Wednesday, March 30, 2016




          What if California voters repealed a law, but it remained the law anyway?

          That’s a situation the state may soon face if a yet-unnumbered proposition aiming to repeal a 2014 statewide ban on plastic grocery bags should pass in November. The statewide law also requires stores to offer paper bags for at least 10 cents each.

          The bottom line on this referendum measure, which qualified for the ballot within a mere five months of when legislators passed the plastic bag ban, is that it likely won’t matter much.

          In fact, there’s little effect from the fact that the state ban is not in force today, almost two years after it passed. Any law challenged by a referendum gets suspended until the outcome of the vote is official.

          There’s a pretty simple reason why neither the vote nor the law’s suspension matters much: Many local governments have their own bans in place, 146 cities and counties – about one-third of all California communities, containing a large majority of the populace. Repealing the state law would not affect those laws.

          Try to get a supermarket plastic bag in any of California’s largest cities. Can’t do it in Los Angeles. Nor in San Francisco, nor anywhere in Los Angeles County, nor many others.

          This infuriates makers of plastic bags, which have pretty much disappeared from the shoulders of major highways they once littered.

          Grocers at first opposed the plastic bag bans, protesting the inconvenience to themselves and their customers from forcing consumers to bring their own bags or buy paper ones at checkout counters. They’ve been converted and now support the bans.

          “Early polling is that consumers are adapting to no plastic bags,” Ronald Fong, head of the California Grocers Assn., told a reporter. “It’s really unfortunate that out-of-staters are sinking millions of dollars into telling us that we’re wrong here in California.”

          Altogether, more than $4 million has been raised to fight the statewide plastic bag ban, only a small fraction of it raised in California. An industry association, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents the plastic bag industry nationally, raised more than $4 million from its members shortly after the state ban passed. None came from California.

    Contributors were led by South Carolina’s Hilex Poly ($1.9 million), with companies like Superbag (Texas), Advance Polybag (Texas) and Formosa Plastics (New Jersey) also among big donors.

          “We believe California voters share our concerns and will make their voices heard at the ballot box,” the pro-plastic alliance’s director, Lee Califf, said in a statement. The statewide ban, he said, threatens thousands of jobs and will have “no meaningful effect on the environment.”

          While removing the statewide ban would not kill any of the local ones, it could perpetuate some confusion, as the state law was intended to standardize regulations that differ slightly among localities.

          What’s more, say backers – state and local – the bag bans are taking millions of unneeded bags off the street. “When they have to pay, customers avoid buying the bags,” Mark Murray, executive director of the group Californians Against Waste, said recently. He cited figures showing the number of grocery customers buying no bags (usually because they’ve brought their own) has jumped from about 10 percent to more than 35 percent.

          Califf and the pro-plastic group maintain the bag ban and fee have been “a massive, billion-dollar giveaway to grocers under the guise of environmentalism.” The plastics alliance hopes to qualify a second measure for a November vote, earmarking the 10-cent bag fees for environmental causes rather than letting grocers keep them. The state legislative analyst estimates this could provide $10 million or more to such causes, but nowhere near billions.

          The bottom line on this is that aside from any environmental benefits of banning plastic bags, this has devolved into a fight between two well-heeled interest groups: Grocers now love the ban on plastics because it gives them a new revenue source while they no longer must buy plastics. Meanwhile, the plastic bag companies desperately want back into the huge California market, something that’s looking more and more like a pipe dream.


    Email Thomas Elias at He has covered esoteric votes in eight national political conventions. 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




          Donald Trump is about to become a major presence all around California. So are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both of whom want to stop the Trump express and force an open Republican National Convention in July on Kasich’s home turf in Cleveland.

          Helping them out might be two arcane GOP convention rules adopted in 2012 that may mean Trump needs most of the 172 Republican delegates up for grabs here. This makes California’s very late-in-the-process June primary election more significant than it’s been since 1972, when Democrat George McGovern used it to secure his party’s nomination.

          But Trump might not have things quite so easy as did McGovern, who won all California’s delegates despite taking the primary by only a narrow margin. That outcome was a big reason Democrats later went to proportional representation for all their presidential primaries, with each state’s delegates doled out according to the results of its primary or caucus.

          Trump may in fact need most of the GOP’s much-reduced California delegation to get the convention majority he’s been working for. (The GOP’s voting California delegation of 172 persons is down somewhat from the 350 delegates and alternates of Ronald Reagan’s heyday. The state party’s national clout diminishes when it loses an election for governor, U.S. Senate or President, and also when the GOP fails to win the majority of the state’s congressional delegation or the Legislature.)

          No one is likely to get all the California delegates, as Reagan and George H.W. Bush both did. That’s because most delegates now are elected by congressional district, with the statewide GOP winner getting 13 and the rest going three at a time to the winners in each of the 53 districts.

          Chances are, Cruz and Kasich will pick off at least a few districts, and maybe more, even if Trump should win statewide.

          That might make Trump’s weakness among establishment Republicans a key factor. They have tried mightily to derail his candidacy; that establishment also wrote many of the party convention’s key rules.

          Two of those rules, Numbers 16 (d)(2) and 16(d)(3), were adopted by the GOP convention in 2012 and have never before applied: The rules’ Byzantine legalese may amount to this: Some lawyers interpret the abstruse and lengthy language to mean you can’t be seated as a delegate if you come from a state where voters who are not registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary. (

          That won’t happen in California, where voters registered with no party preference have long been welcomed in Democratic presidential primaries, but not by the Republicans.

          There are plenty of other states where the GOP allows this, like Arkansas, Massachusetts and Illinois, which gave Trump pluralities.

          There’s also a complication in Missouri, where Trump has been reported to have won 25 delegates to 15 for Cruz. But Missouri gives five GOP delegates to the winner of each of eight congressional districts and 12 to the statewide winner. Trouble is, votes are usually counted and reported by county and not by congressional district. Depending on what Missouri’s Democratic secretary of state chooses to do, at least some Trump delegates could be challenged in Cleveland.

          This means, writes former Trump aide Roger Stone on the Infowars website, that party leaders may “have found a way to lie, cheat and steal Trump out of enough delegates to force a second ballot.” And if the convention goes to two ballots or more, no delegate will be bound to vote for anyone.

          Meanwhile, there will be no courts to interpret the convention rules. All rules get whatever meaning a majority of delegates who have survived all challenges and been seated choose to give them, by majority vote.

          The meaning for Trump in California should be this: If he does not fight in every district for each delegate threesome, he might be left without enough unquestioned delegates to beat back legalistic challenges and interpretations made by convention committees influenced by the establishment that so reviles him.

          It might just be, therefore, that only California can prevent utter chaos in Cleveland – and the riots Trump has mentioned as a possibility if his nomination is somehow thwarted.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016




          A little more than one month from now, the Metro Expo Line’s final portion will open for business, making it possible to take trains from the far eastern portions of Los Angeles County to the often-crowded beach in Santa Monica. This will come barely two months after a new section of Metro’s Gold Line opened, allowing a simple, cheap 31-mile jaunt from downtown Los Angeles to Azusa.

          Meanwhile, in Sonoma and Marin counties, test trains are running on another light rail line, between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, with high hopes of relieving some of the heavy traffic on parallel route U.S. 101.

          Barely any protests have afflicted any of these projects, which together will have cost many billions of dollars.

          Meanwhile, protests are vocal and persistent wherever the state’s High Speed Rail Authority plans to build bullet train tracks, bridges or stations, even where it plans to share rights of way with other trains, as on its planned course on the San Francisco Peninsula.

          There’s also massive resistance to a plan for running up to five freight trains weekly through the East Bay area and Monterey County to a Phillips 66 oil refinery in Santa Maria, which supplies much of the Central Coast.

          These trains would bring crude oil to the refinery, something Houston-based ConocoPhillips insists is needed because of declines in production of California crude oil. Oil trains would run from the Carquinez Strait near Benicia through much of the East Bay, raising fears of derailments and hazardous waste problems in populous areas. So far this year, there have been at least three derailments of oil trains in other parts of the nation, with hundreds of temporary evacuations resulting. Another train derailed only last month in the East Bay.

          Loud as those protests are, they lack the potency of the opposition to the plans of the High Speed Rail Authority, headed by former Pacific Gas & Electric executive Dan Richard, who also spent years as an aide to Gov. Jerry Brown.

          The most prominent current anti-HSR push is a proposed November ballot initiative sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bob Huff of San Dimas and state Board of Equalization member George Runner, which seeks to switch almost $10 billion in remaining, unsold, bonds from the bullet train to water projects, including new reservoirs and desalination plants.

          That initiative, which appears likely to make the ballot, is in large part the result of the High Speed Rail Authority’s insistence on a route that makes no sense – meandering north from Los Angeles through the Antelope Valley, then west through the Mojave Desert to Bakersfield before turning north again for a run past and through farms and towns in the Central Valley. When it’s done with all that, the bullet train’s projected path would turn west again over the Pacheco Pass to Gilroy and then veer north to San Jose before heading up the Peninsula along existing CalTrain routes to San Francisco.

          It’s a convoluted route that – if built out – will add at least half an hour of travel time to a much simpler route that was available: Heading almost straight north from the Bakersfield area along the existing Interstate 5 right of way, where plenty of median land is available for most of the run. Rather than cutting over the Pacheco Pass, it would be far simpler to continue a little farther north to the windswept Altamont Pass, where a turn west could quickly lead to a link with the Bay Area Rapid Transit System and special BART express trains to San Francisco.

          That route would cost untold billions of dollars less and be far more direct and faster. But the illogical High Speed Rail Authority opted for the least sensible, most costly route, inviting the lawsuits and public outcries that have now set its timetable back by at least three years. The Huff-Runner measure might just make it extinct.

          The difference between the fates of the light rail projects and this ultra-heavy rail couldn’t be clearer: Because the light rail systems heeded where potential passengers want to go and chose direct, non-controversial routes, they are being completed on time, or close.

          Meanwhile, the bullet train and the old train plans might just pay the price for making little or no sense and/or wasting money: Extinction.


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




          For many months, California’s ongoing race to replace retiring four-term U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has bored most voters to the point they’ve virtually ignored it.

    The casual assumption has been that Democrat Kamala Harris, currently state attorney general and formerly district attorney of San Francisco, would win in a cakewalk, given she’s raised millions of dollars more than her leading rival in the polls, Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County.

    The probability has been strong for an all-Democrat November runoff election , as the two Republicans in the race, former state GOP chairmen George (Duf) Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, register well under 10 percent in the latest polls and have had little success raising campaign money.

    Enter Ron Unz, 54, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has been out politics since his 1998 Proposition 227 eliminated most bilingual education programs in California public schools. But as an individual candidate in 1994 at age 32, he won 35 percent of the Republican primary vote against then-incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson.

    “It’s a very unusual election cycle,” Unz understated in an interview the other day. The other two sort-of significant Republicans in the race have very low poll standings and I think I can shake things up by focusing on controversial issues.”

    Anyone watching closely might have gotten a hint that Unz was up to something a week before he officially filed his candidacy papers at the March 16 deadline. “Is the Republican Party just too stupid to survive?” he asked in a blog post that railed against likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and blasted the party for continuing to insist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were good, honest ideas.

    But most of all, he says he got in because of his party’s legislative support for a November ballot proposition that would virtually negate Proposition 227 by letting parents of English learner students choose whether or not to put their kids in bilingual education. “227 has been a very good thing,” he said. “Kids have learned English better and faster through immersion. I found it hard to believe most Republicans in the Legislature voted to for this new measure.”

    Some might say that Unz’ entry further ensures that Republicans won’t even have a Senate candidate on the November ballot. It’s true that if the three GOP candidates now running all stay in, Republican votes could splinter, assuring a Harris-Sanchez all-Democrat runoff this fall.

    But if Unz takes off, the others might not be major factors at all and California could end up with a truly independent U.S. senator.

    Unz would need money to do that, but said he’s unable to put more than $100,000 of his own cash into the race. “I’m just not wealthy enough to write multi-million-dollar checks for a campaign that might well lose, like some people,” he said. Meanwhile, he insists he will take no donations over $99.

    There is, however, the possibility that if his candidacy somehow catches on, he might reach a little deeper into his pockets, as he did in spending more than $500,000 on 227. At the time, he still had a financial analytics software firm, later sold to the Moody’s investment rating service. “I did OK with that, but not like some,” he said.

    “Some people may be attracted to my ideas,” Unz openly hoped, saying he figures to buy very little media advertising. “Maybe a little radio,” he allowed. Even that would be more than Sundheim or Del Beccaro seemingly can afford.

    If Unz takes off, it might be because California Republicans want to assure they at least have someone on the fall ballot. It could also happen if the 45 percent of likely voters in the undecided column in the latest polls glom onto him as an anti-establishment hope. One thing for sure: Unz has never been an establishment anything.

          If he should beat out the two other Republicans now running, the blame should go to the GOP establishment itself, for not developing candidates with sufficient popular appeal to make a respectable Senate run. And things don’t look much better for Republicans two years from now, when both the governor’s office and another Senate seat will be up for grabs.

     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, March 14, 2016




          For most of the last 18 months, California’s next run for governor has shaped up as a battle of flash and dash, with two of the gaudiest candidates the state has ever seen planning to face off, plus the possible entry of a billionaire or two.

          But a monkey wrench may have been thrown this spring into the best-laid plans of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the ultra-wealthy Tom Steyer and Steve Westly when state Treasurer John Chiang quietly let it be known he’s “interested” in the race.

          Unlike Newsom and Villaraigosa, Chiang doesn’t have to run for any new office two years from now, when current Gov. Jerry Brown will be termed out after a total of four terms in the statehouse. And unlike the two fabulously wealthy additional prospects – Steyer and former state Controller and eBay executive Westly – Chiang can’t wait until the last moment to decide and then simply reach for his checkbook.

    If he were interested only in job security, Chiang would just run for another quiet term as treasurer. He also had the option of waiting to see whether Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein opts to retire after 2018, when her fourth full term is up.

          But Chiang may be bored in the treasurer’s job, where he supervises sales of state bonds and makes few headlines. His eight years as state controller – the officer in charge of state check-writing – were much more exciting, including his defying an order from then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut the pay of more than 200,000 state workers and another time when he suspended state legislators’ salaries because they missed a deadline for passing a budget.

          No such excitement yet as treasurer.

          Meanwhile, former San Francisco Mayor Newsom will be termed out after his current term and must try for another office if he wants to stay in politics. Villaraigosa, meanwhile, never seems to stop running for something.

     Both have had problems in the past keeping their pants zipped. Newsom famously bedded the wife of his former top aide. Villaraigosa’s marriage failed after his liaisons with a former television reporter. That was especially telling, as half the current surname of the former Tony Villar came from his ex-wife, Corina Raigosa, whom he married in 1987.

          Newsom, meanwhile, plays up his second marriage to actress Jennifer Siebel.

          Voters seeking a candidate without moral or marital failings can seemingly find one in Chiang, who will also have a strong base among the steadily-increasing Asian-American voter bloc. He is just the fifth Asian-American elected to statewide office in California.

          If he ends up running – and he plainly leans that way – he will provide other contrasts beside his solid-seeming marriage (Chiang said in a late-2014 interview that he would only seek higher office if that was OK with his wife).

          A longtime moderate and a tax lawyer, he says that “Ninety percent of what goes into (government) decisions should be based on expert knowledge. That’s how (I’ve) tried to do it as controller and treasurer. But in politics, decisions are often 90 percent political and just 10 percent based on expertise. I don’t like that.”

          This kind of moderate, almost technocratic stance, combined with his past willingness to stand up to higher officials attempting illegal things, could draw enough voters to him to ease past both the billionaires and the far-better-known Newsom or Villaraigosa into a November 2018 runoff – especially if he can draw a significant number of Republican votes. So far, no major Republican has indicated a desire to run.

          Chiang considered for awhile seeking the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated late this year by Barbara Boxer, for whom he once worked. But he stayed out of that campaign, perhaps because, as he observed, “The Senate looks good, but you have the drawback of needing to chase 50 other votes. The governor, meanwhile, leads the largest state, so you have the chance to shape the future more than in any office except president.”

          You won’t see Newsom or Villaraigosa talk in such down-to-earth terms. Both prefer grander rhetoric. But one thing for sure: Chiang’s likely entrance just made the next run for governor a lot more interesting than it was before.


     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 




          Gov. Jerry Brown has tried for many months to ignore the growing scent of corruption now afflicting his administration, instead pushing the worldwide battle against climate change even as he virtually ignored the world’s largest methane leak while it spewed greenhouse gases for months in his back yard.

          But serious conflict of interest allegations now reach directly into his office, targeting his chief of staff, Nancy McFadden, the top Sacramento official for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for many years before she took a $1.04 million golden handshake in 2011 before rejoining Brown, for whom she worked in the 1970s. (The payment, essentially a bonus, is documented here:

          Not only did McFadden take PG&E’s money, but disclosure forms show she owned about $100,000 worth of PG&E stock and many potentially lucrative stock options through her early months back with Brown. During this time, she was allegedly a key part of the appointment process for new members of the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E and other California utilities, a normal chief of staff function.

          There is no evidence McFadden recused herself from utility matters. This, of course, raises the question of whether her golden handshake was really a prepayment for future services.

          McFadden is now the subject of a formal complaint just filed by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, a panel very unlikely to act against the top aide to the man who appointed two of its members.

          Charges in the Consumer Watchdog complaint, filed under the Political Reform Act ironically sponsored by Brown during his first stint as governor in the 1970s, are sweeping and specific.

          McFadden, the group said, “…us(ed) her official position to influence governmental decisions in which she knew she had a financial interest. Her actions impacted the value of the PG&E stock options she held.” The filing goes on to say McFadden “was Gov. Brown’s point person on utility policy, utility legislation and political appointments to the PUC.”

          Brown Press Secretary Evan Westrup denied all this, calling the filing against McFadden “riddled with inaccuracies.” He added that “She was not vetting candidates for the PUC and did not play a role in the other decisions noted while she had the holdings referenced…” Brown did not speak about McFadden, just has he’s refused to talk about corruption allegations at the state Energy Commission and documented corruption at the PUC.

          But emails among the 70,000 obtained by San Bruno city officials after the 2010 PG&E gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people there indicate her old friends at PG&E believed she was involved.

          In early 2011, PG&E executive Brian Cherry – now under criminal investigation along with former PUC President Michael Peevey – advised someone seeking a high PUC post via email to get help from McFadden, whom he called “the backdoor route” to getting appointed.

          The pileup of ethical problems in Brown’s administration seems to grow every few weeks, with the McFadden charges merely the newest. They join obvious conflicts of interest and examples of cronyism exercised by the Energy Commission, exposed in this column in 2014. Add the proven collusion between Peevey and executives of Southern California Edison Co. in assessing consumers more than 70 percent of the cost of the 2012 failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station, caused by an Edison blunder.

          Then see Brown’s almost total indifference to the massive methane leak at a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility near Porter Ranch in Los Angeles, when his sister Kathleen draws six figures yearly as a director of SoCal’s parent company. Her position alone should raise conflict-of-interest questions whenever Brown decides utility policy. The Porter Ranch leak spewed more greenhouse gases than many months of driving by all the cars in the Los Angeles Basin, but Brown said little about it.

          Taken together, it appears there could be a pattern of corruption at high levels of state government, and a consistent Brown practice of ignoring or condoning both corruption and safety lapses.

          But other episodes don’t reach as close to him as the charges against McFadden, his close aide and adviser.

    The bottom line: Brown wants to be remembered for solving California’s budget mess and aggressively fighting climate change. Right now he risks being remembered much more negatively. 

    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 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016




          It strains credulity to contemplate a key vote taken the other day in an Oakland meeting by the Standards Board of the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. That’s the state agency whose purpose is to assure the safety of workers, no matter what their job.

          Fortunately, voters will have a chance to reverse this perverse decision next November, making statewide a rule now enforced only in Los Angeles County.

          We are talking pornography here, with the accompanying risks of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

          Before the Standards Board was the question of whether to force the use of condoms during explicit sexual scenes in pornographic films. Los Angeles County voters adopted this rule four years ago by a wide 57-43 percent margin, despite hearing much the same arguments against it that swayed state board members. The same rule is the essence of an initiative set for a vote this fall.

          One result of the Los Angeles law has been that immense quantities of porn filming moved out of the industry’s onetime heartland in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles. Some moved to other California locations, most notably neighboring Ventura County. A lot of filming also shifted to Las Vegas.

          That move may about to end. A single AIDS infection on a gay-sex film shoot in Las Vegas in late 2014 caused authorities there to begin the process of imposing many of the same rules on sexually explicit filming in Nevada that already are enforced in the many counties there with legal prostitution.

          Sex workers in legal brothels – and they are legal everywhere in Nevada  except Clark County, home to Las Vegas and suburbs – get regular blood tests and health exams, with male customers required to use condoms for interpersonal contacts.

          This threat has already caused some companies that moved filming to Las Vegas to shift back – and now they are fighting regulation in California, set to mount a big money campaign against the condoms-in-porn proposition.

          The industry’s arguments have already affected the Standards Board, which normally has seven members and requires four votes to pass any new rule. The vote this time was 3-2 for condom use, not enough to pass it, with one board member absent and another seat vacant.

          The arguments that swayed two board members to side with pornography producers came mostly from their employees, including actors.

          Porn performer Maxine Holloway implored the board to vote against condoms, saying “I ask you not to approve this policy that will endanger me and my colleagues.” She meant that her sometimes high-paying job might be jeopardized.

          The problem for the performers and their producer bosses is that, as several speakers testified, much of their audience loses interest when actors wear condoms. That could mean huge financial losses for an industry that makes about 11,000 sex videos yearly, shown on more than 100,000 sexually explicit websites and accounting for about one-fourth of all video rentals.

          The industry’s speakers also warned that a condom rule could push even more adult filming underground than today, with performers “bareback” and companies not even putting cast members through the bi-weekly blood tests now administered by above-board parts of the industry to check for a variety of sexually transmitted diseases.

          “The big lie the industry has been saying all these years is that (these tests mean) there are no on-set transmissions (of disease),” said Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, sponsor of both the current initiative and the Los Angeles measure. “That has been proven untrue.”

          He and another foundation spokesman said they would not be deterred by the Standards Board vote. “This will only energize us in preparing for November,” they said.

          Based on how Los Angeles County voters responded to the adult industry’s arguments in 2012, it’s doubtful anything it said to the board would sway many voters this fall, especially since much of the state is far less tolerant of sexually-open lifestyles than L.A.


    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 three weeks after Ronald Reagan became the first professional actor ever elected governor of California, in late January 1967, he gave an hour of his time to a small class of Stanford University graduate students led by the great Prof. William Rivers.

          The class first attended his weekly news conference, then visited Reagan’s office before lunching with Lyn Nofziger and William Clark, later to be Reagan’s White House press secretary and national security adviser, respectively. The class only briefly encountered his wife Nancy Reagan, who died this week.

          At the time, many so-called political experts doubted Reagan was smart enough to have masterminded his accession to the California governor’s office, then and now recognized as one of the half-dozen most powerful political jobs in America.

          Reagan fed into that thinking at times. He often answered complex questions with simple aphorisms. When someone asked him whether he would give students at UC Berkeley, then staging large protests almost daily, a voice in university policy, he responded that “You can’t run a ship by polling the crew.” More than 23 years later, when I last interviewed him in his post-presidential office high in the Fox Plaza skyscraper in Los Angeles, he still spoke the same way.

          That kind of answer to multiple queries prompted the question I asked in the title of a column about that 1967 visit in the now-defunct Menlo-Atherton Recorder, then a weekly newspaper I edited: “Who Thinks for Ronnie?”

          There were several candidates. The always-pithy Nofziger was one. So was Clark, later named by Reagan to the state Supreme Court and still later as Secretary of the Interior. There was also Michael Deaver, an aide who served Reagan for 30 years, most as his deputy chief of staff. And there was Edwin Meese, chief of staff in Sacramento and later U.S. attorney general. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon wrote that Meese “was able to explain complex ideas to Reagan” in ways akin to Reagan’s own speaking style.

          All these men eventually dropped away; yet, Reagan remained the same, proving none of them was the puppeteer his political skeptics long hoped to uncover. But one figure was at his side steadily through many of his Hollywood years, during his eight years as governor, in his losing 1976 campaign for president, through his White House years and then was his loving caretaker for a 10-year bout with Alzheimer’s disease before he died in 2004. That was his wife and best friend, Nancy Davis Reagan, who devoted herself through all those years to furthering her husband’s interests and always called him Ronnie.

          Cannon once wrote that “Reagan knew where he wanted to go, but she had a better sense of what he needed to do to get there.”

          She was blasted by some for seeming to feed him a line during one presidential news conference. But she knew better than anyone what he thought about almost everything, because – and this is the consensus of presidential historians – no White House couple was ever closer or talked through more things.

          So the skeptics who wondered if Reagan could think for himself  -- including this one – were wrong. He could and he did. His best friend Nancy didn’t think for him; she thought with him.

          Before Mrs. Reagan died of congestive heart disease, she had also spent her last few years maintaining the Reagan image, personally hosting speeches at his presidential library in Simi Valley by almost every Republican luminary.

          But it’s safe to say that whether you liked them or not, virtually all Reagan Administration concepts, from wearing down the Soviet Union by building up American military might to levels not seen before or since, to flexibility on issues like abortion, to his refusal to bend to public sector union demands, had first been tested in conversation with Nancy.

          Which means if any presidential administration was ever two-headed in substance, if not form, it was Reagan’s. For it is now clear that all those devoted aides who pundits once speculated might think for Reagan did not. Some contributed ideas, but he did the thinking – and so did Nancy, who might just rank first in influence among all First Ladies.


     Email Thomas Elias at 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. For more Elias columns, go to

Tuesday, March 1, 2016




          Fraud will be massive if we let people register online to vote, the doomsayers warned in 2012 as California’s then-Secretary of State Debra Bowen put the finishing touches on software now used by all 58 of the state’s counties.

    Those skeptics were wrong. So far, there are no signs of massive fraud or even moderate fraud in use of that online registration system, available to anyone at the secretary of state’s website via

          This system is now widely accepted, and even in heavily Republican counties with GOP district attorneys, there are very few known cases of false registrations, signups by non-citizens or fake names being registered online.

          Now comes an initiative aiming for a spot on the November ballot that would take online voter registration much farther, authorizing actual voting via the Internet.

          Doomsayers have many of the same objections today as in 2012, and this time they may be correct.

          The new plan is largely the result of abysmally low voter turnouts in the last few elections, including the 2014 statewide polling that reelected Gov. Jerry Brown to his fourth (presumably final) term, but involved no contests for U.S. Senate seats and few close races elsewhere. With little interesting to consider, many thousands of voters didn’t bother and alarm bells rang across the political spectrum.

          Democrats fear low turnouts because their voters can’t be counted on to participate as certainly as Republican adherents. So Democrats rightly fear that a low turnout could cost them some significant offices and cause important policy changes.

          This makes them willing to do almost anything to increase voter turnouts, including the current push for online voting.

          Backers insist votes can be made secure and encrypted in ways that are almost impossible to hack. But the same was said of electronic voting machines. That was before Bowen conducted her “top to bottom” review of those gadgets and essentially ordered almost all of them scrapped or resold to other states and countries because of the ease with which votes cast on them could be “flipped.”

          Exit polling in 2004 on Ohio, where the owner of Diebold Election Systems, then the largest voting machine maker, was also the state chairman of then-President George W. Bush’s state reelection campaign and “guaranteed” his man would carry the state, indicated there could have been massive vote-flipping there. Democrats have long believed Ohio cost current Secretary of State John Kerry the presidency, and Diebold was indicted there in 2014 for a “worldwide pattern of criminal conduct.”

          This history, plus the fact foreign hackers have invaded the computers of almost every American government agency and many large corporations with supposedly foolproof firewalls, makes it highly in-credible to say voting can be made completely secure online with today’s technology.

          Yet, that would not stop the demand for online voting if the current proposal makes the November ballot and passes. This measure would require Secretary of State Alex Padilla either to develop an online voting system by the end of next year, or contract with someone else to do it.

          Any such system would be tested first in local elections. But organized hackers would probably lay off online votes cast in local races that mean little to them, allowing election officials to trumpet the “safety” of what they’ve created.

          Of course, all the while they might well know how to hack that system, but lurk in the background until it's time to flip the vote in an election that mattered to them – like one for president, U.S. senator or a key proposition.

          Anyone who expects hackers working for political manipulators to go after every election would be a fool. A clever vote-flipping operation – like the one Diebold may have conducted 12 years ago in Ohio – would wait for a vitally important race that could be switched around with relatively few votes. That would allow the manipulators to remain inconspicuous and ready to act again whenever they like.

          Which means only a fool would support any move to put voting online, where there’s no hope for a countable “paper trail” of the sort that Bowen began requiring about a decade ago.

    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




          Watch the primary election process now playing out both nationally and in California, and you almost have to wonder whether the state and national wings of the Republican Party have made a suicide pact.

          Yes, the result this year might see either candidate Donald Trump or rival hopeful Ted Cruz win the party nomination for president, but if one of them or someone else sharing their harsh ideas on immigration does, it will almost certainly mean long-term disaster for the GOP.

          It’s hard to understand why the GOP still hasn’t learned that lesson from California.

          Equally hard to fathom is the state party’s adamant stance on purity of registration: It’s about the only political party, major or minor, in California that insists on allowing only registered party members to vote in its presidential primary.

          The national party’s suicidal tendencies are getting to be as obvious as those of the state GOP organization. You can see the self-destructiveness in what’s happened to California Republicans since they went ultra-hard line on illegal immigration in 1994, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson won reelection on a platform of strong support for that year’s Proposition 187. This was the anti-illegal immigrant measure aiming to remove children of the undocumented from public schools and health clinics and to deny even emergency room care to all illegals.

          Eventually, every part of this proposition was struck down by federal courts, even though it passed by a 2-1 margin and was a major reason for Wilson’s win over Democratic rival Kathleen Brown, former state treasurer and sister of the present governor.

          The vote and the campaign leading up to it struck fear in many hundreds of thousands of immigrants who had lived here for years, even decades, but not become citizens. More than 2.5 million of these legal immigrants became citizens and then registered to vote. Only two Republicans have won statewide elections since – out of 30 who tried. Before 1994, California was a swing state in presidential elections, going for Republicans most of the time.

          Now it is so solidly Democratic that neither party bothers to campaign much here in national elections.

          When candidates like Trump and Cruz insist they will deport all or most of the 11 million-odd undocumented in this country, they spur fear in millions of legal immigrants who wonder if they’ll be the next target. If they register to vote in percentages similar to the post-187 California push, currently solid Republican states like Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and more would become swing states, while swing states like North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada could become as Democrat-dominated as California.

          So the anti-immigrant talk may have won for candidates among hard-line Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary election states, but it could prove disastrous in the long term for the party, just as similar rhetoric did here.

          Then there’s the seeming insanity of the state GOP organization, which has opted to keep its presidential primary purely Republican (presidential primaries are the only significant California races where the top two system does not apply). On the strictly fiscal level, this makes no sense: Taxpayers finance all primaries here. Why should any of them not be allowed into any election they like? If Republicans want to close their primary, shouldn’t the party foot its own bill?

          By contrast, most other parties in this state’s June balloting will allow no-party-preference independent voters to participate. That includes the Democrats, Libertarians and American Independents.

          Besides the fact it makes no sense for independent voters to help pay for the GOP primary and then not be able to vote in it, there’s some other reliable, academically-developed information Republican officials ought to consider:

          When a voter casts a ballot for someone in a primary, he or she becomes much more inclined to vote for that person or his or her party again later.

          By excluding no-party-preference voters from their primary, then, Republicans are essentially ceding many of their votes to the Democrats, who have long let independents take part in their primaries.

          So Republicans, already suffering from a 16 percent voter registration deficit compared with Democrats, are denying themselves the opportunity to build loyalty among independents.

          It’s suicidal, almost crazy, just like what the national party is doing.


    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