettable is that government does much to earn distrust, as Terry Dehko, 70, and his daughter Sandy Thomas, 41, understand.

Terry, who came to Michigan from Iraq in 1970, soon did what immigrants often do: He went into business, buying Schott’s Supermarket in Fraser, Mich., where he still works six days a week. The IRS, a tentacle of a government that spent $3.5 trillion in 2013, tried to steal more than $35,000 from Terry and Sandy that year.

Sandy, a mother of four, has a master’s degree in urban planning but has worked in the store off and on since she was 12. She remembers, “They just walked into the store” and announced that they had emptied the store’s bank account. The IRS agents believed, or pretended to believe, that Terry and Sandy were or conceivably could be — which is sufficient for the IRS — conducting a criminal enterprise when not selling groceries.

(Read Full Article)


Democrats v. Unions?

With budgets tight, old allies face off.

In May 2012, parents at Culver City’s El Marino Language School, located in heavily Democratic West Los Angeles, beat back an effort by the local chapter of the Association of Classified Employees (ACE) to unionize the school’s part-time teachers, many of whom were donating their time to teach foreign languages to elementary school kids. Public-sector unions across California are having the same kind of trouble. In a state beset with fiscal crises, unions are fighting over diminished local budgets—and Democrats must increasingly choose between satisfying old constituencies or maintaining public services.

After the Culver school board had agreed to let the union enroll adjuncts at one elementary school where parents had been funding the in-class assistants, the union turned its attention to the parent-funded program at El Marino. Parents and teachers were miffed when they discovered that union membership for adjuncts would entail no increase in pay but substantially higher administrative costs. Galvanized, parents from multiple neighborhoods formed United Parents of Culver City to take the fight to the school board—and the El Marino program was preserved.

The parents’ activist group then fielded its own slate of school board candidates in the November 2013 elections, including a former middle school teacher and a past president of the Parent Teacher Association. ACE and the local teachers’ union drafted their own candidates, one with strong ties to the Los Angeles teachers’ union, as well as the union-backed leadership on the L.A. Unified School District board. Parental activism and a low-turnout election helped ensure the defeat of the union-backed candidates.

However, the elections didn’t leave the teachers’ union completely empty-handed. For Culver City voters, the question was whether limited funds should be used to pay for infrastructure improvements (favored by private-sector unions) or school personnel (favored by public-sector unions). In 2009, after the city had failed to secure sufficient federal stimulus money to pay for school improvements, 75 percent of voters approved a school-construction bond. With the bond scheduled to sunset this year, some officials wanted to put a new one on last November’s ballot. But the teachers’ union opposed the bond issue, urging the district to focus on long-term obligations—such as salary increases for teachers. With union pressure mounting, the school board dithered on making a decision. Parents were livid when time ran out to get the bond on the ballot.

In its battles with unions, the parent activists at El Marino Language School stumbled into what could become a central issue in California politics: the fracturing of the coalition between Democrats and their public-employee union allies. The Culver City election showed a clear local division within the Democratic Party, with the two sides representing rival priorities in the fight over limited funds. One side wanted more facilities spending; the other sought pay and benefits increases for teachers.

Benefit costs are squeezing local governments. Municipal bankruptcies in Vallejo, Stockton, San Bernardino, and Mammoth Lakes have exposed unsustainable “OPEB” (other post-employment benefits) costs such as health care. As the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers retires from public service, taxpayers face the prospect of governments becoming smaller andmore expensive (when current and retiree payrolls are combined). Municipalities can’t afford to pay a current workforce with a growing “shadow” one. Cities are tapping general-fund dollars to cover pension costs.

The crisis has inspired some California Democrats to embrace public-sector pension reform. Leading the effort is San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, whose effort to qualify a statewide ballot initiative for the November election foundered last month—in part because of a slanted ballot summary written by Democratic attorney general Kamala Harris. After a lawsuit brought against Harris’s office failed in March, Reed says he is committed to putting the measure back on the 2016 ballot. Voters could then decide whether to let cities and the state renegotiate pension and benefit obligations prospectively, while leaving accrued benefits untouched. Reed argues his case from the left. “Skyrocketing retirement costs are crowding out funding for essential public services,” he says. In Vallejo, recent city council elections have one retiring Democratic councilor wondering if public-sector union influence may put the recently bankrupt city back on the brink. “The Democratic Party has become too dependent on public safety unions to fund its political campaigns,” wrote Marti Brown in the Sacramento Bee. “Public employee political action committees are buying elections. Taxpayers pay for the salaries and benefits of public employees.”

California’s infrastructure, schools, and education system all need upgrades. But with baby boomers retiring from the public-sector workforce and the bill for many of the long-term promises made by California’s municipalities rapidly coming due, where will the money come from? The answer to that question may finally drive a wedge between California’s Democrats and its public-sector unions.

(Pete Peterson is the executive director of the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy, and is a Republican candidate for California Secretary of State. Kevin Klowden is director of the California Center and managing economist at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica. Originally published on City Journal.)

Complete the Rainy Day Fund Deal

I’ve long been a supporter of a strong rainy day fund to help get California off its roller coaster budget ride – surpluses in good times, deficits in bad economies. In recent history, the rainy day fund proposal itself has also had its ups and downs.

In 2009, I was on the Yes side of Proposition 1A, which would have created a rainy day fund while at the same time impose a two-year temporary tax. That was defeated. In 2012, I opposed Governor Brown’s Proposition 30 tax precisely because no spending reforms were tied to the measure.

Gov. Schwarzenegger managed to maneuver a rainy day proposal on the ballot but Democratic lawmakers who wanted to see a, shall we say, more pliable proposal, have managed to push it from one ballot to another. Now Governor Brown is promoting his version of a rainy day fund that he argues will work more effectively than the measure designated for the ballot.

Getting a good rainy day fund measure to the ballot is a test of the legislature to function without the carrot of more revenue. Agreeing that the perfect must not be the enemy of the good, the legislature should come together behind the governor’s proposal as long as its not amended into legislative Swiss cheese.

That could happen. Already, senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg is pushing back against the governor’s proposal saying, in essence, let’s not do anything rash and, by the way, how can we account for greater spending within a rainy day fund proposal.

The rainy day fund should be narrowly focused on giving the state a reserve to manage in hard times, no more.

Steinberg was also a supporter of Proposition 1A in 2009. He was willing to accept the rainy day reform at that time when it came with a temporary tax increase. Well, he got even greater tax increases when Prop 30 passed. Now’s the time to bring the spending reform along to complete the deal – taxes passed, now add spending reforms.

(Joel Fox is the Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. Posted on Fox and Hounds.)