Wednesday, September 17, 2014




          It was lawbreaking, both proven and alleged, that ended the Democrats’ supermajority in the state Senate. Republicans and their efforts had nothing to do with it. Until state Sens. Roderick Wright of Los Angeles, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco encountered serious legal problems, Democrats had more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the Legislature for almost the first time ever.

          The party also holds all statewide offices today, from governor and U.S. senator down through the treasurer’s slot, and the mayor’s office in all but one of the state’s four largest cities. That’s more of a stranglehold on California politics than any party has ever enjoyed.

          And it appears that almost no matter what Democrats do, they will continue to enjoy such dominance for years to come.

          This seems assured not just by voter registration figures, which grow worse and worse for Republicans. It’s also due to demographic trends than can be seen on the national level.

          Sure, the registration figures look plenty bad for the GOP as it strives to break the Democratic lock on California public life.

          Between the beginning of 2010 and mid-2014, as population grew by an estimated 2 million, Republican voter registration actually dropped by 121,000.  The percentage drop seemed a tad more significant, falling from 30.75 percent of all voters to 28.73 percent before rebounding to just over 30 percent again. During the same time span, Democratic registration increased by more than 150,000 persons, even as the party’s percentage of registrants fell by about 1 percent, from 44.62 percent to 43.58 percent.

          Where did the missing Republicans go, along with many new voters who in previous decades might have signed up as either Democrats or Republicans? It appears most joined the growing ranks of independents, choosing not to affiliate with either party, and even more joined small splinter parties. Registration figures for people with no party preference grew by 286,000 during those four-plus years, the percentage of voters opting not to declare party loyalty rising about 1 percent. Another 303,000 signed up with miscellaneous smaller parties.

          This trend portends no good for Republicans, who did not even enter significant candidates in several legislative and congressional primary election races.

          But the GOP’s problems go even deeper. As California’s population becomes ever more urban, centering in the metropolitan areas around Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County, Democrats keep gaining ground.

          One study of voter registration in America’s 3,144 counties indicated what California analysts already knew: Democrats are from cities, Republicans from the ex-urbs – suburban or rural areas. This was already true in 1988, starting date for that study, but it’s even truer today.

          Los Angeles led the 25 top counties for Democratic voter pickups, gaining 1.2 million Democratic voters in the last 25 years. Orange and San Diego counties are also among the top ten counties for Democratic voter growth, one reason politics has become more competitive over the last 10 years or so in those reputed Republican bastions.

          Meanwhile, there were no California counties among the top 25 for Republican voter gains during the last quarter century. So as California and the nation become more urban and less countrified and suburban, Democratic margins tend to go up.

          Add this trend to the well-documented increases in Latino voters (which account for much of the Democratic increases in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties) and you get a bleak picture for Republicans.

          Is the California GOP completely without hope? Chances are, not even corruption will reduce the Democratic legislative majorities by much. But Republicans still do have a shot at statewide offices, if they run appealing candidates, as demonstrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003 and 2006.

          Even much more conservative candidates than he can win if some ethnic groups should become turned off to Democratic candidates and attracted to GOP ones, or just lose their motivation to vote, while mostly-white GOP voters turn out in big numbers.

          Which makes California the Democrats’ to lose, for the foreseeable future.

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




          There are very few Americans who need welfare and government support less than Elon Musk, the hyper-creative head of the Tesla Motors electric car company, the Space X rocketry and satellite hoisting firm and Solar City, a leader in renewable energy.

          And yet…almost no one gets more government benefits and business. The principle client of Space X, of course, is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, which depends on private enterprise – and Russian spacecraft – now that it has retired America’s space shuttle fleet.

          Solar City thrives because homeowners are subsidized when they put photovoltaic panels on their roofs.

          And then there’s Tesla, lately the orchestrator of a five-state battle over who could be exploited the most. Some states – notably Texas – call the handouts they give entrepreneurs like Musk “incentives” and governors like Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Rick Perry of Texas pride themselves on attracting additional jobs to their states this way.

          But the questions remain whether corporate welfare is right, whether its costs outweigh benefits and whether companies getting it could survive without.

          Would Tesla’s Model S be as popular as it is without the huge panoply of benefits it comes with? From the start, buyers of these toys for the wealthy (there’s plenty of room to question whether well-heeled buyers deserve welfare) got $7,500 credits on their federal tax returns. California has chipped in an additional $2,500 state rebate. That knocks $10,000 off the price tag.

          Owners also can use carpool lanes on freeways when alone for years to come, and in California can compel their condominium or homeowners associations to allow them to install electric charging stations even if they don’t fit the aesthetics of the development.

          Anyone who thinks those incentives don’t boost sales is simply na├»ve. The company also got a sweetheart deal when it took over the abandoned General Motors/Toyota factory in the East San Francisco Bay city of Fremont.

          All that didn’t stir any loyalty in Tesla when it sought a location for a planned 6,500-job lithium ion battery factory. It landed just outside Reno after California didn’t match Nevada’s 20-year abatement of all sales tax linked to the plant, a property tax exemption for the next 10 years, reduced business and corporate taxes – and up to $150 million in cash from the state if the company eventually invests an expected $5 billion in the factory.

          That adds up to $1.3 billion in cash and tax credits for a plant expected to hire 6,500 persons and create about 10,000 other permanent jobs. So for the privilege of hosting Tesla, the state of Nevada will pay well over $78,000 per job created. How long will it take to recoup that expense? And what about jobs lost when Nevada reduces its film production tax credits to help pay for Tesla’s welfare?

          Nevada has never paid anything like that to casinos or other big employers. Nor has California ever paid a company so much. Plus, if Tesla doesn’t pay local property taxes, who will build schools and hire teachers for children of the new workers. Who will maintain the roads they’ll use, or their water and sewer systems? No one knows.

          The larger question, of course, is whether any government should make such corporate handouts. Whenever American companies encounter similar subsidies of goods from other countries like China, Russia and Sweden, they gripe about unfair competition.

          In fact, the subsidies to Tesla might be seen as unfair competition for other automakers – except that outfits like Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz have gotten similar but smaller welfare packages from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Why do you suppose Toyota is moving its national headquarters from Torrance to a suburb of Dallas? You can be sure it’s not because Japanese executives like the ultra-humid Texas weather or the frequent hurricanes.

          The real question, of course, is whether any state or national government should allow itself to be extorted like this by any company. For sure, the way it affects fair competition among cars and other products is a perversion of the capitalist system.

          But don’t expect Musk or any other corporate kingpin to stop seeking big government bucks in exchange for moving jobs around. As long as politicians vie for the privilege of handing out taxpayer money, this slimy practice will continue.

    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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014




            Never mind the hosannas that followed immediately after state legislators passed a last minute package of bills purported to impose California’s first-ever statewide regulations on ground water use.

          The bottom line is that those laws will change nothing for decades, while today’s reality cries out for fast action.

          Ground water accounts for about 35 percent of the state’s fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like the last three. This year, as cities and farmers invest millions of dollars in drilling wells ever deeper, usage is likely higher than ever, because so little water is coming from the state’s big surface water projects and reservoirs. Because ground water use is generally not metered, no one knows exactly how much is being taken, but one report from the California Water Foundation indicated as much as 65 percent of the state’s water might come from wells this year.

          Meanwhile, the water table drops lower and lower, forcing wells to go ever farther underground or risk going dry. In some areas, this has already led to significant land subsidence, topping 20 feet in some parts of the Central Valley where passing motorists can see instruments and wellheads that once were on the surface perched on pipes now high above ground level.

          The problem with the new ground water laws is that it will be many years before they can affect any of that. The basics of what they call for are somewhat complicated, leaving plenty of room for local politicking, bickering and delay.

          The rules do sound just fine – until you look at the time limits. They will force local water agencies covering more than 100 aquifers to design regulations preventing further overdrafts, an overdraft occurring when more water is pumped from underground than percolates down to replace it. The state would review all such plans and could take over regulation when locals don’t enforce their own rules.

          This all sounds fine, and might improve matters about 25 years from now, it there’s any ground water left. But it will have absolutely no effect during the current drought or anytime soon after it ends. For local water authorities will have two years to decide who controls ground water in each area. They’ll get five to seven more years to design plans creating a balance between pumping and replenishment. Then they will have 20 years to put those plans into action.

          The trouble is that no one knows how much ground water will be left 25 or so years from now if the current drought goes on.

          Even so, legislators from farm areas stood unified against the new, extremely weak and untimely system. They said they wanted the same kind of unanimity achieved when the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown combined to place a $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot – another measure that won’t have much impact on the current scene.

          This is all quite ludicrous and worthy of satire, since it will accomplish nothing during the lifetimes of at least one-third of today’s Californians.

    For when the new rules – whatever they turn out to be – take effect, there might be no more ground water to fight about. Most ludicrous have been the consistent claims of many farmers and their advocates that any rules at all on ground water constitute a violation of private property rights. Their theory: Any water under anyone’s property belongs to that property owner.

          This belief essentially contends that water knows where property lines lie. In fact, when any property owner pumps excessively, he or she frequently causes the water level in most neighbors' wells to drop, too.

          The answer to all this should have been a crash program with usage limits and installation of meters on every water well in California.

          Given the strength of the agriculture lobby, that wasn’t about to happen. Instead, legislators went home happy, the governor gets to grandstand a bit about allegedly doing something about the drought, and reality changes not one iota.

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




          For three months, the time bomb that is the Vergara vs. California court decision lurked in the background as two of this fall’s major political contests gradually took shape.

          Those are the races for governor and state schools superintendent, both offices now occupied by Democrats strongly backed by teachers unions: Gov. Jerry Brown and Supt. Tom Torlakson, a longtime state legislator before he moved up.

          Each now faces an opponent who has long backed the essence of Vergara. If upheld by appeals courts, the decision would essentially throw out California’s teacher tenure system and end rules that make it harder and more expensive to fire teachers than other state employees.

          For three months it was not certain Brown and Torlakson would appeal the ruling by an obscure Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, Rolf M. Treu.

          But once Treu finalized his decision in late August, Brown and Torlakson instantly appealed.

          Both Republican gubernatorial nominee Neel Kashkari and Torlakson’s charter school-oriented, nominally Democratic opponent Marshall Tuck had long demanded that the two incumbents accept Vergara and revamp the rules for teachers substantially.

          Brown and Torlakson were not moved. Both emerged from the June primary election with huge margins over their respective rivals and neither feeling particularly threatened. Brown actually won a majority of the vote last spring, but a wasteful and unreasonable twist of the top two system demands that even candidates who get a primary election majority must run again in the fall. Torlakson, meanwhile, came within less than two percentage points of a majority, besting Tuck by about 20 percent of the vote.

          Neither will turn his back on their leading supporters, as Torlakson made clear in appealing. “No teacher is perfect,” he said. “(But only) a very few are not worthy of the job. School districts have always had the power to dismiss those who do not measure up.”

          Responded Tuck, “Kids should not have to sue to get a quality education.” It was essentially the same thing he’s been saying since starting his campaign in early spring, when he decried the fact that teachers, who can get tenure after two years on the job, often are assured they’ll win that status after only 16 months of work. Not long enough, Tuck said in an interview, for them to prove they're worthy of a lifetime sinecure.

          This was always going to be a major fall issue, but no one could say much until Treu finalized his opinion. Treu himself is a bit of a time bomb. Appointed to a municipal court judgeship by ex-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995, Treu should have expected to hear traffic cases, misdemeanor trials and some criminal arraignments, but never to get the chance to make education policy for the nation's most populous state.

          But Treu morphed into a more powerful superior court judge when municipal courts were eliminated three years after his appointment. The result is that the most important education decision in decades was not made by a qualified expert or even an elected lawmaker, but a judge nicknamed “The Wolf” by some lawyers who practice in his court and described by other attorneys on The Robing Room blog as “sanction happy” and “reminiscent of a cop with a (traffic ticket) quota system.”

          So it was no wonder Brown’s notice of appeal laconically said “changes of this magnitude, as a matter of law, require appellate review,” a point he repeated in the fall's only gubernatorial debate.

          Regardless of the judge’s background, the debate is the same: Does the relative ease of gaining teacher tenure combined with the difficulty of dismissing teachers create poor quality education? Or does tenure attract talented people to teaching, people who might otherwise take higher-salaried jobs in private industry, but like the job security they get from tenure?

          That is the essence of this fall’s loudest California campaign disagreement. For purposes of the election, it really doesn’t matter which way the legal case will eventually go. Since most existing working conditions are determined not only by state law, but also by local union contracts, there’s a good chance Vergara will be overturned. That’s especially true since two Brown appointees, with a third due early next year, have shifted the seven-justice state Supreme Court leftward.

          But both Kashkari and Tuck know educational quality is an emotional issue, and each needs one to make up his huge primary election deficit. This one has now fallen into their laps.


    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

Friday, August 15, 2014




          There are still skeptics who maintain the California economy remains in recession, that talk of economic recovery amounts to whistling past the proverbial graveyard when unemployment remains above 7 per cent.

          Gov. Jerry Brown labeled these folks “declinists” two years ago, when unemployment was much higher and the signs of recovery were not nearly as strong as they are today.

          But those signs are now seemingly almost everywhere, even though a few major corporations are in the process of moving headquarters elsewhere.

          For one thing, in midsummer, California – like the rest of America –finally had gained back all jobs lost in the recession of 2007-11. The new jobs may be in different places and of somewhat different types than those that were lost, but the fact is there actually has been a little bit of job growth since 2008, something that befuddles the declinists. The figures come from a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

          Then there’s the fact that California lawmakers are starting to realize this state has serious competition for some of its key industries, with other states and even some foreign countries willing to grant large subsidies to companies that move headquarters or parts of their businesses.

          One example is the upcoming move of Toyota’s national headquarters, complete with its sparkling museum of classic cars the company has produced since the 1930s, to a Dallas suburb. Not only will Toyota get large tax reductions for at least its first eight years in Texas, but it will pay far less for the land it needs than it figures to get when it sells the land it will vacate in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance.

          That’s standard procedure in many states. Louisiana, for example, has attracted large amounts of film and TV production not only because of its green scenery, but also because production companies save as much as 30 percent of their costs by going there. That’s through a combination of subsidized hotel rates and equipment rentals, tax relief and lower-priced labor. The same happens in places like North Carolina, Idaho and New York.

          The first step in California lawmakers wising up came when the Legislature during the summer expanded and extended tax exemptions for movie and TV production here. Then they passed a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Steve Fox and Republican state Sen. Steve Knight, both of Palmdale, giving military contractors Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin as much as $420 million in tax credits over 15 years for production of a new strategic bomber to replace the B-2, which was also developed largely in the Antelope Valley. In case they don’t get the Defense Department contract for that project, another bill with the same benefit for Northrop Corp. would provide similar help – about $28 million a year, or 17 percent of wages paid to manufacturing workers.

          There has been reluctance here to subsidize big industries, one reason California has lost a lot of them to other states and countries. There is good reason for that hesitance, as subsidies raise questions of favoritism and special interest influence. But with others offering so much, California at least now realizes it must get into this game.

          Then there’s venture capital, where the Silicon Valley this spring absolutely dominated the world scene. Fully 41 percent of all venture dollars invested around the world from April through June went to San Francisco Bay area startups, a big improvement from the first quarter, when places like Texas and Massachusetts drew significant investment.

          But last spring, all of Europe got less than half what went to Silicon Valley, according to a report from PitchBook Data. The end result of this should be more companies headquartered in California, to join former startups like Google, Intel, Yelp and Twitter.

          Put it all together and you get a dynamic picture of job recovery, the prospect of great job growth and a reborn determination to preserve what the state already.

          That’s all bad news for the declinists who enjoy putting California down even while it pulls itself back up toward the golden stature it long enjoyed.


    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




          Executives of California’s large privately-owned utility companies don’t usually have to worry about much. Their companies enjoy virtual monopolies in vast regions, their profits are guaranteed, their shareholders are generally assured of regular dividends – which means they can count on collecting large salaries indefinitely.

          This security is enhanced by the fact that when the folks who run companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have made mistakes, they’ve never been held personally liable for anything.

          But times have changed since the state’s abortive venture into electricity deregulation led to selloffs of many power plants and an energy supply crisis in 2000-2002, with no penalties to decision-making executives for the bankruptcy of PG&E and the almost simultaneous near failure of Edison.

          Since that time, actions and policies decided by officials of those companies have led to two more disasters of a different nature. There was the 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion that killed eight persons and destroyed 35 houses in the Crestmoor area of San Bruno. And there was Edison's decision to allow installation of faulty major parts in its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, leading to the retirement of SONGS, for which Edison and minority partner SDG&E now want to dun customers billions of dollars.

          In both cases, customers have already paid plenty. PG&E, like counterparts Southern California Gas and SDG&E, regularly collects funds for gas pipeline maintenance via monthly bills and has done so since the 1950s. Since federal authorities after San Bruno fingered PG&E maintenance as negligent, it’s fair to ask what the company did with all the money it collected, a question not yet addressed.

     Similarly, since Edison and SDG&E customers have paid monthly for decades for the eventual retirement of San Onofre, it’s hard to see why they should pay even a nickel more, especially when a federal report concluded the early retirement was caused by the knowing actions of Edison bosses.

          So far, no utility executive has paid anything close to a personal price for those problems. But the utility brass involved in gas pipeline management and the San Onofre decisions ought to be quaking a bit today, in part because a San Mateo County judge in August cleared the way for lawsuits against executives whose alleged mismanagement led to San Bruno.

          On the same day that legal decision came down, another court action about 6,000 miles away in London, England should also have gotten executive attention.

          This one saw three former top executives of the Associated Octel Corp., also known as Innospac, sentenced to prison for bribing Indonesian and Iraqi government officials to continue their nations’ importation of a toxic tetraethyl lead fuel additive that is banned in America and most of the rest of the world.

          The Colorado-based company sustained profits for its lead product by making millions of dollars in illicit payments between 2002 and 2008.

          Of course, an English court’s decision to send the threesome away for terms ranging from two years to four years cannot be a legal precedent in any American court. But it certainly could give federal prosecutors here the idea that the long era of personal immunity may be over for corporate executives and the decisions they make.

          So far, there have been no court actions against Edison for its mismanagement that easily could have endangered the millions who live within range of a potential San Onofre radiation leak.

          But PG&E is now under criminal indictment for alleged obstruction of justice along with a variety of counts for regulatory violations.

          Legal experts take the obstruction charge as a sign federal prosecutors plan to pursue the San Bruno case aggressively, with the likelihood of at least a huge fine for the corporation.

          That, in turn, could open the so-far nameless executives responsible to shareholder lawsuits for lost profits and dividends, if the penalty is steep enough.

          And it opens the door to asking why, if PG&E did in fact both act negligently and then obstruct justice by impeding the investigation that followed San Bruno, the executives who guided those actions should escape personal penalties?

          If personal penalties can be exacted in England, prosecutors should be asking themselves, why not here, too, especially when the direct cause of multiple deaths is much easier to prove here?
      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 second edition. His email address is For more Elias columns go to




          Two years from now, Californians will not only be thinking about electing a U.S. senator, 53 members of Congress and a President, but most likely also about the possibility of carving up their state into six new ones.

          The ballot initiative to do this is the brainchild of billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper, who observes to reporters that “bad government is not to be tolerated” and that “California is ungovernable.”

          His idea of creating new states like Silicon Valley, Jefferson and West California and possibly making state capitals of places like Santa Ana, Redding and Fresno comes after many other failed efforts to rip California apart, mostly motivated by water politics or Republican frustration at living in a Democratic-dominated state.

          But just as Californians for the next two years will bandy about the idea of Balkanizing their state, some may also want to consider using their state’s sheer size and scale to secede from the Union.

          Granted that the last time anyone made a serious effort at something like this, a four-year Civil War resulted. But still, California takes occasional stabs at semi-sovereignty and even manages to pull some of them off.

          One example is on smog, where the federal government for 44 years has let this state set rules tougher than those in force elsewhere.

          California governors sometimes even broach the topic of sovereignty. Example: On a July junket to Mexico City, Jerry Brown observed that “Even though California is a mere sub-national entity, it is equivalent to the eighth largest country in the world and we intend to operate based on that…clout.”

          Brown referred to gross domestic product, where California ranks just behind Brazil and Russia, but is gaining on them, and well ahead of prominent nations like Italy, India, Mexico and Argentina.

          Like his predecessors going back to Goodwin Knight in the 1950s, Brown has signed international memoranda of understanding on subjects like trade, environment and tourism. But MOUs don’t have the force or standing of treaties, which a stand-alone California could make.

          A sovereign California also would no longer have to pour money into the federal government’s sinkhole, getting back only about 77 cents for every dollar its taxpayers put in while the likes of Mississippi, West Virginia, Maryland and Florida get far more than a buck back in federal spending for every one they kick in.

          Six Californias would give the current state 12 senators to the two it has now, guaranteeing that small states like Wyoming, Delaware and Wyoming will fight to kill this idea. They could do that if and when it comes up for congressional approval, as it must if the voters approve Draper’s idea.

          A sovereign California would also avoid the pesky worries that plague the six-state idea, like how to split up the state’s universities and how to finance states like Jefferson (northern counties whose public services, including fire protection, are often subsidized by the rest of California) and Central California, which would instantly become America’s poorest state.

          Right next door to the poorest state, of course, would be the richest, Silicon Valley, perhaps making the Google headquarters in Mountain View its Capitol building. That would likely be the de facto headquarters, anyway.

          While there are questions about whether six new states could stay afloat financially and intellectually, there would be no such qualms about a sovereign California, which could create as many senators as it wanted.

    This, after all, is the idea capital of the world, a place where world-changing enterprises from the Google search engine to Apple’s family of i-Products originate. It’s where film companies like Paramount and Warner Bros. and Disney and Dreamworks create global dreams. It’s where public universities became great and its farms feed much of the human race. As a nation, it would rank sixth worldwide in producing solar power and boast the world’s fourth-highest human development index score, while having only the 35th-highest population.

    But splitting into six would create have- and have-not states with plenty of foreseeable grudges and grievances against each other.

    California could avoid all that by becoming independent. Or, of course, by simply remaining a single state.


    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