Monday, July 16, 2018




          Nothing frustrated California’s politically dominant liberal Democrats more this year than having to live with the reality that their holy grail of single-payer health care won’t happen here for years to come.

          This is in part because of fiscal realities – the cost would be enormous. It’s also because of political reality. So long as Donald Trump is President, there’s absolutely no chance the federal government will cede Medicare dues paid by Californians to state government. Those dollars would be a key component in paying for any state single-payer plan.

          So single-payer advocates have plumped since early spring for the next best thing: Moving toward universal health insurance coverage via a massive increase in the number of persons covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program providing health care to the poor and indigent, and including as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants.

          Once the primary election was over, they began pushing even harder. In fact, vastly expanded government-supported or subsidized health insurance is a central part of the platforms of several Democrats who qualified for ballot slots in the November general election.

          State Sens. Ed Hernandez, running for lieutenant governor, and Ricardo Lara, seeking the insurance commissioner’s post, are two.

          So far, the package of Medi-Cal plans has passed several legislative committees. Even though the state’s new budget mostly leaves this area out, legislative supporters said they would keep pressing it.

          When the bills passed a key state Assembly budget committee, Anthony Wright, executive director of the Health Access California coalition of more than 50 statewide groups, called it “a major down payment toward the goal of a more universal and affordable health system, in a way that can be advanced without the need for federal approval. California has already made great strides…by improving on the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare), and these actions would further fill the gaps that too many Californians fall through.”

          As originally written, the package would have expanded Medi-Cal to all income-eligible under-26 young adults regardless of their immigration status. It aimed to expand the pool of eligible senior citizens from those at 123 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent. And it would provide a tax credit to subsidize persons with between 400 percent and 600 percent of the official federal poverty level income.

          These are standard liberal goals, with the exception of adding many thousands of undocumented immigrants to the state’s publicly-funded health care.

          For many, doing this raises several red flags, so that part has for now not survived. For one thing, there’s the question of whether it helps erase any real difference between U.S. citizens in California and immigrants, legal or illegal. If there’s little or no difference in rights and privileges, what’s to motivate the undocumented to work toward becoming citizens?

          This is an era when non-citizens can already practice law here, work as election officials, get drivers licenses and even vote in school board elections in one city, San Francisco. The undocumented poor also may soon become eligible to get a state earned income tax credit.

          One question this raises: how much should citizens subsidize undocumented persons who have essentially sneaked into this country? At a time when millions of Californians are struggling just to make their rent and mortgage payments, is it right to spend hundreds of millions of their tax dollars on health care for the undocumented?

          It’s difficult to quarrel with the need to educate and provide emergency health care to undocumented persons who will likely stay in this country and state for many years to come. Educating them helps create the well-prepared work force needed to keep many businesses here and encourage new ones to come. And both simple humanity and public health essentially demand that undocumented persons with serious, often contagious, illnesses and injuries be cared for.

          But should they have full insurance coverage at public expense, including prescriptions and even elective surgeries?

          That’s a moral issue which probably ought to be decided at the ballot box and not by legislators subject to the blandishments of lobbyists and campaign donors.

    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




          One dropped word can make almost any written passage wholly misleading and confusing. Imagine if President Trump’s 2016 election slogan had lacked the word “great.” What would “Make America Again” have done for his campaign? Not much.

          This year in California it’s the opposite. One missing word gives the current initiative to repeal last year’s gasoline tax increase much of its impetus and popular appeal (the measure had just over 50 percent support in the first public polls taken after it qualified for the November ballot as Proposition 6).

          That word is “increase.” When Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox and other proponents like former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio take to their campaign rally microphones, they almost always shout “Repeal the gas tax.” Only rarely do they include that extra word “increase.”

          In fact, Prop. 6 would not end the gas tax. No state initiative can do that by itself, since the current total tax of about 77 cents per gallon includes 18.4 cents in federal taxes, something state officials can’t touch. Instead, the current proposal would merely eliminate an increase of just over 12 cents per gallon imposed last year after a narrow legislative vote.

          This, of course, is not the first time initiative backers have been misleading. Back in the late 1990s, when tobacco companies sought to rid themselves of local laws regulating smoking in restaurants and bars, they campaigned for “statewide smoking controls.” Any new statewide law would have overridden the local measures already in place by then in most California cities and counties, the real aim of Big Tobacco.

          Don’t expect the failure of that pro-tobacco measure masquerading as an anti-smoking one – or the failures of most other misleading initiative campaigns over the decades – to deter today’s repeal campaign.

          As of early July, backers of the repeal had raised more than $3.2 million, with more to come, some of it likely from the national Republican Party, which sees the initiative as a way to get GOP voters to the polls in a non-presidential election year when the party doesn’t even have a U.S. Senate candidate. The Republican aim is to preserve some congressional seats now in danger of flipping to the Democrats.

Some of the millions of dollars used to put the initiative on the ballot came from top national Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield. They are almost certain to kick in again this fall.

          But voters would be wise to examine some essential realities of the gas tax increase repeal that would eliminate almost $5 billion in highway and road maintenance funding the measure will produce if it goes forward for the next three years. The measure would also make it harder for legislators to raise gas taxes in the future by subjecting all hikes to popular vote approval. Under another proposition passed in June, no gas tax money can be used for anything but transportation.

          What Cox, DeMaio and other repeal advocates don’t say is that for most motorists, the gas tax increase represents a pretty good investment. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, normally hypercritical of tax increases, reports that every dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements saves $5.20 in car repair costs, while improving road safety and fuel economy.

          Plus, the non-partisan legislative analyst reported while the gas tax increase was under consideration that rough roads cost the average California driver about $700 a year for extra repairs.

          The law threatened with repeal also will see electric vehicle owners start contributing to road maintenance funding for the first time in 2020, at $100 per year. That’s less than the average of $280 a year now paid by gasoline users, but it’s a start toward zero emission vehicles paying their fair share for using California roads.

          The repeal campaign won’t tell voters any of this. And it remains to be seen whether tax increase supporters like Gov. Jerry Brown can effectively communicate this rather complex information to voters. So far, they’ve raised more than $11 million to facilitate that.

          The bottom line question: Will California voters see through this latest attempt to mislead, an effort marked by the simple omission of one key word?


    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

Monday, July 9, 2018




          For most Californians, the year-2000 Proposition 34 was little more than a meaningless formality. But not to politicians or political party officials.

          The 18-year-old initiative sets inflation-adjusted limits on what individuals and organizations can donate to candidates, ranging today from $4,400 for state legislative races to $29,200 for those running for governor. But there are no limits on giving to state and local political parties or how they can spend that money.

          This gets little notice from most Californians, even those who examine the fine print on election-time mailers to see who is behind them.

          But it surely means a lot to politicians and their parties. The power these rules give parties to launder money earmarked for particular candidates was behind the bitter and very close race last winter between Eric Bauman and Kimberly Ellis over who would be the next chairperson of the California Democratic Party.

          But perhaps the most dramatic and clear-cut example of political parties’ power to launder cash and pass it along to intended recipients involved a locally well-known power couple during the spring primary campaign in San Diego County.

          The couple: Democratic state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and her husband Nathan Fletcher, a former Republican whip in the Assembly and a two-time loser in runs for mayor of San Diego.

          Fletcher, who converted from Republican to Democrat in 2012 and 2013, with an intermediate stop as an independent, was one of five primary election candidates this spring for a seat on his county’s Board of Supervisors, getting large-scale financial support from the local Democratic Party and some from the county’s labor unions.

          But nothing matches what he’s gotten from his wife. By the end of the primary season, Gonzalez Fletcher had transferred $355,000 of her Assembly campaign funds to the county’s Democratic party, far outstripping other San Diego politicians like state Senate President Toni Atkins ($16,000) and Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria ($9,000).

          The reason was obvious. While Gonzalez Fletcher was giving the party enormous sums, the organization was passing much more to her husband – a total of $680,000, of which he got $188,000 in just one week. So there’s little doubt that Gonzalez Fletcher’s campaign funds were staying in the family.

          The most obvious example of this happening came one day in May, when she gave $50,000 to the party and the very same day the organization spent the identical amount on behalf of her husband’s campaign.

          There was nothing the least bit illegal about any of this. But it’s doubtful California has ever seen a more obvious example of a local party laundering money on behalf of a candidate and his chief donor. Of course, the party could not, did not, use the money to do anything but market its candidate to registered Democrats.

          But that meant Fletcher himself did not have to send mailers or fund phone banking aimed at Democratic voters. Instead, he could concentrate on outreach to voters with no party preference or even to Republicans.

          One thing wrong with all this is that voters have no direct way to track where the money actually comes from. Sure, they know Gonzalez Fletcher and her husband are close allies. But they don’t know just whose money that was previously given to the Gonzalez Fletcher campaign account went to Fletcher. So no one can really be sure who he’s beholden to if and when he takes a seat on the county board. Which makes it difficult to track his motives in votes on development and other key issues.

          That’s the trouble with the entire current state campaign funding system. And it seems legislators want to keep the current opaque system in place indefinitely. About a year ago, they killed a bill making gifts to political parties subject to the same limits imposed on donations to candidates.

          Today’s disgraceful and easily exploited system is a major legacy of former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, recalled in 2003 partly because of his own questionable fund-raising practices. If it remains in place, it will be because of ignorance or indifference by California voters, who could employ a ballot initiative to change the system anytime they like.
     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




          Way back in 1990, when Californians overwhelmingly voted to impose term limits on state officials, critics warned about the loss of “institutional memory” the move would inevitably bring with it.

          This summer, we may see just how much damage that can do. For there’s virtually no one now serving in the California legislature who was there in 1998, when previous legislators and then-Gov. Pete Wilson opted to deregulate the state’s electric grid.

          Their action allowed any electric user to buy power from any seller. It encouraged California’s three big privately-owned power companies to sell off older power plants whose construction expenses had long ago been completely written off. It allowed out-of-state players to manipulate the California’s electricity market and led to the energy crunch of 2000 and 2001, complete with rolling blackouts, frequent brownouts and eventual criminal convictions for executives of companies like Texas-based Enron.

          People now holding office in Sacramento should remember all this, if only because everyone there was at least six years old during the power crisis.

          But this summer, many are acting as if they don’t remember a thing. As if they have no memory of the last time California allowed people in other states to tinker with its electricity supplies.

That’s about the only plausible explanation for the so-far steady progress through the Legislature of a bill that would make this state part of a Western electricity grid with a governing board whose makeup is yet to be determined.

Essentially, it could place California’s power fate in the hands of people from Utah and Idaho who know little about this state’s needs and wants. It could make a joke of California’s own laws governing renewable energy, which dictate that a massive share of the state’s energy must come from solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal or other sources that can never be completely exhausted, as oil, coal and natural gas can.

          California has avoided problems for the last 15 years largely because it has its own agency overseeing the grid, the so-called Independent System Operator, run by appointees of the governor, who would suffer political consequences for any blunders they might commit.

          Not so the proposed new Western regional board, which would be appointed largely by electric industry stakeholders. That’s like letting Enron or its modern equivalent run the grid. The fox would run the henhouse.

          But the plan, known in the Legislature as AB 813, has strong backing from Gov. Jerry Brown, whose term expires Dec. 31, meaning he can never suffer politically for whatever it might produce.

          It passed the state Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on a 6-1 vote earlier this summer, with only Republican Andy Vidak of Hanford dissenting.

          One who voted for the bill was Democratic Sen. Robert Hertzberg, a rare bird in Sacramento who was around to see the ill effects of deregulation and therefore should have known better. Hertzberg, speaker of the state Assembly during the energy crunch, told a reporter “I generally like the notion of regionalization,” noting that it gives California utilities a chance to sell excess solar energy produced during the daytime into other states. That, some suggest, could lead to lower power rates for Californians.

          But Hertzberg said the current bill doesn’t include enough assurances of protection for this state’s clean energy policies, already threatened by the pro-coal, pro-pollution policies of the Donald Trump administration, to whom the new grid’s officers would ultimately be responsible.

          Hertzberg said he only voted for the bill in committee to give its author, Democrat Chris Holden of Pasadena, a chance to fix it.

          But there is no sign Holden wants to do that.

          And there is also no answer in sight to the ultimate question every legislative bill should answer before becoming law: Do we need this?

          In the case of a regional electric grid, we clearly don’t. We don’t need to get mixed up with states like Utah that draw much of their electricity from coal. We have excess power now, and that’s just fine, so why risk shortages if folks from other states choose to send California-generated electricity elsewhere?

          The answer is there is no reason to do this, and it likely would not have gotten this far if legislators had any sort of institutional memory.

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

Monday, July 2, 2018




            It’s remarkable what California’s 53 members of the U.S. House of Representatives can do when they decide to work together.

This corps of politicians together makes up almost one-eighth of the lower house of Congress, holding many influential committee and subcommittee chairmanships regardless of which party is in power.

But California’s potentially immense clout as America’s most populous state is only rarely brought to bear in the nation’s capital because of ideological differences. The state’s impotence could best be seen this year on the House Intelligence Committee, where Republican Chairman Devin Nunes of Hanford released a report attempting to whitewash President Trump in the Russia election tampering scandal over the strong opposition of the ranking Democrat on the panel, Adam Schiff, who represents Pasadena, Burbank and almost everything in between.

Conversely, Trump also gave Californians in Congress an opportunity this spring to demonstrate what they can accomplish on the rare occasions that they opt to work together for the good of the entire state.

 When Trump tried to remove $10 million from the federal budget that was earmarked to continue work on and perhaps complete a West Coast earthquake early warning system, California Democrats and Republicans alike reversed his action and then some.

Instead of $10 million for the system, the budget bill Trump eventually signed actually contained $22.9 million. Of that, $10 million is goes to the physical buildout of the remaining 800 or so seismic watch stations (more than 800 had already been set up, but Trump was willing to waste all that prior work). The other $12.9 million is for continued development of the early warning system’s technical aspects, which will likely be refined and improved continually for decades to come.

            The prime mover in this total turnaround of Trump’s choice was Republican Ken Calvert of Corona, usually a quiet back-bencher, but the holder of one of those influential chairmanships. Calvert heads an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the United States Geological Survey, builder of the system and essentially the country’s earthquake arbiter.

            “I will continue to be a champion for this life-saving technology that can have a significant impact when big earthquakes hit,” he said in a statement. “Let’s take the steps we can to save Americans from preventable injuries during natural disasters.”

            His comment was echoed by Schiff, an early advocate of the warning system, known as ShakeAlert. Schiff’s district sits just south of the San Andreas Fault where it runs east-west near the San Gabriel Mountains. Schiff thanked Calvert for his leadership, adding that “This system…will save lives across California, Oregon and Washington.”

            With Californians nearly unanimous in supporting it, the vote for even more funding than Trump had tried to eliminate was quiet and overwhelming.

            Maybe some of the nearly $13 million in development money can now be deployed to convince jaded Californians who have seen plenty of unfulfilled disaster warnings and evacuations notice to pay attention to warnings that may come 30 seconds to a minute before big shocks occur.

            That skeptical quality was seen in Santa Barbara County’s mudslide-plagued Montecito, where many residents in slide-prone areas deliberately ignored mandatory evacuation warnings during the spring season’s last large rainstorms. There had been too many false alarms following the winter’s previous serious barrage of earth movement.

            The USGS took note and is now trying to decide whether and how early to issue warnings using information from the new system. Too early and a quake might turn out to be very small, rendering warnings unneeded; too late and lives could be lost.

            The difficult part is that when earthquakes begin, it’s impossible to know how great their impact will be.

            So part of ShakeAlert’s mission will be to convince Californians to heed quake warnings, even after some of them have fizzled.

            But that’s secondary to the ultimate good that this system will do as it saves lives by getting people off bridges and away from buildings where they could be hit by falling debris.

            It’s all very important, but the real meaning of the vote to reverse Trump was to demonstrate for the first time in years what Californians in Congress can do when they work together. Too bad they don’t do it more often.

    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




          If it’s ever to be fixed, only a ballot proposition can repair the largest and most obvious inequity caused by Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 tax-cutting initiative that causes next-door neighbors in identical homes to pay vastly different sums for property taxes.

          But the other big problem area of the tax-cutting measure originally sponsored by the late political gadflies Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann could be solved by a simple vote of the Legislature. That inequity is a loophole allowing some commercial and industrial properties to escape the tax increases that normally come when a building or lot changes hands. Sadly, this loophole will remain in place at least another year, after legislative Democrats in late spring killed a Republican bill to close it.

          The essence of the loophole: As with homes and other residential properties, business property is taxed at 1 percent of the latest sales price. But an exception was written into the Prop. 13 rules by legislators a year after Jarvis-Gann passed handily. This one allows the tax bill to remain static after sale unless at least one new owner has more than a one-half interest in the property.

          Perhaps the most egregious case of this loophole costing taxpayers money came when former basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson and a group of big-money partners bought the Los Angeles Dodgers from parking lot magnate Frank McCourt and his now ex-wife Jamie.

          As part of the $2 billion deal, McCourt retained a half-interest in the sprawling parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium, even though the new owners control parking prices and get all the revenue. That essentially made Johnson & Co. the real owners, but kept the tax bill on the lots (with a book value of $300 million at the time of sale) from more than quadrupling. This has let the new owners save about $2 million yearly starting in 2012.

          Theoretically, the same sort of arrangement could have been worked out for the far more valuable Dodger Stadium itself, but that would have led to reams of negative publicity the Dodgers didn’t want.

          Other well-publicized examples of the loophole saving big bucks for wealthy new owners came when a Central Valley vineyard changed hands and when a landmark Santa Monica hotel was sold to a new group, later becoming part of the ultra-luxurious Fairmont group.

          Almost yearly during this decade, some state legislators have tried to get rid of this egregious injustice. Back when former Democratic state Sen. Martha Escutia of East Los Angeles first proposed closing the loophole, the state’s non-partisan legislative analyst estimated a change could produce between $3 billion and $8 billion in additional property tax revenue.

          The latest effort, carried by state Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates, a Republican from Laguna Niguel, failed on a 3-2 vote of the Senate’s Governance and Finance Committee, with two ostensibly liberal Los Angeles County Democrats – Ed Hernandez and Robert Herzberg – abstaining. Both votes for the Prop. 13 reform came from Orange County Republicans, John Moorlach and Janet Nguyen, while Democrats Jim Beall of San Jose, Richard Lara of East Los Angeles and Mike McGuire of Ukiah all voted no.

          The vote was odd because it’s usually Democrats striving to bring more fairness to Prop. 13, while Republicans fight to keep it static.

          But over time, the conservative GOP establishment has come to see closing the 50-per-cent-ownership loophole as simple fairness. Some Republicans saw the Democratic no votes as a political ploy aimed at keeping things unfair in order to make passage of a “split roll” initiative in 2020 easier.

          That proposal would see business properties taxed at a higher rate than homes, even if no sale is involved.

          Said Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which usually fights to maintain Prop. 13’s rules, “Killing this bill shows that progressive tax and spend interests don’t want to fix how Prop. 13 is interpreted, but they’d rather…advocate for a larger split roll tax increase. They would rather play politics.”

          The bottom line is that the vote likely means this problem won’t be fixed for at least two more years, as there will be no reason for a change in Democratic tactics next year. Which means this obvious inequity will remain a part of California life and local governments will keep losing out on significant funds they could use for schools and many other causes.

    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

Monday, June 11, 2018




          There isn’t a woman alive who was ever raped while either intoxicated or unconscious who doesn’t consider the entire experience violent.

          But that’s not how these crimes are defined legally in California. The same for human trafficking of a child, abducting a minor for prostitution, drive-by shootings at inhabited homes or cars, felony domestic violence, solicitation to commit murder, among others.

          The failure to designate these heinous offenses as violent is an aberration that can be fixed by the state Legislature, one that should have been accomplished last year, after passage of the 2016 Proposition 57 began allowing early paroles of non-violent criminals in exchange for certain achievements and good behavior in custody.

          No sociologist or psychologist has ever claimed that earning a college degree (one achievement that can help create eligibility for early prison releases) reduces the likelihood a parolee will repeat his or her prior crime.

          Official state statistics now do not link Proposition 57’s early paroles with crime increases. But the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys early this year claimed violent crime in some cities was up by 50 percent since 2013, about the time Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program took hold. Under that plan, designed to comply with federal court orders to ease crowded conditions inside state prisons, many inmates have been shifted to county jails, while lesser offenders sometimes serve little or no jail time.

          Combining that with the early releases of Proposition 57 is a sure-fire ticket to increased crime, says the prosecutors’ group.

          One way to decrease the exodus of felons from prison would be to change some definitions, something a few lawmakers tried to accomplish last year.

          But a series of bills aiming to expand the list of crimes defined as violent died in legislative financial committees. Too expensive, was the verdict. That was the reason given when the Assembly Appropriations Committee just about one year ago killed a bipartisan measure aiming to classify all rapes and all human trafficking as violent.

          Keeping in custody the approximately 120 prisoners who could then have been affected by that proposed change would have cost $1 million a year. If just one of the men involved were prevented from repeating such a crime, those dollars would likely have been among the best-spent in the state budget.

          No one has tracked how defeat of the measure actually affected crime in the streets. But Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told one reporter the new parole laws combine with realignment to erode public faith in the justice system.

          She cited reports of arrestees saying immediately after their capture that Proposition 57 and the 2014 Proposition 47 (which lowered many felonies to the misdemeanor level) would cut their prison time by half or more. Soon after, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper blamed lenient new laws for the early 2017 slaying of Police Officer Keith Boyer, shot by a recently paroled felon involved in a car accident. “We need to wake up,” said Piper, whose claim was never proved. “Enough is enough. This is a senseless, senseless tragedy that did not need to be.”

          Meanwhile, in the final proposed state budget of his long career, Brown wants to spend $50 million more in the next year (on top of more than $100 million spent last year) on programs to help former inmates stay out of jail. Currently, 46 percent of state inmates released in the latest year for which data is available were convicted of new crimes less than three years after release.

          Official numbers are not yet in on the effects of Proposition 57 on violent crime, but there is no doubt property crimes in big cities rose sharply in the two years after Proposition 47 passed.

          Efforts are underway again in the Legislature to change at least some crime designations to violent. This time, they must succeed, or it’s a good bet that lives will be lost as public safety is diminished.

    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