Monday, September 28, 2015




    List California’s biggest problems and water immediately comes up, followed by public employee pension obligations, voter distrust for government and childhood poverty, which runs higher here than almost anywhere else.

          But the biggest problem this state faces as it looks to the future may be the fate of the children belonging to its single largest ethnic group. Latinos may have surpassed “majority” Anglos in population this year, but they have been the plurality in public schools for more than a decade.

          They also have the highest high school dropout rate and the educational achievement gap between them and whites and Asian Americans has not narrowed in recent years.

          So, as the school year began this fall, it was useful to consider the biggest reason for this, and it basically comes down to a single item: language proficiency.

          Solving this problem, closing the gap, will be the most important task for governments, state and local, over the next 10 years. For without a large, well-educated work force, California will see more and more of its jobs migrate elsewhere when companies seek qualified workers. Even the high cost of housing in most of the state takes a back seat to the education gap when companies look to their future hires.

          The gap is most visible when looking at the percentage of college graduates among various ethnic groups. Only about 11 percent of Latinos aged 24 to 29 had college degrees in 2013, reported Investors Business Daily the other day. By contrast, 34 percent of whites in the same age bracket were degreed. More distressing is the fact there has been no discernible increase in the number of Hispanics getting college degrees over the last 20 years. African Americans and other minority groups, meanwhile, have made progress.

          The reason for the lag can’t be anything but language. Fully 42 percent of Latino children entering kindergarten are in the bottom quarter of pupils in reading readiness, while just 18 percent of Anglo youngsters fall into that category. By third grade, one-third of Hispanic schoolchildren are proficient in English to 64 percent of Anglos.

          Those numbers suggest a preschool education gap of huge proportions, one that doesn’t ease much as the kids get older. It’s most likely a big reason Latino rates of high school dropouts approach 50 percent, while the overall rate has dropped into the 20 percent range.

          One reason for these gaps might be cultural attitudes toward unwed motherhood, where daughters of young, single mothers often follow in parental footsteps. This can lead to dropouts, with about 25 percent of Latinas not completing high school, a rate exceeded only by young Latino males.

          The consequence is lower achievement. And when large numbers of high schoolers fail to achieve, employers begin to think about other places where recruiting choices look more promising.

          So California faces a major problem: The state must educate Latinos better, despite the language barriers often caused by recent immigration.

          Of course, there is still the question of whether test scores reflect an actual situation or not. Some school officials maintain that English-language testing of students not proficient in the dominant language puts them at a disadvantage from the start.

          This may be true, but if those kids are still testing lower than others by the end of high school – or simply leave out of frustration or for other reasons – it doesn’t matter. They simply won’t be the highly-trained work force needed by today’s companies and the start-ups of the future.

          Some Latino students say there are stereotyped and don’t even get challenging homework, regardless of their language skills. One Latino student in the agricultural Central Valley town of Delano reported that he ‘s “almost never” assigned a book to read – in any language. “The teachers just think we’re not able to do any hard academic work,” he said. “I’ve had to read on my own because I want to test high enough to go to college.”

          The failure here is not just of students and their parents, but of educators who underestimate them and their desire to learn. Changing those attitudes among educators is the necessary first step toward setting California up for it's most promising potential future.


    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




          The question of who the University of California will be serving when it reaches the third decade of this 21st Century remains one the elite system’s administrators year after year refuse to confront.

          Will UC and its 10 campuses belong primarily to the California students they were built to serve? Or will they become the de facto property of wealthy out-of-state and foreign parents and governments eager to send their children to what has ranked for 75 years as the world’s leading public university system?

    One thing for sure, UC today is more dependent than ever on the $24,700 extra each out-of-state student pays in tuition and fees above what any in-state resident pays. Another thing for certain: California high school graduates have become less and less welcome over the last 15 years as the state’s politicians reduced the flow of tax money to the university.

          To maintain academic standards and retain most of the faculty who have won its 51 Nobel prizes, UC needs big money. Hence the impulse to replace California tax dollars with out-of-state and foreign student tuition and fees.

          How strong is that impulse today? Final university enrollment figures for this fall are not yet official, but last spring, fully 45 percent of admission offers at UC Berkeley went to non-Californians. Out-of-staters got 42 percent of admission offers from UCLA, 39 percent at UC San Diego and 35 percent at UC Davis, to name some of the system’s most-desired campuses. It’s not yet certain how many took up those offers.

          But the result is that more and more California parents and kids are coming to believe that what was supposed to be their university has gotten beyond reach of most. It’s not just the push for out-of-state tuition money, but also the increases for in-state tuition and fees, which tripled in the last 12 years to $9,139 this fall. Costs of books, room and board are added to that.

          Yes, UC offers plenty of scholarships to California kids, but full rides are rare for anyone who can’t dunk a basketball or tackle a swift 220-pound running back. So UC today is almost as expensive for in-state residents as top private colleges were a mere 10 to 15 years ago. Inflation does not account for nearly all of this.

          Recall where UC came from: Back in the early 1960s, the state’s education master plan stipulated that everyone in the top one-eighth of a California high school class would be offered a slot on at least one UC campus.

          That policy has been tweaked a bit over the years, but campus officials like to point out that “UC has not reduced the number of Californians it admits.” True, anyone in the top 9 percent of a California high school class today will be admitted, but many are offered slots on low-demand campuses like Riverside and Merced, both smog- and heat-ridden locales where few out-of-staters want to spend several years. Two years ago, Merced had just 1.2 per cent non-Californians, Riverside 6.9 percent.

          The logic also ends when you consider there are many more Californians today than earlier, so admitting roughly the same number as 20 years ago means thousands of excellent, deserving students will be left out.

          The influx of foreign students that’s a big part of this picture has had other effects, both positive and negative. It certainly increased diversity on the most popular campuses. But some critics also say it has helped fuel a documentable rise of corrosive anti-Semitic incidents and rhetoric on campus, both from students and faculty.

          Another effect of high tuition and out-of-state enrollment is a greater emphasis on attending much-more-economical community colleges, from which thousands transfer to UC each year.

          The bottom line: It’s no wonder that for many parents of California high schoolers, the biggest worry today is not drought or home prices or the possible onslaught of floods this winter, but whether their children will be able to attend the elite universities which once were a matter of course for the best students.


    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




          When ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made their way onto a hot, dry alkali flat just west of the Interstate 15 freeway between Barstow and Las Vegas in late 2010, all anyone knew for sure was that they were opening an era of giantism in solar electricity in California.

          What no one could predict was that they were also putting a stamp of approval on the spread of energy poverty in many parts of this state.

          The Ivanpah dry lake on which the two former officials proudly strode that day now hosts a huge solar farm easily visible as a glassy sea of deep blue to travelers just southwest of the California-Nevada state line. Ivanpah , built largely with federal loans, is the second-largest of half a dozen desert-region solar thermal developments that produce many thousands of megawatts for privately-owned utilities like Southern California Edison Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

          Besides paying for the energy produced by those plants, including construction costs, the big utilities have erected hundreds of miles of power transmission lines to bring the sun’s energy to big cities in all parts of California. When they do that, they receive about 14 percent profit on their constructions costs each year for 20 years.

          The solar farms are part of a plan first adopted by executive order by Schwarzenegger and later expanded on by current Gov. Jerry Brown. By 2020, California is to produce one-third of its electricity from renewable sources. By 2030, that’s supposed to rise to one-half. Of course, the current four-year drought has tossed a wrench into some of the calculations behind those mandates, causing enormous cuts in the power produced by hydroelectric dams for more than a century.

          One result has been more dependence on solar and wind power, far more expensive components of the state’s portfolio of renewables.

          Overall, the emphasis on expensive solar farms – some so high-priced that the scandal-ridden state Public Utilities Commission refuses to publish their actual costs – has raised wind and solar energy production to about 12 percent of California’s total power usage. The cost of that energy comes to about $84 per megawatt hour, compared to the average $46 per megawatt hour wholesale cost of electricity, according to a new report from the conservative-oriented Manhattan Institute, headquartered in New York.

          As these developments advanced, California power prices increased by 35 percent, now 40 percent above than the national average. The cost for power from California’s privately-owned utilities ranged from 18 cents to 21 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with 12 cents nationally.

          That has produced what the Manhattan Institute calls energy poverty in some of the poorest parts of California, a phenomenon that will surely increase by 2018, when the utilities commission activates its new two-tier rate structure, designed to lower rates for big users and raise them for the more power-efficient.

          Energy poverty occurs when the price of power rises above 10 percent of household income. Figures developed in the Manhattan report from U.S. Census information indicate 15 percent of Tulare County households (21,052 homes) were using more than 10 percent of their total funds for electricity, followed closely by Madera County at 14.9 percent.

          By contrast, wealthy coastal counties where air conditioning is not as important had far lower energy poverty rates. The lowest such poverty occurred in Santa Cruz County, where just 2.1 percent of households used more than 10 percent of their income on power, with Ventura, San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Barbara counties all under 3 percent.

          So it turns out that California’s green energy policies, as now carried out, amount to a regressive tax on the poorest Californians. For the most part, the highest energy poverty rates occur in the counties with the highest unemployment.

          Far from being champions of the poor, then, Schwarzenegger, Brown and their appointees have been the very opposite.

          The upshot is not to abandon green energy, but to tweak it. Rather than stressing the huge, expensive solar farms, it’s high time to stress rooftop solar in the cities, for which state subsidies are running out. That kind of development requires no new power lines and far less money for the same energy.

          Without those subsidies, California’s energy policies will become even more regressive and burdensome for the poor.


    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




          There has been a lot of loud talk and hyperbole during the preliminaries to next year’s presidential election. But with the political season now on in earnest, it’s fast becoming clear that for the 11th consecutive presidential election, the tail will be wagging the dog.

          It is partly because of laziness and selfishness by California legislators that this state will again have little or no voice in the choosing of either party’s candidate for president or vice president. Yet, the next president’s actions will be crucial for California in areas from oil drilling to abortion to the choice of new Supreme Court justices who will rule for many years on the legality of this state’s ballot initiatives and other laws.

          Plus,when the primary season ends, with the nominees chosen, once again California won't matter. That’s because this state is taken for granted by Democrats and essentially forfeited by Republicans. California has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988, when George H.W. Bush succeeded by using his reputation here as Ronald Reagan’s sidekick.

    Of course, some Californians will have a voice. Those will be the very rich. And they may be heard louder than anyone else, anywhere, or so the most recent official political donation numbers suggest.

          As of the last reporting date, the Federal Elections Commission reported, Californians had contributed $12.8 million to the flood of candidates traversing the state during spring and summer. Those California bucks accounted for 16 percent of all donations, compared with New York and Texas at 13 percent each. None of the three states will have a primary that matters, nor will any of them be seriously contested a year from November.

          Those numbers, of course, represent only dollars given directly to candidates, not funds raised by supposedly independent political action committees that often end up spending far more than the candidates.

          The most popular candidate, by far, among California moneybags has been Hillary Rodham Clinton, former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state. She had pocketed more than $8 million in direct donations, almost two out of every three dollars raised here. That’s still only about one-sixth of her total haul.

          Others doing well here included Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former GOP Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now a dropout, both of whom netted about 22 percent of their funds here.

          The many millions raised here have little to do with ordinary Californians or their concerns. But if candidates were forced to campaign here, rather than spending the vast majority of their time in far less populous places like Iowa and New Hampshire, they would have to deal with what matters here.

          The fact they don’t is the fault of legislators, who fear a very early California primary election because it would force them to alter their schedules, declare for office months earlier than today’s mid-March deadline and begin raising money early.

          That happened to them several times during the 1990s and 2000s, when California held primaries in February and March. No, the state never voted first; rules of both major parties forbid that. But it did have major influence. In 2008, for example, Clinton’s California win extended her campaign three months longer than it otherwise would have gone.

          But California lawmakers couldn’t be bothered this year. They threw in the towel two years ago on making any effort to hold the state’s primary earlier than June. The last time a primary staged that late had any influence was in 1972, when Democrat George McGovern used a California win to snare his party’s nomination. But there were fewer than one-third as many primaries and caucuses then as now, most states’ national convention delegations controlled by party bosses.

          The latest figures show the three most influential early states are not even among the top 20 in providing money to candidates. Rather, it is largely be California money that funds the efforts by the candidates in those places.

          If this sounds wrong, it is. So tell your local assembly member or state senator. Only they can fix this, and right now they have no incentive at all to empower their constituents.

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


Tuesday, September 22, 2015




    It has been less than three months since Californians received their latest severe lesson in the laws of supply and demand, unfairly applied. Gasoline prices, which had dropped almost than $2 per gallon from their 2014 peaks, suddenly spiked by more than a dollar when two refineries in the state had outages.

    The refineries are back online, but prices still have not returned to previous levels.

          Now switch the subject to natural gas, where the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last year for the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act, which might better be called the “Let’s Send Our Big New Supplies of Natural Gas Overseas Act.”

          Many Congress members who less than 10 years ago were loudly decrying America’s dependence on foreign oil and natural gas voted for this bill, which gives the federal Energy Department just 30 days to issue final decisions on natural gas exports after it accepts final environmental impact statements on them.

          The reason for this short-sighted action was simple: money. Oil and gas exploration firms whose hydraulic fracturing operations in places like Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and North Dakota have produced an oversupply are tired of selling that gas cheaply to consumers in states like California, where gas bills are significantly lower now than two and three years ago.

          They want to send much of the new supply in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to places like Japan and Europe for premium prices. So most of the LNG terminals built 10 to 15 years ago as import facilities have been converted from turning sub-freezing LNG from a liquid back to a gaseous form and are now are freezing gas to turn it into a liquid, the opposite of what they were built for.

          Terminals are being converted in locales as diverse as Boston, Charleton, S.C. and along the Gulf Coast. Two brand-new export terminals to handle gas from Wyoming and Colorado are in process in Oregon, with another to come in British Columbia, Canada.

          But because it fought off the LNG fad of 10 years ago, when federal experts and academics like Mary Nichols (then a UCLA professor and now head of the state Air Resources Board) were claiming California absolutely needed hyper-expensive LNG imports, no export facilities are in the cards here.

          The votes cast by most California representatives for the LNG export speedup bill, supported by both conservative Republicans and the Obama Administration, were a serious disservice to their constituents, even if they did assure campaign funds will keep flowing from oil and gas interests.

          It’s not that natural gas prices have plunged quite as much as gasoline did in early 2014, but that’s mostly because the wholesale cost of natural gas accounts for slightly less than half of what consumers pay. The rest of the price comes from transportation and the cost of maintaining pumps, storage facilities and pipelines, plus a profit percentage.

          But double or triple the wholesale price of natural gas – as will surely happen when exports start reducing supplies – and California bills will go up again, probably back to the levels of 2008 and 2009 just for starters. For consumers and businesses, that will be just like a large tax increase, as there are always severe penalties when people and companies don’t pay their utility bills.

    Since no one calls this a tax, few pay much heed, but anyone who listens to businesses relocating to other states knows that it’s not just high California taxes pushing them. It’s also sky-high utility rates, okayed routinely by the state Public Utilities Commission before its collusion with big utility companies became widely known and proven by email correspondence.

          This, then, is no simple matter. There’s the need to preserve American energy supplies to assure the nation’s independence from outfits like OPEC, the rapacious Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. There’s also the danger from LNG, most recently seen in last year's explosions of two LNG barges in Alabama. And there’s the pernicious effect on both consumers and businesses when prices rise.

          Put these together and it’s easy to see LNG exports are as big a mistake now as LNG imports would have been in California 10 years ago. But whoever said the politicians pushing this are immune from huge errors?


    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




          It was bound to happen in a presidential campaign that’s provided more fodder for satirists than any in modern memory: One of the candidates reviling “anchor babies” and demanding an end to the birthright U.S. citizenship guaranteed by the Constitution would have to deny he is one.

          That’s what happened the other day to Bobby Jindal, the conservative Louisiana governor fecklessly seeking the Republican nomination, whose Indian-born mother had been in America only four months when he was born in 1971. She was here on a student visa, but Jindal insists that because she was naturalized long before he turned 21, his own citizenship had nothing to do with her becoming a citizen.

          This didn’t stop Jindal from reviling other real and potential anchor babies as he tried to lift his poll numbers above the very low single digits. “We need to end birthright citizenship,” he said, claiming anchor babies – kids used by their parents to assure they can stay in the U.S. – cost taxpayers many billions of dollars.

          Only two of Jindal’s 14 current GOP rivals have resisted joining the candidate corps’ anti-birthright chorus. One is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, born to legal Cuban immigrants long before they became citizens.

          Both he and Jindal are right with their colleagues, though, in demanding an end to abortions, or at least virtually all abortions. Talk about fodder for satire: As comic Andy Borowitz wrote in The New Yorker magazine, the thrust of the stance of most GOP candidates is that “Anchor babies must be born and then instantly deported.”

          This absurd-seeming position comes about because no group is more hated than anchor babies by the many Americans who resent illegal immigration.

          They’re not reviled for anything they’ve done, but because of their parents’ actions and the services they might eventually get. And because once they’re born, it can be more difficult to throw their parents out.

          The anti-anchor baby push has been active at least 10 years, but this year marks the first time it’s become a rallying cry for presidential candidates, led by billionaire businessman Donald Trump.

          They’re essentially aping former Arizona Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, author of his state’s attempt to have police demand documents of all persons who might possibly look like they’re in the country illegally. Said Pearce in 2009, “There is an orchestrated effort by (the parents) to come here and have children to gain access to the great welfare state we’ve created.”

          But any state or federal law denying birthright citizenship to children born in this country will most likely end up on the legal scrapheap because the idea flies in the face of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which since 1968 has conferred citizenship upon birth to anyone born here.

          Anti-birthright advocates contend accurately the amendment was designed to assure citizenship and equal rights to former slaves. But its language is not so limited and three-fourths of all state legislatures would have to ratify any change.

          Anti-birthright forces, including almost all current Republican hopefuls, say anchor babies and their parents contribute little and cost a lot, from hospital expenses at the start through public schooling and more.

          The problem with those claims is that they run counter to most known facts about such babies. Infants born to undocumented mothers account for about 8 percent of all U.S. births, but no one knows how many of their fathers might have legal status, according to one report from the Pew Hispanic Center. More than 80 percent of those mothers had been in this country at least a year – much longer than Jindal’s mom – with more than half here three years and a large but unspecified percentage here 10 years or more.

          So most mothers of such babies are anything but “birth tourists.” Rather they’ve worked and contributed in this country for long periods, and experts like West Point Prof. Margaret Stock, a former military police colonel, say “Many children born of persons who are not legal permanent residents grow up and become leading citizens.” She named Jindal as an example.

          Then there’s the question of what happens if such children are deported. “Do we really want to make people hate America from the very beginning of their lives?” asked one law professor at the University of San Francisco.

          That’s a good question, as is the issue of whether deporting children of the undocumented would lead to a major,negative change in the entire American character.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015




          Some were mystified when, moments after the California Public Utilities Commission assessed the state’s largest utility company a record $1.6 billion fine for violating state and federal natural gas pipeline standards before the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced it would not appeal the decision.

          Even now, about six months later, PG&E still has not said why it simply accepted the largest penalty ever assessed against an American utility company.

          But a relatively unpublicized vote last month in the state Senate gives a new hint about why. So does PG&E’s latest filing with the utilities commission, best known as the PUC, which sets rates for all privately-owned utilities in California.

          The Senate vote effectively ended a legislative effort to prevent PG&E from using most of the fine as a tax deduction, despite the fact that the company has been found negligent by federal agencies in the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion.

          There is some consumer comfort in the fact that PG&E will pay something, while Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. will not be penalized at all for actions leading to the failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, for which the PUC has assessed Edison and SDG&E customers more than $3 billion. Then again, nobody died at San Onofre, while San Bruno saw eight fatalities.

          Allowing PG&E to write off $1.3 billion of the fine as a business expense will allow the company to recoup about $115 million, according to some calculations. That’s a bit like a motorist being able to take the bulk of a speeding fine as a tax deduction. Anyone who tried this would trigger red flags at the Internal Revenue Service.

          The writeoff means PG&E will actually pay just over 40 percent of its fine to customers and the state. Yes, $400 million will be refunded to customers. Another $300 million will go to the state’s general fund and $50 million to pay for a variety of PUC safety activities. But the deduction gives the big utility part of those amounts back.

          The Senate’s inaction also lets PG&E deduct the bulk of the $850 million of this “fine” that will be used to repair and improve its gas transmission system. Of course, it makes no sense for any of the fine to go for this, since the utility has collected payments monthly from all customers for pipeline maintenance and safety for more than six decades.

          Because the PUC never tracked how that money was used until after San Bruno, no one knows what PG&E actually spent on maintenance and how much it just kept. The PUC has never explained why it’s allowing the company to use fine money this way.

          The Senate actually voted by a wide margin not to let PG&E get away with at least some of this. The vote was 25-14 to disallow the tax deduction. But a two-thirds majority of 27 votes was needed, and all 14 Republicans voting went in PG&E’s favor, so the big utility won out.

          The no-deduction bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo, called the vote a demonstration “of political influence by a major utility which spends a lot of money…on campaigns and lobbying.”

          Almost simultaneously came PG&E’s latest filing with the utilities commission, an application for a $2.7 billion rate increase over three years. If the decades-old dance pattern of the PUC and the utility ensues, PG&E will end up getting about $2 billion, and the PUC will brag about saving consumers $700 million – when the company hasn’t shown it deserves any new profit at all.

          Worse, any big rate increase would essentially pay PG&E back in less than a year for the approximately $640 million in San Bruno fines it will actually pay. The net result will be that PG&E comes out ahead, just as Edison and SDG&E figure to come out ahead in their questionable San Onofre settlement with the PUC, one the commission so far shows no sign of rescinding despite the questionable legality of how it was reached.

          All of which would demonstrate there’s been no real change at the PUC, despite talk from the commission’s new president, Michael Picker, who has said he means to make his agency more consumer-oriented and transparent. Stay tuned.

    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