Friday, October 29, 2010




There is no doubt that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has acted at least somewhat more responsibly in the wake of the September natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno than BP, the former British Petroleum, did after its springtime offshore oil platform disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

No one had to jawbone PG&E to set up a $100 million fund for victims the way President Obama had to hammer on BP executives before they agreed to compensate victims of their blast. No one forced PG&E’s offer to buy up all the damaged homes at a premium price.

But no matter how well PG&E behaves now (and it has yet to clean up its pipeline-maintenance act), one long-term consequence of San Bruno will almost certainly be the death of any and all plans to bring more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to California.

So far, at least six proposals to build LNG receiving terminals along the California coast have been killed or mothballed over the last five years, and a total of eight have died since 1980. LNG is natural gas cooled to a sub-freezing liquid in remote locations like Indonesia or Qatar, then shipped across oceans in multi-billion-dollar tankers and warmed back into a gaseous state before it’s pumped into existing pipeline systems.

The only West Coast receiving facility capable of placing LNG in use here is Sempra Energy’s Costa Azul facility near Ensenada in the Mexican state of Baja California Norte. Because of demand for LNG in countries like Japan and South Korea, very little LNG figures to enter California through Costa Azul in the near future.

Even before San Bruno, proposals to build other receiving terminals in Humboldt County, Ventura County, Long Beach and near Camp Pendleton in San Diego County had all died or atrophied. But plans for two terminals in Oregon at Astoria and Coos Bay are still alive.

Enter the pipeline explosion. Each Oregon proposal would require about 100 miles of gas pipeline to run from its coastal location to an existing PG&E line that now carries gas to California from the Canadian province of Alberta.

In recent months, those lines have become the most contentious parts of the Oregon LNG plans. The pipeline from the possible Bradwood plant at Astoria would have to cross part of Washington and that state’s authorities have issued several unfavorable reports on its environmental implications.

The pipeline from the putative Coos Bay facility, known as Jordan Cove, would cross the Coast Range before joining the existing PG&E line near Roseburg in central Oregon. It drew loud protests from farmers and ranchers even before San Bruno.

Part of the opposition in Oregon arises because of a study by that state’s utility regulators which found that about three-fourths of any LNG arriving in Oregon would end up in California.

This, of course, would mean added cost to California consumers, whose gas prices would rise as the costs of building plants, pipelines and tankers were tacked onto the price of the gas itself.

Both Oregon and California regulators would most likely go along with this happily – if there were a need for the gas. But as early as six years ago, a federal Energy Information Agency report indicated no gas shortage was likely in California until 2030 at the earliest.

Large-scale development of natural gas from shale deposits in Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Colorado since then has both driven down the price of gas and pushed back the likely date of any shortage by a minimum of 20 years. So the question arises: Why build plants and pipelines today in anticipation of a problem that might exist in 40 years – or might never arise if America begins using more renewable energy sources?

One reason is that there is now foreign demand for some of that gas from shale. In fact, owners of several East Coast and Canadian LNG terminals have lately proposed converting them into gasification facilities from which American gas could be exported.

But doing that in Oregon would still require pipeline construction.
And the questions about PG&E’s maintenance of its existing pipeline network that arose immediately after the San Bruno disaster and still remain have done nothing but harden opposition to building anything that will tie into PG&E’s network.

All this makes it virtually certain that LNG development of any kind will get nowhere on the West Coast for many years to come, a development that should be welcomed by every Californian who uses natural gas for heat or cooking.

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




No one disputes that certain parts of California need more water than they’ve been getting in recent years. All it takes to know the need is a look at some of the fallowed fields now fairly common in the Central Valley and the unemployment rolls of many towns near those fields, places like Firebaugh and Mendota.

Many Californians expected a chance to do something this fall about the shortage that exists even now, though it has lessened in the wake of last winter’s unusually heavy rain and snowfall. That action was to come in the form of an $11.1 billion bond issue that at one point was set for a vote this fall.

The vote never came. Why? Because a wave of pessimism, plus the realization of some serious flaws in the proposed bond measure, caused even the proposal’s most ardent supporters to back off and hope times are better suited two years from now for asking voters to spend huge amounts of money.

Those supporters were absolutely convinced that if they’d gone forward this fall, the bond would have lost and taken with it any hope for an eventual compromise leading to better water supplies, better water quality in the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and better security for the hundreds of thousands of Californians who live in the shadow of often-rickety levees that keep billions of gallons within Delta waterways and out of homes and fields.

It marked the first time in modern California history that a major decision about the future of this state was taken in a spirit of severe pessimism, rather than optimism about the future.

For in this state been built upon more than 100 years of steady growth and a sense that the future holds more promise than the present – also called the “California Dream” – several polls now show a healthy percentage of the citizenry believes today’s children will face a tougher life than have their parents.

That’s what the Great Recession has wrought. Not even the Great Depression that began just over 80 years ago had such an ill effect on California. Back then, California was seen as a land of promise; today for some it is a land of problems.

So the putative water bond, which promised to greatly reduce unemployment in some farm areas while making many fisherman fear it might put them onto those very same unemployment rolls, was pulled back by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came into office as a jaunty Popeye-style showman and will leave with his tail mostly between his legs, unable even to get the latest stopgap budget passed until it was three months overdue.

But the water bond delay was not purely due to pessimism. There was also the matter of dealing with its obvious flaws.

For one thing, more than $4 billion remains unspent from previous water-related bond issues. Some critics suggested using that money toward the projects of the new bond.

The proposed new bond also was replete with pork-barrel aspects like $20 million earmarked for buying more land in the Baldwin Hills Conservancy near the home of former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles, who is about to ascend to Congress. To get support for this from Orange County Republicans, there was also $20 million for interpretive projects in the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

Voters looking over the list might have wondered how a bit more urban parkland and a few exhibits would help solve the state’s drought problems, the stated aim of the water bond.

But the bulk of the money was still to go for water management programs, watershed restoration and protection – and $3 billion for water storage projects.

Ever vigilant against any threat of any kind of system to carry Northern California river water through or around the Delta for transmission to Central Valley farmers and Southern California city dwellers, the Sierra Club and other conservationists smelled a rat amid that $3 billion. They thought the bond’s language was unspecific enough to allow at least a start on such a conveyance, best known as a peripheral canal.

There was also the question of whether these projects should be built via bonds at all, when those bonds would add as much as $756 million to the state’s yearly bond-payment bill. Why not use a pay-as-you-go system, said some critics. Do that and you pay no interest, meaning you can do as much for about $375 million yearly as for double the amount with bonds. Since the projects involved would be built over at least 15 years anyway, pay-as-you-go makes sense – if today’s voters can count on future legislators to keep the cash spigot open for water-projects.

All of which means California has a unique opportunity over the next year or so before the water bond ballot language must be finalized. The obvious pork can be removed from this package. The payment method can be altered. The list of projects made more specific.

If all this is done, maybe the water bond will draw wider support so its backers won’t have to beg off once again. Which just might contribute to reviving California’s optimism as it pulls out of today's economic doldrums.

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010




Who knew how high feelings now run on the possibility of expanding use of nuclear power in California? But no column in this space during the last 30 years has drawn the impassioned response of one published last spring which argued that atomic power is not a viable answer to the problems of either global warming or our dependence on foreign oil.

Many readers cited French dependence on nuclear power as an example California could follow, especially since France uses mostly American technology in the 56 nuclear generating stations which now produce about 76 percent of its total electricity.

Trouble is, despite its dependence on the atom, France has no more solved the problem of nuclear waste disposal than we have. Yes, the French are more efficient in recycling nuclear waste than American plants. Plutonium is reclaimed from spent fuel rods in France and any unused uranium made into new fuel elements.

But there’s still plenty of leftover waste after all that. “Currently scientists don’t know how to reduce or eliminate the toxicity,” Christian Bataille, the French official charged with solving the problem told the American television program “Frontline.” “Maybe in 100 years, perhaps the scientists will.”

In the meantime, there have been riots over abortive French plans to store radioactive waste underground and now it is “stocked” in closely-guarded above-ground government-run centers.

Says Claude Mandil, head of atomic energy for the French ministry of industry, “If France is unable to solve this issue, I do not see how we can continue the nuclear program.”

So much for following the French example.

Then there’s the common argument that nuclear power plants create no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. That turns out to be a classic half-truth.

Sure, the plants themselves don’t spew any greenhouse gases. But nuclear power comes from uranium and that has to be mined somewhere. Since gases produced anywhere on the planet all contribute equally to the global warming problem (yes, some readers also deny that this problem is real, but even onetime denier President George W. Bush has come around to accepting reality), it’s valid to examine how much CO2 is spewed in mining and shipping that uranium.

It turns out much uranium is strip mined in places like Australia and South America. All material removed from strip mines is hauled out by trucks that run on diesel.

In a typical Australian operation outlined in an Australian academic paper titled “Nuclear Power: the energy balance” published on the website, the ore is taken to a mill, where the rocks in which it is found are crushed into powder that is then treated with an acid to dissolve the uranium from the ore. Depleted ore is washed and eventually put into slurry and tailings ponds maintained with more diesel-powered machinery. In its final processing stage, uranium yellowcake is roasted at about 800 degrees Centigrade (about 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit) in oil-fired furnaces.

Virtually every step of uranium mining, processing and shipping depends on fossil fuels and the paper’s authors conclude that for high quality ore, the CO2 produced in getting uranium to nuclear power plants amounts to about one-third to one-half what an equivalent natural gas-fired power plant would produce. When using low quality ore, the CO2 is about equal to what the same energy production spews in a gas-fired plant.

All of which means the claims about the greenhouse gas purity of nuclear power are far from true.

“Yes, there is a waste problem, but that is not an unsolvable problem,” wrote another reader. Maybe so, but until the problem is solved, questions about the ultimate safety of nuclear energy will remain open. And that’s not even including the possibility of terrorist attacks. The sheer size of atomic power plants renders them vulnerable to 9/11 type attacks, and even though nuclear cores are well shielded by very thick reinforced concrete, no one knows if they can withstand the type of heat produced in such an event.

The bottom line: Even some of its biggest users are now doubting the wisdom of continuing dependence on nuclear energy, while claims that the atom is one answer to global warming don’t hold water. Which means California would be far better off developing renewable energy sources like windmills and solar panels on a far larger scale than today’s, rather than taking any more nuclear risks.

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




When just one-third of California’s 16.8 million registered voters turned out for last June’s primary election (only 24 percent of those actually eligible to vote), loud bleating ensued from so-called experts claiming that most potential voters feel the act of casting a ballot has become passe.

“Voters have given up on believing in democracy under California’s current electoral system,” moaned Mark Paul, a onetime newspaper editorial writer who now works for the non-partisan New American Foundation.

Sorry, Mark. That’s just not so. Voters don’t show up when they’re bored, and June’s primary presented more yawners than almost any statewide California election in decades. That – not a lack of faith – is why so many voters sat on their hands.

Want evidence for this contention? Check out this fact: More people voted in the Republican primary than on the Democratic side last June, even though Democrats enjoy a registration edge of about 2 million in this state.

The reason: There were contests on the GOP side for governor and the U.S. Senate, while Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer had no serious opposition. Why would independent voters – eligible in June to vote whichever party’s party ballot they liked – bother to ask for the Democratic one? Most didn’t.

So Paul and others who frequently contend California politics has become completely dysfunctional and that voters have lost most belief that their ballots matter completely misread the June vote totals.

This will almost surely be proven today (editors: sub “Tuesday” or “Nov. 2” here, depending on the date this column is carried), when the turnout goes up significantly from June’s.

Far more voters – at least 50 percent more and maybe twice as many as in June – are likely to turn out or send in absentee ballots this time because they will see both meaningful choices and emotionally important ones on this ballot, something sorely lacking the last time.

By the time of the June primary, even the contest for the Republican nomination for governor was a foregone conclusion, with billionaire Meg Whitman’s money producing far more television ads than rival Steve Poizner could or would match.

There were also no emotionally appealing issues on the proposition list. Sure, some felt it was important to beat back the money of companies like Mercury Insurance and Pacific Gas & Electric by defeating their pet propositions. But the issues this fall are much more compelling.

If the stark contrasts in the contests matching Republican Whitman and Democrat Brown for governor and Democrat Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina for the Senate aren’t enough, there’s a list of propositions that could affect far more Californians than the June measures.

If nothing else assures high voter turnout this time, Proposition 19 certainly figures to, with its attempt to legalize and tax marijuana. Polls indicate at least half of all adult Californians have smoked pot at some time. Many still do, and legal or not, marijuana is the leading cash crop in many parts of California. So if this were the only issue on the ballot, it would figure to assure a heavy turnout. No one really knows how the vote on grass will affect other contests because cannabis appears to be used by persons ranging from extreme liberals to extreme libertarians.

There’s also the small matter of climate change, the issue at stake in Proposition 23, where a slew of oil companies has spent many millions to argue that no new limits are needed on greenhouse gases, and even if they were needed, California is shooting itself in the foot by taking the lead in imposing them. The rival argument is that if climate change is real, and evidence is strong that it is, California can assure itself leadership in the fight to mitigate it – while producing tens of thousands of “green” jobs – by keeping the landmark 2006 law called AB32, which is only now about to have much impact.

There are also several arcane-seeming propositions on government finance and redistricting, but these don’t arouse much emotion among anyone but politicians fighting for self-preservation.

The bottom line is that this is a far more interesting ballot than last June’s, which will mean a far larger turnout. There is every reason to vote this fall, where many saw little reason to come out for the primary. There’s also no excuse for not voting, if you care at all about the future of this marvelous state.

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

Friday, October 15, 2010




Just over seven years ago, as Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor in the 2003 recall election, he constantly visited small business after small business over a period of weeks in September and October.

The companies ranged from trucking firms to makers of airplane parts, from builders of movie sets to outfits that paint the sides of luxury buses used by traveling music acts.

At each stop, Schwarzenegger decried California’s allegedly lousy business climate, warning that unless he were elected firms like those he visited would move to Nevada or other out of state points where land was cheap and governments promised all manner of tax breaks.

“We’re going to have to fundamentally change the business climate in California,” Republican Schwarzenegger said. It was a mantra very similar to what unsuccessful GOP candidates Dan Lungren and Bill Simon chanted in when running for governor in 1998 and 2002.

Schwarzenegger won big. And now the Republican candidate to succeed him, Meg Whitman, has been out on the stump for most of the last year, repeating precisely the same lines in the same kinds of places.

“We’re going to have to fundamentally change the business climate of California,” Whitman intoned the other day in the warehouse headquarters of a small soft-drink company, Function Drinks, in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City. Sound familiar? The only difference between her line and Schwarzenegger’s oft-repeated one was one preposition. Maybe that’s because her campaign’s lead strategist, Mike Murphy, also handled Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger, of course, didn’t solve the alleged problem of businesses leaving the state. One possible reason: While some do depart – and some have always departed in good times and bad – they are almost always replaced by new companies, often started by immigrants.

Northrop-Grumman’s headquarters move to Virginia when the firm gets new owners and goes private, but Google’s headquarters in California expand. Nissan of America shifts its headquarters to Tennessee to be near its factory, and smaller firms move into its old building. Of course, if you listen to the companies, neither the Northrop-Grumman move nor Nissan’s had anything to do with supposedly onerous state regulations: the aircraft firm said it had to be closer to decision-makers in the Pentagon and Nissan wanted to consolidate at its assembly line.

But politicians, especially Republicans out to reduce capital gains taxes and eliminate environmental rules, have made business climate laments a replacement for the law-and-order theme they used so often in the 1970s and ‘80s. Remember the "elect Democrats and crime will rise" claim? Except crime fell. So the GOP had to find new themes, and the most common of the last 10 years is that Democrats kill jobs.

Oops. Unemployment skyrocketed under Schwarzenegger. Still, Republicans often say they’re trying to rescue California from liberal Democratic rule and its consequences, forgetting that Republicans have been governors of this state in 27 of the last 40 years. Each appointed more than 2,500 persons to run California’s agencies and regulatory commissions. Which means most California regulations were set by Republicans, even if the Legislature has usually been dominated by Democrats.

That doesn’t stop Whitman from repeating the same lines and going to the same places as the last few Republican candidates before her.

“Our goal will be to not let a single corporate headquarters move to another state and to compete for every job,” Whitman said at Function Drinks. “We will streamline regulations and compete with other states.” Schwarzenegger promised exactly the same things – and signed the AB32 anti-greenhouse gas law that is now a GOP whipping boy.

And much like Schwarzenegger, who promised to cut the vehicle license tax and did (costing the state $4.5 billion per year over the last seven years, more than enough to cover all of the most recent projected state deficit), Whitman pledges to eliminate the state capital gains tax.

Something elsesimilar: Schwarzenegger won big campaigndollars from car dealers for hispromise. Whitmanwon the endorsement of the Los Angeles police union in exchangefor her promise to exempt cops from most pension reforms. That's what led to theinfamous "whore"remark froman aide to Democratic rival JerryBrown.

While Schwarzenegger had the power to cut the car tax unilaterally (after which car sales dropped, counter to his promise), Whitman can’t dump the capital gains tax on her own. Brown claims doing so would cost the state $5 billion per year, “and where are we going to find that kind of money?” Legislators also know this, so don’t expect this campaign promise to be fulfilled anytime soon if she wins.

Even in the friendly corporate environments she, like Schwarzenegger, seeks out, all has not always been smooth for Whitman. Take the day she went to the San Francisco headquarters of the Internet user-review site Yelp only to be confronted by a young employee who pointed out that her platform is almost identical to what didn’t work for Schwarzenegger.

It adds up to déjà vu on the campaign trail, little more than a rerun, with the major difference being that when Whitman blasts the business climate, she’s complaining about a fellow Republican who said exactly the same things while getting rid of a Democratic governor.

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




No one can doubt the low opinion most Californians have about the politicians they send to Sacramento. Favorable ratings for legislators in most polls run barely over 30 percent.

So it’s no surprise that some of those same surveys now show Proposition 22 with an excellent chance of passage next month.

The ballot title pretty much sums up what this initiative would do: “Prohibits the state from taking funds used for transportation or local government projects and services.”

The state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst reports that Proposition 22 would place “significant restraints on state authority over city, county, special district and redevelopment agency funds…higher and more stable local resources…reductions in state resources results in major decreases in state spending…”

In short, pass this measure and state legislators could no longer switch local redevelopment agency funds over to help fund public schools. Pass it and state government would not be able to some portions of local property taxes to pay for prisons and parks, pumping water and much more.

If this proposal had been law this month, when legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally agreed on a new budget, that budget would have been more than $1 billion smaller. Half that shortfall would have involved payments on past transportation and highway bonds, for which Proposition 22 would forbid using gasoline tax revenue.

Wait a minute: No using gas taxes to pay for highway improvements? But highway maintenance is what the gas tax has been about since the early years of the last century.

Here’s the simple reality: If voters pass this measure, they will tie state legislators’s hands in completely unprecedented ways. But don’t expect those lawmakers to sit still and accept it. Nope, chances are they will simply shove some functions the state now fulfills down to the local level.

If prison funds have to be cut, that won’t necessarily mean convicts go free. Rather, some types of criminals will be confined in county jails rather than state prisons. It’s also entirely possible some state parks could be turned over to counties.

“We need to push a lot of decisions down from the state level to the local governments,” says Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor. Well, pass this proposition, and that will happen even faster than Brown plans. Whether he wins election next month or not.

For sure, passing this proposition would put a serious crimp in the kind of gimmickry Schwarzenegger has often used to balance budgets. There would be no more “borrowing” from gasoline tax funds to bridge cash flow crises. There would be no more “stealing” from local governments.

But all this involves some serious decision-making by voters. Is it more important to let local officials, some of whom have lately been shown to pay themselves and their cronies absurdly high salaries, use property tax dollars for purchasing land they claim is blighted and then developing it? Or would it be better to let that money keep flowing to schools and other services, where the Legislature has often put it in recent years?

Is it better to build new offices and stores and apartments or to keep class sizes down?

Is it better to give primary responsibility for funding public safety, welfare and health services to city councils and county boards, or is it better to keep a lot of the decision-making at the state level?

These kinds of questions make the lineups of Proposition 22’s supporters and opponents pretty predictable. The League of California Cities (think mayors and city councils) and the California Transit Association are for it. They want more money in local hands.

The California Teachers Association, the California Nurses Association and the California Professional Firefighters, all public employee unions, are against. They want decisions to be made by state lawmakers over whom they wield considerable influence.

For sure, those legislators have often raided local government coffers to balance state budgets, which has sometimes hurt local road repairs and other services. For sure, legislators exploit every legal loophole they can find in order to take money and use it as they please.

But depriving them of some of that authority might force cuts in public schools – unless city councils decide to switch over some of the cash they’d save. Some cities already help fund schools, others don’t. Those differences would likely become more extreme under Proposition 22, with the “have” school districts outperforming “have-nots” even more than they do now.

That makes this a serious decision, one whose results will be felt for many years to come. Which is why it behooves voters to pay far more attention to this proposition than they have so far.

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010




Hope springs eternal in the hearts not just of people, but political parties, and the hope of both California Democrats and Republicans today is that voters in the other party will desert, or at least not vote.

Almost every election season gives cause for such hopes, which rarely emerge into reality. This year, Republicans fervently hope the fact that Democrat Jerry Brown over the summer ran the state’s equivalent of a Rose Garden campaign for governor will cause many Democrats to leave the party and switch to GOP nominee Meg Whitman.

Democrats, meanwhile, have no expectation that many Republicans will ever vote Democratic. But they always hope a lot of Republicans stay home, dissatisfied with the ideological or moral purity of their party’s candidate.

Even before Whitman's problems with an illegalimmigrant housekeeper arose, those Democratic wishes were fueled this year by the unhappiness of the GOP's right wing over what conservatives see as Whitman’s waffling over both illegal immigrant and climate change. First she was for suspending the state’s landmark 2006 law aiming to limit greenhouse gas production; now she says she'll vote against Proposition 23, which would do just that. First she was absolutely for Arizona’s attempt to crack down on illegal immigrants, then her Spanish-language TV ads softened the stance. And then the housekeeper flap arose.

One former leader of the state GOP’s most conservative element, the California Republican Assembly, scoffs at the Democratic hopes. “The CRA is committed to winning this election,” said Stephen Frank, now a campaign strategist and blogger. “We will be very active and we will work to elect Republicans.”

But he adds that he expects a very low November voter turnout. “A large number of both Republicans and Democrats are so upset with the whole political situation they just won’t vote.” Plainly, Frank and other Republicans hope there will be more disaffected Democrats.

"I think progressives are upset with Obama over Guantanamo Bay, over the war in Afghanistan, over a lot of things and they don’t see Jerry Brown as their leader,” Frank said. “He has not spoken up at all.”

One reason for that may be that Brown is up against a free-spending billionaire in Whitman, who set a national record for personal political spending even before the campaign entered its final months.

This also may explain why Brown hasn’t done much to help other Democratic candidates for statewide offices, suggests Bob Mulholland, longtime state Democratic Party operative and now co-head of a new private campaign group called CEO Watch, which regularly takes potshots at ex-CEO’s Whitman (eBay) and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard).

“If I had a billionaire running against me, I’d be focusing on my own race, too,” said Mulholland. “Brown knows and so do the others on the ticket that the better he does, the better they all do.”

Mulholland notes that Democrats have upped their voter registration advantage over Republicans in California from 1.3 million in 2006 to 2.3 million today, much of the increase produced by young voters’ fervor for Barack Obama in 2008.

“Yes, the Republicans will have a higher percentage turnout than we do,” Mulholland said. “Yes, there will always be some Democrats who vote Republican, but that’s nothing new. Still, about 90 percent of Democrats who vote will vote Democratic. That means the Republicans will need an awful lot of independent votes, and they won’t get them.”

Independents swung heavily to Obama in 2008, but they appeared for awhile to lean toward Whitman this year. Mulholland predicts that won’t last as Brown’s campaign ads become ever more frequent and voters focus more on the election.

“People want a president or a governor they know and trust,” he said. “When they look at CEOs like Whitman and Fiorina, they don’t have that feeling.”

The importance of the independent, or decline-to-state, voter became obvious over the summer and early fall, when polls showed support for both Whitman and Brown diminished from what it was during the spring primary election season.

Usually, when voters move into the undecided category after supporting one candidate, it’s a sign they will eventually go over to the other side. But no one quite knows what it means when the movement is occurring in both directions in approximately equal numbers.

In the end, the chief Republican hope is for a very low turnout, since that would reduce the number of independent voters needed to supplement Republicans in order to reach a majority. That may be one reason for the torrent of negative ads Whitman has aimed at Brown.

Democrats, meanwhile, believe they need only an average turnout to win, unless independents go Republican by a margin of nearly 2-1, which has never before happened. “We just have more voters in this state than they do,” says Mulholland, “and that’s why our candidates will win.”

But that advantage might not mean much if a lot of those voters sit on their hands.

Which is why this election, more than any other recent one, may hinge on turnout of Democratic voters. That, and where the many still-undecided independents finally land.

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




In many of her ubiquitous television spots and in almost every campaign appearance, Republican Meg Whitman hammers at the theme that Democratic challenger Jerry Brown is a fox who shouldn’t be let loose in the state government henhouse.

That’s the dominant theme among all her constant complaints about Brown, who signed off on expanding the negotiating rights of public employee labor unions during his previous stint as governor. She argues that Brown has been “bought and paid for” by unions which financed television ads on his behalf last summer, while he carefully husbanded his campaign cash.

Anyone who remembers the refusal of the state AFL-CIO labor federation to endorse Brown for reelection in 1978 or to let Brown speak at its picnic that year might wonder whether he really is a slavish stooge of organized labor. So might those who remember him imposing furloughs and pay cuts on Oakland city employees while mayor there in the early 2000s.

That, of course, doesn’t give pause to the Whitman advertising blitz, which also relies heavily on her record as CEO of the giant Internet auction house eBay. Whitman created tens of thousands of jobs there, her ads remind us. She took a small company and grew it into a very large one.

But some of what she did along the way raises fox-in-henhouse questions of her own.

It’s not merely that a woman who employed an illegal immigrant for nine years advocates sending state officers to check on others' employment of illegals.

Take the issue of sales taxes and the state budget. Whitman says she will solve state budget problems for good by firing 40,000 state workers and cutting other, unspecified state spending.

Never mind whether she could actually do these things, which many doubt.

It also turns out her company has been a major contributor to the state’s budget crunch. Which makes giving Whitman control of the state’s finances one of the ultimate fox-in-henhouse situations.

It has been law for many years that any business with a physical presence in California must collect sales taxes and pass them along for use by both state and local governments. Every store in the state does this. So do the Internet versions of multi-state businesses like Home Depot, Target and Costco.

But not eBay, headquartered in the Silicon Valley. And also not many of the independent California-based sellers who peddle goods from books to cars and collectibles via the eBay platform.

One reader of this column provided a list of more than 200 California-based eBay sellers he has patronized without being assessed a penny in sales tax. A random check of 20 sellers on that list proved the claim correct. And neither Whitman nor eBay’s current management denies that many sellers don’t pay.

Since no one outside eBay knows how many California-based sellers the firm has or how many of them are high-volume businesses, it’s hard to be precise about how much money California loses from this tax cheating each year. The state Board of Equalization, which collects sales taxes, has known about this form of tax evasion for more than 10 years. Some staffers there maintain the total lost to the state probably amounts to several billion dollars, enough to put a significant dent in the state’s budget shortfall.

But Whitman refused – and so does current management – to provide a list of eBay’s California sellers when the tax collectors requested it several times. This was not technically illegal, since the tax board had no way to force disclosure.

Still, there’s no doubt that Whitman’s action deprived the state of significant revenue to which it is entitled. Plus, her action put tens of thousands of brick-and-mortar store owners who do charge sales taxes at a major competitive disadvantage compared to their virtual-store competitors.

The fact that another major Internet selling conduit – – also refuses disclosure does not excuse eBay and Whitman.

Asked about this when the information emerged, Whitman’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Tucker Bounds, responded that “Tax collectors have a job to do that shouldn’t require sniffing through the private records of…eBay users.” But that’s obviously just what they need to do in order to collect what’s owed the state. And if Whitman can advocate sniffing through the employment records of businesses, why not their sales ledgers, too?

Whitman’s camp has never denied that she cooperated in and abetted this form of tax evasion. At the same time, she steadily challenges voters to “evaluate my entire record,” especially her time at eBay. This is part of that record.

In a way, it would be the ultimate fox-in-henhouse situation to put someone who prevented the state from collecting what it’s owed in charge of California’s finances.

Neither Whitman'shousekeeper problem nor the sales tax issue negates her charge that Brown might have conflicts of interests with the unions that are helping finance his campaign. But it does make her a person throwing stones from within her own glass house.

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 fourth edition. His email address is

Saturday, October 2, 2010




Every national poll shows the Republican Party is poised to make big gains this fall, perhaps even taking back control of both the House and Senate. Even here in California, where the movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only GOP candidate of the last 18 years to win a top-of-ticket race, Republican nominees for governor and the U.S. Senate are giving their Democratic opponents a tussle.

Nevertheless, Republican activists already have decided who to blame if they don’t make the gains they expect. No surprise here; it will be illegal immigrants, the same group many GOP candidates have spent much of this year blaming for problems in public schools, unemployment and just about every other American ailment.

About the only thing they haven’t tried to blame on illegals is Wall Street’s big trouble; illegals are simply too poor for anyone to believe they had anything to do with that one.

Starting in August, GOP blogs on the Internet began touting what one called “the Obama/Democrat secret plan to win in November. He will allow illegal aliens to vote, by ‘mistake.’”

Said blogger Steve Frank, a former president of the ultra-conservative California Republican Assembly, “Barack Obama has stopped the fence to keep illegal aliens out of this country. Barack has decided that no state should be allowed to enforce federal immigration laws by suing Arizona…the Obama administration is implementing a general amnesty that will allow the vast majority of illegal aliens to stay in the United States. The administration is apparently extending no prosecution of illegal voting by noncitizens…”

By coincidence, the same day Frank wrote that, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, reported 644 of the planned 650 miles of border fencing had been completed, the bulk of the work done under Obama’s administration. She said the other six miles would be finished by year’s end. So much for stopping the fence.

The claim that illegal immigrants vote a lot in American elections is an old one, and also unproven. Since 1996, when Orange County Democrat Loretta Sanchez won election to Congress by ousting conservative Republican Robert Dornan, the illegals-vote cry has gone up from the GOP every year or two. It has never been proven.

Dornan, for example, claimed massive voting by illegals cost him his job. The Republican majority that controlled the House of Representatives at the time investigated and could find no more than three dozen examples of non-citizens voting in that election, far from enough to have made any difference.

Most of those who did vote, the GOP-controlled investigation found, did it in the mistaken belief they were eligible.

Now Frank and other Republicans have seized on a summertime report that an illegal immigrant voted in Tennessee in 2004 and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of Napolitano’s department, will not use that fact to deny the man’s current citizenship application. There is no evidence this case has been repeated anywhere else or in significant quantities, but it is the root of the claim that Obama’s Justice Department won’t prosecute proven cases of voting fraud by illegals.

The conservative Heritage Foundation think tank also raises the possibility of massive voting by illegals, even though the alleged phenomenon has never been proven anywhere. Heritage claims as many as 3 percent of all registered voters may be illegals, citing a Government Accountability Office finding that 3 percent of those called for jury duty in one Florida congressional district in 2005 were not citizens. The GAO, however, did not ascertain the nationality of those non-citizens; if they were Cubans (then the most numerous immigrant group in Florida), odds are they were registered Republicans and not Democrats at all.

The charge of a massive amnesty stems from a recent memo from ICE chief John Morton ordering an end to deportation proceedings against immigrants who have already applied for and are about to obtain legal status, until their cases are decided. If an applicant is rejected, deportation proceedings would resume.

Morton says that will free up personnel and money to concentrate on what he calls “the worst of the worst.” But Frank and other Republicans call this a form of amnesty.

Said Napolitano, Morton’s boss and both a former U.S. attorney and ex-attorney general and governor of Arizona, “Like any prosecutor’s office, we have to set priorities.” She said she’s put border security and raids on employers of illegals at the top of her list. Under Obama, she reported, 2,785 employers suspected of illegally hiring non-citizens have been audited and $6.4 million in fines assessed, more audits and fine money in two years than during the eight years of the Bush administration.

That doesn’t sound much like a general amnesty, but Republicans say the entire picture will lead to a large illegal immigrant vote in November.

The bottom line: It’s never happened before and it almost certainly will not happen this fall. But that won’t keep Republicans from blaming illegals for any, and maybe all, defeats they suffer.
Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




From now until Election Day, you can count on messages from opponents of Proposition 25 to tell you over and over that this ballot initiative is something far more pernicious than what it says it is.

What it says it is: A measure to reduce the vote needed to pass a state budget from today’s two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature to simple majorities in both places.

What opponents say it is: A plot to weaken the requirement for a two-thirds majority in both houses in order to pass any tax increase.

It can often be illuminating for voters to examine the actual text of a measure when evaluating competing claims about it. This is one of those times.

So here’s what Proposition 25 says, in its Section 3: “This measure will not change Proposition 13’s property tax limitations in any way. This measure will not change the two-thirds requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.”

Then, in Section 4, it adds, that “Nothwithstading any other provision of law…the budget bill and other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill may be passed in each house by roll call vote…, a majority of the membership concurring…”

Opponents are fixating on that passage in Section 4, saying it essentially contradicts the statement from earlier in the initiative.

Sacramento lawyer Steven Merksamer, once chief of staff for ex-Gov. George Deukmejian and now a lawyer and lobbyist usually representing conservative interests, insists the second paragraph completely supercedes the initial statement of the Proposition 25’s purpose.

He and others claim that if tax increases are included in a budget bill they could be passed by a simple majority right along with the spending provisions every budget contains.

Wrote Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which fights anything it believes might make taxes easier to increase, Proposition 25 “would make it easier to circumvent Proposition 13’s requirement of a two-thirds vote to increase state taxes.”

Coupal sees the initiative and the impasse that reigned in Sacramento for months after the June 30 deadline for a new budget to take effect as two parts of a longtime plot by Democratic legislators to get rid of the two-thirds-vote requirement for taxes.

Democrats, meanwhile, say this measure is about only one thing, and that is getting budgets passed quickly. They contend that if they tried to sneak new taxes into any majority-vote budget, they would immediately be dragged into court and defeated.

The state’s non-partisan legislative analyst’s overview of Proposition 25 appears to back the Democrats’ view. That analysis notes that since the measure’s own statement of purpose and the ballot description written by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown both say it would preserve the two-thirds barrier to new taxes, courts would have no choice but to nix any tax passed on a majority vote, even if it were included in a budget bill.

But there’s one claim by the opponents that is indisputably valid: They say simple majority budget votes would remove the veto power the Legislature’s minority party now can exercise in debates about spending priorities. That’s the way it works in 47 other states. Only Arkansas and tiny Rhode Island now join California in requiring two-thirds budget votes.

As things are now, the minority Republicans possess a few votes more than the one-third they need to stop passage of any budget. But Democrats have large majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate. So they could pass any spending plan they liked if it only took a simple majority.

In fact, they’d have to do that to avoid the freeze on legislative salaries and expense payments that Proposition 25 would impose during any time period between the legal deadline for passage and the actual date a budget was approved.

But the Democrats still might find themselves stymied by that old two-thirds bugaboo. For Proposition 25 does nothing to the longstanding requirement for a balanced budget, and if Democrats were to go on a spending binge after approval of majority votes for budgets, they would have to look somewhere for revenue to fund it.

Yes, legislators at times have tried to put the “fee” label on things that normal people consider to be taxes. But if the majority tried that too obviously and too often and in too large an amount, that also would end up in court and most likely be overturned.

So it's for sure that the majority vote would decrease the influence of the minority party, right now the Republicans. But no, it would not give the majority a totally free hand. And it might just speed things up and avoid the seemingly annual ritual of the state controller issuing warrants, or IOUs, to cover state debt.

Which means this is one proposition that ought to pass, regardless of any twisted interpretations its opponents try to attach to it.

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