Wednesday, July 16, 2014




          For a state that has long been a symbol of youth, there’s been a lot of age among California’s preeminent politicians of the last decade. But that began to change in 2012, and the shift accelerated this summer as many of the old guard chose not to brave the “top two” primary system that threatened to expose them to serious intra-party challenges.

          Changes in the state’s congressional delegation two years ago saw departures of the long-serving likes of Fortney “Pete” Stark (East Bay area), David Dreier (San Dimas), Jerry Lewis (Redlands), Elton Gallegly (Simi Valley), Mary Bono Mack (Palm Springs), George Radanovich (Merced), all  either retiring or getting turned out.

          The trend continued this year, with congressional kingpins like Howard “Buck” McKeon (Santa Clarita), Henry Waxman (West Los Angeles) and George Miller (East Bay area) retiring. All three are or have been chairmen of major House committees. This is as bi-partisan a trend as can be, affecting Republicans and Democrats almost equally.

          It will surely grow in coming years, as a quick look at the ages of those who represent the coastal districts from San Francisco to Santa Barbara makes clear. These usually solid Democratic districts stretch hundreds of miles south from the San Francisco turf of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 74, who bristles at questions about her age. There are also Jackie Speier, 64, of San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, 71, of Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, 66, whose district reaches from San Jose to Gilroy; Mike Honda, 72, now facing a serious challenge in his San Jose district; Sam Farr, 72, of Monterey County, and Lois Capps, 76, of Santa Barbara County.

          All are highly capable. But any of them could draw a major challenge at any time, as Stark did two years ago, when the 40-year congressional veteran from Alameda County, now 82, was surprised and beaten by an intra-party challenge from then 31-year-old Eric Swalwell, a Dublin city councilman. Swalwell beat Stark in their all-Democrat 2012 runoff by a thin 52-48 percent margin. So Stark, like many of his former colleagues, would most likely still be in Congress but for the top two system which permitted the Republican minority in his district – displeased by his long liberal record – to vote against him. No GOP candidate would stand a chance in that district.

          Chances are seats in most districts seeing change will not change parties, but they will get younger representatives who figure to start as back-benchers many years away from any hope of chairing a big-time committee.

          Change is also in the wind in statewide offices, where Gov. Jerry Brown will likely be reelected one last time this year, with the Democratic logjam behind him at last beginning to break up after that. Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, for one, wanted to be governor four years ago, but Brown’s strength forced him to settle for lieutenant governor. Still, no one will simply hand him the top state job. Expect people like Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Controller John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and possibly his successor, current Mayor Eric Garcetti, all to consider 2018 runs for the state’s top job.

          And should either of California’s aging pair of U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, step down – a possibility if Democrats lose their Senate majority this fall and both lose the committee chairmanships they love – any of the current gubernatorial prospects and some folks now in Congress might seek that job instead of running for governor.

          It’s tough to predict who might emerge among Republicans, because they now hold no statewide offices and are not favored to win any this fall, either. But a respectable autumn run against Brown by businessman Neel Kashkari, Brown’s fall opponent, could propel him into prominence.

          The one thing that’s sure in all this is change. It’s coming, as is the end of the near monopoly on high office now enjoyed by people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.


    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




          There are few worse feelings for a driver than receiving a letter purporting to show that person in the act of running a red light.

          But not many legal items are less enforceable or reliable, despite what the California Supreme Court said in an early summer ruling which held red light camera photos and videos have “a presumption of authenticity.”

          There’s a reason traffic cops routinely demand that drivers sign the bottom of every ticket they write: That signature constitutes a promise either to pay a fine or appear in court on a specified date. Drivers make no such promise on red light tickets, which normally carry fines of about $480.

          That was one reason the city of Los Angeles abandoned red light cameras in 2012. The decision came about a year after that city’s police chief, Charlie Beck, candidly admitted that no actions were being taken against drivers who simply ignored red light camera violation notices. Because they’re not routinely sent as certified or registered mail (too costly), prosecutors cannot prove drivers are lying if they say they never got the mailed tickets.

          This in effect creates two classes of citizens, in apparent violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment: drivers who dutifully pay up the almost $500 fines on demand and scofflaws who don’t, and pay nothing. There could hardly be more unequal treatment.

          There’s also the issue of red light camera reliability. The nub of the case against cited drivers is usually a videotape which drivers can often see via an Internet link provided in the mailed violation notice.

          Since the vast bulk of red light camera tickets involve drivers making rolling stops rather than full stops before right turns, the accuracy of videos is critical. A still photo may place a driver in the middle of a turn during a red light, but doesn’t establish that he or she didn’t stop before proceeding with the turn.

          If the video camera doesn't run precisely at life-speed, but is a little faster, a vehicle can appear to be rolling through the stop, when it fact it made a full stop. In several cases where police have been cross-examined about how often their video cameras are calibrated, they testified they didn’t know, that it was up to the camera operator – usually Redflex Traffic Systems or American Traffic Solutions, both based in Arizona. But those firms are never available for cross-examination in court and the Supreme Court said they don't have to be.

          So while drivers contesting red light camera tickets can usually question a cop, they can’t cross-examine the ultimate witness against them, an egregious violation of a basic constitutional right, no matter what the state justices may say.

          But legal reasons are not the main cause for removal of red light cameras in Poway, Oakland and most other cities that have gotten rid of them: finances are. Because more than half the take from each $480 fine goes to the state or the operating companies, cities often don’t make much profit from the cameras, while annoying thousands of their citizens and visitors.

          There’s disagreement in Oakland, for one example, over how much the city made last year from the 11 red light cameras it then had operating: The city says it netted just $280,000, while Redflex said the city share came to about $1.1 million. Oakland police are now auditing paid fines to see which figure is closest to correct.

          In Poway, near San Diego, cameras at three intersections netted between $100,000 and $218,000 per year. Apparently, those smallish receipts were not enough for either city to put up with complaints about cameras violating privacy and the exorbitantly high fines for rolling stops before right turns.

          All of which means red light cameras are at a different kind of crossroad: The state’s highest court says drivers don’t have the right to cross-examine camera operations because of the presumption of accuracy in their findings, while some of the state’s largest cities have shut their cameras down.

          The upshot is that unfair as the cameras may be if they’re not properly calibrated, their fate in many places will hang not on traffic safety, but on the city budget dollars they produce, regardless of anyone's constitutional rights.


    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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014




          The chorus of global warming deniers has not shrunk. Outcries claiming the entire issue is fraudulent are not going away.

          But realism is also slowly setting in among some California groups that long tried to wish away the issue by claiming any warming that’s happening is strictly a cyclical natural phenomenon.

          California ranchers are now among the first interest groups to realize that like it or not, global warming can no longer be denied with any semblance of accuracy. For very gradually, ranchers are seeing the grasslands they depend upon to feed their cattle begin to shrink and convert naturally to shrub land.

    What’s the difference? Shrubs have a greater ability to withstand wildfires, but cattle don’t like to eat them. This means the more grasslands gradually shift to chaparral-like shrubbery, the more ranchers must spend on hay.

          For consumers, that means more expensive beef, from filet mignon to hamburger.

          It’s not that grassland is disappearing quickly or that the loss is inevitable. But there has already been some acreage lost, mostly in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and a 2013 study from Duke University and the Environmental Defense Fund concluded that if global warming continues its present trends, it will hike California ranchers’ spending on hay by upwards of $235 million a year within the next half century.

          That time frame is similar to predictions made two years ago by the state Natural Resources Agency, which concluded that if current trends continue (sea level along the California coast having risen eight inches since 1910), as many as 500,000 persons living near beaches and marshes will be threatened with flooding by the end of this century.

          Climate change denial tends to run stronger among political conservatives than others, so an interesting contradiction is arising. For these are usually the same folks who oppose increasing national debt levels for fear of fobbing large burdens onto generations to come. Why, if they don’t want to impose financial burdens on their descendants, do they not mind hitting those same generations with an environmental calamity?

          Maybe because they don’t believe there’s anything humans can do about global warming, which many conservative politicians and writers ascribe to nature. They ignore, though, the hundreds of academic studies that have found increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are associated with higher ambient temperatures.

          Maybe, also, they don’t think a degree or two of difference in average temperatures makes much difference. The once-large and permanent icefields visible from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park offer some evidence to the contrary: Photographed a century ago at midsummer by the legendary Ansel Adams and others, they are now all but gone. There was barely a glimmer of ice visible from the point last July and there’s less each year. It’s the same at Glacier National Park in Montana, which may now be a misnomer.

          So even if the warming visible on rangelands and high mountain peaks were mostly from natural causes, it is helped along by human activity that produces CO2. Which means today’s adults have an obligation to their children to do whatever they can to contain it.

          True, some other countries and much of America are doing little or nothing about all this. Does that excuse Californians from our responsibility? Meanwhile, plenty of other countries have acted similarly to this state’s cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

          One officerof the California Cattlemen’s Assn., which just over two years ago issued a statement opposing all cap-and-trade legislation, later said in a rangeland conference at UC Davis that climate change (natural or not) is “certainly going to impact all the other natural resources that we’ve worked to steward for so many years.”

          This change of attitude toward climate change from an organization that’s anything but politically liberal was remarkable.

          Whether it presages movement among other interest groups that have consistently fought climate change legislation is an open question. But it demonstrates that ideology can sometimes go out the window when confronted with hard reality.


        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




          For almost seven months, California parents have been free to claim without offering any proof that their religion forbids getting their children vaccinated against once dreaded and disabling diseases like polio, mumps, pertussis and smallpox.

          This allows parents who believe false myths to exempt their children from the vaccinations usually required for public school enrollment, even if they really have no religious beliefs at all.

          Is it just coincidence that first six months of this new “personal belief” rule saw cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, more than double from last year? Through mid-June, 4,558 cases had been reported in the state, fully 1,100 during a single two-week period in June. There were three deaths in this year’s first six months.

    The state’s officially-declared whooping cough epidemic is now on pace to top even 2010, when California recorded 9,120 cases, 809 hospitalizations and 10 deaths from the ailment. That year saw the most cases in more than 60 years, since record-keeping began.

    Officials are reluctant to tie the new epidemic to a once-unpublicized 2012 signing message from Gov. Jerry Brown, attached to his approval of a bill originally designed to make it more difficult for parents to evade vaccinating their kids.

          Brown's words now allow parents merely to check off a box on a form, rather than having a doctor, school nurse or nurse practitioner sign a paper attesting that they have been informed of the benefits of vaccinations, as was previously needed for an exemption.

          From the time his message became reality late last year, Brown has appeared oblivious to its the potential harm, his press secretary saying earlier this year that he “believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit.” He has said nothing beyond stating that his order aimed only to “take into account First Amendment religious freedoms through an extremely narrow exemption.”

          But the exemption turns out to be wide enough, as the football cliché goes, to drive a truck through.

          So far, no one is directly blaming the Brown message for the epidemic of whooping cough, whose symptoms include “rapid coughing spells that end with a tell-tale ‘whooping’ sound,” according to a state Public Health department description.

          “Pertussis is just cyclical,” the department’s deputy director and chief epidemiologist, Dr. Gil Chavez, said during a conference call. “The biggest contributor now is that the most modern vaccine’s effects wane over time, with the fullest protection lasting just two to three years.”

          In fact, current pertussis vaccines given children under nine have shorter-term effects than those used in prior generations. “The vaccine is now easier on children, producing less fevers and less arm soreness than previous ones,” said Catherine Flores Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition. The tradeoff is shorter duration.

          Martin added that only after school opens this fall and officials report how many personal belief exemptions are filed will there be certainty about some effects of the Brown message. But she agreed that the confluence of the new form and the record number of cases, coming more rapidly than ever, might be linked.

          “Politicians have a responsibility to protect the public and they don’t when they issue an order like this one,” she said.

          The health department reported rates of pertussis cases this year are highest in Marin and Sonoma counties. “It boils down to the number of susceptible individuals in those counties,” said Chavez.

          But Martin said, “It’s worth noting that those two counties also are the ones with the highest rates of parental refusals to allow their children to be vaccinated.”

          That’s in line with a Johns Hopkins University study which concluded last year that California’s 2010 pertussis epidemic was fueled in part by an increase in the numbers of parents refusing to vaccinate children. The study showed the locations with the highest disease rates were also those with the most personal belief exemptions.

          And that was before Brown’s order produced the new, easier to employ form in use this year. Still, it will be a few months before anyone can definitely establish cause and effect between the form and the newest outbreak.

    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

Thursday, July 3, 2014




          For more than a decade, while California has been among the most liberal of America’s “blue” states, its highest court has been dominated by leftovers from two of its more conservative governors.

          That’s about to change, as two retirements will soon let Gov. Jerry Brown change the entire tone of the California Supreme Court, long a bastion of pro-business, anti-consumer decisions and sometimes a brake on movements toward same-sex marriage, loose regulation of marijuana and other social issues dear to activists on the left.

          The first of the court’s old guard to go was Justice Joyce L. Kennard, appointed in 1989 as the second term of Gov. George Deukmejian wound down. Never a leader of the right, for a quarter-century Kennard could usually be counted on as a pro-business vote in almost every case. She resigned last spring and Brown has yet to name a replacement.

          Next to leave will be fellow Deukmejian appointee Marvin R. Baxter, known for most of the past 20 years as the California court’s most conservative member.

          He resigned in late spring, effective when his term ends next January.

          With 2011 Brown appointee Godwin Liu already the leading liberal in the state judiciary, this means that within six months, California’s top court should feature three Brown choices, the most for any governor since Deukmejian got to name six during his eight years in office. Three Deukmejian appointments, however, came after he spearheaded a move to vote three previous Brown-appointed justices off the court when their terms came up for yes-or-no retention votes in 1986. Deukmejian claimed all – especially former Chief Justice Rose Bird – were soft on crime.

          The products of that Deukmejian move are long gone, but the tough sentencing laws he pushed, with okays from justices he appointed -- including one of his former law partners -- are a root cause of today’s prison overcrowding crisis. Academic studies are inconclusive on whether they also reduced violent crime.

          Now Brown gets another chance. He turned to Liu soon after returning to power in Sacramento, not long after Liu was denied a slot on the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because some Republican U.S. senators objected to his academic writings excoriating the records of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts. With a moderately conservative majority on the California court, his influence has not yet been strong.

          That could change. Some legal experts believe Liu, along with Brown’s new appointees, may quickly form a court majority with the moderate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, the first of ex-Gov. Pete Wilson’s two remaining state Supreme Court appointees.

          This depends on two eventualities: First, Brown has given no clue about who his next high court appointee will be. There has been strong talk of a Hispanic appointee because Latinos have been unrepresented on the court since Gray Davis appointee Carlos Moreno left in 2011, opening the way for Liu. Moreno is now ambassador to the tiny Central America nation of Belize.

          Among potential appointees are Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Stanford University law Prof. Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and several federal judges appointed by President Obama.

          The second eventuality, of course, is that Brown would have to be reelected in November in order to choose Baxter’s successor. Just now, that looks like a lock. Brown netted more than 54 percent of the June primary election vote, and but for a misguided portion of the top two primary law, the 2010 Proposition 14, he would already be reelected. But he must run again this fall, against former banker and Treasury Department executive Neel Kashkari, who drew just over 19 percent of the primary vote. All Republican candidates in that open primary together took only about 35 percent of the vote, barely topping their percentage of registered voters.

          So chances are Brown will get another crack at appointing a state Supreme Court justice next year. His choice will more than likely come from the same list he’s considering for the current vacancy.

          The upshot will be a very different court than California has seen since the early 1980s, the last time Brown had something to say about it.

    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




          From early in his career, Gov. Jerry Brown has had a proclivity for dismissing problems with wisecracks or aphorisms. As early as 1975, in the first term of his first go-‘round as California’s top official, he mocked university professors’ pleas for pay raises by saying they didn’t need more money, but could make do with “psychic rewards.”

          He’s done the same thing lately as companies like Toyota and Occidental Petroleum announced they were moving headquarters and thousands of jobs out of state, noting that those firms and their jobs are just a tiny fraction of the California economy. True, but the moves are very consequential for the employees involved and everyone they do business with.

          Now, with the state beginning to release some non-violent prisoners to comply with a federal court order demanding that prison crowding be reduced, Brown told a reporter that “The U.S. Supreme Court ordered us to release thousands of prisoners.” The releases, he said, “are a creative solution.”

          But as soon as Brown’s Republican reelection opponent Neel Kashkari finishes hammering him for allowing Toyota and Occidental to leave (the companies say no official persuasion or tax concession could have prevented their shifts), the GOP will start in on prison releases.

          Again, Brown will plead that he did all he could to resist the releases and the accompanying realignment program that sees many felons who would previously have done time in state prisons serving shorter terms in county jails. And he did, coming close to a historic confrontation with the judges involved.

          But it’s also true that legislative Democrats, with no resistance from Brown, killed a Republican proposal to put all prisoners sentenced to more than 10 years in state prisons and not county jails.

          The GOP cited the case of Randall Murray Allison, arrested on Interstate 5 with more than 200 pounds of cocaine worth about $2.3 million in the largest drug bust in Kings County history. Because of realignment and the non-violent nature of Allison’s crime, he was sentenced to 28 years in county jail, but space issues there mean he will probably serve only about 30 months in jail, less than 10 percent of his sentence.

          Allison is not alone. State corrections officials say hundreds of prisoners will be paroled “slightly earlier” than normal before the end of this year. Plus, some second-time offenders who have done half their enhanced time under the “three-strikes” law may become eligible for parole.

          If Brown’s job approval rating (now well above 50 percent) were not so high, this could pose a serious political problem for him. And it still might if Kashkari begins to catch fire.

          For the reality of realignment so far is that while violent crime is down in most areas since the program began, property crime is up. This means car burglaries, thefts from garages where doors are inadvertently left open and the like, with stolen goods frequently fenced to pay for drugs.

          Even though no one has yet been able to show a direct link between those new crimes and realignment, many victims would likely blame Brown if his opponent could make any connection.

          And yet, with the prod from the court order, California is now doing exactly what a new report from the National Academy of Sciences says all states should: cutting the rate of incarceration.

          “The United States is past the point where the number of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” said Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The problem, says the study he headed, is that few criminals reform while in prison, so “When ex-inmates return to their communities, their lives often continue to be characterized by violence, joblessness…” and other problems.

          It’s true that fear of long prison terms has never been proven to reduce overall crime. But when someone like Randall Murray Allison balances the potential gain from trying to sell more than $2 million worth of cocaine against little more than two years in county jail, there will surely be more crime.

          Which means that if he doesn’t want political trouble either this fall or in a future term as governor, Brown needs to come up with a more creative solution to the overcrowding issue. Or else he will get at least some of the blame for any new crime increase that might come.

     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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014




    When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asked Congress the other day to authorize a new round of military base closings and consolidations in 2017, alarm bells should have gone off in many parts of California.

          For this state has been victimized more than any other in the last two such rounds, with profound economic effects in many parts of the state.

          Sure, there have been positive new uses of some old bases, from parkland in the Presidio of San Francisco to a college campus on the former site of Ft. Ord near Monterey. But the jobs lost when those bases closed, plus the ones lost from the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, the El Toro Marine Air Station, March Air Force Base and many others, still have not been replaced.

          Nor have the ripple effects stopped, as many surviving businesses near those bases now are far less profitable than before, employing many thousands fewer than they once did.

          This new potential round of closures comes at a particularly dicey time for California, which has lost or is about to lose some of the veteran members of Congress who might have fought for a fair deal for their state.

          Of course, there’s little evidence that the likes of Democrats Henry Waxman and George Miller, or Republicans Gary Miller and Buck McKeon (current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, no less) ever did much to spare California pain.

          The base closures are one reason California ranks 43rd among all states in federal per capita spending, getting back just 78 cents for every dollar its taxpayers put into the U.S. treasury.

          Those veteran congressmen and the rest of the state’s 53-member largest-in-the-nation House contingent couldn’t even get a single Californian onto the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in the early 2000s. In the previous closure rounds, that commission each time presented Congress with one complete package of cuts, with the lawmakers committed to a yes-or-no vote on the entire thing, no amendments allowed.

          Just as it was almost inconceivable at one time to imagine the Army’s huge training facility at Ft. Ord disappearing, so it now seems impossible that the Marine Corps’ giant Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego could be closed.

          But the real estate on which that base sits is so prime that a federal commission might decide to take the money and let it be built over, as seems the likely fate for the mostly vacant former El Toro base in Orange County, now that park proposals for that land have been thwarted.

          With U.S. policy leaning against new desert wars, will Ft. Irwin and its desert warfare training facility be scrapped, some of the land perhaps to be used for trendy solar thermal electricity projects?

          The last two times around, Californians in Congress overwhelmingly backed both the creation of BRAC and its plans. It’s no coincidence that once the closures in those plans occurred, California dropped 20 places in its rank among the states in federal spending. Meanwhile, the last U.S. Census showed Texas, site of the Army’s troubled Ft. Hood, now home to much of the training that once took place in California, got $19.7 billion in military salaries in 2010 compared with just $10.3 billion for California.

          Does anyone doubt that an extra $9 billion in personal income being spent and re-spent in California might have some effect on the state’s chronic unemployment? Similarly, is there any doubt all that extra income had something to do with Texas weathering the Great Recession better than many other places?

          The upshot of all this is that Californians in Congress must make sure any new round of cuts does not again make this state its prime victim. One way to do this would be to insist that the House and Senate get some control over who serves on the next BRAC commission and that any new plan not be presented on an all-or-nothing basis.

          But Californians in Congress have rarely shown much appetite for working together for the welfare of the whole state. This has to change, or we could see a California with no Seabee base in Ventura County, no Travis Air Force Base in the East Bay and no Lemoore Naval Air Station in the Central Valley. And as many as 120,000 more related jobs gone, as happened in the last round.

    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