Monday, September 17, 2018




          Something has changed in California politics as the political class gets serious about this fall’s statewide election: Despite what has lately amounted to single-party rule in America’s most populous state, there’s a new insecurity in the air.

          That’s because of two successful recall moves against incumbent officials in the June primary, the defeats of Palo Alto Judge Aaron Persky and Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman of Orange County.

          Suddenly politicians and judges have been served notice that their constituents are watching, something they find easy to forget while doing everyday business in the state Capitol, county courthouses and city halls all around the state.

          In Persky’s case, recall was predictable from the moment he handed down an extremely lenient six-month jail sentence to former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, convicted of digitally penetrating a drunken, unconscious woman. The sentence led to fury from all sides of the political spectrum, and now all judges are newly aware that they don’t hold office by some sort of fiat, but serve at the pleasure of the people, who can express displeasure by knocking them out of office.

          In Perksy’s case, the vote wasn’t even close.

          Newman’s recall was different. Like most Democrats, he voted last year in favor of the 12-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase that now faces its own possible cancellation via a November ballot measure.

          While the campaign against Newman repeatedly accused him of helping impose the gas tax, not merely a relatively small increase in it, any kind of tax increase was bound to stick in the craw of his constituents, who had sent Republicans to Sacramento for many years before Newman narrowly won election in 2016. It did, and those constituents dumped him unceremoniously.

          “I think that the threat (of recall) is sort of by itself sufficient to change the legislative conversation,” Newman told a reporter afterward.

          Maybe so, but the threat of recalls has been around since 1913. In those 105 years, only six have succeeded, the most spectacular the 2003 dumping of then-Gov. Gray Davis and his replacement by movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger.

          That track record caused most of the political class to disregard the recall threat and proceed almost however they liked, making backroom deals like those that spurred sponsors this summer to pull back three proposed initiatives that had already won enough public support to qualify for a November yes-or-no vote.

          But now those same people are at least looking to see if anyone’s gaining on them. The same is true for pols wanting to move up: The June results put them on notice that promotions would depend on performance. The best example of this was Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside, who hoped to finish in the primary’s top two in the 49th Congressional District race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Darrell Issa.

          But Chavez voted frequently with Democrats during his Sacramento tenure and Democrats wanting to turn Republican voters against Chavez made sure they knew he sometimes voted with Democrats. Their ads claimed Chavez ran for the Legislature claiming he wouldn’t vote for new taxes. “On spending your money and costing you more, Rocky Chavez’ broken promises will knock you out,” said their ad.

          That was backed up with specific Chavez votes. Always before a solid vote-getter, Chavez finished well out of the running in June, leaving the 49th as a seat Democrats realistically hope to flip.

          To politicians, all this seems bad, undesirable. But not to voters. It’s almost as if a window has been opened and constituents now are seeing for the first time what the folks they vote for do in office.

          Similarly, legal professionals and most law professors around the state and nation opposed the Persky recall on grounds that judges should have complete independence. Not so, said voters in usually liberal Santa Clara County. They said judicial independence is fine, but only if it produces sentences that seem reasonable.

          All of which has contributed to a new aura in the state’s politics and courtrooms, one that sees the elected for the first time in many years worrying about how they are perceived by their electors.

    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




          Folks with little faith in California voters have won at least a partial victory this year. For decades, since the great Progressive (a tag worn a century ago mostly by moderate Republicans) Gov. Hiram Johnson created the ballot initiative, critics have railed against direct democracy, claiming an uninformed public often makes major mistakes.

          After decades of griping about “budgeting by initiative,” those skeptics managed to get a law passed in 2014 allowing legislators to change or eliminate initiatives even after they’ve qualified for the ballot, so long as initiative sponsors agree to it.

          Voters will see the first results of that law this fall: A significantly shorter ballot than they would otherwise have encountered, even though 11 measures remain up for public decisions.

          Yes, voters will make thumbs up or down choices on issues from $17 billion in proposed bonds to rent control and repeal of last year’s gasoline tax increase. They will still get to determine whether veal calves, pigs and chickens get more rights than they now enjoy and whether folks over 55 will be able to carry their Proposition 13 property tax limits across all county lines when they sell their homes, instead of just some.

          But voters will not get to make decisions about consumer privacy or soda taxes or even who will pay to clean up leaded paint in homes built since 1951.

          Instead, sponsors who gathered enough voter signatures to put initiatives on those issues before the voters made deals with state legislators and their ballot measures vanished.

          So a ballot that could have been much more interesting disappeared in the face of compromises that satisfied big-money interests but might not have pleased the mass of voters.

          The farthest-reaching of these compromises involved Internet consumer privacy. Under new rules signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown just two hours after they passed the Legislature, Californians now have a right to know what information Internet giants like Google and Yahoo and eBay and Amazon have about them. They can also prohibit companies from selling that information and can ask companies to delete their information after they learn what’s been gathered.

          That’s a far cry from the ballot initiative which this new law replaces, which would have forced companies to get consumer permission to gather, maintain and sell information on what Internet searches individuals make, what they buy on the ‘Net, what products they look at but don’t buy and much more.

          Consumers can only sue in the case of a large leak of information, not over individual exposures.

          This was an example of compromise of the sort intended by lawmakers who created the new system for removing initiatives after they qualify. It probably headed off a campaign that would have cost companies and consumer groups $50 million or more. Too bad for the television, radio, newspaper and direct mail companies that would likely have gleaned most of that money.

          Another compromise removed an initiative run by major paint makers aiming to force the state to loan the companies up to $2 billion for removal of paint that contains lead in 10 cities and counties that won a lawsuit against Sherwin-Williams, du Pont and others. The initiative was withdrawn in exchange for legislators pulling three bills that would have penalized the companies even more.

          And there were soda taxes. Makers of carbonated drinks had qualified an initiative that would have raised the vote-percentage threshold for passing any new local tax, but agreed to pull it off the ballot in exchange for a new law placing a 13-year moratorium on any new soda taxes.

          The result is a ballot that’s far from the longest ever seen by California voters, but still lets them make important decisions on issues like spreading rent control more widely and lowering gas taxes a bit. But it also isn’t quite the ballot it could have been, as three key choices were gone even before campaigns on them could get started.

    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, September 10, 2018




          There is little doubt about it: President Trump has not forgiven California for voting against him by a margin of more than 3 million votes, thus costing him the bragging rights of a popular vote victory.

          His most effective, potentially long-lasting way of punishing this state comes down to one question on the Census his administration will run starting less than 18 months from now:

          Trump and his secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, say they will for the first time in 60 years ask every person questioned by the Census – required every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution – whether he or she is an American citizen.

          This question was abandoned after the 1960 Census because it led to so many obvious undercounts of immigrants in the surveys for several decades before that.

          Now Trump wants to bring it back because he wants an undercount of immigrants, especially in California. An undercount would be absolutely assured by the presence of the citizenship question in part because Trump and Ross promise no confidentiality to respondents. Anyone who admits not being a citizen would be subject to actions by federal agencies including the often-dreaded ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This would surely punish the state Trump resents most by depriving it of billions of dollars in federal grant money all through the 2020s. If it also led to California losing a seat or two in Congress, that too would be fitting punishment in Trump’s obvious view.

          It’s true California’s appointed attorney general, Xavier Becerra, sued five months ago trying to keep the question out of the Census, but that action has slim chance for success as the Constitution says nothing about what questions the Census should include or omit. Times change, the Founding Fathers seemed to understand, so Census questions will, too.

          If Becerra’s lawsuit, which has been joined by other states fearing undercounts, like New York and Illinois, were to fail, Gov. Jerry Brown or his successor will be presented with a unique opportunity, maybe even a legacy maker.

          For if the question is included, and the governor wants California to keep getting the full $100 billion-plus it now receives in federal support for everything from roads to sewers to police and fire protection, the state must respond with a big effort to convince undocumented immigrants they should participate and not hide from Census takers when they start knocking on doors around the nation.

          That’s because much federal money is not doled out according to how many citizens live in a state or city or political district, but rather by how many people live there.

          That’s critical for California because it hosts more than 3 million of the nation’s estimated 10 million-plus illegal immigrants. Even if they can’t vote, they still seek emergency health care, they still drive local roads and highways, their children still attend public schools, they still use water and they still need help after natural disasters like fires, floods and earthquakes.

          All those services are supported at least in part by federal funds drawn primarily from income taxes, of which California has long paid more than its fair share.

          Every 10 years, California mounts a loud campaign to convince illegal immigrants to let themselves be counted. That task will be harder than ever this time because of the citizenship question and the lack of confidentiality which has been part of previous Census efforts.

          Brown and his successor will need to create a large agency to pursue this effort aggressively, possibly hiring as many temporary advocates as the Census will hire temps of its own to carry questionnaires into millions of homes.

          If the current and future governors don’t do that – and Brown needs to start immediately – they risk an undercount that would see Californians’ tax money that should come back here go to other states like Virginia and Tennessee and Montana and the Dakotas, where numbers of the undocumented are minimal.

          If Brown starts a major effort right away, even though it’s not in the current budget, he could go down in history as the man who began saving California from Trump’s attempted non-violent vengeance – a legacy he could carry proudly the rest of his life.  

     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 months, the concept of a Western regional electricity grid advanced steadily through the Legislature, pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown and a phalanx of financial and utility giants including investor Warren Buffett and the AES electric generating firm, operator of 127 power plants.

The regional grid was to span the full Pacific Coast, plus interior states like Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada. California would cede control of its own electric transmission system to a new board named at least in part by utilities and other generating companies.

The fox would run the henhouse, with California consumers likely to be prime victims again, as they were the last time this state gave control of its power supply to outsiders – the 1998 deregulation plan that led to rolling brownouts for almost a year during the energy crunch of 2000 and 2001.

          But Brown pushed hard for it, determined to create as many solar thermal power plants as possible. California already has several of these, the most visible at Ivanpah, just across the state line from Nevada a few miles west of the I-15 freeway south of Las Vegas.

          This plan is not dead yet. It could put California power customers at the mercy of out-of-state companies analogous to the disgraced and now-defunct Houston-based Enron Corp.

          The grid change was merely delayed, not killed, in the just-ended legislative session, even though it deserved to die. “We will continue this important discussion next year,” said Democratic state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins as she at the last moment denied the bill, known as AB813, a vote by the full Senate after it passed through several committees.

          This pernicious plan was pushed by some companies that actually were peripheral players in the energy crunch which eventually sent executives of Enron and several other big power companies to prison. It probably was shelved because no one knew just how much it would cost Californians. Among those behind it were Duke Energy and Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Companies and their subsidiary PacificCorp., the largest electric utility in the Pacific Northwest. Both were players during deregulation and the disaster that followed.

          Also behind it were green organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which want renewable energy expanded quickly no matter what it costs consumers. They allied with owners of huge solar thermal plants like BrightSource Energy and SunPower Corp.

          It was a tough alliance to beat in lobbyist-infested Sacramento. But the regional grid appeared to lose steam at almost the last possible moment before the latest two-year legislative session ended at midnight Aug. 31. That was when consumer lawyer Mike Aguirre, formerly the elected city attorney of San Diego, released scores of Brown administration emails acquired via the state’s public records law. They showed Brown’s administration and the state Public Utilities Commission withheld a fiscal impact report on the regional grid.

          Legislators normally demand such a report before passing far-reaching laws, but went along without it for months until Atkins finally acted. A fiscal report was supposed to come at midsummer, but on the day it was due, an administration representative informed the Senate Appropriations Committee there would be no report.

          Aguirre described the emails as leaving “a trail to the governor and the PUC president (Michael Picker, a former Brown aide).”

          Meanwhile, backers of the regional grid insisted it would allow California solar plants to sell renewable energy cheaply into other states, undermining demand for power generated with fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas.

          This would benefit the companies backing the plan and be greener, but probably would raise prices for Californians. No one explained why excess energy generated in California sunshine can’t be saved in large batteries for later use.

          The bottom line: The alertness of one lawyer and Atkins’ apparent response to it quite possibly saved Californians from a repeat of the energy crunch, where California-produced power was sent out of state, some of it getting sold back here at hugely-inflated prices. But this may only be a respite, so consumer advocates must remain ready to resist the idea again and again until it finally dies.

     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


Friday, August 31, 2018




          It’s almost fall, and college students are back on many campuses around California, with the rest due to return soon. College football is already going strong.

          One question many would rather not confront awaits many of the new and returning students: How much outright anti-Semitism will face the significant Jewish cohort on many major California campuses?

          Despite the fact that just over a year ago, the University of California’s Board of Regents adopted what it considered a strict policy of policing anti-Semitism, there were still plenty of episodes around California last spring and fall, from demonstrations at San Francisco State University to daubed swastikas at UC Davis and vandalism on the grounds of several other once-bucolic schools.

          One thing has now been established, thanks to a new study from a group that carefully tracks anti-Jewish activity on campuses across America: The more radically anti-Israel faculty members a school employs, the more openly anti-Semitic activity that college or university will see.

          The privately-funded AMCHA (Hebrew for “Our People”) Initiative concluded in its annual report on campus anti-Semitism that “Israel-related anti-Semitic incidents were considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents involving classic anti-Semitism.”

          In short, even though some pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrations purport not to be purely anti-Jewish, that’s how Jewish students feel they are treated by participants.

          This extends from demonstrators trying to shut down speeches by Israeli representatives to graffiti on campus buildings and walls and everything in between. Added the study, “Anti-Israel campus activities are no longer intent on harming Israel, but increasingly they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community.”

          That seeming distinction without a real difference played out most vocally during the last academic year at San Francisco State University, home to the native Palestinian Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi, who has said that Zionists are not welcome on her campus.

          She used the Facebook account of a university department to make similar comments, which some students believed at the time led to disruption of a speech by the two-term Jewish mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who some Israelis project as a possible future prime minister of that country.

          Abdulhadi’s behavior prompted SF State President Leslie Wong to visit the school’s prime Jewish organization, Hillel, and declare that “Zionists are welcome on our campus.” He was trying to address charges that Jewish students on his campus often feel intimidated.

          But the AMCHA study suggests that as long as professors like Abdulhadi remain active there, Jewish students will never feel completely accepted.

          Meanwhile, on-campus anti-Semitism went to a new level over the summer at Stanford University, about 25 miles down the Interstate 280 freeway from SF State, where 20-year-old junior Hamzeh Daoud, a student housing resident assistant, threatened on his Facebook account that “I’m gonna physically fight Zionists on campus...” Later, after the university declared that “Threats of physical violence have absolutely no place in the Stanford community,” Daoud resigned his post, while remaining a student.

          Hours after the university issued its statement, Daoud also amended his Facebook post to say he would fight pro-Israel students “intellectually,” not physically. “I realize intellectually beating zionists (sic) is the only way to go. Physical fighting is never an answer to proving people wrong.”

          Daoud, a Jordanian citizen, considers himself a Palestinian refugee, although he is more than two generations removed from any ancestors who may once have lived in what is now Israel.

          But it’s a safe bet Jewish students at Stanford are savvy enough to be suspicious of any softening phrases by a fellow student who may have been threatened privately with suspension or expulsion.

          In frequency of anti-Semitic incidents, Stanford has long ranked behind other major campuses like UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis and UCLA, making the fact of a violent threat there a sign that not only has overall campus anti-Semitism not abated since the UC Regents issued their policy, but it may have become even more virulent.

          That’s one reason the atmosphere will be at least as fraught as ever for Jewish students trying to concentrate on academics this fall, while they also know they’ve been threatened by Palestinian activists in some places.

    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 all three decades since Ronald Reagan left the presidency, California has been all but irrelevant at the top level of American politics. Sure, plenty of ultra-wealthy Californians are regularly among the top moneybags raising funds for candidates from elsewhere on all parts of the political spectrum.

          But no Californian has had a decent shot at becoming President since Reagan in 1980.

          This might change in 2020, as several significant Golden State figures are now looking like candidates, while the one person best situated to run denies having current interest in the job.

          California’s long run of irrelevance has a lot to do with the timing of primary elections, where this state has often voted long after the nominees of both parties were pretty well settled elsewhere in a clear-cut case of the tail wagging the dog.

          The cast of characters occupying the governor’s office has also not helped. Republican Pete Wilson staged a 1990s-era run that was completely stymied when he lost his voice for weeks. Democrat Gray Davis never had a real chance, in part because of scandals at home. The Austrian-born Republican muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger was ineligible. And many considered current Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, a two-time previous loser, too old for serious consideration.

          But plenty of Californian Democrats are running right now, while one major figure is not.

          Most prominent among the state’s active presidential possibilities is Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a former state attorney general and San Francisco district attorney who might have trouble pointing to a significant achievement other than getting elected several times. Harris has acted like a candidate both in very vocal and confrontational Senate hearings and by helping out candidates in other states.

          She’ll have a campaign-like book out in January with the wonky title “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.” She’s even been attacked by President Trump via Twitter, offering prompt and pithy ripostes.

          There are also Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has spent time in both the early primary and caucus states of New Hampshire and Iowa without visibly inspiring anyone, and East Bay area Congressman Eric Swalwell, once the youngest member of Congress and still only 37, just two years over the minimum age limit to become President. Swalwell, like Garcetti, has not inspired many, but may merely be setting himself up for the future.

          Then there’s Pasadena-area Congressman Adam Schiff, who is not actively campaigning, but has won admirers nationally for the style and content of his opposition to Trump as ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.

          But the best situated California presidential possibility is Gavin Newsom, the odds-on favorite to win the governor’s office this fall. Newsom keeps saying he’s not interested in a 2020 run for President, but who knows what he might do a year from now, if he’s had almost a year of governing California in potentially interesting ways that figure to make national headlines?

          That was how his time as mayor of San Francisco went, with Newsom delivering America’s first legally-recognized same-sex marriages and the first city with universal health care, a top Democratic priority here and in many other places.

          But Newsom, who started running for governor right after Brown was reelected in 2014, likes to begin his campaigns early, just like Harris, who declared for the Senate two years before her election, immediately after former Sen. Barbara Boxer announced retirement plans.

          Plus, Harris and Newsom are longtime political allies who share a campaign consulting firm and have never stepped on each other’s toes. So Newsom may bide his time.

          Still…Newsom running in the 2020 primaries as California’s favorite son would have unique advantages. If he could dominate that scene as he has seemed to dominate the governor’s race, he could get virtually all California’s Democratic National Convention delegates, giving him more than 20 percent of the number needed for nomination before the primary season even starts.

          No one else begins with that kind of edge. And plenty of politicians have run after first denying their interest.

          So California may have much more of a role two years from now than it has in many years. Which might make this state’s politics even more interesting after the November election than they are right now.

     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, August 27, 2018




          From the very start of the Democrat-on-Democrat race for the U.S. Senate between longtime incumbent Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Kevin de Leon, there has really been only one issue – age.

          That’s because in spite of what de Leon sometimes says, there’s very little difference between the two on policy. Both can be counted on to resist President Trump’s Supreme Court nominations and fight for continued abortion rights. Both are ardent gun control backers. Both back Obamacare, although de Leon wants to take health care a step beyond that.

          The real difference between them is age. Feinstein is more than 30 years older than de Leon, the soon to be termed-out former president of the state Senate.

          Almost everything de Leon has said in running against Feinstein is really about age and the patience and perspective it can bring. Sure, de Leon uses a lot of code words, like the hackneyed and overused slogan, “It’s time for a change.”

          It was clear in the primary that most Democratic voters weren’t buying the age argument, which essentially goes like this: “It doesn’t matter what Feinstein does. The mere fact she’s 85 is reason enough to dump her.”

     She got 70 percent of all Democratic votes in June.

          But the universe of voters will be much larger in November; younger voters are more likely to turn out in general elections than primaries.

          And there’s no doubt that young Turks among California Democrats feel kinship with de Leon, even though he pulled less than 13 percent of the total vote in the primary.

          This was plain in the endorsement vote for de Leon by 65 percent of the more than 300 executive board members of the state’s Democratic Party. That panel is dominated by liberal leftists elected after the Bernie Sanders wing of the party turned out in droves for local caucuses soon after President Trump’s election and chose hundreds of delegates to the state party convention where board members were picked.

      By contrast with the disapproval she draws from the youngish party board, Feinstein gets strong backing from the vast majority of elected state Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown, fellow Sen. Kamala Harris and the very vocal anti-Trump Rep. Adam Schiff of Pasadena, newly prominent for his role in opposing Trump as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

          The ageist complaints would have some merit if there were any evidence Feinstein’s performance has fallen off as she’s grown older, any reason to believe she cannot do her job as well now as ever.

          But there is no such evidence. By all appearances, Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee and former chair of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, is at least as active now as 20 years ago, when no one mentioned her age.

          Yes, in the early months of Trump’s presidency, she counseled patience, but it’s been clear for many months that her patience long ago ran out, as she’s made statement after statement and vote after vote to chastise or oppose Trump.

          So the de Leon argument that she was somehow off base in mid-2017, when she counseled giving Trump a chance to develop and thus drew de Leon’s very vocal ire, should be rather irrelevant today.

          No, Feinstein hasn’t been as shrill as Harris in questioning figures like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but her civilly-phrased questions seemed more piercing to many. And no Democrat has done more to preserve Obamacare, which provides health coverage for about 5 million previously uninsured Californians.

          But she’s still known accurately as a centrist, which galls de Leon and his supporters. She’s offered compromises on water issues and won support from Central Valley farmers, but also fights for civil liberties causes. And she’s been scrupulously fair to business, which bothers some labor leaders who actively fund the party.

          There’s also the fact that de Leon knows that if he doesn’t win now, he’ll probably never get a Senate seat, what with folks like Schiff, state Treasurer John Chiang and others ready to take a shot at the next slot that opens.

          Which means this contest has always been about timing and the fact Feinstein has lived longer than a lot of other people, and it still is.
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

Suggested pull-out quote: “Ageist complaints would have some merit if there were any evidence Feinstein’s performance has fallen off.”