CVIndependent

Sun09272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Viewers of the local news on NBC Palm Springs may have recently caught a short segment on all of the wonderful things Amazon is doing during the pandemic.

“Millions of Americans staying at home are relying on Amazon,” the piece begins, before going on to talk about how “the company is keeping its employees safe and healthy,” and giving its oh-so-safe employees more than $800 million in increased wages and overtime pay.

Unfortunately, this segment is slanted at best—and dangerously misleading at worst.

Oh, and this segment wasn’t news. It was produced by Amazon, and sent to TV news stations around the country via a PR wire service.

Most TV-news reporters ignored it; a few actually called out Amazon for sending out this piece of packaged crap in the first place.

But at least 11 TV stations, according to Courier Newsroom, took the piece and ran with it … including NBC Palm Springs.

And now the truth that NBC Palm Springs “report” was lacking: Amazon is having its annual shareholder meeting tomorrow—and some of those shareholders want to know more about what Amazon actually is doing to protect its employees, because so far, it hasn’t been enough. According to CNBC:

Tensions have been growing between Amazon and warehouse workers nationwide, as the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths at its facilities have climbed. Warehouse workers have called for the company to put in place greater safety protections, including providing paid sick leave and closing down facilities where there are positive cases for additional cleaning.

Amazon has repeatedly declined to disclose how many warehouse employees have died from the coronavirus, but has confirmed eight deaths as they were reported by various media outlets. The company also hasn’t provided a total number of workers who have fallen ill from the virus, though one estimate from Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker in Indiana, pegs the total number of cases at 900 employees nationwide.

I reached out to Bob McCauley, NBC Palm Springs’ senior vice president, as well as Gino LaMont, listed on the NBC Palm Springs website as the news department contact, to ask them how this happened. As of this writing, I have not yet gotten a response.

So much stuff that’s presented as “news” or “journalism” these days is, well, NOT. Numerous local publications run press releases from various organizations without disclosing that’s what they are, and some even sell stories to groups and businesses without disclosing to readers that they’re actually paid ads. None of that, of course, is right … but that’s how they do it.

But this is unconscionable. At least eight Amazon workers have died.

NBC Palm Springs, you really need to serve your viewers better, and you have some explaining to do.

Today’s links:

• The big news today: Gov. Newsom surprised the heck out of a lot of people when he announced that barbers and hair salons could reopen in counties—including Riverside County—that have moved into the second part of Phase 2. However, other businesses listed in Stage 3—including nail salons—remain closed. 

• Palm Springs business owners, take note: The city will be holding a webinar at 9 a.m., Thursday. May 28, titled “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners.” Get all the information here.

• Other Palm Springs news: The library is opening for curbside pickup. Learn more at the Facebook page.

• Hey, Apple Store fans: The El Paseo location is reopening this weektomorrow, to be specific.

• When full-on Stage 3 comes—which is anticipated to happen sometime in June, but who in the hell knows at this point—that will include theme parks, so says the state.

• Speaking of who in the hell knows … The Washington Post today broke down how truly little we still know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

All sorts of people and businesses are suing Gov. Newsom over the shutdown orders. The latest: Patioworld is suing the state, because … uh, outdoor furniture showrooms are essential? Anyway, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this helpful lawsuit tracker, from our partners at CalMatters.

Another stimulus bill is coming at some point in the future, probably, maybe? After waffling, Mitch McConnell now says it’s likely.

• For the first time ever, Twitter has fact-checked something Trump tweeted. The president, of course, reacted to this news in a restrained and reasonable manner. (*Snort*)

• Sad but not surprising: The number of Americans dealing with anxiety or depression has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit.

• Local company Ernie Ball makes strings for guitars and all sorts of other musical equipment—and when COVID-19 arrived, the company started making masks, too. Now, Ernie Ball is making those masks available for free to everyone in the Coachella Valley.

• A whole lot of people who purchased travel insurance have been horrified to learn that pandemics are a common travel-insurance exclusion. The Los Angeles Times looks at the issue—and explains which companies are doing right by their customers, and which ones are not.

That’s all for today. If you’re a fan of our print version, the June edition is hitting streets this week—or if you want it mailed to you for a nominal fee, we can have that arranged. If you value good, honest, doesn’t-run-lying-crap-from-Amazon journalism, and you can afford it, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Is anyone else out there having problems watching TV shows and movies—because you’re constantly being reminded of things the pandemic has taken from us?

I’ve started often saying a new phrase (driving my hubby crazy in the process) while watching things from our comfy couch: Hey, remember when (insert word here) was a thing?

One recent night, we were watching Mean Girls. (I, somehow, had never seen it before.) The movie was cute and genuinely funny at times … but watching all these kids having their high school experiences (as messed up as some of them were) broke my heart, given that current students had their experiences ripped out from underneath them.

Remember when schools were a thing?

Another night, we watched the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper version of A Star Is Born, and I was in a mood from the point, early on in the film, when Cooper’s character unwittingly wandered into a bar with a drag show (and, of course, one “real” woman singing in the form of Ms. Gaga).

Remember when bars were a thing? Remember when concerts were a thing?

Sigh.

Yeah, I know that one day, all of these will probably be things again. However, it’s gonna be a while—and while I am continuing to count my blessings, I’m also telling myself that it’s OK to mourn the losses we’re all facing.

There’s one other thing I am telling myself, that I’ll also say here: We’re likely in the worst of it now, and better times—not back-to-normal times, but better times—will be here soon, if we keep doing the right things …

• Before we get to today’s links, some Independent housekeeping ….

Today was a busy day of picking things up from the printers! First, our May print edition is here! As always, it will be available for free at locations across the valley, including Albertsons, Whole Foods, AM/PMs and all sorts of other essential businesses. However, if you’d like us to mail you a copy, we’d be happy to do that; get details here.

Second: Coloring the Coachella Valley, our fantastic coloring book project, is here! Digital downloads have been sent; we’ll mail out the first batch of physical copies tomorrow. Buy ’em here—and support the Independent, the CREATE Center for the Arts and local artists while doing so.

Today’s links:

• Good news: Gov. Newsom today said “we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order”—although he was none too pleased with reports of crowded beaches over the weekend Meanwhile, Bay Area counties have extended their orders through the end of May, with promises of “limited easing” as we go.

• More good news: IF it works, and IF things go well—both of which are HUGE ifs—a vaccine could be available in limited doses by September. IF IF IF.

Please no panicking … but meat may be harder to come by, and more expensive, due to various closures and problems in the supply chain.

• Related: Our friends at High Country News come to the Coachella Valley to tell the story of farmworkers seeing their hours drastically cut—and fears that a lot of food may go to waste.

• Schools may reopen in the fall. If they do, they may be run quite differently, according to The Washington Post.

• Missing baseball? ESPN’s Jeff Passan says there’ll be baseball at some point in 2020; it’s just a matter of when, where and how.

The SBA loan process continues to be a steaming dumpster fire.

• Warning: This is a difficult story to read. Out of Manhattan, the headline: “Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/27/nyregion/new-york-city-doctor-suicide-coronavirus.html?smid=fb-share

• Also a difficult read: The overall death rate is waaaaay up, even when cases attributed to COVID-19 are removed. This means that the coronavirus death toll is actually way higher than what’s being reported, for starters.

• Again, not fun: COVID-19 seems to be causing some younger victims to have deadly strokes. Yikes.

• Showing how little we know about this damned virus: The CDC has revised its list of COVID-19 symptoms.

On the footsteps of our interview with Dr. Rep. Raul Ruiz, The Wall Street Journal quotes him in a piece about the members of Congress who also just so happen to be doctors.

• OK … time for some levity! John Krasinski’s Some Good News is back with a potluck, of sorts.

• Elsewhere on YouTube, Randy Rainbow brings us “A Spoonful of Clorox.”

New to YouTube: The Palm Springs Library! Read more from NBC Palm Springs here.

• Already on YouTube, and planning a live-stream Swoon at the Moon event on April 30: Check out the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory page!

That’s all for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you must venture out. Be kind. Back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to the first-ever Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest. The goal for this Daily Digest is to round up reliable, vetted news related to COVID-19 and the accompanying societal changes. There’s too much unreliable information floating around on social media (and even coming out of some elected officials’ mouths)—and in this space, we'll sort through it all to get to truthfulness and sanity.

In addition to news updates, we’ll also highlight good things happening—specials from local businesses (that REALLY need your support right now), enlightening comments from members of the community, and so on. Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have anything you think should be included.

And with that ... here's the news.

• As we were getting close to clicking send on this, the Palm Springs Unified School District announced it would be closing schools the next two weeks. They're moving up Spring Break, essentially. Parents are receiving this message right now: "Hello PSUSD families. This is Supt. Sandy Lyon. I wanted to provide you with an update on the coronavirus situation as it relates to our District. You may be aware that over the past day, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases here in the Coachella Valley, and there are a number of tests pending that could result in several other confirmed cases. Additionally, both the Riverside County Department of Health and Governor Newsom issued a directive to suspend gatherings of over 250 people. As a result, Palm Springs Unified School District is moving its two-week spring break. It will begin on Monday, March 16."

• Eisenhower Medical Center announced earlier today that visitors will no longer be allowed at EMC for the time being. More on what EMC is doing to protect the community can be found here.

• As of this writing, local theaters have made a split decision on whether to stay open or not. While Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Coyote StageWorks and the Desert Rose Playhouse have cancelled or postponed shows this weekend, Palm Canyon Theatre, CVRep and Desert TheatreWorks are letting the shows go on. Read more about this in the second installment in the Independent's Pandemic Stories series tomorrow (Saturday).

As for that first Pandemic Stories installment: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the owner of Piero's PizzaVino about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tourney, and how that devastated her and her staff. Piero's is one of the few local restaurants to have a pop-up location at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, alongside big names like Nobu and Spago.

• As for closures and cancellations: The Palm Springs Gay Softball league has suspended practices and play through March, and the national NAGAAA Cup tourney the league was hosting at the end of March is cancelled. Other recent cancellations/closures include the Palm Desert Food and Wine fest, all Certified Farmers Markets through at least March 30 (though the Palm Springs Cultural Center remains open for now), the Palm Springs Library (though the Palm Desert Library remains open), and shockingly, The Abbey down in West Hollywood.

• From our partners at CalMatters: As the coronavirus toll rises, so do concerns about health-care workers' safety.

• Earlier today, President Trump declared a national emergency. The press conference was ... well, fascinating. At one point, after Trump said he didn't take any responsibility for the pandemic, a reporter from PBS asked him about his firing of the national pandemic response team. His response was that he didn't do it, and that this was a "nasty question." As for that firing, Snopes says it's true that it happened.

• Support local businesses! If you're comfortable with going out (while taking all the precautions that you should be), local bars and restaurants need you right now. If not, order food from a local restaurant on GrubHub or one of the apps!

• Alternately, consider buying gift cards from local businesses. Some places are offering 20 percent bonuses.

• If you found this email helpful, forward to a friend, or have them email us and we'll add them to the list. Please consider supporting the Independent, too ... we could use it!

Until tomorrow ... stay safe; support local business, and wash your hands!

Published in Daily Digest

On Oct. 2, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History, a book by Hollywood comedy couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, is being released—and three days later, the hilarious duo will kick off the second season of the Palm Springs Speaks series.

The speakers’ series is a joint effort by the Palm Springs Cultural Center and the Friends of the Palm Springs Library. Ron Willison, the president of the Palm Springs Library Board of Trustees, helped organize the series—which is bringing some huge names to the valley in the coming months.

“We are trying to bring in interesting speakers,” he said. “We want to promote literacy, and we add different speakers for each year to make it interesting. Last year, we had Deepak Chopra talk about wellness. Dan Savage talked about LBGT issues, and Al Gore (was here) in association with the (Palm Springs International) Film Festival.

“This year, to start off, we will have Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, and they will be speaking on their new book, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History. Palm Springs Speaks is actually one of only six stops they are doing for their book.”

The actors/writers/comedians have been married for 15 years, which virtually unheard of in the entertainment industry. In the book, they explain how their relationship has survived and thrived.

While the entire Palm Springs Speaks series this season has yet to be announced—the complete slate will be announced on Oct. 5—Willison did spill the beans on some of the other scheduled speakers.

“This year, we are also having Janet Mock,” Willison said. “She is a trans activist and director of the series Pose.”

Willison said organizers make a concerted effort to keep ticket costs down; admission to Mullally and Offerman’s talk starts at just $30—and all tickets to Palm Springs Speaks events include books.

“We try to make tickets more affordable to people within different communities, like the trans community,” he said. “We hope people can afford to come and hear somebody from their own community speak (like Janet Mock). We know how important that is.

“We are also having Jane Fonda as a part of this series. We always want community involvement whenever we can. For example, when Jane Fonda comes here, tickets will be donated to high schools because of her work with teen pregnancy in Atlanta.

“Our goal is to eventually take the Palm Springs Speaks series and have it become as large as the Desert Town Hall, which has 1,900 people and is actually the No. 1 speaker series in the country,” Willison said, referring to the series that takes place each year January through March in Indian Wells.

Organizers of Palm Springs Speaks have various goals in mind.

“The level of awareness is important for Palm Springs Speaks. It costs over $100,000 a year to put this on, and luckily last year, we made a little bit of money,” Willison said. “The monies go to two very important organizations, so the more money we raise, the more money they receive. Palm Springs Speaks is presented in the west end of the valley by the Palm Springs Cultural Center and the Friends of the Palm Springs Public Library. Proceeds go to support the Cultural Center and the Friends of the Library equally. The Palm Springs Library uses the money for buying books or helping with new furniture or renovations.

“We are hopeful that in a couple of years, Palm Springs Speaks will be at a level of recognition where it should become profitable for everybody involved. It is our goal to make Palm Springs Speaks something that the city is proud of and the valley is proud of—and to make this series a destination event for people to travel here from Los Angeles or Phoenix for a nice weekend getaway that has a positive reflection on our town.”

Palm Springs Speaks presents Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5, at the Richards Center for the Arts at Palm Springs High School, 2248 E. Ramon Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $30 to $60. For tickets or more information, visit www.palmspringsspeaks.org.

Published in Literature

Famed novelist Sidney Sheldon was a fervent supporter of the Palm Springs Library. Sheldon and his wife, Alexandra, even donated a bighorn statue to the library, which is on display by the entrance to the building on Sunrise Way.

I once interviewed Sheldon, who died in 2007, at the library, and he passionately talked about the importance of reading: “The kids of today must read books, because some of them will be politicians of tomorrow, and they will be making decisions that influence all of us!”

Sheldon is gone now, but his books are still there on the shelves. The library reportedly has 172,000 volumes, and is the leading library in the valley by its numbers. However, in recent months, a series of incidents at the library, at Sunrise and Baristo Road, has been troubling.

On Aug. 7, according to Palm Springs Police records, Garrett Kevin Jennings, 54, allegedly stole a bike from the rack at the library entrance—in broad daylight! The library was still open, with patrons passing by, as he cut the lock off with a bolt-cutter and rode away on the stolen bike.

“I saw him as he threw the lock and removed the bike from the rack,” said Esteban Gallegos, a library security guard. “I took a picture of the suspect while he was pedaling from the library entrance through the parking lot.”

Gallegos reported the crime to the police and submitted the suspect’s picture. A detective recognized the perpetrator: Jennings had a criminal history.

On Aug. 13, Jennings was arrested at noon on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. He was riding a different bike, but still had a bolt-cutter on him, according to police records. He was booked on suspicion of committing a theft, possession of burglary tools and violation of probation.

According to Gallegos, who’s been a guard at the Palm Springs Library since June 2006, the number of incidents at the library has skyrocketed in the past year.

“Yes, it’s a fact. I’ve been doing more reports than ever before, and I’ve got a big file to prove it,” he said.

His account is confirmed by Merrit Chassie, a 20-year veteran of the Palm Springs Police Department. “We've got a lot going on there at the library park, and we’re often called in, sometimes by Esteban,” Chassie said.

Another alarming library incident, this time involving Gallegos as a victim, happened on Aug. 19. Police Sgt. Harvey Reed said the suspect was 19-year-old Derrell Celestine of Palm Springs, who was later arrested for grand theft and violation of probation.

Gallegos described what took place.

“The suspect was permanently banned from the library for stealing DVDs. He was trespassing, so I took my phone to take a pic of him as proof to the police,” Gallegos said. “I was adjusting the camera when he ran fast toward me. He pushed me, poked me in my left eye and took my phone. For a moment, I couldn’t see, but I ran after him. He escaped with my phone.”

The stolen phone was never found. Gallegos said he’s glad his eye is OK now, and that Celestine was captured by the police.

Gallegos also mentioned finding small, empty bags at times on library shelves, and on one occasion, there was a fist fight at the library door.

Shortly after the bike and phone incidents, I personally witnessed a raucous scene at the library entrance: An elderly man was pushed to the ground by someone. Within minutes, two Palm Springs police cruisers with four deputies showed up. The deputies drove onto the park grass in a search for a possible suspect wearing a red shirt.

These days, an armed guard has occasionally been seen inside the library. I tried to talk to him. Once he learned I was a reporter, he declined to speak to me, saying that he could get fired if he did so.

I also sat down with Jeannie Kays, the library director. While she was happy to talk about more cheerful subjects, she declined to discuss the increase in problems at the library.

I wonder what Sidney Sheldon would say about that.

Published in Local Issues