Monday, September 25, 2017




           The only time California ceded control of its power supply to out-of-state interests, it produced utter disaster: an electricity crunch that saw blackouts and brownouts proliferate in 2000 and 2001, while the fortunes and reputations of every politician involved nosedived.

          A very similar, repeat disaster is what Gov. Jerry Brown risked this fall, pushing a last-minute legislative bill aiming to put California’s electric grid under the control of a Western regional agency. The new outfit could have been controlled either by five much smaller states or by the Berkshire Hathaway investment firm of Omaha-based Warren Buffett, which in recent years has bought up many Western power plants, transmission lines and moderate-sized electric utilities.

          Not to worry, said Brown and his top aides. This was going to be hunky dory. “The goal of regionalizing the grid,” Brown press secretary Evan Westrup told a reporter, “is to lower consumer costs and greenhouse gas emissions and improve electricity reliability and renewable energy.” It’s been hashed out for years, he said, even though the plan was pushed with minimum legal notice during the 2017 Legislative session’s final week.

          In short, the Brown folks said, “Trust us.” It’s a good thing not many Californians did.

          The last time Californians took the word of their governor on something like this came in 1998, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson claimed virtually all power customers would save money and enjoy more reliability if electricity were deregulated and out-of-state companies allowed to buy up landmark power plants. These belonged for decades to California utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

          The utilities loved deregulation, just like they do Brown’s regional grid idea: Back then, their plants were too old to be counted any longer among capital investments on which their rates and profits are largely based. Instead of nothing, they suddenly could get big money by selling most of these.

          So California deregulated, and the new owners of generating plants here began selling some power out of state. It was quickly turned around at highly inflated prices and sent back to California in largely-bogus paper transactions that raised prices and created shortages without moving a single electron.

          The same sort of manipulation was possible under the new Brown plan, carried in the Legislature by Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena.

       Look out: This plan will probably be back next year.

       The idea is to sell surplus California solar energy out of state, while bringing in wind power from places like Wyoming. The problem with these putative deals is that they most likely can be managed just like deregulation-era deals. Those transactions brought criminal convictions against executives of firms like Enron, the Williams Companies and others which sometimes boasted of “robbing grandma” in California. It’s a mystery why a self-styled student of history like Brown believes history can’t repeat itself. Have folks become less greedy?

          Then there are California’s high environmental goals: 50 percent of the state’s power must come from renewable sources by 2030 and even more by 2050. No one knows if the planned new setup could have subverted these goals.

          But the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that multi-state regional energy agreements fall under the aegis of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So FERC – completely impotent during the California energy crunch and now controlled by the anti-environmentalist President Trump – could wind up managing California power and muting its emphasis on wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy, all renewable sources.

          Critics worried that Wyoming, America’s No. 1 producer of carbon-rich coal, could get authority over significant amounts of energy used in California. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead made it clear last year that he’s not concerned about California priorities.

          “Wyoming has a different perspective than California does,” he told a reporter.

          The last time California tinkered so significantly with its energy supply, it contributed to the destruction of Wilson’s reputation and helped lead to the recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis, who proved unable to contend with what he termed “out of state buccaneers” bilking Californians for billions of dollars.

          It remains a mystery why Brown risked a repeat, but he did and might again soon, with both him and the rest of California bailed out for now only by very loud protests.


     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 attention given putative new laws passed in the waning moments of this year’s legislative session in Sacramento has gone to items like a “sanctuary state” compromise making California safer for non-criminal undocumented immigrants and measures to move the state’s next presidential primary up into early March.

          But the one bill with the most potential to improve this state’s politics is the long-sought “Disclose Act,” which – if Gov. Brown signs it before an Oct. 15 deadline – could do more than any modern measure to clean up California’s money-dominated initiative process.

          This bill “will fundamentally change how campaign financing is disclosed,” said its latest sponsor, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, the No. 2-ranking Democrat in the Legislature’s lower house.

          It just might do that. The bill requires ads for ballot propositions and independent expenditure ads for and against candidates to identify their top three funders, with no one able to hide behind phony names like “Californians for Purity,” or anything of that sort. The idea is to identify people and organizations actually trying to exert influence, possibly causing some to downsize their contributions if they don’t want to be exposed as leading donors.

          If Brown signs it, this will let voters know exactly who is trying to influence their decisions. From the “who,” it’s usually only a short distance to discern the “why,” which could then see voters cast their most educated ballots ever. In short, this proposed law could make California politics not only more transparent than ever before, but also might go far toward cleaning up the state’s special-interest-driven politics.

          Voters will know, for example, when industrialist Eli Broad, who has financed many charter school backers in local elections, is at work. They’ll also know when teachers unions – which often oppose charter schools – are the biggest supporters of candidates aiming to feather the nests of their members.

          Brown has long claimed to favor transparency in politics and government, but has not always acted accordingly. Yes, he helped write the state’s Political Reform Act, passed as an initiative in 1974 while he ran for governor for the first time. That measure not only created the Fair Political Practices Commission, which polices campaign spending, but also imposed spending limits (later tossed by the courts), restricted what lobbyists can give to officials and banned anonymous campaign donations of more than $100.

          But lately Brown has been secretive about some of his communications with state officials on utility rate cases and other big-money issues. With only about a year left in office, if he wants to be remembered as a good-government advocate, rather than a transparency obstacle, he must sign the Disclose Act. Unlike his handling of the sanctuary state bill, Brown has not yet indicated whether he’ll sign or veto this one. His decision here will reveal a lot about his true priorities – whether he favors voters and consumers or the big donors who often want anonymity.

          It’s true the measure could have been better than it is. It could have demanded that disclosures of donors be made in print equal in size to the largest anywhere else in an ad. Instead, the meaning of the vague words “clearly and prominently,” will no doubt be litigated for years if Brown signs.

          Similarly, the original goals of this plan were to expose the largest contributors to candidates. That went by the boards during the legislative process, but plenty of major improvements remain.

          What’s more, legislative passage of the Disclose Act was pretty bipartisan, with every Assembly Democrat who voted saying yes and five Republicans from swing districts joining them.

      Said Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign, who has pushed the Disclose Act for almost a decade, “We’ve never been closer, anywhere in the country, to shining a light on dark money by making it illegal for voters to be misled about who is truly paying for ballot measure ads..”

      It’s up to Brown now, and what he does on arguably the most important bill to pass the Legislature in years will go a long way toward defining how he’ll be remembered.

    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, September 18, 2017




Few California administrations have been plagued with as much corruption as Gov. Jerry Brown’s current governing cadre, with well-documented, possibly illegal manipulations by several major agencies run by his appointees.

That's why Brown's double standards were so plainly exposed the other day when he blasted the lone state agency where Republicans have a significant voice, the tax collecting Board of Equalization. Brown lambasted "inappropriate actions by the board" that render it unable to perform many of its duties. 

          That board’s elected membership, representing four large districts covering the entire state, is half Republican, half Democratic. Democratic state Controller Betty Yee, elected statewide, holds the decisive vote, but the GOP members – former legislators George Runner of Lancaster and Dianne Harkey of Dana Point – have plenty to say about the board’s operations.

          The board is under fire these days after an audit by the Brown-controlled state Department of Finance found members regularly assigned employees to help board members with public events that could promote them in their districts. Even tax auditors were sometimes used at self-serving events for things like crowd control or “parking lot duty.”

          Brown came down hard on the board. He suspended its ability to approve new contracts, hires and promotions, giving these functions to another state department. And he sought action from the Legislature to correct other “serious problems.”

          That stands in stark contrast to the governor’s mild approach after the highly irregular activities of perhaps the two most powerful state agencies – the Public Utilities and Energy commissions – were exposed while those bodies are controlled by Brown appointees.

          For example, he did nothing when the Energy Commission in 2014 awarded of tens of millions of dollars in grants to build hydrogen refueling stations for the new generation of H2-powered cars to a brand new company headed by a onetime academic who only months earlier drew the map for where those stations would go and instructed Energy Commission employees on how to award grants.

          Instead of firing the commission chairman who furthered this obvious, cronyist conflict of interest, Brown reappointed him to a new term.

          It was much the same at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). When it emerged that the former commission president met secretly with utility executives and privately decided the outcome of multi-billion-dollar cases, Brown complimented that man on “getting things done” and allowed him to serve out his term without criticism.

          While media exposed many cases of the PUC favoring the companies it regulates over their customers, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup insists that he acted, when he actually did nothing beyond signing a thus-far insignificant, watered-down package of “reform” bills last fall. These changed almost nothing about the commission’s operation. Brown was mute even when the PUC spent more than $10 million retaining a criminal defense team to help conceal or downplay its alleged illegal actions. He made no move to truncate any of its authority or that of the Energy Commission.

          The sums of money involved in questionable actions by these two commissions dwarf anything the Board of Equalization (BoE) spent wrongfully. Irregular-seeming PUC decisions have cost consumers multiple billions of dollars in recent years, while grants seeming to involve several forms of favoritism by the Energy Commission amount to many tens of millions. The most commonly cited alleged misdeed by the BoE cost less than $200,000, paltry by comparison.

          One big difference between the BoE and the other agencies here, besides the magnitude of their alleged actions, is that Brown appointed no one on the BoE, but did name every member of the other panels.

          It’s not just Brown who favors the Democrat-dominated agencies over the only one with significant GOP membership. When PUC presidents appear before legislative committees, hearings usually become love-fests, no matter how egregious recent PUC decisions have been.

          But when legislators hauled BoE members and staffers in for hearings this spring, they wound up proposing changes to reduce the ability of board members to use agency staff for anything but official duties.

          The responses of Brown and major lawmakers to all this demonstrate clearly the double-standard operating in California government – appointed Democrats can get away with almost anything so long as they also promote policies favored by party mates who put them in their current, powerful jobs.


     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




No one in American public life has more disdain for experts and their expertise than President Donald Trump. And yet…there he was in late August, on the south portico of the White House (a “dump,” he had called it a week earlier) eyeing a near-total eclipse of the sun without special glasses.

Similarly, there was Trump four days after Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston with unprecedented (for that city) flooding, seeking photo opportunities where he could find them. The same thing in Florida after Hurricane Irma, the strongest ever to hit that state.

What do those appearances have to do with scientists and their expertise? Trump was only on his back porch to view the eclipse because astronomers forecast decades earlier that there would be one at the precise moment he emerged from the Oval Office to join his wife (who wore glasses recommended by experts) and his young son (who did not).

It turned out science was right – to the precise second.

It was similar in Texas. Experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted decades ago that a gigantic flood could occur in and around Houston, which they called a “huge city built on a very flat flood plain.” When it happened, Trump responded without mentioning those very accurate experts.

Other scientists for years have warned that hurricanes striking America will be increasingly severe because of the climate change roiling weather patterns everywhere on earth. Trump disdained that prediction, cut the budget of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then – when it came true – milked the scene for all the positive publicity he could.

Just a week or so before Harvey, Trump revoked a Barack Obama-era regulation increasing standards for post-flood reconstruction that uses federal money. Among other items, the rule called for such construction to be elevated beyond the reach of possible flood waters. Insisting he knows more than the experts who pushed Obama for that regulation, Trump called it a “job killer.”

“No longer,” he said, “will there be one job-killing delay after another.” But experts in Houston during the height of Harvey warned that rebuilding a city of hodgepodge zoning and disorganized building codes without requiring changes like higher foundations would invite a repeat catastrophe that could waste billions of tax dollars.

Trump, as usual, ignored the experts, just like he did while pulling America out of the Paris climate change accord. Like many skeptics with more faith in their unfounded opinions than in scientific research, he criticizes experts if they’re occasionally wrong, but never credits them on the far-more-frequent occasions when they are precisely on the mark, as with the eclipse.

It’s part of an anti-intellectual trend that also sees millions of Americans believing higher education moves the country in the “wrong direction.” A survey released the other day by the Public Policy Institute of California, for example, found 72 percent of the state’s Republicans believe universities are a negative influence. Forty percent of Democrats felt the same.

A similar national poll by Florida’s Pew Research Center found 58 percent of Republicans and voters who lean GOP believe colleges and universities have a negative effect, while 72 percent of Democrats believe the opposite.

Trump’s base voters, then, share his extreme skepticism of experts and science, especially when those experts – mostly academics – recommend measures that might tap their wallets.

California is fortunate such skeptics do not control policy here. For Californians must respond to warnings about unreinforced construction that could cause myriad deaths and many billions of dollars in property damage in a very large earthquake. Other experts, meanwhile, warn such a quake is long overdue on the San Andreas Fault, which runs through or near California’s largest population centers.

Because California doesn’t buy into the current trend to skepticism, programs are underway around the state to retrofit older buildings, roads and bridges. Nature will decide whether those programs are comprehensive or quick enough to mitigate disasters.

The bottom line: As long as Trump’s base agrees with him that science means less than their own opinions, he will only take advantage of  expertise that’s convenient and cheap to follow up on. As Houston and Florida demonstrated, this will very likely mean a lot of unnecessary future deaths and damage.


     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, September 11, 2017




          Californians interested in keeping this state’s toughest-in-the-world standards for automotive pollution heaved a sigh of relief when the federal Environmental Protection Agency in early August reversed an earlier decision to delay imposition of new national ozone standards for at least a year.

          That move came after California and 15 other states sued to force EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to back down, and he did before his action could take hold. Pruitt’s reaction also gave rise to optimism among defenders of several other California laws threatened by a variety of officials named by President Trump.

          But now it seems such optimism may have been premature. For only weeks after his turnabout on new ozone limits mandated under ex-President Barack Obama, Pruitt began a new process that could greatly increase automotive smog.

          He opened a 45-day public comment period on a proposed rewrite of standards for carbon emissions and other kinds of greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks, aiming to ease the pollution-controlling tasks of both carmakers and oil companies.

          Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, frequently sided in his prior job with oil companies and others in lawsuits aiming to eliminate some EPA rules. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is now seeking documents in an effort to determine whether Pruitt had actual conflicts of interest in several actions he’s lately taken that achieve goals of the lawsuits he formerly pursued against his current agency.

          “We are moving forward with an open and robust review of emissions standards,” Pruitt said as he began the public comment period during which anyone can react to proposed changes.

          The effect of the changes Pruitt seeks in corporate average fuel economy standards (often called CAFÉ standards) would cause new emissions produced in the other 49 states to far overbalance cutbacks in greenhouse gases made under California rules.

          It would mark a return to pre-2000s days when there were major differences between cars sold in California and what were known as “49-state cars.” Gradually, as other states adopted California’s rules, many of those differences had disappeared before Pruitt took over.

          He has backed off early efforts to eliminate the California waiver provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, the law that has let this state maintain tougher pollution standards than the rest of America since then-President Richard Nixon signed it 47 years ago.

          Current federal standards adopted under Obama created an emphasis on gas/electric hybrids and electric- and hydrogen-powered cars.

          Not surprisingly, the auto industry likes Pruitt’s latest move, which could result in revoking or greatly revising today’s standards everywhere but in California. Said Mitch Bainwol, head of the Auto Alliance group of carmakers, “The administration is fulfilling its commitment to reinstate midterm evaluation of future fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.”

          Both environmental and consumer advocacy groups blasted the EPA action. “EPA is bringing back questions that have already been asked and answered,” said a statement from Consumers Union, parent of the Consumer Reports magazine. The group said polls show 90 percent of Americans want even better fuel efficiency than offered by today’s new cars.

          A scaling back of today’s rules would place America far behind several other countries in seeking reduced dependency on oil and gasoline. Germany and France, for example, have laws that will ban all sales of gas-powered cars within the next two to three decades.

          A anti-smog rollback could also threaten California-based electric car companies like Tesla and Faraday, as well as making white elephants of the statewide string of hydrogen refueling stations now being partially financed by gasoline taxes via the state Energy Commission.

          It all creates a very uncertain future for California’s smog standards, which have dramatically improved the state’s air quality over the last half century.

          If the EPA attempts to backtrack on the existing standards, it’s almost certain California and many other states would sue to block the move. But with a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by conservative Republicans, there’s a strong possibility the Trump administration would prevail.

    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




          It doesn’t seem that way now, with one hurricane after another battering the East and Gulf coasts, shutting down oil refineries, flooding downtowns and residential neighborhoods alike and inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damages. But California remains the most disaster-prone state in America.

          That’s why it behooves Californians in Congress to get behind every hurricane aid package they can this fall. Their own districts may be next. It’s not a matter of if California will be struck by another major earthquake, but when. It’s not a matter of if wildfires will consume homes and businesses; they do it every year and 2017 is no exception.

          California also could see massive floods if some flawed dams here fail during the next season of heavy rain.

          The costs of Hurricane Irma have not yet been totted up, but Harvey’s toll is pretty well known: at least $180 billion in damage, and likely a final tally about twice that.

          Insurance companies will cover at lot of this, but despite what we often hear, Texans are not so different from Californians: We often vote differently, but we share a tendency to be under-insured for catastrophe. So while nowhere near half of Californians living in known earthquake fault zones have quake insurance because they feel prices and deductibles are too high, it’s the much the same with Texans living in flood plains in and around cities like Houston, Port Arthur and Beaumont: well over half lack flood insurance.

          This means the federal government must step in. President Trump, knowing how basic Texas and Florida are to his political fortunes, has pushed hard for bigly (as he might put it) aid to hurricane victims. No Californian voted against the initial Harvey aid package approved by Congress, but Irma aid remains an unknown.

Any Californian who votes against even part of it would be a shortsighted fool, the way Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have been revealed as hypocrites for opposing aid after the devastating East Coast Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

          No sooner did Cruz, for one, demand big-dollar help for Texas after Harvey than fellow Republican Chris Christie, the embattled governor of New Jersey, lambasted him for pushing double standards because of his vote against post-Sandy aid. Cruz called that bill a “Christmas tree” of unrelated boondoggles, but the Congressional Research Office found virtually all its money went to genuine reconstruction or prevention projects.

          It’s also true that only one Texas Republican in the House voted for Sandy aid. So there is some doubt their GOP friends from areas hit by Sandy will be very generous with Texans in upcoming rounds of disaster funding.

          Now fast forward to the next big California quake. It’s highly possible whoever is President then will be far less sympathetic to distraught Californians than former President Bill Clinton was in 1994, after the last major urban temblor struck California. Clinton produced more than $10 billion in federal aid, setting up many offices for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to dispense checks for reconstruction and prevention of future damage via retrofits securing homes to their foundations. More than 100,000 homeowners got checks for $10,000 or more.

          If – rather, when – the truly Big One of about 8.0 on the Richter Scale strikes along the San Andreas Fault, damages will dwarf what any hurricane can do. Maybe that’s why none of the eight California Republicans in the House who voted no on helping Sandy’s victims opposed post-Harvey assistance. (All Democrats voting were on the yes side both times.)

          Those eight include several from quake-prone areas, like Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Paul Cook of Yucca Valley and Darrell Issa of Vista. Others, like Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Jeff Denham of Turlock are already targets for other reasons and need no more trouble.

          The bottom line: Any Californians opposing aid to hurricane victims might also be casting a virtual vote against relief that will be desperately needed in California’s future. Why would any of those folks want to be so short-sighted, no matter how tight-fisted they are on other federal spending? Then again, some of them have done it before.


     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