Monday, July 17, 2017

TRUMP BUDGET LOOKS INCREASINGLY VENGEFUL

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, AUGUST 4, 2017, OR THEREAFTER

           
BY THOMAS D.ELIAS
     "TRUMP BUDGET LOOKS INCREASINGLY VENGEFUL"

           
          Is it political vengeance or merely a Republican President trying to make budget cuts on everything that’s not military?


          That’s the real question about Donald Trump’s first budget as it moves through congressional committees en route to becoming reality. It’s a question that reverberates especially on the West Coast, where not just California, but Oregon and Washington, too, voted heavily against Trump in last year’s election. The mid-Pacific state of Hawaii also strongly opposed Trump.


          The latest proposed budget victim coming to light is the life-saving tsunami detection system that gives early warning to all four of those states (and Republican Alaska) whenever a major earthquake strikes anywhere around the Pacific Rim’s so-called “Ring of Fire,” where those quakes sometimes produce enormously destructive tidal waves thousands of miles from the epicenters.


          Before the system of 39 deep-sea sensors and floating, tethered buoys existed, a tsunami measuring at least 20 feet tall slammed into Crescent City, near the California-Oregon state line in 1964 with very little warning. It decimated the city’s harbor and killed 11 persons who could not escape the city’s harbor in time.


          The early-detection system was in place by 2008 when a tsunami of similar size struck the same place. No one died because there was ample warning.


          Now Trump seeks to cut most of the $12 million federal contribution to maintaining the warning system, reducing staff from 40 full-time positions to 15 and cutting out one of the two tsunami warning centers. He also would end $6 million in safety grants to tsunami-prone states.


This proposal comes at the same time Trump seeks to eliminate the $10 million annual federal contribution to an under-construction earthquake early-detection system that could provide between 30 second and two minutes of notice before large quakes, thus potentially saving hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives.


          Both these systems have had strong backing from both Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic successor, Barack Obama and it’s looking like a House committee may restore all the funds. That would not change Trump’s intent.


          Before Trump, there was a realization that even if a state went strongly against the eventual winning presidential candidate, the same state nevertheless contained millions of voters who went for the winner. That was how it went in California last year, when almost 4.5 million state residents voted for Trump, even though Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the state by the widest margin since the Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Trump’s losses in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii were almost as wide.


          There is, of course, no plan for quake warnings on the East Coast, where almost no such shakes occur, but the tsunami warning system does cover Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, all states with low-lying coastal areas, and all of which went Democratic last year.


          Cutting the federal contributions to these systems would be a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish, if a natural disaster should hit without warning and destroy many lives along with billions of dollars in property. Spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, even under Trump, would likely dwarf the less than $28 million involved here. That spending could be cut substantially if there were sufficient warning for vehicle owners to get their cars and trucks out of tsunami zones or place valuable but fragile possessions in safe places before an earthquake arrives.


          Unless, of course, Trump should decide that residents of the states involved are not as American as other citizens and decline to issue post-disaster emergency declarations that free up grant money.


          Meanwhile, California would be hit harder than other states if Trump’s much larger planned spending cuts on things like Medicaid, public education and homeland security grants are ratified by Congress. The putative Medicaid cuts alone could lop $24 billion a year worth of California health care, an amount the state’s recent budget surpluses cannot make up.


          It’s still too early to say for sure that all this is pure political revenge for voting against the President. But the more Trump presses cuts in programs that disproportionately affect states like California, which voted against him, the more plausible become suspicions of vengeance.



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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

THE TRUTH ON CALIFORNIA'S HEALTHY ECONOMY

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, AUGUST 1, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  "THE TRUTH ON CALIFORNIA'S HEALTHY ECONOMY"

      
    For many years, Californians have heard "experts" (read: folks who figure to profit by touting the theory) claim their state suffers from a lousy business climate and is steadily losing middle class population and jobs to other states, especially arch-rival Texas.


          The current national secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, even made radio and television commercials while governor of Texas touting the advantages of moving there. And there have been moves: a major one is the ongoing shift of Toyota’s U.S. headquarters from Torrance to Plano, Tex., outside Dallas.


          Through all the rhetoric, some of it orchestrated by corporate move specialists plainly out to fatten their own wallets, California continues growing, with population now above 39 million, more than the entire country of Canada and 12 million more than fast-growing Texas.


          Yes, plenty of youthful, educated Californians feel compelled to move away by the high prices of real estate in the state’s largest urban areas. And some corporations try to accommodate those moves by establishing satellite facilities in places like Boise and Tucson, where homes can be bought for less than one-third the price of comparable real estate in coastal California counties.


          But there’s a reason California keeps growing despite it all: the state’s economy is fundamentally healthy. A new, comprehensive study from the business-oriented personal finance WalletHub website (https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-economies/21697/) finds this state’s economy is not only strong, but is the second-strongest in America, trailing only Washington state.


          WalletHub ranks California in the top five among states in startup activity, percentage of jobs in high-tech industries and patents granted to individuals. Texas, meanwhile, ranks 20th overall and is not among the top five states in any significant category.


          This comes despite the fact that Texas and other states not in the top five overall often offer businesses discounted land, plus years of tax benefits, in exchange for moving.


          What gives California its top-flight rating? The state is 7th in the U.S. in growth of gross domestic production, 15th in exports per capita despite its humongous population, tenth in median household income despite its host of low-income undocumented immigrants, eighth in upswing of nonfarm payrolls and last year had the seventh-largest state budget surplus per capita.


          None of this shuts up the critics. And no one can seem to stop Texans from trying to denigrate California. While he’s no Rick Perry in the department of foot-in-mouth rhetoric, current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently disparaged his own state capital of Austin by saying “I will not allow Austin, Texas, to California-ize the Lone Star State.” Of course, Austin has been trying to do that to itself for years, creating a mini version of Silicon Valley, but with lower real estate prices.


          The oil and natural gas price bust, fueled in part by a fracking-induced surplus and also by California’s pioneering and widely-emulated emphasis on renewable energy, has had plenty of deleterious effects on Texas.


          For example, average wages in California – higher than those in Texas for decades – grew much faster the last two years here than there. The California economy overall outgrew Texas’ last year by 2.9 percent to 0.4 percent, reported the Houston Chronicle.


          This doesn’t make California perfect. For example, the state’s real poverty rate (based on average income compared to basic expenses) is the nation’s highest, chiefly because of high rents and home prices. But that statistic also is flawed: When four-bedroom coastal homes routinely sell for $2 million and up, they tend to skew the average real estate price that’s part of the “real poverty” calculation. The same for rents when three-bedroom houses in coastal cities often go for $6,000 per month or more.


          The upshot is that the folks Gov. Jerry Brown likes to call “declinists” have been exaggerating California’s impending demise for many years. Reality is the same as it’s been for most of the last century and a half: California outstrips the rest of America in almost every economic area.

         

    -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, July 10, 2017

UNIONS WON’T LIE DOWN AS CLOUT IS THREATENED

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “UNIONS WON’T LIE DOWN AS CLOUT IS THREATENED”


          There’s a good chance that using union dues for politics will become harder within a year or two and, one thing for sure: big labor will not easily accept that kind of new reality.


Three times in the past 15 years, ballot initiative campaigns led by conservative Republicans tried unsuccessfully to truncate the power and influence of California’s labor unions, both public employee organizations and others.


          “Paycheck protection” was the label applied to those efforts, which sought to prevent unions from using dues money raised via automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. The most recent such effort, in 2012,  looked to force unions to get authorization each year from each member before their dues money could be used for candidate contributions, canvassing for votes or circulating initiative petitions.


          Labor unions pushed back each time, claiming that if paycheck protection ever becomes law, the political playing field will be tilted strongly to the right, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing almost unlimited contributions from billionaires and businesses, while unions would have one hand tied behind their backs.


          The union arguments prevailed politically, but conservatives did not give up. Rather than appeal to voters, since 2012, they’ve tried to convince judges.


          They came very close to winning this long-running battle last year, when the case of Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Assn. (CTA), taking the name of Orange County schoolteacher Rebecca Friedrichs, a dues-for-politics opponent, was turned down on a 4-4 U.S. Supreme Court vote soon after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.


          Now, the high court may be about to take up a similar case from Illinois, and with new Justice Neil Gorsuch expected to join the panel’s four previous conservative judges in backing paycheck protection, the idea might win.


          At least in California, unions are not taking this lying down. One huge public employee union is about to hike the fees it charges members who don’t want to fund its political advocacy.  Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union, state government’s largest union, is raising the minimum amount of dues it charges those employees by 6 percent, or about $5 per month each. The increase comes under a state law allowing unions to charge employees who are not full members for legal and bargaining expenses run up for the sake of workers.


          At the same time, the CTA – by far the state’s largest teachers union and a major political factor for decades – got its friends in the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to back two state budget trailer bills requiring school districts, cities, counties and other government agencies to give unions representing their workers regular chances to meet and sign up new members.


          The unions realize that unless they do something, their membership and influence will decline sharply as many conservative-leaning union members – long forced to pay for labor’s political advocacy whether they like it or not – start opting out if paycheck protection becomes federal law. Some estimates put possible union losses between 20 percent and 40 percent of their current political revenues – unless they recruit heavily.


          But school districts and other agencies will have the right to negotiate terms of those union recruiting meetings. This may delay their start indefinitely or cause them to be very brief.


          Union fears were well expressed the other day by Joshua Pechthalt, president of the state’s second-largest teacher union, the California Federation of Teachers, who told a reporter that “Anything to mitigate a loss of membership would be helpful.” He added that if paycheck protection becomes law, “Our world will change dramatically. (So) having time to talk about what we do, who we are…will become doubly important.”


          One group that could opt out en masse of all so-called “agency fees,” the dues charged now to employees who don’t actually belong to unions that bargain for them, is part-time teachers at community colleges and California State University campuses.


          For sure, California has a lot riding on the likely new Supreme Court case. But whatever happens, don’t expect unions to accept it meekly. The new meet-and-greet law is likely only their first move toward retaining and possibly expanding their current powerful role.



     -30-       
    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 third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com 

STATE VOTING BOSS RIGHT TO RESIST FEDERAL DEMANDS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 25, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “STATE VOTING BOSS RIGHT TO RESIST FEDERAL DEMANDS”


Hand over all the information you have on every voter in your state, went the demand from President Trump’s newly appointed Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity. That included a list of all registered voters’ names, birth dates, party identification and voting histories, plus the last four digits of all voters’ Social Security numbers.


So much for the old-fashioned secret ballot.


So sweeping was the demand that even the commission’s vice chairman and de facto chief – the man who signed the order – said his own state of Kansas would refuse to turn over Social Security numbers to his own commission.


What would the federal government do with all this information, if it were turned in? The commission and that vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, won’t say. But it’s common knowledge that should the data get into demonstrably hackable federal computers, it would be fair game for almost anyone from corporations to foreign powers like Russia, which already has an alleged history of stealing electoral data bases.


This was the second major assault by Trump’s administration on citizen privacy, the first coming when his appointees to the Federal Communications Commission announced in May they plan to rescind previous “net neutrality” rules that prohibit commercial use of customer information held by Internet service providers.


California was the first state to react to the voter information demands, with Secretary of State Alex Padilla announcing the day the demands arrived that he would fill none of them. Within a week, he was joined by the top voting officials of 43 other states, including many considered rock-ribbed Republican red, like Kentucky, Indiana and Mississippi.


Said Padilla, “I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally (in 2016). California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the vice president and Mr. Kobach.”


His GOP counterpart in Mississippi was more colorful. “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” said Delbert Hosemann. Louisiana Republican Tom Schedler added that “The commission has quickly politicized its work by asking for an incredible amount of voter data that I have (always) refused to release.”


Fortunately for voters who could be at risk for identity theft if Padilla and his colleagues complied with commission demands, Kobach’s group (formally headed by Vice President Mike Pence) has no subpoena powers and there is no known penalty for not cooperating. Maybe that’s why Kobach is refusing one of his own demands. It is also true that the Constitution gives each state the power to conduct its own elections.


          But Padilla was probably correct, too, in guessing that Kobach & Co. have already decided what their report (due in mid-2018) will say. He’s the one who spurred Trump to claim that his loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton last year was solely because of illegal immigrant voters.


          Neither Trump nor Kobach ever presented evidence for the claim of massive illegal voting, a charge Kobach has made for at least 10 years, since his days as a lawyer for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, long classed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law center.


          As secretary of state, Kobach has tried for years to ferret out illegal aliens voting in Kansas. Wikipedia reports that as of last spring, he had found six cases of illegal voting in his six-plus years in office; all involved double voting, none by undocumented persons.


          As Padilla noted, there is no basis for or proof of claims that massive illegal immigrant voting occurs or ever has. Republicans first made the claim when Democrat Loretta Sanchez in 1996 ousted longtime Orange County GOP Congressman Robert Dornan, one of the biggest upsets ever in California politics. The GOP majority in the House investigated then for electoral irregularities, but found so few even it had to admit the phenomenon was insignificant.


          The bottom line: This is one more form of California resistance to Trump administration attempts at actions that are political anathema here. Resistance has never been more justified than in this case.


     -30-       
     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 third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com


Friday, June 30, 2017

GOING IT ALONE ON EARLY QUAKE WARNINGS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “GOING IT ALONE ON EARLY QUAKE WARNINGS”


          Donald Trump’s company owns a golf club and other properties in California, but a look at his proposed budget for the fiscal year ending in September 2018 indicates the President may never have experienced one of this state’s frequent earthquakes.


          If he had, he might not have chopped from his version of the federal budget the paltry $10.2 million which Congress agreed this spring to contribute toward building a system giving Californians and denizens of other Western states a few seconds to a few minutes notice when a significant shock is coming.


          No one who has been at or near the epicenter of a major quake would ever doubt the power of the earth’s sudden movements, which have knocked down hospitals and freeway bridges, shopping malls and apartment complexes. One sign of that power near the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta upheaval: a three-foot-deep crevice suddenly appeared running up the middle of the driveway beside a home in a woodsy area of Aptos, while inside, a 3-ton Franklin stove was sliced from its steel chimney and plunked down 20 feet across the living room, with no tracks in between. The convulsion’s force simply tossed this behemoth object through the air.


          No one also doubts that large numbers of lives could be saved if many people get even 30 seconds warning of a major jolt. They could duck under desks, move away from plate glass windows, close natural gas lines, drive to the side of roads and get out of elevators, among other things.


          Of course, the money might actually be restored before the budget becomes final. That’s what Republican Rep. Kenneth Calvert of Corona wants. Calvert, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, called a warning system a potential “lifesaving tool for the millions of Californians and other Americans…in earthquake-prone areas.”


          Meanwhile, state lawmakers partially backed by Gov. Jerry Brown are moving for California to go it alone if needed. Democratic state Sens. Robert Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Jerry Hill of San Mateo proposed providing $23 million in state money for the early warning system. Before Trump proposed his cut, Brown had already included $10 million for it in his May budget revision.


          The irony of the planned Trump cut is that it comes while the U.S. Geological Service and universities up and down the West Coast – including the likes of Caltech, UC Berkeley and the universities of Oregon, Nevada (Reno) and Washington – have nearly completed a system that would provide warnings not just in California, but also in Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.


          Tentatively dubbed ShakeAlert, this equipment detects quakes at their first quivers through a network of sensors. It could, for one example, provide about a minute’s warning to schools, buildings and airports in Los Angeles if a major shock on the San Andreas Fault began in the Salton Sea area, but less time if the epicenter were closer to the urban core. In one test, it provided researchers in Los Angeles 30 seconds notice of shaking from a magnitude 4.4 quake in the Riverside County city of Banning.


          A widespread system like this already operates in Japan, so the technology has been tested and it works.


          Already, legislators in Washington state and Oregon propose to join California in continuing the early-warning project even if federal funding evaporates. But it would certainly be slowed.


          One Washington legislator pointed out that the total of $38 million needed to finish work on ShakeAlert is less than half the price of the cruise missile barrage Trump ordered against Syria last spring while dining with China’s president.


          Some advocates of ShakeAlert suggest if it’s not finished, Trump should be held personally liable for any injuries or deaths that occur which that system might have prevented. But direct connections would be difficult to prove.


          Trump has traveled much of the nation pushing his efforts to improve infrastructure; yet he wants to cut this project, which could actually save lives.


          It sets up a test not only for state legislators who need to approve the Hill-Hertzberg bill for state funds, but also for California Republicans in Congress who have the power to put money for this project and others back into the upcoming budget.

                            

    -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

NEWSOM LOSES 'SURE THING' STANDING

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 18, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    "NEWSOM LOSES 'SURE THING' STANDING"


          For a long time, it seemed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s unspoken (at least publicly) agreement with Sen. Kamala Harris would bear the fruit he intended – inauguration about 17 months from now as governor of California.


          The early-2015 understanding between the two San Francisco Democrats, both with campaigns managed by the same San Francisco political consulting firm, was this: To avoid a brutal fight over the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Barbara Boxer, Newsom would stay out of the 2016 Senate race and concentrate on running for governor two years later.


          And so, with help from the SCN Strategies firm headed by longtime San Francisco consultant Ace Smith, Harris won Boxer’s old seat in a cakewalk.


          Meanwhile, Newsom took the early lead in the run for governor, becoming the first to declare his candidacy, raising millions of early dollars and running far ahead of everyone else in the first polls.


          Newsom hoped to make his move to the governor’s office seem as inevitable as Harris’ accession from San Francisco district attorney to state attorney general to the Senate. Essentially, he hoped to scare away most serious competition just as Harris did.


          The former San Francisco mayor began issuing press releases cum fund-raising appeals every time any significant news story occurred. His anti-Donald Trump posts are as frequent as they are predicable. Early polls showed him with double-digit leads over all other potential candidates, emphasis on the “potential,” because no one else declared for the race until this spring.



          But now several others have. They are out gathering both money and support – apparently at least in part at Newsom’s expense. In fact, anytime he looks back these days, Newsom sees someone gaining on him.


          Most prominent is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Like Newsom, Villaraigosa must overcome a history of womanizing, but with previous candidates like President Trump and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger winning office despite their own similar peccadillos, this may not prove as big a problem as it might have in previous eras.


          In this year’s first version of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, successor to the usually reliable Field Poll, Newsom ran 11 points ahead of Villaraigosa, with 28 percent support to Villaraigosa’s second-place 11. Just two months later, in May, Villaraigosa had closed that gap to a mere five points, with Newsom still leading, but by only 22 percent to 17.


          In short, Villaraigosa, not yet in hyperactive campaign mode and still holding onto the bulk of his campaign cash, gained as much backing as was lost by the very active Newsom, who saw a loss of almost one-fourth of his prior support.


          State Treasurer John Chiang, a former two-term state controller, had five percent in both polls, holding steady. Republican businessman John Cox’s backing dropped by half, from 18 percent to 9, perhaps because his support for an initiative creating a 12,000-member state Legislature received significant publicity in the interim. Many GOP voters moved over to support the new candidacy of former Republican Assemblyman David Hadley of Torrance, who drew 8 percent. It’s uncertain how the early-summer entry of conservative Republican Orange County Assemblyman and surfer Travis Allen might affect this race.


          Cox and Hadley are little known to most voters, so the best guess is that their total of about 17 percent poll support consisted of solid Republicans determined not to vote for a Democrat so long as any GOP hopeful is still breathing.


          Drawing even less support was Democratic former state Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin. Put her voters into the Villaraigosa column, where they could end up if she eventually sees she has little chance and pulls out, and the race is almost even at the top level. This picture could change a lot when Chiang begins spending the millions he’s raised so far,
but no one knows whether he will take support from either Newsom or Villaraigosa, or win over some of the undecided, who currently make up nearly 30 percent of voters.


          It’s far too early to call Newsom’s scare-them-off strategy a bust. But so far, no one looks intimidated. So unless Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer gets in, prospects are for a very tight primary race likely to produce a Democrats-only runoff election next fall.


     -30-
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 third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com


Monday, June 26, 2017

NOW THERE’S LIKELY AT LEAST A THREE-YEAR WAIT FOR SINGLE-PAYER

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 14, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “NOW THERE’S LIKELY AT LEAST A THREE-YEAR WAIT FOR SINGLE-PAYER”


Single-payer health insurance that would cover every Californian has stalled, at least for now. Because Democratic Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved state Assembly consideration of the Senate-passed insurance outline at least until next year, a popular vote on the well-publicized, often criticized single-payer health insurance plan is probably at least three years away, and probably more.


Chances are the idea won’t reach voters before June 2020, if then.


The many Californians who wanted this quickly as a potential defense against whatever changes President Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress might bring to ex-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act will just have to wait. It’s the third time in the last 12 years this idea has been stymied in California despite getting considerable legislative support.


          Twice former Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, now a Los Angeles county supervisor, got a single-payer plan through the Legislature in this century’s first decade, only to see it vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her idea – like this year’s plan – was to use existing health insurance premiums as the main funding source. Coverage of the previously uninsured would be paid with the approximately 15 percent of premiums now going to insurance executives and corporate profits.


          As before, this year saw a lot of lip service to single payer, sponsored now by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, also a candidate for state insurance commissioner.


Single payer is sometimes called “Medicare for all” because, like federal Medicare insurance covering all those over 65 who want it, the latest plan would have a central clearing house for claims. Payroll taxes would help fund it, also like Medicare.


As was Schwarzenegger, current Gov. Jerry Brown has been skeptical, mostly because of costs. But if this proposal gets no action until after next year’s election, now very likely, Brown’s views will no longer matter much. Current gubernatorial possibilities like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or state Treasurer John Chiang might be more favorable, if elected.


Meanwhile, cost estimates vary from about $340 billion to $400 billion yearly, while California and its citizens now spend about $395 billion on medical care. Lara insists his plan could cut many billions from that figure, even though individuals would see a new payroll tax and businesses would pay a new levy. Taxpayers, he said, would save money via a halt to all premiums, deductibles, co-pays, doctor and hospital bills to the uninsured – including undocumented immigrants – and an end to employer payments for health plans.


          In the end, had the Assembly and then Brown approved the Senate-passed outline this year, voters would likely have decided the issue as early next June. This won’t happen now, in large part because all details of what Lara wanted were never certain, giving Rendon and others cold feet. But single-payer has the possibility of ending up a lot like the system Canada now has, one that some Canadians swear by and others swear at. That country experiences vast differences by location in the speed and competence of medical care.


          Californians have previously voted just once on single payer, defeating the idea in 1994. But times are different now. Millions here gained insurance under Obamacare. Who knows how they might vote if Congress and Trump take away much of their coverage?

         
As with the 1994 California ballot proposal, Lara’s measure could have eliminated companies like Blue Cross, Blue Shield and HealthNet.

         
          So far, surveys say the vast majority in this state wants health care for all. But a similar majority also wants no new taxes. The problem is that the twain probably cannot meet.


          What’s more, opponents already argue the quality of health care would decline under single payer, even though it has not under Medicare. Reality, though, might not matter if enough advertising money were spent to push the idea of lower medical quality.


          If it ever reaches them, this just might be the most idealistic plan ever put before California voters. It would also be one of the easiest for opponents to attack. And there would be plenty of well-funded opponents, starting with insurance companies desperate to preserve one of their largest markets.


          The bottom line: If you lose all or part of your health coverage because of Republican-led changes, California won’t soon bail you out.



     -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

WHO NEEDS CALEXIT? CALIFORNIA ALREADY ACTING INDEPENDENT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “WHO NEEDS CALEXIT? CALIFORNIA ALREADY ACTING INDEPENDENT”


          Even as volunteers circulate petitions that could lead to a 2018 vote on whether California should leave the United States, some of the impetus behind the nascent Calexit secession movement may be dissipating.


          Calexit got nowhere between the time a book proposing the idea appeared in 2013 and the election last year of President Donald Trump. Suddenly, Trump’s seemingly authoritarian tendencies and his raft of policies threatening cherished California goals and regulations boosted the idea of separation, its poll rating jumping from single figures to about 32 percent soon after Trump’s inauguration.


          Even then, no elected California official gave the notion much credence, most scoffing at it if they said anything at all. Instead, many officials went to work to ensure the Trump administration would affect California as little as possible.


          Trump ordered the deportation of far more undocumented immigrants than authorities had under Barack Obama, and raids began in workplaces, grocery stores and other locales that had seen none in many years. So California legislators quickly began work on a “sanctuary state” law that, when passed (as appears likely), will prohibit state and local law enforcement from investigating or arresting people for their immigration status. State, county and local officers would also be forbidden to aid federal officers in immigration raids, even if their city or county leadership prefers otherwise.


          Trump signed a law repealing previous rules limiting what broadband or Internet providers could do with customer information. A California law re-installing those regulations in this state immediately appeared in the Legislature.


          When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked a 2016 federal rule giving transgender students the same legal protections as all other schoolchildren, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded quickly. “California’s laws are strong and protect students regardless of their gender identity,” he said. “Our state stands with transgender students.”


          Essentially, he told Trump and his cohorts, “if you act to remove rights and protections, we will make sure they survive here, at least.”


          Then there was Gov. Jerry Brown, first traveling to China in the style of a head of state and then welcoming foreign leaders like the president of the tropical Fiji Islands to Sacramento just after Trump pulled America out of the Paris climate change accords. That agreement never had the status of a treaty and didn’t commit this country to do much. But it was a symbol.


          So Brown, continuing a practice begun by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed memoranda of understanding with major provinces in China and elsewhere, and with some small countries willing to pledge actions aimed to slow climate change. Those documents also fall short of treaty stature, but they establish that California is willing and able to act separately from the national administration.


          There’s also health insurance, where Trump and congressional Republicans keep trying to gut the Affordable Care Act that spawned Covered California and gave health insurance to at least 4 million Californians who didn’t previously have it. The California response: a single-payer health insurance plan which passed the state Senate before stalling in the Assembly, ostensibly to get details worked out. Again, California eventually may go it alone, acting contrary to Trump’s preferences and promises.


          Most major candidates to succeed Brown next year backed all these moves and will likely take similar actions of their own if elected. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor and leader in all polls taken so far on the 2018 run for governor, said of several Trump policies: “We’re not going to let it fly in California.”


          Every one of these California actions, both prospective ones and moves already made, assert states’ rights, but also move toward independence of a sort. “California is clearly developing a sense of nationalism even if perhaps it is not yet willing to accept the terms of formally becoming a nation,” said longtime Calexit leader Marcus Ruiz Evans.


          So strong are some state stances that Trump officials are occasionally forced to backtrack, as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt did the other day when he rescinded an earlier threat to Clean Air Act waivers that long have allowed California to pioneer anti-smog tactics.


          With California already acting very independent, is there a really a need for a risky action like formal secession?

                  

    -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

Friday, June 16, 2017

RUN FOR SCHOOLS CHIEF COULD BE NEXT YEAR’S TOUGHEST

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, JULY 7, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“RUN FOR SCHOOLS CHIEF COULD BE NEXT YEAR’S TOUGHEST”


          Anyone guessing which of 2018’s campaigns for statewide office will be the hardest-fought would be wise to bet on the run for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.


          That’s the lesson from the springtime runoff elections for two local school board seats that were little noted outside Los Angeles. But inside Los Angeles, these contests between candidates backed by the city school district’s main teachers union and those funded by charter school advocates were among the fiercest the city has seen.


          For sure, they were most expensive local school board contests ever waged, with charter school advocates spending $9.7 million on the two seats and unions and their members and allies $5.2 million. Overall, a total of more than $15 million went into these races.


One non-resident donor, Netflix founder and Facebook board member Reed Hastings, a former member of the state Board of Education, by himself gave $5 million between September and May to the California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a conduit of funds for candidates who support expanding charter schools. Developer Eli Broad (the B in KB Homes), best known for donating to art museums, put up more than $400,000.


          These locally prominent and bitter races saw the charter school advocates win both, and take control of America’s second largest school district, also by far California’s biggest.


          It’s not that charter schools are rare in Los Angeles or California: Fully 1,254 operated in the state last year, serving 572,700 pupils at all grade levels. But charter advocates want more. They want more access to school tax dollars and the grounds of public schools. They want more political clout.


          Those issues will be central to the run for state schools superintendent next year, just as they were in 2014. Back then, incumbent Tom Torlakson eked out at narrow win (260,000 votes out of 6.07 million cast) over former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck.


          Tuck, back for a second try next year, said in 2014 he would try to give local school districts more control of curriculum, budgets and staffing, possible restructuring of the school day and a vast reduction of the public schools’ 2,300-page rule book. He said he might also work for changes in the rules of teacher tenure and retention, making seniority less important.


          Tuck has been a fan of charters for more than a decade. He ran a 15,000-student group of 17 previously failing schools awarded as a sort of consolation prize in the early 2000s to then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after a slate of “reform” candidates he backed failed to take over the local school board.


          Tuck boasted in 2014 of a 60 percent increase in the graduation rate at the public schools he managed and a 58 percent four-year graduation rate at the Green Dot charter schools he ran, at a time when that rate in the overall Los Angeles district was just 35 percent.


          Torlakson, a former assemblyman from the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco who in 2014 enjoyed massive union backing, with a virtual army of unionized teachers canvassing for him all over the state, will be termed out next year, unable to run again. The union-backed candidate this time will likely be Democatic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond of Richmond, who won reelection last year with almost 90 percent of the vote over Republican Clare Chiara.


          Under Torlakson, the desired policy of the California Teachers Assn. union to keep seniority as the main criterion for deciding which teachers to lay off in hard times has been retained. Tuck, meanwhile, said that rule makes it too difficult to get rid of bored or incompetent teachers. His stance is backed by a current legislative bill that would extend the probation period for new public school teachers from two to three years.


          But Tuck will insist, as he did four years ago, that he’s not anti-union. “Green Dot teachers were the first charter group with their own union contract,” he said then. “But I don’t like giving tenure after just two years. That’s too soon to really judge a teacher.”


          So far, neither of the two current candidates has campaigned much. That will change and money will pour into the contest, if this spring’s Los Angeles races are any kind of indicator.

                  

    -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

MONEY-SAVING PROP. 103 BEATS BACK ANOTHER CHALLENGE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 4, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “MONEY-SAVING PROP. 103 BEATS BACK ANOTHER CHALLENGE”


          The 1988 Proposition 103 has saved California consumers more than $100 billion in excessive auto insurance premiums since voters passed it by a slim 51-49 percent margin, probably the reason for an unrelenting legal onslaught by the insurance industry.


 No one has calculated the accompanying savings in prices for homeowners insurance and other property coverage, but they’ve also been substantial.


          The brainchild of longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader and his onetime California protégé Harvey Rosenfield, Prop. 103 is the rare initiative that keeps living up to its original promise – saving consumers and businesses about 20 percent of what they would otherwise spend on car insurance and property coverage.


          It consistently makes reality of the pledge that spurred insurance companies to spend $63 million trying to beat it at the polls.


          The latest corporate challenge to this most money-saving of all ballot
initiatives ever passed anywhere in America was beaten back the other day
by Rosenfield and a three-judge panel of Sacramento’s Third District state
Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.


          In this latest case, the state’s high court let stand a Court of Appeals
decision rebuffing the latest legal assault by industry kingpins including State Farm, Mercury, Allstate, Farmers and other insurance companies seeking to raise rates significantly above what Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones had ruled justifiable.


          So laughable did judges find the industry arguments for their putative
price increases that the three-judge appeals court panel considering the case called it “hocus pocus” and “smoke and mirrors – nothing more.” The companies sought about $250 million more than Jones allowed. His authority to oversee such rate increases also comes entirely from Proposition 103.


          “This latest challenge to 103 came after the state Supreme Court two
other times upheld 103 and its rules for rate approvals,” said Rosenfield,
who continues to fight the challenges every time they arise. The
decisions, he noted, were unanimous, some issued at times when Republicans held the court majority.


               But the industry never seems to give up its thus-far forlorn hope of going back to the higher-premium days before passage of 103. Before then, too, insurance commissioners were appointed by the governor, not elected.


          The latest case actually began in 2009, when Mercury Casualty tried
to raise rates by 8 percent. That increase would have included
compensation to the company for both non-insurance related advertising
expenses and reimbursement for almost $1 million in political contributions
and lobbying expenses. These are categories regulated companies 
almost always must pay from their profits.


          Instead of getting an increase, the case resulted in Jones imposing a
5.4 percent decrease in Mercury homeowner’s rates. Furious, Mercury
sued in a Sacramento County court, arguing it should be allowed to charge
whatever its executives say it needs. The firm claimed 103 deprives it both
 of the right to free speech and the right to make whatever profit it deems
fair.


          So far, those contentions have not flown in any court. But even as the
state’s high court was dismissing those claims for at least the third time,
Mercury’s allies in the Association of California Insurance Companies and
three other industry groups were filing a similar case in San Diego.


          Mercury also seeks in an Orange County case to avoid a $27
million fine for overcharging customers.


          “The insurance industry is inundating the courts with a continuous
barrage of frivolous lawsuits,” said Rosenfield. “They’re trying to win from
the courts what they lost at the ballot box almost 30 years ago.”


          He added that “Prop. 103 was a populist revolt that worked. It has
delivered much more money back to people than anyone could have
predicted back in 1988.”


          Along with the 1978 Prop. 13 and its limits on property tax
increases, Prop. 103 is a strong factor making California affordable when
its income, sales and business taxes are among the nation’s highest.
That’s why preserving this law against insurance company attacks is vital to the lifestyles of millions of people in this state, even if many of them have never heard of it.

         
     -30-       
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 third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com


Monday, June 12, 2017

BLACKOUT BLACKMAIL NOW IN ITS SECOND SUMMER

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 30, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “BLACKOUT BLACKMAIL NOW IN ITS SECOND SUMMER”


          You’d better watch out, California’s second-largest provider of natural gas warned again this spring. Unless the notoriously leaky natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon in northern Los Angeles is reopened soon, much of the state could experience electricity blackouts this summer.


          The admonition was almost identical to another Southern California Gas Co. warning issued almost precisely a year ago. If there’s not enough gas in its storage facilities, the company claimed both times, gas-fired power plants might not be able to operate at the hottest times of the summer, when electric use is at its peak.


          The prediction didn’t pan out last year, not by a long shot. And there’s no more reason to panic this summer than there was in 2016.


          For even though SoCalGas reserves were only at about 60 percent of their normal levels as this summer’s expected heat waves approached, there were no blackouts last year, when exactly the same situation prevailed.


          This is all about the big utility’s campaign to reopen Aliso Canyon, in spite of proposed state legislation that could keep it closed unless and until a comprehensive study deems the field can safely reopen and in spite of planned new state rules aimed to prevent more leaks on the scale of Aliso’s.


           The site leaked more than 100,000 metric tons of methane between Oct. 2015 and February 2016, forcing a months-long evacuation of hundreds of nearby homes and two elementary schools because of the malaise it caused.


          Local residents want the field permanently decommissioned. They are backed by Los Angeles city officials, who sued to keep it closed until the cause of the leak is known.


          When SoCalGas issued its alarm last year, it suckered officials like Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti into warning millions of Californians to ease off their gas and electric usage during the summer.


          This, of course, ignored the basic fact that natural gas usage is always far higher in winter than summer, because gas fuels so many space heaters, while electricity powers most air conditioning.


          In the end, there was no need for worry last year, and chances are strong it will be the same this year. It should have been obvious last year, as it is now, that the SoCalGas warning is a bunch of hooey, aimed primarily at reopening its Aliso Canyon profit center.


          In fact, the highest gas use of the last 10 years in the region served by Aliso Canyon came not during any summer, but in the winter of 2008, when natural gas demand in Southern California reached 4.9 billion cubic feet per day. Even that quantity was well below the 5.7 billion cubic feet arriving daily from incoming pipelines and other local storage facilities.


          When the usual summertime electric use crunches came during heat waves in late July and early August of last year, deliveries from SoCalGas never even reached 4 billion cubic feet per day, far below the company’s capacity without Aliso. There were no blackouts and major media didn’t even bother reporting on ultra-high electric usage on the peak days.


          Nevertheless, SoCalGas allies like the Orange County Business Council and the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce repeated the company’s empty springtime warnings in several letters to the editor and op-eds. One even compared the potential for blackouts to San Francisco’s widespread April blackout. Never mind that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. blamed that one on a facility fire, not on any shortage of fuel for power plants.


          So far, there is one major change from last year: no major officials or agencies are taking up the latest cry from SoCalGas.


          Essentially, SoCalGas lied about the blackout danger last year, an effort consumer advocates labeled “blackout blackmail.” The same phrase can be applied this year, too, as big utilities continue squandering the public trust they carefully built by supplying energy reliably through the 20th Century.


    -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