Monday, June 1, 2020

SLAPDASH BUDGET CUTS OR AN ARNOLD-STYLE BOND?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 19, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “SLAPDASH BUDGET CUTS OR AN ARNOLD-STYLE BOND?”


          If there’s one word that properly describes the massive budget cuts proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in May, it is “slapdash.”


          Until the governor ordered the vast majority of Californians to shelter at home indefinitely to stem the spread of the coronavirus, no one expected more than routine changes in the annual May revision of his proposed state budget. But the lockdown brought instant recession, worse in some ways than the Great Depression of the 1930s.


          That stunned state budget planners. The May revise shows they reacted swiftly, but not surgically. Rather than pick off items containing waste, they slashed almost everything, from state parks to health programs to public schools and universities.


          Even a cursory look at the planned cuts shows one consistent thread: The neediest will be hit hardest. For some, survival itself is threatened.


          There is a solution to all this, one last used in 2004 by ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a time when the state also faced a huge budget deficit promising almost as much harm as Newsom’s May revise. The movie muscleman suggested borrowing our way out of the crisis, getting voters to approve a $14 billion-plus bond. It was paid off 11 years later during flush times when the final payment was hardly noticed.


          A bond twice that large could solve virtually all today’s problems, and was first proposed by Jim Wunderman, CEO of the business-oriented Bay Area Council. If most economic experts are correct and California’s fundamentals remain sound enough for a major comeback after a vaccine debuts, this is an obvious way out.


          Failure to do judicious borrowing could lead to great suffering and even death for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. Perhaps the neediest are clients of the In Home Supportive Services program, which sends caregivers into homes of the elderly poor a few hours daily, helping with everything from bathing to basic house cleaning.


          The cut Newsom’s staff proposes to this program could end up costing far more than it saves, financially and in human terms. “This could give people a choice between being helped to get out of bed and shopping for food,” said Claire Ramsey, staff lawyer for a group called Justice in Aging. “The program is vital in ordinary times because it keeps people out of nursing homes, which cost much more than this kind of care. But now there’s an absolute need to keep people out of hospitals and nursing homes (where almost half California’s coronavirus deaths have occurred). This cut can lead directly to sickness and death.” Not to mention sky-high hospital and nursing home bills dwarfing any budget savings from the program cutback.


          Newsom also proposes eliminating Community Based Adult Services and Multi-Purpose Senior Services programs, which offer some similar services.


Consequences of these moves can be even more serious than the effects of opening schools late this summer and fall, as six of California’s largest school districts say might happen because of proposed cuts. Yes, that’s important. The less time children spend in school, the more their future can be impacted, even if they tune into virtual, computerized classes.


          Early childhood education, formerly a Newsom pet program, also could be slashed, one likely result being that poor kids will fall farther behind the wealthy than they are now.


The good news here is that state legislators appear opposed to most of the worst planned cuts. The bad news is they don’t know where to find money to avoid them, short of tax increases.


A bond answers that quandary. Borrowing to see vital programs through this time amounts to investing in the state’s future.


          Wunderman points out that higher taxes would be unpopular and probably unwise in a time of high unemployment and uncertainty for thousands of businesses. A bond, he said, could help avoid the worst fiscal effects of the virus, also letting California exploit historic low interest rates.


          It makes sense, it could save lives and misery and it would not burden today’s taxpayers much. So it’s high time state legislators take the initiative back from the governor, put a bond on the November ballot and follow the Arnold example.

                            
    -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

IT’S NOT JUST RAGE AT RACISM, BUT ALSO ECONOMICS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 16, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “IT’S NOT JUST RAGE AT RACISM, BUT ALSO ECONOMICS”


          For decades, academics warned that the ever-widening income gap in America could have dire consequences for California and the rest of the nation unless someone did something about it. Nothing happened.


          Then came the wholly unjustified police killing of the African American Minneapolis resident George Floyd, touching off protests from coast to coast, from near the Canadian border to near the Mexican border. The protests broke out in Seattle and Phoenix, in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia – almost everywhere with significant minority populations.


          These began peacefully. But then crowds began expressing pent-up anxiety and rage left from the 11-week coronavirus lockdown, with its loss of jobs and continuing spread of the plague itself. Both hit minorities far harder than whites largely because of their vastly contrasting living conditions and educational levels.


Over a week of steady demonstrations, looters eventually began exploiting the protests. Some of their raids looked well organized, likely via social media. They went after high-end shopping areas in San Francisco and Emeryville, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and the Santa Monica Promenade.


          In Santa Monica on Sunday, May 31, legitimate demonstrators and looters split sharply, soon conducting their activities blocks apart. On swank Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles Saturday, May 30, and on Santa Monica’s Broadway the next afternoon, looters literally trampled groups of legitimate peaceful protesters trying to divert them from storefronts.


          The thieves went after goods from sneakers to sweaters, jeans to jewelry, TVs to computers and cellphones. The booty so packed their cars, SUVs and pickups that looters themselves almost could not fit in with it. Look for much of that easy-to-sell stuff in swap meets across America.


          Outside some brand-name sneaker stores, the bandits’ vehicles lined up in what seemed a systematic pattern, police so outnumbered in many places that they could not safely intervene.


          Some conservatives including President Trump soon tagged “Antifa” as the culprit, with no evidence. Of course, no one knows exactly who Antifa is, so it’s a convenient, anonymous scapegoat.


          But there’s much more at work here than the usual “outside agitator” suspects, to whom conservatives appear to be applying the Antifa tag, after a group that has not been very active for the last few years.


          Doing that intentionally downplays and ignores the legitimate grievances of African Americans, who have time after time seen police injure or kill unarmed persons of their race. It bypasses at least one legitimate question: Why are police trained in the knee-on-neck technique used by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin to kill Floyd while three other cops stood by as Floyd moaned that he could not breathe?


          But there are deeper issues. California exemplifies them, Los Angeles in particular. Said one businessman who recently relocated to the posh L.A. district of Bel Air, “It’s been hard for me to believe that I can live in luxury here, but less than five miles away are some of the poorest people in America.”


          Academics have noted that contrast for years, sometimes warning it could lead to violence. The New York-based Urban Institute, for one example, reported that between 1963 and 2016 families near the bottom of wealth distribution (those at the 10th percentile) went from averaging no wealth to being about $1,000 in debt, while families near the top (at the 90th percentile and above) saw their wealth increase fivefold between 1963 and 2016. That’s compounded inequality.


          Long before the Floyd murder, then, there was plenty of inequality and reason for minority rage. The rage is now in the open. That’s why it was no coincidence when, at least in California, protesters and their piggy-backing looters headed to high-end areas.


          With a long, hot summer ahead, this outbreak may lapse, but its causes won’t go away. California can hope this is not the start of the class war some scholars warned of, but the only way to make sure of that is to do something about the blatant inequalities in economics, policing, housing and many other areas.


That could lead to a guaranteed monthly income for all, or something else. But there must be movement, or the troubles may only be starting.


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

Friday, May 22, 2020

WHY SHOULD BIDEN CHOOSE HARRIS FOR VEEP?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 12, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“WHY SHOULD BIDEN CHOOSE HARRIS FOR VEEP?"


          For months, California’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has campaigned hard to convince presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph Biden he should make her his vice presidential running mate.


          The ever-ambitious, well-spoken and fast-on-her-feet Harris fits into many categories Biden openly seeks to match: She’s black, female and could appeal to foreign-born voters as the daughter of an immigrant. She would likely overwhelm the ever-meek current Vice President Mike Pence if and when they debate. In case of a loss, she would hold onto her seat in the Senate.


          But many political analysts believe that’s as far as it goes.


          For Harris also has political downsides. For one thing, she won’t get Biden many votes or states he would not otherwise win. He has California’s 55 electoral votes in the bag before the campaign really starts, holding a 30-point lead over President Trump in the latest polling. And he already dominates among African American voters.


          Harris sandbagged Biden in the first Democratic debate last year, unexpectedly scorching him for being soft 40 years ago on school busing for desegregation. Her surprise attack derailed Biden’s early momentum, which took more than six months to recover.


          In her only seriously contested statewide California race, Harris won by the narrowest margin of any major officeholder here in decades. While still serving as San Francisco’s district attorney in 2010, she barely beat Republican Steve Cooley, then the top Los Angeles prosecutor, in their run for state attorney general – during a Democratic California sweep. Harris won by less than 1 percent (74,000 votes out of 9.6 million cast), the outcome in question until a month after the vote.


          This despite several political blunders by Cooley, who insisted that if elected, he would collect his six-figure Los Angeles County pension while drawing another six-figure salary as attorney general.


          On the face of it, Harris might have some appeal to progressive, Bernie Sanders-style Democrats. But that lasts only until they look at her record.


While a district attorney, Harris backed a proposed law enabling prosecution of parents whose kids were habitually truant from school. This could have disproportionally affected people of color and the poor.


          As attorney general, she appealed when a federal judge in Orange County ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2014. And a federal appeals court found her office willfully hid exculpatory evidence in the case of a stepfather accused of abusing his stepdaughter. As a result, the stepfather remained in prison long after Harris moved on to the Senate, despite evidence his stepdaughter repeatedly lied.


          Trump and Pence would likely not attack Harris for much of this, but would certainly highlight her very close past association with former San Francisco Mayor and state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.


          Then there’s the question of whether Biden could trust 
Harris after her debate surprise attack. Yet, other vice presidents 
have been chosen despite previous attacks on their future bosses or 
their close associates: George H.W. Bush famously called some 
Ronald Reagan proposals “voodoo economics” and Robert F. 
Kennedy despised Lyndon Johnson, yet Bush and Johnson became 
vice presidents and later presidents. Even Biden at one 
time disparaged Barack Obama.


          Biden, aware he can seem hesitant and even occasionally 
confused, has pledged to run with a woman, but must choose one 
widely considered ready to step into the Oval Office on short 
notice.


               “The advantage of Harris is that she might be seen as very independent and outspoken in her own right, which could be a plus with a candidate or a president like Biden,” said Arnold Steinberg, a former Republican consultant who recently has advised ballot proposition campaigns. “She might upstage Biden at times, but her persona and most of her record are solid.”


                   The real question is whether Biden – and later the great mass of American voters – will consider Harris as prepared to be president as senators like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.


                   It’s Biden’s decision and it will come soon, but Californians can be sure of one thing: Whether or not Harris gets the nod, she has a long career ahead, in California and maybe nationally.


 -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

MONEY, RACE LINKED TO SENIOR HOME VIRUS PROBLEMS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 9, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  “MONEY, RACE LINKED TO SENIOR HOME VIRUS PROBLEMS”


          The headlines make it clear. So do the statistics on who is most likely to be infected and then killed by the novel coronavirus: Residents of homes for seniors are most at risk, whether the facilities are nursing homes, skilled nursing or something else. Minorities are not far behind, especially when they live in nursing homes.


          About half the 4,000-odd persons killed by the virus in California so far lived in such facilities during their declining months and years.


Simultaneously, the percentage of African American and Hispanic Californians in the COVID-19 infection and death statistics significantly exceeds their percentages of the overall populace. Of course, an outsized portion of those groups also suffers from pre-existing conditions including obesity, lung disease and diabetes.


          There is almost certainly overlap between death statistics at senior homes and overall numbers for minority infections and deaths, as Gov. Gavin Newsom well knows while mulling an attempt by the senior housing industry to gain legal immunity for all its virus-related actions, even criminal behavior.


          If there’s statistical overlap, it’s probably because – as several studies since 2007 indicate – care is often inferior in nursing homes catering primarily to minorities compared to ones whose residents are mostly Caucasian. This is true in California and nationally. Figures published in mid-May revealed that people in homes with more than 25 percent minority residents are more than twice as likely to contract the virus than residents of homes catering mainly to whites.

         
Studies comparing quality of care come from accomplished outfits like the Center for Public Integrity (“Nursing homes serving minorities offer less care than those serving whites”) and the State University of New York at Stony Brook (“Nursing homes in minority neighborhoods provide poorer quality care”).


          Their findings are partly because nursing homes serving minorities depend more on funding from Medi-Cal or Medicaid than those mostly dealing with whites. The same studies find that the greater a facility’s dependence on low-income public health funding programs, the more fiscal pressure on it.


          How severe is that pressure? Medi-Cal payments for nursing home patients average about $217 per patient per day, state figures show. That’s far below the cost of hiring an in-home caregiver for 24-hour coverage, which patients should get in nursing homes.


          This sad picture demonstrates a strong need for a thorough state investigation of senior home treatment of minorities – during the current crisis and before. This should be a major priority for Newsom, whose administration has been largely passive while nursing homes in locales as varied as Riverside and Tulare suffered clusters of coronavirus deaths.


          Meanwhile, senior homes are active in a broad lobbying effort by the health care industry to convince Newsom he should shield such facilities, plus doctors and hospitals of all types, from lawsuits and prosecution, even if their conduct led to COVID-19 fatalities. With legal immunity, plaintiffs would have to prove willful misconduct to win a lawsuit. Even without immunity, California has a decades-old maximum of $250,000 in pain and suffering damages for medical malpractice.


          States like Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Iowa have already granted varying levels of immunity.


       But Newsom gets more pressure than most governors from nursing home reformists and families who have lost loved ones.


          Said Michael Conners, an advocate with the watchdog group Californian Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (via email), “Giving nursing homes license to commit elder abuse right now is a recipe for disaster. What’s more, the scope of immunity being sought is not limited to nursing homes that accept COVID-19 patients.”


          Added Oakland civil rights lawyer John Burris, “(Immunity) incentivizes bad conduct.”


          Reformists say that rather than granting immunity (it’s uncertain that even emergency powers give Newsom that authority), the state should move to ensure uniformly thorough sanitation in all senior homes, better pay to help draw higher quality caregivers and adequate personal protection equipment for them to use.


          So far, there are no signs of change or an investigation, despite the dramatic evidence of racial and economic differences, especially in nursing home care.


          The bottom line: It’s high time state government examines both the many senior home fatalities and their apparent racial and economic components.

                  
     -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 18, 2020

PG&E BANKRUPTCY: WAS OUTCOME EVER IN DOUBT?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “PG&E BANKRUPTCY: WAS OUTCOME EVER IN DOUBT?”


          It’s fair to ask a simple question as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gets set to exit bankruptcy sometime before a June 30 deadline: Was the outcome a done deal before this ever started?


          That’s a valid question because while PG&E will emerge with a mostly different board of directors, it’s essentially the same company as ever, covering the same territory with the same personnel and customers. This repeatedly felonious utility, admittedly responsible for about 100 premature deaths in the last 10 years, will stay in business partly at the expense of electricity consumers almost everywhere in California.


          PG&E is also a model for the state’s other two large privately-owned electric suppliers, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, whose own maintenance problems caused multiple deaths in recent wildfire seasons. In short, if PG&E could get away with its crimes, the others will have the same privilege should they cause similar damage. While the others have not caused harm on the scale of havoc inflicted by PG&E, they have caused plenty of destruction via fires from San Diego to Ventura.


          Early on in the bankruptcy proceeding, which played out in federal court in San Francisco, there was plenty of loud talk from Gov. Gavin Newsom about a possible state takeover of some PG&E equipment and functions. At one point, he said PG&E “No longer exists.”


          Uh-uh. Its customers and victims are discovering PG&E very much exists.


          In fact, state regulators are treating this blighted company just as they always have, even though some faces on the California Public Utilities Commission changed in the last two years. That is to say, PG&E still gets the same favored treatment over its customers, just like all utilities have through the last 60-plus years.


          If the outcome was not pre-ordained, how else to explain what happened to some of the 70,000-plus uninsured or underinsured victims of Northern California blazes the utility helped cause over the last three years, including the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed at least 85? Just two weeks before the voting deadline in mid-May, a still-unknown number had not received ballots in the vote on whether to okay a settlement with PG&E. Yet, the PUC did not try to delay the deadline, even though there had to be a yes vote on the settlement before the utility could exit bankruptcy.


          The vote was by no means certain, as about half the proposed $13 billion settlement consists of PG&E stock currently worth much less than the value it’s given in the settlement.


          How else to explain that out of a so-called $2.1 billion fine the PUC assessed the company for negligence, $1.9 billion will go to maintain and upgrade equipment? That’s not a fine; it’s an investment. Meanwhile, the regulators excused PG&E from paying the other $200 million of the “fine,” reversing a decision by their own administrative law judge.


          How else to explain the fact that the state’s new Wildfire Fund, designed to reimburse utilities for future damages they expect to cause, was partly designed by the woman Newsom later made president of the PUC? She then helped the commission approve charges to most California consumers without even an evidentiary hearing on whether any charge to ratepayers is  justified.


          The Wildfire Fund next “borrowed” $2 billion from the state’s Surplus Money Investment Fund, which normally buys high-yield securities with budgeted money unused by state agencies. The state’s schools and other general fund agencies sorely need that money right now, with massive budget cuts coming. Will it ever be clawed back or will it merely wait for the utilities to do more damage?


          The strong implication of all this is that the outcome as pre-ordained. Said San Diego consumer lawyer Michael Aguirre, “The governor (and his appointees) spent all of 2019 (and part of 2020) using state powers to save the debt- and liability-ridden PG&E – his longtime financial backer.”



          Aguirre is now suing for an end of consumer payments for the Wildfire Fund, which he maintains were illegally okayed by the PUC.


          All of which makes it logical for every electric customer in California to figure PG&E’s survival was completely assured before the ballyhooed bankruptcy proceeding ever started.

         
-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

DENSITY ADVOCATES IGNORE PANDEMIC’S CHANGES


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 2, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
       “DENSITY ADVOCATES IGNORE PANDEMIC’S CHANGES”


          Listen to California’s leading advocates of housing density and you have to conclude that, like ostriches, they kept their heads deep in sand through the state Legislature’s two-month coronovirus shutdown and the statewide lockdown.


          They’re like soldiers fighting the last war, rather than preparing for the next one. That is always a losing proposition.


          “Our work (for more density) has only intensified,” said Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu as he offered new pro-density bills. “People recognize the root cause of California’s housing mess is a shortage of housing,” added his state Senate counterpart, fellow San Francisco Democrat Scott Wiener.


          Their talk reflects one view of pre-pandemic reality, when Wiener pushed hard for a failed measure called SB 50, aiming to force every city in California to encourage high-rise building near light rail stops and along so-called “major transit corridors,” defined by the number of buses running along their streets.


          These so-called solutions could have all but eliminated single-family zoning and changed the character of many neighborhoods and entire cities, giving developers a bright green light. It was no wonder builders and construction unions strongly backed SB 50.


          A key question Wiener, Chiu and their allies always ignored was this: Who was going to buy or rent the apartments and condos created by all the purported new building? Pre-virus, the state’s inventory of unsold homes was near peak levels because there weren’t enough qualified buyers for available properties.


          With millions of new unemployed and others working for vastly reduced pay, the corps of qualified buyers has been reduced from even its prior levels.


          Wiener, Chiu and other advocates of unbridled high-rise construction consistently ignored these realities, including the fact that before the coronavirus, the price of an “affordable” unit averaged about $360,000. How many low-income folks who qualify to buy affordable units possess the $70,000 or so needed for a 20 percent down payment on those places?


          Now, the pandemic has changed things dramatically. As destructive and deadly as it’s been, it also presents California with an obvious housing solution: Convert much of the soon-to-be-vacant space in the state’s myriad office towers into housing units.

         
          Many companies like Twitter and Dell Computer and hundreds of others that sent employees home to work during the virus lockdown have now told them to keep working there forever, if they like.


          This is the new post-pandemic reality confronting high-rise owners: With millions of white-collar employees “distance commuting,” businesses that lease millions, perhaps billions, of square feet in tall buildings suddenly need far less office space.


          A new study from the San Diego-based firm Global Workplace Analytics concluded that “25-30 percent of the workforce will be working from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021.” That will very soon leave huge amounts of office space empty.


          This translates to huge amounts of available, eminently livable space soon to be available for apartments and condos. There will be 30th-floor units with magnificent ocean, river or mountain views, along with second- and third-floor studio and one-bedroom apartments for rent at much lower prices.


          It will take little more than plumbing, electric and drywall work to convert current office space to these new and needed uses, carving the existing space into different arrangements. Memo to unions, contractors and realtors: The conversions will create many thousands of new jobs for several years.


          One advantage of all this is that since the buildings exist, construction costs will be a fraction of what they might be under plans pushed by the likes of Wiener and Chiu, lowering the price of new housing. Neighborhoods and cities won’t be sullied. In fact, new high rise denizens will cause less traffic than current commuters. Plus, many existing buildings already sit in job centers near mass transit.


          This housing solution, driven by market forces and not politicians, can create more housing at lower costs than Wiener and Chiu dream of. It will also get high-rise owners off the hook for their massive investments in buildings that will otherwise become obsolete.


          The wonder is that folks like Wiener and Chiu show no sign of seeing any of this, even as early phases of the new housing phenomenon take place before their very eyes, mere blocks from where they live.


     -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 11, 2020

SHARED THEME FOR ANTI-VAXXERS, CORONAVIRUS HOAXSTERS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 29, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
       “SHARED THEME FOR ANTI-VAXXERS, CORONAVIRUS HOAXSTERS”


          Many of the same demonstrators wanting California to end all aspects of its COVID-19 lockdown immediately have also been front-line protesters against recent California laws making it slightly more difficult for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated.


          And some of the new protests are at least partly organized by anti-vaxx groups like the Freedom Angels Foundation.


This can seem surprising: after all, what could be more of an affirmation for vaccines than a disease rampaging precisely because there is no vaccine to stop it? We no longer see once-dreaded scourges like polio and smallpox today – anywhere in the world – only because scientists created vaccines to immunize almost every person against them.


          If anything should convince rational minds of the good vaccines do, it should be an out-of-control plague loosed upon the world chiefly because we lack either a preventive vaccine or an effective treatment for it, despite President Trump’s many “helpful” suggestions about consuming unproven drugs and even bleach to kill it.


          The very small but very loud anti-vaccination community has trouble following this logic. Some of its folks march on the state Capitol and other sites these days bearing signs proclaiming “COVID-19 is a Lie,” “Social
Distancing = Communism” and the like.

         
          So far, the California protestors have not trumpeted some of the more outlandish claims made about the coronavirus in other parts of the world and nation. One widely-disseminated contention is that 5G cellphone towers caused the crisis. It’s easier for such baseless junk theories to go viral and gain acceptance if they are furthered by celebrities.


That happens when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. propounds unproven calumnies about vaccinations. And it happened with the 5G charge about the coronavirus when actor Woody Harrelson posted it on Instagram, even though he noted the idea wasn’t “fully vetted.”


          But the basic idea behind both the anti-vaccination movement and demonstrations against the coronavirus-related lockdown is the same: In both cases, protesters insist their individual rights trump any societal needs for safety and survival.


          It’s part of the longtime American debate over whether there is such a thing as a “social contract,” an implicit agreement that government and society have some obligations to aid their people. For many years, this has been a major difference between Democrats and Republicans, the political pendulum swinging back and forth between them for generations.


          Democrats created Social Security over Republican opposition in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s, essentially saying society is entitled to take some income from younger people to help their elders survive. Decades later, Democrats created the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, in effect saying society is entitled to tax its members to provide health care for those who don’t have it. Most Republican politicians opposed this from the start; they still do.


          When challenged, anti-vaxx activists often say or write things like “I’ll do what I want with my children and government should have nothing to say about it.” Never mind the health and lives of millions of other kids their unvaccinated children could infect. Now the anti-lockdown protesters clamor for complete freedom of movement, association and assembly even while medical experts say this would lead to far more infections and deaths from the virus.


          Try to stop them and some label the virus a hoax. Or say it’s no worse than the common cold. Ask the 80,000-plus Americans whose lives it has already taken about that one.


As in many earlier arguments over the social contract, Democratic officials take the lead in plumping for greater adherence to social distancing while many Republicans are reluctant. GOP governors were among the last to enforce the anti-virus tactics that now hold down California’s caseload, while Democrats like California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were among the first. Republican governors have been first to reopen their states, while Democrats are doing it much more slowly.


          The bottom line: Viewed as part of a very long argument over what government should or should not do for masses of Americans, today’s demonstrations and the irrational claims they sometimes purvey should be no surprise. Logic has rarely been central to this very emotional debate.

         
          -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

MEMO TO SPLIT ROLL ADVOCATES: WAIT


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 26, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “MEMO TO SPLIT ROLL ADVOCATES: WAIT”


          As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, California and the rest of America wallow ever deeper into the worst recession since the Great Depression of the early 1930s.


          Millions of Californians are out of work. Thousands of businesses that were products of hard work, initiative, sacrifice and devoted nurturing are gone or soon will be. In every field from restaurants to nail salons, hobby shops and sporting goods outlets, hundreds of once-thriving businesses are dying or dead. When – or if – their eventual replacements will appear remains unknown.


          For owners of commercial real estate, which range from individuals to large real estate trusts owned by pension funds and millions of small investors, this is a formula for disaster and possible destitution.


          Into this quagmire step the sponsors of California’s split roll ballot initiative, which earlier this spring submitted signatures for a November yes-or-no vote even as the pandemic peaked.


          This measure aims to do what liberal politicians and activists have sought since the landmark Proposition 13 property tax limits passed in 1978: tax commercial real estate based on market prices, while leaving residential properties alone, their levies based on either 1 percent of the latest purchase price or 1 percent of 1975 assessed value.


          If sponsors of the as-yet-unnumbered split roll proposition, mostly labor unions, are wise, they will pull their measure out of November. If it goes ahead, it is likely doomed.


          Even before the pandemic, this idea’s fate was questionable, although it has some merit. Based on late-2019 values of commercial property, it would give between $7.5 billion and $12 billion to public schools, community colleges and local governments, often cash-strapped since passage of the original Proposition 13.


          But only God knows what current values of California commercial property might be, given the havoc wrought by COVID-19. It’s not merely that so many businesses are dead or dying and therefore not paying rent, but also that numerous ongoing businesses have refused to pay rent since the beginning of April, assured of staying in place by government edicts that ban evictions at least until mid-summer.


          Sure, they might eventually have to pay back rent. But even if they do, it amounts to an interest-free loan subsidized by owners of commercial property. It’s a deal some businesses could not resist, so at least one-fourth of all commercial renters nationally have paid nothing for their quarters for the last two months.


          Anyone can see this reduces the value of commercial property, and that cuts the revenue benefits of a split roll. How long that might last is anyone’s guess.


          Meanwhile, property owners might try to respond by raising the rent on other tenants, a cost those businesses would try to pass on to customers. So the net split roll benefit to the voting public, if any, is unknown.


          Into this information vacuum step the pre-existing opponents of the split roll. Prior to the pandemic, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., named for one of Proposition 13’s two progenitors, was already blanketing homeowner mailboxes with material that looked a lot like official government communications.


          The split roll, the Jarvis organization claimed months ago, would “take Proposition 13 apart.” A vote against the split roll, the mailer told homeowners, would be essential “to preserve your Proposition 13 tax savings.”


          Never mind that not a word of the split roll measure had anything to do with residential property. As far as the Jarvis group is concerned, an attack on any part of its favorite law is an attack on the entire thing.


          Similar arguments often help defeat local school bond measures, and this year’s canards expanded on prior ones, claiming most money from split roll would go to fund existing public employee pension deficits. Never mind that even if this were true, those pensions were promises made to public employees by duly elected officials, essentially deferred pay for the workers involved.


          Reducing pensions would be a broken promise, rendering all future government commitments unreliable.


          It’s a climate that makes split roll’s fate very dicey this fall, if the unions sponsoring it persist. They would be much wiser to wait for a better time.


-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 4, 2020

CENSUS EXTENSION MAY HELP CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
       “CENSUS EXTENSION MAY HELP CALIFORNIA”


          The expectation this year was that the 2020 Census would cost California one or two of its 53 congressional seats. Then came decisions by Republican-controlled states like Texas and Florida – believed to be America’s fastest-growing states – not to invest in making sure their residents were thoroughly counted.


          After that came the coronavirus pandemic. That led to current plans for pushing back the Census deadline four months, with final results likely to be reported by April 2021, rather than in mid-December of this year.


          This could be important to California for several reasons. One is that the extra time would give much more opportunity for Hispanic and other immigrant-oriented groups to convince their constituencies it’s to their benefit to participate. Pre-pandemic, those outfits saw their outreach and staffs built up by the $187 million California invested in getting as complete a count as possible.


          If California’s count is complete and those in Texas, Florida, Idaho, Arizona and other faster-growing, Republican-leaning states are not, it’s conceivable California might keep all its current seats, despite the just-completed 20-teens being the state’s slowest-growth decade of the last century and a half.


          From the moment COVID-19 became a huge factor in California life, it was clear that door-to-door efforts so often used by the Census to ensure the fullest possible count would be hindered, if not eliminated.


          That operation was to start in early April. But most Californians by then were sheltering in place and maintaining social distancing. In some other states, Florida and Texas among them, such restrictions were not yet in force everywhere. In counties that did impose such tactics, they often did not last as long as here.


          That could have meant a very incomplete count here and in other states taking the strictest approaches to the pandemic, like New York, Washington and Michigan.


          Having a complete count here is vital not merely because of congressional representation. The Census figures will also be used for the next 10 years to allocate federal grants for everything from public schools to sewer and road construction, forest management and welfare subsidies.


          Opponents of illegal immigration often suggest it’s wrong to count the undocumented who live and work here, even though they pay taxes of many kinds. These are the same folks who often claim illegal immigration saddles other Californians with huge expenses for health care and education, among other items.


          That’s contradictory thinking. For counting every human living here – as the Constitution demands – means federal education money, federal grants to hospitals, emergency rooms, disaster relief and Medicaid will come to California in higher amounts than if illegals are not counted. This lessens the burden on California taxpayers, whose state has long gotten back far less than a buck for every dollar they pay into the federal treasury.


          Anyone who wants more fairness in federal spending should realize counting everyone is the best way to assure that, with little political wrangling in the process.


          In spite of the Census Bureau making it easier than ever to get counted (via first-time use of telephone and online reporting by households), barely 45 percent of Californians had been counted by mid-April, possibly hindered by coronavirus preoccupation and confusion.


          But the new easy-response methods make good sense in today’s situation. Providing the very basic, general information the Census seeks (Example: How many persons lived in your household as of April 1?) via the new methods, rather than filling out a paper form or answering the door for a Census taker, is the safest alternative, least likely to lead to viral contagion.


          But now, everyone across the county will almost certainly have an extra four months to respond. In California, that gives the Latino advocacy groups being paid to promote the count a lot of extra time to convince the undocumented they have nothing to fear by getting counted. That’s a far easier task since the Trump administration lost its bid to include a citizenship question on the basic form.


          The upshot is that extra time stands a good chance of translating into proper representation and funding for California, a good thing in this era of a president more hostile to this state than any of his predecessors.

         
          -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

IF NOT BIDEN, COULD DEMS PICK NEWSOM?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 19, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “IF NOT BIDEN, COULD DEMS PICK NEWSOM?”


          The longer a 26-year-old charge of sexual harassment and groping against former Vice President Joe Biden hangs around despite his denial, the louder grow rumors that a brokered Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer might replace him at the top of its ticket.


          If Democrats don’t anoint Biden, then might they pick California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose national profile grows larger with each of his daily noon briefings on the COVID-19 plague?


          Of course, this all may be far-fetched. Sexual harassment charges did not harm current President Trump four years ago, not even after myriad replays of his videotaped braggadocio about groping whichever women he liked, whenever he liked. Past womanizing also didn’t stop former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


          No doubt, it would be the pot calling the kettle black if Trump should harp on the charge against Biden when he takes to the post-coronavirus campaign trail. Trump not only has a long line of women making harassment claims and worse against him, but there is strong evidence he paid some off to stifle their complaints.


          But Trump always exhibits considerable Teflon, proof of his prevarications leaving little trace as they wash off him. Meanwhile, nothing has seemed to wash off Biden. Plus, he alienated many women when, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, he minimized sexual harassment complaints by Anita Hill, then a University of Oklahoma law professor.


          So despite his own escapades and Biden’s long record of backing women’s rights, Trump might manage to pull off a sexism accusation against Biden.


          If by August, it appears this could lead to a Biden defeat and a Democratic loss of their congressional majority, America might see its first seriously contested political convention since 1952, when Gen. Dwight Eisenhower bested Ohio Sen. Robert Taft for the Republican nomination.


          Should many Biden delegates become disillusioned, a contest could emerge between the intensely ambitious Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, most prominent among governors running state responses to the viral pandemic.


 Almost certainly, most convention delegates would not turn to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the primary season’s runner-up. Sanders never demonstrated he can draw much more than 35 percent of the Democratic vote in any primary, major or minor. No Democrat can win in November with so slender a base, no matter how avid his supporters might be.


          Meanwhile, Cuomo, doing daily virus updates in the national media center of New York, gained only a slightly higher profile than Newsom. The California governor appears often on major national TV interview shows and frequently talks with national reporters and columnists, while often ignoring widely circulated pundits in his home state.


          He’s prone to calling California a “nation-state,” seeming to equate his performance and responsibilities during the pandemic to those of presidents and prime ministers. His approval rating sits near 70 percent, despite loud protests against some of his anti-virus tactics and the dispute over his trying to close Orange County beaches. It remains to be seen how he will handle the state’s gradual reopening.


          While Cuomo often says he won’t run for president, Newsom makes no disclaimer. Of course, plenty of politicians who’ve said they don’t plan to run for an office later ended up occupying it. So might Cuomo.


          Newsom would have one big advantage over him in any open convention: With 415 voting delegates on the convention’s first ballot to New York’s 224, Newsom could begin with almost twice as many floor voters as Cuomo, if both state delegations stuck with their favorite sons – a big if in Newsom’s case. It takes 1,991 delegate votes to win the nomination.


          In open balloting, Sanders would likely get enough first-round support to force more voting.


          California would get 79 additional votes from so-called “superdelegates” on subsequent ballots, while New York would add 37. Further advantage to Newsom.


          If Trump is smart and wants to avoid facing a young, bright candidate like Newsom, he might have his surrogates lay off harassment charges against Biden until Biden cements the nomination. But Trump has never exhibited much patience. All of which could see Newsom start next year as president.


-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