Thursday, September 25, 2014




          There is little doubt about why the putative “Six Californias” ballot initiative that Silicon Valley billionaire Tim Draper hoped to put on the 2016 ballot failed: It was and is a terrible idea.

          This measure appeared to be a shoo-in to make the next ballot for which it was eligible. Draper had almost limitless funds and put petition circulators at thousands of storefront doorways in the present California. The going rate paid to circulators can run upwards of $5 per valid signature. Draper put $5.2 million behind his measure to fracture the nation’s largest existing state.

          And yet, it failed miserably. It was the worst failure in the modern era for any proposed citizen initiative with respectable financial support. Draper needed 807,615 valid voter signatures to get his measure onto the ballot. He submitted more than 1 million in June, and it became almost a foregone conclusion that his measure would qualify.

          But when county election officials around the state reviewed signatures at random to see how many were valid, they concluded that only about 750,000 were really those of registered voters, the rest coming mostly from non-registered folks stopped by the circulators who signed petitions just to end the pestering.

          If the reviewers’ projection had come within 15,000 of the required number, Draper would have gotten an automatic canvass of all signatures. But that won’t happen now.

          Why did the entrepreneur fall short? The best guess here is that many annoyed store customers accosted by circulators had seen or read a little about the idea and realized it was no good. So – in a resounding confirmation of the merits of the initiative process – many refused to sign.

          And the idea really does – did – stink. Imagine for a moment what the bidding for Tesla Motors’ new lithium ion “gigafactory” might have been like if six Californias and not just one had been involved in the competition. As it is, Nevada will pay a bribe of about $1.35 billion for the privilege of hosting this facility near Reno. What might the proposed state of Central California, home to the existing California’s proposed location in Stockton, have offered? If six Californias had become reality, Central California would have begun as America’s poorest state. Had its new officials topped Nevada’s bid and offered more than the $78,000 the Silver State will pay for each new job Tesla creates or spawns, it would be even poorer.

          What might West California, home to Los Angeles, have bid? Or the desert-dominated South California?

          That’s just one example of how each of these regions becoming a separate state could have hurt them all.

          The reality is that Draper’s plan to fragment California – and he says he’s not giving up – is one of the goofiest, dopiest ideas ever seen in a state known for nutty schemes.

          Draper says he’s motivated by a belief that the existing California is “ungovernable.” But he wants to create six sets of bureaucracies where now there is one. They wouldn’t necessarily have identical regulations, and there’s no guarantee any or all would enjoy the property tax protections of the existing Proposition 13. Or the clean drinking water assured under Proposition 65. Or the low auto insurance rates ensured by Proposition 108. Each new state would set its own rules, without regard to the others. So what could be built in the Los Angeles County city of Pomona might not be legal in nearby Chino, in San Bernardino County, for just one example.

          There would also be the state of Jefferson, comprising a slew of counties in California’s northernmost region. This one would not have even one University of California campus, which could leave residents paying $36,000 a year in tuition if they attend a UC.

          Anyone who thinks it’s tough to get water policy agreements from one Legislature would suddenly be faced with six. Good luck. How would any of this make the land area that’s now California easier to governable?

          But Californians won’t be facing these potential problems and a lot of others anytime soon, because many had the good sense not to sign. Which is itself a sign that despite its many critics, the initiative system actually can work very well.

    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




          The outcome is rarely certain when state government asks voter permission to spend $7.5 billion of the taxpayers’ money, but it’s also unusual for a ballot proposition to win as wide a range of support as Prop. 1 already had more than a month before the Nov. 4 Election Day.

          Every poll shows the measure winning by a wide margin among voters who know anything about it; in fact, the more voters know, the more likely they are to back this.

          One big reason is the ongoing drought, California’s fifth dry spell of the last 40 years that's lasted three years or longer. Those numbers mean the state has been in drought through almost 40 percent of the modern era.

          But through all those dry and dusty spells, Californians have willingly, even enthusiastically, increased water efficiency. Southern Californians cut per capita water use more than 25 percent, while Central Valley farms invented new drip irrigation methods. Still, the water shortage persists, and now there’s rationing in many areas.

          No wonder voters want to do something, almost anything, to end the shortage. In the bond proposal before them now, among others, are programs to clean up polluted or partially spoiled ground water, one affected area being the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, where pollution cuts amounts of usable well water while it also complicates efforts to recharge the local aquifers with storm runoff and recycled “gray” water.

          One large project this bond might enable is a raising of the Shasta Dam near Redding, which opponents say would flood sites sacred to the Winnemem Wintu Indian tribe, prompting tribal leaders to call any such project “a form of cultural genocide.” Another big development would likely be the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River. When full, this one would inundate and dwarf the existing Millerton Lake created by Friant Dam and drown several active hydroelectric dams, costing about 313 megawatts of electricity.

          But nothing in the water bond makes either of those projects certain. Construction proposals would be evaluated by the state and far more efficient, less costly new underground storage could replace the big dams. The best argument for that shift is that California already has more than 1,400 dams, and as White House science adviser John Holdren noted early this year, “The problem is not that we don’t have enough reservoirs, it is that we do not have enough water to fill them.”

          Even if large dams were built, intending to capture more water than before during wet years to provide better coverage during dry ones, they would get only about $2.5 billion, one-third of this proposed bond.

          Another $850 million would go toward cleaning up ground water and $395 million to better manage winter flooding and save more water that now runs uselessly out to sea. A few hundred million more would go to expanding the state’s sometimes halting efforts to recycle water, making so-called grey water that's been used to wash clothes and dishes more readily available for watering trees and other plants.

          One of the best parts of all this is that for the largest projects, matching money would have to come from the interests that might use most new water supplies. In short, this would not be a pure taxpayer subsidy of big farms, nor would it leave them entirely on their own. It’s a compromise, and that’s often the most effective way to get things done.

          A good measure of this compromise is that it drew better than two-thirds majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, and now has the support of groups frequently opposed to each other. So the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Audubon California are allied with the California Farm Bureau Federation and virtually all major water districts.

          The major opposition comes from fisheries advocates perpetually fearful of encroachment on water quality and supplies in the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. They call this “a hogfest of (pork) projects…” No doubt there would be plenty of pork; how else to get so many politicians and bureaucrats on board?

          But that doesn’t mean it isn’t needed. There was similar opposition when Gov. Jerry Brown’s father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, pushed the state Water Project in the 1960s. Imagine where the state would be today without that.


    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, September 17, 2014




          It was lawbreaking, both proven and alleged, that ended the Democrats’ supermajority in the state Senate. Republicans and their efforts had nothing to do with it. Until state Sens. Roderick Wright of Los Angeles, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco encountered serious legal problems, Democrats had more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the Legislature for almost the first time ever.

          The party also holds all statewide offices today, from governor and U.S. senator down through the treasurer’s slot, and the mayor’s office in all but one of the state’s four largest cities. That’s more of a stranglehold on California politics than any party has ever enjoyed.

          And it appears that almost no matter what Democrats do, they will continue to enjoy such dominance for years to come.

          This seems assured not just by voter registration figures, which grow worse and worse for Republicans. It’s also due to demographic trends than can be seen on the national level.

          Sure, the registration figures look plenty bad for the GOP as it strives to break the Democratic lock on California public life.

          Between the beginning of 2010 and mid-2014, as population grew by an estimated 2 million, Republican voter registration actually dropped by 121,000.  The percentage drop seemed a tad more significant, falling from 30.75 percent of all voters to 28.73 percent before rebounding to just over 30 percent again. During the same time span, Democratic registration increased by more than 150,000 persons, even as the party’s percentage of registrants fell by about 1 percent, from 44.62 percent to 43.58 percent.

          Where did the missing Republicans go, along with many new voters who in previous decades might have signed up as either Democrats or Republicans? It appears most joined the growing ranks of independents, choosing not to affiliate with either party, and even more joined small splinter parties. Registration figures for people with no party preference grew by 286,000 during those four-plus years, the percentage of voters opting not to declare party loyalty rising about 1 percent. Another 303,000 signed up with miscellaneous smaller parties.

          This trend portends no good for Republicans, who did not even enter significant candidates in several legislative and congressional primary election races.

          But the GOP’s problems go even deeper. As California’s population becomes ever more urban, centering in the metropolitan areas around Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County, Democrats keep gaining ground.

          One study of voter registration in America’s 3,144 counties indicated what California analysts already knew: Democrats are from cities, Republicans from the ex-urbs – suburban or rural areas. This was already true in 1988, starting date for that study, but it’s even truer today.

          Los Angeles led the 25 top counties for Democratic voter pickups, gaining 1.2 million Democratic voters in the last 25 years. Orange and San Diego counties are also among the top ten counties for Democratic voter growth, one reason politics has become more competitive over the last 10 years or so in those reputed Republican bastions.

          Meanwhile, there were no California counties among the top 25 for Republican voter gains during the last quarter century. So as California and the nation become more urban and less countrified and suburban, Democratic margins tend to go up.

          Add this trend to the well-documented increases in Latino voters (which account for much of the Democratic increases in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties) and you get a bleak picture for Republicans.

          Is the California GOP completely without hope? Chances are, not even corruption will reduce the Democratic legislative majorities by much. But Republicans still do have a shot at statewide offices, if they run appealing candidates, as demonstrated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003 and 2006.

          Even much more conservative candidates than he can win if some ethnic groups should become turned off to Democratic candidates and attracted to GOP ones, or just lose their motivation to vote, while mostly-white GOP voters turn out in big numbers.

          Which makes California the Democrats’ to lose, for the foreseeable future.

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




          There are very few Americans who need welfare and government support less than Elon Musk, the hyper-creative head of the Tesla Motors electric car company, the Space X rocketry and satellite hoisting firm and Solar City, a leader in renewable energy.

          And yet…almost no one gets more government benefits and business. The principle client of Space X, of course, is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, which depends on private enterprise – and Russian spacecraft – now that it has retired America’s space shuttle fleet.

          Solar City thrives because homeowners are subsidized when they put photovoltaic panels on their roofs.

          And then there’s Tesla, lately the orchestrator of a five-state battle over who could be exploited the most. Some states – notably Texas – call the handouts they give entrepreneurs like Musk “incentives” and governors like Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Rick Perry of Texas pride themselves on attracting additional jobs to their states this way.

          But the questions remain whether corporate welfare is right, whether its costs outweigh benefits and whether companies getting it could survive without.

          Would Tesla’s Model S be as popular as it is without the huge panoply of benefits it comes with? From the start, buyers of these toys for the wealthy (there’s plenty of room to question whether well-heeled buyers deserve welfare) got $7,500 credits on their federal tax returns. California has chipped in an additional $2,500 state rebate. That knocks $10,000 off the price tag.

          Owners also can use carpool lanes on freeways when alone for years to come, and in California can compel their condominium or homeowners associations to allow them to install electric charging stations even if they don’t fit the aesthetics of the development.

          Anyone who thinks those incentives don’t boost sales is simply na├»ve. The company also got a sweetheart deal when it took over the abandoned General Motors/Toyota factory in the East San Francisco Bay city of Fremont.

          All that didn’t stir any loyalty in Tesla when it sought a location for a planned 6,500-job lithium ion battery factory. It landed just outside Reno after California didn’t match Nevada’s 20-year abatement of all sales tax linked to the plant, a property tax exemption for the next 10 years, reduced business and corporate taxes – and up to $150 million in cash from the state if the company eventually invests an expected $5 billion in the factory.

          That adds up to $1.3 billion in cash and tax credits for a plant expected to hire 6,500 persons and create about 10,000 other permanent jobs. So for the privilege of hosting Tesla, the state of Nevada will pay well over $78,000 per job created. How long will it take to recoup that expense? And what about jobs lost when Nevada reduces its film production tax credits to help pay for Tesla’s welfare?

          Nevada has never paid anything like that to casinos or other big employers. Nor has California ever paid a company so much. Plus, if Tesla doesn’t pay local property taxes, who will build schools and hire teachers for children of the new workers. Who will maintain the roads they’ll use, or their water and sewer systems? No one knows.

          The larger question, of course, is whether any government should make such corporate handouts. Whenever American companies encounter similar subsidies of goods from other countries like China, Russia and Sweden, they gripe about unfair competition.

          In fact, the subsidies to Tesla might be seen as unfair competition for other automakers – except that outfits like Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mercedes Benz have gotten similar but smaller welfare packages from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Why do you suppose Toyota is moving its national headquarters from Torrance to a suburb of Dallas? You can be sure it’s not because Japanese executives like the ultra-humid Texas weather or the frequent hurricanes.

          The real question, of course, is whether any state or national government should allow itself to be extorted like this by any company. For sure, the way it affects fair competition among cars and other products is a perversion of the capitalist system.

          But don’t expect Musk or any other corporate kingpin to stop seeking big government bucks in exchange for moving jobs around. As long as politicians vie for the privilege of handing out taxpayer money, this slimy practice will continue.

    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, September 10, 2014




            Never mind the hosannas that followed immediately after state legislators passed a last minute package of bills purported to impose California’s first-ever statewide regulations on ground water use.

          The bottom line is that those laws will change nothing for decades, while today’s reality cries out for fast action.

          Ground water accounts for about 35 percent of the state’s fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like the last three. This year, as cities and farmers invest millions of dollars in drilling wells ever deeper, usage is likely higher than ever, because so little water is coming from the state’s big surface water projects and reservoirs. Because ground water use is generally not metered, no one knows exactly how much is being taken, but one report from the California Water Foundation indicated as much as 65 percent of the state’s water might come from wells this year.

          Meanwhile, the water table drops lower and lower, forcing wells to go ever farther underground or risk going dry. In some areas, this has already led to significant land subsidence, topping 20 feet in some parts of the Central Valley where passing motorists can see instruments and wellheads that once were on the surface perched on pipes now high above ground level.

          The problem with the new ground water laws is that it will be many years before they can affect any of that. The basics of what they call for are somewhat complicated, leaving plenty of room for local politicking, bickering and delay.

          The rules do sound just fine – until you look at the time limits. They will force local water agencies covering more than 100 aquifers to design regulations preventing further overdrafts, an overdraft occurring when more water is pumped from underground than percolates down to replace it. The state would review all such plans and could take over regulation when locals don’t enforce their own rules.

          This all sounds fine, and might improve matters about 25 years from now, it there’s any ground water left. But it will have absolutely no effect during the current drought or anytime soon after it ends. For local water authorities will have two years to decide who controls ground water in each area. They’ll get five to seven more years to design plans creating a balance between pumping and replenishment. Then they will have 20 years to put those plans into action.

          The trouble is that no one knows how much ground water will be left 25 or so years from now if the current drought goes on.

          Even so, legislators from farm areas stood unified against the new, extremely weak and untimely system. They said they wanted the same kind of unanimity achieved when the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown combined to place a $7.5 billion water bond on the November ballot – another measure that won’t have much impact on the current scene.

          This is all quite ludicrous and worthy of satire, since it will accomplish nothing during the lifetimes of at least one-third of today’s Californians.

    For when the new rules – whatever they turn out to be – take effect, there might be no more ground water to fight about. Most ludicrous have been the consistent claims of many farmers and their advocates that any rules at all on ground water constitute a violation of private property rights. Their theory: Any water under anyone’s property belongs to that property owner.

          This belief essentially contends that water knows where property lines lie. In fact, when any property owner pumps excessively, he or she frequently causes the water level in most neighbors' wells to drop, too.

          The answer to all this should have been a crash program with usage limits and installation of meters on every water well in California.

          Given the strength of the agriculture lobby, that wasn’t about to happen. Instead, legislators went home happy, the governor gets to grandstand a bit about allegedly doing something about the drought, and reality changes not one iota.

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




          For three months, the time bomb that is the Vergara vs. California court decision lurked in the background as two of this fall’s major political contests gradually took shape.

          Those are the races for governor and state schools superintendent, both offices now occupied by Democrats strongly backed by teachers unions: Gov. Jerry Brown and Supt. Tom Torlakson, a longtime state legislator before he moved up.

          Each now faces an opponent who has long backed the essence of Vergara. If upheld by appeals courts, the decision would essentially throw out California’s teacher tenure system and end rules that make it harder and more expensive to fire teachers than other state employees.

          For three months it was not certain Brown and Torlakson would appeal the ruling by an obscure Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, Rolf M. Treu.

          But once Treu finalized his decision in late August, Brown and Torlakson instantly appealed.

          Both Republican gubernatorial nominee Neel Kashkari and Torlakson’s charter school-oriented, nominally Democratic opponent Marshall Tuck had long demanded that the two incumbents accept Vergara and revamp the rules for teachers substantially.

          Brown and Torlakson were not moved. Both emerged from the June primary election with huge margins over their respective rivals and neither feeling particularly threatened. Brown actually won a majority of the vote last spring, but a wasteful and unreasonable twist of the top two system demands that even candidates who get a primary election majority must run again in the fall. Torlakson, meanwhile, came within less than two percentage points of a majority, besting Tuck by about 20 percent of the vote.

          Neither will turn his back on their leading supporters, as Torlakson made clear in appealing. “No teacher is perfect,” he said. “(But only) a very few are not worthy of the job. School districts have always had the power to dismiss those who do not measure up.”

          Responded Tuck, “Kids should not have to sue to get a quality education.” It was essentially the same thing he’s been saying since starting his campaign in early spring, when he decried the fact that teachers, who can get tenure after two years on the job, often are assured they’ll win that status after only 16 months of work. Not long enough, Tuck said in an interview, for them to prove they're worthy of a lifetime sinecure.

          This was always going to be a major fall issue, but no one could say much until Treu finalized his opinion. Treu himself is a bit of a time bomb. Appointed to a municipal court judgeship by ex-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995, Treu should have expected to hear traffic cases, misdemeanor trials and some criminal arraignments, but never to get the chance to make education policy for the nation's most populous state.

          But Treu morphed into a more powerful superior court judge when municipal courts were eliminated three years after his appointment. The result is that the most important education decision in decades was not made by a qualified expert or even an elected lawmaker, but a judge nicknamed “The Wolf” by some lawyers who practice in his court and described by other attorneys on The Robing Room blog as “sanction happy” and “reminiscent of a cop with a (traffic ticket) quota system.”

          So it was no wonder Brown’s notice of appeal laconically said “changes of this magnitude, as a matter of law, require appellate review,” a point he repeated in the fall's only gubernatorial debate.

          Regardless of the judge’s background, the debate is the same: Does the relative ease of gaining teacher tenure combined with the difficulty of dismissing teachers create poor quality education? Or does tenure attract talented people to teaching, people who might otherwise take higher-salaried jobs in private industry, but like the job security they get from tenure?

          That is the essence of this fall’s loudest California campaign disagreement. For purposes of the election, it really doesn’t matter which way the legal case will eventually go. Since most existing working conditions are determined not only by state law, but also by local union contracts, there’s a good chance Vergara will be overturned. That’s especially true since two Brown appointees, with a third due early next year, have shifted the seven-justice state Supreme Court leftward.

          But both Kashkari and Tuck know educational quality is an emotional issue, and each needs one to make up his huge primary election deficit. This one has now fallen into their laps.


    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