Thursday, February 28, 2013




          Major politicians both nationally and in California are talking as if changes in America’s immigration system are now inevitable, including a guest worker program and “amnesty,” the code name for allowing some kind of pathway for illegal immigrants eventually to become U.S. citizens.

          Don’t bet the house on it. Especially don’t bet on the House going along.

          Yes, the tide of anti-illegal immigrant sentiment has waned considerably in the past year, as reported here. Yes, many Republican politicians are coming to realize their party might be doomed to perpetual minority status if it doesn’t appease Latino voters, who have taken out their anger at the GOP’s tough immigration stance by voting overwhelmingly for Democrats. Latinos are the nation’s fastest-growing voter bloc; they are also on pace to achieve population parity with Anglos in California by 2030.

          And yes, immigration amnesty, even with the very tough requirements in plans proposed by both President Obama and a bipartisan group of eight influential U.S. senators, is the most humane way to go.

          But Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada might have been prematurely optimistic when he said the other day that “Republicans can no longer stop this. They’ve tried it; it hasn’t worked.”

          Reid has not always been a good reader of tea leaves. He might be wrong again.

          To pass, any amnesty plan would need a significant number of votes from Republican members of Congress – and while some GOP politicians have broken lately from their party’s previously-solid anti-illegal immigrant stance, it’s yet to be determined how many might do it.

          One reason they might be reluctant: As with the Democrats, the majority of Republicans in the House hail from districts where their party is dominant. Most GOP representatives win reelection by consistent margins of 55-45 percent or more. The only time politicians in these solidly “red” districts usually lose is in primaries, where they can be attacked by more conservative candidates.

Despite an overall national sense that amnesty is appropriate for illegal immigrants who have worked here for many years, paid their back taxes, paid a fine and not committed any crimes (evidenced in several major polls over the last three months and the essence of both President Obama’s plan and that of the Senate group), that feeling still does not prevail in the more conservative precincts whence most Republicans in Congress hail.

          Listen to Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for the anti-illegal immigrant group NumbersUSA: “If the Senate were serious about reforming our failed immigration system, the first step of their plan would be immediate, mandatory use of E-Verify (the federal system under which employers can check the immigration status of new hires). Instead, the Senate gang’s proposal – Amnesty 2.0 – tries to out-amnesty Obama with meaningless enforcement measures, mass amnesty and increases in legal immigration, with taxpayers left to foot the bill.”

          Of the current proposals, Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, a longtime leading amnesty opponent, said: “If you legalize 11 million people, it is going to cost taxpayers when they become eligible for government benefits, it’s going to cost Americans their jobs when they have to compete with millions more people for scarce jobs. I don’t see much good here for Americans.”

          The great likelihood is that neither will the majority of voters in the most preponderantly Republican districts around the nation and that GOP congress members will hear about it in town halls they regularly hold. That happened in late February to Arizona Sen. John McCain, a recent Republican convert to the amnesty concept.

          What’s more, despite their seeming enthusiasm for immigration changes including a path to citizenship, many Democrats probably would not mind all that much if their Republican colleagues remained adamant against it.

          That’s because the longer the GOP holds out against the kind of changes outlined in both Obama’s plan and the Senate proposal, the more the Latino vote will solidify in the Democratic column. So there will be outward frowns from Democrats if immigration amnesty passes the Senate but gets stuck in the House, but inwardly many will be glad to have another albatross to hang around Republican necks.

          For Democrats everywhere well know how far the GOP has fallen in California and how tarnished the Republican brand has become among Latinos here since then-Gov. Pete Wilson campaigned in 1994 as a staunch foe of illegal immigrants.

          All of which makes this a key moment for Republicans. Voting for change would give them a shot at winning back at least some Latino votes, while voting no would allow many of them to please their local constituents but set back their party’s national chances potentially for decades to come.

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




          Gov. Jerry Brown has never described it quite this way, but the essence of what he wants to do with many of the new tax dollars from last fall’s Proposition 30 is finish the job begun in 1971 by the Serrano v. Priest decision of the California Supreme Court.

          “Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice,” Brown said as he proposed giving school districts with high concentrations of English-learners, subsidized-lunch students and foster children as much as $5,000 per year over several years for each such student they have, in addition to the “base grant” of $6,800 per year that schools get for every pupil.

          Brown’s observation was much like the reasoning of the Serrano decision, which ruled the former prevailing system of school finance a violation of the equal protection clause of the state Constitution. Because Serrano was based on the state Constitution, not the federal one, it has never been seriously challenged in federal appeals courts.

          In short, Serrano held that the fact wealthy school districts could spend more than poor ones on each of their pupils was flat-out unfair. At the time the case was filed on behalf of a student in the Baldwin Park School District in 1969, that district spent $577 per year to educate each of them, while Pasadena spent $840 and Beverly Hills $1,232. Those inequalities stemmed directly from differences in property values from district to district.

          A series of Serrano-related decisions through the 1970s saw the courts demand that disparities in official per-student spending be no more than $100 per year, later adjusted for inflation to $350.

          Of course, many wealthy districts raise millions of dollars each year via voluntary contributions from parents and other local citizens, something the state cannot prevent. So districts in places like Palo Alto, Palos Verdes, Beverly Hills and Hillsborough still get more than those in Trona, McFarland, Compton and Los Angeles.

          Now Brown wants to take things farther. Los Angeles, with a large majority of Latino students, would be one prime beneficiary of the governor’s proposal, getting more than a 17 percent boost next year over current funding, and that's just for the first year of the plan.

          Chances are that other districts bearing the brunt of educating California’s large corps of immigrant children, with whom English is often not spoken at home, will also get some new benefits.

          But just because Brown is a Democrat and his party now holds majorities of about two-thirds in both legislative houses does not mean he will get everything he wants.

          For educators in some of the state’s better-performing school districts are wary of too much equalization. They know what standardized test scores show: In spite of the fact that spending is much closer to equal today than before Serrano, the quality of instruction and course offerings is still far from consonant. In general, students from wealthier districts still do better on standardized tests and in life. This is partly a function of the differing degrees of parental wealth and interest in education from place to place.

          It’s almost certain that Republicans, who opposed the original Serrano decision even though it was written by then-Chief Justice Donald Wright, a Ronald Reagan appointee, will also object to Brown’s plan, which essentially aims to give children of immigrants – legal or not – the same opportunities for success as children of native born citizens.

          At the same time, there are plenty of suburban Democrats in both houses of the Legislature who represent well-heeled areas where voters have passed school construction bonds and where parents donate heavily to public schools.

          One is Joan Buchanan, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, who spent 18 years on the San Ramon Valley School Board in the East Bay area. Facilities expanded greatly during her time on that board, while the district moved into the top 5 percent in California academically.

          Buchanan, through whose committee Brown’s plan must pass, has so far not said much about it.

          It’s unlikely she or other Democrats, mindful of the strong Latino vote their party usually draws, would object to providing some more money to districts with a plethora of English learners. But to almost double the basic grant of $6,800 per student over the next five years? That might be another question.

          The likely outcome then, is that the final budget that reaches Brown’s desk this summer will include a boost in funding for each English-learner, foster child and subsidized lunch recipient. Just not as much as Brown proposed in January. Which may be what Brown – a skilled and veteran negotiator – actually figured on.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013




          It’s easy to see the four-day job-poaching foray into California just completed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry as an isolated incident. But it’s really just the latest skirmish in the economic war the Lone Star state has waged against California for more than a decade.

The energy crunch this state suffered through between 2000 and 2002 was the earliest episode in this conflict. One year-2000 scene in a waiting area of Houston’s Intercontinental Airport (now named for the first President George Bush) indicated the mindset behind it.

A crowd of youngish men milled around in expensive suits, mocking California as they awaited a Continental Airlines flight to Los Angeles. Many were employed by big energy trading companies like Enron and Dynegy (both now defunct in large part due to their illegal market manipulations).

Jokes rippled through the throng,  themed on how their companies were ripping off California “grandmas” for what would eventually amount to more than $10 billion in excessive electricity costs.

          The manipulations that so amused the yuppie Texans sent California reeling through an unprecedented crisis of rolling blackouts and escalating rates. A steady barrage of attacks on California’s reputation and economy has followed.

          Actual war was never declared, but then-Gov. Gray Davis publicly spoke of calling up the California National Guard to force the restart of power plants in this state that had been purchased and then temporarily shut down by energy trading firms.

          Charges abound about other Texas companies trying to gouge Californians: The Consumer Watchdog advocacy group has charged that Valero, for example, averages a 37 percent higher profit margin on every barrel of oil it produces in California than at its refineries elsewhere. Is that one reason gas costs more here than anywhere else in the Lower 48 states?

          Perry’s latest sortie in this warfare began with radio commercials in which he took some shots at California’s business climate.

          This won him enormous publicity here and back home, as he continues trying to recover from his goof-up presidential campaign of last year, when he quickly went from early favorite to early dropout in the race for the Republican nomination.

          Perry spent most of his time here trying to convince some businesses to move to Texas and away from this state, America’s largest market for most products.

          California Gov. Jerry Brown laughed off Perry’s effort, calling it “not a serious story…it’s not a burp, it’s barely a fart.” He mockingly invited Perry to try harder. “Everyone with half a brain is coming to California, home of Apple, Google, Hollywood studios,” he said, adding an invitation for Texans to “come on over.”

          But the Perry effort and the economic warfare of which it is part are not laughing matters. California consumers got back pennies on the dollars extorted by corrupt energy traders during the electricity crunch. Some California companies have relocated to or placed new plants in Texas, to the extent that Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom went there shortly after taking office in 2011 to see what Texas was doing.

          The bottom line turned out to be this: Texas and its cities offer companies big incentives to locate there, from subsidized land to years of tax exemptions. The state has lower taxes on corporations and individuals than California partly because of its oil and gas depletion levies, which make up for much revenue that otherwise would have to come from income tax. Meanwhile, Texas- and-Oklahoma-based oil operators like billionaire T. Boone Pickens fight fiercely against it every time California considers imposing a similar levy. California is now the only major oil producing state without such a tax.

          As in any war, there can be turncoats. A prominent one this time is Chuck DeVore, a former Republican California assemblyman who migrated to the Lone Star state and became vice president of policy for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

          DeVore now tries to spin negatives about Texas into positives – one example being the fact that his new state ranks last in percentage of adults with high school diplomas. He points out that California is third from last, but notes that the numbers in both states are pulled down by their vast populace of “the foreign born.”

          Then there are Texas state legislators who at Perry’s bidding authorized a study to find ways of enticing California businesses to their state, targeting California and no other state. Why only California, and not Oregon or New York or North Carolina?

          Real wars have begun between nations over far less than Texas has inflicted on California, so this is more than a mere joke. It’s time for Brown and the California Legislature to stop laughing and recognize Texas as an economic enemy whose denizens have schemed for more than a decade to harm this state and all its citizens.

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




          California could have three or more facilities receiving liquefied natural gas (LNG) today, but for massive popular resistance to the prices and possible dangers they might have brought. If those plants had been built, the phenomenon of fracking would mean something very different than it now does.

          Over the last 10 years, potential LNG sites were killed in locales as varied as Humboldt Bay near Eureka, north San Diego County, Santa Monica Bay, Ventura County and Long Beach.

          As these were all proposed, Californians were told they faced the threat of acute natural gas shortages, even though the state’s total gas consumption remained steady even as population increased by about 3 million during the century’s first decade.

          So it became clear that if there were to be a shortage, it probably would be the creation of the state Public Utilities Commission, which almost inexplicably instructed the state’s big utilities to give up about one-third of their longtime reserved quantities of natural gas coming from places like Texas and Oklahoma.

This never happened, as giving up that gas was contingent on the import of LNG, natural gas converted into a sub-freezing liquid, to be brought here by tanker from distant points like Indonesia and Australia.

          Because of populist resistance, the multi-billion receiving plants and their attendant fleet of equally pricey tankers do not now exist. But such plants and ships were imposed on other parts of the country, most notably the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard.

          Now many of those importing facilities are hastily being converted into liquefaction plants that will soon export the ultra-cold and highly volatile gas rather than bringing it in.

          Even in places like Oregon and the coast of British Columbia, where three sites have been targeted, spots originally seen by developers as ideal for importing gas are now being pushed for exports. The Oregon facilities were originally planned to be an end run around California’s rejection of LNG importing plants.

          All this sudden interest in exporting LNG to places like South Korea and Japan, which now get most of their gas from Indonesia, is the result of fracking in shale rock formations, which has created a vast surplus of natural gas in America. Fracking involves blasting water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to loosen oil and gas bound into some kinds of rock.

In California, the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates one geologic feature by itself – the Monterey Shale formation – may hold a minimum of 15 billion barrels of crude oil and enough natural gas to fuel this entire nation for as much as three years. How much is 15 billion barrels of oil? About one-tenth the known reserves in Saudi Arabia.

          If the gas in the Monterey formation alone were fully exploited and added to what’s now being produced in places like Wyoming, West Virginia and North Dakota, the United States could quickly become the world’s second leading natural gas exporter.

          The federal government is a big cheerleader in the fracking and LNG export movement. A December EIA report claimed exporting LNG would have “large net economic benefits in spite of higher domestic natural gas prices.” So the government has admitted that exporting LNG will lead to higher gas prices in America, even as it creates jobs.

          But in part because there are no exporting and gasification facilities here, California shale has not been fracked to nearly the extent similar formations have in other states.

          This has had several effects, positive and negative: It has kept safe most drinking water aquifers – known to have been polluted by fracking in Wyoming and West Virginia. There has also been less risk of setting off earthquake faults, a possible fracking side effect that has yet to be either verified or disproved.

          On the minus side, California has not seen the kind of jobs boom that now puts once-blighted North Dakota near the bottom of national rankings in unemployment. The shale oil boom in that state’s badlands spurred the largest employment boost in Dakota history, with tens of thousands of workers moving in from elsewhere.

          Parts of California that now suffer the state’s most severe unemployment, most notably areas in the west San Joaquin Valley, could see huge growth if fracking went big-time here. But the only way that’s likely to happen, given the cost of the operation, is if California allows construction of LNG export plants in the same sorts of areas once considered for liquid gas imports.

          As things now stand, the main market for California-produced natural gas is right here in California. But gas piped in from other states remains cheaper than gas from fracking, even if the fracking is nearby.

          All of which means the state’s populist rejection of LNG imports during the early and mid 2000s reverberates heavily today, and we’ll all have to stay tuned to find out if that’s a good thing or not.

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