Monday, December 11, 2017




          California will be exploring new ground as the impending election year builds to its climax in early November. For the first time ever, big donors to ballot proposition campaigns will not be able to hide behind phony campaign committee names like “Californians for Safe Streets” and the like when they put their money behind causes, many of which can be self-serving.

          It will now be somewhat harder to keep dark money from having at least some light shined upon it.

          But no one can be certain just yet how difficult it will be for real donors to hide and just how exposed they might soon be. That’s partly because of some rather vague language in the state’s new Disclose Act, quietly signed as Assembly Bill 249 by Gov. Jerry Brown, who issued no statement along with his signature, as he often does on important bills.

          Advocates contend the language of the new law “will fundamentally change how campaign financing is disclosed,” as legislative sponsor Kevin Mullin, a Democratic assemblyman from San Mateo, put it.

          And it might do that. The bill requires ads for ballot propositions and independent expenditure ads for and against candidates to identify their top three funders, with none able to hide behind sometimes-misleading committee names. The idea is to identify people and organizations actually trying to exert influence, possibly causing some to downsize their contributions if they don’t want to be listed publicly as leading donors.

          This should let voters know exactly who is trying to influence them. From the “who,” it’s often easy to deduce the “why,” so California ballots could be cast in the most educated manner ever.

          Of course, this measure might have been even better than what has now become law. It could have required that disclosures of donors be made in a print size equal to the largest anywhere else in an ad. But that was amended out of the bill as it progressed through the Legislature. Instead, disclosures must be made “clearly and prominently,” a vague phrase that will no doubt be litigated for years.

          Expect some of the political consultants who conceive, write and approve the ads that will be ubiquitous as 2018 progresses to try to obfuscate matters. Their radio ads may feature the same kind of ultra-speed-reading often heard when pharmaceutical companies list drug side effects near the end of their ads.

          But newspaper and television advertising will have to include printed information on true campaign funders. In the beginning, some campaigns may try to get away with small print, but that almost certainly won’t fly in the long run.

          So while this law does contain some vagueness, it is far better than no law, a clear-cut case of not letting the perfect (identification in letters that match the largest elsewhere in the ad) outweigh the good.

          The law’s other flaw is that it does not demand exposure of the largest direct contributors to candidates, whose donors often launder their contributions through the major political parties at both the state and country levels. But there is nevertheless plenty of improvement over the longstanding ability of big donors to remain almost completely anonymous.

          Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign, which pushed the Disclose Act for more than seven years before its final passage on a fairly bipartisan vote (five Republican assembly members from swing districts joined almost all Democrats in supporting it), called the new law “the biggest blow yet against the unlimited secret money unleashed by Citizens United.” That’s the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that corporations are like people when it comes to political giving.

          The bottom line is that even with some vague parts of the new law likely to be disputed and litigated over the next few years, there will still be more disclosure of campaign finance information than ever before seen anywhere in America.

          But we will all have to wait and see how much real voters care about this and whether it really affects the way votes are cast.

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




          It’s already well established that the tax “reforms” now being hashed out in secret by a joint committee of Republicans from the Senate and the House of Representatives will likely cost Californians a net sum of well over $110 billion, an average of more than $2,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the state.

          That figure is derived from calculations by the House Budget Committee staff, controlled by the very Republicans designing the changes, so it’s hard to argue.

          It’s also hard to see how this measure can possibly produce more than $2,000 a year in benefits to the Californians who will pay the added taxes, caused by eliminating or slashing several longtime, big-dollar tax writeoffs.

          There is the medical deduction, which is eliminated in the House version of this bill, but retained by the Senate. No one knows how that conflict will be resolved, but if the deduction goes, it will cost the 1.3 million Californians who use that deduction (long limited to amounts exceeding 10 percent of adjusted gross income) an average of more than $9,800 yearly. This added cost will mostly come from people already burdened by the many uninsured costs involved with chronic illnesses and from folks supporting elderly parents or other relatives in nursing homes or assisted living.

          Eliminating this deduction would be purely reverse Robin Hood – taking from the already cash-strapped in order to finance large tax cuts for corporations and the extremely wealthy.

          There’s also the proposed change in deductions for home mortgages, now applying to homes costing up to $1 million. The Senate bill keeps this, but the House would allow it for new mortgages only if they are under $500,000. The House would grandfather in existing mortgages.

          Effects of this likely change (and the joint committee is likely to reach some kind of compromise) are still not totally predictable, but it is sure to reduce the inventory of homes for sale in California, where mortgages of more than half a million dollars are commonplace. At the same time, it could take many potential home buyers out of the market because it would suddenly be more expensive for them to sustain mortgages on houses costing not much more than the average price of about $575,000 in many parts of this state.

          It’s also probable this change will cause more present owners to hang onto their homes, a supply reduction that could keep prices up. But if this doesn’t happen, the tax change figures to drive prices down by anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent, says one estimate from the National Association of Realtors, which strongly opposes the bill.

          But the biggest effect – estimated at about $90 billion by the Budget Committee – will come from eliminating deductions for state and local taxes. This will not only cost at tax time, but also make everyday purchases from patio furniture to televisions and smart phones significantly more expensive.

          This leads to speculation the changes could throw the whole nation into recession, not just California.

          All this comes from a Republican Party that has promised continually since 1988 to levy no new taxes. So much for political promises.

          But it’s the real estate market that figures to be hit harder by these so-called reforms than any other economic sector.

          “The tax incentives to own a home are baked into overall values,” said Elizabeth Mendenhall, president of the national Realtors’ group. “When those incentives are nullified in the way this bill will likely provide, our estimates show home values stand to fall by more than 10 percent, even more in high-cost areas.”

          Affordable housing advocates also predict the projected overhaul will gut efforts to solve California’s large-scale homeless problem. The tax exemptions builders get for constructing low-cost housing rather than more upscale new residences would for the most part disappear.

          It’s possible this might not have many political ramifications for Republicans next fall, because none of it is scheduled to take full effect until 2019. But by 2020, when the new tax bills have festered for more than a year, it’s likely to be look out below for President Trump and other Republicans who naively promise massive new prosperity will trickle down from their plan.

     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, December 4, 2017




          Hate crimes are on the rise in California and there are strong hints the increase stems in part from President Trump’s habit of using racial slurs like the “Pocahontas” tag he likes to apply to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the travel bans he’s imposed on citizens of several Muslim countries.

          There were also Trump’s call for a wall separating this country from Mexico and his claim that vast numbers of Latino illegal immigrants are criminals and rapists.

          The latest FBI hate crime statistics cover only 2016, not even including an apparent rise in white supremacist activity that’s been reported less formally since Trump refused to outright condemn the neo-Nazi-tinged rally that turned fatal last summer in Charlottesville, VA.

          Even the FBI’s numbers are far from complete, as they are based on reporting only from cities and counties that volunteer information. Many don’t bother reporting.

          There is also no proof that Trump’s rhetoric and tweets caused the hate crime spike, but there is a definite correlation of the increases with his remarks.

          Most striking in the California numbers stemming from 733 police and sheriff’s departments in all parts of the state is the rise of almost 100 hate crimes, or 11.7 percent, over the previous year, 2015. Perhaps even more important to anyone looking for a trend was a rise of 9 percent in the month of November 2016, the month of Trump’s election victory.

          The numbers show increases in both race-based crimes and in those targeting gender. The biggest increases were in anti-Latino, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT crimes.

          If there’s any parallel here to previous California hate crime spikes, it’s to the period just before and after Proposition 187 passed in 1994, seeking to deprive undocumented immigrants of all government services, from public schooling to emergency room care. The hot political rhetoric of that time also saw an upswing in crimes targeting Latinos, regardless of either their immigration status or of how long their families had been in California.

          Most hate crimes, as usual, occurred in or near large cities, with most hate crimes in San Francisco against gays, while in Los Angeles a wave of incidents targeted Jews, Muslims and African-Americans.

          Reported hate crimes linked to white supremacists in Los Angeles County jumped from 63 in 2015 to 105 last year, about two-thirds more than the previous year’s number. They have been most common in poorer communities like Cudahy, according to an annual survey by that county’s Human Relations commission.

          That commission also found African Americans the most frequently targeted group in Southern California, often the victims of white supremacists. But the danger to transgender individuals also increased sharply, with 39 reported crimes hitting them compared with 22 the year before, a 77 percent increase.

          The increases were just as sharp in Northern California, where hate crimes almost tripled in Santa Clara County, from 14 to 39, with San Jose hit the most. Of that city’s 24 reported hate crimes, 15 were based on race and ethnicity, seven were religious and two involved sexual orientation. San Jose’s total was triple its 2015 number.

          The increases in crimes based on race and ethnicity, from swastikas on synagogues and mosques to physical attacks on gays, are too striking and too ubiquitous in California’s population centers to have been spurred by anything other than the not-quite-hateful, but still race-suggestive rhetoric that suffused television and the Internet at the times when these crimes increased the most.

          It would be the height of naiveté to gloss over this reality. California learned in 1994 and 1995 that hateful political advertising coincided with a sharp rise in hate and hate crimes against the same or similar groups to those referenced in the ads.

          The 2016 numbers – more dramatically increased than in any one year since the 1990s – appear to demonstrate that this type of politics is no more benign today than 20 years ago.

          And until the numbers for 2017 come in sometime near the end of next year, no one will know the exact effect the Trump presidency has had on them. But it’s a safe bet we will see even more dramatic increases than last year’s.

     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




          Strong irony is in the air as California heads into the hot political year of 2018, with an initiative to end the state’s “top two” primary election system in play just as top two, also known as the “jungle primary,” may be about to accomplish its central purpose.

That aim was to allow voters in the minority party to influence elections and elect more moderate members of the larger party when their own party either has no candidate in a race or fields a sure loser.

So it is today as moderate Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein bids for another six years in Washington, D.C. amid opposition from state Senate President Kevin de Leon and possibly others from the Democrats’ left wing.

So far, no Republican has entered the race, and in past reelection efforts, Feinstein has trampled GOP opponents anyhow. This leads to two key questions to be answered in the next 11 months: Will the ‘jungle primary’ system so detested by Republicans and fringe party members help save Feinstein’s long career? And will she be the last to benefit from that system, which pits the top two primary election vote-getters for any office below the presidency against each other in the November runoff, regardless of party?

          Mostly likely, Feinstein next fall will share the ballot with the initiative seeking to return California to its previous primary system based on parties, with each party participating in the primary entitled to have a candidate in the runoff. Candidates and parties now must earn runoff slots with strong primary election performances.

          If top two is even partly responsible for a Feinstein win, she would be the most prominent case of that system fulfilling its aim.

          The Democratic left, which came within a hair of taking over the party’s state apparatus last fall, excoriates Feinstein because she once urged patience with President Trump, because she’s had Wall Street ties and has not been as shrill in opposing Trump as some younger senators, including California’s other senator, fellow Democrat Kamala Harris. (Harris endorsed Feinstein the day she announced for reelection.)

          No one yet knows how wide the appeal of a so-called progressive candidate like de Leon or activist billionaire Tom Steyer might be among baseline Democratic voters, so it’s impossible yet to determine whether Feinstein might need Republican votes to win reelection. But that is a definite possibility, and if it happens, it would fulfill the purpose of the jungle primary, backed when it began by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, both moderate Republicans. They wanted their sort of candidates to have a chance to win and their sort of voters to be able to influence election outcomes in places where they previously could not.

          Now comes Feinstein, who could be the rare California incumbent getting less than half her own party’s primary election vote. Republicans, with barely over a quarter of California’s total voter registration, would be unlikely to place a candidate on the ballot this year, just as they failed in the 2016 Senate contest.

          But if they vote in decent numbers, they are more than sufficient to combine with moderate Democrats to keep a far-leftist candidate from winning. That only works if Republicans actually vote for Feinstein, even if they would much prefer voting for a fellow Republican.

          Returns from 2016 show that almost exactly 1 million fewer Californians voted for a U.S. Senate candidate than for president, indicating  many Republicans didn’t bother to vote in a race between two liberal Democratic women, Harris and then-Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

          If most of those in the vote dropoff were Republicans and there is less dropoff this fall, they could assure that California gets the moderate Feinstein and not someone substantially to her left and less patient or willing to compromise.

          Such an outcome would represent the explicit purpose of top two, and it’s just possible that it might also be the last gasp of that system. For if voters opt to go back to party-driven primaries, the extreme wings of both major parties will once again provide almost all candidates.

          This would assure plenty of November choices, but would essentially disenfranchise Democrats in Republican-dominated legislative districts and Republicans statewide, as well as those living in the many Democratic-dominated districts.

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

Monday, November 27, 2017




          Every economic forecast shows California needs more college graduates. About 35 percent more than today’s total by 2030, on pain of losing hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs to other states and countries.

          The state’s largest producer of college grads has gotten the message: The Cal State system last spring graduated 23 percent of all students who enrolled four years earlier, its highest proportion of four-year graduations ever. At the same time, the more than 98,700 undergraduate degrees handed out were the most since the CSU system began in 1857 at San Jose State University.

          But almost everyone at the 23 Cal State campuses knows it’s not enough. The state needs more CSU products, not merely to replace the host of schoolteachers due to retire in the next few years, but also to fuel new Googles and Hulus and Facebooks that are almost certain to create thousands of jobs over the next few decades.

          Cal State thinks it knows where to find those new graduates: among the many freshmen who arrive on campus needing remedial education in English and math. University officials report about 40 percent of students now take remedial courses because they’re not fully college-ready. Those courses have not previously offered credit toward graduation, so remedial students drop out or graduate late in larger numbers than their classmates.

          The CSU, under orders from system Chancellor Timothy P. White, thinks it has a way around that problem, one that will give students college credit even for classes covering what they should have learned in high school.

          It’s called “corequisite remediation.” The concept allows students to take regular college classes even as they’re struggling to catch up to where they should have been before ever enrolling.

          “These classes will be different from campus to campus,” said CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. “Each campus serves a different population. We know the current remedial classes have helped, but they’re not doing enough for the students. So there will be a radical sea change.” This will start next fall, except on two campuses (Monterey Bay and Sonoma State) where there’s a one-year delay.

          Some professors complain the new classes are being imposed from outside, although they are actually being designed by faculty at each campus.

          They’ll all be based in part on the experience of the City University of New York and Tennessee’s 13 junior colleges.

          In the new system, students might spend the first seven weeks of a statistics class learning algebra and probability, and the last seven in a 14-week semester completing the coursework of a normal class. An alternate plan could see students study both algebra and statistics simultaneously, even though algebra is needed to understand much of statistics.

          It may be hard to see how this can work without confusing students, but the CSU insists it can and will work. A study published by Columbia University says it has worked in Tennessee. “Based on the Tennessee data, the success rates from corequisite remediation indicate a more efficient instructional system for students who enter college academically underprepared,” concluded that study.

          The CUNY experience is similar, according to a 2016 report finding that “policies allowing students to take college-level instead of remedial…courses can increase student success.”

          No one knows what employers will think of this or whether it will eventually devalue all Cal State degrees. Until now, employers have had a good idea of what students with each type of degree should know; at least for a while to come, they may not be so sure. That could harm students who need no remedial work after entering college.

          Said Uhlenkamp, “Our overarching goal is to strengthen the quality of a Cal State education and we are confident our faculty will design courses that do this.”

          But some Cal State professors and students demur. “The faculty are justifiably suspicious,” Katherine Stevenson, who heads the developmental math program at Cal State Northridge, told the system’s board of trustees the other day. The CSU Academic Senate warned of “rushed and poorly designed implementation.”

          That doesn’t faze Cal State’s bosses, who insist everything will be OK. No one knows how it will all work out, but answers should start coming next fall.


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 




          On the day Gov. Jerry Brown returned to his office after 12 days wandering around Europe preaching the ills of climate change and the current United States response to it, a Los Angeles judge unsealed the latest evidence of corruption among his appointees here at home.

          The key revelation in documents made public after more than a year of secrecy once again spotlights the California Public Utilities Commission – made up primarily of trusted former Brown aides. Other problem areas also festered during Brown’s absence.

The documents show the PUC asked the Legislature for $6.045 million in early 2016 to pay private lawyers for allegedly helping it comply with subpoenas and search warrants in the state attorney general’s ongoing criminal investigation of a highly questionable settlement that now sees consumers paying about 70 percent of the cost for shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The new money comes atop $5.2 million in public money the commissioners paid their lawyers since 2015.

          That essence of the San Onofre settlement was reached during a secret meeting between leaders of the PUC and the Southern California Edison Co. in a luxury hotel in Warsaw, Poland almost half a decade ago.

          Under pressure, the PUC has reopened its decision on that agreement, which precluded public hearings that might have spotlighted Edison’s key role in causing the plant’s shutdown.

          The documents demonstrate that once the PUC got its new funds, the private law firm it hired fought the investigation, rather than cooperating with it, as the PUC had promised. Among other things, those private lawyers questioned the validity of a key search warrant and tried to assert the Warsaw meeting was legal – even though the commission had already fined Edison for not formally reporting it.

 (Irony: The commission was in on the meeting, but fined other participants for not reporting. Meanwhile commissioners neither reported the meeting to the public nor fined their own participant.)

Said San Diego consumer lawyer Maria Severson, one of two attorneys who won release of the long-hidden documents, “There were sufficient facts in the (subpoenas) to lead to a strong suspicion of guilt,…nonfeasance and even malfeasance (and) probable cause (to believe) that they conspired to obstruct justice or the administration of the laws.”

Brown said nothing about the released documents, and has refused comment repeatedly about dubious PUC moves. He has yet to criticize any of his commission appointees, while they refuse repeated requests to furnish a legal justification for use of public funds to defend commissioners in a criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, the PUC issued a written statement insisting it “has cooperated with the attorney general’s office though every step of the investigation.” That’s not what the judge, William C. Ryan, concluded when he wrote that “The PUC has withheld hundreds of documents, claiming…privilege.”

State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, whose house okayed the funding, added in an email that “I believe the PUC can expect vigorous examination (from lawmakers).”

As this went on, Brown also was mute about admitted interference by aides to University of California President Janet Napolitano with an audit of UC. While state auditor Elaine Howell asked UC regents to consider disciplining those who interfered with the audit, Brown said nothing, even though he has been an ex-officio regent for many years.

It’s hard to believe Napolitano didn’t know what her aides were up to. When football or basketball coaches’ assistants break rules, the head coach is usually fired. Why not Napolitano?

Nor did Brown punish Energy Commission members for handing out tens of millions of gasoline tax dollars to a company headed by a former academic who advised that commission’s staff on how to evaluate grant applications for hydrogen highway funds, then quit his university job and three months later filed a multimillion-dollar grant application that was accepted.

          Instead of firing or disciplining the commission chairman who enabled this obvious conflict of interest, Brown reappointed him.

          The time is long gone when Brown could plausibly deny knowing of the corruption among his appointees or others in whose choice he had a hand, like Napolitano.

          It’s all part of a pattern of not merely corruption, but complete unaccountability in Brown’s administration, where top appointees usually continue in prestigious, powerful jobs no matter what misdeeds they do or okay.

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

Monday, November 20, 2017




          Hypocrisy is nothing new in politics – or anywhere else in human activity, for that matter. But it’s become a lot more visible lately as women expose more and more sexual harassment episodes in the pasts of prominent men.

          There’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, now exposed as a groper and a purveyor of unfunny innuendo in his former career as a comedian, who’s also been a champion of women’s rights and a prominent accuser of Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore,

          There’s President Trump blasting Franken, despite bragging about serial groping in a video released during his 2016 campaign and despite at least a dozen harassment accusations. There’s also his daughter and adviser Ivanka, who insisted “there’s a special place in hell” for men like Moore, who reportedly often got involved with high school girls in past decades. Ms. Trump, of course, said nothing about her daddy’s alleged past.

          But sex and sexual imbroglios are far from the only subjects for hypocrisy in politics today. There are also taxes.

Among the great majority of California Republican congressmen, inconsistent words and behavior can be less obvious than in the current wave of newly exposed sexual predators.

          Eleven of the 14 Republicans in California’s House delegation just voted for the GOP’s tax “reform” bill (one person’s reform can often be disastrous for others). Add the fact that every prominent California Republican now inveighs against the state’s new 12-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, which the GOP holds responsible for pump price increases averaging almost 30 cents per gallon over the last month. Republicans have yet to address the other 18 cents, the majority of the price rise, but consumer advocates maintain it’s from oil company price gouging timed to coincide with the tax increase.

          Very soon, every Republican member of Congress from California will have endorsed a proposed proposition (now in the signature-gathering stage) to overturn the gas tax increase. GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen of Orange County makes that planned measure the centerpiece of his run for governor.

          The state GOP organization sends out fund-raising pitches asking voters to “condemn the Democrats for their massive gas tax increase!” “We need to hold Democrats responsible,” the emails add, never mentioning that the tax could not have passed without votes from a few Republican legislators.

          While they and their party blast the gas tax, though, the vast majority of California Republicans in Congress voted for the GOP tax bill that, if it becomes law, will trigger an annual tax hike of about $114 billion on Californians – compared with a yearly tab of about $5.2 billion for the gas tax hike. The exceptions in this vote were Placer County’s Tom McClintock, Orange County’s Dana Rohrabacher and Darrell Issa, whose district covers parts of both San Diego Orange counties. Rohrabacher and Issa are both among national Democrats’ top 2018 targets.

          Had the other 11 California Republicans voted to nix the tax bill, which passed by a 227-206 margin, it could have been defeated by one vote, 217-216.

          The proposed measure would cost 6 million Californians who deduct from their federal taxes what they pay in state and local levies at least $101 billion yearly, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That deduction would disappear. So would deductions for property taxes over $10,000 and writeoffs for mortgage interest, which together now save Californians about $2 billion. Student loan interest would also no longer be deductible, adding about $1.1 billion to the tab, and the medical expense deduction would disappear too, the average beneficiary now writing off $9,951, or about $10 billion total.

          Not even a higher standard deduction and tweaked tax brackets can approach making up for these huge losses.

          In short California’s 11 GOP yes voters vehemently oppose a $5.2 billion gasoline tax for long-overdue road and bridge repairs, but back a “reform” that would cost Californians 22 times as much.

          That’s the very definition of hypocrisy, especially coming from folks subscribing to the GOP’s “no new taxes” mantra. Some of the yes voters tried to excuse themselves by saying the bill will change before it passes. That’s a little like sexual predators saying they never meant to harm anyone.

          The joke here is on anyone who continues to believe these are principled politicians.

    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 Email Thomas Elias at