Two numbers to keep in mind for 2022

Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

With Joe Biden’s election and Democrats narrowly holding the House for now, they’re hoping that 2022 has no connection — in harmony, meter, measure or other literary device — with 1994 and 2010. Why are these numbers important? In 2022, President Joe Biden’s first mid-term election, he would be wise to understand the about face the voters made in each of his Democrat predecessors’ first mid-term election and why this move to the right occurred.

The number of seats that Democratic House members lost in 1994 and 2010 was 54 and 63 seats respectively during Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s first mid-term election. In both cases, voters in key congressional districts believed that the president had moved away from moderate positions and, instead, embraced progressive, big-government policies. The voters took out their anger on incumbent congressional Democrats.

In 1992, after 12 years of Republican rule, Bill Clinton spurned leftist policies and ran as a centrist Democrat, a stance that made sense running against a moderate Republican, George H.W. Bush, and quirky third-party candidate, Ross Perot. Once in office, the temptation to push a backlog of Democrat policies proved too enticing. His ultimate downfall was healthcare reform. Led by Hillary Clinton, the plan promised universal healthcare for all Americans and was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his first term agenda. Instead, by late-summer 1994, then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, declared Hillary-Care dead. That November, after nationalizing the election, Republicans picked up 54 seats, the largest swing in membership since 1948. Speaker Newt Gingrich and his “Republican Revolution” assumed House majority status for the first time since 1952.

In 2010, after skillfully pushing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) through the Senate with a filibuster-proof 60 votes, House Democrats were forced to accept the sweeping legislation “as is” because any amendments would require Senate concurrence — but the vote count in the Senate had changed. Democrats now lacked the 60-vote threshold to end debate. After Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, passed away, Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown — thus leaving the Democrats with a 59-vote majority.

Barack Obama’s first mid-term election was mainly fought on his handling of the recovery following the Great Recession (a largely anemic stimulus package) and on Obamacare. Like 1994, Republicans successfully nationalized the election. The end result was that Republicans picked up 63 House seats, the largest seat gain since 1948. The GOP also won six gubernatorial seats and took control of 20 state legislative chambers.

Fast forward to 2021-22. Here’s where Joe Biden would be wise to study history. The president-elect, largely pushed by a progressive Democratic Party, has advocated for a public option for healthcare, the phasing out of oil and natural gas, a $4 trillion tax hike plus an assortment of other progressive taxes and policies. He will receive no relief from agitators such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and House progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

But Joe Biden also has an opportunity. He can choose to govern as a “uniter” and an institutionalist with great knowledge of the U.S. Senate. If so, his first mid-term could easily end up more like 2002, George W. Bush’s first mid-term election, where the GOP picked up eight seats.

It’s too early to tell which path President Biden will take, but the decision will be his to make.

Matt Klink is a partner at California Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs, government relations and political consulting firm.

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Gig workers like and want flexibility, that’s why they became gig workers

Are gig workers ⁠— think Uber drivers or Door Dashers ⁠— seeking to trade their flexible occupations for a full-time, 40-hour-week job?

Two recent surveys suggest they’re not interested. A survey of 1,000 on-demand drivers, commissioned by Uber and conducted by a duo of polling firms representing clients on the political left and right, finds that 85 percent prefer some version of their current flexible arrangement. Another survey ⁠— this one of 1,000 independent contractors, and commissioned by Lyft ⁠— concluded that 71 percent want to retain their current status.

Both surveys suggest that workers are happy with their “gig.” Don’t tell that to labor unions and their allies. To bolster their opposition to Proposition 22 ⁠— an initiative on the fall ballot that would solidify on-demand drivers’ and shoppers’ status ⁠— labor has pointed to a handful of comforting studies suggesting that gig workers are exploited.

The first, released through a San Francisco city commission, claimed that most gig workers work full-time schedules and earn poverty-level wages while doing so. But records requests, reported by the Washington Free Beacon, discovered that this conclusion was based on a convenience survey of respondents identified by a labor group–many of whom were paid for their answers. The study organizer acknowledged that the survey–which was drafted to “support organizing” ⁠— was “not representative” of gig workers’ experiences.

Speaking of unrepresentative: Labor and its allies have also hinged their case on a 2019 working paper from Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California-Hastings. In her paper, Dubal dismisses the numerous statistical surveys showing that on-demand drivers don’t want to be employees. Her own conclusions are based on “unstructured conversations with drivers in driver organizing meetings” ⁠— among other unrepresentative sources.

Got that? Having sought out the unhappy few among the on-demand shopper and driver community, Dubal concludes that all drivers in the state must feel similarly.

This anti-empirical stance by labor and its academic allies, and their unwillingness to acknowledge that shoppers and drivers prefer their “gigs,” has dangerous consequences.  In a recent legal brief, rideshare company Uber described in damning detail what would happen should it be forced to convert its independent drivers into full-time employees.

An estimated 75 percent of current drivers would lose access to the Uber employment model–resulting in one million lost employment opportunities. (The legal brief notes that these facts are undisputed by the company’s opponents.) Prices would increase for riders by anywhere from 20 to 120 percent; the company further explains that “at least a quarter of rides would no longer be available, with certain cities experiencing a decrease of 40-60 percent.”

The stories behind these statistics are heartbreaking. The Uber brief recites the story of one driver who uses the app to support her two children. One of her children has special needs, which means she can’t work a traditional schedule. If Uber in its current form was no longer available, she wouldn’t be able to support herself.

Another driver is the caregiver for her ailing husband and uses the on-demand app to earn extra income. Yet another has a wife in poor health and couldn’t work a 40-hour-per-week job even if he wanted to. The brief cites several other stories, noting that hundreds of thousands of other drivers have their own personal reasons for working in the gig economy.

The data are clear: For gig workers, flexibility is a perk of the job, not a bug. California legislators, and their constituents, should base their decisions about the future of the gig economy based on robust surveys that reflect this opinion ⁠— rather than flawed reports that tell their funders what they want to hear.

Jeff Joseph is a professor at the George Washington University School of Business

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Mixed messages and conflicting ideas in our pandemic age

Our politics may be paranoid, our society paralyzed by pandemic, and our skies ablaze, but don’t fear! We Californians receive an avalanche of advice about how to behave in crisis. All we have to do is follow it. Easy-peasy, no?

For starters, go outside. Avoid the indoors, because COVID spreads best in enclosed areas. The outdoors is good for your health.

Also, don’t go outside. Don’t you know there’s a pandemic on? Plus, with so many fires burning, you’ll just be breathing smoke. The outdoors now is bad for your health.

Instead, see family right now. Particularly if they are elderly or in a facility. Because loneliness is the biggest killer right now.

One caveat: don’t see your family. Public health officials say family gatherings are where the virus spreads. Haven’t you heard the latest PSAs? If you visit your grandmother, it’s murder.

Speaking of life-and-death, you shouldn’t call the cops unless you’re absolutely sure there’s an emergency; try to deescalate matters yourself. Cops carry dangerous biases, so your call puts vulnerable people at risk.

Of course, you should call the cops. Violence and property crime are up. This is an armed society. If something suspicious occurs, a trained law enforcement professional—not you—should be the one responding. We already have too many vigilantes. Haven’t you seen the signs? “See something, say something.”

Speaking of say something: You must speak out. In this moment of reckoning, silence is complicity in injustice. Whistleblowers must call out wrongdoing. Whites must challenge racism. We need to hear from people of color, whose truths have too long been ignored. And mass protest is essential for change.

Still, don’t speak up. White people need to stop talking about the cultures and histories of others. People of color shouldn’t have to keep explaining themselves. And mass protest is dangerous in a pandemic.

In raising our voices, don’t attack people personally. We must focus on replacing systems of oppression, not individuals. That’s how you get unity, which is vital.

Never forget that this is about individual morality, not systems. When people say something wrong, call them out, make them accountable. If that’s divisive, so be it—unity is overrated.

Because this is a moment to choose sides and rally your base.

Because what better time to reach out to people who disagree with you.

In this pandemic, it’s essential that we trust our scientists. But we can’t trust our scientists, who are compromised by politics and corporations.

If you’re in a dense city, leave for head somewhere with fewer people, and less COVID, especially if you’re in an at-risk category. That said, you shouldn’t move to far-out or exurban places on the urban-wildland interface—you’re just putting yourself in the path of fire. Instead, embrace the density of our cities!

Wherever you’re living, your kids need to be back in schools. Pediatricians say getting back to class is crucial. Kids are losing educationally and socially when they’re at home. Kids who miss months of school end up less educated, less wealthy, and less healthy. You don’t want to shorten kids’ lives, do you?

But be careful: sending the kids back to school is a rotten idea. Look at the outbreaks at universities that reopened. Kids can be spreaders, too. And we have to protect our educators, who didn’t sign up to risk their lives. You don’t want to shorten teachers’ lives, do you?

If you’re a parent, now is the time to step up and prioritize your kids; find ways to collaborate with other parents to make up for the lack of in-person instruction and socialization, maybe even hire teachers so kids can gather in small groups.

But don’t do too much, and don’t just focus on your kids. When privileged parents intervene, they worsen inequality.

And kids, you really need to avoid sitting in front of your screens for hours. Screen usage is up, and it’s bad for your eyes, your body, and your mental health.

Kids, you must be diligent about distance learning, and you need more time with your teachers online—even if it means sitting in front of your screen for hours.

Remember, we’re all in this together. We have to stay connected and help one another.

Don’t forget, to survive this, we must isolate ourselves. Keep your distance.

In these unprecedented times, we must comply with all of these clear directives, in service of stopping disease, preventing catastrophe, and insuring justice. When you don’t follow all these messages, you are putting everyone else at risk.

In these unprecedented times, it’s impossible to comply with so many mixed messages. Whatever you do, you will be wrong. So prioritize taking care of yourself. All anyone can reasonably demand is that you do the best you can. 

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.

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Short-circuiting the legislative process for electric cars

The 2020 session of the California Legislature is radically different from any other in the state’s 170-year history, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislators abandoned the Capitol last spring after giving Gov. Gavin Newsom carte blanche authority and a billion dollars to deal with the crisis. When they finally returned two months later, their slate of bills was severely reduced and procedures were altered dramatically, eventually to include remote participation and voting and abbreviated committee hearings.

That said, some things never change and one is the practice inelegantly termed “gut-and-amend,” wherein a bill that’s already passed one house is stripped of its contents and an entirely new measure is inserted into the vacant shell.

Gut-and-amend short-circuits the process and is typically used late in a legislative session to resurrect some special interest proposal that has stalled out.

As applied this year, it reduces even further an already truncated process, as demonstrated by how Assembly Bill 326 quickly made it to the floor of the state Senate.

The measure, carried by Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, would largely benefit one new company, Canoo, Inc., as it attempts to break into the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) business by creating a new operational model somewhere between a daily rental and a multi-year lease.

Canoo, based in Muratsuchi’s hometown of Torrance, wants to create a “vehicle membership program” under which an “electric mobility manufacturer” can provide ZEVs to customers on a month-to-month basis. The definitions in the bill exclude traditional automobile companies and bypass their franchised dealerships.

It’s not a coincidence that Canoo, whose financial support largely comes from Asia, is pushing the bill just as it has struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Hennessy Capital Acquisition Corp., with a market valuation of $2.4 billion.

Were the tailor-made provisions of AB 326 to become law, giving Canoo a running start on the membership model, it would help the company attract more investment capital and perhaps succeed where other startup ZEV makers have stumbled.

The legislation would also be an indirect victory for Tesla in its long-running battle with traditional franchised dealers. Tesla now sells or leases its pricey ZEVs directly and while it’s not sponsoring the bill, legislators have been told that it, too, would like to use the membership model.

Muratsuchi introduced a similar bill earlier in the session, but it never moved. Another measure was offered in the Senate, but it, too, stalled. Late last month, Muratsuchi gutted and amended AB 326, which had its only public airing in the Senate Transportation Committee last week and was approved on a 9-4 vote.

Environmental groups are backing Canoo on the rationale that the membership model might jump-start the anemic sales of ZEVs, which are falling very short of the state’s ambitious goals. By law and regulation, as part of its war on climate change, the state has leaned on automakers to produce and sell more ZEVs, but even with generous subsidies, sales have been disappointing — except for Teslas, which have become status symbols of the affluent.

The bill is opposed by auto industry trade associations and franchised auto dealers, which complain that it would give Canoo “an unfair competitive advantage” in the words of a lobbyist for the California New Car Dealers Association, Cliff Costa.

So will Californians soon see thousands of small microbus-like Canoos on their streets? Canoo wants to begin offering them by 2023, but apparently needs AB326 to speed through the Capitol in the next week.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California’s crisis of competence

Year by year and article by article, Ralph Vartabedian has revealed to Californians the woeful shortcomings of the state’s largest public works project, a north-south bullet train.

Vartabedian, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, has made a virtual career of uncovering the project’s managerial, financial and political failings, lending factual credence to the conclusion that the wisest course would be to cut our losses and give it up.

Although the project enjoyed strong personal support from two previous governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, Gov. Gavin Newsom came very close to calling it quits when he took office 19 months ago — then backtracked and proposed a modified version that’s still unrealistic.

Vartabedian’s latest revelation in the Times underscores that fact, describing that “a series of errors by contractors and consultants on the California bullet train venture caused support cables to fail on a massive bridge, triggering an order to stop work that further delayed a project already years behind schedule…”

“Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the Times under a public records request show the steel supports snapped as a result of neglect, work damage, miscommunications and possible design problems.”

“High-strength steel strands supporting the 636-foot-long structure began to snap on Oct. 22, one after another,” Vartabedian wrote. “Ultimately, 23 of the strands, which are composed of seven individual wires each, broke unexpectedly, according to rail authority documents and officials. The order to stop work was issued Nov. 4.

“A forensic engineering analysis, obtained by the Times, found that the strands corroded from rainwater that had leaked into the internal structure of the bridge and then broke.”

Vartabedian quotes Robert Bea, emeritus professor of civil engineering at UC Berkeley and co-founder of its Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, as calling it “a horrible sequence of mistakes.”

Vartabedian’s article not only once again demonstrates that the bullet train is a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle, but exemplifies why a vigorous and unshackled press is invaluable in overseeing the conduct of public officials.

Unfortunately, the failings of the bullet train that Vartabedian has so consistently and thoroughly revealed are also emblematic of a larger malaise: the erosion of competence in a state government that once prided itself on doing big things well.

California once built highways, bridges, university campuses, dams, canals and other public works quickly and efficiently. It even dispatched its crack highway engineers to other nations to provide can-do advice.

Those days are long gone. For example, it took two decades, with huge cost overruns, to replace one-third of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge even though building the entire bridge originally took just four years in the 1930s.

The bullet train’s managerial shortcomings are also reflected in recent meltdowns in the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Employment Development Department, largely due to managerial neglect of their outmoded information technology systems, a condition that plagues numerous other state agencies.

The underlying syndrome is the obsession among bureaucrats and their political overseers with short-term actions to get public attention while ignoring consequences and long-term issues.

The bullet train is a prime example. It was launched without a well-thought-out plan, without complete financing, without an effective organizational structure — and without a valid factual need. The folks in charge have been making it up as they go along and the result has been a disaster.

It’s something to ponder every time a politician proposes some grand scheme, such as the universal health care system that Newsom often touts. Why should we believe it would be any more functional than the DMV, EDD or the bullet train?

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California’s crusade against the gig economy and Prop. 22

Reasonable people can disagree whether the business model of Uber, Lyft and other transportation services is a model of flexible part-time work or cruelly exploits non-employee workers.

Their drivers, often using their own vehicles, are paid by the ride, giving rise to the term “gig economy.”

Uber, et al, contend that they give drivers opportunities to voluntarily supplement their incomes by working whenever it suits them. It’s not uncommon for someone to simultaneously drive for both Uber and Lyft.

The model, however, is unsettling to unions and their political allies, who contend that it deprives gig workers of rights and benefits of being on the payroll, such as contributions for Social Security and Medicare benefits and overtime pay. As independent contractors, gig workers also cannot be union members.

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court essentially declared gig work to be an illegal misclassification and the Legislature followed up with a hotly contested measure, Assembly Bill 5, that put the decision into law with very few exceptions.

Uber, et al, responded with a ballot measure that would exempt them from the legislation while offering gig workers some employee-like benefits.

Ostensibly, then, voters will decide whether gig work is an appropriate new model or an abomination when they either pass or reject Proposition 22.

However, the anti-Proposition 22 coalition — unions and their political allies — is not content to just let voters decide, but is waging an all-out pre-election crusade through official channels, essentially inserting government into a political campaign.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra signaled pre-campaign hostilities by giving Proposition 22 a slanted official title: “Exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to certain drivers.”

It closely mirrors the anti-Proposition 22 campaign theme and the companies challenged it in court, only to lose as judges affirmed Becerra’s wide discretion to write ballot measure summaries.

Becerra and some city attorneys also sued Uber and Lyft for continuing to classify their drivers as independent contractors despite the passage of AB 5 and this week, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled against the companies.

Schulman said the companies’ employment practices are depriving drivers “of the panoply of basic rights to which employees are entitled under California law.”

“Our state and workers shouldn’t have to foot the bill when big businesses try to skip out on their responsibilities,” Becerra said in a statement. “We’re going to keep working to make sure Uber and Lyft play by the rules.”

“The vast majority of drivers want to work independently, and we’ve already made significant changes to our app to ensure that remains the case under California law,” Uber spokesperson Davis White said in a statement.

A few days earlier, state Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower sued Uber and Lyft to recover back wages for drivers that allegedly had been cheated out of pay by misclassification, thus inserting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration into the pre-Proposition 22 drive.

Finally, the author of AB 5, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat, has proposed another crackdown in a new bill.

Assembly Bill 1066 would allow the Department of Employment Development to delegate collection of unemployment insurance payroll taxes to Becerra’s office. It specifically mentions going after companies using “misclassified independent contractors.”

The battle that pits the gig worker companies against unions and Democratic politicians began when the state’s economy was booming. In the throes of deep recession, Proposition 22’s fate may hinge on whether voters perceive gig work as a lifeline for the unemployed or see gig companies as part of the economic problem.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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The myopia of the Black Lives Matter movement: John Stossel

Black Lives Matter protests led many people to want to do something useful to reduce racial injustice. Racial justice groups are being flooded with money.

Big companies made multimillion-dollar donations.

“Bad idea,” says Black radio host Larry Elder.

“It is condescending… and not helpful. I urge white people to chill. Stop helping us, because you’re making things worse!”

Making things worse, he says, because it supports the activists’ claim that “Blacks are victims of racism. (But) if racism were in America’s DNA, Obama never could have got elected. Racism has never been more insignificant a factor in one’s success than right now.”

I push back. “It must be a huge problem or there wouldn’t be all this protest!”

“Well, they’re being lied to,” Elder responds. Teachers, Black activists and the media give “young people the impression that racism remains this huge problem in America when it is not.”

It’s not, he says, because today any person who does three things can succeed: “Finish high school, don’t have a kid until you get married, get a job. Do those things, you will not be poor.”

The biggest problem facing the Black community today, says Elder, is the absence of fathers. In the 1960s, most Black children were raised in two-parent households. That changed when our government’s War on Poverty began.

The handouts sent the message that it’s the government’s job, not your responsibility, to take care of you and your kids. “A mother with two children makes more money than she would make on minimum wage because of all the goodies she gets through the welfare state!”

Now, he says, Black Lives Matter actually encourages the breakup of families. Their website does say, “disrupt the Western-prescribed, nuclear family.”

That’s a Karl Marx idea straight from “The Communist Manifesto.” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors proudly describes herself as a “trained Marxist.”

Elder calls her and the anti-capitalist protesters “phonies.”

“Do they really want socialism?” Elder asks. “Do they really want inferior products? They are all wearing Nike and using Apple products. They’re hypocrites.”

But they’re winning.

They are even redefining what racism means. Today’s “anti-racists” says racism means “any policy with an effect that is disproportionate.” So even a tax deduction is racist because on average, whites deduct more than Blacks.

“Anti-racism presumes things about the world that simply can’t be true,” says Kmele Foster, lead producer at Freethink. “We are all at bottom, whatever our race, individuals. Anti-racism takes that and flips it on its head.”

Recently, Washington’s Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian Institute, posted that “white culture” means things like “nuclear family,” “self-reliance,” “rigid time schedule” and “delayed gratification.”

The poster is “despicable,” says Foster. “It’s offensive to suggest that Black people can’t aspire to or possess all the values outlined in a document like this. Black people can be punctual. Black people are, in fact, successful in this country.”

The poster was removed, after complaints.

I wanted to ask Black Lives Matter about things like that. We contacted all 14 U.S. chapters. Not one would agree to an interview.

Too bad. I wanted to ask the “anti-racists” if they notice that they and white supremacists now support similar segregationist policies, like Blacks- (or whites-) only spaces. Foster points out that both white supremacists and anti-racists believe “race is an immutable attribute of who we are.”

He prefers Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision: a nation where “people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“Black Lives Matter leaders don’t really want the vision of MLK,” says Elder. “They want a color-coordinated society — as long as they’re the ones who do the coordinating.”

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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California’s tech failures strike again

While marking time as lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom wrote a book about how technology could transform government.

“I want to make government as smart as Google,” Newsom told an interviewer after the book, “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square and Reinvent Government,” was published in 2013.

While technology “is flattening major institutions” and transforming how Americans shop, communicate, research and keep abreast of current events, Newsom said “Government as an institution is not prepared for it” and is struggling even to keep decades-old systems functioning.

He specifically cited the state Department of Motor Vehicles as a prime example of how California, the technology capital of the world, failed to implement that technology to make government more accessible, responsive and efficient.

“We’re sitting there with systems that can collapse at any moment,” he said. “We are on the cutting edge of the 1970s.”

All true, and the state’s failures to improve information technology have slammed home with a vengeance during the early months of Newsom’s governorship.

First, as he warned, the Department of Motor Vehicles virtually collapsed. Then, as he shut down much of the state’s economy to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the Employment Development Department’s own antiquated technology rendered it incapable of handling a flood of claims for unemployment insurance benefits.

Another technology meltdown occurred this month in the Department of Public Health, failing to accurately track COVID-19 infections and embarrassing Newsom when he heralded — falsely, as it turned out — a 21 percent drop in daily cases.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, insisted that neither he nor Newsom knew about the backlogged test data until after Newsom’s Aug. 3 telecast in which he cited the infection decline. However, news outlets soon reported that as much as two days earlier, the Department of Public Health had warned local health officials of the data problems.

The backlog of test results was, Ghaly said, caused by technical changes made after a server crashed, combined with the state’s failure to renew a certificate required to receive data from Quest Diagnostics, a commercial testing lab. California did not receive Quest data from July 31 to Aug. 4, leading to the erroneous belief that COVID-19 cases had declined.

“We are doing a complete look into how that communication could have been better and where it went wrong. …” Ghaly said. “The governor has directed a full investigation of what happened, and we will hold people accountable.”

Late Sunday, the director of the department, Dr. Sonia Angell resigned and while no reason for her departure was given, it gave the appearance that she was walking the plank for an embarrassing failure to communicate.

On Monday, Newsom danced around reporters’ questions about Angell’s resignation, but left the impression that she was ousted. “At the end of the day the buck stops with me,” he said. “We’re moving on.”

Newsom also acknowledged, without prompting, that the COVID-19 data failure is part of the larger crisis the state faces not only in functioning with outdated technology, but its chronic inability to bring updated systems on line.

There’s a long list of failed or partially functional new systems that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, the most notorious being a statewide system for tracking financial data called FI$CAL.

“It just has not been an area of deep focus,” Newsom said Monday, adding that successful updates “require a stubborn, long-term effort” and declaring that despite lapses in previous administrations, “we are now accountable.”

Accountabilty is great. Improvement would be even greater.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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California’s immense pension dilemma

California’s public employee pension dilemma boils down to this: The California Public Employees Retirement System has scarcely two-thirds of the money it needs to pay benefits that state and local governments have promised their workers.

Moreover, CalPERS’ official estimate that it is 70.8% funded is based on an assumption of future investment earnings averaging 7% a year, which probably is at least one or two percentage points too high. In the 2019-20 fiscal year that ended June 30, CalPERS posted a 4.7% return and over the last 20 years it has averaged 5.5% by its own calculation.

Were the earnings assumption dropped to a more realistic level, the system’s “unfunded liability” — essentially a multi-billion-dollar debt — would increase sharply from the current $160 billion to at least $200 billion.

There are three ways to resolve the debt dilemma: Earn higher returns, require government employers and employees to pay more, or reduce future benefits. CalPERS is pursuing the first two but a recent state Supreme Court ruling makes the third virtually impossible.

The court had an opportunity to revisit the “California rule” — an assumption, based on past rulings, that once promised, future pension benefits cannot be revised downward.

The case involved pension reform legislation sponsored by former Gov. Jerry Brown, particularly a ban on manipulating benefit calculations. Some unions said that the California rule protected “pension spiking,” but the justices, while ruling it doesn’t apply, also declared, “we have no jurisprudential reason to undertake a fundamental reexamination of the rule.”

So reducing future benefits is now off the table, which leaves improving investment earnings and increasing contributions as the only options for avoiding an eventual meltdown.

CalPERS has been pursuing a more aggressive policy, contending that without it, the system can’t achieve its 7% goal. It has proposed to borrow up to $80 billion to expand its investment portfolio and make direct loans to corporations or government entities. However, last week’s abrupt resignation of chief investment officer Ben Meng, architect of the strategy, leaves it in limbo.

Basic economics tell us that pursuing higher investment returns means taking higher risks of failure. Direct lending also increases the risk of corruption, which has infected CalPERS in the past.

That’s why a pending CalPERS-sponsored bill is troublesome. The measure, Assembly Bill 2473, would exempt details of CalPERS loans from the state’s Public Records Act, making it much more difficult for watchdogs and journalists to sniff out insider dealing.

Meanwhile, CalPERS’ demands for more money from state and local governments is hitting their budgets even harder these days because tax revenues have been eroded by the COVID-19’s recession. They force employers to dip into reserves, shift funds from other services, ask their voters to raise taxes or even borrow money to pay pension debts.

The latter involves what are called “pension bonds,” issued on an assumption that their interest rates will be less than the 7% percent rate by which CalPERS inflates unfunded liabilities — a practice known in financial circles as “arbitrage.”

Many local governments issue arbitrage bonds, despite the obvious risks, and recently, a hybrid form emerged in Torrance, a small Southern California city.

Torrance is leasing its city streets to a city-controlled entity called the Torrance Joint Powers Financing Authority, which will issue $350 million in bonds to pay for the lease. The city will use the bond money to pay down the city’s $500 million pension debt while making payments to the authority so it can service the bonds.

The bottom line: The city is pawning its streets to pay for pensions. That’s not healthy by any definition.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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Racial justice begins by retiring Joe Biden: Corrin Rankin

Recently, in Delaware, former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rolled out his “Build Back Better” economic plan. Biden used this opportunity to issue a host of empty promises to the Black community. What Biden failed to mention in his speech is that virtually every major policy that has hurt Black Americans for half a century, Joe Biden has supported or enacted.

As a freshman senator representing Delaware in the 1970s, Biden took a lead role in fighting against the desegregation of schools through busing, as the Washington Post reported last year. And he didn’t just come out against it, he introduced an amendment for education funding that explicitly said that money could not be used for desegregation purposes. At the time, the NAACP said Biden’s proposal was “an anti-black amendment.” But the worst part of it is that Biden was actually in favor of desegregation but completely caved to political pressure to come out against it.

As most know, in 1994, Biden wrote one of the most devastating pieces of legislation in recent history — the so-called Biden Crime Bill that disproportionately locked hundreds of thousands of young Black men in prison. Biden was the key architect of this mass incarceration legislation that has decimated Black communities for decades.

And it’s not just his anti-Black voting record that should concern Black Americans. His rhetoric has often sounded like it’s straight out of the antebellum South.

Biden was extremely worried that desegregation policies would cause his children to grow up “in a racial jungle.” In pushing for tough-on-crime laws on the Senate floor Biden referred to young Black men as “predators” without a conscience who must be locked away from society. As recently as 2010, Joe Biden eulogized former Ku Klux Klan member Robert Byrd as a “friend,” a “mentor” and a “guide.” Even as recent as earlier this year, during a debate question about the legacy of slavery, Biden took that moment to chastise Black people on their parenting abilities.

Given Biden’s extensive anti-Black record and rhetoric, it’s shocking he had the nerve to promise to fight racial and economic inequality, especially when not only his but his own political party’s policies often disproportionately hurt Black communities.

You can see this right here in California, where rising stars of the Democratic Party who appear to be playing a central role in Biden’s campaign have a trail of broken promises when it comes to supporting Black communities. Sen. Kamala Harris, who rightfully criticizing Biden during the Democratic primary on his dismal record on race-related issues, unfortunately followed Biden’s “tough on crime” lead as a prosecutor and later California attorney general, where her record included “threats to jail parents of chronically truant schoolchildren” and implementing training programs to “address police officers’ racial biases” while resisting calls to investigate “certain police shootings.”

 And in our state’s largest city, Los Angeles, under Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is a co-chair for Biden’s Vice President Selection Committee, we are seeing first-hand how Black communities have been disproportionately devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown.

Even before the pandemic, Black workers in Los Angeles with the same educational experience as white workers had almost double the unemployment rate as white workers, were underrepresented in professional jobs, had lower rates in managerial roles and earned only three-quarters of what white workers did. For Black women, the wage gap in Los Angeles is even worse. This is no doubt shocking data, yet Garcetti was selected by Biden to advise him on who his running mate should be.

Joe Biden’s rhetoric and record have proven that he has not earned the Black vote. As he has demonstrated over the course of his 47-year career, Joe Biden can’t change the system; he is the system. And despite what Joe Biden might think, just because I plan on proudly voting for President Donald Trump doesn’t mean I “ain’t Black.”

Corrin Rankin is the founder of the Legacy Republican Alliance and an Advisory Board member for Black Voices for Trump.

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