Wednesday, December 24, 2014




          The reports came in from all across America during last fall’s election: electronic voting machines were flipping some votes from Republican to Democrat in some states. From Democrat to Republican in others. In one state with several close races, Wisconsin, electronic vote-counting machines registered just 16 votes in a city where about 5,350 persons were known to have cast ballots.

          Other reports came from places as diverse as Connecticut and Texas, North Carolina and Illinois, but there were no problems in California. Beware, though, that good news may not last much longer.

          Serious potential problems with electronic voting machines built by companies like Diebold and Election Systems & Software became a major fear in the middle of the last decade, and it could happen again.

          The earlier worries eased considerably when outgoing California Secretary of State Debra Bowen conducted a “top to bottom” review of all voting systems in the state almost eight years ago, resulting in mothballs for many Diebold, ES&S and other machines that proved hackable in tests conducted here and in Florida.

          For the most part, California went back to paper ballots which are counted electronically, making for somewhat slower election results than in many other states, but far fewer questionable results. In the few areas where some votes are cast electronically, there’s always a paper trail to ensure they can be counted accurately later, if needed.

          So there have been no serious questions about the outcomes of California elections in about a decade, even though there are some gripes that the process here is too primitive.

          One who believes this is Alex Padilla, the former Democratic state senator from the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles who takes over in January as the new secretary of state, California's top elections officer. Padilla, an MIT graduate and once the youngest president ever of the Los Angeles city council, last year wrote a new law that will allow him – in the new office he was eyeing at the time he pushed the bill – to approve new electronic voting systems that have received no previous certification at all for use in actual elections.

          His bill, known as SB 360 before it became law, also ended a longstanding requirement that all electronic voting systems be certified at the federal level before they’re used here. It allows counties to develop and sell their own voting systems, something Los Angeles County officials want to do.

          Gov. Jerry Brown never explained why he failed to veto this bill, which cried out for rejection because of the many problems encountered by electronic voting systems right up through the November election.

    Imagine the frustration of voters who intend to cast ballots for candidates from one party, but find when the machine presents its summary of their choices that it thinks they’ve voted the opposite way. That happened hundreds of times – at least -- in November. No one knows how many instances went undetected because voters didn’t review the summary.

          In pushing the bill, Padilla said that “Most California counties purchase their voting systems from…private vendors. (This) has resulted in a patchwork of technologies throughout our state.”

          He correctly pointed out that since vendors consider their technology proprietary, it’s tough to determine how easily systems can be hacked. Padilla claimed the answer to the problem is to let counties develop, own and operate their own voting systems. That, he said, “will increase voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

          But there’s no problem with vote integrity in California today. Ever since Bowen got rid of the problem systems, there have been no claims of flipped election results.

          In short, if it works, why fix it? But that’s not Padilla’s thinking. Instead, he wants new-fangled devices. But those could open a Pandora’s Box of expensive recounts, legal challenges and deflated public confidence in election results.

          The upshot is that Padilla now has the authority to follow up on his own bill, but he would be wise to tread very carefully. Yes, he could authorize use of some new machines in pilot programs during coming elections. But if those systems don’t work well, doubts about Padilla’s wisdom will rise right along with questions about the machines he wants to encourage.

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




          The two major parties will be arrayed as usual when Gov. Jerry Brown looks out from the podium of the state Assembly chamber as he delivers his combination inaugural and state of the state speech, Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other.

          But that will be slightly misleading. For voters have succeeded in one of the aims that was often stated when they created the top two primary election system via the 2010 Proposition 14: The California Legislature now includes Republicans, standard Democrats and a de facto third party that might best be called “business Democrats.”

          All that’s needed to be sure this is true is to watch the votes of members of this new quasi-party and check out where they got their campaign money.

          Yes, the business Democrats are still consistently colored blue on issues like immigration, same-sex marriage, gun-control and abortion. But when it comes to things that matter greatly to business, like industrial regulations, land development and minimum wage increases, these folks will often vote with Republicans.

          This came about because in 2012, business interests like the state Chamber of Commerce began to understand that primary elections in many districts across California will for many years most likely produce same-party contests in November runoff elections for legislative and congressional offices.

          Where that happens – mostly in districts whose voter registration is dominated by Democrats – business clearly understands it won't work for them to fund Republicans in the primary. Instead, they now donate to some Democrats in primaries that are all but certain to produce a two-Democrat runoff.

          Last fall, this produced major results for the business lobby. In seven out of 10 same-party races where a business-funded Democrat faced a more traditional liberal, the business-funded Democrat won.

          One independent business group called Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy spent about $1.1 million on such races. That group now figures Democrats in the Assembly will be about evenly split between folks it calls “moderates” and others more likely to back the party’s more traditional tough-on-business positions.

          Few legislators themselves are willing to discuss the new configuration, but new Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego did tell one reporter that the combination of top two and term limits has created “wholehearted change in how the Legislature is structured and comes together.”

          A typical race occurred in 2012, when former Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, backed by business funding, beat the labor-backed former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler after her previous district was decimated by reapportionment.

          Another occurred in the Sacramento area last November, when business-backed Richard Pan defeated Roger Dickinson for a Senate seat in a faceoff between two Democratic assemblymen. Dickinson later told a reporter, “I think what it does is that it places a premium on being willing to align with business interests.”

          Not that Pan and others didn’t also get some union funding. For labor often aligns with big business when it believes the measures business wants will create union jobs.

          Many business Democrats prefer to call themselves moderates, and they didn’t all win, by any means. One loser was Steve Glazer, an Orinda city councilman and a former top adviser to Brown, who alienated labor by doing work for the chamber. He lost a bitter, expensive primary in the East Bay area; as a result, the seat eventually went to a moderate Republican.

          All of which means voters have pretty much gotten what they wanted when they passed top two, at least in the Legislature. Many voters told pollsters then they wanted more moderation and compromise in government, less gridlock. They now have just that; there have been no notable legislative deadlocks over the last two years-plus.

          No one can be quite certain how this will play out in the long term: A moderate wing for America’s most liberal state Democratic Party? A three-party system where moderate Democrats combine with moderate Republicans in a centrist party?

          These are the kinds of non-automatic, unpredictable questions that should make following politics fun for years 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, go to

Tuesday, December 16, 2014




          If there’s one main reason for the distrust many Californians feel for government and elected officials at all levels, it may be the way special interests regularly pour millions of dollars into election campaigns while managing to mask or obscure their identities.

          A major example last year was Proposition 45, voted down by a 59-41 percent margin even though it led by about that same amount in polls taken before the campaign began.

          The measure aimed to regulate health insurancepremiums just like car insurance and property coverage prices.It was done in by a $55 million ad campaign whose TV commercials blared in large print that the measure was opposed by the California Medical Assn., the American Nurses Assn. of California and the California Hospital Assn.” The end of the ads also contained fine print and sotto voce statements that they were paid for by Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield, the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross, and HealthNet.

          The result made it clear almost no one got beyond the large print, which was enough to turn around about 1 million voters.

          The question: What if the insurance company names had been in large print, present throughout the ad? Would voters then have been more likely to disregard the insurance lobby’s message?

          No one knows, but consumer advocates and others who object to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate money into politics think it might have.

          Enter the “Disclose Act,” a proposed California law first advanced more than four years ago by then-Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Ventura County, now a Democratic congresswoman. This would require all political ads to show in large letters their top three actual funders, rather than other groups that sometimes have misleading names.

          Each year since Brownley first sponsored it, the Disclose Act has come a bit closer to passage, losing only narrowly last year. It will be back again in the new legislative session, even though lawmakers took a slight step in the right direction last spring, separately passing one small Disclose Act portion.

          That one now requires disclosure of large donations from nonprofits and other so-called multi-purpose organizations and for the state Fair Political Practices Commission to post on the Internet the names of the top 10 donors to any candidate or initiative campaign.

          This measure was a reaction to the influx of $15 million from Arizona-based conservative groups to fight the 2012 Proposition 30 and push for an anti-union measure on the same ballot. Prop. 30, a tax measure,  passed anyway has been a lynchpin of Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to balance the state budget.

          But the top ten lists are not enough. For the most part, their information was already available to anyone who cared enough to scroll through the California secretary of state’s website and do a little addition. Merely putting the information online also doesn’t mean many voters will see it. How many will take the time and energy to look?

          All this makes it high time for the Legislature to do something major about the deception that commonly accompanies huge donations in California politics. Using large print at the start of ads to disclose their key funders, rather than small print at the end, would surely be more effective in warning voters about bias in commercials. Similar rules would also benefit print, radio, Internet and billboard ads.

          That’s because the need for transparency allowing voters to peer through the veil of anonymity many campaign donors try to hide behind is more pressing today than ever, thanks to the huge quantities of cash corporations can now employ with little chance of garnering bad publicity.

          This makes the Disclose Act the single most important piece of legislation of 2015, for nothing so sullies politics as the way big money is consistently deployed and masked.

    Other open government bills will surely be on the new session’s docket, but if this one passes, California voters could become the best informed in the nation. And it if happens here, count on it being imitated widely, just like other California laws from the Proposition 13 tax cuts to the Proposition 15 loosening of marijuana prohibitions.

    Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is




          Few disputes fought out by student governments have ever been as acrimonious as the battles raging intermittently across this state on whether to push University of California regents and trustees of other universities to join an international campaign against Israel. This movement seeks to boycott Israeli companies and academics, demands divestment from companies doing business there and demands trade sanctions.

          Directly involved are only the small minority of students who vote in school elections. But the student officers they select purport to represent all students, even those unaware what they’re up to.

          Leading the campus boycott movement, known as BDS (boycott, divest and sanction), is an outfit called Students for Justice in Palestine, whose membership includes many foreign students. These folks keep maligning the Jewish state even while the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel are affirmed. They ignore obvious human rights violations by countries like China, Syria and Iran and those of the murderous, head-chopping Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (often called ISIL or ISIS).

          Now they’ve gotten Local 2865 of the United Auto Workers, the union representing 13,000-plus graduate student teaching assistants (TAs) in the UC system, not only to adopt BDS as its policy, but to advocate that members “teach…the struggle of the Palestinian people.” The union’s early December vote was 1,411 for BDS and 749 against – with only about 15 percent of TAs voting.

          Both the UAW local and the Palestinian student group claim they’re not anti-Semitic, only anti-Israel, yet the original promoters of the BDS movement include officially-designated terrorist organizations like Hamas, some with charters that call not only for destroying Israel, but also for killing Jews everywhere. So this is a bogus distinction.

          Following rancorous meetings, UC student governments at UCLA, Irvine, Berkeley, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Cruz have voted, like the TA union, to ask that university regents join the BDS movement. Regents show no signs of complying.

          The union stance  also raises key questions about academic integrity: Will UC officials do anything if and when TAs inevitably bring anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric to their classrooms?

          Previously, UC administrators circulated a memo forbidding this. But it's uncertain what they might do if and when it happens. This is the same UC that did nothing two years ago when camouflage-clad Arab students at Berkeley used mockups of automatic rifles to stop and harass any students they could identify as Jewish – and no one else. An action singling out Jews like that, of course, is the very definition of anti-Semitism.

          The hatred behind the UAW local’s action was never more open than at one Berkeley session shortly before the union vote. Lisa Kawani, executive director of the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, speaking for the union’s BDS Caucus, responded to a Latina graduate student’s statement that she is Jewish, supports Israel and felt “a strong sense of hatred” in the meeting by saying, “As long as you choose to be on that side, I’m going to continue to hate you.”

          Added Kawani, “…liberal democracy loves to make it seem like everyone has a right to speak... I don’t think this form of liberal democracy has a place in terms of real struggle.” So much for free speech.

          In short, don’t bother us with any facts, we’re going to keep hating.

          “Make no mistake,” responded Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and co-founder of an anti-boycott organization, “calling for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state is anti-Semitic. Not only do the United States and Canada officially consider denying Jews the right to self-determination a prime example of anti-Semitism, but the vast majority of Jews…see BDS as deeply anti-Semitic…”

          Besides that, she contends, the contentious, emotional battles over BDS resolutions at UC campuses and others, including Stanford University, “have created a hostile environment for many Jewish students.

          “The BDS campaigns are a front for a larger coordinated effort to demonize, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Jews and the Jewish state.”

          There is no way university administrators in California can resolve the generations-old Arab-Israel conflict, but they must keep their campuses civil, keep academic instruction free from prejudice and prevent the rise of racist, poisonous anti-Semitism on their campuses. Will they?


    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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014




          Neel Kashkari tried last fall to make high speed rail one centerpiece of a serious challenge to the reelection of Gov. Jerry Brown. Even though he staged events where he literally paid voters to smash model trains, his depiction of a “crazy train” never caught on as a significant issue.

          At about the same time, the state Supreme Court opted to let sales of state bonds for the high speed rail project go forward even though it’s clear the completed project would not meet the speed and other performance standards promised in the 2008 Proposition 1A.

          But the project remains unpopular in large parts of California despite being one of two major legacies Brown wants to leave behind, the other being the “twin tunnels” under the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, a plan that purports to make water supplies more reliable for decades to come.

          Some work has actually begun on the bullet train’s planned Fresno-to-Merced segment, with engineers drilling test holes near the Fresno River to see whether high viaducts can be built safely near there. At the same time, the state’s High Speed Rail Authority, which needs to buy up about 1,100 parcels of land along its Bakersfield to Madera County stretch, has acquired just over 100 and is in eminent domain proceedings to take over 30 more.

          Only a tiny fraction of the estimated $776 million needed to acquire land for that run has been spent.

          All this means it’s still not too late to make sane changes to the planned bullet train route, thus defusing opposition, increasing efficiency and speed and saving many billions of dollars.

          With farmers along the present path and most politicians who represent them vowing to fight the project tooth and nail, it’s high time to make alterations that please them without harming performance.

          The most obvious would be to substitute something else for the most contentious parts of the current route, which would split many farms and could eat up many acres of productive farmland.

          Enter Interstate 5, the main freeway link between Los Angeles and both San Francisco and Sacramento, a wide right-of-way as it runs in long, straight stretches up the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

          While I-5’s path along the Grapevine route over the Tehachapi Mountains between Santa Clarita and Bakersfield is likely too steep for a bullet train run, there is no such problem in the Central Valley. In fact, that segment of the highway features wide medians for most of its extent, land that would be ideal for train tracks. Much of it would cost the state nothing. The California Aqueduct runs alongside I-5 for some parts of that route, so putting the bullet train there would amount to consolidating three major transportation corridors in a way that would leave farms intact.

          The main farmland acquisitions needed for much of this run would be in stretches roughly parallel to state Highway 58 covering about 21 miles from Bakersfield west to I-5 near the current way-stop hamlet of Buttonwillow.

          This would leave a bullet train station in Bakersfield, but would eliminate stops in Fresno and Merced and speed transit times considerably. Experience with well-established high-speed trains in Europe indicates most riders stay aboard bullet trains from one terminus to the other, so relatively few would be likely to use the currently planned, expensive Merced and Fresno stations.

          What about the fact that those stations were part of Proposition 1A? If the state's top judges can OK bond sales when it’s clear the speeds advertised in that measure can’t be reached, why would a route change bother them?

          So the advantages of the I-5 route through the Central Valley are clear: Higher speeds, less money spent buying up private land from reluctant sellers and fewer legal objections. Put these factors together and much of the political opposition would also likely disappear.

          This is plainly the easiest, fastest way to get California’s biggest infrastructure project of the last 45 years built. Which renders it both inexplicable and irresponsible that Brown and his appointees on the rail authority have never seriously considered making the route change.


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




          When ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made their way onto a hot and sunny alkali flat just west of the Interstate 15 freeway between Barstow and Las Vegas in late 2010, they were opening an era of giantism in solar electricity.

          They and bunches of utility executives went to a site near the Mojave Desert’s Ivanpah dry lake to mark what they called a landmark advance in energy, the start of work on a huge solar farm now visible as a glassy sea of deep blue to travelers just southwest of the California-Nevada state line.

          Ivanpah, opened in 2013, will use up to 12,000 acres of federal land for 30 years or more. It is the second-largest of half a dozen solar thermal energy projects that have brought more than 1,000 construction jobs to the previously depressed desert area. It is also having trouble repaying its federal loans.

    As a sideline, these very large projects have also produced a spate of power line construction, an investment that will soon show up in the rates of utilities like Southern California Edison Co. and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

          Partly because of the big solar thermal projects, the price of electricity, as ads for rooftop solar panels constantly remind us, will likely soon start climbing steeply for consumers, perhaps as much as 50 percent by the year 2030.

          It didn’t have to happen that way, and future solar development in California may not.

          Photovoltaic is the preferred alternative to the large solar thermal power farms whose intense heat is reflected to high towers where it turns water to steam. By contrast, photovoltaic development can be concentrated on urban rooftops and above parking lots where the power won’t have to be shipped hundreds of miles on expensive new transmission lines before it is ultimately used.

          Small solar also doesn’t impinge on endangered species and treasured Native American religious and historic sites. Nor does it require billions of dollars in federal tax credits or loans to the large corporations that build solar thermal.

          That’s one reason the city of Los Angeles, not usually thought of as an environmental pioneer, is now pushing for more energy independence through its Department of Water & Power, in effect the fourth-largest power company in the state.

    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last year declared a goal of building 1,200 megawatts of solar electric capacity above his city’s roofs, parking lots and other structures within six years – in time to meet a state mandate that about one-third of all California power come from renewable sources by then. That would be almost one-fifth of L.A.’s usual peak summer consumption of about 6,100 megawatts.

          Any cost to other consumers created by solar users leaving the grid will be far lower than the price of buying solar thermal power and shipping it many miles across deserts and mountains to the city. Plus, photovoltaic power promises to create at least as many jobs as solar thermal, without forcing workers to remote locations.

          Essentially, the same amounts of energy can be produced from photovoltaic panels as from thermal farms, at less than 55 percent the cost.

          That led San Diego engineer William Powers to suggest in the journal Natural Gas and Electricity that solar thermal energy is now outmoded – even before most of the big California solar farms come online, noting that the technology is not even being pursued in other advanced countries like Japan and Germany, both of which have large-scale solar photovoltaic projects under way.

    This all makes it a mystery why the state Public Utilities Commission has spent the last few years steadily promoting the big thermal farms and doing little to encourage rooftop solar and the like.

    The most obvious explanation is that the PUC, as usual, seeks to generate steady profits for big utilities, whose income drops when photovoltaic panels take large numbers of their customers off the grid.

          This essentially means that government is forcing consumers to subsidize both utilities and large solar developers. Which suggests that when all the big solar projects now being built are allowed to come online, that ought to be end for them in California.

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014




          It pays to read between the lines whenever the state Legislature or a city council makes changes to longstanding election routines. One example: almost all cities that have lately switched local elections to even years so they coincide with federal and state voting feature Democrat-dominated city councils whose members know both that higher turnouts favor Democrats and that turnout is always higher in general elections than off-year municipal votes.

          It also pays to note what’s happened just after each of the last several Election Days, with California Democrats winning every contest decided by a narrow margin, the votes counted after Election Night providing their margins. A new law now promises to make this trend even more pronounced than it has been.

          Late-counted votes decided the issue in 2010, when Democrat Kamala Harris was elected state attorney general over Republican Steve Cooley, then district attorney of Los Angeles County, by about 40,000 votes.

          It happened again this fall, with defeats for all four Republicans running in ultra-tight races for Congress that were too close to call on Election Night. The most striking turnaround came in the suburbs of Sacramento, where incumbent Democrat Ami Bera trailed former Republican Congressman Doug Ose by more than 3,000 the morning after the election, but almost a month later – after an additional 60,000-odd late-arriving absentee and provisional ballots had been counted – Bera won by 1,300.

          In the Fresno area, Republican challenger Johnny Tacherra led incumbent Democrat Jim Costa by almost 1,000 votes the day after the election, but Costa also won by just over 1,300 votes.

          In the San Diego area, incumbent Democrat Scott Peters found himself behind by about 800 votes the morning after the election, but three weeks and 55,000 votes later defeated Republican Carl DeMaio by just over 6,000. And in Ventura County, where Democratic incumbent Julia Brownley held a slim lead of barely 500 votes just after the election, she turned out to be a clear winner by about 4,400 votes.

          So while Republicans appear to have some advantage among votes counted earliest (usually absentee ballots received by county voting registrars days before the election), Democrats have a consistent edge among those counted after Election Day.

          That may be partly due to demographics. Democrats dominate among several ethnic minorities with less voting experience than the white voters who form most of the Republican base. They are sometimes unclear on how to file absentee ballots or where to cast Election Day votes. So they tend to mail in ballots later than Republicans, they tend to turn in more absentee ballots at precincts and they tend to vote more provisional ballots.

          This makes the post-Election Day results no accident. And it also means it was no accident when an obscure new law ( ) was passed earlier this year by Democrats who control the Legislature, then signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

          This measure requires county voting officials to count absentee ballots postmarked by the end of Election Day, a change from past practice when no ballots were counted if received after that day. The deadline for receipt of ballots will now be moved back three days, too.

          Anyone who’s been around vote-counting on Election Night and beyond has likely seen how trays full of absentee ballots often go completely uncounted because they were received a day or two late. That will change.

          There will likely be no major effects from the new rules in 2015, when municipal elections in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco figured to be dominated by Democrats anyway.

          But this change could have major impact at every level of the next general election, when all 53 California congressional seats and 100 legislative spots will again be at stake, along with a U.S. Senate seat.

          Democrats figure the formerly invalid late-arriving votes that will now count should tend to favor them more than votes cast earlier. It’s yet another change designed to tighten their 15-year hold on California.

    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




          There is no doubt about the intelligence and diligence of Leondra Kruger, 38, Gov. Jerry Brown’s new appointee to the California Supreme Court.

          But this graduate of the elite, private Polytechnic School adjacent to the Caltech campus in Pasadena has not spent substantial time in California since 2000, and very little in the six years before that. Essentially, Kruger left California to attend Harvard University and Yale Law School, returning only for short stays, including summer interships in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles in 1999 and with a large Los Angeles law firm the next year.

          That raises a question Brown ignored in his first-go-‘round as governor in the 1970s, when he loudly proclaimed he was scouring the nation for “the best and brightest” to populate his administration.

          There is little doubt Kruger fits that category today, at least in theory. She clerked for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens, a plum job for any recent law school graduate. She has been a top lawyer in the federal Justice Department and argued substantial cases before the nation’s top court while a deputy solicitor general.

          But she has no experience as an adult in California. In that way, she’s reminiscent of Adriana Gianturco, perhaps the least successful of Brown’s first-term appointees. Gianturco, a graduate of Smith College, UC Berkeley and Harvard Graduate School, was brought in from Massachusetts to freshen up Caltrans.

          One of her first fiascos was making the two center lanes of the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway, then the world’s busiest highway, into carpool-only lanes. So infuriated were Los Angeles commuters, whose existing gridlock suddenly became much worse, that Gianturco became known on radio talk shows as the “Giant Turkey,” “the madwoman of Caltrans” and “Our Lady of the Diamond Lane.” She was, she once said, “besieged, vilified, crucified.”

    Because she also had not bothered to develop rapport with either local officials or state legislators, her project and her tenure as Caltrans director were doomed to flop. There still are no carpool lanes on that freeway, and all carpool lanes established elsewhere since then have been added on, not taken from existing traffic lanes.

          All this because Gianturco didn’t understand California and Californians.

          Similar pitfalls could await Kruger, who is all but certain to be confirmed by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments, consisting of state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Joan Dempsey Klein, senior presiding judge of the state Court of Appeal.

          “She reminds me more of Rose Bird than Gianturco,” says Robert Stern, longtime president of the former Los Angeles-based Center for Government Studies. Bird, appointed California chief justice at 40, just two years older than Kruger is now, also had no judicial experience, but had been a California lawyer, working as a public defender and teaching at Stanford Law School.

          Like Gianturco, she did not understand some California sentiments, and thus was voted out by a 2-1 margin in her first confirmation election in 1986. Bird never approved an appealed death sentence in her entire court tenure. She also authored several regulatory-related decisions that infuriated the state’s business lobby.

          “They put up the money to oust her, with the governor at the time, (Republican) George Deukmejian, campaigning hard on that, too,” recalled Stern. “They used the death penalty to get at her, but were actually more interested in her business decisions.”

          So it will behoove Kruger to familiarize herself quickly with California politics and attitudes. She will fail to do so at her own peril.

          Her supporters don’t seem concerned about that. “She is super-smart, crazy well-prepared and the type of person who only cared about getting it right, not about getting in good with the boss,” said her ex-boss, former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who moved her into that office’s No. 2 slot.

          Katyal, now a Georgetown University law professor, said watching Kruger work was “like watching a master.”

          Given her lack of any California background as an adult, Kruger will need to be masterful to become widely accepted. If she’s as good as her old colleagues say, she’ll do the necessary homework, become a full-fledged Californian and be just fine.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014




          The proposed Six Californias initiative died last fall, a victim of the weaknesses in its own concept and so much skepticism that even a $5 million petition circulating campaign wasn’t enough to get it onto the 2016 ballot.

          But this doesn’t mean innovative and quirky – some might call it imaginative or fatuous – thinking about changes in this state’s future status has stopped.

          Next up, apparently, will be a move toward a somewhat more sovereign California, maybe not a completely separate nation-state, but at least an entity capable of making its own binding deals with other countries and able to pass laws that could not be overturned by either Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court.

          A start in this direction comes now from an outfit called Sovereign CA, headed by Louis Marinelli, a 28-year-old teacher of English as a second language on the San Diego campus of Alliant International University.

          “We’re dissatisfied with the federal government and we think we can do things better,” says Marinelli. “The world is changing around us and we can change, too, as the world does. But it’s not a good idea to do things in a rush. This would be a big change, so we would do this gradually over many years or even decades.”

          There is no doubt Marinelli & Co. got a bit of a boost from an October poll by Fox News that found 17 percent of Americans would like to throw at least one state out of the Union. In that survey, 53 percent wanted to get rid of California, far more than the 23 percent who would like to oust No. 2 New York and the 20 percent itching to dump Texas.

          Marinelli, who can’t say how many members his group has because it charges no dues – but reports getting more than 2,600 Facebook “likes” – hopes to put three initiatives before the voters in 2016 to get started toward semi-sovereignty.

          One would set up a method for Californians to vote on whether to officially rebuke the federal government via something like a vote of no confidence. “This would be a first-in-the-nation kind of vote,” Marinelli said. It would task a new state commission with writing a letter to the President and both houses of Congress expressing California’s disapproval and lack of confidence in their ability to govern the country. Of course, any such letter would go straight to the round file.

          A second proposed measure would set up a nonpartisan blue-ribbon panel of state legislators to analyze how “sub-national sovereignty” might work and its effects on Californians and other Americans. The group would have to hold hearings and call experts to testify on how California could sign its own treaties with foreign countries and otherwise assert itself internationally – while still using the United States dollar and having its citizens register with Selective Service and serve in the American military. The idea of making binding agreements with other countries is something recent California governors like Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger have liked. Both have signed so-called “memoranda of understanding” with other countries and their provinces, but none has had much long-term meaning because they lack the status of treaties.

          This group would take up questions like whether California should give up participating in presidential elections or revert to something like the not-quite-statehood status Puerto Rico has today.

          The third Sovereign California initiative would be completely symbolic, calling for state’s Bear Republic flag to be displayed at equal height with the Stars and Stripes on all public property.

          Taken together, it’s barely the beginning of a sovereignty movement and a far cry from a call for secession. That’s the way Marinelli and friends like it.

          “We’re not pursuing actual separation from the rest of America,” he said. “It’s more like sub-national sovereignty, something like Scotland has within the United Kingdom, with a lot of autonomy, but still within the national system.” One difference: Sovereign California wants at least to explore taking the state out of national elections and even give up its representation in Congress.

          Meanwhile, Scotland has full representation in the British Parliament and the Scottish economist Gordon Brown was prime minister as recently as 2010.

          All of which makes various possible forms of sovereignty for California fun to look into, but about as unlikely to happen as Six Californias.

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




          Both the current president of the California Public Utilities Commission and one of its member commissioners admit to improper, unethical contacts with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over items including which judges should rule on the utility's cases.

          So President Michael Peevey and Commissioner Mike Florio recused themselves from voting on current PG&E cases. That, however, didn’t stop them from voting in mid-November to give the Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. fully $3.3 billion in customer money (over 10 years) to help pay for Edison's incompetence at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County.

          This sequence raises three major questions: Why are these men still on the PUC, California’s most powerful regulatory agency, when they can’t participate in vital decisions involving the state’s largest regulated company? If they’ve admitted corruption in handling one large utility firm, should the assumption be that they’ve acted similarly with others, but not been caught? Is there any hope to overturn a recent spate of laughably unjust PUC decisions?

          The answers: PUC commissioners serve fixed six-year terms and can’t be dumped in mid-term, even by the governor who appointed them. (In this case, Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to utter a critical word about the disgraced commissioners, implying he doesn’t mind if they serve out their terms. Peevey’s will be over in January.) Peevey and Florio might be pressured into resigning, but no one can force them out.

          There is no reason to believe either man behaved differently toward Edison and SDG&E than with PG&E, which is now trying to get the PUC to force customers to pay again for repairing the decrepit gas pipeline system that caused a 2010 explosion which killed eight people in San Bruno. Customers have been dunned monthly for maintenance over several decades, but no one knows where those billions of dollars went.

    It’s also true that judges commonly instruct jurors in criminal trials that if they catch a witness in one lie, they can assume the person lied about other matters, too. Similarly, citizens would be justified to figure that if an official acts unethically on one matter, he might also be corrupt on others.

     And normally there would be no reason to hope any PUC decision would be overturned. Commission decisions can usually be appealed only to the state Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both panels can refuse to hear any appeal. Both have been consistently deferential toward the PUC.

          Enter former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who now asks a federal court to insert itself into the legal process and block the San Onofre rate settlement.

          Turns out Aguirre dug up a 2000 case where Edison claimed it was not being paid for some power it produced; it called this an unconstitutional taking of property. That case was settled before trial, but okayed by a federal judge.

          Aguirre believes consumers have already paid far too much for the debacle at San Onofre, retired after tube leaks caused the failure of hugely expensive steam generators that Edison executives provably knew were flawed long before their installation. He’s trying to turn Edison’s 14-year-old arguments against it, claiming money collected from all customers by Edison and SDG&E from 2005 onward to pay for those generators was an unconstitutional taking of property for which consumers got nothing in return.

          “You have Edison (which manages San Onofre) discovering the design problem beforehand and still installing the machinery,” he said. “But the PUC in (processing) the new settlement never allowed (pursuit of) evidence on how Edison acted unreasonably and imprudently. So we’re now using Edison’s own argument against it.”

          Whether Aguirre wins or not, the combination of San Bruno and San Onofre expose very clearly the PUC’s longtime pattern of favoring large companies over consumers. More light has been shed over the last six months on the PUC’s multiple shady dealings than in the 40 preceding years.

          “There were unconstitutional and illegal backroom deals here,”Aguirre said. That’s essentially what Peevey and Florio admitted to in their dealings with PG&E.

          Gov. Brown is the only person who could apply enough pressure to change any of that, but he continues doing nothing while the commission digs itself ever deeper into public distrust.


    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, November 20, 2014




          It’s a dilemma that University of California officials have long refused to confront, but one they may soon have to face: How many foreign and out-of-state students can UC absorb and still fulfill its mission of providing an elite education for the very best California high school graduates?

          The issue has become central at many UC campuses, where an unprecedented 20 percent of this year’s freshman class now hails from outside California.

          The tens of thousands of out-of-staters are a revenue bonanza for the system, whose support from the state budget is hundreds of millions of dollars lower today than it was 10 years ago, even if it has rebounded a bit from the lows of the Great Recession.

          UC now depends greatly on the $23,000 surcharge out-of-state residents pay above the standard in-state tuition of $12,192. That provided the system with almost half a billion dollars last year and will yield even more in 2015.

          But even the 20 percent overall figure is misleading. For at the most in-demand UC campuses, Berkeley, UCLA and San Diego, about 30 percent of new students this fall were foreign or from other states. Meanwhile, at the least in-demand campuses, Merced and Riverside, out-of-staters among freshman were just 1.2 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. This brings the average for the system way down. But just like California high school grads, few out-of-state students are clamoring for admission to Merced and Riverside.

          All this leaves UC officials and advocates able to claim accurately that “UC has not reduced the number of California students it admits,” as retired UCLA Chancellor Charles Young put it in response to a previous column, “either in the total number or the percentage of…high school graduates.”

          But with about five times as many out-of-staters today as 10 years ago, Berkeley and UCLA and San Diego unquestionably admit fewer Californians even though their enrollments are up a bit. Yes, all Californians in the top 9 percent of their high school classes are offered UC slots, but decreasingly at the campuses they – and the out-of-staters – most want to attend.

          There are some signs the complaints of students shunted off to campuses they don’t really want in order to make way for the high-paying out-of-staters are finally being heard.

          UC President Janet Napolitano and other officials this fall have indicated they may consider putting some kind of lid on admissions of non-Californians, even though they simultaneously insisted they’ve kept the university’s longtime commitment to California kids and their taxpaying parents by increasing class sizes to allow for the influx of non-Californians. They also propose to raise tuition in each of the next five years, a plan vehemently opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. No one says publicly this is intended to make up for taking fewer out-of-staters in coming years, but it looks like one intent.

    All this reinforces the fact that the most elite of UC’s campuses increasingly cater to the wealthy, whether from other American states or from foreign counties like China and Saudi Arabia which – rolling in cash – fund full tuition for many of their young citizens at UC.

          It’s not that in-state students are not already paying plenty, too. UC tuition has just about tripled over the last decade, increases topping 20 percent in some years. In terms of non-inflated money, in 1980 the value of a median-level California home would buy more than 200 years of UC education. By 2011, it bought only about 30 years.

          Which means tuition has climbed even fast than housing costs, stunning in a state where home prices have risen faster and higher than anywhere else in America.

          While it’s true that the influx of well-funded, high-paying non-California students increases diversity on campuses, much of that diversity could also be achieved by recruiting more heavily from underserved parts of California like the Central Valley, home to myriad ethnic groups.

          The bottom line is that more highly qualified California kids than ever are being turned away from their first-choice campuses, displaced by students from elsewhere.

          It’s an open question whether and when their parents’ displeasure over this will lead legislators to reduce budget support for UC even more than they already have. That’s why Napolitano & Co. must confront this entire issue, and soon.


    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