Nancy Pelosi and the hypocrisy of the elite: Gloria Romero

There are four quick lessons we little people can learn from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s spa day in violation of local orders mandating the closure of such establishments due to COVID-19:

Lesson One: Laws are for thee, not for me

Lawmakers and government officials grant themselves privileges and exemptions from the rules they set for the rest of us.

Days after a maskless Pelosi was exposed for hypocritically enjoying services at a spa ordered shut down to its own owners, worker, and the rest of us, it was revealed that gyms in San Francisco government buildings have been open for months to government employees.

Meanwhile, ordinary people have literally been arrested and even thrown in jail for opening their businesses to just survive and feed their families. In May, Texas salon owner Shelley Luther was berated in court by a paycheck-collecting judge and jailed for the crime of refusing to flagellate herself as “selfish.” Meanwhile, Oceanside police arrested Louis Uridel, owner of Metroflex Gym, after he refused to close his business.

America’s ruling class feared not.

Early on in the pandemic, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ignored her city’s orders and went to get a haircut, claiming that as the “face” of Chicago, she needed to look good on television.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney forced a lockdown of restaurants in his City of Brotherly Love and then snuck across state lines to wine and dine.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shut off people’s electricity for having too many people gather in a home’s backyard, but his power remained on even though he marched with crowds larger than those filling that backyard.

These hypocrisies extend beyond the pandemic.

Los Angeles City Council members voted to defund the police, but enjoyed 24-hour protection at their homes from a police detail and prompt police response when protesters arrived at their homes.

The Minneapolis City Council voted to abolish the police, but hired taxpayer-funded security for themselves. Social workers apparently weren’t good enough for them.

Even in matters of death, government officials are willing to sidestep

A powerful Congressman, John Lewis, died and numerous elected officials attended his memorial service. Ordinary families across America, in contrast, were denied final farewells to their deceased loved ones.  In March, the New York Times reported that Meri Dreyfuss, a San Francisco area tech worker whose sister died of complications from coronavirus, put off a funeral until the fall, saying “We can’t properly bury our dead because of the situation. … We can’t mourn together, we can’t share memories together, we can’t get together and hug each other.”

We might not have yet personally been exposed to the virus, but the existence of a two-tiered system of justice has been exposed.

Lesson Two: Power means never having to say you’re sorry

The American public can, with our own eyes, see powerful officials violating the very rules they enact and lecture us about.

When caught, the political playbook of the ruling elite is to refrain from admitting the truth: deflect, deny, deride is deployed.

This is nothing new, of course. The champion of this was President Bill Clinton, who engaged legal scholars in defining the meaning of “is.”

It’s been the go-to tactic of politicians called out for their hypocrisy during the pandemic. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio exercised at his gym while they remained closed to his subjects, lashing out at critics. “They can say what they want, but I think this is just a perverse reaction, honestly,” de Blasio said.

When caught, the Golden Rule is to survive and destroy the audacity of the powerless to dare to call you out. Point the finger at anyone other than yourself.

Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry launched the original “it was a setup” defense now claimed by Pelosi. When caught in an undercover drug raid he blamed it as an inside job.

In 2020, Pelosi upped the ante, demanding that the San Francisco shopkeeper give her an apology. How dare a shopkeeper take on the nation’s most powerful woman!

Lesson Three: If you call out those in power, expect the horse’s head

“The Godfather” taught us how to punish your enemies, including delivering a severed horse’s head or, if that’s not available, unleashing the bureaucrats you dominate to issue every regulatory and labor violation potentially committed by that small business owner. Crush your opposition lest they embarrass you again.

It wasn’t long before Mean Girls Clubs kicked into action, deriding San Francisco salon owner Erica Kious, who, how dare she, forgot her place and had the audacity to blow a whistle against the most powerful woman in America.

Social media loyalists launched character assassinations, replete with threats of boycotts and even death. Media coverage focused heavily on the actions of Kious, not Pelosi. By sundown, Kious realized she was being run out of town and as the elites bashed her, GoFundMe accounts were opened by ordinary people across the country in her defense.

Lesson Four: When things get tough, close debate and just move on

When all else fails and public opinion still isn’t on your side, the powerful learn to just declare the issue closed and order us to “move on.” San Francisco’s “progressive” female mayor refused to stand with the small shop owner, tapped her watch and urged us to move on.

Los Angeles Times editorial writer Carla Hall wrote an op-ed titled “Can we leave Nancy Pelosi’s hair alone?” This is a pure deflection and strategic “look the other way” argument, as the outcry was never about Pelosi’s hair but about the double standards of what she did.

Former Bill Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart declared that no one would be influenced by “Salon-gate” in November. He doubled down in his dismissive of the incident using sexist language in demeaning women who challenged Pelosi’s double standard, demeaning them as presumably ignorant, fake “bleached blondes.”

Nothing to see here — get over it. Move on, they commanded. The sound of silence emanated from women’s organizations, including Democratic colleagues. The Sisterhood was clear it sided with those who rule, not ordinary women.

There are more lessons for the little people when thinking about the rights of rulers. But let us not also forget that history is replete with stories of aristocrats and powerful politicians having been toppled by the people that class is supposed to serve. Goliaths meet their Davids. That is an important lesson none should ever forget.

Gloria Romero previously served as Democratic majority leader in the California Senate.

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Too much cheering, not enough leading

Let’s time travel. What if Donald Trump had been president back in 1941?

“Yesterday, December 7, a day that was bad, but not as bad as the lying fake media says,” his famous speech might have begun. “And nobody’s even thanked me. Can you imagine if Obama was president? It would have been the worst day ever,” he continues.

“And most of the boats that went blub, blub were old anyway,” offers the commander-in-chief to head off panic. “Our younger ships are practically immune to kamikazes,” he adds. “Think about it. Hawaii isn’t even a state!” He concludes to thunderous applause from Charles Lindbergh.

Excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage” quote President Trump admitting he knew how deadly the virus would be while purposely misrepresenting it to the American people. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward. “I still like playing it down.”

Now, with nearly 200,000 dead Americans, the president and his apologists scramble to play down the blowback. Along with the usual shoot-the-messenger and “fake” and “phony” flack, the president offered the following justification for lying instead of leading: “The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country.”

Woodward didn’t trick the president. He didn’t double-cross him. He hasn’t twisted the president’s words. Donald Trump spoke with Woodward 18 times between Dec. 5, 2019 and July 21 of this year, often at his own instigation, and always on tape. The recordings, heard now by practically everybody, would spell doom for any other president, but this is not any other president.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” said candidate Trump in 2016. But what if he shot 200,000 people?

The Woodward tapes prove Trump knew as early as January how deadly COVID-19 was. He knew it’s deadlier than a regular flu, and he knew COVID can infect the young as well as the elderly. Yet, he shunned face masks and continues to mock Joe Biden for wearing one while staging mostly maskless super-spreader rallies.

Most damning, in the first critical month, when containment was still possible, the president said by April the virus will “miraculously” go away.

Even if Trump had done everything right, thousands would undoubtedly have died. But Trump did almost everything wrong and continues to blunder Americans into premature graves with his mixed messages, pimping of dubious cures and attacks on the governors who filled the leadership vacuum created by his cheering rather than leading. Instead of aid, the President encouraged armed militias to “liberate” Michigan from Gov. Whitmer and called Washington Gov. Jay Insley “a snake” for shutting down his state when COVID first appeared.

Trump’s taped confession to Bob Woodward begs the question: How many of the nearly 200,000 dead would still be alive if he had laid out the facts truthfully and consistently? Instead he chose to tweet out whoopers: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”

Franklin Roosevelt famously inspired Americans with his iconic, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Even failed presidents have leveled with the American public in tough times. If Trump thinks we can’t handle the truth it’s because he can’t handle it, having had so little experience with honesty.

As Americans continue to die in unacceptable numbers, thousands more lie gravely ill in hospitals. Millions have been thrown out of work, while thousands of mostly small businesses have closed forever. It didn’t have to be this way. The curve could have been flattened long ago with many lives and jobs saved. Unforgivably, there’s only one job the president cares about saving. His own.

Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.

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The destructive, shallow debate over Kamala Harris’ citizenship

Chapman University professor John Eastman has published a theory that Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, may not be eligible to be vice president. He is wrong, and he has damaged our country at a time of already great division.

Eastman has long maintained that being born on the territory of the United States does not automatically qualify an individual for citizenship. His views are not widely accepted in legal academic circles, but that, of course, does not invalidate them.

Eastman’s argument keys on the words I’ve italicized in this quote from the 14th Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” The requirement of being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States was to exclude Native Americans then living on reservations pursuant to treaties between the United States and sovereign Native American nations.  (Gratefully, that law has now been changed, and all Native Americans are citizens.)

Eastman argues that the restriction should be read farther—to ban citizenship for a person whose mother was at the time of giving birth visiting the United States on a student visa (which, he alleges, was the case with Senator Harris’ mother). Student visa holders do not have the right of permanent residency; hence, in Eastman’s view, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

A quick example will suffice to rebut that theory. If an immigrant visa-holder is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, then under what authority can the United States arrest and deport such a person for overstaying her or his visa?  Obviously, the immigrant is subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Pragmatism also argues strongly against Eastman’s theory. His interpretation would require that, to be sure about being a citizen, every child born in the United States would have to document that the child’s parents were either citizens themselves or green-card holders. Who has the burden of proving that? I have no idea what visas my grandparents held when each came to America. If I can’t prove they had permanent visas, does that make my parents not American citizens?

The American-born child of an immigrant is an American citizen. No other approach is workable in our nation of immigrants.

At the time of her birth, Eastman claims, Kamala Harris “owed her allegiance to a foreign power.”  Promoting this claim now is especially harmful because of the context Trump and his team have created for dealing with issues of immigration. Trump publicly challenged the impartiality of the federal judge in his Trump University case because the judge (born in Indiana) was “Mexican.” (His parents were Mexican immigrants.)

He told three U.S. congresswomen to “go back home,” though each was born in America (one had Palestinian parents, another’s parents were Puerto Rican, the third simply was African American). Vice President Pence’s chief of staff said of Sen. Harris:  “[W]e can celebrate the fact that a daughter of two immigrants . . . [will] now be the nominee for the Democratic Party . . .  I think what’s more concerning is some of the socialist ideas she seems to have imported from overseas as well.”

What do the policies of Jamaica and India, the countries where Sen. Harris’ parents were born, have to do with any public policy position she holds?  Like Trump’s comment about the federal judge, the statement marginalized an American for having immigrant parents. This is abominable.

Chapman University should uphold Eastman’s right to speak. It is incumbent upon his colleagues, however, to speak as well. Chapman should be a “safe place” for unpopular points of view, even when they are used in a highly charged political environment; but there should be no misinterpreting Eastman’s views as those of the university. If there is even one other faculty member who endorses Eastman’s views, let her or him say so.

Tom Campbell is a professor of law and a professor of economics at Chapman University. From 2011 to 2016, he was dean of the Fowler School of Law at Chapman. He was a US Congressman for five terms and a California State Senator for two years. He left the Republican party in 2016 and is in the process of forming a new party in California, the Common Sense Party.  These views are his own.

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Behested payments and the specter of corruption

One of the ways California is different from other states is that certain things that are illegal in other states are legal here.

For example, suppose a politician in Illinois calls up the executives of a company that is regulated by the state, or has any type of business pending before the state government, and asks for an unusually generous donation to an organization with close ties to the politician. That could be considered a shakedown, perhaps even prosecuted as extortion.

In California, it’s perfectly legal. It’s called a “behested payment.”

I know you think I’m making this up, because it couldn’t possibly be true that politicians can call businesses that are awaiting the approval of some legislative provision or worrying that some pending state regulation could hit them with huge new costs. Not only is it all true, here’s the footnote if you’d like to look it up yourself: fppc.ca.gov/transparency/behested-payments.html

That link will take you to the “behested payments” solicited by state senators and members of the Assembly, by the governor and other state officials, and by the members of the Public Utilities Commission.

Local officials also “behest” payments. Check the website of the counties and cities in California to see who’s on the phone asking for favors.

For example, about five months ago Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti “behested” a payment of $5 million from the nation of Qatar for his “Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles.” He said the money would be used to pay much-needed cash benefits to people who were hard-hit by the pandemic. That’s beside the point. The question isn’t why the money is needed, it’s why the money is paid.

The COVID-19 threat seems to have elevated the game.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown was very active in raising money through behested payments, in particular for charter schools in Oakland that he supported.  In 2018, Brown “behested” a total of $10.4 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom “behested” $3.5 million in 2018, the year he was elected governor. In 2019, he reported behested payments totaling $12.1 million.

So far in 2020, Newsom has “behested” $109,462,196, plus another $5,000 that was reported with his name spelled incorrectly. And it’s only August.

Who’s paying, and where’s the money going?

HP, Inc., donated $1.125 million in (or for) “telelearning devices” to be distributed by the “Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation.”

Google donated $3 million in ad credits for California’s COVID-19 awareness campaign.

Lamar Advertising donated $248,625, presumably in outdoor advertising, for the COVID-19 awareness campaign. Another $11.6 million came from iHeartmedia for airtime to “promote public health.” Clear Channel and NBC Universal also donated.

Facebook donated $25 million “in support of California’s COVID-19 response,” to be “allocated towards the purchase and distribution of gift cards to COVID-19 front line SNF workers.”

And that’s just a small sample from 2020.

Of course, these companies could be donating out of the pure goodness of their corporate hearts. But when they do that, it’s not a behested payment. It’s only a behested payment if it’s made at the “behest” of a public official.

Any donation of $5,000 or more that’s made because a public official asked for it must be publicly reported. That’s the law in California.

In Illinois, there would be an investigation.

If you owned an outdoor advertising company, and you were worried that a new law might put limits on the size, type or location of your billboards, and the phone rang and it was governor calling, “No” is not the right answer.

“No” is not the right answer if you are one of the state’s vendors of technology products, and the governor wants a generous donation to a foundation he has chosen.

“No” is most certainly not the right answer if you’re a social media giant and the state’s privacy law requires the regulation of how you collect, use and sell personal information.

Behested payments are not always used for charitable or public interest causes. Politicians regularly “behest” payments for their inaugural galas or for personal nonprofit organizations that advance their political careers. In 2019, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis “behested” $300,000 from labor unions to renovate her government office with new furniture and artwork.

It’s all legal.

Although these payments are disclosed, they’re not publicized. A concerned citizen would have to look up the information on government websites to find out who’s making these cash calls and who’s receiving them.

But it’s all there, and it can be downloaded in Excel format for easy searching, sorting and totaling. It appears that AT&T and affiliated entities have been “behested” out of more than $2.3 million over the last decade from state officials alone. Between 2010 and 2016, now-Senator Kamala Harris reported behested payments totaling $1.8 million. Donors who got the call were very generous to the “Attorney General Inaugural Fund.”

There’s something about the charm of a California politician. People just can’t say no.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

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Trump and Biden are both free-speech snowflakes

SACRAMENTO – Before embracing any new law, I recommend a simple rule of thumb – one that would solve innumerable problems if everyone, on the Right and Left, embraced. Imagine that new power wielded by your most loathsome political enemy. If you’re still good with it, then move forward. In most instances, my usual response is, “Oh, never mind.”

“If Congress doesn’t bring fairness to Big Tech, which they should have done years ago, I will do it myself with Executive Orders,” Donald Trump recently tweeted. This is more than his usual Twitter dumpster fire. The president last week filed a court motion opposing a tech-company challenge to his May executive order that seeks to insert the government more deeply into policing online speech.

This “governance by executive order” approach has always upset me. Republicans were rightly aghast at Barack Obama’s misuse of presidential edicts, under the wise theory that, even if legal, they circumvent the checks and balances that are at the heart of our republic. Presidents have vast powers, but they aren’t elected dictators.

After Trump took over, many formerly aghast Republicans became a little less aghast as the president issued orders they liked. At first, they said he was only undoing Obama’s overreach. Now that Trump has decided to rival Obama for his muscular use of such orders, these folks are eerily silent. Perhaps the president will win re-election, but he might not. Sorry, but someone you despise will eventually grasp that presidential pen.

Many of these orders are largely symbolic. After Trump promised an executive order requiring health-insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, he added it was merely a “signal” given that Obamacare already required such coverage. His proposals to regulate technology companies, however, are heading into more substantive territory. Are Republicans comfortable giving Democrats broad new powers to regulate the Internet?

I’ve given up trying to find any ideological consistency from the president, but it’s clear that he’s really, really mad at Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for fact-checking his tweets, deleting accounts from conservative activists and inconsistently punishing users who violate the firms’ rules and regulations. Trump accuses the online forums of having a political bias, which may or may not be true – but they are ultimately private forums.

“Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse,” the president said in his executive order. His solution is to chip away at Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act. His supporters describe that 25-year-old regulation as a special privilege for online venues, because it protects them from lawsuits regarding the myriad comments, memes and videos that users post.

That section isn’t a privilege, but something fundamental to the flourishing of these social-media services that we all enjoy and have come to depend upon for our communications. Because traditional publishers edit and review the articles they post (as opposed to the freewheeling comments section), they are subject to lawsuits if they publish something that may be defamatory.

If your Aunt Ethel could sue Facebook because of Cousin Frank’s mean and accusatory online posts, then the entire social-media edifice would collapse around us. Fortunately, any overly intrusive executive order is unlikely to pass legal muster – and some members of Trump’s own Federal Communications Commission have expressed doubts about serving as the president’s online-speech enforcer.

The tech companies are in a bind. Conservatives complain that they are unfairly targeting the president, but progressives – who also have Section 230 in their crosshairs – want the services to be even more intrusive in their meddling. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote for Reason, “Progressives don’t like Section 230 because it means that only the perpetrators of crimes like harassment … can be charged or sue over these actions, not whatever digital tool or service they happened to use.”

Trump isn’t the only one behaving like a snowflake. Last year, the Joe Biden campaign demanded that Facebook and Twitter reject some of the president’s political ads. “It is one thing to allow President Trump the platform to spread falsehoods from his own account; it is quite another to profit from paid ads echoing the same lies,” the campaign argued. Egad.

Both candidates, by the way, have called for the federal government to revoke Section 230. The Biden folks also blathered about the importance of the First Amendment and the Trump executive order likewise rambled on about the importance of free speech, but that amendment is clear about restricting government from policing discourse.

Revoking Section 230 may not necessarily run afoul of the Constitution, but the Trump order (and Democratic proposals) would, as CNN reported, “regulate how companies moderate content on their websites.” The intent certainly is to insert government into free-speech matters. Since both parties support similar intrusions, it’s extraordinarily easy to apply my rule of thumb: Do you want the other guys to have a bigger hand in regulating your online speech?

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute and a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

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Has coronavirus killed the mass transit boom?

For most of the last 30 years, California saw a mass transit boom stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay. Both light and heavy rail joined existing bus systems, providing new options for commuters and local residents to get around.

Mass transit also took off as a planning concept. Cities that approve construction of new apartment and office buildings near rail stops often forego requirements for developers to provide parking. Even when they do demand parking spaces, it’s usually fewer than what was previously ordered.

The presumption is that new residents and workers using those structures will use mass transit and their feet, that very few will drive cars.

This has aroused both excitement and fear among many Californians, who envisioned the end of the car culture that has ruled this state for most of the last 100 years.

But wait. That may not happen after all. The coronavirus pandemic has hit mass transit agencies harder than any government programs besides those directly involving health.

The reason is clear: fear of contagion. No one who can avoid it wants to ride a crowded bus or train in the day of the virus, even if all aboard are masked.

Take a look at the latest ridership numbers for the Los Angeles area’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which runs buses and an extensive light rail system. Over the last few years, this system opened several new lines that cost state, local and federal taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. A major new subway project is underway between downtown Los Angeles and the Westwood area near UCLA, now something akin to a ghost town amid its plethora of virus-killed small businesses.

During June, when COVID-19 cases eased up for about two weeks before their latest onslaught, ridership for the MTA’s buses and trains was 2.01 million, down almost exactly 3 million passengers from the previous June.

Even with the new lines, rail ridership was off by just over 53 percent, from 281,010 in June 2019 to 132,532 this year.

In San Diego, the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) started considering service cuts as early as March, as the pandemic began. There was still pressure to keep things running as usual, because, as the MTS chief executive said, “Our buses and trolleys are taking our most vulnerable residents to critical services, and first responders, grocery store employees, nurses and other healthcare workers to their jobs when we need them the most.”

Meanwhile, ridership is down so much on the San Francisco area’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) that it expects to lose $975 million on operations over the next three years due to ridership drops that at times have reached 92 percent. And CalTrain, the San Francisco Peninsula’s heavy rail commuter line, warned it cannot continue running almost empty unless authorities in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties subsidize it via a new sales tax or some other device.

Together, all California’s transit systems are asking $36 billion in aid from the next federal coronavirus aid package. That’s almost half the estimated cost of the entire partially-built bullet train system – and it would not buy one inch more rail. This is for operating expenses only.

It’s all fueled by workers operating from home and a return to commuting in private cars for those who have them, with trust for the sanitation of ride-share services like Uber and Lyft also low. Californians realize that using their own cars, especially if they ride only with others sheltering with them, is about as safe as staying home. Which leaves public transit to the poor, already most likely to be victimized by the virus.

The question is whether this new attitude toward mass transit and other forms of sharing rides will be permanent. For sure, it will be years before full trust is restored and folks again board trains and buses without worry.

Which means no one should spend new money on transit until it all shakes out and we learn whether riders will eventually return or continue to shun buses and trains.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.

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Coronavirus becomes a major force for inequality

Across America, protests and rallies crying “Black Lives Matter” have featured thousands of demonstrators taking no care to social distance and not bothering to sanitize their hands very often.

They’re ostensibly pushing for social justice and racial and economic equality, calling for fair treatment and less violence from police and other authorities and in effect demanding more equity in hiring and education.

But their frequent disregard for the contagion of the ongoing coronavirus plague often accomplishes the opposite: They and others who disregard simple but sometimes inconvenient precautions are very ironically and tragically helping push the greatest force for inequality since Jim Crow.

That’s the virus, which afflicts low-income minority residents of California in far higher numbers than whites, who are often more affluent.

Latinos, for the strongest example, make up about 39 percent of California’s population, but account for 56 percent of all COVID-19 diagnoses and 45.7 percent of deaths from the virus. African Americans are 6.5 percent of the populace and about the same percentage of COVID-19 cases, but 8.5 percent of deaths from the virus. Geographic data indicates the virus also strikes disproportionately in lower-income locales, especially those heavily populated by farmworkers.

So the coronavirus plainly hits minorities with low incomes harder than whites, especially those in the most affluent areas. Which means that the more protesters, partiers, beachgoers and others disregard tactics known to stem viral contagion, the more they promote racial inequality.

But the inequities encouraged by the pandemic go much deeper than  caseload and death statistics, revealing as those can be.

It turns out COVID-19’s most lasting effect may be on education, where impacts may affect student performance and achievement for more than a decade. It’s a new form of segregation, based more on economic class than on race – but class lines often coincide with racial ones.

The reasons for this stem from the vitally necessary decision to keep most public schools closed this fall, the bulk of what used to be classroom teaching now done electronically via services like Zoom and Google Classroom.

On the surface, this seems to treat rich and poor alike, every public school student seemingly subject to the same pluses and minuses from remote learning. Except that the wealthy can do something about it when their children’s WiFi fails, while the poor often cannot. The wealthy are often able to stay home with their children during the pandemic, while a far higher proportion of the poor work in menial jobs now considered essential, from farmworkers to street cleaners.

So the likelihood of children having adult supervision while they learn via screens is far less among low income minorities than among whites. Whether or not distance learning can be effective, there is no doubt that without adult supervision, children are more likely to wander away from screens or not to sign on at all. Even while they’re online, their attention wanders more if they are not supervised.

The result inevitably will be that the rich get richer educations while the poor get poorer. Depending on how long this goes on, its effects could be lifelong.

Other educational advantages are also manifesting from affluence during the pandemic. Besides the large percentage of the wealthy who opt out of public school problems with online schooling by sending their kids to private schools, large numbers of public school parents have already begun setting up “pods” of up to 10 children, with several families combining to hire tutors at $40 per hour or more.

Newspapers around the state report tutors and former schoolteachers who post notices of their availability are getting multiple calls from groups of parents seeking stable education for their children. Parents also are using social media to find like-minded others, the result being that those who can afford to kick in for better education are buying extra opportunities for their kids.

That situation led former San Francisco Mayor and ex-state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to observe the other day that the virus is leading to new forms of segregated education.

He’s right, and so long as the virus endures, there’s little low-income parents can do about it.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.

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Federal siege of Portland is scarier than the protesters

SACRAMENTO – A funny thing happened after unidentified federal agents – dressed like storm troopers from a dystopian novel – reportedly grabbed protesters off the streets of Portland, Oregon, and shoved them into unmarked rental vans. My “constitutional conservative” friends, who for years warned about federal overreach and championed states’ rights, sometimes cheered this show of power.

These righties are thrilled that President Trump has vowed to send hundreds of similar, camouflage-wearing agents to Chicago and other mismanaged Democratic-run cities to, presumably, quell gang violence. Anyone who thinks this simply is about halting street crime should be “disappeared” into an unmarked Town Car, driven to an undisclosed location and have the word “naïve” tattooed on his forehead.

Urban looting and disorder undermine civic order and lead to inexcusable property damage. It’s frustrating to watch progressive mayors and City Councils fail to return some semblance of order to their downtown streets. But I’m far more fearful of a federal government that unleashes troops on its own people than I am of craven local officials.

If you don’t see the problem, then you should re-read the Declaration of Independence – in which our founding fathers explained why the 13 colonies were breaking away. Consider its words in the context of Portland: “He (the king) has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

As they did after 9-11, some conservatives argue that “terrorists” don’t deserve the protections that our Constitution provides for American citizens. Those who make this argument obviously don’t understand the purpose of its protections.  Government agents cannot unilaterally deem people as terrorists and then make them disappear. They need to allege acts of terrorism and then prove it in a court. Otherwise – and here’s the key point – the government can do anything it wants to anybody.

The Constitution isn’t a protection for “terrorists,” but for people who might not actually be terrorists, but who happen to be walking home down the street or who might have been in the area peacefully protesting. Federal agents have the right to patrol specific federal buildings, but not to commandeer city streets against the will of the city’s duly elected leaders – even if those leaders are wrongheaded or incompetent.

Recent news reports suggest that someone teargassed Portland’s mayor after he addressed protesters. There are myriad reports of federal and local law enforcement brutalizing peaceful protesters, including a military veteran. This heavy-handed response isn’t calming the situation, but inflaming it. Now – and this seems like a great development – thousands of peaceful Portland residents have created a human chain to block the federal goon squad.

Only a few conservative voices have spoken out against behavior that would have sparked indignation had it occurred under the Obama administration. The hypocrisy isn’t limited to conservatives, of course. How many liberals complained when both parties supported an effort to give federal troops broader domestic detention powers – and paved the way for vast misuses of power by any future administration? How many of them would have complained had federal agents cleared away “reopen” protesters – especially those in the Midwest who showed up armed at Capitol buildings?

“We cannot give up liberty for security,” wrote U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky. “Local law enforcement can and should be handling these situations in our cities but there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding up people at will.” Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano wrote that “sending armed, untrained police into the streets … actually caused more violence.”

That’s obvious, but I’ll take any show of principle in our increasingly partisan age. The federal show of force reminds us of one of the main problems that has received overdue attention following the police-custody death of George Floyd: police militarization. In a free society, police are supposed to behave like community officers who uphold the peace – not like an invading army, dressed in fatigues and driving Humvees while clutching surplus military hardware.

“The real problem with police militarization is not that it brings about more violence or abuse of authority – though that may very well happen – but that it is based on a presumption of the citizen as a threat, while the liberal order is based on precisely the opposite presumption,” wrote Eliav Lieblich and Adam Shinar in the Michigan Journal of Race & Law. Bingo.

Conservatives who support the federal presence in Portland and perhaps soon in Chicago, Oakland and Detroit, should stop pretending that they care about federalism, the Constitution or freedom. Liberals who would use federal troops to enforce their bugaboos should stop claiming that they care about civil liberties. If you don’t want the Constitution to protect your political enemies, then perhaps you don’t really believe in the Constitution.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute and a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

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The subtle influences on judicial checks of executive power

Federal district judges are the check upon the abuse of power by other branches of government. They are frequently called upon to rule against a federal department or, occasionally, the president himself.

Famous cases have involved whether President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had authority to prescribe how farmers could use water on their own land (the “Waters of the United States” rule), whether President Trump had to turn over his tax records to Congress, and whether President Nixon had to make tapes recorded in the Oval Office available to a federal grand jury.

The United States Constitution creates exceptional protections so that federal district judges will not feel pressured in making their decisions. Unlike the judges appointed by the British king during our colonial times, federal judges cannot have their salaries diminished and they serve for life.

The one thing the founders could not protect against, however, was the natural inclination for a federal district judge to want to be promoted to the federal court of appeals—with higher salary and more prestige. Human nature suggests that federal district judges might be tempted to rule in favor of executive power whenever it was challenged, lest the current or a future president pass over the judge for a promotion.

I have been privileged to have had a career in politics and in academics. One of the great benefits of the latter is the ability to conduct neutral, fact-based research. (Teaching, of course, is an even greater benefit of being an academic.)

Taking more than five years, I read every federal district judge’s opinion from 1960 to 2015 that involved federal executive authority or privilege – over 200 cases. I catalogued each opinion as either supporting the president’s position or not. I then checked the age of each federal district judge at the time of the opinion.

As I suspected, the probability of supporting the president dropped precipitously as a federal district judge grew older (and hence, less likely to be promoted). The truth is that if a federal district judge is appointed at age 40, she or he has a 1 in 5 chance of being promoted; by age 63, however, that chance drops to less than 1 in 50. And that’s exactly where my first run at the data showed a federal judge’s drop in willingness to uphold the president began — at age 63.

One of the blessings to work at a great university is the opportunity to collaborate with experts far more talented than I. That was what I did next: I contacted professor Nathaniel Wilcox of Chapman’s Economic Science Institute (now at Appalachian State University in North Carolina). He added to my data base the political party of the president who appointed the judge and of the president when the opinion was issued, the political control of the U.S. Senate at the time of each decision (because the Senate confirms judicial appointments), the number of years the judge had served on the court, the gender and race of each judge, and whether there was a vacancy on the court of appeals at the time the federal district judge rendered her or his opinion.

Wilcox created a state-of-the-art statistical model that included all these variables. The result, with 97 percent confidence, was that younger judges ruled for the president more than older judges did.  This was true across both political parties, over time, across differences in gender and race, across all parts of the country.  When a vacancy developed on a court of appeals, district judges favored the president even more.

The results of our study have now been published in the Journal of Law and Economics.  Precisely because federal judges are protected from political pressure, we can’t do much else. Federal district judges must monitor their own behavior. They hold a position of great authority and respect in our government; they should act as though they covet no other.

Tom Campbell is a professor of law and a professor of economics at Chapman University. He served five terms in the U,S. Congress, including on the Judiciary Committee. He was a law clerk to Justice Byron R. White of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge George E. MacKinnon of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He resigned from the Republican Party in 2016 and has been working to create a new political party in California, the Common Sense Party.

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The visionary woman the left can’t stand

Recently there was an explosion of bilious joy on Twitter at the news that among the four million or so Paycheck Protection Program loans that the government handed out to keep people employed during the coronavirus shutdown of the economy, there was one that was accepted by the Ayn Rand Institute.

“Today seems like a good day to remind you that Ayn Rand has provided the justification for unbridled selfishness and contempt for the common good,” wrote former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who served in the Clinton administration. “Her ideas must be firmly and unequivocally rejected – not subsidized by American taxpayers.”

Leaving aside the point that the PPP loans are not a subsidy of anyone’s ideas, it’s interesting that a writer provokes this level of hostility so many years after the publication of her work.

“‘Ayn Rand’ is trending now so maybe we’ve finally hit rock bottom in this awful year,” was one of the printable comments posted by the angry crowd on Twitter.

Who was Ayn Rand?

Ayn (rhymes with “fine”) Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and died in New York City in 1982. In between, she wrote books, articles and newspaper columns. She created a philosophy that she named “Objectivism,” and people like Robert Reich are still attacking her over it.

Reich tweeted a five-minute video that he created in 2018 to attack Rand for her influence on people in and around the Trump administration, including then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and President Trump himself. During the 2016 campaign, Trump told USA Today that Rand’s 1943 novel, “The Fountainhead,” was his favorite book.

“Donald Trump once said he identified with Ayn Rand’s character, Howard Roark, in ‘The Fountainhead,’” Reich sneered in his Twitter video, “an architect so upset that a housing project he designed didn’t meet specifications that he had it dynamited.”

Actually, the book is about the battle of a individual who thinks independently and builds great achievements against a world filled with frightened and officious “secondhanders” who try to tear him down for not doing things the way other people do them.

Luckily for people who think independently, the written word is an immortal communication from one mind to another. No interpreter or intermediary is required. “The Fountainhead” still speaks to people who find in its pages the inspiration, encouragement and strength to follow their own path.

Another of Rand’s books that Reich said people must reject is “Atlas Shrugged,” published in 1957. It’s the story of what happens to the world when the long-abused people who think independently are quietly persuaded to withdraw their services. The individual who persuaded them later tells the rest of the world, suffering for lack of solutions, “No, you do not have to think; it is an act of moral choice. But someone had to think to keep you alive…I have removed your means of survival, your victims.”

In the last lecture she gave before she died, Rand addressed a group of businessmen on the topic of “The Sanction of the Victim.” We saw a recent illustration of this concept when Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther was told by a judge that she could avoid a jail sentence for operating her “non-essential” business in violation of the law only if she apologized. But Luther, who said she and her stylists had had no income from March until May because of the stay-at-home order, defended her actions. “Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she said.

The judge desperately sought the sanction of the victim. He wanted her to say the law was right and she was wrong. She didn’t think so, and she wouldn’t say it.

Which of those two people would you want in the room if you were trying to accomplish something?

Ayn Rand’s essays and newspaper columns, in addition to her novels, are available to anyone who would like to think independently about her ideas instead of accepting someone else’s characterization of them. “The Voice of Reason” is one collection. “The Ayn Rand Column” is another.

In August 1962, Rand wrote a column for the L.A. Times about the death of Marilyn Monroe. “If ever there was a victim of society, Marilyn Monroe was that victim — of a society that professes dedication to the relief of the suffering, but kills the joyous.” Rand writes of the “limitless swamp of malice” that the actress found when she reached the top. “It was much worse than envy,” she wrote, “it was hatred of the good for being the good — hatred of ability, of beauty, of honesty, of earnestness, of achievement and, above all, of human joy.”

In “The Romantic Manifesto,” Rand writes about film, theater, music, fiction and the meaning of the messages in our culture. If you’d like to read her thoughts about the reason for the enduring popularity of superhero and detective stories, pick it up.

The intensity of the hostility to Rand’s work is an acknowledgment of the power of ideas to change long-held beliefs. In “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand writes of the misery caused by the “Morality of Death,” a code that “begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice.”

Measure those words against modern calls for everything from “reducing your carbon footprint” to “social distancing.”

In her final lecture, Rand concluded by quoting from “Atlas Shrugged”:

“The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours. But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign, rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.”

Why are so many people so hostile to the ideas of Ayn Rand? Take nobody’s word for it. See for yourself.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

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