Wednesday, January 28, 2015




          Rarely does a freshman state senator propose anything substantial during his or her first few days in office. But Robert Herzberg, elected last fall from a safe Democratic district in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, is hardly a typical newbie.

          Hertzberg, speaker of the state Assembly from 2000-2002 and an advisor to both former Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis for several years after that, has now taken on one of the toughest, most complex topics any legislator can. He wants to change California’s entire tax system, and he just might pull it off.

          Hertzberg expects his plan, known as SB8, will take at least two years before coming to any floor vote, figuring it will probably undergo major changes in the process. But here are the basics:

          This system would reduce income taxes across the board, while still keeping “progressive” features like having those with higher incomes pay a larger percentage of it as tax. The minimum wage would rise, by a yet-undetermined amount. Business would get some tax breaks, designed to encourage job creation. More than making up for these revenue losses would be a new sales tax on services (education and health care to be exempt). So movie tickets, legal work, accounting and labor on auto body repairs would be taxed. It’s still uncertain how this might apply to the Internet and at what level businesses would be eligible for new tax incentives.

    Of course, any sales tax is regressive, hitting those with low incomes harder than the rich. It’s not certain whether the reduced income tax and a higher minimum wage could compensate for this.

     The plan is not Hertzberg’s brainchild alone. It stems from his work with an outfit called the Think Long Committee, whose membership has included Google executive Eric Schmidt, movie executive Terry Semel, former Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, ex-Gov. Davis, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former state Chief Justice Ron George, among others. The group is funded by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen.

     “We’re aiming for $10 billion a year in new money from this plan,” Hertzberg said in an interview. “We’ll start with what’s now in my bill, and modify it to try to have it make sense if people have problems with it. It could even end up as a ballot initiative. But we need this to help both our kids and businesses in this state.”

     Hertzberg points to the ongoing controversy over tuition at the University of California and the California State University system as one example of how the existing tax system harms young people in California.

     “We need a new philosophy of government,” Hertzberg said in one essay on his tax plan. “California has long been known as the land of opportunity, but for too many of its residents the future is receding. Inequality continues to rise… Something more is needed. Above all, we need public investment in infrastructure and in public education, especially higher education.”

     Hertzberg is firm about one part of his bill that would hold off cuts in the income and corporate taxes until new sales levies bring in enough money to give low-income workers earned-income tax credits similar to what the federal tax system provides.

     And he says he will not change parts of the plan earmarking the new $10 billion for schools, colleges, infrastructure including road repairs and $2 billion for that earned income tax credit.

     “The revolutionary thing about this is that we would tax services for the first time,” he said. “And that we give the new money to cities, counties, community colleges, school districts, universities and the low income.”

     Hertzberg expects this plan to provoke “the longest discussion of the next two years.” Since he chairs the Senate committee in charge of state and local governance, taxes and finance, “I can call all the hearings on it I want, and I will.”

     So far, there are few supporters or opponents. But both business and labor groups, along with leading Democratic and Republican legislators say they look forward to the talk and the hearings.

     The twin questions yet to be answered: Will this all be mere talk? And should it ever amount to anything more? Stay tuned.

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




          If voters get annoyed and sick of seeing paid petition circulators outside their favorite big box stores during the next 15 months, they will have only themselves to blame.

          Low voter turnout is one big reason to expect a larger-than ever proliferation of ballot initiatives looking to share the fall 2016 ballot with presidential and U.S. Senate candidates. If you didn’t vote last year, you’re part of the reason for any upcoming initiative annoyances.

          As usual, it will take valid signatures amounting to 5 percent of the total vote in the last general election to qualify an ordinary initiative for the ballot and 8 percent to put a constitutional amendment before the voters. One year ago, those percentages meant it took just over 504,000 signatures for a regular initiative to become a proposition and about 807,000 for a constitutional change. The extreme low November turnout means it will take only about 366,000 and 586,000 voter signatures, respectively, this time.

          That lowers the cost to qualify measures by well over $1 million each and allows a wide variety of interest groups frustrated by legislative inaction on their pet causes to circulate petitions in the next few months.

          There is, of course, no rush. In previous election cycles, some initiative sponsors sought to get their proposals onto the June primary election ballot. But since passage of a 2012 law that consolidates all voter-qualified measures on the fall ballot, there have been no initiatives to vote on in June. This makes the primary ballot less interesting and helps lower turnout then. Because initiative sponsors have almost six months to gather their signatures, they don’t really have to get serious until autumn of this year at the earliest.

          Democrats passed the fall-only law knowing voter turnout is far larger in November elections than in primaries, often doubling or tripling the spring numbers. November voters are on average much younger and more ethnic than in June, a trend that escalates in presidential election years like 2016.

          All this will likely translate into as long a ballot as Californians have ever seen, even surpassing some of the book-length ones of the 1990s.

          Anti-tax activists warn of a proliferation of proposed new and renewed levies, including an extension of the 2012 Proposition 30 sales and income tax hikes, parts of which expire at the end of next year. They warn of a renewed bid for a state oil extraction tax – California remains the only oil-producing state that does not tax drilling by the barrel. Opponents warn this could cause higher gas prices, and it might also dampen industry enthusiasm for hydraulic fracking of reserves in the Monterey Shale geologic formation stretching from Monterey and San Benito counties south into Los Angeles, Kern and Ventura counties.

          Anti-tax folks also fear an initiative to slap another $2 atop the current 87-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes. This one would be billed as a boost for public health.

          And they worry about a proposal to lower Proposition 13’s two-thirds-majority requirement for passage of school bonds and parcel taxes either to a simple majority or to the 55 percent now needed to pass school construction bonds.

          Already qualified is a referendum to eliminate the legislatively-passed statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, which would leave that issue purely a local decision. This would allow bag manufacturers – first to take advantage of the lowered signature thresholds – to continue selling 9 billion more plastic bags in the state yearly than if the ban becomes effective.

          It’s not unheard-of for voters to reverse decisions by their elected lawmakers. They did it last fall by overturning state approval of an off-reservation Indian casino and they did it in 1982, nixing the so-called “Peripheral Canal” plan for bringing additional Northern California river water to Central Valley farms and Southern California.

    Besides all these measures, marijuana proponents will likely present a plan to legalize pot completely and tax it, a la Colorado. There also could be an effort to alter Proposition 13 to tax commercial real estate at higher rates than residential property. A minimum wage increase proposal is also in the works, as are several ideas for changing public employee pensions.

          Put it together and the prospects are high for an initiative carnival, one of California’s most interesting and important ballots ever.

    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




          Barely 21 percent of eligible California voters cast ballots in last fall’s election, which means about 80 percent of the eligible populace should have no complaints even if they don’t like the performances of those who were elected for the next two or four years.

          It’s easy to conclude this was because of apathy and ignorance: after all, polls showed about 40 percent of Californians weren’t even aware Gov. Jerry Brown was running for reelection. Only 41 percent of those registered to vote bothered to do anything.

          One reason for the low turnout is the old shibboleth that one vote doesn’t count, or at least one vote doesn’t count for much. The truism is being repeated again today, with many cities heading into elections in March. But this truism just isn’t true, no matter how many times it’s repeated.

          Take a look at Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who travels his city and the world in elegant, expensive suits with an air of confidence that suggests he has the support of a massive majority of Angelenos. He might. But no one knows, because only about 13 percent of eligible voters cast ballots two years ago, when he won with about 54 percent of the vote over former city Controller Wendy Greuel. This means Garcetti was elected by just shy of 7 percent of eligible voters, which in turn means Greuel could have won with only a few more votes in each precinct.

          Look also at California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the former San Francisco district attorney who won reelection by a wide margin last fall and is now running for the U.S. Senate. Things weren’t so easy four years earlier, when she didn’t learn she’d won until four weeks after Election Day. She beat Republican Steve Cooley, then the Los Angeles County District Attorney in their battle of DAs by about 40,000 votes, or less than two votes per precinct. Who says individual votes lack impact?

          Just as dramatic, but on a smaller scale, was last fall’s 466-vote win by Democratic community activist Patty Lopez in the San Fernando Valley over entrenched Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra in an intra-party battle. Again, about two votes per precinct proved decisive. Nearby, in an Assembly district in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County, Republican David Hadley beat incumbent Democrat Al Muratsuchi by 706 votes, or an average of slightly more than two votes in each of the district’s 256 precincts.

          But the tightest race of the year, decided by just two votes, came in the Central California city of Madera, where Brent Fernandes defeated incumbent school board member Jose Rodriguez by two votes. At times as the vote count see-sawed for weeks after the election, only one vote separated the two contenders. The final outcome means that if just three more persons had voted for Rodriguez, he’d have won. And that if a single vote had been reversed, the race would have been a tie, to be resolved by a coin toss or some other means.

          Madera apparently liked close elections this year, as another school board seat was decided by a margin of just 33 votes.

          This is all firm proof that anyone calling a single vote meaningless is just blowing smoke. There are always extremely close races in California, but it’s never possible to predict where they will occur.

          So low turnouts magnify the meaning of each vote that actually is cast. They also stand the entire concept of representative government on its head. Lopez, the narrowly elected new assemblywoman, drew votes from just 22,750 persons, or less than five percent of the people who live in her district. Mayor Garcetti had the support of not many more.

          Can these kinds of results make citizens feel involved in civic affairs? How can any individual not feel important in the Madera Unified School District, where a vote or two turned things around?

          How healthy can California public life and public policy be when so few care enough about it even to cast a vote? These are questions to ponder as San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other cities head toward their spring elections, where every eligible voter would be wise to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: “In a democracy, the people get precisely the government they deserve.”


     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




          Green cards for spouses – that’s the latest quiet Obama Administration move to please and appease the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who constantly clamor for more H1-B visas to bring in cheap, skilled foreign labor.

          The ploy sounds extremely humanitarian, but might really be little more than an end run around the current limit of 85,000 visas granted to immigrants whose skills are allegedly not matched by any talent available in America, including about 20,000 slots for people with advanced degrees earned at American universities.

          Without consulting Congress and with little notice other than a routine press release, Obama and his aides may essentially now be doubling that 85,000 number. As of now, spouses of H1-B visa holders being sponsored for a green card by their employers will be allowed to work in this country.

          Since the great bulk of H1-Bs who perform adequately and show up regularly for work receive such sponsorship in the interest of maintaining a stable work force, there will now be about 60,000 to 70,000 new foreign workers eligible to take jobs for which some U.S. engineering groups say there are plenty of trained, competent Americans.

    No one knows precisely how many H1-B workers are married, but it’s for certain that many who would previously have left their spouses behind in home countries like India and the Philippines will now bring them along.

    It’s true, as the administration noted when publishing the new rule in the Federal Register, that not all spouses of imported tech workers will be allowed to work. They become eligible only when employers petition for full immigrant visas for them.

          But since many couples in India, Singapore and other countries from which H1-B workers often stem are about equally educated, the change will probably sideline even more American workers whose salaries now average considerably higher than those paid to the imports.

          Was it a coincidence that this change came within a week of an autumn Obama excursion to Silicon Valley and other California points, where he pitched for more high-tech development and raked in a few million campaign dollars for last year’s Democratic congressional and Senate candidates? With companies along and just off the Bayshore Freeway corridor between San Jose and Redwood City constantly yammering for more immigrant workers (including the likes of Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Google and Hewlett-Packard), it’s apparent campaign money talks – loudly.

          Fully 16 percent of H1-B visas go to California companies and their immigrant workers, many of whom stay in the areas to which they were brought. When visas expire and they can’t legally get high-tech jobs anymore, some become off-the-books motel clerks or freelance computer instructors paid in cash or personal checks.

          The H1-B program also often exceeds its formal limits. While only 85,000 permits are supposed to be issued this year, the total of imported workers often exceeds 90,000 and in 2010 came to 117,409. This happens in part through side agreements. Examples: Chileans get 1,400 visas under a trade agreement, while 5,400 go annually to citizens of Singapore, under another pact. These workers don’t count toward the formal limit.

          Those are failings, for sure. But the main problem with H1-B visas is that there has never been a test to determine if U.S. workers are available before foreigners are hired and visas issued.

          “Do not confuse H1-B demand with labor demand; they are not the same thing,” Jared Bernstein, author of a Brookings Institution report on H1-B use, told a reporter last year. A lot of employers, he suggested, seek visas even when unemployment is high and extends to skilled workers.

          Bernstein said he found some evidence of employers using H1-Bs to force down wages. In short, American workers know that if they demand too much, they can be replaced by foreign labor.

          Yes, there is some justification for the category of 20,000 workers with advanced degrees obtained in this country; it keeps persons trained here contributing to the American economy.

          But adding spouses to the equation seems to give the companies too much leeway in hiring and setting wages, especially since most H1-Bs are not high-level scientists, but rather work in laboratories or on assembly lines.

          The bottom line: The new spousal visa rule is one executive action that deserves far more congressional scrutiny than it has yet gotten.

     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




          California’s three-year-old “top two” primary election system has never pleased any political party. Not large ones like the Republicans and Democrats, who don't like members of the other large party helping choose their nominees. And not minor parties like Libertarians and Greens, who resent the fact that top two virtually excludes them from November general election contests.

          So the future of this system has been in some doubt from the moment Proposition 14 passed in 2010 and restored an open primary to the state for the first time since the late 1990s. That’s when Democrats and Republicans combined in a legal effort which eliminated a short-lived “blanket primary” system where anyone could vote for any candidate in the primary, but each party was assured of one spot on the November ballot for each race it entered.

    The latest challenge to top two, which sees only the two leading vote-getters in each contest making the fall ballot – regardless of party – comes from three minor parties with extremely disparate ideologies – the Libertarians, the Greens and Peace and Freedom.

    All claim top two, also known as the “jungle primary” for its unpredictability, is unconstitutional because it almost never lets their members vote in November for their favorite candidates. Never mind that those candidates have unlimited opportunity to sell themselves in the primary.

          The minor parties saw their arguments rejected by a trial judge in 2012 and finally got an appellate court hearing in January.

          Some observers left that hearing before a three-judge panel in San Francisco feeling the challenge to top two would once again go nowhere.

          The hearing opened with Judge Sandra Margulies, an appointee of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, asking whether independent voters were barred from voting in partisan primaries before passage of Proposition 14. The correct answer would have been no, as both Democrats and Republicans since 2001 had allowed independents to vote in their contests if they wished.

          But lawyers for the minor parties responded by saying the reverse. Presumably, Margulies and her colleagues will have learned the correct answer elsewhere before issuing their ruling, due before April 15.

          Opponents of top two also were disappointed that the minor party lawyers did not mention either Jesse Ventura or Audie Bock in their arguments. Ventura, who ran for Minnesota governor as an independent in 1998, pulled just 3 percent of the vote in the primary, but got a 37 percent plurality in that November's runoff, taking office the following January.

          Bock, running for an Oakland seat in the state Assembly as a Green candidate in a 1999 special election, polled just 8.5 percent in the primary, but got 51 percent of the runoff vote.

          “You can’t just jump from nothing to significant strength overnight,” said Richard Winger, owner of the Ballot Access News newsletter and a longtime opponent of top two. “It takes time, and top two doesn’t allow enough time since you miss months of campaigning between the primary and the general.”

          Don Siegel, a lead lawyer for the minor parties in their challenge to the current system, said the historical points are “not really relevant. This case is about whether candidates not in the mainstream can get a hearing in November elections, when four or five times more people vote than in the primary.”

          He argued that top two “violates the rights of people who want to vote for a small party candidate in November.”

          The issue is whether those small party folks deserve a place on the November ballot if they’re not one of the top two in the primary. When they passed Propostion 14, California voters were saying they don’t.

          But Siegel argued that in a 34-year-old case involving 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “you have to let voters vote in periods of peak voter interest,” and turnout clearly shows primary election season is not such a time.

          Chances are the minor parties will lose their appeal, as courts of appeal normally respect trial court decisions unless they have compelling reason not to.

          But no one can be sure, which is why all political parties will be watching this decision closely, and voters should, too.


    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




          References to trade agreements were some of the very few passages during President Obama’s State of the Union speech late last month that moved Republicans to stand and applaud along with Obama’s Democratic Party allies.

          And when Obama talks about trade bills pending in Congress, the biggest is a plan to give the President fast-track authority to move forward with the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, America’s newest putative free trade agreement.

          Because of its location, this deal would affect California more than any other part of the nation. So far, there has been no movement toward opening up the negotiations to public scrutiny, which can only lead to speculation about what an eventual treaty might contain.

          The Tea Party, for example, told its members in an email the other day that “Obama is secretly planning to ram through Congress one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever negotiated…the launch pad for the ‘New World Order.’” Obama, the ultra-conservative organization warned, “fully intends to surrender U.S. sovereignty under this agreement.”

          As often happens with outraged political rhetoric, there is a grain of truth behind some of the claims. In this case, leaked versions of the Trans-Pacific pact that may emerge from more than two-dozen negotiating sessions held in the last few years indicate it will set up the same kind of tribunal that exists under NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

          Such tribunals, as NAFTA's history demonstrates, do tend to interfere with American sovereignty, sometimes allowing international judicial panels to overrule U.S. and state laws.

          The most famous such case came while California in the late 1990s sought to rid gasoline here of the additive MTBE, whichfeatured noxious odors and taste, along with alleged cancer risks. MTBE leached into some drinking water as it leaked from rusty storage tanks and the engines of small boats into aquifers and reservoirs.

          But the state’s MTBE ban, imposed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, threatened the profits of the Canadian Methanex Corp., which filed a $970 million claim for lost sales in a NAFTA tribunal, circumventing American courts. Methanex eventually lost its case for health reasons, but the point was made: In some cases, the U.S. Supreme Court may no longer be so supreme, especially when corporations manage to bypass it.

          Another key NAFTA tribunal ruling went against U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labeling requirements because they could impede free trade.

          That’s a major loss of sovereignty, one which could be widened under expected provisions of the Trans-Pacific agreement. Other countries that have already joined the pact and agreed to such terms include Brunei, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. If the U.S. joins, the treaty  will likely expand further to Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, too.

          But no one outside the Obama administration and a few foreign negotiators knows what’s in the latest draft version of this agreement. If Congress gives Obama the fast-track authority he seeks and which most of Congress applauded during his speech, it’s possible no one will be able to prevent offshoring of millions of jobs (predicted by consumer advocate Ralph Nader) and rolling back banking reforms, safe food laws, Internet freedom and environmental safeguards.

          That’s because fast-track authority prevents Congress from holding full-scale hearings or amending the treaty when it comes up for action there. There would be just one up-or-down vote, with no changes allowed on anything from copyright infringement provisions to human rights.

          So going fast could lead not just to reduced American authority over our own affairs but to corporate lobbyists sneaking in self-serving elements that could not be exposed via Congressional hearings. That’s why any fast-tracking bill and any consideration of this agreement before it’s adopted should include mandatory publication of the entire agreement, so Americans are not forced to buy the proverbial pig in a poke.

          This is the only way Americans can know what they’d get if this treaty ever becomes effective, and just what they’d lose.

     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

Monday, January 26, 2015




          If the current large corps of potential candidates for retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s job look to some like a gaggle of political pygmies, it might have something to do with the proverbial 800-pound gorilla lurking in their living room. That would be Gov. Jerry Brown, who could most likely have the job for the asking.

          There are plenty of other names, including state Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a bunch of Congress members including Loretta Sanchez and Adam Schiff and John Garamendi and Xavier Becerra, and even Republicans like former party chairman Duff Sundheim, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and San Diego County Assemblyman Rocky Chavez.

          But the reality is that if Brown wants the Senate seat, it’s almost certainly his.

          He has coveted a Senate seat before. Back in 1982, he tried to move from the governor’s office to the Senate, only to be whipped by former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who would himself become governor eight years later. It’s still the only loss of Brown’s 47-year political career.

          Notoriously impatient, easily bored and always eager for new challenges, Brown could dominate the Senate race. But because Harris now employs Brown's 2012 campaign manager and campaign spokesman, her presence means Brown won’t run, even though he’s said nothing on this.

    Not only does he have more campaign money available than anyone else, but Brown sports an unusually high approval rating in every poll, his ratings higher than any other California figure.

          Plus, Brown has moved the state’s nascent bullet train forward about as much as he can for the moment and has been stymied so far in advancing his “twin tunnels” water project.

          And people his age (mid-70s) are much more common in the Senate than in governor’s mansions.

          So, why isn’t he running? He would say it’s because he wants to finish what he started in 2010, when he began his second incarnation as governor. But maybe it’s also because he knows there are vulnerabilities in his record. One weakness: some of his appointments to key state jobs. This was never discussed in last year’s campaign, where the worst names Republican candidate Neel Kashkari called him were “lazy” and a “do-nothing advocate of the status quo.”

          That was before Brown appointed non-Californian Leondra Kruger, who has never contested a legal case in California, to the state Supreme Court. No non-Californian in memory has ever been given a spot on the state’s highest court. The appointment was a slap in the face of the state’s huge corps of lawyers, who certainly believe many of them could do at least as good a job as someone who knows virtually nothing about California.

          Then he named his former renewable energy adviser Michael Picker to replace the disgraced Michael Peevey as president of the vital and powerful state Public Utilities Commission. Peevey left after disclosure of private emails between him and officials of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Since then, other emails have turned up showing he was also cozy with Southern California Edison Co. During the year Picker and Peevey were together on the five-member commission, Picker never voted against Peevey in any significant case.

          There was also Brown's reappointment of Robert Weisenmiller to head the state Energy Commission. Among other problems, Weisenmiller presided over awarding of multi-million dollar “hydrogen highway” grants despite the fact both he and Brown knew about serious conflicts of interest by one major recipient.

    There have been other questionable appointments, too, some of them present and former Brown aides and cronies. He consistently refuses to discuss any beyond bland press releases announcing their appointments.

     And there was his bill-signing message making it easier for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated for diseases like measles and mumps, a possible factor in this winter’s measles outbreak.

          So yes, Brown could likely be the top primary election vote-getter in the upcoming Senate race. But a little opposition research by any runoff opponent could make things at least a little unpleasant for Brown, and chances are he knows it.

    Which could be one reason he’ll likely never run for office again.

     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, the loudest arguments against expanding a landmark Los Angeles law requiring condom use by adult film actors in sex scenes to the rest of California were financial and geographic:

          The pornography industry argued any locale requiring safety in filmed sex would see a production exodus and a big loss in revenue. The most likely place for porn producers to go was Las Vegas.

          That city embraced the possibility of immigration by pornographers, its mayor even issuing a supportive statement. And some production quickly moved there.

          Well, as the advertising slogan goes, what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but its effects are not necessarily static.

          Just one case of AIDS has changed a lot. It was diagnosed in an adult performer with a role in a movie that actually migrated there from the porn industry’s longtime capital in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles.

          This case may have terrible effects on the infected actor, or not, but it will definitely help the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its campaign committee as they work to qualify and pass a statewide condoms-in-porn initiative for the fall 2016 ballot.

          The foundation would have liked to see such a law pass legislatively, but had no success with that, just as it could not push the Los Angeles law through the City Council there, but had to take it to voters as the 2012 Measure B, which passed with about 56 percent of the vote.

          The single AIDS infection in Las Vegas last fall may have a large effect in California because of the response it drew in Nevada, a state which carefully regulates legal prostitution in rural county brothels within easy reach of places like Las Vegas, Carson City and Reno.

          As soon as reports of the porn actor’s infection became public late last fall, Nevada officials announced they will probably apply their brothel rules to film production sites. Legal prostitutes in Nevada get regular blood tests and health exams; male customers are required to use condoms for any interpersonal contact involving even one person’s genitalia. Since 1988, when those rules took effect, not one AIDS case has been tied to a legal Nevada brothel.

          Meanwhile, when porn actors’ health was monitored voluntarily by California producers, more than 25 cases were linked to porn shoots.

          If, as now seems likely, Nevada imposes its brothel rules on adult film shoots, there will be no reason for pornographers to migrate there. Films made there would show the same condoms the producers want to avoid.

          And where might they head if there’s no point going to Las Vegas? To the blue-nosed likes of Idaho, Texas or Utah, where state officials fight against same-sex marriage? To the even more stultified likes of Louisiana or Georgia? To New York, where polling has shown support for condoms in porn filming?

          No, the likelihood is that a California-wide law essentially adopting the Los Angeles rules will end the migration of pornography that has seen adult filming permits drop by about 90 percent in L.A. over the last two years. Many shoots moved to nearby counties, where it’s tougher for producers to find performers, but condoms are not required.

          Others went underground in L.A., not applying for permits and refusing to comply with the condom mandate.

          A statewide law likely would not stop those scofflaws, but they would continue to find insurance hard to get, at the same time exposing themselves to lawsuits from actors who become infected or otherwise injured on site.

          One thing for sure: Because the Los Angeles law has been challenged in federal court and found not to infringe on constitutional free expression, the path will be smoother for the statewide initiative, if it passes.

          And chances are it will pass, once qualified. A poll of more than 1,100 likely voters last fall found 71 percent support. If voters are informed that opposition ads are funded by pornographers, as likely will happen, that initial support won’t erode much.

          The bottom line: One AIDS case in Las Vegas has largely removed the arguments that such a measure would lead both to financial loss for California and continued use of unsafe sex in adult films. So this is one initiative that will likely qualify easily for the ballot, and then pass late next year.

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015




          For the last 20 years – ever since passage in 1994 of California’s abortive anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 – Democrats here and around the nation have increasingly depended on Latino vote.

    Election results last fall showed what happens to Democrats when they somehow disconnect with Hispanics or take them for granted: they lose, or narrowly avert defeat.

    Barack Obama knew he risked alienating this ever-more vital
voting bloc last fall, when he delayed his executive order exempting about 5 million undocumented immigrants from possible deportation until after the election. But several Democratic senators who knew they’d have close races in swing states had implored him to wait.

          So he did and they all lost anyway. Meanwhile, Latinos, feeling they’d been betrayed and taken for granted, stayed home. There is some uncertainty whether Democratic incumbents would have done better or worse in states like Colorado and North Carolina, both places that Latino votes helped put in the Obama column in 2012, had he acted sooner. But no one also can be sure whether an earlier immigration order would have pushed even more non-Latinos to vote Republican.

          But there is no doubt Latino voters stayed home in droves last year, not only in those states but also in California.

          Democrats didn’t lose any congressional seats here last year, as they did in states like Nevada and Florida, both of which saw Latino turnout fall far below 2012 levels. But they came very close in several California districts with large Hispanic populations. Had Latinos turned out in larger numbers, people like Jim Costa, Scott Peters, Julia Brownley and Ami Bera never would have been threatened. As it was, they had to wait weeks after the election to learn they’d narrowly survived.

          The lesson for Democrats was plain: They must do all they can to keep Latino enthusiasm for them high.

          This means they must keep moving on immigration or at least force Republicans to take stands against giving illegals a pathway to citizenship, something Obama could not do on his own. Why? Because reliable polling shows about 65 percent of Latino registered voters (all of them U.S. citizens) say they know someone who is undocumented, an increase of 10 percent from three years ago. And because 40 percent of those same voters say they know someone who either now faces deportation or did before Obama’s order.

          So Democrats are acting. They’re sponsoring comprehensive immigration reform bills in both houses of Congress even though they know nothing like that will pass. Doing this has already put Republicans on the record against change.

          Democrats also named New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan as the head of their overall 2016 congressional campaign. Lujan, son of a New Mexico state House speaker and cousin to both a current New Mexico congresswoman and the eponymous onetime New Mexico congressman and secretary of the Interior, was reelected last year mostly because he carried a huge majority of the Latino vote in his district.

          That’s a necessity for Democrats who want to avoid losses or a post-election month of nail biting. Only about 8 percent of the national electorate was Latino last fall, the worst showing for the ethnic group in 14 years and the first time in a generation its percentage of the vote has dropped. Latinos made up 10 percent of the national electorate in 2012, and about 14 percent in California.

          There was no presidential race last year and voting turnout for all groups invariably drops in midterm elections, but this was still a remarkably low vote.

          So Democrats next year will target Hispanic-oriented districts they lost this time, meaning Central Valley Republicans Jeff Denham and David Valadao can once again expect to be targeted. It hasn’t worked before, and neither voted for the House GOP’s bill aiming to kill Obama’s immigration order. Both know the growing Latino presence in their districts could endanger them.

          But much depends on who draws the major party nominations for president. If Republicans tab former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a fluent Spanish speaker with a Latina wife and no anti-immigration rhetoric, the Democratic task gets tougher. But a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz atop the GOP might be suicidal in an era when Latino votes have the influence displayed last year.

     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




          Memo to United States Attorneys in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego: It’s high time you investigate the former president and some current members and officials of the California Public Utilities Commission for things like conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.

          Evidence against current commissioners and former commission President Michael Peevey has mounted steadily over the last six months, but there has been no action against anyone.

          State rules forbid utility regulators from communicating individually with executives of the companies they regulate. Any letters, texts or emails must go to all five commissioners, as a means of preventing secret deals favoring the companies over their business and residential customers.

          Yet, emails have shown that Peevey for years communicated privately and had understandings with executives of both Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Edison Co., of which he was formerly president. He even hosted at least one high PG&E official at his country home in Sea Ranch, north of San Francisco.

          He also communicated privately with Edison execs, setting up a dinner in London with one, and in one case reported by the U-T San Diego newspaper agreeing to delay a PUC action that would limit the percentage of Edison’s executive bonuses it could bill to ratepayers until after that year’s bonuses had been paid under old rules.

          Current Commissioner Mike Florio has recused himself from some votes affecting PG&E because of his role in a “judge-shopping” attempt. Emails showed Florio helped the utility choose a sympathetic commission administrative law judge to preside over a key case.

          And there was the recently-disclosed 2012  phone call between Edison’s external relations director and the administrative law judge presiding over a case to determine how Edison and its customers would split the cost of retiring the disabled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Edison says that call covered only technicalities.

          All this led Michael Picker, the new commission president, in a public meeting, to call the emails “troubling and very painful to read.” Yet, in the year he served on the commission with Peevey, Picker never voted against him in any major case.

          One bottom line in all this is that customers of California’s big regulated utilities – PG&E, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – pay power rates averaging almost twice as much as consumers served by the municipal utilities in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside and Sacramento. Power rates have consistently risen, while consumption has remained steady. Details are contained in this report about San Onofre generated by former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre:

          No, utility profits are not supposed to lead to doubly high energy bills. That, in fact, is what the PUC was set up to prevent.

          This column has frequently documented PUC favoritism of the big companies over their rate payers, labeling Peevey a “fox guarding the chicken house” as early as 2005. But the emails released in recent months provide a smoking gun pointing toward possible criminal conspiracy. If so, it could be charged as mail fraud and/or wire fraud because excessively high rates set via conspiracy would have been billed by mail or email.

          Aguirre suggests the U.S. attorneys convene special grand juries like the one that indicted PG&E for its conduct surrounding the fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

          “We need to investigate how utility rates got so high,” Aguirre said. “It’s been a swamp of dishonesty.”

          Aguirre suggests investigating, for example, what happened to money collected by the big companies to ensure utility safety. “Edison was paid money for defective San Onofre steam generators. PG&E was paid money (since the 1950s) to fix (gas lines), but failed to do so,” his report said. Similarly, he said, defective SDG&E equipment caused a huge 2007 San Diego County fire.

          “In each case, the PUC blocked its (staff’s) investigations into utility executive wrongdoing,” Aguirre charges. No one knows what happened to billions of maintenance dollars paid by customers.

          Efforts to ask Picker about these charges and any plans to improve PUC practices were rebuffed.

          The bottom line: The pattern of utility regulators’ favoritism of the companies they oversee, even possible collusion with them, has been plain for decades. But the email and telephone call evidence emerged only lately.

          That evidence is so strong it would be dereliction of duty for prosecutors to ignore 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, go to

Wednesday, January 14, 2015




          Almost exactly one year from today – Jan. 26, 2016 – voters in New Hampshire will don parkas and trek through snowdrifts to tell the rest of America who should be running for president and who should not.

          That vote will come eight days after the Iowa caucuses draw a few tens of thousands of die-hard activists from both major parties to give their version of the same thing.

          Within less than three weeks, Nevada and South Carolina will follow, ensuring yet another four-year electoral cycle where the tail wags the dog. Candidates will have to know all about ethanol subsidies to compete in Iowa, but because California votes on June 7 next year, no candidate will have to know much about this state’s high speed rail project or the “twin tunnels” water development sought by Gov. Jerry Brown.

          Once again, California won’t matter as the Podunk states of America decide the future of this country and much of the world’s future as well. California won’t even be a factor in the general election, as the Democrats’ heavy voter registration advantage here pretty much assures its 55 electoral votes to the Democratic nominee, no matter who that may be.

          It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way in 2020 and beyond.

          One big reason California won’t count for much next year is that state legislators made no effort to set an early date for the state’s primary. They figured that every time they tried that – the state has voted in early February in several recent election cycles – it still hasn’t mattered much.

          This was because whenever California moved up its primary, other states governed by an “anywhere but California” mindset moved theirs up even earlier, with things getting so absurb that in 2008 and 2012, Iowans  caucused just three days after the New Year’s celebrations.

          California lawmakers also have their own reasons for disliking early primaries, the main one being that early votes accelerate filing deadlines, which normally fall about three months before primary day. This forces them to speed up their decision-making process, eroding their comfort levels. An early primary also means early fund-raising, forcing many officials to get on the phone with donors just a couple of months after taking office.

          But no one can say accurately that moving California’s primary up doesn’t increase its influence. The hard-fought 2008 Democratic contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is probably Example A of this. Obama dominated much of the initial going, but when California voted in early February, Clinton emerged about even with the eventual president. So California alone assured that the Democratic race extended well into April and all the way to Pennsylvania before Clinton finally conceded.

    It also meant that both candidates trekked around the state, it meant millions of advertising dollars for California media, plenty of revenue and extra jobs for services like caterers and charter bus lines.

          The only reason California didn’t decide the Democratic race for Clinton was the national party rule demanding proportionate representation. Obama lost in most California congressional districts, but  got plenty of national convention delegates anyhow. The result would have been very different under the Republicans’ more decisive winner-take-all rules.

          So anyone who says California didn’t matter when it voted earlier is only partially correct. And anyone who says the calendar can’t still be altered is also not completely correct.

          If California legislators and Gov. Brown want to increase this state’s influence, they can do it right now, even though there would be a bit of a price. If California moved up into January, Republican Party rules would deprive it of about 70 percent of its convention delegates.

          The Democrats might also assess a delegate penalty, but it’s not automatic, and there’s some doubt they would, since they want to keep California solidly in their column.

          All of which means California will be irrelevant-land during the next presidential season, unless politicians here are willing to defy the national parties. But they won’t, and most likely will find new excuses to avoid moving up the vote in future election seasons, just because staying put in June is easier for them despite the fact it disenfranchises their tens of millions of constituents.

     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