Monday, September 18, 2017

DOUBLE STANDARD PREVAILS IN CALIFORNIA GOVERNMENT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“DOUBLE STANDARD PREVAILS IN CALIFORNIA GOVERNMENT”


Few California administrations have been plagued with as much corruption as Gov. Jerry Brown’s current governing cadre, with well-documented, possibly illegal manipulations by several major agencies run by his appointees.


That's why Brown's double standards were so plainly exposed the other day when he blasted the lone state agency where Republicans have a significant voice, the tax collecting Board of Equalization. Brown lambasted "inappropriate actions by the board" that render it unable to perform many of its duties. 


          That board’s elected membership, representing four large districts covering the entire state, is half Republican, half Democratic. Democratic state Controller Betty Yee, elected statewide, holds the decisive vote, but the GOP members – former legislators George Runner of Lancaster and Dianne Harkey of Dana Point – have plenty to say about the board’s operations.


          The board is under fire these days after an audit by the Brown-controlled state Department of Finance found members regularly assigned employees to help board members with public events that could promote them in their districts. Even tax auditors were sometimes used at self-serving events for things like crowd control or “parking lot duty.”


          Brown came down hard on the board. He suspended its ability to approve new contracts, hires and promotions, giving these functions to another state department. And he sought action from the Legislature to correct other “serious problems.”


          That stands in stark contrast to the governor’s mild approach after the highly irregular activities of perhaps the two most powerful state agencies – the Public Utilities and Energy commissions – were exposed while those bodies are controlled by Brown appointees.



          For example, he did nothing when the Energy Commission in 2014 awarded of tens of millions of dollars in grants to build hydrogen refueling stations for the new generation of H2-powered cars to a brand new company headed by a onetime academic who only months earlier drew the map for where those stations would go and instructed Energy Commission employees on how to award grants.


          Instead of firing the commission chairman who furthered this obvious, cronyist conflict of interest, Brown reappointed him to a new term.


          It was much the same at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). When it emerged that the former commission president met secretly with utility executives and privately decided the outcome of multi-billion-dollar cases, Brown complimented that man on “getting things done” and allowed him to serve out his term without criticism.


          While media exposed many cases of the PUC favoring the companies it regulates over their customers, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup insists that he acted, when he actually did nothing beyond signing a thus-far insignificant, watered-down package of “reform” bills last fall. These changed almost nothing about the commission’s operation. Brown was mute even when the PUC spent more than $10 million retaining a criminal defense team to help conceal or downplay its alleged illegal actions. He made no move to truncate any of its authority or that of the Energy Commission.


          The sums of money involved in questionable actions by these two commissions dwarf anything the Board of Equalization (BoE) spent wrongfully. Irregular-seeming PUC decisions have cost consumers multiple billions of dollars in recent years, while grants seeming to involve several forms of favoritism by the Energy Commission amount to many tens of millions. The most commonly cited alleged misdeed by the BoE cost less than $200,000, paltry by comparison.


          One big difference between the BoE and the other agencies here, besides the magnitude of their alleged actions, is that Brown appointed no one on the BoE, but did name every member of the other panels.


          It’s not just Brown who favors the Democrat-dominated agencies over the only one with significant GOP membership. When PUC presidents appear before legislative committees, hearings usually become love-fests, no matter how egregious recent PUC decisions have been.


          But when legislators hauled BoE members and staffers in for hearings this spring, they wound up proposing changes to reduce the ability of board members to use agency staff for anything but official duties.


          The responses of Brown and major lawmakers to all this demonstrate clearly the double-standard operating in California government – appointed Democrats can get away with almost anything so long as they also promote policies favored by party mates who put them in their current, powerful jobs.

                  

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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, go to www.californiafocus.net

DISDAIN FOR EXPERTS: DEBUNKED ATTITUDE PREVAILS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“DISDAIN FOR EXPERTS: DEBUNKED ATTITUDE PREVAILS”


No one in American public life has more disdain for experts and their expertise than President Donald Trump. And yet…there he was in late August, on the south portico of the White House (a “dump,” he had called it a week earlier) eyeing a near-total eclipse of the sun without special glasses.


Similarly, there was Trump four days after Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston with unprecedented (for that city) flooding, seeking photo opportunities where he could find them. The same thing in Florida after Hurricane Irma, the strongest ever to hit that state.


What do those appearances have to do with scientists and their expertise? Trump was only on his back porch to view the eclipse because astronomers forecast decades earlier that there would be one at the precise moment he emerged from the Oval Office to join his wife (who wore glasses recommended by experts) and his young son (who did not).


It turned out science was right – to the precise second.


It was similar in Texas. Experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted decades ago that a gigantic flood could occur in and around Houston, which they called a “huge city built on a very flat flood plain.” When it happened, Trump responded without mentioning those very accurate experts.


Other scientists for years have warned that hurricanes striking America will be increasingly severe because of the climate change roiling weather patterns everywhere on earth. Trump disdained that prediction, cut the budget of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then – when it came true – milked the scene for all the positive publicity he could.


Just a week or so before Harvey, Trump revoked a Barack Obama-era regulation increasing standards for post-flood reconstruction that uses federal money. Among other items, the rule called for such construction to be elevated beyond the reach of possible flood waters. Insisting he knows more than the experts who pushed Obama for that regulation, Trump called it a “job killer.”


“No longer,” he said, “will there be one job-killing delay after another.” But experts in Houston during the height of Harvey warned that rebuilding a city of hodgepodge zoning and disorganized building codes without requiring changes like higher foundations would invite a repeat catastrophe that could waste billions of tax dollars.


Trump, as usual, ignored the experts, just like he did while pulling America out of the Paris climate change accord. Like many skeptics with more faith in their unfounded opinions than in scientific research, he criticizes experts if they’re occasionally wrong, but never credits them on the far-more-frequent occasions when they are precisely on the mark, as with the eclipse.


It’s part of an anti-intellectual trend that also sees millions of Americans believing higher education moves the country in the “wrong direction.” A survey released the other day by the Public Policy Institute of California, for example, found 72 percent of the state’s Republicans believe universities are a negative influence. Forty percent of Democrats felt the same.


A similar national poll by Florida’s Pew Research Center found 58 percent of Republicans and voters who lean GOP believe colleges and universities have a negative effect, while 72 percent of Democrats believe the opposite.


Trump’s base voters, then, share his extreme skepticism of experts and science, especially when those experts – mostly academics – recommend measures that might tap their wallets.


California is fortunate such skeptics do not control policy here. For Californians must respond to warnings about unreinforced construction that could cause myriad deaths and many billions of dollars in property damage in a very large earthquake. Other experts, meanwhile, warn such a quake is long overdue on the San Andreas Fault, which runs through or near California’s largest population centers.


Because California doesn’t buy into the current trend to skepticism, programs are underway around the state to retrofit older buildings, roads and bridges. Nature will decide whether those programs are comprehensive or quick enough to mitigate disasters.


The bottom line: As long as Trump’s base agrees with him that science means less than their own opinions, he will only take advantage of  expertise that’s convenient and cheap to follow up on. As Houston and Florida demonstrated, this will very likely mean a lot of unnecessary future deaths and damage.

         

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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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Monday, September 11, 2017

NEW EPA THREAT TO STATE’S SMOG STANDARDS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “NEW EPA THREAT TO STATE’S SMOG STANDARDS”


          Californians interested in keeping this state’s toughest-in-the-world standards for automotive pollution heaved a sigh of relief when the federal Environmental Protection Agency in early August reversed an earlier decision to delay imposition of new national ozone standards for at least a year.


          That move came after California and 15 other states sued to force EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to back down, and he did before his action could take hold. Pruitt’s reaction also gave rise to optimism among defenders of several other California laws threatened by a variety of officials named by President Trump.


          But now it seems such optimism may have been premature. For only weeks after his turnabout on new ozone limits mandated under ex-President Barack Obama, Pruitt began a new process that could greatly increase automotive smog.


          He opened a 45-day public comment period on a proposed rewrite of standards for carbon emissions and other kinds of greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks, aiming to ease the pollution-controlling tasks of both carmakers and oil companies.


          Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, frequently sided in his prior job with oil companies and others in lawsuits aiming to eliminate some EPA rules. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is now seeking documents in an effort to determine whether Pruitt had actual conflicts of interest in several actions he’s lately taken that achieve goals of the lawsuits he formerly pursued against his current agency.


          “We are moving forward with an open and robust review of emissions standards,” Pruitt said as he began the public comment period during which anyone can react to proposed changes.


          The effect of the changes Pruitt seeks in corporate average fuel economy standards (often called CAFÉ standards) would cause new emissions produced in the other 49 states to far overbalance cutbacks in greenhouse gases made under California rules.


          It would mark a return to pre-2000s days when there were major differences between cars sold in California and what were known as “49-state cars.” Gradually, as other states adopted California’s rules, many of those differences had disappeared before Pruitt took over.


          He has backed off early efforts to eliminate the California waiver provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, the law that has let this state maintain tougher pollution standards than the rest of America since then-President Richard Nixon signed it 47 years ago.


          Current federal standards adopted under Obama created an emphasis on gas/electric hybrids and electric- and hydrogen-powered cars.


          Not surprisingly, the auto industry likes Pruitt’s latest move, which could result in revoking or greatly revising today’s standards everywhere but in California. Said Mitch Bainwol, head of the Auto Alliance group of carmakers, “The administration is fulfilling its commitment to reinstate midterm evaluation of future fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.”


          Both environmental and consumer advocacy groups blasted the EPA action. “EPA is bringing back questions that have already been asked and answered,” said a statement from Consumers Union, parent of the Consumer Reports magazine. The group said polls show 90 percent of Americans want even better fuel efficiency than offered by today’s new cars.


          A scaling back of today’s rules would place America far behind several other countries in seeking reduced dependency on oil and gasoline. Germany and France, for example, have laws that will ban all sales of gas-powered cars within the next two to three decades.


          A anti-smog rollback could also threaten California-based electric car companies like Tesla and Faraday, as well as making white elephants of the statewide string of hydrogen refueling stations now being partially financed by gasoline taxes via the state Energy Commission.


          It all creates a very uncertain future for California’s smog standards, which have dramatically improved the state’s air quality over the last half century.


          If the EPA attempts to backtrack on the existing standards, it’s almost certain California and many other states would sue to block the move. But with a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by conservative Republicans, there’s a strong possibility the Trump administration would prevail.



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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

CALIFORNIANS IN CONGRESS MUST BACK HURRICANE AID

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “CALIFORNIANS IN CONGRESS MUST BACK HURRICANE AID”


          It doesn’t seem that way now, with one hurricane after another battering the East and Gulf coasts, shutting down oil refineries, flooding downtowns and residential neighborhoods alike and inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damages. But California remains the most disaster-prone state in America.


          That’s why it behooves Californians in Congress to get behind every hurricane aid package they can this fall. Their own districts may be next. It’s not a matter of if California will be struck by another major earthquake, but when. It’s not a matter of if wildfires will consume homes and businesses; they do it every year and 2017 is no exception.


          California also could see massive floods if some flawed dams here fail during the next season of heavy rain.


          The costs of Hurricane Irma have not yet been totted up, but Harvey’s toll is pretty well known: at least $180 billion in damage, and likely a final tally about twice that.


          Insurance companies will cover at lot of this, but despite what we often hear, Texans are not so different from Californians: We often vote differently, but we share a tendency to be under-insured for catastrophe. So while nowhere near half of Californians living in known earthquake fault zones have quake insurance because they feel prices and deductibles are too high, it’s the much the same with Texans living in flood plains in and around cities like Houston, Port Arthur and Beaumont: well over half lack flood insurance.


          This means the federal government must step in. President Trump, knowing how basic Texas and Florida are to his political fortunes, has pushed hard for bigly (as he might put it) aid to hurricane victims. No Californian voted against the initial Harvey aid package approved by Congress, but Irma aid remains an unknown.


Any Californian who votes against even part of it would be a shortsighted fool, the way Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have been revealed as hypocrites for opposing aid after the devastating East Coast Hurricane Sandy in 2013.


          No sooner did Cruz, for one, demand big-dollar help for Texas after Harvey than fellow Republican Chris Christie, the embattled governor of New Jersey, lambasted him for pushing double standards because of his vote against post-Sandy aid. Cruz called that bill a “Christmas tree” of unrelated boondoggles, but the Congressional Research Office found virtually all its money went to genuine reconstruction or prevention projects.


          It’s also true that only one Texas Republican in the House voted for Sandy aid. So there is some doubt their GOP friends from areas hit by Sandy will be very generous with Texans in upcoming rounds of disaster funding.


          Now fast forward to the next big California quake. It’s highly possible whoever is President then will be far less sympathetic to distraught Californians than former President Bill Clinton was in 1994, after the last major urban temblor struck California. Clinton produced more than $10 billion in federal aid, setting up many offices for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to dispense checks for reconstruction and prevention of future damage via retrofits securing homes to their foundations. More than 100,000 homeowners got checks for $10,000 or more.


          If – rather, when – the truly Big One of about 8.0 on the Richter Scale strikes along the San Andreas Fault, damages will dwarf what any hurricane can do. Maybe that’s why none of the eight California Republicans in the House who voted no on helping Sandy’s victims opposed post-Harvey assistance. (All Democrats voting were on the yes side both times.)


          Those eight include several from quake-prone areas, like Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Paul Cook of Yucca Valley and Darrell Issa of Vista. Others, like Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Jeff Denham of Turlock are already targets for other reasons and need no more trouble.


          The bottom line: Any Californians opposing aid to hurricane victims might also be casting a virtual vote against relief that will be desperately needed in California’s future. Why would any of those folks want to be so short-sighted, no matter how tight-fisted they are on other federal spending? Then again, some of them have done it before.

                  

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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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Thursday, August 31, 2017

HEINOUS KILLERS LIKE MANSONS SHOULD NEVER GO FREE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
  1720 OAK STREET, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA 90405
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “HEINOUS KILLERS LIKE MANSONS SHOULD NEVER GO FREE”


          Buried in the back pages of newspapers and not even making it onto many television and radio news programs this summer was the news that Gov. Jerry Brown again refused parole a member of the murderous Manson Family gang, while a parole board denied freedom to another.


          But these actions raised more questions than they answered. For example, should heinous killers like Charles Manson and most of his vicious followers ever be allowed back on the streets? What might new and younger governors with no personal memories of the Manson-inspired 1969 murder spree do when parole boards made up of their appointees recommend freedom for these and other murderers whose crimes are in some ways comparable.


          In his latest refusal of a Manson Family member’s parole bid, Brown denied release to Bruce Davis, convicted in 1972 in the slayings of musician Gary Hinman and movie stuntman Donald (Shorty) Shea. Brown did not deny that Davis has improved himself and gone 25 years with no prison discipline for misconduct.


          But, he said, these things are “outweighed by negative factors…incredibly heinous and cruel offenses like these constitute the ‘rare circumstances’ in which the crime alone can justify a denial of parole.”


          Brown’s action came within a day of a ruling by a parole panel at the California Institute for Women in Corona blocking release for former Manson follower Patricia Krenwinkel, whose lawyer insisted she only went along with the Manson murders because of physical abuse by Manson.


          The board wasn’t buying it, perhaps because Krenwinkel was one of several “Manson girls” who came to court daily during their trials with X’s carved into their foreheads as signs of continuing support for Manson. Krenwinkel was one of those who cut power and telephone lines at the Beverly Hills-area estate of actress Sharon Tate and then murdered her and four others, stabbing them over and over.


          The next night, she helped kill grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in the Hollywood Hills, helping carve the word “WAR” into one victim’s stomach and scrawling other words in blood near the victims’ bodies.


          Besides the murders themselves, one troubling part of all this is that parole boards persistently recommend release for some Manson followers. They are perhaps the best-known of many sadistic California killers, including the likes of Edmund Kemper, the Santa Cruz area’s “Coed Killer” of the 1960s and ‘70s, and Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, the notorious “Tool Box Killers” who kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered five young women in Southern California in 1979.


          While Brown has said that some serious criminals can “change their thinking,” he has always left the Manson Family killers out of that category. No one knows if future governors will do the same.


          That’s why it’s high time the Legislature created a new category of crime, one whose perpetrators can never be considered for parole. Had such a law existed when the Mansons and some others were convicted, relatives of the victims would not have to feel compelled to attend parole hearings and revive their pain every few years just to make sure the most brutal of murderers don’t go free.


          For sure, the Manson followers have been like a plague on California’s consciousness that’s impossible to eradicate. They keep trying for parole and Brown keeps saying no, as did predecessors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Perhaps these killers are encouraged by the success a few of their former pals in the Family had in getting released: Linda Kasabian in the 1970s as part of a plea deal that saw her provide key testimony against Manson and friends, Steve Grogan in 1985 for leading authorities to the body of Shea on the Spahn Movie Ranch near the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth and Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme in 2009, more than 30 years after she tried to shoot then-President Gerald Ford. None of those three, however, participated in the Tate or LaBianca killings.


 The repeated parole attempts are certainly within the legal rights of all convicted killers, but they should not be. It’s high time legislators make sure no future governor can ever loose this worst sort of criminal back on the public.

                            
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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, go to www.californiafocus.net

WILL LAWSUITS, FEES FRUSTRATE BROWN’S TUNNELS?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “WILL LAWSUITS,  FEES FRUSTRATE BROWN’S TUNNELS?”


          The first time Jerry Brown was governor of California, his greatest policy defeat came when resentful Northern Californians voted almost unanimously in 1982 to reverse a legislative vote authorizing a massive ditch around the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers.


          This was called the Peripheral Canal; it aimed to bring Northern California river water to the farms of the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.


          Once that plan died, anything remotely similar became political anathema for decades until Brown retook the governor’s office in late 2010. Demonstrating that his goals rarely change, Brown soon began pushing for a more sophisticated and expensive version of the canal, this time two giant underground concrete culverts rather than an earthen ditch like the original canal plan.


          Brown has pushed this tunnel plan all through his second go-‘round in the Capitol, and now it may be reaching a decisive point. Not only are water districts around the state becoming concerned about who will pay the project’s cost of about $17 billion (plus interest), but local governments in the immediate area are alarmed over a host of environmental issues.


          In late August, Sacramento County sued to stop the plan, which might make water supplies more reliable, but would produce very little more water than moves south from the Delta area without the tunnels in an average year.


          Cities like Stockton and Antioch, hard by the Delta and its latticework of canals and streams, plus the Placer County Water Agency and several groups of commercial fishermen also are suing.


          Sacramento County’s action says the state Department of Water Resources ignores environmental harm to the Delta, including the taking of almost 700 acres of the county’s farmland out of production during the projected 13-year construction period. The county also says its water quality will drop, as would the quality of water flowing to and through the Delta after the tunnels open.


          State officials deny most of this, insisting water quality in the Delta will improve and be far more controllable if the tunnels are built. The conservation groups Restore the Delta, Friends of the River and the Sierra Club  joined the lawsuits, too, insisting the 35-mile-long tunnels flout the California Environmental Quality Act (known as CEQA) and would cost up to $67 billion by the time they’re done.


          Enter money. This project might be a pretty tough sell in Southern California once more of the public fully understands the cost, with little prospect increasing water supplies to the region.


          Even the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water to more than 15 million persons from the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains to the Mexican border is a little bit querulous. The Met, as the district is often known, supported the original Peripheral Canal and has generally backed the tunnels, arguing they can stabilize water deliveries to its vast area.


          But in August, the Met’s staff reported that “The costs of the California WaterFix (a recent name for the tunnels) are substantial.” The staff added, though, that “the costs that would be allocated to (the Met) are reasonable and affordable, given the water supply reliability improvements.”


          But some members of the Met’s board, mostly city council members and elected county officials, wonder about the projected cost split of 55 percent paid by urban users and 45 percent by largely agricultural rural water customers.


          And there are doubts that farmers can afford even the cost share that might be allotted to them.


          If farmers can’t or won’t pay, warn skeptics, customers of the Met and other urban water agencies like the Santa Clara County Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power would get stuck with additional costs, possibly driving rates up far more than the currently projected range of between $18 and $60 per year for an average family, depending on prevailing interest rates.


          The bottom line here might just be the bottom line: If the water districts are unwilling to make a big financial commitment, Brown’s pipe dream will die. The same if the slew of lawsuits against the twin tunnels should succeed. If that happens, what visible legacy will Brown leave after a total of 16 years as governor?

                            

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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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Monday, August 28, 2017

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: NEEDED, BUT IN WHAT FORM?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “AFFORDABLE HOUSING: NEEDED, BUT IN WHAT FORM?”


          Everyone in California is at least peripherally aware of the state’s ever-worsening housing crisis: It’s hard to miss when prices have jumped by as much as 75 percent over the last five years in large parts of metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and their suburbs, especially on the San Francisco Peninsula, where $3 million three-bedrooms are not unheard-of.


          One response has been a state mandate for ever-increasing numbers of affordable units in most cities and many unincorporated areas. It’s common in many places for new apartment and condominium structures to contain as up to 35 percent affordable units, available to families who qualify under various income standards based on whatever the federal poverty standard is at the moment.


          One problem is that having to build so many affordable units into their new projects forces developers to raise the price of market-rate housing. Another is that affordable units sometimes lack commonplace amenities like air conditioning. And when those units are built near light rail lines like the expanding Metro system in and around Los Angeles, required numbers of parking spaces are sometimes cut. The presumption – often false – is that residents of those buildings will not need to drive as much as others because public transit is readily available.


          None of this has yet alleviated the housing crunch, which at this year’s annual mid-winter counts found record numbers of homeless persons in some locales.


          Now the housing crisis has become a lawmaking priority, with Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders proclaiming a “shared commitment” to making a problem-solving deal.


          The devil, as always, will be in the details, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a compromise can be reached before the state Senate and Assembly go home in mid-September.


          Among major proposals so far are a bill to levy a fee of between $75 and $225 on all real estate sales, which could raise about $225 million a year for affordable housing. Passing this would take a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses, which won’t happen as easily on this as it did on Brown’s pet issue of extending cap-and-trade tactics to fight climate changes.


Another is a $4 billion-dollar general obligation bond to provide even more money. That one would need popular-vote approval next year, but might face tough sledding because it would raise the state’s debt and its annual interest payments for decades to come.


          Seeming more likely to pass is a third measure forcing cities and counties to streamline their building permit and other approval processes for new construction that includes affordable housing.


          This one could have positive effects on thousands of homeless persons, while damaging the lifestyles of millions of other Californians affected by ugly architecture, increased traffic and more crowding in their neighborhoods.


          In a statement, Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium, lauded all these potential laws, saying “California cannot afford to let the housing crisis go on, for the sake of families, seniors and hard-working individuals.”


          He’s right about that. But even if money for solving this longstanding problem arrives via either new taxes or a bond, there will still have to be a solution to the ongoing problems created by the fact that new housing creates a need for new transport to accommodate its occupants.


          So far, many cities are approving new housing without demanding more or wider roads, transit systems that cover entire metropolitan areas or additional parks and other amenities that might keep the new housing from damaging the lifestyles of residents already present. Many of them neither need nor qualify for affordable units, nor even want them around.


          With two-thirds votes or popular majorities forming needed elements of most solutions offered so far, legislators will have to come up with better measures than they have yet devised. Otherwise they may find these barriers far harder to surmount than they believe now, while they’re bask in the glowing aftermath of the cap-and-trade vote.


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

SPEEDING CSU GRADUATIONS MUST NOT DUMB DOWN DEGREES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “SPEEDING CSU GRADUATIONS MUST NOT DUMB DOWN DEGREES”


          The 23-campus California State University system knows it must somehow speed up graduation beyond today’s pace, which sees just 19 percent of entering freshmen graduate within four years. The low rate is at least partly because more than a third of frosh need some remedial work.


          Increased college graduation is especially crucial in three major regions: the Los Angeles area, the Central Valley and the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where need for educated workers is growing steadily as industries become more technically complex.


A study from the non-profit Public Policy Institute of California the other day found the state will need 1.1 million more college educated workers by 2030 (beyond its current pace of producing graduates) to keep up with economic demand.


          That’s one big reason the Cal State system this summer floated the idea of turning its current crop of remedial math and English classes into for-credit classes rather than leaving them as non-credit courses that don’t contribute to anyone’s graduation.



          The problem with giving academic credit for remedial classes that essentially provide students with knowledge or skills they should have picked up in high school is that it threatens to dumb down degrees from Cal State campuses from the North Coast to San Diego.


          Top officials in the Cal State system’s Long Beach headquarters know this and want to nip in the bud any suspicion about inferior diplomas.


          “We will only do this if we can do it without dumbing down the degree,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, senior spokesman for Cal State. “The most important thing we do is make sure students get a high quality education so employers know just what they’re getting when they take our people on.”


          That’s where things get dicey. How can Cal State combine standard freshman coursework with remedial lessons in the same kind of classwork, the stated goal of the putative new for-credit policy?


          “We have to do it,” Uhlenkamp said. “Classes won’t be the same as today’s when we’re trying to do catch-up and coursework all in the same breath.”


          Cal State would like to get this going, at least on a pilot basis, by next fall, which means students starting classes right about now won’t notice much change. But it’s a conundrum the nation’s largest university system hasn’t quite figured out.


          “We’re consulting faculty, campus administrations, the community colleges and everyone else we can think of with an interest in this,” Uhlenkamp added. “We’re still evaluating the best way to do it.”


          Still, it may not be possible to turn a cow into a racehorse just by calling it something different or painting it a different color.


          And yet, there’s little doubt the present system has made many students feel one-down. Some feel discriminated against because the non-credit remedial classes they’ve been required to take doom them to spending a year or more longer getting to graduation than many of their onetime high school classmates.


          So the Cal State bosses will consider criteria other than routine placement tests to determine who must get remedial work. “In the past, we’ve relied on that,” said Uhlenkamp. “But some people are just poor test takers even if they know a subject.”  The remedy will be a more holistic approach, using high school grades and scores on the SAT and ACT tests (taken by most college-bound high schoolers) in addition to placement tests as factors indicating whether students are ready for college when they arrive.


          And it’s not just Cal State that faces the remediation problem. So do the state’s community colleges, where many students who ordinarily would require catch-up classes now are being mainstreamed, some doing well.


          The bottom line: For the community colleges, Cal State and most of California, it’s a must to graduate students faster, but the trick will be to do this in a way that doesn’t decrease the quality and value of diplomas they get in the final act of their undergraduate years.


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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, go to www.californiafocus.net
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Monday, August 21, 2017

LEFTIES WANT FEINSTEIN OUT: CLASSIC AGE DISCRIMINATION

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “LEFTIES WANT FEINSTEIN OUT: CLASSIC AGE DISCRIMINATION”


          None of the host of ultra-liberal Democrats who would love to succeed her makes the direct argument that at 84 – she’ll be one year older by next November’s election – fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein is too aged to be one of California’s two United States senators.


          But that’s what they mean. “Feinstein … is no less alert and active today than she’s been in recent years,” went one essay in California’s largest newspaper, damning her with faint praise. “Generational renewal,” the same essay continued, is one way to measure the strength of a political party. In other words, if you’re lucky enough to acquire some age, get out of the younger folks’ way.


          That’s, of course, what those younger folks would like – until and unless they also eventually acquire some years.


          By all appearances, Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and former chair of the Intelligence Committee, is at least as active now as she was 20 years ago, when no one complained about her age. She wasn’t as loud as some others (read: California’s other senator, Kamala Harris) in questioning Donald Trump administration figures like Attorney General Jeff Sessions during nationally televised hearings last spring, but her civilly-phrased questions seemed more piercing to many. No Democrat has done more to preserve the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which provides health insurance for about 5 million previously uninsured Californians.


          In short, Feinstein has lately done as much as when she worked to thwart the conservative agenda of ex-President George W. Bush 15 years ago.


          But she’s still a centrist, which galls a lot of leftists. She’s offered compromises on water issues and won support from Central Valley farmers, while also fighting for abortion rights and other civil liberties causes. She’s a firm conservationist, the only senator actively opposing Trump appointees who seek to allow the private Cadiz Inc. to tap federally-owned groundwater beneath the Mojave Desert for profit.


She’s also been scrupulously fair to business. And she’s been responsible for several measures keeping domestic surveillance by intelligence agencies in check, while clamping down on those same agencies’ proclivity toward using torture.


          All that and more makes her able to work with Republicans and get them to listen to her reasoning on some key issues. So, yes, she’s out of tune with more radically leftist Democrats who would prefer a more ferocious, partisan approach.


          But could any of the current field of would-be Democratic senators – figures like Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna, who also used ageism in ousting longtime Rep. Mike Honda, or state Senate President Kevin de Leon or Pasadena Congressman Adam Schiff – be as effective?


          Advocates urging Feinstein not to run for a fifth full term would never cop to their obvious prejudice against anyone her age. But they want her to leave now, following the example of former colleague Barbara Boxer, who retired at 76 near the end of 2016, allowing Harris to succeed her.


          Opportunistic Democrats eagerly awaiting Feinstein’s departure will do nothing direct against her, but all know that if she runs again, they can do little to prevent yet more prospects from joining their corps long before her new term would be up. No one knows who might become a viable candidate by 2024, or even whether Democrats will still dominate in California.


          Six years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was a little-known city councilman, Khanna held no office, and virtually no one knew who Schiff was. Just as things changed for them, the same could happen for unknown numbers of others over the span of a new six-year Feinstein term.


          Meanwhile, some Democrats strongly wish for Feinstein to stay. Former San Diego Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, for one, calls Feinstein “one of the most influential and respected senators” and a “canny expert on legislation” who “probes for the truth in her committees.”


          That’s what most people want in a senator, and as long as Feinstein provides it, her age should be no factor at all.

         
-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.

IMAMS COULD WORSEN CAMPUS ANTI-SEMITISM

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     "IMAMS COULD WORSEN CAMPUS ANTI-SEMITISM"


          There is no longer any doubt about whether anti-Semitism exists in America and on California college and university campuses. Even before the racist, white supremacist violence of mid-August in Charlottesville, VA, regents of the University of California recognized this, declaring unanimously last year that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at (UC).”


          It’s possible that statement and the call for individual campus chancellors to create rules tamping down on anti-Jewish hate speech and actions caused the 2016-17 academic year’s relative quietude on this front.


          But even with things a bit more civil on UC campuses, five of them ranked among America’s top 10 for anti-Semitic incidents in a study last spring by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative.


          Although campuses saw less outright anti-Semitic rhetoric, incendiary speech and advocacy of violence against Jews became prominent this summer at major mosques near UC campuses, mosques where many Muslim students worship. This was weeks before Charlottesville.


          The California hate speech outbreak came less than a week after three Israeli Arabs shot two Israeli Druse Muslim border guards just outside a gate to Jerusalem’s landmark Temple Mount (known in Islam as the Noble Sanctuary), site of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque. Jews revere the hilltop compound as the site of their ancient Temple, burned by Roman occupiers; it’s also the location of legendary episodes in the lives of the Biblical Abraham and the prophet Mohammad. Christians know it as the place where Jesus overturned the tables of money changers.


Israel set up metal detectors at the gate after the shootings, sparking a non-violent Muslim protest seeing worshippers refuse to enter the area so long as there was added security.


          In reacting, imams at mosques near UC Davis and UC Riverside launched anti-Semitic tirades, going far beyond criticism of Israel and its actions.


          In the Islamic Center of Davis, directly across a street from the city’s UC campus, Imam Ammar Shahin prayed for Allah to “liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews” and to “annihilate them down to the very last one. Do not spare any of them.” That’s a call for killing Jews everywhere, not only in Israel. Of course, no Jews occupied the mosque. If students in Shahin’s audience were to act this fall against Jewish students at Davis, should anyone be surprised?


          The Davis mosque quickly pulled footage of Shahin’s polemic from YouTube, but left up a video of the 30-year-old Egyptian-born cleric smiling as he taught a UC Davis class on Muslim marriages.


          At almost the same time Shahin preached hate in Davis, Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside, near UC Riverside, also preached a hateful, factually false sermon. First he claimed a plot between World Wars I and II to steal land in Palestine from Muslims through “killing, crime and massacres.”


He added that Jews are now trying to extend the Israel-Arab conflict to “most of the Middle East, and even…to Mecca and Medina.” He ended with a call for Allah to “destroy them and rend them asunder and turn them…into the hands of the Muslims.” Like Shahin, he did not target Israeli government policy, but used historically false libels in his call for destruction of all Jews.


          Both imams’ Arabic-language comments were translated by the authoritative Middle East Media Research Institute; both later apologized. Shahin said he let emotion “cloud my better judgment” and that he understands “speech like this can encourage others to do hateful and violent acts. For this I truly apologize.”


          Said Harmoush, “All life is sacred and every person has a sacred right to respect, safety and liberty.”


          Which words from these men will most influence students in their congregations?


          No one knows, but the founder of one organization tracking campus anti-Semitism said, “Our studies show the more anti-Semitic rhetoric, the more anti-Semitic actions on campuses…”


          While these two sermons were clearly anti-Semitic, no one outside their organizations knows how often the imams have spoken similarly. None of this occurred on campuses, so it doesn’t fall under UC’s anti-discrimination policies. But UC and other institutions where both imams have taught clearly would be wise to keep both imams out of publicly-funded classrooms in the future.


    -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, August 14, 2017

BROKEN APART, DISCLOSE ACT STILL VITAL FOR PUBLIC TRUST

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “BROKEN APART, DISCLOSE ACT STILL VITAL FOR PUBLIC TRUST”


          “Give light and the people will find their own way.” – longtime slogan of the now-defunct Scripps Howard Newspapers group.


          The essence of that motto, written early in the last century, was a strong belief that if Americans know enough about an issue or politician or political choice, they will act in their own self-interest.


          Sadly, this conviction has not been tested much in recent years. The advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provides Americans and others with more information than ever, but much of it is bogus, what President Trump likes to call “fake news.”


          Especially since outfits like Scripps Howard and the Knight publishing company disappeared from the landscape, along with many family owned newspapers, there’s less of the reliable, hard news that reporters can gather only by expending shoe leather and persistence.


          And since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s been difficult for anyone to know the true funders of the frequent messages, commercials and other ads conveyed via television, radio, social media and those newspapers that still try to inform the public.


          That’s why for much of this decade, the most important proposal before the California Legislature has been a bill known as the Disclose Act, most actively pushed by an organization called the Clean Money Campaign.


          As first conceived, this proposed law would require disclosure of the leading funders of all political advertising and ballot initiative petitions in large letters, one version of the idea demanding those names be listed in lettering that matches the largest type used anywhere else in the same advertisement.


          This plan has now been broken apart a bit. One part, covering only initiative petitions, passed both the state Senate and a key Assembly committee before the Legislature’s annual midsummer break. This one would force all initiative petitions to carry the names of their three top funders in large letters in a prominent location. It would also not allow big-money interests to hide behind vague committee names like “Californians Against New Taxes” or the like.


          But once an initiative makes the ballot, becoming an actual proposition, there would be no more such information. So-called “dark money” contributors could go back into hiding.


          But not if another part of the proposal should pass. This bill, carried by former Democratic Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of East Los Angeles until his summertime election to Congress, would require large-letter donor disclosures in all ads for both candidates and propositions.


          While there appear to be few obstacles to eventual passage of the bill covering initiative petitions, the outlook may not be as rosy for its wider-ranging companion.


          When Gomez left for Congress, there was temporarily no legislative sponsor for this measure. Only at the last moment did the Senate Rules Committee, led by Democratic Senate President Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, OK a bid by San Mateo’s Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Mullin to be the necessary sponsor.


          The fact this non-dispute went on awhile cost the bill precious time, reducing chances of passage this summer. It’s true there’s some potential for it to pass this fall or next year, but next year is an election year and labor unions which fund many Democratic campaigns oppose this plan.


          So it’s safe to say the real meat of the Disclose Act – prominent disclosure of the largest contributors in all political ads – is not exactly a high priority for de Leon and other legislative leaders, even though he and others nominally support the idea.


          Fully 12,000 persons petitioned the Rules Committee to allow Mullin to become the latest Disclose Act sponsor, with 1,500 persons telephoning the committee, too. It will likely take much more support than that to push this idealistic measure through a Legislature still patting itself on the back for extending cap-and-trade environmental tactics to cut greenhouse gases.


          Which very likely means yet another election season will go by without a thorough test of that old Scripps Howard motto.



    -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