CVIndependent

Sat11282020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

One day, those of us who survive this crazy time will look back on this year—and particularly this week—and shake our heads at the sheer unbelievability.

The Trump tax thing. That debate. The sudden—and somehow surprising, even though it should have been rather predictable—flood of positive coronavirus tests among prominent people, headlined by the president himself, who is currently being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

This has all happened since Sunday. And who in the hell knows what’s coming next.

So, on with the gusher of news:

• Today has seen a nonstop stream of updates regarding who has tested positive for COVID-19, and who hasn’t. Here’s The New York Times’ live updates page. It’s worth a follow—and you’ll want to hit refresh frequently.

• A professor of immunology, writing for The Conversation, breaks down why President Trump, who is 74, is more at risk of the coronavirus than people who are younger. Key quote: “As you age, the reduced ‘attention span’ of your innate and adaptive immune responses make it harder for the body to respond to viral infection, giving the virus the upper hand. Viruses can take advantage of your immune system’s slow start and quickly overwhelm you, resulting in serious disease and death.”

• A local news bombshell dropped yesterday: Palm Springs City Manager David Ready will be retiring at the end of the year, after two decades as the city’s chief executive. While Ready’s tenure as city manager was far from perfect—the whole Wessman/Pougnet thing happened under his watch—and his high salary made him a target for detractors, it’s undeniable that the city has grown and thrived, despite three painful recessions, since he took the top city job in 2000. Interestingly, both Indio and Palm Desert are also looking for new city managers right now.

• I have to tip my hat to Riverside County, which has done a fantastic job of issuing relevant and helpful statistical updates regarding the pandemic (even though it’s weird, if understandable, that the county takes weekends off, because the virus doesn’t). Anyway, every weekday, the county releases an updated Data Summary. Here’s today’s, and I want to draw your attention to the little yellow box in the upper right corner of the last page: The county’s positivity rate, after fairly steady declines since mid-July, is heading upward again—fairly rapidly. Is this just a little blip, like we had in mid-August and earlier this month? Or is it something else? Stay tuned.

• Some news that flew under the radar today, because of, well, you know: The grand jury recording in the Breonna Taylor case was released. NPR looks at what the 15 hours of recordings reveal.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom is on my personal shit list right now. Why? Per the Los Angeles Times: “Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have further protected journalists covering demonstrations from physical or verbal obstruction by a law enforcement officer.” The Times explains his justification for the veto, which sort of makes sense, but not really.

• Barring a change of plans, cruise ships will be able to set sail starting next month—even though the CDC wanted to keep them docked until mid-February. The White House vetoed that plan, lest Floridians and its voters get upset.

Wisconsin has become the latest COVID-19 epicenter in the United States. Hospitals are strained, and health officers are panicked. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Before Sept. 17, the state had never recorded a day with more than 2,000 new cases. Over the last seven days, however, it has reported an average of nearly 2,500 new coronavirus cases each day. Those aren't just the highest numbers of the pandemic; they're three times higher than a month ago.

Things are also rough in Puerto Rico—and not just because of COVID-19. According to NBC News: “The increasing demand for grocery boxes … coincides with a looming funding cliff that stands to eliminate or reduce food assistance to 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, including over 300,000 children, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute.” Yikes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday restricted the number of places where ballots can be dropped off by hand to one per county. Per NBC News: “Harris County, which includes much of the sprawling city of Houston, has a population of more than 4.7 million people, according to the Census Bureau. The county is home to 25 percent of the state's Black residents and 18 percent of its Hispanic population. Before Abbott's proclamation, the county had created 11 ballot drop-off locations.” Abbott cited security concerns, but really, how can this be viewed as anything but voter suppression?

Amazon said yesterday that nearly 20,000 employees—or 1.44 percent of the company’s workforce—have contracted COVID-19, as of Sept. 19. According to CNBC: “The information comes months after labor groups, politicians and regulators repeatedly pressed Amazon to disclose how many of its workers were infected by COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, warehouse workers raised concerns that Amazon wasn’t doing enough to protect them from getting sick and called for facilities with confirmed cases to be shut down. Lacking data from Amazon, warehouse workers compiled a crowdsourced database of infections based on notifications of new cases at facilities across the U.S.”

The Paycheck Protection Program continues to be a mess. According to The Washington Post: “The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration have not yet forgiven any of the 5.2 million emergency coronavirus loans issued to small businesses and need to do more to combat fraud, government watchdogs told Congress on Thursday. Small businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program funds, as well as their banks, have been frustrated by the difficulty in applying for loans to be forgiven, despite rules saying that if the funds are spent mostly on payroll they will not need to be paid back.”

• A speck of good news: The supply of remdesivir—one of the most effective drugs in treating COVID-19—has caught up with demand, to the point where the drug-maker, Gilead Sciences has taken over distribution of the drug from the federal government.

The Washington Post has declared the current recession to be the “most unequal in modern history.” In web-graphic form, the newspaper explains how minorities and lower-income Americans have been hurt the most.

Speaking of inequality, check out this lede, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Federal funding that put money in the pockets of local farmers and organic produce in the mouths of food-insecure families has come to an end. The United States Department of Agriculture launched the Farmers to Families Program during the pandemic to get free food to low-income families while supporting small farms scrambling for more business. But the department recently stopped issuing funds to local community organizations in favor of multinational food distributors like Sysco.” Sigh.

• I was again a guest on this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, with hosts Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. We discuss all things COVID—including sports! Take a listen, even though it was recorded yesterday, which seems like seven years ago, news-wise.

• Finally, if you’re in the mood to read about the inappropriate behavior that reportedly led to Kimberly Guilfoyle’s departure from Fox News, have at it, via SF Gate. Why should you care about Kimberly Guilfoyle? You probably shouldn’t, even if she is Gavin Newsom’s ex, is dating Donald Trump Jr., is the Trump campaign's finance chair, and became well known for her crazy speech at the Republican National Convention. But, boy, the things she allegedly made her poor former assistant—who, according to the New Yorker, was paid $4 million by Fox News to settle a sexual-harassment claim against Guilfoyle—do make for some salacious reading, if you’re into that sort of thing.

That’s all for now. Consider helping us continue producing quality local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Please, please, please try to unplug and safely enjoy life this weekend. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Friday, all. There’s a lot of news today, so let’s get right to it:

• The New York Times is reporting that President Trump will indeed nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. The announcement should come tomorrow. According to reporter Peter Baker: “The president met with Judge Barrett at the White House this week and came away impressed with a jurist that leading conservatives told him would be a female Antonin Scalia, referring to the justice who died in 2016 and for whom Judge Barrett clerked. As they often do, aides cautioned that Mr. Trump sometimes upends his own plans. But he is not known to have interviewed any other candidates for the post.”

• The Trump administration is fighting back against a federal court injunction that prohibits the feds from ending the Census tally a month early. According to NPR, “The preliminary injunction issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California requires the Census Bureau to keep trying to tally the country's residents through Oct. 31.

• Breonna Taylor’s family today expressed anger over the fact that none of the three Louisville police officers who killed her were charged for doing so. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, demanded the release of grand jury transcripts in the case, calling for (Kentucky Attorney General Daniel) Cameron to make plain what he did and did not present to them this week and leading the crowd in a chant echoing that plea.”

• Related: The Washington Post examines the tactics that police departments use to keep records from being released to the public. Sigh.

• Rio’s massive Carnival 2021 celebration has been indefinitely postponed, because, of, well, y’know. NPR explains.

Gov. Ron DeSantis pretty much opened the state of Florida sans restrictions today—and banned local governments from issuing further restrictions, for the most part. According to ABC News: “The governor’s announcement Friday allows restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity—and prevents cities and counties from ordering them to close or operate at less than half-capacity, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons. ‘We’re not closing anything going forward,’ DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.

• State health officials are saying that California COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to almost double in next month. Per the Los Angeles Times: “The proportion of Californians testing positive for the virus continues to remain low at 3 percent over the past two weeks, and the total number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals continues to decline, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services director. But he said that some other metrics are prompting concern that a feared uptick in the virus’ spread, which public health officials said was possible in the wake of the Labor Day holiday and more businesses reopening, may be materializing.”

Things could get scary in Portland tomorrow. Per Willamette Week: “Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday she's drawing on emergency authority to direct a coordinated response to tomorrow's planned rally by right-wing groups at Delta Park in North Portland. That event is likely to draw a strong counterprotest from the left—and conflict between the two groups could get violent. ‘We are aware that white supremacist groups from out of town, including the Proud Boys, are planning a rally,’ Brown said. ‘They are expecting a significant crowd—some people will be armed, with others ready to harass or intimidate Oregonians. Many are from out of state.’"

• In other news about scary things this weekend: A heat wave and dangerous fire conditions are arriving in parts of California. According to The Washington Post: “The National Weather Service has posted red flag warnings for ‘critical’ fire weather conditions for the East Bay and North Bay Hills near San Francisco from Saturday through Monday. Winds from the north will eventually come out of the east, blowing from land to sea, increasing temperatures and dropping humidity percentages into the teens and single digits.”

• Sort of related, alas, comes this headline from our partners at CalMatters: “California Exodus: An online industry seizes COVID-19 to sell the Red State Dream.” Key quote: “Unaffordable housing. High taxes. A Democratic stranglehold on state politics. The concerns driving transplants like Morris out of the country’s richest state during the COVID-19 era are not new. What is changing quickly is how disillusioned California residents are coming together by the tens of thousands on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere online, fueling a cottage industry of real estate agents, mortgage lenders and political advocates stoking social division to compete for a piece of the much-discussed California Exodus.”

• On the vaccine front: The U.S. portion of the AstroZeneca trial remains on hold following the death of a British trial participant. Per Reuters: “A document posted online by Oxford University last week stated the illness in a British participant that triggered the pause on Sept. 6 may not have been associated with the vaccine.” Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says the pause proves the FDA is taking vaccine safety seriously.

• Here’s some good news: Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has entered the large Stage 3 trial. According to The New York Times: “Johnson & Johnson is a couple of months behind the leaders, but its advanced vaccine trial will be by far the largest, enrolling 60,000 participants. The company said it could know by the end of this year if its vaccine works. And its vaccine has potentially consequential advantages over some competitors. It uses a technology that has a long safety record in vaccines for other diseases. Its vaccine could require just one shot instead of two … and it does not have to be kept frozen.”

NBC News looks at the leading coronavirus models—and the discomfiting fact that their often grim projections have come true so far. “Many have watched with a mixture of horror and frustration as their projections of the pandemic's evolution, and its potential death toll, have come to fruition. Now, a widely cited model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggests that the U.S. could total more than 378,000 coronavirus deaths by January.”

• Even though the college football season so far has been a mess of postponements, COVID-19 cases and increasing concerns about the disease’s long-term effects on athletes, all of the conferences at the highest level of college football now intend to play this fall, including the Pac-12.

• We’ve previously mentioned in this space the possibility that dogs could be used to sniff out coronavirus cases, and now comes this, from The Associated Press: “Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.”

• A professor of psychology, writing for The Conversation, examines how this damned virus is changing the English language. Interestingly, the pandemic has only led to one new word, according to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary—COVID-19—which is actually an acronym. Instead: “Most of the coronavirus-related changes that the editors have noted have to do with older, more obscure words and phrases being catapulted into common usage, such as reproduction number and social distancing. They’ve also documented the creation of new word blends based on previously existing vocabulary.”

• I had to skip the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week due to a virtual journalism conference, but hosts Shann, John and Brad welcomed guests Dr. Laura Rush, Tim Vincent from Brothers of the Desert and Alexander Rodriguez from the On the Rocks Radio Show. Check it out.

• Finally, you have a reason to live until next week: the start of Fat Bear Week. This has nothing to do with the gents you’d find during a pre-COVID Friday evening at Hunters Palm Springs; instead, it’s an Alaska thing with which we’re fully on board.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. Wash your hands; wear a mask; support local businesses safely and responsibly—and if you’d like to include the Independent on the list of local businesses you’re financially supporting, find details here. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Here are two passages from The New York Times’ summary story on the Breonna Taylor case.

A grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Ms. Taylor’s death.

Brett Hankison, a detective at the time, fired into the sliding glass patio door and window of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, both of which were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.

He is the only one of the three officers who was dismissed from the force, with a termination letter stating that he showed “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

Second:

Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been in bed, but got up when they heard a loud banging at the door. Mr. Walker said he and Ms. Taylor both called out, asking who was at the door. Mr. Walker later told the police he feared it was Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend trying to break in.

After the police broke the door off its hinges, Mr. Walker fired his gun once, striking Sergeant Mattingly in a thigh. The police responded by firing several shots, striking Ms. Taylor five times. One of the three officers on the scene, Detective Brett Hankison, who has since been fired, shot 10 rounds blindly into the apartment.

Mr. Walker told investigators that Ms. Taylor coughed and struggled to breathe for at least five minutes after she was shot, according to The Louisville Courier Journal. An ambulance on standby outside the apartment had been told to leave about an hour before the raid, counter to standard practice. As officers called an ambulance back to the scene and struggled to render aid to their colleague, Ms. Taylor was not given any medical attention.

Can someone explain to me how these two passages jibe? Can someone explain how a woman, who had been sleeping in her own bed, can be shot five times, and then ignored, in violation of standard police practice—with nobody held accountable? How is this justice?

More news from the day:

• If you want to follow more news on the aftermath of the Breonna Taylor announcements today, I recommend checking out the Louisville Courier Journal website. There’s a lot of good stuff therein.

• An update: The Riverside County Board of Supervisors yesterday voted 3-2 to delay by two weeks a decision on whether to push ahead with its own reopening plan—which would mean disregarding the orders from the state. Key quote, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “Supervisors also want more details on exactly what state funding would be at risk should the county defy Sacramento’s reopening guidelines. And they seek more clarity on when different types of businesses could reopen.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today banning new gasoline-powered cars in California within 15 years. Hooray for the environment—although there are justifiable concerns over the fact that electric cars are more expensive, among other possible issues. Our partners at CalMatters explain.

Disneyland is crabby that theme parks have not yet been allowed to reopen. In the theme park’s defense, the state has been taking its own sweet time (read: many months) in issuing any guidance whatsoever on theme parks. There’s also this key quote from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “No COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported at Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Legoland and Cedar Fair parks in Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan, according to state health agencies and theme park officials.” (The key word there may be “reported.”)

• The Washington Post, via SFGate, looks at a new study showing how the coronavirus has mutated since the pandemic began. Key takeaway: It may be changing to become more contagious.

Dr. Deborah Birx is unhappy with how things are going as the coordinator of the White House coronavirus tax force, according to CNN.

The headline on this piece from The Atlantic is scary … and the words that follow are even scarier: “The Election That Could Break America: If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?”

• Good news: The self-response rate for the Census, both statewide and locally, is picking up. Bad news: A whole lot of people still haven’t responded, and the Census deadline is the end of the month. If you have not yet responded, please head to https://my2020census.gov/ and do so.

How will we know when a vaccine is safe and ready to go? A professor of medicine from the University if Virginia, writing for The Conversation, explains.

• A new CDC study shows that more than 90 percent of Americans remain susceptible to COVID-19. Translation: We’re nowhere close to herd immunity, despite what the president and Rand Paul want to believe. Key quote, from CBS News: “(CDC Director Dr. Robert) Redfield said the CDC is currently conducting a ‘very large’ study in an effort to determine how the country has been affected by COVID-19. He said that some states are seeing infection rates of 15 percent to 20 percent—with one as high as 24 percent—while others are seeing a less than 1 percent infection rate.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz blocked a ceremonial U.S. Senate resolution honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Why? (Other than the fact that, you know, he’s Ted Cruz?) He objected to a mention of Ginsburg’s dying wish, as reported by family members, that the current president doesn’t select her successor.

• The swamp is alive and well in Washington, D.C., if this lede from NBC News is any indication: “The consulting firm where the wife of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is an executive has been awarded more than $6 million in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security since September 2018, according to records on the federal government website USA Spending.”

• Despite the recession and the pandemic, Palm Springs has been a darling of the airline industry over the last month. Simple Flying sums up the new airlines and flights that are coming to our li’l Coachella Valley.

• Since movie theaters finally opening here this weekend, here’s the Independent’s review of Tenet, including a now-out-of-date headline.

• Finally, Independent cocktail columnist Kevin Carlow is developing a bar program for a Palm Springs hotel, and in the process, he’s been trying to answer the question: Is there such a thing as a midcentury-modern, Palm Springs golden era cocktail? Here’s what he’s come up with so far.

Be safe out there, everyone. If you have the means, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will be back on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Really? We’re going to make a big deal out of the speaker of the House getting her hair done? This is where we’re at now?

Well, if this is indeed where we are at now, let’s break things down:

1. What Nancy Pelosi did was wrong, and insensitive; she should admit that and apologize. While salons in some parts of the state were indeed open for indoor business on Monday—the day when the Salon Visit That Will Live in Infamy took place—they weren’t open in San Francisco. They still aren’t, in fact. And this is something that a member of Congress should know about her district. For Pelosi to get an indoor salon service, in violation of San Francisco’s rules, is a slap in the face to both her constituents who can’t do so, and business owners who can’t allow in paying customers not named Nancy Pelosi. The fact that she is not recognizing this and apologizing is, well, not cool.

2. Pelosi claims she was set up. Given that the footage of Pelosi’s visit was promptly turned over to Fox News, she may be right.

3. You can pretty much throw Nos. 1 and 2 out the window, because this whole kerfuffle is a nit—a distraction from the real things that matter. Even if you assign the worst possible motives to Pelosi, it pales in comparison to the things the president, the Senate majority leader, the attorney general, etc. have done—and are doing.

Nancy Pelosi’s hair is nothing compared to the epically poor handling of a pandemic that has resulted in 185,000 deaths. Or a president disregarding a Black Lives Matter movement that is FINALLY drawing attention to the systemic racism in law enforcement and other institutions in our country. Or ignoring Russian bounties on American troops, or putting migrant kids in cages, or telling blatant lies about mail-in ballots and voter fraud. Or, as just happened today, the president actually encouraging North Carolina residents to vote twice in the November election.

It’s about where Nancy Pelosi got her damned hair done.

Today’s news links:

• From the Independent: Employees picketed at Tenet’s three local hospitals last week, demanding safer conditions for both themselves and the patients they’re treating. Key quote, from Gisella Thomas, a respiratory therapist at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs: “For 48 years, when I saw a patient where I needed protection—like gowns, gloves and a mask, a hat and shoe covers—I would put that stuff on before I went into the patient’s room. Then, when I finished doing what I had to with that patient, I’d come out of the room and take everything off. Then, for the next patient, I’d put on all fresh, clean, new PPE—gowns, gloves, the whole bit. Today, I’ll use the same N95 mask, with a surgical mask over it, for the 12 hours that I work.”

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4, I will remind y’all, is basically the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Same as the last few weeks: Cases are down; hospitalizations are at their lowest point since early in the summer; the positivity rate is still too freaking high.

• The COVID-19 picture from Eisenhower Health is much the same, albeit with a much lower positivity rate. This is encouraging.

• This lede from Politico? “As the presidential election fast approaches, the Department of Health and Human Services is bidding out a more than $250 million contract to a communications firm as it seeks to ‘defeat despair and inspire hope’ about the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal HHS document.” There (*cough*) couldn’t POSSIBLY BE any political motivation behind this, right? (*Cough*)

• Meanwhile, at Los Angeles International Airport, a pilot on Sunday night reported flying past someone wearing a jet pack. The Los Angeles Times explains how this is even possible.

• This story broke today and has not gotten the attention it potentially deserves: The former boyfriend of Breonna Taylor—the EMT who was shot and killed by Louisville Police as she slept back in March—was offered a plea deal that would have made him say she was part of an “organized crime syndicate,” according to his attorney. NBC News explains: “The news of the plea offer raised the question of whether law enforcement officials were attempting to provide an incentive to (the former boyfriend) to help justify the raid that resulted in Taylor’s death.

• Related, sort of, alas: While a few notable reforms were passed, most police-reform efforts taken up by the California Legislature this year went nowhere. Our partners at CalMatters explain why.

• Meanwhile, in vaccine news from the hellscape that is 2020: The Trump administration refuses to join a worldwide effort to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, in part because the World Health Organization is involved.

The CDC is telling public health officials nationwide to be ready to distribute a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine as early as late October. The potential pre-election timing is raising some eyebrows.

Related-ish, from MedPage Today: “The first available vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers and first responders, according to draft recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released Tuesday.”

The Trump administration announced yesterday that, as CNBC reports, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invoke its authority to halt evictions through the end of the year in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.” However, it’s quite unclear how this will work—if it will work at all.

• Three new studies indicate that commonly used steroids can save the lives of a significant number of COVID-19 patients. Key quote, from NPR: “Taken together, the publication of these studies ‘represents an important step forward in the treatment of patients with COVID-19,’ Drs. Hallie Prescott and Todd Rice wrote in a JAMA editorial. The results not only provide further support for the use of dexamethasone, they also back the use of another widely used steroid, hydrocortisone.”

A University of Maryland professor, writing for The Conversation, breaks down the pros and cons regarding BinaxNOW, the inexpensive and fast COVID-19 test that recently received emergency use authorization. Spoiler alert: The pros far outweigh the cons.

Yet more encouraging news: A study out of Iceland (because why not Iceland?) indicates COVID-19 antibodies generally last at least four months.

The New York Times brings us this alarming scenario: “What if early results in swing states on Nov. 3 show President Trump ahead, and he declares victory before heavily Democratic mail-in votes, which he has falsely linked with fraud, are fully counted?” As the story explains, this is looking increasingly likely to happen.

If you see me shopping at Old Navy, here’s why: I want to support them for paying employees to serve as poll workers on Election Day, which is a very, very cool thing.

• Finally, something charming and interesting: Our friends at Willamette Week bring us the story of the Clinton Street Treater in Portland, Ore., where The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been screened every Saturday night since April 1978. While the pandemic has closed the theater, the screening streak continues.

That’s the news of the day, or at least some of it. Before we go, we 1) ask you to take the time to vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, if you haven’t already; and 2) ask you to please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you have the means to do so. Advertising revenue is still down around 50 percent due to the pandemic, but reader support has thus far allowed us to keep doing what we do—producing quality local journalism, made available for free to all. Thanks for your consideration—and, as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

On July 31, Dr. Conrado Barzaga will celebrate his one-year anniversary as the CEO of the Desert Healthcare District—and what a completely unforeseeable year it’s been.

His organization and the valley’s overall health-care infrastructure are being severely challenged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic—as well as a related and much-longer-term issue that came to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness on May 25, when George Floyd was killed while restrained and lying on a street in Minneapolis police custody.

The baring of the long-simmering racial injustices in our society ignited the passion of Barzaga—so much so that on June 3, he issued a statement linking systemic racism to the subpar public-health outcomes of minority populations, both in the Coachella Valley and across the country.

Here is an excerpt: “As communities across the country take to the street and risk their lives to demand justice, the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation stands in solidarity with protesters and against racism, oppression and inequality in all of its forms, because we believe that inequities have consequences, both visible and invisible. … Some may say that our focus is health care. It is in this context that we recognize that the killing of Black Americans in this country is, and for too long, has been a public health crisis.

“It is a crisis rooted in the toxic traditions of systemic racism and white supremacy. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more have died at the hands of the police and vigilantes—they should all be alive today. For this, we condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. No one should have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin, ethnic origin or identity. No parent should have to worry for their child’s safety and well-being when they venture outside of their home. No community should disproportionately bear the burden of social, economic and health challenges, and yet studies show that the overall health of people of color ranks lower than the overall health of whites.”

The Independent spoke with Barzaga recently and asked what motivated him to issue such an emphatic statement.

“I believe strongly that racism has public-health consequences, and that is the reason why we took that position,” Barzaga said. “For one thing, we see that Black Americans have higher mortality rates compared to other races due to a variety of issues. One is the murder rate. If you look at deaths from a public-health standpoint, there is such a thing as ‘untimely death.’ Black Americans die in an untimely (fashion) resulting from police brutality. That is a fact. But there are other public-health issues that affect that community, and those are the result of systemic racism. Black children are born at a lower weight, and they’re born prematurely (more frequently) as a result of racism. That inflicts a tremendous amount of stress and distress on Black women.”

Barzaga said institutions of policing, learning and health care all need to undergo an important change in perspective.

“I believe that we have been (following) a philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion that’s causing many public entities and the majority of health-care foundations to address funding through an equity-based lens,” Barzaga said. “I believe that we need to take the conversation a little bit further. We need to move from diversity, equity and inclusion to have a conversation about ‘belonging’ in our communities. The people need to feel ownership and that this is their place—not that they’re being integrated into a community or that they ‘count.’ It’s not an issue of counting; it’s an issue of belonging.

“When I moved to the desert, I found that the community is welcoming. I believe that everyone should have that same feeling—not only that you’re welcome, but that you feel you belong in this community, that you’re part of it, and that you’re celebrated. Not because you’re white, or Black, or gay, or straight, or a man or a woman; I think it’s an issue of belonging. And, when we incorporate that lens of belonging, I think we will make our desert a much better place.

“Although, I do have to say that the desert is a wonderful place—but there is space for improvement.”

The DHCD is working on taking immediate action to address longstanding needs in local Black communities, such as the Desert Highlands Gateway neighborhood of Palm Springs. Barzaga and the DHCD Board of Directors have introduced a resolution formalizing a grant of more than $432,000 for minority health-care improvement, some of which will be earmarked to improve overall health-related conditions for those who live there.

“The district has been working for years with the Desert Highland Gateway community, and I think this will be a continuation of that response,” Barzaga said. “But this time, there will be a definitive action to bring health-care as a reality to that community. That’s what the community says they need; that’s what the community wants; that’s what they have expressed through their community health-needs assessment; and that’s what the leaders are saying. They have been raising the issue of a lack of affordable, nutritious food in that area. There’s no supermarket or any market at all that’s providing services to that community. So there are many issues that I believe require a collective response, not only from the DHCD, but from the city of Palm Springs as well. We are trying to mobilize other resources so that this can become a more comprehensive response to the needs of that community.

“The district is taking a leadership role. We have made a beautiful statement about solidarity, but I think we have to show actions, and not only words—and this might even become a template for how we address the health-care needs of other minority communities in the Coachella Valley.”

The DHCD board recently voted to allow all funding provided to the district to be spent in any region of the expanded “One Coachella Valley” district, whose boundaries now run from Palm Springs in the west to communities like Coachella, Indio and Mecca in the east. The district’s eastern boundary for years was Cook Street, but voters approved the expansion in November 2018. However, that expansion did not come with an expansion in revenues.

“The people have decided that the DHCD should cover the entire Coachella Valley, so, that’s what we’re doing,” Barzaga said. “We will continue to raise the issue of funding disparities between east and west. I think, ultimately, it may have to be the Legislature who will have to provide a solution for that valley-wide funding issue.”

Barzaga said the imminent danger presented by the pandemic has highlighted inequities in the Coachella Valley. By a wide margin, there have been more COVID-19 cases in Indio and Coachella than any other valley city.

“It is clear that we cannot neglect the health-care needs of the eastern Coachella Valley residents, and COVID-19 really put this front and center,” Barzaga said. “Very early on, we knew that we were going to have a much larger problem in the eastern valley as related to COVID-19. These are residents who depend on working day-to-day (outside of their homes). They don’t have the same ability, as many of us do, to work from home. They have to go into the fields, and they have to go and serve the people of Coachella Valley (via the service industry) while being in close proximity to one another. This population doesn’t have the same access to health care as residents in the western parts of the valley. That combination of less protection, less access to care and a more impacted (personal) immune system has been a formula for disaster, and we are seeing the results right now. We have made very heavy investments in our community clinics to make sure that we’re deploying resources for the serious needs of that community.

“There is a gap between the health outcomes in the east and west that we intend to close,” Barzaga said. “It will be years before we have a more-robust health-care infrastructure that can meet the needs and demands of everyone in Coachella Valley. That’s why we’re doing the Community Health Needs Assessment, which is a community-driven plan. Through that needs assessment, we want the community to tell us what they want as a health-improvement plan, and that health-improvement plan will be the road map for the next 10, 20 or 30 years for the district’s investments in the health-care structure of the valley, and to be responsive to the needs of the neediest in our communities.”

Published in Local Issues

When I told my editor I felt compelled to write about race and the issues currently dominating our news, he said, “Do you feel you—as a white person—really have a lot to add to the conversation? If so, go for it. But make sure you're answering that question in the affirmative.”

Let me start by saying I am a white person who was lucky enough to be raised to know that the only difference between people is in their immutable characteristics: skin color, hair color, eye color, height, sexual orientation—but not in their worth or value as a human being deserving of respect.

I’ve written almost 200 columns now, and too many of them have touched on race, discrimination and the outrages perpetrated against people of color, or people being wronged based on their gender, sexual orientation or religion. I’ve written about my own father threatening my life if I came to my brother’s first wedding with my Black boyfriend. I’ve written about the attack on a Muslim community in Coachella, and on the unconscionable dislocation of Black, Mexican and Indigenous peoples from what is now downtown Palm Springs. I’ve talked about local residents with a long history of fighting racism who are committed to the realization of a diverse society where nobody is considered lesser. I’ve written about my own history of working for civil rights and gender equality. And I have three Black ex-step-children whose safety is always on my mind.

We are right now at a time of profound change—if we are courageous enough to follow through and not let the latest distractions divert us from the hard work that needs to be done.

After the horrifying killing of George Floyd, the shooting in her own apartment of Breonna Taylor, and all the other people we’ve had to add to the list in recent years, the latest indignity is Bubba Wallace—the only Black first-tier NASCAR driver, who pushed the racing series to ban Confederate flags—finding a noose hung in his garage at the raceway. Too many people are willing to distort the message of the tens of thousands of protesters who have filled streets throughout the country and around the world, and label them as thugs, hoodlums and terrorists.

For those who object to what’s happening by maintaining that THEY aren’t racist and have never done anything against others based on skin color, or those who are sick of all the whining and complaining because we all have problems, or those who turn away because it’s too difficult to watch, or those who work with people of other races and have never felt the comfort to have a conversation about these issues, or those who sympathize and wish they could do something to make a difference but don’t know what—this column is for you.

The only way to be part of the solution is to recognize the problem.

We’re born into a culture based on racism, and we absorb it in every interaction and through every institution with which we come into contact. It’s only by awareness and conscious action that we have any hope of overcoming that history. White people, born into the privilege of being considered the norm against which everything else is compared, are the ones who have to change the course toward our future.

There’s a difference between personal bias—where you may have been raised to believe that people who look a certain way are somehow inherently inferior or to be feared—and institutional racism.

A racist system is insidious in its reach, influence and impact, and all too often, especially if you’re white, you’re not even aware that it exists. It’s at the core of education, health care, housing, banking, elections and the police who are supposed to protect and serve the public.

Police forces were originally created to control slave uprisings or escapes, and that mindset is at their core. Let local law enforcement know that you want change in their training, their disciplinary practices, their transparency. Show your appreciation for their efforts in keeping the peace, and lobby for the re-funding of social services that can more appropriately deal with social issues that don’t require an armed response. Never forget that your taxes pay their salaries.

Institutional racism is at the core of our banking and real estate systems. Red-lining is historically how we keep people “where they belong.” Home ownership is a key asset, and if you get into trouble, you have no way to access funds to help get you back on your feet without assets. Identify minority-owned businesses and patronize them. Ask your own bank how they do inclusive outreach in the community. They need to know white customers care about this, and you can influence change by threatening to move your money to a more community-friendly entity.

People of color often have lower-paid jobs without benefits—particularly health care and savings for retirement. Individuals without health-care coverage are more at risk of illness and earlier death. The disparate rate at which people of color are suffering from COVID-19 is evidence of this. Let your elected representatives know you support everyone having access to both.

Education is supposed to be the means by which we offer equal opportunity to get ahead—but public education is not equal when poor neighborhoods have sub-standard schools. Even if those students get through high school, they’re not able to compete with those who have had the advantage of special prep classes, counseling for college applications and financial assistance. Let your children’s teachers know you want them to teach ALL of our history. Remember that children hear EVERYTHING and learn not just from what you tell them. You have to model the behaviors you want them to emulate. Teach them to recognize bias and to be willing to speak up when they see it.

In our political system, although people of color are now more represented in elected office, suppression of votes is another way our country institutionally limits the ability of those who have been most marginalized from having real power to effect change. You can make a difference by getting involved with a local political organization or the Registrar of Voters.

You need to identify your own personal biases, and there are things you can do to change: Put yourself in situations where you have a chance to interact and listen. Expand your awareness of our history so you can teach others.

Perhaps most important, intervene whenever you hear something that is inappropriate. You can do it quietly and firmly, and it will make a difference. Just know that silence is tacit agreement. Do SOMETHING.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show The Lovable Liberal airs on IHubRadio. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

A crowd of around 1,000 people—brought together by Young Justice Advocates, a newly formed group of young adults "speaking out and trying to make a change in this world"—protested systemic racism during the "Enough Is Enough" rally at Ruth Hardy Park in Palm Springs, on Saturday, June 6.

After a series of chants, the crowd marched around the park, holding signs and repeating those chants.

"No justice, no peace!"

"Hands up! Don't shoot!" 

"Black lives matter!"

"I can't breathe!"

"Say his name! George Floyd! Say her name! Breonna Taylor!"

After the march, various members of Young Justice Advocates, Rep. Raul Ruiz and several others addressed the crowd.

Below is a series of photos from the "Enough Is Enough" protest.

Published in Snapshot