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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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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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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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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California teachers unions go all in on tax increases

“It all belongs to us” could be the mission statement of some public employee unions in California as they seek legislation to raise taxes in midst of the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and response.

The Education Coalition, a group of nine statewide K-12 associations that represent teachers, administrators and other school employees, called on state lawmakers this week to “adopt additional revenue streams” to close what the groups say is a $20-billion budget shortfall for education.

The 2021-22 education budget signed by the governor includes $12.5 billion in deferred payments, as well as a projected reduction in the share of revenue that goes to schools under Proposition 98

The unions want the Legislature to eliminate what they call “tax expenditures,” defined as any deductions, tax credits, exemptions or exclusions that reduce taxes. Never mind that some of these provisions were enacted to incentivize desired actions, or that some were negotiated in order to pass legislation that otherwise would have been defeated. The unions’ point of view is that the high tax rates in state law are the “fair share,” and any provisions in law that reduce taxes are “unfair” to the schools.

The unions also want the high tax rates to be even higher. “The Education Coalition looks forward to working with the Legislature and the Administration in identifying and securing these revenues,” the California Teachers Association said in a statement.

Some of the tax increases on the wish list have already been introduced as legislation. Assembly Bill 1253 would raise the state’s highest-in-the-nation top income tax rate from 13.3 percent to 16.8 percent. Another bill would enact a wealth tax that would impose an annual tax of 0.4 percent of a state resident’s “worldwide net worth in excess of $30,000,000, or in excess of $15,000,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately.” This may sound like a document from the Kremlin archives, but it’s Assembly Bill 2088 in the Legislature.

Because of California’s progressive income tax, 0.5 percent of taxpayers pay more than 40 percent of individual income taxes in the state. That sounds like more than a “fair share,” but for some union leaders, nothing less than “all of it” will ever be enough.

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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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