Monday, April 22, 2019

BET ON IT: CALIFORNIANS WON’T WILLINGLY GIVE UP CARS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 10, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “BET ON IT: CALIFORNIANS WON’T WILLINGLY GIVE UP CARS”


          Since the early 1970s time of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term in office, California officials from the top down have tried to coax Californians out of their cars.


          It began with Brown’s installing as his highway czarina the highly touted “transportation genius” Adriana Gianturco, a Harvard Graduate School product whose first step was to turn two existing lanes of the world’s busiest roadway – the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles – over to carpools only.


          This won her the determined enmity of most local motorists, who soon hounded Gianturco from office and away from California, while the lanes went back to general use and the “Giant Turkey” became a cautionary tale for bureaucrats who followed.


          This 44-year-old lesson appears all but forgotten today, as state and local governments obsess over the notion that mass transit and dense development can somehow lessen traffic gridlock.


          That’s one rationale behind all the bicycle lanes appearing in cities large and small today, often at the expense of traffic lanes and parking spaces. It’s also the reasoning that drives efforts to force dense housing near light rail stations and heavily used bus routes, on the presumption that new occupants will not add to traffic, using mass transit instead.


          The problem: Among California cities, only San Francisco has anything like the comprehensive public transportation system needed to accomplish this. As a result, gridlock is now worse than ever in most cities, including San Francisco, where one recent study showed ride-sharing vehicles from outfits like Uber and Lyft make up 30 percent of all traffic.


          Which means some residents have indeed been driven from their cars – right into other cars. There is no reduction in smog from this; in fact, narrowed streets produce more greenhouse gases than before as cars idle far longer at stoplights because of slower traffic flow caused by transformed traffic lanes. The current profusion of sport utility vehicles doesn’t help, either, as they take up significantly more space than sedans and slow things even more.


          Even the presence of new rail lines doesn’t guarantee more mass transit riders. Last year, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Southern California (MTA) found opening the new Expo Line from downtown Los Angeles to the beach increased train ridership – but bus occupancy on parallel routes was down by similar amounts. A net of virtually no cars were taken off the road by this huge investment, leaving the I-10 as congested as ever.


          But the anti-automobile campaign persists. In San Diego, city officials voted to eliminate parking requirements in new construction, even large apartment and condominium projects. Their theory is that residents will use buses, ride-sharing and bicycles if they don’t have their own parking spaces. This ignores the reality that in cities with parking shortages, a lucrative rental market already exists for what spaces there are.


          Meanwhile, state government, spurred by the same unproven theories, pushes cities to dedicate more and more land for new housing, even where developers have expressed little or no interest in starting new projects.


          Local governments which know the preferences and needs of their residents best are taken to task for failing to report progress toward the state’s housing goals. One recent state report singled out 31 Southern California cities for failing to file such reports. The same study showed that 100 out of 539 cities statewide filed no such reports over the last five years.


          At the same time, MTA directors ordered their staff to write a regional analysis of so-called “congestion pricing.” That’s a concept used in a few cities worldwide – London among them – which sees drivers charged either a per-mile use tax or an entry fee for heading into the most congested areas. The study will also try to determine what might happen if for-hire ride-share vehicles had to pay fees for using city streets.


          The politicians pushing all these measures ought to heed some of  California’s political history and see for themselves what happened to Gianturco, who pioneered in their mode of thinking. Along with her boss, then-Gov. Brown, she learned painfully that letting unproven theories or ones known to be false determine public policies and actions can prove personally and politically disastrous.


     -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

WHERE, WHEN WILL FIRE DISASTER BUCK-PASSING STOP?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 7, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “WHERE, WHEN WILL FIRE DISASTER BUCK-PASSING STOP?”


          One unspoken concept was conspicuously missing the other day, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a wildfire mitigation plan he had loudly touted: responsibility. Instead, there were multiple forms of passing the buck.


          The Newsom-spurred plan has at least three prongs. Even though he didn’t quite endorse them, the governor wants the proposals acted on long before the next potentially massive wildfire season arrives in summer and early fall.


One plan element would see some mitigation of liability for utility companies when their electric lines start fires, especially if the companies are not found at fault. Another envisions a new state wildfire fund created with state money and funds from utility customers statewide, with needy fire victims somehow able to benefit. A third would let insurance companies refuse to sell policies in fire areas or charge more there.


It’s fair to sum up these three plan portions as two bailouts and a license to gouge.


          Incentives are also recommended for utilities switching to renewable energy sources faster than now required, hopefully reducing the climate change that helped the swift spread of disastrously huge fires in 2017 and 2018.


          One group that could benefit from all this: The victims, even though most knew or should have known just what they were getting into. The biggest blazes of the last two years occurred in or near areas that have burned before. People living there had every reason to know the dangers they faced.


          Wrote one local columnist in a fire area: “I told (my wife), ‘This neighborhood is going to burn to the ground someday.’ We bought the house anyway.”


          But the proposed plan would have taxpayers and utility customers who deliberately refuse to live in fire-prone areas share the cost when homes there burn. Already, prices for everyone’s property insurance tend to climb when insurers make multi-billion-dollar payoffs on existing policies.


          That’s just one feature of the Newsom task force plan for a wildfire disaster fund. But why should taxpayers in historically safe areas pay into this?


          Newsom’s response is that “We’re all in this together…” But he doesn’t explain why that should be true for folks who deliberately avoid fire areas. They don’t live in lovely forests, with scenic streams and gullies and thick woods, sweeping mountain views or ocean vistas.


          Reporters who visit just-burned fire areas often hear residents say something like this in virtually every fire-prone part of California: “We love the lifestyle and the ambience here and we won’t be driven out by any disaster.” Most taxpayers and utility customers get neither those vistas nor their ambiance. Why should they subsidize a lifestyle they don’t have and usually can’t afford? If people voluntarily help homeowning fire victims, that’s admirable, but why use tax dollars?


          Deploying tax money after earthquakes and hurricanes is very different, since they can hit almost anywhere and can’t with any certainty be avoided like fire areas.


          Then there’s the Newsom task force approach to the big privately owned utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric: A suggested lessening of their liabilities in big fires. All have lately been found at fault or admitted fault in fires.


          Legislators last year refused to let them completely off the hook, and likely also won’t this year. Instead, lawmakers should clear the way for relatively new publicly-owned Community Choice Aggregation electric providers to buy up transmission lines and other equipment, so long as they maintain it safely. Existing utilities could use money from this to pay for damage they caused.


          Newsom said “No single stakeholder created this crisis, and no single stakeholder should bear its full cost.” He called for costs to be shared by, among others, local governments (read: taxpayers) and utility ratepayers in general. But while no single group created the crisis, plenty of taxpayers and utility customers deliberately avoid fire danger. Newsom didn’t adequately or credibly explain why they should pay.


          In a way, this scene stems from today’s societal reluctance to hold individuals and companies responsible for their actions and behavior.


          But passing the buck eventually stops somewhere, sometime, and California might now be at one of those seminal moments.


 -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, April 15, 2019

LINK HOUSING TO HSR, SOLVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  
“LINK HOUSING TO HSR, SOLVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS”


Gov. Gavin Newsom has long prided himself on taking a holistic approach to government, realizing the connection between key issues like transportation and climate change, fire management and the makeup of corporate boards of directors.


He also likes bold approaches, like his sudden decision in March to issue reprieves for all 700-plus murderers, rapists and arsonists on California’s Death Row.


          So it’s rather odd that Newsom has not followed up since assuming office on one of the more interesting statements he made while a candidate last year.


          Asked during an interview about the state’s hyper-controversial high speed rail project, Newsom made a strong link between California’s huge housing deficit and the potential of bullet trains to help solve or at least mitigate it.


          His remark of about one year ago was very different from the plan he espoused during his winter state-of-the-state speech, where Newsom proposed limiting the bullet train to a relatively short run between Bakersfield and Merced.


          In real life, that might be a decent starter route, but as a stand-alone project, it does little or nothing for the vast bulk of taxpayers footing the bills. Nor would it help an iota in solving the housing shortage.


          But Newsom, who called during the campaign for building 3.5 million more homes in the state within the next seven years, had a different vision before he took office.


          “I think the high speed rail project has become far too expensive,” he said back then. “But it could be very useful in helping with housing.”


          Newsom suggested then that running bullet trains to the Central Valley from the Los Angeles area, the East Bay and the Silicon Valley could make both home ownership and long-distance commutes viable for people living in places like Modesto, Merced, Madera, Tracy and Bakersfield. He did not imply this could solve the very different problem of homelessness.


          Newsom noted that land is exponentially cheaper in the Central Valley than in coastal counties, making homes far less expensive. Some workers already commute between two and four hours daily from there to jobs near the coast. High-speed trains could cut those commutes by half or more, he said, thus making the more affordable inland locations newly viable for many thousands.


          Estimates of the cost of building “affordable” housing run between $330,000 and $450,000 per unit today in projects of more than 100 apartments or condominiums in coastal counties. That expense could plummet in the lower-cost Central Valley.


          Newsom’s proposed budget includes about $1.3 billion as a state contribution to getting started toward his massive housing goal, almost half in the form of tax credits for developers. That’s just a start-up estimate for the massive build-up envisioned. But the eventual tab could likely be cut by tens of billions of dollars if most building occurred in rural areas, where resistance to new construction might also be far less.


          The only way that can work is if there’s fast transportation to locales with masses of jobs. Enter high speed rail.

         
          Applying the savings in housing costs to the bullet train could also solve many of its financial woes, and the project might proceed at least close to its original concept of serving cities from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento.


          Looking at this holistically, it would also cut greenhouse gases and climate change by putting commuters in trains, not cars. The same commuters would then use public transit within the big employment areas (read: cities) unless they kept an extra car near bullet train stations. Cost and inconvenience ensure relatively few would do that.


          Which means the link candidate Newsom saw between housing and the bullet train could become very real if Gov. Newsom pushed it with anything near the zeal he’s shown for getting rid of the seldom-used death penalty.


          “I want to be known for looking around the corner, seeing potential and not doing politics as usual,” candidate Newsom also said.


          It’s time for the still-new governor to act on his words and make linkage between bullet trains and new homes real, something that won’t happen unless he supports it vocally.

                  
    -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

ANTI-VAXXERS GROW MORE AGGRESSIVE AS THEY’RE CHALLENGED


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “ANTI-VAXXERS GROW MORE AGGRESSIVE AS THEY’RE CHALLENGED”


          The more credible challenges are raised against their claim that vaccines cause autism and other problems in children, the more aggressive becomes the anti-vaccination camp in California.


          During the very same week that Danish researchers released a study of 650,000 youngsters over 10 years that found absolutely “no association” between autism and vaccines for diseases from polio and measles to whooping cough and hepatitis, the anti-vaccine camp again raised claims there is such a link.


          That contention – often repeated by America’s most visible anti-vaxxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – is based on a thoroughly debunked British study from early in this century.


          Nowhere are the anti-vaccination folks more active than in California. In the last two months they’ve gone after Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, co-author of the state’s newest law demanding vaccination as a condition of public school registration, and attacked a legislative effort to prevent a repeat of a deadly hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego.


          The bill by Democratic Assembly members Todd Gloria and Lorena Gonzalez, both from San Diego, doesn’t mention vaccinations, but would demand that local authorities take “any action the health officer deems necessary to control the spread of (a) communicable disease.”


          Anti-vaxxers responded that this could allow county health departments to order adults vaccinated, not just schoolchildren. “This is a pretty scary bill if they don’t make any amendments to it,” anti-vaccination activist Denise Marie said in a Facebook video that got thousands of views. Denise Marie does not provide her surname.

  
          Her video was one factor inducing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to promise the social medium will remove false anti-vaccine information from its service.


          Other anti-vaxxers are at least as vocal. The Voice for Choice activist group released a public statement attacking Pan for “invading the doctor-patient relationship.” Early this year, Pan, the Legislature’s only pediatrician, complained that some doctors are falsely writing medical exemptions from vaccination for their young patients in exchange for payments of about $300.


          Pan also wrote the U.S. surgeon general reminding him that compulsory vaccinations are a longstanding American tradition. “George Washington mandated smallpox inoculation of his army during the Revolutionary War to ensure our country’s freedom,” he said. “I call on you to protect our right as Americans to be free of preventable disease…”


          All this came against the background of a major outbreak of measles in counties in southern Washington hosting wealthy suburbs of Portland, Ore. More than 55 cases were recorded just west of Vancouver, Wash., an area where vaccination rates had lately fallen below 90 percent.


          When those rates drop below about 95 percent, vulnerable persons can be more easily infected by others who unknowingly carry the disease.


          But outbreaks of hepatitis in San Diego and measles among Disneyland patrons, New York residents and Portland-area suburbanites don’t deter the anti-vaccination campaigns. They don’t acknowledge it, but they’re putting their unfounded fears ahead of the possibility of deadly disease outbreaks.


          Pan’s 2015 bill ending the religious objection exemption to vaccination for new public schoolers – mostly kindergarten pupils – was supposed to stop the debate.


          It had the reverse effect, firing up opponents who now turn out in significant numbers for legislative hearings here and around the nation. It also expanded the “doctor’s recommendation” market that began with the 1996 Proposition 215 allowing medical marijuana use with such a note.


          The bottom-line fact in all this is that measles can kill, while vaccines never have. Not even when a few persons have had strong reactions to them.


          Here’s what has to happen: Lawmakers must stand up to the anti-vaccination crowd, a very small minority according to every poll. They must pass the Gloria-Gonzalez bill for starters. They also ought to create and pass a new law requiring more than a mere doctor’s note claiming potential ill effects in order to exempt a child from vaccinations. Perhaps a requirement for some sort of laboratory tests demonstrating a vaccine allergy would be appropriate along with a doctor’s note.


          Anything short of this leaves the door open for evasion of the vaccination requirements needed to once again make California free of diseases that formerly plagued the entire world, but are now under control except in areas with low vaccination rates.

           
 -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, April 8, 2019

UTILITY TROUBLES COULD BE A CONSUMER OPPORTUNITY


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “UTILITY TROUBLES COULD BE A CONSUMER OPPORTUNITY”


          Jog your memory back just nine years to 2010 and you’ll find California’s Big Three privately-owned electric utilities spending more than $70 million – $46 million from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. alone – trying to pass a ballot proposition making it almost impossible to create new publicly-owned utilities.


          Imagine the outcry today if PG&E and its allies at Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. spent that kind of money on a measure designed to keep their monopolies intact.


          All three have been implicated in the ignition of several of the largest wildfires in California history, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage to their customers. So the outcry against any repeat of the big-money utility company effort to pass the 2010 Proposition 16 – it failed – would come not only from consumers, but also from victims of fires admittedly started by the electric firms’ equipment, who see any utility spending for political donations or lobbying as essentially theft. It would take money away from the cash reservoir available to compensate victims.


          The utility company effort of nine years ago aimed to require a two-thirds public vote before any new Community Choice Aggregations could be started. Such a huge margin would be virtually unattainable, the utilities knew.


          If that measure had passed, it’s doubtful places as diverse as Marin County and Manhattan Beach, San Francisco and Simi Valley would have the CCAs now serving them. These publicly-owned electricity suppliers buy power where they want, then transmit it back to their customers on power lines owned by the utilities.


          The results include far greater use of renewable energy in California than before, lower prices in many places, and lower utility company revenues.


          It’s that last item that the big regional power companies fearfully anticipated. Because they are publicly-owned, CCAs don’t pay or pass through the same taxes as other utilities. So even if the juice they use costs them a tad more, it ends up costing most consumers a bit less, besides being better for the environment and the planet.


          What’s more, the utilities will never be bankrupted by this, as PG&E has declared it will be by its own negligence in power line maintenance and wildfire prevention.


          The biggest of the CCAs resulting from Proposition 16’s failure is the Clean Power Alliance of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, which serves their unincorporated areas, plus 31 cities. More can join if they wish.


          The first invoices from that brand new CCA went to customers within the last few weeks. These invoices include power transmission charges from Southern California Edison, with all the funds collected via Edison’s existing billing system.


          A typical invoice shows the majority of the money charged still goes to Edison, even under the CCA’s most expensive option, which uses power drawn exclusively from renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric dams.


          But the debut of the Clean Power Alliance and other CCAs was delayed by onerous rules set up two years ago by the state Public Utilities Commission, which has long done what it could to aid the companies it’s supposed to regulate. One rule passed in 2017 set up new, higher levies on CCA customers as a way to compensate utilities for their expenses in building power plants – which customers already fund via their rates.


          But neither the PUC nor the utilities are now now focused on CCAs, obsessed instead with lawsuits both filed and anticipated in the wake of the massive Camp, Thomas, Woolsey and other hugely damaging fires of the last two years.


          Especially with a new top management and board of directors coming to the largest of the utilities, PG&E, this change in their concerns creates an opening for new CCAs like the one now desired by San Diego and its Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer.


          It’s small consolation, especially to burned out homeowners, but this could mean there will eventually be some long-term consumer benefit after all from California’s vast firestorms.


     -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.

BAIL BOND PRESERVATION LOOKS LIKE A WINNER


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 23, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“BAIL BOND PRESERVATION LOOKS LIKE A WINNER”


It’s never easy to convince Californians they should reverse decisions made by the legislators they elect, as Republicans led by the failed gubernatorial candidate John Cox discovered last fall.


          Cox made his pet proposition, a referendum to repeal a 12-cent gasoline tax increase passed in 2017, the centerpiece of his run for governor, but saw it lose by a 57-43 percent margin, not even close.


          But California referenda – the term for propositions aiming to overturn laws passed by the Legislature – can win, as sponsors of a 1982 measure proved when they overwhelmingly killed a plan called the Peripheral Canal, designed to move Northern California river water south around the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.


          And now, anyone looking for a nearly guaranteed winning proposition in next year’s election should check out an already-qualified measure to repeal last year’s law eliminating the centuries-old cash bail system from California criminal courts.


          This law, quickly signed by ex-Gov. Jerry Brown after it passed last summer, appears doomed by the new referendum sponsored by the state’s more than 3,000 bail bondsmen. They, of course, have a vested interest in keeping the present system: If cash bail goes, they would lose established businesses, jobs and income amounting to about $2 billion per year.


          Ending cash bail looks like a loser not for legal reasons, but because it draws opposition from both the left and the right. Republicans like Cox and the GOP’s defeated candidate for state attorney general, Steven Bailey, instantly condemned the new law, passed as SB 10, claiming it was both soft on criminals and unconstitutional.


          Their claim won’t be tested unless the bail bond industry’s proposition fails in late 2020. That’s because the no-cash-bail system SB 10 set up is now in abeyance even though Gov. Gavin Newsom tentatively budgeted $75 million to get it going.


          So strong is the support for cash bail that this referendum qualified for the ballot in near-record time. Sponsors had 90 days to gather the 365,888 valid voter signatures needed to put their proposition on the ballot. They took just 70 days and collected more than 576,000.


          Support for keeping cash bail, at least for now, comes from both liberals and conservatives. The American Civil Liberties Union and others on the left initially supported SB 10, but were turned off by the system that would replace cash bail if the law ever takes effect. This plan was added into the bill in the last hours before it passed, and criminal justice critics fear it might result in keeping more pre-trial defendants in custody than cash bail ever has.


          The planned new system, called “risk assessment,” would rate all persons bound over for trial in California for their likelihood of disappearing or committing more crimes if left free while awaiting court appearances. People accused of misdemeanors would have to be freed within 24 hours no matter their background.


          The ACLU, for one, fears the new system could give judges new power to hold felony defendants indefinitely before trial, and might perpetuate racial or religious prejudices, leading to more persons languishing in jail than now do.


          While Republicans opposed the no-cash-bail law, Newsom and other Democrats praised it, saying money should never decide whether a defendant stays in jail, isolated from family and friends.


          Without doubt, money can do that now: If a defendant cannot make bail or afford the 10 percent down payment on bail usually required by a bondsman, that person stays in custody.


          The bail industry also claims the new system would be unsafe. “Where it has been used, (some) violent offenders have been declared “safe,” while others with minor blemishes on their records have been deemed “high risk” and left stuck in jail,” said Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition.


          Another factor: While California is as solidly “blue” politically as any state in America, it also has a long history of passing tough anti-crime measures like “three-strikes-and-you’re-out,” and by large margins.


          Taken together, all this makes the new referendum almost a sure thing for passage, which would send would-be criminal justice reformers back to their no-cash-bail drawing boards.


    -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, April 1, 2019

INSURERS KEEP GOING AFTER DIALYSIS PATIENTS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “INSURERS KEEP GOING AFTER DIALYSIS PATIENTS”


          The relief California’s 66,000 kidney dialysis patients felt last fall after two serious threats to their survival were beaten back has turned out to be short-lived.


          Not only are labor unions contemplating a second attempt to pass something like last year’s failed Proposition 8, but there’s also an attempt to revive a legislative proposal that could throw thousands of patients who require dialysis to stay alive off the expensive treatment.


          Because labor interests like the Service Employees International Union, which sponsored Proposition 8, lost by a solid 62-38 percent margin last year, that possible revival looks like the less threatening of this dangerous pair.


          Proposition 8 aimed to put more union workers in hundreds of dialysis clinics, where patients with end-stage kidney disease sit for at least three hours, three times a week while their blood runs through filtering machines that cleanse it of toxins normally removed by healthy kidneys. It would have forced closure of an unknown number of clinics by demanding they withhold payment from key workers and officials.


          (Full disclosure: The writer underwent six months of dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant.)


          The other threat last year came from a legislative bill carried by Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva of San Bernardino County. Her measure could have thrown dialysis patients off their health insurance plans if they accept third-party aid in paying premiums.


          For some dialysis patients, such aid is critically important. Many are so exhausted and weakened by the constant blood interchanges they endure that they cannot work, living on fixed disability payments and other forms of welfare. Premium assistance can be the means for staying alive.


          But Leyva’s bill, known as SB1156, quickly moved through several legislative committees, eventually passing handily in part due to support from unions that saw it as somewhat similar in impact to their ballot initiative, which eventually failed. Fortunately for dialysis patients, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed that bill.


          But it is back, a near clone sponsored this time by Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood of Healdsburg, whose district includes much of the state’s North Coast. It would require organizations providing charitable financial aid to dialysis patients to disclose their identities to insurance companies. This bill is part of a national effort by insurers to force such patients off their books and onto public coverage like Medi-Cal. Essentially, the insurance companies seek to transfer their expense to taxpayers.


          Dialysis does cost a lot, often running more than $6,000 per month and sometimes above $50,000. So the new measure can have two major effects: Limiting some people’s ability to get dialysis and increasing insurance company profits.


          No one yet knows how Wood’s new bill, known this time as AB 290, will eventually fare. But there are few new faces in the Legislature, and there’s little new about the identity of their financial backers. Which will likely place the fate of thousands of dialysis patients in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has said nothing about this bill.


          There are ironies here. One comes in the brief bio posted on Woods’ official website, where the longtime dentist brags that he’s “been successful in passing legislation to protect and expand (access to) medical, dental and mental health care…”


          His new bill would have the opposite effect. Because it allows insurance companies to reimburse dialysis clinics at rates below the cost of providing care, some clinics might close or refuse care to patients with premium assistance.


          Many of those patients are helped now by the American Kidney Fund (AKF), financed in part by large dialysis companies that run the majority of California clinics. The AKF gives premium help to about 74,000 dialysis patients in all 50 states, including almost 4,000 in California.


          It called last year’s SB 1156 “a thinly veiled attempt by insurers to prevent kidney patients from being able to choose their own insurance plan, if they accept charitable premium assistance.”


          The AKF claimed that bill aimed to let insurance companies rid themselves of “sicker and more costly patients.”


          So at least some dialysis patients are once again back on notice that their needed care might not last long. That’s not a good thing for folks whose health is already seriously compromised.


     -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

MOVED-UP PRIMARY ALREADY REAPING BENEFITS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “MOVED-UP PRIMARY ALREADY REAPING BENEFITS”


          The benefits and drawbacks of California’s moved-up 2020 primary election are now becoming very clear: Presidential candidates – especially the large corps of Democrats running – are now a ubiquitous presence in the Golden State, and they’re becoming conversant with California issues like never before.


          There are drawbacks, but they mostly affect state and local politicians, forced to make earlier decisions than ever about whether to run for new offices. They also must raise money earlier than ever.


          But the fact that California figures not to be a stepchild under a new president who has campaigned here for months, regardless of who that might be, outweighs any inconvenience or new burdens on the local political class.


          What does it mean for California to be a political stepchild? Just look at the Donald Trump administration’s many actions with immediate or potential ill effects on this state: The attempt to eliminate state authority over smog control, threats to hold back emergency funds for disaster relief, a renewed battle over federal vs. state authority to regulate offshore oil drilling, a refusal to regulate for-profit colleges. Those are only a few Trump initiatives affecting California negatively, items that would be off the table under any president who understands California.


          Being in this state can’t help but provide some understanding to the current candidates, who are not only raising record amounts of cash here, but also hustling for California votes as they have not done for the past four decades.


          Notable moments also can come during their campaign swings. Vermont’s Sen. Bernard Sanders, who campaigned here in 2016 only after his fate had already been sealed, was confronted by the attorney general’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible criminal acts by Trump while delivering a campaign speech near San Francisco.


          Sanders will remember having to react on the fly.


          Others are here seemingly every day. From New York Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand to California’s own Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and many more, they’ve all been here or will be soon. So have the few Republicans who might take on Trump, including ex-Govs. William Weld of Massachusetts and John Kasich of Ohio.


          Because Trump is a shoo-in for his party’s nomination, the Democrats draw the attention, with Harris hoping to be a “favorite daughter.” But the local favorite phenomenon has not worked out in recent elections. One example: New Yorker Trump soundly beat Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on his own turf in 2016.


          It could be the same for Harris here. Sanders first campaigned in this state while Harris was still state attorney general; he’s as well known here as she is.


          But neither is assured a majority of California’s 495 delegates, which by themselves make up well over a quarter of the 1,601 national convention delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination next year. New Hampshire and Iowa have just 68 delegates, combined. California has so many because of its population and its strong Democratic showings in the last three presidential elections.


          Because most California delegates are elected in proportional-vote contests within each congressional district, it behooves presidential hopefuls to campaign everywhere in the state. All 53 congressional districts will elect delegates, between four and six per district depending on how strong the recent Democratic vote was in each place. So Democrats who campaign in Republican districts can win delegates without getting very many votes – if they get out of the big cities and visit places like Placer and Shasta counties.


          But to earn delegates, a candidate must win at least 15 per cent of Democratic votes. This may eliminate some lesser-known candidates. Others will be weeded out by the high cost of advertising here, but candidates who concentrate on rural areas can get around that.


          The entire process is bringing money and eyeballs to California, which has lately gotten some negative portrayals in national media. It’s a scene that can only be good for the entire state, and one that could not happen if the primary were coming on its traditional June primary date.
         
         
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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, March 25, 2019

SLEEPING LATINO ELECTORAL GIANT WAKENS, GOP PAYS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “SLEEPING LATINO ELECTORAL GIANT WAKENS, GOP PAYS”


          For decades, it was been one of the biggest nightmares of the California Republican Party: What happens when the sleeping giant of California politics finally wakes up?


          That feared sleeping giant was the great mass of legal Latino residents in the state, who didn’t bother to vote in telling numbers through most of the years it was growing into the largest ethnic group in this state.


The latest numbers show the sleeping giant in fact did waken in a big way last fall, one of the main reasons why Democrats took over seven seats in Congress that had long been held by Republicans. Yes, Latinos voted Democratic in only slightly higher proportions than they usually have. But the raw numbers told a different story.


          The awakening was actually a gradual thing and it is far from complete. While Latinos surpassed whites five years ago as the state’s largest population bloc by a margin of 39 percent to 38.8 percent, even now, they account for less than 24 percent of all California voters.


          That means Hispanics can wield even more political clout than they have over the last few years, when they at times simultaneously held both the Assembly speaker’s chair and the presidency of the state Senate.


          What they did last year was already enough to shake things up considerably here and in Washington, D.C. Without its new California members, Congress would look quite different today.


          Here’s what actually happened: Where just 16 percent of the total votes in the seven districts that switched parties last year were cast by Latinos in 2014, the last previous non-presidential general election year, in 2018 Latinos accounted for 22 percent.


          This was the single biggest reason why turnout in the districts targeted by Democrats equaled what is usually seen only in presidential elections.


          That flipped those seats.


          The best example may have been the 21st District south of Fresno where current Democratic Rep. T.J. Cox ousted longtime Republican Rep. David Valadao by a slim margin of 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent. In 2014, when Valadao won the district handily, Latinos accounted for 44 percent of votes there. Last year, that number was up to 52 percent. This amounted to an increase of almost 8,000 Hispanic votes in a district Cox carried by only about 1,000 votes.


          Increased Latino turnout plainly did Valadao in. Another way to see it was that President Trump’s regular insults of Latinos and other ethnics aroused them sufficiently to cost his party that seat.


          At the same time, turnout was 58 percent among eligible Latino voters in the Modesto-centered 10th District, compared with just 29 percent during the last previous non-presidential year.


          Latinos in that district, long represented by Republican Jeff Denham, produced 26 percent of the 221,000 votes cast, up from 18 percent four years earlier. The increase did Denham in.


          In other districts, the Latino difference was also pronounced: The Orange County district that went to Democrat Gilbert Cisneros by a slim 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent margin over Republican Young Kim saw a 7 percent increase in Latino votes over 2014. Differences weren’t quite so great in other districts the Democrats flipped, but each of them saw increases of 3 percent to 4 percent in the Latino share of the vote.


          There’s a lesson here for every politician in California and nationally: When the interests of a large demographic group are denigrated by the leading figure of a major political party, consequences will follow.


          The backlash Trump created this time proved there’s a major price to pay for insulting behavior and rhetoric.


          Some Latinos thought their group’s turnout should have been even larger. “You’re definitely going to see higher numbers in 2020,” Virginia Maduena, a former mayor of the small city of Riverbank in Stanislaus County, within the 10th district, told a reporter. “As long as Republicans continue to support Trump’s rhetoric, I just don’t see how a Republican can succeed here.”


          She’s convinced the once-slumbering giant will stay awake and perhaps become even more alert and influential.


          If she’s right, Democrats stand a good chance of hanging onto many of the seats they took from the GOP last year.


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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