Gun shows are the kind of event state fairgrounds were designed for

Gun shows are safe, appropriate events that frequently take place across California. Yet many gun control advocates cite dubious statistics about gun shows to justify support for legislation to end gun shows on state property, such as fairgrounds.

Some would have you believe that California gun shows are lawless events where vendors sell guns to violent gangs or without paperwork. Nothing could be further from the truth: California gun shows are more highly regulated than brick-and-mortar gun shops.

No California politician has been able to provide statistics specific to any criminal activity or to any danger at California gun shows. Government should not discriminate against lawful activity because some politicians do not agree with it.

California gun shows are not a place where criminals get guns. Every firearm dealer at a gun show has passed a background check and is licensed with both the state and federal government. Law enforcement officers are stationed across the venue, background checks of buyers must take place, and no one leaves a California gun show with a firearm. There is a 10-day waiting period in California for firearms transactions, and that applies to weapons sold at gun shows, too.

Gun shows are family-friendly events — the kind state fair properties were designed to host.

Only about 30% of gun show exhibitors sell guns or ammunition (which a buyer also cannot acquire the same day). The rest sell collectibles, merchandise and food, much like a flea market with hot dogs.

Gun shows draw multiple generations of families who share a love of hunting and the outdoors.

Gun shows draw couples who often are introducing their spouse to firearms and self-protection.

Gun shows draw new gun owners, such as the more than 1 million gun buyers in 2020, who want to learn more about protecting themselves and their families.

Most important, gun shows provide a large venue for those who choose to own a firearm for lawful purposes to learn more about firearms and discuss issues that are important to gun owners in California.

Simply put, state fairgrounds are the only type of venue with the space to host events of this size effectively, safely and without incident.

An attempt by a local fair board to shut out gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego County was rebuffed by a federal court in 2020. The court made it clear that banning gun shows in these venues was an unconstitutional attack on free speech and association. The state paid $500,000 to the gun show operator to settle the case.

Why are elected officials such as state Sen. Dave Min, the author of legislation to ban gun shows from state fairgrounds, continuing to try to limit the rights of law-abiding Californians?

Californians should know that gun shows are not dangerous and absolutely belong on government property. Under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. The government is supposed to protect our constitutional rights, not take them away.

The California Rifle & Pistol Association, the state’s oldest Second Amendment rights organization, encourages all California firearms owners to tell their state senator to oppose Senate Bill 264, which would effectively — and unfairly — end gun shows on all state-owned property in California.

Tiffany Cheuvront is a civil rights attorney who represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association, tcheuvront@crpa.org. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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Good news for gender equality as court green lights Meland v. Padilla

One California law unconstitutionally forces people to make decisions on the basis of sex, patronizes women by disregarding their individual preferences, and makes it harder for everyone to succeed in the workplace. But there’s good news: The law may be on its way out.

This summer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals gave the green light to Meland v. Padilla, a lawsuit challenging California’s Senate Bill 826, the nation’s first state law to force corporate shareholders to take a candidate’s sex into account when they vote for board members. Enacted in 2018, SB 826 requires all publicly traded companies incorporated or even just headquartered in California to have at least one female board member, a quota that increases depending on the board’s size. Corporations that violate the quota face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and will be publicly chastened on the Secretary of State’s list of non-compliant corporations.

But SB 826 imposes a solution in search of a problem. There are reasons women may not have parity on corporate boards that have nothing to do with institutional discrimination but rather are based on individual preferences. Studies show that, on the whole, men place a high premium on a larger paycheck, while women value flexibility at work more. That’s why the number of women-owned businesses has increased 3000% since 1972, and why women are increasingly choosing to work in the “gig” economy.

While the law may be well-intentioned, it disrespects the fact that women are unique individuals who make unique choices. It treats women as incapable of choosing their professions or negotiating the terms of their employment—and as victims if they choose flexibility or other benefits over jobs with more traditional hours or responsibilities, or higher pay.

And it fits with a larger pattern: Throughout America’s history, male-dominated governments (like the California legislature) have condescendingly replaced individual women’s decisions with one-size-fits-all standards.

Back in the early 20th century, for example, many states imposed minimum wage laws on women workers, purporting to benefit women by ensuring higher pay. But rather than giving women greater opportunities, those laws put many of them out of work altogether.

As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who spent her legal career fighting gender discrimination) once noted, laws aimed at “helping” women frequently result in depriving them of their freedom of choice. Based “on the notion that women could not cope with the world beyond hearth and home without a father, husband, or big brother to guide them,” she wrote, “the state impeded both men and women from pursuit of the very opportunities and styles of life that could enable them to break away from traditional patterns and develop their full, human capacities.”

Indeed, the National Woman’s Party, the original champion of the Equal Rights Amendment, wholeheartedly rejected “protective” legislation that singled women out for what they considered to be restrictive and discriminatory treatment.

At that time, California law prohibited businesses from employing women over 8 hours a day or 48 hours a week, or hiring women for jobs that required them to carry objects weighing 10 pounds or more up stairways rising more than 5 feet—supposedly to “protect” them. Those laws, NWP argued, were actually “used to deny women the right to earn their own livelihoods and to support their dependents.”

By dictating how many women should serve on a company’s board, SB 826 similarly ignores the preferences of women to pursue the career paths of their choice, supplanting those decisions with the economic choices that bureaucrats think women should make.

Government-mandated gender quotas send the message to women—and their would-be employers and colleagues—that they can’t earn a leadership position without Big Brother’s helping hand. Even supporters of gender-based quotas recognize that they could mean “women would be appointed to corporate boards as tokens for the sake of compliance, which could reinforce stereotypes and make it even harder for intelligent and hardworking women to break the glass ceiling.”

Indeed, studies have shown that women hired under a quota system as opposed to merit are often branded with a “stigma of incompetence” that makes it difficult for them to be taken seriously and less likely to be recommended for future responsibilities, regardless of their actual performance on the job.

That’s why Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry and Senior Vice President of retail at Apple, called mandates like SB 826 “dangerous.” Ahrendts, who has been named one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world by Forbes and Fortune, as well as one of the top creative minds in business (without regard to gender), said filling a position should always be “about putting the best person in the job who can unite people and create value.” Ultimately, that’s best for everyone, including women.

Laws that force people to make decisions on the basis of sex are discriminatory and harm the women they purport to help, so it’s good that the courts will be taking up the challenge to SB 826.

Some women prefer flexible working conditions and are willing to trade that for higher wages. Others are happy to keep regular office hours in exchange for career growth.

Women are not homogenous—and one-size-fits-all government regulations prevent individuals from making the decisions that work best for them.

Christina Sandefur is the executive vice president at the Goldwater Institute.

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Bring common sense back to California: Doug Ose

Sacramento is broken — fractured by years of mismanagement by career politicians who are detached from the real-life challenges facing everyday Californians.

I was born and raised in California. I’ve raised my family and built my business here. For most of our lives, California was the land of opportunity. That hope has been eclipsed by a rising tide of crises and inept politicians.

The Golden State has more homelessness and poverty than any other state in the country. Housing costs and health care are becoming more costly and difficult to access. Crime is rising, energy costs are spiraling up, and operating a business has become nearly impossible.

These crises are man-made disasters stemming from years of bad policies and poor governance.

Chiefly responsible is Gavin Newsom. His zig-zagging lockdowns and over-regulations have crushed jobs and small businesses, and inflicted long-term harm on our children.

Newsom bowed to unions and delayed fully re-opening schools long after the science and data told us it was safe to open. All the while, his kids received in-person instruction at their private school.

Newsom and his wife partied maskless with elite Sacramento lobbyists at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant, swilling more than $10,000 in wine — while ordering small businesses to close and all of us to shelter in place.

On Newsom’s watch, $31 billion in unemployment benefits vanished into the pockets of thieves, after he ignored four warnings that this would happen.

Now is the time to reclaim the future of this great state for our children’s future.

I’m an independent businessman. I ran for Congress in 1998 on a promise to serve three terms and then go home. And I kept that promise.

Now I am running for governor to fix what is broken in our great state — and then I will go home.

As your governor:

• I’ll make sure our schools are re-opened to full-time, in-person instruction. I will stand with students and parents, not the teachers union, and I’ll institute school choice.

• I will end the reckless policy of releasing thousands of dangerous criminals into our communities.

• I’ll address the homelessness issue by focusing on the mental illness and drug addiction at the heart of this problem. While respecting constitutional rights, we need to be able to compel treatment when necessary.

• I will clear the red tape that’s fueling rising housing costs so supply can meet demand.

• Californians pay roughly 75% more than the rest of the nation for energy that is less reliable. We can lower costs and increase reliability by broadening energy generation and expanding consumer choice.

• I will modernize our water system by increasing surface storage, rationalizing our water delivery system and ensuring our agriculture economy has the water it needs.

I’m running for governor to provide independent, common-sense leadership for the sake of our children and to restore California as the land of opportunity.

Doug Ose previously represented California’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Prosperity and innovation require rule breakers

America has so many regulations that today, often the only way to do something new, to create something great, to prosper is to ignore rules.

Minutes before SpaceX launched a rocket, the government told the company that the launch would violate its license.

SpaceX launched anyway.

CEO Elon Musk says that the Federal Aviation Administration has “a broken regulatory structure” and that “there is simply no way that humanity can become a spacefaring civilization without major regulatory reform.”

But reform isn’t likely.

While businesses must constantly adjust to survive, once bureaucrats create regulations, they have no incentive to repeal them, ever. Instead, they add hundreds of new ones every year.

Musk complains that government “can overregulate industries to the point where innovation becomes very difficult. The auto industry used to be a great hotbed of innovation … but now there’s so many regulations that are intended to protect consumers. … Regulation for cars could fill this room.”

So, Musk broke rules to make Tesla the success it is. He knew he couldn’t innovate if he obeyed all of them. He’s flaunted the rules of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, even tweeting that SEC stands for “Suck Elon’s … “

So far, he’s gotten away with it.

So have a few others.

Adam Thierer, author of “Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance,” explains why rule breakers are the best hope for innovation.

“When 23andMe came out with genetic testing by mail,” he says, “They didn’t get a permission slip from the Food and Drug Administration. They just started providing that service.”

Once the bureaucrats noticed, they ordered 23andMe to stop offering health insights based on genes.

“The product was off the market for over a year. That stopped genetic testing by other companies, too,” says Thierer. “Smaller players saw what the government did and said, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me.’” This delayed innovation for years.

“Maybe the only way to succeed today is to break the rules,” I suggest.

“Yes,” says Thierer. “Just to go out and try doing it.”

A group of parents whose children have diabetes did that. They developed software that helps people track blood sugar levels.

“Their hashtag is, ‘#WeAreNotWaiting,’” says Thierer. “What are they not waiting for? For the Food and Drug Administration to approve new insulin monitoring devices. Instead, they built them themselves. These devices were better than regulatory approved devices.”

But it only happened because they had the courage to do it without permission.

“Innovations come out of nowhere,” Thierer points out. “The problem is law sometimes blocks all of that and says, thou shall not until you get a permission slip. That’s the death of entrepreneurialism.”

Ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft prospered only because they didn’t ask for permission; they just created ride-sharing apps. By the time sleepy bureaucrats noticed and took steps to regulate Uber and Lyft to death, the company had so many satisfied customers that politicians were afraid to crush them.

Some regulation is useful. The alternative isn’t zero rules. “If a product is dangerous,” says Thierer, “it can be recalled. You can be sued. But don’t treat innovators as guilty until proven innocent.”

It’s easier to see how absurd regulators can be when you look at old regulations.

In 1982, after Sony’s Walkman came out, a New Jersey town banned wearing them while walking. “You couldn’t wear headphones because they would be a danger to yourself!” laughs Thierer. “Sometimes, laws stop making sense. Governments need to adapt.”

COVID-19 persuaded some governments.

Suddenly, it was OK if private companies made virus tests, if nurses and doctors practiced in other states, if doctors used telemedicine without obsessing about stupid privacy rules, if liquor companies made hand sanitizer, etc.

“All sorts of people started doing really interesting entrepreneurial things to try to just help each other out,” says Thierer.

“Those laws needed to change,” Thierer concludes, “But most changed only because people evaded the system.”

John Stossel is author of “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

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The FBI’s unjustified targeting of Concerned Women for America

Forget Tucker Carlson and his fact-free ranting about NSA spying on him. I want to know why the FBI considered targeting the venerable Concerned Women for America for an “Embezzlement of Non-Profit Organizations/Corporate Fraud” investigation with no criminal predicate. First, some background.

For more than two years, the Cato Institute has been conducting a form of “citizens investigation” of the FBI and other federal agencies and departments that in the past were known to have engaged in domestic surveillance and related political repression operations. The most infamous of those FBI activities was its Counterintelligence Program, more commonly known by its acronym, COINTELPRO.

When COINTELPRO and related domestic spying activities conducted by the FBI, CIA, and NSA were exposed by the Church Committee in 1975, various laws and congressional oversight mechanisms were enacted that were designed to prevent a recurrence of those abuses. But there was a catch.

Instead of passing legislation to explicitly bar the FBI from engaging in politically-tinged surveillance (or worse), then-Ford administration Attorney General Ed Levi effectively pre-empted legislative action by promulgating what became known as the Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. Sold as a way to prevent a return COINTELPRO-like activities, the AG Guidelines, as they became known, were a failure almost from the outset.

During the Reagan administration, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) was targeted by the FBI on a nationwide scale for surveillance and related activities. In the early 1990s, it only took one zealous FBI agent in Chicago to start one of the largest, and worst predicated, “international terrorism” investigations targeting Chicago area Muslims in the ironically named Operation VULGAR BETRAYAL. In the years after the 9/11 attacks, even the relatively weak and ineffectual internal safeguards ostensibly provided by the AG Guidelines effectively disappeared.

In December 2008, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey modified the AG Guidelines by creating an entirely new class of FBI proto-investigation known as an “Assessment”. Unlike a normal FBI investigation, an Assessment requires no criminal basis to be opened—just the broad and nebulous formulation of an “authorized purpose.” And while FBI agents can’t—in theory, at least—utilize wiretaps when conducting Assessments on people or organizations, they can still conduct physical surveillance of Assessment targets, scour public and classified databases for information on them, and run confidential informants against them.

It’s a prescription for abuse. Which brings us to Concerned Women for America (CWA).

Earlier this month in response to a Cato Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the FBI provided a redacted but still very illuminating—and alarming—FBI Washington Field Office (WFO) “Charity Assessment” on CWA conducted in July 2016. The Assessment was opened “to determine the possibility of fraudulent activity.” Not “report of fraudulent activity”—just the “possibility.”

It was a pure FBI domestic surveillance “fishing expedition” for the digital age, with the agent focused on CWA’s alleged “two-star rating” from Charity Navigator, as well as searches of other commercial and government databases (all conveniently redacted by the FBI). I note here that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), responsible for approving FBI electronic surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, has repeatedly chastised—but not punished—the FBI for unwarranted digital database searches involving American citizens.

Despite alleged “red flags of fraudulent activity” (also redacted), the agent concluded, on the basis of “no derogatory information” in the many databases consulted, that opening a full investigation of CWA was not warranted.

The FBI should never have opened an Assessment on CWA in the first place.

At no time was there an allegation of actual fraud or embezzlement—just an FBI agent looking to meet a quota for how many Assessments they had opened during the reporting period. This is exactly what happens when fundamental constitutional standards for obtaining warrants or conducting searches and seizures are ignored, or, in the case of the AG Guidelines, effectively subverted as a matter of official policy.

Congress can fix this problem by passing legislation that bans quasi-investigations like Assessments, as well as reassert the requirement to establish probable cause that a crime has been committed in order to open an investigation on an individual or civil society organization. It should also investigate the current scale of the FBI’s misuse of Assessments to determine how many other domestic groups have been subjected to similar unwarranted investigations like the one on CWA.

Engaging in public debate and advocacy should not be a trigger for the FBI to investigate law abiding Americans.

Patrick Eddington is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He previously worked as a senior policy advisor and CIA analyst.

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Actually, more COVID restrictions resulted in greater economic harm

At our recent forecast update conference, we reported that the COVID-19 recession slammed California’s economy leading to a 9% loss in jobs in 2020 versus a milder loss of 6.7% in the U.S.

In a recent article of mine published in COVID Economics, I showed that California suffered more job losses because of its aggressive COVID-19 lockdown policies. As measured by the Oxford University index, California’s 2020 annual average daily stringency score was 60.4 versus 50.2 for the U.S. That stringency score of 60.4 ranked California as the 6th highest of all 50 states.

The close relationship between higher stringency scores and higher job losses can be seen by dividing the 50 states into five groups of 10 states each in order of stringency. For example, the ten states with the lowest Oxford University stringency scores (18.4 – 36.1) experienced an average job loss of 5.1%. The next highest stringency group of states (36.5 – 40.0) had an average job loss of 6.0%; followed by states (40 – 43) with an average job loss of 8.1%; followed by states (44 – 48) with an average job loss of 8.3 percent; followed by states (49 – 61) with an average job loss of 10.4%.

These findings provide strong statistical support that California’s higher job losses than the nation in 2020 were caused by its more restrictive mandates. Rigorous support of this conclusion is provided by using more sophisticated statistical procedures (multiple regression analyses) that show the exact relationship between stringency scores and jobs. Specifically, my findings show that as states become more restrictive as measured by their Oxford stringency scores, job losses in those more restrictive states increase. Not only that, but the degree of job losses increases at an increasing rate.

This statistical finding suggests that as states like California become increasingly aggressive in imposing mandates (like closing K-12 schools), the economic loss for those states is exponentially greater than those states that followed a more moderate policy. Texas, for example, had a stringency score of 50.5 (close to the national average of 50.2) and, as a result, experienced an average job loss of 4.8% versus California’s 9%.

If California’s stringency were closer to the national average of 50.2, my empirical findings suggest that California would have saved about 370,000 jobs, a total similar to the population of Anaheim, California’s 10th largest city.

These job losses in California did not occur only in low-paying job sectors like leisure and hospitality. Our recent update of the Chapman-UCI innovation index through the third quarter of 2020 shows that just as COVID-19 hit California harder in overall job losses, it also led to lower job growth in innovation industries in California as compared to the U.S.

California’s aggressive strategy in mandating harsher stringency regulations is reflected not only in lost jobs but also in lower real gross state product – the most comprehensive measure of a state’s economic output. My empirical findings show that real gross state product was about a half percent lower because California’s stringency score was 10 points higher than the average score for all states. That translates to a loss of $87 billion in real gross state product.

Even more startling are my findings that reveal the economic cost per life saved associated with California’s more aggressive policies. After holding all other explanatory factors constant, the economic cost per life saved in California was $1.4 million, about 30% higher than the $1.1 million average cost per life saved for the nation.

It should be noted that my research showed that increasing stringency saved lives. No doubt, higher stringency scores are associated with lower COVID-19 death rates. But unlike jobs and gross state product, where the economic costs increased exponentially with higher scores, the COVID-19 death rate decreased at a diminishing rate.

By pushing past the average stringency score of 50, California’s job and income losses rose rapidly while the number of lives saved diminished. That, in turn, suggests that the sweet spot in terms of optimal stringency strategy is to stay closer to the national average rather than push the boundaries.

James L. Doti is president emeritus and professor of economics at Chapman University.

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Why did tougher COVID restrictions help state economies?

In April 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, the Economist published: “A Grim Calculus: COVID-19 presents stark choices between life, death and the economy.” Soon Americans were blaming the lockdowns for recession and, in the words of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, “the destruction of millions of lives across America… without any corresponding benefit in COVID mortality.” Before the end of the year, some states, notably Texas, were ending COVID restrictions with the goal of improving their economic activity.

Now that 2020 is mercifully in the past, we have data (from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis) to evaluate the “grim calculus” in each state. And looking at that data—especially for large states, which have more diversified economies—the results may surprise. It’s hard to find any real trade-off between COVID lockdowns and decreased economic activity.

If anything, we find the opposite.

First, let’s step back and look at larger state data. Of those states that performed better economically than the U.S. as a whole in 2020, the state of Washington, with greater than average COVID restrictions, took first place. Then came three less COVID-stringent states—Arizona, Colorado and Georgia—followed by three more stringent states—North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia.

Then, in eighth place, came California, one of the most stringent states. After California, only three other states outperformed the country economically—Texas, Indiana, and Florida, all less stringent. Across these 11 states it is hard to find a trade-off; states with more COVID restrictions did well economically and those with fewer restrictions also did well.

And if we look beyond those 11 states to all states, we find a striking pattern: States with more stringent interventions had on average better economic outcomes and better health outcomes.

Is this just a statistical anomaly? The answer seems to be no. One reason to be confident of the result is to look at other countries. Consider, for example, Sweden, well-known for having few stringent COVID measures. In 2020, Sweden had worse health outcomes than the similar Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Finland. At the same time, its economic outcomes during the pandemic were no better than any of its healthier neighbors.

The finding also fits with history. A 2008 Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis survey of the 1918 influenza pandemic found that St. Louis, which took the flu more seriously and opened up later, had better economic and health outcomes than Philadelphia, a city that opened up sooner.

Similarly, 2020 research into the 1918 pandemic found that cities with more stringent interventions had better employment gains and better health outcomes.

What explains this seemingly strange but persistent result? The power of government signaling.

When a state indicates through policy and pronouncements that it takes the pandemic seriously enough to impose measures (sometimes extreme) to control the spread of the disease and protect public health, it is sending a message to its citizens. Part of that message is about businesses. The state is saying that there are protocols in place to make open businesses as safe as possible, and were that not possible, the businesses would be closed.

But when a state indicates through policy, as Sweden did, that individuals should make a choice as to what they do during a pandemic and that the government will not choose for them, it sends a different signal. It is saying, “Citizens, you are on your own, choose wisely.” So, while an open business will be busier than a closed one, the open businesses are likely to do better in a place with more stringent restrictions.

Does this show up in data? Yes, in some ways. Using OpenTable’s data for the pandemic, a decline in the number of diners was more dramatic for restaurants and bars in California than Texas. However, for those individual businesses were open, hours worked by employees fell by only 1.5 percent in California versus an 8.9 percent decline in Texas. But this is simply cherry picking two states. The decline in the number of diners in Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Ohio was comparable to that in Florida, Georgia, and Missouri even though the former were closer to California in restrictions and the latter closer to the Swedish approach.

The retail sector data paint a similar picture. For the same large states mentioned above, there is no significant correlation between changes in retail sales and the stringency of COVID interventions. A similar analysis of retail purchases by type of store also shows no correlation between interventions and the volume of sales. And, for the smallest 10 states, the same result holds true. People headed to online platforms to purchase goods at about the same rate regardless of the stringency of interventions.

The bottom line is that people respond to the information they have and the signals they receive from their government. Clearly, business closures increase unemployment in affected sectors. But there is no evidence to suggest that closures and other public health interventions have led to worse economic outcomes. So, the trade-off, such as it is, must be between sectors directly impacted by interventions and, in states and countries with fewer interventions, voluntary lower demand and more work absenteeism due to higher overall infection rates.

Knowing all this, you might still believe that the freedom to choose is valuable enough to pay the societal and health costs of that freedom. But empirically it is not a trade-off between health and economic outcomes. It is a trade-off between the freedom to choose and public health.

Jerry Nickelsburg is faculty director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast and a former columnist for Zócalo Public Square.

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The Supreme Court protects the unpopular with donor disclosure ruling

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court released its much-anticipated decision on a case critical to the preservation of our fundamental rights of assembly and free speech. At stake was nothing less than First Amendment protections and privacy for donors. Most Americans understand the privileges afforded to us by the Bill of Rights. It is what protects the unpopular and the minority from the potential for oppressive majority rule.

What started years ago as Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Harris became Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra and now Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta. Thankfully for all Americans the court got it right where three California Attorneys General did not (or intentionally would not).

At issue is California’s mandate for all non-profit, religious, civic and charitable organizations to disclose detailed information about their donors to the state as a condition of soliciting contributions from Californians. Such detailed information typically remains private so as not to chill citizen’s support for their civic and charitable causes. Every American should be concerned about the type of detailed donor disclosure required in the Golden State.

Whether supporting a church or mosque, a conservative or progressive civic cause or any number of social organizations, your name would be on a government list, and you could be susceptible to official retaliation, harassment, and breach of your peace and privacy—even ruin at the hand of public officials and their private allies who oppose your beliefs.

Indeed, that has happened to members of the American Legislative Exchange Council who suffered retribution and public shaming by those in power specifically because donors were made public. The people in power—or abusing their power—pressured donors specifically to deter their free speech rights.

In 2013, Illinois Senator Richard Durbin sent an official Senate letter to more than 300 suspected corporate and individual Council supporters demanding they disclose their contributions. Senator Durbin stated, “I intend to convene a hearing … and I intend to include your responses to my letters in the hearing record.” He made good on that threat.

Unsurprisingly, official Senate harassment and intimidation significantly impacted sponsorship and contributions. Many Council members stopped participating in the organization’s activities rather than face such official retaliation. The same sort of harassment continues to this day for many organizations and citizens who face “cancellation” and loss of funding and employment among other ruinous strategies by their political or cultural opponents.

This very public experience provides a stark example of the burdens and costs visited upon private associations when ideological opponents, including public officials, like Senator Durbin, harass the organization’s supporters and other like-minded individuals. This misuse of disclosure was much like what the Supreme Court struck down in the 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama decision. There Alabama sought to prevent the NAACP from conducting further business in the state. Along the way the circuit court issued a restraining order and the state issued a subpoena for the NAACP’s membership lists. The Supreme Court ruled that the state’s demand violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees.

Understanding the importance of the outcome of Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, ALEC filed a brief to inform the Court of its experience. A clear majority of the Justices understood the stakes in the court’s decision.

The 6-3 decision had Justices Sotomeyer, Breyer and Kagan dissenting. Their dissent is troubling in general but specifically because of the cavalier attitude regarding donors and the harassment they could suffer.  They completely missed the point of our protected rights. Those guarantees are not in place to protect the majority, the accepted or the trendy and popular. Rather those protections are in place exactly for the minority, the controversial, those without relative power.

Like the California attorneys general (Kamala Harris, Xavier Becerra, and now Bonta) who were unrelenting in their demand for private citizen information, these Justices approached our First Amendment rights from a comfortable position of power and life-time tenure.  The rest of us are not so secure.

Fortunately, six Justices reaffirmed in definitive terms the First Amendment’s powerful protection for speech, assembly, and privacy.  In striking the California donor disclosure rule, they demonstrate that they understand the history of government abuses and the need for people to be secure in their associations and the importance of conscience to freedom.

Bartlett Cleland is counsel and chief strategy and innovation officer for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Lee E. Goodman is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

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The flawed studies used to wrongly justify California’s eviction moratorium

California Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed a three-month extension of the state’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium, which now runs through Sept. 30. But, are these eviction bans necessary to protect public health during the pandemic?

Two studies that got widespread media attention and have been cited by politicians and government officials to support eviction moratoriums claim to show that the moratoriums saved thousands of lives.

“Researchers estimated that the lifting of moratoriums could have resulted in between 365,200 and 502,200 excess coronavirus cases and between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths, “noted National Public Radio, in an interview with postdoctoral researcher Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.

Leifheit was the lead author of “Expiring Eviction Moratoriums and COVID-19 Incidence and Mortality,” a study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its order extending the federal eviction moratorium.

The second study, authored by a team of researchers at Duke University, claims nationwide eviction moratoriums would have reduced COVID-19 deaths by 40 percent. It got widespread media attention and was cited twice by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the federal register as justification for its rulemaking.

These studies are deeply flawed.

Their underlying data are incomplete and inconsistent. Their results are implausible. The size of the effect is wildly disproportionate to other public health interventions. The researchers also claim an absurd amount of certainty in their results despite the large uncertainties in the data they use, and they assert a causal effect based solely on correlation.

If the authors were correct, they would have one of the greatest public health discoveries in history.

Consider that it took over a year and perhaps $100 billion to develop and administer COVID-19 vaccinations, which researchers hope will reduce COVID-19 infections and deaths by similar amounts to what the two studies claim can be accomplished immediately with simple legal changes on eviction moratoriums.

Researchers have struggled to demonstrate any benefits at all of masks, social distancing, and lockdowns from population aggregate data (the evidence for the effectiveness of vaccinations and other measures comes from controlled studies on samples, not population-level correlations). Yet these eviction moratorium researchers find high confidence for a gigantic immediate effect from a legal change affecting a tiny subset of the population, using only population-level observational data.

The authors of the Duke study declined to even share their dataset or answer questions about apparent inconsistencies, on the grounds that the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed. That is a violation of basic research ethics in the case of a study that the authors and Duke University have promoted heavily in the media and to government agencies as justification for federal policies.

Doing our best to replicate what we think the Duke authors did, we find no significant relation at all showing moratoriums would have reduced COVID-19, much less anything of the size and certainty the authors claim. Although they say all their data come from public sources—they refuse to say which ones—many of their data inputs are not available at the county level (which they need), nor for the time period covered by the study.

The data that are available have large uncertainty attached, far greater than the uncertainty the authors claim for their conclusions. The authors refused to explain how they can use input data with errors of 30 percent to 100 percent to form conclusions to three decimal places and claimed uncertainty under 10 percent.

The UCLA study, by contrast, is a model of transparent scientific reporting, with all data and methodologies disclosed, although the lead author also refused to answer our questions about inconsistencies.

These two flawed studies strongly influenced federal and state public policy on eviction moratoriums. They provided justification for a series of temporary measures that have had an impact on the livelihoods of landlords all over the country by denying them the legal recourse to enforce their contracts and reduced the supply of rental housing to financially stressed households.

To the extent we are going to involve scientific researchers in policy discussions, we should concentrate on issues that have been studied by many people who are openly sharing data and arguing back and forth until there is a consensus among experts. These shoddy one-off studies are just ammunition for people who want to put a link saying “studies prove” in their otherwise completely speculative articles.

Aaron Brown teaches statistics at New York University and the University of California at San Diego. Justin Monticello is a senior producer at ReasonTV.

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Renewing our commitment to the Declaration

The Declaration of Independence, written 245 years ago, sparked a revolution that helped birth a nation. The power of the Declaration’s “self-evident” truths also inspired global movements for human rights and democracy that remain powerful today, by declaring that all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As we emerge from a tumultuous year—of pandemic, racial strife, and party polarization—it is worth returning to these fundamental truths, and to reflect on how they might help us heal and rebuild our incredibly diverse nation. This 4th of July weekend, a group of funders, thinkers, creators, and community leaders are launching the New Declaration campaign (at www.newdeclaration.com), which invites every community to join in reflection and creative expression. Our goal is to strengthen the foundations of our nation in advance of the Declaration’s 250th anniversary in 2026.

Our partners span the country, including the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in Ohio, which for over 35 years has inspired grassroots movements for creative expression across the country. It also includes Thomas Allen Harris, the creator of Family Pictures USA, a nationally broadcast PBS documentary-style series that inspired hundreds of Americans to share their family portraits, and to discover the fundamental ways that our histories are interconnected through celebration and struggle alike. It also includes the Census Legacies project, which builds on the foundations of 2020 Census outreach to build stronger communities and more inclusive regions.

To begin, the Maryland Philanthropy Network and the Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside will serve as an incubator and accelerator, helping to build and launch a five-year campaign that strengthens our shared commitments to interdependence, equity, and unity. We aim to engage communities across all states and regions—coastal and inland, urban and rural, red and blue. And we hope to soon build a movement that engages and supports a diverse array of artists, writers, storytellers and community leaders from across the country, to elevate and amplify their narratives as we begin the story of our next 250 years.

Our first year starts with a simple premise: how do we make the Declaration of Independence relevant and resonant today? Much like a living Constitution, whose meaning takes shape as society and technology evolve, we invite Americans from across the country to share their thoughts and creative expression on what each of the Declaration’s “self-evident truths” means to them and their communities.

Take “Life,” for example. What does it mean to be alive today? This question is particularly poignant as our country emerges from a year of illness and death, resilience and renewal. Using their well-honed techniques of crowdsourcing creative expression through digital media, our partners at the Wick Poetry Center and Each+Every design studio are building a platform that will allow Americans from across the country to submit their reflections through text, images, and sound.

This dynamic exhibit on “Life” will run through September 2021, and will be followed in the fall quarter with community reflections on “Liberty.” What does liberty mean to us today, particularly in light of various movements for liberation at home and abroad? What does it mean to be truly free, and how do we ensure that exercising our individual freedoms does not cause undue harm to others? In the winter quarter, we dive deeply into questions about the “pursuit of Happiness.” What does it mean to be happy? Wealth does not equate to happiness, but can we ensure happiness for all amidst growing poverty and widening inequality?

Finally, next spring, we invite Americans to think about how they would make the Declaration their own. If they had a chance to add something meaningful to the document, what word or concept would they choose that strengthens our nation? Would it be the recognition of our civic obligations, even as we affirm our most cherished freedoms? Or an affirmation of our shared fates and interdependence across race, creed, and class? Or perhaps the assertion of another kind of right, something that we see as more self-evident today than our Founders did two and a half centuries ago?

These are just the beginnings. We are at an important juncture in this country, as new technologies seem to divide us like never before. We invite you to join us in this journey, to generate a renewed commitment that can unify our nation for its next 250 years.

Karthick Ramakrishnan is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, and Maggie Gunther Osborn is the President and CEO of Maryland Philanthropy Network.

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