Tag Archives: California

Ted Rall vs. LA Times: Here’s Rall’s Appellate Brief Challenging the Times’ Nasty, Abusive “anti-SLAPP” Motions

Yesterday my attorneys filed, and California’s Court of Appeals accepted, our Appellate Brief in my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times et al.

I sued in 2015. The Times filed three anti-SLAPP motions against me, halting the case because they’re scared of facing a jury and want to intimidate me. In 2017 a lower-court judge ruled for the Times, ordering me to pay them $350,000 in the Times’ attorneys fees. This document is our appeal of the 2017 decision.

If successful, the $350,000 judgement will be vacated and I can build my case to take to a jury.

If not, the $350,000 stands, plus more fees for the Times defense of this appeal. And my case dies. And Californians who work for media companies will have no recourse in the courts if their employer discriminates against them, even if they do so for racist or sexist or homophobic reasons.

Please read our brief below; it’s an interesting read. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions. Thank you for your incredible support!

 

Ted Rall vs. Los Angeles Times: anti-SLAPP Appellate Brief by Ted Rall

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Grey Wall of Silence: Trump Is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws

Image result for newspaper libel laws

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” Donald Trump said recently. “And if somebody says something that’s totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled, will have meaningful recourse.”

Yes, Trump is a jerk.

True, he himself is the Slanderer-in-Chief.

Granted, he’s a bit of a fascist.

Pertinently, libel laws are state laws. Neither the president nor Congress can change them.

But even an authoritarian hypocrite is right sometimes. And Trump is dead right that the nation’s libel laws are “a sham and a disgrace.”

My defamation lawsuit against The Los Angeles Times is a case study. (I’ve written about the merits of my case elsewhere. Here, I ask you to simply consider the process of lodging a complaint and taking it to a jury to consider. My question is this: should suing be this difficult?)

Bear in mind: the timeline in my case is typical.

The Times published an article announcing my firing in July 2015. After their excuse for my firing fell apart, they published a second piece “reaffirming” their decision in August 2015. Two and a half years later, we haven’t even begin discovery — and I’ll be lucky to get in front of a jury before 2020.

Justice delayed is justice denied. So what’s taking so long? Part of the problem is California’s understaffed, overworked court system. But mostly it’s the fact that newspapers have rigged the legal system against plaintiffs.

In California, for example, media companies lobbied the legislature to pass Civil Code 48(a). Under 48(a), you have to serve written notice to a newspaper that they’ve libeled you within 20 days of the initial publication. What if you’re off fishing for three weeks? Too bad — you can’t sue. What if you hear about the libelous article more than 20 days later? Again, you have no recourse.

What if you’ve never heard of the law? You’re like most people — and you’ve got no case, no matter what they wrote about you.

California is one of 28 states to have an “anti-SLAPP” law. According to proponents, there are wealthy individuals and companies who file nuisance lawsuits against defendants, not to win but to tie the poor defendants up in court and force them to hire expensive lawyers to defend themselves.

Assuming abusive lawsuits are actually a problem (there’s no evidence of this), the “solution” created by anti-SLAPP laws is ridiculous on its face. A defendant files an anti-SLAPP motion that, if successful, gets said frivolous lawsuit thrown out of court and forces the rich abusive plaintiff to pay the poor defendant’s legal fees. But…the operative word here is “rich.” If you’re rich and out to screw over a poor defendant, why would the risk of incurring some extra fees deter you?

Here’s where things get really crazy. I consulted with numerous attorneys who told me I’d probably beat the Times if I ever got in front of a jury. Getting past anti-SLAPP, they said, would be the tough hurdle. But the anti-SLAPP law is only supposed to kill frivolous lawsuits. Then how can it be that, in the opinion of numerous experienced lawyers, my case — which they think would probably win — could be defeated by an anti-SLAPP motion? Because anti-SLAPP law is so complicated that many judges don’t understand it and rule in favor of anti-SLAPP motions when they ought to reject them.

Some states have ruled anti-SLAPP laws unconstitutional because they deny plaintiffs their right to a jury trial. But not California. Not yet.

Lawyers I talked to in L.A. liked my case but were so cowed by anti-SLAPP that it took me months to find one willing to represent me. Finally, I filed suit in March 2016.

As predicted, the Times filed a set of anti-SLAPP motions against me. Then they invoked an obviously unconstitutional section of the California Code, 1030(a), that is so obscure that few attorneys or bond companies had heard of it, one that required me to post a cash (i.e., 100% of value) bond just to continue my case. The reason? I reside outside of California. The Times demanded $300,000. The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Thanks to appalled readers, I raised the money via crowdfunding. What would someone without a media mouthpiece do if they had to come up with 75 grand just to stay in court? They’d probably have to drop their case.

Hearings on the anti-SLAPPs took place in July 2017. It had been two years since the Times published their lies about me: two years without discovery, two years during which key witnesses might die or move away, two years during which the Times could destroy evidence.

Even though lower-court judge agreed that “the enhanced tape establishes his [Rall’s] recounting of the incident was accurate” — i.e., I told the truth, the Times lied when they said I didn’t, thus the Times defamed me — he ruled against me, awarding the Times about $350,000 in legal fees at my expense.

Go figure.

Anti-SLAPP is automatically appealable, so the next step is the Court of Appeals. We submit our appeal brief. The Times replies. We reply to their reply. The court sets a hearing date. If all goes well, that’ll happen some time this year. If the appellate judges rule in my favor, we finally begin discovery — in 2019-ish.

Four years after the crime. Four years for the trail to go from cold to stone-cold.

If and when I get to my actual trial, then — just maybe — print-media journalists will break their Grey Wall of Silence and report on my case. If and when that happens, though, I’m sure they’ll manage to characterize me as an abusive plaintiff trying to curtail the First Amendment rights of the pure-as-virgin-snow Los Angeles Times.

Trump can’t and won’t do anything to address our ridiculous libel laws. Which is really really #sad.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Corporations Are Abusing anti-SLAPP Laws to Screw Over Workers

“It’s a sadly familiar sight in courthouses around the country: A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.”

Sounds awful, right?

Fortunately, according to The Los Angeles Times editorial board, “That’s why California enacted a law in 1992 to give people a preemptive legal strike against frivolous lawsuits that seek to muzzle them on public issues.” According to the Digital Media Law Project, 28 states, D.C., and one U.S. territory have enacted these so-called “anti-SLAPP statutes.” (SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A classic example was when the cattle industry sued Oprah for dissing beef.)

At first glance, anti-SLAPP seems like a good solution to a serious problem.

In theory.

In the real world, however, well-meaning legislators have created a monster. In the hands of clever corporate lawyers, anti-SLAPP laws have become a loophole to libel laws and a catchall defense for disgusting behavior. What started as a good idea has become a menace to free speech, the ability to protect one’s reputation, and the right to redress in a court of law.

As I’ve discovered personally over the last year, California’s anti-SLAPP statute is at least as likely to be used by “a deep-pocketed corporation” against a “critic” as the way the legislature originally intended, which is to say the other way around.

In July 2015 The Los Angeles Times — yes, the same paper that published the above editorial — fired me as its staff editorial cartoonist. It has since come out that they did so as a favor to Charlie Beck, the $297,000-a-year chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Beck’s feelings were hurt because of the cartoons that I drew about him.

The cops weren’t satisfied with merely having me fired. They wanted me destroyed. So the Times also published a pair of articles that falsely portrayed me as a liar and a fabulist — death to a journalist’s reputation.

So I sued the Times for wrongful termination, blacklisting, retaliation and defamation, as well as other claims.

Initially I had trouble finding a lawyer willing to represent me on the defamation claim. California’s anti-SLAPP statute, attorneys told me, have gutted the practice of defamation law in the Golden State. Fortunately for me, as several of the state’s leading experts on defamation law told me, Times management’s behavior was so outrageous, reprehensible and ongoing that I stood a better chance of getting over the anti-SLAPP hurdle than most plaintiffs.

As most of the attorneys I consulted had predicted, one of the first things that the Times did was file an anti-SLAPP motion against me. So much for anti-SLAPP being used against “a deep-pocketed corporation…whose real purpose is to silence a critic.” The Times is owned by Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing), a $499 million mega-corporation. The Times paid me $300 a week.

Until that pretrial anti-SLAPP motion is decided, I can’t engage in “discovery,” the process of gathering information through subpoenas and depositions essential to forming a case. As Vikram David Amar writes, “oftentimes a plaintiff who may have a valid claim will not be able to prevail because s/he will not have had enough of an opportunity to gather the evidence (through legal discovery devices like depositions and document requests) needed to prove the case.”

Because of anti-SLAPP, I must convince a judge that I am likely to prevail at an eventual trial — before the first juror has been chosen or any evidence has been discovered.

If the judge decides that I will probably lose my case, I will have to pay all of the Times’ legal fees. According to papers that the defendants filed, they expect that to amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The case would be dismissed. I would go bankrupt.

Even if I convince the judge that I’ll win, my tormentors at the Times then get a second shot at destroying my financial well-being: they can go to the Court of Appeals. By that time, of course, their legal bills will be even higher. And it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that those fees will be highly padded. Many judges take defendants at their word when it comes to the validity of legal invoices.

We’re not done.

I live in New York. As an out-of-state plaintiff, California Code 1030 provides a defendant the right to move that I be required to post a bond in order to guarantee the payment of the Times’ attorney fees should they prevail on their anti-SLAPP motion. “The Times will defend itself vigorously against Mr. Rall’s claims,” a Times spokesperson said when I sued. They sure are. They filed a motion asking the judge to require me to post a whopping $300,000 bond.

The judge knocked it down to $75,000. Unlike criminal bonds that can be purchased for 10%, however, this civil bond must be 100% collateralized. In other words, I have to come up with $75,000 in “pay to play” money by Thursday, August 18, or my case will automatically be dismissed.

And you thought this was a free country.

Happily, there are signs that anti-SLAPP madness is finally coming to an end. Setting an important precedent, Justice Vance Raye of the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento denied an anti-SLAPP motion filed by UC Davis against a former employee who claims she was fired for whistleblowing.

“The cure [anti-SLAPP] has become the disease,” wrote Raye. UC’s argument was “ at odds with the purpose of the anti-SLAPP law, which was designed to ferret out meritless lawsuits intended to quell the free exercise of First Amendment rights, not to burden victims of discrimination and retaliation with an earlier and heavier burden of proof than other civil litigants and dissuade the exercise of their right to petition for fear of an onerous attorney fee award.”

Raye’s ruling is a good start. But what’s needed is for the 28 state legislatures in anti-SLAPP states to reform the law.

If you like to read more about the case and/or contribute to my fundraiser – I am not going down without a fight – please click here or go directly to http://gofundme.com/tedrall

(Ted Rall is the author of the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography.”)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

IMG_2255Though it might not always seem like it, the news media is composed of human beings. Humans aren’t, can’t be, and possibly shouldn’t be, objective. Still, there’s a reasonable expectation among consumers of political news that journalists of all political stripes strive to be as objective as possible.

At their minimum, media outlets ought to be straightforward about their biases.

They certainly shouldn’t have, or appear to have, their thumbs on the scales.

Unfortunately, all too often, it appears that the political system is rigged – and that the major media companies play an important role in gaming the system. That’s what has happened throughout this year’s Democratic primaries, in which the vast majority of corporate media outlets appear to have been in the bag for Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, against self-described “democratic socialist” insurgent Bernie Sanders.

Examinations of coverage have confirmed the impressions of cable news junkies that Sanders has been the victim of a blackout, thus depriving him of a chance to make his case to voters. When the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, scheduled the first round of Democratic debates at times the party hoped nobody would be watching – again, a seemingly obvious ploy to deprive Sanders of exposure – corporate media outlets had little to say about it.

Then there has been the media’s complicity in spreading Clinton campaign talking points that bore little relation to the truth.

MSNBC and other DNC-aligned media outlets kept pointing out that Clinton won 3 million more votes than Sanders. True, technically. But that’s pretending that caucus states didn’t exist. Sanders did better than Clinton in caucuses.

Most recently, they conflated pledged delegates – those won by a candidate based on votes cast – with superdelegates, the Democratic politicians and party officials who will be able to vote however they want at the convention this coming July. Back in November, an Associated Press survey found that Hillary Clinton – unsurprisingly – enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the superdelegates. Assuming that the superdelegates will not change their minds, the AP called the Democratic race for Hillary Clinton on Monday, the night before a set of important primaries, including California. Does anyone doubt that calling a race over as the effect of depressing voter turnout?

It’s impossible to quantify that effect, to know how many people didn’t bother to show up at the polls because they were told it was all over. In California, however, Hillary Clinton won 56% of the vote in a state where polls showed the two candidates neck and neck. (California’s state election officials also did their best to keep voters away from the polls.)

As a journalist, I’m reluctant to categorically argue that the AP ought to have held its statistical analysis of the race until after Tuesday’s vote. News ought not to be suppressed. When you have it, you ought to report it. Similarly, I’m not sure that the New York Times was wrong to report the AP story. However, I do question the editorial wisdom of running it as a banner headline. The United States is a democracy. We elect our leaders based on votes actually cast by real people, not polls. Even after Tuesday’s vote, Hillary Clinton still didn’t have enough pledged delegates to claim the Democratic nomination. Since those superdelegates aren’t going to vote until July, she won’t be able to really claim the nomination until then.

Agreed, it’s a silly system. But it’s the system the Democrats have. They – and the media – ought to abide by it. Besides which, think how embarrassing it will be if the Justice Department indicts Hillary between now and July. There’s a lot to be said for leaving things hanging.

The thing that disgusts me most about this system – besides the perpetual state of war, the manufacturing of mass poverty, the prison industrial complex, the miserable state of the justice system, the fact that it’s impossible to make a decent living working 40 hours a week – is that it doesn’t even pretend to follow its own rules in a consistent way. Consider, for example, how the New York Times couldn’t wait to report its “Hillary Clinton becomes first woman nominee from a major political party” story until after the primaries in California et al. Would one or two days have made a big difference? (Well, yes. Sanders might have won California.) If the idea is to get the story out first, no matter what, even if it suppresses the vote, I can respect that. But then they ought to be consistent.

It was a very different story back in 2004. A few weeks before the general election in November, the New York Times researched and came to the conclusion that George W. Bush, the incumbent, may have cheated in at least one of the presidential debates against Sen. John Kerry. Photographs of the debate clearly showed a suspicious bulge in Bush’s shoulder; the Times did report the story as a light he-says-she-says piece. But then experts concluded that the tongue twisted former governor of Texas had been using a receiver paired with an earphone in order to get advice and retorts to carry from an unknown co-conspirator.

Editors at the paper decided to hold a serious exposé until after the election so that its coverage would not affect the results. Then they killed it. Four more years of Bush followed.

Actually, the corporate media’s policy is brutally consistent. If holding a story benefits the forces of reactionary conservatism, it gets held. If releasing it does so, it gets released. Time after time, the system exposes itself for what it is.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)

Muscle Memory

California police continue to abuse minorities and others in their sights. Since the LA Times fired me at the behest of the LAPD, however, there is no longer commentary directed against them in cartoon form in the LA Times. This is, of course, exactly what the LAPD wanted.

Venice Beach declares war on our infantile obsession with nudity

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

Nekkid Ladies

Not many people are aware of it, and few exercise the right, but it is legal for women to walk around topless in New York City and other cities. (A bare-chested New Yorker even got $40,000 from the city to settle her lawsuit alleging harassment by the NYPD for her nudity.)

Now, if the Venice Neighborhood Council gets its way, toplessness will become legal somewhere more pleasant than the gritty, often slush-filled streets of the Northeast: Venice Beach.

“I think this is a serious equality issue, and I’m not going to shy away from it,” Melissa Diner, the Venice council community officer who sponsored the resolution told the Los Angeles Times’ Martha Groves. Diner said she hoped to “start a conversation about not only wanting to show our nipples on Venice Beach, but about what else people want to see.”

“Venice Beach was founded and designed around the European culture of Venice, Italy,” the neighborhood council said, “and … topless [sun]bathing is commonplace throughout Europe, much of the rest of the world and many places within the U.S.”

In many states and municipalities, the legal basis for prohibiting the exposure of female breasts falls apart because public lewdness laws are specifically targeted against genitals, which obviously breasts are not. Aside from the inherent gender discrimination of anti-toplessness statutes, the widespread social acceptance of breastfeeding in public beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, and the fact that many American travelers see that topless sunbathing in other countries don’t spark riots of sex-crazed males, exposes — pun intended — the utter absurdity of such laws.

So, yes, it is an important political, social and cultural issue. It’s a question of equal rights, body image, addressing the problem of oversexualization driven by, among other things, advertising. But it’s also a matter of maturity.

I’ll admit, when I first read the headline about Venice considering this change, I giggled. Sorry, that’s the 14-year-old boy I used to be. But then after thinking about it for two or three minutes, I shook it off and got serious.

Which is not unlike what happened the summer that the dorms at my college, Columbia University, converted from single-sex, all-male to coeducational. The showers were old, no curtains, one big room. The first female students moved in before they got around to putting in individual shower stalls.

One morning I stumbled in bleary-eyed to the shower, and found several of my new female classmates taking showers. Yes, I was surprised. I was 19. Then I found a spot on the other side of the room, lathered up and got over it. Within a day or two, it wasn’t a big deal.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne so brilliantly documented, America’s original sin, alongside slavery, is Puritanism. Four hundred years after the first colonists arrived in America — people who were so uptight that they couldn’t get along with the British — it’s time that we declared war against our infantile societal obsessions with nudity, especially female nudity.

Could the anti-immigrant loudmouths pass a U.S. citizenship test?

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

Et Tu, "Native" Californians?

To listen to talk radio and cable television, which are dominated by conservatives, the national and state debates over immigration give the impression that most legal residents of the state of California oppose immigrant workers here illegally and might even be favorably disposed to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that they “self-deport.”

It’s not a crazy assumption. After all, state voters in 1994 overwhelmingly approved Proposition 187 – which prohibited people here illegally from using such public services as schools and healthcare.

As it turns out, however, the voices of anti-immigration forces are disproportionately louder than their actual numbers.

A new poll of likely California voters shows that a whopping 73% support granting citizenship to immigrants here illegally if they agreed to pay back taxes, pass a background check and learn the English language.

Support for legalizing the status of people currently living in the shadows is not only majoritarian, but broad. “Even 61% of Republicans favored it, although nationally GOP politicians have been the biggest obstacle to immigration reform. All ethnic and age groups strongly supported such citizenship. So did every California region, whether blue or red,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton.

At this point, it’s clear that nativists have lost the argument. Although I am and have always been sympathetic to the concept that a nation-state isn’t truly sovereign if its borders remain unguarded, the reality is that there are at least 10 million people in the United States illegally. There are about 2.6 million in California, accounting for about 10% of the workforce. ]
It’s also ironic that we demand that people who come to the United States learn English, yet 14% of U.S. adults can’t read. Should we throw them out? –

They’re already here. They’re working. They’re our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, our loves and our spouses. Fortunately, there isn’t the political will to deport them. Since these workers are not going anywhere, it seems ridiculous to condemn them to being terrified every time the cops pull them over for speeding.

Seems to me that immigration opponents ought to focus not on the people who are here and who should be grandfathered in, but on preventing future illegal immigration by lobbying Congress to build an impermeable border between the United States and Mexico.

Of course, they’re not likely to get very far, since both major parties have a vested interest in the status quo. Immigrants here illegally represent future Democratic voters and are easily exploited by the business interests near and dear to the Republican Party. The GOP must draw votes from Latinos if it’s to remain viable in a nation in which the demographics are becoming less white.

Today’s cartoon is partly a jab at the anti-immigration types who pretend to be motivated by economic or patriotic motives but are really just racist. It is also a reference to the fact that many native-born Americans would have trouble jumping through the hoops required of those seeking to become naturalized citizens.

A 2012 study found that one out of three native-born American citizens would fail the civics section of the test administered to those applying for U.S. citizenship. Among the highlights: 85% couldn’t identify “the rule of law” – well, maybe that’s because they’ve been watching one president after another ignore it – and that 75% didn’t know what the judiciary does. Also, 62% couldn’t identify the governor of their state.

As for the requirements that the 73% say they would impose on people here illegally, I wonder how many people with legal status could survive an IRS audit that required them to pay all the taxes on income they’ve failed to declare since they turned 18 … or would be able to cough up the dough.

It’s also ironic that we demand that people who come to the United States learn English, yet 14% of U.S. adults can’t read. Should we throw them out?

Here’s an idea: Let’s deport everyone who can’t pass the basic requirements to become an American citizen, whether or not they were born here.

The country will empty out in no time.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: The Los Angeles Billboard Wars Continue

Billboards of the Future

Originally published by The Los Angeles Times:

Constitutionally-protected free speech essential to commerce? Hyper commercialistic eyesores and driving distractions? The Los Angeles billboard wars continue.
After digital billboards, what comes next?

For a hot second it looked as though Los Angeles’ ban on digital billboards – essentially giant televisions mounted on top and on the sides of buildings – had settled the matter. But a superior court judge struck down the ban as a violation of free speech under the state Constitution in October, kicking the issue back to the City Council. That rarely bodes well for a coherent solution anytime soon.

That said, there are a number of remedies to what critics describe as a blight of giant moving images reminiscent of the dystopian film “Blade Runner,” which incidentally was set in an L.A. that seemed to have crashed into Hong Kong during endless rain.

Among the possible solutions now being considered by council members are “sign districts,” outside of which digital billboards would be prohibited. However, the idea that seems to have the most traction at this point is to allow a certain square footage of new digital billboards in exchange for the removal of an equivalent, or greater, area of traditional static ones.

David Zahniser reports in The Times: “Clear Channel Outdoor said it favors a takedown formula that allows for new digital billboards. But it has been resisting the effort to scale back the locations where billboards could be permitted. If city officials are interested in eliminating a significant number of older billboards, said company spokeswoman Fiona Hutton, they will need to offer more potential sites for new digital signs.”

No one seems to be proposing an outright ban.

Since nothing in life is certain but death, taxes and advertising in increasingly – and annoyingly – previously off-limits public spaces, the future of digital billboards seems assured in Los Angeles. The only question is, how many will there be and how many of the old-fashioned ones will get taken down.

As a cartoonist who likes to consider possible future ramifications for public policy, I can’t help wonder about what comes next. America’s best minds don’t go into the arts or politics; they work for transnational corporations that hire other great minds on Madison Avenue to figure out how to sell us stuff that we didn’t even know existed, much less needed. Sooner rather than later, therefore, today’s wild and crazy digital billboards will become part of the scenery. Pedestrians, if they still exist, and motorists will learn to ignore them.
After digital billboards, what comes next?

There will have to be something new, and that something probably will include holographic projections that tower over the skyline. Ideally – in their thinking — companies would be able to transmit signals directly into our brains suggesting that we purchase their products. And when that happens, we will go through this process again, taking down ineffectual old digital billboards while issuing the right to fill the skies and clutter our minds.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Drought Goes On, California Goes On Too

Happy Hour

 

Some “deep green” environmentalists believe that the tab for two-plus centuries of industrialization is about to come due in the form of a catastrophic ecological disaster — one that might lead to the great sixth mass extinction on a scale similar to the meteor believed to have taken out the dinosaurs. (Yes, that means you, human reader.)

Here in California, the current drought — which some scientists believe may be the worst in 500 years — understandably leaves many Golden State residents, always aware of water restrictions in a region surrounded by deserts, with a sense of disquiet. What if this goes on? Will the California Dream turn to dust and blow away?

Apparently not. Like the Earth in general, California’s climate is surprisingly resilient, according to recent computer models.

State climate researchers ran a projection of what would happen after “even decades of unrelenting mega-drought similar to those that dried out the state in past millennia,” reports Bettina Boxall of the Times.

“The results were surprising,” Jay Lund of UC Davis told her.

If you own stock in the ag business, you might want to consider unloading them. Agriculture, the climatologists found, would be hit hard. “In their computer simulation, annual runoff into rivers and reservoirs amounted to only about half the historical average. Most reservoirs never filled. Under that scenario, experts say, irrigated farm acreage would plunge…The state’s 8 million acres of irrigated cropland could fall by as much as half, predicted Daniel Sumner, director of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. Farmers would largely abandon relatively low-value crops such as cotton and alfalfa and use their reduced water supplies to keep growing the most profitable fruits, nuts and vegetables. They would let fields revert to scrub or dry-farm them with wheat and other crops that predominated before California’s massive federal irrigation project transformed the face of the Central Valley in the mid-20th century.”

Biodiversity would suffer too. “Aquatic ecosystems would suffer, with some struggling salmon runs fading out of existence.”

Water prices will rise. Desalination plants will be built along the coast. While initially painful, the agrishock would only affect 4% of the state’s economy — notable, but not fatal.

Bottom line: “The California economy would not collapse. The state would not shrivel into a giant, abandoned dust bowl. Agriculture would shrink but by no means disappear.”

Paradoxically, this good news (or not-that-bad news, anyway) is bad news.

Political and economic leaders tend to ignore problems before they turn into a crisis — especially when heading off the issue would cost money. The news that California’s drought probably won’t lead to ruin within their lifetimes, or our children’s lifetimes, ensures that they’ll keep ignoring environmental destruction. Species will keep going extinct. Flocks of birds will continue to thin out. Invasive species will accelerate the process. These things may not sink the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but they really really really suck.

This is one of those rare times when I wish — almost — that the scientists had lied about what they discovered.

Neel Kashkari Takes to the Mean Streets of Fresno

Will Governate 4 Food

Yes, Virginia, the Republicans are running someone against California governor Jerry Brown. His name is Neel Kashkari.

Kashkari has been virtually invisible throughout what has passed for the campaign. (Not literally. There is no evidence that he has mastered the ability to bend light around himself so as to render his physical form undetectable to the human eye. Just in the media, which has decided that he isn’t worth covering because he probably won’t win. Which is true, since the media won’t cover him. Funny how that works.)

What do you do when the struggle for visibility gets tough?

Publicity stunt!

In what his supporters would likely say was an earnest attempt to showcase the ongoing problem of un- and underemployment in California despite the economic “recovery” — if anyone bothered to ask his supporters — and what everyone else, including pundits, would call a cheap ploy, Kashkari says he spent the last week playacting as a homeless person in search of work.

Seema Mehta of the Times reports:

“Kashkari wrote that he took a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Fresno on July 21 with ‘only $40 in my pocket (and no credit cards), a backpack, a change of clothes and a toothbrush.’ He said he planned to find a job. “I am an able-bodied 41-year-old. Surely I could find some work. ‘Kashkari was accompanied by two videographers, who produced a 10-minute video. The footage shows a scruffy Kashkari saying, ‘This has been one of the hardest weeks of my life.'”

All Gen X smirkery aside, I think it’s admirable that any politician, especially a Republican — the difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans don’t even pretend to care about poor people — is drawing attention to the misery experienced by millions of Californians suffering through grinding poverty with no foreseeable end in sight. Sure, Kashkari is a multi-millionaire who could, and did, go home whenever he wanted. But when’s the last time you slept outside to see what it was like? Hell, I don’t even like camping.

So, good on Kashkari.

Still, I have some logistical and logical questions for him.

Like, why Fresno? The economy isn’t that bad there, relatively.

Why forty bucks? Why not $20 or $100?

Did the $5 bus fare come out of the $40?

Did he panhandle? Steal? I would.

Why was a toothbrush deemed essential, but not floss? Was there even toothpaste, and if not, why not, and if so, why wasn’t it mentioned? How about mouthwash? (Note to Gov. Brown’s opposition research team: Kashkari’s commitment to oral hygiene halfhearted at best. 92% of voters say ‘ewww.’)

When the Man Who Would Be Governor approached foremen at Fresno area construction sites, how eager for work did he appear? After all, this was an experiment that would have failed mightily had his able-bodied 41-year-old self been scooped off the mean streets of the Raisin Capital and offered a zillion bucks to run a hedge fund. Did he, full of honesty and integrity, pledge to work hard at low wages with little concern for his personal safety? Or was he all Little Lord Fauntleroy about it: “I don’t do sweat, dude”?

So many questions. I’d ask them all, too. But that would be against the rules. He’s a long-shot gubernatorial candidate and I’m a pundit.