Friday, May 26, 2017

JUST HOW RAMPANT IS CORRUPTION IN STATE GOVERNMENT?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “JUST HOW RAMPANT IS CORRUPTION IN STATE GOV’T?”


          The well-documented “fix-is-in” proceedings which forced consumers to pay more than 70 percent of the cost of shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station were one form of corruption in state government for which no one has yet been punished in a meaningful way.


          Similarly, when proof reached the highest levels in state government that the California Energy Commission was in serious conflict of interest when it handed out tens of millions of dollars in grants to build hydrogen car refueling stations just over two years ago, no one was punished. Gov. Jerry Brown even reappointed the commission chairman to a new term.


          These problematic actions were exposed by media, including this column. New forms of corruption by state officials have been exposed more recently by the state auditor and the Department of Finance, involving both the University of California and the state’s Board of Equalization, which has many tax-collection functions.


          Taken together, the incidents indicate corruption is probably rampant in state government. It’s hard to determine just how widespread, because it almost always takes a whistle-blower or informant to expose such wrongdoing. Reporters and auditors can’t simply walk into a state office and ask the receptionist to take them to the most corrupt individuals there. That doesn’t work.


What’s clear is that corruption takes many forms and cheats taxpayers and consumers of many millions of dollars, possibly billions.


In the Energy Commission’s case, the consultant who designed the map for placement of hydrogen stations and then trained state employees in evaluating grant requests based on that map resigned after his blueprint was approved. He then set up a new company which applied for grants and won many. Could a grant applicant have been in a more favored position?


          The San Onofre “settlement” agreed to in a secret meeting between Southern California Edison Co. officials and Michael Peevey, a former president of Edison who headed the Public Utilities Commission at the time of the meeting, dunned consumers more than $3 billion. Could a company have been in a more favored position? For sure, public hearings held later about this settlement were completely irrelevant, as the outcome had already been determined.


          This spring’s revelations about UC and the Board of Equalization involved completely different forms of corruption. At UC, the auditor reported, President Janet Napolitano’s office spent $175 million less over a period of years than it budgeted for, then asked for budget increases based on the previous over-estimated budgets and not on actual spending, in effect maintaining an unreported slush fund that could be used for almost anything.  The auditor also charged that Napolitano’s office interfered with the audit process, later softening her words by saying “nothing nefarious” occurred.


          Nothing nefarious? What were students to think as they learned about this spare cash at the same time their tuition rose?


          Said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, “We’re jacking up tuition for…families, we are squeezing access and at the same time (they) are sitting on this $175 million suitcase in the corner.”


          A fourth form of corruption was discovered by state Finance officials at the Board of Equalization, where elected members were found to have spent prolifically on their office furnishings, misused tax collectors for things like parking management at political events and interfered with some tax cases.


          This board has long been a sinecure for termed-out legislators like all four current elected members, former Democratic lawmakers Fiona Ma and Jerome Horton and ex-GOP legislators George Runner and Diane Harkey. It has also served as a stepping stone to statewide office for the likes of Controller Betty Yee and Treasurer John Chiang.


          While no one knows just how rampant these types of corruption are in state government, it is clear they are not confined to just one agency, and generally go unpunished. The fact that examples like these turn up almost every time investigators take a close look at an agency is one indication that a wide-ranging house-cleaning is in order.


          Here’s a question for the many declared and potential 2018 candidates for governor, none of whom has yet spoken out about any of this: What will you do about the well-proven and established climate of corruption that’s persisted for many years under the last several governors?


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

NO SURPRISES AS FIRST TRUMP BUDGET HITS AT CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“NO SURPRISES AS FIRST TRUMP BUDGET HITS AT CALIFORNIA”


          The bleats have been long and loud in California since President Trump’s administration released its first proposed budget, one that won’t be finalized for several months.


This budget can be read many ways, including these: As an initial negotiating position from the author of “The Art of the Deal.” As revenge for California depriving the president of the popular vote victory he so ardently craved. As a prototypical Republican attack on federal spending the party has long opposed in fields from health care to sanctuary cities. It may be all of those and more.


          But this spending plan should not have surprised anyone in California public affairs. Presidents often suggest cuts or additions to federal spending even when they know the items will not fly. This can take public attention away from others they deem truly important. It can represent some first moves toward compromise.


          And presidents have always favored states that favor them and punished those that don’t. So California fared well under Presidents Clinton and Obama. Just ask the tens of thousands of homeowners who collected large sums from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the 1994 Northridge earthquake under Clinton or the health insurance clients who got premium subsidies under Obama.


But California had problems securing grants for everything from transportation to education under both Presidents Bush. The new budget indicates there could be worse trouble getting desired federal grants under Trump. So California’s problems in getting its fair share of federal spending will likely grow as the Trump years progress.


          Why be surprised at this when the state’s top officials loudly and proudly bill themselves as leaders of national resistance to Trump’s agenda?


          Yet, those same officials now sound stunned. Said Gov. Jerry Brown, “(The proposed budget) gives a massive break to the wealthiest, while imposing painful and debilitating burdens on tens of millions of decent and hard-working people. It’s unconscionable and un-American.”


          In other words, it’s a fiscal plan promoting the Republican Party’s platform stances of minimizing “entitlement” programs, welfare and federal healthcare subsidies. It’s also a plan that favors the party’s biggest political donors, who often are corporate leaders. Election results matter. So does the Electoral College.


          That’s not to minimize this plan’s potential effects here. The Health Access California organization, for one, says this budget would “rip health care from over 4 million Californians, cut Medi-Cal by 25 percent” at a cost of over $24 billion a year to California. The organization’s executive director, Anthony Wright, complained the budget “would savage California’s health care system, cutting…tens of billions of dollars to hospitals and health providers…(it) would cause carnage to key safety-net services, all to finance massive tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest.”


          California public and charter schools would also lose about $400 million if a proposed total of $9 billion is cut nationally from education spending. This would affect everything from teacher training and preparation to after-school programs and student loans. Moaned state Schools Supt. Tom Torlakson, “I give this budget an ‘F’ grade for failing public school students.”

         
          There’s also a new bid to punish sanctuary cities, which include California’s largest urban centers. This one would rewrite a federal code section so that cities could no longer block police and other employees from communicating with federal officials about the immigration status of any individual. The budget would condition federal homeland security and law enforcement grants on guarantees that cities comply. And it includes a mandate that local jailers hold releasable prisoners up to 48 hours when federal agents issue requests called “detainers.”


          Taken together, this budget attacks many items that are political dogma in California, but anathema in Southern and Midwestern states that voted heavily for Trump.


          Anyone who’s surprised by all this wasn’t paying attention to the promises Trump made during his campaign last year. Or when Trump appointed key budget officials who have long advocated precisely the changes they now propose.


          The challenge for Californians in Congress and state government who oppose all this will be to find Republicans who back at least some programs that now are threatened. Judge their effectiveness by what’s in the final 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

Monday, May 22, 2017

VILLARAIGOSA: ‘I WANT TO RESTORE STATE’S LUSTER’

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


One in an occasional serious of columns based on interviews with major candidates for governor of California


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “VILLARAIGOSA: ‘I WANT TO RESTORE STATE’S LUSTER’”


          At 64, the passion still comes through when Antonio Villaraigosa talks about California. “I haven’t stopped wanting to change the world,” he declares while explaining why he’s running for governor. “I want to restore the state’s luster.”


          Speaker of the state Assembly for almost three years and mayor of Los Angeles for eight, Villaraigosa spent 56 days over the last year touring parts of California that major politicians rarely see, and he says he learned a lot.


          Unlike Richard Riordan, his immediate predecessor as L.A.’s mayor, Villaraigosa did not return from his “listening tour” talking about “strange places” he visited. Rather, he’s now eager to help uplift the many places where he says Californians are hurting.


          “In many areas, the recession is still on. People feel the economy is rigged and just doesn’t work for them,” he said in an interview. “We need to improve the economy in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties) and we need to improve educational opportunities for young people there. By 2025, we will have 1 million less college graduates in this state than we need for the sophisticated jobs to be filled.”


          Villaraigosa, out of public office since 2013, also wants to improve the state’s plumbing, capturing more storm water in new reservoirs, recycling more discarded water and getting water supplies to places that receive too little.


          One of at least four major 2018 candidates for governor, Villaraigosa is careful never to utter a critical word about current Gov. Jerry Brown. But his improved plumbing probably would not include Brown’s pet project, a putative $40 billion set of water tunnels aiming to bring Northern California river water under the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to farms and cities further south.


          “We (the state) never came through on promises we made in 1999 to build at least two more dams and reservoirs,” he said. One of those would be the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin in Fresno and Madera counties. Villaraigosa said that dam alone would significantly cut the more than 1 million acre feet of storm and snowfall runoff that flowed to sea from California this winter and spring.


          Villaraigosa runs second among Democrats in recent polls and fundraising reports. He was Assembly speaker when state government committed – with no firm timetable – to building that dam.


          He’s also aware that while he broke one glass ceiling as the first Latino mayor of the state’s biggest city in the modern era, he has two more barriers left to shatter. He knows no Latino has served as governor since Romualdo Pacheco in 1875 and that no former Los Angeles mayor ever has. One, Sam Yorty, tried twice during the 1960s and early ’70s.


          And he knows he’ll have to overcome the historic animosity for Los Angeles that persists in parts of Northern California. To do that, he said, “You have to show people you are who you say you are. I can say ‘Go, Giants,’ for example, but only when they’re not playing the Dodgers. People have to see you care and you’ll get your share of the vote.”


          Villaraigosa starts with an advantage among Latinos, who voted for him in 80 percent proportions when he ran for mayor.


          “I’m used to breaking barriers,” he said. “No Latino before me had been elected mayor of Los Angeles. By the end of my two terms, people didn’t talk about me as a Latino mayor, but just a mayor, and that was a good thing.”


          Villaraigosa, like rival Gavin Newsom, the current lieutenant governor and ex-mayor of San Francisco, knows he’ll have to overcome his record of womanizing. “I’ve taken responsibility for that,” he said. “I’ve acknowledged that I made mistakes. And after apologizing and healing with my family (but not getting back together with ex-wife Corina), I went back to work. People will have to decide this race based on a broad spectrum of factors and I know that will be one.”

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

IS SMALLER BETTER, OR IS IT REALLY BIGGER?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 6, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “IS SMALLER BETTER, OR IS IT REALLY BIGGER?”


          Bigger, California has learned through long experience, isn’t always better. In fact, it can be downright destructive, as when a city outgrows its water or freeway system.


          The question of whether bigger can actually be better, more responsive and cost-effective arises again this spring, in a pair of proposals that could fundamentally change politics both statewide and in California’s largest county.


          One of these plans, purveyed in a proposed 2018 initiative now circulating in some areas, would essentially make the Legislature 100 times bigger than it is today, while cutting its pay and reducing the size of Assembly and Senate districts to about 1 percent of their current dimensions.


          The other would expand county boards of supervisors from five members to seven where population tops 5 million, which today means only Los Angeles County, which would also get an elected chief executive similar to a mayor.


This one is aimed to improve government in L.A., sponsors saying it would modernize the state’s most powerful local government, where open county board seats can attract sitting members of Congress who already occupy very secure jobs, as when Democratic former San Pedro Rep. Janice Hahn won a seat on the board last year.


          The more wide-ranging of these plans comes from John Cox, a San Diego County real estate investor who just now is the only 2018 Republican candidate for governor. As such, he drew 18 percent support in one recent major poll, topping the better-known Democratic likes of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current state Treasurer John Chiang. He trailed only Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic former mayor of San Francisco, who scored 28 percent.


          Cox’s current initiative is a rehash of an idea he floated in 2012 which failed to draw enough petition signatures to make the 2014 ballot. It would essentially divide the current 80 Assembly and 40 state Senate districts by 100, creating neighborhood micro-districts of 5,000 and 10,000 persons each. Every district would get a representative – 12,000 in all.


          Recognizing this might be just a tad unwieldy, Cox would have the 12,000 new legislators elect “working committees” of 80 Assembly members and 40 senators – oddly enough, the exact sizes of today’s two legislative houses.


          The working committees would perform most tasks of the current Legislature, but the full bodies of 8,000 in the Assembly and 4,000 for the Senate would vote on all non-urgent matters and proposed laws. Lawmakers’ pay would be cut to $1,000 yearly.


          Cox is convinced this would take most of the big money out of legislative politics, forcing candidates to go door to door in their small districts rather than flooding airwaves and mailboxes with advertising. The actual, working lawmakers on the two active committees would then have just 99 constituents each (other neighborhood legislators) to please and pander to.


          Don’t expect this one to go very far once voters realize they wouldn’t even be changing the number of people in the Capitol, but would add a whole new layer of government.


          Meanwhile, the county proposal sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia could create the second most powerful political job in California in the Los Angeles County executive, and two other posts also certain to draw big-name candidates and big-money campaigns.


          His plan to add two county supervisors to the current five would reduce each Los Angeles County supervisor’s district population to 1.4 million from today’s 2 million.


          “By increasing representation and creating a professional management position, we will address multiple issues and actively improve local government,” Mendoza said.


          This one needs a two-thirds vote in both current legislative houses to make the 2020 ballot and become effective in 2022. A similar proposal failed in 2015 after drawing opposition from the then-current Los Angeles County board.


          The Mendoza plan also raises the question of whether it’s right for voters in the rest of California to decide the structure of politics in Los Angeles, when it won’t affect anyone but Angelenos.


Either of these plans would make for major upheaval, something voters historically have not been inclined to approve. But no one can predict the outcome of such a vote in today’s volatile political climate, not when it involves creation of thousands of new political positions for ambitious Californians to occupy.


     -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, May 15, 2017

CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS ICONIC JOSHUA TREES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 2, 2017, OR THEREAFTER

           
 BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  "CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS ICONIC JOSHUA TREES"

           
          Only four units of the entire 417-part system of national parks, monuments, seashores and historical sites carry the names of remarkable plants and trees. California hosts three of these – Redwood, Sequoia and Joshua Tree national parks.


          But by the end of this century, there could be little reason for the Joshua Tree National Park just east of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. That’s because its namesake cactus-like namesake shows signs of  gradually dying out due to changes in the local climate.


          This appears true despite denials of man-made climate change coming regularly from President Trump and the men he’s put in charge of agencies charged with protecting threatened plants, animals and fish, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. (Joshua trees don’t yet have formally endangered status.)


          The latest moves from these agencies indicate they will become even more enviro-skeptical than they’ve been in their first several months working for Trump: In mid-May, the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt – a longtime oil industry advocate who was formerly attorney general of Oklahoma – dismissed half the members of its key scientific advisory boards. At the same time, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suspended more than 200 advisory panels on everything from invasive species to oil drilling.


          This means the ethereal Joshua trees can expect little help from federal agencies, despite their main habitat’s promotion from national monument to national park status in 1994.


          And they will apparently need some help – or a major shift back to old climate patterns – if they’re to survive into the next century.


          That’s because the species shows signs of flagging in the ever warmer heat of the Mojave Desert. The plants, actually huge lilies and cousins of the far more common yuccas whose flowers dot much of California during the spring, depend on ground water to survive. Their extensive root systems can reach 35 feet underground and they also take in atmospheric moisture through their leaves, trunks and branches.


          But Joshua tree saplings are not so hardy. With much shallower root systems than their mature relatives, they are far more vulnerable to hotter and drier weather. That’s exactly what scientists project for the national park and the rest of the Mojave, where average temperatures are expected to rise four degrees by 2050, while rainfall drops by 2.6 percent in the same time.


          For the saplings to survive, they need to grow an average of about three inches in each of their first 10 years, then another 1.5 inches yearly after that.


          It’s apparently not happening for them in this mostly dry period, despite the heavy rains of the past winter. In the first year of a projected 20-year survey of Joshua tree population and growth both inside and outside the park, scientists from nearby UC Riverside found few or no young trees on about 30 percent of the species’ normal range. If that continues through the end of this century, Joshua trees could eventually exist only in about 10 percent of their current habitat. Essentially, new Joshua trees are not replacing older, dying ones fast enough for the species to survive much longer.


          The outlook can only get worse under current trends, which have seen nighttime low temperatures in Twentynine Palms, nearest significant town to the national park, rise by 8 degrees over the last 40 years.


          The great preponderance of scientists worldwide, with little to gain from lying about it, maintain human activity has caused much of that change in the local climate, part of a worldwide phenomenon. But Trump and his allies hotly deny this. Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, an avid backer of both Trump and Pruitt, insists this represents “rigged science,” saying the latest firings and suspensions at both Interior and the EPA mean that government will now “start dealing with science, and not rigged science.”


          The current supposed stewards of the national park system and its multitude of plants and animals do not appear serious about that duty, though, as indicated by shutting down their advisory panels or loading them up with representatives of industries that contribute to climate change.


          They also are in no mood to heed any advice that contradicts their beliefs. Joshua trees, beware.

          
    -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


CALEXIT MOVEMENT STILL ALIVE, BUT EVOLVING

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2017, OR THEREAFTER
           

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “CALEXIT MOVEMENT STILL ALIVE, BUT EVOLVING”


          For months, the small but growing movement for California to secede from the United States was stalled in part because its nominal leader lives (for now) in Russia and attended at least one Kremlin-approved event for separatist movements around the globe.


          But the movement is now changing. The Yes California organization is gone, along with its nominal head, Louis Marinelli (a former San Diego candidate for the state Assembly who teaches English in Russia); so is the putative proposition they hoped to put on the ballot next year.


          But the idea lives on with a new name and the same on-the-ground leader. Yes California has morphed into the California Freedom Coalition, which has announced plans to file a reworded secession initiative petition in Sacramento May 19.


          At its center remains Marcus Ruiz Evans, whose 2013 book “California’s Next Century 2.10” suggested a kind of semi-independent status for the state. Later, he began advocating complete independence.


          Evans’ biography reports he worked 10 years as a liaison between California and the federal government. He says the experience taught him this state is fundamentally different from the rest of America. At first, he pushed for a California status akin to Scotland’s within the United Kingdom, both areas at considerable variance with the rest of their countries. (The UK overall voted for Brexit, for example, while Scotland voted strongly to stay in the European Union.)


          Evans worked with Marinelli on this cause for more than three years. He says its evolution now teams him with a high-ranking Silicon Valley executive, a top sales counselor and a longtime activist protestor best known for campaigning outside the Texas ranch of then-President George W. Bush. Those individuals did not return emails asking them to confirm their involvement. But the activist, Cindy Sheehan, was due to lead a march to submit the new separation initiative.


          Evans promised the new petition would have a “better text” than the one he pulled back. If it passes with a large majority, the measure could put California on a course toward independence.


          Evans believes sovereignty would work out fine. He pooh-poohs the idea of a new Civil War, with the rest of America fighting to hang onto California.


          Part of his reasoning: A recent poll conducted for a television network and an online business publication found 40 percent of those surveyed in the rest of the nation would like to be rid of California.


          Evans also claims the Reconstruction-era Supreme Court decision Texas v. White would permit other states to vote to let California go peacefully. But that view was expressed in a dissent, not by the court majority. Which means there is no more of a mechanism for a state to leave now than there was before the Civil War. Of course, there was also no legal way for any colony to leave the British Empire, but it happened.


          Nevertheless, Evans maintains secession would be both peaceful and fiscally sound. “I don’t believe the rest of America would go to war with us,” he says. “Unlike the old Confederacy, California doesn’t talk about shooting federal troops and attacking federal forts and bases. California has a culture of non-violence and anti-war activity.”


          As for finances, while secession skeptics worry about losing federal grants and other spending, Evans notes that California gets back far less in federal spending than it pays in federal taxes. That’s unlike other states, including West Virginia and Mississippi, which get back as much as 50 percent more than they put in. If Californians paid the same taxes they do now, but sent all of it to Sacramento and none to Washington, D.C., he says, all those grants, salaries and Social Security payments would be covered, with plenty to spare.


          Meanwhile, poll support for the Calexit idea climbed from about 3 percent in 2014 to 32 percent in one springtime survey, the biggest jump coming when Donald Trump became President. That’s major growth, and the longer Trump remains in office despite decisively losing the popular vote, the more it may increase.


          Right now, this still looks like an extreme longshot, but less so than three years ago. And no one can safely predict where popular sentiment might go in the next 15 months, when secession could come to its first-ever vote.



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

Monday, May 8, 2017

CCAs BRINGING COMEUPPANCE TO BIG UTILITIES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“CCAs BRINGING COMEUPPANCE TO BIG UTILITIES”


          You can call it a form of comeuppance for huge privately-owned California utility companies unscathed so far by exposure of their negligence and blundering of the past decade. They now find themselves deeply threatened by what some might consider a small army of mosquitos.


          No individual was penalized when a federal trial found Pacific Gas & Electric Co. guilty of criminal negligence in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight persons and destroyed dozens of homes. The company itself was fined just $3 million, a pittance for the vast enterprise.


          Similarly, no company executive has yet been charged with anything criminal in the well-documented multi-billion dollar collusion between Southern California Edison Co. officials and Michael Peevey, former president of both Edison and the state Public Utilities Commission. They agreed privately to force consumers to pay the bulk of the costs for decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County, rendering subsequent public hearings completely without meaning. That case is still under investigation, more than two years after raids on Peevey’s homes uncovered key documents in the case.


But the PUC, a participant in the illicit meeting where the decision was made to dun consumers more than $3 billion for the closure, saw its members carefully maintain straight faces while fining Edison a puny $16 million for not reporting a meeting their own chief attended.


          Those paltry penalties deprived millions Californians of justice. But a different kind of punishment is now pecking away at the utility giants. This comes in the form of Community Choice Aggregations, arrangements where cities and counties can let electricity customers choose whether to stay with the existing utilities or switch to a locally-run public entity that buys power from generating companies at the source and brings it to consumers via utility company lines. Non-profit CCA prices are generally lower than those of for-profit utilities.


          How seriously do the utilities take the threat of CCAs? One indicator was the 2010 campaign for Proposition 16, run by and for PG&E, which spent $46 million qualifying and promoting the measure. That initiative would have allowed CCAs to form only after a two-thirds supermajority vote in any area involved. Essentially, that was an effort to kill the CCA idea. Even without much experience with CCAs, and with opponents spending less than .2 percent as much as PG&E, the measure lost by a 53 to 47 percent margin.


          The eight current California CCAs now operate in places as diverse as Sonoma County, San Francisco and the high desert city of Lancaster in Los Angeles County. Butte County is exploring the idea. So are San Jose and San Diego.


          But the most serious comeuppance so far for the utilities came this spring, when Los Angeles County supervisors – free to do this because Proposition 16 failed – voted to create a CCA that will buy power primarily from renewable sources like solar thermal arrays, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and geothermal wells.


When the new CCA opens next year, anyone in unincorporated areas within California’s most populous county can switch to it. Scores of cities in the county will also be able to join the CCA and provide residents the choice of whether to stay with Edison or opt out.


The city of Los Angeles, which has run a publicly-owned utility of its own for many decades, will not be eligible.


          No one has reported the exact amount CCAs already cost the big utilities, but it is sure to be in the billions of dollars once the Los Angeles County version comes online.


          The companies know the most effective way for them to retain customers under this burgeoning free-choice system is to provide better service. So Edison is building scores of new electric vehicle charging stations, which look progressive even though they serve only a tiny fraction of Californians. And PG&E has upgraded equipment in San Francisco, cutting the frequency of significant blackouts to an average of just 1.02 times per customer per year.


          CCA’s, of course, are not a direct punishment of PG&E and Edison for their blunders and illegal acts. But CCAs very likely would not be proliferating without that very recent history, which saw the big utilities create an unfriendly climate for themselves.


                  

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

CAN DEMS CAPITALIZE ON GOP’S RISKY HEALTH VOTES?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017, OR THERE


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “CAN DEMS CAPITALIZE ON GOP’S RISKY HEALTH VOTES?”


          For the last seven years, most of the 14 Republicans representing parts of California in Congress railed against Obamacare, high corporate taxes and illegal immigration.


          But that was mere chatter. So long as a Democrat was president, nothing new was going to happen. And so, even though Obamacare policy holders, illegal immigrants and poor people abound in many of their districts, their talk never cost them much. That could change soon.


          For Republican Donald Trump controls the White House today and pushes constantly on those issues. He makes GOP congressional talk more than mere noise. What was empty rhetoric now can become reality. This was never more clear than when all 14 California Republicans voted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare’s formal name, and replace it with far inferior health insurance.


          Example A might be Jeff Denham of Atwater, whose 10th District contains a large Latino populace and about 100,000 persons whose health insurance comes via Obamacare. Denham won reelection last year by 51.7-48.3 percent over Democratic farmer Michael Eggman, the winning margin fully 70 percent below its 2014 level.


          In a town hall in his district about two weeks before the Obamacare vote, Denham assured more than 1,000 constituents that “I’m a ‘no’ on the healthcare bill until it is responsive to my community.”


          Turning him around was a last-minute amendment to create high-risk pools for persons with pre-existing conditions and provide $8 billion over five years to subsidize premiums a bit for this type of coverage, whose premiums have always been sky-high. At the same time, the bill takes at least $800 billion from Medicaid (known here as Medi-Cal) over 10 years.


          Medi-Cal covers about more 300,000 Denham constituents, many among the estimated 24 million persons likely to lose coverage under the Republican plan. Will those people brand him a liar and turn out next year to dump him? No one can predict.


          The healthcare bill passed the House by a narrow 217-213 margin, so if even two California Republicans had voted no, it would have failed. In Denham’s district, no one but him has claimed publicly that the $8 billion amendment (less than $200 million yearly to California) made it “responsive to my community.”


          Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco declaimed after the vote that “This vote…is a scar (Republicans) will carry.” But Democrats have been notably ineffective at unseating Denham and other Republicans from similar districts. David Valadao of Hanford is one: His Latino-majority district went for Hillary Clinton by 15 percent last year, but he still won by 9 percent. With many thousands of his constituents likely to lose coverage if the GOP changes become reality, can he survive? A lot depends on Latino turnout, notoriously unreliable. Both Valadao and Santa Clarita’s vulnerable-seeming Steve Knight criticized the Medicaid cuts, which could hurt tens of thousands in their districts, but still voted for them.


          The Orange County district of Republican Mimi Walters may also be in play. With fewer Obamacare recipients than many other areas, her district still went for Clinton last year. She ardently backed the GOP changes, celebrating the House vote with Trump at the White House. Will that be political suicide?


          Another Rose Garden celebrant was San Diego County’s Darrell Issa, whose vote at almost the last moment may have been decisive. Issa, his fate in question for weeks after last year’s election, survived then by just 1,600 votes. He acted unworried after this vote.


          “Today…gives a voice to the victims of Obamacare…a failure from the get-go,” Issa said. But he kept his position secret until the last moment, refusing to reveal it until he actually pulled the lever. Would Issa have voted against the repeal or abstained if his vote had not been crucial for passage? Was he promised something for his vote?


          Those questions may go unanswered, but it’s for sure Democrats will use that vote against Issa next year. Uncertain, of course, is whether it will work.


          That’s the question about all the Democrats’ loud ventilating over the healthcare vote. Their talk will only matter if they can make this bill an albatross around Republican necks and oust enough GOPers to retake control of the House.



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

Monday, May 1, 2017

FEINSTEIN IN GOOD SHAPE – IF SHE RUNS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 19, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “FEINSTEIN IN GOOD SHAPE – IF SHE RUNS”


          Few California senators of the last 50 years have been more active than the Dianne Feinstein of early 2017.


          That’s important mostly because of Feinstein’s age – despite her dark hair, she’ll be 84 next month and will be 85 next November, when she may seek a fifth full term and sixth term overall.


          For sure, vultures are waiting in the wings for Feinstein to falter, just as they do for every politician over 75. The bulk of the electorate is much younger and many voters can’t even imagine a truly vigorous octogenarian.


          The latest polls reflect this psychological reality. While Feinstein gets a 59 percent job performance approval rating in a recent survey from the Berkeley IGS Poll, in effect the successor to the long-running and usually reliable Field Poll, the moment respondents were told her age, 62 percent said it would be a bad thing for her to seek reelection.


          This was good news for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of Congress like Adam Schiff of Burbank and Jackie Speier of San Mateo County, who have made some noises indicating they might be interested in a run if Feinstein drops out. All are Democrats, like Feinstein.


          In each case, these folks would have to wait at least six more years for a shot at the Senate if Feinstein were reelected. There is little likelihood any of them would oppose new Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris when she’s up for a second term in 2022.


          And no one knows who else might arise as a potential candidate by 2024, the next time Feinstein’s seat would be up for grabs. Schiff, for instance, was a virtual unknown when Feinstein last ran in 2012, but the House investigation into President Trump’s alleged Russia ties suddenly made him prominent, Schiff’s solid performance enhancing his standing.


          Similarly, while Garcetti was a mere city councilman five years ago, he was reelected by a huge margin this spring as mayor of America’s second-largest city.


          But these folks most likely will have to wait. For even though 62 percent say it’s a bad idea for Feinstein to seek another term, that’s before she’s matched up against anyone else. Incumbents almost always fare poorly in generic “should they run or not?” surveys, but when they’re put up against a real candidate, complete with warts and all, those poll results change quickly.


          Meanwhile, Feinstein has been acting like a candidate. She’s set up a finance committee and started raising money. She’s as vocal as ever in the Senate. And she’s keeping prospective successors guessing about her plans.


          In the Senate, Feinstein led the Democratic opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Neal M. Gorsuch. She has fought firmly against various Republican-proposed plans to revise the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. She’s stuck up, as usual, for women’s rights. These two causes combined in some cases, as when Feinstein argued that the health care plan put forward by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan would have ended a California requirement that insurance policies cover reproductive health services for women, including abortions.


          That policy, said Feinstein, “helps ensure women are able to make their own health care decisions…free from political interference.” So Feinstein is acting as determined as ever in fighting for abortion rights and women’s right, long two of her major causes.


          She’s also the only senator who said much when the Trump administration opened the way this spring for the private Cadiz Inc. to begin tapping ground water in the Mojave Desert and potentially sell it to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.


          That’s not final yet and Feinstein wants to stop it, as she has helped do several previous times. “The detrimental effect this project would have on the California desert is irreversible,” she said. “Rather than allow a proper environmental review, the…administration wants to open the door for a private company to exploit a natural aquifer and destroy public land.” Cadiz strongly disputed that description.


          Feinstein here did not sound like someone about to hand off a cause to anyone else.


          The upshot is that Feinstein appears to be in about as good political shape as she ever has been entering a campaign, bad news for the corps of candidates trying to look uninterested even as they eye her job.



 -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,” now available in an updated fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net 



WILL YUCCA MOUNTAIN BE THE NUCLEAR WASTE ANSWER?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  “WILL YUCCA MOUNTAIN BE THE NUCLEAR WASTE ANSWER?”


          The longer Donald Trump remains President and Harry Reid remains retired, the greater the chances that canisters bearing more than 3.5 million pounds of nuclear waste from the shut-down San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) will end up beneath a mountain about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.


          And the closer this proposed solution to a serious problem comes to reality, the greater the chances it will pit well-meaning Californians against each other, both sides with legitimate environmental concerns that so far appear of little or no interest to Trump’s administration.


          The waste involved, say San Diego-area consumer groups, is extremely deadly and could remain potentially lethal for about 250,000 years – much longer than the known history of the human race. Planned burial of the canisters near the beachfront abutting the SONGS site along Interstate 5 at the San Diego-Orange county line may be delayed as Edison and consumer lawyers try to negotiate another disposition for them. Those negotiations have already postponed a civil trial scheduled to begin April 14.


          Should the canisters stay beneath the beach and leak, they could endanger more than 8.4 million persons living within 50 miles, not to mention freeway drivers and passengers on an adjacent coastal rail route.


          Enter Yucca Mountain. The hollowed-out mountain was considered in the 1990s as a prime candidate for storage of nuclear waste from around the nation, now scattered widely in supposedly temporary sites.


          Then Reid, the recently retired Democratic Nevada senator and longtime Senate Democratic leader, stepped in along with now-retired California Democrat Barbara Boxer. Both expounded a theory that radioactivity from Yucca Mountain could trickle into underground water supplies that eventually flow to the Colorado River upstream from the aqueduct belonging to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides significant supplies to about half of all Californians. They warned that stored waste at Yucca Mountain could pollute much of California’s and Arizona’s water supply for generations to come.


          Any threat to those water supplies can only create pressure to draw  more water from rivers in Northern California.


          Yucca Mountain also became highly unpopular in Nevada, whose citizenry resisted becoming a dumping ground for the most toxic waste in America when there isn’t even a nuclear power plant in that state.


          Now comes the Trump administration, which has seemed to care little about polluting anything, from air to water to the airwaves, where it admits purveying “alternative facts.” That’s another phrase for lies, distortions and exaggerations. Meanwhile, no one has either proved or disproved the potential threat from a Yucca Mountain dump.


          So far, Trump proposes spending $120 million to restart the licensing process for the site. But Yucca Mountain could end up costing more than 1,000 times that much – a possible $100 billion for things like 300-plus miles of new railroad track to bring waste there, advanced robots to work underground with waste canisters, and building of massive underground titanium shields designed to keep waste from most of the 48 contiguous states contained for hundreds of thousands of years beyond the lifetime of anyone alive today.


          Trump’s aim is to keep nuclear power plants operational as long as possible. They currently supply about 20 percent of America’s power, with more than two dozen now storing radioactive waste on or near their own sites on a longstanding “temporary” basis.


          The renewed controversy would not be happening if Reid were still leading the Senate. The strong push by San Diego County residents to move SONGS waste far away from them will only add pressure to the drive for Yucca Mountain.


          There is no doubt America needs a waste storage site, as all existing ones are at capacity. Yucca Mountain got its newest boost the other day, when Energy Secretary Rick Perry – a determined rival of California during his eight years as Texas governor – quietly visited the area.


          But Nevada officials are united against it, including Democrats like Reid successor Catherine Cortez Masto and Republicans led by Gov. Brian Sandoval. So far, no California official has been involved in the new push for the site.


          More and more, this looks like a political landmine, with legitimate environmental worries on both sides of a decades-old dispute.


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

Monday, April 24, 2017

WILL COURT RULING ON OFFICIALS’ E-MAIL MOVE BROWN?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “WILL COURT RULING ON OFFICIALS’ E-MAIL MOVE BROWN?”


          More than one month after the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that text messages and emails sent by public officials on their personal devices are matters of public record if they deal with public business, Gov. Jerry Brown has still not moved on his own email issues.


          During that time, in fact, Brown flouted his own boasts of transparency by using a federal anti-terror rule to deny public access for records on various aspects of the Oroville Dam crisis.


Brown’s email issues stem from his communications with the state Public Utilities Commission at the time of the infamous PUC decision on financing the closure of the crippled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The settlement forced customers of Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to foot more than 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost for the shutdown, largely caused by an Edison blunder.


          The question: Was that so-called settlement mostly decided in a well-documented secret meeting between then-commission President Michael Peevey and Edison executives in a luxury hotel in Warsaw, Poland? Or did Brown have a major hand in it?


          Either way, the division of costs was so unfair that the PUC was forced last fall to reopen its decision-making process, a process that is not yet finished.


          For sure, more than 60 possibly relevant emails exist between Brown and the PUC. San Diego consumer lawyers Michael Aguirre and Mia Severson have pushed almost two years for their release, but Brown steadfastly refuses, calling them confidential. No one knows if any or all involved Brown’s personal email, which would make these communications subject to the recent state Supreme Court ruling.


          It would not be a good idea to bet on these emails being released anytime soon. When current U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was state attorney general and conducting a loudly announced investigation (still incomplete well over two years after Peevey’s homes were raided by investigators), she delayed indefinitely a ruling on whether Brown must divulge the emails. Meanwhile, Brown was heartily endorsing her Senate candidacy.


          Now, with the impending retirement of Pete Wilson-appointed state high court Justice Kathryn Werdegar, Brown will soon have appointed the majority of members of that court.


          Given that Brown appears to expect even supposedly independent appointees to toe his political line – his PUC commissioners are good examples – there’s no reason to expect the state’s high court ever to go against him.


          For sure, there are indications from material already been made public that Brown at the very least knew and approved what would happen between Edison and the PUC at the time San Onofre was playing out. A June 6, 2013 note sent by Edison CEO Ted Craver to company board members starts with Craver saying he “wanted to give you a quick report on my phone calls with Gov. Brown.”


          At the time, Brown was meeting in Rancho Mirage with then-President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Reported Craver, “He said what we were doing seemed right under the circumstances.” Craver also said Brown “indicated a willingness to” say publicly that Edison was acting responsibly. No one knows what, if anything, else might have been covered in that call.


          No one also knows what Brown said in all his subsequent emails to PUC members. But the eventual PUC decision blatantly favored Edison. There is no record of Brown talking to consumer advocates around that same time.


          Maybe Brown was directly involved in the entire decision-making process. Without the 60-plus emails – and maybe even with them – it’s impossible to know.  He and his press secretary have consistently refused any comment.


          Now comes the state Supreme Court’s ruling on private emails dealing with public policy decisions. If any of the Brown messages were on a private email account, they should be subject to this ruling.


No one yet knows how new Attorney General Xavier Becerra, appointed by Brown, will deal with the issue. So far, he’s said nothing about the entire investigation into the PUC.


All of which means the taint of possible Brown complicity in what may have been corruption remains, and could become a significant part of his eventual legacy unless he relents and lets the public in on public business he so far has kept very private. 


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



NEXT GUV WILL BE KEY TO MOVED-UP PRIMARY

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 9, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “NEXT GUV WILL BE KEY TO MOVED-UP PRIMARY”


          If any measure now before state lawmakers should be a no-brainer, it’s the bill aiming to move California’s presidential primary up into the third position during the next primary season in early 2020.


          If this comes off as sponsors plan, Californians would vote in mid-March less than three years from now, and have their votes actually count for something, unlike the pattern of most of the last 50 years.


          That’s where one innovation in the latest iteration of the moved-up primary idea enters: When California previously tried moving its primary up as early as Feb. 5, other states hustled into even earlier dates in a sort of devil-take-the-hindmost approach.


          The key innovation to cope with this “let’s keep California meaningless” movement is a provision allowing the next California governor to move the primary up as far as needed to keep it relevant. That could enable a vote here as early as late January if other states insist on trying to beat out California.


          This could happen if 2020 sees the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses staged in very early January, as sometimes happens. New Hampshire could then vote as early as mid-January, even earlier than last year, while California goes later in the month or on Feb. 3. If that’s how the calendar plays out, there would likely be a very early Super Tuesday, many other states hop-scotching to the same day as California in order to stay relevant.


          This is all really about giving Californians a voice in choosing their President. The last time California voted very early, on Feb. 5, 2008, several other states moved up into January to dilute its impact. This state got a voice, but not a veto as a heavy Democratic vote here for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama was the main reason their race extended all the way into May. The state’s impact was helped when turnout for that primary was higher than for any in the previous 30 years.


          One thing the early date produced was awareness by all presidential candidates of what was important to voters in the most populous state. By contrast, when Californians voted in June last year, nominations in both major parties had long since been determined.


          Another recent factor may also play a big role: If California moves far up on the calendar, its recent massive use of mail-in ballots could force candidates to give it priority over smaller places with earlier Election Days. Because ballots reach so many voters about a month before Election Day, we could see campaigning here even before the Iowa caucuses. The candidates and their strategists well know that ballots sent in weeks before the official date count as much as those cast on Election Day.


So campaign rallies in December, or even November, could become commonplace here.


          A very early date will be likely if the next governor – to be determined next year – wants California to have a major voice.


          Even though the current legislative proposal tentatively sets the primary for the third Tuesday in March, the 15th, it would be unwise for any governor to leave it there.


          That’s because other states are already front-loading. Aside from Iowa and New Hampshire, guaranteed to vote first by both major parties, Nevada and South Carolina have tentatively set their votes for Feb. 20. Crammed into the first two weeks of March are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Kansas, Michigan and others.


          If California waits until March 15, it might as well keep the primary in June, for all the influence it would have. So the chances of the next governor moving the state into early February or even January are strong, with other states likely to follow suit to preserve some clout for themselves.


          All this will be inconvenient for legislators, members of Congress and their prospective primary opponents, who will have to make decisions and raise money much earlier than usual because filing deadlines – coming in March when the primary falls in June – would now move to the latter part of 2019.


          Too bad for them. The turnout in 2008 and the frustration of many Californians with the outcome in both parties last year assure that this state must move up or forget about having any input on vital issues for years to come.


                            
     -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