Monday, November 20, 2017

THE HYPOCRISY IN CALIFORNIA GOP TAX ‘REFORM’ VOTES

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


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “THE HYPOCRISY IN CALIFORNIA GOP TAX ‘REFORM’ VOTES”


          Hypocrisy is nothing new in politics – or anywhere else in human activity, for that matter. But it’s become a lot more visible lately as women expose more and more sexual harassment episodes in the pasts of prominent men.


          There’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, now exposed as a groper and a purveyor of unfunny innuendo in his former career as a comedian, who’s also been a champion of women’s rights and a prominent accuser of Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore,


          There’s President Trump blasting Franken, despite bragging about serial groping in a video released during his 2016 campaign and despite at least a dozen harassment accusations. There’s also his daughter and adviser Ivanka, who insisted “there’s a special place in hell” for men like Moore, who reportedly often got involved with high school girls in past decades. Ms. Trump, of course, said nothing about her daddy’s alleged past.


          But sex and sexual imbroglios are far from the only subjects for hypocrisy in politics today. There are also taxes.


Among the great majority of California Republican congressmen, inconsistent words and behavior can be less obvious than in the current wave of newly exposed sexual predators.


          Eleven of the 14 Republicans in California’s House delegation just voted for the GOP’s tax “reform” bill (one person’s reform can often be disastrous for others). Add the fact that every prominent California Republican now inveighs against the state’s new 12-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, which the GOP holds responsible for pump price increases averaging almost 30 cents per gallon over the last month. Republicans have yet to address the other 18 cents, the majority of the price rise, but consumer advocates maintain it’s from oil company price gouging timed to coincide with the tax increase.


          Very soon, every Republican member of Congress from California will have endorsed a proposed proposition (now in the signature-gathering stage) to overturn the gas tax increase. GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen of Orange County makes that planned measure the centerpiece of his run for governor.


          The state GOP organization sends out fund-raising pitches asking voters to “condemn the Democrats for their massive gas tax increase!” “We need to hold Democrats responsible,” the emails add, never mentioning that the tax could not have passed without votes from a few Republican legislators.


          While they and their party blast the gas tax, though, the vast majority of California Republicans in Congress voted for the GOP tax bill that, if it becomes law, will trigger an annual tax hike of about $114 billion on Californians – compared with a yearly tab of about $5.2 billion for the gas tax hike. The exceptions in this vote were Placer County’s Tom McClintock, Orange County’s Dana Rohrabacher and Darrell Issa, whose district covers parts of both San Diego Orange counties. Rohrabacher and Issa are both among national Democrats’ top 2018 targets.


          Had the other 11 California Republicans voted to nix the tax bill, which passed by a 227-206 margin, it could have been defeated by one vote, 217-216.


          The proposed measure would cost 6 million Californians who deduct from their federal taxes what they pay in state and local levies at least $101 billion yearly, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That deduction would disappear. So would deductions for property taxes over $10,000 and writeoffs for mortgage interest, which together now save Californians about $2 billion. Student loan interest would also no longer be deductible, adding about $1.1 billion to the tab, and the medical expense deduction would disappear too, the average beneficiary now writing off $9,951, or about $10 billion total.


          Not even a higher standard deduction and tweaked tax brackets can approach making up for these huge losses.


          In short California’s 11 GOP yes voters vehemently oppose a $5.2 billion gasoline tax for long-overdue road and bridge repairs, but back a “reform” that would cost Californians 22 times as much.


          That’s the very definition of hypocrisy, especially coming from folks subscribing to the GOP’s “no new taxes” mantra. Some of the yes voters tried to excuse themselves by saying the bill will change before it passes. That’s a little like sexual predators saying they never meant to harm anyone.


          The joke here is on anyone who continues to believe these are principled politicians.



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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. Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.

MANSON DEAD; HIS ‘FAMILY’ AND ITS LIKE SHOULD NEVER BE FREED

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


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “
MANSON DEAD; HIS ‘FAMILY’ AND ITS LIKE SHOULD NEVER BE FREED


          Charles Manson is dead and the timing is definitely appropriate. The most notorious inmate in the California prison system died this week at 83 of natural causes in a Bakersfield hospital where he had been taken from Corcoran State Prison. Death came not long after an abdominal condition from which he suffered had been found inoperable this fall.


          The timing of Manson’s death was right if only because Jerry Brown, the last California governor with any chance of remembering the terror Manson and his murderous gang spread around Southern California, has barely a year left in his term.


          Once Brown leaves office other members of the gang, better known as the Manson Family, may find it much easier win parole. But at least Californians can be certain that the mesmerizing, unrepentant Manson himself will never be loosed to encourage more gruesome killings by either new or old followers.


          Most of the Manson gang members now in prison have been model inmates, encouraging some who don’t personally remember their uniquely cruel and vicious quality to plump for their paroles.


          Even as Manson’s body was prepped for a funeral or other disposition, follower Leslie Van Houten was up for release, her freedom recommended by a state Parole Board panel. Brown is in the midst of a 120-day period before he has to veto that ruling or let it stand.


          Brown, who lived in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angles during the 1969 Manson murder spree, was only two canyons east of the most notorious Manson family operation. That was the carefully-planned murders of actress Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, and four others in a sprawling Benedict Canyon mansion above Beverly Hills. The nighttime assault saw Manson’s followers carefully cut all phone and electric lines to the isolated house in a time before cell phones rendered the tactic obsolete.


          The victims of Manson followers Charles (Tex) Watson, Linda Kasabian, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel could not call for help.


          Trial testimony showed Manson, who had ordered the four to commit those killings and told the women to follow Watson’s instructions in the process, felt the operation was a bit sloppy. So he went along the next day, when he decided to kill more people, this time in the Los Feliz area near Hollywood, and invaded the home of grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.


          There, he carefully instructed followers including Watson and Leslie Van Houten in what to do, before leaving the scene. First Van Houten and another woman held down Rosemary LaBianca while Watson stabbed her husband to death. Watson next bayoneted Rosemary LaBiana, then gave Van Houten a knife, which she used to stab her victim 14 times. The blood of the LaBiancas was used to scrawl macabre messages from the Mansons on walls and other surfaces.


          Now Van Houten is described by her lawyer as a victim, despite the key role she played. She was only 19 at the time, they claim, and addled by LSD.


          Van Houten has been a model prisoner since her 1978 sentence of seven years to life imprisonment. She’s earned two college degrees in prison and has led self-help groups for other inmates.


          But Brown should not let her go, any more than he’s released other Manson followers. In refusing parole to them, he has speculated that some killers can “change their thinking,” but never put the Manson group in that category.


          Nor should he or any future governor concede anything like that about the worst of California’s other imprisoned killers, including Juan Corona, who killed 25 farm workers before his skein ended; or  Edmund Kemper, the Santa Cruz area’s 1970s-era “Coed Killer,” or Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, who raped, kidnapped, tortured and murdered five young women in 1979 in Southern California.


          While most elderly prisoners pose little risk on parole, putting this kind of person on the streets would justifiably cause many to look over their shoulders while walking down streets or even sitting at home.


          If Manson’s death does nothing else, it should renew the sense of horror at the crimes he ordered and committed and add pressure to keep his remaining followers where they can do no further harm.


         
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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. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net.

Monday, November 13, 2017

BROWN STILL HELPING DEVELOPERS EVADE CEQA

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


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “BROWN STILL HELPING DEVELOPERS EVADE CEQA”


          “I’ve never seen a CEQA exemption I don’t like.” – Gov. Jerry Brown.


          Brown made that observation shortly after starting his second go-‘round as California’s chief executive in early 2011, reacting wryly to his 1990s experience as mayor of Oakland, where the California Environmental Quality Act often forced him to battle for pet housing and school projects, including a military academy he still cherishes.


          So ever since Brown resumed the governor’s office he previously held for eight years in the 1970s and ‘80s, he’s okayed one exemption after another to CEQA, passed in 1970, signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and still the state’s key environmental law.


          He’s gone along with the developer- and union-influenced Legislature time after time, especially on sports-related projects. These include the Sacramento Kings’ new arena, another arena in the works for the Golden State Warriors in the Mission Bay section of San Francisco, the abortive Farmers Field professional football stadium once proposed for downtown Los Angeles and another failed football venue in Carson.


          The largest project to circumvent CEQA so far is the under-construction 70,000-seat football stadium and commercial development on the Inglewood site of the former Hollywood Park racetrack that will house both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers starting in 2020 or 2021.


          That stadium evaded most CEQA issues via a local ballot initiative in sports-mad Inglewood, the former longtime home of basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers. The measure took advantage of an earlier CEQA change which allows developers to qualify local initiatives okaying the projects for a local ballot and then lets city councils adopt those initiatives with no public vote or debate. There’s also no prohibition on voting by city council members who have taken campaign donations from developers involved. Only existing laws banning direct and provable quid-pro-quos apply here.


          The emphasis has been on sports projects when it comes to CEQA speedups and exemptions under Brown, but it also includes heavy pushes for items like the so-called Crossroads of the World development near the already jammed intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.


          Now Brown has approved yet another major CEQA exemption, this one carried in the Legislature by Democratic Assemblyman Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles. The new measure would allow speedups in the approval process for both a planned expansion of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park and twin skyscrapers near the existing landmark round Capital Records building in Hollywood.


          Santiago’s measure entitles any project that costs more than $100 million and meets union-level wage standards, plus standards for greenhouse gas controls, to get final resolution of any CEQA-related lawsuit within nine months. Objectors to many proposed projects attempt to use CEQA strictures in filing lawsuits aiming to stop developments, big and small.


          But after local citizen groups objected, legislators did not send Brown another measure that would have largely exempted from CEQA a new Inglewood arena for the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.


          It’s also a truism in modern California that the more transit projects like light rail are built, the more apartment buildings will quickly go up near it, including both affordable and market-rate housing.


          Brown, who styles himself a worldwide environmental leader because of his strong backing for renewable energy and his constant battles to stem climate change, had no problem with any of these exemptions. Essentially, he has facilitated some of the most significant building projects in recent California history with little environmental review.


          But Brown’s past frustrations with delays in Oakland are no justification for depriving citizens of their right to input on big developments near their homes and businesses, as Brown has now done repeatedly.


          It’s almost as if Brown has a severe case of amnesia, forgetting his 2010 campaign promise to devolve more government authority to local citizens and away from state government.


          All this is sure to go down in state history as one of the least green and least positive legacies of his long political career.



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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. For More Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

HOW ABOUT INCENTIVES IN BULLET TRAIN CONTRACTS?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “HOW ABOUT INCENTIVES IN BULLET TRAIN CONTRACTS?”


          Reports rise almost weekly about missed construction deadlines and other time problems for California’s embattled bullet train project, which hopes to see passengers move between Los Angeles and San Francisco in well under three hours sometime around 2030.


          But the state’s High Speed Rail Authority, charged with spending almost $10 billion in state bond money approved by voters nine years ago, along with federal grant money and other funds from state sources like the cap-and-trade program, denies it has missed a single deadline.


          “We have not missed any completion dates,” insists project spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley. The authority even issued a press release announcing it met all federal timing requirements for more than $2.55 billion in 2009 grant money, while generating $4 billion in economic activity in the state.


          And yet, no portion of the project, which will eventually also see terminals in Anaheim and Sacramento is anywhere near completion. It’s possible none will be completed if the myriad lawsuits against the project ever succeed.    


          That’s one reason a report on the Breitbart News California website looked credible at first glance the other day, when it said the authority had extended a deadline for prime contract work by the Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP) consortium on the 32-mile first stretch between Madera and south Fresno. Breitbart also said the consortium got an 18 percent raise amounting to almost $8 million for that stretch.


          Well… not exactly. The HSR directors actually increased the contingency fund for work on their first segment by $35 million; none earmarked for the TPZP group. The money, said the directors, will “address short-term needs and avoid delaying…critical activities through November.” As of early November, Alley said, the contractors had received none of that money. Nor were any deadlines extended.


          So much for the accuracy of “fake news” critic Stephen Bannon, the former top adviser to President Trump who heads Breitbart.


          All this, however, begs the question of whether the project can really be on time, as officials claim, when not even one short segment is finished more than two years after construction began.


          Which leads to a simple question: Why not put time incentives into bullet train contracts? This is perfectly legal (“We could opt to do that, but… have not done so,” said Alley) and has been effective when the state did use it.


          The best examples of incentives speeding work without increasing costs, while boosting local economies far more than the expenses involved, came immediately after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge shock.


          After Loma Prieta, incentives were written into a contract with the C.C. Myers construction firm of Rancho Cordova, which rebuilt two bridges on California 1 near Watsonville in 55 days – 45 days less than what was allotted for the job. Myers got an incentive bonus of $30,000 for each day it was early.


          It was the same five years later, when two key bridges collapsed along  the world’s busiest road, the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles. Exactly 66 days later and 74 days ahead of deadline, that freeway reopened and commuters stopped using detours that cost them about 30 minutes in each direction they drove. That ended daily costs to the local economy estimated at well over $1 million per day for delays to goods and services. Myers again did the work, pocketing about $14 million in incentive bonuses, part of which it spent on extra workers and overtime.


          The outcome was similar on five other incentive contracts to rebuild earthquake-damaged bridges.


          Despite the proven effectiveness of incentives, Caltrans and other state agencies let the practice lapse. The bullet train has no plans to use them, either. “We have and plan to continue to use design-build and or design-bid-build (contracts) that do not include an incentive,” the authority said.


          The HSR authority gave no reason for such rigidity, and perhaps it will change its mind and do the logical thing if it ever falls behind a legally-mandated deadline.


          But history shows incentives get work done more quickly and create more jobs, even if they are temporary like most construction work. If California’s next governor is smart, he or she will insist on this tactic as a condition of appointment to the authority’s board, whenever vacancies come up.

                  

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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, November 6, 2017

PROP. 54: A BALLOT INITIATIVE THAT WORKED

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “PROP. 54: A BALLOT INITIATIVE THAT WORKED”


          There’s nothing politicians and lobbyists in this state hate more than the ballot initiative process to which they all pay hypocritical verbal homage every chance they get.


          It’s easy to see why they don’t like lawmaking by the public, the essence of initiatives: The process takes important issues out of their hands. It can alter their working conditions in ways they don’t like.


          Sure, politicians will occasionally make use of initiatives, as Republican businessman John Cox and Orange County GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen are doing now in making pet initiatives the centerpieces of their underdog campaigns for governor. Cox is pushing a measure to multiply by 1,000 the number of state legislators, while Allen has virtually appropriated the effort to repeal the state’s new gas tax increase.


          Similarly, ex-Gov. Pete Wilson used the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 to prop up his reelection campaign in 1994 and current Gov. Jerry Brown used the 2012 Proposition 30 tax increases to balance his budgets.


          But politicians generally hate ballot initiatives unless they’re making such use of them. Brown, for example, opposed the landmark 1978 Proposition 13 property tax cuts because they interfered with his own efforts at tax reform. Most legislators fought tooth and nail against Proposition 20, which created the Coastal Commission and has limited development near beaches and view areas.


          But it’s hard to find an initiative that has affected legislators more than Proposition 54, which passed just over one year ago and requires that proposed laws cannot be passed unless they’ve been available in print or via the Internet for at least 72 hours before passage.


          Because of Prop. 54, voters could see the final form of Brown’s proposal for California to join a Western regional electricity grid before it actually passed, rather than having to react after the fact as has happened with many last-minute bills in recent years. Because of that notice and the possibility this plan might cause a new energy crunch, opponents could organize loud protests and the proposition died – for now.


          Similarly, a plan to exempt a new Inglewood arena for the Los Angeles Clippers from provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act also was shelved because it became obvious when the plan was exposed to a little daylight that it could set a bad precedent, despite Brown’s distaste for CEQA. His signature was a virtual certainty if this one had passed, like several prior stadium and arena exemptions favoring developers and big business.


          No one can be sure just how many lousy measures Prop. 54 spared Californians, because the notorious gut-and-amend proposals that have been common in recent decades were drastically lessened this fall. In that process, legislative proposals which already have a name and number have often been totally changed to cover subjects unrelated to those affected by the original bill. When that’s done at the last moment, the public has no chance for any input.


          By forcing legislators to make such changes at least three days before final votes are taken, Prop. 54 moved up the amendment process, often by months. The result ought to be better legislation, although only time will tell how that will pan out.


          All this does not mean California’s lawmaking process is now perfect. With legislators voting on hundreds of bills during the final week of their session, it’s impossible for them to cast informed votes on most items. One result is that party-line votes become more common, with members of the Assembly and state Senate taking their cues from their leadership.


          It’s a problem very similar to what went on with health care this fall in Washington, D.C., where Congress members and senators were forced to vote on Republican proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act – without knowing how many Americans they would deprive of health insurance.


          Here’s a suggestion for a future initiative to further improve state lawmaking: Stagger the deadline for bill passage, with firm limits on the number of bills legislators can consider during any one week. Yes, this might cut down the number of bills proposed in any one session, but does anyone really believe we need all the proposed laws now being put forward each year?


         
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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 

PARTISAN SCHISMS THE RESULT OF ONE-PARTY RULE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “PARTISAN SCHISMS THE RESULT OF ONE-PARTY RULE”


          Some of the 25 surviving Republicans in the state Assembly – a politically endangered species in today’s California – rebelled against their minority leader this summer because he went along with Democrats in authorizing a continuation of the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases and fight climate change.


Those Assembly members were not alone: Earlier in the year, the board of directors of the state GOP voted 13-7 to ask Redlands Assemblyman Chad Mayes to resign as the party leader in the Legislature’s lower house. His offense: Mayes wanted his party to reach out to non-Republicans now that GOP voter registration has fallen to third place in half a dozen legislative districts, behind Democrats and independents.


          This represents a full-fledged party schism, with the Republican right wing led by former gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly and other hard-liners insisting on full-out support of President Trump and ideological purity on social issues like gun control and abortion.


          The Democratic Party also has a divide. Democrats dominate voter registration as no political party ever has in California and hold every statewide elected office from governor to insurance commissioner.


          While many Republicans feel some of their representatives are insufficiently conservative, a lot of Democrats believe their party is too wishy-washy, too deeply in bed with large corporate contributors and not as “progressive” as they would like.


          So during party caucuses last winter, the left-wing – led by devotees of Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders – turned out in big numbers and sent hundreds of grass roots members as delegates to the springtime state party convention where the Democrats’ longtime Los Angeles County chief Eric Bauman was narrowly elected to succeed San Francisco’s John Burton as state chair.


          Richmond-based party organizer Kimberly Ellis lost that race by 57 votes out of almost 3,000 and immediately challenged the result. Party committees later affirmed Bauman’s election, but Ellis vowed a court challenge, claiming party committees were biased.


          There’s also Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Paramount in Los Angeles County, who in early summer essentially killed a Senate-passed bill setting up a single-payer health care system for the state. His move so angered some liberals for whom that is a pet cause that they quickly made him the target of a recall effort.


          And five Democratic Assembly members were targeted by full-page ads in local newspapers for being undecided for awhile on a bill to create a statewide immigration sanctuary policy.


          All this is in many ways the result of the Democrats’ stranglehold on state government and voter preferences. Among Democrats, there’s little sense of peril in challenging party leaders. Their voter registration numbers are so much larger than Republicans’ and their success among independents is so much greater than the GOP’s that they have no worries about party splits somehow producing Republican victories.


          In fact, the most dramatic races now shaping up for governor and other statewide offices pit Democrats against one another. For example, no Republican has yet indicated interest in opposing Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection or in getting into a race to replace her if she retires at 84. But other Democrats are in.


          Nor do Republicans act as if they have much prospect, or even hope, to improve their position here during the Trump presidency. So Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” – “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican” – is all but forgotten. The essence of many Republicans’ approach: If you’re going to lose anyhow, you might as well be pure.


          So far, few Democrats show signs of worry about their split, a leftover from last year’s bitter primary battle between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.


          But some Republicans, including Mayes, want to improve their party’s position. “We can remain in denial and continue to lose elections, influence and relevance,” he wrote in a recent essay. “Or we can…articulate our principles in a way that resonates with a changing California.”


          The party’s nominal top-ranking officeholder, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, added that Republicans “must focus first and foremost on fixing California” and “regain (its) role as the party of freedom.”


          None of these party schisms would exist if state Democrats were not so dominant. But one-party rule creates movements toward ideological purity in both parties, and no one can be sure where that might lead.

         


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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