All posts by Marcy

About Marcy

Advocate of Constitutional guarantees to individual liberty.

When Challenges Highlight Shortcomings

homelessness

In difficult times, we say “This too will pass.” Difficulties do pass, and our lives do return to normalcy (albeit at times a new normalcy). However, returning to normalcy usually means returning to a status quo. Often, the status quo is a variable that contributed to the difficulties in the first place.

The Just Vote No Blog recommends this article published today in California Political News & Views: COVID-19 Highlights Shortcomings.

The status quo in California includes massive homelessness, drug use, economically vulnerable residents, and inferior government schools among other ills. Enormous amounts of money, effort and focus are allocated to those ills, leaving social and economic structures poorly attended.

Thus, returning to normalcy might not be a good thing, unless that normalcy includes an effort to change the status quo.

Bill Gates in 2015: “We Are Not Prepared”

Bill Gates TED Talk

Five years ago Microsoft founder Bill Gates hoped that the Ebola epidemic of 2013 would be the wake-up call that triggered mobilization towards preparedness. In his April 2015 TED Talk Gates said,

If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.

Such prediction becomes credible when we compare efforts at preparing for war vs. efforts at preparing to fighting epidemics.

… we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.

Preparedness for war entails reserves that can be called into action, mobile units that can be deployed where conflicts arise, and on-going assessments of logistics. Such preparedness does not exist in public health systems.

An effective public health system needs not only trained and flexible boots on the ground, but also coordinated scientific and technological support, as Bill Gates suggested.

But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talk about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system.

In his 2015 talk Bill Gates was speaking from the world’s experience with the Ebola epidemic that started in 2013. Ebola was contained by 2016. Except for isolated cases elsewhere, the Ebola epidemic mostly affected populations in West Africa.

Even more difficult to contain without effective public health systems in place are pandemics, which unlike epidemics spread rapidly globally. Epidemiologists estimated deaths from two recent pandemics: the 1968 Hong Kong Flu caused one million deaths worldwide and 100,000 in the U.S., and the 2009 Swine Flu 575,400 deaths worldwide and 12,469 in the U.S.

Today we are suffering through COVID-19, not a strain of influenza, but a coronavirus in the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, first emerged in 2002, deaths worldwide 813, fatality rate 9.5%), and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, first emerged in 2012, deaths 858, fatality rate 34%).

Preparedness for COVID-19 is minimal in most countries. In the U.S. there is scarcity of tests and protective gear, insufficient hospital beds, inadequate logistics for keeping grocery shelves stocked, no plan to quickly move school aged children from crowded brick and mortar facilities to small groups or on-line instruction. We are left with lockdowns that will result in massive economic and social disruptions.

Effective public health structures that defend populations against disease cost money. However, such public structures are not built by government throwing money at schemes like Medicare for everyone or universal health care. They are built by intelligent research and development, flexible logistics for people and equipment, absence of excessive red tape, and ample market competition that brings costs down.

Also, the costs of effective health structures must be compared to economic upheavals incurred by lockdowns and absences from work as we are seeing with COVID-19.  As Bill Gates said,

I don’t have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I’m quite sure it’s very modest compared to the potential harm.

Today we are seeing the harm brought about by unpreparedness.   Hopefully after COVID-19 is past, we will see determination towards preparedness.

The Keystone Kops Response to Crises

The Keystone Kops

There is nothing humorous about anyone getting sick or dying. Therefore, it is imperative that we all forcefully call attention to societal failings that place people at risk. At present people around the world are dealing in one way or another with the spread of the new virus COVID-19. As is often the case, it takes an emergency such as COVID-19 to reveal how prepared or woefully unprepared our social institutions are in containing major risks. Such revelations go beyond basic preparedness, but point to structural failings that arise from greed, corruption, or just plain lack of common sense and civil discipline.

Popular culture has a symbol for instances where a great deal of uncoordinated and unproductive activity takes place without appreciable positive results: The Keystone Kops.

The name has since been used to criticize any group for its mistakes, particularly if the mistakes happened after a great deal of energy and activity, or for a lack of coordination among the members. For example, in criticizing the Department of Homeland Security’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Senator Joseph Lieberman claimed that emergency workers under DHS chief Michael Chertoff “ran around like Keystone Kops, uncertain about what they were supposed to do or uncertain how to do it.”  Wikipedia

Disciplined Responses

Reports have surfaced comparing the “best” responses to COVID-19 (relatively rapid effective containment) against the “worst” (undisciplined efforts that fail at rapid containment).

Wired published an article illustrating “best” responses. Countries that are exhibiting effective responses are Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. They learned from SARS and H1N1, and used that knowledge to build and maintain permanent public health infrastructures that can be activated in emergencies.

Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea all share the characteristic of using their experiences with prior outbreaks to build a system—and then sustaining it. None of them had to deal with the fear of being a first-mover, of being the first city or country to institute seemingly severe countermeasures. Their countermeasures were already in place, waiting to be reactivated.

In other words, these countries were able to leap into action with effective weapons against COVID-19. Again from the Wired article:

Here’s how those Asian countries are doing it: According to a new article in The Lancet, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore all developed their own tests for Covid-19 as soon as the genetic sequences for the virus were published, and ramped up production of the materials necessary for those tests. (That’s a sharp contrast with the US, which still doesn’t have enough tests for nationwide use, and may actually be running out of the materials necessary to make them.) Each country instituted controls over immigration (a controversial move that the WHO recommended against, but that they did anyway). They rejiggered their national financial systems to make sure people didn’t have to pay for tests or treatment. (Easier in places where most health care is already nationalized, to be sure—and in some more progressive American states like California, Washington, and New York. In fact, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even ordered paid sick leave for quarantined people and free hand sanitizer.)

Keystone Kops Type of Responses

The article in Wired gives a good picture of effective responses to pandemics (by the way, “pandemics” do not denote severity of an infectious disease, but the disease’s ability to spread globally). However, the last sentence in the paragraph above merits examination.

The “more progressive American states like California, Washington, and New York” excel in Keystone Kops type of activity, in addition to lacking any semblance of effective public health infrastructures.
California, for example, spends countless millions on its ever growing homeless-drug industry. Streets in major cities like Los Angles and San Francisco are home to thousands of drug addicts and mentally disturbed individuals. Diseases like typhus and leprosy have been detected among this vast unsheltered population. Response? Governor Gavin Newsom declared on Sunday March 15 that private hotel and motel rooms will be used as necessary to house homeless individuals at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Additionally, the Governor wants all individuals 65 and older not to leave their home. Good luck, seniors, obtaining your food, water and medicines. Not that the rest of the California population is doing all that well obtaining supplies given that many grocery shelves are empty.

The homeless are not the only “invisible” inhabitants in the U.S. Undocumented immigrants welcomed in sanctuary cities and states might not be too anxious to be identified. They, along with other working poor, might not have the luxury or “working from home” like their “professional” brethren.

Indeed, as the article in Wired says “Don’t tread on me” Americans are not as willing as residents of Singapore or South Korea to abide by a highly disciplined lifestyle when necessary. So our Keystone Kops leadership have no means of containing pandemics other than invading private property to house those at risk, closing schools but ordering libraries and recreational facilities to take in children of parents who need to keep on working to survive (let that sink in), and urging people to stay home.

There are Two Californias: Why Pretend there is Only One?

Scales of justice

In California, residents of the coastal cities are different from those who live inland. There is a similar divide between people who live in coastal states and people who live in inland states. Do these two factions enjoy equal say?

Inland states, less populous than coastal states, enjoy equal say in the U.S. Senate, where all states are represented by an equal number of Senators. However, residents of inland California have zero say, since the California Senate structure is based on population, exactly the same as the California Assembly. The needs of inland Californians might be entirely different from those of coastal Californians, but the inland people must live under rules developed and approved by the populous coastal people.

It was not always that way. At one time California operated under the U.S. Senate model, and all its Senatorial districts were represented by an equal number of state Senators. In those days farmers in the Central Valley had a change to compete with their big-city brethren.

That all changed in 1964 when an activist U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of “Living Constitution” advocate Earl Warrant, declared in Reynolds vs. Sims that all state Senate seats needed to be allocated based on population.

One of the first things the newly empowered big-city folks did was to change the California Legislature from part time to full time. That happened in 1966. A full-time legislature is usually defined as one that meets throughout the year, while a part-time legislature meets for a portion of the year. For reference, today we have 10 full time state legislatures out of 50.

1966 marked the birth of the professional California politician, without other means of support, who keeps recycling through the state’s political system. It started the exponential growth in the volume of bills micromanaging every nook and cranny to be found. Staff, salaries, benefits, taxes, fees all grew as well.

For those readers interested in the first part of the new reality – Reynolds vs Sims, and the resulting neglect of farmers in the Central Valley – here is a link to an article in the California Political News & Views. Note that in his introduction to the article, publisher Steve Frank, mentions the ruinous results of California moving to a full-time legislature:  All California is Not Alike.

Would Even Bigger Government Fix California?

Big Government

The California Secretary of State cleared for signature gathering voters’ initiative 19-0012, that would do the following if passed:

* Replace the current partisan bicameral legislature with a non-partisan unicameral one.

* Increase the number of legislators from 40 State Senators and 80 Assembly Members to 250 legislators intended to represent by 2024 80,000 to 100,000 persons for each legislator.

* According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, if passed this initiative would incur a one-time cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the State Capitol in Sacramento to accommodate the new legislators, incur ongoing increased building maintenance costs of a few million dollars annually, and incur state costs of millions of dollars per year to oversee elections.

What are the Real Changes?

The substantive changes this initiative if passed would implement would be,

* A significant growth in government.

* A significant growth in legislators writing laws to govern California residents.

* A significant growth in costs, and thus presumably taxpayer obligations.

Can the Changes Accomplish Objectives?

Whether this initiative would accomplish its objectives might be questionable.

* There would be no change in California’s proportional representation based on population. Thus, the populous coastal areas would continue to dominate sparsely-populated inland areas.

* The hope that much smaller districts would afford residents better control of their representatives might be a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Representatives Without Representation

This Nation was born over the rallying cry “Taxation Without Representation!” Today perhaps the rallying cry should be “Representatives Without Representation!”

The Just Vote No Blog has often noted a new trend: Ideological legislators whose actions are based on what they believe is needed from their point of view, not based on what their constituents need or want.

We are not speaking here about unconstitutional proposals, which legislators should indeed reject. We are talking about ordinary things described in the Just Vote No Article Who Are California Legislators Working For?

Government Growth is Not The Solution But the Problem

Whether smaller districts at significantly increased costs would change the present ideological bent of legislators is something voters need to think about when considering increasing the size of our legislature.

Our Founding Fathers advocated a lean Federal government that focused on specific enumerated obligations.  They did not opine on how states should govern, as long as states operated withing the bounds of the Federal Constitution.

California’s government is anything but lean.  The volume of laws and regulations attempting to control every aspect of California residents’ lives is mind boggling.  Could residents in a smaller district control such a tsunami?

Lies, Hate and Disinformation – Should Facebook Decide What’s What?

FB Protesters - Copy

Crowds have been gathering in front of Facebook headquarters and Mark Zuckerberg’s home demanding that Facebook stop accepting political ads from users and stop availing users of targeted political ads.  The crowd that gathered on February 17 was organized by well-known groups like Media Alliance and Global Exchange

Some groups have demanded that Mark Zuckerberg step down as Facebook CEO. They cite Twitter’s ban on political ads and Google’s ban on targeted political ads as models for stopping posted content that mislead voters.

Although both major political parties use Facebook and other media platforms to promote their causes, the current demands focus more specifically on right-leaning political groups:

* Mr. Zuckerberg appears to be engaged in some kind of mutual assistance arrangement with Donald Trump that will help him to get re-elected. Facebook does not need to wait for government regulations to stop accepting any political advertising in 2020 until after the elections on November 4. If there is any doubt whether an ad is political, it should err on the side of caution and refuse to publish. It is unlikely that Facebook will follow this course. George Soros: Remove Zuckerberg and Sandberg From Their Posts. Letter from Soros to Financial Times, February 17, 2020.

* This year’s US presidential elections are in jeopardy—in part because San Francisco Bay Area technology company Facebook refuses to take responsibility for the lies, hate, and disinformation that are being spread using its platform. Crowd Outside Mark Zuckerberg’s Home Protests Political Disinformation on Facebook, Newsweek, February 18, 2020.

* Tech companies must play a more active role in regulating the content on their platforms, and we stand in full support of tech platforms removing demonstrably false content and instituting better transparency standards. That approach combats the spread of disinformation without harming civic engagement or limiting the ability of campaigns to connect directly with voters. DCCC, DNC, DSCC Joint Statement on Google’s Recent Changes To Its Political Ad Policy. November 22, 2019.

In spite of demands for banning all political ads or banning targeted ads, the real item on the left-leaning wish list is for Facebook to act as gatekeeper and ban false or misleading content. This is a tall order requiring ample resources, which does not help Facebook’s bottom line.

Facebook is not a content provider, it merely offers a platform for content generated by users. Therefore, Facebook is supposedly protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes websites from certain liability when they publish information provided by another source. This usually arises in the context of defamation, privacy, negligence, and other tort claims. It does not, however, cover criminal liability, copyright infringement, or other intellectual property claims. Findlaw:  Understanding the Legal Issues for Social Networking Sites.

The bigger elephant in the room, other than that Facebook benefits monetarily from political ads that might be misleading, is how would the folks creating Facebook algorithms determine what is misleading.

Say, a Facebook political ad states that immigrants helped build our nation, while another ad states that illegal immigrants are a burden to taxpayers. What ad should Facebook approve or prohibit? Could picking one or the other ever be considered objective? Would Facebook’s financial bottom line be affected by an effort to fact check such a complex question?

The point here is that what protesters are advocating is blatant censorship, and censorship outside the parameters of laws such as Section 230 is never good.

BART Considers Free Tickets to Remedy Dwindling Ridership

News from the San Francisco Bay Area’s rapid transit system is that ridership off-peak hours and weekends is dwindling, which impacts the BART District’s financial bottom line. In response BART is considering targeting that ridership with free and discounted promotional tickets, as well as a means-based ticket program.

Such response from marketing professionals is often routine. However, such response from BART is bizarre.

49% of people who responded to BART’s survey question “Why not ride BART on Weekends?” indicated concern about crime on BART (26%) and homelessness on BART (23%). There appears to be no follow up question whether if tickets were free potential riders would ignore these concerns, even if they could imagine the possibility of more homeless people and more people bent on crime also taking advantage of free rides.

BART ridership 2

BART Board Meeting February 13, 2020: Rebuilding Ridership

35% of respondents to the question “Why not Commute on BART?” indicated stations were too far from where the respondents lived. Would free tickets overcome that concern, even when BART officials eye removing “park & ride” spaces to get commuters out of their private vehicles, and even when there might not be viable ways for BART riders to reach stations other than by personal vehicle?BART survey

BART Board Meeting February 13, 2020:  Rebuilding Ridership

BART is not alone as a transit agency in its loss of revenue, but it serves as example of ravages inflicted by a cluster of intractable problems plaguing California:

* High costs of construction, operations and personnel leave little room for services such as providing sufficient security guards to ensure safety and custodians to ensure cleanliness.

* Astronomical housing costs that force people to move as far into suburbs as California’s stringent urban boundaries rules allow, where principal transit lines do not reach and local transit is scarce or non-existent.

* Large and growing numbers of homeless individuals that seek shelter in transit stations and ride public transit, especially during off-peak hours.

Homelessness is particularly problematic. Numbers are so large that they affect all social and economic sectors. Although BART finances are precarious, the agency can no longer focus on delivering effective transportation riders would be pleased to use. BART is now expected to divert resources away from transportation and toward dealing with homeless – and often mentally and emotionally impaired – individuals in stations and trains.

California officials fondly envision the death of the personal vehicle and the birth of a regional transit network serving Bay Area residents. At present, such vision falls under the category of cognitive dissonance.