Friday, June 30, 2017




          Donald Trump’s company owns a golf club and other properties in California, but a look at his proposed budget for the fiscal year ending in September 2018 indicates the President may never have experienced one of this state’s frequent earthquakes.

          If he had, he might not have chopped from his version of the federal budget the paltry $10.2 million which Congress agreed this spring to contribute toward building a system giving Californians and denizens of other Western states a few seconds to a few minutes notice when a significant shock is coming.

          No one who has been at or near the epicenter of a major quake would ever doubt the power of the earth’s sudden movements, which have knocked down hospitals and freeway bridges, shopping malls and apartment complexes. One sign of that power near the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta upheaval: a three-foot-deep crevice suddenly appeared running up the middle of the driveway beside a home in a woodsy area of Aptos, while inside, a 3-ton Franklin stove was sliced from its steel chimney and plunked down 20 feet across the living room, with no tracks in between. The convulsion’s force simply tossed this behemoth object through the air.

          No one also doubts that large numbers of lives could be saved if many people get even 30 seconds warning of a major jolt. They could duck under desks, move away from plate glass windows, close natural gas lines, drive to the side of roads and get out of elevators, among other things.

          Of course, the money might actually be restored before the budget becomes final. That’s what Republican Rep. Kenneth Calvert of Corona wants. Calvert, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, called a warning system a potential “lifesaving tool for the millions of Californians and other Americans…in earthquake-prone areas.”

          Meanwhile, state lawmakers partially backed by Gov. Jerry Brown are moving for California to go it alone if needed. Democratic state Sens. Robert Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Jerry Hill of San Mateo proposed providing $23 million in state money for the early warning system. Before Trump proposed his cut, Brown had already included $10 million for it in his May budget revision.

          The irony of the planned Trump cut is that it comes while the U.S. Geological Service and universities up and down the West Coast – including the likes of Caltech, UC Berkeley and the universities of Oregon, Nevada (Reno) and Washington – have nearly completed a system that would provide warnings not just in California, but also in Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

          Tentatively dubbed ShakeAlert, this equipment detects quakes at their first quivers through a network of sensors. It could, for one example, provide about a minute’s warning to schools, buildings and airports in Los Angeles if a major shock on the San Andreas Fault began in the Salton Sea area, but less time if the epicenter were closer to the urban core. In one test, it provided researchers in Los Angeles 30 seconds notice of shaking from a magnitude 4.4 quake in the Riverside County city of Banning.

          A widespread system like this already operates in Japan, so the technology has been tested and it works.

          Already, legislators in Washington state and Oregon propose to join California in continuing the early-warning project even if federal funding evaporates. But it would certainly be slowed.

          One Washington legislator pointed out that the total of $38 million needed to finish work on ShakeAlert is less than half the price of the cruise missile barrage Trump ordered against Syria last spring while dining with China’s president.

          Some advocates of ShakeAlert suggest if it’s not finished, Trump should be held personally liable for any injuries or deaths that occur which that system might have prevented. But direct connections would be difficult to prove.

          Trump has traveled much of the nation pushing his efforts to improve infrastructure; yet he wants to cut this project, which could actually save lives.

          It sets up a test not only for state legislators who need to approve the Hill-Hertzberg bill for state funds, but also for California Republicans in Congress who have the power to put money for this project and others back into the upcoming budget.


     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




          For a long time, it seemed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s unspoken (at least publicly) agreement with Sen. Kamala Harris would bear the fruit he intended – inauguration about 17 months from now as governor of California.

          The early-2015 understanding between the two San Francisco Democrats, both with campaigns managed by the same San Francisco political consulting firm, was this: To avoid a brutal fight over the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Barbara Boxer, Newsom would stay out of the 2016 Senate race and concentrate on running for governor two years later.

          And so, with help from the SCN Strategies firm headed by longtime San Francisco consultant Ace Smith, Harris won Boxer’s old seat in a cakewalk.

          Meanwhile, Newsom took the early lead in the run for governor, becoming the first to declare his candidacy, raising millions of early dollars and running far ahead of everyone else in the first polls.

          Newsom hoped to make his move to the governor’s office seem as inevitable as Harris’ accession from San Francisco district attorney to state attorney general to the Senate. Essentially, he hoped to scare away most serious competition just as Harris did.

          The former San Francisco mayor began issuing press releases cum fund-raising appeals every time any significant news story occurred. His anti-Donald Trump posts are as frequent as they are predicable. Early polls showed him with double-digit leads over all other potential candidates, emphasis on the “potential,” because no one else declared for the race until this spring.

          But now several others have. They are out gathering both money and support – apparently at least in part at Newsom’s expense. In fact, anytime he looks back these days, Newsom sees someone gaining on him.

          Most prominent is former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Like Newsom, Villaraigosa must overcome a history of womanizing, but with previous candidates like President Trump and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger winning office despite their own similar peccadillos, this may not prove as big a problem as it might have in previous eras.

          In this year’s first version of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, successor to the usually reliable Field Poll, Newsom ran 11 points ahead of Villaraigosa, with 28 percent support to Villaraigosa’s second-place 11. Just two months later, in May, Villaraigosa had closed that gap to a mere five points, with Newsom still leading, but by only 22 percent to 17.

          In short, Villaraigosa, not yet in hyperactive campaign mode and still holding onto the bulk of his campaign cash, gained as much backing as was lost by the very active Newsom, who saw a loss of almost one-fourth of his prior support.

          State Treasurer John Chiang, a former two-term state controller, had five percent in both polls, holding steady. Republican businessman John Cox’s backing dropped by half, from 18 percent to 9, perhaps because his support for an initiative creating a 12,000-member state Legislature received significant publicity in the interim. Many GOP voters moved over to support the new candidacy of former Republican Assemblyman David Hadley of Torrance, who drew 8 percent. It’s uncertain how the early-summer entry of conservative Republican Orange County Assemblyman and surfer Travis Allen might affect this race.

          Cox and Hadley are little known to most voters, so the best guess is that their total of about 17 percent poll support consisted of solid Republicans determined not to vote for a Democrat so long as any GOP hopeful is still breathing.

          Drawing even less support was Democratic former state Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin. Put her voters into the Villaraigosa column, where they could end up if she eventually sees she has little chance and pulls out, and the race is almost even at the top level. This picture could change a lot when Chiang begins spending the millions he’s raised so far,
but no one knows whether he will take support from either Newsom or Villaraigosa, or win over some of the undecided, who currently make up nearly 30 percent of voters.

          It’s far too early to call Newsom’s scare-them-off strategy a bust. But so far, no one looks intimidated. So unless Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer gets in, prospects are for a very tight primary race likely to produce a Democrats-only runoff election next fall.

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, June 26, 2017




Single-payer health insurance that would cover every Californian has stalled, at least for now. Because Democratic Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved state Assembly consideration of the Senate-passed insurance outline at least until next year, a popular vote on the well-publicized, often criticized single-payer health insurance plan is probably at least three years away, and probably more.

Chances are the idea won’t reach voters before June 2020, if then.

The many Californians who wanted this quickly as a potential defense against whatever changes President Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress might bring to ex-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act will just have to wait. It’s the third time in the last 12 years this idea has been stymied in California despite getting considerable legislative support.

          Twice former Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, now a Los Angeles county supervisor, got a single-payer plan through the Legislature in this century’s first decade, only to see it vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her idea – like this year’s plan – was to use existing health insurance premiums as the main funding source. Coverage of the previously uninsured would be paid with the approximately 15 percent of premiums now going to insurance executives and corporate profits.

          As before, this year saw a lot of lip service to single payer, sponsored now by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, also a candidate for state insurance commissioner.

Single payer is sometimes called “Medicare for all” because, like federal Medicare insurance covering all those over 65 who want it, the latest plan would have a central clearing house for claims. Payroll taxes would help fund it, also like Medicare.

As was Schwarzenegger, current Gov. Jerry Brown has been skeptical, mostly because of costs. But if this proposal gets no action until after next year’s election, now very likely, Brown’s views will no longer matter much. Current gubernatorial possibilities like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or state Treasurer John Chiang might be more favorable, if elected.

Meanwhile, cost estimates vary from about $340 billion to $400 billion yearly, while California and its citizens now spend about $395 billion on medical care. Lara insists his plan could cut many billions from that figure, even though individuals would see a new payroll tax and businesses would pay a new levy. Taxpayers, he said, would save money via a halt to all premiums, deductibles, co-pays, doctor and hospital bills to the uninsured – including undocumented immigrants – and an end to employer payments for health plans.

          In the end, had the Assembly and then Brown approved the Senate-passed outline this year, voters would likely have decided the issue as early next June. This won’t happen now, in large part because all details of what Lara wanted were never certain, giving Rendon and others cold feet. But single-payer has the possibility of ending up a lot like the system Canada now has, one that some Canadians swear by and others swear at. That country experiences vast differences by location in the speed and competence of medical care.

          Californians have previously voted just once on single payer, defeating the idea in 1994. But times are different now. Millions here gained insurance under Obamacare. Who knows how they might vote if Congress and Trump take away much of their coverage?

As with the 1994 California ballot proposal, Lara’s measure could have eliminated companies like Blue Cross, Blue Shield and HealthNet.

          So far, surveys say the vast majority in this state wants health care for all. But a similar majority also wants no new taxes. The problem is that the twain probably cannot meet.

          What’s more, opponents already argue the quality of health care would decline under single payer, even though it has not under Medicare. Reality, though, might not matter if enough advertising money were spent to push the idea of lower medical quality.

          If it ever reaches them, this just might be the most idealistic plan ever put before California voters. It would also be one of the easiest for opponents to attack. And there would be plenty of well-funded opponents, starting with insurance companies desperate to preserve one of their largest markets.

          The bottom line: If you lose all or part of your health coverage because of Republican-led changes, California won’t soon bail you out.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit For more Elias columns, go to




          Even as volunteers circulate petitions that could lead to a 2018 vote on whether California should leave the United States, some of the impetus behind the nascent Calexit secession movement may be dissipating.

          Calexit got nowhere between the time a book proposing the idea appeared in 2013 and the election last year of President Donald Trump. Suddenly, Trump’s seemingly authoritarian tendencies and his raft of policies threatening cherished California goals and regulations boosted the idea of separation, its poll rating jumping from single figures to about 32 percent soon after Trump’s inauguration.

          Even then, no elected California official gave the notion much credence, most scoffing at it if they said anything at all. Instead, many officials went to work to ensure the Trump administration would affect California as little as possible.

          Trump ordered the deportation of far more undocumented immigrants than authorities had under Barack Obama, and raids began in workplaces, grocery stores and other locales that had seen none in many years. So California legislators quickly began work on a “sanctuary state” law that, when passed (as appears likely), will prohibit state and local law enforcement from investigating or arresting people for their immigration status. State, county and local officers would also be forbidden to aid federal officers in immigration raids, even if their city or county leadership prefers otherwise.

          Trump signed a law repealing previous rules limiting what broadband or Internet providers could do with customer information. A California law re-installing those regulations in this state immediately appeared in the Legislature.

          When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked a 2016 federal rule giving transgender students the same legal protections as all other schoolchildren, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded quickly. “California’s laws are strong and protect students regardless of their gender identity,” he said. “Our state stands with transgender students.”

          Essentially, he told Trump and his cohorts, “if you act to remove rights and protections, we will make sure they survive here, at least.”

          Then there was Gov. Jerry Brown, first traveling to China in the style of a head of state and then welcoming foreign leaders like the president of the tropical Fiji Islands to Sacramento just after Trump pulled America out of the Paris climate change accords. That agreement never had the status of a treaty and didn’t commit this country to do much. But it was a symbol.

          So Brown, continuing a practice begun by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed memoranda of understanding with major provinces in China and elsewhere, and with some small countries willing to pledge actions aimed to slow climate change. Those documents also fall short of treaty stature, but they establish that California is willing and able to act separately from the national administration.

          There’s also health insurance, where Trump and congressional Republicans keep trying to gut the Affordable Care Act that spawned Covered California and gave health insurance to at least 4 million Californians who didn’t previously have it. The California response: a single-payer health insurance plan which passed the state Senate before stalling in the Assembly, ostensibly to get details worked out. Again, California eventually may go it alone, acting contrary to Trump’s preferences and promises.

          Most major candidates to succeed Brown next year backed all these moves and will likely take similar actions of their own if elected. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor and leader in all polls taken so far on the 2018 run for governor, said of several Trump policies: “We’re not going to let it fly in California.”

          Every one of these California actions, both prospective ones and moves already made, assert states’ rights, but also move toward independence of a sort. “California is clearly developing a sense of nationalism even if perhaps it is not yet willing to accept the terms of formally becoming a nation,” said longtime Calexit leader Marcus Ruiz Evans.

          So strong are some state stances that Trump officials are occasionally forced to backtrack, as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt did the other day when he rescinded an earlier threat to Clean Air Act waivers that long have allowed California to pioneer anti-smog tactics.

          With California already acting very independent, is there a really a need for a risky action like formal secession?


     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

Friday, June 16, 2017




          Anyone guessing which of 2018’s campaigns for statewide office will be the hardest-fought would be wise to bet on the run for state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

          That’s the lesson from the springtime runoff elections for two local school board seats that were little noted outside Los Angeles. But inside Los Angeles, these contests between candidates backed by the city school district’s main teachers union and those funded by charter school advocates were among the fiercest the city has seen.

          For sure, they were most expensive local school board contests ever waged, with charter school advocates spending $9.7 million on the two seats and unions and their members and allies $5.2 million. Overall, a total of more than $15 million went into these races.

One non-resident donor, Netflix founder and Facebook board member Reed Hastings, a former member of the state Board of Education, by himself gave $5 million between September and May to the California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a conduit of funds for candidates who support expanding charter schools. Developer Eli Broad (the B in KB Homes), best known for donating to art museums, put up more than $400,000.

          These locally prominent and bitter races saw the charter school advocates win both, and take control of America’s second largest school district, also by far California’s biggest.

          It’s not that charter schools are rare in Los Angeles or California: Fully 1,254 operated in the state last year, serving 572,700 pupils at all grade levels. But charter advocates want more. They want more access to school tax dollars and the grounds of public schools. They want more political clout.

          Those issues will be central to the run for state schools superintendent next year, just as they were in 2014. Back then, incumbent Tom Torlakson eked out at narrow win (260,000 votes out of 6.07 million cast) over former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck.

          Tuck, back for a second try next year, said in 2014 he would try to give local school districts more control of curriculum, budgets and staffing, possible restructuring of the school day and a vast reduction of the public schools’ 2,300-page rule book. He said he might also work for changes in the rules of teacher tenure and retention, making seniority less important.

          Tuck has been a fan of charters for more than a decade. He ran a 15,000-student group of 17 previously failing schools awarded as a sort of consolation prize in the early 2000s to then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after a slate of “reform” candidates he backed failed to take over the local school board.

          Tuck boasted in 2014 of a 60 percent increase in the graduation rate at the public schools he managed and a 58 percent four-year graduation rate at the Green Dot charter schools he ran, at a time when that rate in the overall Los Angeles district was just 35 percent.

          Torlakson, a former assemblyman from the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco who in 2014 enjoyed massive union backing, with a virtual army of unionized teachers canvassing for him all over the state, will be termed out next year, unable to run again. The union-backed candidate this time will likely be Democatic Assemblyman Tony Thurmond of Richmond, who won reelection last year with almost 90 percent of the vote over Republican Clare Chiara.

          Under Torlakson, the desired policy of the California Teachers Assn. union to keep seniority as the main criterion for deciding which teachers to lay off in hard times has been retained. Tuck, meanwhile, said that rule makes it too difficult to get rid of bored or incompetent teachers. His stance is backed by a current legislative bill that would extend the probation period for new public school teachers from two to three years.

          But Tuck will insist, as he did four years ago, that he’s not anti-union. “Green Dot teachers were the first charter group with their own union contract,” he said then. “But I don’t like giving tenure after just two years. That’s too soon to really judge a teacher.”

          So far, neither of the two current candidates has campaigned much. That will change and money will pour into the contest, if this spring’s Los Angeles races are any kind of indicator.


     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




          The 1988 Proposition 103 has saved California consumers more than $100 billion in excessive auto insurance premiums since voters passed it by a slim 51-49 percent margin, probably the reason for an unrelenting legal onslaught by the insurance industry.

 No one has calculated the accompanying savings in prices for homeowners insurance and other property coverage, but they’ve also been substantial.

          The brainchild of longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader and his onetime California protégé Harvey Rosenfield, Prop. 103 is the rare initiative that keeps living up to its original promise – saving consumers and businesses about 20 percent of what they would otherwise spend on car insurance and property coverage.

          It consistently makes reality of the pledge that spurred insurance companies to spend $63 million trying to beat it at the polls.

          The latest corporate challenge to this most money-saving of all ballot
initiatives ever passed anywhere in America was beaten back the other day
by Rosenfield and a three-judge panel of Sacramento’s Third District state
Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.

          In this latest case, the state’s high court let stand a Court of Appeals
decision rebuffing the latest legal assault by industry kingpins including State Farm, Mercury, Allstate, Farmers and other insurance companies seeking to raise rates significantly above what Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones had ruled justifiable.

          So laughable did judges find the industry arguments for their putative
price increases that the three-judge appeals court panel considering the case called it “hocus pocus” and “smoke and mirrors – nothing more.” The companies sought about $250 million more than Jones allowed. His authority to oversee such rate increases also comes entirely from Proposition 103.

          “This latest challenge to 103 came after the state Supreme Court two
other times upheld 103 and its rules for rate approvals,” said Rosenfield,
who continues to fight the challenges every time they arise. The
decisions, he noted, were unanimous, some issued at times when Republicans held the court majority.

               But the industry never seems to give up its thus-far forlorn hope of going back to the higher-premium days before passage of 103. Before then, too, insurance commissioners were appointed by the governor, not elected.

          The latest case actually began in 2009, when Mercury Casualty tried
to raise rates by 8 percent. That increase would have included
compensation to the company for both non-insurance related advertising
expenses and reimbursement for almost $1 million in political contributions
and lobbying expenses. These are categories regulated companies 
almost always must pay from their profits.

          Instead of getting an increase, the case resulted in Jones imposing a
5.4 percent decrease in Mercury homeowner’s rates. Furious, Mercury
sued in a Sacramento County court, arguing it should be allowed to charge
whatever its executives say it needs. The firm claimed 103 deprives it both
 of the right to free speech and the right to make whatever profit it deems

          So far, those contentions have not flown in any court. But even as the
state’s high court was dismissing those claims for at least the third time,
Mercury’s allies in the Association of California Insurance Companies and
three other industry groups were filing a similar case in San Diego.

          Mercury also seeks in an Orange County case to avoid a $27
million fine for overcharging customers.

          “The insurance industry is inundating the courts with a continuous
barrage of frivolous lawsuits,” said Rosenfield. “They’re trying to win from
the courts what they lost at the ballot box almost 30 years ago.”

          He added that “Prop. 103 was a populist revolt that worked. It has
delivered much more money back to people than anyone could have
predicted back in 1988.”

          Along with the 1978 Prop. 13 and its limits on property tax
increases, Prop. 103 is a strong factor making California affordable when
its income, sales and business taxes are among the nation’s highest.
That’s why preserving this law against insurance company attacks is vital to the lifestyles of millions of people in this state, even if many of them have never heard of it.

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, June 12, 2017




          You’d better watch out, California’s second-largest provider of natural gas warned again this spring. Unless the notoriously leaky natural gas storage field at Aliso Canyon in northern Los Angeles is reopened soon, much of the state could experience electricity blackouts this summer.

          The admonition was almost identical to another Southern California Gas Co. warning issued almost precisely a year ago. If there’s not enough gas in its storage facilities, the company claimed both times, gas-fired power plants might not be able to operate at the hottest times of the summer, when electric use is at its peak.

          The prediction didn’t pan out last year, not by a long shot. And there’s no more reason to panic this summer than there was in 2016.

          For even though SoCalGas reserves were only at about 60 percent of their normal levels as this summer’s expected heat waves approached, there were no blackouts last year, when exactly the same situation prevailed.

          This is all about the big utility’s campaign to reopen Aliso Canyon, in spite of proposed state legislation that could keep it closed unless and until a comprehensive study deems the field can safely reopen and in spite of planned new state rules aimed to prevent more leaks on the scale of Aliso’s.

           The site leaked more than 100,000 metric tons of methane between Oct. 2015 and February 2016, forcing a months-long evacuation of hundreds of nearby homes and two elementary schools because of the malaise it caused.

          Local residents want the field permanently decommissioned. They are backed by Los Angeles city officials, who sued to keep it closed until the cause of the leak is known.

          When SoCalGas issued its alarm last year, it suckered officials like Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti into warning millions of Californians to ease off their gas and electric usage during the summer.

          This, of course, ignored the basic fact that natural gas usage is always far higher in winter than summer, because gas fuels so many space heaters, while electricity powers most air conditioning.

          In the end, there was no need for worry last year, and chances are strong it will be the same this year. It should have been obvious last year, as it is now, that the SoCalGas warning is a bunch of hooey, aimed primarily at reopening its Aliso Canyon profit center.

          In fact, the highest gas use of the last 10 years in the region served by Aliso Canyon came not during any summer, but in the winter of 2008, when natural gas demand in Southern California reached 4.9 billion cubic feet per day. Even that quantity was well below the 5.7 billion cubic feet arriving daily from incoming pipelines and other local storage facilities.

          When the usual summertime electric use crunches came during heat waves in late July and early August of last year, deliveries from SoCalGas never even reached 4 billion cubic feet per day, far below the company’s capacity without Aliso. There were no blackouts and major media didn’t even bother reporting on ultra-high electric usage on the peak days.

          Nevertheless, SoCalGas allies like the Orange County Business Council and the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce repeated the company’s empty springtime warnings in several letters to the editor and op-eds. One even compared the potential for blackouts to San Francisco’s widespread April blackout. Never mind that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. blamed that one on a facility fire, not on any shortage of fuel for power plants.

          So far, there is one major change from last year: no major officials or agencies are taking up the latest cry from SoCalGas.

          Essentially, SoCalGas lied about the blackout danger last year, an effort consumer advocates labeled “blackout blackmail.” The same phrase can be applied this year, too, as big utilities continue squandering the public trust they carefully built by supplying energy reliably through the 20th Century.

     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




          Words matter, we often hear in these days of a President notorious for loose verbiage.

          They also matter in the California Penal Code, where the label “violent” is not applied to many crimes most people with common sense would unquestionably define as violent. Some examples: assault with a deadly weapon, soliciting murder, elder and child abuse, arson, human trafficking, plus some forms of rape and forced sodomy.

          That word “violent,” or in this case “non-violent” matters more than ever since the last year’s passage of Proposition 57, a pet project of Gov. Jerry Brown.

Under this law, convicts with crimes not legally defined as violent can win early paroles in exchange for certain achievements (like earning college degrees) and good behavior. Brown spent tens of millions of his own campaign dollars to pass this measure by a strong 64-36 percent margin.

          Part of the campaign for passage was a pledge by state legislators to push through changes in the definitions of many crimes.

          Some of those lawmakers did follow through and attempt this during the spring. But the last in a series of bills aiming to expand the list of crimes labeled violent died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in late May. That one, a bipartisan measure sponsored by Democratic committee chair Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Republican Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore, aimed to classify all rapes and human trafficking as violent crimes.

          But its price tag proved too heavy for the Democratic majority of the committee, even if it looks puny next to many other appropriations: Keeping in custody the approximately 120 current prisoners who could have been affected by this bill would have cost $1 million a year, not much in a budget where billions often seem to be tossed around willy-nilly.

          No one knows how defeat of efforts to expand the legal list of violent offenses will affect actual crime in the streets.

          Brown contended during the campaign that “non-violent prisoners…can change their thinking,” but offered no clue how state parole panels might be able to tell when that has genuinely happened.

          What is known is that when prison realignment became official state policy in 2011, there was an immediate 41 percent drop in new prison admissions over the first eight months, with more than 24,000 inmates moved from overcrowded state prisons to county jails during the first 15 months.

          The claim from Brown’s administration and other advocates of eased parole is that violent crimes like murder and rape have not risen under this program, and therefore are not likely to jump under Proposition 57.

          One report presented to Orange County supervisors last year claimed that one-fourth of the first 8,000 felons released into the county under realignment had been convicted of another crime in the year after their discharge. That rate just about matched prior recidivism, which some took to mean that realignment and the 2014 Proposition’s 47’s reclassification of many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors did not increase crime.

          But at the same time, property crimes in big cities rose sharply. In San Francisco, car burglaries, theft and other property crimes rose by 667 cases per 100,000 population from the previous year. There were similar increases in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

          That was one reason expanding the Penal Code’s list of violent crimes was so important to many in law enforcement.

          Because so many plainly violent crimes are not legally classified that way, the state’s Association of Deputy District Attorneys has called Proposition 57 “a full-fledged assault on public safety,” claiming it will allow parole boards to ignore sentencing enhancements for prior offenses like some forms of rape and soliciting killings.

          It’s too early to know whether that prediction is coming true, but there’s little doubt changes in the list of formally violent crimes are vitally needed. The fact that lawmakers so far refuse to make those changes marks just one more set of short-sighted choices by a Legislature where such decisions happen frequently.


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

Monday, June 5, 2017




          The hype for Kamala Harris as a possible presidential candidate began almost from the moment she won election to the U.S. Senate last fall, and so far she’s done little to halt it other than saying pro forma that she hasn’t considered the possibility.

          At 52, she’s considerably younger than other Democrats now running “non-campaigns” for the nation’s highest office. She makes speeches to high-profile audiences and appears on talk shows regularly. Her office cranks out statements and press releases the moment anything of significance happens in the nation or world.

          There are also parallels to Barack Obama, another candidate with a somewhat unusual first name.

          Harris’ first name has never hurt her politically, just as it didn’t harm Obama. Like Obama, too, if she runs for President in 2020, Harris will have served less than four years in the Senate.

          Like Obama, the first black man elected to the Senate from Illinois, Harris is the first black person elected to the Senate from California. Her mixed heritage also makes her the first Indian-American and first Jamaican-American elected to the Senate anywhere.

          Her supporters could argue credibly that Harris has considerably more qualifications for the nation’s highest office than Obama did before his election. She spent more than a decade as a deputy district attorney, then won election as San Francisco’s top prosecutor, ousting the incumbent ultra-liberal Terence Hallinan. Almost immediately, the felony conviction rate in her city rose, from 52 percent in 2003 to 67 percent in 2006.

          At the same time, she risked her political future by refusing to seek the death penalty against the killer of a local policeman, the murderer now serving a life term. But Harris critics said only four out of every 100 felony convictions in San Francisco during her tenure resulted in a prison term.

          That may have been one reason why, in a Democrat-dominated state, she could only narrowly win the 2010 statewide race for attorney general over former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. The outcome of that vote wasn’t known until about a month after Election Day.

          But Harris had a much easier time getting reelected in 2014 and then moved up smoothly to the Senate last year. Part of that was her very early candidacy, which began the moment former Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement in early 2015. Harris’ early fundraising pretty much deflated Democratic opposition.

          She’s taking a very different approach to the 2020 presidential race, which has begun in fact, even if it’s not yet formal. “I don’t know why my name is in that context,” she told one interviewer. “I’m focused on being the junior senator for California and very proud to be representing our beautiful state.”

          All those candidate-like appearances are one reason her name is out. She’s been on panels at think tanks with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other top Democrats. She gave the commencement speech at her alma mater in Washington, D.C., Howard University. Her national TV appearances are carefully watched by potential campaign donors.

          There’s also the fact that California will vote far earlier in 2020 than it has in the last few elections, possibly earlier than ever. That could give Harris, as a Californian well known to California Democrats, a huge leg up in the nomination process. It has been 21 years since a Californian made a serious bid for President and more than 32 since a Californian actually won the office.

          So why should Harris wait, even though, at 52, in theory she has a lot of time? It’s unlikely she would have anywhere near as vulnerable a potential Republican opponent in any later election than the next one. No President has ever had start-of-term job approval ratings as low as Donald Trump’s. Very few have heard loud calls for impeachment from their first month in office, as Trump has.

          Yes, patience is a virtue. But in politics, so is opportunism. And the ambitious Kamala Harris may never see a better opportunity than she has right now.

    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




          Just in case anyone wonders what the real issue was in the very close race between Eric Bauman and Kimberly Ellis over who would become the next chairperson of the California Democratic Party, it was money.

          No, not salary or other personal emoluments, although Bauman – the party’s longtime Los Angeles County leader – has received his share of payments from ballot initiative campaigns. This was really about who would control the purse strings of the nation’s most successful state party and thus decide who gets its many millions of laundered dollars in each election cycle.

          It’s all because the year-2000 Proposition 34 made party heads in California the state’s most powerful unpublicized political kingmakers, allowing huge contributions to party committees which then parcel funds out where they like. It’s a way for donors to circumvent campaign donation limits with identities partially concealed. This is money laundering, plain, simple and also legal.

          The current dicey system is now sure to continue at least another two years, too, as state legislators (about two-thirds of them Democrats) the other day killed a bill making gifts to political parties subject to the same limits imposed on donations to candidates.

          In 2014, for example, the state Democratic Party passed out $10.4 million, while also influencing where the party’s many county central committees funneled their millions. Republicans, meanwhile, doled out just a little more than half as much as Democrats, as billionaires, big unions and big business donors realize the GOP has little chance to retake control of state government anytime soon.

          The biggest recipients of party money that year included Democrat Luis Chavez, ranked No. 1 with $2.35 million in party money, who lost a tight Hanford/Fresno-area state Senate race to Republican Andy Vidak, the No. 5-ranked recipient of party money with $2.1 million. Over the years, the bigger-money recipients in close races have usually won.

          Yes, ideology also had a lot to do with the extremely close Bauman-Ellis contest, where establishment candidate Bauman eked out a 60-vote win over Richmond political organizer Ellis. (It’s sign of California’s times that Bauman, an openly gay man favoring gun controls, easy access to abortions and strong environmental protections, was considered the more conservative candidate.)

          This was essentially a re-run of last year’s Hillary Clinton-Bernard Sanders primary election contest, where the liberal feminist Clinton was not liberal enough for many Democrats. Ellis, a Sanders supporter, benefited from that faction’s strong turnouts at district meetings where many party convention delegates are chosen. Weeks after the state party convention, she still had not conceded the outcome of the convention vote.

          Bauman’s apparent win probably will see many more moderate Democrats get party backing and money than if Ellis had won. It means Sanders backers will at least have to bide their time before making another try at taking over the state party and being able to funnel party cash to ultra-liberals.

          But the Legislature’s refusal to clean up the current system is what really cries out for change. On the Republican side, for example, billionaire Charles Munger in 2014 gave $3.3 million to the party, with the ability to request privately where it would end up. This means there is no public record of who benefited from his largesse, while there would be if he’d given directly to candidates. Essentially, Munger and other big donors like the Service Employees International Union ($2.3 million), California Teachers Assn. ($676,000), Philip Morris USA and affiliates ($650,000) and PG&E Corp. ($526,000) can give to whoever they like without anyone holding the eventual winners’ feet to the fire over where they’re getting their funds and whether they later vote to benefit their benefactors.

          Among last year’s biggest donors were Indian casinos, utilities and healthcare companies, each interest having a huge stake in the makeup of the Legislature. As in 2014, there was no public accounting last year of where their money went.

          This disgraceful system is a major legacy of former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, recalled in 2003 partly because of his own political fund-raising practices. Since Prop. 34 passed, one tally shows, the state Democratic Party has spent fully $401 million on candidates and campaigns.

          With that kind of money and commensurate influence at stake, it’s no wonder this spring’s contest to head that party was so hotly contested.  

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