Wednesday, July 30, 2014




          Whichever way Californians vote this fall on Proposition 49, which aims to convince Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on political fundraising, they will send a dangerous message to the rest of America.

          Vote yes, in favor of nixing the court’s decision to remove restrictions on political spending by corporations and labor unions, and voters will be saying they want this done at all costs. With the Republican-dominated House of Representatives highly unlikely to pass anything that might restrict corporate political donations, a yes vote could conceivably lead to the first full-fledged constitutional convention America has seen since the 1780s.

          Vote no, thus ratifying the Supreme Court’s opening the corporate political money spigot, and Californians will be saying the decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission is OK with even one of America’s most liberal states.

          That gives voters a Hobson’s choice: Whatever they do, there’s potential for significant harm to this country’s political fabric.

          There can be no doubt of the danger in a California vote that might be strongly enough in favor of repeal to inspire other states to act if Congress does not. Although some dispute this, the odds are a constitutional convention would not be limited just to the issue that inspired it. It would not take many states to trigger such a convention, either.

          For 34 state legislatures, aiming to create a federal balanced budget amendment, have voted since the 1970s to call a convention. At least four later rescinded their votes, but there’s nothing in the current Constitution allowing them to do that. The 34 – Michigan in 2012 being the most recent – make up the two-thirds needed to call a convention, even if most of their votes have been hanging around unnoticed for almost 40 years.

          If just a few more states now voted to call a convention, aiming to repeal Citizens United, doubts about the rescinded votes could quickly become irrelevant and the House would have to call a convention.

          At any such meeting, as at the first one which lasted four months in 1787, all subjects would likely be fair game. Would a convention sustain the Bill of Rights with its freedoms of speech, press, religion and association that have long been the essence of America, or would delegates truncate them?

          Would Second Amendment gun rights be strengthened or weakened? Would delegates eliminate the Supreme Court-affirmed right to privacy that has led to abortion rights but is not spelled out explicitly anywhere in the Constitution – or would they beef it up? Would they eliminate the Supreme Court itself? What about separation of church and state?

          Most legal experts agree an unlimited number of questions could be opened up, one reason there has been no such convention in more than 225 years. It could be a classic Pandora’s Box, many unknowns waiting to leap out.

          But then there’s the message that would be sent by a no vote on Proposition 49: Even California’s mostly liberal voters don’t mind unlimited corporate and union bucks being dumped into politics.

          Surely Gov. Jerry Brown, as veteran and savvy a chief executive as California has ever had, knew all this when he allowed the measure to go to the ballot without his signature, declining to veto it. But in his message permitting the vote, he did not speak to the dangers, only the foolishness of asking voters to decide something that “has no legal effect whatsoever.”

          That reality might just give voters an out. The fact this proposition would not bind anyone to do anything is the basis of an attempt by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. to toss it off the ballot. Using similar reasoning, the state Supreme Court in 1984 dumped another advisory measure from the ballot.

          But the dangers in either a yes or no vote are potentially very real, if the state’s current high court doesn’t take similar action, and quickly.

    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




          We know a fair amount about the drought that has now afflicted California for about three years: It has been the driest period since record-keeping began in the 19th Century. If their wells are deep enough, farmers can still pretty much pump all the ground water they like, while homeowners can be fined up to $500 for watering down a walkway. Water use actually rose after Gov. Jerry Brown asked for a voluntary 20 percent cutback.

          A large seawater desalinating plant will open by 2016 in the north San Diego County city of Carlsbad. Ground has subsided in many parts of the Central Valley as aquifers have been pumped faster than they could be replenished. Weather forecasters predict next winter may be as dry as the last one.

          But there remains much that we don’t know, as detailed in the latest issue of Stanford Magazine article by writer Kate Galbraith. It turns out that what we don’t know may be more fundamental that what we do know. For example, because more than 255,000 homes and businesses in 42 communities lack water meters and because of the almost unlimited, unmetered ground water pumping, no one knows just how much water California uses or needs.

          In Sacramento, scene of the meeting where state regulators this summer decreed there be less watering of lawns all over California, about half the homes and businesses lack water meters. They can use all they like without any financial or legal consequence unless they have the temerity to hose down a walkway or sidewalk.

          For another example, we have no idea how much water lies in most California underground lakes, also known as aquifers. We do know that golf courses in the Coachella Valley portion of Riverside County, including Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and the aptly-named Indian Wells, remain quite green even as the state Capitol lawn and many others go brown. Drought or not, a vast underground lake beneath most of that area has so far kept water shortages there at bay. Plus, much of the water sprayed onto that valley’s myriad greens and fairways eventually filters back down to the aquifer.

          But it’s the extent of aquifers in the Central Valley that’s most important to know. As farmers expend tens of thousands of dollars deepening wells to reach the new, lower levels of the aquifers, no one has the foggiest notion how long this can go on.

          Meanwhile, state law effectively permits farmers, water districts and anyone else with a well to pump all the water they want, the presumption being that water beneath a property belongs to the property owner. Never mind that ground water has no idea who owns it or where property lines may lie. Which can mean that if one well owner pumps excessively, others in the area get left high and dry.

          Meters, Stanford Magazine says, could fix some of that. “If everyone had a meter on their well and you knew how much everyone was using and you knew what the aquifer levels are, you could sort of calculate everybody’s contribution to aquifer depletion,” Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Stanford University’s Water in the West program told the magazine. “But if you don’t know any of those things, they just become things to fight about.”

          So ground water regulation bills now wending their way through the Legislature could be vital to planning the state’s water future. So could expanded aerial surveys of the Central Valley’s land formations and levels, which can indicate how much of a region’s ground water has been lost over time.

          Every other Western state now regulates ground water use. But California operates blindly, and could pay a heavy price if it doesn’t begin sizing up its real situation, since ground water is the usual backup when surface water supplies from aqueducts and reservoirs run low.

          Yes, conservation is important, but even more vital is information. Right now, California simply doesn’t have enough upon which to base vital decisions that become more urgent with every passing month of drought.


    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, July 24, 2014




          Make no mistake, the fall election season began on the evening of June 3, just as soon as the primary election polls closed. But no one has spent much on the election since then, nor has the vast majority of voters focused on any issues to be decided in November.

    This will change in a month or so, when the campaign gets underway semi-officially during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

    When it does, three things will be certain:

    -- Many more voters will turn out this fall than cast primary ballots.

    -- Even though the fall campaign features just seven propositions, including four in the initiative and referendum category of popularly-placed proposals, two or three of them will be election centerpieces and spending records will be set.

    -- Democrats will be favored in every statewide contest, even for controller, where the leading primary vote-getter was Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Things are likely to turn out just as expected, too.

    These three items may not seem tightly linked, but they definitely are.

          The presence of the initiatives and referendum on the ballot will attract far more voters than the record-low turnout of almost two months ago. That’s precisely what Democrats in the Legislature planned back in 2011, voting overwhelmingly to place all propositions qualified via voter signatures onto the November ballot, keeping June initiative-free. They wanted more voters at the polls in November, when they mostly compete against Republicans, rather than have the big numbers come out for the intra-party fratricide of the top-two primary.

          The likely result of those machinations and the higher turnout they will produce is that Democrats stand to take all statewide offices.

          Republicans feared just this when initiatives and referenda were removed from the June ballot. At the time, state Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, then the Republican leader in the Senate, called the measure “game-playing.”

          But Gov. Jerry Brown, somehow keeping a straight face, said it was really about getting more voters involved in key decisions. He noted that in 2010, the last general election not including a presidential race, 10.3 million Californians voted in November, compared with just 5.7 million in that year’s primary.

          With Democrats holding a large plurality among registered voters, the more people participate in the fall, the better Democrats figure to do. That’s especially important for the only two Democrats who had close races last June. Yes, Democratic Board of Equalization member Betty Yee squeaked into November by just 400 votes over former Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez and will have to make up ground on Swearengin, who finished a few percentage points ahead of both Democrats.

          A bigger turnout is also important for Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, who barely won a primary plurality over Republican academic Pete Peterson.

          The one ballot measure figuring to draw the most voter attention – and special interest money – will be Proposition 45, an attempt to place health insurance rates under the same kind of regulation by the state insurance commissioner as auto and property insurance now get. This one is strongly backed by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, whose founder, Harvey Rosenfield, wrote the 1988 Proposition 108 that created the current insurance regulations.

          Expect that one to draw more than $40 million, the bulk from insurance companies fighting it.

          Also of high interest will be Proposition 48, a referendum placed on the ballot by a combination of anti-gambling groups and existing Indian casinos. This one would overturn two gaming compacts setting up the state’s first off-reservation casinos.

          Expect heavy interest, too, in the Proposition 43 water bond, if Brown and legislators can agree on its precise content. Figuring to be little understood by many voters is Proposition 44, which would make permanent a rainy-day fund to cover potential state budget shortfalls.

          Two other initiatives will also draw heavy investment, as trial lawyers seek to increase current maximum medical practice judgments and liberal groups try to reduce some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

          No one yet knows how all these issues will come out, but for sure they will interest far more voters than the boring June primary, exactly as the Democrats planned.

    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 c
over fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          For some people familiar with the history of the runup to World War II, there’s a sense of déjà vu in today’s humanitarian crisis along the Mexican border these days, as resistance rises against the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children attempting to enter and stay in the United States.

          Eyewitness reports in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers indicate that about half the children coming without parents are actual refugees fleeing murderous Central American drug gangs who would kill them without qualm or consequence if they refuse to become addicted or go to work for the gangs as drug runners, prostitutes or worse. Even if they’re only six or eight years old.

          But many Americans are skeptical of those reports, doubting so many could be induced to become refugees so suddenly without a motive that is mostly economic.

          Back in the early to mid-1930s, there were also doubts and skepticism when Alan Cranston (later a longtime U.S. senator from California) described in detail German persecution of Jews via the old International News Service wire. Similar reports in the New York Times were greeted with the sort of skepticism that’s rampant today.

          When the German-Amerikan (cq) Line steamer St. Louis attempted to land 937 Jewish refugees from Europe in Cuba in 1939, Havana residents protested en masse on the docks of their city, forcing their right-wing government to turn away the ship, which was then denied even the privilege of docking in nearby Miami. Those aboard were returned to Europe, to face the Holocaust.

          Conservatives in America led the resistance to taking in those Jews, claiming many were Communists. Similarly, some of today’s protestors claim without any evidence that the youthful wave of immigrants includes terrorist “sleepers.” There is no more proof of today’s canards than there was 75 years ago.

          Seeming to echo the reception the Jews got in Havana, tea party members and other screaming protesters waved and wore American flags while carrying banners inscribed “Return to Sender” as they blocked buses carrying illegal immigrant children to a temporary shelter in the Riverside County city of Murietta.

          The parallels between the St. Louis saga, now widely recognized as one of the most shameful episodes in Western Hemisphere history, and today’s humanitarian crisis, of course, are not precise.

          For one thing, all passengers but one aboard the St. Louis were genuine, unquestionable refugees from persecution and near-certain death. It’s probable that only about half the 50,000 to 60,000 undocumented children attempting to enter the U.S. in the last year fit that category.

          Most of the others want to join parents already here illegally or simply gain an economic foothold in America.

          So it’s important to determine who fits into which category. Federal law provides that every person claiming refugee status – which the United Nations is now pressuring American authorities to grant many of the recently arrived kids – must get a judicial hearing to determine the validity of each claim. A 2008 law demands those hearings be held quicker for children than others claiming asylum.

          But no one anticipated a wave like today’s, so there are nowhere near enough immigration judges to hear all the cases.

          That’s one thing President Obama wants to fix via a $3.7 billion emergency funding request to deal with the crisis. But partisanship in Congress makes it all but certain the funding will not come, leaving the children’s fate up in the air as there will likely be no new or even temporary cadre of immigration judges. Some kids will find foster homes, some will no doubt be deported, but the fate of the vast majority is in doubt.

          The ultimate solution, of course, will have to be improvements in the children’s home countries, but since America is not about to police hundreds of Central American towns, this country can’t cure the situation on its own, but must deal with symptoms.

          There is no doubt, though, that it’s incumbent on us to avoid another shameful humanitarian disaster like the St. Louis episode, which is far from forgotten even after three quarters of a century.


    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, July 16, 2014




          For a state that has long been a symbol of youth, there’s been a lot of age among California’s preeminent politicians of the last decade. But that began to change in 2012, and the shift accelerated this summer as many of the old guard chose not to brave the “top two” primary system that threatened to expose them to serious intra-party challenges.

          Changes in the state’s congressional delegation two years ago saw departures of the long-serving likes of Fortney “Pete” Stark (East Bay area), David Dreier (San Dimas), Jerry Lewis (Redlands), Elton Gallegly (Simi Valley), Mary Bono Mack (Palm Springs), George Radanovich (Merced), all  either retiring or getting turned out.

          The trend continued this year, with congressional kingpins like Howard “Buck” McKeon (Santa Clarita), Henry Waxman (West Los Angeles) and George Miller (East Bay area) retiring. All three are or have been chairmen of major House committees. This is as bi-partisan a trend as can be, affecting Republicans and Democrats almost equally.

          It will surely grow in coming years, as a quick look at the ages of those who represent the coastal districts from San Francisco to Santa Barbara makes clear. These usually solid Democratic districts stretch hundreds of miles south from the San Francisco turf of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 74, who bristles at questions about her age. There are also Jackie Speier, 64, of San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, 71, of Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, 66, whose district reaches from San Jose to Gilroy; Mike Honda, 72, now facing a serious challenge in his San Jose district; Sam Farr, 72, of Monterey County, and Lois Capps, 76, of Santa Barbara County.

          All are highly capable. But any of them could draw a major challenge at any time, as Stark did two years ago, when the 40-year congressional veteran from Alameda County, now 82, was surprised and beaten by an intra-party challenge from then 31-year-old Eric Swalwell, a Dublin city councilman. Swalwell beat Stark in their all-Democrat 2012 runoff by a thin 52-48 percent margin. So Stark, like many of his former colleagues, would most likely still be in Congress but for the top two system which permitted the Republican minority in his district – displeased by his long liberal record – to vote against him. No GOP candidate would stand a chance in that district.

          Chances are seats in most districts seeing change will not change parties, but they will get younger representatives who figure to start as back-benchers many years away from any hope of chairing a big-time committee.

          Change is also in the wind in statewide offices, where Gov. Jerry Brown will likely be reelected one last time this year, with the Democratic logjam behind him at last beginning to break up after that. Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, for one, wanted to be governor four years ago, but Brown’s strength forced him to settle for lieutenant governor. Still, no one will simply hand him the top state job. Expect people like Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Controller John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and possibly his successor, current Mayor Eric Garcetti, all to consider 2018 runs for the state’s top job.

          And should either of California’s aging pair of U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, step down – a possibility if Democrats lose their Senate majority this fall and both lose the committee chairmanships they love – any of the current gubernatorial prospects and some folks now in Congress might seek that job instead of running for governor.

          It’s tough to predict who might emerge among Republicans, because they now hold no statewide offices and are not favored to win any this fall, either. But a respectable autumn run against Brown by businessman Neel Kashkari, Brown’s fall opponent, could propel him into prominence.

          The one thing that’s sure in all this is change. It’s coming, as is the end of the near monopoly on high office now enjoyed by people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.


    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 are few worse feelings for a driver than receiving a letter purporting to show that person in the act of running a red light.

          But not many legal items are less enforceable or reliable, despite what the California Supreme Court said in an early summer ruling which held red light camera photos and videos have “a presumption of authenticity.”

          There’s a reason traffic cops routinely demand that drivers sign the bottom of every ticket they write: That signature constitutes a promise either to pay a fine or appear in court on a specified date. Drivers make no such promise on red light tickets, which normally carry fines of about $480.

          That was one reason the city of Los Angeles abandoned red light cameras in 2012. The decision came about a year after that city’s police chief, Charlie Beck, candidly admitted that no actions were being taken against drivers who simply ignored red light camera violation notices. Because they’re not routinely sent as certified or registered mail (too costly), prosecutors cannot prove drivers are lying if they say they never got the mailed tickets.

          This in effect creates two classes of citizens, in apparent violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment: drivers who dutifully pay up the almost $500 fines on demand and scofflaws who don’t, and pay nothing. There could hardly be more unequal treatment.

          There’s also the issue of red light camera reliability. The nub of the case against cited drivers is usually a videotape which drivers can often see via an Internet link provided in the mailed violation notice.

          Since the vast bulk of red light camera tickets involve drivers making rolling stops rather than full stops before right turns, the accuracy of videos is critical. A still photo may place a driver in the middle of a turn during a red light, but doesn’t establish that he or she didn’t stop before proceeding with the turn.

          If the video camera doesn't run precisely at life-speed, but is a little faster, a vehicle can appear to be rolling through the stop, when it fact it made a full stop. In several cases where police have been cross-examined about how often their video cameras are calibrated, they testified they didn’t know, that it was up to the camera operator – usually Redflex Traffic Systems or American Traffic Solutions, both based in Arizona. But those firms are never available for cross-examination in court and the Supreme Court said they don't have to be.

          So while drivers contesting red light camera tickets can usually question a cop, they can’t cross-examine the ultimate witness against them, an egregious violation of a basic constitutional right, no matter what the state justices may say.

          But legal reasons are not the main cause for removal of red light cameras in Poway, Oakland and most other cities that have gotten rid of them: finances are. Because more than half the take from each $480 fine goes to the state or the operating companies, cities often don’t make much profit from the cameras, while annoying thousands of their citizens and visitors.

          There’s disagreement in Oakland, for one example, over how much the city made last year from the 11 red light cameras it then had operating: The city says it netted just $280,000, while Redflex said the city share came to about $1.1 million. Oakland police are now auditing paid fines to see which figure is closest to correct.

          In Poway, near San Diego, cameras at three intersections netted between $100,000 and $218,000 per year. Apparently, those smallish receipts were not enough for either city to put up with complaints about cameras violating privacy and the exorbitantly high fines for rolling stops before right turns.

          All of which means red light cameras are at a different kind of crossroad: The state’s highest court says drivers don’t have the right to cross-examine camera operations because of the presumption of accuracy in their findings, while some of the state’s largest cities have shut their cameras down.

          The upshot is that unfair as the cameras may be if they’re not properly calibrated, their fate in many places will hang not on traffic safety, but on the city budget dollars they produce, regardless of anyone's constitutional rights.


    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, July 9, 2014




          The chorus of global warming deniers has not shrunk. Outcries claiming the entire issue is fraudulent are not going away.

          But realism is also slowly setting in among some California groups that long tried to wish away the issue by claiming any warming that’s happening is strictly a cyclical natural phenomenon.

          California ranchers are now among the first interest groups to realize that like it or not, global warming can no longer be denied with any semblance of accuracy. For very gradually, ranchers are seeing the grasslands they depend upon to feed their cattle begin to shrink and convert naturally to shrub land.

    What’s the difference? Shrubs have a greater ability to withstand wildfires, but cattle don’t like to eat them. This means the more grasslands gradually shift to chaparral-like shrubbery, the more ranchers must spend on hay.

          For consumers, that means more expensive beef, from filet mignon to hamburger.

          It’s not that grassland is disappearing quickly or that the loss is inevitable. But there has already been some acreage lost, mostly in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and a 2013 study from Duke University and the Environmental Defense Fund concluded that if global warming continues its present trends, it will hike California ranchers’ spending on hay by upwards of $235 million a year within the next half century.

          That time frame is similar to predictions made two years ago by the state Natural Resources Agency, which concluded that if current trends continue (sea level along the California coast having risen eight inches since 1910), as many as 500,000 persons living near beaches and marshes will be threatened with flooding by the end of this century.

          Climate change denial tends to run stronger among political conservatives than others, so an interesting contradiction is arising. For these are usually the same folks who oppose increasing national debt levels for fear of fobbing large burdens onto generations to come. Why, if they don’t want to impose financial burdens on their descendants, do they not mind hitting those same generations with an environmental calamity?

          Maybe because they don’t believe there’s anything humans can do about global warming, which many conservative politicians and writers ascribe to nature. They ignore, though, the hundreds of academic studies that have found increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are associated with higher ambient temperatures.

          Maybe, also, they don’t think a degree or two of difference in average temperatures makes much difference. The once-large and permanent icefields visible from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park offer some evidence to the contrary: Photographed a century ago at midsummer by the legendary Ansel Adams and others, they are now all but gone. There was barely a glimmer of ice visible from the point last July and there’s less each year. It’s the same at Glacier National Park in Montana, which may now be a misnomer.

          So even if the warming visible on rangelands and high mountain peaks were mostly from natural causes, it is helped along by human activity that produces CO2. Which means today’s adults have an obligation to their children to do whatever they can to contain it.

          True, some other countries and much of America are doing little or nothing about all this. Does that excuse Californians from our responsibility? Meanwhile, plenty of other countries have acted similarly to this state’s cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

          One officerof the California Cattlemen’s Assn., which just over two years ago issued a statement opposing all cap-and-trade legislation, later said in a rangeland conference at UC Davis that climate change (natural or not) is “certainly going to impact all the other natural resources that we’ve worked to steward for so many years.”

          This change of attitude toward climate change from an organization that’s anything but politically liberal was remarkable.

          Whether it presages movement among other interest groups that have consistently fought climate change legislation is an open question. But it demonstrates that ideology can sometimes go out the window when confronted with hard reality.


        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




          For almost seven months, California parents have been free to claim without offering any proof that their religion forbids getting their children vaccinated against once dreaded and disabling diseases like polio, mumps, pertussis and smallpox.

          This allows parents who believe false myths to exempt their children from the vaccinations usually required for public school enrollment, even if they really have no religious beliefs at all.

          Is it just coincidence that first six months of this new “personal belief” rule saw cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, more than double from last year? Through mid-June, 4,558 cases had been reported in the state, fully 1,100 during a single two-week period in June. There were three deaths in this year’s first six months.

    The state’s officially-declared whooping cough epidemic is now on pace to top even 2010, when California recorded 9,120 cases, 809 hospitalizations and 10 deaths from the ailment. That year saw the most cases in more than 60 years, since record-keeping began.

    Officials are reluctant to tie the new epidemic to a once-unpublicized 2012 signing message from Gov. Jerry Brown, attached to his approval of a bill originally designed to make it more difficult for parents to evade vaccinating their kids.

          Brown's words now allow parents merely to check off a box on a form, rather than having a doctor, school nurse or nurse practitioner sign a paper attesting that they have been informed of the benefits of vaccinations, as was previously needed for an exemption.

          From the time his message became reality late last year, Brown has appeared oblivious to its the potential harm, his press secretary saying earlier this year that he “believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit.” He has said nothing beyond stating 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 wide enough, as the football cliché goes, to drive a truck through.

          So far, no one is directly blaming the Brown message for the epidemic of whooping cough, whose symptoms include “rapid coughing spells that end with a tell-tale ‘whooping’ sound,” according to a state Public Health department description.

          “Pertussis is just cyclical,” the department’s deputy director and chief epidemiologist, Dr. Gil Chavez, said during a conference call. “The biggest contributor now is that the most modern vaccine’s effects wane over time, with the fullest protection lasting just two to three years.”

          In fact, current pertussis vaccines given children under nine have shorter-term effects than those used in prior generations. “The vaccine is now easier on children, producing less fevers and less arm soreness than previous ones,” said Catherine Flores Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition. The tradeoff is shorter duration.

          Martin added that only after school opens this fall and officials report how many personal belief exemptions are filed will there be certainty about some effects of the Brown message. But she agreed that the confluence of the new form and the record number of cases, coming more rapidly than ever, might be linked.

          “Politicians have a responsibility to protect the public and they don’t when they issue an order like this one,” she said.

          The health department reported rates of pertussis cases this year are highest in Marin and Sonoma counties. “It boils down to the number of susceptible individuals in those counties,” said Chavez.

          But Martin said, “It’s worth noting that those two counties also are the ones with the highest rates of parental refusals to allow their children to be vaccinated.”

          That’s in line with a Johns Hopkins University study which concluded last year that California’s 2010 pertussis epidemic was fueled in part by an increase in the numbers of parents refusing to vaccinate children. The study showed the locations with the highest disease rates were also those with the most personal belief exemptions.

          And that was before Brown’s order produced the new, easier to employ form in use this year. Still, it will be a few months before anyone can definitely establish cause and effect between the form and the newest outbreak.

    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, July 3, 2014




          For more than a decade, while California has been among the most liberal of America’s “blue” states, its highest court has been dominated by leftovers from two of its more conservative governors.

          That’s about to change, as two retirements will soon let Gov. Jerry Brown change the entire tone of the California Supreme Court, long a bastion of pro-business, anti-consumer decisions and sometimes a brake on movements toward same-sex marriage, loose regulation of marijuana and other social issues dear to activists on the left.

          The first of the court’s old guard to go was Justice Joyce L. Kennard, appointed in 1989 as the second term of Gov. George Deukmejian wound down. Never a leader of the right, for a quarter-century Kennard could usually be counted on as a pro-business vote in almost every case. She resigned last spring and Brown has yet to name a replacement.

          Next to leave will be fellow Deukmejian appointee Marvin R. Baxter, known for most of the past 20 years as the California court’s most conservative member.

          He resigned in late spring, effective when his term ends next January.

          With 2011 Brown appointee Godwin Liu already the leading liberal in the state judiciary, this means that within six months, California’s top court should feature three Brown choices, the most for any governor since Deukmejian got to name six during his eight years in office. Three Deukmejian appointments, however, came after he spearheaded a move to vote three previous Brown-appointed justices off the court when their terms came up for yes-or-no retention votes in 1986. Deukmejian claimed all – especially former Chief Justice Rose Bird – were soft on crime.

          The products of that Deukmejian move are long gone, but the tough sentencing laws he pushed, with okays from justices he appointed -- including one of his former law partners -- are a root cause of today’s prison overcrowding crisis. Academic studies are inconclusive on whether they also reduced violent crime.

          Now Brown gets another chance. He turned to Liu soon after returning to power in Sacramento, not long after Liu was denied a slot on the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because some Republican U.S. senators objected to his academic writings excoriating the records of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts. With a moderately conservative majority on the California court, his influence has not yet been strong.

          That could change. Some legal experts believe Liu, along with Brown’s new appointees, may quickly form a court majority with the moderate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, the first of ex-Gov. Pete Wilson’s two remaining state Supreme Court appointees.

          This depends on two eventualities: First, Brown has given no clue about who his next high court appointee will be. There has been strong talk of a Hispanic appointee because Latinos have been unrepresented on the court since Gray Davis appointee Carlos Moreno left in 2011, opening the way for Liu. Moreno is now ambassador to the tiny Central America nation of Belize.

          Among potential appointees are Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Stanford University law Prof. Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and several federal judges appointed by President Obama.

          The second eventuality, of course, is that Brown would have to be reelected in November in order to choose Baxter’s successor. Just now, that looks like a lock. Brown netted more than 54 percent of the June primary election vote, and but for a misguided portion of the top two primary law, the 2010 Proposition 14, he would already be reelected. But he must run again this fall, against former banker and Treasury Department executive Neel Kashkari, who drew just over 19 percent of the primary vote. All Republican candidates in that open primary together took only about 35 percent of the vote, barely topping their percentage of registered voters.

          So chances are Brown will get another crack at appointing a state Supreme Court justice next year. His choice will more than likely come from the same list he’s considering for the current vacancy.

          The upshot will be a very different court than California has seen since the early 1980s, the last time Brown had something to say about it.

    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




          From early in his career, Gov. Jerry Brown has had a proclivity for dismissing problems with wisecracks or aphorisms. As early as 1975, in the first term of his first go-‘round as California’s top official, he mocked university professors’ pleas for pay raises by saying they didn’t need more money, but could make do with “psychic rewards.”

          He’s done the same thing lately as companies like Toyota and Occidental Petroleum announced they were moving headquarters and thousands of jobs out of state, noting that those firms and their jobs are just a tiny fraction of the California economy. True, but the moves are very consequential for the employees involved and everyone they do business with.

          Now, with the state beginning to release some non-violent prisoners to comply with a federal court order demanding that prison crowding be reduced, Brown told a reporter that “The U.S. Supreme Court ordered us to release thousands of prisoners.” The releases, he said, “are a creative solution.”

          But as soon as Brown’s Republican reelection opponent Neel Kashkari finishes hammering him for allowing Toyota and Occidental to leave (the companies say no official persuasion or tax concession could have prevented their shifts), the GOP will start in on prison releases.

          Again, Brown will plead that he did all he could to resist the releases and the accompanying realignment program that sees many felons who would previously have done time in state prisons serving shorter terms in county jails. And he did, coming close to a historic confrontation with the judges involved.

          But it’s also true that legislative Democrats, with no resistance from Brown, killed a Republican proposal to put all prisoners sentenced to more than 10 years in state prisons and not county jails.

          The GOP cited the case of Randall Murray Allison, arrested on Interstate 5 with more than 200 pounds of cocaine worth about $2.3 million in the largest drug bust in Kings County history. Because of realignment and the non-violent nature of Allison’s crime, he was sentenced to 28 years in county jail, but space issues there mean he will probably serve only about 30 months in jail, less than 10 percent of his sentence.

          Allison is not alone. State corrections officials say hundreds of prisoners will be paroled “slightly earlier” than normal before the end of this year. Plus, some second-time offenders who have done half their enhanced time under the “three-strikes” law may become eligible for parole.

          If Brown’s job approval rating (now well above 50 percent) were not so high, this could pose a serious political problem for him. And it still might if Kashkari begins to catch fire.

          For the reality of realignment so far is that while violent crime is down in most areas since the program began, property crime is up. This means car burglaries, thefts from garages where doors are inadvertently left open and the like, with stolen goods frequently fenced to pay for drugs.

          Even though no one has yet been able to show a direct link between those new crimes and realignment, many victims would likely blame Brown if his opponent could make any connection.

          And yet, with the prod from the court order, California is now doing exactly what a new report from the National Academy of Sciences says all states should: cutting the rate of incarceration.

          “The United States is past the point where the number of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” said Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The problem, says the study he headed, is that few criminals reform while in prison, so “When ex-inmates return to their communities, their lives often continue to be characterized by violence, joblessness…” and other problems.

          It’s true that fear of long prison terms has never been proven to reduce overall crime. But when someone like Randall Murray Allison balances the potential gain from trying to sell more than $2 million worth of cocaine against little more than two years in county jail, there will surely be more crime.

          Which means that if he doesn’t want political trouble either this fall or in a future term as governor, Brown needs to come up with a more creative solution to the overcrowding issue. Or else he will get at least some of the blame for any new crime increase that might 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