Friday, June 24, 2011

WHO’S CLEAN AMONG POTENTIAL BULLET TRAIN BIDDERS?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“WHO’S CLEAN AMONG POTENTIAL BULLET TRAIN BIDDERS?”

With China’s high speed rail system and the companies that supply it in financial and technological trouble, it now appears the bids for major components of California’s projected high speed rail system will come from big companies based in three countries: France (Alstom Group), Germany (Siemens AG) and Japan (East Japan Railway Co., better known as JR East).

The problem: All of them have histories or association with war crimes, genocide or other atrocities. Of this group, only Siemens has actually apologized and made significant reparations for its past wrongdoing.

Criticizing any one of them for their history leads not merely to defensiveness and corporate counterattacks, but also to complaints from victims of the others that their grievances have been ignored.

So it was when this column described how the Alstom Group’s corporate sister company SNCF, the French national railway, has never specifically apologized or paid reparations to survivors or heirs of the tens of thousands of Jews it was paid to haul to the gas chambers of the Holocaust run by Germany in Poland and other Eastern European countries.

One agent of the SNCF wrote to a newspaper that it would be false to say the railroad carried victims to be murdered in Germany. That’s technically correct, if not morally so. The Jews who made up 90 percent of those deported from France were taken to places like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor, in Poland.

But the loudest complaints about that column came from those who felt the crimes of Japanese companies involved in the upcoming JR East bid have been ignored.

And those crimes are substantial. Aspects of JR East’s bid will be done by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Sumitomo Corp. and Nippon Sharyo Ltd., maker of most engines and cars for Japan’s famed bullet trains.

The Washington, D.C.-based Asia Policy Point non-profit analysis group reports five World War II prisoner-of-war camps near Sumitomo facilities in Japan’s home islands provided slave labor by American POWs to Sumitomo, two did the same for Kawasaki and two for Nippon Sharyo. Prisoners were forced to work in mines, factories and on docks. Reports Asia Point, “The suffering the POWs endured at the hands of the employees of these companies was comparable to, and sometimes worse than, that inflicted upon them by the Japanese military.”

None of these companies – or other big Japanese companies like Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Hitachi – has apologized or paid any reparations to anyone it enslaved. Altogether, 30,000 Allied POWs, 40,000 Chinese and 670,000 Koreans were involved in slave labor in Japan under conditions including torture, abuse and starvation.

Japan’s government issued one formal, tepid, apology in 1995, 50 years after the fact. Also, Japan’s ambassador to the United States in May 2009 went to a convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a national veterans group, and apologized for “suffering there and in other places.” But his embassy never posted that weak apology on its website, and Japan has never paid a yen to any victim or heir.

Wrote Bataan Death March survivor and former POW Lester Tenney of Carlsbad in San Diego County in a January letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, “I ask that you insist that (the Japanese companies) acknowledge their role in violating the human rights of American citizens…without this, accepting Japanese bids and financing on high speed rail components is tantamount to accepting blood money.”

Meanwhile, Siemens may have gotten rid of all vestiges of its wartime use of slave labor from concentration camps and it may have apologized profusely and paid reparations, as has the German government, and Siemens is now largely owned by American pension and mutual funds.

Even so, the notion of a German firm that often worked its deliberately undernourished slave laborers to death building all or part of a major American institution makes many understandably uncomfortable.

Of course, the same companies bidding here will also be competing for other high speed rail projects in other parts of America, from Texas to the Midwest to the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C.

Which means that if either Brown or President Obama wants Californians and Americans in general to be completely comfortable with the planned high speed rail system, it would help a great deal to somehow enable an American company to join the bidding. If General Motors, Chrysler, Ford and defunct companies like American Motors and Studebaker could gear up quickly to build tanks and jeeps and artillery during World War II and other wars of the 20th Century, why can’t one of them now be enabled to build high speed rail engines and coaches?

Nothing could be better for America and California, both morally and financially.

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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

ARE FOREIGN GRAD STUDENTS GOOD FOR AMERICA?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 5, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“ARE FOREIGN GRAD STUDENTS GOOD FOR AMERICA?”

The University of Southern California enrolls more foreign students as both undergraduates and advanced graduate students than any campus in America. Stanford, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley are all among the top 15 in both categories, too.

Which means that foreign student tuition, often paid at premium out-of-state levels by temporary legal immigrants from places as varied as Saudi Arabia and China and Indonesia, is in some large part responsible for keeping California universities from collapse. An academic disaster would likely be imminent if prominent campuses had to depend purely on the state subsidies and federal grant money that also make up significant portions of their revenues.

So foreign students are good for many American universities, including plenty in California.

But are they good for America? That’s a question for continual debate as high technology and biomedical ventures become ever more common in countries like China, India and the Philippines, to name just a few.

It turns out that more than 60 percent of the Ph.D. level scientists who people those enterprises were trained in the United States. Now they’ve gone home and founded or taken jobs with companies that compete directly with American firms, including many based in the Silicon Valley, Orange County and other California hotbeds of new technologies.

At the same time, newly released figures from the National Science Foundation (NSF) show that foreigners account for 40 percent of all science and engineering Ph.D. holders now working in the United States. Which means that industries from electronics to construction to pharmaceuticals would be unable to function or develop new products if American universities were not training foreign grad students.

The same NSF report reveals that 62 percent of foreigners who got student visas and earned Ph.D.s in science at U.S. universities in 2002 (the latest year studied) were still in this country in 2007. Among foreigners getting advanced degrees in 1997, 60 percent were still here much of each year, 10 years later. The NSF used tax data to track who stayed and who did not.

Virtually no one disagrees with Michael Finn, an analyst at the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who says, “Our ability to continue to attract and keep foreign scientists and engineers is critical to…increase investment in science and technology.”

But there’s also another side, say some scientists who supervise foreign graduate and post-doctoral students.

“My main worry is over the 40 percent to 50 percent who go back to their home countries,” says one prominent researcher at the UCLA's medical school who has supervised M.D. and Ph.D. holders from a variety of countries. “They steal our way of thinking because there is little tradition of creative thinking in their own countries. There’s a real ripoff occurring.”

This scientist, who asked that his name not be used here because he needs to continue employing foreign professionals, worries that “Americans don’t understand the theft that goes on. The Chinese, for example, have no real higher educational system of their own, so they send people here to learn not only methods but also our ways of thinking. If even 40 percent return home, it’s a terrific investment for them because now they have people who can start biotech and electronic companies without having to educate them themselves. Sometimes I think they are way too wily for us, and we’re way too na├»ve to realize that we are being unpatriotic when we accept these guys.”

In short, this scientist contends, while elementary and secondary school students in many countries perform better than their American counterparts, those same students are accustomed to rote learning and not the kind of creativity that has long been an American hallmark.

What the NSF statistics also don’t show is that many of the foreign-born Ph.D.s listed as staying in the U.S. after they graduate also are working in their home countries.

Says a Stanford scientist, “I have had a technician in my lab for almost 20 years who leads a double life as a full professor in China, going back there four times a year for two or three weeks at a crack. He’s training them in our methods and ways of thinking, so they can compete with us.”

Which means the real need is for American schools and particularly those in California to motivate students (pay them?) to stick with academe long enough to get advanced degrees. If we fail to do that, there’s a good chance other countries will eventually be using our own methods and thought patterns to surpass America in the very fields where we excel most today.

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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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

IRONY: ILLEGALS INCREASING GOP POWER – FOR NOW

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 1, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“IRONY: ILLEGALS INCREASING GOP POWER – FOR NOW”

At almost every chance they get, prominent Republican politicians spew a line of anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric they insist is true, even when most of their claims are unproven.

They excoriate illegals for depriving Americans of jobs. Yet experiments carried out at unemployment offices indicate American citizens refuse even to apply for unskilled farm, hotel, restaurant and car wash jobs that often go to illegals.

They blast illegals for being a burden on state and local budgets, generally refusing even to consider how much illegals pay in taxes on groceries, gasoline, tobacco, liquor, telephone bills, property (through rents), vehicle license fees and many other levies.

And so on.

All this makes it a considerable irony that illegal immigrants are to a large extent responsible for the increased clout and numbers Republicans expect to enjoy for the next 10 years due to results of last year’s U.S. Census.

Republicans salivate openly over the fact that Texas will get two additional seats in Congress next year, while California remains stable. Where California has a non-partisan citizen redistricting commission drawing its new lines, the Texas redistricting will be managed by Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Rick Perry.

The Census shows Texas hosts 1.65 million illegal immigrant residents, enough to account for those new districts. Since they can’t vote, the districts they spurred will probably go to Republicans. (California at the same time hosts 2.55 million illegals and had a net growth of more than 3 million persons overall, but gets no more space in Congress because its share of the national populace remained stable at about 12 percent.)

Republican-dominated Georgia gains one new seat in Congress largely because of 425,000 illegal immigrants who weren’t there 10 years earlier (each new congressional district will have about 800,000 residents). Florida gained a seat, with 825,000 additional illegals. Arizona and Utah each also picked up one seat, with 400,000 more illegals in Arizona (how many of them are still there since passage of two tough anti-illegal immigrant laws is an unknown, but many have left. No matter, it is last year’s count that governs).

In all those states, Republicans control both governor’s offices and Legislatures, so they alone will decide where the new lines are drawn and they will see to it the new seats go to the GOP. The same states will also get new clout in the Electoral College for presidential votes.

Those districts account for the major portion of new seats Republicans hope to hand themselves in this year’s reapportionment, and all are at least in good part the product of illegal immigrant populations.

But these GOP gains may turn out to be very temporary, especially since Latino U.S. citizen numbers are also up considerably in the same states. But in states like Texas and Georgia, Hispanics have never voted in anything like the proportions they do in California, where they have lately accounted for about 18 percent of the total vote. That still doesn’t nearly match their percentage of the populace, but it’s much higher than Latino turnouts in places like Georgia and Texas, which amount to about 6 percent of the total vote.

“There’s a big distinction between people who live somewhere and the representation they often get,” says Orlando Rodriguez, author of the new book “Vote Thieves: Illegal Immigration, Redistricting and Presidential Elections." “Those who vote get excess representation compared with those who don’t.”

That’s why, for example, if Latinos were represented in the California congressional delegation in the same proportion as in the population, there would be 13 California Hispanics in Congress. There are seven.

But just as the anti-illegal Proposition 187 -- passed here in 1994 -- galvanized many previous non-citizen Latino legal immigrants to gain citizenship and begin voting, so the anti-illegal measures passed in Arizona and in the works in some other states may also spur a reaction.

If that happens, some of new districts carved out by GOP mapmakers might not stay solidly Republican.

All of which raises an interesting question: Does the one-man, one-vote decision by the U.S. Supreme Court of the 1960s still make sense today, when so much of the U.S. populace (both legal and illegal immigrants) lacks citizenship? Rodriguez suggests it would be fairer and more sensible to reapportion on the basis of the number of persons eligible to vote in the last election or two.

“Our current method of apportionment creates an incentive to encourage illegal immigration (even when publicly railing against it) and polarizes our political system,” Rodriguez said.

The upshot: Republicans may be sitting pretty today, but they could be discomfited considerably by an increase in Latino voter participation. That’s because the GOP has seen what happened when many California Latinos suddenly became interested: This state switched from a tossup that usually leaned Republican to solidly Democratic. It could also happen elsewhere, even in current Republican strongholds like Texas and Georgia and Arizona.

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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

NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE COULD HELP CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE COULD HELP CALIFORNIA”

Millions of Americans believed all through his presidency that George W. Bush never deserved to hold that office – regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled and no matter who got a few hundred votes more or less in Florida. That was because Democrat Al Gore won more actual votes in the 2000 election than Bush, even if he didn’t get more electoral votes.

A very similar thing almost happened four years later, when Democrat John Kerry ran more than 3 million actual votes behind Bush, but would have become another minority-vote President if he’d taken just 60,000 more votes in hotly contested Ohio.

Bush was only the second President (after Rutherford B. Hayes) to win the office while getting fewer votes than the second-place finisher. But there have been numerous close calls because of the Electoral College, where votes are cast by each state without regard for the margin by which any candidate wins any particular state.

In short, one candidate can win California by more than 2 million votes, while a rival wins both Florida and Texas by fewer than 1,000 votes each – and the rival with the far lower overall margin will get more electoral votes.

There’s a move afoot to prevent that kind of thing ever happening again. Its backers call it the National Popular Vote (NPV) initiative. The aim: To have states commit all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. This would make the Electoral College as irrelevant as it probably deserves to be.

So far, just seven states have made this commitment. Even though state legislators passed a measure to add California to the list last year and the year before, ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measures, both times claiming it might deprive California voters of the impact their sheer numbers ought to command.

The bi-partisan backers of the NPV call that so much paranoid balderdash. Instead of lessening California’s impact, they contend their plan would give the state much more of a role in every presidential election. So they’re back again with an NPV bill, which would commit California’s electoral votes to the popular vote winner as soon as a total of 27 states make similar commitments. Sponsors this time are the chairmen of both the state Assembly’s Republican and Democratic caucuses, Brian Nestande of Palm Desert and Jerry Hill of San Mateo.

They’re both convinced using a national popular vote and diminishing the Electoral College would greatly increase California’s impact on presidential elections.

“California is ignored in most presidential elections,” Hill said. “Candidates do not come to California to campaign after the primary. They do not run television advertisements in California, they do not send direct mail or conduct field operations here. But they sure do a lot of fund-raising here.”

That’s correct. In 2008, for example, Barack Obama and John McCain concentrated 99 percent of their general election visits in 16 states. Backers of the NPV like to use New Hampshire and Rhode Island as examples of what goes on. Rhode Island is a solidly Democratic state in presidential voting, while New Hampshire is a tossup. New Hampshire got 12 visits in 2008 from presidential and vice presidential candidates who either held rallies or otherwise interacted with voters. Rhode Island got none. Money, meanwhile, is spent at a rate of roughly $3 million per candidate visit. So businesses from hotels and bus companies to caterers, newspapers, TV and radio stations and telecom providers are shortchanged in states that get few visits from candidates. Meanwhile, the same types of businesses made hay in the 16 states that got almost all the candidate visits.

With that thought in mind, Rhode Island has adopted the NPV commitment, as have other small states like Vermont, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, all of which are usually solid Democratic turf.


California and Texas, one solidly Democratic and the other rock-ribbed Republican in presidential voting, also get few visits. But if the popular vote decided matters, NPV sponsors say, you can bet they would get plenty.

“Candidates would have to go where the people are. They’d essentially have to campaign everywhere, because they couldn’t afford to neglect areas where a little effort might turn out a larger vote,” said former Republican state Sen. Jim Brulte, now a political consultant. “Under NPV, they would have to spend less money in states like Florida and Ohio and more in California and Texas, because every additional vote they got out would count. As it stands now, an additional vote, or 100,000 votes, in those states doesn’t matter much at all.”

There’s definitely some logic to this and there’s no doubt California has been neglected in every presidential election since 1992. And if the state can contribute to preventing another minority-vote president from ever taking office again, why not?

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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

Saturday, June 11, 2011

MAKING A HOSTAGE OF CALIFORNIA’S BEST PLACES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“MAKING A HOSTAGE OF CALIFORNIA’S BEST PLACES”

Budget deficits have threatened California’s state parks – among the finest places with which nature has gifted this state – for several years, with annual threats to cut their operating budgets or even close them down.

Under most plans, only those parks that produce enough revenue to pay for their own maintenance and ranger staffing are assured they’ll never be closed. That includes some state beach parks where parking and camping fees produce substantial revenues and a very few others, like the Pt. Lobos Reserve State Park outside Carmel.

But the fate of scores of other parks and historic sites continues to depend on the way the political winds might blow on a particular day. Right now, closing is on the table for 70 parks. That’s just plain wrong.

For if we allow politicians to deprive California citizens of the best this state has to offer, then we enable them as they send the state down a primrose path to second- or third-class stature.

Many roadside rest areas along California highways are already shut for financial reasons. This means there are no longer many non-commercial places for drivers to catch breathers and perhaps picnic, even on the state’s most sleep-inducing roads, like Interstate 5 between Grapevine and Stockton or U.S. 99 from Bakersfield to Modesto.

The seemingly perpetual budget battles in Sacramento have already cut into the summer planning of many thousands. It’s much tougher to plan a vacation while unsure which parks might be open and which closed.

Wrote Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the private, non-profit California State Parks Foundation, “With every financial cut to the state parks’ budget, there have been subtle and not-so-subtle changes, (resulting) in a system that has less human presence and is substantially less well taken care of (than previously).”

So what happens if and when most state park personnel are laid off? Do marijuana-growing cartels move into places like Pfeiffer-Big Sur or Kruse Rhododendron state parks – fabulously gorgeous places that happen to be almost perfectly suited for cultivating pot? With fewer park rangers, do we get booby traps set by such outlaw operations?

Goldstein told members of her group she’s seen park employees “find ways to keep on moving forward as their resources keep getting smaller. They’ve been masters as doing more with less. But there is always a moment when less is nothing but less.”

What’s more, there is no assurance that any budget cuts made now will ever be restored. So precious resources where Californians have headed for generations to renew and relax may disappear.

Into this sad situation this spring came a proposal by Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo to give counties and cities a chance to take over closed state parks for one year to five years. It aimed to encourage them to recruit volunteers to do work not done by sophisticated, trained professionals.

At the same time, his fellow Republican state Sen. Tom Harman of Orange County proposed allowing the privatizing of parks in order to keep them open. Democrats voted down both bills, but left open the possibility of doing what the measures called for.

Those votes came because both bills raised concerns that Republicans, who often have sought to privatize state services, might try to take whole units out of the state park system forever and give them to private companies (read: GOP campaign donors).

Harman and Blakeslee denied this, saying there was nothing in their measures forcing the state to let anyone take over parks, but only a requirement that the state listen to offers. Yet, worry persisted that even if park takeover agreements appear temporary at first, they could eventually become permanent, dooming the state’s most pleasant places to either unskilled management or commercial exploitation.

All this is just plain wrong. Because a few lawmakers have refused to allow a popular vote on Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend the small income, sales and vehicle license tax increases agreed to in 2009, many thousands of Californians could be deprived of one of the major joys of their lives.

Of course, those same Californians last year turned down a ballot measure setting up an $18 vehicle license fee surcharge to fund state parks.

So it’s not only politicians who have made state parks a political football, kicked around at the risk of destroying some of the most precious and delicate resources and opportunities California can offer. Voters are also to blame for putting some of the finest places in California at risk.

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Elias is author of the current book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," now available in an updated second edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com

TEXAS ACCELERATES ITS ANTI-CALIFORNIA CAMPAIGN

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“TEXAS ACCELERATES ITS ANTI-CALIFORNIA CAMPAIGN”

The years-long campaign against Californians by the state of Texas, its officials and industries has done anything but abate since the Lone Star State was revealed as having a worse budget crisis than California’s, in addition to poverty and school dropout rates that far eclipse ours.

In fact, that campaign – some might call it out-and-out economic warfare – entered one of its most ignominious chapters early this spring, led by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has sought largely to resolve his own state’s financial problems at the expense of politically powerless schoolchildren too young to vote against him.

Given what he and his fellow Texans have done, Perry would be wise not to expect much support from anyone in California, Republican or Democrat, in the presidential campaign he’s now “looking at.”

Here’s the latest of Perry’s anti-California activities, coming in the wake of the California state Assembly’s strongly bi-partisan 60-7 vote to revoke the city charter of the highly industrial Los Angeles suburb of Vernon. That’s a 96-person town where over the last few years a former mayor was convicted of voter fraud, the ex-city administrator was charged with 18 counts of misappropriation of public funds for personal use and some city officials paid themselves yearly salaries of $1 million or more, while others drew salaries so high that one who eventually quit has milked the California Public Employees Retirement System for an annual pension of $500,000 – a figure based mostly on his last salary.

The city itself owns all but four of the housing units in town, while most voters are relatives of city officials or employees of local companies and there were no contested elections from the mid-1980s until very recently – largely because city government controlled who lived in its housing and thus who could vote.

One way to clean up this cesspool would be to revoke the city charter, making Vernon just another part of Los Angeles County. But doing that, contend owners of many of the 1,800 warehouses, factories and other businesses in the town (employing 55,000 workers), would mean higher utility and water rates, higher taxes and increased insurance rates (now held down because of ultra-fast response times from local police and fire departments).

To ensure that businesses don’t encounter those problems, California Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Democrat representing a nearby district, promised to amend the charter revocation bill to preserve Vernon’s municipal utility and business-friendly zoning. No one wants any reductions in the town’s employment and no one outside Texas wants its businesses to leave either the town or California. They paid about $4.5 billion in wages last year, and accounted for approximately $1 billion in taxable sales.

Into this mess this spring stepped Perry, sending emails to dozens of Vernon businesses in an attempt to coax them into moving to Texas. So far, none has bitten, but business owners and the labor unions allied with them in trying to keep Vernon a city are using the Perry approaches in trying to stave off charter revocation.

“There’s no question there were some overpaid people in the city administration, who are now gone,” Bill Hughes, owner of King Meat Co., told a reporter. “But why punish..businesses with 50-some thousand employees because of a couple of bad apples.”

Those businesses, of course, never objected to the “bad apples” until they were exposed by the local district attorney and a local newspaper. Money talks.

What Perry is doing, thus, is interfering in a fight against government corruption. Republican Assemblyman Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita, one co-sponsor of the charter-revocation bill, described the move this way: “We have the opportunity to make a statement…that corruption will not be tolerated.”

Perry’s attempt to exploit Vernon’s documented corruption is only the latest chapter in the Texas war on California. Over the last 11 years, that campaign has seen Texas companies inflict an energy crisis and rolling blackouts on this state via illegal electricity supply and price manipulation. Texas-based oil companies led by Valero and Tesoro financed the losing 2010 Proposition 23, which sought to get rid of this state’s landmark anti-global warming law so they wouldn’t have to modernize their refineries here. Two years earlier, Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens tried to milk Californians for $5 billion in bond money via Proposition 10, which would have fed most of that money to a Pickens-owned firm. And the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group has charged Valero, Tesoro and other Texas-based oil companies with gouging California drivers by keeping gasoline supplies artificially low during periods of high demand.

No other state has seen its major companies and officials make so many efforts to cheat or take advantage of citizens of another state. No other state has financed studies about how to take businesses away from California – and only California. Just Texas.

So Perry’s latest antics are no surprise. Which doesn’t make them any less shameful, offensive and disgusting.

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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, June 6, 2011

ACCOUNTABILITY AN UNKNOWN CONCEPT TO POLS, CELEBS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“ACCOUNTABILITY AN UNKNOWN CONCEPT TO POLS, CELEBS”

“It is nice to hear,” writes a reader of one of California’s largest newspapers, “that Arnold Schwarzenegger is sorry for his actions and takes full responsibility. But I just don’t quite understand what it means when a powerful person does wrong, tells the media that he takes full responsibility…and then the public sees no accountability or punishment for those actions.”

That reader is not alone in an era when American politicians who resign their offices as a consequence of wrongdoing are as rare as hen’s teeth. Eliot Spitzer, the onetime New York governor caught patronizing a call-girl ring, is the rare exception to this rule. But even he quickly got a high-paying gig doing a national TV talk show. Does anyone doubt he will someday seek another office? Sen. Spitzer, anyone?

That's howit is, too, with Schwarzenegger, the ex-governor who conveniently waited until his term expired to admit fathering a 13-year-old child with one of his household servants, conception occurring right in his Mandeville Canyon mansion in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. There is even speculation the ex-governator used state security details to facilitate his escapades in Sacramento.

Then there's retired boxer Oscar de la Hoya of Los Angeles, who gets nothing but sympathy on sports talk radio after entering rehab for what he called his “flaws.” Reports say those defects include substance abuse. It’s the same with actor Charlie Sheen, whose live shows usually sell out despite his boorish behavior, mistreating women and drunken rants.

If de la Hoya had been knocked out in the ring or Sheen flubbed some lines on his Two and a Half Men sitcom, neither would have gotten nearly the same public sympathy.

But the public has less right to be concerned with the likes of de la Hoya or Sheen than with people like Spitzer or Schwarzenegger. So far, there is no evidence Spitzer’s betrayal of his wife had any public implications. But there is plenty of evidence that Schwarzenegger’s dishonesty was reflected repeatedly in public policy decisions while he was governor.

There was, for instance, his infamous commuting of the voluntary manslaughter prison sentence of Esteban Nunez, son of onetime Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, from 16 years down to seven, which might allow the younger Nunez to seek parole as soon as three years from now. All the younger Nunez did, Schwarzenegger said when he acted, was hold the victim down while he was stabbed to death.

At the time, Schwarzenegger said the commutation came because of a review of the case. Later, though, he admitted it was “what you do for a friend,” marking his first statement as essentially untrue.

Then there was his promise after the 2003 exposure of his serial that he would hire a private investigator to look into his personal behavior. No investigator ever turned up, and now the world has some idea why.

There was also his promise on the day he announced for office that he would never take money from special interests because it always comes with string attached.

He was right about the strings, but he began taking special interest money the very next day, claiming no person or company giving to him could be a special interest. His donors included oil companies, car dealers, developers, casino Indian tribes – all major special interests.

It wasn’t long before they were pulling the strings of their new Arnold puppet – car dealers getting a reduction in the vehicle license fee, oil companies getting Schwarzenegger’s opposition to a state severance tax on oil drilled in California and casino tribes winning new agreements allowing them many thousands more slot machines. Schwarzenegger all the while denied those actions had anything to do with campaign donations.

The quid pro quos went on throughout Schwarzenegger’s seven years-plus in office, duly reported here and elsewhere, but Schwarzenegger paid no political or legal price whatsoever for what were in essence bribes.

That’s why it’s hard to imagine any long-lasting consequences from Schwarzenegger’s admission that he betrayed his wife at least once with one of their joint employees. Will Maria Shriver remain away from the family manse? Maybe, but she knew of his womanizing habits for years before his election, yet stuck around.

Will his acting career suffer? Probably not. His movie contracts for more “Terminator” films and one called “Cry Macho” were unaffected when he declared his Hollywood comeback on hold.

It’s just another case of a politician suffering little or no consequence for his behavior, just as state legislators now expect financial consequences if they don’t pass a balanced budget by mid-June, despite last year’s ballot initiative demanding they be docked all their pay for whatever time such a budget is late.

And whose fault is all this? The old comic strip character Pogo famously said it best: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

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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

LOCAL TAXATION WOULD GIVE KEY OPTIONS TO VOTERS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“LOCAL TAXATION WOULD GIVE KEY OPTIONS TO VOTERS”

Local governments already have a lot of taxing authority. They can levy sales taxes, parcel taxes, utility taxes, create assessment districts and charge business license fees, among others. There are also, of course, property taxes.

It takes a two-thirds majority of local voters to originate or raise almost any of these levies. In short, Californians get no new local taxes unless a preponderance of local residents wants them. In many cases, local increases pass easily. Just this spring, eight out of 13 school parcel tax proposals passed.

Now comes Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, the Democratic president pro-tem of the state Senate, who sees local taxing authority as one way out of the state’s persistent financial conundrum, where plenty of basic services have already been cut and most state Capitol analysts believe it will take a renewal of temporary taxes enacted in 2009 to prevent even more crumbling of California’s university systems, parks, roads and safety nets.

With at least two Republican votes in both houses of the Legislature needed even to put an extension on the ballot, and none forthcoming so far, the extensions will likely die at the end of this month barring something extraordinary. It’s questionable whether Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislative majority by themselves can legally extend those temporary taxes, even for a short time.

Democrats interested in pressuring Republicans to cave in and at least okay a public vote on the tax extensions floated the idea of balancing a budget by targeting cuts only to Republican-held legislative districts. But that kind of vindictive action would penalize not only the GOP voters who put adamant anti-taxers into office, but also their many Democratic neighbors, not to mention children and disabled seniors who live there. Every Republican district contains plenty of Democrats and others.

So that idea had little merit. Then Steinberg came up with an alternative: Transfer even more state functions to local governments than Brown has already proposed – and he has proposed transferring plenty, including the care and feeding of thousands of state prison inmates. Then let local governments pay for this with things like local levies on income, alcohol and oil drilling or vehicle license fee surcharges.

In every case, cities, counties and school districts would still need two-thirds approval from local voters to proceed.

So schools that don’t want to fire more teachers because the tax extensions apparently aren’t happening could ask voters for more money. Counties wanting to take over operations at some state parks whose closure is now planned could do the same. Counties could ask voters for earmarked money to maintain teams of sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors focusing on child abuse, spousal support scofflaws or gang suppression.

No doubt this would leave some areas more equal than others, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm. But haven’t things always been much that way? Services in cities like Beverly Hills and Palo Alto and Rancho Santa Fe have never been the same as in places like Compton or Blythe or Richmond.

For sure, Steinberg’s proposal would let local voters decide whether to retain -- and pay for -- past levels of government services, from police and fire protection to quality schools and even frequency of trash collection. Not to mention the option of deciding whether to fund county jails sufficiently so they can avoid freeing convicts about to be shifted from state prisons.

So some parts of California could end up safer than others, depending on the willingness of voters to open their wallets. Some areas, of course, are already safer than others true. Some would have higher taxes than others. California would become a fiscal mishmash, with each area deciding what it wants to fund.

No one knows how many local governments might try for new taxes and how many would stick to no-new-taxes. But the entire idea horrifies anti-tax activists. “The mind reels at what a clever agency might come up with,” moaned Joel Fox, former chief of the steadfastly anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

A real problem with Steinberg’s law might lie, however, in the 40-year-old state Supreme Court decision known as Serrano v. Priest, which found it unconstitutional for some school districts to spend more money than others on each of their students. The same reasoning could apply to cities, counties and fire protection districts. Serrano sees money from wealthier school districts distributed to poorer ones whenever a district adopts an overall tax increase. The decision does not apply to parcel taxes, whose proceeds stay home, one reason many school districts now try for that unfair form of taxation.

So Steinberg’s idea looks good to many who believe local voters should decide their own lifestyles. But it’s by no means certain his plan could survive a constitutional test.

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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