Monday, November 11, 2019

CALIFORNIA GOP SHOWS WHY IT’S BECOME IRRELEVANT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “CALIFORNIA GOP SHOWS WHY IT’S BECOME IRRELEVANT”


          Just in case anyone still wonders why the California Republican Party has become a largely irrelevant group holding far less than one-third of the Legislature, only seven of this state’s 53 congressional seats and 23 percent of registered voters…Understanding comes with a quick look at party leaders’ responses to President Trump’s outright racist summertime tweets.


          There essentially was no response.


          Trump, who routinely vilifies anyone who doesn’t toe his line, went a step farther in attacking four radical new congresswomen who are often accused of anti-Semitism and being outright socialists.


          Although three of the four are United States natives, Trump told these members of the so-called “Squad” to “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came.” He added that they all “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total mess.”


For Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, that would mean Somalia, where pirates abound and Trump’s label might apply. But the other three, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were born in Cincinnati, Detroit and the Bronx, respectively. If those places are crime-infested, the Trump-led federal government is at least partly responsible.


          The President’s outburst of irritation at this small group, which has also rebelled against Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, produced an immediate outcry from establishment House Democrats regularly at odds with the Squad. They quickly introduced and passed a resolution rebuking Trump for his “racism,” noting that he criticized only women of color. Four Republicans and an independent joined all Democrats in voting for that.


          But California Republicans said nothing critical of Trump, who apparently can do no wrong in their eyes. Not one of California’s vastly diminished corps of GOP congressmen had a negative word for the most outrightly bigoted public statement the President has ever made.


          His tweet was also inaccurate, unless he considers America a “crime-infested place.”


          Rather than taking their leader to task, Republicans including the top-ranking one in California – Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s House minority leader – immediately began a series of apologias for him.


          Trump, said McCarthy, was making a point about the four Democrats’ affinity for socialism. “It’s a debate about ideology,” he said, although Trump never mentioned ideology. McCarthy differed only slightly from his golfing buddy in the White House by conceding that “They’re Americans…”


          None of this state’s other six Republicans in Congress said a thing, meekly going along with their titular party leader. This, despite the fact some other Republicans in Congress did speak out. Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd, for one, called Trump’s comment “racist and xenophobic.” And the only black Republican senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, noted that “No matter our political disagreements, aiming for the lowest common denominator will only divide our nation further.”


          Also saying nothing was new state GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson, the first Latina to lead her party in California. When she sought the job, Patterson said her top priority was broadening the party’s appeal to non-white voters.


          Staying silent on Trump’s bigotry merely because he is a fellow Republican won’t do that. Neither will the state GOP’s steadfast opposition to broadening state programs like Medi-Cal to provide health care coverage for youthful undocumented immigrants. Nor its longstanding efforts to kill any gun control measure ever proposed. Nor its voting against every legislative idea that might mitigate California’s housing crunch. And so on.


          California Republicans often decry the fact this state has “one-party government.” They’re right, in that few Republicans now reside in the Legislature, although the GOP holds many local offices.


          But the state GOP needs to look in a mirror to understand why the most diverse state in American history by vast margins prefers to identify as Democratic and let Democrats control state politics and public policy, even when Democrats do plainly corrupt things like taking donations from big utilities days before passing a bailout plan for those same monopolistic companies.


          The California GOP needs to recognize this reality: Tolerate bigotry and you become a bigot in the eyes of the many minorities who make up a majority in California.

                  
    -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

CAN MONEY, NEW DWELLINGS STEM HOMELESSNESS?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  “CAN MONEY, NEW DWELLINGS STEM HOMELESSNESS?”


Californians are about to find out whether money and new apartment-style dwellings can do much about the state’s expanding and seemingly intransigent problem with homelessness.


          As ad hoc encampments proliferate, featuring everything from small pop tents to excrement in the streets and chop shops where parts are taken from stolen bicycles and sold, politicians have begun throwing money at the depressing scene.


          The newest state budget allocates $650 million to local governments for helping the homeless, while another $1.7 billion-plus is earmarked for drug and mental health treatment and other homeless services. Los Angeles alone has more than 10,000 new rooms under construction or in the planning phase for use by the currently homeless.


          There’s little doubt about the severity of the problem or its causes, ranging from job losses to recent prison releases, low wages, drug addiction, alcoholism, family disputes, rent increases, domestic violence and mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorders affecting war veterans.


          The scope is enormous. Of the more than 570,000 people sleeping in American streets, cars or other places unsuited for human habitation, more than 114,000 are in California. That puts one-fifth of homeless Americans here, while the state has only a bit more than 10 percent of the national populace.


          So far, providing small dwelling units for them has not solved the problem. Said one city official in the homeless Mecca of Santa Monica, “For every one we manage to house, two more will arrive shortly after.”


          Or, as a member of the state’s new commission to investigate homelessness remarked in a radio interview, “If we house 33 people in new units, another 150 will arrive on the streets the next day.”


          The problem drew tweeted attention from President Trump, who caught sight of a couple of homeless encampments as his motorcade drove last fall from a helicopter at the Santa Monica Airport to several Los Angeles fund-raisers. He saw others on a fund-raising visit to San Francisco.


          Trump blasted state and local officials, mostly because almost all are Democrats who usually oppose him. Meanwhile, he proposes reducing the federal investment in housing vouchers which are probably the foremost tool cities and counties can use to provide private space for the unhoused, many of whom shy away from mass homeless shelters lacking privacy or partitions.


          And yes, California’s state and local investment in fighting homelessness amounts to more than one-third of the $6 billion the federal government spends on the problem. City and county officials here say their problem could be eased considerably if Trump and Housing secretary Ben Carson provide 50,000 new rent vouchers through two existing programs. A letter to Trump from Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California officials after Trump’s blast at the state’s homelessness also suggested the value of vouchers should be upped because of high rents.


          Newsom asserted those vouchers could “eliminate veteran homelessness in the state,” where about 15,000 former military personnel sleep outside or in cars every night.


          So far, no response from Trump, who appears preoccupied with staving off impeachment. The Department of Housing and Urban Development also did not respond.


          So as winter approaches, there is no significant relief in sight for the homeless, despite all the state tax dollars being spent and a new state law exempting proposed developments to house the homeless from environmental reviews until 2025.


          Lest Californians rely on the urban myth that most of the homeless prefer to stay that way, one recent study showed that 34 percent of them say their problem would be solved with employment assistance and another 31 percent say all it would take to get them inside is substantial help paying rent.


          Without doubt, some state money now going to cities and counties will go to rent subsidies. But it’s uncertain that will be enough. No one knows how many of the homeless will want to move into new housing if it looks like dormitories or barracks. No one knows how many will agree to drug or mental health treatment, problems that together afflict almost half the current homeless.


          Which suggests all the new money may help a bit, but probably won’t rid the landscape of many current scruffy encampments.


    -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Monday, November 4, 2019

NEWSOM LOOKING SCARED DURING FIRE SEASON


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “NEWSOM LOOKING SCARED DURING FIRE SEASON”


          At times during this fall’s still simmering fire season, rookie Gov. Gavin Newsom looked a little like a scared rabbit as he ping-ponged for weeks from blaze to blaze, from Los Angeles to Santa Rosa and many points in between.


          Newsom has good political reason to be frightened. He lived through the energy crunch in the first years of this millennium and knows how that debacle destroyed the popularity of then-Gov. Gray Davis, even though Davis had no say about the electricity deregulation behind the crisis.


          While allegations of corruption were the proximate cause for Davis being recalled and thrown out of the governor’s office, there’s at least a chance that election result would have been different if he hadn’t been so damaged by looking and acting impotent in the face of rolling blackouts and brownouts during the crisis.


          Newsom also is not responsible for conditions that created yet another destructive fire season, but he does bear some responsibility for the widespread so-called “public safety power shutoffs” (PSPS) that plagued millions of Californians as winds blew and fires burned.


          Most blame ought to lie with a string of recent governors, including Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Davis, Pete Wilson, Ronald Reagan and Pat Brown.


They all appointed Public Utilities Commission (PUC) majorities that stood by idly as utility companies diverted tens of billions of dollars in maintenance fees paid monthly by customers since the 1950s to other uses, including executive bonuses. Meanwhile, power transmission lines and poles deteriorated for decades.


          But Newsom’s office did host a series of private meetings with officials of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. all through the spring and early summer, attended by his top aides and leading PG&E executives. All that while, he pushed hard publicly for passage of AB 1054, a legislative bill that set up a new state Wildfire Fund which will cost California electric customers more than $10 billion.


          Records from the meetings remain secret, but it’s highly likely they covered the prospect of PSPS's and who would design and okay them.


          As it emerged, PG&E made all the decisions that blacked out millions in vast swaths of Northern California whenever there was a threat of high, dry winds this fall. Those decisions turned the bankrupt utility into California’s least popular company.


          Newsom knows he has mostly done the bidding of big utilities like PG&E, which has put almost $300,000 into his most recent campaigns.


          He has not admitted it, but urgent political need to distance himself from the utilities may be one reason he became the most vocal critic of PG&E during the fires, describing the blackouts as “intolerable” and “irresponsible.” He’s adopted an idea advocated here for several years: break up PG&E and possibly other utilities. He even parroted a suggestion made here during the energy crunch: a state takeover of PG&E.


          Acting a little panicked, Newsom launched a $75 million program for state and local governments to mitigate impacts of power shutoffs without saying just how the money would be spent. He also called for PG&E – and by extension Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – to compensate customers whose power was shut off.


          So far, only PG&E has agreed to any form of payments or future discounts, details not yet specified. But the PUC members Newsom appointed early this year show no signs of reversing a multi-billion dollar PG&E rate increase scheduled to raise the average residential electric bill by about $9 per month in January.


          So Newsom acts like PG&E’s leading critic after the blackouts, which caused some commentators to label California a “third-world state.”


          But at the same time, his regulatory appointees do nothing to penalize that company or Edison, whose equipment apparently also sparked some fall fires. Not only is the PUC allowing PG&E's rate increase to continue as if the company deserved it, but it okayed charging customers monthly for the Wildfire Fund without so much as a public hearing.


          So while Newsom talks like a PG&E critic, his appointees’ actions say otherwise. This reality ought to frighten him as he ponders what befell Davis.

                  
    -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

A SHARP, UNJUSTIFIED ATTACK ON ORGAN TRANSPLANTS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “A SHARP, UNJUSTIFIED ATTACK ON ORGAN TRANSPLANTS”


          In the 65-year history of organ transplants, the practice of removing viable hearts, livers, kidneys and more from the newly deceased has never been attacked as severely as it was in mid-October by California’s largest newspaper.


          Los Angeles Times editors and reporters did not respond directly when asked why they wrote and published more than five full broadsheet pages blasting this key part of the transplant process. Transplant organs are always taken only with the full permission of donors – expressed while they were still alive – and/or with full consent of families involved.

         
          Rather than having writers and editors answer questions, the Times provided this statement: “There is much about the organ and tissue harvesting and donation process, and how it can complicate death investigations, that the public is not aware of. These stories helped shine a light on that and provided readers with more details about how to make an informed choice about organ donation.” 


          Any such “light” was quite dim at best, while the paper’s long series contained key errors and omissions.


The central Times claim is that “dozens of death investigations, including many in California, (have) been complicated or delayed by the procurement of tissues or organs before the coroner’s autopsy.”


          But the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners wrote the paper saying no cause-of-death examinations have been impeded by organ recoveries.


          The Times itself quoted Jonathan Lucas, chief medical examiner and coroner of Los Angeles County, who said he believes no cause-of-death or criminal investigation has been impeded in his county by organ recoveries.


          The Times refused to say why it proceeded with its series after learning this.


The paper also implied profiteering by regional transplant organ recovery organizations that facilitate virtually all recoveries and use national rules to distribute organs. Patients who get organs often endure years of severe disability while awaiting life-saving hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs and more. Other body parts, like corneas used to restore eyesight and skin for burn victims are usually distributed through tissue banks.


So far, reader letters published by the Times indicate the series caused some would-be organ donors to revoke permission. This raised a key life-and-death question inexplicably ignored by the Times series and statement.


          It was expressed this way by Thomas Mone, CEO of OneLegacy, the Southern California organ recovery organization which is the largest in America. “Theoretically, if the Times’ claims were correct, the question would be whether forensic exams are more important than the lives saved by transplants,” Mone said.


          He added, “If these stories cause even one person not to donate, that could cost eight lives and deprive 75 persons of healing tissues.”


          Mone also insists OneLegacy and similar outfits take no organs or tissue until medical examiners permit removal.


          Another key point the paper omitted: human organs are only viable for about 30 minutes after persons are removed from whatever devices kept them alive after being declared brain-dead.


          This urgency explains why organ procurement organizations nationally set up offices and laboratories in or near morgues, a practice the Times strongly implied is corrupt.


          The paper also repeatedly calls the non-profit organizations “companies,” hinting they are motivated by money.


          (Full disclosure: Columnist Elias has a live-donor kidney transplant; no organ recovery organization was involved in his case.)


          Attacked most strongly in the series (https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-10-13/body-parts-harvesting-hinders-coroner-autopsies) was OneLegacy, operating in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and Santa Barbara counties.


          Other outfits recovering organs in California include LifeSharing in San Diego, Donor Network West in the San Francisco Bay area and Sierra Donor Services in the Central Valley.


          Together, they enabled more than 3,200 organ transplants from deceased donors in 2018. That number dwarfed last year’s 698 transplants from live donors.


Mone denied OneLegacy ever seeks profits. The organization employs more than 400 doctors, nurses and others. Annual budgets approach $100 million, mostly derived from payments for its services during organ recovery and transplants.


          By law, any profits from kidney transplants go to the federal Medicare fund, with other net income used to improve operations, none going to salaries.


          All of which leaves the basic mystery here unanswered: Why did California’s largest newspaper publish highly flawed stories that may cost many lives?

                  
            -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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

TIME FOR REALISTIC CALIFORNIA HOUSING GOALS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “TIME FOR REALISTIC CALIFORNIA HOUSING GOALS”


     Build 3.5 million new dwelling units across California by 2025 and this state’s housing shortage will be solved, Gov. Gavin Newsom prescribed during his campaign last year and many times since.


       But it’s not happening, and the problems of affordability and homelessness have grown no easier to solve under Newsom than before his election, despite many months of talk and a slew of new laws designed to make permitting and building new units easier and less bureaucratic.


       If there’s a culprit here, it appears to be market forces. For years, the common nostrum was that easier permitting and lower prices could solve the problems, which see more than 130,000 homeless persons around the state and many more who can’t afford the American dream of owning their homes, which in California has been a path to wealth for generations.


       It appears not even a drastic measure like this year’s proposed (and later scrubbed) SB 50 can do the trick. The measure aims to mandate high-rise housing in job and transit centers and near the busiest bus lines regardless of what neighbors or local officials desire.


      SB 50’s likely failure was implied last spring, when the Irvine-based real estate information firm MetroStudy reported that 3,700 newly-built homes went unsold in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties during the first quarter of this year.


       That left unsold housing inventory up 22 percent from last year and 37 percent above the five-year average. It caused a slowdown in construction at the very time Newsom and others wanted more building, with new home development in the state’s most populous region down 18 percent year over year.


       That reduction in housing sales and construction would hardly get California 3.5 million new units in the next six years. It might generate one-sixth that many, at best.


       This was market forces at work: Even though builders dropped the price of new housing below the regional median price, they could not drop it below the $425,000 average cost of building an apartment or condominium in a typical 100-unit project. Instead, most new units must be sold for about $600,000 in order to push the price of “affordable” new units in each development down to $350,000 or less.


Such numbers are needed for developers to make any profit, a prerequisite if anyone expects them to build anything. But at those prices, there aren’t enough buyers to sustain the kind of building boom California needs.


       That was the Southern California situation, and things were similar in the Central Valley, where prices are significantly lower – but so are average incomes.


       Now a similar market-driven malaise affects the San Francisco Bay area, the state’s employment leader thanks to Silicon Valley. That area’s sustained success has driven up the average cost of Bay area housing.


       The steady upward drive of housing prices in the region began to flag earlier this year, with prices stabilizing at least for while. That now has developers in the entire region leery of building very much, according to a new study of California builders by UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the law firm Allen Matkins. The report focused on multi-family housing, as well as new office and retail construction.


      Essentially, builders think the economy will be worse in 2022 than today, and 2022 is about when construction whose planning starts now would be ready to occupy. Developers thus have pulled back on some new apartments and condos over the last six months and more than half those surveyed said they planned no new multi-family home project starts over the next 12 months.


       Survey authors said this was due in part to a rise in new Northern California housing inventories, similar to what began earlier in Southern California. Essentially, if rents and home prices are stable or falling, developers won’t risk their capital.


      But at the same time, California needs home prices and rents to drop if it’s to resolve the housing crunch.


       It adds up to a plain need for the state to adjust its goals and tactics to reasonable levels. For no one knows just yet whether or how the state can maneuver or legislate its way past this problem.

            
    -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

SHOULD STATE TRIPLE ITS EV SUBSIDY?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
       “SHOULD STATE TRIPLE ITS EV SUBSIDY?”


       Phil Ting is adamant about it. California needs to triple its subsidies for electric vehicles right now. But he might have to reduce his goal for the subsidy if he expects his bill to pass the Legislature when it returns from its current recess.


       For sure, the subsidy expansion plan from Ting, a Democratic assemblyman from San Francisco, will be back. As proposed, it would triple a typical car buyer’s rebate for buying an electric auto to $7,500, with reductions over time as California gets closer to its stated goal of 5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030.


       Said Ting, a former county assessor/recorder of San Francisco reelected to the state Assembly with an 80 percent majority last year, “California still has a long way to go – at the beginning of 2019, there were only 550,000 clean cars…on our roads.”


       But tripling the state rebate for EVs raises other questions, mostly about fairness and equity.


       Because electric vehicles generally cost thousands of dollars more than comparable gasoline models, the Ting proposal amounts to a subsidy for the well-to-do. In fact, it would make up for the federal EV and plug-in hybrid subsidies President Trump has set out to eliminate as early as next year.


       Already, federal subsidies for Tesla and General Motors EVs have run out, because those companies long ago passed the 200,000-unit sales level at which the U.S. support ends, intended as it was to jump-start new concepts into public acceptance.


       Ting may not have thought much about the issue of fairness – why should someone who can afford a $50,000-plus Tesla get a subsidy for driving a luxury car while the less wealthy struggle to buy conventional used cars for $5,000 to $10,000?


       But remember, Ting was once the property tax assessor in the city that ranks either first or second in America in real estate prices, with no ceiling in sight on those. The high prices of EVs may not look so hefty to him, living as he does in his city’s Sunset District, where it’s hard to find a fixer-upper house for under $1.3 million.


       In fact, a 2018 study by the conservative Pacific Research Institute found 79 percent of electric and plug-in tax credits were claimed by households with adjusted gross incomes topping $100,000 per year, while a 2015 UC Berkeley study similarly found that “the top income quintile (top 20 percent) has received about 90 percent of all EV credits.”


But Ting is convinced putting more EVs on the road is the key to combating climate change.


“Forty percent of greenhouse gas emissions stem from transportation,” he said on introducing his plan, known legislatively this year as AB 1046. “We need bigger incentives now to get more zero emission vehicles on the road and slow our climate crisis.”


Ting said he deliberately designed his proposal so rebates would drop gradually. “There is no real incentive to buy or lease a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) right now if consumers know the rebate level will be the same year after year,” he said. “But if consumers have certainty that the rebates will diminish as time goes on, they might act sooner rather than later.”


That logic might in fact increase ZEV sales. But it doesn’t speak to the fact government rebates for expensive products mean that poor and middle-class Californians are subsidizing the rich.


Maybe the $100,000-plus income level typical of EV buyers doesn’t look high to Ting, but it surely does to many others. One 2018 poll found two-thirds of voters did not want to pay for wealthier people to buy electric vehicles.


The website of the Washington, D.C.-based Energy Equality Coalition (funded in part by the oil-centered owners of Koch Industries), declares that EVs today are “Built by billionaires, bought by millionaires (and subsidized by the rest of us).”


There’s also the fact that EV owners pay no gasoline taxes, so they do little to help pay for the roads on which they drive.


In short, Ting wants an essentially unfair program in hopes it will make EVs a major automotive factor. But that has not yet happened despite half a decade of subsidies, state and federal.
      

     -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

Monday, October 21, 2019

CALIFORNIA ONCE AGAIN ACTING LIKE A COUNTRY OF ITS OWN


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“CALIFORNIA ONCE AGAIN ACTING LIKE A COUNTRY OF ITS OWN”


       The effort to encourage California to leave the rest of America behind and become an independent country has so far gotten nowhere. A ballyhooed attempt to put the question before the state’s voters in the form of an initiative didn’t get far, not even making the secretary of state’s current list of potential future ballot measures.


       But that doesn’t keep California from acting a lot like a nation-state right now, even as it tries to fend off one attempt after another by the Donald Trump administration to reduce its autonomy, from controlling air quality to dealing with wildfires and the homeless.


       In fact, this fall California and its leadership – elected and appointed – have acted even more like a country than while Jerry Brown was governor from 2011 to 2019, when he traveled the world signing agreements and memoranda of understanding with several foreign countries and with provinces belonging to others, including Canada  and China.


       So far this fall, action after action has proclaimed California distinct from the rest of America. The most visible of these was a move by the state Air Resources Board that will eventually allow polluting companies to buy carbon-producing credits that aim to stop deforestation not only in California, but in major rain forests around the world, including the Amazon, where the so-called “lungs of the world” are said to be threatened by expanding ranches and forest clearance.


       This action set standards for the emerging carbon market born from California’s pioneering cap-and-trade system to combat climate change in part by paying for programs that demonstrate absorption of carbons, as trees do. The ARB contemplates helping environmental groups buy wooded lands. This was an unprecedented move by a state government agency, coming just when Trump officially began trying to remove California’s unique ability to regulate its own air quality and greenhouse gas production.


       It came as fires both planned and unplanned in Brazil alone last summer put far more carbons into the air than California produces in a full year. Buying up forest land there would keep it from being burned off to make way for new crops and cattle.


       At the same time, California became the first state government to move toward helping finance an interstate bullet train project. This planned railway would initially run from the high desert north of San Bernardino to Las Vegas, a project completely separate from the state’s ongoing, ever-controversial high speed rail plan to eventually run trains between Northern and Southern California.


       Officials led by Treasurer Fiona Ma took the first step toward approving $300 million in tax exempt private bonds backed by the state as a way to get investors to fund the Las Vegas bullet train project, the kind of plan usually backed by the federal Railroad Administration, which first gave money to this state’s high speed rail plan, but has since tried to renege. The bonds would give Virgin Trains, the outfit behind the Las Vegas plan, about half what’s needed to build its project, which will run mostly across desert lands roughly parallel to Interstate 15.


       Next, ex-Gov. Brown made a splash announcing plans for a new joint California-China climate change institute to open at UC Berkeley. It will be one of the world’s first international research institutes, but will actually be a joint effort between this state and the planet’s most heavily populated country.


       And then, current Gov. Gavin Newsom went to the United Nations to sound a bit like a national leader as he pronounced himself “absolutely humiliated by what’s going on” – or not going on – with climate change in Washington, D.C. “I don’t know what the hell happened to this country that we have a President that we do today on this issue,” he added, while maintaining that California will persist in its own efforts, regardless of Trump. While in New York, Newsom also signed a trade agreement with Armenia, then announced a state-owned climate-tracking satellite.


       It adds up to highly visible autonomy, but may end up proving that California really does need to secede in order to pursue what Newsom likes to call its “basic values.”
      

           -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