Friday, February 28, 2014




          If there’s a state budget surplus, let’s return it to the people we took it from, goes the demand these days from conservative Republicans led by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who now represents a lot of  barren desert and would like to be governor of California.

          It’s quite a siren song and one we’ve heard before, most recently 14 years ago. Who wouldn’t like to open the mail and find a fat check from the state?

          But it’s a bad idea. Just ask Gray Davis, the former governor ousted in a 2003 recall election and replaced by muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

          Davis acquiesced in 2000, when legislative Republicans voiced precisely the same arguments made by Donnelly today. A case can be made that there was a straight line from the rebates he ordered then to the recall. The refunds ranged up to $150 for 12.3 million Californians who filed tax returns in 1999 ($300 for couples filing jointly).

          Those checks weren’t the only way Davis returned money to taxpayers. He also cut the vehicle license fee (aka: the car tax) and exempted 275,000 public school teachers from having to pay any state tax on their teaching income. He increased the research and development credit for corporations from 12 percent to 15 percent. He doubled property tax assistance for the disabled and those over 62 and he gave $600 a month each to senior citizens in rent relief.

          Then came the dot-com bust, and suddenly – because Davis had passed back all that cash – he couldn’t prevent wholesale budget cuts to schools, highways, state parks and other vital programs.

          The first thing he tried was to reinstate the old levels of car tax. That produced huge recall-season rallies in car dealer lots, most featuring Schwarzenegger and others claiming Davis was unilaterally raising the levy. In fact, he was and he wasn’t, depending on how you looked at it. But he needed the $3.9 billion he had earlier cut from the car tax in order to spare many other programs.

          Obviously, there’s a lesson here for Brown, one that he has heeded.  Brown so far has completely ignored the calls of Donnelly (one of just two Republicans so far entered as candidates to replace Brown in this year’s election).

          Instead, his budget proposal includes $1.6 billion for the opposite of rebates – a rainy day fund designed to prevent shocks like those of the Davis era if capital gain taxes – a major part of the state’s income tax take – suddenly plummet as they did in 2001-2002. Brown, who once employed Davis as his chief of staff, has certainly learned from his onetime protégé’s politically fatal mistake.

          This may infuriate Donnelly and conservative Republicans whose ideological forebears had no problem with deep cuts in social services like care for the frail elderly and preschool education, not to mention public schools and universities, carried out under Davis, Schwarzenegger and Brown.

          Instead of giving tax rebates, Donnelly griped, Brown is “giving pay increases to union members while leaving regular, hardworking taxpayers out to dry.” In short, Donnelly indicates doesn’t believe unionists are taxpayers or that parents of schoolchildren pay taxes. Huh?

          He sounds a lot like current Congressman, then state Sen. Tom McClintock did back in 2001, when he exhorted Davis to “return the state’s surplus as a rebate to help families cope with high prices. The governor’s spokesman said this relief ‘won’t see the light of day.’ We beg the governor (Davis) to reconsider.”

          Davis did, and ended up the only California governor ever kicked out before his term ended, also becoming the butt of endless jokes. Wisecracked late-night television host Jay Leno, “An NBC News poll has found that if the election were held today, 31 percent of Californians would vote for Schwarzenegger and 26 percent were not sure. Today Gray Davis changed his name to ‘Not Sure.’”

          Brown has been the butt of plenty of jokes in his career and doesn’t want any more of that. So you can safely bet there will be no tax rebates, no givebacks, no response comparable to Davis’ to the current demands of Donnelly and friends.

     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




          For years, those who claim President Barack Obama was born in Kenya or someplace other than the Hawaii hospital indicated on the birth certificate issued by that state’s officials have claimed their effort is neither political nor racist, but merely purist.

          But now the woman who has carried the birther torch in more devoted fashion than anyone has revealed a political motive: She says she hopes a case now before the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will “influence the fall election and get more Republicans elected.”

    Of course, the case now avidly pursued by Orly Taitz, the Orange County lawyer, dentist and real estate agent often called the “Birther Queen,” does not involve Obama directly. But Taitz, planning a run for state attorney general, believes a wisecrack by one of three judges hearing it might cause other jurists to take her claims more seriously.

          This case involves Peta Lindsay, the 2012 candidate of the national Party for Socialism and Liberation, who tried two years ago to get onto the California ballot as the candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen refused Lindsay a ballot slot because she was under – far under – the Constitutional minimum age for a president, 35. Lindsay was born in 1984.

          Taitz told the judges that because Bowen scrutinized Lindsay’s candidacy enough to determine her age made her ineligible, Bowen should also have investigated whether Obama’s birth certificate, Social Security and draft cards were forgeries, as she and other birthers have claimed for more than five years.

          Taitz argued that it was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection provisions for Bowen to investigate Lindsay and not the birther claims about Obama. Bowen’s lawyers responded that Obama’s qualification was covered by the “political question doctrine,” because he was the nominee of a major party, rendering it unnecessary for her to check those claims.

          Responded Alex Kozinski, a Ronald Reagan appointee to the appeals court and a noted judicial eccentric, “What if your party were to run a dog for president of the United States? Would the secretary of state be obligated to put a dog on the ballot, too?”

          The three-judge panel, which also included Diarmuid O’Scannlain, another Reagan appointee and one of the Ninth Circuit’s most consistent conservatives, inquired of lawyers on the case what might have happened if the secretary of state were a birther.

          Those comments encourage Taitz to believe her claims, previously tossed out of several federal courtrooms, may at last be taken seriously. She hopes the Ninth Circuit panel will remand the Lindsay case to a lower court with an instruction for a legal discovery process investigating the forgery claims. The timing of any ruling in the Lindsay case is uncertain.

          Taitz does not believe such an investigation would cause Obama to be impeached or disqualified. But she claimed “It will influence the fall election and it will discredit all the critics of us birthers.”

          Of course, if the appeals panel were to make such a ruling, a request for a rehearing before an 11-member panel of Ninth Circuit judges sitting en banc would quickly ensue and be granted. Any such panel of the famously liberal court would be highly likely to reverse a pro-birther ruling.

          Not that Taitz believes any of this could lead to a reversal of the Electoral College vote, even though she has named that group, which only exists for a day or so every four years, as a defendant in some of her lawsuits.

          “But I am sure that if we ever have discovery and are able to prove that his Social Security card, for example, is false, it would be bigger than Watergate and he would be forced to resign,” Taitz said. “Yes, (Vice President) Joe Biden would then become president and immediately pardon Obama, like Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon. But that would also guarantee the next president would be a Republican.”

          All of which means a few possibly idle remarks by a couple of appellate judges have exposed birthers as purely political and partisan, while also raising their hopes to new highs.


     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

Thursday, February 20, 2014




          For almost two months, parents of California public school pupils have been able to claim with no proof that their religion precludes getting their children vaccinated against once dreaded and disabling diseases like polio, rubella, mumps, pertussis and smallpox.

          This enables parents who believe in false myths to exempt their children easily, even if they really have no religious beliefs at all.

          It comes thanks to a relatively unpublicized signing message Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012 attached to his approval of a bill originally designed to make it slightly more difficult for parents to evade the vaccinations almost all children must get before they can attend public schools.

          No one yet knows just how many parents are availing themselves of their Brown-ordered new ability to merely check off a box on a form rather than having a doctor, school nurse or nurse practitioner sign a form attesting that they have been informed of the benefits of vaccinations. Figures won’t be known until late spring at the earliest.

          But supporters of the vaccinations that have caused the near disappearances of many serious diseases warn that a proliferation of anti-vaccination myths might accelerate a trend away from vaccinations that actually began prior to Brown’s order.

          In short, parents who believe those shibboleths can claim a religious belief even when they have none, and they can’t be questioned.

          As it stands, no organized religion now forbids adherents to vaccinate their children. This may be because almost all of today’s religious doctrines originated before vaccinations began in the first half of the last century. “Even Christian Scientists say it’s in the parents’ hands to do what’s best for their children,” says Catherine Flores Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition. But many Christian Scientist adherents have claimed the tougher-to-get exemptions offered before this year.

          Altogether, 97 percent of all California schoolchildren are vaccinated, with various inoculations required prior to enrollment at assorted grade levels.

          “If a recent trend we noticed away from vaccinations accelerates, we’ll revisit the subject with both the Legislature and the governor,” Martin said. In California, the trend has been most pronounced in Marin, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara counties, Martin reported.

          An increase in exemptions seems likely under Brown’s order, which made it easier for parents to lie about their religious beliefs either to avoid the hassle of getting children vaccinated or because they actually believe some of the myths.

          One of those falsehoods ties the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to increased autism rates. This myth, originally published in a British medical journal, was debunked years ago and was long ago renounced even by the authors of the flawed British study. But it persists, even getting a full airing last fall on the syndicated TV talk show of former CBS News anchorwoman Katie Couric.

          “Like many flawed and false stories that circulate on the Internet, a lot of people who heard the original story didn’t see the retraction and backpedaling from this one,” said Martin. Kouric later tried to correct what she had aired, but Martin says “It’s too early to tell if that effort had any effect.”

          More myths are associated with other vaccines. Example: There’s a wide, but false, belief that pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines are tied to seizures, despite a lack of evidence for the claim.

          Brown has thus far appeared oblivious to the potential harm of his gratuitous signing order, his spokesman saying that he “believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit.” He has said nothing beyond that his order aimed only to “take into account First Amendment religious freedoms through an extremely narrow exemption.”

          But the exemption turns out to be quite wide, not narrow at all, a loophole in existing health laws. Parents who don’t want to bother now need only check off that box on a form.

          Which means that the moment there’s firm evidence the loophole created is being used by liars and not believers, Brown must reverse it even if that means admitting he made a big mistake.

     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




          Despite heavy mid-February rains that briefly drenched Northern California and the respectable ensuing snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California drought remains.

          In fact, it is still more severe than the worst previous dry spell of modern times, which hit in 1976-77.

          Short of millennial downpours in late winter or early spring, this means water rationing is almost certain for most Californians. When and if it comes, there are lessons to be learned from what happened 37 years ago:

          Rationing must be fair and include heavy consequences for failure to comply, homeowners must be willing to let some landscaping go brown and the entire system must be free of politics. Otherwise, there’s a good chance large numbers of residents simply won’t comply.

          It would also help to accelerate the water metering program now underway in Sacramento and other Central Valley communities that had no meters in the 1970s drought and a milder one that struck in 1991.

          How fair is it that drought or no drought, Sacramento residents (including tens of thousands of state officials and bureaucrats) use an average of 279 gallons per day, compared with 98 gallons for San Franciscans and less than 150 per day for Los Angeles residents, habitually accused by some Sacramentans of “stealing” their water?

          How fair is it for denizens of the leafy San Francisco Peninsula suburb of Hillsborough to use 334 gallons per day, while 14 miles away in much less fortunate East Palo Alto, residents glug only 79, according to reportage in the San Jose Mercury News?

          Those figures and the reality that only about half the homes in Sacramento and several other Central Valley cities now have water meters makes it blatantly unfair even to consider asking or requiring anyone to cut use by a set percentage.

          Yes, everyone will likely need to cut. But when Hillsborough or Sacramento residents cut by the 20 percent Gov. Jerry Brown now requests of all Californians, they still use far more water than most Californians do even in a normal, non-drought year.

          It’s also true that when people are told to cut voluntarily by a certain percentage, regardless of their normal use levels, they understand that percentage cuts may soon become mandatory and be enforced with penalties. But no one knows what date will be designated as the benchmark from which use levels are measured. So anyone cutting back now risks being forced to trim much more later, when rationing begins. This creates potential future penalties for anyone who conserves today. Strategically, it makes no sense for residents to trim now when they know they may soon be asked to reduce from a new, lower level.

          So rationing based on percentage cutbacks can be inherently unfair. By contrast, per-person use limits are fair, and Californians tend to respond well to them when imposed. In 1991, for example, the Marin Municipal Water District told households they could use no more than 50 gallons per person daily. Residents did better than that, using just 47 gallons each.

          A weakness in this kind of system is that water districts and city water departments can’t know how many persons live in each household. Even information from the latest Census is outdated. And yet…Californians have usually been honest about this kind of thing. The Marin district sent out its own census cards in 1991, with the total of residents reported on them almost identical to the district’s population.

          Percentage-based rationing can be successful, too, even if it’s unfair. In 1976-77, when Los Angeles households were asked to lower water use by 10 percent, residents responded by cutting almost twice that much.

          What’s more, a UC Berkeley study of nine water districts at the time showed that the heavier the fines for overuse, the better was compliance.

          Then there’s politics, like the February attempt of congressional Republicans to give Central Valley farms a virtual monopoly on the small supplies available this year. They ignored city residents and fishing interests, and risked putting several other species at risk of becoming endangered, as happened to the notorious Delta smelt in the 1970s drought.

          All of which means water rationing can work, as it has before, but only if Californians are convinced it is both necessary and fair.

     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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014




          White elephant: an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.—Wikipedia

    Remember the enthusiasm of Sempra Energy back in 2009, when it had just about finished its $975 million liquefied natural gas importing plant at Costa Azul, on the coast just north of Ensenada, in Baja California?

          Almost giddy at the prospect of circumventing many California regulations and bringing LNG to North America from places like Indonesia and Russia, Sempra won approval from Mexican authorities by promising to sell some of the plant’s throughput for use there – and that is happening.

          But the San Diego-based company – parent of Southern California Gas Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. – two of California’s largest utilities – also planned to pipe a lot of that gas north and use it in the San Diego area and perhaps beyond. This hasn’t happened.

          For hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale deposits in states like Wyoming and North Dakota and Pennsylvania, and soon very likely here in California, drove the cost of natural gas down near modern-era lows and made domestic supplies abundant.

          LNG is natural gas frozen at one point and shipped in tankers across vast ocean distances, then rewarmed back into its former gaseous state and placed in pipelines from a receiving terminal.

          If the natural gas industry had had its way, the California coast would now be dotted with such receiving plants. They were proposed everywhere from San Diego County beaches to Humboldt Bay and points in between like Ventura County, Santa Monica Bay and Long Beach. None was ever built in California, state authorities becoming convinced after a long flirtation with the idea that there was no need for the costly facilities.

    Othere places, like New Jersey and Louisiana, were not so lucky. Costa Azul won approval in Baja after a vetting process much shorter and more easygoing than California’s, with Sempra hoping this would give LNG a backdoor entrée into the wallets of California consumers. Because no Costa Azul gas has moved north, this state’s consumers so far have paid none of the construction costs of either the plant or any of the ships serving it.

          Meanwhile, the merits of California’s arduous approval process are now clear. For one thing, a series small earthquakes has broken the main highway running near Costa Azul apart (documented in several videos like this one:, even though Sempra reports its plant is unaffected. There is also a land dispute over Sempra’s title to the land at Costa Azul, mentioned as a caveat in offering materials when Sempra sold stock in its Mexican operations last year. And Sempra refuses to say how much of Costa Azul’s capacity is going unused.

          At the same time, Costa Azul, like many LNG plants built to receive gas in North America, has turned – at least in part – to shipping it out. One example saw a load of LNG from Indonesia reshipped to Great Britain under a one-time permit from Mexico’s energy agency.

          So far, the only customers for Costa Azul’s gas are 20 industries in Baja California, including one local electric utility.

          But while most U.S. receiving LNG facilities are being flipped for export of gas derived from fracking, that’s hardly likely to be a major use for Costa Azul, since no pipeline now exists for bringing fracked gas there.

          All of which makes Costa Azul fit the classic definition of a white elephant – a fate that likely would also have befallen at least some of those other LNG plants once pushed in California, had they ever been built.

          Which proves that sometimes it can be just plain better not to build, a lesson not lost upon opponents of California’s planned high speed rail project and the massive water tunnels proposed by Gov Jerry 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, go to




          One in every eight or nine earthquakes is followed by an even more powerful aftershock, officially making the first quake into a foreshock.

          And the farther we get into this year’s political season, the more it seems that the stunning 2012 effects of the “Top Two” primary election system voters approved two years earlier were merely a foreshock.

          Two years ago, the new system giving runoff election slots to the two leading primary election votegetters for California posts produced 28 runoffs matching members of the same party. In most cases, the more moderate candidate won, as voters from the other party often decided these contests.

          This year, even if intraparty runoffs should be less numerous, the effects of Top Two are already even more profound. Start with the run for state controller, where current Assembly Speaker John Perez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee figure to contest an all-Democratic runoff in November.

     There are also the spate of veteran members of Congress who chose this year to retire, some because their once-safe districts would no longer be so safe for them, the competition coming from within their own parties.

          The retirements will produce several dramatic contests. But most emblematic of Top Two’s effects may be the reelection attempt of Democrat Mike Honda in the Silicon Valley’s 17th District, and races to succeed retiring Democrat Henry Waxman and retiring Republican Buck McKeon in Southern California.

          Honda, once entrenched in a heavily Democratic district, now has a very well-financed opponent in former Deputy Commerce Secretary Ro Khanna, a fellow Democrat whose appeal to the district’s large Asian-American populace may match Honda’s. Seeing this, it’s common to assume the two will face off in November.

          But not so fast. The virtually unknown Stanford University anesthesiologist Vanila Singh may well enter this race with a GOP label after her name on the ballot. Unless another Republican gets in at the last moment, that tag alone could produce enough votes to knock Khanna out of the runoff.

          Things look similar in the 33rd District covering much of the Los Angeles West Side and several nearby South Bay cities. Eyes are watering among droves of Democrats who spy an office without term limits. Already declared as candidates are former Los Angeles mayoral hopeful Wendy Gruel and state Sen. Ted Lieu, while Secretary of State Debra Bowen (formerly a state lawmaker from the area) and former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler consider running.

          Independent and former Republican Bill Bloomfield, who picked up 45 percent of the 2012 vote when facing Waxman, could benefit from all that. If the gaggle of Democrats fractures the party’s votes, Bloomfield or fellow independent Marianne Williamson, a bestselling author, could sneak into the runoff with 30 percent or so of the primary tally.

    This very kind of splintering happened two years ago in the San Bernardino County district of Republican Gary Miller, who faced another Republican in that year’s runoff despite his district’s large Democratic registration margin. Miller may not be so lucky this year.

          In McKeon’s 25th District, covering a wide arc from Lancaster and Palmdale to Simi Valley, former Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland, who lost a bid for Congress in a different district two years ago, is widely expected to face fellow GOPer  Steve Knight, a state senator from the Antelope Valley. But if Knight and Strickland split the Republican vote, likely Democratic candidate Lee Rogers, a podiatrist who drew 45 percent of the vote last time against McKeon, could oust one of them.

          One statewide race – the run to succeed the termed-out Bowen as secretary of state figures to be similar. Prominent Democratic state Sens. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles and Leland Yee of San Francisco (and suburbs) have expected for months to face off in November. A third Democrat, Derek Cressman, former director of the good-government lobby Common Cause, and independent Dan Schnur, director of USC’s political studies institute, are also running.

    But don’t bet against Republican Pete Peterson, the only one here with the GOP label, making the runoff as the others splinter non-GOP votes.

          Even if all these races don’t end up as intra-party battles -- and they all could -- the effects of Top Two grow stronger every election year. As it did last time, this will probably have a moderating influence that can help end government gridlock at both state and federal levels.

     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