Monday, June 29, 2020




          Heedless of informed advice about conditions in California, labor unions behind the Split Roll ballot initiative are now persisting in their attempt to fundamentally alter the landmark Proposition 13.

          Their measure would remove the 1978 ballot initiative’s property tax protections from commercial and industrial property, while leaving residential levies untouched. If this passes, commercial land and buildings would be taxed based on current market values, while yearly residential property taxes would still be based on 1 percent of the latest purchase price or 1 percent of their 1975 assessed value if ownership has not changed. Residential levies can climb by no more than 2 percent per year.

This alteration would give local governments and public schools an additional $11 billion to $12 billion annually, sponsors say. It would do nothing about the longtime Proposition 13 inequity which sees neighbors in similar properties paying wildly different property taxes, depending on when they bought.

          But the alleged commercial property tax total is fictitious at this moment, the remnant of a bygone era that ended with the coronavirus shelter-at-home order issued in March by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor, using emergency powers, coupled his stay-home order with others allowing tenants, both individual and commercial, to delay paying rent for months at a minimum.

          With much of the withheld rent money – perhaps 15 percent of all that tenants normally pay – now in limbo, property owners and appraisers can’t accurately assess the value of commercial property. Owners don’t know how much they will really get if tenants like the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain, which refused to pay rent while its eateries were shuttered, don’t eventually pay up.

          Other commercial tenants withholding rent will likely let it pile up, then negotiate settlements with building managers. Owners of many buildings will never get the full rent they were due.

          Also, because corporations like Twitter, Facebook and many more have told white collar workers to keep working from home as long as they like – and many like it much better than commuting – a healthy percentage of office building owners have no idea how much of their space may soon be vacant.

          Taken together, this makes it almost impossible for owners or appraisers to calculate the actual value of much of California’s commercial property, since office buildings' value depends largely on income they produce. This makes the numbers often purveyed by Split Roll sponsors completely speculative.

          Into this quagmire steps the new ballot measure, pushing a fundamentally good idea, but one that will be slammed mercilessly in television and social media advertising as landlords fear high taxes that might force them out of business.

          When, not if, this proposition loses at the polls, it will become virtually impossible politically to tinker with Proposition 13 for years to come, as the initiative most likely returns to its prior status as the untouchable third rail in California politics. The measure was nearly sacrosanct in Sacramento for more than 40 years, legislators of all political persuasions fearing the wrath of homeowners, who always cast ballots in higher proportions than other groups.

          Standing by to help dump the Split Roll into a deep grave is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., named for the more famous of Proposition 13’s two authors. 

          For decades, this outfit has opposed anything that looks like it might alter even the tiniest aspect of its pet law. The Jarvis organization frequently sends mailers to property owners warning them any attack on any part of Proposition 13 promises to send their taxes through the roof. That’s happening again now, as official-looking mailings from the group turn up from time to time in homeowner mailboxes.

          These will become more frequent as November nears. The din around Split Roll might even drown out presidential balloting, which figures to be among the noisiest in years.

          The bottom line: Sponsors believe the financial needs of schools in the wake of the coronavirus-caused recession, plus a rising sense of general resentment of injustice, will push this initiative over the top even in this very odd election year. The betting here is that they are dead wrong.


    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




          Academia is supposed to be a land of objective reality, where ideas enter the standard curriculum for mass exposure to students only after thorough vetting.

          But that’s apparently not so if the subject is sufficiently politically correct.

          That’s about the only conclusion to be drawn today, as school boards around California are approving a new ethnic studies curriculum even before it’s been examined in public hearings or adopted by the state Board of Education.

          School boards in places as disparate as Albany and Alhambra, San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward have endorsed this proposed curriculum, even though it’s a no more than a very slightly altered version of the course resoundingly rejected last year on grounds of bias and unjustified exclusions.

          After that rejection, the curriculum was supposed to get a complete revision. Not exactly. Pretty much the same folks who wrote the first version turned up on the committee writing the new one, creating little better than a rerun with a few t’s crossed differently, so to speak.

          People writing both versions of the curriculum have mostly been adherents of something called “critical ethnic studies.” Several websites describe the central question guiding the Critical Ethnic Studies (CES) Assn. as this: “How do the histories of colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery and white supremacist patriarchies…affect, inspire and unsettle scholarship in the present?”

          The first version of the planned curriculum divided Californians into four categories: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, whites and Asian American/Pacific Islanders.

          Inspired by CES thinking, it focused more on racial and ethnic discrimination and little on the contributions of various groups that make up those wide categories.

 No informed American denies that slavery had a major role in American history, as did the cheap labor of Chinese and other immigrants, including the Irish, Hispanics and Jews. Nor is the suffering of American Indians in dispute, even if they don’t fit neatly into any CES category.

          All this belongs in history classes, but so do positive contributions of European colonists and other immigrants who together with the others built this nation.

          CES-style thinking embedded in the proposed curriculum, due for a Sacramento hearing in August, caused the Vallejo school board to become a rare exception to the trend toward blind acceptance of a curriculum that has not been thoroughly examined.

          Said Robert Lawson, a school board member there and a former history teacher, “People shouldn’t be fooled that ethnic studies are mainly to instill pride in one’s heritage. It’s a means of getting even.”

          That was essentially how the Jewish caucus of the state Legislature saw the original curriculum proposal, which contained significant lies about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It also ignored the charters of some large Palestinian factions, including Hamas – the ruling party in Gaza – which call for killing Jews wherever they are, while completely eliminating Israel.

The planned coursework also ignored the Armenian genocide carried out by Turkey between 1915 and 1917, in which at least 1.5 million were massacred, with other millions fleeing to many places, including California, where they have thrived. It did not include the major contributions of Portuguese immigrants to California agriculture and said little about ethnic groups from Samoans to Syrians, Greeks, Yugoslavs and Egyptians, mostly sticking to the four wide categories favored by CES.

That didn’t bother the school boards endorsing the “revised” curriculum sight unseen. “Ninety-five percent of our students are Asian American and Hispanic,” said Alhambra board member Robert Gin. “I support (it) in its entirety. It is a long time coming.”

Meanwhile, state schools Supt. Tony Thurmond, in an update early this year, indicated he doesn’t want much change from the original proposal that was supposedly dumped. He said the new version “will acknowledge and honor the four (CES) foundational groups,” thus lumping Jews, Armenians, Irish and other Caucasian hyphenated Americans with whites in general.

That will inevitably play up racism and the World War II interning of Japanese Americans and downplay study of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, to name just two seminal events of the 20th Century.

It adds up to a phony rewrite, and will likely lead to further delay of ethnic studies and another rewrite – hopefully a genuine one next time.

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

Friday, June 19, 2020




          Patio seating is more popular than ever at restaurants that reopened when governments relaxed precautions against the spread of COVID-19, one feature of the during- and post-pandemic world. Senior hours at some grocery and big box stores are no longer strictly enforced, with sprinklings of youngsters now appearing among the silver-haired.

          Beaches are crowded, and the supposedly required social distancing there fast became another non-enforced rule. Masks remain almost ubiquitous on the sand and will be at least for many months, but the question of wearing them or not remains political dynamite.

Most white-collar workers sent home to work at kitchen tables or in their bedrooms are still there, many companies saying they can work from home as long as they like. Traffic on California freeways is far lighter than B.P. (before pandemic), but up from levels at the height of the lockdown.

          Gyms, allowed to reopen in most counties in early June, may be where change is most obvious. Some rules there have also been among the silliest.

          While reservations have been commonplace for centuries at fine restaurants, and even at some that are not so fine, they are new to gyms, but now required by some locations in the large 24 Hour Fitness chain.

          Gyms are getting cleaned more often and more thoroughly than most have been since they were built. Weight machines are wiped with germicides at regular intervals. It’s forbidden to stay in some gyms longer than an hour. Basketball and handball courts in many facilities are now homes for treadmills, elliptical machines and other workout staples. In some gyms, these are about 10 feet apart; others create spacing by allowing members to use only one of every two or three machines.

          One seemingly absurd policy governed at many gyms until Gov. Gavin Newsom ended it on June 18 with a wide-ranging order for masking: Users for awhile had to be masked when entering and walking around, but not while exercising, when most persons breathe hardest and spew the most potential contagions.

          Many gym rats wonder why these facilities were ever shuttered, as their changes could have been made very quickly. Meanwhile, academic studies show that in all age groups, people who exercise have stronger immune responses and resist disease better than comparable folks who don’t.

          Said one 78-year-old regular at a 24 Hour Fitness in Los Angeles, “I never understood why they closed the gyms. This place is why I’ve lived so long.” He substituted home weight-lifting and long walks for gym activity, but says it never had the same benefits.

          Gyms are also symbolic of the lockdown’s economic toll. The iconic Gold’s Gym chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early May. 24 Hour Fitness, in expansion mode B.P., soon followed, firing many employees on impersonal phone calls. 24 Hour also eliminated dozens of gyms across California, reopening only the most profitable.

          Amid this turmoil, many longtime gym users remain hesitant to return. Many have doubts about ventilation systems, as federal health officials warn that recirculated air can carry contaminated spit and sweat globules too small to see or feel. Others, like Gold’s Gym devotee and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said they wouldn’t return unless masks were required at all times. They should be now.

          In business, group video calls on services like Facebook, Zoom and Google Meet were relatively rare B.P., but swiftly became lifelines for stay-at-home workers. These sessions remain common even as lockdowns fade away. They’re also vital tools for grandparents and their grandkids, whose personal contacts are hindered as many grandparents continue self-quarantining even while life reopens for others.

          While some psychotherapists decry the lack of personal contact in virtual meetings, others say the new services opened their practices beyond previous geographic limits. “Now I’m seeing patients in other states, even other countries,” said one San Francisco psychologist. “It’s true I can’t see their body language as well as I’d like, but the talk therapy is very useful. It’s much better than nothing, what we feared when the lockdown started.”

          All of which makes this already a changed world, with more shifts to come. Some will be improvements, some not. The only certainty: Life will never go back to the old normal.


    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




          Getting rid of San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi has been a Republican pipe dream for most of the last decade, and just after California’s March 3 primary election, the GOP chortled loudly over what it saw as a real chance to do that.

          For if Democrats lose many of the seven California seats they took away from Republicans in 2018, chances are they also lose their majority in the House of Representatives, Pelosi gets tossed out of the speaker’s office by Bakersfield’s Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy and most likely doesn’t even remain the House Democratic leader.

          But after the long process of counting millions of California’s late-arriving primary election mail ballots ended, that chance seemed more and more remote and the GOP’s salivating began to look premature.

          Republicans based most of their early enthusiasm on preliminary vote counts reported via the California secretary of state’s website, which reflected about 2 million mail ballots sent in days or weeks before Primary Day.

          Those showed Republican totals topping Democrats in all but one of the districts that ousted GOP congress members two years ago. Inexplicably, the same totals remained on the state election-results website days after the last vote was cast, even though they represented less than one-fourth of all the ballots cast.

          The scene became reminiscent of 2018, when Republicans in several of the most contested districts led through several weeks of vote-counting, but saw their margins dwindle with each update.

          The GOP’s highest hopes now reside in the 25th Congressional District, spanning varied communities from Simi Valley to Lancaster. In a May special election, Republican Mike Garcia won the seat briefly held by Democrat Katie Hill before she resigned in a sexting scandal.

Garcia, a former military pilot, won the May vote by a 55-45 percent margin over Democrat Christy Smith, but turnout was 30,000 votes, or 15 percent, less than in 2018. It was a classic example of the GOP winning a lightly-attended special election, but not necessarily predictive of the November rematch because the presidential election figures to draw even heavier voting than 2018’s.

          Republicans also liked the early returns showing Democrat Josh Harder with a very slim lead in the Modesto-centered 10th District, where Harder won narrowly last time after taking the lead only in the final days of vote-counting.

          It’s much the same in the districts won in 2018 by Democrats Gil Cisneros, Harley Rouda and Katie Porter in Orange County, where local Republicans bragged they would soon “roll back the blue wave.”

          About the only district Democrats wrested from the GOP last time where early returns looked good for them was Mike Levin’s 49th, in northern San Diego County and southwest Orange County. He now seems almost a lock for reelection.

          But the red wave Republicans expect in other districts may not happen, even though it’s highly possible Democrats won’t retain all their gains of two years ago.

There’s a reason why early returns in March looked so good for the GOP congressional candidates and not as good later on when vote counts were complete: Republicans essentially had no presidential primary here, with President Trump dominating their party. Meanwhile Democrats saw a hot contest whose field shifted dramatically as Primary Day approached.

          This led many Republicans to cast their ballots early, while Democrats held theirs to see what might develop before making their marks. As a result, the bulk of mail ballots reaching vote-counters during the three days after the election were cast by Democrats. None of those ballots were included in the early counts that so heartened Republicans. Final results showed Democratic and Republican votes running about even in all but one of the seven swing districts.

          All of which means the fall runoffs for the seven hotly-contested seats, and several in the state Legislature, figure to be about as close as they were last time, with several outcomes uncertain until the end of November and little being determined on the actual Nov. 3 Election Night.

          In the end, the early Republican optimism may pan out. But probably not as sweepingly as the GOP wishes, as California gradually becomes ever more Democratic-dominated.

    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, June 15, 2020




Voting by mail has been common in California almost 40 years, since the state did away with the requirement for an excuse if folks wanted to cast an absentee ballot.

Now, using emergency powers he took during the coronavirus emergency, Gov. Gavin Newsom has made it all but universal in the fall election. In some other states, this seems radical, but it won’t change much in California.

At first, California’s no-excuse mail voting system clearly benefited Republicans, who first employed mass mail balloting and upset then-Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1982 run for governor, where Bradley led every pre-election poll.

But Democrats quickly caught on, and by the 1990s began holding ballot-marking parties welcoming anyone who put in a standing order to vote by mail.

          Later came techniques like “ballot harvesting,” where operatives of both major parties go door to door collecting mail ballots to be dropped off at polling places, now often called vote centers. President Trump and wife Melania voted this way in Florida’s spring primary election, handing their mail ballots to an aide who dropped them off in West Palm Beach.

          Until now, this has all been a matter of choice. In the state’s last general election, in 2018, more than 60 percent of ballots were mailed in or dropped off. Lines at polling places have grown shorter with each election, causing some counties to send mail ballots to all voters.

          Now it appears the coronavirus pandemic may all but end in-person voting. For even with social distance in lines where voters stand six feet apart, fear might keep many away from the polls until a COVID-19 vaccine is in near ubiquitous use.

          The fear is valid: When partisan-oriented, Republican-dominated courts refused to allow postponement of Wisconsin’s April primary election, the virus infected dozens of voters and poll workers.

          California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has now become a national leader in a drive to allow mail voting everywhere. “What we saw in Wisconsin should serve as a warning, not a preview,” he said the other day. “Without proper planning, voters nationwide could be left to make the same stark choice that voters in Wisconsin were forced to make: exercising their right to vote versus protecting their health…”

          Ironically, considering how he cast his latest vote, Trump leads the other side in this key election-year dispute. On March 30, he warned on his favorite interview outlet, “Fox and Friends,” about “levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” It was the first time any GOP leader openly admitted the party’s very survival hinges on its efforts at vote suppression in states now dominated by Republicans. Trump then added that “I think mail-in voting is horrible. It’s corrupt.”

          Except it isn’t. Despite many investigations over three decades, no one has yet found evidence of significant fraud in mail voting. Oregon, for one example, has staged all-mail elections since 1998, with no hint of corruption.

           Common anti-fraud tactics include signature matching, multilayer security envelopes, and bar codes for tracking.

          Then there’s Trump’s theory that voting by mail skews elections to the Democrats. If this were true, it would be because of the well-established political reality that the heavier the turnout in any election, the more likely Democrats will win. That’s one reason Republicans often do better in lightly-attended special elections than in massive general votes.

          But Stanford University research indicates there is no partisan advantage at all in mail elections.

          Researchers there studied voting in California, Utah and Washington state because their use of mail balloting varied by county, allowing for comparison of areas that had ubiquitous mail ballots and others that did not.

          The findings showed the change in the share of voters registering as Democrats ranged from negative 0.1 percent to plus 0.3 percent, negligible differences that can also be explained by population shifts.

          “We don’t have any reason to think there are going to be big differences in partisan outcomes,” the researchers concluded.

          So there should be no real obstacle or disadvantage to all-mail elections here or elsewhere – except for the long-held Republican fears of any extremely large-scale voting.

     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




          It’s now plain that weeks of social unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of the unarmed African American George Floyd in late May will spur huge changes in policing across America and California.

          But what else? For landmark demonstrations through history sometimes produced major changes affecting much more than the immediate targets of the protesters.

          Anti-tea tax protests of English colonists in Boston, which British authorities called riots at the time, helped spur the American Revolution and world-changing concepts of democracy. The storming of the Bastille about 15 years later not only freed political prisoners it aimed to break loose, but toppled the royal Bourbon dynasty that ruled France and much of Europe for centuries.

          Anti-war protests across America in the 1960s not only led to the end of the Lyndon Johnson presidency, but undermined the U.S. war effort in Southeast Asia, eventually leading to an American pullout and a subsequent wave of immigration from Vietnam.

          Most likely, many potential and partially complete changes will later be seen as fallout from the last month’s wave of demonstrations and the opportunistic looting that accompanied some of the them. These have involved more people around the world than any since the era of the Vietnam War.

          For one thing, the protests exposed President Trump’s disregard for constitutional rights, shown when he ordered tear gas and rubber bullets used to clear Lafayette Park opposite the White House of peaceful demonstrators so he could walk to a photo opportunity that made him look silly. That misplay further exposed his lack of candor when he lied about use of tear gas.

          No one knows for sure whether that will help end his presidency or lead to some new kind of constitutional crisis, but it did produce an unprecedented memo from the Trump-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Mark Milley reminded fellow military commanders their oaths are to the Constitution, not loyalty oaths requiring them to follow illegal orders from the commander in chief. No previous top military commander ever felt the need to spell this out.

          Prior to that memo, rumors circulated that Trump was considering a refusal to leave office if defeated this fall. The memo pretty much quashed that talk. So if the rumors were correct, one result of the demonstrations may have been to help preserve American democracy.

          In California, the protests vastly increased chances of the Legislature putting a new proposition on the November ballot aiming to overturn the 1996 Proposition 209 ban on affirmative action in university admissions and other areas. That measure passed the state Assembly within a day of Floyd’s burial, and figures to pass the state Senate easily. There’s also a start to serious discussion of reparations for descendants of slaves.

          And the protests produced budgetary shifts likely to put more funds into projects benefitting areas of the state that are majority-minority. They have already caused some employers who rarely did so before to consciously cast about for minority job candidates. And the city of Fort Bragg, named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, may get a new name.

          But policing will be affected most quickly. Major police departments like those in Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen their proposed new budgets cut by tens of millions of dollars. They also face proposals to gradually defund them, with smaller, community-controlled units as replacements.

          Gov. Gavin Newsom almost immediately ordered the state’s police training agency to stop teaching carotid choke holds constricting the main artery to the brain. Then California’s largest local police academies swore off teaching the knee-on-neck tactic that killed Floyd.

          Police know they risk further protests if they don’t weed out officers with criminal pasts and start recruiting new cops less inclined to mistreat persons under their control. No one is sure how they’ll do that, but it’s now a must.

          These are just some of the obvious effects of the weeks of civil unrest.

          As with past protests like the Boston Tea Party and the storming of the Bastille, no one knows what else might follow. But it’s already plain the effects will help shape politics and some lives for years to come.

    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, June 8, 2020




From local newspaper columnists to court reporters, from musicians and sound mixers to seamstresses, it’s difficult to find a skilled field where the most destructive law California has adopted in the last few years does not hurt substantial numbers of people.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic threw unprecedented millions of workers onto unemployment and wrecked myriad businesses, the measure known as Assembly Bill 5 was destroying careers willy-nilly.

          It’s become extremely obvious just how amateur and clumsy an effort this bill was from the moment of its conception. In a California economy that thrived for years on gig workers (who themselves often thrived as they moved from company to company, taking the best offers available), this law, signed last September by Gov. Gavin Newsom, became sawdust in the gears of business and employment.

          Freelancers in many fields were dumped by the hundreds, adding up to many thousands in the months between the bill signing and its Jan. 1 effective date.

          The bill’s inept author, Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, soon admitted it needed revisions and submitted a few for legislative consideration. These were quickly placed on the back burner as lawmakers, like other Californians, sheltered at home most of the spring. On their return to Sacramento, where they essentially sanctioned months of one-man rule by Newsom, they were justifiably consumed with budget issues, a preoccupation brought on by vast tax losses from the state’s long lockdown.

          It’s plain why AB 5 passed in the first place: Labor unions badly wanted to organize the many thousands of drivers working freelance for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, folks who worked when they pleased, as long as they pleased. What befell others in a wide variety of freelance occupations was collateral damage in the war between unions and the big rideshare outfits.

          But the virus lockdown reduced traffic in California’s urban centers anywhere from 35 percent to 65 percent. This did more than merely allow remaining drivers to feel like they could set land speed records every time they ventured onto a freeway. It also took vast numbers of rideshare drivers off the road.

          With businesses shuttered and the majority of Californians sheltering at home and/or working from home, there has also been little need for Uber or Lyft. Where are folks sheltering at home going to go?

          Meanwhile, insecurities some women had about encountering attempted rapists or gropers when drivers showed up during the heyday of ridesharing quickly evolved into worries about getting exposed to COVID-19 if they ventured into a stranger’s car. A stranger whose medical history and past exposure to contagion were of necessity unknown to riders.

          So why keep a law intended to instigate the unionization of a workforce that’s greatly reduced? There really is little or no reason. Even the unions wouldn’t get much in the way of dues if they managed to organize every driver still working.

          If Gonzalez admits she erred in writing a blunderbuss law that inadvertently – she says – damaged the prospects of people she didn’t know she was involving, why not just get rid of the whole thing?

          Why should make-up artists have lost their jobs en masse just because unions wanted to gain new members among rideshare drivers?

          Even worse, why should newspapers, which were already in precarious financial shape before the pandemic but then lost most of their local advertising income, still be forced to hire anyone who writes more than 35 stories per year (the limit set in AB 5) as a regular employee when they’ve had to lay off even more reporters and editors and ad takers than before? For that matter, why the specific limit on articles for freelance writers, when there are no analogous limits for any other gig workers? That limit alone suggests Gonzalez deliberately targeted newspapers and some of their writers.

          The bottom line: This was a bad law when it passed. Now the coronavirus lockdown has exposed it as even worse than it first seemed. That means lawmakers should scrap the entire amateurish mistake, not merely tinker with it.

    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




          Nothing has contributed more to substandard treatment of older adults in nursing homes than a futile, failed rule imposed by state and federal governments at the advent of the COVID-19 crisis: Virtually no visits for anyone in any nursing home or skilled nursing facility.

          The ban was intended to keep the coronavirus out of nursing homes, but patients there nevertheless account for more than one-fourth of the 110,000-plus COVID-19 deaths nationally and almost half of California’s fatalities. It’s clear the nearly four-month ouster of visiting relatives and friends has been worse than useless.

          The rule has certainly not kept the virus away. But it produced scores of heart-wrenching newspaper stories and television news segments featuring some of the thousands of patients who died alone because nursing homes kept their loved ones away, be they friends or close relatives like sons and daughters, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Some said permanent goodbyes to beloved elders through closed windows or via cellphones, making for dramatic videos.

          The harm from this goes far beyond emotional damage. It has also led to newly low standards of care in many facilities, charge some patients, their relatives and doctors.

          One accomplished, mentally alert 76-year-old man who was forced to sell his house and move permanently into a nursing home when he became too disabled to transfer from bed to wheelchair by himself confided this: during one stretch in May he was kept in bed for periods of both five consecutive days and, later, four straight days. Telephone calls to a nurses’ station near his room revealed he is routinely put to bed at 4 p.m. daily, like it or not. In an email, he said this was new, done “for the convenience of the staff.”

          Such treatment has become routine in an unknown, but large, number of nursing homes chiefly because of the virtual ban on visitation, mandated by overlapping federal and state rules. This is true despite assertions from the California Department of Public Health (DPH) that it has conducted numerous inspections and assessed many penalties during the pandemic.

          “Nursing home management already disliked visitors before COVID-19,” said Michael Dark, staff attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. “Visitors notice bedsores on people not being turned in their beds, they see when residents are not hydrated or not clean, they notice when sheets are not changed, things that are supposed to be routine.”

          Management knows visitors can complain to state authorities. But because of the visitor ban, outsiders now don’t see these things or complain.

          All this is in the name of shutting coronavirus out of the homes, something that clearly does not work. That is chiefly because nursing home staff, including many certified nursing assistants, is low paid, often getting minimum wages and thus forced to work more than one job to survive. If one nursing home is sanitary, but staffers also work in others that are not, they can carry the viral infestation from home to home. And there’s no requirement for regular testing.

          One doctor who treats nursing home patients when they arrive in her hospital with COVID-19 wrote in the New York Times, “The elderly are more isolated and defenseless than ever.”

          So it is long past time the DPH changes a key word repeated often in its May 2 guidelines that help exclude almost all visitors from California nursing homes. Those rules repeatedly “recommend” homes admit visitors under specific, spelled-out conditions, including a recommendation that children in skilled nursing facilities each be allowed visits from one support person.

          Said Dark, “The guidelines could mean there will be virtually no visitors for years to come because management interprets them to mean they don’t have to let anyone in. If the DPH changed its wording to ‘shall’ or ‘must,’ it could improve things a lot.”

          But Heidi Steinecker, deputy director of DPH’s Center for Health Care Quality, declined to say whether she would consider such a change.

          The bottom line here is that right now Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration tolerates a situation that leads to disease and death for thousands of helpless elders and others in nursing homes.

    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, June 1, 2020




          If there’s one word that properly describes the massive budget cuts proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in May, it is “slapdash.”

          Until the governor ordered the vast majority of Californians to shelter at home indefinitely to stem the spread of the coronavirus, no one expected more than routine changes in the annual May revision of his proposed state budget. But the lockdown brought instant recession, worse in some ways than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

          That stunned state budget planners. The May revise shows they reacted swiftly, but not surgically. Rather than pick off items containing waste, they slashed almost everything, from state parks to health programs to public schools and universities.

          Even a cursory look at the planned cuts shows one consistent thread: The neediest will be hit hardest. For some, survival itself is threatened.

          There is a solution to all this, one last used in 2004 by ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a time when the state also faced a huge budget deficit promising almost as much harm as Newsom’s May revise. The movie muscleman suggested borrowing our way out of the crisis, getting voters to approve a $14 billion-plus bond. It was paid off 11 years later during flush times when the final payment was hardly noticed.

          A bond twice that large could solve virtually all today’s problems, and was first proposed by Jim Wunderman, CEO of the business-oriented Bay Area Council. If most economic experts are correct and California’s fundamentals remain sound enough for a major comeback after a vaccine debuts, this is an obvious way out.

          Failure to do judicious borrowing could lead to great suffering and even death for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. Perhaps the neediest are clients of the In Home Supportive Services program, which sends caregivers into homes of the elderly poor a few hours daily, helping with everything from bathing to basic house cleaning.

          The cut Newsom’s staff proposes to this program could end up costing far more than it saves, financially and in human terms. “This could give people a choice between being helped to get out of bed and shopping for food,” said Claire Ramsey, staff lawyer for a group called Justice in Aging. “The program is vital in ordinary times because it keeps people out of nursing homes, which cost much more than this kind of care. But now there’s an absolute need to keep people out of hospitals and nursing homes (where almost half California’s coronavirus deaths have occurred). This cut can lead directly to sickness and death.” Not to mention sky-high hospital and nursing home bills dwarfing any budget savings from the program cutback.

          Newsom also proposes eliminating Community Based Adult Services and Multi-Purpose Senior Services programs, which offer some similar services.

Consequences of these moves can be even more serious than the effects of opening schools late this summer and fall, as six of California’s largest school districts say might happen because of proposed cuts. Yes, that’s important. The less time children spend in school, the more their future can be impacted, even if they tune into virtual, computerized classes.

          Early childhood education, formerly a Newsom pet program, also could be slashed, one likely result being that poor kids will fall farther behind the wealthy than they are now.

The good news here is that state legislators appear opposed to most of the worst planned cuts. The bad news is they don’t know where to find money to avoid them, short of tax increases.

A bond answers that quandary. Borrowing to see vital programs through this time amounts to investing in the state’s future.

          Wunderman points out that higher taxes would be unpopular and probably unwise in a time of high unemployment and uncertainty for thousands of businesses. A bond, he said, could help avoid the worst fiscal effects of the virus, also letting California exploit historic low interest rates.

          It makes sense, it could save lives and misery and it would not burden today’s taxpayers much. So it’s high time state legislators take the initiative back from the governor, put a bond on the November ballot and follow the Arnold example.

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




          For decades, academics warned that the ever-widening income gap in America could have dire consequences for California and the rest of the nation unless someone did something about it. Nothing happened.

          Then came the wholly unjustified police killing of the African American Minneapolis resident George Floyd, touching off protests from coast to coast, from near the Canadian border to near the Mexican border. The protests broke out in Seattle and Phoenix, in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia – almost everywhere with significant minority populations.

          These began peacefully. But then crowds began expressing pent-up anxiety and rage left from the 11-week coronavirus lockdown, with its loss of jobs and continuing spread of the plague itself. Both hit minorities far harder than whites largely because of their vastly contrasting living conditions and educational levels.

Over a week of steady demonstrations, looters eventually began exploiting the protests. Some of their raids looked well organized, likely via social media. They went after high-end shopping areas in San Francisco and Emeryville, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and the Santa Monica Promenade.

          In Santa Monica on Sunday, May 31, legitimate demonstrators and looters split sharply, soon conducting their activities blocks apart. On swank Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles Saturday, May 30, and on Santa Monica’s Broadway the next afternoon, looters literally trampled groups of legitimate peaceful protesters trying to divert them from storefronts.

          The thieves went after goods from sneakers to sweaters, jeans to jewelry, TVs to computers and cellphones. The booty so packed their cars, SUVs and pickups that looters themselves almost could not fit in with it. Look for much of that easy-to-sell stuff in swap meets across America.

          Outside some brand-name sneaker stores, the bandits’ vehicles lined up in what seemed a systematic pattern, police so outnumbered in many places that they could not safely intervene.

          Some conservatives including President Trump soon tagged “Antifa” as the culprit, with no evidence. Of course, no one knows exactly who Antifa is, so it’s a convenient, anonymous scapegoat.

          But there’s much more at work here than the usual “outside agitator” suspects, to whom conservatives appear to be applying the Antifa tag, after a group that has not been very active for the last few years.

          Doing that intentionally downplays and ignores the legitimate grievances of African Americans, who have time after time seen police injure or kill unarmed persons of their race. It bypasses at least one legitimate question: Why are police trained in the knee-on-neck technique used by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin to kill Floyd while three other cops stood by as Floyd moaned that he could not breathe?

          But there are deeper issues. California exemplifies them, Los Angeles in particular. Said one businessman who recently relocated to the posh L.A. district of Bel Air, “It’s been hard for me to believe that I can live in luxury here, but less than five miles away are some of the poorest people in America.”

          Academics have noted that contrast for years, sometimes warning it could lead to violence. The New York-based Urban Institute, for one example, reported that between 1963 and 2016 families near the bottom of wealth distribution (those at the 10th percentile) went from averaging no wealth to being about $1,000 in debt, while families near the top (at the 90th percentile and above) saw their wealth increase fivefold between 1963 and 2016. That’s compounded inequality.

          Long before the Floyd murder, then, there was plenty of inequality and reason for minority rage. The rage is now in the open. That’s why it was no coincidence when, at least in California, protesters and their piggy-backing looters headed to high-end areas.

          With a long, hot summer ahead, this outbreak may lapse, but its causes won’t go away. California can hope this is not the start of the class war some scholars warned of, but the only way to make sure of that is to do something about the blatant inequalities in economics, policing, housing and many other areas.

That could lead to a guaranteed monthly income for all, or something else. But there must be movement, or the troubles may only be starting.

     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