Monday, August 13, 2018




          Suppose for a moment that your favorite relative – father, mother, aunt, uncle, brother or sister – were getting urgently needed cancer treatment and California’s government suddenly decreed the doctor could not include his assistant’s pay in any fees he charged. So he fires his assistant and then has less time to devote to caring for your loved one.

          Would that constitute interference with the doctor-patient relationship, an act no sane politician would ever want to be accused of?

          And yet… well over 569,000 Californians signed off on an initiative that would do essentially the same thing to the 139,000 patients now getting treatment at the state’s more than 550 dialysis clinics. These are places where people whose kidneys have failed get their blood cleansed of toxic substances several times weekly, the only way they can survive more than a few weeks.

          This initiative will be on the November ballot as Proposition 8, and it’s almost a sure thing that dialysis patients will get lower quality care than they do today if it passes.

          Yes, there are flaws in today’s system. For one example, two multinational companies, the German-based Fresenius Medical Care and the Denver-based DaVita Corp., operate 70 percent of California dialysis centers, places where patients are hooked up to blood-cleansing machines via large needles inserted into their arms or chests.

          That creates a non-competitive situation and most likely drives up the cost of dialysis treatment, from which a kidney transplant is the only way to escape alive. There are legitimate complaints about staffing levels and the fact that some patients must drive many miles to get treatments.

          But Prop. 8 could make a flawed situation much worse.

          Sponsored primarily by the Service Employees International Union, which would like to recruit most dialysis technicians, it would forbid clinics from charging insurance companies for the work of physician medical directors vital to maintaining quality care. It would not allow clinics to charge for the work of facility administrators, security personnel and professional services like accounting, payroll and legal expenses.

          It does this not by naming specific areas where payments are banned, but by listing classes of work where payment is allowed. The measure does not cover the substantial percentage of California patients whose treatments are covered under Medicare and Medi-Cal.

          It also limits what clinics can charge to 15 percent above what is spent directly for patient care by nurses and technicians and the equipment and supplies they use. Clinic directors and the doctors who oversee operations would have to be paid from that 15 percent, leaving almost no room for profits.

          If Prop. 8 passes, Fresenius and DaVita, both very profit-conscious companies that have bought up many previously doctor-owned dialysis clinics, might sell off many of their facilities to buyers with unknown qualifications.

          So it’s no wonder most physician groups oppose the measure, for which the SEIU had already spent more than $5 million as of early August. They contend Prop. 8’s strict rules would force clinics to cut back staff, including supervising nurses who often are vital to solving patients’ problems. And that, they say, could reduce access to dialysis centers.

          Said Dr. Aimee Moulin, president of the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, “This proposition will leave this fragile population no choice but to go to the emergency room for treatment, or increase their threat of life-threatening complications. Treating dialysis patients in the emergency room is more expensive and drives up the cost of…the entire health care system.”

          Added kidney specialist Byron Wong MD of Berkeley in an essay, “The (payments allowed) would not cover the cost of providing high-quality care…Patients would have to travel farther…and chances would increase that they will miss a treatment.”

          In short, no previous ballot measure has ever attempted to interfere so strongly with the medical care of any one patient group. That makes Prop. 8 a bad precedent which could lead to more interference in other types of care. It deserves a strong “no” vote.

          (Full disclosure: Columnist Elias has had a kidney transplant since 1997. He underwent regular dialysis treatments for many months prior to his transplant.)

    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




          After almost 15 years of squabbling over whether the federal Environmental Protection Agency should ban the nerve gas pesticide chlorpyrifos from fields and groves in California and elsewhere, a federal appeals court has now ruled that it must issue a ban within 60 days.

          President Trump’s administration appears all but certain to appeal that ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, either taking the case straight to the U.S. Supreme Court or to an 11-judge “en banc” panel of judges from the same circuit that ruled the pesticide must go.

          But despite any delays, the handwriting is clearly on the wall for the California farm that use more than 1 million pounds of the chemical on everything from broccoli and melons to nuts and oranges. The pesticide is used most heavily in Kern, Tulare and Monterey counties.

          It gives the lie to the old saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” as there are proven links between this noxious substance and neurodevelopmental disorders affecting the brain and nervous system, including autism and intellectual and behavioral disabilities. Small children are most affected.

          This product, primarily manufactured by the Dow Chemical Co., which once produced the infamous chemical weapon napalm, is not your ordinary pest killer. It is an organophosphate very similar to and based upon the nerve gas Zyklon B used by Nazi Germany to execute six million Jews and eight million other victims in its notorious death camps.

          If it were still called by its Nazi name, there would be no tolerance for using this chemical.

          But because it’s effective and has a complicated-sounding name in today’s use, many farmers embrace it. Never mind that in May 2017, 50 farm workers exposed to its spraying near Bakersfield suffered immediate symptoms like vomiting, nausea and vomiting. No one knows what long-term effects the spray might have on them, and that’s just one example.

          Trump’s disgraced former EPA director Scott Pruitt knew most of this before he ruled in early 2017 that use of chlorpyrifos could continue nationally – just weeks after a lengthy private meeting with Dow’s chairman.

          Now it’s a sure bet the EPA will appeal the court ruling, delaying a ban indefinitely.

          But the decision still lets farmers know they can’t keep using this stuff forever. Even if Trump wins reelection in 2020, his time in office will be up no later than early 2025 and given the history of this pesticide and the strength of the negative evidence, its days are surely numbered.

          And farmers have alternatives. They can fight insects with botanically sourced pesticides including cinnamon oil and garlic oil. State officials report some have already switched to another family of insecticides known as neonicitinoids. One problem with that family: It can threaten bees, even if it’s easier on people.

          Of course, many farms using chlorpyrifos are owned by the same people and companies who have long argued that water distribution in California favors fish over people, particularly resenting protection of the silvery, minnow-like Delta smelt.

          Are these same folks now going to argue for favoring bees over people?

          It’s also true that the former Barack Obama administration dragged its feet on the chlorpyrifos issue so long that in a 2015 hearing by a Ninth Circuit panel, longtime appellate Judge Wallace Tashima scolded an EPA lawyer about the eight years the agency had then worked on a possible ban. “I think this is a pretty miserable record,” said Tashima.

          And a scientific panel of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment earlier this year voted unanimously to place chlorpyrifos on the list of dangerous substances under the 1986 Proposition 65. That group included professors from Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Davis, along with a representative of the pharmaceutical firm Genentech.

          All this makes it plain spraying of chlorpyrifos will end pretty soon.

          Farmers who don’t recognize this now, especially after the appellate decision, could be left struggling to find a substitute when the inevitable ban arrives. They’re better off if they act now, getting ahead of the game and maybe even making hay by advertising safer food products.

    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, August 2, 2018




          From Anderson Marsh State Historic Park in Lake County and Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area on the Sacramento River in Tehama County. From the vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County to Point Lobos State Reserve in Monterey County and Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County.

          View California’s far-flung 280-unit State Park system either alphabetically or geographically, and you see a resource unparalleled in any other state and hard to match in any nation around the world. There are dune buggy tracks in the deserts and pristine redwood groves near the North Coast. Historic resources from the oldest active Chinese temple in the West to the Pio Pico House in downtown Los Angeles.

          What they have in common is a commitment for preservation by the state and a responsibility for the safety of the more than 60 million persons who use them yearly.

          Even before the late June shooting death of a father of two from Irvine while fast asleep in a campground at Malibu Creek State Park near Calabasas, there was reason to question the safety and upkeep of the State Park system.

          A reader from Davis wrote this column just after that unsolved murder complaining of “the terror tales about broken bathrooms, broken picnic tables, impassable trails due to fallen trees,” but griped most harshly about “the total lack of security due to the paucity of rangers, particularly overnight.”

          It turns out the reader was absolutely correct. For this year, the Parks Department reports, it has 484 peace officer rangers on duty. That’s 72 fewer than in 2012. It’s an average of less than two rangers per park unit, charged with protecting the parks and their visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s almost an impossible task.

          Months before the murder at Malibu Creek, the rangers’ organization, the Resource Protection Peace Officers Assn., complained online about not having enough people to contend with stabbings, domestic violence, jogger assaults, the occasional high speed chase and, rarely, shootings.

          Stopping short of actually admitting it has a safety problem, the Parks Department now says a budget increase it just received will allow expansion of its force to more than 600 peace officer rangers by the end of the fiscal year next summer.

          Reported Gloria Sandoval, the department’s deputy director for communications, “California State Parks is actively taking steps to fill 88 vacant peace officer positions,” pointing to a recruiting campaign launched in April aiming to hire those 88 and another 54 authorized in the new budget. “That would be 626 peace officer positions authorized and expected to be filled by the end of the current budget year.”

          This would still be less than three rangers per park unit. When some parks expand to populations of 8,000 or more on holiday weekends, the parks can’t provide anything like comprehensive patrols and protection.

          But that’s probably inevitable for this stepchild of a state agency, one with enormous responsibilities but very few funds to carry them out. That status is one reason the department depends heavily on volunteer campground hosts in full-fledged state parks and volunteer park hosts in many other locations.

          Says the Parks Department website, “Volunteer host positions are available in over 100 parks. Host duties vary according to each park but generally include providing visitor information, staffing visitor centers and museums, maintenance projects and general housekeeping. Most hosts work approximately 20 hours a week and, in exchange for those services, the hosts are provided with a campsite during their stay.”

          That’s a lot of benefits to the state and its park users for no money at all.

          The volunteers are not equipped to maintain park facilities from picnic tables to rest rooms. So as budgets shrank during the recession and afterward, some parks became decrepit, almost derelict. Not the best way to present California to its millions of visitors.

          The Parks Department insists it has now begun fighting its way back, with a budget almost $200 million higher than six years ago at recession’s end. That and the increased user fees called for in the same budget should see fresh paint and smoother plumbing in many places.

          But the number of peace officer rangers remains woefully adequate, even if all open positions are filled this year.

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




          No state has been more visible than California in resisting the environmental policies of President Trump, filing 38 lawsuits by the beginning of this month. Now the state’s massive early fire season is demonstrating the merit of those legal actions.

          For every authority analyzing the unprecedented level of early summer blazes here and around the world agrees that one major cause is heat – record heat that has beset almost every place in the world from Switzerland to Hong Kong, from San Francisco to parts of Finland north of the Arctic Circle.

          Yes, Finland, where Trump staged his lugubrious July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has seen temperatures in the 90s this year, for the first time in recorded history.

          Meanwhile, England sweated through a record heat wave, while Greece saw the deadliest fires in its long history and Europe’s worst since 1900. Several prominent waterfalls in Switzerland fed by Alpine snowmelt stopped flowing months earlier than usual.

          And then there’s California, where at one time in July, 19 wildfires burned simultaneously, taking well over 1,000 homes and some lives.

          Scientists at the state universities of Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada (Reno) report regional temperature averages in the West have increased by 2 degrees since the 1970s, resulting in drier and more combustible plant growth. At the same time, NASA scientists say this climate change helped kill thousands of trees and bushes in California’s mountains, providing unprecedented amounts of tinder.

          Rather than act to help mitigate this crisis, Trump’s administration has taken myriad actions appearing to further it. Trump is trying to roll back automotive emission standards. He’s shrunk several national monuments to make way for mining. The President ended NASA’s climate monitoring program, a head-in-the-sand move that allows him to keep denying climate change. He’s cut programs designed to find new renewable energy sources and shut down instruments on existing satellites that measure heat on the earth’s surface.

          He’s loosened regulations on toxic emissions from industrial sources and dropped climate change from the official list of threats to national security.

          California is resisting some of that, but its lawsuits are likely just a delaying action ultimately doomed to failure when they reach the U.S. Supreme Court, to which Trump has nominated two judges long opposed to environmental regulations.

          That can only help things get worse and hotter before they get cooler and better. But victims of the fires who lose homes and businesses and loved ones will not be able to sue Trump or his appointees for helping cause their woes because it’s difficult to parse out a direct link between, say, enabling toxic emissions in Pennsylvania and the degree of fury in a California fire.

          But there is a connection, and virtually every other government in the world besides ours has seen it and agreed to act on it. Even China, long noted for high levels of smog and other pollutants in its cities and countryside.

          If climate change could cause cool and foggy San Francisco to see record heat reach 106 over last year’s Labor Day weekend, then it likely also is one reason there is less snow on the Alps and the Canadian Rockies now than 10 years ago and also why it’s difficult to see a glacier anymore from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.

          The lesson of all this is that if Trump and the West Virginia coal miners who overwhelmingly voted for him in the last election see no harm in greenhouse gases they are creating and furthering, California has no choice but to resist.

          The lawsuits at the heart of such resistance won’t end the far longer fire seasons that have become a regular feature of California life, but they may help the world fend off an even bigger crisis than it faces right now, even if Trump and his many supporters choose to ignore what’s before them daily.

          After all, this is a President who exhorted a crowd the other day, “Don’t believe what you see…” It was reminiscent of the joke about the husband, caught in flagrante and denying anything untoward, asking his wife, “Who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?”

     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, July 30, 2018




          U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had almost $10 million on hand after winning a 44.2 percent plurality of the June primary election vote; Kevin de Leon had far less than $1 million left over after finishing second with just over 12 percent, enough to get a spot in the November runoff election, but insufficient to scare anyone.

          Feinstein even won fellow Democrat de Leon’s own state Senate district in eastern Los Angeles County by a comfortable 10 percent margin.

          De Leon’s percentage of the primary vote was somewhat less than the 12.6 percent won by the previously little-known Sacramento area Republican activist Elizabeth Emken in 2012, the last time Feinstein stood for reelection. Feinstein won a 49.3 percent plurality in that primary, and beat Emken that fall by more than a 60-40 percent margin.

          Emken was a Republican, so very likely took almost all GOP votes in the runoff. But de Leon has positioned himself as far to the left of Feinstein as any Democrat could, and so won’t draw many Republican votes in November. One late-July poll indicated almost half of all Republican voters will leave the U.S. Senate category blank on their ballots.

Feinstein has never before run against a fellow Democrat, but two years ago, the moderate Democrat and former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County got 54 percent of Republican runoff votes.

          All these items give the more moderate Feinstein a huge advantage over de Leon this fall. They help explain why de Leon has trouble raising money from Democratic donors, who would rather put their dollars into congressional districts the party might flip from red to blue, and not make an enemy of the formidable Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco.

          Put it together and it’s clear de Leon may need an act of God to take over the Senate seat Feinstein has held since 1992.

          The primary vote also indicates it will probably turn out to be irrelevant that de Leon had a near-victory with 54 percent support at the California Democrats’ state party convention last spring, which easily topped Feinstein’s support, and later won an endorsement from the Democrats’ executive committee, which comes with some plugs on campaign slate mailers this fall, plus monetary and volunteer worker support.

          This happened because the bulk of both party convention delegates and executive board members today are far to the left of both Feinstein and mainstream Democratic voters, as made clear by the primary results. The current makeup of the party organization is the result of a big push by 2016 supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during local party caucuses early in 2017.

          In fact, exit polls in June showed Feinstein winning about 70 percent of all votes cast in the Senate race by Democrats.

          And yet, de Leon does not appear fazed by the difficulty of the task before him. “Once people make the connection with me, they say, ‘It’s time for a change, I’m with you,’” he told a reporter after the primary.

          But in this huge state, with population and geographic size similar to major nations like France and the United Kingdom, it’s difficult to connect directly with enough voters to overcome all Feinstein’s advantages.

          So de Leon often lapses into the “it’s time for a change” mantra, code words for “Feinstein is too old.” She turned 85 on June 22 and is the oldest member of the Senate. But not even de Leon suggests that makes her ineffective.

          “To say he has a message is a stretch,” said Feinstein’s longtime campaign consultant, Bill Carrick. “He’s trying to say ‘she’s not progressive and I am,’ but that gets shot down every day by what she’s doing in Congress.”

          Feinstein is known as the Senate’s leading gun-control advocate, is a strong abortion supporter and on those grounds was among the first Democrats to declare opposition to President Trump’s newest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

          The bottom line today is that Feinstein enjoys a lead of at least 22 points in recent public polling and even with a party endorsement, de Leon does not appear to have either the means or the money to overcome that margin.

     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





          Many of California’s vital energy, water and air quality decisions of the last few years may have been made in secret meetings involving Gov. Jerry Brown’s office and his appointed heads of key state agencies.

          That revelation emerges from previously withheld emails released by the California Public Utilities Commission in response to a court order obtained by a San Diego consumer attorney who has fought some of its most important rulings.

          The released emails cover several months in 2014, and some remain undisclosed, but there are no denials of the secret meetings from anyone in state government, and they apparently continue.

          There is disagreement about whether these sessions violate California’s open meetings law, designed to ensure decisions are made in full public view.

          The gatherings include aides to the governor and the heads of the PUC, the state Energy Commission, the state Air Resources Board, the state Water Resources Control Board and board members of the Independent System Operator, in charge of California’s electric grid.

          The emails also strikingly reveal that the top regulators meet frequently in private with high executives of major utilities they regulate. Meetings sometimes include division chiefs with the state agencies.

          The group, calling itself the Energy Principals, also meets with executives and officials of renewable energy companies like those building huge solar thermal energy plants in the state’s vast deserts. But there is no indication consumer groups or their representatives have ever been included.

               Subject matter for meetings during the relatively short time period covered by the court order included an infamous and since-revised agreement reached in a secret 2013 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, between then-PUC President Michael Peevey and the Southern California Edison Co. That deal, summarized by Peevey on a hotel napkin, assessed consumers about 70 percent of the almost $5 billion cost for closing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

          Other topics included renewable energy issues and “peaker” electricity plants used only during power shortages.

          There is no evidence any decisions reached by the Energy Principals group were ever changed by any state agency involved.

          “Essentially, they’ve collapsed the four big energy and water agencies into a single group organized out of the governor’s office,” said Michael Aguirre, the former elected city attorney of San Diego whose demands produced the previously-secret emails. “I’ve sent letters demanding they give public notice of these meetings.”

Some meetings during the time period covered by the emails were held in Peevey’s house in the posh Los Angeles suburb of La Canada-Flintridge and in the home of air board chair Mary Nichols in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles.

          The PUC was the only agency commenting on the meetings, with spokeswoman Terrie Prosper implying in an email that the Energy Principals group still meets regularly. “Discussions among the leaders of various agencies must occur…to ensure the state properly manages resources and considers the needs of California,” she said in an email.

          And a spokesman for Brown told a reporter that “It’s a basic function of government for agencies to work cooperatively.”

          Prosper insisted public notice of the meetings is not required under California’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.

          But a 2003 public analysis of the Brown Act by then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer found the law covers "standing committees of a legislative body." Agencies like those in the Energy Principals group have long been considered legislative bodies under the Brown Act and do give advance notice of meetings. It’s difficult to see how a group of agency heads that has met regularly for years would not be called a “standing committee.”

          But Prosper defended the group’s secrecy by saying “There was never a quorum of PUC members present.”

          “One question this brings up is how broad is the practice of secret meetings?” said Aguirre. “There is no way these meetings should be held in secret.”

          But they have been, and no one knows how long that’s gone on. The bottom line: Agency heads should indeed meet and coordinate their actions, but from now on, they need to do it publicly and provide plenty of advance notice, as the law seems to require.


     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, July 23, 2018




          The way environmental activists in California’s Delta region tell it, there is no part of government in this state more arrogant than the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

          The huge MWD, supplier of water to the majority of the state’s populace, is certainly acting the part as it pushes for a project Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to make an irreversible fait accompli before he leaves office (presumably for the last time) at the end of this year.

          That’s the so-called “California WaterFix” or Twin Tunnels project to bring Northern California river water to San Joaquin Valley farms and urban Southern California via gigantic culverts running around and through the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers east of San Francisco Bay. ( Another desired Brown legacy is the troubled bullet train.)

          No one claims the tunnels project would produce much more water than now comes from the same rivers. But Brown and other supporters assert it would make supplies steadier and more reliable.

His administration and other project backers only lately renamed this the WaterFix because that sounds more positive than tunnels. But environmentalists led by the group Restore the Delta see it not as a fix, but a problem which could deprive the Delta and its fish of much fresh water they now get.

          After substantial lobbying by Brown, the MWD’s governing board without a public vote this summer committed millions of its customers to pay a large share of the project’s costs. About the only recourse customers might have would be voting out many of the myriad city council members and county supervisors who make up that board. This is highly unlikely, so added water charges for millions of customers are pretty much assured.

          It’s much the same in the San Jose-based Santa Clara Valley Water District, whose much smaller board voted narrowly also to help pay the multi-billion-dollar freight. Agricultural water districts in the San Joaquin Valley that stand to benefit most were reluctant to make similar commitments.

          The moves by the urban water districts were the embodiment of arrogance by public officials because they were taken with little public input and without say-so from those who will actually pay. No sooner were those votes over than the water districts and the state formed a partnership for designing and building the tunnels, a move plainly aiming to cement the project in place long before a spade is turned.

          Meanwhile, the only time anything like the WaterFix plan got a full public hearing came 36 years ago, after Brown and state legislators authorized building a so-called Peripheral Canal to bring water south around the Delta via a large ditch. A statewide referendum eliminated that plan by a resounding margin. It became political anathema for decades, but the idea plainly stuck in Brown’s mind. The WaterFix amounts to an updated, more expensive, version of the ditch Brown backed long ago.

          Then there is the move by a Southern California Republican congressman to cement the project via federal law.

          This comes from Rep. Ken Calvert of Corona, one of California’s more secure GOP congressmen, not even close to being a Democratic target this year.

          Calvert in May quietly slipped language into a proposed budget bill to ban legal challenges of the tunnels, a move that could instantly end more than two dozen current lawsuits by local governments, water districts, recreational and environmental groups and tribal governments. To Brown’s credit, his administration after months of consideration, now opposes that bill, but it is very much alive in Congress.

          “A proposal like (this) raises the question: what are the supporters of the tunnels trying to hide?” wrote Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of Mokelumne Hill, the former lieutenant governor who represents part of the Delta area.

          Added Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, “Bypassing due process and violating states’ rights …creates a constitutional nightmare. Tunnels proponents are attempting to rewrite the rules of the game so they can’t lose.”

          The water district votes and the Calvert move both represent almost unprecedented arrogance. That makes it high time for some major public and consumer protests over the manner in which Brown and his allies are rushing the tunnels into reality without permission of the people who will pay for them.

     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