Monday, December 5, 2016




          There was big, very big, ground water news for California in 2016, but almost no one paid attention because it came in the midst of the most heated presidential campaign in modern memory. For those who did notice, it seemed almost like Christmas came early, at midyear.

          The news was this: A Stanford University study found huge and previously unknown supplies of ground water far beneath the surface of the ever-thirsty Central Valley. At a minimum, the newfound water supply amounts to twice the amount pumped from Central Valley aquifers since California was settled, or about 270 million acre feet (one acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land, weighing about 10 tons).

          The total weight of the water on hand amounts to about 2,700 billion tons, the Stanford researchers estimated.

          This good news seemed to bring a sense of relaxation to big farms that have used more than 125 million acre feet of ground water over the last century or so (figures for ground water use are notoriously imprecise). But the efforts of water districts to draft new ground water rules under a 2014 state law nevertheless continued, and that turns out to be a good thing.

          For getting the “new” supplies the researchers found by examining data from 35,000 water wells and 938 oil and gas wells turns out to be pretty complicated and uncertain.

          For one thing, the suddenly discovered many, many millions of acre feet are not exactly staring anyone in the face. Most of them are pooled at depths between 1,000 and 10,000 feet below the face of the earth, the bulk at levels a mile or more down. A 400-foot water well now typically costs between $6,000 and $12,000 to drill, depending on the geology involved. Adding a well cap to keep the water supply free of vermin can cost thousands more. No one is quite clear how much a 9,000-foot well might run.

          There’s also the likelihood that the water might be salty, as a rule of thumb says that the deeper it sits, the saltier the water. For sure, the deeper you go, the older the water you’ll find. Researchers have estimated much of the newly-found California supply might have been in place more than 20,000 years, so there’s a good chance it would have to be desalinated. It might also need to be purified in other ways, if residue from oil and gas drilling or fracking has trickled into it.

          There could be a few other problems with pumping water up from thousands of feet underground. One is subsidence. The floor in many parts of the Central Valley today is about 30 feet lower than it was 1925, the result of ground water pumping. Emptying deep-down basins of the water that has filled them for eons could see far more land sinking much farther. Even without using this water, the agricultural region has seen steady sinkage every year for decades. Government pays billions of dollars every year to fix sinking bridges, cracking irrigation canals and buckling highways caused by subsidence.

          Pumping that water also is a one-and-done deal. Since it would take much more than 50 years to refill basins that don’t collapse, this is water that can essentially be used once, and never again. Even if it’s a little cheaper to desalinate and clean than sea water, at least the oceans are rising these days – despite President-elect Donald Trump’s claim that climate change is a scam – unlike California’s ground water levels.

          The upshot is that even though Californians now know there’s far more water underground than anyone thought possible a year ago, this is no easy-to-unwrap Christmas gift. Rather, it’s a supply that should only be exploited in a time of maximum desperation, a condition California has not come close to reaching.

          And that means the pokey timetable of that 2014 ground water law should be speeded up, its 2030 deadline for meaningful regulations moved up by a period of at least five to seven years if the state is serious about conserving and replenishing accessible ground water found fairly close to the earth’s surface.


     Email Thomas Elias at 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




          All through his career, unpredictability has been the hallmark of Gov. Jerry Brown, and he did it again by choosing 12-term Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles as California’s next attorney general.

          With his confirmation by a Democratic-controlled Legislature completely certain, Becerra will force other major politicians to look over their shoulders; some are likely to change their longstanding plans. He also moves the state beyond an era of substantial domination by a clique of San Francisco-area Democrats that has included U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, outgoing Attorney General and new U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Brown himself, a former Oakland mayor.

          Becerra, 58, instantly becomes California’s top-ranking Latino politico. He’s not saying, but he could run for election to his new office on his own in 2018, or he could run for governor against the declared likes of Democrats Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and possibly so-far undeclared Republicans like San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer or outgoing Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

          Former San Francisco Mayor Newsom led the only major public poll conducted so far on that race, with the two Republicans placing second and third. Becerra, until now the Democrats’ No. 3 figure in the House, would shake up that race enormously because of his longtime popularity among Latino voters.

          But he insists he’s not looking ahead. “I’ll be gratified if I can make sure I can get confirmed to be the next attorney general,” he said in a television appearance just after Brown announced his choice to succeed Harris when she moves to the Senate. “Right now, I’m thrilled the governor would put this confidence in me to be the next AG.”

          The choice of Becerra was a slap at two-term state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a firm consumer-rights advocate who has clashed occasionally with Brown over regulation of health insurance companies.

          Jones, so far the only declared 2018 candidate for attorney general, could react in several ways. Although he’s held his current job six years, he could run for reelection, insurance commissioner being the only statewide office without a two-term limit. Or the former assemblyman from Sacramento could do what Newsom did in 2010 after it became clear he had no chance against Brown in that year’s Democratic primary race for governor – settle for becoming lieutenant governor.

          Both the attorney general’s and the lieutenant governor’s offices can be stepping stones to higher office; Harris is the latest to use her post that way. Ex-attorney generals who became governors include Earl Warren, Brown, his father Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and George Deukmejian. Gray Davis was the latest former lieutenant governor to take the state’s top office.

          For sure, Jones won’t switch from his run for attorney general until he knows Becerra’s plans. For Becerra has long coveted a seat in the Senate, and might have run for the one Harris will soon take, except that Harris entered that run the moment Boxer announced her retirement early last year. She quickly corralled support from every major Democratic officeholder in the state. So Becerra stayed in Congress until Brown tapped him early this month.

          Should Feinstein decide sometime in the next two years to retire from the Senate after four-plus terms, Becerra might seek her job.

          But if Becerra and Jones both run for attorney general, the two popular and accomplished figures are likely to split the Democratic vote in the 2018 rendition of California’s top two primary, possibly producing a November runoff between two Democrats, as happened this year when Harris easily beat Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

          It’s also possible that if Becerra enters the gubernatorial field after serving a year or so, he could force one or two of the other prominent Democrats running to drop out – or risk splintering the Democratic vote so badly that Faulconer and Swearengin end up in an all-Republican runoff. That sort of things has happened twice in lesser contests. The top-two system makes this possible even though where Democrats now hold every state major office, plus two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

          All of which means one choice by Jerry Brown has quickly shaken up California politics more than any event since Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

     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 

Monday, November 28, 2016




          No high school exit exams have been administered in California over the last two years, but the test is due to return in 2018, by which time it is to be reconfigured to conform with the math and language arts skills now being taught in public schools under the federally-inspired Common Core curriculum system.

          This means that for at least the last two years, employers hiring new high school graduates haven’t known for sure what they were getting. What’s more, employers now considering adding to their payrolls folks who have graduated since the exam began in 2006 are in the same quandary, forced to hire blindly when it comes to knowing what applicants have learned.

          That’s because the same law that suspended the test while it’s being redone also allowed diplomas to everyone who ever failed it but met all other graduation requirements. At the time, one large newspaper featured a happy-talk story about a young woman who repeatedly failed the math portion of the exam. She was suddenly free to pursue a registered nurse degree. Would you want to take drug doses calculated by this young woman?

          Now the state’s two-term schools superintendent Tom Torlakson wants to make this sort of situation permanent.

          Torlakson told the state Board of Education in a memo that the exit exam long since outlived its usefulness as a performance screen. “California has embarked on a path toward preparing all students for college careers and life in the 21st Century through a focus on performance, equity and continuous improvement,” he said. “This is a path where (local school boards) take on an increased role in designing the kindergarten through 12th grade educational structures and supports for students to reach their full potential. Because of the comprehensive resources now available to identify students in academic need at lower grades, (the exam) is no longer necessary.”

          Come on, Tom. You know just because a third-grader might be identified as needing help in science or math or English doesn’t mean that kid will eventually learn anything in those subject areas. You know it doesn’t hurt to take the exam, which was passed in its heyday by 95 percent of high schoolers.

          Fortunately, Torlakson will not have the final say. It would take a vote of the Legislature and a signature from the governor to dump the exit exam for good. But in this politically correct era (at least in California), it’s just possible that the fact remediation is available to students will trump the fact that not all students identified with needs ever avail themselves of the help they are now offered.

          Testing remains the only way to weed out those who don’t and thus prevent them from essentially duping potential future employers into assuming they know things they don’t.

          Even the story of the putative nurse illustrates how well the exit exam filled its main purpose while it was in use. That purpose was as a kind of certification that any high school graduate in the state could safely be assumed to know things that could not be presumed during the era of social promotion preceding its adoption in 2005.

          Suspending the exam, as lawmakers did when they passed a bill by Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu of La Canada-Flintridge, unnecessarily ended that certainty. Even if the exam needed rewriting, there was no reason any rewrite required several years to perform. It easily could have been rewritten in less than a year, especially since the new Common Core curriculum was well-known and discussed for several years before California abandoned the exit exam.

          The bottom line: Torlakson is flat wrong on this one. The exam should not be abandoned just because a relative few kids couldn’t pass it. Rather, because students always had multiple chances at the test, those who fail on their first, second or even third try still can have plenty of time to study the subjects they failed and reverse their results.

          There’s no reason for other students not to get the benefits of passing the exam just because some are insufficiently motivated to improve.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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




“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states,” Barak Obama famously observed in 2004, several years before he ran for President. “But I’ve got news for them: There’s the United States of America.”

Twelve years later, Obama is about to depart the White House, and by now he has probably learned there are significant differences between so-called “red” states that tend to vote Republican in presidential elections and “blue” ones that usually support Democrats. The colors, of course, come from maps often used as television graphics during election coverage.

What are some of those differences? While campaigning – at least before Donald Trump – Republicans have tended to focus on values, claiming families and traditional marriages are stronger in red states than blue ones, while Democrats contend poor people, minorities and women are better off in blue ones.

California, of course, has been a consistently blue state since 1992, when Bill Clinton carried it with a plurality of the vote against the elder George Bush, not winning an actual majority here until 1996.

Republicans often say California Democrats have wrecked the Golden State over the last 25 years, citing what they insist is a declining quality of life and an expanded role for government.

It’s true Democrats have dominated the Legislature almost all that time, passing laws that regulate everything from cell phone use in cars to teaching about gay history in high schools. A “nanny state,” many Republicans call it, ignoring the fact Republican governors like Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on most of the new regulations Democrats passed in the last quarter century.

Ethnically speaking, California became blue when its Latinos began to get politically active. But in many other ways, this is statistically a pretty standard blue state, and there are major differences between those states and their red rivals. Here are some (based on U.S. Census data):

-- Blue states tend to have a more educated populace; California is fairly typical with 37.4 percent of adults holding college degrees. Deeply blue Massachusetts (despite its Republican governor) ranks first in this category with 53.4 percent of adults holding at least a bachelor’s degree. At the bottom in this category is a corps of red states including Alaska at 26.6 percent, Texas at 32.2 percent and Arizona with 33 percent.

     -- Red states tend to have a far higher percentage of people abusing drugs, led by West Virginia with 25.8 persons out of every 100,000 dying of drug overdoses each year, Utah with 18.4 and Alaska 18.1 in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.

          Red states like Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee all topped 14 per 100,000 in this sad category. California, again in drug abuse a fairly normal blue state, saw only 10.4 persons out of every 100,000 take fatal overdoses, both from illegal drugs and prescription ones. (Statistics from the Policy Impact Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

     -- A little counterintuitive, the map of state with the highest
Census-reported divorce rates is also almost all red, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky, Nevada (the only blue state here, but also the only state with an active quickie divorce industry), Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona.

     --Unemployment, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. In the latest Department of Labor statistics, three red states (Alaska, Louisiana and West Virginia) are among the top six, with Alaska leading the unfortunate way at 6.7 percent, but they are joined by three usually blue states (Illinois, New Mexico and the District of Columbia).

     --  Red state citizens tend to be more charitable, with the eight states donating the highest share of their personal income to charity – Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia – all pretty reliably Republican (data from the Chronicle of Philanthrophy).

          All of which raises some questions: Do Republican “family values” equate to higher divorce rates and lower college education. Does going Democratic make people less charitable? Or are none of these things linked to politics at all?


    Email Thomas Elias at 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

Monday, November 21, 2016




          There was considerable irony when a California parole review panel late on Oct. 27 – just 12 days before the fall election – denied parole for the 17th time to Charles (Tex) Watson, self-described “right hand man” of Charles Manson, participant in at least seven of the Manson “Family” murders and leader of some of those murders.

          Watson’s parole denial came even as early voters were overwhelmingly backing the idea of eased paroles for “non-violent” convicts, on the ballot as Proposition 57, even though some clearly violent crimes are not legally classified as that. These include things like soliciting murder and rape of an unconscious or dead person.

          The Watson decision made it clear that paroles mostly likely will continue to be anything but automatic, even if past parole boards have tried to free several of Watson’s fellow Mansonites, including the likes of knife-and-sword wielding Bruce Davis and Leslie van Houten, who stabbed and held down some of the gang’s victims and then used their blood to scrawl race-baiting slogans on walls.

          Gov. Jerry Brown, who did more than anyone else to push through Prop. 57, has repeatedly vetoed their proposed paroles, saying at one point that “In rare circumstances, a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of current dangerousness by itself.” The Manson gang’s murders, he said, fit into that category.

          So even though Brown advocates strongly for easing paroles and giving convicts incentives in the form of early releases for good behavior and academic achievement while in prison, it’s clear he makes exceptions for the most virulent murderers.

          You can, therefore, expect the Grim Sleeper (Lonnie Franklin Jr.), who killed at least 10 women between 1987 and 2002, to stay in jail a long, long time, even if he somehow evades the death penalty recently ratified by voters who rejected the fall’s Proposition 62. The same for former Arcata trucker Wayne Adam Ford, who killed four women and dumped their body parts all around the state. And for onetime Yosemite-area motel handyman Cary Stayner, who killed four persons, one of them a nature guide whom he beheaded.

          It’s a pretty sure bet Brown would veto all their paroles, if they somehow escape execution and review boards ever approve parole, because of the purely heinous quality of their crimes.

          The real question, now that Prop. 57 is in place, will be whether governors coming after Brown, who leaves office in just over two years, continue to understand the importance of making sure prominent murderers and rapists remain behind bars for life, even if they somehow evade the death sentences originally handed them, as many Manson Family members managed. (Their sentences were commuted when the state Supreme Court ruled executions unconstitutional in the 1970s, a stance later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

          Brown remembers the Manson murders well, as some of them (actress Sharon Tate and others killed and mutilated by Watson and friends) occurred only two canyons over from where he then lived in Laurel Canyon among the Santa Monica Mountains near Hollywood.

          Some academics and others who oppose the death penalty as inhumane contend the prospect of executions does not deter crime. But no one knows what some prospective killers might do if they come to understand they can eventually be freed again, while their victims remain dead.

          One Manson Family juror (now deceased) told this column in 1995 (more than 20 years after that trial) that he never regretted voting for the death penalty. “I can still see the gruesome pictures of the Manson victims like Sharon Tate and Shorty Shea and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca; they come into my mind. It’s like I can still see their wounds.”

          For that juror, family members of the victims and others who visited the Manson crime scenes, it’s important that Manson and his minions never get the freedom they denied their bloodied victims. It’s the same for victims of other vicious criminals who may now appear benign after years in prison.

          Not even Prop. 57 and its eased paroles currently threatens to loose such convicts upon the public. But keeping the feet of each new governor to the fire remains important, for the victims and what they and their families and friends lost should never be forgotten.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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




          If you voted this fall in a neighborhood garage or the clubhouse of a park or a school auditorium, remember the experience well. It may not be repeated anytime soon. If you saw American flags flying at your precinct polling place, that sight may also disappear.

          A whole new election system is about to begin in California, complete with “vote centers” and a big expansion of early balloting. The new system will start phasing in 2018 in 14 counties and should be operative by 2020 everywhere in the state.

          One thing for sure, losing candidates and those who expect to lose will have new fodder for the “rigged election” cry taken up so vocally this fall by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. With more mail-in ballots involved than ever before, same-day voter registration and personnel in place to provide language assistance, charges of fraud will be common at least while the new system is being broken in.

          The hope behind the new system, pushed hard by Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, is to increase voter turnout drastically.

          After low-turnout disappointed officials in 2014 and the off-year-elections of 2013 and 2015, they began casting about for changes. The new system will deliver mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the 28 days before the actual Election Day, aiming to end any need to vote in a single place on just one day.

          “We’ve got to…implement a new voting model,” said Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica, who sponsored the new system in the Legislature. “Our current system has failed, as our voter turnout rates continued to decline toward record lows.”

          Turnout in both the 2014 primary (25 per cent of registered voters) and that year’s November general election (42 per cent) was at record lows, making Padilla and the Legislature a bit desperate to push numbers up.

          So instead of voters needing to sign up to receive mail-in ballots for every election, from now they will go to everyone automatically. Never mind the tradition of the secret ballot; everyone from labor unions to employers to neighborhood groups is now free to hold ballot-marking parties before Election Day. This has actually been true since mail-in voting became common in the late 1970s, and there have never been charges it led to mass fraud or coerced voting for particular candidates or causes. But such outcries may arise now.

          The guinea pigs for the new system will be voters in Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter and Tuolumne counties, with in-person voting at centers spotted around each county weeks before Election Day. Voters will also be able to drop off ballots at those centers, rather than mailing them in.

          Counties pushed for this, partly as a cost-cutting measure. The fewer polling places, the lower the cost of an election. But counties moving to the new system will all have to adopt detailed plans through a system involving public hearings and input. Community groups, advocates for the disabled and other individuals will all be able to express preferences for vote center locations. But expect them to be placed in public buildings where there’s either no rent or low rent.

          The politicians behind this system claim it will provide far greater flexibility than longstanding precinct polling places. “It’s time to modernize the voting process,” said Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg of Los Angeles, a co-sponsor. “We need to provide the same convenience and flexibility (people) have in other areas of their lives. You can stream a movie or deposit a check with your phone any time, but without this (change), people still have to arrange their busy schedules to get to a polling place on a single day and that has hurt turnout.”

          Only time will tell whether all this actually spurs more people to vote. And no one knows whether the inevitable charges of fraud or vote-fixing will have any merit. But the people behind the change are certainly correct about one thing: Turnout had become far too low in recent years, often allowing a small minority of eligible voters to choose the people who make key decisions for everyone.

     Email Thomas Elias at 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

Monday, November 14, 2016




The last time the Republican Party had a win like the surprise pulled off by President-elect Donald Trump, it came in California and it quickly turned the nation’s largest state from a consistent tossup political battleground to a solid Democratic bastion.

          That “victory” came when then-Gov. Pete Wilson won reelection – on Nov. 8, also the date of Trump’s triumph – by a large margin in 1994 on the strength of a campaign directed largely against Latino illegal immigrants.

          Its benchmark was a television commercial showing dozens of the undocumented running across the Mexican border at San Ysidro unimpeded by Border Patrol officers. “They keep coming…,” a basso voice intoned. Wilson strongly supported the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, which shared the ballot with him that year. The measure aimed to throw children of the undocumented out of public schools and health clinics, deprive illegals of all government-paid health care and make life so unpleasant they would return to their homelands.

          Trump’s campaign over the last 20 months wasn’t a carbon copy of Wilson’s. But both defeated women from prominent political families – Trump whipping former First Lady Hillary Clinton and Wilson beating former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, the daughter of one governor and sister of another. Both aroused strong fear among Latinos legally in America who hadn’t yet bothered to become U.S. citizens.

          After the 1994 vote, these green-card holders lined up by the thousands in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno and San Francisco to obtain citizenship applications. Many feared that with their illegal-immigrant compatriots under threat of deportation, they could be next. Citizenship, they concluded, would be their best protection.

          They were motivated by the racial slurs and hateful incidents many of encountered everywhere from bus stops and gasoline stations to coffee shops and ballparks.

          Within 30 months, more than 2.5 million had become citizens in California, the vast majority registering as Democratic voters. Muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only Republican to win a major state office in California since. Republican presidential candidates haven’t bothered campaigning here in years; they just stop by to raise money, but most don’t even venture out in public. Trump also did that once the state’s primary election was over in June.

          The national implications are clear: All over America, Latinos this fall began experiencing more racist incidents and many came to feel much as their California counterparts did 22 years ago.

          They started applying for citizenship in significant numbers in states like Texas and Florida, Georgia and Illinois. By Election Day, they had already had some impact: Where Republicans have won in Texas by margins of about 20 percent for the last two decades, Trump’s win there was by less than 10 percent. Clinton was competitive in Georgia, too, losing there by less than 5 percent. Illinois, meanwhile, has become almost as reliably Democratic as California.

          But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In Texas, almost 2 million legal Hispanic immigrants have never applied for citizenship. In Georgia, it’s more than 450,000; in South Carolina, it’s about 300,000.

          If the majority of them become citizens and then begin to vote Democratic, as they did here, the political map of America will change radically. The potential for change is enormous, but only one major Republican (South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham) has openly admitted it. He warned last year that with Trump, the GOP could become as irrelevant nationally as it has been for a generation in California.

          But Trump and his backers paid no heed. They banked on winning with angry Anglo voters, just like Wilson. Trump did win this year, at least in the Electoral College, but now could usher the Republican Party into a disastrous era. This might take four years to take its full effect because the naturalization process takes time.

          But the odds are high that Trump’s win will have a similar effect nationally to Wilson’s big 1994 victory in California, with the strong possibility that the GOP will eventually come to look on him as its most self-destructive figure in generations.

    Email Thomas Elias at 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