Monday, July 17, 2017




          Is it political vengeance or merely a Republican President trying to make budget cuts on everything that’s not military?

          That’s the real question about Donald Trump’s first budget as it moves through congressional committees en route to becoming reality. It’s a question that reverberates especially on the West Coast, where not just California, but Oregon and Washington, too, voted heavily against Trump in last year’s election. The mid-Pacific state of Hawaii also strongly opposed Trump.

          The latest proposed budget victim coming to light is the life-saving tsunami detection system that gives early warning to all four of those states (and Republican Alaska) whenever a major earthquake strikes anywhere around the Pacific Rim’s so-called “Ring of Fire,” where those quakes sometimes produce enormously destructive tidal waves thousands of miles from the epicenters.

          Before the system of 39 deep-sea sensors and floating, tethered buoys existed, a tsunami measuring at least 20 feet tall slammed into Crescent City, near the California-Oregon state line in 1964 with very little warning. It decimated the city’s harbor and killed 11 persons who could not escape the city’s harbor in time.

          The early-detection system was in place by 2008 when a tsunami of similar size struck the same place. No one died because there was ample warning.

          Now Trump seeks to cut most of the $12 million federal contribution to maintaining the warning system, reducing staff from 40 full-time positions to 15 and cutting out one of the two tsunami warning centers. He also would end $6 million in safety grants to tsunami-prone states.

This proposal comes at the same time Trump seeks to eliminate the $10 million annual federal contribution to an under-construction earthquake early-detection system that could provide between 30 second and two minutes of notice before large quakes, thus potentially saving hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives.

          Both these systems have had strong backing from both Republican President George W. Bush and his Democratic successor, Barack Obama and it’s looking like a House committee may restore all the funds. That would not change Trump’s intent.

          Before Trump, there was a realization that even if a state went strongly against the eventual winning presidential candidate, the same state nevertheless contained millions of voters who went for the winner. That was how it went in California last year, when almost 4.5 million state residents voted for Trump, even though Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the state by the widest margin since the Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Trump’s losses in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii were almost as wide.

          There is, of course, no plan for quake warnings on the East Coast, where almost no such shakes occur, but the tsunami warning system does cover Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, all states with low-lying coastal areas, and all of which went Democratic last year.

          Cutting the federal contributions to these systems would be a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish, if a natural disaster should hit without warning and destroy many lives along with billions of dollars in property. Spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, even under Trump, would likely dwarf the less than $28 million involved here. That spending could be cut substantially if there were sufficient warning for vehicle owners to get their cars and trucks out of tsunami zones or place valuable but fragile possessions in safe places before an earthquake arrives.

          Unless, of course, Trump should decide that residents of the states involved are not as American as other citizens and decline to issue post-disaster emergency declarations that free up grant money.

          Meanwhile, California would be hit harder than other states if Trump’s much larger planned spending cuts on things like Medicaid, public education and homeland security grants are ratified by Congress. The putative Medicaid cuts alone could lop $24 billion a year worth of California health care, an amount the state’s recent budget surpluses cannot make up.

          It’s still too early to say for sure that all this is pure political revenge for voting against the President. But the more Trump presses cuts in programs that disproportionately affect states like California, which voted against him, the more plausible become suspicions of vengeance.

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




    For many years, Californians have heard "experts" (read: folks who figure to profit by touting the theory) claim their state suffers from a lousy business climate and is steadily losing middle class population and jobs to other states, especially arch-rival Texas.

          The current national secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, even made radio and television commercials while governor of Texas touting the advantages of moving there. And there have been moves: a major one is the ongoing shift of Toyota’s U.S. headquarters from Torrance to Plano, Tex., outside Dallas.

          Through all the rhetoric, some of it orchestrated by corporate move specialists plainly out to fatten their own wallets, California continues growing, with population now above 39 million, more than the entire country of Canada and 12 million more than fast-growing Texas.

          Yes, plenty of youthful, educated Californians feel compelled to move away by the high prices of real estate in the state’s largest urban areas. And some corporations try to accommodate those moves by establishing satellite facilities in places like Boise and Tucson, where homes can be bought for less than one-third the price of comparable real estate in coastal California counties.

          But there’s a reason California keeps growing despite it all: the state’s economy is fundamentally healthy. A new, comprehensive study from the business-oriented personal finance WalletHub website ( finds this state’s economy is not only strong, but is the second-strongest in America, trailing only Washington state.

          WalletHub ranks California in the top five among states in startup activity, percentage of jobs in high-tech industries and patents granted to individuals. Texas, meanwhile, ranks 20th overall and is not among the top five states in any significant category.

          This comes despite the fact that Texas and other states not in the top five overall often offer businesses discounted land, plus years of tax benefits, in exchange for moving.

          What gives California its top-flight rating? The state is 7th in the U.S. in growth of gross domestic production, 15th in exports per capita despite its humongous population, tenth in median household income despite its host of low-income undocumented immigrants, eighth in upswing of nonfarm payrolls and last year had the seventh-largest state budget surplus per capita.

          None of this shuts up the critics. And no one can seem to stop Texans from trying to denigrate California. While he’s no Rick Perry in the department of foot-in-mouth rhetoric, current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently disparaged his own state capital of Austin by saying “I will not allow Austin, Texas, to California-ize the Lone Star State.” Of course, Austin has been trying to do that to itself for years, creating a mini version of Silicon Valley, but with lower real estate prices.

          The oil and natural gas price bust, fueled in part by a fracking-induced surplus and also by California’s pioneering and widely-emulated emphasis on renewable energy, has had plenty of deleterious effects on Texas.

          For example, average wages in California – higher than those in Texas for decades – grew much faster the last two years here than there. The California economy overall outgrew Texas’ last year by 2.9 percent to 0.4 percent, reported the Houston Chronicle.

          This doesn’t make California perfect. For example, the state’s real poverty rate (based on average income compared to basic expenses) is the nation’s highest, chiefly because of high rents and home prices. But that statistic also is flawed: When four-bedroom coastal homes routinely sell for $2 million and up, they tend to skew the average real estate price that’s part of the “real poverty” calculation. The same for rents when three-bedroom houses in coastal cities often go for $6,000 per month or more.

          The upshot is that the folks Gov. Jerry Brown likes to call “declinists” have been exaggerating California’s impending demise for many years. Reality is the same as it’s been for most of the last century and a half: California outstrips the rest of America in almost every economic area.


     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 10, 2017




          There’s a good chance that using union dues for politics will become harder within a year or two and, one thing for sure: big labor will not easily accept that kind of new reality.

Three times in the past 15 years, ballot initiative campaigns led by conservative Republicans tried unsuccessfully to truncate the power and influence of California’s labor unions, both public employee organizations and others.

          “Paycheck protection” was the label applied to those efforts, which sought to prevent unions from using dues money raised via automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. The most recent such effort, in 2012,  looked to force unions to get authorization each year from each member before their dues money could be used for candidate contributions, canvassing for votes or circulating initiative petitions.

          Labor unions pushed back each time, claiming that if paycheck protection ever becomes law, the political playing field will be tilted strongly to the right, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing almost unlimited contributions from billionaires and businesses, while unions would have one hand tied behind their backs.

          The union arguments prevailed politically, but conservatives did not give up. Rather than appeal to voters, since 2012, they’ve tried to convince judges.

          They came very close to winning this long-running battle last year, when the case of Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Assn. (CTA), taking the name of Orange County schoolteacher Rebecca Friedrichs, a dues-for-politics opponent, was turned down on a 4-4 U.S. Supreme Court vote soon after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

          Now, the high court may be about to take up a similar case from Illinois, and with new Justice Neil Gorsuch expected to join the panel’s four previous conservative judges in backing paycheck protection, the idea might win.

          At least in California, unions are not taking this lying down. One huge public employee union is about to hike the fees it charges members who don’t want to fund its political advocacy.  Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union, state government’s largest union, is raising the minimum amount of dues it charges those employees by 6 percent, or about $5 per month each. The increase comes under a state law allowing unions to charge employees who are not full members for legal and bargaining expenses run up for the sake of workers.

          At the same time, the CTA – by far the state’s largest teachers union and a major political factor for decades – got its friends in the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to back two state budget trailer bills requiring school districts, cities, counties and other government agencies to give unions representing their workers regular chances to meet and sign up new members.

          The unions realize that unless they do something, their membership and influence will decline sharply as many conservative-leaning union members – long forced to pay for labor’s political advocacy whether they like it or not – start opting out if paycheck protection becomes federal law. Some estimates put possible union losses between 20 percent and 40 percent of their current political revenues – unless they recruit heavily.

          But school districts and other agencies will have the right to negotiate terms of those union recruiting meetings. This may delay their start indefinitely or cause them to be very brief.

          Union fears were well expressed the other day by Joshua Pechthalt, president of the state’s second-largest teacher union, the California Federation of Teachers, who told a reporter that “Anything to mitigate a loss of membership would be helpful.” He added that if paycheck protection becomes law, “Our world will change dramatically. (So) having time to talk about what we do, who we are…will become doubly important.”

          One group that could opt out en masse of all so-called “agency fees,” the dues charged now to employees who don’t actually belong to unions that bargain for them, is part-time teachers at community colleges and California State University campuses.

          For sure, California has a lot riding on the likely new Supreme Court case. But whatever happens, don’t expect unions to accept it meekly. The new meet-and-greet law is likely only their first move toward retaining and possibly expanding their current powerful role.

    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 




Hand over all the information you have on every voter in your state, went the demand from President Trump’s newly appointed Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity. That included a list of all registered voters’ names, birth dates, party identification and voting histories, plus the last four digits of all voters’ Social Security numbers.

So much for the old-fashioned secret ballot.

So sweeping was the demand that even the commission’s vice chairman and de facto chief – the man who signed the order – said his own state of Kansas would refuse to turn over Social Security numbers to his own commission.

What would the federal government do with all this information, if it were turned in? The commission and that vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, won’t say. But it’s common knowledge that should the data get into demonstrably hackable federal computers, it would be fair game for almost anyone from corporations to foreign powers like Russia, which already has an alleged history of stealing electoral data bases.

This was the second major assault by Trump’s administration on citizen privacy, the first coming when his appointees to the Federal Communications Commission announced in May they plan to rescind previous “net neutrality” rules that prohibit commercial use of customer information held by Internet service providers.

California was the first state to react to the voter information demands, with Secretary of State Alex Padilla announcing the day the demands arrived that he would fill none of them. Within a week, he was joined by the top voting officials of 43 other states, including many considered rock-ribbed Republican red, like Kentucky, Indiana and Mississippi.

Said Padilla, “I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally (in 2016). California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the vice president and Mr. Kobach.”

His GOP counterpart in Mississippi was more colorful. “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” said Delbert Hosemann. Louisiana Republican Tom Schedler added that “The commission has quickly politicized its work by asking for an incredible amount of voter data that I have (always) refused to release.”

Fortunately for voters who could be at risk for identity theft if Padilla and his colleagues complied with commission demands, Kobach’s group (formally headed by Vice President Mike Pence) has no subpoena powers and there is no known penalty for not cooperating. Maybe that’s why Kobach is refusing one of his own demands. It is also true that the Constitution gives each state the power to conduct its own elections.

          But Padilla was probably correct, too, in guessing that Kobach & Co. have already decided what their report (due in mid-2018) will say. He’s the one who spurred Trump to claim that his loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton last year was solely because of illegal immigrant voters.

          Neither Trump nor Kobach ever presented evidence for the claim of massive illegal voting, a charge Kobach has made for at least 10 years, since his days as a lawyer for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, long classed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law center.

          As secretary of state, Kobach has tried for years to ferret out illegal aliens voting in Kansas. Wikipedia reports that as of last spring, he had found six cases of illegal voting in his six-plus years in office; all involved double voting, none by undocumented persons.

          As Padilla noted, there is no basis for or proof of claims that massive illegal immigrant voting occurs or ever has. Republicans first made the claim when Democrat Loretta Sanchez in 1996 ousted longtime Orange County GOP Congressman Robert Dornan, one of the biggest upsets ever in California politics. The GOP majority in the House investigated then for electoral irregularities, but found so few even it had to admit the phenomenon was insignificant.

          The bottom line: This is one more form of California resistance to Trump administration attempts at actions that are political anathema here. Resistance has never been more justified than in this case.

     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

Friday, June 30, 2017




          Donald Trump’s company owns a golf club and other properties in California, but a look at his proposed budget for the fiscal year ending in September 2018 indicates the President may never have experienced one of this state’s frequent earthquakes.

          If he had, he might not have chopped from his version of the federal budget the paltry $10.2 million which Congress agreed this spring to contribute toward building a system giving Californians and denizens of other Western states a few seconds to a few minutes notice when a significant shock is coming.

          No one who has been at or near the epicenter of a major quake would ever doubt the power of the earth’s sudden movements, which have knocked down hospitals and freeway bridges, shopping malls and apartment complexes. One sign of that power near the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta upheaval: a three-foot-deep crevice suddenly appeared running up the middle of the driveway beside a home in a woodsy area of Aptos, while inside, a 3-ton Franklin stove was sliced from its steel chimney and plunked down 20 feet across the living room, with no tracks in between. The convulsion’s force simply tossed this behemoth object through the air.

          No one also doubts that large numbers of lives could be saved if many people get even 30 seconds warning of a major jolt. They could duck under desks, move away from plate glass windows, close natural gas lines, drive to the side of roads and get out of elevators, among other things.

          Of course, the money might actually be restored before the budget becomes final. That’s what Republican Rep. Kenneth Calvert of Corona wants. Calvert, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, called a warning system a potential “lifesaving tool for the millions of Californians and other Americans…in earthquake-prone areas.”

          Meanwhile, state lawmakers partially backed by Gov. Jerry Brown are moving for California to go it alone if needed. Democratic state Sens. Robert Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Jerry Hill of San Mateo proposed providing $23 million in state money for the early warning system. Before Trump proposed his cut, Brown had already included $10 million for it in his May budget revision.

          The irony of the planned Trump cut is that it comes while the U.S. Geological Service and universities up and down the West Coast – including the likes of Caltech, UC Berkeley and the universities of Oregon, Nevada (Reno) and Washington – have nearly completed a system that would provide warnings not just in California, but also in Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

          Tentatively dubbed ShakeAlert, this equipment detects quakes at their first quivers through a network of sensors. It could, for one example, provide about a minute’s warning to schools, buildings and airports in Los Angeles if a major shock on the San Andreas Fault began in the Salton Sea area, but less time if the epicenter were closer to the urban core. In one test, it provided researchers in Los Angeles 30 seconds notice of shaking from a magnitude 4.4 quake in the Riverside County city of Banning.

          A widespread system like this already operates in Japan, so the technology has been tested and it works.

          Already, legislators in Washington state and Oregon propose to join California in continuing the early-warning project even if federal funding evaporates. But it would certainly be slowed.

          One Washington legislator pointed out that the total of $38 million needed to finish work on ShakeAlert is less than half the price of the cruise missile barrage Trump ordered against Syria last spring while dining with China’s president.

          Some advocates of ShakeAlert suggest if it’s not finished, Trump should be held personally liable for any injuries or deaths that occur which that system might have prevented. But direct connections would be difficult to prove.

          Trump has traveled much of the nation pushing his efforts to improve infrastructure; yet he wants to cut this project, which could actually save lives.

          It sets up a test not only for state legislators who need to approve the Hill-Hertzberg bill for state funds, but also for California Republicans in Congress who have the power to put money for this project and others back into the upcoming budget.


     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




          For a long time, it seemed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s unspoken (at least publicly) agreement with Sen. Kamala Harris would bear the fruit he intended – inauguration about 17 months from now as governor of California.

          The early-2015 understanding between the two San Francisco Democrats, both with campaigns managed by the same San Francisco political consulting firm, was this: To avoid a brutal fight over the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Barbara Boxer, Newsom would stay out of the 2016 Senate race and concentrate on running for governor two years later.

          And so, with help from the SCN Strategies firm headed by longtime San Francisco consultant Ace Smith, Harris won Boxer’s old seat in a cakewalk.

          Meanwhile, Newsom took the early lead in the run for governor, becoming the first to declare his candidacy, raising millions of early dollars and running far ahead of everyone else in the first polls.

          Newsom hoped to make his move to the governor’s office seem as inevitable as Harris’ accession from San Francisco district attorney to state attorney general to the Senate. Essentially, he hoped to scare away most serious competition just as Harris did.

          The former San Francisco mayor began issuing press releases cum fund-raising appeals every time any significant news story occurred. His anti-Donald Trump posts are as frequent as they are predicable. Early polls showed him with double-digit leads over all other potential candidates, emphasis on the “potential,” because no one else declared for the race until this spring.

          But now several others have. They are out gathering both money and support – apparently at least in part at Newsom’s expense. In fact, anytime he looks back these days, Newsom sees someone gaining on him.

          Most prominent is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Like Newsom, Villaraigosa must overcome a history of womanizing, but with previous candidates like President Trump and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger winning office despite their own similar peccadillos, this may not prove as big a problem as it might have in previous eras.

          In this year’s first version of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, successor to the usually reliable Field Poll, Newsom ran 11 points ahead of Villaraigosa, with 28 percent support to Villaraigosa’s second-place 11. Just two months later, in May, Villaraigosa had closed that gap to a mere five points, with Newsom still leading, but by only 22 percent to 17.

          In short, Villaraigosa, not yet in hyperactive campaign mode and still holding onto the bulk of his campaign cash, gained as much backing as was lost by the very active Newsom, who saw a loss of almost one-fourth of his prior support.

          State Treasurer John Chiang, a former two-term state controller, had five percent in both polls, holding steady. Republican businessman John Cox’s backing dropped by half, from 18 percent to 9, perhaps because his support for an initiative creating a 12,000-member state Legislature received significant publicity in the interim. Many GOP voters moved over to support the new candidacy of former Republican Assemblyman David Hadley of Torrance, who drew 8 percent. It’s uncertain how the early-summer entry of conservative Republican Orange County Assemblyman and surfer Travis Allen might affect this race.

          Cox and Hadley are little known to most voters, so the best guess is that their total of about 17 percent poll support consisted of solid Republicans determined not to vote for a Democrat so long as any GOP hopeful is still breathing.

          Drawing even less support was Democratic former state Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin. Put her voters into the Villaraigosa column, where they could end up if she eventually sees she has little chance and pulls out, and the race is almost even at the top level. This picture could change a lot when Chiang begins spending the millions he’s raised so far,
but no one knows whether he will take support from either Newsom or Villaraigosa, or win over some of the undecided, who currently make up nearly 30 percent of voters.

          It’s far too early to call Newsom’s scare-them-off strategy a bust. But so far, no one looks intimidated. So unless Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer gets in, prospects are for a very tight primary race likely to produce a Democrats-only runoff election 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

Monday, June 26, 2017




Single-payer health insurance that would cover every Californian has stalled, at least for now. Because Democratic Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved state Assembly consideration of the Senate-passed insurance outline at least until next year, a popular vote on the well-publicized, often criticized single-payer health insurance plan is probably at least three years away, and probably more.

Chances are the idea won’t reach voters before June 2020, if then.

The many Californians who wanted this quickly as a potential defense against whatever changes President Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress might bring to ex-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act will just have to wait. It’s the third time in the last 12 years this idea has been stymied in California despite getting considerable legislative support.

          Twice former Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, now a Los Angeles county supervisor, got a single-payer plan through the Legislature in this century’s first decade, only to see it vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her idea – like this year’s plan – was to use existing health insurance premiums as the main funding source. Coverage of the previously uninsured would be paid with the approximately 15 percent of premiums now going to insurance executives and corporate profits.

          As before, this year saw a lot of lip service to single payer, sponsored now by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, also a candidate for state insurance commissioner.

Single payer is sometimes called “Medicare for all” because, like federal Medicare insurance covering all those over 65 who want it, the latest plan would have a central clearing house for claims. Payroll taxes would help fund it, also like Medicare.

As was Schwarzenegger, current Gov. Jerry Brown has been skeptical, mostly because of costs. But if this proposal gets no action until after next year’s election, now very likely, Brown’s views will no longer matter much. Current gubernatorial possibilities like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or state Treasurer John Chiang might be more favorable, if elected.

Meanwhile, cost estimates vary from about $340 billion to $400 billion yearly, while California and its citizens now spend about $395 billion on medical care. Lara insists his plan could cut many billions from that figure, even though individuals would see a new payroll tax and businesses would pay a new levy. Taxpayers, he said, would save money via a halt to all premiums, deductibles, co-pays, doctor and hospital bills to the uninsured – including undocumented immigrants – and an end to employer payments for health plans.

          In the end, had the Assembly and then Brown approved the Senate-passed outline this year, voters would likely have decided the issue as early next June. This won’t happen now, in large part because all details of what Lara wanted were never certain, giving Rendon and others cold feet. But single-payer has the possibility of ending up a lot like the system Canada now has, one that some Canadians swear by and others swear at. That country experiences vast differences by location in the speed and competence of medical care.

          Californians have previously voted just once on single payer, defeating the idea in 1994. But times are different now. Millions here gained insurance under Obamacare. Who knows how they might vote if Congress and Trump take away much of their coverage?

As with the 1994 California ballot proposal, Lara’s measure could have eliminated companies like Blue Cross, Blue Shield and HealthNet.

          So far, surveys say the vast majority in this state wants health care for all. But a similar majority also wants no new taxes. The problem is that the twain probably cannot meet.

          What’s more, opponents already argue the quality of health care would decline under single payer, even though it has not under Medicare. Reality, though, might not matter if enough advertising money were spent to push the idea of lower medical quality.

          If it ever reaches them, this just might be the most idealistic plan ever put before California voters. It would also be one of the easiest for opponents to attack. And there would be plenty of well-funded opponents, starting with insurance companies desperate to preserve one of their largest markets.

          The bottom line: If you lose all or part of your health coverage because of Republican-led changes, California won’t soon bail you out.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit For more Elias columns, go to