Tag: California

Seize the Legislature

I’ve made it clear many times: asset forfeiture is one of the most vile things our federal and state governments do. This is the process by which law enforcement seizes people’s money, homes, cars and other assets and … well, sometimes that’s it. Sometimes they charge them with a crime … eventually. Some states have tried to reign it in, but the Feds have created an “equitable sharing” program in which law enforcement can bypass state regulations by having a “joint investigation” with the Feds. They turn over the money to the Feds, who take a cut and then give the rest back. The wonderful Institute for Justice calls this “policing for profit”.

If this sounds like a criminal enterprise it should. Entire sections of highway have now become revenue streams for law enforcement. And I’ll give you three guesses as to the skin color of the people this happens to the most often.

Earlier this month, California tried to pull the plug on this literal highway robbery. Yesterday, that effort collapsed:

Yesterday, California Senate Bill 443 went down in flames in the state’s Assembly. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Holly Mitchell in the Senate and Republican David Hadley in the Assembly, would have reformed the state’s asset forfeiture regulations to require that police and prosecutors actually convict citizens of crimes before seizing ownership of their assets to spend on themselves.

Imagine that. Almost as if no one should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

The bill originally passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate earlier in the year, but then police and prosecutors got wind of it and began a campaign of fearmongering against it, telling legislators it would threaten budgets and would cut law enforcement out of the federal asset forfeiture sharing program. The law had been stripped down so that the state would be able to continue participating in the federal program, but even that wasn’t enough. It didn’t even get close to passing the Assembly.

Here’s my proposal. The citizens of California should seize the assets of every legislator who voted against this bill under suspicion of corruption. After all, this is the body that once included Leland Yee, who has now pled guilty to racketeering charges that involved bribery, gun-running and money laundering. Under the rules of engagement that the legislature is clearly comfortable with, any legislator with a lot of money should be presumed guilty, his assets seized and onus put on him to prove his innocence.

Hey, fair is fair, assholes. If you’re going to treat the common citizen like walking law enforcement piggy banks, it’s time you ponied up too.

California Digs Pit, Throws in Money

It has begun:

California broke ground Tuesday on its $68 billion high-speed rail system, promising to combat global warming while whisking travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours.

The bullet train project, the first in the nation to get underway, faces challenges from Republican cost-cutters in Congress and Central Valley farmers suing to keep the rails off their fields. Others doubt the state can deliver the sleek system as designed, and worry it will become an expensive failure.

But Gov. Jerry Brown said high-speed rail is essential to meeting his latest goal: Encouraging the nation’s most populous state to get half its power from renewable energy by 2030.

California only has a tiny fraction of the $68 billion dollars needed for the program. That’s $68 billion now. God knows what it will cost by 2030 when Jerry Brown will be 92 years old, if he’s still alive.


Ultimately, the plan is for a 520-mile line that is supposed to get people from downtown L.A. to downtown San Francisco. We’re told there’s “hope” of getting that done by 2029 and also that “The authority needs to speed up the eminent domain process, since only 100 of the 500 land parcels needed for the rails and stations have been purchased.” Which ones? Have they got all that downtown L.A. and San Francisco land yet?

My prediction is that these endpoints — without which no one would want this project — will never be reached by the line that’s getting started now in Fresno. The only question is when people will freak out sufficiently to abandon the desperate throwing of good money after bad.

Brown and his allies are touting this as jobs program. That’s odd, because the President has just issued a veto threat over the Keystone XL program and the same liberals touting the construction jobs for the California Calamity poo-poo the construction jobs for Keystone XL as temporary (in today’s economy, all jobs are temporary).

I’m also dubious that this project will be beneficial either economically or environmentally. Rail projects have a long history of being fantastic boondoggles. At a cost of $68 billion (and probably a lot more), this rail system would have to create a hell of a lot of economic activity to “pay for itself”. And the governor has already admitted that ridership will likely have to be subsidized for the train to function.

As for the environmental aspect, trains don’t run on good thoughts. They run on electricity, which is still mostly generated from fossil fuels. An empty train running between two cities would be a lot worse for global warming than no train.

You should check out Reason, which has been making the case against this boondoggle for years. Right now, I have 2019 as the year in which California will realize what a colossal mistake they’ve made. The only question is whether they’ll run a tiny little train to show they got something out of it or have another great project to fill in the giant hole they’ve just dug.

Who’ll Start the Rain?

California is in the grips of a very bad drought? How bad? This bad:

The current drought in California is not only the worst in modern history, but is among the worst in half a millennium. We know this by studying the growth rings of long-lived trees like the Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada, and the Bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of eastern California. In fact, the state has weathered six very dry years since 2007, this year being by far the lowest.

It’s actually worse than the press is letting on. In response to the drought, many areas are drilling down to aquifers and draining them. These are not an easily replenished resource; in fact, the changes that occur after an aquifer is drained may prevent it from ever being filled again. The problem has been exacerbated by California over-allocating water rights by a factor of five and forcing water to be sold at below-market rates.

(And for God’s sake, what’s the heck, California?! It’s the year 2014. Do people still not realize what happens when you force things to be priced below market value?)

Much of the debate going on is about global warming. That’s a useless conversation to have right now. First of all, while there are some indications that global warming may make droughts more likely, it’s impossible to tie any particular event to global warming. This area had an even more severe drought five hundred years ago without any SUVs. Second, blaming global warming does not solve the immediate problem. And third, even if we embarked on a massive campaign to stop global warming today, it would take decades for the effects to be felt. Whatever the cause, this is happening and it needs to be dealt with. And moreover, if we are going to have a drier world, we need to come up with strategies that can be used for future droughts.

Fortunately, there is precedent:

Australia has already pioneered many policies could help. Supplying free and below-cost water encourages users to drain rivers, leaving fish and riparian species high and dry. So the first step is to decide how much water based on the best available science should be allocated to environmental flows. Obviously this process will be politically fraught, but after water rights are allocated they can be purchased to further enhance environmental flows. In Australia, the government has spent $2 billion to purchase private water rights to increase river flows. Currently in California, about 50 percent of freshwater flows are reserved for the environment, although that varies greatly by river basin.

In Australia, water rights were historically tied to specific pieces of land. The reform severed these ties and divided rights into water access entitlements and water allocations. For example, if there is a moderate drought, state agencies might set water allocations to 80 percent of each water entitlement. A person owning 10 acre-feet of water would be able to use eight acre-feet of water that year. Owners can sell their entitlement or their annual allocations. If an irrigator who is allocated 8 acre-feet adopts methods that cut his water use to 6 acre-feet, he can then sell the extra 2 acre-feet for whatever price the market will bear.

This policy guided southeastern Australia through the recent millennium drought. It did so while keeping the vineyards and orchards that needed lots of water intact. At the peak of the drought, water right were very expensive. But now that the drought has ended, they are back to being cheap.

What he’s talking about is essentially cap-and-trade. Cap-and-trade is a little tricky. It’s an idea that arose in conservative think tanks in the 80’s and worked spectacularly to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions and acid rain. But sulphur dioxide was a small market and it was comparatively easy to find way to reduce the emissions of something that wasn’t essential. Cap-and-trade with more abundant substance — carbon dioxide or water — is much more fraught with problems. I have opposed cap and trade for greenhouse gases, for example, because it became obvious that putting cap-and-trade on something so universal would create a huge cesspool of political influence and corruption (and probably not work anyway).

But trading water rights worked very well in Australia. It worked because water is something people consume rather than emit. And so simply providing a market encourages people to cut their consumption the best way they can.

California is slowly moving in that direction. They are also trying other idiotic policies involving micromanagement and dumb politics. But allowing markets in water should be a no brainer. This is Econ 101. Prices are not something that appear by magic or are set by the Illuminati. Prices are information. When the price of something is high that tells you it is scarce and you need to conserve it. Let water prices reflect the realities of California’s situation and you’ll find that people find ways to consume less of it.

This will require some changes at the local level. Many areas in California and other western states have codes that require green lawns despite being in naturally dry areas. But the pressure to change those policies will be much higher when water costs what it costs rather than what state agencies think it should cost.

To be fair, markets won’t solve everything. The dangerous draining of aquifers does require government intervention. Aquifers are a public resource and you can’t create an environment where drilling and draining aquifers is a sound business plan. I suspect the best plan may be something like what we’ve seen used to replenish dangerously depleted fish stocks: the sale of aquifer “shares” that cap the amount that can be drained and encourage better management.

Whatever the solution, California’s water shortage and water crisis have been made by decades of idiot policies. Refining those policies or adding even more idiocy to them is not the solution. Turning to markets might be part of one.

He Just Wanted to Stifle the Competition

Holy shit:

In a stunning criminal complaint, State Sen. Leland Yee has been charged with conspiring to traffic in firearms and public corruption as part of a major FBI operation spanning the Bay Area, casting yet another cloud of corruption over the Democratic establishment in the Legislature and torpedoing Yee’s aspirations for statewide office.

Yee and an intermediary allegedly met repeatedly with an undercover FBI agent, soliciting campaign contributions in exchange for setting up a deal with international arms dealers.

At their first face-to-face meeting in January, “Senator Yee explained he has known the arms dealer for a number of years and has developed a close relationship with him,” an FBI affidavit says, noting Yee told the agent the arms dealer “has things that you guys want.”

I’ve seen parts of the complaint and it’s pretty stunning. If the FBI’s account is to be believed — and I’ll grant that’s a reach — there is no question about what he was doing, or at least promising. It’s possible that, like a lot of politicians, he was talking a bunch of shit to get campaign contributions and had no idea how to smuggle their guns into Africa. In fact, I think it’s quite likely this was the case. After all, it wasn’t like the gun runners were going to sue him if he couldn’t deliver the contacts.

Now … does it surprise you that this guy was a huge gun control advocate? That he was honored by the Brady Campaign for his efforts? That he wanted to crack down on bullet buttons and 3-D printed guns and “assault weapons”? That he even advocated against violent video games? As Walter Olson quipped:

Maybe Sen. Yee came down so hard on private gun dealers because he wanted to muscle into the business himself.

The stunning thing is that the papers are indicating that everyone knew Yee was dirty. But, as with Bob Filner, they overlooked it because he was a powerful Democrat pushing issues they cared about.

I don’t expect this to get as much coverage as we see when an obscure Republican candidate for dog catcher does something hypocritical. But this is pretty stunning. And very likely the tip of the iceberg.

What’s the definition of insanity again?

If I recall it correctly, it’s the idiotic notion that if you try the exact same stupid shit over and over, the results suddenly will be different. Case in point liberalism, where the collectivists constantly tell us that whatever tyrannical and idiotic oppressive system their ideology always ends up producing didn’t fail because their ideology is FUBAR, but because the right people were not in charge or someone else – usually the evil capitalists that do not want to go along with the bullshit – interferes. Don’t believe me that liberalism is a mental disorder? You must not have been paying attention to collectivist bastions like France, where taxes for some big earners end up topping 100% of their income.

But we do not need to go too far from home to see another display of the insane belief you can always keep spending other people’s money to buy votes. Check out California, the land of fruits & nuts, which state auditors, generously, put in the red by $127.2 billion with that number only going up. Here is a taste of why the state that all would agree qualifies as the front runner in American collectivist ideology is going broke at light speed:

A financial report issued by state auditors finds that the state of California is in the red by an unsustainable $127.2 billion.

The report says that the state’s negative status increased that year, largely because it spent $1.7 billion more than it received in revenues and wound up with an accumulated deficit of just under $23 billion in fiscal year 2011-2012, the Sacramento Bee stated.

Gov. Jerry Brown has referred to the deficit and other budget gaps, mostly money owed to schools, as a “wall of debt” totaling more than $30 billion, the Sacramento Bee reported.

About half of the deficit came from the state issuing general obligation bonds and then giving the money to local governments and school districts for public works projects. The report listed California’s long-term obligations at $167.9 billion, nearly half of which ($79.9 billion) were in general obligation bonds, with another $30.8 billion in revenue bonds, the Sacramento Bee reported.

They are spending more than they have, and they are spending it on government make jobs projects that are not just inefficient, but downright idiotic, like the high speed rail. Don’t kid yourself. These projects exist to line the pockets of donkey donors and friends. Like all the green shit they pretend is going to save us and spur economic growth, but always ends in disaster for the tax payers that subsidized these idiotic, inefficient, and outright ludicrous enterprises. Remember Solydra, and there were plenty of other examples. So knowing what we know about the inefficiencies of the “spend other people’s money tribe”, and how badly they have screwed over their state, finding out that they are rewarding themselves with a 5% pay hike, at a time most people are looking for jobs or not getting any raises at all due to the bad economy these class warriors are primarily responsible for, sucks ass. From the article;

SACRAMENTO — A state panel on Wednesday approved a 5% pay raise for Gov. Jerry Brown, legislators and other state elected officials, restoring the salary level they received before it was cut during last year’s budget problems.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission also agreed to increase the state’s contribution to the health benefits of state elected officials by 10%, restoring half of the amount cut in 2009.

The panel’s action boosts the salary of Brown from $165,288 to $173,987 in December, and increases legislators’ pay from $90,520 to $95,291 at the same time. Raises will also be provided to the state attorney general, state treasurer and other constitutional officers.

During the last four years, the commission had cut the pay of 132 elected state officials by 23% in reaction to the recession and its damage to the budget, which resulted in furloughs for rank-and-file state workers.

But commissioners noted Wednesday that the economy has improved, the budget has been balanced with a $1 billion reserve fund, and Brown has offered a 4.5% pay raise phased in over two years to the largest state employee union.

The budget is balanced and there is a surplus? Yeah, in lala-land, maybe. So state workers are again getting perks that the tax payers can’t afford. Enjoy the land of fruits and nuts, and beware its ideological export to the rest of our nation. There is a lesson here, but I suspect that the usual crowd that believes in the tax & spend philosophy will not get it.

California in the Balance

Well, this is interesting news:

California has been Exhibit A for the fiscal upheaval that has rocked states throughout the recession. Year after year, California officials reported bigger and bigger deficits and sought to respond with spending cuts that left the state reeling.

“The deficit is gone,” Mr. Brown proclaimed, standing in front of an array of that-was-then and this-is-now charts that illustrated what he said were dramatic changes in California’s fortunes.

“For the next four years we are talking about a balanced budget,” he said. “We are talking about living within our means. This is new. This is a breakthrough.”

Mr. Brown was not just talking about a balanced budget. He projected that the state would begin posting surpluses starting next year, leading to a projected surplus of $21.5 million by 2014, a dramatic turnaround from the deficit of $26 billion — billion, not million — he faced when he was elected in 2010.

A few important caveats here. The deficit is not gone, it is projected to be gone based on an improving economy and the legislature sticking to the spending cuts. I am dubious that this discipline will be maintained given that Democrats — now with a supermajority — are already talking about restoring some spending and are still backing the $55 billion boondoggle of kinda-high-speed rail. There’s some awfully big assumptions baked into that budget projection. I will give Jerry Brown credit for what has been accomplished. But we were supposed to get big surpluses in the aughts, too.

Krugman pivoted on this to claim that federal budget crisis is also over because an analysis from the CBPP shows that if the economy does well, Congress maintains discipline and we find another $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction, the deficit will not rise as a percentage of GDP for at least a decade (after which, it goes up rapidly). I worry about a man of his age twisting himself into a pretzel through all of those assumptions to reach such an uninspiring conclusion; especially after he vehemently denounced the policies that have made progress on the debt. But then he makes the bizarre statement that, since the deficit problem might possibly maybe be solved with a lot of assumptions and a good economy and a more disciplined Congress, we can now start spending again. So much for the Keynesian business of reigning in spending and paying down debt when the economy is better.

Don’t believe the hype. Believe the numbers when they actually come in. Just this week, our budget deficit has exceeded $1 trillion for the fifth straight year. That is reality. If California’s 2013 budget does indeed come in balanced, that will be reality. All else if conjecture. It is not entirely useless conjecture. but it’s a sign of idiocy to treat it as reality. In the federal case, the budget is “balanced” based on spending cuts that yet to be enacted and economic growth that has yet to happen. Using that as an excuse to reverse the policies that attacked the deficit in the first place is delusional.

(Frankly, I don’t think even Krugman believes his own post. You know that if a Republican used the same CBPP graph to claim we can now cut taxes, Krugman would go ape-shit about how irresponsible they were.)

The Worst Senator in America

Diane Feinstein is having quite a day, today. I have a big post coming up on guns, but let’s lead off with her gun bill. If I read it correctly, many standard handguns would fall under the category of “assault weapons”. It is far broader and far more invasive than her last “assault weapons ban”. It grandfathers in certain weapon but forces owners to register them.

That would be a bad day for anyone who has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution. But the FISA bill is up for consideration today and DiFi just gave as speech blasting Rand Paul, Mark Udall and Ron Wyden for trying to get even a modicum of oversight into the President’s ability to tap phones without a warrant. She went so far as to basically imply that we would have another 9/11 if we didn’t give unlimited power to the White House.

I’m not going to mince words. DiFi has been a senator for twenty years and her record is one of constantly deferring to government power and constantly despising the basic liberties that the American people are supposed to have. In addition to her assaults on the second and fourth amendments, she was a big supporter of PIPA. And yet, she enjoys high approval numbers in California and has easily won re-election every time she’s up.

So thanks a lot for that, California. Thanks a pantload.

Whither California?

Many of you, especially those of you who live there, know how screwed up the state of California is. For a long time, the Democrats have blamed this sad state of affairs not on their idiocy, their subservience to public labor unions or their refusal to control spending, but on the Republican minority in the legislature.

Looks like they are going to run out of excuses soon:

Mitt Romney lost to President Obama by a landslide 21 percentage points in a state that used to consistently side with the Republican nominee.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein drew only token Republican opposition and won by 23 points.

Democrats, at last count, were gaining four congressional seats in California.

The stunner was the state Assembly, where Democrats apparently achieved a historic supermajority to match the party’s similar feat in the Senate. This means there’s virtually nothing that Democrats can’t pass on their own in Sacramento, relegating Republicans to mathematical irrelevancy.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The Republican slice of registered voters in California slipped below 30%. Only eight years ago it was nearly 35%. Democrats are 44%.

And about that loud anti-tax mantra, the Republicans’ favorite rallying cry: Most voters aren’t listening.

Two tax-increase measures were approved by Californians. Brown’s Prop. 30 won by a surprising 8 points. Prop. 39, ending a tax break mainly for out-of-state corporations, was approved by 20 points.

Skelton blames this on the weak Republican party and their inability to compromise. There may be something to that, but I’m dubious that even a functional GOP could make progress in California. The fact is that the Democratic majority has persuaded the people of California that their salvation lies in more spending, more taxes and more regulation.

Those of you who have read Atlas Shrugged may remember the endgame. The national government kept pursuing collectivists policies. As that drove achievers away and crippled the economy, they responded with ever more collectivism, eventually destroying the national economy.

I am under no illusion that the denizens of California will realize how badly the Democratic Party is screwing them. As the state continues to decay into bankruptcy and economic stagnation, the Democrats will continue to blame Republicans and the public will continue to follow along. As a result, I think we are about to Atlas Shrugged played out in real life.

Why I Would Not Live in California, Parts 284-286

I’ve actually had good times when I’ve been in California. I know a lot of people who live out there. There are lots of opportunities for science and technology. It’s five hours closer to Australia than my current abode. It would be a lovely place to live … if it weren’t run by a bunch of totalitarian dunces.

Today, we find ourselves amidst a trifecta of good-old fashioned California What the Fuck:

A handful of local officials in California who say the housing bust is a public blight on their cities may invoke their eminent-domain powers to restructure mortgages as a way to help some borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth. …

… instead of tearing down property, California’s San Bernardino County and two of its largest cities, Ontario and Fontana, want to put eminent domain to a highly unorthodox use to keep people in their homes.

The municipalities, about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles, would acquire underwater mortgages from investors and cut the loan principal to match the current property value. Then, they would resell the reduced mortgages to new investors.

Bainbridge has the dirty details. Essentially, the cities would seize mortgages from companies, cut the principle to the current value, then let a well-connected venture capital firm sell a new mortgage to the homeowners for a $25,000 profit. If that sounds like moneyed interests and government ganging up to rob banks, that’s because that’s what it is.

Bainbridge points out why this is so bad for Californians (I mean, apart from the robbery, corruption, violation of basic contract law, etc.):

There will dountless be costs to California tax payers. There will inevitably be litigation (even though Messrs Williams, Gluckstern, and Altman reportedly are deliberately targeting the weakest banks with the shallowest pockets for legal fights). Banks will be less willing to lend to Californians, which will drive down property values. As such, this is a wealth transfer from people like yours truly who were fiscally prudent, took on only as biug a mortgage as we could afford, and didn’t run up huge lines of credit to people who were fiscally imprudent, who took on jumbo mortgages to buy far bigger houses than they needed, who ran up huge lines of credit to finance spending, and stupidly thought the housing bubble would last forever. Now that the music’s stopped, they’re going to get relief–with a big chunk being siphoned off for Messrs Williams, Gluckstern, and Altman–at our expense.

This is pure robbery, enabled by a greedy government.

But, wait there’s more. The California legislature just voted for the initial funding of the $68 billion rail line from Los Angeles to California. I just want you to take a moment and think about that. $68 billion. For a train. A train that no one will ride because it will be cheaper to fly between the two cities. Gillespie talks about how this passed over fierce opposition in the electorate.

Electorate, what electorate? Obama and Pelosi are the ones who matter.

Or rather, Obama and Pelosi are the ones who matter when you know you don’t have the courage to take on your public unions in Sacramento and are planning to go hat-in-hand to the federal government for a bailout when your state’s economy crashes into a grove of fig trees at 200 miles per hour. Prediction: Appeasing the great and powerful O will pay off with federal dollars when weak-willed legislators prove utterly unable to defuse the state’s pension bomb. Also, if Obama wins reelection, perhaps he’ll ride in on his unicorn and save California from the education cuts that are almost certainly likely to happen now that Brown’s tax initiative is likely doomed.

Yes, that will be us, the non-Californians, making sure the state can build this gigantic white elephant of a public work. According to their own estimates, the rail will pay for itself … sometime in the late 22nd century.

So that’s the economy. What about the law?

Parents who transport a youngster without a car seat and lose the child in a fatal traffic accident may have their surviving children removed by social welfare authorities, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday.

The state high court ruled in favor of Los Angeles County social workers who placed two young boys in foster care after their 18-month-old sister, held on the lap of an aunt, was killed when a driver ran a stop sign and plowed into the car their father was driving.

The ruling permits counties to remove children in such cases even if the child’s death was not caused by criminal negligence or abuse. Social welfare agencies also are not required to show that the fatal conduct posed a risk to the surviving children, the court said.

We all know that the best way to deal with an unimaginable tragedy is to seize someone’s kids.

Now, to be fair, this was not exactly an ideal family. There were 20 people living together and there was evidence that the children were neglected. However, as we have learned about a million times, once you establish a precedent, it applies to everyone. All law enforcement, anti-terror and bureaucratic abuses are justified by the worst case scenarios and then applied to scenarios that we didn’t ever imagine they’d apply to.

At some point, California is just going to implode — fiscally, legally, culturally and morally. The only thing we can do is take in the good people as they flee the chaos.

3 of 9 on 8

Well, this should get interesting:

A federal appeals court in California has upheld a lower court’s ruling that Proposition 8, the state’s ban on gay marriage, is unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit announced its long-awaited ruling on Tuesday.

Proposition 8 was a 2008 ballot measure, approved by voters, that amended the state constitution to ban same-sex couples in California from getting married.

Walker’s initial ruling was disputed because he is gay. This one has two Democrat-appointed justices, so it will be disputed too. The next step will be a hearing by the entire court. But if the Courts continue to buy the argument that being allowed to marry is a right, I can’t see them upholding the ability of California’s to vote away a minority’s rights.

While I support allowing gays to marry, I would prefer the route taken be through the legislatures or ballots, not the courts. I realize that’s cold comfort to gays who want to get married. But if the Courts overturn a popularly-passed amendment, the screams about gay marriage being forced on us by judicial activism will never fade. Over-turning this by another ballot initiative will make the entire issue moot, even if it means that the right to marry is not shouted from the steps of the Supreme Court.

Still, grab some popcorn. It’s going to get fun.