Monday, September 16, 2019




       The question has persisted since Donald Trump began running for President with a series of lies about everything from his background to claims that groups of Muslims cheered as they watched the World Trade Center collapse from across the Hudson River in Jersey City:

       Why don’t all those lies (10,796 as of last spring, since he took office, according to Politifacts) hurt Trump at all among his base supporters?

       For sure they don’t, even in California, where he is least popular of any state in the Union, with an approval rating in the low 30 percent range. That’s about the same percentage as the votes he drew in 2016, meaning the same folks who believed and believed in Trump then, still do.

       Psychological research conducted primarily at Stanford University between the late 1940s and early ‘60s provides some answers. This material became known as the theory of cognitive dissonance.

       One portion of the theory goes something like this: People who believe in someone will believe almost anything he or she says, also refusing to believe almost anything negative about them.

       Or, as Trump famously put it during a 2016 campaign stop, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

       And so, when a widely published advice columnist claims he raped her in a department store fitting room about 30 years ago, he loses no support by saying it never happened, he never met the woman and besides, “She’s not my type.” There is no impact when, the next day, a photo turns up showing the two conversing animatedly at about the time of the alleged incident. Trump didn’t even have to cry “fake news.” It’s as if he were asking supporters the old question: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” His backers choose not to believe or care about what they see.

       That’s almost the ultimate in cognitive dissonance.

       It was the same when Trump claimed while a 2016 candidate to have become pals with Russian President Vladimir Putin while waiting together in a “60 Minutes” green room before each went on the show, and no one batted an eye. Never mind that Trump was interviewed for that program in his penthouse office in New York while Putin appeared from his Kremlin office 8,000 miles away. Neither saw the innards of any green room. This was a complete fabrication.

       When asked about this and other lies by former TV host Bill O’Reilly, Trump responded that “I didn’t have time to check the facts.” So by his admission, he just made it up, as he did when claiming that 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks. The facts? The vast majority of white murder victims are killed by other whites. But lies rarely harm Trump’s poll standing or reduce his base of support.

       This kind of thing has not worked for most other presidents and presidential candidates. But it did work for California’s muscleman former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to take no campaign donations from special interests, but began collecting big money the next day from car dealers and oil companies.

       No matter…some polls indicate if Schwarzenegger could run today, he would easily be elected governor again.

       It’s all about celebrity and cognitive dissonance. Because Trump, like Schwarzenegger, was well known long before he entered politics, both celebrities longer than millions of voters have lived, many believe they already know him and pay little heed to what he says or what others say about him, true or not.

       When Trump is loudly inconsistent, as when he tried to demolish Obamacare and then claimed to have willingly kept it going, it’s no liability.

       It’s as if a Kardashian ran for office rather than running a reality TV show. The celebrity factor outweighs anything else.

       That’s why Democrats must beware as the 2020 election prelude becomes serious. For no matter what polls may say, celebrity Trump’s lies and misstatements will never be held against him by his diehard supporters, which will always give him a chance to win another term, even if he again loses the popular vote.

    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’s starting to look like the great utility breakup that’s been morally justified in California for years may at last be getting underway. Out-of-control wildfires might accomplish what civility and sensible management practices could not do.

       This may be the larger meaning of a $2.5 billion offer from San Francisco government to buy up the in-city electric assets of embattled, bankrupt Pacific Gas & Electricity Co., including power lines, meters, power poles and switching stations. The city offer excludes all PG&E natural gas assets.

       If this can happen in its headquarters city of San Francisco (even as it devised its own self-serving plan for leaving bankruptcy, PG&E did not immediately reject the offer), expect this kind of thing also to happen elsewhere. For sure, PG&E could use the money to help pay off an expected flood of liability judgments against it (over and above the $11 billion it proposes to give insurance companies) for having helped cause the raging blazes of 2017 and 2018, which burned thousands of homes and businesses and left more thousands of its customers homeless.

       If this can happen to PG&E in its home town, who’s to say it won’t also happen to Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., both found similarly responsible for devastating wildfires over the last 12 years.

       Between them, these companies have been criminally convicted of negligent maintenance practices, gotten caught in illicit negotiations with government regulators aiming to bilk consumers of billions of dollars and otherwise colluded with the very regulators who were supposed to be protecting electric company customers.

       The misdeeds of both company executives and members of the state Public Utilities Commission have not seen a single individual do even one minute of jail time, despite the deaths they helped cause and the big money they unfairly took from customers.

       All that makes California’s electric providers undeserving of survival in their current form.

       Meanwhile, there’s a growing movement to replace the utilities in many of their operations. That’s the proliferating group of Community Choice Aggregations now taking root in many parts of California. These publicly-owned outfits see cities and counties buying up customer-oriented operations of the big electric providers, while using the utilities’ existing transmission lines and billing operations.

       CCAs now operate everywhere from Marin County to Manteca, from Larkspur to Los Angeles County. San Diego wants one, San Francisco has also sought to create its own, which would happen quickly if the city’s proposed purchase of PG&E assets goes forward.

       The utilities dreaded this scene for years, struggling mightily against the growing CCA tide and seeking to hang onto their monopolistic customer base, whether or not they deserved to.

       But PG&E is now desperate for money, especially after failing in an effort to get state legislators to let it issue $20 billion in bonds which might eventually have had to be paid off by customers via increased monthly bills. But PG&E and other utilities have plenty of ways to raise the money needed for their expected tens of billions in debts.

       For one, the environmental group Californians for Green Nuclear Energy (possibly an oxymoron of a moniker) now asks that legislators require PG&E to sell off the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on the Central Coast rather than shuttering it in the 2020s, as now planned.

       Other utility company assets can also be sold, from hydroelectric dams to power lines in areas the companies serve. Doing this on a large scale could leave the existing electric companies as little more than operators of long-distance transmission lines, a much-reduced role.

       That could also give the PUC far fewer activities to regulate. Which may be why the commission has long aided the utilities’ effort to thwart CCAs, setting up rule after arbitrary rule to hinder their establishment and expansion.

       But it’s now clear many Californians no longer trust either regulators or the utilities that have long served them and gouged them. Which might make this the time for a wholesale breakup of those huge companies.

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 9, 2019




       There’s been a three-month hiatus in the growing phenomenon of anti-Semitism on California’s college and university campuses, but students and former students were nevertheless involved in some of the most blatant and violent of the spring and summer’s hate crimes again Jews.

       Example A was John T. Earnest, the shooter who apparently killed one and injured three others in the Chabad of Poway rampage late last April. While on campus, Earnest, a sometime student at Cal State San Marcos, picked up some ideas he later used in a rambling manifesto attempting to justify his offenses. Like anti-Semites on other campuses, those at San Marcos in north San Diego County like to say they don’t hate Jews, but are merely anti-Zionist, meaning they want Jews to be just about the only people on earth not entitled to their own country.

       That’s the same tune spouted by the partially terrorist-funded movement called Boycott, Divest and Sanction, which seeks an end to the state of Israel, its adherents often spouting a popular Palestinian nationalist slogan, “From the river to the sea.” That one refers to Palestinians not wanting to control just the lands now known as the West Bank and Gaza, but all of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

       The BDS movement has been strong on some of California’s most prominent campuses, including UCLA, Stanford University, UC Davis, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. It spurred faux roadblocks where the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (partially funded by the Hamas terror organization that controls the unoccupied city of Gaza) stopped Jewish students walking on the Berkeley campus with cardboard fake submachine guns.

       It caused sympathizers at UCLA to try to deny a student government seat to a properly elected Jewish woman, claiming no Jew can be fair – an anti-Semitic statement on its face. It inspired smearing Nazi-style swastikas on buildings and walls at Davis and moved a Stanford dormitory resident assistant to threat violence against Israelis and other Jewish students. And it often leads a San Francisco State professor to post BDS material on her school’s official website.

       BDS caused an attempt by Pitzer College faculty to cancel the school’s exchange program with the University of Haifa, the most diverse college in Israel, with an enrollment almost half Arab, pretty much matching the populace of that picturesque, usually peaceful seaside city. When the campus president vetoed this, the faculty voted to censure him.

       It all makes some California campuses among the most hostile to Jewish students, who for the most part are still not intimidated from attending.

       Prospects are that this year will see new incidents and further dissemination of obvious falsehoods, like the BDS canard that Israel is an apartheid state, despite the fact it has taken in thousands of black Ethiopian Jews and despite studies by Arab scholars finding Israeli Arabs enjoy more political and economic freedom than their ethnic brethren anywhere else in the Middle East.

       A midsummer U.S. Department of Justice conference on anti-Semitism reached five conclusions supporting that prospect. It said campus anti-Semitism is increasing “at an alarming rate.” It found the most common forms of campus anti-Semitism are Israel-related, denying many Jewish students the “ability to…fully participate in campus life.” It found that faculty are “major contributors to campus anti-Semitism.” And it said most university presidents and deans “have not afforded Jewish students equal protection to their peers from (threatening) behavior.”

       Much of the inaction stems from a lack of understanding of the link between Jews and the homeland that has been part of Jewish rituals and liturgy for more than 2,500 years.

       Wrote Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, “Uniquely, Jewish religion and nationhood coincide… Jewishness is not a mere ethnicity, a form of culture. In Israel, Jews are a walking lexicon of almost every ethnicity under the sun, so it’s not ethnicity. Jewish nationhood is a matter of religious vocation…”

       Which means that those who say anti-Zionism is not necessarily anti-Semitism don’t get it. But lack of understanding has never deterred anti-Semites. Rather, it often inspires them to greater viciousness and violence.

       And there are few signs things will improve on campuses in California or elsewhere in the new academic year.

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




       In a legislative season marked by a host of lousy ideas from forcing consumers to bail out negligent utilities to a refusal of warning labels on highly-sugared sodas, one good idea eventually emerged. It stands to reason this one comes not from the state Legislature itself, but from an appointed board.

       The idea: Keep track of five-year graduation rates from California’s public high schools, not just four-year ones.

       This is not merely sensible, but recognizes the new realities of a world where it is simply not practical or advisable for all high school and college students to get their diplomas within the standard four years.

       Yes, four-year high school graduation rates as reported by state officials are up considerably from the dismal 62 percent figure reported as recently as eight years ago. But those numbers were often questionable anyhow, as no system was in place to track students when they switched school districts or dropped out of standard and charter schools, switching to continuation schools and alternative schools operated by county education departments.

       Nor did they account for students forced to drop out for a year or two because of family economics, pregnancies or health emergencies, but who then returned to extension or correspondence schools and finished high school.

       So when the state Board of Education at midsummer joined many other states in giving districts and high schools credit for students who graduate in five years or more, it was merely recognizing reality in an economy where families often need more than one income to survive.

       Using only four-year graduation rates to rate and judge school districts was certainly useful when that was the only available measure. But it severely underplayed the successes of California’s often-criticized education system. Of course, four-year graduation rates will also continue to be tracked and publicized now, as they should be.

       “Many schools are making investments in serving students beyond the traditional four-year program,” Santa Clara County school superintendent Mary Ann Dewan told a reporter. “Data that reflect the true completion rate is vital to continued support for these programs.”

       In other words, Dewan suggests that reported graduation rates of only about 80 percent of students can cause public support for school funding and programs to wane, a development that could reduce actual educational opportunities open to young Californians in an era when education is more vital than ever for individual success and prosperity.

       And the schools apparently deserve more credit than they’re usually given. Former state Schools Supt. Tom Torlakson last year reported that half of all high school graduates met requirements for admission to either the University of California or the Cal State system.

       That included a 30 percent increase in eligibility for UC since 2007 and a 53 percent increase in those prepped for the Cal States.

       The numbers didn’t include students from alternative high schools, which usually serve students who have dropped out previously, been expelled or felt they just could not fit into a traditional high school. Some of these schools run online programs to make education more accessible for dropouts unable to attend any classes.

       Eventually, graduation performance by school districts that is reported to the public will include both four- and five-year rates, giving many schools credit they previously didn’t receive for innovative work and outreach. 

       The impact of the changed system will be seen most dramatically among English-learner students and low-income children, whose four-year graduation rates of about 72 percent each are significantly below the overall levels.

       The new system will also make comparisons of California schools’ performance with those of other states more accurate, as it leaves only 18 states still using only four-year graduation numbers to track school performance.

       The entire change will add an element of realism to thinking about public and charter schools, an element that might actually improve their public image and that of California as a whole.

    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