Tuesday, August 23, 2016




          Memo to Loretta Sanchez and Kamala Harris, the two Democrats now vying for the U.S. Senate seat long held by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer:

          Each of you could get a whole lot of traction and voter support by going after the apparent continuing practice of gasoline price gouging engaged in by California’s major oil refiners. You, especially, Ms. Harris, ought to know about this as you are allegedly investigating the suspected practice right now in your current function as state attorney general.

          Meanwhile, neither Harris nor Sanchez has said much about hydraulic fracturing (fracking), price gouging or anything else oil companies might be interested in since their contest narrowed to two persons after the June primary.

          It might be awkward for an organization Democrat like Harris to do this in light of a late-summer report from the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group which documented that, for example, Chevron Corp. donated $135,000 to the state Democratic Party the same day Democratic legislators exempted some critical fracking methods from SB4, a bill meant to regulate the oil- and gas-drilling practice.

          That same report showed Chevron gave $300,000 to the state party just two weeks before Gov. Jerry Brown came out against a proposed severance tax on oil produced in California. This is the only major oil-producing state without such a tax.

          So Harris, solidly supported by Brown and the state Democratic Party apparatus, might not want to say much about oil companies. But Sanchez, never an establishment politician, might feel no such compunctions.

          Meanwhile, motorists may not have been feeling as gouged lately as they did last winter, since late-summer gasoline prices dropped as low as $2.25 per gallon at some non-branded service stations, while the statewide average at the time was about $2.75. This didn’t mean the gouging that’s been apparent for years suddenly stopped.

          Lower crude oil prices have so curtailed refiner expenses that even with cheaper pump prices, their profits are near record levels.

          In late summer, for example, the Texas-based oil refiner Tesoro, which operates plants in Carson, Wilmington and Martinez that process almost 550,000 barrels of crude oil daily, reported profits of $332 million from its California operations, well above longstanding quarterly averages. Tesoro makes 27 percent of California gasoline.

          Fellow Texas-based refiner Valero, meanwhile, reported $141 million in California profits during the second quarter of this year, far more than double its average quarterly profit of $57 million since 2010. Tesoro and Valero are the only oil companies that break out California results from their overall financial reports.

          These huge profits can happen even with crude oil prices low because California refiners are charging a huge margin above their wholesale costs. For instance, during the summer, the wholesale price of gasoline, when sold from one refiner to another, was $1.17. That was 18 cents less than the wholesale price in Chicago, for one example.

          Normally, pump prices in California – even with all its taxes and environmental costs – run about 88 cents above the wholesale level. But drivers lately have paid $1.58 more, with almost all the difference – about 70 cents per gallon – going into the coffers of the refiners, whose profits as a result are near peak levels.

          The refiners did all this with no peep of protest from politicians at any level.

          The only outfit tracking their profits and supplies on a regular basis is Consumer Watchdog, which claims that “Supply and demand is completely out of whack.”

          In short, Consumer Watchdog president Court insists it’s no accident that drivers who see branded stations on the same street intersection will almost always note that prices at the various brands are identical. If one gasoline dealer charges $2.89 per gallon, almost always the competitor across the street asks the same.

          It’s because of price-fixing, the group says. Agrees Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and America’s biggest donor to liberal political causes, “The gasoline market in California is definitely out of whack.” Steyer admits to mulling a run for governor in 2018 and has been featured in TV commercials from NextGen, an environmental group he founded.

          Meanwhile, the oil industry’s group, Western States Petroleum Assn., repeatedly insists that “market factors are the primary driver of fuel costs in California.”

          Harris has said nothing about her investigation into the gouging claims. If she won’t discuss the subject before the November election, maybe Sanchez will.

     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net




          Watch out, warned three of California’s most powerful – and most ethically shaky – state agencies in late April and again in August. If the notoriously leaky Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field in northern Los Angeles were not reopened quickly, California would face the strong possibility of blackouts during the summer.

          The reasoning of the state report went this way: When electricity use peaks during the heat waves of summer and early autumn, power plants fueled by natural gas might not be able to operate without fuel from Aliso. Not coincidentally, that report was co-authored by the Southern California Gas Co., which has the most to gain from reopening its flawed field above the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley.

          Every major public official went for this threat. That included Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and many others.

          But power plants never shut down this summer and there’s virtually no chance they will this fall, either.

          It should have been obvious immediately to all that the threat was a bunch of hooey. For the highest gas use of the last 10 years in the region served by Aliso Canyon came not in any summer, but in the winter of 2008, when demand in Southern California reached 4.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd). Even that quantity was well below the 5.7 bcfd available at all times from incoming pipelines and other storage fields in the region.

          Aliso Canyon, then, is not really needed in summer or fall for anything but feeding the bottom line of SoCalGas and its parent company, Sempra Energy.

          Meanwhile, the frequent questionable actions of the April study’s other authors, the state Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission and the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources have been thoroughly documented here and elsewhere.

          The first acid test for their threat came during an unusually warm June in Southern California. On June 20, the temperature in the Los Angeles Basin hit 101 degrees, 22 degrees above normal for the date, reports the AccuWeather service. Aliso Canyon was not in operation, but there were nevertheless no gas service curtailments. No backup fuel was used by either Southern California Edison Co. or the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, despite record-level electricity demand.

          The same for the heat wave of late July and early August, when deliveries by SoCalGas, reported on its website, never reached even 4 bcfd, far below the company’s capacity without Aliso. (For actual figures, see https://scgenvoy.sempra.com/index.html#nav=/Public/ViewExternalDailyOperations.getDailyOperation%3FFileName%3D%26Class%3D%26estimateDate%3D07%252F30%252F2016%26hiddenEstimateDate%3D08%252F03%252F2016%26rand%3D149).

          Edison had its second-highest one-hour peak load ever between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. June 20 at 23,564 megawatts, while DWP hit 6,080 megawatts, the highest DWP demand ever in June, and just under its all-time record.

          But there were no blackouts and no media even bothered to report on the ultra-high electricity use, which itself was no oddity on a hot day.

          “I do not expect we will see higher demand anytime this fall than what was registered on June 20, and there were no problems then,” said William Powers, whose Powers Engineering firm has been instrumental in defending consumer interests, including offering testimony that was a key factor in preventing California from becoming dependent on hyper-expensive imports of liquefied natural gas.

          There was, then, never a real possibility of a blackout. This makes the threatening state report little more than bald blackmail, designed to panic consumers so they would acquiesce in reopening Aliso Canyon. Only after it is reopened can SoCalGas begin to dun its customers for an expansion of that field which was routinely approved by the PUC before Aliso’s months-long leak began last fall.

          The sad part of all this is not merely that the Brown Administration has been caught in a lie and a new instance of favoring large utility companies over their customers.

          What’s truly unfortunate is the loss of trust for both government and those large, vitally needed and important investor-owned utilities that comes when a threat like this turns out to be bogus. For now that it’s clear this warning was worth less than the paper it was printed on, who would believe any other threat issued by the same agencies, even if the next one should be genuine?

     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net




          Every few years, an industry for self-serving reasons tries to exploit California’s loose rules for putting propositions on its ballot. This doesn’t usually work, even though industries that have tried this tactic when all else political had failed them generally outspent opponents by factors of at least 50-1.

          So it was about 20 years ago, when the tobacco industry fielded an initiative aiming to remove all local smoking restrictions and substitute a much looser statewide standard allowing tobacco use almost anywhere. That effort lost badly and remains a classic in the annals of misleading names for campaign committees. Big Tobacco’s campaign moniker: Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions.

          So it is again this fall with Propositions 65 and 67, as the plastic bag industry tries to reverse an almost total ban of its products from California grocery stores that passed the Legislature in 2014 and was quickly signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The bag makers’ committee name isn’t quite as misleading as Big Tobacco’s, but the tag (the same as that of an industry-wide trade group) still obscures its purpose: American Progressive Bag Alliance. What’s a “progressive” bag?

          Even with many local bans in place and applying to most of the state’s biggest cities and almost half its population, Californians still dump a reported 11 billion plastic bags into landfills yearly. Countless others still “decorate” highways. These do not disintegrate or decay in water, like paper products, so they could be around for centuries. Plastic bags also are made from petroleum; their use contributed to America’s energy dependence on foreign sources, some of them unsavory.

          Altogether the bag makers raised well over $4 million before the fall campaign, compared with barely a quarter-million for supporters of the bag ban. Most cash backing the ban has come from grocery chains like Albertsons Safeway (including Vons), Ralphs and Raley’s.

          That caused a bag industry attempt to penalize grocers – who originally opposed banning plastic bags – for switching sides and helping cost the bag makers hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. Eastern and Southern companies like Superbag, Hilex Poly, Formosa Plastics and Advance Polybag lashed out by placing Proposition 65 on the ballot in an attempt to deprive grocers of even breaking even on the paper bags they sell for 10 cents each under the state’s 146 local bans on plastic bags.

          Claiming the grocers only switched sides because they discovered the small bag fees add up to a big new source of revenue, the bag alliance wrote an initiative earmarking all money spent on bags for environmental projects supervised by the state Wildlife Conservation Board.

          Trouble is, many supermarkets say they actually lose money on paper bags. One board member of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op reports “Our paper bags cost us 14 to 15 cents each. It’s inaccurate to suggest it’s a revenue stream when it is still a major expense.”

          Meanwhile, large grocery chains say they’ve converted to the anti-plastic side in large part because that’s what their customers want. “Early polling is that consumers are adapting to no plastic bags,” Ronald Fong, head of the California Grocers Association (contributor of about $210,000 to the pro-ban side), told a reporter. “It’s really unfortunate that out-of-staters are sinking millions of dollars into telling us we’re wrong here in California.”

          But the bag association predicts it will win and overturn the statewide bag ban. “We believe voters…will make their voices heard at the ballot box,” the group’s president, Lee Califf, said in a statement. The statewide ban, he added, threatens thousands of jobs and will have “no meaningful effect on the environment.”

          If jobs are threatened, of course, not many are in California. Big plastic bag makers don’t manufacture much here.

          Any jobs threatened by a statewide ban are shaky anyhow. That’s because the existing local bans covering Los Angeles, San Francisco and 144 other locales would not change if the No-on-67 side wins and overturns the statewide ban.

          No matter how obviously self-serving their two propositions may be, this is still likely a lose-lose proposition for the bag makers. The bottom line for them is that they stand no chance of restoring California to its former status as their largest market.


    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net




          The scene looked a bit peculiar as former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, enthusiastically endorsed Democrat Loretta Sanchez for the U.S. Senate seat about to be vacated by the retiring Barbara Boxer.

          “She is tough and not afraid to take a stand on important issues,” intoned Riordan, with Sanchez beaming nearby. Riordan, often given credit for his city’s quick recovery from the race riots of 1992, had not endorsed a Democrat in years, but has nowhere else to go this fall.

          That’s because Sanchez faces state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, another Democrat, this November in California’s first one-party race for a statewide office in the modern era. None of the 11 Republicans in the June primary election even came close to making the runoff.

          Sanchez’ opportunity for an upset became even more clear at mid-summer, when polls began showing she had made a bit of progress since that primary, while Harris may actually have lost a little ground. The California Field Poll, for example, found Harris with 39 percent support to 24 percent for Sanchez. Harris actually pulled 40 percent of the June vote to about 19 percent for Sanchez.

          So Harris hasn’t been dazzling many voters since topping the primary election. It’s unclear just where the new Sanchez support came from. But the way things are going seems quite reminiscent of what happened in the primary, where Harris began with about 27 percent support when she declared her candidacy, while Sanchez never drew much more than 14 percent in any survey. But about 40 percent of the electorate was undecided until the final days before the primary, just as about 35 percent are similarly perplexed, undecided, uninterested or turned off today. One poll showed 28 percent of voters don’t plan to cast any ballot in this race.

          Many in the uncertain column are probably Republicans who would have to hold their nose to vote for either candidate.

          But in Harris, they’d get a senator with no foreign policy experience and a strong gun-control stance. Sanchez, meanwhile, is a longtime House Foreign Affairs Committee member with a firmly pro-Israel record and a far iffier record on gun-control than Harris. She does not stint, however, in supporting key Democratic stances like easing college student debt, expanding Pell Grants to students and abortion rights.

          Given the choice (and it’s the only senatorial one they’ll have this fall), many Republicans might prefer Sanchez to Harris. Some might prefer not to vote for either as a kind of protest, but the 17 statewide ballot propositions covering things from taxes to marijuana and pornography could make it difficult for them to resist casting ballots. Once they start with that, who knows what else they might do?

          For Sanchez, the current task is unprecedented. Normally, a candidate can win by breaking a few voters away from their usual home party, as a first step. The second, often easier, need is to get them to move from undecided into the candidate’s column. Republicans already are cut loose from their party in this contest, so Sanchez really has only half the task others usually face.

          She’s been able to do it with some, like syndicated talk show host Hugh Hewitt. The conservative Hewitt was not expected to back her even though he invited her onto his program. But once he listened to her for an hour or so, Hewitt tweeted his surprise endorsement of Sanchez to more than 100,000 followers. Which means Sanchez can attract some Republicans.

          If she’s able to draw a good share of the 27 percent of California voters who are registered to the GOP, there’s a possibility she could be elected by an unprecedented coalition of Latino Democrats and conservative Republicans.

          Yes, Democrat Dianne Feinstein has survived well over three terms in the Senate with a combination of liberal Democratic and moderate Republican support. No one knows for sure whether Sanchez can achieve something similar, even as Harris gets most of the conventional liberal Democratic vote.

          But Sanchez has pulled upsets before, most notably ousting the well-entrenched conservative Republican Rep. Robert Dornan from his Orange County-based House seat in 1996.

          So while Harris enters the fall with what looks like a substantial lead, movement among Republican voters could change things.


     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

Monday, August 22, 2016




          The U.S. Supreme Court in its famous Citizens United decision tells us corporations are just like people.

          But we saw the opposite in the multiple convictions of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. the other day for obstruction of justice and breaking safety laws in the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight persons and destroyed many homes.

          No, the PG&E case says, corporations are not like people. When juries convict real people of felonies, they do jail time, serve probation and/or pay fines that hurt. They often have trouble getting jobs for the rest of their lives and carry serious stigma wherever they go.

          None of that will happen to PG&E, where no one appears likely to pay much of a price for the company’s wrongdoing before and after the big blast.

          The big utility cannot do jail time; it’s impossible. No one has put it on probation, even if a few small communities are opting out of its services to join the state’s budding publicly-owned Community Choice Aggregation power suppliers. And PG&E was fined just $6 million dollars for its offenses, a bare pittance for a company that was in June awarded more than $600 million in rate increases for safety work on its gas pipelines.

          The most important thing here is that not a single person was convicted. No one will pay any significant price for the tragic havoc PG&E wreaked. Even so, PG&E now wants its convictions overturned.

          Why this company needs $600 million yearly in extra pipeline safety money is anyone’s guess. After all, PG&E and other California gas utilities have collected billions of dollars from their customers over the last 65 years for pipeline maintenance, even if no one ever tracked how they spent it.

          What’s more, when the state Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $1.6 billion last year for violating state and federal gas pipeline safety standards, more than 53 percent of the money – $850 million – was earmarked for pipeline repairs and improvements. That meant PG&E’s big fine, cited by federal authorities as one reason for the paltry amount assessed as a criminal penalty this summer, was less than half as big as billed. It is surely no fine when a company is forced to make updates it was paid to perform over the previous six decades.

          But the really big question in the PG&E case was clear from the day charges were filed: Why did no persons face charges?

          Plenty of individuals were involved, and the federal Justice Department surely knew it. One example: His own testimony in the months-long PG&E trial showed that the company’s former vice president of gas maintenance and construction may have been at the very least incompetent. One example he admitted to: He signed a letter instrumental in PG&E being charged with obstructing the federal investigation of San Bruno by trying to conceal some flawed company policies.

          The executive said he didn’t write or edit the letter and signed it without understanding its technical language. He said that he often did that with documents he was asked to approve.

          “I would read what I could and what I could understand,” he testified. “Most of it was technical information. It didn’t do much good for me to read it. I pretty much had to trust what the team had gotten me.”

          No one explained why this man was not charged with criminal negligence for signing such letters and documents without bothering to get them deciphered.

          Other testimony saw PG&E engineers say cutbacks in spending on safety were “the fault” of the company’s top brass. But no executive, active or retired, has been charged. No one paid any significant price for what probably amounted to multiple manslaughters, at a minimum.

          By contrast, when a low-level employee of a baseball team this season played inappropriate music during the introduction of a pitcher previously implicated in a domestic violence case, that employee was summarily fired. Yet, no one was harmed by the music.

          Meanwhile, PG&E suffers no reduction in employability after its crimes. Its service area is not reduced. Its rates are rising. Its executives still are paid well into six and seven figures.

          So no, corporations are not like people. At least not when they commit major crimes. Not in real life.

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net




          Endorsements and coattails have never meant much in California politics. From Ronald Reagan, whose strong efforts could not keep major state offices in Republican hands after his first term as governor, to Jerry Brown, who usually endorses only after fellow Democrats have already been assured their party’s backing, big names have not had much influence over voters.

          The most classic example of lagging coattails came in 1980, when Reagan carried California in the presidential election by a record margin, but Democratic U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston won reelection with a larger edge. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who easily won election twice, pushed through less than half the ballot propositions he endorsed and never ushered a single fellow Republican into statewide office.

          That’s why it may be premature for Democrats to celebrate, as they quietly have, the negative feelings most California voters have about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

          Democrats hope Trump will be a gift that gives them plenty this fall, wishing he will depress GOP turnout even though more Republicans than ever voted in the June primary election – 2.1 million in all, 1.55 million for Trump. Of course, Democrats more than doubled the springtime Republican vote, drawing some 4.5 million ballots into the contest between party nominee Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders.

          All this matters because Democrats fervently want to hang onto their current 39-14 margin in California’s delegation to the House of Representatives and would also love to regain the brief two-thirds majority they held two years ago in the Legislature, which gave them virtually complete control of Sacramento.

          Possibly the biggest beneficiary of a small Republican turnout might be Sacramento County’s two-term Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, in the midst of a fund-raising scandal where his father will do jail time after fraudulently raising larger-than-legal campaign donations for him.

          This story broke in media around Bera’s district just before the primary, but he still got 53.2 percent of the June vote, compared with 46.8 percent for incumbent Republican county Sheriff Scott Jones. Under the state’s Top Two system, even though Bera got a clear majority of the primary vote – he and Jones were alone on the ballot – the pair must face off again in November.

          Bera’s fund-raising problems won’t go away before the election, and some voters who cast early ballots for him in the primary might not have known about the issue before they voted. So Jones has hope, but probably needs a strong GOP vote to oust Bera. That’s just one reason Democrats hope Trump depresses the Republican turnout.

          With voters also due to decide hot-button issues from the death penalty to continued tax surcharges on the wealthy, from legalized recreational marijuana to requiring condoms in pornographic films, there’s a good chance even Republicans who detest Trump will vote.

          So Democrats and supposedly independent political action committees backing them have begun sending out campaign mailers associating Trump with every Republican they can think of.

          That happened this spring in the sprawling Los Angeles County supervisorial district held for more than 25 years by the termed-out Republican Michael Antonovich, who now seeks a state Senate seat. One mailer carried photos of five Republicans seeking the powerful county job, calling them “part of Donald Trump’s Republican Party.”

          The mailer, sent for Democrat Darrell Park, helped him into the November runoff against Antonvich’s former chief of staff, Republican Kathryn Barger, in an area that has often elected GOPers to Congress and the Legislature. The Democratic hope, plainly, is that antipathy for Trump will drive some Republicans away from the polls.

          California’s history indicates this won’t work. For one thing, it’s impossible here to pull a single lever and cast a vote for any party’s full slate of candidates. Because each office requires a separate vote, chances are most Republicans won’t think about Trump when they reach the congressional and legislative parts of their ballots.

          All of which means Democrats should be concentrating on turning out their own voters this fall, not worrying about depressing the GOP vote. If they do that well, the Republican turnout won’t matter much, except in a few places, because there are so many more registered Democrats here than Republicans.


    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

Monday, August 15, 2016




          As the school year begins, one thing is certain: There will be anti-Semitic outbursts and incidents at campuses of the University of California.

          We know this because of a long history of such episodes at campuses like Berkeley, Irvine and UCLA, where Jewish students have been subjected to everything from physical obstruction and attempted intimidation to questions by Palestinian students and their sympathizers about whether their faith allows Jews elected to student government posts to make objective decisions.

          It’s safe to say that if such obstacles were placed before black, Muslim or gay-lesbian-transgender students, campus administrators would have come down hard on the perpetrators. But nothing has happened to the anti-Semites, who act under the guise of criticizing Israel. It is, of course, fine to scrutinize or criticize any government’s behavior, but the anti-Israel protests, mostly led by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), question Israel’s very right to exist. They even deny that Jews have any historical link to the Holy Land, despite copious archeology and Biblical references to that strong connection.

          These protestors question no other nation’s right to survive, only that of the world’s lone Jewish state, created as a refuge after history’s most murderous genocide claimed half of all Jews. No one suggested Japan should cease to exist after it conquered half of Asia, enslaving millions in the process. No one suggested Russia should disappear when it seized big chunks of Ukraine. No one even suggested there should be no Germany after Germans systematically killed more than 12 million persons before and during World War II.

Only the Jewish state’s existence is ever questioned by campus demonstrators. That kind of singling out constitutes one of the U.S. State Department’s definitions of anti-Semitism.

          UC regents last spring responded to this clear-cut prejudice with a policy declaring that “Anti-Semitism…and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” The regents did not, however, spell out punishments for students caught in such acts. They left that to campus administrators, led by the top official at each locale, the chancellor.

          So what happened when a dozen or so pro-Israel students at Irvine tried to screen a film about the Israeli army last May, only to have more than 50 protestors led by SJP members descend on the room they used, preventing anyone else from entering or leaving, all the while reportedly screaming “Intifada, Intifada—long live the Intifada! F--- Israel and f--- the police” and “All white people need to die” among other slogans?

          Irvine Chancellor Howard Gilman said the incident “crossed the line of civility” and called for an investigation.  Later, UCI condemned the harassment and intimidation of some of its Jewish students, but denied there is a longstanding problem on its campus, despite a series of incidents since 2001, when a guest speaker claimed Jews are “blind, deaf and dumb.” Meanwhile, nothing has happened to any student involved.

Wrote Gilman, “The people who know us best…(know),” that UCI is “consistently praised for efforts at creating an outstanding environment for Jewish students.”

          That’s not what some others believe. The national group Scholars for Peace in the Middle East described the May film-screening incident as the “most dramatic” anti-Jewish event at any American campus during that month, while U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman of Los Angeles County reminded Gilman in a letter that “The inability of Jewish and pro-Israel students to assemble peacefully to view an Israeli film is counter to (the new UC policy), which bans ‘actions that physically or otherwise interfere with the ability of an individual or group to assemble, speak or share the opinion of others.’”

          So the first significant test of UC’s new policy is so far an abject failure, although that could change, depending on what happens when Gilman’s announced investigation is complete.

          For sure, though, anti-Semites on UC campuses have seen yet another episode where their hostile actions are so far unpunished. This, of course, can do nothing but open the door to more and more of the same, as the reputation of UC as a place that tolerates anti-Semitism has again been furthered.


    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net




          On a cloudy Sacramento day in 2001, a low-level aide to then-Gov. Gray Davis secretly met a representative of the Oracle Corp. software company, accepting a $25,000 check for Davis’s reelection fund.

          Just a few days earlier, Oracle had received a $95 million software contract to update state computers. The sequence later became emblematic of the “pay-to-play” phenomenon allegedly common under Davis, a pattern used against him by Arnold Schwarzenegger when Davis was recalled and thrown from office in 2003, less than one year after his election to a second term.

          Anyone who thinks such behavior then disappeared from Sacramento can now see the interesting timing of a long list of corporate donations to the state Democratic Party and Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014 reelection fund released the other day by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group. The report is called “Brown’s Dirty Hands.” (http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/dirtyhands)

          One example: The report says that in November of 2011, Davis – by then a lawyer for Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. – pressured Brown to fire two oil and gas regulators the company felt were slow to grant injection well permits for hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Two months later, Oxy contributed $250,000 to Brown’s Proposition 30 tax increase initiative, and shortly after that gave $100,000 to a pet Brown charity, the Oakland Military Institute. This surely looks like old-fashioned pay-to-play.

          (Just a few years earlier, former Republican Insurance Commission Chuck Quackenbush was hounded from office for getting insurance companies he regulated to contribute to his own pet charities.)

          Another example: In June 2013, tough regulations were dropped  from SB4, a bill intended to restrict fracking. The same day, Chevron Corp. gave $135,000 to the Democratic Party. Several months later, Chevron wrote the party a $350,000 check and a week later, the party put $300,000 into Brown’s reelection campaign fund. On the same day, Chevron plunked $54,400 (the legal maximum) into Brown’s coffer.

          The report’s list goes on. It makes corporate campaign donations under Brown look at least as dicey as those that helped oust Davis.

          Brown and his aides don’t deny any of these facts, but dismiss it all as insignificant claptrap. “The governor’s leadership on climate is unmatched; these claims are downright cuckoo,” said press secretary Evan Westrup, who furnished that remark via emails to this and other news outlets. Brown refused to comment personally.

At least Davis had the good taste to fire a few aides after his “pay-to-play” pattern was exposed. There have been no such consequences under Brown.

          For example, former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. vice president and lobbyist Nancy McFadden remains the governor’s executive secretary, his top aide, years after it became widely known that she accepted a “departure gift” of more than $1 million from PG&E, signing a “non-disparagement” agreement to get the money. McFadden, part of whose job is to help vet all Brown’s top appointees, cannot do anything that might harm PG&E.

          So it was no surprise that emails between PG&E executives and the disgraced Michael Peevey, former president of the state Public Utilities Commission, identify McFadden as “the go-to person” in the governor’s office when it comes to naming new utilities commissioners. It is also no surprise that Brown continues refusing to disclose more than 60 emails between him, his office and the PUC from the time the commission saddled consumers with 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of closing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

          And it’s no surprise that state Attorney General Kamala Harris, enthusiastically backed by Brown for the U.S. Senate, has taken more than four months to rule on the simple question of whether those emails must be disclosed.

          “It’s all an extension of the kind of thing that went on under Davis,” said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court. “But Brown operates more under the radar and with more stealth.”

          Then there’s the pattern of multiple, well-documented government agency lies under Brown.

          It forms a pattern of ethical lapses more pervasive than anything perpetrated under Davis.

          But an attempt to recall Brown when he has barely two years left in his final term would likely prove futile, besides being a waste of time, money and energy. The important thing is for Californians to understand how unclean their state government now looks and to bear that in mind constantly while considering candidates to become Brown’s successor.

     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

Monday, August 8, 2016




          As schools begin opening around California, the state’s new vaccinate-or-stay-out-of-school policy ought to be taking effect at last, more than 18 months after the December 2014 measles outbreak at Disneyland that propelled it.

          Under the new law, all students entering kindergarten this fall must have had two measles shots, a mumps and rubella (MMP) vaccination, their final doses of polio vaccine and a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) injection.

          Parents who don’t want to provide these for their kids can home school their children, but unvaccinated kids who may be carrying any of those once-dreaded diseases are no longer welcome in kindergarten. That’s because unless 94 to 96 percent of children in any group of 100 are vaccinated, there can be no guarantee against disease outbreaks.

          The most recent California example of what non-vaccination can bring came in Nevada County last March, when many students at the Yuba River Charter School were kept out of classes more than a week after an unvaccinated child was diagnosed with measles. Health officials said the child was infectious while attending school. Classes were shut down because only about 43 percent of kindergarten pupils entering the school in fall 2015 had up-to-date vaccinations and an epidemic could have resulted.

          Many of the other 57 percent in those classrooms were exempted because of a “personal belief” provision written into previous state law, allowing parents to claim vaccinations ran counter to their religious beliefs. The new law, known as SB 277, allows exemptions only for children medically unable to receive vaccines, with parents required to produce a doctor’s note before getting that exemption.

          Unvaccinated students admitted to kindergarten in previous years will continue in school, however. When they reach 7th grade, their parents will have to provide written evidence of vaccination.

          But foes of vaccination, who have long insisted vaccines backfire and lead both to adverse reactions and more disease, are not giving up their fight against the law. Their first move was trying to qualify a referendum for this fall’s ballot aiming to overturn SB 277. They got far too few signatures to qualify it for a vote.

          So they’ve turned to a Superior Court judge in San Diego County, seeking an injunction to suspend the law until higher courts can rule on its constitutionality.

          That move has also not yet succeeded. But an initiative proposed for the November 2018 ballot aiming to overturn SB 277 remains alive, with a Sept. 26 deadline for gathering signatures.

          Amid all this, there are no credible denials of research showing that no more than 86 percent of those at Disneyland had been vaccinated before the day many were exposed to measles. The actual rate may have been as low as 50 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Because the scientifically accepted vaccination level for so-called “herd immunity” is at least 94 percent, there was ample opportunity for infection and 145 cases were recorded among those at the theme park and others who came in contact with them later.

          “This is what happens when parents opt out of vaccinations, as roughly half the cases occurred in children who were not vaccinated but were eligible to receive the shots,” wrote Lila Abassi, MD, director of medicine for the American Council on Science and Health.

          Because some who have been vaccinated can still contract measles when exposure is strong and direct, as they did at Disneyland, most physicians consider “herd immunity” vital to disease prevention.

          Said Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, SB 277 author and the Legislature’s only practicing pediatrician, “It is unfortunate there are still people who perpetuate misinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and minimize the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases that disabled and killed millions annually before vaccines were available.”

          The safety of vaccines has been proven in myriad studies, and their efficacy is clear from the small incidence of diseases like rubella and polio since vaccines for them were deployed.

          But that doesn’t quiet nay-sayers any more than photos from space deflated flat-earth advocates who still hold occasional conventions. What’s important is that parents understand that regardless of their personal preferences, they don’t have the right to expose the children of others to potentially deadly ailments.


    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net




          Strong evidence shows several arms of California government are in urgent need of major ethical fixes, beginning with the Public Utilities Commission, the Energy Commission and the Coastal Commission, to name just three powerful agencies.

          But even the smallest and most obvious reforms are consistently met with vetos, legislative detours and other obfuscation despite the pious rhetoric of powerful politicians from Gov. Jerry Brown down to backbenchers in the Legislature.

          The pattern began last year, when Brown vetoed a batch of proposed changes for the PUC, including creating an inspector general for the almost untouchable agency that oversees electric and natural gas safety and prices. Brown nixed a ban on private contacts between PUC commissioners and executives of the big utility companies they regulate, while often acting like rubber stamps. These are known as “ex parte communications.”

          The drive for a ban on ex parte’s for the PUC followed revelations of a secret deal between a former PUC president (now under criminal investigation) and officials of the Southern California Edison Co. that stuck consumers with the bulk of costs for shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station. There were also private contacts between PUC commissioners and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on both rates and the consequences of the fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

          This year, legislators proposed a similar ban on ex parte communications by the Coastal Commission, which rules on virtually all development along the state’s scenic coastline. This came after several commissioners admitted having secret meetings, emails and phone calls with developers on whose projects they were to vote.

          For months, passage of a ban seemed assured; it easily cleared the state Senate. If passed, the bill by Democratic state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara would prohibit ex parte communications between commissioners and anyone else with a financial stake in agency business.

          This would be a nice start, many consumers believe, with similar bans also needed for many other state boards and commissions. So far, not one such ban has been accepted by Brown, whose signature is needed to make legislation into law.

          Now the Coastal Commission ex parte ban has now run afoul of an analysis by the state Natural Resources Agency that found the commission would need six new employees at a yearly cost of about $150,000 each. That department – under Brown’s direct authority – also backed the contention by some commissioners that ex parte communications help greatly in their work.

          Two facts are relevant here: One is that the expense ($900,000) for six new employees who would presumably police their bosses is a fraction of the building cost for just one typical new coastal home. It’s a pittance for keeping commissioners honest and fair. The other fact is that wealthy coastal developers can hire lobbyists and other spokesman whose fees are usually beyond the means of conservationists. That’s why most Coastal Commission ex parte communications are one-sided renditions of property owner interests.

          Nevertheless, allegedly because of its financial impact, Jackson’s bill has been sidetracked into the state Assembly’s suspense file, which usually delays votes on proposed laws by about a year. If this bill isn’t resurrected by Thursday evening, it can’t be reintroduced until next year. Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lawndale, sponsor of last year’s vetoed PUC reforms, refused to say whether he will try to break it loose.

          Meanwhile, there’s no prospect for an ex parte communications ban for any other agency. A package of PUC changes agreed to by Brown and key legislators would require commissioners to reveal quickly the contents of any such contacts. But there are no significant penalties for anyone who doesn’t comply.

          There’s no effort to impose even that much on the Energy Commission or other panels.

          All of which means it will likely be business as usual in California government for at least another year, despite rhetoric from Rendon and other legislators who have advocated ex parte and other reforms to prevent regulators from favoring the very interests they’re supposed to rein in.

          Coming almost two years after revelations of the extent and consequences of PUC ex parte communications, this raises major questions about politicians who talk a good game on this but may not really mean it.


    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

Monday, August 1, 2016




          California’s June presidential primary election is now just a memory, long ago subsumed in the news by vice presidential derbies, political conventions, politicians’ gaffes and violence at home and abroad.

          But one question lingers on: Why did taxpayers have to cover the primary election costs for those political parties that did not let any voter who liked cast a ballot in their contests?

          In June, Democrats and Greens allowed anyone registered as either a Democrat or without party preference to vote in their primaries, although there were a few hoops for non-Democrats to jump through. Republicans and a couple of minor parties (American Independent, for one) did not. They ran completely closed affairs, with no one not registered as a party member allowed to vote.

          This meant barely 27 percent of registered voters could participate in the Republican balloting, which turned out to be no big loss for anyone because Donald Trump’s significant opponents all dropped out weeks before the vote.

          But why should the 68 percent of voters eligible to vote on the Democratic side have had to contribute to the costs of running the Republican primary when there was no way for them to participate even if they wanted to?

          The parties say that was because by holding a primary, they did a public service. Wait a minute: That service was only for the relative few who chose to become members of the GOP.

          Compare this to the Top Two primary system used in all California primaries except those for president. Anyone registered to vote, regardless of which party they chose to join, if any, can vote for anyone on the ballot.

          That’s a truly public event, as opposed to the private nature of a closed primary like the GOP’s. It is arguably a far greater public service, too, because it offers all voters a chance to select whichever candidate they like – unlike a closed primary that denies most voters the right to participate.

          No one has yet broken out the cost of any one party’s presidential primary from the overall costs of staging elections, mailing out ballots and then counting those that are cast.

          But the cost of closed California primaries this spring surely was many millions of dollars. Nationally, the New York-based Open Primaries organization pegged the cost of closed presidential primaries at $287 million.

          Of course, both major parties would love to keep all their primaries closed. That’s why they sued (and won) in the late 1990s to throw out the so-called “blanket primary” system approved by California voters in 1996. That setup, like Top Two, allowed all voters to choose any candidate they liked, but separated vote counts by party, so that all qualified parties were guaranteed a place on the fall ballot in each race they entered.

          But four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld arguments from both major state parties claiming it was unconstitutional for non-party members to help choose party nominees. This left open the route taken by Top Two, where the runoff election candidates are not chosen by party, but simply by being one of the two leading vote-winners in a single primary. That’s why this fall California will see 28 races with both candidates from the same party.

          This kind of selection process winnows out candidates who don’t draw many votes, but still could pull enough to distort the final outcome if they were on the November ballot.

          It all harkens back to the days when there were no primaries and parties chose their candidates in state and national conventions (now reduced to elaborate pep rallies) featuring “smoke-filled rooms.”

          “Primaries are actually bad public policy,” says Richard Winger, who runs the newsletter Ballot Access News. “We’re the only country in the world that lets the population decide the candidates.”

          Yes, things might be smoother for presidential candidates if they didn’t have to slog through up to two years of campaigning before the first primary. But primaries make politicians accountable to the public, where accountability is only indirect when the parties pick their own leaders.

          The bottom line: Primaries do make sense in a populist-oriented country like America, but forcing the public to pay when those primaries are closed does not. Fortunately, Californians now face that fundamentally unfair situation only once every four years.


    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net