Monday, January 25, 2016




          The polls don’t look super-strong for Dianne Feinstein today. True, she has a very good approval rating in the latest surveys, the Field Poll showing 44 percent of California voters think she’s doing a good job and only 29 percent disapproving of her work.

          But the same surveys indicate that even though a generation or two has come of age since she won her U.S. Senate seat in 1992, fully 43 percent of likely voters think it would not be a good thing for her to seek reelection to a fifth full term in 2018, when the former San Francisco mayor would be 84 years old. So just as many people want her to retire as think she’s doing well right now.

          Simply put, that’s age discrimination. But Democrat Feinstein also faces the same problem that perennially afflicts all senators from California, one that’s caused plenty to lose their seats when seeking reelection: This state is so big that even with six years of congressional recesses to use, no one can possibly become familiar to the great majority of voters without running a large advertising campaign.

          Yet, no senator can afford that until it’s time for a reelection campaign to start. As Feinstein’s longtime Democratic colleague, the soon-to-retire Barbara Boxer, said in an interview as her 2010 campaign began, “You have to reintroduce yourself to the voters every six years. A lot of them just don’t know you.”

          That’s political reality in this huge state, where the average person moves once every seven years and senators spend most of their time about 3,000 miles away.

          So it’s easy for people who see Feinstein’s age and not her energy to opine that she shouldn’t run. Certainly, there’s a large cadre of her fellow Democrats who feel that way: Many of them would dearly love to take her job.

          But Feinstein has hung onto that job by doing it well, acting as a moderate with friends and allies in both parties even while the Senate sees more partisan bitterness and bickering than it has in the last century.

          Emblematic was how she handled a raucous public hearing about land use in the California desert held last fall in a large tent set up about five miles off the Interstate 10 freeway near Palm Springs. Feinstein has pushed for about seven years to create three national monuments in large portions of the Mojave Desert lying between Barstow, Needles and Twentynine Palms. The crowd of 800 under the tent in 100-degree-plus temperatures wildly favored her plan, which has been stymied by Republicans in Congress, while President Obama dithers about it.

          When those present loudly booed an aide to Yucca Valley’s Republican Rep. Paul Cook, who wants the land to remain open to development, mining and other activities, Feinstein stood with an arm around his shoulders and shushed the crowed. It was another case of her treating a political opponent in a civilized manner that’s uncommon today.

          That sort of behavior has long prevented Republicans from considering her an enemy even while she advocates policies they may not like.

          At the same time, no one has been more vigorous than Feinstein on issues like torture, of which she has been a major opponent for years, even while voting for laws like the Patriot Act. Although she no longer chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee because Republicans control the Senate, no senator is more active on national security issues, even if some have been much louder.

          The upshot is that Feinstein still operates in much the same manner she has since first getting elected in 1992, when she ousted Republican incumbent John Seymour, who had been appointed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson to the seat he had occupied for eight years.

          When they see that, and they see Feinstein in operation, as television commercials will surely depict, there’s a good chance the age issue making many voters skeptical of whether she should run again could simply disappear. Which means those polls questioning whether someone her age
should be a senator might just turn around completely.


    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 mid-January announcement from the chief executive of Toyota Motor North America about his company’s new hydrogen-powered Mirai luxury car received almost no attention outside a few trade newsletters.

          “We have asked (dealers) not to make deliveries until we have a station open (near them),” Jim Lentz said on the sidelines of an automotive show in Detroit.

          That translates to many more months of waiting for almost all Californians who have so far ordered the Mirai, the first of many hydrogen fuel cell cars to come on the market. Some dealers list the Mirai with a manufacturer’s suggested price of $58,500, but the net cost actually comes to much less after state and federal tax credits are applied.

          It also means that lousy – some called them corrupt – past decisions by the California Energy Commission are hitting home. The commission each year gives out tens of millions of dollars to aid construction of refueling stations for hydrogen cars which, as long expected, began to arrive around Jan. 1.

          Those grants were supposed to assure an adequate supply of refueling stations would be ready by now. These usually take the form of an additional pump island in a pre-existing gas station.

          Altogether, the Energy Commission has funded 49 stations to the tune of about $96 million, of which it says 14 are now operational. Eventually, it will fund about 100 stations, using gasoline tax money. But the California Fuel Cell Partnership, to whose website the Energy Commission refers questions about locations (, listed only six retail stations open as of Jan. 20. The rest are private, used by bus companies and other fleet operators.

          That’s why Toyota now authorizes only four of its California dealers to deliver the Mirai, and won’t add more until many more stations open, something that's unlikely for at least several months.

          It’s at least partly the result of those past decisions by the Energy Commission, whose members serve at the pleasure of Gov. Jerry Brown. In 2012 and previously, for example, the commission would give hydrogen highway grants only to companies approved by at least one of the eight automakers due to build hydrogen cars. Those grants went mostly to large international industrial gas companies like Linde Group LLC and Air Products & Chemicals Inc.

Until this column exposed that rule, the commission had billion-dollar companies (many of them foreign) decide which other billion-dollar companies would receive tens of millions of tax dollars. This system operated under both Brown and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

          After the rule was exposed, the commission pulled back $28 million in 2012 grants, delaying them about six months while it developed new rules. This might be one reason Air Products, recipient of $14.2 million for 10 stations, had only three open as 2016 began.

          Then, in 2014, this column exposed an apparent conflict of interest in 20 other tentative refueling station grants to a brand new company that had never built anything. Another significant delay followed while the Energy Commission sought a ruling from the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which eventually allowed the grants in an opinion some lawyers described as “riddled with sophistry.” It was a case of one commission made up entirely of Brown appointees getting approval from another exclusively Brown-appointed commission, the left hand okaying what the right hand wanted to do with many millions in tax dollars.

          Of those 20 stations, the company website listed none open on Jan. 20, but its Coalinga location was actually operating by then.

          Had the grants been clean to begin with, many more stations could be open today, with far more ultra-green hydrogen cars on the road.

          There are other problems, too. One station developer has been delayed by the bankruptcy of a Spanish company making components of its electrolyzing unit. State officials face a months-long backlog in certifying that hydrogen gas (priced at about $8 to $9 per kilogram, roughly equivalent to $3-per-gallon gasoline) is measured accurately when it’s pumped.

          The upshot is that the cleanest cars ever built – hydrogen cars emit only water as exhaust – won’t be a significant presence in California for many months after they could have been, at least in part because of highly questionable decisions and rules made by the commission whose job is to encourage those cars.


    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

Monday, January 18, 2016




          There has been little more than dithering from the University of California and its top officials in the year or so since anti-Semitic episodes on several of its best-known and highest-ranked campuses became well known.

          Even faculty members – including some without tenure for whom public protests are risky – complain that the university has “become a breeding ground for hate speech.”

          Of course, some hate speech – like the N word or complaints about female Muslim students wearing Islamic hijab head scarves – is punished almost immediately at UC. It’s almost inconceivable that a student vocal in either of those ways would be able to retain a work-study job paid by the university.

          But nothing has been done about the steady stream of anti-Semitic campus episodes in recent years. These range from vandalism to discrimination against Jewish students in campus appointments to briefly and sporadically impeding Jewish students’ movements on campus. As a result, Jewish groups early last year demanded that the university adopt the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism as its own. The implication was that once a definition exists, deans and other campus officials will be able to punish anti-Semitic behavior and hate speech.

          That definition would label denials of the state of Israel’s right to exist as anti-Semitic, just as it would be anti-Japanese to deny Japan’s right to be Japanese. It would label as anti-Semitic criticisms of Israel for practices routinely engaged in by other countries and it would forbid “demonizing” Jews.

          Even though UC President Janet Napolitano promised in a June radio interview that she would ask the university’s Board of Regents to adopt this policy in July, the subject didn’t arise until September, and then was tabled until November, when a mild statement condemning all hate speech and hateful behavior on campus was proposed. Many regents called that totally inadequate and a committee was named to write a new policy and bring it to the board sometime in the indefinite future.

          That’s the very definition of dithering, and while UC dithers, the anti-Semitism continues. There have been Nazi-style swastikas daubed onto fraternities and a class assigned to wear yellow Star of David patches on their clothes like those Jews were compelled to don under Nazi rule in the 1930s and ‘40s.

          One work-study student with a job at the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care polluted the Facebook page of three-time UCLA alumna Mayim Bialik, once the star of the TV show “Blossom,” who holds a UCLA Ph.D. in neuroscience and strongly supports Israel. “GTFOH (Get the F--- Out of Here) with all your Zionist bullshit,” the female student wrote on Bialik’s page, further calling Jews “Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction.” Among other equally reasonable passages.

          After the plainly anti-Semitic student was identified, campus officials issued a statement calling the comments “hateful and offensive,” but did nothing to her. No expulsion or suspension from classes. No docking of work-study pay. Nothing. Yes, there were further remarks deploring what the student did, but that’s all.

          And yet, her writings were as classic an example as can be found of demonizing Jews. Had the Regents adopted the State Department definition last fall, with administrators writing new rules to fit, there could have been punishment of a sort to set an example discouraging similar acts by other students.

          Instead, the employee relations manager of UCLA Health claimed the pirating and polluting of Bialik’s Facebook page was “individual private speech, however reprehensible,” and protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. That’s like saying that yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater also is protected free speech. It never has been. More harm and violence has derived from anti-Semitic hate speech than from anything shouted in a theater.

          It’s almost as if UC officials believe there’s a constitutional right to anti-Semitic behavior and rhetoric, with very few limitations. If placing anti-Semitic content on someone’s private social media page constitutes free speech, why not allow the same thing with racist and sexist propaganda, both of which would quickly draw punishment?

          All this means it’s high time for the dithering to stop. If UC’s regents don’t move quickly after seeing how persistent and virulent anti-Semitism has become on their watch, things will be physically dangerous, it form a permanent stain on the university’s world-wide reputation and become an utter disgrace.


    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




          Ask environmentalists and labor union activists about differences between the proposed new Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA, and they can’t name many that amount to much.

          That’s because the TPP, which Congress must vote up or down sometime this spring – no amendments allowed – retains many aspects of NAFTA, including its single worst part. Meanwhile, labor leaders say NAFTA has sent many thousands of jobs out of this country and environmental advocates insist it contributes to global climate change.

          But the worst feature is an international tribunal of lawyers from a variety of countries that’s empowered to override some laws of member countries and even to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court.

          This means attorneys from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru and Brunei might someday help strike down United States -- and California -- laws on anything from clean air to labor conditions and movie copyrights.

          This has happened before and it’s happening right now. The most prominent previous case involved a Canadian company called Methanex, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, which made and marketed a gasoline additive called MTBE that aimed to cut smog. But MTBE turned out to have noxious odors and taste when it leached from gas station storage tanks into ground water. It also was associated with a higher risk of some cancers.

          When California, under ex-Gov. Gray Davis, banned MTBE, Methanex sued in NAFTA’s tribunal and the case was heard in Washington, D.C., far from affected Californians. It took years, and eventually Methanex lost because of MTBE’s health effects, but that case made it clear the day would come when American environmental laws would be overruled by foreign lawyers in the interests of profits for a foreign company.

           Something like that did happen later, when another NAFTA ruling cancelled U.S. dolphin-safe labeling regulations for canned tuna because they could impede free trade. In short, because Mexican fishermen are not careful to avoid catching some dolphins in their nets, American rules designed to save an intelligent species died, again at the hands of foreign lawyers less interested in saving a species than dollars for careless Mexican fishermen.

          Canadian lawyers are at it again now, using NAFTA to challenge President Obama’s right to cancel the planned Keystone XL pipeline project because it might cost jobs in Canada.

          All this represents a major loss of sovereignty for the United States, a loss likely to be felt more sharply in California than anywhere else, because this state’s smog rules are the toughest in the world. What happens when Japanese auto companies tire of adhering to California smog standards and take their case for loose rules to the Trans-Pacific judicial panel? If their lawyers don’t care much about lung disease and premature heart attacks – both associated with dirty air – we can guess what might happen.

          No one could be sure this tribunal was even in the treaty until the full text was released last November. The take-it-or-leave-it rules mean that , if Congress votes for this new treaty, it will give up much of America’s hard-won and hard-defended right to determine its own fate in exchange for the right to sell more rice to Japan and somewhat better copyright laws for California film and music companies.

          The politicians must now decide whether that’s a good tradeoff. President Obama, who tolerated the ultra-secret Atlanta negotiations that produced the final treaty text, calls it a great deal.

          “It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead,” Obama said. “It includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.” He hints broadly that rejecting this agreement will allow China to dominate trade in Southeast Asia and most of the Pacific.

          Don’t believe it. Countries like Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and Japan don’t want to be dominated by China. Far more likely, they’ll come back for a new negotiation once they see what American objections are – objections apparently not presented forcefully by Obama aides who helped write the draft treaty.

          So the recommendation here is a no vote by California senators and representatives, who should also make it plain they do want a tariff-free trade zone like this proposal would establish. Just not at the expense of America’s power to decide its own fate.

     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 11, 2016




Many of America’s worst traffic bottlenecks are holding up commuters for hours each week even where there’s plenty of mass transit nearby.

That’s the upshot of a new report titled “Unclogging America’s Arteries,” which offers a few nostrums that don’t really figure to solve the problem anytime soon. (

The most prominent conclusion of the study is that 11 of the nation’s 16 worst bottlenecks are in California, the vast majority in Los Angeles and Orange counties. That won’t surprise commuters accustomed to putting up with parking-lot scenes on I-405, U.S. 101, I-110 and I-10 in L.A., but it might surprise San Francisco drivers to learn that the 1.9-mile stretch of I-80 approaching the Bay Bridge from the south and west wastes more time for more people than all but 11 others nationwide.

          It may be more surprising to learn that crowding and delays on I-405 in Orange County are far worse than in New York’s Lincoln Tunnel, costing drivers and their passengers 7.1 million hours of waiting time yearly, more than double what Manhattan and New Jersey folk spend hung up in the always-jammed tunnel system under the Hudson River.

          Similarly, it will probably stun the tens of thousands who commute daily on Houston’s Katy Freeway, I-10’s Texas iteration, to learn they’re not even in the top 50 when it comes to wasting time. That almost has to be an error of omission.

          One remarkable thing about all this is that more than a dozen routes listed among the nation’s most crowded (a stretch of Chicago’s I-90 ranks No. 1) run near and parallel to mass transit. Theoretically, then, it’s possible to bypass the frustrating waits by riding trains or busways.

          Thus, many commuters frustrated by Bottleneck #7, the Ventura Freeway in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, could be riding the Metro Orange Line nearby instead, but don’t.

          The same for drivers tied up on I-110 near downtown Los Angeles, who could be on the Metro Gold or Blue lines. Or plenty of drivers on that often-congested stretch of skyway in San Francisco, many of whom could ride BART.

          One lessen here, then, is that mass transit doesn’t solve all congestion. Just look at the I-10 between downtown Los Angeles and the city’s Westside, where commuters sit and wait while trains zip unmolested along the almost parallel, mostly completed Metro Expo Line.

          Altogether, California drivers last year wasted more than 47 million waking hours waiting in traffic along the state’s 15 most congested routes.

          The federal planners who put out the new report appear to have few viable ideas for getting stalled traffic moving. They call for “cost-effective, high-impact” investments to improve traffic, but quickly add that “There is no silver bullet for addressing it.”

          Among their low-cost suggestions are expansion of the 511 telephone traveler information system, and offering advisories that suggest alternate routes via radio stations and message signs. All those techniques already exist on many of the super-crowded California stretches, but they have not gotten traffic moving.

          The planners also suggest using smartphone apps like Waze that let drivers reroute around the worst jams. Those apps have been known to infuriate residents in once-quiet neighborhoods that now see heavy traffic sent their way by the robotic voices of modern cellphones.

          More managed lanes, like the toll lanes already used on some of California’s (former) freeways are another recommendation.

          But the bottom line solution appears to be both simpler and more complex than anything traffic authorities and their planners can do: To move faster, drivers will have to start leaving their cars behind in mass transit parking lots and letting train operators do the driving.

          As long as the vast majority of motorists are unwilling to do that, bottlenecks will be the rule, not the exception in the most populous, most congested parts of California.

    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




          Here’s the bottom line on the significant but under-publicized retirement of Melanie M. Darling, the California Public Utilities Commission judge who fined a huge utility $16 million late last year for not reporting secret contacts with PUC officials including herself:

          The PUC is rid of a major embarrassment, but is still under criminal investigation. Why? Because private phone calls and emails between some of its top officials and executives of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. may have fixed the outcome of billion-dollar cases.

It’s not yet known whether the commission has had secret dealings with Sempra Energy, owner of the other two large private utilities it regulates, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

          Darling, 63, had multiple phone calls and emails with Edison executives, both reported and not, helping make a laughing stock of the state’s most powerful regulatory board.

          None of it was intended as comedy. Darling’s last major assignment was presiding over hearings that saw the PUC force consumers to pay 70 percent of about $4.7 billion in costs associated with the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, 80 percent owned by Edison. SONGS shut down in 2012 following a major blunder by the company.

          Neither Edison nor the PUC has ever presented a reason why customers should pay any of those costs, but they are nevertheless stuck to the eventual tune of about $2,300 for every electric meter in the territories of Edison and SDG&E, which owns 20 percent of SONGS.

          That decision, it turned out, was first outlined during a secret 2013 meeting in a Polish hotel between an Edison executive and former PUC President Michael Peevey. Darling’s real, unannounced task, then, was arranging the details. Emails between her and Edison executive Russell Worden reveal she began favoring Edison and SDG&E months before the Warsaw meeting. PUC judges like Darling hold hearings and recommend decisions, but only the actual commission can finalize outcomes.

          In this case, she and Worden agreed to split hearings on SONGS into three phases, with the first to set the amount consumers would pay and the last determining fault for the plant failure. That’s the reverse of normal, sensible procedure, where blame is assessed before costs are distributed.  One email reveals Darling already knew about the Edison blunder when she set up her process; a later one shows she actually asked Edison whether it thought the proceeding should be reopened after it ended. Naturally, the utility said no and that was that.

          So she was a major embarrassment to the commission, which insists she planned for a “long” time to retire on Dec. 25. PUC spokesmen did not answer questions about when Darling gave notice of her rather early “retirement.” She may have been dumped quickly after this column in early December noted the absurdity of her fining Edison for not reporting to the commission contacts with her and others at the commission.

          It’s all part of a longtime PUC climate favoring utilities over their customers.

          This pattern was obvious for many years, but the extent of relations between the commission and executives of the utilities whose rates and profits it sets was not clear until late 2014. A lawsuit then forced release of 65,000 previously secret and possibly illegal emails between commissioners, staff and PG&E. Further disclosures revealed private contacts with executives of other utilities.

          Just as astonishing is the way Gov. Brown and other state officials continue treating the under-investigation PUC as if it’s trustworthy.

          Example: When Brown belatedly declared a state of emergency over the ongoing natural gas leak at a SoCal Gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, about a mile from the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, he assigned investigative functions to the PUC, saying it will “ensure that (SoCal Gas) covers costs…while protecting ratepayers.” Absolutely no recognition there of the commission’s enduring disregard for the wallets of ratepayers, aka customers.

          So yes, the PUC needs big change, and a wholesale housecleaning may come if indictments ever emerge from state and federal investigations. Getting rid of one embarrassing second-level official like Darling won’t solve the problem, either for the PUC or the consumers it is supposed to protect – but usually doesn’t.


    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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016




          Every forecast of California’s future insists this state will need far more college-educated workers than now live here if it’s to avert losing out when established businesses expand and seek places with qualified potential employees.

          This is true in almost every field, from film-making to making computer chips and hunting knives.

          That’s why a community college program to help graduates of the two-year schools move on to full-scale universities now looks like one of the better moves the state has made in decades. Started in 2011, this plan lets community college students earn a new kind of degree that helps them move easily and almost seamlessly to California State University campuses.

          Almost all the state’s two-year schools now offer the new Associate in Arts Degree for Transfer and Associate in Science Degree for Transfer, huge progress since the plan began with an unheralded signature from ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2010.

          The program was sponsored in the Legislature by Democrat Alex Padilla, then a state senator, now California secretary of state. It guarantees that anyone who obtains either of the new two-year degrees will get a spot at a CSU campus and that credits earned in community college will count at the four-year school.

          Unlike many laws that pass and then move into obscurity, this one bears more fruit every year.

          In 2015, the number of community college students pursuing the new degrees almost doubled, with 20,644 students getting transfer diplomas, compared with 11,448 the year before. For students who get these degrees, there’s not only a four-year university slot, but also the assurance they cannot be saddled with additional graduation requirements after they enroll at the next level. So students can see exactly what they’ll need to do to complete the entire process in four years. It’s much more organized than the often-jumbled transfer process still followed by other tens of thousands of would-be community college transfers.

          New degrees are available in more than 1,900 subjects, but not every community college offers them all. Full details of which degrees can be earned where are available at

          But even the smallest two-year colleges offer transfer-enabling degrees in subjects from kinesiology and accounting to early childhood education, statistics and theater arts.

          The new degrees also can lower costs of getting a full-fledged university degree, since they let students graduate with a total of 120 semester units if they continue from a community college degree program to a similar one at the next level. More traditional transfer students, without the guaranteed Cal State acceptance of all or virtually all their credits from community college, often must take as many as 40 to 50 additional units after enrolling at a four-year school. This can happen when graduation requirements change or because some classes at two-year-schools are not counted.

          The proud supervisor of this new opportunity is Brice Harris, statewide chancellor of California Community Colleges. As he announced the huge increase in students getting the innovative degrees, Harris said they create “an affordable path to a four-year degree, without compromising the quality of education.” He also touted the new degrees’ ability to save both time and money, which he labeled a “win-win for both students and the state of California.”

          In fact, the more students get four-year degrees, the less likely California is to continue suffering an exodus of expanding companies, many moving to places like Austin, Tex. and the Raleigh, N.C., area because of their surfeit of available, educated workers.

          But most community college students remain unaware of the new degrees. Most who get the degrees learn of them from guidance counselors, but many, many community college students with outside jobs don’t feel they have time to visit counselors.

          One 23-year-old student at College of the Desert in Palm Desert said, “Before, I was taking just random classes. I didn’t want to see a counselor. But it’s turned out that one visit will probably save me months later on. Now, I can actually say I’m shooting for my B.A., not just looking for an associate degree.”

          The bottom line: If we’re going to rip failed or questionable government programs from high speed rail to highway repairs, we also ought to recognize those that work, like this one.


    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




          California is in the forefront of most things. From new tax formulas and TV shows to new electronic devices, pioneering farm irrigation techniques and innovative hairstyles, trends begin in California and work their way east across the county.

          But not in presidential politics. There, California legislators have opted to make this state a backwater, one whose national leadership depends in large part on the whims and wishes of people in far smaller places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and even neighboring Nevada.

          It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Yes, up until now, because presidential debates are televised nationally, Californians have felt part of the process.

          But that ends Feb. 1, when Iowans – fresh from their Rose Bowl beating by a California team – head to schools gyms, church recreation rooms and just about anyplace that will hold a couple of hundred emotional persons staging first-in-the-nation caucuses that begin to determine who will be America’s next President.

          Meanwhile, California – by far the most populous state – will vote last, along with New Jersey and New Mexico – and likely have nothing much to say about who the two candidates will be. If the history of the last 11 presidential elections means anything, by the time Californians get ready to vote in June, the outcome in both major parties will be determined by people in other places.

          And because both parties consider California solidly Democratic territory, the state’s voting outcome predetermined by its large Latino population and its big Democratic voter registration advantage, the two finalists for President also will spend little time or money here.

          They won’t even advertise much here. Or at least they didn’t four or eight or 12 years ago, or even during the just-ending runup to the primary election season.

          That makes those with big money to donate are the only Californians who count in this year’s presidential politics. They are about the only people candidates see on their few trips to the state, which amount to vacuum-cleaning operations that suck up cash from the wealthy. California, with about 12 percent of the national populace, had accounted for more than 16 percent of all campaign cash at the last reporting date.

          It didn’t have to be this way. Yes, both the national Republican and Democratic parties have rules against anyone voting before Iowa and New Hampshire, which holds its snowy primary eight days after Iowa.

          But there was nothing preventing California from scheduling its vote on Feb. 16, a week after New Hampshire. Or two weeks later on Feb. 23, the day when Nevada Republicans will caucus (Democrats there caucus three days later).

          Yes, the naysayers will tell you that letting the little guys go first gives a chance to candidates who can’t raise much money to start with, but can later, after winning a few small-state primaries. California just costs too much, they contend. Tell that to the well-financed likes of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

          Others will say California has tried this before, with several primaries in late February and early March over the last 20 years that nevertheless didn’t have much influence on the national outcomes. The problem with this claim is that some of those primaries did matter: For example, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 win here in late February kept her in the Democratic race against Barack Obama for months afterward. Without California, Clinton would have been left for dead after her losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

          The real reason for all this is the self-interest of California state legislators, who know an early primary would force them to accelerate their schedules, decision-making and fund-raising. They would have to declare for office and start schmoozing donors months ahead of the current mid-March deadline.

          They don’t say this, of course, preferring to hide behind the fact that an early election might cost about $100 million more. But in a state budget of more than $220 billion, that election cost is less than peanuts. Besides that, isn’t it worth something to have Californians feel involved, even inspired?

          There will be little of that feeling here this spring, though, as the candidates slog through dozens of states while taking breaks to fly here for fund-raising dinners.

          That sense of being left out can be laid at the feet of state lawmakers, who never seem to pay any price for selfish and shortsighted decisions.

    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