Friday, December 29, 2017




          The outcry would be enormous if large numbers of farmers began using Zyklon B as a pesticide on fruits and vegetables. That was the nerve gas Nazi Germany used to execute six million Jews and eight million other victims in their notorious death camps.

          But there was little outcry except from environmentalists when the chief of President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency late in 2017 decided to let U.S. farms continue using another nerve gas invented by the Nazis on crops as diverse as nuts, apples, broccoli, melons, citrus, corn and soybeans. German scientists didn’t invent the organophosphate chemical chlorpyrifos as a pesticide; rather they used it to gas Jews, gypsies and others they crammed into the airtight rear areas of mobile vans, a total of more than half a million persons.

          Trump is not alone in allowing manufacturers (primarily the Dow Chemical Co.) to keep selling the noxious substance to farmers and others. In fact, ex-President Barack Obama’s EPA didn’t move to prevent use of chlorpyrifos (pronounced klawr-peer-uh-fos). Obama’s EPA, though, did not claim the evidence against the substance was “insufficient” to declare it a health hazard, as current EPA head Scott Pruitt did.

          But the EPA under Obama did drag its feet, so much that in a 2015 hearing of the Ninth Circuit federal Court of Appeals, longtime appellate Judge Wallace Tashima scolded an EPA lawyer about the eight years it had by then taken the agency to work on a possible chlorpyrifos ban. “I think this is a pretty miserable record,” Tashima opined.

          The upshot is that chemical companies, not objective scientists, appear to control America’s pesticide regulation, no matter who is president.

          That became clear when a scientific panel of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment last month voted unanimously to place the chemical on the list of dangerous substances under the 1986 Proposition 65. The panel included professors from UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis and Stanford, along with a scientist from the pharmaceutical firm Genentech.

Proposition 65 hazard warnings usually are found on gasoline pumps and tanker trucks, not grocery shelves.     But California farms now use more than 1 million pounds of chlorpyrifos yearly, about one-fourth of the national total, even if it is at lower concentrations than what Nazi executioners employed. Just last May, 50 farm workers exposed to its spraying near Bakersfield immediately suffered symptoms like vomiting, nausea and fainting.

          A 2016 EPA report found there are no safe uses of chlorpyrifos. All food exposure, the study said, is unsafe and there is no safe level in drinking water. The chemical is found at unsafe levels in schools, homes and widespread communities in agricultural areas like the Central Valley. In fields, unsafe levels continue 18 days after spraying.

          Ironically, this chemical also puts the lie to the old saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” For apples are one of the crops where chlorpyrifos is most commonly used. In California, it is used most heavily in Kern, Tulare and Monterey counties.

          A detailed 2016 study by Project TENDR, an independent group of academic scientists, found “Children in America…are at an unacceptably high risk of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system, including autism, intellectual disabilities and…behavioral disabilities.” The pesticide puts children at risk for lower IQ, attention deficit disorders and childhood tremors, among other problems.

          Instead of using it, farmers could fight insect pests with botanically-sourced pesticides including cinnamon oil and garlic oil. State officials report some have switched to another family of insecticides known as neonicitinoids. One problem: These substances threaten bees, even if they are easier on people.

          But no one has to make changes for now because of the Pruitt ruling. So children not only in California, but nationwide, may be endangered by eating foods their parents have good reason to believe healthy. That’s in part because studies show toxicity even at very low concentrations.

          The bottom line: Obama may have been slow dealing with the chlorpyrifos problem. But Trump and his appointee Pruitt make it clear they don’t even see a problem.

          k     -30-       
     Email Thomas Elias at He is the author of the book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. For more Elias columns, go to





          The California Public Utilities Commission giveth, but the same benighted agency much more often taketh away. At least from consumers.

          In December, this five-member commission for the first time in many years stood up for utility customers by refusing to let the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. dun its customers for the costs of negligence in the leadup to massively destructive fires in 2007. At almost the same time, though, commissioners scheduled a vote that could allow the state’s three big privately-owned utilities to continue their regional monopolies almost unabated for at least another year.

          The vote, set for the PUC’s first 2018 meeting on Jan. 11, would put at least a temporary halt to the establishment and/or expansion of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs around the state. These programs allow cities or counties to let electricity customers choose whether to stick with the existing utilities or switch to a locally-run public entity that buys power from generating companies at the source and brings it to customers via utility company lines.

          Nonprofit CCA prices are generally lower than those of the big for-profit utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and SDG&E. They also use more renewable energy.

          Utilities see CCAs as a serious threat. Just how serious was evidenced when PG&E spent more than $46 million of its shareholders’ money pushing the unsuccessful 2010 Proposition 16 to halt almost all CCAs, only to see it lose badly even though opponents spent less than .02 percent as much as PG&E.

          CCAs currently operate in places as diverse as Sonoma County, Lancaster, Richmond and Marin County. The biggest of all figures to be one in Los Angeles County, where residents and businesses in all unincorporated areas can now participate and 82 cities within the county can opt in if they choose. There is strong interest in CCAs from Ventura County, many of its cities, and the city of San Diego, plus pending CCAs in San Jose and several other cities. So it’s easy to see why the big utilities feel imperiled.

          But if the PUC passes its proposed resolution on Jan. 11, much of that will halt for at least a year and maybe longer.

          The resolution, reportedly proposed at the behest of the big, investor-owned utilities, forces CCAs to make arrangements to keep enough power for peak energy moments like record-hot summer days available at all times. They would also have to dovetail their planning with a schedule pre-set by the commission, which regulates energy prices and policy, transportation rates and some parts of cell phone and water policy.

          So instead of opening or taking on new service areas and customers all through 2018, as many had planned, most CCAs would have to wait at least until 2019 to expand, if the big existing utilities don’t come up with some new tactic to delay them further.

          The proposed resolution infuriated some cities that had planned to get aboard existing CCAs soon, hoping to take advantage of the CCAs’ emphasis on renewable energy sources to green up their power supply quickly. The resolution, said Kevin McKeown, a Santa Monica city councilman and board member of the Los Angeles County CCA, “appears to be a stealth attempt…to freeze new local Community Choice programs, including ours, for at least a year. Santa Monica will oppose this, fighting for cleaner and cheaper electricity for our residents and businesses by all means possible.”

          He called for the PUC to pull “this regressive item off its…agenda.”

          McKeown is correct about the stealth quality of the planned new restriction on CCAs. While a PUC press release underlines a claim that CCAs applying to start before last Dec. 8 would not be affected by the resolution, buried on Page 13 of the document itself is a stipulation saying it does in fact cover “expanding” CCAs. That provision would prevent existing CCAs from recruiting new cities, counties and customers for a year or more.

          The bottom line: This planned new regulation is a plain attempt by the PUC to favor the big private utilities with which it has been documented to collude in the past over the consumers those companies frequently seek to soak.

     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, December 22, 2017




          If supporters of several proposed initiatives now in the process of gathering signatures get their way, California voters may soon see an unprecedented opportunity to cast extremely selfish ballots.

          The most purely selfish of these were put forward by Lee Olson, a previously unpublicized figure in the Orange County city of Huntington Beach.

          Three proposals from Olson are now authorized to circulate, although it’s unclear whether they will get much financial support. If all should reach the November ballot, they will provide a litmus test of whether Californians really mean it when they proclaim to pollsters that they support more education funding, good roads and better academic quality in public schools.

          One planned Olson initiative exempts Californians with no children enrolled in public schools from paying any taxes, fees and other charges for public education. If it makes the ballot, this would give millions of the state’s senior citizens and parents of private or parochial school students a chance to vote themselves thousands of dollars in personal savings – at the expense of the millions of students enrolled in public schools, colleges and universities.

          This could cost the state many billions of dollars, and no one has any idea how that funding might be replaced. It would likely be the most selfish proposition ever placed on a California ballot.

          Not far behind is another Olson proposal to exempt anyone over 55 years old from paying state or local income and property taxes and property fees. It doesn’t quite go so far as to let seniors off the hook for homeowner association fees in condominiums and other developments that require them. But this one would decimate spending for schools (again) and fire and police departments, plus road and sewage repairs, courts, parks and virtually everything else government does. It would cost governments $60 billion a year – unless they raise sales and vehicle taxes through the roof.

          Olson has another notion, too, this one to prohibit school boards from enforcing any kind of educational standards, while giving parents the “right to determine the venue…” where their children are schooled. It’s not clear whether that would force the University of California to take every student who wants to attend, regardless of qualifications, but that would likely be a subject of lawsuits.

          These are probably the most radically destructive ideas ever proposed for the California ballot, and they could provide myriad opportunities for casting ultra-selfish ballots – votes that might backfire on those who cast them they next time they need police or fire department help, or want to flush their toilets.

          Of course, more standard measures now circulating also could offer plenty of chances to cast selfish votes, while standing a far better chance of actually qualifying for the ballot.

          One is the proposal to repeal the state’s new 12-cents per gallon gasoline tax, reviled by Republicans and some Democrats. Every poll shows Californians want the road repairs for which the billions of dollars this tax is raising are earmarked. But those same polls show a majority of voters dislikes the new levy. That’s pure selfishness, voters essentially saying they want smooth pavement, but don’t want to pay for it. Like much that’s self-serving, this set of sentiments has plenty of potential to backfire on supporters when they have to buy new tires, springs, shock absorbers and struts after driving through enough potholes.

          Another more standard proposal already enjoying significant support would allow property owners under 55 years old to transfer their Proposition 13 property tax benefits when they sell one home and buy another, just as folks over 55 now can do. That one would also cost governments billions, with no one having the slightest idea how to replace the funds.

          And there’s a proposal setting salaries for schoolteachers with at least five years service at the same level paid to state legislators. This would allow for ultra-selfish votes from myriad schoolteachers and their families, without concern for public school budgets.

          None of these possibilities has yet reached the ballot, but if any or all make it, they will provide voters with opportunities to be as selfish as they like, no matter what they tell pollsters in advance.


    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




          Under intense political pressure at the same time bone-dry Santa Ana and Sundowner winds propelled unchecked wildfires across Southern California in early December, the California Public Utilities Commission handed down perhaps its most consumer-friendly decision in several decades.

          Unanimously, the five commissioners forced the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. – not its customers – to pay more than $379 million in uninsured costs from the 2007 Witch, Guejito and Rice fires that devastated large parts of San Diego County, destroying more than 1,300 homes and killing two persons. SDG&E had tried to fob those costs off on consumers, including some whose homes burned in the same fires.

          The commissioners also were unanimous in imposing new, stricter rules for utilities to help stem future wildfire risks.

          Investigators found SDG&E failed before the 2007 fires to properly maintain its equipment, failing to trim tree branches and chaparral growing near power lines, which arced and sparked as those infernos began. The company and its insurers paid more than $2 billion in claims, but it wanted customers to foot almost all the remaining bills.

          The PUC previously went along with similar utility company requests, but this time, for once, commissioners stood by consumers.

          Multiple results were immediate: While the Lilac Fire raged in late fall in north San Diego County, SDG&E turned off power to as many as 170,000 persons when winds propelling the new blaze picked up. So arcing power lines could not contribute to this fire disaster. A lot of folks living in areas around Boulder Creek and Palomar Mountain were inconvenienced, but this time the fire destroyed “only” 157 structures, not 10 times that many.

          Knowing it might actually have to pay very steep costs if it kept the power on, the utility played it safe. No one can be certain whether that action or lessened wind was the main factor that kept the Lilac Fire much smaller than some previous ones. But cutting the power certainly didn’t hurt, counter though it is to hallowed utility company practices that aim to keep the juice flowing no matter what.

          The PUC’s landmark decision was also felt in other areas of California, where fires both in December and earlier in the fall devastated hundreds of thousands of acres in places like Napa, Sonoma, Orange and Ventura counties, Santa Clarita, Montecito and the Bel-Air, Sylmar and Tujunga Canyon sections of Los Angeles.

          No, neither Pacific Gas & Electric Co. nor Southern California Edison Co. nor the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power made prophylactic power shutdowns like those near San Diego, but both PG&E and Edison were sorely affected. PG&E suspended dividends while watching its stock tank by 9 percent in December, largely because of potential liability from the many fire-related lawsuits it faces.

          And while the Thomas fire blitzed through Ventura County and on toward Santa Barbara, the stock value of Edison’s parent company, Edison International, fell as much as 15 percent. There is no official finding yet on the cause of that fire, which has consumed more than 700 homes and spurred at least two fatalities. But investors and stock analysts fear Edison, like SDG&E, might have to pay not only billions of dollars for damage, but also might never see its own repair and service restoration costs returned.

          The same for PG&E, whose customer lawsuits stem from reports of PG&E lines sparking into nearby vegetation just as devastating October blazes got underway in the Wine Country. PG&E’s dividend decision shows management feels the same fears as investors.

          The PUC’s decision was key to much of the stock market response to the fires, just as it probably spurred SDG&E to shut down its power, even though the company never copped to that. For if these utilities are now to be held more responsible than before for their errors and neglect, their financial futures will be affected.

          And yet, no one knows what the PUC might do years from now when utilities inevitably demand that customers pay most of their costs from this year. That’s one reason for paying close attention to the next governor’s appointments to this vital, but scandal-compromised, commission.

     Email Thomas Elias at Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Monday, December 18, 2017




          (One in an ongoing series of interviews with candidates for governor of California)

          Delaine Eastin has never run a losing campaign for any office, in 14 tries. But if the 70-year-old former state school superintendent emerges to win this year’s race for governor, it will be the biggest upset in the long history of California politics.

          But don’t rule her out, even though she drew only 3 percent support in the latest poll from the Public Policy Institute of California and as of early December had raised a mere $500,000 for her campaign, with just $100,000 on hand, compared with many millions for the likes of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang. The two Republicans in the race, San Diego County businessman John Cox and Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, both also outpoll Eastin and have more money available.

          But Eastin has some advantages, despite her relatively late entry into this race. She’s a woman in an era when the sexual peccadilloes of male politicians have destroyed several careers and turned off female voters. She also takes firmer stands on some issues than her rivals.

          Where candidates like Newsom and Villaraigosa made general statements opposing corruption in government, but offered no specifics on how to combat the widespread phenomenon, Eastin in an interview the other day did. She recalled how she rooted out wasteful, corrupt contracting in the state’s Education Department when she became the state’s school chief, then railed against the Legislature’s use of taxpayer funds to buy silence from victims of sexual harassment there.

          “It’s outrageous to use public money to pay off victims of legislators and their staff,” said the former four-term legislator. “The governor can’t order this stopped, but can apply a lot of pressure to make people play by the rules.” She said she would take much the same approach to the scandal-ridden state Public Utilities Commission, another very independent agency.

          There’s also the fact that voters have not yet engaged with the run for governor. The same PPIC poll showing Eastin with just 3 percent support also found about one-third of voters were undecided and that the support levels for early frontrunner Newsom, Villaraigosa, Chiang and the two Republicans had not changed much over several months.

          This opens the possibility of Eastin making inroads when debates begin and the public starts paying attention.

          While she didn’t outright say so, she did indicate one way she might try to move up could be by exploiting the admitted past sexual indiscretions of Newsom and Villaraigosa, both of whom said in interviews they have done plenty of introspection about their problems and will not repeat them.

          “I’ve met women who say they won’t vote for either of them, no matter what,” Eastin said. “Both of them have terrible histories…I don’t think people grow out of a lack of self-control.”

          Newsom campaign consultant Dan Singer responded to this by saying “Every candidate will choose how to run their own campaign; ours will stay focused on accomplishments and ideas.” Villaraigosa did not respond for the record.

          Eastin also laid out four top priorities for the state if she becomes governor, while expressing the same worries Newsom and Villaraigosa do over California’s growing economic inequalities. Her list starts with education, which she says needs more funding and emphasis “from cradle to career.” She would also push for solutions to the state’s housing shortage, try to reenergize the longstanding push for clean air and try to set up a single-payer health care system that would amount to “Medicare for all.”

          “California in the hands of a nimble leader can accomplish huge things,” she said. “Under Govs. Earl Warren and Pat Brown, we built the models for a public university system, pre-school system, junior colleges and the world’s best freeway system.”

          Eastin clearly is a longshot today, about six months out from primary Election Day. But debates, social media and other outlets will give her ample opportunity to make her case, and the large mass of undecided voters may well be listening to what she says in the coming springtime debates.

    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




          If there’s one thing members of Congress are elected to do, it’s to look after the best interests of their own constituents and other people living in their state.

          If there’s one thing most of the 14 Republicans among California’s 53 members of the House of Representatives have not been doing much lately, it’s representing the best interests of many of their constituents.

          So it’s no wonder at least half those California Republicans are considered very vulnerable as mid-term elections grow closer.

          To see that almost all these GOP congressfolks are not doing what they can to further the interests of Californians, examine the list of those who signed a November letter in which Gov. Jerry Brown requested $7.4 billion in federal fire relief funds for the Wine Country and other areas devastated by October’s huge wildfires. No request has yet been filed for the vast December blazes in Southern California because damage estimates are far from complete.

          All 39 House Democrats from California signed, but only one Republican – Ed Royce of Fullerton, whose district includes some of the Anaheim Hills area where the Canyon Fire 2 caused evacuation of more than 1,000 homes. One non-signer was Steve Knight, whose own 25th District was hit less than a month later by a highly damaging wildfire.

          Lack of support from California Republicans was probably one reason the state will get just $4.4 million in relief for the October fires. The entire California delegation signed a separate, later request for that lesser amount. In short, Knight and his cohorts didn’t exactly look out for the interests of fellow Californians whose homes and possessions turned to ash.

          Then there was the odd admission of San Diego County Rep. Duncan Hunter, who voted along with most other California Republicans to bring the House GOP’s tax bill to a vote, even though it sought to deprive millions of Californians of tax deductions for state and local income and property taxes. On the final House vote, three California Republicans voted no, but only after it was clear the bill would pass. Most vocal was the embattled Darrell Issa of north San Diego County, who said “I didn’t come to Washington to raise taxes on my constituents.”

          Hunter said he voted for the plan because “it’s good for most states.” But he conceded that “California…, New York and other states that have horrible governments, yes, it’s not as good for those states.” So Hunter admits he voted for a tax bill harmful to his own state and his constituents.

          Hunter was already in some trouble in his district over an FBI investigation of alleged misuse of campaign funds supposedly spent for personal expenses.

          All 14 California Republicans also voted earlier this year to repeal the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare. In California, that measure is administered by the Covered California organization through which many thousands of constituents of the Republicans in Congress now get coverage.

          The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for whom he is a target, claims fully 50 percent of residents in the Hanford-centered district of David Valadao are insured via Obamacare. “We think Latinos will turn out in higher numbers than ever in that district because of the health care votes,” said Andrew Godinich, the DCCC’s regional press secretary. “And we think the Republican vote there will be depressed because of the big enthusiasm gap between the parties.”

          Meanwhile, no Republicans were talking about why they refused to sign the Brown fire recovery letter, circulated to them all. Some likely thought the money requested could be used for things like desalination plants or that there would be a requirement for union labor on projects it funded.

          But the letter specified the money would go to housing reconstruction, hazardous waste removal and help for growers with devastated vineyards and farms.

          So far, then, no Republican has given a solid reason for refusing to sign that letter and there has been little justification offered for voting to enable a tax bill that stands to harm Californians more than anyone else.

          So if any – or all – of the targeted Republicans should lose their seats next fall, they need only look at their own records for an explanation.


    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, December 11, 2017




          California will be exploring new ground as the impending election year builds to its climax in early November. For the first time ever, big donors to ballot proposition campaigns will not be able to hide behind phony campaign committee names like “Californians for Safe Streets” and the like when they put their money behind causes, many of which can be self-serving.

          It will now be somewhat harder to keep dark money from having at least some light shined upon it.

          But no one can be certain just yet how difficult it will be for real donors to hide and just how exposed they might soon be. That’s partly because of some rather vague language in the state’s new Disclose Act, quietly signed as Assembly Bill 249 by Gov. Jerry Brown, who issued no statement along with his signature, as he often does on important bills.

          Advocates contend the language of the new law “will fundamentally change how campaign financing is disclosed,” as legislative sponsor Kevin Mullin, a Democratic assemblyman from San Mateo, put it.

          And it 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 none able to hide behind sometimes-misleading committee names. 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 listed publicly as leading donors.

          This should let voters know exactly who is trying to influence them. From the “who,” it’s often easy to deduce the “why,” so California ballots could be cast in the most educated manner ever.

          Of course, this measure might have been even better than what has now become law. It could have required that disclosures of donors be made in a print size equal to the largest anywhere else in an ad. But that was amended out of the bill as it progressed through the Legislature. Instead, disclosures must be made “clearly and prominently,” a vague phrase that will no doubt be litigated for years.

          Expect some of the political consultants who conceive, write and approve the ads that will be ubiquitous as 2018 progresses to try to obfuscate matters. Their radio ads may feature the same kind of ultra-speed-reading often heard when pharmaceutical companies list drug side effects near the end of their ads.

          But newspaper and television advertising will have to include printed information on true campaign funders. In the beginning, some campaigns may try to get away with small print, but that almost certainly won’t fly in the long run.

          So while this law does contain some vagueness, it is far better than no law, a clear-cut case of not letting the perfect (identification in letters that match the largest elsewhere in the ad) outweigh the good.

          The law’s other flaw is that it does not demand exposure of the largest direct contributors to candidates, whose donors often launder their contributions through the major political parties at both the state and country levels. But there is nevertheless plenty of improvement over the longstanding ability of big donors to remain almost completely anonymous.

          Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign, which pushed the Disclose Act for more than seven years before its final passage on a fairly bipartisan vote (five Republican assembly members from swing districts joined almost all Democrats in supporting it), called the new law “the biggest blow yet against the unlimited secret money unleashed by Citizens United.” That’s the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that corporations are like people when it comes to political giving.

          The bottom line is that even with some vague parts of the new law likely to be disputed and litigated over the next few years, there will still be more disclosure of campaign finance information than ever before seen anywhere in America.

          But we will all have to wait and see how much real voters care about this and whether it really affects the way votes are cast.

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




          It’s already well established that the tax “reforms” now being hashed out in secret by a joint committee of Republicans from the Senate and the House of Representatives will likely cost Californians a net sum of well over $110 billion, an average of more than $2,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the state.

          That figure is derived from calculations by the House Budget Committee staff, controlled by the very Republicans designing the changes, so it’s hard to argue.

          It’s also hard to see how this measure can possibly produce more than $2,000 a year in benefits to the Californians who will pay the added taxes, caused by eliminating or slashing several longtime, big-dollar tax writeoffs.

          There is the medical deduction, which is eliminated in the House version of this bill, but retained by the Senate. No one knows how that conflict will be resolved, but if the deduction goes, it will cost the 1.3 million Californians who use that deduction (long limited to amounts exceeding 10 percent of adjusted gross income) an average of more than $9,800 yearly. This added cost will mostly come from people already burdened by the many uninsured costs involved with chronic illnesses and from folks supporting elderly parents or other relatives in nursing homes or assisted living.

          Eliminating this deduction would be purely reverse Robin Hood – taking from the already cash-strapped in order to finance large tax cuts for corporations and the extremely wealthy.

          There’s also the proposed change in deductions for home mortgages, now applying to homes costing up to $1 million. The Senate bill keeps this, but the House would allow it for new mortgages only if they are under $500,000. The House would grandfather in existing mortgages.

          Effects of this likely change (and the joint committee is likely to reach some kind of compromise) are still not totally predictable, but it is sure to reduce the inventory of homes for sale in California, where mortgages of more than half a million dollars are commonplace. At the same time, it could take many potential home buyers out of the market because it would suddenly be more expensive for them to sustain mortgages on houses costing not much more than the average price of about $575,000 in many parts of this state.

          It’s also probable this change will cause more present owners to hang onto their homes, a supply reduction that could keep prices up. But if this doesn’t happen, the tax change figures to drive prices down by anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent, says one estimate from the National Association of Realtors, which strongly opposes the bill.

          But the biggest effect – estimated at about $90 billion by the Budget Committee – will come from eliminating deductions for state and local taxes. This will not only cost at tax time, but also make everyday purchases from patio furniture to televisions and smart phones significantly more expensive.

          This leads to speculation the changes could throw the whole nation into recession, not just California.

          All this comes from a Republican Party that has promised continually since 1988 to levy no new taxes. So much for political promises.

          But it’s the real estate market that figures to be hit harder by these so-called reforms than any other economic sector.

          “The tax incentives to own a home are baked into overall values,” said Elizabeth Mendenhall, president of the national Realtors’ group. “When those incentives are nullified in the way this bill will likely provide, our estimates show home values stand to fall by more than 10 percent, even more in high-cost areas.”

          Affordable housing advocates also predict the projected overhaul will gut efforts to solve California’s large-scale homeless problem. The tax exemptions builders get for constructing low-cost housing rather than more upscale new residences would for the most part disappear.

          It’s possible this might not have many political ramifications for Republicans next fall, because none of it is scheduled to take full effect until 2019. But by 2020, when the new tax bills have festered for more than a year, it’s likely to be look out below for President Trump and other Republicans who naively promise massive new prosperity will trickle down from their plan.

     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, December 4, 2017




          Hate crimes are on the rise in California and there are strong hints the increase stems in part from President Trump’s habit of using racial slurs like the “Pocahontas” tag he likes to apply to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the travel bans he’s imposed on citizens of several Muslim countries.

          There were also Trump’s call for a wall separating this country from Mexico and his claim that vast numbers of Latino illegal immigrants are criminals and rapists.

          The latest FBI hate crime statistics cover only 2016, not even including an apparent rise in white supremacist activity that’s been reported less formally since Trump refused to outright condemn the neo-Nazi-tinged rally that turned fatal last summer in Charlottesville, VA.

          Even the FBI’s numbers are far from complete, as they are based on reporting only from cities and counties that volunteer information. Many don’t bother reporting.

          There is also no proof that Trump’s rhetoric and tweets caused the hate crime spike, but there is a definite correlation of the increases with his remarks.

          Most striking in the California numbers stemming from 733 police and sheriff’s departments in all parts of the state is the rise of almost 100 hate crimes, or 11.7 percent, over the previous year, 2015. Perhaps even more important to anyone looking for a trend was a rise of 9 percent in the month of November 2016, the month of Trump’s election victory.

          The numbers show increases in both race-based crimes and in those targeting gender. The biggest increases were in anti-Latino, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT crimes.

          If there’s any parallel here to previous California hate crime spikes, it’s to the period just before and after Proposition 187 passed in 1994, seeking to deprive undocumented immigrants of all government services, from public schooling to emergency room care. The hot political rhetoric of that time also saw an upswing in crimes targeting Latinos, regardless of either their immigration status or of how long their families had been in California.

          Most hate crimes, as usual, occurred in or near large cities, with most hate crimes in San Francisco against gays, while in Los Angeles a wave of incidents targeted Jews, Muslims and African-Americans.

          Reported hate crimes linked to white supremacists in Los Angeles County jumped from 63 in 2015 to 105 last year, about two-thirds more than the previous year’s number. They have been most common in poorer communities like Cudahy, according to an annual survey by that county’s Human Relations commission.

          That commission also found African Americans the most frequently targeted group in Southern California, often the victims of white supremacists. But the danger to transgender individuals also increased sharply, with 39 reported crimes hitting them compared with 22 the year before, a 77 percent increase.

          The increases were just as sharp in Northern California, where hate crimes almost tripled in Santa Clara County, from 14 to 39, with San Jose hit the most. Of that city’s 24 reported hate crimes, 15 were based on race and ethnicity, seven were religious and two involved sexual orientation. San Jose’s total was triple its 2015 number.

          The increases in crimes based on race and ethnicity, from swastikas on synagogues and mosques to physical attacks on gays, are too striking and too ubiquitous in California’s population centers to have been spurred by anything other than the not-quite-hateful, but still race-suggestive rhetoric that suffused television and the Internet at the times when these crimes increased the most.

          It would be the height of naiveté to gloss over this reality. California learned in 1994 and 1995 that hateful political advertising coincided with a sharp rise in hate and hate crimes against the same or similar groups to those referenced in the ads.

          The 2016 numbers – more dramatically increased than in any one year since the 1990s – appear to demonstrate that this type of politics is no more benign today than 20 years ago.

          And until the numbers for 2017 come in sometime near the end of next year, no one will know the exact effect the Trump presidency has had on them. But it’s a safe bet we will see even more dramatic increases than last year’s.

     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




          Strong irony is in the air as California heads into the hot political year of 2018, with an initiative to end the state’s “top two” primary election system in play just as top two, also known as the “jungle primary,” may be about to accomplish its central purpose.

That aim was to allow voters in the minority party to influence elections and elect more moderate members of the larger party when their own party either has no candidate in a race or fields a sure loser.

So it is today as moderate Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein bids for another six years in Washington, D.C. amid opposition from state Senate President Kevin de Leon and possibly others from the Democrats’ left wing.

So far, no Republican has entered the race, and in past reelection efforts, Feinstein has trampled GOP opponents anyhow. This leads to two key questions to be answered in the next 11 months: Will the ‘jungle primary’ system so detested by Republicans and fringe party members help save Feinstein’s long career? And will she be the last to benefit from that system, which pits the top two primary election vote-getters for any office below the presidency against each other in the November runoff, regardless of party?

          Mostly likely, Feinstein next fall will share the ballot with the initiative seeking to return California to its previous primary system based on parties, with each party participating in the primary entitled to have a candidate in the runoff. Candidates and parties now must earn runoff slots with strong primary election performances.

          If top two is even partly responsible for a Feinstein win, she would be the most prominent case of that system fulfilling its aim.

          The Democratic left, which came within a hair of taking over the party’s state apparatus last fall, excoriates Feinstein because she once urged patience with President Trump, because she’s had Wall Street ties and has not been as shrill in opposing Trump as some younger senators, including California’s other senator, fellow Democrat Kamala Harris. (Harris endorsed Feinstein the day she announced for reelection.)

          No one yet knows how wide the appeal of a so-called progressive candidate like de Leon or activist billionaire Tom Steyer might be among baseline Democratic voters, so it’s impossible yet to determine whether Feinstein might need Republican votes to win reelection. But that is a definite possibility, and if it happens, it would fulfill the purpose of the jungle primary, backed when it began by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, both moderate Republicans. They wanted their sort of candidates to have a chance to win and their sort of voters to be able to influence election outcomes in places where they previously could not.

          Now comes Feinstein, who could be the rare California incumbent getting less than half her own party’s primary election vote. Republicans, with barely over a quarter of California’s total voter registration, would be unlikely to place a candidate on the ballot this year, just as they failed in the 2016 Senate contest.

          But if they vote in decent numbers, they are more than sufficient to combine with moderate Democrats to keep a far-leftist candidate from winning. That only works if Republicans actually vote for Feinstein, even if they would much prefer voting for a fellow Republican.

          Returns from 2016 show that almost exactly 1 million fewer Californians voted for a U.S. Senate candidate than for president, indicating  many Republicans didn’t bother to vote in a race between two liberal Democratic women, Harris and then-Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

          If most of those in the vote dropoff were Republicans and there is less dropoff this fall, they could assure that California gets the moderate Feinstein and not someone substantially to her left and less patient or willing to compromise.

          Such an outcome would represent the explicit purpose of top two, and it’s just possible that it might also be the last gasp of that system. For if voters opt to go back to party-driven primaries, the extreme wings of both major parties will once again provide almost all candidates.

          This would assure plenty of November choices, but would essentially disenfranchise Democrats in Republican-dominated legislative districts and Republicans statewide, as well as those living in the many Democratic-dominated districts.

        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