Friday, August 30, 2013




          The truism says that six months is an eternity in politics, with colossal change possible in that short time.

    It certainly has been that way for Bob Filner, the 20-year Democratic congressman from San Diego who last spring was riding high shortly after becoming mayor and ending more than two decades of Republican rule at City Hall. Now he’s in disgrace, run out of office by his own misbehavior.

          But as the race for governor gets its semi-official start just before and during Labor Day weekend, it’s clear six months changed little in California's highest profile contest of next year.

          No Democrat has emerged to contest Brown in the primary. Republican prospects who looked weak six months ago seem even weaker now. The only thing looking certain is that Brown will have a runoff opponent in November 2014 – but possibly only because even if a candidate gets a majority of the primary election vote next June, he or she must still run again in November. That happened to Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein last year as she easily won reelection to the U.S. Senate.

          How is Brown doing it? For one thing, there’s his performance in office, a sober approach refusing to permit either wild spending by his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature, his battling with federal judges while trying to prevent release of more convicts from state prisons and his efforts to get tax breaks for businesses investing in new equipment.

          Put it together, and some of the ammunition Republicans usually use against Democrats just doesn’t work against Brown, who now looks likely to have the easiest run of his long career next fall.

          Just in case there’s a problem, he also has more than $10 million in his campaign kitty – and that’s just cash available during the primary election season, when Brown can expect no challenge.

          Neither of the two Republicans so far publicly yearning to be Brown’s runoff opponent has raised even a fraction that much. Interests that normally are more likely to contribute to Republicans than Democrats have kicked into Brown’s campaign fund – Walmart, Bank of America, Nike and Anheuser-Busch, to name a few.

          Big campaign kitties sitting idle a year or two before any election tend to scare off serious opposition. That’s what Brown has managed so far.

          There’s still the possibility a big-money Republican will emerge from the party’s woodwork to challenge Brown, but that grows less likely by the day. For even if a billionaire candidate can write infinite checks – as Brown’s 2010 rival Meg Whitman (the former eBay chair and current top executive at Hewlett-Packard) did during her effort, it still takes time to ramp up a campaign, hire competent managers (Whitman suffered in that department) and attract volunteers.

          It’s been 15 years since the GOP ran anything but a wealthy, self-funded candidate for governor, William Simon losing to Gray Davis in 2002, Arnold Schwarzenegger ousting Davis a year later and then winning reelection in 2006, and Whitman flailing and failing in 2010.

          While current candidate Abel Maldonado has some wealth, his family having farmed for many years near Santa Maria, he can’t simply write multi-million dollar checks at will, like those previous three. Meanwhile, Tea Party favorite and former Minutemen border activist Tim Donnelly, a state assemblyman from the high desert regions of Southern California, has fewer personal resources than Maldonado. Both must depend on donations.

          Neither has yet mounted anything like an effective attack on Brown, which they must do in order to attact donations on the scale Brown regularly draws. Donnelly has had no coherent message, beyond saying “California needs someone to stand up and fight” – presumably against immigration amnesty, which he fervently opposes – and in favor of a law authorizing concealed carrying of guns. Donnelly famously had a run-in with federal authorities when he tried to carry a pistol aboard a Southwest Airlines plane at Ontario Airport.

          Maldonado, meanwhile, has built his nascent campaign around blasting Brown for release of state prisoners, something Brown is fighting to avoid. That attack has no legs.

          All of which means the GOP must do a lot better in the next few months than it has lately, or concede another four years to Brown.

    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




          No one knows for sure just how things will go, but a new law passed last year in California’s largest county to force condom use in pornography films and videos will at least be tested this fall.

    It’s about time, too, as evidenced by the late August revelation from adult film actress Cameron Bay (the stage name of a 28-year-old woman) that she’s tested positive for the AIDS virus less than a month after her last previous, negative test finding.

          The Los Angeles County law mandates protection in all forms of sex except manual and oral – something the industry strongly maintained would make its films less attractive and drive much of its $13 billion gross revenue out of California. (That figure compares with about $22 billion for conventional movie-making in this state, and $37 billion for agriculture.)

          So far, there has been no significant exodus and there's now a strong possibility the law will be taken statewide. The San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles remains the world capital for adult filmmaking, with some shoots in nearby areas and counties.

          Any shifts were in abeyance until late this summer, awaiting a decision from U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson on a lawsuit by porn producers which claimed the law infringes on constitutionally protected free speech.

          Nope, Pregerson finally ruled. The new law, he said, would prevent health risks and “alleviate those harms in a direct and material way.”

          How great were the risks behind the law, which passed as Measure B? No one can pinpoint just how much higher than normal the rates of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are among porn actors, but porn star Jenna Jameson last year called the business a “ticking time bomb.” It certainly was for “Cameron Bay.”

          It’s still uncertain that Pregerson’s ruling will let Measure B have the full intended effect. While he allowed the basic law to stand, he tinkered with parts of it – maybe enough to let pornographic filming go essentially unchanged.

          Yes, the judge allowed mandatory AIDS testing of porn actors to stand. He said the county can charge producers for health permits, obtain warrants to inspect production sites and levy fines and criminal charges against violators

          But at the same time, the ruling says health permits cannot be required as a condition of making a film, nor can the county revoke permits or stop filming because of violations. And officials cannot inspect a film site merely because they suspect condoms are not being used.

          So the decision can be seen as a big wink at porn producers. If they establish an informal code of secrecy, sheriff’s deputies or other enforcement personnel won’t often be able to come on site. To get a warrant, they would need more than mere suspicion or innuendo.

          Chances are, the ruling means most producers will only use AIDS-tested actors, not much of a change. But there’s almost always some time between any test and the next time an actor performs in a porn scene. The Bay case demonstrates that participants can acquire diseases during those interims.

          What’s more, even if large producers either get health permits or move to nearby counties, small producers whose presence is not very noticeable outside the swank homes where many porn shoots occur may not bother, figuring that as long as all participants are discreet and refrain from whistle-blowing, they won’t get in trouble. Under the radar operations will probably stay that way.

          Even with those obvious loopholes in the law, the porn industry will appeal the ruling, maintaining it still limits free speech rights, another way of saying the law could crimp production and profits.

          No one knows what comes next: Will production move out of Los Angeles County, as porn star James Deen predicted immediately after the law passed? Will there be at least some compliance? Might that lessen the popularity of online and DVD porn movies?

          There’s a good chance there may now be at least some reduction of AIDS cases in Los Angeles County. And since the basics of the law have been upheld, some legislators want to adopt a similar one for the whole state.

    Stay tuned.

    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

Friday, August 23, 2013




          There has long been a suspicion that the $68 billion plan to build a 432-mile high speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco was too little, too late. Essentially, some say, it could be the last hurrah for an outdated technology.

          “Bullet trains are obsolete, at the end phase of their development,” Rick Canine, an executive of Federal Maglev Inc., claimed in an interview two years ago. His company said it could build a magnetic levitation rail line with a top speed of 300 mph (to the bullet train’s 220 mph), similar to maglev lines already running in Japan and China. Maglev trains run on concrete beds with embedded magnets that repulse other magnets mounted on skis beneath lightweight aluminum passenger cars.

          Maglev drew no response at all from the California High Speed Rail Authority.

          Now comes Elon Musk, immigrant from South Africa, co-founder of PayPal (later sold to eBay), chairman of the San Francisco Bay area’s Tesla Motors and boss of SpaceX, the suburban Los Angeles company that has changed the resupply of the International Space Station.

          Musk agrees that bullet train technology is outmoded and would like to see that project aborted before much money is spent on it.

          He doesn’t endorse maglev, though he probably wouldn’t object. Rather, he suggests a completely new form of transport, essentially the use of a pneumatic tube to whip passenger capsules from place to place at hyperspeeds of almost 800 mph, right around the speed of sound.

          Hyperloop, he called his plan, which he insisted in a 57-page report ( would cost just a fraction of the bullet train’s projected expense.

          Anyone who worked in an old newspaper office should be least somewhat familiar with the technology: editors would stick capsules filled with typed copy into a pressurized tube for virtually instant delivery to a pressroom. Some banks still use similar methods for moving paper.

          The hyperloop would use far larger tubes for passenger capsules. Because the distance covered would be hundreds of miles, not dozens of yards, delivery would take a little longer: about 40 minutes to move passengers from city to city.

          Yes, there could be overheating problems, as critics have noted, but Musk is also the fellow whose engineers conquered the problem of short range electric car batteries and gets stuff into space at far lower cost than space shuttles ever did.

          Then there’s the route he chose: Musk would use 20-foot pylons along the I-5 and I-580 medians, the shortest driving distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles. No intermediate stations for political reasons in cities like Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced, as now planned for high speed rail.

          Some have previously urged this much cheaper, swifter route, where the state already owns much of the right-of-way, upon the bullet train but officials never so much as acknowledged those suggestions were made.

          So this plan makes some rudimentary sense, especially if the technology turns out to be more efficient than bullet trains. Musk would have to resolve potential safety problems – what if passenger capsules traveling at ultra-high speeds were to collide?

          Bullet train authority chairman Dan Richard, in a statement, allowed that “New technology ideas are always worth consideration.” But he tried to toss cold water on Musk, adding that “If and when Mr. Musk pursues his Hyperloop…, we’ll be happy to share our experience about what it really takes to build a project in California, across seismic zones, minimizing impact on farms, businesses and communities and protecting sensitive environmental areas and species.”

          It’s also true that the Hyperloop would not move quite as many passengers as the bullet train says it will, with a capacity of 840 per hour.

          So this proposal is in its infant phase at best, with many details yet to be worked out and the prospect of going forward only if the bullet train should be derailed by its persistent foes.

          Which means no one yet knows whether this plan will join other big California ideas that never became reality even though they had some merit, like moving icebergs here from Antarctica during dry years to solve water shortages or using waves outside river mouths to generate electricity.

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




          As California teachers and students open the new school year, they’re feeling proud of a recent trend toward decreased dropouts and increased graduation rates.

    But several of the state’s largest urban districts are about to embark on new course requirements that risk major reductions in those rates.

          In response to complaints that college prep courses are sometimes unavailable to minority students, the big districts have adopted new rules forcing almost all students who want to graduate in 2016 and afterward to take such classes, even if they don’t plan to attend a four-year school or even a community college.

          The ambitious new requirements will require high school students in the Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco districts to complete coursework needed for eligibility to attend the University of California and the California State University system. This plan has been used in San Jose since 2002, with opt-out provisions for some students. Oakland also has an opt-out.

          Opt-outs can be important because state law requires districts to let anyone who has completed grade 10 to choose between a traditional college prep curriculum or one that’s more career oriented. So the new plans in the big districts include provisions for things like “course substitutions,” but no one knows just how they will work or who will use them.

          Almost all graduates will have to take three years of math, four years of English, two years of social studies including U.S. history, two years of science with at least one lab class, two years of a foreign language, one year of arts education and one year of an academic elective. This plan is known as the “a-g sequence.”

          That course load is stricter than current state-mandated minimums for graduation, which include three years of English, two of math and one year of a foreign language, in addition to two years of physical education.

          Making this a little less onerous for those not particularly inclined toward academics, all the districts involved start by saying grades of D or above will do in any course, with Los Angeles to require C grades starting in 2017. A C is the minimum for any class to count toward eligibility for the two big state university systems.

          A study by the Public Policy Institute of California concluded that the majority of the state’s high school graduates do not now complete the soon-to-be mandatory sequence with a C or higher. In 2011, only 40.3 percent of graduates managed it, including 44 percent of females and 36 percent of males.

          Those numbers alone indicate that graduation rates will drop unless school systems get heavily involved as early as junior high in identifying and intensely working with students likely to have problems managing academic courses.

          Because African American and Hispanic students now have low completion rates of “a-g” coursework, they will be most at risk of not graduating. Allowing D work to count will help them, though, as the PPIC study shows about twice as many Latino students in recent years have passed the sequence with at least one D as have done it with only C’s or better. But more than one-fourth of white and Asian students also did not get through the sequence with nothing below a C.

          The PPIC study focused hardest on San Diego, finding that only 61.1 percent of that district’s 2011 graduates finished the sequence even with a D average. How many wouldn’t graduate starting in 2016 depends on how many courses in the sequence they fail and what opportunities they get to better their grades.

          The dangers of all this are clear:

--    It could lead to de-emphasis of vocational and career education choices.

--   It could harm some students planning to attend private or out-of-state colleges whose requirements don’t match those of the big California systems. In San Diego, fully 12 percent of graduates fit into this category and still enrolled at four-year colleges.

--  And unless school districts display flexibility, it could raise the dropout rate considerably.

But there is also a strong upside: High school graduates should
emerge with a wider education than many now do. Combined with the state’s exit exam, that could make high school diplomas mean far more than they usually have.

    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