Thursday, March 30, 2017

Snowpack's water content remains way above average

From the state Department of Water Resources:
With every monthly measurement of the California snowpack this winter, the state’s rebound from the previous five years of drought becomes more evident. Today’s electronic readings from 95 sites in the Sierra Nevada show an average statewide snow water equivalent (SWE) of 45.8 inches, or 164 percent of the historical average for March 30 (27.9 inches).

Today’s manual snow survey by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada found a SWE of 46.1 inches, 183 percent of the late March/early April long-term average at Phillips (25.2 inches). The three previous 2017 surveys at Phillips near the beginning of March, February and January found an SWE of 43.5 inches for March, 28 inches for February and 6 inches for January.

SWE is the depth of water that theoretically would result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously. That measurement is more important than depth in evaluating the status of the snowpack. On average, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer.

Electronic measurements indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 40.8 inches, 147 percent of the multi-decade March 30 average. The central and southern Sierra readings are 50.5 inches (175 percent of average) and 43.9 inches (164 percent of average), respectively.

Dr. Michael Anderson, State Climatologist, observed: “Although the record pace of the snowpack accumulation fell off significantly in March, California enters the snowmelt season with a large snowpack that will result in high water in many rivers through the spring."

The Phillips snow course, near the intersection of Highway 50 and Sierra-at-Tahoe Road, is one of hundreds surveyed manually throughout the winter. Manual measurements augment the electronic readings from about 100 sensors in the state’s mountains that provide a current snapshot of the water content in the snowpack.

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, conducted DWR’s survey today at Phillips and said of his findings, "The storm track shifted away from California during March, but we still have a very substantial snowpack, particularly in the higher elevations in the central and southern Sierra. This is an extremely good year from the snowpack standpoint,” he said, adding that this year’s snowpack ranks in the upper quarter of historic snowpacks and is providing “great reservoir recovery.”

Many Californians continue to experience the effects of drought, and some Central Valley communities still depend on water tanks and bottled water. Groundwater – the source of at least a third of the supplies Californians use – will take much more than even an historically wet water year to be replenished in many areas.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brexit catalysts join efforts to split California in two

Pie N Politics passes along this report from the UK's Daily Mail:
The ‘Bad Boys of Brexit‘ who led the campaign to break Britain away from the European Union have taken on a new exit challenge: splitting California into two states.

Former UKip leader Nigel Farage and Leave backer Arron Banks have just returned from the United States, where they helped raise $1million (£800,000) for a ‘Calexit’ campaign, which would split California into two eastern and western regions.

There are several ‘Calexit’ campaigns competing for a referendum in the United States, with one aiming to remove the state from America entirely as a response to President Donald Trump being elected last year.

Farage and Banks, who led the ‘Leave.EU’ campaign, appear to be pitting the eastern, more rural side of California against the western ‘coastal elite’ liberals in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If broken apart, the eastern part of California would more likely vote Republican, giving the party two more senators and electoral college votes for a 2020 presidential election.

The Western side of the state would likely continue to vote Democrat in elections.

Farage and Banks’ goal is to hold a referendum during the US midterm elections in 2018, according to The Sunday Times.
Of course, the new Republican-leaning state would still have to get approval from Congress, which I believe could be accomplished by pairing it with DC statehood.

Monsanto gives reporters a look at its Woodland facility


Yesterday I was among an eclectic, international group of reporters given the chance to tour Monsanto's vegetable seed research and development facility in Woodland and ask probing questions about the company's operations.

In the photos, from the top: John Purcell, Monsanto's vegetable R&D and Hawaii business lead, stands in one of the greenhouses at the 200-acre facility; vegetable R&D strategy and operations manager Mark Oppenhuizer discusses the many types of seeds in the lab's seed library; melon breeder Jeff Mills discusses the breeding process; and consumer sensory leader Chow-Ming Lee demonstrates a taste test of tomatoes grown with the lab's seeds.

I'll be doing several stories from the day's visit, including an overview of the lab and a frank discussion with Purcell about Monsanto's challenges and opportunities.

Look for my stories at CapitalPress.com in the coming days.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ranchers' groups applaud Trump's signing of rule repeal

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council:
President Trump today signed a congressional resolution directing the Bureau of Land Management to repeal their Planning 2.0 Rule. Wyoming rancher and NCBA and PLC member Joel Bousman was in attendance at the White House for the signing. Ethan Lane, executive director of PLC and NCBA federal lands, applauded the action and called it a significant victory for western ranchers.

“BLM’s Planning 2.0 Rule would have caused a wholesale shift in management focus at BLM by prioritizing ‘social and environmental change’ over ensuring the multiple use of public lands,” said Lane. “When you couple the wholesale shift away from multiple-use with the elimination of stakeholder and local input, the rule was unworkable for western communities. We applaud the action by President Trump and look forward to working with the new Administration to bring together a streamlined planning process that works for livestock ranchers and the western communities that depend on the use of BLM lands.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Company that owns RS calls for gun-related boycott

The USA Today wants the NCAA to punish the students, residents and businesses of Arkansas because their elected legislators voted the wrong way on a gun measure.

From Breitbart News:
On March 22 Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) signed campus carry legislation into law. On March 23 USA Today Sports suggested a boycott of NCAA events in Arkansas may be needed if students are going to be allowed to be armed for self-defense.

The USA Today Sports column begins:
A new gun rights measure signed yesterday could allow concealed weapons to be carried into Arkansas football and basketball games as early as 2018. Opposing teams should consider boycotting participating in these games should this become a reality in practice. Not due to any political motivation or stand against the law, but because there is a reasonable case to be made that this will put them in an unsafe position.
Breitbart reporter AWR Hawkins observes:
But [columnist Kyle] Koster does not look at the divide between law-abiding and criminal. Rather, he introduces a dichotomy–strained at best–where some athletes will go through the permitting process but others will not, thereby creating a divide between athletes. Additionally, Koster suggests athletes with permits will feel slighted if team rules require them to give up their guns in athletic facilities while fans are armed for self-defense. [...]

Koster eventually reaches for old arguments and intimates that armed students–although law-abiding, trained, and permitted–may lose control of themselves at a sporting event, endangering others.
USA Today is the flagship newspaper for the Washington, D.C., area-based Gannett Co., whose newspapers in the "USA Today Network" include the Record Searchlight.

Obamagate update: Is a 'smoking gun' imminent?

James Rosen of Fox News reports:
Classified intelligence showing incidental collection of Trump team communications, purportedly seen by committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and described by him in vague terms at a bombshell Wednesday afternoon news conference, came from multiple sources, Capitol Hill sources told Fox News. The intelligence corroborated information about surveillance of the Trump team that was known to Nunes, sources said, even before President Trump accused his predecessor of having wiretapped him in a series of now-infamous tweets posted on March 4.

The intelligence is said to leave no doubt the Obama administration, in its closing days, was using the cover of legitimate surveillance on foreign targets to spy on President-elect Trump, according to sources.

The key to that conclusion is the unmasking of selected U.S. persons whose names appeared in the intelligence, the sources said, adding that the paper trail leaves no other plausible purpose for the unmasking other than to damage the incoming Trump administration.

The FBI hasn’t been responsive to the House Intelligence Committee’s request for documents, but the National Security Agency is expected to produce documents to the committee by Friday. The NSA document production is expected to produce more intelligence than Nunes has so far seen or described – including what one source described as a potential “smoking gun” establishing the spying.

Some time will be needed to properly assess the materials, with the likely result being that congressional investigators and attorneys won’t have a solid handle on the contents of the documents – and their implications – until next week.
The Conservative Treehouse notes the emergence of a whistleblower and posts the relevant documents: They report:
Freedom Watch notifies congress of a “Deep State” intelligence community whistle blower, Dennis Montgomery, with hundreds of millions of documents showing CIA and FBI and Intelligence Committees were spying on, and conducting surveillance on, American citizens for political purposes.

Mr. Montgomery is trying to use a legal “whistle-blower” process and not follow the same approach as Edward Snowden.
From ZeroHedge:
Lt. Gen. Thomas Mcinerney weighed in on Devin Nunes' bombshell revelations that said the Trump team were being spied on by the NSA/CIA -- and it wasn't Russia related. The whole cover for the surveillance was supposed to be because Trump had a bunch of Ivans working for him, but that simply wasn't the case, or the concern, inside the Obama White House.
This isn't going away, as much as certain major corporate news organizations would like it to.

Next state snow survey set for March 30

As April 1 is considered the point at which the snowpack is at its peak, this is the survey that counts. From a news release:
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) will host the news media on March 30 for this winter’s fourth manual snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. [...] The survey will determine the water content of the snow at Phillips.

Water Year 2017, which runs from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017, has recorded extraordinary rainfall and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada range. The three regions DWR monitors continuously for rainfall have had nearly twice their average rainfall so far this year.

The statewide snowpack’s water content as determined by electronic readings also has been far above since early January. The statewide water content today is 44.7 inches, which is 160 percent of this date’s historical average.

The Phillips snow course has been measured each winter since 1941 and is one of hundreds that will be traversed during a 10-day period around April 1 to determine the water content of the snowpack, which normally contributes about 30 percent of California’s water. Manual readings supplement DWR’s electronic data.
Watch here and at CapitalPress.com for updates.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Weather service: Wet pattern to continue into next week


From the National Weather Service:
The next storm system moves across tonight into Saturday. Similar precipitation amounts are expected with this storm as with the last storm. There is also the potential for urban and small stream flooding potential and windy conditions. Another storm system arrives Sunday night into Monday with lighter precipitation, but potentially lower snow levels and thunderstorms Monday.

Impacts
Chain controls, slick roadways, increased traffic accidents, longer travel times
Urban and small stream flooding
Gusty winds may bring downed trees and cause power outages

Forecast Confidence
High - precipitation timing and amounts
Medium - wind speeds
Low - flooding potential

Timing and Strength
Today

Dry weather
Tonight-Saturday
Similar precipitation amounts to Monday-Tuesday storm
Urban and small stream flooding potential
Snow levels ~4500 feet
Windy with gusts of 30-40 mph in the Valley, 50 mph along Sierra crest
Sunday - Monday
Next system arrives Sunday night - lighter precipitation amounts but lower snow levels
Thunderstorms possible Monday

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Obamagate update: Trump team intel 'widely disseminated'

Here's a development that's been conspicuously absent today from major corporate "news" sites that have been wall-to-wall on the whole Trump-Russia narrative. From LifeZette:
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday told the White House and the public that he unearthed information that intelligence officials may have improperly spread information about President Donald Trump and his transition team.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters on Capitol Hill that “details with little or no apparent intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence reports.”

Typically when intelligence agents pick up incidental communications involving Americans while they are conducting surveillance of foreign targets, the identities of those citizens are disguised in reports in order to protect their privacy. Nunes said the names of Trump and members of his transition team following the 2016 election, however, were “unmasked” in those reports. [...]

“The unmasking really bothers me,” he said. “There has to be a reason for the unmasking.”
Joel Pollak at Breitbart News explains:
Much of that had been suspected, on the basis of mainstream media reports, but Rep. Nunes reported something new: that the surveillance did not involve the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) inquiry into Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Indeed, none of the surveillance had intelligence value, he said.

“I believe it was all done legally,” Nunes told a press conference. The question, he said, was why names of those swept up in the surveillance had been leaked. The collection of the intelligence appeared to have been legal, but the leaking may have been illegal.

Most of the activity occurred during the transition period from November to January. Furthermore, Nunes said, he did not know whether phone calls — including phone calls involving Trump — were among the communications captured.
John Hinderaker of Power Line observes:
Does this mean that President Trump’s famous tweets were right all along? Not exactly. Trump claimed that the Obama administration had his “wires tapped” in Trump tower. That implies that he or his associates were targets of licit or illicit surveillance, whereas Nunes says the government was spying on someone else and picked up Trump team members’ communications only incidentally.

Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that, apart from incidental communications, the FBI or someone else was specifically targeting associates of Donald Trump for surveillance.

Closer to the heart of the matter may be Nunes’s observation that the identities of Trump associates subject to such incidental surveillance were “widely disseminated.” This “unmasking” is a federal crime, as House members discussed with Comey and Rogers on Monday. So, while President Trump may have been wrong in believing that the Obama administration directed surveillance at him or his associates–the jury is still out on that question–he was certainly right to be angry about the fact that information reflecting badly on his associates, collected through apparently legal surveillance, was leaked to the press in an effort to damage his campaign or his administration.

CVP allocation for San Joaquin will likely rise, officials say

In a media call today, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said their 65 percent initial allocation for western San Joaquin Valley farmers will likely rise to at least 80 percent, and maybe more, as the season goes along.

Asked whether it is possible for the valley to ever receive 100 percent again amid today's environmental regulations, the officials said it is. But this year was preceded by five years of drought, which left little water to be carried over.

Farm groups aren't happy. From the California Farm Bureau Federation:
After the federal Central Valley Project reported today it expects to deliver only 65 percent of contract water supplies to its agricultural water contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the announcement shows how operation of the state’s water system remains in need of an overhaul.

“In the alternate universe of California water, we can have floods, full reservoirs and a huge snowpack and still not have full water supplies. It boggles the mind,” Wenger said.

“Operation of our water system remains out of whack. We need to continue efforts to improve and expand the system,” he said. “In Congress, passage of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act last year marked an important step in addressing the system’s inadequacies. Congress must now follow through with measures such as Rep. David Valadao’s Gaining Responsibility on Water Act, which would offer longer-term ability to store and move water.”

Wenger said farmers and ranchers will also press Congress to modernize endangered-species laws, “to balance the goals of environmental restoration with the ability to provide the resources needed to grow food and farm products.”

At the state level, he said, California must move as quickly as possible to invest money from the Proposition 1 water bond into storage projects that provide the state with more ability to store water in wet winters such as this.

“Improved storage capacity, both above and below ground, is crucial to California’s long-term ability to withstand droughts, protect against floods and gain the flexibility needed to allow people and the environment to thrive,” Wenger said.
From Western Growers:
In response to the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation’s initial water allocation announcement of 65% today for farmers south of the Delta served by the federal Central Valley Project, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif issued the following statement:

“With record-level precipitation and flooding, and fear of more to come, a 65 percent Central Valley Project initial water allocation for farmers south of the Delta defies logic. While an improvement over the zero to five percent allocations of the past three years, the stark reality is inescapably obvious: Regulatory actions are depriving farmers and millions of Californians dependent on the farm economy of their livelihoods. Populations of the fish species these actions purportedly protect have not recovered, yet this year federal and state agencies will again redirect massive amounts of water out to sea while shorting farmers. Meanwhile, local water managers are struggling to create plans that comply with a state groundwater management law that prohibits excess pumping of groundwater while their main supply of water to recharge those basins continues to be throttled down.

“It is time for California to get serious about the building of additional storage capacity, as directed by the voters in approving the 2014 water bond. It is equally important for our elected officials to work with the appropriate government agencies to remove the punitive and unjustified regulatory chains jeopardizing the future of thousands of California farmers and the economic and social vitality of millions of our fellow Californians.”
Watch for my follow-up story at CapitalPress.com.

Reclamation announces remaining CVP water allocations

From a news release:
The Bureau of Reclamation today announced the 2017 water supply allocation for the remaining Central Valley Project contractors. On Feb. 28, 2017, Reclamation announced the water supply allocation for CVP contractors in the Friant Division (Millerton Reservoir), Eastside Division (New Melones Reservoir), and the American River Division (Folsom Reservoir).

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reports that as of March 20, the statewide average snow water equivalent in the Sierra Nevada was 44 inches, as compared to 25 inches last year. Precipitation is currently 199 percent of the seasonal average to date for the Sierra Nevada for this point in the water year (which began Oct. 1, 2016).

“As previously announced, Reclamation is taking a unique approach to announcing CVP water allocations,” said Acting Mid-Pacific Regional Director Pablo Arroyave. “In February, we notified the Refuge Contractors, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, and Sacramento River Settlement Contractors that, since this is not a Shasta Critical Year, they will receive 100 percent of their contract supply. We then provided additional allocations on February 28. Now, following DWR’s March 1 snow survey and completion of runoff forecasts, we are able to announce the remainder of the CVP contractors’ allocations. While this allocation approach was warranted for this water year, in future years Reclamation will continue to strive to release initial allocations for all water users in February.”

Reclamation determines the water allocation based upon many factors, including hydrologic conditions, reservoir storage levels, water quality requirements, water rights, contractual obligations, and endangered species protection measures. After evaluating these factors, Reclamation is announcing initial allocations to the following:

North-of-Delta Contractors

• M&I water service contractors North-of-Delta are allocated 100 percent of their contract supply.
• Agricultural water service contractors North-of-Delta are allocated 100 percent of their contract supply.

In-Delta

• The Contra Costa Water District, which receives water directly from the Delta, is allocated 100 percent of its contract supply.

South-of-Delta Contractors

• M&I water service contractors South-of-Delta are allocated 90 percent of their contract supply.
• Agricultural water service contractors South-of-Delta are allocated 65 percent of their contract supply.

Given the magnitude of this allocation, the amount of water carried over from last year, and the overall availability of surface water, Reclamation strongly encourages the use of surface supplies instead of ground water wherever possible through the remainder of the 2017 water year. In order to promote effective use of supplies in San Luis Reservoir this year and efficiency for next year’s operations, Reclamation will limit the overall amount of water to be carried over to the 2018 contract year to 150,000 acre-feet. This represents approximately 10 percent of this year’s allocation. In addition, Reclamation will work with contractors regarding a strategy for water carried over from the 2016 water year and plans to effectively carry over water for the 2018 contract year.

As the water year progresses, changes in hydrology and opportunities to deliver additional water will influence future allocations. Water supply updates will be made as appropriate and posted at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/cvp-water/index.html.
For my story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Bureau to announce remaining water allocations today

If you want to get the Feds to move on a water allocation, just do a story saying growers are waiting. And have it post on the day you put your print edition to bed. Then they'll send out a notice that they're making the announcement that afternoon.

That's what's happening today. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce its remaining water allocations -- including for the west side of the San Joaquin Valley -- this afternoon.

Watch here and at CapitalPress.com for details.

Cattlemen seek regulatory relief, trade in 2018 Farm Bill

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:
In testimony on Capitol Hill [Tuesday], Craig Uden, a fourth-generation cattle producer from Nebraska and the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, called on Congress to authorize $150 million a year over five years for a “stronger and more adequate foot-and-mouth disease (FMB) vaccine bank” as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Uden testified before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.

“Foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious and has the potential to spread widely and rapidly, debilitating our herds,” Uden warned subcommittee members in his oral testimony. “Analysts estimate that an FMD outbreak in the United States could potentially cost our nation’s livestock producers billions of dollars in the first 12 months alone. An FMD outbreak has the potential to cause enormous economic losses to not only livestock producers, but also to auction markets, slaughterhouses, food processors and related industries.”

Uden also testified that the vast majority of cattlemen oppose the federal government’s involvement in determining how their cattle are marketed – whether through vehicles like Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA’s) interim final rule on competitive injury or through mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (mCOOL.)

“Our analysis of the (GIPSA) rule leads us to believe that if this rule is implemented, the packers will offer one price for all cattle, regardless of quality,” Uden testified. “We believe this rule would eliminate value-based marketing programs and negatively impact producers, making it more difficult to provide the types of beef products that consumers are clamoring for.”

Uden continued on the issue of mandatory, government-dictated, country-of-origin labeling: “Repeal of the previous mandatory program was necessary since, after six and a half years of implementation, it provided no market benefit to beef producers or consumers. On top of that, it also violated trade agreements with two of our largest and vital trading partners.”

Uden concluded his Farm Bill testimony by stressing the importance of international trade to the American beef industry.

“Trade is vital to the beef industry, and protecting trade promotion programs such as the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Programs within the 2018 Farm Bill are important,” Uden said. “Ninety-six percent of the world’s consumers reside outside U.S. borders. We recognize that the growth and profitability of the U.S. cattle and beef industry is closely tied to our ability to market our products to those consumers.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

McClintock: Health bill 'moves us toward' goal of reform

Northern California's Rep. Tom McClintock took to the floor of the House of Representatives today to speak in support of the Trump-Ryan health care bill.

Here is the transcript of his speech:
Mr. Speaker:

Any discussion of the American Health Care Act needs first to consider where we will be without it. Obamacare is collapsing. More people are paying the steep tax penalty or claiming hardship exemptions than are choosing to buy Obamacare policies. In a third of the counties across America, there is only one provider to choose and soon we will see counties where there are no providers at all. Obamacare premiums soared an average of 25 percent last year, and we’re warned this year will be worse.

I have strongly advocated that the House address this crisis in a single comprehensive bill that fully repeals Obamacare and replaces it with a healthy, competitive market.

Instead, we rely on the reconciliation process to bypass Democratic obstructionism in the Senate. This only allows us to repeal parts of Obamacare and enact only parts of a replacement. Finishing the job will require administrative actions and follow-up legislation requiring Senate Democrats to cooperate – something not very likely. So we need to ask if this bill alone is enough to produce a better healthcare system for the vast majority of people.

Its biggest defects are its failure to restore to consumers the freedom to shop across state lines and to fully free consumers from purchasing coverage they don’t need and don’t want. I fear that in states where insurance commissioners refuse to approve innovative replacement plans, consumers will be stuck in a market still governed by Obamacare mandates.

Critics cite the Congressional Budget Office estimate that “24 million Americans will lose their coverage.” But this conclusion is based largely on the premise that unless people are forced to buy health insurance, they won’t. In fact, people won’t buy health insurance that’s not a good value for them – and clearly Obamacare isn’t. We envision a vigorous buyers’ market where plans across the country compete to offer consumers better services at lower costs, tailored to their own needs and wants.

And this is the AHCA’s biggest achievement: replacing coercion with choice for every American. It ends the individual mandate that forces Americans to buy products they don’t want. It ends the employer mandate that has trapped many low-income workers in part-time jobs. It begins to restore consumers’ freedom of choice -- the best guarantee of quality and value in any market. It allows Americans to meet more of their health-care needs with pre-tax dollars. It relieves the premium base of the enormous costs of pre-existing conditions by moving them to a block-granted assigned risk pool.

In making this transition, though, it’s important to leave no one in the lurch. That’s where we need to heed the CBO’s warning.

The fact that many low-income families could no longer afford basic health care is what produced Obamacare. When fully implemented, our reforms will correct the government mandates that trapped people in restricted markets that forced healthcare out of reach. But until then, the CBO warns that a 64-year old, for example, earning $26,500 will see her out-of-pocket health costs balloon from $1,700 to $14,600 per year. This is neither morally defensible nor politically sustainable.

The Budget Committee adopted my motion on a bipartisan vote to ask the House to correct this inequity by adjusting the tax credits to assure that health plans are within the financial reach of every family. I want to thank the leadership for responding to this motion by creating architecture in the bill to shift an additional $75 billion for this purpose.

As our pro-growth economic reforms cause incomes to rise and our health care reforms bring costs down, families will earn more and pay less for their health care, and reliance on these tax credits will recede. But we need a bridge from the present to the future, and we simply can’t get there without addressing the bill’s initial impact on older, low-income Americans.

It is also important that we assure stability in the Medicaid system as we transition to flexible state-run programs that correct the inequities of Obamacare that have pushed the elderly, blind and disabled to the back of the Medicaid line. This bill does so.

I wish it did everything necessary to restore an optimal health insurance market. But it moves us toward that goal, and even as a stand-alone measure, I am confident it will ultimately create a market in most states that will produce better services, greater choices and lower costs for the vast majority of Americans.

Obamagate update: The real news from Monday's hearing

The one crime that was confirmed during yesterday's much-hyped House Intelligence Committee hearing was the leaking and publishing of classified information.

Such was the point made by Breitbart News' Joel Pollak, whose reporting and analysis of the so-called "deep state" (and issues related to California) has been must-read material. In an article today, Pollak writes:
There was only one new revelation at the hearing, and it was a bombshell: senior Obama administration officials could have known the identities of surveillance targets.

One of those targets, retired General Michael Flynn, lost his job after it was revealed that his conversation with the Russian ambassador had been monitored, and that he had discussed sanctions relief, contrary to his early private and public claims.

Yet Flynn’s identity was never supposed to have been revealed. The surveillance of the Russian ambassador, routine though it may have been, yielded classified information, and the identity of any U.S. citizen swept up in it should have been redacted.

But Flynn’s name was unmasked and leaked to the media. Moreover, the New York Times reported on Jan. 19 — with a front-page, top-of-the-fold headline on Inauguration Day — that “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.” And the Times also reported in February that surveillance of Trump aides suspected of ties with Russia had been disseminated widely throughout the government, without privacy protections, by order of the lame duck Obama administration under newly-relaxed NSA rules, which the Times had already reported earlier in January.

Monday’s hearing “debunked” Trump’s wiretapping tweets, but left his underlying claim intact: that there was surveillance of the Trump campaign; that the results were shared throughout the government — even possibly reaching the Obama White House; and that intelligence was leaked, illegally, to the mainstream media.
Pollak details the grilling of FBI director James Comey by Rep. Trey Gowdy, which named potential suspects in the illegal leaks.

Pollak has an ally in columnist Pat Buchanan, who writes today:
There is hard evidence of collusion between the intel community and The New York Times and The Washington Post, both beneficiaries of illegal leaks -- felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

While the howls have been endless that Trump accused Obama of a "felony," the one provable felony here was the leak of a transcript of an intercepted conversation between Gen. Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

That leak ended Flynn's career as national security adviser. And Director Comey would neither confirm nor deny that President Obama was aware of the existence of the Flynn transcript.
Buchanan asks a pertinent question and makes a suggestion:
Is the FBI investigating the intelligence sources who committed felonies by illegally disclosing information about the Trump campaign? [...]

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any role in the Russian hacking scandal. But the Justice Department should demand that the FBI put the highest priority on investigating the deep state and its journalistic collaborators in the sabotage of the Trump presidency.

If Comey refuses to do it, appoint a special counsel.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Treehouse -- an opinion blog that nonetheless offers detailed, thought-out analysis of issues with evidence and links -- keys in on the questioning of Comey by Rep. Elise M. Stefanik to argue that the nation's intelligence apparatus -- and Comey himself -- acted as political muscle for the Obama White House. They write:
The counter-intel investigation, by [Comey's} own admission, began in July 2016. Congress was not notified until March 2017. That’s an eight month period [...]

Anyone who followed the Obama White House intel policy outcomes will have a lengthy frame of reference for DNI Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan as the two primary political operatives. Brennan admitted investigating, and spying on, the Senate Intelligence Committee as they held oversight responsibility for the CIA itself. [...]

There is only one reasonable explanation for FBI Director James Comey to be launching a counter-intel investigation in July 2016, notifying the White House and Clapper, and keeping it under wraps from Congress. Comey was a participant in the intelligence gathering for political purposes – wittingly, or unwittingly.
Again, the real story to follow is the illegal activity of people in the intelligence community and their willing accomplices in the media. And this is a story for which the New Media will play an indispensable role in getting to the truth. You cannot rely on the major corporate media -- including Fox News -- to get to the bottom of this or report it truthfully, because some of them were participants in the illegal activity.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Weather could affect supplies of fresh Calif. vegetables

From the California Farm Bureau Federation's Food and Farm News:
Warm weather in the desert and rainy weather on the coast could conspire to disrupt supplies of fresh vegetables this spring. Farmers along the Central California coast say their vegetable planting has been slowed by winter storms. At the same time, warm temperatures in desert growing regions has meant an early end to harvests there. Vegetable marketers say supplies and prices could be affected for a while, until coastal harvests hit full stride.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

NWS: More significant wet pattern to return next week


From the National Weather Service:
Fairly light precipitation is anticipated to continue this weekend with periods of more widespread and heavier precipitation continuing through next week. Light precipitation with the weekend weather system will primarily affect the Sacramento Valley and surrounding mountains with a thunderstorm potential over north Sacramento Valley Sunday. Another storm system is likely to impact the region Monday through Tuesday with more systems impacting through at least the end of next week. Tuesday and Friday look to bring the brunt of the precipitation and wind, but precipitation amounts are more questionable late in the week.

Impacts
Slick roadways, increased traffic accidents, longer travel times next week
Mountain travel delays and chain controls
Windy conditions may bring localized power outages
Thunderstorms may bring locally heavy rainfall, small hail

Forecast Confidence
High - wet pattern (increased)
Medium - precipitation amounts

Timing and Strength
Weekend:
Light precipitation (except for a few thunderstorms Sunday), mainly north of Interstate 80. Snow levels 7000+ feet
Monday - Tuesday: Heavier, more widespread precipitation with scattered thunderstorms and breezy to windy conditions. Snow levels around 6000 feet.
Thursday - Friday: Additional storm systems with 4500-6000 foot snow levels with potentially windy conditions. (wettest system Friday)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ten ways Trump's budget proposal would affect USDA

Scott Bender, a researcher from the Navajo Nation who sends out an agriculture newsletter, outlines the ways President Donald Trump's budget proposal would affect the USDA.

He writes:
President Trump’s newly released 2018 budget proposal requests $17.9 billion for USDA. This represents a 21% decrease from 2017.

The 2018 budget proposal outlines 10 USDA changes of note in particular, which include:

1. The Food Safety and Inspection service would be fully funded. This group employs more than 8,000 personnel invested in protecting public health by inspecting approximately 6,400 slaughter and processing establishments nationwide.

2. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would receive $6.2 billion. This is approximately $400-500 million lower than assistance in 2015 and 2016.

3. Wildland fire preparedness and suppression activities will be fully funded at $2.4 billion, which is 100% of the 10-year average for suppression operations.

4. Funding for “lower priority activities” in the National Forest System, including Federal land acquisition, would receive less funding. The budget will instead focus on maintaining existing forests and grasslands.

5. Farmer-focused research and Extension partnerships at land-grant universities would receive continued support. That includes $350 million for USDA’s flagship competitive research program. In-house research funding within the USDA Agricultural Research Service will focus on increasing farmer productivity, sustaining natural resources and addressing food safety/nutrition priorities.

6. Funding for USDA’s statistical capabilities will be reduced, but core departmental analytical functions would be maintained, including the necessary funding to complete the Census of Agriculture.

7. The Water and Wastewater loan and grant program is challenged as duplicative and would be eliminated, for a savings of $498 million. The budget proposal supposes rural communities can instead receive private sector financing or use the EPA’s State Revolving Funds.

8. USDA’s Service Center Agencies would reduce staffing and streamline county office operations, instead encouraging private-sector conservation planning.

9. The Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which is challenged as being duplicative and underperforming, would see $95 million in discretionary activities eliminated.

10. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program would be eliminated, for a savings of about $195 million. The proposed budget cites “lack of evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.” George McGovern and Bob Dole, who created the program in 2000, received the 2008 World Food Prize for their efforts to establish this initiative.
The Capital Press' Carol Ryan Dumas is getting farm groups' reaction to the budget. Watch for her story at CapitalPress.com.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Districts dismayed at Trump's proposed cuts to USDA

From a news release:
The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) is extremely disappointed that President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request includes a 21 percent cut to the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Many of USDA's voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs are crucial to promoting the wise and responsible use of natural resources in this country.

"Without USDA conservation programs, America’s farmers, ranchers, and communities won't have the resources or assistance they need to keep our soils healthy, our water clean, and our wildlife abundant,” said NACD President Brent Van Dyke. “We look forward to the president releasing a more thorough budget in the coming weeks and will continue to work with Congress to ensure strong funding."

The president's budget calls for “reducing staffing in USDA’s Service Center Agencies" - a cut that would prevent thousands of rural communities across America from accessing services like conservation planning assistance.

"If enacted, the President’s budget would be devastating to farmers, ranchers, and rural communities across America,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters said. “At a time when private capital in the farm economy is scarce, landowners need even greater access to conservation planning assistance."

A must-read primer on media 'deep state' complicity

Lawyer and commentator Robert Barnes absolutely nails it in describing the full complicity of certain major media outlets in advancing the so-called "deep state" -- the bureaucratic/corporate system that many believe actually wields power in America and will resist reforms at any cost.

At Breitbart News, Barnes writes:
Whenever the media loses control over a powerful term, be it “fake news” or “deep state,” they react with infantile rage, and immediately demand cessation of the term in its “unapproved” use.

As part of that process, they attempt to restrict its historical application to some definition that delimits its use against their ideological interest. Their attempt to rescript the meaning of words gives new meaning to Orwellian for the media’s would-be Ministry of Information.
We've seen this in our Facebook news feeds, haven't we? He continues:
Maybe CNN will set up a lexicon where we can go and see which words we are allowed to use to ascribe their own activities, much as Chris Cuomo insinuated it was illegal for anyone to look at Wikileaks information, except exclusively at CNN. What this all really covers up in this context is that the media has long been an enabler of the deep state against the democratic demands of the public. No, CNN, the idea of the deep state didn’t start in Turkey, and no, New York Times, pretending the deep state doesn’t exist doesn’t clothe the naked emperor.

The legal and historic idea of the deep state originated in America in a trilogy of studies by a trio of political scholars. The originalist behind the idea was German emigre Ernst Fraenkel who identified Nazi Germany’s path to dictatorship as rooted in the “dual state” where an anti-democratic “prerogative state” often controls much of a government’s policy without regard to, or respect of, legal and democratic constraints.
Barnes explains the concept of a "dual state" or "deep state" has gained traction in various studies and in various intellectual circles over the decades, culminating in longtime Republican insider Mike Lofgren's popular political text, The Deep State. The "en-bubbled media missed it all," Barnes writes.
Instead, CNN, The New York Times, and The Economist would have us believe the “deep state” only refers to some odd, foreign country, like Turkey, and can never be honestly applied here. This is especially ironic for The Economist because it was one of their original editors in chief, Walter Bagehot, from the 1860’s who first circulated the idea of a “double government.”

As leftist reporter Glenn Greenwald has reported, and liberal newscaster Ed Schultz continues to emphasize, the establishment media’s over-use of anonymous sourcing allows deep state members to smear a disfavored political persona, like Trump or Michael Flynn (under constant assault in media reports long after he left the White House), and others. As both journalists warn, when the media “reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials,” it dis-serves its First Amendment role as a check on power and, instead, becomes an enabler of that anti-democratic power.

The rise of Wikileaks, and its increasing popularity across the left and right ends of the populist political spectrum, reflects an increasingly common view that the media is the corrupted power brokers, not a check on those corrupted power brokers. As Greenwald aptly summarizes: “cheering for the CIA and its shadowy allies to unilaterally subvert the U.S. election and impose its own policy dictates on the elected president is both warped and self-destructive.” Trump’s tweets last week directed attention to precisely that issue: illegal intercepts and illicit leaks of those intercepts should be the scandal, not incredulous reports of collusion unsupported by the legally innocent conversations found on those intercepts.
For any truly discerning news consumer, the entire article is well worth the read. Barnes says the "marriage" between the media and the deep state "has long called for a needed divorce." That divorce can only be forced by consumers. The major media is supported by millions of consumers, and their advertisers are supported by millions of consumers. That's why it's important for each of us as consumers to take a good, hard look at the media that we fund. Each of us has an impact.

And there are plenty of us still working in journalism who aren't part of this unholy system and don't have a problem exposing it where it exists.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The three men who saved the leafy greens industry


When a deadly foodborne illness outbreak in late 2006 was linked to spinach from a California field, three men leapt into action to try to save their industry.

Within months, they created the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which set strict food safety standards for farms and processors and became a model for the Food Safety Modernization Act's still emerging Produce Safety Rule.

But it took quick thinking in the beginning to get the effort off the ground.

Joe Pezzini, now the president of the Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms, had just been named chairman of a local growers' group when the outbreak occurred in September 2006. His farm wasn't implicated, but he took it upon himself to meet with the press.

And there was a lot of media. The USDA had just advised stores across the country to stop selling fresh spinach in the wake of an E. coli outbreak that would end up being blamed for at least 276 illnesses and three deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I was listed in the book, and reporters started calling my house," said Pezzini, who had just been named board chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. "There was so much speculation and rumor going around. I stepped forward and started meeting with the press. I took them out to a field."

James Bogart, the GSA's president, was at a meeting in Washington, D.C., when news of the outbreak hit. He started calling other grower organizations for help, and the GSA's headquarters in Salinas became a meeting place for the industry's response.

"This was basically Ground Zero," said Bogart, who started with the GSA as a staff attorney in 1980. "I've lived through floods, I've lived through union strikes and boycotts. This event … was the worst thing I've ever experienced in 40 years representing the industry."

One of the people he called was Western Growers president Tom Nassif, who immediately began negotiations with then-state Food and Agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura on setting up a marketing order for leafy greens that would include the standards that would restore consumers' trust.

All of this brings me to what I've been immersed in in the past week and why I went to the Salinas Valley last month -- a major centerpiece story on how a hastily put together marketing order in the wake of an industry crisis became a model for other ag industries to emulate, and played a role in the development of new federal food safety regulations that will affect -- and seek to benefit -- every consumer.

Watch for my story at CapitalPress.com in the coming days.

USCA applauds recent move to nix BLM planning rule

From a news release:
The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) issued the following statement on the Senate vote to revoke the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2.0 Planning Rule. The statement can be attributed to USCA Vice President Bert Paris:

“The BLM’s Resource Management Planning Rule, better known as the BLM 2.0 Planning Rule, was voted down recently by both the House and Senate. The issue will now go to the President’s desk, where USCA hopes the rule will receive the final signature needed to be repealed.”

“The 2.0 Planning Rule would have taken local control and input away from management decisions on our country’s public lands. The Rule was a step-backwards in the face of recent successes led by public-private partnerships to address the needs of resource management in critical habitat areas, while maintaining production and multiple use.”

“USCA urges the President to follow Congress’ lead in revoking the 2.0 Planning Rule. We look forward to working with the Administration and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to maintain a balanced approach to livestock production, community involvement, and wildlife and habitat conservation on our country’s public lands over the next four years.”
The Capital Press' Carol Ryan Dumas has details about the Senate's action here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Let the Facebook investigations and antitrust suits begin

Just this week, three people I know, including my niece, had their Facebook pages summarily shut down without warning. In my niece's case, she was in the middle of writing a post when her entire page disappeared. My wife tried to access her page to continue a conversation and got a message saying it was "no longer available."

When my niece contacted Facebook administration to find out what happened, she said she was told she would have to send them a copy of her government-issued ID and a photograph of herself to get her account restored. Facebook is apparently doing a sweep, because the same thing happened to two other acquaintances, both of whom say they were told they would have to send a photo ID of themselves to get their pages back.

Now I know there have been problems with people hacking or duplicating other people's pages on Facebook, but what is Facebook doing with all of these photo ID's that they're apparently collecting from people? I don't think I'd send my ID to God-knows-who, maybe halfway around the world, for them to use as they please. And considering Facebook's track record, I have to wonder about the timing in the case of my niece, who had made several politically charged posts this week including making fun of the International Women's Day marches.

This development comes as Facebook is going ahead with their much-criticized policy of slapping labels on what they've deemed to be "fake news" based on judgments from some very dubious sources. From Breitbart News:
Facebook has begun to mark content that may be false with a tag reading “disputed” as part of their promise to crack down on “fake news.”

In December of last year, Facebook promised to take a hardline stance against “fake news,” partnering with partisan fact-checkers such as Politifact, Snopes and ABC News to police content on the platform. Recode reports that Facebook recently began implementing their new “fake news” measures by marking stories that may be false as “disputed” while linking to articles by Politifact and Snopes.

Currently, in order to flag a story as fake, a user must report it or Facebook’s algorithm must detect it. The story will then be sent on to Politifact and Snopes who will investigate and determine whether the story is incorrect. Only when the two fact-checkers agree will the story be marked as disputed.
As I've argued before, this activity seems ripe for generating some very large antitrust settlements. Of the more than 1 billion Facebook users, some 60 million of them are businesses, and many of them use social media as their major or sole form of marketing. Some of those are for-profit media organizations that publish articles and try and draw an audience, the size of which determines their advertising revenue. If Facebook is going to start creating an unfair playing field for media companies by promoting the ones it likes and labeling or blocking the ones it doesn't, that to me sounds like a textbook antitrust violation. By giving the likes of ABC News the power to judge articles by potentially competing news organizations, it's setting up the conditions for a monopoly.

Think about it. I'll be interested to see what happens the first time Facebook marks as "disputed" some article from a Capital Press-type niche publication about wolves, or GMOs, or the EPA's involvement in What's Upstream, or the travails of a mink farmer, or some other politically thorny issue.

As for me, I've been in the process of moving a lot of the commentary and observations I've done on Facebook over to this blog and am continuing to look into alternative social media outlets as more of a long-term strategy. If I suddenly disappear from Facebook, you can come here to see my posts. They're not getting my photo ID.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Nearly 400,000 households canceled cable in February

The exodus continues. From Breitbart News (emphasis added):
Monday Breitbart News reported that TV viewers are dropping cable subscriptions in droves for cheaper internet platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, posing an existential threat to ESPN.

Tuesday an online rating service spelled out exactly how disastrous that fallout is just in the last month. According to SportsTVRatings.com, the world’s premier global cable and satellite sports television channel, ESPN, lost a stunning 422,000 viewing homes between February and March 2017. Fox Sports 1 didn’t fare very well either losing 77,000 homes.

Overall, 390,000 homes canceled their cable TV subscriptions in that same period of time.
This trend has already prompted some networks to offer their programs in an a la carte service online, and more may surely follow. A primary example of this could be ESPN, which already offers its WatchESPN app to cable subscribers and makes part of it -- ESPN3 -- available to some non-TV subscribers, including Charter broadband customers like me who pay for internet but not TV. ESPN3 shows thousands of live feeds of sporting events. It may be the most innovative thing the network has done since launching ESPN itself.

I could see ESPN offering several tiers of online programming by subscription, ranging from ESPN3 only to everything. I think it would save the network and allow them to rival Netflix and Hulu in revenue in a short time. But trying to appeal to individual subscribers couldn't help but to make them more responsive to viewers and less willing to tick them off, which is what we as consumers want.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

State to begin taking Proposition 1 funding applications

From a news release:
The California Water Commission (Commission) announced today that starting March 14, 2017, proponents of new water storage projects in California may submit applications for funding of public benefits under the water bond approved by California voters in 2014. Proposition 1 -- the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act -- a $7.5 billion water bond for investments in the state's water management systems, includes $2.7 billion for public benefits related to new water storage projects. Those public benefits include ecosystem improvements, water quality improvements, flood control, emergency response and recreation.

The application period opens following approval this week by the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) of the regulations governing the Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP). Approval of the regulations is the culmination of a two-year public process driven by stakeholder input and keeps the Water Commission on track to deliver on time what voters authorized when they overwhelmingly passed Proposition 1. The Commission intends to continue with a robust public process as the regulations are implemented, so the criteria developed puts the State in the best position to fund projects. Throughout 2017, the Commission staff will accept and review applications, reporting regularly to the Commission at its monthly public meetings.

Through the WSIP, the Commission will fund the public benefits of water storage projects that improve the operation of the state water system, are cost effective, and provide a net improvement in ecosystem and water quality conditions. The program will support the California Water Action Plan and its call for more reliable and resilient water resources. The WSIP represents the state’s largest investment in new water storage projects in decades.

The application period for the WSIP will be open from March 14, 2017 to August 14, 2017. To assist potential applicants, the Commission has scheduled an application assistance workshop on March 30, 2017, at 9:30 a.m., in the Klamath hearing room on the second floor of the California Environmental Protection Agency located at 1001 I Street, Sacramento. The Commission will schedule additional workshops, targeting specific application elements, to further assist applicants.

The nine-member California Water Commission is charged with advising the director of the California Department of Water Resources, approving the Department’s rules and regulations, and furthering development of state policies that support integrated and sustainable water resources management.

North state rep explains three 'phases' of health reform

Erin Ryan, field representative for the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa, passes along an explanation from the House of Representatives' Republican leadership of their strategy for advancing health care reform. The emphases are theirs.
From the start, we have been taking a step-by-step approach to repeal and replace Obamacare. Because building a better, patient-centered system is going to take more than just one bill.

As Speaker Ryan explained at his press conference, this approach has three overarching phases:

--The American Health Care Act, which takes full advantage of the budget reconciliation process to avoid a Democratic filibuster;

--Administration actions, notably by HHS Secretary Price, to stabilize the health insurance market, increase choices, and lower costs; and

--Additional legislative policies, such as allowing individuals to purchase coverage across state lines, that by Senate rules cannot be included in a reconciliation bill.

Here’s how Speaker Ryan put it:

“Let me describe to you what the three phases are…Number one is this bill, which we use as reconciliation. As you all know, you can’t filibuster a reconciliation bill so this repeal and replace bill is what we pass through reconciliation…Phase two: all the regulatory flexibility that the Secretary of HHS has to deregulate the marketplace to lower the cost and stabilize the market…Phase three is to pass the bills that we want to pass that we cannot put in reconciliation because of those budget rules. What’s an example of that? Interstate shopping across state lines. We love that policy, we think it’s critical, but as you well know, you cannot put that in a budget reconciliation bill.”

Here is what Secretary Price wrote in his letter to congressional leaders:

Achieving all of the President’s goals to reform healthcare will require more than what is possible in a budget reconciliation bill, as procedural rules on this type of legislation prevent inclusion of key policies such as selling insurance across state lines, lowering drug costs for patients, providing additional flexibility in Medicaid for states to manage their programs in a way that best serves their most vulnerable citizens, or medical legal reforms.”

Learn more about the American Health Care Act here.
The folks at Conservative Treehouse, who are not big fans of Paul Ryan, offer an excellent explanation of why a full repeal bill can't be passed without 60 votes in the Senate unless they eliminate the filibuster for all legislation, which constitutional conservatives might be (and should be) unwilling to do.

But one need only look no further than the recent Redding tax measure to see what can happen when you take a piecemeal approach. The more desirable aspects of the proposal don't pass and you end up not really accomplishing what you set out to do.

An alternative, it seems to me, would be to pass a bill the old-fashioned way and stop looking for shortcuts. Introduce it, debate it, perhaps merge aspects of it with competing legislation, negotiate for it and visit the districts of recalcitrant opponents to explain to their constituents what could happen to them if the bill doesn't pass. In the end, you have compromise legislation that nobody really loves, but will get enough votes to pass and will be signed by the president. Or if it is defeated, you can make the next election a referendum on its defeat.

But if Republicans think they can just sit around for two years while Obamacare collapses and not be blamed because it wasn't their program, they're in for a rude awakening.

Examining news media outlets' role in the 'soft coup'

As Congress, Judicial Watch and others begin to investigate the outgoing Obama administration's alleged surveillance of the Trump campaign and transition and the creation of what some are calling a "shadow government" to undermine the Trump administration, it's important not to underestimate the complicit, participatory role that some corporate media outlets have played and are playing in the effort.

In mid-February, before the "Obamagate" flap really heated up, Jennifer Harper of the Washington Times pointed out that media outlets were openly advocating for a shadow government. She wrote:
The notion that a “shadow presidency” is up and running to counter President Trump is very popular in the press at the moment. Multiple news organizations now bandy about such terms as “shadow White House,” “shadow government” or “shadow Cabinet.” The narrative insists that noble entities are out to counter the “chaos” — manned by angry activists from the nonprofit Organizing for Action, or by former members of the Obama administration still employed by the federal government. Hillary Clinton’s name has also been mentioned.

The idea of hostile “shadow” management has been around for a while. The term “shadow president” appeared in wishful news reports and commentary as early as November and continued right through Mr. Trump’s inauguration — and beyond. Even before Mr. Trump took the presidential oath on Jan. 20, veteran political commentator Bill Moyers suggested Mrs. Clinton give her own inaugural address, advising Democrats to “prepare by joining together as a movement and creating the constituency of what will be, in effect, a shadow government — one that will serve to track and respond to every single bad action undertaken by the Trump administration and its monolithic Congress.”

On Inauguration Day, GQ magazine advised,”Barack Obama is preparing for his third term.” Global news organizations also pondered the dynamics: “Democrats are eager for Barack Obama to play the role of shadow president, offering direction to Americans who feel they lost their political compass the day Mr. Trump was elected,” noted ABC News — in this case, that’s the Australian Broadcasting Corp. News.

While some “shadow” coverage is jaunty and blithe, other reports are not.

“Former President Obama is waging war against the Trump administration through his generously funded agitation outfit, Organizing for Action, to defend his monumentally destructive record of failure and violent polarization. It is a chilling reminder that the increasingly aggressive, in-your-face Left in this country is on the march,” investigative reporter Matthew Vadum writes for FrontPage Magazine.
In a separate take in her "Inside the Beltway" column, Harper wrote (emphasis added):
There’s been a lot of chatter in the press about a “shadow presidency” or “shadow government” now poised to challenge President Trump and the White House. It is a popular speculation in the news media, which has been bandying those terms about since Mr. Trump won the election. There’s another term to consider, however: “soft coup,” a variation of the old coup d’etat. And the president may be facing one, some say.

“The soft coup against the Trump administration continues. A soft coup is a coordinated effort to delegitimize or undermine a lawfully elected official,” says Chris Farrell, director of investigations for Judicial Watch. “Soft coups include actions by senior government officials refusing to carry out their roles and critical tasks, or otherwise acting in opposition to the letter or spirit of law to diminish or remove de facto power from those who otherwise would legally wield it.”

Mr. Farrell says shoddy journalism plays a distinct role in the phenomenon.

“Politicized news media can be complicit in the scheme of the soft coup by engaging in false or misleading reporting or acting as the propaganda arms of the opposition,” he says, citing overuse of anonymous sources, an increase in corrected news reports and repeated use of certain key words as giveaways.

“How many times have you seen the word ‘chaos’ in the reporting on President Trump?” he asks. “Before our highly politicized news media slides into complete irrelevancy, I strongly advise reporters and editors to pause and evaluate their reporting — set aside personal biases, reinvigorate journalistic standards — then get back to reporting facts.”
All that outrage and scorn we heard from certain quarters last weekend when Trump tweeted the suggestion that his phones were tapped? It was part of the plan for when the effort -- to the extent it existed -- was exposed.

That's why major corporate media can't be counted on to provide comprehensive, accurate reporting on the investigations that are occurring, much less do their own honest research. Too many of them and their colleagues are implicated.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Cord-cutting is just starting to make a cultural difference

I've made the point here and on Facebook that if consumers are really going to take back their media, they have to address the issue of funding. That's starting to happen, as sports blogger Clay Travis reports with regard to ESPN.
Two years ago ESPN cut several hundred behind the scenes jobs to save hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly costs. Since that time ESPN's subscriber losses have accelerated, averaging over three million lost subscribers a year. Now new jobs cuts are coming, only this time you're likely to know some of the casualties -- Outkick has heard from a variety of different sources that ESPN is cutting up to $100 million in on-air salaries.

Yep, on air. This means you're going to know many of the people leaving the network.

The cuts will come via buyouts and expiring contracts that won't be renewed and when those layoffs start becoming apparent many will recognize that what Outkick has been writing for a couple of years now -- ESPN is in a world of trouble and doesn't know how to stem a rapidly collapsing business model.
Why is ESPN in decline? Because people like you and me are taking away its funding stream by getting rid of cable.

Travis continues:
Over the past several years ESPN has lost over 13 million cable and satellite subscribers. Given that each subscriber pays ESPN in the neighborhood of $7 a month for the network, that's over a billion dollars a year in lost revenue that will never be recouped. And those losses aren't stopping. Indeed, every single day in 2017 ESPN is losing 10,000 subscribers or more.

That's why I projected that ESPN is on pace to start losing money by 2021.

At the same time that ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers, the network has also been paying incredible sums of money for live sports rights. In fact, ESPN will pay out $7.3 billion for sports rights in 2017, that's more than any company in America will pay for media content.
Travis seems to think the decline is why ESPN has veered all the more left in recent years -- to maintain its social "relevance." But I agree with Power Line's Paul Mirengoff -- ESPN has veered leftward because they're leftists. If anything, the politics has hastened ESPN's demise.

From Mirengoff:
Alienating half or more of your audience with left-wing clap-trap and non-stop obsessing over race is hardly a sound plan for maintaining market share. In the words of Michael Jordan, Republicans buy sneakers too.
This decline will start to be felt by the major sports leagues. Mirengoff writes:
The NBA, another left-leaning organization, may be first to feel the pain. ESPN gave it what Travis calls “the worst TV contract in the history of sports.” (Skipper is said to be a good friend of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.) It was “a deal so lucrative for the NBA that every cable and satellite subscriber in the country, the vast majority of whom will never watch an NBA game, is paying over $30 a year for the NBA.” In case you were wondering, “that’s how Mike Conley can make over $30 million a year.”
Now ESPN is the first to start feeling real pain from cord-cutting because it claims the biggest share of the cable bill. As Travis explains:
Yes, the decline in cable and satellite subscribers will hurt all channels, but the loss of millions of subscribers to CNN matters much less because CNN makes much less in subscriber revenue than ESPN. What's more, CNN doesn't have the fixed costs on content that ESPN does. If CNN makes less money on subscriber revenue, they can spend less on news gathering. If AMC makes less money in subscriber fees, they'll pay for fewer TV shows, but ESPN's entire business is predicated on the billions they owe for sports rights every year into the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, it's my contention that networks like CNN and Fox News will begin to feel as big a crunch as ESPN as cord-cutting significantly escalates. This will push more content online, making it subject to a more honest marketplace in which people pay for what they use. That can only be a good thing for the quality and accountability of media.

Obamagate update: Two tangible developments to watch

Amid all the media furor and debate over what is becoming known as Obamagate -- allegations that the outgoing Obama administration ran surveillance on the opposing party's presidential campaign and later his predecessor's transition team -- there were two tangible developments Monday worth noting and keeping an eye on.

First, the group Judicial Watch -- which has been driving presidents of both parties nuts for 20 years -- filed suit against the Department of Justice, the CIA and the Treasury Department for records relating to intelligence leaks regarding an investigation of Genera Mike Flynn. From a news release:
Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury regarding records related to the investigation of retired United States Army Lieutenant General Michel Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (Judicial Watch v. Central Intelligence Agency et al. (No.1:17-cv-00397)). (The National Security Agency refused to confirm or deny the existence of intelligence records about communications between Gen. Flynn and Amb Kislyak.)

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit after the agencies failed to respond to a January 25, 2017, FOIA request seeking:

Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to the investigation of retired Gen. Michael Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak between October 1, 2016 and the present.

This request includes, but is not limited to, any and all related warrants, affidavits, declarations, or similar records regarding the aforementioned investigation.

For purposes of clarification, please find enclosed a CNN report regarding the investigation, which cites information that was provided to CNN by members of the Intelligence Community.

In its complaint Judicial Watch asks the court to order the agencies to search for all records responsive to its FOIA requests and demonstrate that they employed reasonable search methods; order the agencies to produce by a specific date all non-exempt records and a Vaughn index of all withheld records; and instruct the agencies to cease withholding all non-exempt records.
The other was a letter that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley seeking details on the FBI's reported hiring of a British spy to gather Trump intel during the campaign. From a Grassley release:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today is seeking details on the FBI’s reported plans to hire former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, even though the FBI was aware that he was being paid by Democrat political operatives to conduct opposition research on Trump. Steele is the author of the controversial dossier that includes unsubstantiated claims alleging ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In a letter today to FBI Director James Comey, Grassley is requesting a briefing on the agreement as well as the FBI use of the material in Steele’s memos. Grassley also wants to know whether the FBI ever independently verified the memos’ claims.

“The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for President in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends. It is additionally troubling that the FBI reportedly agreed to such an arrangement given that, in January of 2017, then-Director Clapper issued a statement stating that ‘the IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions,’” Grassley said in the letter.

In the letter, Grassley is requesting records related to the reported agreement. He is also seeking answers to a number of questions, including who was involved in decisions related to hiring Steele and using his memos, whether the FBI used materials in the memo as the basis for seeking warrants and other investigative tools, and if the FBI has been able to independently verify allegations made in the memos.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, said that panel, too, will be looking into the alleged wiretapping. This thing is real, and the answers these folks receive could lead to potentially explosive revelations in the days and weeks ahead.

Don't simply rely on corporate-owned media at the local or national levels to give you the straight scoop, however. Many of them are in Full Protection Mode, as some of their organizations disseminated the information that was leaked and appear to be a full participant in what was going on. Read as many accounts from as many different independent sources as you can.

A few things to check out: Mark Levin explained over the weekend why he believes the wiretapping occurred; attorney Robert Barnes explained why there could indeed be legal jeopardy for members of the former administration; and Wikileaks reminds of Obama's history of wiretapping friends and rivals.

Also, keep an eye on the reporting of Joel Pollak from Breitbart and Andrew McCarthy of National Review, who've provided lots of context in recent days.

More here as things develop and my schedule allows.