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60 posts
  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
The logo for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.
The logo for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Pacific Gas & Electric was the only California utility to file for bankruptcy protection when the state went through a self-inflicted energy crisis in the early 2000s. Now it is poised to be the first to file for bankruptcy protection as the state goes through a wildfire crisis.

PG&E, which serves an enormous swath of communities from Santa Barbara to Humboldt counties, filed notice Monday that it intends to file a petition to reorganize its debts under the protection of Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. Under Chapter 11, companies try to work out a deal with creditors that wipes out part of their debt and puts them on a path to long-term survival.

But bankruptcy is essentially a backward-looking process. It’s about the debts you have amassed, which in PG&E’s case include as-yet undetermined (but no doubt enormous) sums associated with last year’s devastating Camp fire.

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pressed a judicial nominee on his membership in the Knights of Columbus.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pressed a judicial nominee on his membership in the Knights of Columbus. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP-Getty Images)

In 2017 Sen. Dianne Feinstein was criticized — fairly, in my view — for implying that a judicial nominee couldn’t serve fairly as a federal judge because she was a devout Catholic and “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Now Feinstein’s fellow Democrat from California, Sen. Kamala Harris, is also being accused of Catholic-bashing because of questions she posed to another judicial nominee.

Some of the pushback is coming from inside the Democratic House. Without mentioning any names,  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has criticized other Democrats for suggesting that Brian C. Buescher, a nominee for a district judgeship in Nebraska, is disqualified because of his Catholicism and his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Both Harris and Gabbard’s fellow Hawaii Democrat, Sen. Mazie Hirono, have homed in on Buescher’s membership in the Knights.

In an opinion column in the Hill, Gabbard wrote: “The party that worked so hard to convince people that Catholics and Knights of Columbus like [1928 presidential candidate] Al Smith and John F. Kennedy could be both good Catholics and good public servants shows an alarming disregard of its own history in making such attacks today.”

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  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • Border Wars
As the government shutdown continues, furloughed workers likely to get paid, contractors won't, and taxpayers won't get what they paid for.
As the government shutdown continues, furloughed workers likely to get paid, contractors won't, and taxpayers won't get what they paid for. (Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

The U.S. Senate voted late Thursday to grant back pay for furloughed federal workers, which is usually what happens when the government shuts down. It’s a benevolent and fair thing to do — 800,000 employees forced off the job or having to work without pay because of a political fray shouldn’t go without income through no fault of their own.

It’s sad that granting back pay for lost hours is so routine for federal workers that it has become a custom. But that tradition should frost taxpayers who foot the bill for tens of millions of work hours in which no work was done.

President Trump reportedly has promised legislators he’d sign the measure, though it has yet to come to a vote in the House. So if it does come to pass as expected, at least federal workers victim to the shutdown won’t suffer so much financially.

  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
The partial shutdown has led the federal government to underpay its D.C. water and sewage bill. Will they shut off water to the swamp?
The partial shutdown has led the federal government to underpay its D.C. water and sewage bill. Will they shut off water to the swamp? (Danil Melekhin / Getty Images)

Just call him President Deadbeat.

With the partial government shutdown sputtering along, different government agencies are unable to pay not only employees, but also some basic bills.

Apparently that includes the White House. You know, where President Trump lives.

  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • Border Wars
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) last week called a border wall an "immorality."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) last week called a border wall an "immorality." (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

President Trump’s relatively subdued Oval Office speech on border security included one combative note: a challenge to the suggestion by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that Trump’s proposed wall on the border with Mexico was immoral.

“Some have suggested a barrier is immoral,” the president said. “Then why do wealthy politicians build walls, fences and gates around their homes?  They don’t build walls because they hate the people on the outside, but because they love the people on the inside. The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized.”

Even though Trump didn’t mention Pelosi by name, it seemed obvious that he was referring to her. Last week she said that “a wall is an immorality between countries,” adding: “It’s an old way of thinking. It isn’t cost-effective.” This isn’t a new position for her. In a “Meet the Press” interview in April 2017, she said: “The wall is, in my view, immoral, expensive, unwise.”

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  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
President Trump visits a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp fire with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and Gov. Jerry Brown in November.
President Trump visits a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp fire with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and Gov. Jerry Brown in November. (Associated Press)

It sure didn’t take long for Gov. Gavin Newsom to get under President Trump’s skin.

On Tuesday — his second day in office — California’s new governor traveled to Placer County to propose spending an additional $105 million on wildfire safety, including more money to thin dry forests and improve emergency alert systems. That would be on top of the $200 million that lawmakers approved last year.

Newsom also called on President Trump to boost federal funding for forest management, which is vital, given that about 60% of California’s forests are on federal land. Newsom co-signed a letter to Trump, along with fellow Democratic Govs. Jay Inslee of Washington and Kate Brown of Oregon, calling for the Trump administration to “double the investment” in managing federal forests in the West to help supplement state efforts.  

  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • The Swamp
  • Border Wars
President Trump addressing the nation Tuesday night from the White House.
President Trump addressing the nation Tuesday night from the White House. (Kevin Dietsch/ EPA/Shutterstock)

President Trump’s speech Tuesday night, and the congressional Democratic leaders’ response, offered nothing to the nation that it didn’t already know – that our government is broken, and there’s not much reason to have faith that it’s going to get any better.

The current manifestation is that the nation elected as president someone who has no idea how to do the job, and who is not predisposed to grow into it. Any stray thought that comes to mind gets trotted out as fact or edict, forcing the few people on Trump’s skeleton staff who have an inkling of how governing works to scramble to corral him, persuade him that he can’t do what he wants to do, or find some loophole through which they can drive whatever bugbear Trump is obsessed with at the moment.

We do not, as the president would have us believe, face a national security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. But we do face a crisis in competence. This administration – as did the Obama administration before it – has been unable to come up with a solution for the number of people arriving at the border to seek asylum.

  • Opinion
  • The Golden State
Cage-free chickens roam a fenced pasture on the Francis Blake organic farm in 2015, near Waukon, Iowa.
Cage-free chickens roam a fenced pasture on the Francis Blake organic farm in 2015, near Waukon, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall)

Not just ducks and geese prevailed when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the California law banning the sale of foie gras and force-feeding birds to get it. 

On Monday, the high court also rebuffed a group of state attorneys general who brought suit against the California law requiring that all eggs sold in the state come from hens kept in cages big enough for them to turn around and spread their wings.  And the court said no to a similar group of states, led by the Indiana attorney general, challenging a new Massachusetts law that will prohibit the confinement of pigs, calves and hens in cramped quarters and ban the sale of meat and eggs from animals kept under those conditions.

Interestingly, Justice Clarence Thomas voted to hear those two cases, according to the court’s announcement of its decision. No further explanation was given.

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  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
  • The Golden State
Americans understand global warming, yet we continue practices that increase carbon emissions.
Americans understand global warming, yet we continue practices that increase carbon emissions. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Americans seem to be stuck in one of those “do as we say, not as we do” conundrums when it comes to recognizing the connection between climate-altering carbon emissions and how we conduct our lives.

New findings published Tuesday estimate that U.S. carbon emissions increased 3.4% last year, driven primarily by a booming economy, which consumed more electricity, and people buying less-efficient vehicles and driving more miles, including shippers. Despite recent gains in adding renewable resources, coal and natural gas still account for 62% of domestic electricity production, which means increased demand causes increased emissions.

The findings track with preliminary estimates released last month and with reports at the international climate forum in Katowice, Poland, that humankind is failing to take sufficient steps to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • Border Wars
People gather near the U.S.-Mexico border fence in the Las Playas Area on Sunday in Tijuana.
People gather near the U.S.-Mexico border fence in the Las Playas Area on Sunday in Tijuana. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning,” then-candidate Donald Trump declared at a campaign event in September 2015.

It was a line that Trump would repeat many times in one form or another, and since the election it has encapsulated the uniquely binary approach he’s taken to the presidency. He appears to view much of governing as a contest in which one side, and only one side, emerges victorious.

Which is odd, given that someone who claims to be a master deal maker would understand how important it is to avoid zero-sum situations. That’s where we appear to be today, with no end in sight to a partial government shutdown that’s beginning its third unhappy week.