Thursday, January 27, 2011




While almost all California’s political attention this winter is focused on the state’s seemingly never-ending budget crisis and the severe cuts it will cause in most government programs, few have been heeding an ongoing catastrophe with even greater long-term implications – the school dropout problem.

For years, it’s been accurate to counsel high school students that about one-third of the faces they see on the first day of their freshman year will be nowhere in sight on Graduation Day four years later.

It’s a dropout crisis of huge proportions, partially fed by illegal immigration, particularly from Mexico, which sees hundreds of thousands of pupils dumped into California public schools each year after getting little or no preparation in their home country.

No less an authority than Jorge Casteneda, a former foreign minister of Mexico, co-authored a recent essay saying “Mexican education is bad in every sense,” and adding that the academic performance of Mexican youngsters arriving in America “is inferior not just to their Anglo or Asian-American peers, but also to their Salvadoran, Guatamalan and Filipino peers.”

It’s part of what new state Schools Supt. Tom Torlakson calls a state of emergency in California schools. “There’s simply no other way to describe it, this is an emergency.”

Some aspects of the emergency Torlakson notes: 58 percent of school districts have cut instructional materials like textbooks. 35 percent have increased class sizes in the last year. 35 percent have reduced teaching staffs. 48 percent have cut nurses, counselors and psychologists. 50 percent have cut employee pay.

Torlakson’s listing decries the $18 billion in budget cuts imposed on public schools over the last three years of ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure, which ended in early January. But he says nothing much about dropouts, which ex-state Supt. Jack O’Connell in December put at about 22 percent of those who enter high schools. This figure was an official improvement from last year, which O’Connell attributed to a new data system allowing the state to track students better when they move from district to district. Students no longer simply disappear when their parents relocate, as the average California family does once every seven years.

But the 22 percent figure, based only on high school enrollments, leaves out another key phenomenon that probably brings the overall dropout numbers closer to 35 percent than the lower figure school officials now purvey: middle school dropouts.

Alan Bonsteel, a physician and school choice advocate who was first to point out the severity of the high school dropout problem early in the last decade, now estimates at least 15 percent of all students leave school before ever reaching 9th grade.

“This means,” he recently wrote, “that in a typical school district with even the state-reported 22 percent dropout rate for high school students, the real dropout rate, including students who flee sixth, seventh and eighth grades, is 34.5 percent.”

It means that despite the state’s new tracking system, the actual dropout rate is just about what it was 10 years ago, when educators first became aware of its scope.

Part of the problem, of course, is that many immigrant children arrive with skills behind their peers, become frustrated and leave, some joining gangs. But most of this problem is probably not related to immigration. For example, even the most recent state-reported figures show 37 percent of all African Americans who started high school in 2006 had dropped out by last June.

Bonsteel maintains absolute school choice is the answer to this problem. But the rise of charter schools and the proliferation of private schools over the past few years has created more school choice than California ever knew. Yet, dropout figures did not change much.

No one has yet offered a definitive solution to this scene, which amounts to a full-fledged catastrophe. Tracking students as they move from district to district has cut the numbers a bit, but cannot mask the severity of the problem.

The answer must come from within each district, as schools will have to offer both remedial classes for immigrant children needing to catch up and more stimulating curriculum to keep kids from leaving out of boredom or frustration.

One positive sign: No new budget plan now under consideration proposes more cuts to elementary, middle and high schools.

So there’s hope dropouts have at least stabilized. But just maintaining today’s sad situation isn’t good enough. This problem will only be solved by innovative thinking, new offerings, involved parents and quality teaching that combine to keep children interested and wanting to get the education they now need more than ever.

Failure will mean establishment of a permanent underclass of uneducated citizens unqualified for the ever more sophisticated job market.

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




There’s no doubt about it: the one element of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget producing the most protest and the quickest action so far is his plan to eliminate local redevelopment agencies (RDAs).

Within days of Brown’s early-January fiscal announcement, RDAs all over the state rebelled in what amounts to a sharp clash of values, moving to place billions of dollars beyond the reach of state government, even if voters should approve a measure aiming to kill the agencies and move some of their money into desperately needy state coffers.

RDAs, their advocates maintain, are job-creating engines, producing or sustaining more than 300,000 jobs each year. They are the primary engine by which California cities have modernized themselves for almost 60 years, replacing blighted urban cores with everything from new city halls to stadiums, hotels, tourism-friendly “old town” districts, police stations, low-cost housing and shopping malls. Sales taxes produced in the new developments provide significant parts of many city budgets.

Critics, meanwhile, have long called RDAs vehicles for bias, cronyism and sweetheart deals of many varieties.

Essentially, the RDAs want things as they’ve long been, with all their money used locally for whatever projects they like. That’s what makes this a conflict of fundamental attitudes, casting what some see as the greater good against local interests. Buildings and business vs. vaccinating poor children. Students vs. stadiums. Statewide interests vs. local. And more.

What are these agencies, whose names can look to many voters like no more than bureaucratic alphabet soup?

For one thing, most RDAs are not really independent at all, their boards usually the same people who make up city councils. In many cities, council meetings are often adjourned only to have the identical individuals reconvene moments later as RDA boards.

These agencies possess the power to declare vast swaths of land “blighted,” a term with different meanings to different people. Once an area is designated as blighted, the RDA can buy up property and buildings there, then resell them to developers who put up modern new structures. That, for one prominent example, is how land was cleared in downtown Los Angeles for the Staples Center sports arena and the LA Live entertainment and shopping complex, site of the Grammy awards.

These deals usually have been funded by bonds. The difference in the property tax collected on new buildings over what was paid on the old ones lately amounts to more than $5 billion a year statewide. Most of that money – known as a tax increment – goes to pay off the bonds, with much of the rest used on new land deals in what has become a perpetual cycle. Brown wants $1.7 billion of that money for state coffers, where it would pay for things like parks, adult day care and keeping college tuition at or near current levels.

RDAs in some cities have been accused of using the “blighted” tag to get rid of homeless enclaves and other populations unwanted by wealthier citizens of the same locales. Because RDAs have a lot of leeway, prices they pay for property sometimes can be well above market values, an incentive for owners to sell without a fight.

All in all, these agencies have been a major vehicle for local politicians to promote business in their cities and decide who benefits.

That would end under Brown’s plan.

RDA advocates point out that since the agencies were authorized by a ballot measure, it would probably take another one to end them.

Many RDAs wanted to take no chances once they landed on the Brown hit list. In Long Beach, for one, city council members voted to commit $1.2 billion in current and future RDA money to local projects – some not even specified – just to keep it out of state hands. The money would be spent over the next 10 years.

The Los Angeles Community RDA similarly plans to put away $930 million for use over the next five years. RDAs from Grass Valley to Palm Springs made similar fast moves.

No one is quite sure these actions will hold up if the RDAs are eliminated. But Brown was clearly not pleased, expressing hope that cities were not “planning on squirreling money away for the indefinite future when our schools, police and firefighters are in need of this funding.” Not to mention park rangers, road builders, community colleges and needy children, all down for big reductions in Brown’s proposed budget.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer called the RDA moves “provocative acts of gamesmanship.”

They may be that, but they also reflect a deep conflict between overall state interests and local priorities. This deep division will most likely have to be decided by the voters via one or more ballot propositions, as there are few signs of give by either the governor or the local elected officials running RDAs.

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




When all its candidates for statewide office lost in last fall’s election, most by large margins, it was easy to presume that the California Republican Party was left with no “bench,” no corps of promising potential future candidates from which to draw in future votes.

But the conventional wisdom may be wrong on this count, as it often is. For California’s political system is in for a major shakeup in the next two years. That’s partly because the new congressional and legislative district lines to be drawn by a citizens commission are likely to throw many current officeholders into new and competitive districts, often with two or three incumbents forced to compete against each other.

This, of course, could force some existing members of Congress to seek other offices – like the statewide ones swept this year by Democrats. But the open primary system that’s scheduled to debut next year could have even larger implications in those same statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, controller, insurance commissioner and treasurer.

The new system will let all voters opt for anyone they like in primaries, meaning Democrats can cast ballots for Republicans if there is no serious contest in their own party’s race – as when Gov. Jerry Brown ran last spring – and Republicans can vote for Democrats. Party registration may not mean so much anymore, even in fall runoff elections, for study after study has shown that when people vote for a candidate once, they are comfortable doing it again and again. So Democrats who vote for a Republican in the spring might well vote Republican in the fall, too. And vice versa.

This bodes extremely well for two Republicans who lost last year: Steve Poizner and Abel Maldonado. Maldonado, appointed lieutenant governor last spring by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, never even would have made the ballot if he’d had to run in a Republican primary. The few other GOP legislators who, like him, voted for a 2009 budget compromise with Democrats, became anathema to their party and were defeated or had extremely close calls in their primary contests.

Poizner, a billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur who spent 25 million of his own dollars seeking the GOP nomination for governor a year ago, only to be outspent 3-1 by fellow billionaire Meg Whitman, would have run very differently had he not faced a partisan primary.

Rather than run to the right, as he did by taking a firm stands against any sort of immigration amnesty and opposing measures aiming to mitigate global warming, Poizner in an open primary could have been the moderate Republican he always was before, both as a state Assembly candidate in 2004 and as insurance commissioner the last four years.

Meanwhile,Maldonado may be his party’s best hope for denting the huge Latino majorities that have provided the Democrats their winning margins in every top-of-ticket race of the last 17 years that didn’t involve a movie star. He’s actively urging the party to abandon its firm stance against any kind of immigration amnesty, pointing out that it makes no sense to antagonize the fastest growing voting bloc in the state and nation. And his Latino heritage could draw a lot of Democratic crossover votes next time he runs for something – which he will surely do.

Poizner, meanwhile, talks openly about future political involvement. “I am actively looking for ways to help California get back on track,” he says. “I could run for the U.S. Senate next year, but only if (Democrat) Dianne Feinstein doesn’t. But I’m more comfortable in a situation where I can run something, like I did in the insurance department.”

Poizner ran that office in as consumerist way as most Democrats would have. He spurred rate reductions from companies like Allstate and AAA, and he created the new “pay-as-you-drive” car insurance system where some companies now let drivers pay less if they drive less. “That’s a way to save people money and to accomplish something for the environment by getting a lot of drivers off the road and onto public transportation,” he said.

Poizner is one who hopes the next crop of major GOP hopefuls doesn’t include many self-funded super-wealthy candidates. “People that are successful in business don’t naturally make the transition to politics, where so much is public and you can’t be autocratic,” he said.

That's why he sought lower offices before running for governor. “I’m now a much more seasoned politician, well aware that everything you’ve ever said or done can be used against you,” he said.

The bottom line: California Republicans are not bereft of quality potential candidates for the state’s top offices, and the new open primary might also push the party toward moderation. Which could at least give it a chance in this state where registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

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




Special interests have seemingly been crying from every rooftop in California from the moment Gov. Jerry Brown issued his first proposed state budget days after taking the oath of office.

They’ve all had the same message in response to the bitter medicine Brown dispensed: “We are special, we provide such a valuable service that our budgets and our staff simply can’t be cut without doing irreparable damage.”

The bleating came as no surprise to Brown or his top advisers. At one pre-inaugural budget meeting, Brown warned all present to “fasten your seat belts.” His top advisor and campaign manager, Steve Glazer, predicted that Brown’s honeymoon would end the day the proposed budget appeared and that “people will be screaming on every street corner.”

They are. For among major spending areas in the state budget, this plan spares only elementary and high school education. Schools shouldn’t be cut, Brown said, because they’ve suffered so many reductions in the past three years.

Some samples of the first complaints voiced:

-- Eliminating local redevelopment agencies, said the executive

director of the California Redevelopment Association, John Shirey, “…is more smoke and mirrors that will…cause widespread economic pain in communities throughout California…It makes no sense to kill this economic engine.”

-- “This budget is a death warrant for California AIDS patients,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “(It) seems like it is intended to push vulnerable Californians with very little income off life-saving treatment…it could also jeopardize the greater public health in California.”

-- “These proposals will result in more than 120,000 children…losing access to health coverage,” said Peter Manzo, head of the United Ways of California. “Children will not get the preventive care they need to be healthy…taxpayers will carry a heavier burden as uninsured children receive more costly health care in emergency rooms.”

-- “Cutting the Adult Day Care Health program is completely nonsensical,” said Lydia Missaelides, executive director of the California Association for Adult Day Services. “Given that half the funding for ADHC comes from the federal government, this will cost the state more than it will save.”

Similar gripes came from the heads of the state’s public

universities, construction workers unions and many more. Almost all these interests and their backers supported Brown last fall, but he’s plainly not playing favorites.

The truth is that virtually all the cut programs have value. But money to give them the funding they’ve had in recent years is not in hand or in prospect, and there will be even less if Republicans and tax protestors manage to block the special election Brown seeks to call in order to ask the public to okay extensions on about $8.5 billion per year in temporary taxes due to expire July 1.

Reality is that if the governor and the Legislature heed any of the interest groups now complaining, they’ll simply have to take money from some other valued program to make up for it, which would amount to a shell game.

Brown knew before he even ran for office that he’d get most of the blame for this budget, when it’s plainly not his fault. All he’s done is set priorities for distributing a much-reduced pot of state money. If legislators don’t like those priorities, they’ll make changes.

In fact, there are plenty of other places to distribute blame. The last two former governors borrowed and used gimmickry for the last nine years to push their immediate budget problems into the future, and that future has arrived. On his first day in office, ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the vehicle license tax by more than $4 billion per year to please the car dealers who helped finance his election, costing the state $28 billion so far – enough money to avoid any of the cuts now proposed.

Voters approved myriad bond issues for everything from hospitals to veterans benefits to parkland and, yes, budget balancing. It was a lot like individuals who see something they like at the mall and whip out a credit card without remembering they’ll have to pay it off sometime. Now the interest on that debt costs more than $5 billion a year

Which leaves Californians in a terrible dilemma, especially if they are among the several million affected by unemployment or home foreclosures: They’ll either have to accept even more severe cuts than those proposed or go along with a painful tax extension. Bitter medicine indeed, but Brown appears to have few choices other than to confront voters with the hard facts and their unpleasant consequences.

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

Saturday, January 15, 2011




No California governor serving his last few days in office has ever been more concerned about his legacy than was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Perhaps this was because unlike Ronald Reagan or Pat Brown or Pete Wilson in their last days, he has few possibilities for future elected office.

Yes, he could conceivably run for the U.S. Senate against Dianne Feinstein next year, but she’s a far more formidable candidate than the state’s other senator, Barbara Boxer, so if Schwarzenegger saw the Senate in his future, he would have gone after Boxer last year.

Right up until his last day, Schwarzenegger’s bloated press operation was sending out long encomiums to his achievements in office, principally on the environmental front, where he first watered down the landmark 2006 AB32 climate change bill and then trumpeted what was left of it as his signal achievement.

But the former governor’s last few days in office did not reinforce any environmental achievements he may have had. Rather, they called new attention to his consistent pattern of favoring the biggest contributors to his campaign accounts.

That pattern began on his first day in office, when he rolled back a previous increase in the vehicle license tax, an action that greatly pleased the car dealers who helped bankroll his 2003 recall election candidacy, but has cost the state more than $4 billion per year since – an amount that by now totals the same as the entire projected state deficit of about $28 billion.

Other actions favored developers, casino Indian tribes, oil and chemical companies and many other big-money contributors. Sure, Schwarzenegger spent some of his own money on his causes, but others plunked down far more and they were well rewarded.

It was just the kind of behavior that led to the recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, but Schwarzenegger did it with far more panache, so he never paid a price for it.

But the pure hypocrisy of Schwarzenegger’s actions in his last few days stood out in bas relief because of its timing and volume.

Most roundly condemned has been the commutation of the prison sentence of Esteban Nunez, convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of a San Diego State University student in 2008 and sentenced to 16 years. Nunez, the son of former Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who often seemed like Schwarzenegger’s lapdog as they hobnobbed around the state, bragged to friends and co-criminals that his daddy would get them off. The younger Nunez had already caught a break when he was charged with manslaughter and not murder.

But Schwarzenegger went the generous prosecutors responsible for that charge one better on his final day as governor, reducing the sentence for the son of his sycophant to seven years. Seven years for helping snuff out the life of a fellow college student. They may be angry about this, but the family of the victim and the prosecutors can do nothing about it.

It was an act of cronyism and hypocrisy from a man who blasted political favoritism when he ran for office and constantly tried to portray himself as a supporter of tough law enforcement.

Equally hypocritical and reeking of cronyism were some of his last-minute appointments. Remember, this was a governor who promised to “blow up boxes” and tried to get rid of numerous boards and commissions he thought redundant and wasteful.

He failed to eliminate most, and among his final acts as a “public servant” were a score of appointments of friends and aides to high-paying jobs on those same boards. His longtime chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, was appointed to a new commission that will negotiate health insurance rates. Her “wife,” Vicki Marti, received two plum appointments with salaries totaling $168,000. The interior decorator wife of another ex-aide, Kari Miner, will get $128,109 per year as a member of the Public Employee Relations Board, a board with little useful purpose.

Schwarzenegger also handed out political rewards to lawmakers who did his bidding and then were either termed-out or simply gave up in the face of determined opposition. Former Republican state Sens. Dennis Hollingsworth and Roy Ashburn will join the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board at $128,000 per year, and ex-Republican Assemblyman Anthony Adams will get $111,000 as a member of the state parole board. Previously, the ex-governor placed ex-Democratic state Sen. Carole Migden in a $132,000 post on the Integrated Waste Management Board.

All provided key votes for Schwarzenegger at times when he badly needed them.

Some of the appointments were nothing unusual. Democrats who run the Legislature have often appointed departed colleagues to state sinecures. So has every past governor.

But none of them appointed staffers and their relatives. And none of them inveighed loudly, as Schwarzenegger often did, against that practice and the very boards and commissions to which he later appointed his pals.

It adds up to a legacy of shame and hypocrisy, which comes as no surprise to anyone who ever noted the ex-governor’s long record of false promises and favoritism.


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





California has seen Jerry Brown the Roman Catholic seminarian and Jerry Brown the experimenter with Zen Buddhism and Jerry Brown the visionary (remember “small is beautiful” and the “era of limits?”). There have also been Jerry Brown the tough lawman and Jerry Brown the skilled political mechanic.

Now it’s time for Jerry Brown, salesman. If he’s not effective in that new role, millions of Californians will likely feel strong and unpleasant effects, even if they don’t believe it now. Before June, the governor must convince millions that a threat is both real and imminent, or else he’ll have to scrub his plan for pulling the state out of its seemingly perpetual budget morass.

That plan involves bunches of serious cuts to programs Californians love to use, from state parks to road building, home care to public health and education.

It also includes keeping active about $8.3 billion worth of “temporary” taxes passed by legislators two years ago. Keeping those taxes would slice the projected budget deficit from $28 billion over the next 18 months to less than $20 billion. The lower figure would still require major cuts to almost everything the state does.

It’s not an attractive product for anyone to sell, especially to voters who two years ago nixed extending these and other temporary tax hikes. They said no then because they didn’t really believe ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pitch, which was essentially the same as Brown’s is today: tax yourselves or you’ll lose things that are precious to you.

Voters figured other ways would turn up for solving the state’s deficit, and they did, for awhile. Things like taking money from local redevelopment agencies and pushing some payments into future years. But those gimmicks are no longer available, causing Brown to remark that “We’ve been living in fantasy land. It is much worse than I thought.”

Those remarks came as Brown began selling his plan last fall in two budget “summits” and his somber inaugural speech, where he described the scope of the mess he’s inherited without spelling out his solution. Now he’s done that, and the real sales job begins.

Partly because of his long experience and the fact that voters have been skeptical of him before, Brown knows a lot of Californians think the entire deficit is caused by a combination of illegal immigration and government waste and excess. These suspicions were no doubt furthered in late December, when 36 of the University of California’s highest-paid officials threatened to sue unless UC agrees to increase retirement benefits for them and other employees earning more than $245,000 per year.

(Question: How can these folks, including vice chancellors and deans of UC campuses, business, medical and law schools, plus department chairs and medical center CEOs, be smart enough to run the state’s elite public university when they’re so tone-deaf they can’t understand their move will alienate millions of ordinary Californians?)

There’s also the “free lunch” ethos prevalent in California for decades, in which voters believe that no matter how much they cut taxes, no matter how many new taxes they reject, state government will always somehow find enough money to continue all services.

That, of course, is fantasy, and Brown says he’s determined to substitute honesty for fantasy. “At this stage of my life, I did not come here to engage in delay and denial,” he said both immediately after his election and in his inaugural speech.

Brown concedes there’s waste, and pledged in his inaugural to “get after it” right away. But he said in one of his budget meetings that “it’s nowhere near on (the needed) scale.” And there are studies indicating illegal immigrants are a break-even proposition, paying enough sales, gasoline and other taxes to cover costs they generate. So going after those two areas won’t solve the problem. Not even close.

Which means Brown must change the beliefs and tendencies of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of voters if he’s to stave off defeat for whatever special election tax proposition he runs.

Can he do it?

Schwarzenegger failed abjectly when he tried the same thing two years ago, and he had been a masterful pitchman for years previous. But Schwarzenegger – after promising to “blow up boxes” and eliminate waste – proved to be a master of hypocrisy and budgetary gimmickry, most of his threats turning out to be mere bluster.

Brown so far appears the very opposite. Maybe good salesmanship this year will have to involve his kind of simplicity. If Brown can’t pull it off, all Californians will find out just how draconian the cuts will be in the budgetary Plan B he’s vowed to carry out if voters refuse to extend the temporary taxes. For he knows there really is no free lunch.


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

Friday, January 7, 2011




As California’s smog-fighting Air Resources Board gets set to impose America’s first cap-and-trade rules for fighting the greenhouse gases most scientists believe are helping cause global warming and climate change, it is also considering imposing a “truth” rule on everyone who testifies in its hearings or submits reports to it.

For some, that appears a bit ironic right now, as the board has just scaled back diesel particulate pollution regulations that were based on a report whose lead author turned out to have falsified his academic credentials. Before the changes, those regulations had already cost truckers and operators of industrial machinery big money as they struggled to clean up their engines.

Did the Air Board fire the resume-inflating scientist, Hien T. Tran, whose “doctorate” turned out to come from an outfit based in a New York City post office box? Nope, he was merely demoted, and still works on matters that can lead to new emissions restrictions. So the smog board opted to keep a documented liar on its staff and now it’s concerned with getting the truth from others.

In fact, the “truth” rule is only in its workshop phase, meaning it will be some time before the ARB could possibly impose it. But as proposed, it would forbid dishonest statements to the board or its staff. This would also apply to the reports many companies – including car makers and electric utilities – routinely make to the agency. No one has yet spelled out the penalties for lying.

Several federal boards and the state Public Utilities Commission already have “truth” rules with varying penalties for violators.

For sure, lying has long been commonplace in testimony before the ARB, from carmakers that denied they were developing electric or plug-in hybrid cars but rolled out prototypes two months later to gasoline refiners encouraging the smog board to adopt rules without disclosing they held the patents that anyone complying with the rule would need to infringe or license in order to comply.

The case cited most often by ARB officials involved Unocal, the oil company since subsumed by Conoco-Phillips, and a rule it proposed for making reformulated gasoline.

“When the ARB adopted the recommended path and other oil companies started dispensing the reformulated gas, Unocal then sued the other oil companies for patent infringement,” says an ARB background statement. “This sparked lots of litigation, including a Federal Trade Commission proceeding against Unocal.” For sure, Unocal deliberately set up a situation where it planned to profit from suing other oil companies, but was eventually stymied. The ARB says it was fooled because it doesn’t have sufficient staff to track every patent held by every company it regulates.

“People take advantage of the openings they get,” says Ellen Peter, the board’s chief counsel. “If they didn’t, we wouldn’t need a Securities and Exchange Commission or laws against perjury.”

She says carmakers and others “often omit key facts. They’ll tell us ‘This car gets a certain gas mileage,’ but they won’t mention its other flaws.”

But others say the proposed rule represents a double standard for an agency that essentially tolerated deception by one of its own officials when it declined to fire Tran, but only demoted him.

Then there are problems with the age-old question of what is truth? Some of these were outlined in a letter to the ARB from Michael Lewis, senior vice president of the statewide Construction Industry Air Quality Coalition, which includes builders, truckers and a variety of contractors.

“If a person makes a statement to the agency that they believe to be true, based on their experience, and that information cannot be proven to be true or it only becomes obviously true at a later date, are they subject to enforcement under this rule?” he asked. “Who determines the accuracy of a statement?”

All that is unclear, the ARB insists, saying the proposed rule is being floated merely because the board is taking on new responsibilities but not getting more staff, and thus will depend even more on the accuracy of the testimony and reports it gets.

“The real question is whether we should get a rule now that protects consumers and businesses,” said Peter. “We’ve gotten so many misstatements of fact that we felt we ought to explore this.”

The bottom line: The ARB can avoid the “double standard” accusations it is now hearing if it waits to adopt this rule until it has reestablished the reputation for complete veracity and integrity it enjoyed before the Tran affair and the flawed diesel rule linked to it. How long that might take is anyone’s guess.

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