Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RICE’S POLL STANDING: STAR POWER STILL A POLITICAL FACTOR

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “RICE’S POLL STANDING: STAR POWER STILL A POLITICAL FACTOR”


          Condoleeza Rice, the former secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration and now a Stanford University professor, has stated very clearly she would rather attend college basketball games and help choose the college football playoff teams than be a U.S. senator.


          At 61, she says she prefers a secure job in academe, playing the piano in her spare time, mentoring students and then considering  an executive-level job if the Republicans take back the White House. She probably would also rather not face the inevitable questions a campaign would bring about her role in government deceptions that led to this country’s long and costly war in Iraq.


          “A campaign for the Senate is out of the question,” Rice has said. She’s done nothing counter to that statement, not raising money, not speechifying or anything else, keeping a low profile in general even as others visibly line up to run for the seat Democrat Barbara Boxer will vacate next year.


    And yet, the latest Field Poll shows Rice leading the senatorial field, including Democrats and Republicans, Latinos and Anglos and African-Americans.


          This is remarkable in California, a state that hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential or Senate election since 1988 and one where Democratic voter registration runs 15 percent ahead of the GOP’s.


          What does it mean? Maybe that voters are not yet paying much attention, despite the highly publicized machinations of figures like state Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and numerous members of Congress from Orange County’s Loretta Sanchez to John Garamendi of Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County.


          Some survey respondents told Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo they’re not yet ready for political action. “It’s just too far away,” said one. “I am waiting for more information to come out.”


          But Rice’s standing three points ahead of current Democratic front-runner Harris probably also indicates the same thing that Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated 12 years ago when he dominated the recall election that ousted then-Gov. Gray Davis: Politics in California has never been only about party. It’s always also been governed by personalities, and stars from other fields can translate that into political success.


          Republican Schwarzenegger won the recall and later was easily reelected not because he’s a distinguished politician or statesman, but because of his repute as a muscleman actor.


          Similarly, when the great semanticist S.I. Hayakawa won election to the Senate, it was because of the television exposure he got while countering massive student protests as president of San Francisco State University. Onetime soft-shoe dancer and actor George Murphy, also won a Senate seat as a Republican because of his prior reputation. And John Tunney later won that same seat mostly because his father was a heavyweight boxing champion.


          A quick look at how the only Republicans avowedly considering a run for Boxer’s seat fare in the Field survey also demonstrates that a lack of star power can be fatal when your party is in the minority.


          San Diego County Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, given to aphorisms about how his family has lived the American Dream, draws just a 20 percent level of voters “inclined to support” him. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who ran unsuccessfully for state controller last year, and former state GOP chairmen Tom del Beccarro and Duf Sundheim have similar levels of support.


          Almost every Democrat in the potential field does much better, with Sanchez and fellow Congress members Garamendi, Jackie Speier, Xavier Becerra and Adam Schiff all drawing support in the 29 to 39 percent range, well above the mine-run Republicans but far behind Rice.


          It all goes to show that while the Republican label has been thoroughly tarnished in California and the GOP has done little to shake off the anti-Latino reputation it got from Gov. Pete Wilson’s all-out support for the ill-fated anti-illegal immigrant 1994 Proposition 187, individual Republicans can still do well.


          Which means there’s still potential for a healthy two-party system in this state. To make that real, though, the GOP must recruit charismatic candidates with star power – like Condoleeza Rice.

         

              -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

TIME TO EXAMINE CONSPIRACY IN PEEVEY-PUC SCANDAL

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “TIME TO EXAMINE CONSPIRACY IN PEEVEY-PUC SCANDAL”


          California attorney general's agents wasted no time after this column in late January called for a criminal investigation of the former state Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey. Less than five days later, investigators executed a search warrant at Peevey’s primary home in La Canada Flintridge.


          But the scope of the investigation might not be broad enough.


          Egregious as his alleged acts have been, Peevey could not have acted alone in securing sweetheart deals for California’s largest regulated utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Utility executives discussed arrangements with him, and one of the state’s leading consumer advocacy groups often played along with whatever he did. Plus, fellow commissioners never voted him down.


          It all stems from the longstanding PUC “kabuki dance,” an elaborate routine conducted by the commission, the utilities and the consumer advocate group TURN – The Utility Reform Network.


          In this exercise, whenever each utility files for possible rate increases, it seeks far more than is justified. The commission cuts the request down, taking credit for “holding the line,” and TURN boasts of saving the public hundreds of millions.


          Demonstrating the phony quality of all this, TURN’s former chief lawyer, Michael Florio, a PUC member since 2011, is currently under investigation for allegedly helping PG&E, his onetime “adversary,” find a sympathetic administrative law judge to hear a rate case.


          In reality, everyone knows the general outlines of the outcome before any rate-case exercise begins. So this is performance art, not the prudent regulation called for by California law. It now sees Californians paying the third highest power rates in the lower 48 states (http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_5_6_a).


          Yes, extraordinary examples of apparent corruption became clear during the 12-year Peevey era, predictable the moment ex-Gov. Gray Davis named the former Edison president and husband of Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu commission president. This classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse was reinforced when Peevey got a second six-year term from Davis’ successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.


          Just how connected Peevey has been was clear at an early February gala honoring him in San Francisco just after investigators searched his home. Sponsors of the $250-a-plate dinner included his successor Michael Picker, Energy Commission chairman Robert Weisenmiller, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown (sister of the current governor and a board member of SDG&E’s parent company), former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and several ex members of Congress.


          Most egregious of Peevey’s actions may have been his manipulations to let PG&E off easy after its negligence (the term used by federal investigators) led to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that cost eight lives.


          For one thing, Peevey and fellow commissioners who fell meekly in line behind him still have not tracked the billions of dollars paid by utility customers since the 1950s for gas pipeline maintenance that was done only on a spotty basis.


          It has also emerged that Peevey personally signed off on an exemption allowing his old pals at Edison to replace steam generators in their San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station without a formal review of the $680 million cost, which consumers began paying long before the generators were installed and then failed, causing the plant to be retired. Other emails earlier showed Edison executives knew the generators were flawed before the installation.


          Peevey couldn't do much of this alone; almost all of it required cooperation or at least acceptance by other commissioners, the utilities and TURN, the consumer advocate group that helped “negotiate” last year’s settlement that will see customers pay more than $3.3 billion out of about $5 billion in San Onofre closure costs. Of course, the fault for that failure lies with Edison and its supplier; no one has yet explained why consumers should pay anything.


          Because so many parties have been involved in so many shady dealings, along with the kabuki dance common to all rate cases handled by the PUC, it’s clear the long-term theft of billions of consumer dollars involves far more persons and companies than just Peevey. The attorney general’s office won’t say whether its investigation might broaden to include a potential conspiracy.


          But legislative hearings to be chaired in mid-March by Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon of Lakewood just might explore this, Rendon said.


    For sure all aspects of this investigation should consider whether a wide conspiracy went far beyond one man’s possible criminal actions.


              -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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Update of Feb 20

FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2015, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “TOP TWO PRIMARY SYSTEM SURVIVES CHALLENGE

         Californias three-year-old top two” primary election system has never pleased any political party. Not large ones like the Republicans and Democrats, who don't like members of the other large party helping choose their nominees. And not minor parties like Libertarians and Greens, who resent the fact that top two virtually excludes them from November general election contests.

         So the future of this system has been in some doubt from the moment Proposition 14 passed in 2010 and restored an open primary to the state for the first time since the late 1990s. Thats when Democrats and Republicans combined in a legal effort which eliminated a short-lived blanket primary” system where anyone could vote for any candidate in the primary, but each party was assured of one spot on the November ballot for each race it entered.

   The latest challenge to top two, which sees only the two leading vote-getters in each contest making the fall ballot – regardless of party – came from three minor parties with extremely disparate ideologies – the Libertarians, the Greens and Peace and Freedom.

   All claimed top two, also known as the jungle primary” for its unpredictability, is unconstitutional because it almost never lets their members vote in November for their favorite candidates. Never mind that those candidates have unlimited opportunity to sell themselves in the primary.

         The minor parties saw their arguments rejected by a trial judge in 2012 and finally got an appellate court hearing in January.

         Some observers left that hearing before a three-judge panel in San Francisco feeling the challenge to top two would once again go nowhere. They were right, as the judges took only a few days to back the trial court.

         The hearing opened with Judge Sandra Margulies, an appointee of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, asking whether independent voters were barred from voting in partisan primaries before passage of Proposition 14. The correct answer would have been no, as both Democrats and Republicans since 2001 had allowed independents to vote in their contests if they wished.

         But lawyers for the minor parties responded by saying the reverse. Presumably, Margulies and her colleagues will have learned the correct answer elsewhere before issuing their ruling, due before April 15.

         Opponents of top two also were disappointed that the minor party lawyers did not mention either Jesse Ventura or Audie Bock in their arguments. Ventura, who ran for Minnesota governor as an independent in 1998, pulled just 3 percent of the vote in the primary, but got a 37 percent plurality in that November's runoff, taking office the following January.

         Bock, running for an Oakland seat in the state Assembly as a Green candidate in a 1999 special election, polled just 8.5 percent in the primary, but got 51 percent of the runoff vote.

         “You cant just jump from nothing to significant strength overnight,” said Richard Winger, owner of the Ballot Access News newsletter and a longtime opponent of top two. It takes time, and top two doesnt allow enough time since you miss months of campaigning between the primary and the general.

         Don Siegel, a lead lawyer for the minor parties in their challenge to the current system, said the historical points are not really relevant. This case is about whether candidates not in the mainstream can get a hearing in November elections, when four or five times more people vote than in the primary.

         He argued that top two violates the rights of people who want to vote for a small party candidate in November.

         The issue is whether those small party folks deserve a place on the November ballot if theyre not one of the top two in the primary. When they passed Propostion 14, California voters were saying they dont.

         But Siegel argued that in a 34-year-old case involving 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson, the U.S. Supreme Court held that you have to let voters vote in periods of peak voter interest,” and turnout clearly shows primary election season is not such a time.

         But the minor parties lost their appeal, in part because courts of appeal normally respect trial court decisions unless they have compelling reason not to.

          But if the minor parties continue to the state and federal Supreme Courts, where judges are not so deferential, no one can be sure of the outcome.

      -30-        
   Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Governments Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

TAX OVERHAUL PLAN HAS POTENTIAL

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “TAX OVERHAUL PLAN HAS POTENTIAL”


          Rarely does a freshman state senator propose anything substantial during his or her first few days in office. But Robert Herzberg, elected last fall from a safe Democratic district in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, is hardly a typical newbie.


          Hertzberg, speaker of the state Assembly from 2000-2002 and an advisor to both former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis for several years after that, has now taken on one of the toughest, most complex topics any legislator can. He wants to change California’s entire tax system, and he just might pull it off.


          Hertzberg expects his plan, known as SB8, will take at least two years before coming to any floor vote, figuring it will probably undergo major changes in the process. But here are the basics:


          This system would reduce income taxes across the board, while still keeping “progressive” features like having those with higher incomes pay a larger percentage of it as tax. The minimum wage would rise, by a yet-undetermined amount. Business would get some tax breaks, designed to encourage job creation. More than making up for these revenue losses would be a new sales tax on services (education and health care to be exempt). So movie tickets, legal work, accounting and labor on auto body repairs would be taxed. It’s still uncertain how this might apply to the Internet and at what level businesses would be eligible for new tax incentives.


    Of course, any sales tax is regressive, hitting those with low incomes harder than the rich. It’s not certain whether the reduced income tax and a higher minimum wage could compensate for this.


     The plan is not Hertzberg’s brainchild alone. It stems from his work with an outfit called the Think Long Committee, whose membership has included Google executive Eric Schmidt, movie executive Terry Semel, former Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, ex-Gov. Davis, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former state Chief Justice Ron George, among others. The group is funded by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen.


     “We’re aiming for $10 billion a year in new money from this plan,” Hertzberg said in an interview. “We’ll start with what’s now in my bill, and modify it to try to have it make sense if people have problems with it. It could even end up as a ballot initiative. But we need this to help both our kids and businesses in this state.”


     Hertzberg points to the ongoing controversy over tuition at the University of California and the California State University system as one example of how the existing tax system harms young people in California.


     “We need a new philosophy of government,” Hertzberg said in one essay on his tax plan. “California has long been known as the land of opportunity, but for too many of its residents the future is receding. Inequality continues to rise… Something more is needed. Above all, we need public investment in infrastructure and in public education, especially higher education.”


     Hertzberg is firm about one part of his bill that would hold off cuts in the income and corporate taxes until new sales levies bring in enough money to give low-income workers earned-income tax credits similar to what the federal tax system provides.


     And he says he will not change parts of the plan earmarking the new $10 billion for schools, colleges, infrastructure including road repairs and $2 billion for that earned income tax credit.


     “The revolutionary thing about this is that we would tax services for the first time,” he said. “And that we give the new money to cities, counties, community colleges, school districts, universities and the low income.”


     Hertzberg expects this plan to provoke “the longest discussion of the next two years.” Since he chairs the Senate committee in charge of state and local governance, taxes and finance, “I can call all the hearings on it I want, and I will.”


     So far, there are few supporters or opponents. But both business and labor groups, along with leading Democratic and Republican legislators say they look forward to the talk and the hearings.


     The twin questions yet to be answered: Will this all be mere talk? And should it ever amount to anything more? Stay tuned.

   
     -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

INITIATIVE CARNIVAL COMING NEXT YEAR

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 3, 2015, 2014 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “INITIATIVE CARNIVAL COMING NEXT YEAR”


          If voters get annoyed and sick of seeing paid petition circulators outside their favorite big box stores during the next 15 months, they will have only themselves to blame.


          Low voter turnout is one big reason to expect a larger-than ever proliferation of ballot initiatives looking to share the fall 2016 ballot with presidential and U.S. Senate candidates. If you didn’t vote last year, you’re part of the reason for any upcoming initiative annoyances.


          As usual, it will take valid signatures amounting to 5 percent of the total vote in the last general election to qualify an ordinary initiative for the ballot and 8 percent to put a constitutional amendment before the voters. One year ago, those percentages meant it took just over 504,000 signatures for a regular initiative to become a proposition and about 807,000 for a constitutional change. The extreme low November turnout means it will take only about 366,000 and 586,000 voter signatures, respectively, this time.


          That lowers the cost to qualify measures by well over $1 million each and allows a wide variety of interest groups frustrated by legislative inaction on their pet causes to circulate petitions in the next few months.


          There is, of course, no rush. In previous election cycles, some initiative sponsors sought to get their proposals onto the June primary election ballot. But since passage of a 2012 law that consolidates all voter-qualified measures on the fall ballot, there have been no initiatives to vote on in June. This makes the primary ballot less interesting and helps lower turnout then. Because initiative sponsors have almost six months to gather their signatures, they don’t really have to get serious until autumn of this year at the earliest.


          Democrats passed the fall-only law knowing voter turnout is far larger in November elections than in primaries, often doubling or tripling the spring numbers. November voters are on average much younger and more ethnic than in June, a trend that escalates in presidential election years like 2016.


          All this will likely translate into as long a ballot as Californians have ever seen, even surpassing some of the book-length ones of the 1990s.


          Anti-tax activists warn of a proliferation of proposed new and renewed levies, including an extension of the 2012 Proposition 30 sales and income tax hikes, parts of which expire at the end of next year. They warn of a renewed bid for a state oil extraction tax – California remains the only oil-producing state that does not tax drilling by the barrel. Opponents warn this could cause higher gas prices, and it might also dampen industry enthusiasm for hydraulic fracking of reserves in the Monterey Shale geologic formation stretching from Monterey and San Benito counties south into Los Angeles, Kern and Ventura counties.


          Anti-tax folks also fear an initiative to slap another $2 atop the current 87-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes. This one would be billed as a boost for public health.


          And they worry about a proposal to lower Proposition 13’s two-thirds-majority requirement for passage of school bonds and parcel taxes either to a simple majority or to the 55 percent now needed to pass school construction bonds.


          Already qualified is a referendum to eliminate the legislatively-passed statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, which would leave that issue purely a local decision. This would allow bag manufacturers – first to take advantage of the lowered signature thresholds – to continue selling 9 billion more plastic bags in the state yearly than if the ban becomes effective.


          It’s not unheard-of for voters to reverse decisions by their elected lawmakers. They did it last fall by overturning state approval of an off-reservation Indian casino and they did it in 1982, nixing the so-called “Peripheral Canal” plan for bringing additional Northern California river water to Central Valley farms and Southern California.


    Besides all these measures, marijuana proponents will likely present a plan to legalize pot completely and tax it, a la Colorado. There also could be an effort to alter Proposition 13 to tax commercial real estate at higher rates than residential property. A minimum wage increase proposal is also in the works, as are several ideas for changing public employee pensions.


          Put it together and the prospects are high for an initiative carnival, one of California’s most interesting and important ballots ever.



    -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

A SINGLE VOTE REALLY DOES COUNT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “A SINGLE VOTE REALLY DOES COUNT”


          Barely 21 percent of eligible California voters cast ballots in last fall’s election, which means about 80 percent of the eligible populace should have no complaints even if they don’t like the performances of those who were elected for the next two or four years.


          It’s easy to conclude this was because of apathy and ignorance: after all, polls showed about 40 percent of Californians weren’t even aware Gov. Jerry Brown was running for reelection. Only 41 percent of those registered to vote bothered to do anything.


          One reason for the low turnout is the old shibboleth that one vote doesn’t count, or at least one vote doesn’t count for much. The truism is being repeated again today, with many cities heading into elections in March. But this truism just isn’t true, no matter how many times it’s repeated.


          Take a look at Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who travels his city and the world in elegant, expensive suits with an air of confidence that suggests he has the support of a massive majority of Angelenos. He might. But no one knows, because only about 13 percent of eligible voters cast ballots two years ago, when he won with about 54 percent of the vote over former city Controller Wendy Greuel. This means Garcetti was elected by just shy of 7 percent of eligible voters, which in turn means Greuel could have won with only a few more votes in each precinct.


          Look also at California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the former San Francisco district attorney who won reelection by a wide margin last fall and is now running for the U.S. Senate. Things weren’t so easy four years earlier, when she didn’t learn she’d won until four weeks after Election Day. She beat Republican Steve Cooley, then the Los Angeles County District Attorney in their battle of DAs by about 40,000 votes, or less than two votes per precinct. Who says individual votes lack impact?


          Just as dramatic, but on a smaller scale, was last fall’s 466-vote win by Democratic community activist Patty Lopez in the San Fernando Valley over entrenched Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra in an intra-party battle. Again, about two votes per precinct proved decisive. Nearby, in an Assembly district in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County, Republican David Hadley beat incumbent Democrat Al Muratsuchi by 706 votes, or an average of slightly more than two votes in each of the district’s 256 precincts.


          But the tightest race of the year, decided by just two votes, came in the Central California city of Madera, where Brent Fernandes defeated incumbent school board member Jose Rodriguez by two votes. At times as the vote count see-sawed for weeks after the election, only one vote separated the two contenders. The final outcome means that if just three more persons had voted for Rodriguez, he’d have won. And that if a single vote had been reversed, the race would have been a tie, to be resolved by a coin toss or some other means.


          Madera apparently liked close elections this year, as another school board seat was decided by a margin of just 33 votes.


          This is all firm proof that anyone calling a single vote meaningless is just blowing smoke. There are always extremely close races in California, but it’s never possible to predict where they will occur.


          So low turnouts magnify the meaning of each vote that actually is cast. They also stand the entire concept of representative government on its head. Lopez, the narrowly elected new assemblywoman, drew votes from just 22,750 persons, or less than five percent of the people who live in her district. Mayor Garcetti had the support of not many more.


          Can these kinds of results make citizens feel involved in civic affairs? How can any individual not feel important in the Madera Unified School District, where a vote or two turned things around?


          How healthy can California public life and public policy be when so few care enough about it even to cast a vote? These are questions to ponder as San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other cities head toward their spring elections, where every eligible voter would be wise to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: “In a democracy, the people get precisely the government they deserve.”

         

     -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

DOUBLING H1-B VISAS VIA AN END RUN

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
    1720 OAK STREET, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA 90405
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2015 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “DOUBLING H1-B VISAS VIA AN END RUN”


          Green cards for spouses – that’s the latest quiet Obama Administration move to please and appease the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who constantly clamor for more H1-B visas to bring in cheap, skilled foreign labor.


          The ploy sounds extremely humanitarian, but might really be little more than an end run around the current limit of 85,000 visas granted to immigrants whose skills are allegedly not matched by any talent available in America, including about 20,000 slots for people with advanced degrees earned at American universities.


          Without consulting Congress and with little notice other than a routine press release, Obama and his aides may essentially now be doubling that 85,000 number. As of now, spouses of H1-B visa holders being sponsored for a green card by their employers will be allowed to work in this country.


          Since the great bulk of H1-Bs who perform adequately and show up regularly for work receive such sponsorship in the interest of maintaining a stable work force, there will now be about 60,000 to 70,000 new foreign workers eligible to take jobs for which some U.S. engineering groups say there are plenty of trained, competent Americans.


    No one knows precisely how many H1-B workers are married, but it’s for certain that many who would previously have left their spouses behind in home countries like India and the Philippines will now bring them along.


    It’s true, as the administration noted when publishing the new rule in the Federal Register, that not all spouses of imported tech workers will be allowed to work. They become eligible only when employers petition for full immigrant visas for them.


          But since many couples in India, Singapore and other countries from which H1-B workers often stem are about equally educated, the change will probably sideline even more American workers whose salaries now average considerably higher than those paid to the imports.


          Was it a coincidence that this change came within a week of an autumn Obama excursion to Silicon Valley and other California points, where he pitched for more high-tech development and raked in a few million campaign dollars for last year’s Democratic congressional and Senate candidates? With companies along and just off the Bayshore Freeway corridor between San Jose and Redwood City constantly yammering for more immigrant workers (including the likes of Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Google and Hewlett-Packard), it’s apparent campaign money talks – loudly.


          Fully 16 percent of H1-B visas go to California companies and their immigrant workers, many of whom stay in the areas to which they were brought. When visas expire and they can’t legally get high-tech jobs anymore, some become off-the-books motel clerks or freelance computer instructors paid in cash or personal checks.


          The H1-B program also often exceeds its formal limits. While only 85,000 permits are supposed to be issued this year, the total of imported workers often exceeds 90,000 and in 2010 came to 117,409. This happens in part through side agreements. Examples: Chileans get 1,400 visas under a trade agreement, while 5,400 go annually to citizens of Singapore, under another pact. These workers don’t count toward the formal limit.


          Those are failings, for sure. But the main problem with H1-B visas is that there has never been a test to determine if U.S. workers are available before foreigners are hired and visas issued.


          “Do not confuse H1-B demand with labor demand; they are not the same thing,” Jared Bernstein, author of a Brookings Institution report on H1-B use, told a reporter last year. A lot of employers, he suggested, seek visas even when unemployment is high and extends to skilled workers.


          Bernstein said he found some evidence of employers using H1-Bs to force down wages. In short, American workers know that if they demand too much, they can be replaced by foreign labor.


          Yes, there is some justification for the category of 20,000 workers with advanced degrees obtained in this country; it keeps persons trained here contributing to the American economy.


          But adding spouses to the equation seems to give the companies too much leeway in hiring and setting wages, especially since most H1-Bs are not high-level scientists, but rather work in laboratories or on assembly lines.


          The bottom line: The new spousal visa rule is one executive action that deserves far more congressional scrutiny than it has yet gotten.


     -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