CA Legislators Want Russian Election Influence Taught to High Schoolers

hacking-skill-for-future.w654In the wake of a turbulent election season and a disturbing new study on the credulity of many political news consumers, a handful of California legislators have put forward new bills designed to ensure the state’s public schools make students aware that not everything purporting to be factual reportage is as true or unbiased as it seems. Although “fake news” has swiftly become a recognized problem, it has also become a political football — a label with which to swiftly discredit opponents or undermine criticism.

Wave of worry

“A bill from Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, will ask the state to adopt high school history curricula based on a recent national intelligence assessment that Russia tried to influence the election by producing fake news and hacking into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. “Another bill, introduced last week by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, would require schools to teach children ‘media literacy’ — including how to tell the difference between ‘fake news’ and real news.”

“During the final, critical months of the 2016 presidential campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax websites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions and comments on social media,” SB135 read, according to the paper.

Additionally, lawmakers will consider a companion “fake news” bill, AB155, introduced by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, which “would require the state to establish curriculum standards and frameworks to teach ‘civic online reasoning’ to middle- and high-schoolers,” as the Washington Post reported.

“Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed, but information shared on the internet is disseminated rapidly and often without editorial oversight, making it easier for fake news to reach a large audience,” his bill suggested. “When fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what’s real,” Gomez said in a statement, according to the paper. “These attempts to mislead readers,” he warned, “pose a direct threat to our democracy.”

From bias to ignorance

The line has blurred in recent years between factual reporting and deliberately misleading or partial content, with partisans on opposite ends of the ideological divide hurling contending accusations. In addition to fears that outside propaganda could impact voting patterns at home, the credibility of both mainstream and alternative outlets — online and off — has come under question.

So too has the responsiveness of American schools and universities to the problem and its sources, which reach deeper than partisan preferences or agendas. “In November, a Stanford University study found that 82 percent of high school students surveyed could not distinguish between a reported news story and an advertisement,” the Guardian observed. “During last year’s election, rumors and false reports spread widely, and in the aftermath of the vote partisans began to accuse each other of propagating ‘fake news.’” In introducing his legislation, Gomez invoked the Stanford report as reason for action:

“President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump have both denounced ‘fake news’ in recent weeks, to different purposes. In November, Obama warned that democracies would be threatened by the spread of misinformation and false reports, and by the discrediting of once trusted news sources. This week, Trump seized on the phrase ‘fake news’ to characterize unsubstantiated allegations about him, blaming BuzzFeed and CNN in particular.”

The debate over what counts as fake news, and who gets to decide, has helped ensure that California’s new bills won’t sail through the Legislature without at least some criticism. State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, for instance, called Levine’s bill “petty” and “showmanship.”

“I’d just be happy if we taught kids how to read and write and do arithmetic,” he told the Mercury News.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Cap and Trade Costing CA Drivers $2 Billion Per Year

carpool-laneAs fast as California drivers will spend an extra $2 billion at the pump this year to fund the controversial cap-and-trade program, state lawmakers are finding ways to use it, according to two reports released Thursday.

Cap and trade was implemented by a state regulatory board to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as required by law.

One of several additional costs tacked on an estimated 11 cents to each gallon of gas and 13 cents per gallon of diesel, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, driving average prices to some of the highest in the nation.

“Most drivers have no idea that this is costing them $2 billion per year because it has been largely hidden from them,” said Asm. Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale. “It’s clear that we need to improve transparency for consumers about cap and trade’s costs.”

Where does the money go?

Cap-and-trade money is currently appropriated as follows: 40 percent is unallocated, 25 percent is for high-speed rail, 20 percent is for affordable housing and sustainable communities grants, 10 percent is for intercity rail capital projects and 5 percent is for low-carbon transit projects.

Waiting to spend the money are 36 pending proposals in the Legislature totaling $7.5 billion, which is more than double what was proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s draft budget, according to a study by the California Tax Foundation.

The most expensive proposal is SBX1 2, sponsored by Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas. This bill would divert $1.9 billion annually to street and highway construction projects and block further cap-and-trade funds from going to high-speed rail.

In addition to barring further funds from going to high-speed rail (a recurring theme for Huff), the Huff bill is too vague to show whether it will reduce GHGs or not and may “leave itself open to litigation,” according to the legislative analysis.

Another bill, sponsored by Asm. Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, would fund nearly $1 billion worth of projects, including up to $100 million on new toilets. According to the report, many of the initiatives would likely reduce GHG emissions, while other parts of the bill might not.

Other bills include synchronizing traffic lights, implementing a car buyback program, promoting recycled glass and preventing forest fires. And while its unclear what effect most of the proposals would have on GHG emissions, the report was issued to help voters and legislators make that determination.

“This report identifies the auction revenue spending proposals that are active in the Legislature, so they can be given proper scrutiny,” California Tax Foundation Director Robert Gutierrez said in a statement.

Legality

Opponents of the program argue that by collecting revenue from drivers and businesses (those with large GHG emissions) it amounts to an illegal tax, which would have needed to be approved by a two-thirds legislative majority to be legal. A previous court ruling — which is now being challenged — found that the revenue is OK as a regulatory fee and thereby not subject to a two-third’s vote.

In 2006, the Legislature passed AB32, which tasked the state ARB to implement the GHG reduction. Proponents say this mandate gave the ARB the legal authority to auction off emission allowances (there’s a “cap” on emissions and business can “trade” them at auction).

In January, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended lawmakers either narrowly tailor their proposals to unquestionably reduce GHGs or approve the program with a two-thirds majority to avoid legal complications.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

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