Monday, September 18, 2017




Few California administrations have been plagued with as much corruption as Gov. Jerry Brown’s current governing cadre, with well-documented, possibly illegal manipulations by several major agencies run by his appointees.

That's why Brown's double standards were so plainly exposed the other day when he blasted the lone state agency where Republicans have a significant voice, the tax collecting Board of Equalization. Brown lambasted "inappropriate actions by the board" that render it unable to perform many of its duties. 

          That board’s elected membership, representing four large districts covering the entire state, is half Republican, half Democratic. Democratic state Controller Betty Yee, elected statewide, holds the decisive vote, but the GOP members – former legislators George Runner of Lancaster and Dianne Harkey of Dana Point – have plenty to say about the board’s operations.

          The board is under fire these days after an audit by the Brown-controlled state Department of Finance found members regularly assigned employees to help board members with public events that could promote them in their districts. Even tax auditors were sometimes used at self-serving events for things like crowd control or “parking lot duty.”

          Brown came down hard on the board. He suspended its ability to approve new contracts, hires and promotions, giving these functions to another state department. And he sought action from the Legislature to correct other “serious problems.”

          That stands in stark contrast to the governor’s mild approach after the highly irregular activities of perhaps the two most powerful state agencies – the Public Utilities and Energy commissions – were exposed while those bodies are controlled by Brown appointees.

          For example, he did nothing when the Energy Commission in 2014 awarded of tens of millions of dollars in grants to build hydrogen refueling stations for the new generation of H2-powered cars to a brand new company headed by a onetime academic who only months earlier drew the map for where those stations would go and instructed Energy Commission employees on how to award grants.

          Instead of firing the commission chairman who furthered this obvious, cronyist conflict of interest, Brown reappointed him to a new term.

          It was much the same at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). When it emerged that the former commission president met secretly with utility executives and privately decided the outcome of multi-billion-dollar cases, Brown complimented that man on “getting things done” and allowed him to serve out his term without criticism.

          While media exposed many cases of the PUC favoring the companies it regulates over their customers, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup insists that he acted, when he actually did nothing beyond signing a thus-far insignificant, watered-down package of “reform” bills last fall. These changed almost nothing about the commission’s operation. Brown was mute even when the PUC spent more than $10 million retaining a criminal defense team to help conceal or downplay its alleged illegal actions. He made no move to truncate any of its authority or that of the Energy Commission.

          The sums of money involved in questionable actions by these two commissions dwarf anything the Board of Equalization (BoE) spent wrongfully. Irregular-seeming PUC decisions have cost consumers multiple billions of dollars in recent years, while grants seeming to involve several forms of favoritism by the Energy Commission amount to many tens of millions. The most commonly cited alleged misdeed by the BoE cost less than $200,000, paltry by comparison.

          One big difference between the BoE and the other agencies here, besides the magnitude of their alleged actions, is that Brown appointed no one on the BoE, but did name every member of the other panels.

          It’s not just Brown who favors the Democrat-dominated agencies over the only one with significant GOP membership. When PUC presidents appear before legislative committees, hearings usually become love-fests, no matter how egregious recent PUC decisions have been.

          But when legislators hauled BoE members and staffers in for hearings this spring, they wound up proposing changes to reduce the ability of board members to use agency staff for anything but official duties.

          The responses of Brown and major lawmakers to all this demonstrate clearly the double-standard operating in California government – appointed Democrats can get away with almost anything so long as they also promote policies favored by party mates who put them in their current, powerful jobs.


     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




No one in American public life has more disdain for experts and their expertise than President Donald Trump. And yet…there he was in late August, on the south portico of the White House (a “dump,” he had called it a week earlier) eyeing a near-total eclipse of the sun without special glasses.

Similarly, there was Trump four days after Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston with unprecedented (for that city) flooding, seeking photo opportunities where he could find them. The same thing in Florida after Hurricane Irma, the strongest ever to hit that state.

What do those appearances have to do with scientists and their expertise? Trump was only on his back porch to view the eclipse because astronomers forecast decades earlier that there would be one at the precise moment he emerged from the Oval Office to join his wife (who wore glasses recommended by experts) and his young son (who did not).

It turned out science was right – to the precise second.

It was similar in Texas. Experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted decades ago that a gigantic flood could occur in and around Houston, which they called a “huge city built on a very flat flood plain.” When it happened, Trump responded without mentioning those very accurate experts.

Other scientists for years have warned that hurricanes striking America will be increasingly severe because of the climate change roiling weather patterns everywhere on earth. Trump disdained that prediction, cut the budget of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then – when it came true – milked the scene for all the positive publicity he could.

Just a week or so before Harvey, Trump revoked a Barack Obama-era regulation increasing standards for post-flood reconstruction that uses federal money. Among other items, the rule called for such construction to be elevated beyond the reach of possible flood waters. Insisting he knows more than the experts who pushed Obama for that regulation, Trump called it a “job killer.”

“No longer,” he said, “will there be one job-killing delay after another.” But experts in Houston during the height of Harvey warned that rebuilding a city of hodgepodge zoning and disorganized building codes without requiring changes like higher foundations would invite a repeat catastrophe that could waste billions of tax dollars.

Trump, as usual, ignored the experts, just like he did while pulling America out of the Paris climate change accord. Like many skeptics with more faith in their unfounded opinions than in scientific research, he criticizes experts if they’re occasionally wrong, but never credits them on the far-more-frequent occasions when they are precisely on the mark, as with the eclipse.

It’s part of an anti-intellectual trend that also sees millions of Americans believing higher education moves the country in the “wrong direction.” A survey released the other day by the Public Policy Institute of California, for example, found 72 percent of the state’s Republicans believe universities are a negative influence. Forty percent of Democrats felt the same.

A similar national poll by Florida’s Pew Research Center found 58 percent of Republicans and voters who lean GOP believe colleges and universities have a negative effect, while 72 percent of Democrats believe the opposite.

Trump’s base voters, then, share his extreme skepticism of experts and science, especially when those experts – mostly academics – recommend measures that might tap their wallets.

California is fortunate such skeptics do not control policy here. For Californians must respond to warnings about unreinforced construction that could cause myriad deaths and many billions of dollars in property damage in a very large earthquake. Other experts, meanwhile, warn such a quake is long overdue on the San Andreas Fault, which runs through or near California’s largest population centers.

Because California doesn’t buy into the current trend to skepticism, programs are underway around the state to retrofit older buildings, roads and bridges. Nature will decide whether those programs are comprehensive or quick enough to mitigate disasters.

The bottom line: As long as Trump’s base agrees with him that science means less than their own opinions, he will only take advantage of  expertise that’s convenient and cheap to follow up on. As Houston and Florida demonstrated, this will very likely mean a lot of unnecessary future deaths and damage.


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

Monday, September 11, 2017




          Californians interested in keeping this state’s toughest-in-the-world standards for automotive pollution heaved a sigh of relief when the federal Environmental Protection Agency in early August reversed an earlier decision to delay imposition of new national ozone standards for at least a year.

          That move came after California and 15 other states sued to force EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to back down, and he did before his action could take hold. Pruitt’s reaction also gave rise to optimism among defenders of several other California laws threatened by a variety of officials named by President Trump.

          But now it seems such optimism may have been premature. For only weeks after his turnabout on new ozone limits mandated under ex-President Barack Obama, Pruitt began a new process that could greatly increase automotive smog.

          He opened a 45-day public comment period on a proposed rewrite of standards for carbon emissions and other kinds of greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks, aiming to ease the pollution-controlling tasks of both carmakers and oil companies.

          Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, frequently sided in his prior job with oil companies and others in lawsuits aiming to eliminate some EPA rules. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is now seeking documents in an effort to determine whether Pruitt had actual conflicts of interest in several actions he’s lately taken that achieve goals of the lawsuits he formerly pursued against his current agency.

          “We are moving forward with an open and robust review of emissions standards,” Pruitt said as he began the public comment period during which anyone can react to proposed changes.

          The effect of the changes Pruitt seeks in corporate average fuel economy standards (often called CAFÉ standards) would cause new emissions produced in the other 49 states to far overbalance cutbacks in greenhouse gases made under California rules.

          It would mark a return to pre-2000s days when there were major differences between cars sold in California and what were known as “49-state cars.” Gradually, as other states adopted California’s rules, many of those differences had disappeared before Pruitt took over.

          He has backed off early efforts to eliminate the California waiver provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, the law that has let this state maintain tougher pollution standards than the rest of America since then-President Richard Nixon signed it 47 years ago.

          Current federal standards adopted under Obama created an emphasis on gas/electric hybrids and electric- and hydrogen-powered cars.

          Not surprisingly, the auto industry likes Pruitt’s latest move, which could result in revoking or greatly revising today’s standards everywhere but in California. Said Mitch Bainwol, head of the Auto Alliance group of carmakers, “The administration is fulfilling its commitment to reinstate midterm evaluation of future fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.”

          Both environmental and consumer advocacy groups blasted the EPA action. “EPA is bringing back questions that have already been asked and answered,” said a statement from Consumers Union, parent of the Consumer Reports magazine. The group said polls show 90 percent of Americans want even better fuel efficiency than offered by today’s new cars.

          A scaling back of today’s rules would place America far behind several other countries in seeking reduced dependency on oil and gasoline. Germany and France, for example, have laws that will ban all sales of gas-powered cars within the next two to three decades.

          A anti-smog rollback could also threaten California-based electric car companies like Tesla and Faraday, as well as making white elephants of the statewide string of hydrogen refueling stations now being partially financed by gasoline taxes via the state Energy Commission.

          It all creates a very uncertain future for California’s smog standards, which have dramatically improved the state’s air quality over the last half century.

          If the EPA attempts to backtrack on the existing standards, it’s almost certain California and many other states would sue to block the move. But with a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by conservative Republicans, there’s a strong possibility the Trump administration would prevail.

    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 doesn’t seem that way now, with one hurricane after another battering the East and Gulf coasts, shutting down oil refineries, flooding downtowns and residential neighborhoods alike and inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damages. But California remains the most disaster-prone state in America.

          That’s why it behooves Californians in Congress to get behind every hurricane aid package they can this fall. Their own districts may be next. It’s not a matter of if California will be struck by another major earthquake, but when. It’s not a matter of if wildfires will consume homes and businesses; they do it every year and 2017 is no exception.

          California also could see massive floods if some flawed dams here fail during the next season of heavy rain.

          The costs of Hurricane Irma have not yet been totted up, but Harvey’s toll is pretty well known: at least $180 billion in damage, and likely a final tally about twice that.

          Insurance companies will cover at lot of this, but despite what we often hear, Texans are not so different from Californians: We often vote differently, but we share a tendency to be under-insured for catastrophe. So while nowhere near half of Californians living in known earthquake fault zones have quake insurance because they feel prices and deductibles are too high, it’s the much the same with Texans living in flood plains in and around cities like Houston, Port Arthur and Beaumont: well over half lack flood insurance.

          This means the federal government must step in. President Trump, knowing how basic Texas and Florida are to his political fortunes, has pushed hard for bigly (as he might put it) aid to hurricane victims. No Californian voted against the initial Harvey aid package approved by Congress, but Irma aid remains an unknown.

Any Californian who votes against even part of it would be a shortsighted fool, the way Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have been revealed as hypocrites for opposing aid after the devastating East Coast Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

          No sooner did Cruz, for one, demand big-dollar help for Texas after Harvey than fellow Republican Chris Christie, the embattled governor of New Jersey, lambasted him for pushing double standards because of his vote against post-Sandy aid. Cruz called that bill a “Christmas tree” of unrelated boondoggles, but the Congressional Research Office found virtually all its money went to genuine reconstruction or prevention projects.

          It’s also true that only one Texas Republican in the House voted for Sandy aid. So there is some doubt their GOP friends from areas hit by Sandy will be very generous with Texans in upcoming rounds of disaster funding.

          Now fast forward to the next big California quake. It’s highly possible whoever is President then will be far less sympathetic to distraught Californians than former President Bill Clinton was in 1994, after the last major urban temblor struck California. Clinton produced more than $10 billion in federal aid, setting up many offices for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to dispense checks for reconstruction and prevention of future damage via retrofits securing homes to their foundations. More than 100,000 homeowners got checks for $10,000 or more.

          If – rather, when – the truly Big One of about 8.0 on the Richter Scale strikes along the San Andreas Fault, damages will dwarf what any hurricane can do. Maybe that’s why none of the eight California Republicans in the House who voted no on helping Sandy’s victims opposed post-Harvey assistance. (All Democrats voting were on the yes side both times.)

          Those eight include several from quake-prone areas, like Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Paul Cook of Yucca Valley and Darrell Issa of Vista. Others, like Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Jeff Denham of Turlock are already targets for other reasons and need no more trouble.

          The bottom line: Any Californians opposing aid to hurricane victims might also be casting a virtual vote against relief that will be desperately needed in California’s future. Why would any of those folks want to be so short-sighted, no matter how tight-fisted they are on other federal spending? Then again, some of them have done it before.


     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

Thursday, August 31, 2017




          Buried in the back pages of newspapers and not even making it onto many television and radio news programs this summer was the news that Gov. Jerry Brown again refused parole a member of the murderous Manson Family gang, while a parole board denied freedom to another.

          But these actions raised more questions than they answered. For example, should heinous killers like Charles Manson and most of his vicious followers ever be allowed back on the streets? What might new and younger governors with no personal memories of the Manson-inspired 1969 murder spree do when parole boards made up of their appointees recommend freedom for these and other murderers whose crimes are in some ways comparable.

          In his latest refusal of a Manson Family member’s parole bid, Brown denied release to Bruce Davis, convicted in 1972 in the slayings of musician Gary Hinman and movie stuntman Donald (Shorty) Shea. Brown did not deny that Davis has improved himself and gone 25 years with no prison discipline for misconduct.

          But, he said, these things are “outweighed by negative factors…incredibly heinous and cruel offenses like these constitute the ‘rare circumstances’ in which the crime alone can justify a denial of parole.”

          Brown’s action came within a day of a ruling by a parole panel at the California Institute for Women in Corona blocking release for former Manson follower Patricia Krenwinkel, whose lawyer insisted she only went along with the Manson murders because of physical abuse by Manson.

          The board wasn’t buying it, perhaps because Krenwinkel was one of several “Manson girls” who came to court daily during their trials with X’s carved into their foreheads as signs of continuing support for Manson. Krenwinkel was one of those who cut power and telephone lines at the Beverly Hills-area estate of actress Sharon Tate and then murdered her and four others, stabbing them over and over.

          The next night, she helped kill grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in the Hollywood Hills, helping carve the word “WAR” into one victim’s stomach and scrawling other words in blood near the victims’ bodies.

          Besides the murders themselves, one troubling part of all this is that parole boards persistently recommend release for some Manson followers. They are perhaps the best-known of many sadistic California killers, including the likes of Edmund Kemper, the Santa Cruz area’s “Coed Killer” of the 1960s and ‘70s, and Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, the notorious “Tool Box Killers” who kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered five young women in Southern California in 1979.

          While Brown has said that some serious criminals can “change their thinking,” he has always left the Manson Family killers out of that category. No one knows if future governors will do the same.

          That’s why it’s high time the Legislature created a new category of crime, one whose perpetrators can never be considered for parole. Had such a law existed when the Mansons and some others were convicted, relatives of the victims would not have to feel compelled to attend parole hearings and revive their pain every few years just to make sure the most brutal of murderers don’t go free.

          For sure, the Manson followers have been like a plague on California’s consciousness that’s impossible to eradicate. They keep trying for parole and Brown keeps saying no, as did predecessors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Perhaps these killers are encouraged by the success a few of their former pals in the Family had in getting released: Linda Kasabian in the 1970s as part of a plea deal that saw her provide key testimony against Manson and friends, Steve Grogan in 1985 for leading authorities to the body of Shea on the Spahn Movie Ranch near the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth and Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme in 2009, more than 30 years after she tried to shoot then-President Gerald Ford. None of those three, however, participated in the Tate or LaBianca killings.

 The repeated parole attempts are certainly within the legal rights of all convicted killers, but they should not be. It’s high time legislators make sure no future governor can ever loose this worst sort of criminal back on the public.

     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




          The first time Jerry Brown was governor of California, his greatest policy defeat came when resentful Northern Californians voted almost unanimously in 1982 to reverse a legislative vote authorizing a massive ditch around the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers.

          This was called the Peripheral Canal; it aimed to bring Northern California river water to the farms of the San Joaquin Valley and cities in Southern California.

          Once that plan died, anything remotely similar became political anathema for decades until Brown retook the governor’s office in late 2010. Demonstrating that his goals rarely change, Brown soon began pushing for a more sophisticated and expensive version of the canal, this time two giant underground concrete culverts rather than an earthen ditch like the original canal plan.

          Brown has pushed this tunnel plan all through his second go-‘round in the Capitol, and now it may be reaching a decisive point. Not only are water districts around the state becoming concerned about who will pay the project’s cost of about $17 billion (plus interest), but local governments in the immediate area are alarmed over a host of environmental issues.

          In late August, Sacramento County sued to stop the plan, which might make water supplies more reliable, but would produce very little more water than moves south from the Delta area without the tunnels in an average year.

          Cities like Stockton and Antioch, hard by the Delta and its latticework of canals and streams, plus the Placer County Water Agency and several groups of commercial fishermen also are suing.

          Sacramento County’s action says the state Department of Water Resources ignores environmental harm to the Delta, including the taking of almost 700 acres of the county’s farmland out of production during the projected 13-year construction period. The county also says its water quality will drop, as would the quality of water flowing to and through the Delta after the tunnels open.

          State officials deny most of this, insisting water quality in the Delta will improve and be far more controllable if the tunnels are built. The conservation groups Restore the Delta, Friends of the River and the Sierra Club  joined the lawsuits, too, insisting the 35-mile-long tunnels flout the California Environmental Quality Act (known as CEQA) and would cost up to $67 billion by the time they’re done.

          Enter money. This project might be a pretty tough sell in Southern California once more of the public fully understands the cost, with little prospect increasing water supplies to the region.

          Even the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water to more than 15 million persons from the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains to the Mexican border is a little bit querulous. The Met, as the district is often known, supported the original Peripheral Canal and has generally backed the tunnels, arguing they can stabilize water deliveries to its vast area.

          But in August, the Met’s staff reported that “The costs of the California WaterFix (a recent name for the tunnels) are substantial.” The staff added, though, that “the costs that would be allocated to (the Met) are reasonable and affordable, given the water supply reliability improvements.”

          But some members of the Met’s board, mostly city council members and elected county officials, wonder about the projected cost split of 55 percent paid by urban users and 45 percent by largely agricultural rural water customers.

          And there are doubts that farmers can afford even the cost share that might be allotted to them.

          If farmers can’t or won’t pay, warn skeptics, customers of the Met and other urban water agencies like the Santa Clara County Water District and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power would get stuck with additional costs, possibly driving rates up far more than the currently projected range of between $18 and $60 per year for an average family, depending on prevailing interest rates.

          The bottom line here might just be the bottom line: If the water districts are unwilling to make a big financial commitment, Brown’s pipe dream will die. The same if the slew of lawsuits against the twin tunnels should succeed. If that happens, what visible legacy will Brown leave after a total of 16 years as governor?


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

Monday, August 28, 2017




          Everyone in California is at least peripherally aware of the state’s ever-worsening housing crisis: It’s hard to miss when prices have jumped by as much as 75 percent over the last five years in large parts of metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and their suburbs, especially on the San Francisco Peninsula, where $3 million three-bedrooms are not unheard-of.

          One response has been a state mandate for ever-increasing numbers of affordable units in most cities and many unincorporated areas. It’s common in many places for new apartment and condominium structures to contain as up to 35 percent affordable units, available to families who qualify under various income standards based on whatever the federal poverty standard is at the moment.

          One problem is that having to build so many affordable units into their new projects forces developers to raise the price of market-rate housing. Another is that affordable units sometimes lack commonplace amenities like air conditioning. And when those units are built near light rail lines like the expanding Metro system in and around Los Angeles, required numbers of parking spaces are sometimes cut. The presumption – often false – is that residents of those buildings will not need to drive as much as others because public transit is readily available.

          None of this has yet alleviated the housing crunch, which at this year’s annual mid-winter counts found record numbers of homeless persons in some locales.

          Now the housing crisis has become a lawmaking priority, with Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders proclaiming a “shared commitment” to making a problem-solving deal.

          The devil, as always, will be in the details, and it’s anyone’s guess whether a compromise can be reached before the state Senate and Assembly go home in mid-September.

          Among major proposals so far are a bill to levy a fee of between $75 and $225 on all real estate sales, which could raise about $225 million a year for affordable housing. Passing this would take a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses, which won’t happen as easily on this as it did on Brown’s pet issue of extending cap-and-trade tactics to fight climate changes.

Another is a $4 billion-dollar general obligation bond to provide even more money. That one would need popular-vote approval next year, but might face tough sledding because it would raise the state’s debt and its annual interest payments for decades to come.

          Seeming more likely to pass is a third measure forcing cities and counties to streamline their building permit and other approval processes for new construction that includes affordable housing.

          This one could have positive effects on thousands of homeless persons, while damaging the lifestyles of millions of other Californians affected by ugly architecture, increased traffic and more crowding in their neighborhoods.

          In a statement, Ray Pearl, executive director of the California Housing Consortium, lauded all these potential laws, saying “California cannot afford to let the housing crisis go on, for the sake of families, seniors and hard-working individuals.”

          He’s right about that. But even if money for solving this longstanding problem arrives via either new taxes or a bond, there will still have to be a solution to the ongoing problems created by the fact that new housing creates a need for new transport to accommodate its occupants.

          So far, many cities are approving new housing without demanding more or wider roads, transit systems that cover entire metropolitan areas or additional parks and other amenities that might keep the new housing from damaging the lifestyles of residents already present. Many of them neither need nor qualify for affordable units, nor even want them around.

          With two-thirds votes or popular majorities forming needed elements of most solutions offered so far, legislators will have to come up with better measures than they have yet devised. Otherwise they may find these barriers far harder to surmount than they believe now, while they’re bask in the glowing aftermath of the cap-and-trade vote.

     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