New Law to Prevent Fake News Will Cause Harm

Fake NewsRecently passed legislation in California that targets online bots purports to address the fake news problem and the undue influence of advertising. It accomplishes none of that. The legislation will, however, allow government officials to target ordinary behavior by companies, candidates and political organizations that is not conventionally considered “bot” activity.

The new law, which goes into effect in 2019, makes it illegal for anyone to use a bot to communicate with anyone in California online without disclosing that they are in fact using a bot. Though the law applies only to bots used to influence people’s purchases or votes, the law’s definition of “bot” is severely overbroad.

The law defines “bot” as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.” Yet in our highly-automated world, this language can include innumerable activities that the legislation’s authors may not consider “bot” activity.

People who work in digital fields like social media, for instance, often use automated processes to complete simple, repetitive tasks that would otherwise take up valuable time. Many social media managers use a feature native to website platforms and media management tools that tweets new website posts automatically, as soon as they are posted on a company’s website. Organizations strapped for time and resources find this feature particularly helpful. If those posts are commercial or electoral in nature and do not state that they are bot-driven, it is possible that they would violate the law.

What about online store automated chats? These chats mimic the behaviors of customer support staff and exist to help guide users through purchases. Since customer service issues can often be solved without a single human interaction, these “bots” are far more cost-efficient than hiring additional employees. While many automated chat windows inform users they are not human so that users are not confused, some do not. Automated chats that do not disclose this information may violate California’s new law.

In the political realm, an increasing number of campaigns and committees have taken to texting supporters in much the same way they send emails. The goals of these texts vary from fundraising pushes to reminding people to vote, and the messages often include names like “Nancy Pelosi” or “Tom Cotton” to make them appear as though they originated from a big-named sender. While these texts are often approved by the person named, they are not written by the signed sender and their distribution is automated. Need a text identify itself as bot-sent under these circumstances? Under the new law, the answer is likely yes.

While all of these methods can be used nefariously, they are simply tools that can be used to achieve innocent ends. One can send an automated email to sell fraudulent goods or to sell a legitimate product. An automated campaign tweet can attempt to rally support or spread false news. Because the law as written casts such a wide net, it may be used to capture people who use bots for benign purposes.

Moreover, this law would not target the heart of the issues it purportedly addresses — fake news and fraudulent advertising. Fake news requires a human hand in the generation process because the stories are designed for shock value, often in a way that ties in current events, and thus may not be covered by the law. The concern with advertising bots relates to an incident where Russian bots tricked marketers into buying millions of dollars of video ads that never ended up acquiring real views. Yet it is unclear whether the law would substantially impede this sort of activity. In this instance, the bots did not interact with users but merely mimicked web surfers and gave the videos “views.” The law does not apply to bots that do not communicate with real people.

At best, the law will sit and collect dust. At worst, it will sweep many online stores, political committees and candidates into the justice system abyss. In practice, as with many vague laws, officials will likely apply them only to disfavored companies and groups.

Even if the law ends up requiring accounts that do spread fake news and false advertisements to be labeled as “bots,” the law will also apply to many legitimate publications and companies. This means that both legitimate and illicit automated systems will all have the “bot” label. And if everyone online is a bot, then nobody is a bot.

igital media manager and a fellow at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.

Battles Fought to Stop Tax Hikes in CA Legislature

CapitolWhile on the campaign trail prior to the 1988 election, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush uttered the now infamous words, “read my lips, no new taxes.” Of course, this was a pledge he broke, which likely cost him reelection.

The mission of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is to protect Proposition 13 and to advance taxpayers’ rights, including the right to limited taxation, the right to vote on tax increases and the right of economical, equitable and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, this value set is shared by too few politicians in Sacramento.

Because of that, taxpayers rarely are able to obtain meaningful reform in the state Capitol. California’s reputation for high taxes and burdensome regulations is well deserved and taxpayers are usually able to obtain relief only through the powers of direct democracy including initiative, referendum and recall.

While many wish this wasn’t the case, the stark reality is that legislators have voted for eight taxes (six of which became law) since 2012.

In nearly all instances it was Republicans (usually opposed to higher taxes) who joined with tax-and-spend Democrats to provide the final vote for tax increases ranging from car registrations, to gas taxes, to lumber and battery assessments and mattresses.

Thankfully though, no taxes were approved in 2018.

Don’t misunderstand, the tax-and-spend lobby wasn’t taking the year off just because of the upcoming November election. If anything, they were eager to follow up on their three victories last year, which included the infamous gas tax and a tax on recorded documents. Governor Brown made it clear in 2016 that he desired a permanent source of revenue to fund transportation, affordable housing, and clean water programs. He got the first two last year so only the water tax remained.

The fight over the water tax was very contentious. First, no one doubted the importance of having access to clean water, particularly in the Central Valley where decades of neglect and mismanagement of water systems created the problem in the first place. But imposing a dollar-a-month tax on all residential water users in the state to address a local problem made no sense. The cost to fix the problem was estimated to be $120 million of one-time money, which reflects a tiny percentage of California’s General Fund budget. Thankfully, Senate Bill 623 failed before the Legislature’s summer recess in July and taxpayers and their allies, mostly California’s local water agencies, breathed a sigh of relief. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Daily News

Bill to Provide Free Healthcare for Adult Illegal Aliens Dies in CA Legislature

MedizinCalifornia Senate Bill 974, which would provide for “full-scope” Medi-Cal health benefits to all illegal aliens, died in the State Assembly after concerns about up to $3 billion in new costs.

“SB-974 Medi-Cal: Immigration Status: Adults” failed quietly in the Assembly’s Appropriation Committee on August 18, despite an effort to save part of the bill by reducing the cost of taxpayer coverage to $200 million by only covering adult illegal aliens 65 years and older.

After the Democrat-controlled California legislature passed “Health for All Kids” (SB 75) in 2016, which extended full Medi-Cal benefits to 200,000 illegal alien children under the age of 19, Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) promised that he would fight to expand coverage to all adults who would be eligible, regardless of their immigration status.

When Lara introduced SB 974 on April 2, he told Politico that despite President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration, California Democrats continue to believe that health care is a civil right for all residents. “California has never waited for the federal government, or for a political climate, to be able to take leadership on a whole host of issues,” he said.

Lara and other California Democrats had been claiming that there would be no added taxpayer burden from SB 974, because California is already paying for poor undocumented adult illegal aliens through emergency rooms across the state.

But the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) examination in May of the financial impacts of SB 974 revealed the cost for extending the coverage to full-scope Medi-Cal coverage for all eligible adult illegal aliens would be $4.74 billion — a $3 billion increase in the taxpayer burden above what is currently provided to illegal aliens through emergency rooms alone. …

Click here to read the full article from Breitbart.com/California

Proposal to Place Restrictions on Plastic Straws Advances in California Legislature

StrawsThe California Senate on Monday approved legislation barring dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested.

The measure, which goes back to the Assembly for concurrence in amendments, was introduced to address the environmental problems caused by plastic ending up in oceans and rivers.

Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) said plastic contamination is showing up in 25% of the fish sold in California.

“Do you want to eat fish with plastic in it?” Stern asked his colleagues. “This is a public health issue.”

The measure exempts fast-food restaurants and other businesses. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

California Considers Requiring Ethnic Studies Course to Graduate High School

graduation cap diploma isolated on a white background

As a teacher in Los Angeles county, Jose Lara has fought for years to have ethnic studies taught in high schools across the state. He’s taught the course for 13 years and says he’s seen his students transform by studying their history—whether learning about Cesar Chavez, who led the farmworkers movement in the ’60s, or about Angel Island, a port of entry near San Francisco that limited Chinese immigration in the early 1900s.

“Ethnic studies helps students develop an academic identity,” he said. “It really builds empathy cross-culturally as well so it brings communities that may be different from one another closer together.”

But skeptics say the state couldn’t afford to require such a course. Some critics go even further, insisting the state shouldn’t reinforce “identity politics” and instead should laser-focus on shrinking the academic achievement gap for black and Latino students.

This week the Legislature—which had been considering a bill to make California the first state to require ethnic studies for high school graduation—backed away from creating such a statewide mandate, citing costs estimated to top $400 million. Sponsors settled on a pilot program instead.

The pilot would cover 10 to 15 school districts across the state that will opt in to have ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. Schools would begin applying next year and the program would create the requirement for some students as early as 2022, with schools reporting their findings in 2024.

A state law passed in 2016 already encourages high schools to offer an elective course in ethnic studies, and requires the state to create a model curriculum for the class by 2020. Currently only 1 percent of California’s public high school students take ethnic studies. …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters

The California Legislature passes the pension buck – again

PensionsIn truth, Sacramento politicians are very dependable. You can depend on them to raise your taxes, pass meaningless resolutions attacking President Trump and hurt the private sector by eliminating workplace arbitration and enacting even more burdensome regulations. And finally, they are very dependable in avoiding the most important threats to California’s financial solvency, especially dealing with unfunded pension liabilities.

Much has been written about California’s unfunded pension crisis. By 2024, normal contribution payments by cities and counties to CalPERS are estimated to total nearly $3 billion, and the unfunded contribution payments are estimated to total $5.5 billion. That shortfall of nearly $3 billion a year will continue to increase unless reforms are enacted – soon.

California’s pension crisis exists in large part due to the very nature of defined-benefit plans. Unlike defined-contribution plans, where the taxpayers’ obligation to each public employee ends with every pay period, defined-benefit plans depend on a projection of future investment returns. And therein lies the problem. California has been horribly wrong in its application of assumed rates of return, leading to hundreds of billions in unfunded liabilities.

And this shortfall is occurring in good economic times when the state of California is relatively flush. A recession will quickly expose this short-sighted thinking, yet the Legislature continues to believe that local municipalities will continue to pass regressive sales tax increases to bail themselves out. Already, 24 cities have sales tax rates at or over 9.5 percent, and more cities are destined to join them.

To read the entire column, please click here.

New California law helps protect voters from hacking

Voting boothSometimes — OK, most of the time — new rules and regulations aimed at putting the brakes on electioneering shenanigans smack of undue limitations on free speech.

Voters must be trusted at least a little bit to be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the politicking aimed at them during campaigns. If all is fair in love and war it is certainly so in politics.

Informed voters have ample opportunities to fact-check what they hear from candidates, and can use their heads and their hearts to suss out whether the people seeking their votes are con artists or people of conviction.

But it has to be said that the overwhelming evidence of Russian government-backed attempts to hack American elections has changed the atmosphere and made calls for new attempts to block such tactics worth at least listening to.

Such interference is certainly not a partisan issue, and that’s likely why only one “no” vote was cast in both houses of the California Legislature against a new law under which journalists, researchers and political campaigns that receive voter data must tell officials if it may have been stolen. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Is this the California Democrats’ way of admitting taxes are too high?

Kevin de LeonIt’s almost like a quiet confession that socialism has been wrong the whole time. In California, the left is fighting to bail out the rich.

Three bills pending in Sacramento would allow the highest-earning Californians to get around the federal tax reform’s new $10,000 limit on the deductibility of state and local taxes.

Two of the bills were authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, the termed-out Senate leader who is running to the left of Dianne Feinstein for the U.S. Senate this November. The other was introduced by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, whose liberal credentials are in evidence in her legislative scorecard ratings — 93 percent from the California Labor Federation (96 percent for “lifetime floor votes,”) and 30 percent from the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

If these three bills had been introduced by Republicans, Democrats would be on television every day denouncing the bills, the authors, the party, the president, the rich and capitalism generally.

Instead, you probably haven’t heard a word about them. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Taxpayer Victories in an Anti-Taxpayer California Legislature

CA-legislatureRonald Reagan once said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” With a record $130 billion budget, we know that California state legislators are adept at all three practices, but none more so than taxes.

Democrats in Sacramento spent 2017 jamming three separate tax and fuel-cost hikes into law. They renewed the cap-and-trade program, continuing a multi-billion-dollar increase in fuel costs that brings in state revenue to fund high-speed rail. They invented a new tax on recorded documents that is supposed to fund affordable housing. And of course the SB 1 gas and car tax increase was said to be needed to fund road repair, even though billions of dollars have been diverted away from maintenance over the last decade. In the midst of an $8 billion surplus, Sacramento was steadily increasing taxes.

But fortunately, 2018 hasn’t been as dreadful for taxpayers as 2017. Here’s a sample of the proposals that, for now, have failed to pass:

Senate Bill 794 would impose a new three percent tax on fireworks at the point of sale. The abuse of illegal fireworks is a matter of statewide concern, and as such, it is totally appropriate to spend existing General Fund revenues on enforcement and safety. Instead, by taxing the sale of fireworks, Sacramento would be hurting all the non-profit organizations that raise a sizable share of their annual revenue from firework stands.

Assembly Bill 2497 would impose an as-yet-undefined tax on guns and ammunition to fund school resource counselors and police officers.

AB 2303 and AB 2560 would create a new tax of up to ten percent on small business vendors who contract out either with private prisons or with the California Department of Corrections.

Senate Bill 623 would establish a precedent-setting tax on residential water use. For now, local water agencies have joined with taxpayer advocates to vigorously fight this levy.

Assembly Bill 2486 would impose a $100 million tax on opioid manufacturers and distributors to fund prevention and treatment programs. Ultimately, this tax will be passed onto consumers, especially to patients who use opioids appropriately to manage pain. As an issue of statewide concern as well as a legitimate public health issue, opioid treatment should also be financed out of the General Fund. …

Click here to read the full article from the Riverside Press-Enterprise

California beats its 2020 goals for cutting greenhouse gases

traffic-los-angelesCalifornia has beaten its self-imposed goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, achieving a milestone in the state’s fight against climate change.

The California Air Resources Board announced Wednesday that total statewide carbon emissions fell to 429 million metric tons in 2016, a drop of 12 million tons from the year before. The decline means California met the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels, and did so a full four years before the target year of 2020.

Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials said the results proved the state’s portfolio of anti-carbon laws and regulations is succeeding — and showed California can fight climate change while still enjoying a significant economic boom. They pledged to continue to fight efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to roll back strict emission rules imposed by the Obama administration.

“This is great news for the health of Californians, the state’s environment and its economy, even as we face the failure of our national leadership to address climate change,” said Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols in a prepared statement. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee