Monday, November 21, 2022

NO ONE VERY PLEASED AS NEW ROOFTOP SOLAR RULES IMPROVE

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “NO ONE VERY PLEASED AS NEW ROOFTOP SOLAR RULES IMPROVE”

 

        Only rarely does the California Public Utilities Commission, long known as the least responsive agency in state government to consumer concerns, return to the drawing board once it proposes a problem “solution.”

 

        That’s partly because when the utilities commission (the PUC) floats ideas, it is essentially proposing them to itself; the five commissioners charged with coming up with ideas are also the ones with the votes to impose them on every affected Californian.

 

        So the new rooftop solar rules the commission proposed in November are very unusual: An almost completely reworked proposal that hopes to keep rooftop energy expanding, but also to bring more equity for electricity consumers unable to pay for rooftop solar or living in apartments, condominiums and other places not suited for it.

 

        The originally proposed new rules, offered in late 2021, sought to cut payments by 80 percent to solar rooftop owners for excess power their panels generate which is sent to the overall state power grid, and thus increases renewable energy supplies for everyone.  They also aimed to charge rooftop solar owners a fee of about $60 per month for linking to the grid, which lets them draw power when solar linked storage batteries run dry.

 

        Since most solar rooftop owners pay upwards of $20,000 for panels and installation in order to avoid monthly electric bills, this plan promised to cut installations vastly. That would put about 67,000 installer and manufacturing jobs at risk, while slowing California’s march toward 100 percent renewable electricity.

 

        Consumer groups and solar rooftop owners howled. Soon, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appoints PUC members to staggered six-year terms but cannot fire them once they’re confirmed by the state Senate, joined the chorus.

 

        So, in a virtually unprecedented move, the commissioners pulled back their plan from the brink of adoption, promising to create a revised proposal.

 

        The new plan would still cut what solar owners are paid for excess energy, but not as much. This is their sop to advocates for utility customers unable to afford or install rooftop solar. The new rules would apply mostly to new rooftop solar owners.

 

Some advocates for non-rooftop electric customers have complained they pay monthly to maintain the state’s grid, while solar owners who link to that grid for emergency use don’t help with that cost.

 

        At the same time, the new plan eliminates the proposed $60 monthly fee.

 

        So this is a compromise. It does not make anyone very happy, but was fair enough to avoid the kind of withering criticism that drew Newsom to oppose the previous proposal.

 

        The new plan’s exact reduction in what each solar owner can get for excess power will be based on the state’s “avoided cost” calculator, which figures how much solar owners save on electric bills each month.

 

        Rooftop solar advocates like the Oakland-based Center for Biological Diversity, concede the new plan is an improvement, but oppose the reductions in electricity prices paid to owners.

 

        The avoided cost calculator, it says, “ignores many benefits of (solar returned to the grid)…such as (improved) grid reliability, reduction in greenhouse gas and air pollution and local economic benefits including job creation.”

 

        That likely will not convince the commissioners, who appear bent on imposing their new plan in a scheduled Dec. 16 meeting.

 

        And yet, the new plan is the first sign in many years that the PUC may occasionally listen to consumers, rather than only utility companies. The commission has been widely criticized for more than 50 years for favoring companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric over their customers.

 

        This time, with all three of those companies firmly behind the original version of the new rooftop solar rules because it would have eliminated their payments to small solar owners, the PUC has bent a bit to a specific group of consumers, the residential solar owners.

 

        That still leaves the PUC far short of looking after the interests of most utility customers, as the new responsiveness mainly benefits a group with above-average wealth.

 

        Which makes the new solar metering plan an improvement, but does not lessen big doubts about the commission’s responsiveness.    

 
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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

LA VOTERS SEND SCOFFLAW SHERIFFS A STATEWIDE WARNING

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

"LA VOTERS SEND SCOFFLAW SHERIFFS A STATEWIDE WARNING

 

Los Angeles County voters have just sent a powerful and threatening message to scofflaw sheriffs all around California: enforce the laws, even ones you don’t like, or you may not hold your office much longer.

 

They did this in two emphatic ways: First, they defeated the state’s leading scofflaw sheriff, Alex Villanueva, by more than 18 percentage points, over 320,000 votes. Then, a short distance down their ballots, they voted by an overwhelming 69 percent majority to allow firing of future sheriffs if 80 percent of their county’s supervisors vote for an ouster.

 

That local proposition, known as Measure A, specified that sheriffs can only be canned if they break laws, flagrantly neglect their duties, misappropriate funds, falsity documents or obstruct an investigation. Villanueva has been informally charged with almost all of these.

  

        Villanueva may have been the most obviously egregious of California’s scofflaw lawmen and women, with his well publicized refusals to enforce COVID-19 quarantines and masking, trying to obstruct the work of the county’s oversight commission, condoning deputy gangs and more, but he was far from the only sheriff exposed during the height of the pandemic.

 

        Refusal by sheriffs and police chiefs to enforce state law was most common during the height of Covid infections, which so far have killed more than 93,000 Californians. At the end of 2020, before Covid vaccines began cutting down cases and hospitalizations, at least two dozen law enforcement agencies were refusing to observe or enforce emergency stay-at-home, crowd size and masking orders from state and local public health officers.

 

        Of the five counties with the highest seven-day average Covid caseload in the week leading up to Christmas 2020, only one had taken strong enforcement measures to protect its people.

 

        Wherever those measures were enforced, they proved effective. Statistics show that if this state had pursued the laissez faire, everything-stays-open approach used in Florida and some other states, more than 40,000 more Californians would be dead today.

 

        But the scofflaw sheriffs didn’t care. Villanueva was not moved to act, nor were sheriffs in nearby Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, among others ranging as far north as Del Norte County on the Oregon border.

 

 

        But nothing happened to Villanueva or the other refusing sheriffs until it was time for Villanueva to seek reelection this fall. That’s when his political house came crashing down.

 

        There is little doubt former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, Villanueva’s successor, will be far more circumspect, making sure to enforce even laws that are unpopular or inconvenient, like the anti-Covid tactics. But it’s uncertain what might happen elsewhere. For example, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was reelected outright in the June 7 primary, and so has another four years in office.

 

        But Measure A provides an example showing elected supervisors in other counties, who have never had much authority over sheriffs, that they, too, can bring recalcitrant law enforcement kingpins to heel. That applies to reluctant law enforcers in counties from Sacramento to Imperial near the Mexican border.

 

        Villanueva opposed Measure A as “an illegal motion that would allow corrupt supervisors to intimidate sheriffs from carrying out their official duties to investigate crime.” Of course, just after the November vote, he faced an investigation of his own, the local district attorney now looking into allegations that he tried to dun his deputies for campaign donations once he realized his reelection was in doubt.

 

        In any case, the vast majority of Los Angeles County voters did not heed Villanueva’s protestations, and he will soon be gone. Whether he is prosecuted for corruption over allegedly seeking campaign money from deputies, with the implicit threat of punishment if they did not donate, remains uncertain.

 

        But county supervisors who voted 4-1 to place Measure A on the ballot said they believed he was guilty of at least three of the shortcomings listed in the proposition as grounds for dismissal.

 

        If  Villanueva’s loss and the easy passage of Measure A doesn’t tell other sheriffs they must enforce even laws they don’t like, it’s hard to see what might.

       

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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, November 14, 2022

PRICE GOUGING: WHAT ABOUT CARS?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “PRICE GOUGING: WHAT ABOUT CARS?”

 

        Walk into a car dealership of virtually any brand and you will find price markups unheard of in almost any past era.

 

        At Toyota, a new Prius Prime plug-in model, carrying a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) in the low $30,000s, often sports an asking price these days about $10,000 higher, a markup of about 33 percent.

 

        It is not alone. Nationally, markups more than 20 percent over MSRP are common. One high average markup percentage belongs to the non-luxury Jeep Wrangler, generally priced about $8,500 above MSRP, closely followed by the Porsche Macan at $14,200 over MSRP. Both represent dealer markups of about 25 percent.

 

        In most cases, barring special sales that reduce the markup a bit, this means hugely higher dealer profits.

 

        This is pure price gouging, based on the age-old law of supply and demand.

 

        “As demand continues to exceed supply for popular vehicles, dealers are adding market adjustments generally ranging from $2,000 (for low-end gasoline-powered models) to $10,000,” reports the iseecars.com automotive research firm, whose fall survey included 1.9 million new car listings.

 

“Markups are highest for cars that hold their value best after they leave the dealerships.” Translation: hybrids or electric vehicles.

 

        In California’s biggest market area of Los Angeles, some of the highest markups belong to the Genesis GV70 luxury sport utility vehicle, generally priced slightly more than 25 percent over its MSRP. The same Genesis model also tops markups in San Diego, where dealers commonly ask 27 percent above MSRP. In the San Francisco Bay area, the biggest markups belong to the Ford Maverick pickup, at 36 percent ($8,600) over MSRP. Both the Genesis and Maverick models offer hybrid engines as options.

 

        The Maverick also tops all the markup averages around the nation, especially in the Philadelphia and Jacksonville areas.

 

        The high-tech four-door Maverick, introduced in the 2022 model year, is especially popular as a hybrid, its success partly driven by today’s high gasoline prices.

 

        Most dealers don’t deny taking advantage of low new-car inventories caused by supply chain shortages that often cause buyers to wait months before their car or truck of choice arrives. Overall, new car sales in California were down 16 percent in the first nine months of this year.

 

        But even as state legislators get set for a special session on gasoline price gouging by oil refiners, there’s not much they can do to prevent the unprecedented car price hikes.

 

        This is trickling down to used cars, too. The iseecars.com study showed huge price increases from last year to this among many used car models, the leader being the Nissan Leaf electric car, which saw an average price increase of $6,501, or 48 percent, between June 2021 and June 2022.

 

        The same for Chevrolet Camaros, whose used-car price rose 45 percent in one year, or $11,200. And the popular Dodge Ram 1500 rose 42 percent used, or about $12,000.

 

        The reason for all this: New ones are hard to find.

 

        The best deals, those with the smallest increases, included late-model Subaru Crosstreks, which increased $3,300, or 15 percent, in a year and the Mazda CX-3, up $3,100 or 18 percent.

 

        Dealers say their markups are a way to maintain profits while overall auto sales are down.

 

        “They have responded to market conditions by pricing cars above MSRP and making a higher profit on specific models to help offset restricted new car production,” analyst Karl Brauer told a reporter. “In this market, consumers are willing to pay well above sticker price.”

 

        Which means the best bottom line strategy for car buyers seeking both new and used models may be to wait. Current gasoline car owners can still find plenty of service stations for fuel. Cars built up to 15 years ago are more durable than previous versions, so waiting until conditions improve might pay off, even with gasoline at near record prices.

 

        There’s no likelihood of a windfall profit tax on car dealers, even if one is imposed on oil companies. That leaves any penalties for price gouging car dealers strictly up to individual consumers.


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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

 

Suggested pullout quote: “Consumers are willing to pay well above sticker price.”

STATE GOP'S HAPPY TALK CAN’T ERASE PARTY’S IRRELEVANCE

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2022, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “STATE GOP'S HAPPY TALK CAN’T ERASE PARTY’S IRRELEVANCE”

 

        California’s Republican Party doesn’t have to be irrelevant, but it likely will remain so for years to come.

 

        That’s because if nothing else, this month’s election returns show that party identification matters a lot, and registered GOP voters are outnumbered in this state 47-23 percent, exceeded for the first time by No Party Preference folks, now tallying 24 percent of registrations.

 

        Even with one state Senate seat and four slots in the Assembly undecided a week after the Nov. 8 vote, Republican legislators could be assured they will have zero influence when it comes to state taxes and other public policy.

 

        That’s because despite having those five seats up in the air, Democrats had already clinched two-thirds majorities in both legislative houses, all that’s needed to levy new taxes, override gubernatorial vetoes and make some proposals effective immediately rather than waiting until year’s end.

 

        Even when statewide Republican candidates are plainly better qualified, non-controversial and win endorsements right and left, they still lose. That’s what happened to the GOP’s well liked Lanhee Chen, a Stanford University faculty member who lost handily in his run for state controller this fall despite endorsements from every significant newspaper and TV station that bothered making them.

 

        None of this stopped the GOP’s state chair Jessica Millan Patterson from sounding like her party won on Election Night. “We’re doing great,” she told a reporter. “Our candidates are doing better than they have in years.”

 

        But the only place the GOP made even slight progress was in Orange County, where redistricting has made some seats easier upset targets than they were as recently as two years ago. Redistricting is the reason Buena Park’s Soo Hoo was only slightly behind incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a former Fullerton mayor, a few days post-election in a district overlapping the Los Angeles-Orange county line.

 

        It is also why Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter was only about 5,000 votes up on former Orange County Republican chairman Scott Baugh at the same moment, and why two-term Democratic Oceanside Rep. Mike Levin was in a closer-than-expected contest with repeat challenger Brian Maryott in their district covering parts of both San Diego and Orange counties.

 

        The percentages of folks voting Democratic and Republican had not changed significantly since the 2020 vote even in Orange County, but district lines were different.

 

        That led to joy and bragging from the GOP, despite its dismal statewide performance, in which it continued a streak of failing to win even one statewide office since Arnold Schwarzenegger last ran for governor in 2006. That’s 16 years of constant failure.

 

        And yet, Orange County Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker made this statement the day after the vote, a moment when even there, his party had not flipped a single state or federal office: “Orange County Republicans had an incredibly strong showing in last night’s midterm elections…this was a fight we were ready for.”

 

        But for the most part, even in Orange County, where Republicans traditionally need – and used to get – 250,000-vote margins in order to have a chance at a statewide office, the party did not improve its performance beyond what it was gifted in redistricting.

 

        All of which means California Republicans have work to do if they want to regain relevance. If they want to register more Californians as GOP voters, they could abandon their steadfast opposition to abortion rights, where Proposition 1 passed by a 66-34 percent vote this month, adding such rights to the state Constitution. That percentage is only slightly larger than the proportion by which Democratic registered voters outnumber Republicans. The GOP could change its automatic opposition to any new tax or social benefit program, no matter its purpose.

 

        It’s also time top Republicans like Whitaker and Patterson stop their happy talk after elections where Republicans hold what puny influence they have but gain little or nothing new. If you’re satisfied with losing consistently, and your only gains stem from redistricting, your party will never regain much influence.

 

        Meanwhile, responsible two-party government demands a loyal opposition capable of checking strongly ideological approaches to problems by the majority party.

 

        So far, the California GOP has not come close to becoming even that.

       

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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

SPORTS GAMBLING WILL BE BACK ON THE BALLOT, AND SOON

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2022 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “SPORTS GAMBLING WILL BE BACK ON THE BALLOT, AND SOON”

 

     Sports gambling lost, and badly. But not to worry, would-be online gamblers and folks who want to lay wagers in Indian casinos or racetracks: Sports gambling will be back on the ballot soon.

 

        The untold billions of dollars that promised to flow from either this fall’s Proposition 26 or 27 – or both – were the reason Native American gaming tribes and the big national online sports bookmakers put up a record war chest of more than $440 million to pass these propositions. The same billions assure the idea will be back as often as it takes for something akin to 26 or 27 to pass.

 

        Maybe next time, the campaigns will be more honest. For while lies are common in this state’s initiative politics, rarely if ever have they been as obvious and obnoxious as those propounded by gaming interests this fall.

 

        One remarkable pre-election poll showed voters didn’t take long to recognize this: While both propositions ran about even among voters who saw no more than one or two of the ads backing 26 and 27, those who saw a lot of ads were against the propositions by margins of almost 2-1. The ads were not merely ineffective; they were self-defeating.

 

        Dishonesty began with the formal title of Prop. 27: the “California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act.” That didn’t even mention gambling.

 

        In fact, had 27 won, gambling revenues would have been taxed at slightly more than 10 percent. Of that money, 85 percent would have gone to homeless support agencies that already get billions in state tax money. So it would have made little difference in a field where big money has proved ineffective.

 

        Meanwhile, commercials for Prop. 26 were also dishonest, implying that much of its take would go to mental health treatment of pretty much the same unhoused populace that 27 claimed to help.

 

        In reality, neither measure was giving away much of the proceeds.

 

        That may have been one reason the falsely promoted Propositions 26 and 27 lost among both Republicans and Democrats, Donald Trump supporters and Trump haters.

 

        This entire outcome was as counterintuitive as it gets. Early on, if you were a gambling man or woman, you would have felt foolish betting against either initiative.

 

        For the recent history of propositions aiming to legalize things that long were considered illegal vices suggested one or both would pass easily. That’s what happened first with medical marijuana and then with recreational pot. Now, because of initiative outcomes, it’s hard to find a city or county without at least one cannabis dispensary.

 

        The same with gambling, where voters in 2000 approved Indian gambling on once-impoverished and desolate Native American reservations. Eight years later, voters eagerly expanded the number of slot machines in Native American casinos, many of which now double as luxury resorts, complete with spas, tennis courts and sometimes golf courses.

 

        But as the tide turned against online sports gaming, backers vowed they are not finished, that they will bring legalized online sports betting to the ballot again. This would not be unusual. Proposition 29, the third attempt in the last four years by the Service Employees International Union to unionize at least some of the labor force at dialysis clinics, failed badly again this month, but who’s to say the union won’t try again?

 

        It was no surprise, then, when the CEOs of the FanDuel and DraftKings online sports bookies, announced at an October gambling convention in Las Vegas that they would “live to fight another day.”

 

        First, though, they will have to work with Indian casinos to share the wealth so they don’t end up with another set of competing propositions, something that pollsters said hurt their chances this year.

 

        They will also need to sweeten the pot when it comes to sharing the new wealth they could get from California with positive civic causes and with impoverished Native American tribes. Giving these interests a minuscule share of the proceeds may have been another factor in the defeat of both 26 and 27.

 

        So the gaming folks have work to do if they want to milk the billions they seek to take from Californians.


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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

WHITHER NEWSOM: WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE GUV?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2022 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “WHITHER NEWSOM: WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE GUV?”

 

        Few California politicians have been more opportunistic than Gavin Newsom, just reelected easily to four more years in the governor’s state capitol office.

 

        But few governors ever seemed more bored with the job itself. Like several predecessors, Newsom has lately seemed far more obsessed with national politics than his own job.

 

        But none has ever felt more blocked in advancing from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. Yes, a few California governors like Jerry Brown and Goodwin Knight have been willing (Brown did not succeed in this) to move from being governor to a seat in the U.S. Senate. The most successful at this was Republican Hiram Johnson, early in the 20th Century.

 

        But most governors here see the Senate as a step down, the only real step up being the presidency.

 

        Like many politicians before him, Newsom denies any interest in that. No one keeps score of this, but few officials have ever issued more denials of desire for the nation’s top office than Newsom.

 

        That may be because right now he looks boxed in on two fronts. First, there’s incumbent president Joe Biden, who implies he wants to run again in 2024, and hang his lousy ratings in voter polls. Then there’s Newsom’s longtime stablemate, Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow alum of San Francisco city government with whom he has shared political consultants.

 

        That scene could change very quickly when 2023 ends and the 2024 primaries begin. Biden’s age (81 in 2024) could affect him even more than it already seems to. And Harris, who has never made it past the opening caucus states during the primary season, might falter again. If either of these not-at-all-unlikely developments became reality, the way would open for Newsom. He might be an opportunist, but has never been a traitor to political friends like Biden and Harris.

 

        Meanwhile, Newsom decries Democrats’ electoral passivity and has been more active against potential Republican presidential candidates than any other national Democrat. He’s often critical (or more) of ex-President Donald Trump. He used advertisements to attack hard-line rightist governors of Florida and Texas, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott.

       

        Other national Democrats have noticed. Why else would Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another potential presidential hopeful, blast Newsom for not campaigning enough for other Democrats around the nation?

 

        Newsom talks as if he’s itching for a real fight after coasting to reelection, grimacing visibly and almost painfully at the notion of debating DeSantis.

 

        That came after he ran biting TV ads on Fox stations around Florida asserting Californians enjoy more freedom than folks in Florida. He cited abortion and COVID-19 survival rates as two such areas. Newsom followed up with newspaper and billboard ads in Texas making similar comparisons.

 

        Both brief ad campaigns drew blood. DeSantis soon started featuring blasts at California in his almost daily emailed fund-raising pitches. He castigated California for closing public schools and shutting down many businesses during the pandemic, claiming this state has “hobbled law enforcement and allowed drugs and crime to destroy their (sic) cities.”

 

        He, of course, did not mention that if California had followed the laissez faire DeSantis Covid policies, 40,000 more Californians would be dead by now in that plague, atop the current toll of 92,000.

 

        DeSantis took to calling Newsom “Gov. French Laundry,” for his infamous visit to a pricey Wine Country restaurant while other Californians were stuck at home. Never passive, Newsom quickly labeled DeSantis “Gov. DeathSantis.” Newsom then began contributing campaign money to Democrats around the nation.

 

There’s really nothing substantive Newsom and DeSantis could fight over other than the White House, unless each somehow wound up as a vice presidential candidate on someone else’s ticket.

 

        Meanwhile, several polls have shown Newsom with a better chance of defeating Trump in 2024 than Harris or Biden, while also indicating he would beat DeSantis if they were matched today.

 

        As for Abbott, Newsom mocked his open-carry gun policies, and his almost total shutdown of abortions, sponsoring a gun-lawsuit law that specifically mocks the Texas abortion measures.

 

        Legendary Republican consultant Karl Rove then called Newsom “brilliant” for all this.

 

        It’s very unlikely that it will lead nowhere at all.
 
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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, October 31, 2022

SOCIAL MEDIA MANIPULATION LAW STILL NEEDED – REVIVE THE BILL

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

        “SOCIAL MEDIA MANIPULATION LAW STILL NEEDED – REVIVE THE BILL”

 

        More than 200 bills died in the state Legislature two months ago, when the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees stashed them in a “suspense file” – but there’s actually no suspense involved. For now, those bills are dead, no matter how positive or how needed they may have been.

 

        Among the at least momentarily dead: A bill forcing all state agencies to retain public records including emails for at least two years, a cap on insulin copays for patients with diabetes, a phaseout of plastic packaging by online retailers and a proposed requirement for gun owners to buy liability insurance.

 

        All of those were good bills, with positive public policy goals. But the most egregious sudden death befell a measure known as AB 2408, which could have imposed fines of as much as $250,000 per offense on high-tech companies that deliberately addict children to their content.

 

        That’s different and even more important than a new law that did pass and now forbids online services from selling children’s personal information or location.

 

        There's no doubt that social media like Facebook, Tik-Tok and Instagram have continually done all those things for years. But the new law doesn’t do enough; it still lets companies get kids hooked on their content.

 

It’s an unquestioned fact that big tech outfits like Facebook, which owns Instagram, use algorithms to mine information about users, and have sold that information to advertisers for years.

 

        The preamble to AB 2408 even cited internal Facebook research showing the company knows “severe harm is happening to children” who become “decreasingly connected to family and school” the more addicted they are to Instagram and similar social media.

 

        This is accomplished with targeted videos and notices that turn up at all hours of the day and night using endless scrolling designed to keep users on a particular site.

 

        The bill preamble also notes that girls are more likely to become screen-addicted than boys, and that girls who say they consistently use social media are more than twice as likely as boys to be depressed, which can lead to suicide.

 

The bipartisan bill to stop to this deliberate depredation of American children would not have applied to startups, but only to companies with revenues topping $100 million per year.

 

The need for restricting this commercial exploitation of naïve youngsters passed the Assembly and one Senate committee with no dissenting votes. Co-sponsored by Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo and Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland, it appeared a sure thing for passage because of its obvious necessity.

 

But then someone pulled the plug without so much as a vote of the Senate Appropriations Committee, after intensive lobbying by an outfit called TechNet, made up of CEOs and senior executives of technology companies. Said their spokesman, “We’re glad this bill won’t move forward in its current form. If it had, companies could have been punished for simply having a platform kids can access.”

 

That, of course, was not quite correct. The use of algorithms directed at commercial exploitation of children would have had to be proven in court for any fine to be assessed, so simply being accessible to kids would be no offense at all.

 

It’s difficult to see why this bill was suddenly derailed, just as it made little sense to allow state agencies to continue destroying records in as short a period as 30 days, a time frame that allows them to escape most public scrutiny.

 

In an administration that brags about its transparency, it’s difficult to see why such a short timetable would be allowed to continue.

 

But no explanation is needed when proposed laws are stuck in the suspense file, and there was none from Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino of San Dimas, the Appropriations committee chairman.

 

The obvious need for limits on the electronic exploitation of children over the Internet makes it almost mandatory for this bill to be revived immediately when the Legislature reconvenes in a few weeks.

 

Failure to pass something very like this year’s bill, or for Gov. Gavin Newsom not to sign it into law when it eventually reaches him, would amount to child abuse.

 

 

    -30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.