Proposition 47 Backstory to Mac Attacks?

Customers at the Apple store in Sacramento’s Arden Fair Mall last weekend noticed an armed police officer standing at the door. This was a response to a wave of Apple store robberies in northern California, including four at the Apple store in nearby Roseville in 30 days. In July, in similar style, four thieves stole $27,000 of Apple products from the Apple store in Fresno’s Fashion Fair Mall.

This recent crime wave may have been inspired by Prop 47, which lowered sentences for drug possession, theft, shoplifting, identity theft, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks and check forgery. The 2014 ballot measure changed these offenses from felonies that can bring prison terms to misdemeanors that often bring minimal jail sentences, if thieves are charged at all.

As we noted, in San Francisco last year criminals pulled off nearly 30,000 car break-ins and police made arrests in only 1.7 percent of the cases. That could easily have proved inspiring to those now ripping off Apple stores, and these thefts are more than simple property crime. The stolen items all belong to people, whether consumers or business owners. Meanwhile, violent criminals also enjoy new government incentives.

Proposition 57, California’s 2016 Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, expanded parole possibilities for nonviolent offenders and was supposed to reduce the prison population and save taxpayers money. Instead, it burns up more taxpayer dollars and gives some of the worst violent offenders a shot at early release. Those include convicted double murderer Daniel Marsh of Davis, one of the most depraved criminals in state and national history. Despite no new exculpatory evidence, Prop 57 was applied retroactively and his conviction reversed pending a “transfer hearing.”

Next week, a Yolo County judge will rule whether Marsh serves only until age 25, which would amount to nine years for two murders. SB 1390, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 30, bars the prosecution in adult court of those ages 14-18, whatever the gravity of their crime.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

Will Justice Kavanaugh Roll Back Russian Influence?

“The Summer of 82” was quite the show in Washington, with Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh cast as a drunken sexual predator and accuser Christine Blasey Ford playing a Ph.D. who doesn’t know the meaning of “exculpatory evidence.” In the thrilling denouement, Kavanaugh gets confirmed but Ford fans warn that millions will die and the nation will become The Handmaid’s Tale. As he performs with the Supremes, Justice Kavanaugh might have something else in mind.

As we noted, John Yoo and Robert Delahunty found no major Kavanaugh opinions on abortion, gay marriage and such. Instead, Kavanaugh’s record “creates a deeper challenge to liberalism: rolling back the administrative state,” which the authors describe as “the great threat to individual liberty today.” As Yoo and Delahunty explain, “progressives have evaded the Constitution’s checks and balances on the federal government by unceasingly expanding its regulatory reach, transferring the actual authority to make the rules from Congress to unelected bureaucrats, and then demanding that judges defer to the results virtually without question.”

In his opinion on Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), Kavanaugh ruled that the new federal agency, created during a recession, “violated the Constitution because it vested all power over consumer finance in the country in one person, but insulated him from removal by the president.” Before the CFPB, no federal agency exercising executive authority was ever headed by a single person, and a federal judge agreed with Kavanaugh that the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured. That raises a question about another curious practice.

Despite the massive federal bureaucratic state, presidents find it necessary to appoint various “Czars” to deploy executive authority and supposedly solve problems. “Czar” derives from Russian royalty and like those powerful aristocrats the American czars have no mandate from the masses. Perhaps Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his colleagues on the Supreme Court will have occasion to rule whether the presidential czars have any justification in the Constitution.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

Trump’s Ethanol Plans Double Down on Bad Environmental Policy

[This post was co-authored by Arthur R. Wardle; revised October 12.]

When Washington began subsidizing production of ethanol in the midst of 1970s’ fuel shortages, the aim was to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, especially from OPEC countries. But the United States no longer relies heavily on OPEC. In fact, America is now on track to become a net oil exporter. Thanks to the shale revolution and more drilling offshore, U.S. oil production has grown significantly, while imported oil as a share of total domestic oil consumption has plummeted.

Yet, instead of terminating the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — which mandates a sharp increase in renewable fuel consumption by 2022 — the Trump administration has doubled-down on biofuels. President Trump has said that he supports ramping up ethanol production even further by allowing gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol to be sold year-round. Doing so would expand ethanol use and encourage the EPA to ratchet that percentage up in subsequent years. Not surprisingly, the president made his announcement in Iowa, a major corn-belt state.

Gasoline nowadays typically contains just 10 percent ethanol (E10). The EPA currently bans selling richer ethanol blends during the summer because of concerns that it contributes to smog on hot days and damages the engines of older vehicles and some boats, motorcycles, and lawn mowers. The lifecycle emissions of ethanol are difficult to measure, but a comprehensive meta-analysis in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics found the greenhouse gas benefits of ethanol to be almost zero. For other pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ozone, ethanol actually is worse than gasoline.

Jerry Brown’s ATF

As his final term winds down, recurring California governor Jerry Brown has been busy touting his tax hikes, the delta tunnels, and the bullet train, among other projects. He also found time to speak out on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. “There’s no doubt that he was a heavy drinker and he told the exact opposite statement,” Brown told reporters. “So his lies, I think, are relatively well-proved and I hope the FBI can figure that out.” This marks a change of sorts for Brown. 

In 2011, police busted state finance director Ana Matosantos for drunk driving. Matosantos took full responsibility for her “reckless and irresponsible” actions and offered to resign. Governor Brown declined the offer and kept Matosantos on the job. 

The governor has twice vetoed bills that would ban smoking on beaches and parks. These measures were designed to reduce litter and prevent wildfires, but Brown thought they were too coercive and the fines too high. So he gave smokers and tobacco companies a break. 

In September, Brown signed a bill barring anyone under 21 from purchasing a rifle or shotgun. As Craig DeLuz of the Firearms Policy Coalition explained: “Governor Brown just told millions of people under 21 that they can fight and die for our state and country with machine guns, but they can’t buy a gun for self-defense in their homes. That’s nuts.” It’s also a change of sorts for Brown. During the 1970s, AIM militant Dennis Banks was involved in a gun battle at a South Dakota courthouse. Banks fled to California and Governor Jerry Brown refused to extradite the fugitive. 

Criminals do not follow gun laws, and those as young as 14 can now kill innocent victims and escape prosecution in adult court, which Brown enabled by signing Senate Bill 1391. As the Davis Enterprise noted, this was a blow to crime victims and their families. Daniel Marsh murdered Oliver Northup and Claudia Maupin at age 15. Maupin’s granddaughter Sarah Rice told the Enterprise, “we were holding on to a very small glimmer of hope that the governor and his team would have heard us begging for the safety of our families and our community.” 

Last year Jerry Brown commuted the sentences of nine convicts convicted of murder or attempted murder. Crime victims and their families might watch how many of California’s convicted murderers he pardons before leaving office. 


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

FDA Still Hooked on Meddling in Nicotine Markets

Back in April, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes to help current smokers quit and prevent future generations from starting. In an op-ed I wrote for Inside Sources, I argued such efforts are unlikely to help and will likely cause considerable harm.

At the time, lawmakers also pressured the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, worried they were steering younger generations into nicotine addiction. In the same op-ed, I warned that regulating e-cigarettes, like regular cigarettes, “will also lead to serious harm guided by good intentions.”

Unfortunately, more “good intentions” have followed.

In early September, the FDA began an anti-vaping campaign to deter teens from vaping and issued information requests to e-cigarette companies to determine how popular these products were among younger demographics. Two weeks later, the agency gave five e-cigarette producers 60 days to present it, “with robust plans on how they’ll [the producers] convincingly address the widespread use of their products by minors.”

Debt Trap Diplomacy

Last December, something remarkable happened in Sri Lanka. The nation ceded control of its Hambantota Port, which its government had been working to develop for over seven years, to China, which now holds a 99-year lease on the strategically located facility in the Indian Ocean. The New York Times reports:

Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes.

Yes, though feasibility studies said the port wouldn’t work. Yes, though other frequent lenders like India had refused. Yes, though Sri Lanka’s debt was ballooning rapidly under Mr. Rajapaksa….

Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

The transfer gave China control of territory just a few hundred miles off the shores of a rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway.

The case is one of the most vivid examples of China’s ambitious use of loans and aid to gain influence around the world — and of its willingness to play hardball to collect.

What Do Judges Maximize?

Public choice theory, a subfield of economics developed extensively over the past sixty years, has sought—in the words of its foremost developer, James Buchanan—to take the romance out of the study of politics and government action.

For a long time, a public-interest theory had held sway among scholars and students of political science. In this perspective, people in the general public respond to ordinary economic incentives and seek ordinary, personal economic goals. Thus, for example, consumers seek to maximize their consumer satisfaction, or “utility,” from the consumption of normal goods and services, and they are constrained by their incomes and by the prices of goods on the market. Producers seek to maximize their wealth—the market valuation of their firms—and they are constrained by technology, the costs of inputs, and the competition of other sellers. And so forth for other private economic actors. But once a person leaves the private sector and takes up a position in the government, he is transformed from a utility or wealth maximizer into a public-spirited actor who seeks to do whatever serves the general public interest best. This idea is so prima facie preposterous and counterfactual that one wonders how anyone ever embraced it sincerely, but many people, even scholars, seem to have done so—indeed, many still appear to do so today.

The Return of Trillion Dollar Deficits

The end of the U.S. government’s 2018 fiscal year on September 30, 2018, was accompanied by a grim milestone for the U.S. national debt: the return of trillion dollar deficits.

As of September 28, 2018, the last business day of the fiscal year, the total public debt outstanding of the U.S. government stood at $21.516 trillion, an increase of $1.271 trillion over the level of $20.245 trillion, where it stood on September 29, 2017, the last business day of the government’s 2017 fiscal year.

Terence P. Jeffrey, who covers the national debt beat for CNSNews, puts the latest single-year trillion dollar increase in the national debt into perspective:

What Melania Trump Should Not Do on Her Trip to Africa

First Lady Melania Trump leaves today on the four-nation trip to Africa—the first international trip alone without her husband. She will visit Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt. Although she carries her own slogan, “Be Best,” she will be working closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). At a reception at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, she commended the agency’s work in Ghana to improve health care and nutrition. In Malawi, USAID has championed education as a means of fighting poverty, and in Kenya, its programs focus on early education, wildlife conservation, and HIV prevention.

There is a lot riding on her trip, not least of which is foreign aid. Africa’s economies—in particular, Nigeria and South Africa, the two largest—have been struggling with recession. In an August trip to Africa, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May pledged $5.1 billion for investment in Africa. A month later at a forum in Beijing, China made a counteroffer of $60 billion in aid and loans without any political conditions or strings attached. Speaking at the Beijing forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping disclosed the breakdown of the aid as follows: $15 billion in grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, $20 billion in credit lines, $10 billion for “development financing” and $5 billion to buy imports from Africa. While many African leaders would expect her to commit U.S. funding, Melania Trump should avoid making any pledges of foreign aid.

There is much confusion about foreign aid, of which there are three types—humanitarian assistance, military aid, and official development assistance or ODA. Humanitarian assistance is offered to victims of natural calamities such as earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes, and so forth. Such aid is welcome and noble when an African country is struck by a natural disaster. Military aid to Africa has been the most useless and pernicious. More often than not, it has strengthened the hands of dictators against their own people. For example, in February 2011, during heydays of the Arab Spring in Egypt, the Hosni Mubarak government sent U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jets to buzz protesters in an effort to intimidate and terrorize them. It did not work; Mubarak was ousted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt led by Abdel al-Sisi, who rapidly promoted himself to field marshal, and subsequently became the president. The Egyptian military controls about half of the country’s economy.

CalPERS Gives Unqualified CEO a Bonus and Raise 

The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) is the largest state pension fund in the United States. As we recently noted, CalPERS hired as chief executive officer Marcie Frost, even though she lacked a college degree of any kind. It was as though the state Supreme Court tapped for chief justice a paralegal who had never been to law school. The revelation about Frost sparked criticism around Sacramento, but CalPERS bosses weren’t listening. 

On September 25, CalPERS awarded Frost a raise of 4 percent and a bonus of $84,873 on top of her base pay of $330,720. Previous CEO Anne Stausboll topped out at $322,400 and bagged bonuses of $86,587 in 2010 to $131,044 in 2015. Taxpayers might wonder about bonuses for either boss. CalPERS unfunded liabilities have increased 383 percent in ten years, and the massive state pension fund is some $100 billion short of funding its pension obligations. The unqualified Frost does enjoy the support of government employee unions, whose role at CalPERS is to protect incompetence. 

A former CalPERS manager known to this writer passed up a football scholarship to a Big 10 college in order to earn graduate degrees in business administration. He worked in the technology industry and CalPERS was his first experience in a government agency. One of his employees was spending hours a day on personal phone calls, which he noted on her performance evaluation. Two union goons promptly appeared in his office claiming that the employee needed more training. The fully qualified manager soon departed for a job where accountability, not incompetence is rewarded. 

Meanwhile, taxpayers might expect the state director of finance to be a proven economist with a PhD. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pick was Ana Matosantos, with only a BA in political science and feminist studies, a non-discipline. Jerry Brown kept Matosantos on the job, and Covered California, the state’s wholly owned subsidiary of Obamacare, hired her for $20,000 a month. 


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at The Daily Caller.

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