Monday, November 30, 2015




          Anyone looking for a roadmap showing which of California’s 53 congressional district elections will be tight next year need look no farther than how the state’s House Democrats voted last month on a bill that would essentially halt a federal plan to take in tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. The same map shows just which Democrats feel seriously threatened a year before they come up for reelection.

          Almost all of this state’s Democrats are staunch liberals and the vast majority of them voted to back President Obama in his self-described humanitarian effort.

          This came after Republicans led by new House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin put forward a plan to add numerous layers of additional security to the existing process, which already takes about two years to vet each incoming refugee.

          The GOP presumption is that hiding among the refugees will be a few terrorists planted by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which appears to have overtaken Al Qaida as the world’s leading manufacturer of jihadi mayhem.

          So far, that assumption hasn’t been proven, even though Republicans pushing the bill cited a Paris police find of a Syrian passport after the mid-November suicide bombings and shootings there. The passport indicated one of the Parisian terrorists entered Europe along with Syrian refugees via a Greek island just off the coast of Turkey. Problem was, the passport turned out to be a probable forgery and may have been planted just to discredit real refugees.

          It certainly did that among prominent Republicans. Every major GOP presidential candidate called for at least a pause in America’s intake of refugees.

          House Republicans voted almost unanimously for the bill, which passed on a 289-137 vote. So did 47 Democrats. California Democrats voting that way included Pete Aguilar of Redlands, Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Julia Brownley of Westlake Village, Jim Costa of Fresno, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Scott Peters of San Diego, Janice Hahn of San Pedro and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert.

          Besides their votes on this bill, one thing all have in common is that they are staunch liberals, backing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, gun control, access to abortions and almost every other stance held by mainstream Democrats. Another thing all these folks have in common is that all are seeking reelection – except Hahn. She is now running for her father Kenneth’s old seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

          This still leaves her sharing one category with the others: She fears the effect a vote to allow steady immigration of Middle Eastern refugees might have on her election chances.

          It’s hard to say how most of these politicians felt about their votes. For sure, they knew President Obama will veto the bill if it ever gets through both houses of Congress.

          But all have reason to feel insecure. Almost all won reelection last year in very tight races, none more so than Costa, who was shellshocked after the previously unknown Republican farmer Johnny Tachera led him on Election Night and only lost to him by a 50.7 to 49.3  percent margin after a month of subsequent vote counting. That was the closest shave ever for longtime incumbent Costa. Things were just about as tight for Bera, who bested former Republican Congressman Doug Ose by just 50.4-49.6 percent, or 1,460 votes out of about 180,000 cast.

          There was also Peters, who topped former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio by barely 6,000 votes out of 190,000 cast.

          The largest victory margin for any of these folks belonged to Ruiz, who had a 54-46 victory percentage. Still not much breathing room.

          Each of these politicos knows he or she will surely be a target for the GOP next fall and that if the Republicans stage a strong presidential campaign, all of them could be voted out.

          Which goes to show that election returns shape votes even if no one likes talking about this powerful aspect of realpolitik.

    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




          After more than three years of steadfastly denying the increased enrollment of foreign and out-of-state students could endanger the very California identity of the University of California, it's stunning and encouraging to see the 10-campus system do an about face.

          The switch came late last month, when UC regents voted overwhelmingly for a plan to increase in-state enrollment at the elite university system by 10,000 in-staters before the 2018-19 school year. The increase will come in increments of 5,000 next fall and 2,500 students each of the next two academic years.

          Approval of this change proposed by university President Janet Napolitano was a tacit admission that critics who wondered whether UC’s character might be permanently altered could be right. There’s no doubt about the big changes that have occurred or about the financial difficulties behind them.

          Where the university had only about 5 percent foreign and out-of-state undergraduate enrollment 12 years ago, by this fall that figure had risen to 21 percent. Even more worrisome to many parents of California high school graduates with top grades was the fact that well over 30 percent of the admission offers sent out by UC last spring went to non-Californians. This included 45 percent of all offers to attend UC Berkeley, 42 percent for UCLA and 35 percent at UC Davis.

          The university tried to explain this away by noting it has longstanding records of how many admission offers are accepted by out-of-state and foreign students and that these assured that new non-California enrollees this fall would not number anywhere near 30 percent.

         And they didn’t, as the overall 21 percent figure demonstrates.

          By all accounts, the large non-California contingent is a response from Napolitano and her immediate predecessors to funding cuts the university endured under several recent governors. Out-of-state students pay just over $24,000 per year more in tuition than state residents. This gleans hundreds of millions of dollars yearly, making up for much of what the state no longer provides.

          But over the last two years, legislators began hearing complaints from constituents about all this. They responded by tossing UC an extra $25 million in the current budget, earmarked for increasing the number of in-state undergraduates by 5,000 no later than next fall.

          Napolitano agreed to that, even though the $25 million would cover only about half the cost for those additional students. The university promised to seek more money in the next two budgets for yet another 5,000 California students.

          Any shortfall can be made up with just a relative few out-of-staters, thus holding pretty steady the percentage of non-Californians enrolled. The university now says it will increase the actual number of out-of-staters, but slow their rate of increase in order to keep percentages steady. Tuition for the non-Californians will rise, too, even as in-state tuition remains frozen at $12,200 at least until the fall of 2017. Other money for new California students will come via reductions in loans and scholarships for new enrollees from out of state.

          No one is saying which campuses the new California students will attend, but it’s a safe bet the vast majority will not wind up at high-demand campuses like Berkeley, UCLA, Davis and San Diego. Still, Napolitano assured the regents that all those campuses nevertheless will get significant numbers of the new students.

          The upshot of all this is that the outrage of California parents who watched their children meet every requirement for UC admission – and still not get in – has produced results.

          It’s one of the rare times in recent memory that both legislators and other top state officials actually listened to their constituents. Maybe some other so-called public servants watching this happen will also learn a little responsiveness.

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

Monday, November 23, 2015




          There was good news and bad news – and in other ways no news at all – in the latest results of standardized tests given each year to California public school students.

          It was, for example, no news at all that even though this year’s test was more rigorous than ever before and based on new Common Core standards adopted by this state and 41 others, students from wealthier households and school districts did fine, while those with deprived parents and districts did not.

          This was demonstrated by the fact that, for example, kids at the Canyon Elementary School in the well-to-do Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles saw their performances in last spring’s testing drop only two percentage points on the tougher new test, from 95 percent scoring at projected grade levels to 93 percent.

          Similarly, an average of 60 percent of students in the wealthy – but not nearly as wealthy – Fresno suburb of Clovis, where most families are white or Asian American, performed at grade levels, while those in two nearby districts with heavy majorities of Latino students came in at an average of 20 and 22 percent in combined English and math scores. Formal name for the new test is the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

          These results perfectly illustrated a fact that educators have long known: Parents and the emphasis they put on education are more important than any other single educational factor. In this way, the scores on the new test were no news at all.

          There was also good news. The new tests contain questions that require deeper thinking about themes in literature and the concepts of algebra and geometry. Exams are designed so that no two students should ever be presented with exactly the same test, containing the same set of questions and answers.

          This aims to help address longstanding complaints about “teaching to the test,” the practice many schoolteachers have felt forced to adopt over decades of being judged by how well their students perform on standardized tests. The thrust of those complaints was that students were being force-fed rote learning designed purely so they would do well on tests, thus furthering the political and personal goals of teachers, administrators, politicians and public employee unions, all of whom have an easier time of it when students perform better.

          With the new test stressing critical thinking and knowledge of basic concepts, rather than answers to specific questions, teachers who want to teach to the test now must emphasize thought and understanding of why the answers to some questions are what they are.

          Then there was bad news: The persistent gaps between ethnic groups seen in all previous versions of standardized tests remain with us. In English, 72 percent of Asian students and 51 percent of Anglos tested at grade level or better, while only 28 percent of black pupils and 32 percent of Latinos did as well.

          And, proving again the links between economics and education, only 21 percent of students from low-income families scored at grade level in math, while 53 percent of those from more affluent families did. This suggests that the better preschool programs to which wealthier parents often send their children do have lasting effects, generally putting kids at a permanent advantage if their parents can afford to give them a head start.

          What’s more, students at schools in the most affluent districts dropped less from levels on the previous California-only tests than those in poor districts. Again, there's the reality of the advantages conferred by wealthy parents and the disadvantages inflicted on children whose parents must struggle just to feed and clothe and house them.

          The saddest part of all this was that the lower scores put up by California kids were neither isolated – scores were lower all across the country – nor a surprise. A field test two years ago indicated exactly the problems that turned up in the first year of full-scale testing. That indicates little or nothing was done to improve matters in the ensuing two years.

          Will anything more be done now? Will California legislators, parents and educators accept overall results that indicate only about 40 percent of high school graduates are equipped to pass college-level courses? That remains to be seen.

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




          There is no doubt Gov. Jerry Brown has tolerated corruption in his administration. But now there are hints that he might be personally involved in some of it.

    For corruption Brown has known about, but not curbed, start with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), proven to have decided multi-billion-dollar rate cases after lengthy private contacts and email exchanges between commissioners, their staff and utility executives.

    Then there’s the state Energy Commission, which handed tens of millions of dollars in “hydrogen highway” grants to a consultant who two years ago drew the map of where that money was to be spent, then resigned and formed a company which three months later applied for and got most of the available money.

    No member of either commission has been disciplined. Nor have any commission practices changed discernibly. Brown promoted his former aide Michael Picker to president of the PUC despite the fact that during the year Picker and disgraced former PUC President Michael Peevey served together, Picker voted for every deal Peevey pushed.

          At the Energy Commission, despite proven cronyism and his vote to back the hydrogen highway conflict of interest, Chairman Robert Weisenmiller was soon reappointed.

          Now come hints that the consistently hands-on Brown might not merely condone corruption in his administration; he may be part of it.

          These come from two directions: In San Francisco Superior Court, San Diego lawyers Michael Aguirre and Mia Severson are pushing for access to more than 60 records purportedly showing Brown or his office was in direct and frequent contact with PUC commissioners at the time of the infamous San Onofre settlement. That was the agreement worked out – apparently illegally –   on stationary and paper napkins of a luxury Warsaw hotel between a junketing Peevey and executives of the Southern California Edison Co.

          The deal would have customers of Edison and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. pay $3.3 billion, or about three-fourths of the cost of retiring the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which failed because Edison officials bought a flawed $660 million part knowing all along it could destroy SONGS, as it eventually did.

          The PUC so far refuses to reopen that case, but has not shown why consumers should pay anything for Edison’s blunder at San Onofre.

          One reason the nominally independent commission, made up of five Brown appointees, is obdurate may be that it knows Brown liked the deal from the start.

          While no one will know until after a scheduled Dec. 9 court hearing what’s in those documents, another email proves Brown knew about and favored the illegally crafted San Onofre settlement early on. A June 6, 2013 note sent by Edison CEO Ted Craver to company board members starts with Craver saying he “wanted to give you a quick report on my phone calls with Gov. Brown.”

          This came while Brown was in Rancho Mirage meeting with President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Reported Craver, “He said what we were doing seemed right under the circumstances.” Craver  also said Brown “indicated a willingness to” say publicly that Edison was acting responsibly. What else might have been said in that call?

          For sure, Brown spoke to Craver while meeting with two of the three most powerful world leaders. That’s how hands-on the governor can be, even when he has no formal voice in a decision. There was also a possible conflict of interest here: His sister, Kathleen, is a board member of SDG&E’s parent company, which has hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in this case.

          Maybe Brown was more directly involved than we know. That’s only a guess, but Brown invites speculation when he and his PUC appointees use tax dollars trying to hide their contacts.

          Brown press secretary Evan Westrup, asked for the governor’s response to or explanation for all this, would say only “I do not expect we’ll be commenting.”

          This non-response came while Brown was fending off public outrage over his demand that California’s oil regulating agency provide him maps and records showing any potential for oil and natural gas drilling on his family’s 2,700-acre ranch in Colusa County.

          Add it up and possible corruption involving Brown could far exceed the questionable moves which spurred the 2003 recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis.


    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, November 18, 2015




          At about 8:05 p.m. Nov. 3, anyone in San Mateo County who cared knew that its (almost) all-mail election was a resounding success.

          That’s when the county published the results from 68,988 ballots which arrived by mail before that Election Day began. The election wasn’t completely over, but those votes amounted to just over 75 percent of all ballots cast in the county, where turnout was up by just over 3 percent from two years earlier. At that time, mail ballots went only to voters who requested them and just 25 percent of those eligible actually voted.

          Even then, mail ballots accounted for 77 percent of the votes cast in 2013. This fall, with what used to be called “absentee” ballots sent to every registered voter in the county, mail votes accounted for fully 97 percent of the total of 96,200 cast. Just 2,133 live votes were cast in a handful of locations around the county where voting machines were available to anyone who wanted them for several weeks before Election Day.

          The same sort of thing happened in two similar all-mail elections in Yolo County in 2013, when vote totals did not change much from previously, but there were significant cost savings.

          In San Mateo County, all this precluded any late-night tension on Election Night. It was over almost before it started.  By the time three-quarters of the votes are counted on the usual Election Night, most candidates have long-since given victory speeches or conceded. Only unusually tight races drag on into the night.

          That was not going to happen in San Mateo County, where final results awaited the 25,000-odd ballots carrying postmarks of Nov. 3 or earlier, but didn’t reach the county voting registrar before Election Day. Those results weren’t completely added in to the final totals until nine days after the election, so there wasn’t much point in anyone staying up deep into the night.

          It was all part of a three-year experiment that will be suspended for the presidential election year of 2016, but resume two years from now with the next off-year elections.

          The early readings on this trial are all positive. Not only was participation up among registered voters, but the actual number of ballots cast rose by about 15,000 from the average of the previous three elections.

          Then there were costs – way down. Not only did the county save on renting space for polling places, but there was no need for pre-election testing of the more than 1,000 voting machines usually deployed. And there were no more than the usual number of mismarked ballots. “Voting by mail is not really complicated,” Mark Church, the county clerk and registrar, told a reporter.

          What about fraud, the big fear expressed by skeptics who have long feared that marking ballots at home, at work or wherever people like can lead to pressure on voters and other forms of coercion? So far, there are no reports of any such problems, just as that sort of problem has been rare since the late 1970s, when mail ballots became available to all voters, not just those planning to be absent on Election Day.

          Monetary savings came from needing only 32 “universal” polling stations, where anyone registered in the county could vote regardless of home address. These replaced the more than 200 polling places used in other recent elections, even elections that saw mail ballots account for three-quarters of the vote. Fewer polling places meant less need to deploy trucks, saving more money. It also reduced the need for one-day poll workers from the previous 1,700 to about 150, saving between $148 and $180 for each worker not hired, an approximate savings of about $250,000.

          The bottom line here is that elections will cost less in the future, they will be conducted mostly in homes, where voters can examine sample ballots and ballot proposition booklets at leisure while they vote. This was already happening to a large extent: Last year’s statewide primary saw 69 percent of all votes cast by mail.

          One good thing is that this will soon cause most counties to get rid of the vast majority of voting machines, long controversial because of tampering fears.

          And that means future voting will be done earlier and earlier, forcing frontloaded campaigns at every level.

    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