Pension Reform Waits for California Supreme Court

With markets fitfully advancing after a nearly two year pause, the need for pension reform again fades from public discussion. And it’s easy for pension reformers to forget that even when funds are obviously imperiled, with growing unfunded liabilities and continuously increasing demands from the pension funds, hardly anyone understands what’s going on. Unless you are sitting on a city council and facing a 10 percent budget deficit at the same time as your required pension contribution is increasing (again) by 20 percent, pension finance is eye-glazing arcana that is best ignored.

But when your local government has reached the point where it’s spending nearly as much on pensions as it spends on base salaries, and pension finance commands your attention, you still can’t do much. Pension reforms were approved by voters in San Jose and San Diego, among other places, but their impact was significantly reduced because of court challenges. Similarly, a moderate statewide pension reform passed by California’s legislature and signed by Governor Brown in 2013 has been repeatedly challenged in court.

The primary legal dispute is over what is referred to as the “California Rule.” According to this interpretation of California contract law, pension benefit accruals – the amount of additional pension benefit an employee earns each year – cannot be reduced, even for future work. Reformers find this appallingly unfair, based on the fact that when California’s public employee pension benefit accruals were enhanced, the enhancement was applied retroactively. Suddenly […] Read More

Fossil Fuel Reality

Over the weekend, the traditional Harvard versus Yale football game was interrupted during halftime by about 150 student activists, spontaneously joined by hundreds of fans, to protest climate change. Occupying the area around the 500-yard line, the protesters chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Fossil fuel has got to go!” The game resumed after about 30 students were arrested and the rest left.

It would be reasonable to suppose that people who manage to gain admission to Harvard and Yale are among the most gifted students in America. But when it comes to swiftly eliminating the usage of fossil fuel, have they done their homework?

Around the world, billions of people are now convinced that catastrophic climate change is inevitable if humanity continues to rely on fossil fuel. Most developed Western nations, along with the United Nations and other supranational organizations, are promoting aggressive policies to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy. While a scientific debate remains, especially with respect to the severity of the predicted climate change, it is the economic challenges relating to rapid elimination of fossil fuel that require urgent examination.

The reason for this is simple: At this time, there is no feasible economic scenario whereby worldwide fossil fuel use does not increase steadily for the next several decades. To dispute this assertion, several indisputable facts would have to be ignored. For starters, shown below is a chart illustrating just how large a percentage of global energy remained dependent on fossil fuel over the past […] Read More

Californians Exempt from the Consequences of Liberalism

When trying to understand why Californians continue to elect liberals, several explanations routinely surface. Chief among them is the theory that conservatives forever alienated California’s diverse electorate by championing “discriminatory” policies.

The early example of this was Prop. 187, passed in 1994, which banned providing government services to illegal aliens. Most of Prop. 187 was overturned in court. Claiming it should serve “as a warning to immigrant bashers,” the Left is now well into their third decade of using it to bash conservatives in California.

The other, more recent example of a discriminatory policy promoted by California conservatives – and also used ever since to taint them – was Prop. 8, passed in 2008, which banned gay marriage, and which also was overturned a few years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whether you support these social issues or oppose them – and conservatives are by no means monolithic in their positions on either of them, not now, nor at the time – they have come to dominate the political conversation in California. Racism. Sexism. The war on women. Gay bashing. Immigrant bashing. “Transphobia.” Conservatives, go away. California is no home for you.

Along with social issues, the California’s liberal elites also claim a popular mandate on the issue of “climate change.” No public education system in America is more geared towards terrifying the next generation on this topic. When it comes to displays of unanimity, obsession, and panic over climate change, no media region […] Read More

Interviewing the Host of the Channel That Never Happened

Six hundred years ago, when elsewhere they were footing the blame for the Black Death, Casimir the Great – so called – told the Jews they could come to Krakow. They came. They trundled their belongings into the city. They settled. They took hold. They prospered in business, science, education, the arts. With nothing they came and with nothing they flourished. For six centuries there has been a Jewish Krakow. By this evening those six centuries will be a rumor. They never happened. – Amon Goeth, Schindler’s List, 1994

Invoking the holocaust as analogous to cancel culture is a tasteless stretch. Or is it? We hear the analogy every day applied to climate skeptics, who are stigmatized as “deniers.” And when it comes to online censorship, Amon Goeth’s quote from Spielberg’s masterpiece is too evocative to ignore. Because when someone is cancelled online, they don’t just lose their ability to publish new material. Their entire body of work, their history, their audience, their past, present and future, is wiped out. They never happened.

On October 18, 2019, the YouTube channel Red Ice TV was erased. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Red Ice TV is a white nationalist hate site, promoting racist views. At the time of “cancellation,” Red Ice TV had 334,000 subscribers and its videos had been viewed nearly 50 million times.

Today, Red Ice TV is just the latest YouTube channel that never happened. The online megaphone that can reach the world instantly and […] Read More

The Boondoggle Archipelago

Across California, there is a growing string of islands, exquisite gems in the urban ocean. Dredged from the pockets of taxpayers, constructed by elite artisans, these pristine islands have been created at stupefying expense. But their beauty is seductive. Spend more!

Each time an island is completed, or even proposed, glowing reports are logged across the land. So fortunate are those who shall live on these islands! So wonderful are those who shall build these islands, and care for their inhabitants! What a magnificent, marvelous thing we have done!

Or have we? From deep within the ocean a seismic wave is building, triggered by reality and propelled by common sense. Because these islands, more properly referred to as homeless shelters, supportive housing, and “low income housing,” are far too small, and far too precious, to ever, ever accommodate every castaway that needs a roof over their heads. They will never offer the required land mass to solve the problem. Instead, history shall know them as California’s Boondoggle Archipelago.

The builders of the Boondoggle Archipelago hide behind laws they won’t try to change, and behind court rulings they won’t challenge, and happily follow the rules. Happily, because the rules are rigged to ensure that the vast majority of California’s homeless and low-income families shall remain forever adrift, and so long as there are castaways, there’s money for the builders.

A short cruise across the urban ocean from north to south, visiting various typical islands in California’s Boondoggle Archipelago, should offer ample […] Read More

The Seven Deadly Sins of California’s Political Establishment

To be fair, California’s politicians aren’t alone in their quest to destroy America’s rights, freedoms, prosperity, culture, traditions, and pride. They’re just more advanced in their quest. But since what happens in California often ends up happening later in the rest of America, it’s important to highlight just how bad it’s gotten in the Golden State.

Just as a theologian might argue there are more than seven deadly sins that are fatal to spiritual progress, there are more than seven policy areas where California’s political leadership have fatally undermined the aspirations of ordinary Californians. But in the interests of brevity and clarity, here are what might be the most damning seven deadly sins of California’s political establishment.

Law and Order – Californians have prided themselves on being trendsetters in human rights, but the pendulum has swung too far. Thanks to Prop. 47, the “Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative” approved by California’s voters in 2014, it is nearly impossible to arrest and hold anyone for possession of hard drugs, so long as they claim the drugs are for personal use. Prop. 47 also downgraded the punishment for property crimes if the value of the stolen goods are under $950 per offense.

The consequence of these laws are public drug use and rampant theft to support these drug habits. Other ridiculous laws include AB 953, the “Racial and Identity Profiling Act” (2015), that requires police to fill out an extensive questionnaire after every encounter with a member of the […] Read More

The Cost to Taxpayers of Enhancing Sonoma County Employee Pensions

In the early 2000s, along with many other cities, state agencies, and counties in California, Sonoma County enhanced their employee pension benefits.

As of 6/30/2018, Sonoma County’s pension system had $2.7 billion of invested assets, but nearly $3.1 billion in actuarial accrued liabilities. To what extent is its $400 million unfunded liability attributable to the pension benefit enhancements? Put another way, how much have these enhancements cost Sonoma County’s taxpayers?

Just as it is impossible to know with perfect accuracy the amount of a pension fund’s actuarial accrued liability, it is impossible to precisely calculate the cost to taxpayers of Sonoma County’s pension benefit enhancements. There is enough data available in the financial statements provided by Sonoma County’s pension fund, however, to provide credible estimates.

To improve the credibility of these estimates, the assumptions made herein are designed to understate the costs. For example, the impact of the increased cost is not assessed until the year the enhancements were fully implemented. In the case of general Sonoma County employees, that was 2005, and in the case of public safety employees of Sonoma County, that was 2006.

Sonoma County’s original pension benefits were based on the typical annual percentage accrual, multiplied by years worked, with the total percentage multiplied by the final pension eligible salary to calculate the retirement pension. For example, up until 2005, Sonoma County’s general (non-safety) workers would accrue their pension benefit at a rate of 2 percent per year. An employee who worked 30 years would have […] Read More

Saving California From Wildfires Requires Cooperation With Trump

President Trump recently tweeted “The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management,” Newsom tweeted back, “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

October 29th, former Governor Jerry Brown addressed the U.S. Congress, saying “California’s burning while the deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all. The blood is on your soul here and I hope you wake up, because this is not politics, this is life, this is morality. You’ve got to get with it – or get out of the way.”

Despite that California’s current and former governors are both ardent members of the catastrophe chorus, climate change has almost nothing to do with California’s recent wildfires. These fires are the result of a century of successful fire suppression, combined with a failure to remove all the undergrowth that results when natural fires aren’t allowed to burn. Not only does excessive undergrowth create fuel for catastrophic super fires, but these excessive trees and shrubs compete with mature trees. This is the real reason why our forests are not only tinderboxes, but also filled with dying trees.

Forest professionals who were consulted for this article were in agreement that despite the antagonistic rhetoric, and notwithstanding the misplaced “climate crisis” scapegoating and fearmongering, state officials are working with federal agencies on practical solutions. But it isn’t easy to reverse a century of forest mismanagement overnight.

While a consensus […] Read More

Long-Term Solutions for California Wildfire Prevention

Nobody knew how the fire started. It took hold in the dry chaparral and grasslands and quickly spread up the sides of the canyon. Propelled by winds gusting over 40 miles per hour and extremely dry air (humidity below 25 percent), the fire spread over the ridge and into the town below. Overwhelmed firefighters could not contain the blaze as it swept through the streets, immolating homes by the hundreds. Even brick homes with slate roofs were not spared. Before it finally was brought under control, 640 structures including 584 homes had been reduced to ashes. Over 4,000 people were left homeless.

Does this sound like the “new normal?” Maybe so, but this description is of the Berkeley fire of 1923. In its time, with barely 4 million people living in California, the Berkeley fire was a catastrophe on par with the fires we see today.

When evaluating what happened in nearly a century since this fire, two stories emerge. The story coming from California’s politicians emphasizes climate change. From former Governor Jerry Brown: “In less than five years, even the worst skeptics will be believers.” From current Governor Gavin Newsom, speaking on the threat of wildfires in the state: “If anyone is wondering if climate change is real, come to California.”

The other story, which comes from professional foresters, emphasizes how different forest management practices might have made many of the recent fires far less severe, if not avoided entirely. Specifically, California’s misguided forest management practices […] Read More

How Trump Can Declare War on the Homeless Industrial Complex

California’s homeless crisis is now visible to everyone living in the state. Along with tens of thousands of homeless who are concentrated in various districts of the major cities, additional thousands are widely dispersed. If you drive into most major urban centers, you will see their tent encampments along freeway junctions, under bridges, along frontages, beside drainage culverts. Even in very small towns, they congregate by the dozens in parks and parking lots, along the streets and in the alleys. In California’s largest cities, by the tens of thousands, they erect makeshift housing along sidewalks, using tarpaulins draped over shopping carts, tents, boxes. It is completely out of control. Billions have been spent to ameliorate the situation, and these billions have only served to make the situation worse than ever.

It’s hard to identify ground zero for California’s homeless crisis. But the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County host, between them, well over 100,000 of California’s estimated 130,000 homeless. And in both of those metros, local government policies have utterly failed. This failure is partly because local elected officials are hampered by state laws which make it nearly impossible to incarcerate petty thieves and drug addicts, or institutionalize the mentally ill, and court rulings that prohibit breaking up homeless encampments unless these homeless can be provided free and permanent “supportive housing.”

The state and federal governments have even mandated that providing “housing first,” and getting every homeless person under a roof prior to any allocations of funds […] Read More