Monday, October 31, 2016




          You’re sitting in a traffic jam on one of California’s busiest freeways – perhaps I-5 in northern San Diego County or I-10 in Los Angeles or the U.S. 101 Bayshore Freeway south of San Francisco – listening to classical music to calm jangled nerves or just thinking. Maybe you’re not stopped, but merely crawling along in a slow-and-go.

          Suddenly you hear an ear-splitting roar from behind and a motorcycle rips past with leather-clad rider and mere inches between your car and the rider’s bike.

          The noise quickly dies down as the rider moves ahead, and you are left to muse: What if you’d twitched to that side or started into a lane change? Would that rider have splatted onto the pavement? Were you inches from a serious accident?

          Never mind your feelings at that moment, or those of many others. What that motorcycle rider did, known as lane-splitting or lane sharing, will become perfectly legal in California – and nowhere else in America – on Jan. 1.

          The reason: a UC Berkeley study that concluded in the spring of 2014 that motorcyclists are actually safer if they lane-split than if they sit in traffic, waiting out jams alongside the cars and trucks with which they share freeways and other roadways.

          As counterintuitive as it may seem, they are far less likely to be sideswiped while speeding between stalled lanes of traffic than if they’d gotten in line behind the cars and trucks and risked getting rear-ended, often a far more injurious event for a motorcyclist than for the driver of a larger vehicle.

          Said Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale, a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant and co-author of the new law, “This is a huge win for roadway safety. We are now giving riders and motorists clear guidance on when it is safe.”

          That specific guidance has not yet come, but rules will be handed down by the CHP and, presumably, widely publicized before the law takes effect. As originally written, the law legalized lane-splitting only when a motorcycle is going less than 15 mph faster than other traffic and forbade the tactic at speeds over 50 mph. Those specifics went out the window when motorcycling groups suggested the speeds were too tame, legislators preferring to leave the tough decisions to CHP experts rather than risk offending anyone who might someday vote against them.

          Previously, lane-splitting was a gray area, neither legal nor illegal, but riders were rarely cited. The CHP notes that driving dangerously – as determined by its officers – is always illegal.

          The idea of legalizing what many consider a disruptive, dangerous practice began with that Berkeley study, which examined motorcycle accidents statewide between June 2012 and August 2013.

          The researchers, led by Thomas Rice of Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research & Education Center, studied 5,969 collisions, of which 997 involved lane-splitting. Lane-splitting riders were more likely to be traveling on weekends, rather than weekdays, and were less likely than others to have used alcohol or carried a passenger.

          They suffered fewer head injuries than other motorcycle riders involved in accidents and were only one-third as likely to suffer fatal injuries.

          Only when lane-splitters went over 50 mph did injury incidence among them reach the same levels as for motorcyclists injured in normal traffic patterns.

          This is about what long-time motorcyclists expected intuitively. Wayne Allard, vice president of the American Motorcyclist Assn., noted that lane-splitting cuts motorcylists’ exposure to distracted drivers in stop-and-start situations. “Reducing a motorcyclist’s exposure to vehicles that are…accelerating or decelerating on congested roadways can reduce rear-end collisions for those most vulnerable in traffic.”

          In short, a single study from one academic center has now produced a major change in California highway rules, with little or no consideration for the majority of drivers, who are in cars, not on cycles. The new rules may not be specific yet, but don’t expect to see many lane-splitters ticketed in the near future. For unless they are being obviously reckless, their seemingly risky practice has been legalized.

          Which means other motorists can expect more and more loud, flinch-inducing moments that just might translate into better highway safety. Or the reverse. Only time will tell how that works out.
     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




          Even in the midst of the heated presidential campaign, two news stories about alleged corruption in California government managed to draw significant headlines and public attention.

          One came when the state auditor issued a call for significant changes in procedures at the Public Utilities Commission, which sets rates for almost all electricity and natural gas used in California, routinely deciding billion-dollar issues. Changes similar to what the auditor recommended passed the state Assembly with a massive majority, but died without a state Senate vote on the last day of the year’s legislative session.

          The other item saw the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission announce it will investigate charges of improper donations to the California Democratic Party brought by the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, which raised the question of links between those donations and significant actions by Gov. Jerry Brown that affected oil and energy companies which made the contributions.

          But the FPPC said it won’t investigate Brown. This was no surprise, considering Brown appoints the powerful commission chair. But leaving Brown out of this investigation is a bit like eating a hot-dog bun without the sausage. It quite possibly omits the meat of the matter, not to mention vital questions.

          Auditor Elaine Howell, lacking power to do more than issue reports, meanwhile, took 64 pages to say the PUC “has not effectively guarded against the appearance of improper influence in its public decision-making.” The report noted that former PUC President Michael Peevey “engaged in private discussions that were not disclosed in a timely manner,” casting legal and ethical doubts on key commission decisions.

          Peevey met with officials of both the Southern California Edison Co. and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. around the times of the shutdown of Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and the multi-fatal 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

          In both cases, meetings, emails and phone calls went unreported to the public. One case resulted in a token fine to PG&E, the other in forcing Edison’s customers to pay the bulk of the costs of the SONGS closure, caused by an Edison blunder.

          The PUC last spring reopened that Edison decision, but has yet to make a new ruling.

          In both cases, Brown did not discipline the commissioners he appointed, and the Legislature’s inaction as it ended its session allows for continued secret contacts like those central to those cases.

          The FPPC’s investigation comes after Consumer Watchdog documented large Democratic Party contributions from Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Corp. Oxy’s donation came just after Brown fired two oil and gas regulators the company felt were slow to approve its desired fracking projects. Chevron’s arrived on the very day tough regulations were dropped from the 2013 Senate Bill 4, which was intended to restrict fracking operations where agricultural and drinking water aquifers might be threatened.

          Oxy also gave $250,000 to Brown’s 2012 campaign for the Proposition 30 tax increases and another $100,000 to one of the governor’s pet charities, the Oakland Military Institute. These donations and others Consumer Watchdog reported smacked of old-fashioned pay-to-play politics.

          To investigate the state Democratic Party for accepting the money begs the question of who solicited those donations. There also is no announced investigation of how the military school donation came about.

          Similar donations in the late 1990s from insurance companies regulated by former Republican Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush led to his being hounded from office in the midst of his term amid charges the donations were actually payoffs. Considering the timing of Oxy’s donation, not investigating Brown’s possible link to it amounts to a clear-cut double standard.

          One likely outcome of all this appears to be that there will be no immediate changes at the PUC. The appearance – and perhaps reality – of undue influence by utilities over the agency that regulates them continues.  Brown, meanwhile, will likely coast through two more years until the end of his fourth and final term as governor.

          The question remaining is whether his legacy will be the green-and-clean one he so clearly desires or whether he’ll be remembered instead for the alleged corruption among some of his appointees.

     Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

Monday, October 24, 2016




          Chuck Quackenbush is long gone from California after his scandal-ridden ouster from the state insurance commissioner’s office in 2000. He went on to live for awhile on the Big Island of Hawaii and subsequently has been a sheriff’s deputy in Lee County (Ft. Myers), Fla., where he shot and critically wounded a suspect in 2008 while the man allegedly resisted arrest.

          But the after-effects of Quackenbush, long known to his critics as “Quacko,” live on long after his emigration from this state and will surely be felt widely after the next significant earthquake.

          For Quackenbush is one of the main reasons why in a state where virtually every homeowner carries fire insurance, almost 90 percent don’t bother with earthquake coverage.

          Before Quackenbush’s tenure as insurance commissioner, which began in 1995, while most of the companies he regulated were still negotiating settlements for the billions of dollars in damages inflicted by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, almost 20 percent of Californians had quake insurance.

          But that number has been cut almost in half since, Quackenbush’s doing.

          “Believe me,” Quackenbush emailed a few years ago. “I get plenty of bad guys (as a deputy). The dark heart of Man is a frightening thing to behold.” Perhaps that means Quackenbush has done a little introspection since his days as one of the last Republicans elected to a statewide California office.

          He departed that office after six years rather than face impeachment in a scandal where he was charged with allowing insurance companies to compensate their customers far less than actual damages they suffered. In return, it was alleged, insurance companies set up “educational funds” with some of the money they saved. Those funds paid for public service TV announcements increasing Quackenbush’s name identification as he planned for a potential 2002 run for governor.

          Insurance industry figures and agents also contributed heavily to Quackenbush’s two campaigns for insurance commissioner, allowing him to outspend opponents handily. Insurance companies also contributed to his wife’s unsuccessful 1998 run for the state Assembly and to several of his pet non-profits.

          Of more lasting concern to today’s homeowners was Quackenbush’s cave-in to insurance companies which refused to sell any new property insurance in California after the ’94 temblor so long as they also had to offer quake insurance. Instead of using his considerable powers to order that companies like State Farm, Safeco and 20th (now 21st) Century stop selling ultra-profitable car insurance in the state until and unless they also sold quake and property coverage, Quackenbush devised a new outfit called the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), now the main seller of earthquake insurance here.

          CEA policies cost more than earlier ones, carry significantly higher deductibles and don’t cover fences, separate garages and other outbuildings that were routinely included in previous policies. This yields less coverage for higher premiums. There’s also the risk that the CEA might not be able to pay claims in full after the next big earthquake (the question is not if that quake will come, but when?) because its funds are limited to the premiums paid by policyholders. By comparison, national insurance companies have a much larger premium pool available in disasters, including money raised from selling other kinds of insurance.

          No wonder many fewer people buy quake insurance today as before Quackenbush so eagerly did the bidding of the insurance industry.

          Even today, the existence of Quackenbush’s CEA lets the big national insurance companies off the hook at the expense of homeowners.

          This didn’t perturb Quakenbush a bit the last time he discussed it with this column. “If customers decide not to buy the CEA policy, that’s their choice,” he said. “Only the market can decide what is a viable product.” The problem with that is the lack of a real market, since the large insurers still don’t sell new quake policies here.

          A few small firms offer better coverage than the CEA’s, but at even higher prices.

          Meanwhile, no politician has stepped forward to try righting the Quackenbush wrongs. The first one who did that, of course, would incur the undying wrath of the insurance industry – not exactly a positive when raising campaign money.

          For sure, though, Californians need better earthquake insurance than most can get now. This may not seem urgent right now, but after the Big One hits, the perspective will be very different.

    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




          Disgust with politics has come easily this fall, given a pair of flawed, often less than truthful major party presidential candidates and a one-party U.S. Senate race that’s been one-sided from the start.

          Revelations of the lewd, misogynistic remarks by Republican nominee Donald Trump when he thought no one was listening also turned off large numbers of voters.

          But with ballots already in the hands of many voters and Election Day upon us (Editors: If running this column prior to Nov. 8, please insert the word almost before upon in this sentence), there are also plenty of reasons not to toss those ballots in the trash, but rather use them wisely.

          Start with the presidential election itself. Seldom has there been more contrast in approach and temperament than this year; never before has there been an opportunity to make gender history or nix it. Even if voters detest both candidates, the wise thing is for them to think hard about who would damage America least and cast ballots accordingly.

          Local elections coinciding with the presidential vote are also vital across the state, with many cities and counties proposing taxes and the pace of growth at issue in several places.

          There are also hotly contested congressional races in areas as disparate as Sacramento, San Diego County and Silicon Valley, and about a dozen legislative races that figure to be close. In some of these battles, a vote or two might spell the difference between Democrats having two-thirds control of the state Legislature, able to override Republicans on issues from taxes to budgets – or not.

          The main issues in various locales are different, from the age of an incumbent to financial indiscretions by a candidate’s family to crucial matters of policy.

          These are important questions, but not as far-reaching as the 17 state ballot propositions, which ask voters to turn thumbs up or down on everything from recreational marijuana use to taxes, “bareback” pornography, plastic bags, prescription drug prices, the death penalty and easier paroles.

          More than $400 million will be spent for and against the near-record crop of initiatives on the ballot, showing how crucial some interest groups think they are.

          Ironically, some of the most far-reaching proposed measures have drawn little money or television advertising. There’s plenty of controversy, for example, over Proposition 57, Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to ease parole for convicts guilty of crimes legally classified as non-violent. Opponents note this category leaves out things like soliciting murder or human trafficking. But the measure doesn’t make early releases automatic for anyone; it would still be up to parole boards and the governor to decide which “non-violent” prisoners get paroled.

          There have also been few ads for or against Proposition 58, which would restore bilingual education – instruction of English-learner pupils in their native language until they’ve mastered English – as the default method in public schools, rather than allowing it only for students whose parents have signed a request form.

          Conflicts over other measures have been loud and vituperative. Opponents of the cigarette tax in Proposition 56, for example, bemoan the fact public schools would get none of the money it would produce. They never say that if the proposition loses, schools also get no new funds.

          Complex issues abound, too, on this ballot. Should all proposed laws in the Legislature be posted in print and online for at least 72 hours before they’re voted up or down? Or would that prevent constructive legislation from being written and passed in the dying hours of a legislative session? Does more transparency mean less corruption or merely less flexibility? These are questions voters can answer with a yes or no vote, even if they have little clue about what happens when the midnight oil is burning in the state Capitol.

          And there’s the matter of requiring condoms in pornography: Would this proposal mean less commerce and tax revenue for California, or would it mean more safety for porn performers? Or both? Or would the law be irrelevant as soon as it passed, subsumed by the tide of private and non-commercially produced porn videos now flooding the Internet?

          Altogether, California hasn’t seen such a complex, far-reaching ballot in years. Which makes it hard to find an excuse for not voting this time.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016




          It’s no secret that lies and half-truths are a central part of the ongoing presidential campaign. Entire websites are now devoted to the pursuit of fact-checking Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, with one saying well over half the statements of both are at least half false.

          There probably should be similar fact-checking for the campaigns around the 17 state propositions on the state’s ballot, on subjects as diverse as pot, pornography, plastic bags and, of course, taxes.

          Untrue statements abound there, too, both in the official ballot guide received by millions of voters in early October and in the expensive radio and television ad campaigns for those initiatives and the ballot’s lone referendum.

          Some of the most egregious, obvious and oft-repeated half-truths and exaggerations come in the harsh campaign against Proposition 56, which sees tobacco companies desperately trying to stave off a $2 per pack hike in cigarette taxes, with equivalent increases on other tobacco and nicotine products, from cigars to e-cigarettes.

          The no-on-56 ads, funded mainly by big tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris USA, claim the measure “cheats” schools out of about $600 million per year. The claim stems from current tax formulas giving education the lion’s share of state tax money. But those rules don’t apply to special taxes; they can be designated for specific purposes.

          The cigarette tax increase would cheat no one out of anything because schools don’t currently get that money and will not whether Prop. 56 passes or not. Which makes this claim a half-truth at best.

          The anti-56 ads also say most of its money would go to “special interests.” In fact, the vast majority would help Medi-Cal fund health care for the poor, in some ways a logical use of the money because studies show poor people smoke more per capita than the wealthy, and so are afflicted with more tobacco-related health problems.

          Then there are Props. 65 and 67, about plastic bags. Ballot arguments for 65 and against 67, which seeks to uphold the Legislature’s ban on thin plastic grocery bags, first claim the ban will produce “up to $300 million” in paper bag fees for grocery stores selling them at 10 cents each.  But “up to $300 million” is a loose approximation. The actual amount may be five bucks or $290 million, or it may be nothing. The number isn’t exactly a lie, but it’s also not true, say the grocers, who claim they lose money on paper bags, which they say cost them 14 or 15 cents apiece.

          Again, beware unspecific numbers purveyed in ballot measure advertising.

          The half-truths around Prop. 58 are different, not involving money. Here, backers of bilingual education seek to overturn the partial ban on this education method, implying in their ballot arguments that bilingualism will teach English to immigrant pupils better than current English immersion classes. But before the 1996 Prop. 227 imposed today’s partial ban on bilingual classes – where students are taught primarily in their native language while also learning English – pupils gained English proficiency more slowly than they have since immersion became prevalent.

          Even the title of this proposition, placed on the ballot by state legislators, is misleading: “English proficiency” are the title’s first two words, masking the fact that it repeals the requirement that children be taught in English unless their parents sign a form requesting otherwise. Which means the whole campaign for Prop. 58 is based on verbal sleight of hand.

          The pharmaceutical industry will pour almost as much money into the campaign against Prop. 61 as Big Tobacco has in battling 56. Companies like Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squibb, Bayer, Amgen and more are behind ads that claim 61 will actually raise prescription prices. In fact, it would limit state programs like Medi-Cal to paying the same for drugs as the Veterans Administration pays. The presumption behind the ads is that if 61 passes, Big Pharma will raise prices to everyone, including the VA.

          That’s an untested presumption, with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

          Put this all together with other ads on still more propositions and Californians are seeing more lies and half-truths this fall than in any election season in memory. “Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)” is an understatement this year.

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




          When cities close down street traffic lanes and paint “experimental” bicycle paths on pavement once used by cars, the so-called experiment almost never fails. The change virtually always becomes permanent.

          Even in Portland, Ore., where as an “experiment” officials early this year installed small sound-making bumps to let drivers know when they drift into a bike lane and resentful motorists responded by ripping out 70 percent of those bumps, the bumps are back. There was no serious consideration of removing either the once-experimental bicycle path or the humps.

          It’s much the same with “temporary” taxes. California has seen only one “temporary” levy disappear on schedule, a one-time $7 billion surcharge on income taxes of the wealthy imposed by Republican Pete Wilson shortly after he became governor in early 1991.

          So it’s no surprise that the majority of new taxes imposed by the 2012 Proposition 30 are about to become all but permanent, lasting at least through 2030.

          This is what the current Proposition 55 is about. Gov. Jerry Brown pushed hard for Prop. 30 four years ago, spending liberally from his political war chest to get the measure passed. He promised at the time the increases would be temporary, petering out after 2018 – and he’s not actively supporting Prop. 55 now. None of the money behind it comes from Brown or any political action committee related to him. But he’s not opposing it, either.

          Prop. 30 did work. Using the $6 billion-plus per year raised via its small sales tax increase and its income tax hikes for the wealthy, Brown and the Legislature kept California’s general fund solvent.

          The central question of Prop. 55: Can this continue without that money? A general belief the money would be vitally needed in even a slight economic turndown is the main reason there is no significant opposition to extending these tax hikes another 12 years.

Much of the $50 million-plus behind Prop. 55 comes from public employee unions, notably the California Teachers Assn. and the Service Employees International Union. The California Hospital Assn. and the California Medical Assn. are also big contributors. All remember the years of belt-tightening before Prop. 30.

They also know that voters are often happy to tax the rich, which is what Prop. 55 does. It would eliminate the sales tax portion of Prop. 30, while extending the tax surcharge for the top 1.5 percent of the state’s earners. Single people would pay nothing for this unless their adjusted gross income tops $263,000, or twice that for married couples. The top tax rate would be 13.3 percent for annual incomes above $1.1 million.

          Most voters have little sympathy for those folks, one reason polls all year have showed about two-thirds of voters support Prop. 55.

          Because the money is all earmarked for education and health care, this measure also dovetails neatly with polling that shows about 60 percent of voters believe California schools should spend much more than they do now. The 2014 average of $9,595 per student was well below the national average of $11,667, and placed this state 42nd in per student education spending, even though it was in the top ten for per capita state taxes paid.

          While few voters can rattle off those numbers, they get the idea when they see peeling paint and leaky roofs in school buildings.

          So the idea of making near-permanent the Prop. 30 tax increase on the wealthy seems like a natural this year.

          But nothing in Prop. 55 would actually lead anyone to believe it would promote better education. Yes, districts may add a few more courses here and there. But even Brown’s three-year-old system of giving more of the Prop. 30 money to schools with the most low-income and English-learner students has not discernibly improved education. Test scores in most places have been static.

          There is no doubt, then, that if and when it passes, Prop. 55 will be yet another example of a temporary tax made near-permanent. In fact, its take has already become part of the status quo, which means voters can expect more school-funding propositions down the line.


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

Monday, October 10, 2016




          There’s little or no good news on the campuses of major California universities when it comes to officially tolerated anti-Semitism.

          For a short time, it appeared UC Berkeley might do something constructive, cancelling a student-taught one-unit course whose syllabus essentially advocated erasing the state of Israel and its Jewish citizenry.

          Called “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis,” this class was resurrected less than a week after it was declared dead. It is now being taught by an undergraduate member of the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Its one-sided political orientation was clear and never denied even though academic officials said it was sanitized before its revival, but the youthful instructor says no, there’s been no real change – just some scurrilous statements changed to questions.

          Like most of the movement to boycott Israel, divest from companies doing business there and sanction the world’s only Jewish state (known as BDS), this class is less about settlements (often built on land bought from prior Arab owners) and more about the hate that’s spurred Palestinian terrorist attacks on Jews around the world and not only in Israel or the West Bank. (Example: The Goldenberg Deli in Paris was bombed so often the space is now a men’s clothing store. All that’s left of Goldenberg is an awning.)

          When its syllabus contained declarations of supposed wrongdoing by the Jewish state, the Berkeley class was in clear violation of the UC Regents’ policy on course content, which forbids using classrooms for political indoctrination. Making those statements into supposed questions for discussion changed nothing real, but satisfied weakling administrators.

Meanwhile, no one in authority appeared to notice that the syllabus violated the university’s six-month-old policy against bigotry by trying to defame and delegitimize the Jewish state in ways that fit squarely with the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.

          So the vaunted new policy lacks teeth.

          Things are not rosy at UCLA, either. Last year’s student government president, law student Milan Chatterjee, transferred to New York University after a brouhaha over his refusal to allow $2,000 in student government funding for a town hall event to be sponsored by the UCLA Diversity Caucus. Some claim that caucus is a front for the local SJP chapter.

          Chatterjee, an Indian-American of Hindu faith, told the caucus his student government administration would not sponsor “a position that will alienate a significant portion of students.” So, he said, there would be no money unless the event was not associated with the BDS movement, which often spouts openly anti-Semitic rhetoric at UCLA and other campuses.

          Anti-Jewish groups led by SJP then campaigned to censure Chatterjee. Later, UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office concluded that his refusal of funds if the event was to be BDS-linked violated a university policy calling for impartiality. Huh?

          Chatterjee, 27, wrote Chancellor Gene Block that he was “leaving UCLA due to a hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

          Elsewhere, San Francisco State University continues a “partnership” with the terrorist-linked Al-Najah University in the Palestinian West Bank.

          SF state President Leslie Wong has not acted on demands to cancel the arrangement, one university spokeswoman telling a reporter the school has many such understandings. “The purpose…with each of these international universities is to provide our students and faculty the opportunity to broaden their own intellectual landscape… Partnerships are initiated by faculty members based on their academic interests.”

          This one was set up by Rabab Abdulhabi, an ethnic studies professor and founding member of a national campaign to boycott Israeli universities and academics. She apparently did not care that activists in Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and advocates eradicating Israel, hold half the student council seats at Al-Najah.

          Or that the back cover of one Al-Najah “information kit” featured 19 “shaheeds” –  deceased suicide bombers.

          Should Californians’ tax and tuition dollars go toward a relationship with this university, which the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy calls a hotbed of “terrorist recruitment…and radicalization of students?”

          It all makes a sad picture. No UC student has been punished for campus anti-Semitic activity in years, while fear forced Chatterjee from UCLA.

          So far, UC’s new policy is mere words; it has not been used for anything. Which means California universities so far are doing little or nothing to curb their plague of anti-Semitic bigotry.

     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




          A year ago, as the presidential campaign swung into high gear, no one in either major political party – except Donald Trump – took seriously the possibility he might win the Republican nomination for president.

          Turns out Trump was right; everyone else was wrong. It didn’t matter how much he lied: The fact checking service Politifact finds there’s significant untruth in 84 percent of what Trump says publicly, but he’s expanded his likely voting base from about 30 percent of Republicans during the early primary season to at least 40 percent overall. (Hillary Clinton’s falsehood rating: 63 percent.) That’s a huge achievement, demonstrating his adherents don’t much care what he says. They figure after years of watching his television reality show, they know him and what he means, even when he’s lewd.

          Meanwhile, some recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton winning New York by a 20 percent vote margin and California by at least 17 percent. Sure, she consistently has had a small overall edge over Trump in national polling, but with so much of her support coming from just two states, she could win the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College if Trump wins battleground states like Ohio and Florida by thin margins, still getting all their electoral votes.

          So despite revelations of past vulgarity and misogyny, victory for Trump is possible, even if oddsmakers give Clinton better than a 70 percent chance of winning.

          If Trump wins, there could be enormous effects on California, with its tough environmental laws and its giving citizens more rights than the federal government does, in everything from marijuana use to assisted suicide in limited circumstances.

          Federal law almost always trumps (no pun intended) state laws, and it’s likely a Trump win would leave Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. So there could be plenty of actions to reverse the agenda pushed here for the last 12 years by Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

          They’ve insisted on tougher pollution standards for cars than the federal ones. Brown this year won an extension of the state cap-and-trade program aimed to cut down greenhouse gas production and reduce dangers of climate change.

          But Congress and a President Trump could pass laws with completely different standards and negate what California has done.

          If Trump wins, the bullet train project that’s been the apple of both Brown’s and Schwarzenegger’s eyes could abruptly stop. Yes, there would still be funding from voter-approved state bonds, but no more from the federal government. And if Trump and congressional Republicans outlaw cap-and-trade programs, another bullet train funding source would dry up quickly. Viaducts already underway or built in Fresno and Madera counties could become monumental bridges to nowhere.

          While Brown in the interest of fighting climate change resists letting coal trains traverse California to ship supplies from ports at Oakland and elsewhere, a Trump-controlled Energy Department would likely demand the use of California ports for coal and shale oil exports to places like China and the Philippines.

          If Trump imposed heavy new tariffs on Chinese goods, prices for furniture, toys and many other categories would rise precipitously in California – unless there’s a sudden revival of domestic makers for these items.

          And if Trump really does build a long, high wall along the Mexican border (regardless of who pays for it), the flow of undocumented immigrants will slow. That would raise prices for everything from hotels and car washes, roofing and strawberries, just some of the industries employing many of the undocumented.

          There are signs that illegal immigrants, who often anticipate political events that may affect them, realize Trump could win. One indicator: Undocumented immigration increased considerably in late summer, with a near-record 10,000 Central Americans – most traveling as families – caught at the border in August, for a total of more than 68,000 in the first 11 months of federal fiscal 2016. Altogether, 370,000 undocumented migrants were apprehended in those same 11 months, surpassing the total for 2015 with a month to go.

          When big numbers of the undocumented try to crowd in, it usually means they anticipate changes in immigration policy – and only one candidate promises that.

          All of which means a Trump presidency would have huge consequences for California, even if the state votes heavily against him.

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

Monday, October 3, 2016




          The rumor has persisted for almost two years, since state Attorney General Kamala Harris announced she was running for the U.S. Senate seat long held by retiring Democrat Barbara Boxer.

That rumor – until after next month’s election, it can be no more than that – suggests Gov. Jerry Brown might appoint his wife of 11 years, lawyer Ann Gust Brown, to serve the last two years of Harris’s term, which expires in 2018, when Brown also will be termed out of the office where he’s spent a total of 16 years.

          Gust Brown’s name began coming up in political circles when Darrell Steinberg, the former president of the state Senate, chose to run for mayor of Sacramento in June, a race he won by a handy 59-26 percent margin. He takes office in December.

          By then, if the polls are correct in showing her with a big lead over fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, Harris will be elected and possibly even seated, if Boxer steps aside early to let Harris have a few weeks more Senate seniority.

          Before he ran for mayor, Steinberg was considered Gov. Brown’s likely choice to take over for Harris as the state’s top lawyer, then possibly run for the office on his own in 2018 against current Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, the early frontrunner in that year’s race for attorney general.

          Considering how Jones has performed in his current office and how well he’s done in two statewide elections, Jones might now be a logical choice for whatever office he next wants.

          But things are not always so simple. Gust Brown, formerly the top in-house lawyer for The Gap clothing stores, has shown an appetite and interest in public affairs. Jerry Brown often calls her his leading advisor. She is 58, fully 20 years younger than her husband and unlikely to want to retire just because he’s termed out.

Jerry Brown displays little interest in disappearing, either. So is it possible that after a year or so as attorney general, Gust Brown could declare herself a candidate for governor, with her husband swapping roles to become her leading adviser?

          It’s happened before, most notably in Alabama, where segregationist Gov. George Wallace was termed out in 1966 and his wife Lurleen became governor in name for two years while Wallace remained the de facto power.

          It’s also true that California attorneys general commonly go on to become governor: Jerry Brown is one; so was his father, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. Republicans George Deukmejian and Earl Warren also followed that route.

          What about the ethics of such nepotism? “If she’s qualified, it’s less of a problem than if she’s not,” said Robert Stern, former president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. “Everything I hear about her says she’s a good lawyer. It would be up to the voters to decide whether to elect her on her own later on.”

          Meanwhile, other Democrats don’t think the Gust Brown scenario is entirely unlikely. “I wouldn’t put it past him,” longtime campaign manager Garry South told a reporter last summer. South managed the campaign of current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who for a few months contested Brown for the 2010 Democratic nomination for governor before settling for his current job.

          There’s no doubt giving a very visible job to his wife (both houses of the Legislature would also need to confirm her) would provide her with a leg up in running against the likes of Newsom, state Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire investor Tom Steyer, all either declared or potential 2018 candidates for governor.

          This field could change dramatically if Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein chooses to retire after her current term ends the same year. Some would-be governors might quickly become senatorial hopefuls. Feinstein’s decision might be greatly influenced by whether or not Democrats regain control of the Senate this fall, allowing her to once again chair the Intelligence Committee.

          All this explains why the Gust Brown rumors don’t die – and likely won’t unless Harris should lose this fall or Jerry Brown names someone else to her current job.

    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




          Most of the attention this fall has properly gone to the fierce presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Some voters have also given substantial attention to many of the propositions on next month’s ballot, covering everything from plastic bags to condoms in pornography, from taxes to legalized marijuana.

          All these are important questions, but the proposition that could have the most impact of all on California’s future is largely being ignored. That’s Proposition 58, simply described as “Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education.”

          This measure would all but repeal the 1998 Proposition 227, which passed by more than a 3-2 margin and has banned most bilingual education instruction in public schools ever since. Schools are still allowed to set up dual-language immersion programs if they and the parents involved choose to.

          Proposition 227 has long infuriated teachers unions, in part because it effectively did away with the salary differentials paid to thousands of bilingual education teachers in California before it passed.

          No, the implication in the ballot title that non-English languages have been banned from this state’s public schools for almost 20 years is not correct. Public schools, whether charters or not, never stopped teaching French, Spanish, Latin, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and many other languages.

          But Prop. 227 has meant that the vast majority of pupils from kindergarten through high school are taught primarily in English. That’s in contrast to the thousands of classrooms that previously taught English-learner students primarily in their native language – and a little English – with the purpose of eventually having them become proficient in English.

          The reason 227 passed so handily when it did was not anti-Hispanic racism, as some supporters of Prop. 58 imply, but because English-learner children were progressing only very slowly toward proficiency. As a result, employers had trouble finding young English speakers to fill jobs in supermarkets, banks and other businesses where employees are often not college graduates.

          The immediate results of 227 were successful. For example, more than 32,400 students, or 10.3 percent of the English learners in the Los Angeles Unified school district, largest in California, became fluent in English between December 1998 and December 1999, an increase of about 20 percent over the last year of predominant bilingual education.

          But some Latinos say they felt damaged by the change. “There was a racist undertone when it came to Spanish speakers,” Democratic state Sen. Richard Lara of Bell Gardens told a reporter. “That’s how I felt.”

          By contrast, many prominent Latinos supported 227, in spite of Lara’s perception. Jaime Escalante, the late famed calculus teacher portrayed in the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver,” was the “yes” campaign’s honorary chairman. Leaders of the Para Los Ninos organization vocally backed 227, too.

          Now a member of the Senate’s leadership, Lara sponsored Prop. 58 as the Legislature put it on the ballot. The measure, says the ballot argument supporting it, would enable “schools to use the most up-to-date teaching methods to help our students learn (English).”

          But the original author, sponsor and prime funder of Prop. 227, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz (an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate last spring) insists his measure is still needed. He says Prop. 58 supporters ignore the good 227 continues to do.

          In the ballot argument against 58, he says it would repeal the requirement that English be taught in public schools and that it would “overturn policies that actually improved language education.”

          It’s a bitter disagreement. Unz claims 58 would bring back ineffective bilingual education programs and mire Latino children in English-learner status for many years. “This really is a sneaky trick by politicians in Sacramento,” he said. He adds that he ran for the Senate mostly for the opportunity the campaign gave him to oppose 58 in major media.

          For sure, this is a disagreement that deserves at least as much voter attention as any other major measure to be decided this fall. But so far, neither side has raised much money. As of the last reporting date, the Yes side had $326,000 in hand, while opponents had nothing.

          Which means a measure with immense potential effects on California’s future is being all but ignored.


    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